Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Metternich, Bismarck and Franco Reveal Reactionary-Conservatism’s Political Struggle with the Rise of Populist, Liberal-Republican Equality


It is fair to assess the era from 1814 through 1945 as reflecting a particular historical movement. This roughly 130 year period marks the struggle by the powerful elite to maintain control over European governments, their national and international economies, and cultural affairs against the rising tides of middle class demands for liberty, equality and liberal-republican styled, representative governments. Acceptance of the ancient premise that a Divine plan separated humanity into natural stations by hereditary lineage found opposition in the minds of an ever-growing, ever-increasingly educated, middle class. The result was a period dominated by reactionary policies determined to stem the tide of progress as it spread liberal-republican ideals. As the power of privilege saw its position challenged and eroded over this 130 year era, reactionary politics grew in strength and increased in the ugliness of force and policies used to hold onto power and maintain the status quo regarding distribution of wealth and power.

In May of 1814, the old European political order lay strewn on the ground like rubble, in the wake of the changes wrought by the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the execution of Louis the XVI, and the reign of Napoleon. The Enlightenment elicited popular movements based on the ideas of equality, no one is born with a right to rule over others, and governments only find their legitimacy by pursuing the best interests of the people, not the ruling class.

These ideas were taken up by revolutionaries as Europe became a breeding ground for the notion of equality and representative government. The rise of the French middle class and the spread of education among that middle class proved a sufficient incubator for Enlightenment ideals to take root. The resulting French Revolution and decapitation of the monarch, Louis XVI, led to an experiment in liberal-republican government in France. Even though Napoleon turned out to be an aggrandizing megalomaniac who wanted to dominate Europe, his initial stated desire, and much of the result of his conquest of Europe, was to rid it of its repressive monarchies and to proliferate the continent with notions endemic to the Enlightenment. He also increased the level of education and vesture of mid-level political power among the middle class.

With the defeat of Napoleon, the politicians tied to the old order were returned to a position of continental leadership. How they put this Humpty Dumpty Europe back together would determine whether or not a progressive or conservative approach would govern Europe in the following decades. In this climate, the power vacuum of post-Napoleonic Europe, Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich thrust himself into the spotlight, determined to be the light of Europe who would lead her into the future.

The Age of Metternich

Napoleon’s defeat delivered to Europe the consequence that Metternich’s influence emerged preeminent in Europe. “Confirmed of the falsity of the French ideas, Metternich determined to employ his vast authority to suppress if not extinguish them. He would labor to restore the old order” (May 5). Metternich’s vision entailed a return to the traditional principles from the preceding century.

The heads of state from Britain (Foreign Secretary Viscount Castlereagh), Russia (Tsar Alexander I), Prussia (King Frederick William III) and, of course, Austria (Prince Metternich) gathered in Vienna in 1814 in what was called the Congress of Vienna. Since someone had to negotiate on behalf of France to avoid the appearance that the resulting new order was imposed on the French without their participation and consent, the new French government’s Foreign Minister, Talleyrand, was included. The resulting accord which came into being reflected Metternich’s desire of returning Europe to a semblance of her pre-Napoleonic and pre-French Revolution form, including a revision of borders which sought to establish a balance of power on the continent and his considered ideal form of government, monarchy.

Poland was reduced to a tiny nation-state which barely included enough territory to surround Krakow. The rest of the former kingdom was divvied up between Prussia, Russia and Austria to satisfy each of their appetites, the desires by the victors over Napoleon for territorial acquisitions they deemed their rightful spoils from the war. Other territorial modifications were made upon the map of Europe as well since Prussia received territories including Saxony and Pomerania, Bavaria’s borders were increased from the Prussian border to Alsace, Holland received Belgium from Austria, and a new Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg was created under the sovereignty of the King of the Netherlands. Switzerland’s borders were also expanded at the expense of France. Norway was ceded to the king of Sweden for his role in repelling Napoleon. Lombardy and Venetia were annexed by Austria while Genoa went to Piedmont as part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. The Pope was returned to control over the Papal States, and relatives of the Austrian Emperor were made sovereign over Modena and Tuscany. As a consequence no state on the Italian peninsula possessed the military might to challenge the authority and hegemony of Austria. Monarchies were also returned to both France and Spain (May 9-18).

In addition to a reconstitution of monarchies, the map of Europe was redrawn in a manner which facilitated the desired balance of power between the continental powers of Prussia, Russia, France and Austria. Metternich found success in one of his main objectives, the re-creation of the eighteenth century notion of balance of power. He saw this balance of power as a guarantee for peace for the nineteenth century (May 19-20). “Just as the people were given no opportunity to indicate the flag under which they preferred to dwell, so no chance was allowed them to determine the character of the government they should have” (May 20). Metternich and his cohorts, in the grand tradition of previous centuries, executed aristocratic privilege as its right to impose on the peasant class whatever political outcomes they deemed expedient to assure a continuation of nobility’s control over European commerce, culture and politics.

Perhaps the crowning achievement of reactionary repression arose from the concept of the Concert of Europe and its early attempt at international government. The idea originated with Castlereagh. The Quadruple (and later Quintuple, since it was enlarged to include France) Alliance formed the basis. The powers Austria, Britain, Russia and Prussia (and later France as well) agreed to maintain peace in Europe as defined by the terms negotiated at the Congress of Vienna in the second Treaty of Paris (May 21-22).

Between 1815 and 1848, members of the Alliance convoked conferences to deal with uprisings in areas of Europe where people attempted revolts in the name of liberal-republicanism and/or nationalism. Invariably, Metternich and/or Alexander I of Russia used these conferences to obtain the blessing (and military assistance) of one or more of the other powers when one or both men deemed it necessary to invade some nation as a means of quelling popular movements that sought the progressive advancement of liberty, liberal-republicanism, and equality.

The British refused to assist in these military actions, in large part because Britain was a Constitutional Monarchy which incorporated many liberal-republican principles. The Brits also did not feel it was their place to force the will of outside powers on the people of other nations when the matters giving rise to the military intervention were solely internal and did not threaten the peace of Europe. However, in the eyes of Metternich and Alexander I: 1) anything which threatened monarchy as an institution threatened the peace of Europe because the ideas could spread to their Empires and lead to revolt, and 2) if popular revolts were allowed to overthrow governments put in place by the Congress of Vienna, then the theoretical balance of power in Europe would be at risk, thus creating a climate which might be conducive to some power or group of powers to seek territory or other hegemony through war. Revolts and attempts at revolution in various states on the Italian peninsula, Spain, Poland and the Balkans led to military incursions by the Austrians and Russians on many occasions in the 1820s and around 1848-1849 (May 30-71).

Ultimately, the world order Metternich created crumbled as the rising tide of nationalism trampled it beneath the boots of the coming Prussian armies. Metternich could not stop the revolutionary movements no matter how much force he used or how deeply he bankrupt the economics, diplomatic strength and military might of the Austrian Empire to do so. The seeds of unrest in the Balkans would lead to future wars the Austrians could no longer win. The erosion of influence on the Italian peninsula and throughout the German Confederacy would lead to the creation of nations out of the nationalist, liberal-republican spirit sweeping through Europe. He was forced out of office and even out of Austria during the violence of 1848-49. His world order would not survive long without his force of will and the Austrian soldiers who could enforce it.

Bismarckian Opportunist Realpolitiks

Otto von Bismarck’s career cannot be as easily categorized as Prince Metternich’s. Metternich stayed true to his single-minded purpose throughout the age which bears his name. Bismarck, on the other hand, allowed his policies to be dictated by whatever necessity presented itself at the moment. He was an enigma who confounded German politicians and European statesmen because he was, “the entrenched defender of the status quo, the apparent reactionary, who brought to his campaigns the armament of the revolutionary and the temperament of a Jacobin” (Crankshaw 41). Nonetheless, Bismarck can be said to have had two major foci which dominated and shaped his political maneuverings.

Bismarck believed in monarchy as the safest form of government because it prevented power from falling into the hands of the mob and resulting in revolution which would upset the order of the things (Crankshaw 177). However, unlike Metternich, Bismarck was not concerned with maintaining traditional control over Europe by the landed aristocracy. Bismarck’s elitist ideals were far more self-centered. He didn’t trust anyone but himself and felt that both king and parliament should be subjected to his control. He was, however, dedicated to building a united Germany. “German unity was the proper desire of all who spoke German, he declared” (Crankshaw 59). His dream of German unity had Prussia as its dominant force ruled by the Prussian King. That was a self-serving dream because Bismarck’s wish for a Germany united under the Prussian King as Emperor of a new German Reich was only entertained in that fashion so it could offer him an avenue to dictatorship over that German Empire (Crankshaw 177).

In order to fashion German unity, Bismarck had to resort to war, not once, but on two occasions. His war policies showed complete disdain for human life and suffering – people were mere pawns in Bismarck’s high stakes games of political intrigue. Bismarck conceived a master plan long before war was even considered. He built up the military and seduced the Minister of War (Roon) and commanding General (Moltke) into his sphere of influence as facilitators of his master plan. The quick defeat of the Austrians in 1866, to the surprise and consternation of the most powerful nations of Europe, created fervor and excitement among the German states. Austria was forced out of the German Confederation and the minor kingdoms and principalities turned to Prussia for leadership, protection and economic stability. Bismarck used this moment to unite many of those states with Prussia. At the same time, his masterful diplomacy in negotiating treaties with the heads of the major powers to forestall any action on their part in the event of war, and his ability to capitalize on the moment and strike when his military had been properly prepared for aggression but his adversaries remained unprepared for hostilities, outmaneuvered the Austrians in 1866. Then, in order to complete the final unification of Germany, he repeated the process against the French in 1870-71. Bismarck created a new power in the center of Europe which completely upset the balance of power (Crankshaw 189-300).

Once he had consolidated the disparate states into a new German Empire, Bismarck ruled it with an iron hand. The nationalist spirit he manipulated among the masses to excite them into abetting his creation of the new Empire through war had come with expectations for a more liberal-republican government subservient to a constitution and parliament. However, just as he played the heads of Europe with subterfuge and secrecy to set the stage and facilitate the progress of his war plans, Bismarck used the force of his character and will, the dynamism of his spirit and strength, and the genius of his foresight and long range planning to outmaneuver parliament, bully the Emperor, and rule as a near dictator. His policy of Kulturkampf destroyed the power and influence of the Catholic Church (Crankshaw 303-311).

In the later years of his Chancellorship, Bismarck gave up the Kulturkampf to fight socialism and the Social Democrats’ movement to raise the standard of living and improve the workers’ conditions. Bismarck marked his stewardship of the new German Empire by economic strength and prosperity. That prosperity only trickled down to a few and was mainly vested among the industrial capitalists (Crankshaw 355-360). “On the face of it Bismarck’s triumph was complete. The entire network of Social Democratic activity was torn to pieces and destroyed. The infant trade union movement was strangled. But in fact the very thing that Bismarck most feared, a conspiratorial and fighting opposition, was being born” (Crankshaw 360).

Like those autocrats of every generation before him, the seeds of the undoing of the political empire Bismarck created were sewn by his unwillingness to see the coming changes and progressive new movements on the horizon. His determination to make every aspect of the German Empire conform to his vision even in the face of popular movements for greater equality and liberal-republican government led to the rise of an opposition which would ultimately take control of Germany, even though it took some 60 years.

Franco and Fascism

Generalissimo Francisco Franco rose to power in 1930s Spain as a fascist dictator who repressed his people and killed anyone whose ideas reflected equality, redistribution of wealth and property, and liberal-republican ideals, all of which he deemed anathema and treasonous to the new state he created. His rise to power stemmed from a military coup which came about to counter a newly formed, liberal-republican government that replaced Spain’s failed monarchy in the 1920s.

Franco’s “intention was to crush the Republican army completely, a project which, along with the repression in the captured areas, aimed to lay the foundations for an enduring dictatorship” (Preston 275). Franco refused to submit to Hitler’s and Mussolini’s constant pressure put to rush his war and take the country quickly. Even though Hitler and Mussolini funded and armed Franco’s forces in addition to sending troops and officers to lend assistance, he fought his war according to his understanding of how to achieve not just the short term goal of victory over the Republican forces but his long range plans for Fascist domination over the country and maintenance of the position and prestige of the privileged class. Franco intended to defeat the Republican armies in lengthy battles which inflicted the heaviest of casualties possible. Then, a slow process of pacification of the territory ensued in which all Republican sympathizers were rooted out and either killed or jailed. If they were jailed, in time they would end up dead anyway (Preston 274-281).

Terror was another of the techniques Franco’s troops employed to dishearten and dispirit the enemy as well as provide his army with an aura of invincibility and his campaign an appearance of inevitability. “The terror … was one of the Nationalists’ greatest weapons in the drive on Madrid” (Preston 123). In Toledo, there seemed no end to the killing. The firing squads of Franco’s troops averaged killing 30 prisoners a day for months. The prisoners included Republican soldiers and peasants, anyone who carried a trade union card, who was accused of having been a Freemason, or who voted for the Republicans in elections (Preston 123). In Madrid, 200 to 250 executions were carried out daily with an additional 150 a day in Barcelona and another 80 a day in Seville (Preston 320).

One of the grave consequences of the Caudillo’s policies (Franco was called the Caudillo which loosely translates into something like Fuhrer) was the mistreatment and torture of women. They were subjected to tar and feathering, being dragged through the streets after having their heads shaved, forced ingestion of castor oil so they would soil themselves in public, beatings, torture, sexual humiliation and rape. “As the Francoist forces captured Republican territory – in Castile and Galicia in the first few days, in the southern provinces in the late summer of 1936, along the northern coast in 1937 and then all over Spain once the war ended on April 1, 1939 – the feminist revolution of the Second Republic was reversed with extreme savagery” (Preston 207). The treatment of women by Franco’s Nationalist forces exhibited extreme cruelty and extraordinary humiliation. “Republican women would be punished for their brief escape from gender stereotypes by humiliations both public and private” (Preston 207).

The first objectives of the Franco regime were to maintain and reconstitute the ownership of land to the landed aristocracy and enforce strict control over the peasants and working class. Wages were slashed. Strikes were treated as sabotage and strikers subjected to long prison sentences. Travel and job searches were controlled by the Franco regime. Franco was especially committed to maintaining the social structure of rural areas (Preston 322). These objectives were intended to reconstitute and enforce the preeminence of the ancient landed nobility and the wealth and elitist position of the aristocracy which still existed in Spain, even through the years of the Republican government’s leadership and attempts to bring Spain into the 20th Century.

Franco’s power lasted until he died in 1975. His grip on power was enforced by his militarism: killing or imprisoning all opposed to his policies. He perpetuated his power by maintaining a strict government and through propaganda disseminated in schools and the media. No opposing views were permitted. No literature offering a contrary point of view was tolerated. Nonetheless, after his death, Spain quickly advanced socially and politically. The nation developed a constitution and a representative form of government. Again, as is always the case, the forces of progress may be impeded for a time if sufficient force is applied. However, progress and the advancement of progressive ideas cannot and will not be stopped.


I remain mystified by the persistence of belief in the value of conservative politics. If the history of the world has any lesson to offer, that lesson must be, at its most basic state, that progress cannot and will not, ultimately, be prevented. It may be delayed for a time, but progress refuses to be denied. The conservative position is, and has always been, something along the lines of, “Let’s keep things as they are because the current order works just fine.” The reactionary-repressionist extreme of conservatism evidences not only the traits described above, but seeks to enforce them with might, muscle, arms, propaganda and even by murdering all opposition.

If progress could be thwarted, we would still be living in caves, or alternatively, in agrarian societies run according to the principles of the feudalism which existed in the Middle Ages by ancient, hereditary family aristocracies without any possibility for economic or social upward mobility. None of us would possess books, let alone computers. Access to education (and hence knowledge), comfort, medical treatment, wealth (and consequently, the accumulation of possessions), and every other advantage available to people of all stations in life today living in lands administered by liberal-republican, representative governments would be controlled and lay vested solely among the descendants of those aristocratic, family, hereditary lines.

One can identify liberalism with the forces of progress, change and growth. The progressive movement belongs to everyone the world over. It must be encoded in our genes, because masses of people throughout time have always joined in popular movements to demand change, to improve conditions, to further the cause of liberty, to seek greater opportunity for self-expression, to create liberal-republican, representative governments, and to dream the dream of a world which promotes individual fulfillment.

Works Cited

Crankshaw, Edward. Bismarck. New York: Viking Press, 1981. Print.
May, Arthur. The Age of Metternich, 1814 - 1848. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1933. Print.
Preston, Paul. The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution and Revenge. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006. Print.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The French in Indochina and the Beginning of Decolonization and the End of Domination by Western Empires in the Third World

Prior to World War II, the underdeveloped world was largely dominated by empires and colonialism. Though France was known as the Third Republic, it maintained an empire with holdings in Africa and Indochina among its colonial territories. England’s colonies included India, Palestine and Malaysia among its vast network. The Dutch, for instance, retained Indonesia as a colony. Even the United States maintained a colony in the Philippines.

WWII undid colonialism. The occupation of colonial territories by Japan, for example, changed the nature of the relationships between the colonies and the empires which were their protectors and overseers prior to the war. Vietnam, then called Indochina, was such a colony whose relationship with its governing colonial power, France, endured such an upheaval.

Jacques Dalloz explains that the occupation by Japanese Imperial forces helped fan the flames of a growing nationalist movement among the Vietnamese. The colonial relationship and its nature and social structure were destroyed by Japanese occupation. The Western powers claimed their intent as bringing modernization to backward people. However, those “backward people” had civilizations which existed for over 2000 years. The Vietnamese saw the French as hypocrites, overlooking their own Enlightenment values and republican traditions so they could extract the region’s natural resources while exploiting the underpaid and undervalued Vietnamese people who were treated like second class citizens and allowed no access to positions of authority under the French colonial system (Dalloz 20).

Ellen J. Hammer explains that even though the Mikado declared Imperial Japanese would free the people of the Far East from white supremacist dominion, the Japanese returned control of the region to the French through the September 22, 1940 agreement between the French and Japanese because, by then, Germany had conquered France, the Axis puppet Vichy government had been installed, the colonial officials accepted Vichy authority and orders, and the Japanese military had already easily routed the French colonial armed forces garrisoning Indochina (Hammer 23). Since the Vichy government was an Axis ally, Japan returned political control for most internal matters to the French. The Vietnamese nationalists began fighting the French for independence as early as 1940, during the Japanese occupation. “When the French came back to the Lang Son area in the fall of 1940, they were confronted with open rebellion” (Hammer 24).

“Ho Chi Minh was still called Nguyen Ai Quoc when he created the Indo-Chinese Communist Party in 1930” (Dalloz 23). Ho studied in both Paris and Moscow between 1923 and 1925. He also went to Canton, the capital of the Chinese revolutionary movement, as the Vietnamese representative to the Kuomintang in 1925. By the beginning of 1941, Nguyen Ai Quoc returned to his homeland after a 30 year absence and founded the Viet Minh, a broadly based nationalist organization dedicated to wresting independence for the Vietnamese. In 1944, when Chiang Kai-shek decided it was time to form a provisional Vietnamese government as preparations were being made for Chinese forces to invade Vietnam, Nguyen Ai Quoc took the name Ho Chi Minh as he founded and led that provisional government (Dalloz 48).

Peter M. Dunn reveals that on their way out of Indochina in 1945, the Japanese took steps to prevent Westerners from regaining colonial dominion over Indochina. “The Japanese dispensed with the trappings of French colonial rule and swept the French armed forces and civil administration into jail” (Dunn 52). Imperial Japan aided and abetted the Viet Minh even further. “The Japanese turned over large stocks of arms, ammunition and money to the Vietnamese revolutionaries” (Dunn 52).

In the initial aftermath of WWII, England, France and the Netherlands reclaimed their colonial holdings. India had been granted “home rule” by the British prior to the outbreak of WWII. However, India was still part of the British Empire. The British took back Burma and Malaysia, and reasserted governance in Palestine. The Dutch moved right back into the former Netherlands East Indies, then becoming known as Indonesia. The French claimed Algeria and Indochina again. What none of these empires grasped was that in the absence of colonial rule, local leaders from the indigenous populations took up the reins of self-rule. These populations were no longer willing to be dominated by Western colonials and the era of decolonization was about to begin. Vietnam was a leader in the decolonization movement.

Another of the main factors working against the perpetuation of the colonial system lay in the positions taken by Franklin Roosevelt prior to his death as the battles of WWII turned in favor of the Allies. “Roosevelt had mapped out a grand scenario of world events, which included the elimination of the British and French empires” (Dunn 70). Harry Truman did not share all of Roosevelt’s ideas. However, one of the decisions at Potsdam was an agreement between Truman and Churchill that the British would pursue military operations from Burma into southern Southeast Asia, whereas Chiang Kai-shek would lead his forces into northern Indochina, splitting it in two. The British would be responsible for taking the southern portion, assisting French forces there, while the Chinese troops and Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh guerrillas would liberate northern Indochina (Dunn 119). That split would loom large as future events unfolded.

After Hiroshima, Ho had General Vo Nguyen Giap confront the Japanese forces with his Vietnamese Liberation Army. The Japanese capitulation to the Allies on August 14th unleashed a general rebellion in the north. By August 19th, the capital fell to the Viet Minh. The same scenario occurred in most of the cities as Japanese representatives repeatedly gave in to the revolutionary forces (Dalloz 49).

Several months before Potsdam, in March, de Gaulle issued a variety of statements concerning Indochina. He denounced the Japanese tyranny. He praised the French troops and created a mythology of them as having stood up to the Japanese and fought as part of the great battle for liberation. In addition, he stated that the native population remained loyal to France. The French press and politicians took this mythology as truth and spread it among the public, who were otherwise disinterested in matters of a colonial nature, since their focus was on ending the war in Europe and re-establishing their economy and rebuilding their nation (Dalloz 53).

In 1946, the French wrote a new constitution with the term “French Union” replacing previous references to the French Empire. This constitution no longer spoke of natives in colonial lands as subjects. Everyone was theoretically a citizen enjoying the liberties of the French republican tradition (Dalloz 53). The French anticipated splitting Indochina into five countries: Laos, Cambodia, Tonkin (northern Vietnam), Annam (central Vietnam) and Cochin China (southern Vietnam). France promised free elections for a constituent assembly. Ignoring the situation in Indochina, which was one where the Indochinese people had already laid claim to independence, France envisioned these five countries as being subservient to and administered by France as part of the French Union. No date was ever set for the promised elections.

The Viet Minh led the August revolution. The Japanese essentially conceded to the Viet Minh by failing to fight. On August 16th, in a meeting called by the Viet Minh central committee, the People’s National Liberation Committee was appointed to lead the revolution and Ho Chi Minh was unanimously elected president by the committee (Hammer 98-105).

Ho hoped to reconcile all nationalist forces within the Viet Minh. However, Emperor Bao Dai retained ties to the French. Ngo Dinh Diem refused to team up with Ho (Hammer 149-150).

Giap’s troops took Hanoi in a popular, nationalist uprising, which led demonstrations in the streets celebrating independence establishing Viet Minh authority in Tonkin. Emperor Bao Dai invited Ho Chi Minh to install a new cabinet and assume authority in Annam. Ho was unwilling to operate under the framework of a constitutional monarchy with Bao Dai at the head. He sent word requesting Bao Dai’s abdication. With the national popularity and prestige of the Viet Minh so strong, Bao Dai complied. On August 26th, an official ceremony was held in which the Emperor ceded authority to Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh in the interests of peace and national unity. These actions gave Ho control over Tonkin and Annam (Hammer 98-105).

The struggle in Cochin China differed. Many nationalist groups vied for power. On September 2nd, shots marred a peaceful, Saigon demonstration, killing a prominent Catholic priest, four Frenchmen and several Vietnamese. Mayhem ensued. The Viet Minh restored order. Word spread that the British intended to facilitate a return to French colonial rule. The nationalist movements not aligned with the Viet Minh disagreed with Ho’s position that only by negotiation could independence be maintained. In-fighting resulted, often devolving into violence, and revealed serious divisions within the nationalist movement in Cochin China (Hammer 106-110).

On September 12th, the British arrived in Saigon, bringing along some French troops. The Vietnamese saw the French as weak, having done nothing to defend the country or win it back, and returning on British coattails. Anti-French sentiment ran high. In the morning of September 22nd, French troops took control of the public buildings. With the French authorities seemingly back in power, the French public in Saigon took to the streets, abusing the Vietnamese verbally and physically. Violence between the nationalists and French ensued (Hammer 115-127).

In February of 1946, Chiang and the French agreed the Chinese would cede control of Tonkin to the French in return for economic and political concessions. As the Chinese left, so did Viet Minh protection. On March 6, 1946, the French signed a treaty with the Viet Minh recognizing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam with its own government, army, parliament and finances as an independent part of the Indochinese Federation and French Union. France pledged to hold a referendum to determine if the three Ky, Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China, should be united. This agreement was a ruse by the French who had every intention of stalling for time and building their strength in order to keep Cochin China separate, maintain absolute French control over it, and steadily regain control in Tonkin and Annam as well (Hammer 148-156).

Subterfuge on the part of the French was a constantly recurring theme in its relations with the Vietnamese. One government after another was promised for and installed in Cochin China. Only puppets actually assumed power. Promised elections never occurred. French troops invaded the north and forced Ho out of Hanoi. Enmity led to war. Instead of honoring the agreement and granting the Vietnamese freedom and independence within the framework of the French Union, France wanted to return to colonialism and domination. None of the Vietnamese nationalists could accept that fate. Ho Chi Minh, Vo Nguyen Giap and the Viet Minh led the resistance.

The French had the Viet Minh on the defensive early in the war. The dynamic changed in 1949 when Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communists forced Chiang Kai-shek out of China. As Philippe Devillers and Jean Lacouture explain, Mao’s Communist Chinese government provided aid and armed the Viet Minh. As a result, the West took a completely different view of the conflict. No longer was Ho Chi Minh seen as leading a nationalist movement for independence from colonial rule. Now, he was a Communist and the Vietnamese movement for independence was reframed as part of Communist expansion in the Cold War struggle (Devillers 22-27).

Giap led a guerrilla campaign. His strategies frustrated the French who controlled the cities, even in Tonkin. Giap broadened the war into Laos. Despite employing a variety of generals, the French could not track him down. In the early 1950s, Giap initiated a counter offensive, ousting the French from some Tonkin cities. Only the charismatic and daring de Lattre had any real success in response, which occurred during 1952 as he retook what Giap had gained. By the end of 1952, Giap’s army was back on the offensive. In late 1953, General Salan theorized that to have any possibility of an honorable withdrawal from Vietnam, the French needed a more mobile and more powerful fighting force than the Viet Minh’s (Dewillers 27-32).

Martin Windrow noted General Navarre took charge of Vietnamese operations in 1954. He devised a plan which he hoped would stop Viet Minh raids into Laos by bringing a larger force into the highland countryside where Giap’s troops' operations were based. By setting up a fort in a valley of the northern highlands, Navarre could disrupt Viet Minh activity, cut off supply and communication lines, and pacify the region. Dien Bien Phu offered the perfect location. It was on one of the highways the French built, making it easily supplied, and from which fort patrols could operate. It sat in a valley blocking access to Laos. It was in the middle of Giap’s operational zone. It had a runway for air operations. Navarre’s plan was necessary because the People’s Army was on the offensive, taking cities from the French again. On November 2, 1953, orders were given to reoccupy Dien Bien Phu (Windrow 221-223).

David Stone explains that the cease fire ending the Korean conflict in 1953 freed up the Chinese military so it might turn its attention to Vietnam. Eisenhower believed the French could handle the increased military threat in Indochina. That assessment was flawed (Stone 79).

General Giap’s forces surrounded Dien Bien Phu and bombarded it with cannon fire. The only means of supply was by air drop. People’s Army troops attacked over and over. Giap took a brief break from his siege in early April to reinforce and resupply his forces. The break also served to improve morale. “The battle reached the final week of April 1954 and the beleaguered garrison prepared itself for what it knew would be the decisive clash of arms” (Stone 77).

Washington and Paris discussed the possibility of American intervention with Operation Vulture. “The plan envisaged as many as 450 fighters and up to 98 B-29 bombers involved in a first strike that would deliver almost 1400 tons of conventional bombs on the Viet Minh about Dien Bien Phu” (Stone 81). The use of two atomic bombs on Viet Minh positions was discussed. Considerations regarding the Chinese response and the likely escalation into a battle between the US and China delayed commitment by the US. Once the battle of Dien Bien Phu was engaged on April 3rd there remained no opportunity to proceed with Operation Vulture (Stone 79-82). The result was the defeat of French forces at the hands of the Viet Minh in that epic battle.

Mark Atwood Lawrence relates that, “By 1954, no American officials had any doubt – nor should they have – that Ho Chi Minh’s movement served the interests of international Communism. The link was real and obvious, even if Western policy was largely responsible for generating the outcome that Western policymakers most dreaded” (Lawrence 279).

Western arrogance – its belief in the right to govern third world populations and dictate the lifestyles while extracting natural resources, its failure to negotiate in good faith with Ho Chi Minh and recognize that the nationalist movement of the Indochinese people was not going to be thwarted by military means, and its repeated failure to abide by the promises made and agreements signed – combined to force the Viet Minh into an alliance with China, their ancient enemy. The defeat was the first in a series between the West and emerging third world nations seeking independence. It heralded decolonization which spread through Southeast Asia, to Africa and even to Central and South America, making it a turning point in Western Civilization.

Works Cited

Dalloz, Jacques. The War in Indo-China 1945-54. Trans. Josephine Bacon. Savage, Maryland: Barnes and Noble, 1990. Print.
Devillers, Philippe and Jean Lacouture. End of a War: Indochina, 1954. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., 1969. Print.
Dunn, Peter M. The First Vietnam War. London: C. Hurst & Company, 1985. Print.
Hammer, Ellen J. The Struggle for Indochina 1940-1955. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1954-1955. Print.
Lawrence, Mark Atwood. Assuming the Burden: Europe and the American Commitment to War in Vietnam. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. Print.
Stone, David. Dien Bien Phu: Battles in Focus. London: Brassey’s, 2004. Print.
Windrow, Martin. The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam. London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004. Print.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

On Notions of Home

Home can mean many things to different people and in different contexts. One person may consider home as the house in which they grew up, especially if they resided in primarily one single residence for the majority of their formative years. Another individual may think in terms of their home town. Still others, either currently raising or who have raised families of their own, might consider home as being that primary residence in which their children currently undergo the maturation process or where they grew up. Many consider home as being anywhere they reside at any given moment. The homeless might deem home anywhere they lie down that night, or perhaps even nowhere at all.

I believe it is fair to say most of us can use any word in conversation without stopping to reflect on what that word really means emotionally and in the context of the events of daily life. I also believe a word like home, when reflected upon, encompasses a deeply emotional milieu permeating one’s entire being. Home connotes safety, security, conviviality, connection and familiarity. More than just a dwelling or domicile, home provides one’s foundation: the place where family meets, mingles and relates, finds shelter from the outside world, competition, intrusion and antagonism, and enjoys a nurturing center for sustenance, community and love. One’s idea of home reveals one’s roots, not just in terms of place or relationships, but also with reference to one’s internal sense of self and one’s place in the world.

As a child and adolescent, my family moved fairly often. The duration for our longest tenure of residence in any one place spanned 3 ½ years. After I stopped living with my parents and took responsibility for supporting myself and providing for my own life, I continued the pattern of moving from place to place fairly often. During the first couple of years, I didn’t stay in any one place longer than 5 or 6 months. The term of residence in which I dwelt for the longest period during my life lasted 5 ½ years. However, I shared that domicile with a friend, so I don’t really consider that as having been my home. Rather, the dwelling provided a place I shared with a friend, but it formed just one more stop along the way in a lifetime of searching for roots and stability. I also lived with three women, but none of those living situations lasted longer than 9 months. As far as personal residences where I lived alone, my longest term of dwelling in the same place lasted 4 ¼ years. So, given my history of wanderlust, I have never thought of any of my previous abodes as “home” in the sense described above.

I can say, on and off over the years, I spent about 39 of my nearly 58 years in Los Angeles with nearly all of my formative years included among those 39 spent in L.A. However, L.A. possesses no homogeneity, and having resided in 26 different dwellings in that city, none of them stand out enough to provide me with an emotional attachment. For whatever reason, maybe because the lifestyle is so on-the-go in conjunction with the ridiculous number of residences I passed though during my years in Los Angeles, I never even considered the city as my home.

Neil Diamond sang in his song, “I Am I Said,” “L.A.’s fine but it ain’t home / New York’s home but it ain’t mine no more.” I grant that LA courses through my blood, webs the sinews of my muscles and ossified into my bones. Its lifestyle, attitudes and values permeate and inform my consciousness and memories. However, I also rejected the city a number of times and left her as a loose woman and estranged lover because that always seemed to describe the way she embraced her inhabitants, myself included. So, I must paraphrase Neil Diamond and simply say, “L.A.’s there but I’m just gone / The road winds long but it’s my only home.”

Life is a process. One cannot extract any individual moment or experience, occurrence or place, feeling or idea, lover or friend and put that on a pedestal called quintessential. If life teaches us anything, it teaches us about the constancy of change and the fluidity and impermanence within every one of our modes of interpreting experience, including one’s sense of self. I am not even comprised of the same molecules which formed my body when I resided in Los Angeles. My thoughts, ideas and personal philosophy do not match those which made me the unique Don I presented myself as being during those L.A. years. I embrace the change, the process, the fluidity and the impermanence. I am not one Don. I am myriad Dons. I see myself as new every instant, dying to be reborn again millisecond after millisecond.

“What does that indicate home means to you?” you might wonder and want to ask me. I find home in each breath I take. I feel home in every smile I share. I discover home not as security, but through the insecurity of ever-changing experience. Home reveals itself through the process of living. Home speaks to me of and through connection and interconnection.

An old adage tells us, “Home is where the heart is.” I believe the meaning of heart in that phrase can be expressed as love. Indeed, when I speak of home, I speak of love. I carry my love with me everywhere I travel in life. Home does not refer to a place; home refers to an emotional state of being. One can experience that state of being through giving, caring, sharing, listening, understanding and nurturing, because those qualities and pursuits embrace all which best describe home and which best exemplify the feeling, experience and memory of home.

By carrying home with me in all life’s travels to all life’s destinations, I never have to feel the way Neil Diamond felt as he sang his forlorn paean to the loss of home, “Leavin’ me lonely, still.” No, by carrying home with me, inside of me, and expressing it in all life’s greatest struggles, I leave loneliness in places and find community everywhere I find myself situated in every moment of existence. In that mindset and lifestyle, I never have anywhere to go in order to go home because home will always be with me.

Saturday, May 22, 2010



My meditation practice always starts by lighting a candle to illuminate a darkened room. Next, I follow by burning incense. I close my eyes and focus on my breathing. Inhale, two, three, four… hold, two, three, four… exhale, two, three, four… hold, two, three, four. My body yields to a slow, calming rhythm. As I inhale through my nostrils, the scent of the incense infuses me with thoughts that mesh with the scent being burned: it might be ocean scent, or roses, or sandalwood, or any other from among the myriad of scents available. Each scent calls up the corresponding mental image, like seascapes, rose gardens or my imagination of ancient rites.

My heart rate slows down as I feel a tingling sensation run up and down my spine. I focus my mind on each of my chakras, one at a time: the base of my spine, genitals, navel, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye, and finally the crown. As I open and attune each chakra to receive universal energy, I feel it expand and throb, then pulse in rhythm to my breathing. With my eyes closed, my inner vision observes a whirling vortex of white light above my head. Then, a beam of white light descends from the vortex into my crown and all of the chakras emanate a glow. At this point, I intone my mantra. Over and over, the word resonates from my throat and diaphragm and I ring it out for the duration of exhaling. I never break the rhythm of my breathing.

Sometimes, my blood seems to cease circulating through my body. Sometimes a fire rages within me. There are times when I feel as if a flood of water washes me from the inside out. Occasionally, I visualize the white light enter through my crown chakra with each of my inhaled breaths, and a gray smoke expels when I exhale. In those occasions, the gray usually becomes cleansed a little with each breath, so that at first, I see dark, murky and thick strands of smoke expelled when I exhale until, with enough time and focus spent on the breathing exercise, the smoky discharge gradually changes through a spectrum of grays and thicknesses into a light, wispy and thin white mist.

At this time, I am finally prepared to empty my mind of all thoughts so I can hear the stillness of the night. I tune out words and just hear whatever natural sounds might be present. I don’t think about the sounds, I just drift on them – mindlessly, thoughtlessly, and serenely. This state offers me the most fulfilling sense of inner peace.

Commonly Accepted Understanding of Peace

According to Wikipedia, “Peace is a quality describing a society or relationship that is operating harmoniously. This is commonly understood as the absence of hostility, or the existence of healthy or newly-healed interpersonal or international relationships, safety in matters of economic or social welfare, the acknowledgment of equality and fairness in political relationships and, in world matters, peacetime; a state of being absent any war or conflict” (Peace, Wikipedia, 26 January 2010). Very much the same definition can be obtained by looking in other encyclopedias and dictionaries, so this definition can suffice as a working description of the common, universally held conception of peace.

In the sense described above, society fails to view peace as an inner state of being for an individual. Rather, society sees peace as a state of affairs – equilibrium, between two or more parties: individuals, collectives, countries or cultures. The viewpoint expressed suggests we define peace by relationships, especially by the absence of conflict in those relationships. When people get along, they feel at peace with one another. When countries do not engage in war, then peace exists in the world. When ethnicities and classes treat one another fairly, with equality and evidencing social justice, we perceive them as being at peace with one another. Thus, harmony in relationship, between and among groups or multiple individuals, expresses the popular and broadly universal conception for the meaning of peace.

On the Beach

I walked along the seashore. The sound of the surf rolling in to the beach, waves occasionally crashing, reverberated in my ears. Gulls flew overhead, and their calls rang out between the rhythmic ebb and flow of waves washing the sandy shoreline. The gray day hushed the breeze into stillness. Out on the water, a few gulls and a lone pelican bobbed on the rising and falling ocean. Three dolphins took turns diving and swimming through the waves, riding on the backs of the waves the way I once rode on breakers’ faces. Way off in the distance, I could see a fishing boat maneuvering to reap the harvest of the day’s catch.

The salty smell brought a smile to my face. My eyes laughed at the damp mist in the air. I saw driftwood and dead kelp strewn about the shoreline, left by a higher tide. I dug up some sea shells and strolled along the water’s edge. Children played in the surf. A man ran with his dog at the water’s edge. As I watched life expressed all around me, I found myself feeling withdrawn, apart. An understanding came upon my mind; I did not need to be part of the activity. I sat on a large log and gazed about me through sunglasses. All I wanted to be was one of those waves. As I imagined myself to be one, I found oneness in peace of mind.

Celebration for the End of WWII

At the end of World War II, after the last atomic bomb had been dropped and the Japanese finally surrendered, celebration rang through the streets of New York. People hugged everyone nearby. Strangers kissed to the moment. A tickertape parade wound through the streets. Bells rang out. Champagne bottles were uncorked and people toasted to both victory and peace. People shouted their glee. Mothers expectantly awaited the return of their soldier sons. The end of hostility released revelry for the newly established peace.


I look at what I have written and notice something odd. The commonly, or universal perception of peace as defined by Wikipedia is one which entails a relationship between two or more individuals, or cultures or countries or other social units. Yet, neither of the moments from my life which I presented as having been emblematic of moments in which I felt and experienced peace have anything to do with interrelationships. Rather, they express my relationship with myself, on the one hand, and my relationship with nature and universal spirituality on the other.

From my examples, I understand that peace, for me, represents the absence of relationships, the absence of people, the absence of the complications and entanglements which arise from relationships with others. It seems that my conception of personal peace develops out of an emotionless state, both joyless and without sorrow. Rather, in my life, I find evidence of peace within emotionless serenity, a place between joy and sorrow, where I am in harmony with myself, nature and my spiritual self, but where other people are only and always on the periphery. Peace, to me, describes contented serenity in solitude and will always remain outside the framework of interpersonal, intercultural and international relationships.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

An Analytical Introduction to the Poetry of Jim Morrison

“Is everybody in? The celebration is about to begin.” Jim Morrison.

James Douglas Morrison emerged from the womb on December 8, 1943 in Melbourne, Florida. His father, an authoritarian, from whom Jim would completely estrange himself, worked as a career officer in the US Navy and eventually attained the rank of Admiral. Jim’s family included a younger brother and a younger sister. Among other colleges and universities, he attended UCLA film school, graduating in 1965. At UCLA, Morrison first met Ray Manzarek.

While Morrison lived in Venice Beach after graduation, he ran into Manzarek. Soon, they formed the rock band, THE doors, along with Robbie Krieger and John Densmore. The band name they chose, THE doors, comes from something William Blake once wrote, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” On their album covers, the band did not capitalize the word doors, an homage to the poet, e.e. cummings.

On January 4, 1967, Electra Records released the band’s first LP, the self-titled “THE doors.” “The End,” one of the songs on that album, incorporated many themes, among them a controversial reference to an Oedipus complex. Their initial performance of it at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go club on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles led to them being banned from the club.

During the years of THE door’s existence, Morrison wrote most of the lyrics to the songs they recorded. However, Robbie Krieger wrote a few of their songs, including the breakthrough single, “Light My Fire.” The albums “Strange Days” and “The Soft Parade” also contain long cuts (“When the Music’s Over” and “The Soft Parade,” respectively) which, like “The End,” took up nearly an entire side of the LP. Morrison wrote a very long piece (it varies in length on different live recordings but seems to always end up in the area of 17 minutes, meaning it would have taken up one side of a vinyl LP) titled “Celebration of the Lizard” which may have been intended for the “Waiting for the Sun” album since its lyrics appeared on the inside cover.

Reflecting Morrison’s anti-authoritarian and iconoclastic individualism, THE doors exhibited the traits of a pre-punk era, punk band. When they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time and performed “Light My Fire,” Morrison refused to comply with Ed’s request to use a different word for “higher” in the line, “Girl we couldn’t get much higher.” As a result, Ed banned them from his show. However, only a couple of years later, Ed asked them back and they took his stage again in support of “The Soft Parade,” performing “Touch Me.”

“I am the Lizard King; I can do anything,” Jim Morrison.

Of his early life, Jim circulated a story which bears a semi-mystical/mythological nature. He claimed that as a young boy, prior to the birth of his siblings, on a family vacation while driving through the southwest, he witnessed the scene of an accident. As the story goes, he saw Native Americans milling around by the highway. On the ground lay an old man, one of the Native Americans. Jim held that the soul of that man entered his body and joined with him, cohabitating his body with his own soul thereafter. The scene impressed Jim for life. He included many references to it in his lyrics and poetry. Jim saw himself as a shaman as a result. He also believed himself as the reincarnated spirit of the Greek god, Dionysis.

Thematically, Morrison’s writing (both music lyrics and poetry) cover a wide range of subjects. He penned material containing topics, among others, that dealt with antiwar sentiments, the futility and waste of violence, love, sex, drugs, reflections on cinema as an art form, freedom, liberation, psychedelic transcendentalism, death, regeneration, and the politics of late 1960s. He wrote in as unrestrained a manner as he lived.

Morrison never married. However, Jim shared two significant love relationships, one with Patricia Kennealy and the other with Pamela Courson. Jim never lived with Kennealy, but did live with Courson. However, Morrison and Kennealy participated in a “handfasting” ceremony (a pagan marriage ritual not recognized as legal and binding by any state government), so she considered herself married to Morrison (and today goes by Kennealy-Morrison). He quit THE doors in 1971 and moved to Paris where he and Pam resided together. He died in Paris on July 3, 1971. How he died remains a mystery since no autopsy was performed. Patricia still lives. However, Pamela died in 1974. Jim’s Last Will and Testament bequeathed everything to Pam.

Jim’s musical legacy with THE doors includes the studio albums: “THE doors,” “Strange Days,” “Waiting for the Sun,” “The Soft Parade,” “Morrison Hotel,” and “L.A. Woman.” He also recorded some of his poetry which the other members of THE doors later turned into an album after they added music to it. They titled the record “An American Prayer.” This album was released posthumously, in 1978.

Morrison self-published two books of his poetry in 1969, titled “The Lords/Notes on Vision” and “The New Creatures.” I purchased a collection in 1971 which had both books and many of his song lyrics combined in one, thick, paperback volume. However, I am unable to find any record of that book having been published. I gave it to a friend that summer (still before Jim had passed away), so I remain at a loss to provide any additional information regarding that book. Omnibus Press re-released some of that poetry as “The Lords, The New Creatures, The original published poetry of Jim Morrison” in 1985.

The rights to Morrison’s writings went to Pam Courson’s parents after Pam’s passing. With the assistance of Frank and Kathy Lisciandro, old friends of Jim and Pam, the Courson’s released two additional books of Morrison’s poetry. The product of that collaboration resulted in the publication of “Wilderness, The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison, Volume 1” in 1988 and “The American Night, The Writings of Jim Morrison, Volume 2” in 1990, both from Villard Books.

Longtime hanger on and low level assistant to THE doors during their heyday, and manager of THE doors after Morrison’s death, Danny Sugarman (with Jerry Hopkins’ as co-author) wrote perhaps the best biography of Jim Morrison, “No One Here Gets Out Alive,” published in 1980. Danny also collaborated with Oliver Stone on his 1991 movie, “The Doors.”

“No eternal reward will ever forgive us for wasting the dawn,” Jim Morrison.

Despite the 1994 publication of the book, “Rimbaud and Jim Morrison: The Rebel as Poet” by Wallace Fowlie, Professor of French Literature at Duke University, Morrison’s published poetry, for the most part, remains uncriticized and unanalyzed by the mainstream poetry community. Most of the attention given to Morrison’s poetry in print revolves around the Morrison myth and perpetuates the lurid tales surrounding his life. Failing to actually spend any real energy on a discussion of Morrison’s poetry and its literary value, about as deep as Fowlie goes into the material finds him offering a brief guide to the influences of Antonin Artaud, Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud, the Beat poets, and Friedrich Nietzsche upon Morrison’s writing.

Allow me to begin a discussion of Morrison’s place in the historical community of poets with the influence of Rimbaud upon him. We must first acknowledge a kindredness of spirits between the two men. Arthur, it is said, was a Libertine with a restless soul. He died young, barely living 37 years. He wrote his most important poetry while in his late teens and quit pursuing creative writing at about the age of 21. The myth of Morrison leads us to acknowledge that he, too, lived the life of a Libertine who died young (27) and wrote most of his material by an early age. Jim's writings and life stories reveal him as also having been a tortured soul, especially from his personal point of view. He felt his looks, lifestyle and rock star career overshadowed the value and message of his creative legacy. He maintained a lifetime of unrequited longing to be taken seriously. Rimbaud enjoyed a fascination for absinthe and hashish while Morrison is known for his alcohol, marijuana and psychedelics consumption. Both Rimbaud and Morrison exhibited a kind of pre-punk attitude. Rimbaud has been classified with the symbolist movement of French poetry, though his writing is also considered decadent. Morrison’s writing is also highly steeped with symbolism and a decadent mindset. Even the scatological poetry of Rimbaud can be compared to Morrison’s blatant sexual writing which is evidenced by the Oedipal references in “The End” and poems such as “Lament for the Death of My Cock” from “An American Prayer,” published in “The American Night,” as two examples.

Next, let me offer a comparison between Morrison and Artaud. Antonin was born in 1896, 5 years after Rimbaud died. He was diagnosed with clinical depression and spent long stays in sanatoria. His physician prescribed laudanum for his psychological afflictions, thus leading to a lifelong addiction to that drug and other opiates. Consequently, we see the exhibition of drug influences and the personality trait of the tortured soul expressed in Artaud just as with Morrison and Rimbaud. He loved Baudelaire and Poe, both of whom were symbolists and influenced Antonin's poetry. Artaud’s writing reflected his passion for surrealism, a movement which grew out of the symbolist school and which can be closely affiliated with Morrison’s brand of surreal poetry which I call psychedelicism. The early cinema fascinated Artaud, and as we know, Morrison was a student filmmaker at UCLA who later devoted a great deal of poetry (“Notes on Vision”) to his views on cinema. Artaud traveled to Mexico and experimented with peyote, so his mind, perception and outlook received an influence by what would later be known as the psychedelic mindset. Late in his life, during the Nazi occupation of France, The Germans locked Artaud in a sanatorium where he received electroshock treatments. However, one of the significant points arises from the doctors’ disapproval of his practice of creating astrological charts and crafting magical spells. Thus we can see the kinship with Morrison as shaman/magician as well.

The Beats, of course, greatly influenced nearly everyone with a remotely bohemian mindset from Morrison’s generation. Their writings and lifestyles, like those of the poets already mentioned, expressed predilections for Libertine experiences, for anti-authoritarianism, for experimentation with drugs, and even for non-mainstream spirituality. The Beats, especially men like Gary Snyder and Allan Ginsberg, wrote poetry heavily influenced by their fascination for Buddhism. Ginsberg, in particular, can be seen as a tortured soul, like those poets discussed in the paragraphs above, who spent time in a psychiatric hospital. He also experimented with LSD and marijuana among other mind altering substances. The vernacular which appears in the poetry of Beats like Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti influenced Morrison’s own poetic language, each being infused with heavy doses of street slang and hipster lingo from the eras in which they lived. Of course The Beats also incorporated impressionistic symbolism and occasional surrealism in their poetry, and as the years passed, some, like Ginsberg, acquired the psychedelic mindset and included the psychedelic style in their poetry.

Of course, from a philosophical point of view, every one of the influences mentioned, along with Morrison, can find affinities in their points of view with the writings of Nietzsche. He promoted a movement away from cultural stereotypes, from herd mentality as he called it, and toward a brash individualism which at the same time expressed itself with anti-authoritarianism. Nietzsche believed the only life worth living was that which expressed the individual’s true nature and sought out both experience and meaning consistent with the will to power. These same themes can be discovered not only in the writings of Morrison, Artaud, Rimbaud and Ginsberg, but also in the lives they led.

“(did you have a good world when you died?) – enough to base a movie on?” Jim Morrison.

Another influence on Morrison’s writing (and by his writing I incorporate by reference both his published poetry and his recorded song lyrics) can be found in William Blake. Blake wrote poems of an ecstatic, prophetic and visionary nature. His style, though pre-dating the symbolists and surrealists, offers an early approach to both. One can even say there is a family line of poets leading to the symbolist and surrealist camps which extends from Dante (“Inferno”) through Milton (“Paradise Lost”) to Blake (“The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”). Blake was another anti-authoritarian, and took part in the Gordon Riots in London. He did not believe in the authority of any church, preferring his own individual spirituality. His style remains highly unique, often combining poetry and art in the same work. Blake can be seen as the spiritual forerunner of Morrison’s writing, bringing a magically spiritual ecstasy to his poetry which is also evident in Morrison's writing. Blake advocated cleansing the doors of perception. Morrison took him seriously as he dropped acid and ate peyote.

Allow me to offer a few examples from Morrison’s writing which present his mind, philosophy and style.

“Cinema is most totalitarian of the arts. All
energy and sensation is sucked up into the skull,
a cerebral erection, skull bloated with blood.
Caligula wished a single neck for all his subjects
that he could behead his kingdom with one blow.
Cinema is this transforming agent. The body
exists for the sake of the eyes; becomes a
dry stalk to support these two soft insatiable

This excerpt (actually from “Notes on Vision”) can be found in “The Lords.” It records Jim’s view of cinema as being a peepshow, a voyeuristic entertainment. It also provides his point of view that movies are a means by which the public mind is controlled and molded by society into a single cultural mindset, that which Nietzsche called herd mentality. At the same time, he winds the thread of these ideas through the spool of his surreal/psychedelic imagery, presenting the theme through symbols. The eroticism is vulgar, determined to impart a decadent view of cinema as mass media influencing the public into a cultural blob, sapped of individual thought, devoted to conform to a social-collective mindset serving only one master, corporate greed.

Next, allow me to offer a bit of Morrison’s surreal symbolism from “The New Creatures.”

“Lizard woman
w / your insect eyes
w / your wild surprise.
Warm daughter of silence.
Turn your back w / a slither of moaning wisdom.
The unblinking blind eyes
behind walls new histories rise
and wake growling and whining
the weird dawn of dreams.
Dogs lie sleeping.
The wolf howls.
A creature lives out the war.
A forest.
A rustle of cut words, choking

Morrison interjects here a glimpse into his view of the new creatures, the symbol of the new society, the society and culture of 1968/9 America. Lizard woman represents the divine, the sacred, tied to ancient cults devoted to earth, land, fertility and mystery. He utters a magical incantation, calling on the sacred woman to turn her back on the glutinous, avaricious, materialist culture coming into being as it creates new histories from behind walls. The walls represent both the city (a human creation) and the new culture into which the minds and desires of the people (the new creatures) are walled up, forcing them to participate in this new and profane reality. These new creatures are the dogs, domesticated animals that lie sleeping (people who sleepwalk their way through life, are taught obedience and servitude to their masters, and who are anesthetized by finding their desires sated with products made by men). The wolf represents the sacred, too, because it lives wild and free, untamed and unchained by human contamination. The new creatures live out the war, he says. The war (besides being a reference to Vietnam) symbolizes the struggle between man and nature for dominance over the planet. Then, he interjects the entirely unexpected juxtaposition of a forest (an image he calls up often in his poetry) – nature as harmonious and beautiful. But he quickly drowns the optimism of that image by choking a river with words – humanity, again, is shown as cutting itself off from the sacred, thereby destroying nature, beauty and harmony.

Morrison presents a completely different approach in his poem “The Connectors” from “Wilderness.”

“- What is connection?

- When 2 motions, thought
to be infinite and mutually
exclusive, meet in a

- Of Time?

- Yes.

- Time does not exist.
There is no time.

- Time is a straight plantation.”

Morrison shared a fascinating view into how he saw the world in this poem. He titled the poem “The Connectors.” The poem speaks about those things which make connections. The poem appears in a unique form, a conversation. A conversation occurs between two people making a connection, so the poem contains “the connectors” in the two voices carrying on the conversation. Morrison provides his definition of connection as being something which occurs at an intersection. These connectors, he explains, are thought of as infinite and mutually exclusive (separate individuals with eternal souls or who will reincarnate eternally until becoming perfected beings when they can exist in perpetuity in another realm). Yet, they meet, or intersect. An intersection can only occur at a specific place and in a specific instant. That comment leads Morrison to reveal his definition of time, “a straight plantation.” Here, he incorporates hipster lingo of the era. Straight means that which is non-hip. Straight infers that which does not get high and thus not of the counterculture. Straight represents the mainstream, the Establishment. The word, plantation, provides a reference to the old cotton plantations of the South run by masters and worked by slaves. Hence, Morrison explains that connections have commonly (in the era he lived - and since) become dreams woven into our psyches by our masters, who have enslaved us, and who require us to toil for them so we can purchase their products. Morrison wants us to see the absurd circle in our dual enslavement. We are slaves to the shiny things corporations make, advertise and create hype around so we will buy them. In order to fulfill our desire (which has been instilled within us by the advertising) by buying them, we must work (our second slavery, to the machine and masters who create these largely useless and unnecessary things humans lust after). Thus, humanity gives up individual and collective freedom to enrich the already wealthy in a cycle of endeavor that can never be fulfilling since something new to buy will always be created causing a constant stream of reasons to enslave ourselves to the illusion our corporate masters instill within us.

Morrison meant a great deal to me. When THE doors first album was released, I had lived to the ripe old age of 14; fourteen years… impressionable, looking for a voice of rebellion, a youth wanting to be a man and independent, and in 1966, also looking for a way into the secret cabal, the hip, the cool, that which united the teenagers of my day against the Establishment, against the War, against everything “plastic” (the word we used to denote phony and unreal). There was Morrison singing about killing his father and fucking his mother (symbolically destroying the old world and its enforced conformism) in "The End," lamenting about cruelty to animals and the destruction and desecration of sacred nature in “Horse Latitudes,” offering a way into another world, a mystical and magical world in “Break on Through to the Other Side.” Morrison sang about lighting fires, about sexuality, about crystal ships with surreal and psychedelic imagery. He seduced me and an entire generation.

In the years to follow, he sang lines intended to stoke revolution like, “They got the guns / But we got the numbers / Gonna win yeah were / Takin’ over come on!” He also sang about the insanity of the war in Vietnam, “Unborn living, living dead / bullet strikes the helmet’s head.” He always gave us glimpses of the world through strange eyes, the eyes of the drug crazed shaman, chanting, urging us to see the absurdity in the world, urging us to dynamite the plastic and straight fantasy so we might replace it with a natural, sacred and free world which offered to unleash the potential of the individual by deconstructing and destroying the collective. I wanted to be part of that. I wanted to unleash my manhood and my creative instincts. I wanted to find a balance between sacred and culture. Hell, I wanted a sacred culture!

Morrison filled me with these dreams and desires. I wanted to be a sexual animal and primal at the same time as I wanted to run through the forest singing and dancing. I wanted to find my will to power, which is what Morrison extolled without ever calling it that. I wanted to end the reign of enforced conformity and cut the reins of slavery to the consumerist nightmare. I wanted out of the herd mentality that promoted the credo of "my country, right or wrong." I wanted a real freedom, not the plastic freedom of capitalism’s forced slavery to the market, to products, to corporate profits, and to keeping up with the Joneses. Morrison epitomized all these ideas and feelings. I saw him as a revolutionary and a satyr, and damn, that seemed not only romantic, but incredibly macho, too. But his macho was an anti-macho – not Marlboro Man macho with a gun and the audacity to slap a woman into her place. No, he honored women and their essence, he abhorred and denounced guns, and he decried the plastic, decadent lifestyle of consumerist, TV America. Where could I sign up?

I’d written poetry before he came along. I’d been writing poetry since I was 11, having read “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” at the age of ten. But once Morrison infused me with his animal spirit, with his shamanistic vision of the sacred, with his rebelpoet dream of revolution, and with his lunatic psychedelicism and surreal interpretation of reality, nothing I wrote would ever be the same. I waited 5 years to drop acid. But his ecstatic incantations made it a foregone conclusion that I one day would. When I did, my perception was forever thereafter altered. Psychedelics melted the plastic veneer, cleansing my doors of perception, and, true to Blake’s promise, the world did appear as it truly is, infinite.

Let me offer a stanza from the poem “The Crossroads” which was published in “The American Night" and which reveals Morrison's essential philosophy.

“Leave the rotten towns
of your father
Leave the poisoned wells
and bloodstained streets
Enter now the sweet forest.”

Yes, give up the profanity of destroying nature while creating monstrous edifices only intended to glorify the ego of men and the collective ego of humanity. Return to what is natural, your true nature, your true self, find mystery again, and walk back out into the sacred groves where life is truly lived and meaning actually unfolds.

“Cancel my subscription to the resurrection / Send my credentials to the house of detention / I got some friends inside,” Jim Morrison.

Montevideo's Beaches

Montevideo’s beaches I want to sip margaritas there
Where a bright sun bakes the sand concrete asphalt into an oven
Yearning a cause for celebration
The ancient Atlantic splashes blue in my reveries
Why does ice cool me from the inside out and freeze me from the outside in
War leaves me crying myself to sleep at night
Love seeps through my fingers like water I try to hold in cupped hands
The world shovels dirt over me as if I already lay in my grave
I’d have toured the royal courts of Europe
Or I might have been illiterate and poor
Expressing universal passion matters
I am like a snail morphing into a butterfly
As a four-year-old I almost drowned in a swimming pool
I keep my mother’s ashes
Commiseration contaminates contemplation
I’m not looking for a “Heart of Gold” just a woman to smile with me
Her rose-petal skin could soothe my aging aches
Let me taste her whispering flesh with my fingers and smell her ecstasy between my teeth
If only a she existed to ignore my faults and find the latent joy
Love seeps through my fingers expressing universal passion
Passion is my raison d’etre
Passion is my undoing
I miss bodysurfing in Malibu in the summer
I miss Sunday morning polo at Will Rogers State Park with champagne, strawberries, sharp cheddar and fresh baked sourdough bread from the Pioneer bakery
I miss smelling my mother’s kitchen
In dreams I hear the Atlantic waves breaking on Montevideo's beaches

It Rains Every Day

In Hawaii, it rains every day. The light rains barely disturb the seemingly constant sunshine. Foliage blooms, and the island is awash in a rainbow of orchids. Stress and tension melt away to the strains of The Beatles and Mozart. My mind now draws blanks at times and cannot recall trivial things, but I remember I once saw palm trees dancing to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Young, bikini-clad ladies still stroll along beaches, catching the eyes of angst-ridden young men. Children run and play in thick grass, tumbling with glee. Adults sip Mai Tai drinks sharing knowing gazes, oblivious to the strife and poverty at the core of Oz. I lose my train of thought in mid-YellowBrickRoadsentence. Pink Floyd’s “Atom Heart Mother Suite” reeked of Stravinsky as I reeked of marijuana in the wee hours, listening. I wonder where my words come from when I talk; I don’t think of them before they come out of my mouth. Bonfires illuminate hula dancers draped with leis at luaus. Everyone shares in the feast of roasted pig. How the scent of the charred remains of dead animal flesh induces lustful saliva. The most complex ideas cannot survive. I laugh hysterically. Frank Zappa provides the soundtrack to my life. Pollen drifts on the breeze. The Hawaiian tropical storm passes before it is even noticed.

Chasms' Rifts

Beyond the ivy covered walls where hallmarks chisel tears
a camera snaps its shutter shut on toothless, ungreased gears.

A field mouse lying motionless blends into his landscape
until incendiary bombs lay waste to quick escape.

A village wraps itself within a net-webbed fishing weir
catching all the floating nothing passing a hushed cashier.

The morning kissing rays of summer curves upon noon napes
shimmer ground gold into russet, autumn-ripened rain-drapes.

Lost locks of amber cascade hues head-first hurtle, diving;
divining, sage pyres, filled with dew and death call arriving.

Corruption spilled from rotting, fleshy, bloody clogged debris
blow strewn upon serenity's once ordered pedigree.

Unkempt, unshaven, blind, unwashed, a powderkeg pump ticks
moments away, one by one, for consternating cynics.

Gladhanding politicians smirk behind their ally's backs
as courtyard countrymen recline they’re shaded by smokestacks.

Under flaming sunset skies, eon's current slowly drifts,
the setting of an era’s sun spans past bridged chasms' rifts.