San Diego – Strange Place – 2
Home of the Pacific Fleet
This morning in the Bird Rock Coffee shop at 6:30 am. Four young men dressed in military fatigues, pleasant faces of the U.S. war machine, no hint in their composure of the destructive force in which they participate. San Diego is the home of the Pacific Fleet and as such one of the biggest military complexes anywhere, the U.S.A or abroad. When President-Elect Trumpty-Dumpty mistakenly speaks about the need to refurbish the country’s sagging military strength, it is primarily beefing up naval strength in the Pacific to which he is referring (according to some analyses with which I generally agree). Of course he leaves out the well-known fact that the U.S. military budget is by itself greater than most of the rest of the world’s military budget combined. Minor oversight, certainly.
Signs of it are everywhere, from the submarine base on Point Loma that one has to drive through to get to the Cabrillo National Monument to the ship yards one passes on the trolley heading south to San Ysidro. On the trolleys, buses, in coffee shops military people dressed in uniform. Robert, our homeless friend met on the trolley yesterday who invited himself to be our tourist guide at San Ysidro noted, not without some civic pride, that soon San Diego would soon become the home of the unified Navy Seal training headquarters – a kind of phd program in assassination and murder second to none.
Warships are everywhere as well. At Point Loma I saw what I think is a missile-bearing destroyer heading out to sea. From the Cabrillo National Monument one can look below into San Diego’s nuclear submarine base, a real thrill. Two active air craft carriers docked were docked across the bay from us, one the USS Roosevelt (#71), the other, the USS Nimitz (#68). How much of the city/region’s wealth is military based, militarily related? No doubt it is a fair amount.
Take the USS Nimitz. What war crimes haven’t been committed from its decks?
It is a nuclear powered, multi-purpose killing machine air craft carrier, what is referred to as “a super carrier.” Launched in 1972 it cost $1 billion to construct. One of the largest warships in the world, at more than 100,000 tons it weighs in a twice the weight of the carrier-museum Midway that entered naval service just at the end of WW2. The Nimitz has seen service the world over, in both the Atlantic and now the Pacific fleet. It was from its runway in the Indian Ocean in 1979 that the abortive Iran hostage rescue mission began to rescue U.S. embassy staff; Operation Evening Light it was called. (It is also referred to as Operation Eagle Claw, or Operation Rice Bowl). It has been there (meaning from its ship bombing missions were carried out) in the 1991 and 2003 invasions of Iraq and much more.
The Antiwar Art Exhibit
It was entitled “Witness To War: Caillot, Goya, Bellows.” War de-romanticized, not a pretty picture. Besides these three cited artists, some of the works of Otto Dix also hung in the gallery at the Timken Museum in Balboa Park. Here in the heart of “War Land” is an exhibit – and a fine one of that – exploring the horrors, the utter barbarism of war.
True enough these paintings/drawings are of the “pre-nuclear war – cluster-phosporus bomb, napalm variety, ie – no shadows vaporized into cement stairways, no pictures of people from Hiroshima and Nagasaki with their radiated skin falling off, no people watching helplessly as phosphorus burns through skin and bone producing not just death but exquisite pain. No these paintings were just the more touching stuff of babies at the end of bayonets, of orgies of rape, pillage, body parts flying, people being tossed into mass graves, decapitation, mass hangings, victims of the many Catholic Church inspired inquisitions with people being slowly burnt to the stake, torture galore – you know the old fashioned stuff.
Trumpty-Dumpty ought to take his time out from tweeting and visit the exhibit.
The most powerful stuff in the exhibit was the Goya collection, much of it owned, if I am not mistaken by the University of San Diego. There were more than 100 sketches, all of them done during the French Occupation of Spain after its 1823 invasion of that country to restore a Bourbon king to power. The way the Goya collection was displayed made it a bit difficult to seriously study all of it. Some of the sketches were too high, even for me standing at a hair below six feet, others too low requiring me to bend down, something I can do but not so easily.
Still, even poorly displayed the exhibit is nothing short of a statement of humanity’s potential for savagery and barbarism (in the name of democracy, progress, whatever), only published some 35 years after Goya had died. It leaves no stone unturned as to the true nature of the military occupation with all its ruthlessness. Starting with Israel’s Prime Minister, Netanyahu, every Israeli should see it. An unfiltered view of Occupation – be it the French version in 19th century Spain or the Israeli version in the Palestinian Occupied Territories today is hard to disguise, try as they may. The Goya collection also gets one thinking of the depth of French hypocrisy – its celebration of democracy (domestically), -“liberty, fraternity, democracy” and all that – while downplaying or denying its utter savagery of as a colonial power abroad – Haiti, Indochina, Algeria, Cameroon – just to name a few.
San Diego’s Museum of Man
I have read claims that San Diego asserts that its Museum of Man is the only anthropological museum in the country. While I enjoyed the museum and will comment upon it below, this claim is utter rubbish. Many museums all over the country be they of the natural history or human/cultural variety have loads of anthropological materials.
Still, it is a fine museum, with a wonderful, interesting and thoughtful collection, starting with, right after walking in the entrance, with what I will refer to as Hrdlicka’s masks. Ales Hrdlicka was a Czech born American anthropologist of some repute whose life work took place mostly in the United States. He had a distinguished career that included being the first curator of what is today the anthropological collection of the Smithsonian.
Hrdlicka’s distinguished career aside, his work became one of the fundamental building blocks for the eugenics movement in the United States which classified human beings according to a scheme from inferior to superior, on which basis in the USA, tens of thousands would be involuntarily sterilized and in Nazi Germany they would be euthanized and later gassed to death. Insisting that “the cradle of human civilization” could be nowhere other than Central Europe he rejected all evidence and theories that humanity could have evolved elsewhere, in Asia, Africa in particular. After World War II, where the relationships between his theories of human hierarchy led directly to Auschwitz, Hrdlicka and others of the same intellectual persuasion, the Harvard U. physical anthros like Ernest Hooten were quietly forgotten.
Hrdlicka had a habit of collecting human skulls. He also went far and wide casting live human faces and heads to add to his collection of human casts, many of which wound up in San Diego’s Museum of Man. Hrdlicka could not understand why native people objected to his digging up graves, beheading the corpses, boiling off the skin so to be able to send the skulls to his collection at the Smithsonian. When he could no longer get away with such sickening activities among native peoples in the United States, he called on colonial authorities the world over (French and British in particular) to do the decapitations of the dead, quietly of course, in the colonies. It appears that many colonial authorities complied.
The anthropological collection at the Museum of Man begins with Hrdicka’s masks; it includes, to the museum curator’s credit, an explanation of this barbaric practice.
The rest of the collection, to be dealt with later today or tomorrow, is well done, humane and anti-racist to the core. More on that later
To be continued…