Monthly Archives: June 2008

Barbarians at the Gate, Dinosaurs at the Dock

After watching a frustratingly clueless, “barbarians at the gate” NewHour segment on campaign smears (which apparently never existed before the Internet and were never spread by the old media) hosted by Gwen Ifill, who also hosts a conventional wisdom synchronization and self-congratulation session known as Washington Week (which I long ago gave up watching), I turned to NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen’s PressThink for a more critical view of the old media and, by Jove, I found it in a post called Migration Point for the Press Tribe. Here’s how it begins.

We are early in the rise of semi-pro journalism, but well into the decline of an older way of life within the tribe of professional journalists. I call them a tribe because they share a culture and a sense of destiny, and because they think they own the press—that it’s theirs somehow because they dominate the practice.

The First Amendment says to all Americans: you have a right to publish what you know, to say what you think. That right used to be abstractly held. Now it is concretely held because the power to publish has been distributed to the population at large. Projects that cause people to exercise their right to a free press strengthen the press, whether or not these projects strengthen the professional journalist’s “hold” on the press.

The professional news tribe is in the midst of a great survival drama. It has over the last few years begun to realize that it cannot live any more on the ground it settled so successfully as the industrial purveyors of one-to-many, consensus-is-ours news. The land that newsroom people have been living on—also called their business model—no long supports their best work. So they have come to a reluctant point of realization: that to continue on, to keep the professional press going, the news tribe will have to migrate across the digital divide and re-settle itself on terra nova, new ground. Or as we sometimes call it, a new platform.

Migration—which is easily sentimentalized by Americans—is a community trauma. Pulling up stakes and leaving a familiar place is hard. Within the news tribe some people don’t want to go. These are the newsroom curmudgeons, a reactionary group. Others are in denial still, or they are quietly drifting away from journalism. Many are being shed as the tribe contracts and its economy convulses. A few are admitting that it’s time to panic.

And like reluctant migrants everywhere, the people in the news tribe have to decide what to take with them, when to leave, where to land. They have to figure out what is essential to their way of life, and which parts were well adapted to the old world but may be unnecessary or a handicap in the new. They have to ask if what they know is portable. What life will be like across the digital sea is of course an unknown to the migrant. This creates an immediate crisis for the elders of the tribe, who have always known how to live.

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Baciu’s Memories of Brasov: “Four Eyes”

From Praful de pe Tobă: Memorii 1918-1946, by Stefan Baciu (Editura Mele, 1980), pp. 9-10 (my translation):

My first two years of primary school I did at the Saxon school, with Tante Dora Teutsch as my teacher, a kind and gentle soul. I remember that she was the one who observed, while checking my calligraphy in a double-lined notebook for gothic letters, that I had begun to write above and below the lines. That is why I was taken to Doctor Pildner von Steinburg, who diagnosed “juvenile cataracts” in both eyes. Because an operation would follow, we planned to seek consultation in Vienna, which in those days had well-known ophthalmologists, but just then there chanced to arrive in Brasov an ophthalmologist, a professor from Vienna who, being informed of my illness, agreed to see me. He was, I remember, a tall man with a goatee, dressed in black, who examined me at length in a room plunged into darkness in which burned a candle, after which he sat me down before various devices with colored lights. In his opinion, I could be operated on in Brasov, by Doctor Pildner von Steinburg. Thus it was that, at the age of 7 or 8, I was put through two operations and, as one of them failed to produce the results desired, my left eye was operated on once again, in the private sanatorium on Castle Street. Its garden was on the slope of Mt. Tâmpa, in that respect resembling the garden in my home in Honolulu, which I see before me as I write. I remember the devices for testing vision, with moving spots of light, the operating room, the chloroform anesthesia, after which I vomited, full of fear, even though Mother, Father, and the doctor were at the head of my bed. Afterwards I lay in bed, completely immobile, with bandaged eyes, for several days that seemed endless to me. The lights dazzled me once the bandages were removed, but the objects around me had precise contours, as if they were in relief.

I wore glasses with thick lenses, and later on my playmates and my classmates at the Andre Muresianu mixed primary school would shout after me, “four eyes,” “bicycle,” or patroski (‘four eyes’), which didn’t particularly hurt me but did separate me from them and, without my realizing it, drew me toward my world of books, of art albums, of various collections that I spent time on, dedicated body and soul to those early passions of my childhood.

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Ethiopia, 1978: One More Equal Than Others

From The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, by Martin Meredith (PublicAffairs, 2005), pp. 245-248:

In September 1976 the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP), drawing support from the labour unions, teachers and students, all vehemently opposed to military rule, embarked on a campaign of urban terrorism against the Derg and its civilian ally, the All-Ethiopian Socialist Movement, usually known by its Amharic acronym, Meison. An assassination attempt was made on Mengistu in the centre of Addis Ababa in September, the first of nine such attempts. Scores of officials and supporters of the Derg were murdered. The Derg in turn sent out its own murder squads…. By mid-1977 the EPRP was effectively destroyed. In the final phase of the red terror, to establish his own supremacy, Mengistu turned on his Meison allies, destroying them too. The young generation of intellectual activists, who had so avidly supported the revolution were all but wiped out.

Mengistu’s hold over other parts of Ethiopia was nevertheless precarious. By mid-1977 the Ethiopian army in Eritrea had lost most major towns and controlled little more than Asmara and the ports of Massawa and Assab. In July 1977 Somalia, deciding the time was ripe to take advantage of the Derg’s preoccupation with Eritrea and other revolts, launched a full-scale invasion of the Ogaden. By August the Somalis controlled most of the Ogaden. In September they captured Jijiga, an Ethiopian tank base, and pressed on towards the town of Harar and the rail and industrial centre of Dire Dawa, the third largest city in Ethiopia.

What rescued Mengistu from military defeat was massive intervention by Soviet and Cuban forces, determined to prop up his Marxist regime. In November 1977 the Soviets mounted a huge airlift and sealift, ferrying tanks, fighter aircraft, artillery, armoured personnel carriers and hundreds of military advisers to Ethiopia. A Cuban combat force numbering 17,000 joined them. Led by Cuban armour, the Ethiopians launched their counter-offensive in the Ogaden in February 1978, inflicting a crushing defeat on the Somalis. The full force of the Ethiopian army, supported by the Soviet Union, was then turned on Eritrea.

At the fourth anniversary celebrations marking the overthrow of Haile Selassie in 1978, Mengistu sat alone in a gilded armchair covered with red velvet on a platform in Revolution Square in Addis Ababa watching a procession of army units and civilian groups pass before him. Then he returned to his headquarters at the Grand Palace. Having succeeded in holding the old empire together, he liked to portray himself as following a tradition of strong Ethiopian rulers. Indeed, Mengistu came to be compared with the Emperor Tewodros, a nineteenth-century ruler who started his career as a minor local chieftain, fought his way up to take the Crown and then strove to reunite the empire after a period of disintegration. At official functions at the Grand Palace, while members of the Derg stood respectfully to one side, Mengistu chose to preside from the same ornate chair that Haile Selassie had once favoured.

One of his ministers, Dawit Wolde Giorgis, once a fervent supporter of the revolution, recalled his growing sense of disillusionment.

At the beginning of the Revolution all of us had utterly rejected anything having to do with the past. We would no longer drive cars, or wear suits; neckties were considered criminal. Anything that made you look well-off or bourgeois, anything that smacked of affluence or sophistication, was scorned as part of the old order. Then, around 1978, all that began to change. Gradually materialism became accepted, then required. Designer clothes from the best European tailors were the uniform of all senior government officials and members of the Military Council. We had the best of everything: the best homes, the best cars, the best whisky, champagne, food. It was a compete reversal of the ideals of the Revolution.

He recalled, too, how Mengistu changed once he had gained complete control.

He grew more abrasive and arrogant. The real Mengistu emerged: vengeful, cruel and authoritarian. His conduct was not limited by any moral considerations. He began to openly mock God and religion. There was a frightening aura about him. Many of us who used to talk to him with our hands in our pockets, as if he were one of us, found ourselves standing stiffly at attention, cautiously respectful in his presence. In addressing him we had always used the familiar form of ‘you’, ante; now we found ourselves switching to the more formal ‘you’, ersiwo. He moved into a bigger, more lavish office in the Palace of Menelik. He got new, highly trained bodyguards – men who watched you nervously, ready to shoot at any time. We now were frisked whenever we entered his office. He began to use the Emperor’s cars and had new ones imported from abroad – bigger, fancier cars with special security provisions. Wherever he went he was escorted by these cars packed with guards, with more riding alongside on motorcycles.

He concluded: ‘We were supposed to have a revolution of equality; now he had become the new Emperor.’

You get the same result every single time a revolutionary thug promises equality—and begins to deliver it with the help of other revolutionary thugs. Every French Revolution yields a new Robespierre—and then a new Napoleon.

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Baciu’s Memories of Brasov: Languages, Holidays

From Praful de pe Tobă: Memorii 1918-1946, by Stefan Baciu (Editura Mele, 1980), pp. 8-9 (my translation):

I was sent to a Saxon kindergarten. It seems to me that it would have been on Castle Street, beneath Mt. Tâmpa, but I don’t remember the exact location, even though I can still see before me the dark stairway to the upper floor. Fraülein’s name would seem to have been Liewehr, and I see myself singing, leaping like a pony, hear melodies like “Wulle, wulle, Gänschen” and “Alle Vögel sind schon da,” and see myself sitting on a stool cutting stars out of cardboard for the Christmas tree, on each of which Fraülein had written in gothic letters “Ştefan” and which Mama used to hang from the tree year after year. At about the same time, I went once or twice a week to a nursery school where we learned French with the Grande Dame Staia, singing “Savez-vous planter le chou.”

My education was, from the beginning, trilingual: Romanian at home, German in my earliest schools, Hungarian with the maidservants, because the latter all came from Szekler villages. Hungarian, I haven’t heard since leaving Brasov in 1937, and I’ve almost totally forgotten it, except for the songs I used to hear in the kitchen or on the Promenade, where we used to go for walks, listening to the city orchestra composed of solemn gentlemen in black jackets and stovepipe hats.

Christmases were celebrated at our home, where all the family gathered, but from the morning of Christmas Eve we were sent to my Aunt Jenny, who lived far from us, sometimes on Fork Street (Cuza Voda), sometimes on Postal Orchard. My parents felt bound to resort to this strategy because it was hard for them to restrain me until the arrival of the “Angel.” In those years, Father Christmas didn’t exist in Transylvania, and Saint Nicholas used to come on the evening of the 6th of December.

Otherwise, these traditions were scrupulously respected at home. At Easter came the Bunny, with Father making the sound of speedy steps going into the distance, to show that the Bunny had run past our house, leaving behind red eggs and chocolates, mandarins, and oranges. On the 6th of December came Saint Nicholas, with a big sack on his back, with a fur hat over his eyes and a white beard, in whom I believed with a religious intensity until I discovered that he wore the same gaiters as Father, and which he had bought a few days earlier at Lischka.

Christmas was, of course, the ultimate celebration, with a tree that reached to the ceiling, mountains of presents (the maidservants would carry theirs off in woven clothes baskets), a huge meal, interrupted by carolers who came down from Şchei hillside, or up from Old Brasov, who ended off with the chorus “To Şaguna High School” before being invited to partake of wine and pound cake. Name days were not celebrated; instead, birthdays had a special importance, with a ritual I still follow today, across decades and continents. Speaking of religious celebrations, I cannot forget Epiphany, when on the Twelfth Night came the archpriest Iosif (Sâvu) Blaga or the priests Nae Stinghe and Furnica, who had baptized me, and was now professor of religion at the “Real School” (Liceul Dr. Ioan Meşota).

NOTES: ‘The Grande Dame’ renders doamna maior; ‘stovepipe hats’ renders ţilindru pe cap (usu. cilindru) ‘cylinder on the head’; ‘continents’ renders geografii ‘geographies’; ‘Father Christmas’ renders Mos Crăciun; ‘Epiphany’ renders Bobotează (cf. boteza ‘baptize’); Twelfth Night (= Epiphany) renders Iordanul (the Jordan [River]); archpriest = protopop. I hadn’t realized that the Epiphany holidays came to focus on the baptism of Christ (in the Jordan River) among Eastern-rite Christians but on the coming of the Magi among Western-rite Christians. The Wikipedia entry for the holiday contains an interesting observation that may apply to Transylvanians in general: “Hungarians, perhaps because of their location between East and West, celebrate the coming of the Magi, but refer to the celebration as Vízkereszt or “water cross,” clearly a reference to baptism.”

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Kenya, 1950s: The Mau Mau Civil War?

From The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, by Martin Meredith (PublicAffairs, 2005), pp. 84-86:

In postwar years the African population of Nairobi doubled in size. More than half of the inhabitants were Kikuyu, their ranks swelled by a growing tide of desperate, impoverished vagrants. Adding to their numbers were groups of ex-servicemen returning from the war with high expectations of a new life but finding little other than poverty and pass laws. Unemployment, poor housing, low wages, inflation and homelessness produced a groundswell of discontent and worsening crime. Mixing politics and crime, the ‘Forty Group’ – Anake wa 40 – consisting largely of former soldiers of the 1940 age group who had seen service during the war in India, Burma and Ethiopia and other militants were ready to employ strong-arm tactics in opposing the government’s policies and in dealing with its supporters. The trade unions, gathering strength in Nairobi, carried the agitation further, conducting a virulent campaign against the granting of a royal charter to Nairobi. In the African press, too, the tone was becoming increasingly strident. By 1948, the oathing campaign, started by squatters in the Rift Valley and taken up in the Kikuyu reserves and in Nairobi, was in full swing. At fervent gatherings, Kikuyu songs, adapted from church hymns, were sung in praise of Kenyatta and prayers recited to glorify him. In all, several hundred thousand Kikuyu took the oath.

The rising temper of the Kikuyu made little impression on the British governor, Sir Philip Mitchell, a solitary, unapproachable figure from the old colonial school, contemptuous of African nationalists, more preoccupied with the recalcitrant white community than with signs of African discontent, and singularly ill-equipped to deal with the crisis unfolding before him.

Kenyatta, too, found difficulty in controlling the surge of militancy. He favoured constitutional means to oppose colonial rule but was outflanked by militant activists prepared to use violence. In 1951 a hardened group, including two prominent trade unionists, Fred Kubai and Bildad Kaggia, captured control of the Nairobi branch of the KAU [Kenya African Union], proceeded to gain a virtual stranglehold over the national executive and then formed their own secret central committee with plans for an armed uprising. Kaggia, a former staff sergeant in the army, had seen wartime service in Africa, the Middle East and England. Outbreaks of violence – murder, sabotage, arson and forced oathing – became more frequent.

The move towards violence split the Kikuyu people. Both the old Kikuyu establishment – chiefs, headmen and landowners – and the aspiring middle class – businessmen, traders, civil servants and government teachers – opposed violence. So did large numbers of Christian Kikuyu. But by 1952, much of the Kikuyu tribe was caught up in rebellion.

Kenyatta tried to ride out the turbulence, seeking to defuse the crisis rather than to stir it up. Leading activists in Nairobi, while using his name to justify their actions, regarded him with profound suspicion. When the government asked him to denounce Mau Mau publicly, he duly obliged, using a traditional Kikuyu curse. ‘Let Mau Mau perish for ever,’ he told a huge crowd in Kiambu in August 1952, ‘All people should search for Mau Mau and kill it.’ His speech infuriated the central committee. Summoned to a meeting of the central committee at KAU headquarters in Nairobi, he was clearly surprised to discover who its members were. ‘We said, “We are Mau Mau and what you have said at this Kiambu meeting must not be said again”,’ recalled Fred Kubai. ‘If Kenyatta had continued to denounce Mau Mau, we would have denounced him. He would have lost his life. It was too dangerous and he knew it. He was a bit shaken by the way we looked at him. He was not happy. We weren’t the old men he was used to dealing with. We were young and we were serious.’

As the violence grew worse, with daily incidents.of murder, forced oathing and intimidation, a new governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, on the advice of his officials, concluded that the best way to deal with it was to lock up all KAU leaders. In October 1952, shortly after his arrival, Baring declared a state of emergency and ordered the detention of Kenyatta and 150 other political figures, a move taken by Mau Mau activists as tantamount to a declaration of war. In growing panic, white farmers in the Rift Valley expelled some 100,000 squatters, providing Mau Mau with a massive influx of recruits. Many headed straight for the forests of the Aberdares and Mount Kenya to join armed gangs recently established there. Far from snuffing out the rebellion, Baring’s action intensified it. It was only after the emergency was declared that the first white settler was murdered.

The brunt of the war, however, fell not on the whites but on loyalist Kikuyu. They became the target of Mau Mau leaders determined to enforce complete unity among the Kikuyu people before turning on the whites. Nearly 2,000 loyalists died. The official death toll of rebels and their supporters was listed as 11,500, though modern researchers put the real figure far higher. Some 80,000 Kikuyu were detained in camps, often subjected to harsh and brutal treatment. As the tide against Mau Mau turned, gang leaders in the forests tried to keep control by employing ever more perverted oaths, horrifying to the Kikuyu and to whites alike. By comparison, the white community escaped lightly. Though white farmers in isolated farmsteads often lived in fear of attack, after four years only thirty-two white civilians had been killed, less than the number who died in traffic accidents in Nairobi during the same period.

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Baciu’s Memories of Brasov: Earliest Friends

From Praful de pe Tobă: Memorii 1918-1946, by Stefan Baciu (Editura Mele, 1980), pp. 6-8 (my translation):

On the floor below lived Major Mihailescu, who had two children, Mircea and Coca (the daughter had an air I now recognize as Japanese), with whom I didn’t become friends. The major had an orderly he called Zachariah, with whom the maidservant who used to take me for walks had fallen in love, calling him “Zakarias” and singing a pitiful song that ended with the words “Zakarias szép eletem.” One day, the major had a conflict with Mr. Borescu, apparently having to do with the beating of carpets at unauthorized hours. When the insulted concierge leapt up to hit the major, the latter rushed into his house, from which he appeared in a martial pose, brandishing a saber in the air like a fencer, threatening the head of the typographer, who didn’t know how to respond to this unexpected invitation to a duel. I remember that during the 1940s, as a discharged general, Mihailescu was named inspector of the casino in Sinaia.

In the back of the courtyard lived Doctor Valeriu Negrila, married to a beautiful Polish woman. I was friends with their daughter, Valerica, while I was little, but later, as often happens, we drifted apart and hardly even greeted each other when I became a “Şagunist” and she a student at the Princess (Elena). One day when I was returning from a walk with the maidservant, I saw two people dressed in white carrying a stretcher on which lay a body covered with a sheet, with locks of black hair hanging out from under it. The maidservant later told me that Valerica’s mother had been found to have “taken poison,” but after a few days I saw her passing through the courtyard with Valerica in tow. I don’t recall the other neighbors, but I cannot forget the entrance hallway in the evenings, with gilded metal bars glittering in the light of the bulbs, and marble veneer shining in a way that seemed fairylike.

Just outside the alleyway, on the right and left were two shops: Lischka, men’s clothing; and Books Cooperative Enea, Stinghe, and Ţigoiu, one of whose owners, Professor Sterie (Sterica) Stinghe, had written a few books about the history of Brasov, and whose wife, named Lucia I think, had the habit of strutting around haughty and elegant, the tapping of her high heels audible from far off.

I lived on Customs Street, I believe, until around 1928–29, when I finished primary school, thus eight or nine years, maybe ten. The fact is, I cannot recall exactly when we moved from Spitz Palace, just as I cannot remember exactly when we left Prundul Florilor.

But I have some vivid memories of the building, which during the early years did not yet have electric lights. I recall those autumn days when Mr. Stroescu, the father of my primary school classmate, Elena Stroescu, used to set up his machine in the Graft Valley, beyond the walls, and cut whole cartloads of wood, which after being chopped up was hauled into the cellar on a kind of wooden stretcher by backwoodsmen hired by the day, who at lunchtime would pull out of their knapsacks “pită şi slană” [bread and fatback, usu. slănină] eating slowly and silently.

I recall going with the maidservant to the first silent films I saw at the movie theatre Modern (a wooden shack sitting on the site they later made into the city park), where I enjoyed watching Lia Mara, Maciste, Zigoto, Fatty, Harry Piel, Pat and Patachon, with little Patachonel, and then returning at nightfall to find at the entrance to our apartment dozens of galoshes and overshoes belonging to the “students” at the night classes Father used to teach in the years after unification [of Transylvania and other territories with the Old Kingdom of Romania]: bank directors, officials, attorneys, merchants, who were keen to learn Romanian in those first years of Greater Romania. About that time, Zeidner Books had come out with a grammar of Romanian for foreigners, whose authors were Father and Michael Teutsch. It was a bit slapdash, of a type the Saxons called Zwinkelmisch [lit. ‘twinklemix’], but it sold well and was reprinted several times.

After the students left, Father used to amuse himself by telling stories about the mistakes his “students” would make. Carved in my memory are words like “Berger-leţkia” (lecţia) [lesson], or “tratavitele” in place of tratativele [‘negotiations’], which the Hungarians and Saxons had trouble pronouncing, as they did â as opposed to a. Other friends that I remember from the age of 4 or 5, besides Puiu Borescu and Valerica Negrila, were the sisters Takáts, Tony and Baba, somewhat older than me.

On the Promenade, where I went with the maidservant, I had “friends” who seemed at that time to be over a hundred years old, if not older: “Old Man Snow,” gone completely white, who talked with me as if I was his age, whom they used to call Cipu (Cipariu) or Ţipu, and who I believe was a judge on “penzie” [pensie ‘pension’]. One “friendship” that my parents did not regard well was that with the doctor of law, Aurel Olteanu, who wore a shiny clip on his tie, patent leather shoes with laces, and a long, sturdy cane, with whose handle he would hook my calf, while glaring at me with bulging eyes and shouting: “I’ve got you, you knave! I’ve got you, you bandit!” To me, the words were amusing, as I knew what bandit meant (Tomescu and Munteanu were famous bandits at the time), but I had no idea what knave [şnapan] meant and my parents showed themselves to be less than enchanted by this “enrichment” of vocabulary. The third “friend” was a little, or rather a short, elderly man, Patruţ Pop, wrapped summer and winter in a long overcoat, something between a blanket and a frock, wearing a black hat, who would stroke my head without saying a word. I vaguely remember having heard that Patruţ Pop was from the family of someone who had played a leading role on the Field of Liberty, at Blaj [in 1848]. As I grew and entered primary school, I lost track of those friends of my early childhood.

NOTES: Baciu spelt cearşaf ‘sheet’ as cearceaf—it’s just the difference between English sh and ch. A “Şagunist” is a student at Andrei Şaguna High School. After failing to find clipici in my dictionaries, I translated it ‘slapdash’ (after considering ‘rush job’), despite its relation to a clipi ‘to wink, blink’ (and its Saxon equivalent, Zwinkelmisch). The hardest phrase to translate in this passage was de moţi tocmiţi cu ziua, which didn’t make sense until I found that Moţi designates people from the Western Mountains (Munţii Apuseni) of Transylvania, sometimes known as Ţara Moţilor, known for their pre-Roman features, archaic customs, isolated settlements, and fierce independence—sort of the West Virginians of Transylvania. An explanatory translation like ‘men from Munţii Apuseni hired by the day’ was too long-winded, while ‘hillbilly day-laborers’ was too pejorative. I almost went with ‘itinerant woodcutters’ before settling on ‘backwoodsmen’.

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POW Language Use, Nagasaki, 1944-45

My sociolinguistics professor in grad school once opined that the best place to learn a foreign language was in a foreign prison. I assume he was thinking of the advantages of a complete immersion environment, total physical response methodology, and very rigorous incentive structures.

He must have been at least half serious, because he later applied for a grant to fund an audacious experiment to see what innate linguistic structures might emerge in an isolated, silently administered camp whose workers were recruited in equal numbers from communities speaking languages of a full range of word-order typologies and in minimal prior contact with typologically different languages. I believe the granting agency’s Committee on Human Experimentation nixed the proposal, for reasons one can well understand.

What makes me recall this is the abundance of fascinating bits of data about foreign language learning in prison that I’ve been finding in one of the books I’m currently reading, First into Nagasaki: The Censored Eyewitness Dispatches on Post-Atomic Japan and Its Prisoners of War, by George Weller (1907-2002), ed. by Anthony Weller (Three Rivers, 2006). Here are some of the insights of the reporter and the prisoners themselves, arranged under a few general headings.

Incentive Structure

Tervald Thorpson (Wadena, Iowa): “I managed to go a whole year without being beaten. Americans worked hard in the mine, but some had difficulty learning Japanese, and misunderstanding commands got them beatings.” (p. 97)

Sergeant Robert Aldrich (Capitan, New Mexico): “I was in the mine ever since it opened, but I was more fortunate than most because I learned Japanese, thus avoiding beatings due to misunderstanding.” (p. 101)


Oscar Otero of Los Lunas, a husky New Mexican captured on Bataan, learned Japanese by being chauffeur to a colonel. By refusing to allow him to talk any Filipino [?], the Japanese furnished the coal mine prisoners with their ablest unofficial interpreter. (p. 88)

Bilingual Assistants

Dark-skinned Junius Navardos (Los Angeles): “Pressure in the mine caused me to pass out once while working. When I came around in the hospital I found myself with burned patches all over my skin. The boys told me that the burns had been made by an American-educated interpreter, Yamamuchi [prob. Yamaguchi], whom we called Riverside because he was brought up there. Asked whether he had done the burning, the interpreter told the doctor, ‘Yes, I did this, because I thought he was feigning.'”

Leland Sims (Smackover, Arkansas): “Many guards could speak English. One who we called Long Beach, because he was educated there, caught me smoking and said, ‘It’s all right with me, but don’t let the other guards catch you.'” (p. 96)

Japanese for Special Purposes

Corporal James Brock (Taft, Texas): “I was most often overworked by a boss we called Shitbird, usually with a hammer handle or a mairugi—that’s a small timber [丸木 maruki ’round wood = log’?]. He hit everybody who passed him, whether you belonged to his shift or not. I’m sorry he’s disappeared since the camp was liberated.” (p. 86)

Henry Sublett of Cisco, Texas, a Marine captured on Corregidor: “I was down with pneumonia and worked in the mine both after and before. Our first Buntai Joe [分隊長 buntaichō ‘squad leader’], or overseer, used to be drunk all the time and beat me every day for my first three months. He always used to the day start off with a few savas [サービス = sābisu ‘freebie’]—meaning ‘gifts’—of blows.” (p. 88)

Runge, captured at Singapore, was “an old Aussie,” which means he arrived at the Mitsui camp and entered the coal mine in June 1944, joining the Bataan and Corregidor Americans who had already been toiling for nearly a year underground. By February 1945 Runge was instructing “new Aussies” in the use of a jackhammer. He was showing F. R. Willis and Robert Tideswell how to chip rock, the whole party being under an overman named Katu-san [prob. Katō], when three cars carrying coal ran off the rails, causing Katu-san’s temper to do likewise. Saying “Dummy, dummy, that’s no good,” the Japanese promised that he would report Runge for haitis savis [兵隊サービス heitai sābisu ‘soldier freebie’], meaning “military gifts”—that is, a beating. (p. 104)

The idea of the camp administrator, Captain Yuri, was that a prisoner’s main and only job was to dig coal for the Japanese, and his only reward for twelve hours’ daily labor should be his salary of three-quarters of a cent daily, plus a yassamai [休み yasumi ‘rest’] or rest day every ten days or so. (p. 108)

With the arrival by train from Nagasaki of the first Army-Navy team for the evacuation of Kyushu’s largest prisoner of war camp, the final sinkes [出欠 shukketsu ‘attendance, (take) roll’] (Japanese for roll calls [otherwise 点呼 tenko lit. ‘point call’]) were sounding today over the grimy buildings and meagerly-clad G.I.s. This camp, 1,700 strong—700 being Americans from Bataan and Corregidor—has been thinned already to 1,300 by impatient ex-prisoners, mostly Americans, who have hit the high road for the American airbase at Kanoya in southernmost Kyushu. (p. 92)

So profound is the prisoners’ hatred of Baron Mitsui’s coal mine, the Japanese military police, and the aeso [営倉 eisō] or guardhouse where five Americans have found a violent death, that the entire camp would probably have been deserted had not the Army-Navy team arrived today. Hospitals filled with cases of malnutrition, diarrhea, beriberi, and mutilated men offer special problems. (p. 92)

Graduate Assistants

Pharmacist William Derrick (Leesville, Louisiana): “The Korean straw bosses were decent to us except when the Japs were around, who frightened them.” (p. 96)

Sergeant Wiley Smith (Coushatta, Louisiana): “We looked across the bay toward Nagasaki after emerging from the mine and saw black smoke starting up. The atomic bomb, falling ninety minutes before, had kindled Nagasaki. Our Japanese bosses kept pointing that way and chattering. It was better than Germany’s surrender, which we only heard about from Korean miners.” (p. 91)

Thoughts on Graduation

Navy Cook Laurel Whitworth (Bourne, Texas): “Leaving Japan for me means not having to cook any more dogs to eat. One day I had to cook sixty-nine, another seventy-three, another fifty-five. I hate cooking dogs.” (p. 94)


Filed under anglosphere, Japan, language, U.S., war

How Modernism Feeds Tribalism

From The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, by Martin Meredith (PublicAffairs, 2005), pp. 154-157:

African societies of the pre-colonial era – a mosaic of lineage groups, clans, villages, chiefdoms, kingdoms and empires – were formed often with shifting and indeterminate frontiers and loose allegiances. Identities and languages shaded into one another. At the outset of colonial rule, administrators and ethnographers endeavoured to classify the peoples of Africa, sorting them out into what they called tribes, producing a whole new ethnic map to show the frontiers of each one. Colonial administrators wanted recognisable units they could control. ‘Each tribe must be considered as a distinct unit,’ a provincial commissioner in Tanganyika told his staff in 1926. ‘Each tribe must be under a chief.’ In many cases, tribal labels were imposed on hitherto undifferentiated groups. The chief of a little-known group in Zambia once ventured to remark: ‘My people were not Soli until 1937 when the Bwana D.C. [District Commissioner] told us we were.’ When local government was established under colonial rule, it was frequently aligned with existing ‘tribal areas’. Entirely new ethnic groups emerged, like the Abaluyia or Kalenjin of western Kenya, formed from two congeries of adjacent peoples. Some colonial rulers used tribal identities to divide their subjects, notably the British in southern Sudan and the French in Morocco. Chiefs, appointed by colonial authorities as their agents, became the symbol of ethnicity.

Missionary endeavour added to the trend. In the process of transcribing hitherto unwritten languages into written forms, missionaries reduced Africa’s innumerable dialects to fewer written languages, each helping to define a tribe. The effect was to establish new frontiers of linguistic groups and to strengthen the sense of solidarity within them. Yoruba, Igbo, Ewe, Shona and many others were formed in this way.

Missionaries were also active in documenting local customs and traditions and in compiling ‘tribal’ histories, all of which were incorporated into the curricula of their mission schools, spreading the notion of ethnic identity. African teachers followed suit. In southern Nigeria, young men from Ilesha and Ijebu who attended school in Ibadan or Oyo were taught to write a standard form of the Yoruba language and to identify themselves as Yoruba – a term previously reserved for subjects of the Oyo empire. As mission stations were largely responsible for providing education, educational achievement tended to depend on their locality and thus to follow ethnic lines.

Migration from rural areas to towns reinforced the process. Migrants gravitated to districts where fellow tribesmen lived, hoping through tribal connections to find housing, employment or a niche in trading markets. A host of welfare associations sprang up – ‘home-boy’ groups, burial and lending societies, cultural associations, all tending to enhance tribal identity. Certain occupations – railwaymen, soldiers, petty traders – became identified with specific groups which tried to monopolise them.

It was in towns that ethnic consciousness and tribal rivalry grew apace. The notion of a single Igbo people was formed in Lagos among the local ‘Descendants’ Union’. The Yoruba, for their part, founded the Egbe Omo Oduduwa – a ‘Society of Descendants of Oduduwa’, the mythical ancestor of the Yoruba people; its aim was ‘to unite the various clans and tribes in Yorubaland and generally create and actively foster the idea of a single nationalism throughout Yorubaland’. Ethnic groups became the basis of protest movements against colonial rule.

In the first elections in the postwar era in Africa, nationalist politicians started out proclaiming nationalist objectives, selecting party candidates regardless of ethnic origin. But as the number of elections grew, as the number of voters expanded, as the stakes grew higher with the approach of independence, the basis for campaigning changed. Ambitious politicians found they could win votes by appealing for ethnic support and by promising to improve government services and to organise development projects in their home area. The political arena became a contest for scarce resources. In a continent where class formation had hardly begun to alter loyalties, ethnicity provided the strongest political base. Politicians and voters alike came to rely on ethnic solidarity. For politicians it was the route to power. They became, in effect, ethnic entrepreneurs. For voters it was their main hope of getting a slice of government bounty. What they wanted was a local representative at the centre of power – an ethnic patron who could capture a share of the spoils and bring it back to their community. Primary loyalty remained rooted in tribal identity. Kinship, clan and ethnic considerations largely determined the way people voted. The main component of African politics became, in essence, kinship corporations.

The formation of one ethnic political party tended to cause the formation of others. In Nigeria the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, the first modern political organisation in West Africa launched in 1944, started out with the aim of establishing a broad-based national movement, but after tribal dissension it became an Eastern regional party, dominated by Igbo politicians. Yoruba politicians left to form the Action Group, building it around the nucleus of Egbe Omo Oduduwa. In Northern Nigeria, the Hausa-Fulani, while disdaining the nationalist cause which Southerners espoused, nevertheless formed in 1949 the Northern People’s Congress as a political offshoot of a predominantly Hausa cultural organisation, Jam’yyar Mutanen Arewa – Association of the Peoples of the North. In a more extreme example, in the Belgian Congo rival tribal parties were launched by the score. In most countries, political leaders spent much time on ‘ethnic arithmetic’, working out alliances that would win them power and keep them there.

Few states escaped such divisions. In Tanganyika, Julius Nyerere was helped, as he himself acknowledged, by the fact that the population was divided among 120 tribal groupings, none of which was large enough or central enough to acquire a dominant position. He benefited too from the common use of the Swahili language, spread initially by Arab traders, then taken up by the Germans and the British as part of their education system. Other states had to contend with a variety of languages, sometimes numbering more than a hundred. In all, more than 2,000 languages were in use in Africa.

There was a widespread view at the time of independence that once the new states focused on nation-building and economic development, ethnic loyalties would wither away under the pressure of modernisation. ‘I am confident’, declared Nigeria’s first prime minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, during a 1959 debate over the motion to ask for independence, ‘that when we have our own citizenship, our own national flag, our own national anthem, we shall find the flame of national unity will burn bright and strong.’ Ahmed Sékou Touré of Guinea spoke in similar terms in 1959. ‘In three or four years, no one will remember the tribal, ethnic or religious rivalries which, in the recent past, caused so much damage to our country and its population.’ Yet African governments were dealing not with an anachronism from the past, but a new contemporary phenomenon capable of erupting with destructive force.

It doesn’t seem all that different in kind, only in degree, from what happened in Europe with the spread of vernacular literacy, Protestantism, historical and comparative linguistics, and the scientific subclassification of everything and everyone on earth—and what continues apace in modern universities, prisons, and other political/protective patronage networks that privilege race/ethnicity over social class, religion, or other more mutable cross-cutting categories.

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Filed under Africa, democracy, education, Europe, language, nationalism

Baciu’s Memories of Brasov: Birth, Baptism, Spitz Palota

From Praful de pe Tobă: Memorii 1918-1946, by Stefan Baciu (Editura Mele, 1980), pp. 4-5 (my translation):

I was born in Brasov on 29 October 1918, in the last days in which the Austro-Hungarian monarchy gave up its ghost, in other words, at the end of the era that Emil Cioran called “the Time of Franz Joseph.” My birthday was the day Czechoslovakia was declared independent, so the Republic of Czechoslovakia and I are of the same age. Father had just returned from the front and Mother was still living in her parents’ house, located in the center of the city, maybe 500 meters from the Council House. The house in which my grandparents were living—and I know it still exists in 1980—was an old building, with a stairway I remember as dark, at the corner of two streets, Michael Weiss and Prundul Florilor (Rosenanger), but their rooms were upstairs, with windows overlooking both streets. I heard that Michael Weiss was changed—horribile dictu—into Red Army. Of Prundul Florilor I know nothing, but I would not object, nor would I be all that surprised, if some day, even a day certain, this street might bear my name.

I was baptized with the name Ştefan Aurel in the orthodox church in the “Fortress” (Council Plaza) by Father Nicolae Furnică on 19 January 1919, as evidenced in Vol. III, page 75, no. 4 of the Baptismal Registry, my godparents being Dr. Nicolae Popovici and wife, professor at Andrei Şaguna High School, later at the Theological Academy of Arad. (A detail: their daughter Lucia, with whom I used to play as a child, and whom I have never seen since, married Nicolae Aloman, who published a few fragments of very interesting prose in the first series of Biletelor de Papagal [Of the Parrot Tickets?], which fact was later communicated to me by Lucia Aloman in a few letters during the 1930s.)

Soon after my birth, my parents moved into rooms on a street that begins right at the Council Plaza, reaching as far as the Promenade, strada Vămii [Customs Street]. The house was the second or third on the left as you headed toward the Promenade. You couldn’t see it from the street, as it was a large building at the back of a paved courtyard, reached by way of a long corridor or gang. It was named, solemnly, Spitz Palace (Spitz Palota) after the name of the owner (Spitz-bácsi), a gentleman who seemed to me very old (how old could he have been?), with white mustaches and a bowler hat [gambetă]. The apartments opened onto long balconies on the right, perhaps three stories high, overlooking the courtyard. The building also had an exit at the back, which gave onto the Graft Valley, through a gloomy corridor, along which were aligned some cellars that seemed immense to me, in which they stored wood for the winter, which used to be cut with a machine that made a monotonous sound by Mr. Stroescu, from the Gypsy quarter.

From Spitz Palace, I remember the concierge Borescu, typographer in the workshop of the Hungarian newspaper Brassoi Lapok, which had a boy of about my age, Puiu, with whom I used to play in the courtyard. Puiu used to suffer massive beatings from time to time with a belt that Mr. Borescu used to pull from his waist, yelling as loud as his mouth could bear while his father would administer the beating: “Father, daddy, mother, mommy, grandma, dear mama!” Then one day he fell sick, I think from tubercular meningitis. I see from our balcony the black umbrella under which they used to lay Puiu in the sun, stretched on blankets, until one day the umbrella no longer appeared, and I found that Puiu had died. He was the first death of my childhood.

On the same floor as us, in rooms overlooking Customs Street, used to live Wilhelm and Emilie Schreiber, a pair of sad and withdrawn millionaires (I think their only child had died while still a baby), the co-owners of the factory Scherg. “Onkel Willi” used to come and go from the factory by carriage, which seemed to me fabulous, and “Tante Emilie” would sometimes play on the piano melodies as melancholic as she was, looking after the flowers in the pots on the terrace, which in their absence I used to water with an immense watering can, receiving as recompense a book with a dedication written in impeccable gothic calligraphy, which I can still see. At Easter, I used to go “watering” (darf ich spritzen?), receiving from her the first chocolate eggs and mandarin oranges, which had been brought the day before, in large packages, from the Hessheimer grocery.

NOTE: Baciu’s adjective describing the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, chezarocrăiască, gave me a lot of trouble. I couldn’t find it anywhere until I tried its masculine singular form, which is more commonly rendered as cezaro-crăiesc, equivalent to German kaiserlich-königlich, lit. ‘imperial-royal’, respectively describing the Austrian and Hungarian thrones. As an educated Transylvanian, Baciu’s Romanian is sometimes Germanified. For instance, he says that in high school his friends called themselves ştudenţi, with a German sh, and not studenţi as in standard Romanian. That may be why he rendered cezar ‘caesar, emperor’ as chezar ‘Kaiser’. The Romanian translation of königlich in this construction comes from crai, a Slavic term for ‘prince’ that is nowadays especially common in fairy tales (basme), as is its feminine equivalent crăiasă ‘princess’.


Filed under Hungary, literature, Romania

Baciu’s Memories of Brasov: Introduction

From Praful de pe Tobă: Memorii 1918-1946, by Stefan Baciu (Editura Mele, 1980), pp. 3-4 (my translation):

From the Bank of Flowers to the Sandwich Archipelago

I write this autobiographical sketch in my study in Honolulu, in a spot on the globe where I would never have been able to imagine that I would live thirty years ago, when I was living in what the Nicaraguan poet Salomón de la Selva would call “the Romania of my birth.”

At this moment as I look outside, I hear a parrot sitting on a branch of the lemon tree in front of my window, while on the facing hillside one can see two Chinese cemeteries, their gravestones low and gray, hardly visible in the grass. Only occasionally, at the odd burial or religious ceremony, can one hear crackles and pops of devices designed to drive away bad spirits. In back of the hill rises a volcano long extinct—called Punchbowl in English, Puowaina in Hawaiian—in the crater of which lie the heroes fallen in battles in the Pacific, the Punchbowl National Cemetery. To the left and right of the cemetery stretch the infinite waters of the Pacific.

From below, in Pauoa Valley, where children play baseball and football, one hears the shouts of those leaping into the swimming pool, but the houses are all lost in the gardens of abundant greenery, especially in this year full of heavy and frequent rainfall.

I note these summary facts of a possible autobiography of tomorrow, not to rediscover my old self of yesterday and the day before, of Brasov, Bucharest, Bern, Rio de Janeiro and Seattle, because that I can do more easily through poetry.

I want, on the one hand, to fix certain guideposts for a possible autobiography sometime later, and—more importantly—I do it in order to avoid errors, omissions, misunderstandings or interpretations to which might be subjected the life of a man whose life unfolded over the last decades (1946–1980), in such countries and regions, in such terrains and latitudes, that any confusions could be explained as due primarily to lack of information.

In a world in which even some “experts” say that Mexico lies in “South America,” and in which it is seldom realized that the city of Honolulu is situated on the island of Oahu, it would not be remarkable some time in the future (and perhaps not all that long into the future) for legends to arise that I wish to prevent, at least to the extent I am able.

NOTE: I’ve translated Prundul Florilor, the former name of a street in Brasov, as ‘Bank of Flowers’, since the primary meaning for prund seems to be ‘gravel’ or ‘gravelly bank of a river’. But the German name for the same street in Brasov was Rosenanger ‘Rosemeadow’ (or ‘Rosedale’?). Better suggestions are welcome.

UPDATE: By coincidence, the Brasov country library has just started hosting a literary exhibit entitled Ştefan Baciu între Ulise şi Don Quijote.


Filed under Hawai'i, literature, Romania