2:00PM Water Cooler Memorial Day 2018

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Readers, on Memorial Day I usually publish one of Goya’s etchings from The Disasters of War (Robert Hughes’s Goya is well worth a read). Parades are all very well, but let’s get real. So herewith Lo mismo (The same):

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The New York Times gives a history of Memorial Day:

The official history of Memorial Day goes like this: In 1868, three years after the Civil War ended, a group of Union veterans established a Decoration Day for the nation to adorn the graves of the war dead with flowers. A retired Union major general, John A. Logan, set the date of the holiday for May 30, and the holiday’s first observance was at Arlington National Cemetery.

David W. Blight, a historian at Yale, has a different account. He traces the holiday to a series of commemorations that freed black Americans held in the spring of 1865, after Union soldiers, including members of the 21st United States Colored Infantry, liberated the port city of Charleston, S.C.

Digging through an archive at Harvard, Dr. Blight found that the largest of these commemorations took place on May 1, 1865, at an old racecourse and jockey club where hundreds of captive Union prisoners had died of disease and been buried in a mass grave. The black residents exhumed the bodies and gave them proper burials, erected a fence around the cemetery, and built an archway over it with the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

Some 10,000 black people then staged a procession of mourning, led by thousands of schoolchildren carrying roses and singing the Union anthem “John Brown’s Body.” Hundreds of black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Black men, including Union infantrymen, also marched. A children’s choir sang spirituals and patriotic songs, including “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African-Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration,” Dr. Blight wrote in a 2011 essay for The New York Times. “The war, they had boldly announced, had been about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic. They were themselves the true patriots.”

It’s not clear that Blight’s history has become the conventional wisdom, but Blight’s podcast (“The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877”) is wonderful, and includes an episode on the race course events; NC commenter Bunk McNulty turned me on to it a couple of years ago.

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Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal, and (d) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. Today’s plant (DE):

DE writes: “Growing by my sun porch drinking up water that otherwise would be on a journey to NYC.” Not especially relevant to Memorial Day, but my favorite flower.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. curlydan

    Goya’s etchings should be required viewing for the politicians who push us into war. I saw an exhibition of his etchings when I was a teenager. Goya’s “This is Worse” (very graphic) is literally “etched” into my mind now.

    1. Lee

      Today’s teenagers don’t have to go to war to get shot. Currently, a U.S. soldier in one of our war zones has a lower probability of becoming a casualty than does a student attending one of our schools.

      1. Wukchumni

        My neighbor arrived on the scene in Huế on Tet + 4, a newly minted marine in country only a total 5 days, serving in a tank crew. The Tet Offense was one of the only times where the enemy was visible en masse in the midst of battle, and he thinks he killed between 150 to 200 people.

        When Ken Burns Vietnam series was on, I asked his wife if they were going to watch it, and she told me no, and in fact he can’t watch war films either.

        The picture of a marine on the tank, might have been his chariot of ire?

  2. xformbykr

    Counterpunch had an interesting article about “Blexit”:

    Blexit’s what some Black residents of the Twin Cities have decided to do to free themselves from the city’s white dominated financial institutions.

    The article discussed the Association for Black Economic Power in Twin Cities, and on Wall St., the Public Bank NYC Coaltion. These seem like positive developments, but one should never mis-underestimate one’s opponents!

  3. J7915

    Images never unseen: War against War by Friedrich Ernst ca.1924. I am grateful I never bought this book when I saw it in book store.

  4. allan

    Just to ruin a perfectly good holiday afternoon, some inane happy talk from David Leonhardt of the NYT:

    Democrats Are Running a Smart, Populist Campaign

    Stacey Abrams and Conor Lamb are supposed to represent opposite poles of the Trump-era Democratic Party. She is the new progressive heroine — the first black woman to win a major-party nomination for governor, who will need a surge of liberal turnout to win Georgia. He is the new centrist hero — the white former Marine who flipped a Western Pennsylvania congressional district with support from gun-loving, abortion-opposing Trump voters.

    But when you spend a little time listening to both Abrams and Lamb, you notice something that doesn’t fit the storyline: They sound a lot alike. …

    You’re right, Mr. Leonhardt – neither Abrams nor Lamb is in favor of single payer.
    Nor do they call for the repeal of the Trump income tax cuts.

    All the Overton Window that’s fit to print.

    1. allan

      But wait, there’s more where that came from …

      Three Younger Veterans Stake a Generational Claim on the Democratic Party

      … Mr. Kander, along with Representative Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., are among a group of younger Democrats — all military veterans — who are making a generational claim on a party that many see as top-heavy with leaders and lawmakers in their late 60s and 70s. …

      Hard as it is to believe, the phrases single payer and Medicare for all were not used in the reporting of this story.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        As I keep saying, preventing #MedicareForAll is the liberal Democrats’ #1 policy goal. And they are working hard and effectively to achieve it.

  5. Jeremy Grimm

    When was the last war the U.S. fought or may be fighting now where the outcome might have seriously threatened our national sovereignty or “Homeland”? Maybe the War of 1812? or maybe World War II?

    1. John Wright

      I suggest it was 1812.

      WWII did not threaten the homeland as the Japanese did not invade with troops, they wanted to destroy military capability at Pearl Harbor.

      Japan did invade and control an Aleutian island and fired some torpedos at a Goleta, CA oilfield..

      For the most part, the geography has protected the USA from invasion/overthrow.

      Maybe the upside of all the USA guns is that foreign invaders would be concerned about their safety?

      As further evidence that the USA is not too concerned about invasion/government overthrow is the sheer number of people in the USA who are peacefully hiding in plain sight, the “undocumented” perhaps numbering 20+ million.

      Maybe Hillary Clinton, with her newly found “‘radical empathy,’ encouraging people ‘to try to see the world through the eyes of people very different from ourselves’” has seen the light and will realize a lot of the threats to the USA “way of life” were trumped up, by herself and others such as LBJ, Henry Kissinger, and the George W. Bush administration before the real Trump arrived.

      1. J Sterling

        Lincoln was right:

        “All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.”

        1. JBird

          And yet, there is a pressing need for some white albatross of a military to “protect” us.

        2. Lambert Strether Post author

          We have the Atlantic to the East, the Pacific to the West, Mexico to the south, and Canada (sovereign until we decide that we really, really need its water) to the north. We are also armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. A more impregnable position is hard to imagine.

      2. Carolinian

        Actually the War of 1812 was just another bite of the “let’s invade Canada” apple. Whereas we only had to wait for Canada to come here and star in Bonanza and Star Trek and give us pop songs.

        For those interested this is a good legal analysis of our current presidential way of war mongering.


        It says that one of the key desires of the founders was that the executive branch not have the power to make war as was done in Europe by all those kings and emperors. As a result Truman’s UN “police action” in Korea was a lot more controversial at the time than people now know.

      1. Amfortas the Hippie

        I think David Brin is right on this, and the CW never really ended.

        many(just not as many as the MSM would have us believe and be mortally afraid of) are still stuck in the Cult of the Lost Cause. Interestingly, that Lost Cause-ism/”the South will rise again” has mythological parallels with Celtic tradition…from Finn beneath the hill outside of Dublin, to Arthur waiting in Avalon…likely inherited, along with the Clan structure and preoccupation with Honor, from the Scots-Irish that made up many of the Planter Families.

    1. Procopius

      I don’t know what meteorologists say, but I suspect the monsoon started in India already this year. After all, it’s what drives Thailand’s “hot season” and “rainy season,” and we’ve been getting nightly rains since about the 5th or 6th of May. Early. Anyway, I’m grateful, because the rainy season is a lot more comfortable than the hot season. It usually doesn’t rain every day, but some years turn out like 2011 where it did and we ended up with catastrophic flooding.

  6. clarky90

    Some of the complexity of the past that impacts the present, IMO

    The Origins of the Zionist Movement in Rokitno (Poland, at the beginning of the 20th century)
    Avraham Ben Dor


    “The population of Rokitno was mainly young. It consisted of people who came from neighboring villages and from distant settlements in Russia. Here, their families grew. Among these people there were three opposing movements: (1) Hasidism (religious fundamentalists), (2) “Bund” (Marxists) and (3) early Zionism. Why early Zionism? In order to answer this question, we must know the public and political image of the population of Rokitno during World War I.

    The Hasidic movement, which left a deep imprint on the Jews of Rokitno, did not understand Zionism and opposed it. It saw in Zionism an attempt to postpone the end and to bring the Messiah before its time.

    The second element that dominated the public was the “Bund”. Its influence on the youth was great. Even in 1905, a strong group of Bund members settled in Rokitno. Among them were: Moshe and Nissan Polishuk, the dentist Moshe Kutzin and his sister Idel. They were better educated than the rest of the local population. Thus, their influence on the youths was great from an ideological point of view. These youths had not yet defined their view of the world. They were, in general, susceptible to influences and no wonder that the “Bundists”, who were highly educated, were able to direct them to their way of thinking and their worldview.

    They sowed hatred towards Eretz Yisrael as it was, according to Ansky’s declaration, “a land of holy graves” and that it would not solve the problems of the Jews. In their opinion, the change in the Russian governing body would solve the Jewish problem automatically. In these beliefs, there was a great misconception. The youths did not possess analytic skills and could not distinguish truth from nonsense. This nonsense would solve nothing and would only serve as a basis for a losing ideology. These youths, in their innocence, believed that the Bundists’ beliefs would be redemption for the Jewish people.

    In order to deepen their influence among the youths, the Bundists established a library, which served as a center for the dissemination of their ideology. Meetings of youths and adults were held there. It was the only cultural center in town …..”

    1. JTMcPhee

      What’s that got to do with current Israel ite “policy” and constant expansion of borders and stirring the pot labeled “”MENA” and corruption and infiltration of the US political system?

  7. rjs

    John Lounsbury at Econintersect is now posting my weekly economic synopsis and newsletter…for 9 years, it’s been strictly an email affair, going out to 4 or 5 dozen news junkies on Sunday morning…so for those of you who want to review what happened last week, here’s part 1:


    parts 2 & 3 are linked elsewhere on the site.

    he’s also going to be republishing my weekly oil and gas newsletter, which ive been putting online at focus on fracking: http://focusonfracking.blogspot.com

  8. dcblogger

    any Californians here? the primary is a week from tomorrow, I would luv to hear the ground level view.

  9. timotheus

    Have been viewing David Blight’s lecture series for several months, and just heard him on the Memorial Day story, which he dug up. He says the racecourse now is named for a Confederate general, and the memorial to the Union dead is gone.

  10. Synoia

    Memorial day – A day without agency.

    Memorial to what?

    Veteren’s Day. November 11th, formerly know as Armistice days to celebrate the Armistice which halted WW I. The US celebrates soldiers, while Europe Celebrates peace, or in the UK Poppy Day to remember those who Died.

    In Church in the UK, this was the lesson (reading of the bible) for November 11th:

    Ecclesiasticus 44 1:15

    Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning. Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms,
    men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies: Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent are their instructions:
    Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing:
    Rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations:
    All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times. There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them. But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten. With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance, and their children are within the covenant. Their seed standeth fast, and their children for their sakes. Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore. The people will tell of their wisdom, and the congregation will shew forth their praise.

    Followed by the congregation saying, in unison:

    We shall remember them
    We shall remember them

    When at school as a child, every child I knew there had relatives who died in WW 2.

      1. JTMcPhee

        He missed the body counts of wounded, and really missed any mention of the millions and millions of mopes killed by the “disruptions” and “innovations” brought to fruition by the Vast Enterprise of All Too Human Stupidity called “War.”

        Sex this Vietnam vet, anyway. Who also says to people who thank soldiers for their “eacrifce and Service,” “Do you people have any idea what all that was actually all about, how it really went down, goes down to this day!”

  11. Thomas Hilton

    If I hear one more person say perfunctorily; “Thank-yew for your service.” I might just say: “Gesundheit.” Memorial day is not about dead comrades. It’s about discounts and sales.

    1. Phil in KC

      As a veteran, I often recoil inwardly at such a sentiment as “thank you for your service.” I feel that I ought to thank the United States and her people for allowing me to serve. Moreover, I am genuinely troubled by the over-valorization of the military these days, as if the armed forces were the sole repository of honor, virtue, and truth. Anyone who has served knows better.

      When someone thanks me for my service, I ask them to consider those who served in combat and those who were injured and killed. Those are the ones who deserve thanks. Me, I just inspected boiler tubes on a sub, and I was never in a combat zone.

      I remember the days when I couldn’t pay a bill in a restaurant, because someone had quietly paid for me!Phil

  12. Darius

    Am leaning towards thinking full employment policies should be the primary goal. If jobs guarantee, primarily as economic stimulus, helps get us there, then let’s do it. But the primary barrier to real full employment is austerity.

    Single payer, labor rights are important in themselves but also are essential to achieving and maintaining full employment.

  13. Scott

    I was listening to “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” this weekend while running errands and they mentioned the story about the Obamas’ deal with Netflix. One of the commentators even made a joke about Jimmy Carter building houses for the homeless while Barack and Michelle are trying to get the cast of Friends to reunite. While it was on a comedy show and neither the people on the show or listening to it likely did not make the same connection to corruption that people here would, I found the reaction encouraging. People both find the deal awkward and recognize that there is an alternative to the Clinton post-presidential model. Whether we’ll do anything about it is unlikely, but the acknowledgement is a good first step.

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