Robert Gerwarth (German Author, historian, specializing in European history, graduate of University of Oxford.)
At times, a reader/listener becomes jaded by books written about war. However, Robert Gerwarth’s “…Vanquished” is a timely review of the origin of war, particularly with Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Gerwarth implies all wars come from unravelling empires. He argues post 20th century wars are a result of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Japanese, French, Romanov (Russian), and British empires demise. Gerwath explains future generations of fighters from these former empires live on. Many continue to bare grudges for their lost existence as part of an empire. This reminds one of Vladimir Putin’s life as a KGB agent in the former U.S.S.R.
Gerwarth explains in detail the wandering fighters of dismantled empires who do not accept their defeat. They raid, rape, and pillage countries (often as mercenaries) that were part of their former empire. Of course, there are other circumstances that motivate these fighters, but loss of empire demeans and unmoors identity which energizes anger, motivates reprisal, and initiates atrocity.
Few historians disagree about the unfair reparations demanded from Germany after WWI. That unreasonableness weakens the post war German government which is soon overrun by Nazis; ironically, not led by a German citizen, but by an Austro-Hungarian citizen named Adolph Hitler. Hitler is a former fighter for the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Hitler’s extraordinary ability to martial rage with his rabid antisemitism rallies German extremists to believe Germany can establish a new European empire.
Hitler’s success is largely made possible by a weak German government and Germany’s war-ravaged poverty, exacerbated by worldwide depression.
Putin is a fighter for an empire that lives in his heart and mind but not in reality. One might conclude from Gerwarth’s view of history that Putin will fail in his effort to make Ukraine a part of Russia.
None of the 20th century empires have been resurrected, and like Thomas Wolfe’s novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again”, only force of arms can hold empires together. Empires are too big and culturally diverse to remain one entity.
Though Gerwarth does not address China, it seems China’s effort to gain control of outlying China interests is limited to government will and martial suppression.
Uighur Re-education camp in China.
The suppression of Uighurs is a first step to concentration camps.
It seems cultural difference and interests between Xi’s followers, and Uighurs, Tibetans, Hong Kong residents, and Taiwanese will require suppression to make them part of the supersized Chinese nation-state. It is likely that future generations of fighters will resist China’s enforcement if it pursues its present course.
Gerwarth offers an interesting historical perspective; supported by a lot of detail. It would seem the only hope for peaceful empires is through federalism. There needs to be an acknowledgement of cultural difference, with access to equality of treatment and opportunity for all citizens, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. Of course, that is what America has tried, and only partly achieved, among States. It would seem a greater task for empire, or within large multi-ethnic nation-states like China.
Learning from the Germans (Race and the Memory of Evil)
By: Susan Neiman
Narrated by: Christa Lewis
Susan Neiman (Author, Moral Philosopher).
Not many authors are more qualified than Susan Neiman to write about “Learning from the Germans”. As an American moral philosopher and cultural commentator who lives in Germany, Neiman offers an analysis of race and evil. One may disagree with her conclusion but not with her understanding of the subject.
Neiman notes being raised in Atlanta, Georgia by her Jewish mother, and father. Regarding race and evil, Neiman understands what it is like to be white in America and Jewish in Germany. Southern discrimination and religious persecution are vivified by Neiman’s experience in both cultures.
What comes as a surprise to some is Neiman’s argument that Germany handles guilt and shame for the holocaust better than America handles guilt and shame for racism, slavery, unequal treatment, and murder of people of color.
The primary theme of Neiman’s book is that post WWII Germany dealt with the history of the holocaust more forthrightly than America has dealt with racism and its evil.
Neiman explains memory of the holocaust is memorialized in Germany after the war. It has only been in the twentieth century that America has begun to memorialize 200 years of black slavery, lynching, and murder.
Pictures below are German sites preserved showing concentration camps, a prison, a museum, as monuments and reminders of holocaust atrocities. In Germany, by 1950, reparation for holocaust survivors is being negotiated.
With the exception of the Thomas Ball memorial to Emancipation in 1876, no monuments of slavery’s horrendous history are noted in America until the mid-1900s. What Neiman shows is that, only in this American generation, have reparations for slavery been seriously considered.
In the 1950s Germany began to deal with financial reparations for holocaust victims. In the 21st century, America is just beginning to discuss reparation for slavery. Even in 2022, most Americans reject reparations. However, a well-known American, David Brooks, changed his mind in 2019.
David Brooks (Writer, conservative political and cultural commentator, reporter, editor.)
“Nearly five years ago I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations,” with mild disagreement. All sorts of practical objections leapt to mind. What about the recent African immigrants? What about the poor whites who have nothing of what you would call privilege? Do we pay Oprah and LeBron?”
“The need now is to consolidate all the different narratives and make them reconciliation and possibility narratives, in which all feel known. That requires direct action, a concrete gesture of respect that makes possible the beginning of a new chapter in our common life. Reparations are a drastic policy and hard to execute, but the very act of talking about and designing them heals a wound and opens a new story.”
Robert Jones, the Founder of the Public Religion Institute, and a graduate of the Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a book suggesting reparations are the only way white America can find forgiveness. Neiman acknowledges the high cost of determining fair reparations for American slavery but implies money spent on defense would be a good place to search for money to invest in white America’s forgiveness for slavery. Neiman notes Germany rebuilt itself after WWII. Her inference is that America has enough wealth to do the same with reparations for slavery.
Trump refers to the 2017, Charlottesville, Va. alt-right and white nationalist rally where a white supremacist plowed his car into a group of counter-protesters to the racist rally, one of which is killed.
Neiman recalls the murder and torture of a Black 14-year-old boy, Emmitt Till, in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman in 1955.
Two white Americans admitted their guilt in Till’s torture and murder, after being acquitted for the crime by an all-white jury. The murderers went free to live their remaining lives in Mississippi.
Neiman reflects on the murders of nine African Americans in Shelby, North Carolina by Dylann Roof in 2015. Roof self-identifies as a white supremacist and neo-Nazi.
Neiman’s point is that Germany has done better to acknowledge and repair their relationship with holocaust survivors than America has done in reconciling its racist and evil actions regarding slavery and what has become institutionalized racism. Germany’s success has been in the face of an east and west Germany reconciliation after the fall of the Berlin wall.
Neiman notes the difference in east and west German survivors’ beliefs while showing they acted to reconcile their Nazi past with memorialization, and demonstration of shame and guilt for the holocaust. A significant part of that reconciliation is legislated reparation for holocaust survivors.
Neiman explains, just as there remain Nazi collaborators in the East and West, there are racist collaborators in the northern and southern United States. Neiman infers if Germany could reunify within 40 years after WWII, the U.S. should be able to reunify after the end of the civil war. Why is it taking the U.S. over 150 years to get to the point of just talking about reparations for slavery, let alone memorializing its evil?
Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell, Kathleen Gati, Kathrin Kana, Martha Hall Kelly
“Lilac Girls” is a long historical novel. Some may be tempted to quit but may be drawn back by its message to the future. It is a reminder of WWII. It is a warning to our present and future. Martha Hall Kelly’s extensive research on the Ravensbrück concentration camp offers relevance to Uighur re-education camps, Taliban repression, Russian/Ukraine atrocities, and the consequence of human isolation and incarceration.
Kelly’s book is about Ravensbrück rabbits, young women experimented on by Germany’s Nazi leaders.
The Ravensbrück concentration camp evolves into a chamber of horrors. It is managed by Nazi physicians and followers who purposely create damaged human bodies to test drugs and medical treatment for war wounds. A number of healthy young women have their bodies mutilated to test the efficacy of drugs and surgery to repair damaged limbs. They become known as the Ravensbrück rabbits
Ravensbrück is in northern Germany. The concentration camp was created exclusively for women. At its peak it housed 132,000 women, of which an estimated 48,500 were Poles, 28,000 Russians, 24,000 Germans, 8,000 French and a few other nationalities. Their incarceration is for reasons ranging from resistance to Nazi governance to disbelief in the false notion of race purity.
Kelly contrasts New York’ socialite living in the 1930s through the 1950s with European and war veteran survival. The author begins her story with the rise of Hitler, and Germany’s invasion of Poland, France, and Russia. As the German invasion of Russia portends defeat of Germany, Kelly unravels the atrocity of the Ravensbrück concentration camp, the ignominious defeat of France, the unjust western and Russian split of Poland after the war, the subjugation of Poland to Russia, and the rise of the U.S.S.R.
It is the intimacies of living that give Kelly’s book weight. For the romantic, there is some romance. For the historian, there are the revelations of Ravensbrück, for the futurist, there is the warning of the risks of human isolation and confinement based on race, religion, or ethnicity.
Uighur re-education camp in China.
Many countries, including the United States, have made the mistake of isolating and confining human beings based on race, religion, or ethnicity. This is the first step that may lead to Ravensbrück’ atrocity.
Kelly shows there is no redemption, either for victims or perpetrators. At the end of her novel, what happened to the primary victims of Ravensbrück stays with those who survived. The primary victim loses her mother in the camp. Her life after the war leaves her crippled emotionally and physically because she was one of the Ravensbrück rabbits.
Herta Oberheuser (1911-1978, died at age 66, physician at Ravensbruck concentration camp.)
As Germany nears defeat, the doctor who manages surgery tries to murder the women who were mutilated because they are witnesses to Ravensbrück atrocities.
She is convicted at Nuremberg. She serves 5 years of a 20-year sentence. Her ambition seduced her into atrocity at Ravensbrück. Her wish to be a surgeon, when there are few women surgeons in Germany, outweighed the guilt of her actions. After serving her sentence in prison, she starts a medical practice. She is tracked down by a primary victim of her surgical mutilation. Kelly writes about the rise and fall of Herta Oberheuser. With her exposure by a victim of Oberheuser’s surgical work at Ravensbrück, her medical license is revoked. Ms. Oberheuser dies in obscurity.
There is no redemption for atrocity. All human beings in the Russia/Ukrainian war, as well as the rest of the world, need to remember the lessons of WWII.
John Hersey (1914-1993, Author and journalist, won a Pulitzer for–“A Bell for Adano”.)
John Hersey is the son of American Protestant missionaries who was born in China.
Hersey is considered one of the first journalists to use a “storytelling” style for news reports. His most well-known news story is published in a 1946 “New Yorker” article, later published and expanded as “Hiroshima“, a book about the consequence of the first nuclear bomb blast of WWII.
“Hiroshima” is printed by Alfred A. Knopf and has never been out of print. Hersey reports an estimated 100,000 were killed by the bomb. His book tells the story of the long-term impact of nuclear fall-out on six Japanese survivors of the June 6, 1945’ blast. (Today, the estimate of those who died from the bomb’s long-term impact is 140,000 to 350,000.)
One hopes 9/11/22 #rumors of former Russian supporters of Putin’s Ukraine/Russian War are asking him to resign. Putin’s decision to reinstitute the draft may be a turning point in the Ukrainian war based on his Czarist behavior.
In looking back at Russia’s 1917 revolution, it is discontent of the military and resistance to participation in WWI that aided Lenin’s overthrow of Czar Nicholas. Putin may be repeating that history. Many kleptocratic leaders of his administration are in the same spot as wealthy landowners of the Czarist era.
At least three of the six survivors in Hersey’s story are searching for solace by turning to belief in a Christian God. One presumes, these survivors were chosen by Hersey because of his life as a son of missionaries. As you listen to the six personal stories of Hersey’s choice, one wonders how non-believers cope with the aftermath of the bomb.
Hersey’s report of six survivors tells of broken bones, burned flesh, scarring, chronic fatigue, social isolation, and concomitant unemployment because of symptoms of these six survivors.
THESE ARE THE SIX SUBJECTS CHOSEN BY JOHN HERSEY FOR HIS STORY.
Left to Right–Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto (3,500 yards from explosion, Methodist), Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura (1,350 yards from explosion, Widow of a tailor with 3 children), Dr. Masakazu Fujioio (1,550 yards from explosion center, a live in the moment hedonist), Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge aka Makoto Takakura (1,400 yards from explosion, a German priest of the Society of Jesus), Dr. Terufumi Sasaki (1,650 yards from explosion, young surgeon at Red Cross Hosp.) and Miss Toshiko Sasaki (1,600 yards from explosion.)
Hersey notes some women who are pregnant when the bomb bursts have children who suffer from the consequence, even though not yet born. He tells of a formally successful physician who must start over again to establish his practice. He has little money and no credit but needs to have a place to treat patients for income. He must work from his home which is only rented because he cannot afford to buy.
Hersey writes of a woman who is too fatigued to work at a regular job and decides to use her sewing machine to work at a pace her health will allow. She finds she cannot make enough money to house and feed herself. She sells the sewing machine and finds part time work collecting subscription payments for a newspaper that pays her fifty cents per day.
Hersey writes of recurring scars that occur from the flash and burn of the nuclear bomb explosion. The disfigurement requires plastic surgery.
Without money needed for cosmetic surgery, the young are reliant on financial gifts from others. Some Americans rise to the occasion.
In one instance, the TV program, “This is Your Life” generates contributions for a few victims’ who need plastic surgery.
Incongruously, on “This is Your Life”, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay meets with a survivor of the Hiroshima nuclear blast. Some consider this among the most awkward TV appearances of all time.
The fundamental point of Hersey’s stories is a nuclear weapon in war goes beyond immediate physical destruction and mental injury. Radiation from a nuclear bomb stays with victims for their entire, often shortened, and always compromised lives. It is more than the death of thousands, it is the remaining lives of every human being, whether born or yet to be born, who is exposed to the flash and burn of nuclear detonation.
King Richard: Nixon and Watergate-An American Tragedy
By: Michael Dobbs
Narrated by: Mark Bramhall
Michael Dobbs (Author, British member of the House of Lords, graduate of Oxford and Tufts University.)
Appropriately, it is a British citizen who writes a biography that focuses on Nixon’s years as President of the United States. An American is much less likely to be objective about Nixon’s Presidency.
Like yesterday’s Richard Nixon and today’s Donald Trump, Americans love or revile former Presidents.
The title of Dobbs’ book exemplifies a legitimate view of Richard Milhouse Nixon as an American tragedy. One doubts history will ever consider Trump’s fall from power as a tragedy. Both Nixon and Trump act like Kings but Nixon served America in ways that justify Dobb’s book title for Nixon as “…American Tragedy”.
Dobbs reminds Americans of Nixon’s prescient understanding of China by opening China to the west.
Nixon extricated America from Vietnam, a war that could not be justified or defeated by the delusional beliefs of past Presidents who believed in the domino theory of communist expansion.
Though Dobbs did not write about Nixon’s domestic policies, it was his presidency that formed the Environmental Protection Agency and instituted the war on cancer with a $100-million-dollar subsidy creating national cancer research centers. Nixon signed the Title IX civil rights law preventing gender bias at colleges and universities receiving federal funds. Nixon provided Native Americans the right of tribal self-determination. Nixon expanded social security benefits for working families.
Dobbs notes Nixon exhibits a kind of insecurity that clouds his judgement. That insecurity leads to the foolish decision to invade the Watergate Democratic headquarters; compounded by a cover-up that ends with Nixon’s resignation.
The prestige of office magnifies strengths and weaknesses of one who becomes a national leader. The potential for abuse of power by authoritarians has been demonstrated many times in world history. America is no exception. Dobbs details Nixon’s fall from the Presidency.
Dobb’s story of Nixon is an interesting contrast to Trump’s rise and fall. In no way is that to suggest there is any equivalence in intellect or contribution of these two Presidents because one is a tragedy while the other is a farce.
Dobb’s paints a picture of Nixon that is at times imperious and, at other times, endearing and vulnerable. Nixon seems a lonely man who loves his children but seems distant from his wife. Nixon has few friends.
A fundamental difference between Nixon and Trump is that Nixon rose to fame from nothing while Trump is born to wealth. Nixon earned his education. Trump bought his education.
To Nixon, Dobb’s shows money is a means to an end. To Trump, money seems all there is, and value is only measured by how much you have.
Nixon appears to have useful friends, not pleasant friends. The few pleasant friends are like Bebe Rebozo who never challenges his opinion and listens rather than asks questions. Useful friends are protected or abandoned based on personal loyalty. Any disagreement by useful friends with Nixon’s or Trump’s public pronouncements is perceived as disloyalty.
Both Nixon and Trump revile criticism, particularly from the press. Nixon is willing to sacrifice his closest subordinates if required to protect his position. Both ex-Presidents of the United States were willing to use the power of their office to pardon the guilty who have followed their orders.
All who become close to Nixon or Trump have been positively and negatively infected by their association. “King Richard” is a reminder of America today.
Odd Arne Westad (Norwegian author, historian, professor of History and Global Affairs Yale University.)
Westad argues “The Cold War” rises from the industrial revolution.
Od Arne Westad’s book is summarized here but not fairly assessed based on his erudition and the book’s voluminous facts and opinions. He argues the industrial revolution improves economic conditions of the world’s population via two fundamental forms of government, i.e., one Democratic and the other Socialist.
Westad notes America and the U.S.S.R. are principal representatives and antagonists of “The Cold War” because of their way of capitalizing on the industrial revolution.
Westad implies communism is a form of extreme Socialism. Some might argue America is a form of extreme Democracy. The facts Westad reveals show both countries have autocratic tendencies and have made historical mistakes that have cost millions of lives. The irony of those mistakes is that America became a more socialist-capitalist country and the U.S.S.R., now Russia, became a more capitalist-socialist country.
In broad outline, Westad’s historical facts define “The Cold War” as it developed in the 20th century. Westad covers most of the world in recounting the consequence of “The Cold War”. He notes key players like Indira Gandhi, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nikita Khrushchev, Mao Zedong, Richard Nixon, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Joseph Stalin, Josip Broz Tito, Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Yasser Arafat, David Ben-Gurion, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and others.
There are so many stories of so many leaders, one may lose sight of Westad’s argument–“The Cold War” is defined by the industrial revolution. In some ways, Westad gives short shrift to the significance of one person’s impact on “The Cold War”. However, historians choose their facts to make their point.
The importance of Gorbachev is perfectly identified by Westad’s characterization of the Gorbachev era. The impact of glasnost on world history is a book by itself.
When Khrushchev gave his speech that revealed Stalin’s atrocities, Mao lost all respect for U.S.S.R. leadership. President Xi is a strong proponent of the ideals of Maoist communism which implies Russian/Chinese’ relationship is utilitarian more than ideological. The same might be said of Russia’s and China’s support of North Korea.
Westad implies Mao considered Stalin a near God.
The importance of Gamal Abdul Nasser to the Arab world is exemplified by Westad’s explanation of Nasser in Egypt. A similar misreading of history is dispelled about Indira Gandhi and the lack of respect given by Nixon and Kissinger of her role in India.
Westad’s explanation of Stalin’s disrespect of Tito is enlightening. Tito idolizes Stalin but that feeling is not reciprocated by Stalin because, to Stalin, there could only be one leader of the communist movement.
In a trip to the countries formed out of Yugoslavia, it is interesting to note the respect the older generation had for Tito. That respect for authoritarian leaders is noted by Wested when he writes of Stalin. In spite of the millions of Russians murdered or incarcerated by Stalin, improvement in living standards of many Russians endeared him to many citizens.
Wested’s history reminds one that autocracy is not limited to any particular form of government. Just as Tito was an autocrat of Yugoslavia, one might view Trump as a Wanna-Be autocrat of America. Both had their committed followers.
In the modern age, Russia’s hegemonic role in the world has been replaced by China. Like Russia, China adopted a more socialist/capitalist economic system. “The Cold War” continues but the major representatives have changed.
The only political ideal that saves humanity from tyranny is freedom within rule-of-law.
What one is left with after finishing Westad’s history is the belief that neither Democracy, Socialism, nor Communism offer final answers for the future. Autocracy infects all three systems of government.
Stephen Nowicki (Professor of Biology at Duke University.)
Professor Stephen Nowicki offers a 36.5-hour lecture on Biology. From the origin and growth of life to the chemical and neuronal function of living things, Nowicki systematically reveals experimentally tested knowledge of the “…Science of Life”. This brief review only addresses a few of the many fascinating details Nowicki explains.
Nowicki suggests, cells evolve from the agglomeration of detritus from the “Big Bang”.
The early formation of these cells is missing two ingredients for life. Nowicki explains these early cells evolve from violent volcanic and electrical activity of the “Big Bang”, an environment in which those two missing ingredients are created.
Nowicki explains early non-living cells are bombarded by electrical storms that generate amino acids (organic compounds) and sugar from violent atmospheric conditions that include water.
In the early 1950s, these conditions were tested in laboratory conditions and found to create two essential building blocks of life. Nowicki explains, these building blocks (amino acids and sugars) became part of non-living cells.
The eukaryotic cells had a nucleus containing genetic material while prokaryotic cells carried free-floating genetic material without a nucleus. Nowicki then explains the role nucleotides (protein) play in activating genetic material within these cells.
Nowicki notes DNA is present in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, but they need to have a way of being activated. With replication, molecules (chemical compounds) could form. Nowicki explains living matter originated from the clumping and replication of these molecules.
Nowicki explains ribonucleotides (proteins) were created in the primordial soup of early earth. These ribonucleotides transformed into RNA which activated DNA genetic material and replicated both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.
Evolution of species, established by Darwin in the 19th century, appears quite consistent and reminiscent of the primordial process Nowicki outlines.
With that reflection, Nowicki reminds listeners that evolutionary process should not be thought of as a necessarily progressive improvement. Evolution is chancy. It can either preserve or destroy species. Nowicki wanders back in history to explain classification of species as theorized by Linnaeus in the early 18th century.
Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778, Swedish botanist, zoologist, taxonomist, physician.)
The second doubling of a zygote creates four cells separated in a vertical axis with all genetic material present in each cell. Subsequent doubling is separated on a horizontal axis. These new cells do not have all genetic material enclosed. The new cells have a more limited genetic role. There is significance in that axis change because of the location of genetic material in respective cells. With a change in axis, the viability of one cell carrying all the characteristics of its host goes from certainty to doubtful. The specialization of cells removes some of the genetic material that would contain all the characteristics of the life form.
The zygote at four cells is mature. The next doubling becomes an embryo. All four cells have the genetic material of a male’s and female’s contribution. Each multiplication reduces the size of sister cells until they form a mass that surrounds a vacant space within its middle. This vacant space is the blastocyst stage. The blastocyst is made up of an exterior shell, a middle shell, and an inner shell. Each shell becomes the seat of design for what is to be born.
All amassed cells around the blastocyst carry site specific genetic material of life that forms a living thing.
The process of design in a human begins with an intrusion into the blastocyst without breaking its shells. That intrusion (a human gastrula), around the 7th or 8th day, uses the membranes as laboratories within which genetic codes create skin, bone, internal organs, and the digestive system.
Each of the three membranes are the laboratories of creation. The exterior or outer shell for example would become skin, the middle shell would become organs, the inner shell would become the digestive system.
The next exploration of biology by Nowicki is more suited to students of biology. Nowicki makes a valiant effort to explain the chemistry of ADP and ATP phosphates that provide energy needed for growth and maintenance of life. This part of the lecture series becomes too technical.
As molecules of ATP and ADP break down, they fuel cells of life to act in specific ways to promote growth and maintenance. Like the importance of protein messengers for activation of genetic material, life cannot exist without the energy provided by ATP and ADP. Nowicki diligently tries to explain the mechanics of this phosphate process but loses this reviewer’s interest.
The first inkling of cause for plant growth is noted by Jan Baptist van Helmont in the 17th century. Nowicki explains Helmont planted a tree in a tub of soil. He carefully weighed the soil and tree at the time of planting. Over several years, he observed the growth of the tree. At the end of those years, Helmont weighed the soil and tree. He found a small decrease in the soil’s weight and a gigantic increase in the tree’s weight. Helmont speculates the difference is from water added over the years. Though his conclusion is only partly correct, he paved the way for discovery of photosynthesis.
Jan Baptist van Helmont , a Dutch chemist and physician (1580-1644, On the left with his son on the right.)
That synthesis is a more complete explanation of the weight gain noted in Helmont’s experiment. The fundamental point being made by Nowicki is that species growth and demise is based on resource availability. Jan Ingenhousz completes Helmont’s theory with the discovery of photosynthesis.
Jan Ingenhousz (1730-1799, Dutch physiologist.)
Around 1779, A Dutch physician named Jan Ingenhousz found that green plants use sunlight to synthesize food for plants from carbon dioxide and water.
The remaining lectures are about Malthusian limits to life. There are natural and societal actions (meaning acts of war) that affect species survival. For natural calamities, one is reminded of the Black plague in the 14th and 17th centuries, the Spanish flu after WWI., the Irish famine in 19th century, the great Chinese famine during the “Great Leap Forward”, and now Covid19.
From man’s inhumanity to man, there is the Mongol invasion of Europe in the 13th century, two 20th century World Wars, the holocaust atrocity of WWII that murdered 11,000,000 (6,000,000 of which were Jews), and most recently, an estimated 600,000 dead in the Syrian Civil War.
How many more deaths will there be from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
Of course, Nowicki’s attention is on the biology of life. Nowicki explains, the key to balance of nature is biodiversity. Nowicki notes the unprecedented loss of species in the post 20th century world risks life’s future. Nowicki briefly explains how drug discoveries and loss of genetic material from species extinction affects the balance of nature by diminishing the sources and utility of future medical discoveries.
The fundamental point of Nowicki’s view is that no species escape the natural biological limits of life. Nature balances life based on resources available. A listener may imply Nowicki believes humanity is threatened as much by ignorance of biology as of “man’s inhumanity to man”.
Will Buckingham (English Author, novelist, philosopher, masters in anthropology, PhD in philosophy from Staffordshire University.)
Will Buckingham succeeds in telling the story of philosopher’s big ideas. Buckingham takes listeners on a journey through the ages of philosophy. Beginning in the pre-Julian Roman calendar of 585 BC, Buckingham explains how Thales of Miletus began humanities’ journey from belief in mythology to observation and prediction. Miletus predicted a solar eclipse, presumably based on astronomical observation.
Thales of Miletus (626 to 623 BC to 548 to 545 BC, Pre-Socratic Philosopher known by some as the Father of Science.)
Socrates is believed to have lived from 470 to 399 BC when he chose to take his own life when found guilty of charges of blasphemy and corrupting youth.
Plato (428-423 BC to 348-347 BC, died at the age of 80.)
Socrates could have escaped execution according to Plato’s writing in the “Phaedo” but chose to drink Hemlock tea, the poison of capital punishment.
Socrates denies both accusations against him. Plato writes Socrates mentions the god Asclepius (one of the gods noted for healing) in his last moments of lucidity. The implication of Plato is that Socrates believed in the gods. Socrates flatly denies the corruption of youth for which he is accused.
Buckingham notes what is known of Socrates is only through Plato and Aristotle’s writing which support his innocence by relating stories of Socrates search for truth. An ancient Oracle is said to have told Socrates he was the wisest of all men. By questioning beliefs of those who professed wisdom, Socrates finds others ignorance and understands why the Oracle considers him the wisest “…because I alone, of all the Greeks, know that I know nothing.” It is through dialog with others about belief that Socrates finds other’s ignorance and his wisdom.
Confucius (551 BCE-479 BCE, died at 71 or 72, Chinese philosopher.)
Before Socrates, Buckingham notes the prominence of Confucius who lived in China, between 551 to 470 B.C.E. Both Socrates and Confucius search for truth.
Both are searching for causes of societal chaos. However, where Socrates looks to dialog with others and communication with the gods for help in understanding life, Confucius looks to what is called the DAO, i.e., the “way”, the road, or the path that gives harmony to human nature. In the DAO, there is a yin and yang to life that leads one to a harmonious code of behavior. It is neither based on God or gods but on the search for harmony in life.
Though Socrates and Confucius seek wisdom, their paths are quite different but with similar objectives.
This seems a beginning of a split between gods, God, and human belief. The Greeks pursue the help of gods for earthly harmony. The Chinese search for a path to human harmony within society, exclusive of gods or belief in one God.
Buckingham proceeds to overwhelm listeners with mostly well-known philosophers of history. He does not make a distinction between belief in gods, God, or what is broadly characterized as science.
In coming to grips with the number of philosophers noted, one tends to rely on a perceived societal direction. To this listener, the direction is away from God, toward science.
This is not to say that science or philosophy excludes God. There are many famous scientists who claim belief in God. Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Albert Einstein, Gregor Mendel, and Charles Darwin, to name a few. The irony of that truth is that each of these scientists made discoveries that weaken one’s belief in God because their discoveries offer insight to the origin of life and living without God.
The list of non-believers is as long or longer. Some say Einstein was an Atheist. There is Daniel Dennett, Michael Shermer, Rosalind Franklin, Sigmund Freud, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Richard Feynman, Niels Bohr, Francis Crick, Erwin Schrodinger, John Bell, and so on.
“The Philosophy Book” offers more information about philosophers than one may want to know. Nevertheless, it offers a well written overview of belief, if not wisdom, in the world. One may ask themselves, what’s next? Artificial Intelligence seems to offer our best chance of survival if humanity is on its own.
White Too Long (The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity)
By: Robert Jones
Narrated by: Holter Graham
Robert P. Jones (Author, Founder of Public Religion Institute, Baptist Theological Seminary Graduate, Ph.D. in religion from Emory Univ.)
Though history shows Americans have wavered, freedom (within the limits of rule-of-law) has progressed.
Fundamentally, “White too Long” is about equal rights for all Americans in the face of white privilege and white supremacy. Jones argument is a powerful explanation of how inequality is institutionalized by American Catholic and Protestant religions.
Jones focus is on discrimination against people of color in the south, but his evidence applies to many states-of-affair and every State in America. Raised in the south, born in 1968 and educated as a seminarian, Jones has intimate knowledge of religion and its practice.
Robert Jones reflects on institutionalization of racism by Christian religions in the United States.
Images of Christ as “God’s offspring” are of a white man in most (if not all) Christian religions. Christ is rarely identified as a person of color, or obviously as a woman. God as the Father is presumed by white America to be male and to be white.
It seems fair to say Americans have made progress in reducing racism and improving equal rights, but it has been two steps forward and one back. A basic tenant in the formation of the United States is separation of church and State.
The concern that America had in its beginning is government sanctioning of a particular religion for any state or jurisdiction. To keep that from happening, the Constitution stipulated separation of state and religion.
What Jones focuses on is the south’s history of slavery in “White Too Long”. Jones offers a detailed history of how religion reinforces white supremacy in the South. He argues that southern leaders of various religious denominations assumed beliefs in white supremacy and spread that belief through their religious preaching. They preached to white audiences constituting the bulk of Americans in the first 200 years of American history.
He notes the 2015 murder of 9 Black church members in Charleston S.C. as a turning point for the south. Dylann Roof walks into a Black church and murders the minister and 9 members of the church. Of course, the south is not the only source of white supremacists’ violence against people of color. There is the horrendous “Tops Market” murder of ten non-white citizens in Buffalo N.Y. in 2022 by Payton Gendron.
Jones notes how southern white America justified slavery as their right as a superior race. He recounts numerous stories of his experience in the south and his awakening to the subtle ways white superiority became an assumed right of his white friends. Preachers preached the gospel of white superiority. Jones notes how belief in white superiority became real to white Americans. Any opposition to that belief would be met with violence, before and after the civil war.
Though it is not part of Jones’ book, America’s religions also institutionalize discrimination against women. Like people of color, women of all races are treated unequally. Recent action by the Supreme Court in a woman’s right to choose whether to give birth is a case in point.
The Supreme Court’s decision in “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization” is a step backward from equal opportunity for women in the United States.
In view of Jones education, one presumes Jones would not condone abortion but his argument of religions’ role in institutional racism seems equally applicable to women’s rights. The conservative tone of today’s Supreme Court bodes ill for American equal rights. Separation of church and State is a fundamental tenant of the U.S. Constitution.
The most difficult chapters of Jones book are at its end. When one accepts that America has been “White Too Long”, what can we do about it? The author’s answer is to come to grips with truth, repent, and offer restitution to descendants of slavery. Jones recalls the story of Cain and Abel and identifies white Americans as the embodiment of Cain.
In Jones belief forgiveness only comes from truth, repentance, and restitution. Most rational white Americans accept the idea of truth and repentance, but restitution is derided by powerful Americans like Mitch McConnell who resist the idea of restitution because it is too difficult to trace descendants of slavery.
One might ask oneself-how difficult is it to offer native Americans restitution for the theft of their land? Reservations, and the right to create income producing properties have been a haphazard solution but they have been steps toward restitution.
Jones suggests some first steps have been taken by organizations that have set up endowments for restitution for slavery’s descendants. He argues, only with restitution can the stain of slavery be removed from the conscience of White America.
While one may ignore the issue of restitution, today’s American Supreme Court encroaches on separation of church and State by choosing to change support for Christian schools and “Roe v. Wade”. Erosion of church and State separation sets a table for more American violence. Unequal treatment cannot be sustained in a world of demographic change.
No Good Men Among the Living (America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes)
By: Anand Gopal
Narrated by: Assaf Cohen
Anand Gopal (Author, Journalist, formally embedded with the Taliban in Afghanistan.)
“No Good Men Among the Living” should be read or listened to by Presidents, Senators, Representatives, and Ambassadors of the United States. Anand Gopal gives a journalist eye view of errors and consequences of America’s intervention in Afghanistan where neither language nor culture are understood.
In the beginning of Gopal’s book, one is skeptical of its objectivity. However, as Gopal’s interviews of Afghan Taliban and non-aligned Afghanis accumulate, a listener begins to believe what is being said and reported.
The trials of Afghan women are appalling to Americans. What is missed is the struggle younger Afghan women have with the older generation.
Grandparents are appalled by what they perceive is abandonment of a life of duty to Allah and men in their families, whether fathers, husbands, or sons. This duty is based on generations of a culture that protect the tradition of male and female relationship. That protection is anathema to freedom, which is an inviolable tradition in America, but not Afghanistan.
The experience of Russian intervention and American training of the mujahideen led to a culture of non-Islamic terrorism.
The violence of interventionist states and training of mujahideen became fertile ground for Taliban revitalization. Violence, repression, and religious zealotry became tools of Taliban growth, resistance, ascendance, and resurgence.
Gopal notes Afghani women were raped and killed by American trained Mujahadeen after Russia was expelled. The Taliban restored order. Later, when America chose to dismantle the Taliban because of the Afghanistan leader’s refusal to release bin Laden, Afghanis began to see America as a new occupier rather than liberator.
Afghanis began to see America as a new occupier rather than liberator. The Taliban secretly regained power and influence as the perception of America’s intervention changed.
The cause of the change in perception of America as an occupier grew because of its dependence on self-interested tribal Afghanis who used American forces to eliminate rivals. All a respected Afghani translator had to do was identify a rival as a Taliban ally. America would arrest, jail, or kill the translator’s rival.
Internecine tribal conflict in Afghanistan creates an all-against-all culture with survival of the fittest as an objective assuring Taliban resurgence. The Taliban could maintain a level of peace and relative stability between tribes; America could not. America’s lack of understanding Afghan culture and American dependence on self-interested translators assures its failure.
America’s ignominious Afghan abandonment is a tragedy for both countries.
The fault lies with America’s failure to define a limited objective, execute a plan, and leave when a defined objective is achieved. It is unrealistic to believe an interventionist country can understand another country’s culture well enough to offer benefit to both invader and invaded.
There is a slender hope drawn from Gopal’s interviews of a young Afghan woman. She becomes a regional representative in Afghanistan despite the murder of her husband by the Taliban. She is supported by a tribal leader who respects her independence. The road traveled by women in Afghanistan is certainly more difficult now that America has left, but Gopal shows there is a road. However, Gopal infers help can only come from those who understand the culture in which they live.
With the qualified exception of Korea, America’s interventions in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan are national tragedies for both interventionist and subject nations. Today’s contest is in Ukraine with Russia, once again, testing intervention.