"Since the First World War Americans have been leading a double life, and our history has moved on two rivers, one visible, the other underground; there has been the history of politics which is concrete, factual, practical and unbelievably dull; and there is a subterranean river of untapped, ferocious, lonely and romantic desires, that concentration of ecstasy and violence which is the dream life of the nation."

Norman Mailer
"The whole work of healing Tellus depends on nursing that little spark, on incarnating that ghost, which is still alive in every people, and different in each. When Logres really dominates Britain, when the goddess Reason, the divine clearness, is really enthroned in France, when the order of Heaven is really followed in China--why then it will be spring."

"This new history of yours," said McPhee, "is a wee bit lacking in documents."

C.S. Lewis

Synchronicities this week

  • June 24 Midsummer/St. John’s Day
  • June 24, 1947 The first flying saucers are sighted over Mount Rainier by pilot Ken Arnold.
  • June 24, 1542 St. John of the Cross, Spanish Carmelite mystic and poet, is born.
  • June 24, 1938 500 ton meteorite lands near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
  • June 24, 1717 First Free Masons' grand lodge founded in London.
  • June 24, 1374 A sudden outbreak of St. John's Dance causes people in the streets of Aachen, Germany, to experience hallucinations and begin to jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapse from exhaustion.
  • June 24, 1314 Battle of Bannockburn; Scotland regains independence from England.
  • June 24, 843 Vikings destroy Nantes.
  • June 23 Midsummer’s Eve
  • June 23, 1972 Nixon & Haldeman agree to use CIA to cover up Watergate.
  • June 23, 1942 Germany's latest fighter, a Focke-Wulf FW190 is captured intact when it mistakenly lands at RAF Pembrey in Wales.
  • June 23, 1888 Frederick Douglass is 1st African-American nominated for president.
  • June 23, 1848 Workers’ insurrection in Paris.
  • June 23, 1713 The French residents of Acadia are given one year to declare allegiance to Britain or leave Nova Scotia, Canada. They choose the latter, migrate to Louisiana, and become Cajuns.
  • June 21 Summer Solstice (11:28 a.m.).
  • June 21, 1964 Three civil rights workers-Michael H. Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James E. Chaney-are kidnapped and murdered by the Klan in Mississippi .
  • June 21, 1948 The 33 1/3 RPM LP record is introduced by Columbia Records.
  • June 21, 1944 Ray Davies of the Kinks born in London.
  • June 21, 1916 Mexican troops beat US expeditionary force under Gen Pershing.
  • June 21, 1877 The Molly Maguires, ten Irish immigrant labor activists, are hanged in Pennsylvania prisons.
  • June 20, 1947 Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, gangster, the “man who invented Las Vegas,” shot dead in Beverly Hills, Cal.
  • June 20, 1909 Errol Flynn, greatest of the swashbucklers, born in Hobart, Tasmania.
  • June 20, 1944 Congress charters Central Intelligence Agency.
  • June 20, 1943 Detroit race riot kills 35.
  • June 20, 1893 - Lizzie Borden acquitted in murder of parents in New Bedford Mass.
  • June 20, 1871 Ku Klux Klan trials began in federal court in Oxford Miss.
  • June 20, 1837 Queen Victoria at 18 ascends British throne ; rules for 63 years ending in 1901.
  • June 20, 1756 146 British soldiers imprisoned in the "Black Hole of Calcutta." Most die.
  • June 20, 1631 The Irish village of Baltimore is attacked by Algerian pirates.
  • June 20, 1214 The University of Oxford receives its charter.
  • June 20, 451 Germans & Romans beat Attila the Hun at Catalarinische Fields.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

This Week in the Secret History: The Secrets of the Green Dragon Tavern

Almost since the events themselves, people of a certain cast of mind have insisted that crucial events of the American and French Revolutions were guided, planned, instigated by occult orders who practiced advanced forms of spirituality not accessible to the masses. Depending on which side of the Revolution you were on, this was either a good thing--the spiritually advanced sharing their gifts to lift humanity to new levels of freedom and dignity--or a bad thing--hidden radical elites wielding a dangerous level of influence over the ignorant masses to tear down divinely ordained hierarchy. Both sides were sure that the Order in question was the Freemasons. It used to be a given that the Freemason's were active on the side of American freedom--a disproportionate number of Masons signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Some of the most important revolutionary leaders were Masons, including George Washington, Ben Franklin, Samuel Adams and possibly Thomas Jefferson. About half of the officer corps of Washington's army were Masons. But modern materialist historians, allergic to anything that smells of mystery, had to eradicate the notion that the Mason's were helping to act out a scenario for the spiritual development of the world. To which the only answer, it seems to me, is that if they weren't, they certainly thought they were.

Which brings us to the door of the Green Dragon.

Boston's Green Dragon Tavern was one of the oldest tavern's in the city,having been in operation since the 1670's. In 1736, it was purchased by the St. Andrew's Lodge of Freemasons to serve as their headquarters.

Not coincidentally, it came to be known as the "Headquarters of the Revolution." In its cozy confines, the Freemasons played host to most of the radical revolutionary groups of the time, including the Sons of Liberty and the Committee of Correspondence.

A group of men dressed as Indians set out from the Green Dragon to dump tea from British ships into Boston Harbor. The British advance towards Lexington and Concord was monitored from the Green Dragon. Paul Revere set out on his ride from the Green Dragon.

Here's how the Masons see it...

"...it can easily be shown that in many ways the revolutionary ideals of equality, freedom, and democracy were espoused by the Masonic fraternity long before the American colonies began to complain about
the injustices of British taxation. The revolutionary ideals expressed in the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the writings of Thomas Paine, were ideals that had come to fruition over a century before in the early speculative Masonic lodges of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, where men sat as equals, governed themselves by a Constitution, and elected their own leaders from their midst. In many ways, the self-governing Masonic lodges of the previous centuries had been learning laboratories for the concept of self-government"(The Masonic Trowel)

On September 18, 1793, President George Washington, dressed in his Masonic apron, leveled the cornerstone of the United States Capitol with the traditional Masonic ceremony. Historian Stephen Bullock in his book Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, notes the historic and symbolic significance of that ceremony. "The Masonic brethren, dressed in their fraternal regalia, had assembled in grand procession, and were formed for that occasion as representative of Freemasonry's new found place of honor in an independent American society. At that moment, the occasion of the laying of the new Republic's foundations, Freemasons assumed the mantles of 'high priests' of that 'first temple dedicated to the sovereignty of the people,' and they '“helped form the symbolic foundations of what the Great Seal called ‘the new order for the ages’.”

Saturday, July 25, 2009

This Week in the Secret History: The Avenging Angel of California

Joaquin Murrieta (1829–ca. 1853), also called the Mexican Robin Hood, was a semi- legendary figure in California during the California Gold Rush of the 1850s. He was either an infamous bandit or a Mexican patriot, depending on one's point of view. Murrietta was partly the inspiration for the fictional character of Zorro. His name has, for some political activists, symbolized resistance against Anglo-American economic and cultural domination in California.

There is little historical evidence for the tale of Joaquin Murrieta. The only written source is a highly romanticized biography written a year or two after his death. The book says that Murrieta and his family went to California in 1850 to seek their fortune in the California Gold Rush. Instead of opportunity, he encountered racism and discrimination.

In the same year as their arrival, a Foreign Miners Tax was imposed in California and their Anglo-Saxon neighbors tried to run them off by telling them that it was illegal for Mexicans to hold a claim. Reportedly, the Murrieta brothers tried to ignore the threats as long as they could until they were finally forced off their claim. While mining for gold, he and his wife supposedly were attacked by American miners jealous of his success. They allegedly raped Murrieta's wife, flogged him, and killed his brother.

Angry and unable to find work, Joaquin turned to a life of crime, along with other disposed foreign miners, who began to prey upon those who had forced them from their claims.

In the novel, Murrieta sought justice through the legal system but was informed by a friend who was also a constable that there was no way to prosecute the crime because of a California law that prohibited Mexicans from testifying against Anglos. To avenge this injustice, Murrieta formed a gang from his family and friends to hunt down those that attacked his family. They killed at least six, and as they were then outlaws, they turned to a life of organized crime, stealing and using the money to help Californio's (Native Californians.)

On May 11, 1853, Governor of California John Bigler signed a legislative act creating the "California State Rangers," led by Captain Harry Love (a former Texas Ranger). Their mission was to capture Murrieta and his gang. The California Rangers stood a chance to share a $5000 reward for the capture of Joaquin Murrieta. On July 25, 1853, a group of Rangers encountered a band of armed Mexican men near Panoche Pass in San Benito County, 50 miles from Monterey. A confrontation took place, and two of the Mexicans were killed. One was claimed to be Murrieta.

The Rangers severed the alleged Murrieta's head as proof of their deaths and preserved it in a jar of brandy. The jar was displayed throughout California; spectators could pay $1 see the remains. Seventeen people, including a Catholic priest, signed affidavits identifying the remains as Murrieta's, and Love and his Rangers accordingly received the reward money. The preserved head was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

A plaque (California Historical Landmark #344) near the intersection of State Routes 33 and 198 now marks the approximate site of Murrieta's headquarters in Arroyo de Cantua, where he was presumably killed.

For more on Joaquin Murrieta, see...

The Robin Hood of El Dorado: The Saga of Joaquin Murrieta, Famous Outlaw of California's Age of Gold by Walter Noble Burns

Searching for Joaquin: Myth, Murieta and History in California by Bruce Thornton

Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit by John Rollin Ridge

Sunday, July 19, 2009

When Cowboys Get the Blues


Steve Earle

New West Records

"My wife and I were listening to the folk music show on our local public radio station the other Sunday night when we could no longer take one more brawny chanty about plying the Great Lakes on the grand old steamships. So I plugged in my iPod and started to play one of my British folk music playlists. It did the job clearing the air of all the heave-away-haul-away with its astringent northerness. The last song was a majestic and mournful pipe duet called "Kintail" from the great Scottish pipe band the Tannahill Weavers, which sounded like watching your true love pass over the horizon on a ship bound for Amerikay, or Frodo leaving Middle Earth at the Grey Havens. About halfway into it, my wife said, "They're always so sad." She meant all of it, all the songs we had just been listening to, all "folk" music. She was right. The folks that folk music comes from, way back when, were by and large people who didn't have much buffer, if any, between them and life. And that also means, of course, between them and death. Folk music is sad all over the world.

As country music grew from its poor mountain roots, moved into the city and started getting a steady paycheck, and a dry summer didn't necessarily mean immediate destitution, country singers, if they were after greatness, still had to invite the ghost to the party. It's not an accident that the greatest country singer of all, Hank Williams, is among the most notably mournful.

The ghost became the blues. The blues were the old hard times, internalized."

Read the full review at the bluegrassspecial.com.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

This Week in the Secret History: Eisenhower Proposes Interstate Highway System

There were rivers and paths in America that once seemed to be the gate to all good adventure. The Mississippi River, Route 66, all the blacktop two-lanes that led into the groves of America.

After the dolorous stroke in Dealey Plaza, such arteries of possibility dried up. The men to whom fear and money were everything laid over the land a vast grid of concrete in the name of national security, whose purpose was to turn all the places into no-place, so that people no longer knew where they were or where they came from.

These concrete sluices drained the life off half the nation, created an unthinkable continent of ghost towns, and sure enough the ghosts come forth to disturb our sleep. Now the withered spirits blow up and down old Route 66, Timothy McVeigh and the patriots, they own that road.

The act of Dealey Plaza led to this America where the dry souls are stacked like kindling.

The land was given over to the mundane light and the dry electric fever. “Save us from... the fever that strikes at mid-day” the psalmist prays. This was the same mundane light that fell on Dealey Plaza at noon that Friday.

“It will be cool under the underpass”, Jackie thinks as the black car rolls with dreadful slowness down Elm Street. In fact it never got cool again.

That mundane light of Dallas which to the spiritual eye is dreadful darkness, the dunnest smoke of hell. The light on Dealey Plaza is the light of Sunbelt gangsters, is the light on the parking lot of an Arizona savings & loan, is the light of Las Vegas that burns off the top of people’s heads to desiccate the moist brain inside, is the light that evaporates the pools of mystery, the light that shone all over America and burned out every shadow, that makes every photograph from the 50’s black and white, the light that says you’re seeing all there is to see, which is the great lie, the lie of Hitler’s open hand.

Copyright 2009 Christopher Hill

Monday, July 13, 2009

This Week in the Secret History: Bastille Falls; Stones Play First Gig

July 14, 1789 The hated Bastille Prison, symbol of royal despotism, falls to the Paris mob.

A shout out to all you French Freemasons--nice work. Good to win one once in a while.

"It is very hard today to feel that the French Revolution was as fresh as it really was. The Marseillaise is played today at diplomatic dinner-parties, where smiling monarchs meet beaming millionaires, and is rather less revolutionary than "Home Sweet Home." The Marseillaise once sounded like the human voice of the volcano or the dance-tune of the earthquake, and the kings of the earth trembled; some fearing that the heavens might fall; some fearing far more that justice might be done."

- GK Chesterton

July 12, 1962 The Rolling Stones play their first gig

Yes, my name is called Disturbance.

I’ll shout, I’ll scream, I’ll kill the king,

I’ll rail at all his servants.

July 12, 1942 Happy Birthday Roger McGuinn

With his famous granny glasses

and his immortal 12-string Rickenbacker...

...with which he made a sound more glorious than people had ever expected from pop music. A distinctly American noise, that seemed to be saying that it was a much more interesting country than you'd been led to believe.

"A little bit of courage is all we lack/ So catch me if you can, I'm goin' back..."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

This Week in the Secret History: Paul and John Meet

There are some moments when it's clear that a new world has begun. At St. Peter's Parish Fete in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool, a rather sloppy group of kids calling themselves the Quarrymen has just finished their set. A strangely confident, baby-faced 15 year old kid introduces himself to their leader. The band's leader, a year older, says something snide. Unfazed, the younger boy proceeds to show him the chords to Eddie Cochran's"Twenty Flight Rock." The older boy is snide no longer.

And so it begins.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Asymmetrical Warfare, cont.

To move the Arab Revolt north into the political hot zones would require a port to supply the Revolt. The place

Aqaba today. Note mountains behind town.

was obvious--the Ottoman port of Aqaba, at the tip of the Red Sea Gulf of Aqaba, at the extreme south of what is now Jordan. The problem was two-fold--Aqaba was in Turkish hands, and it was, in a sense, impregnable. The Arabs could request the Royal Navy to land an assault force at Aqaba, and they could probably have taken it. But again, the problem was two-fold. The British had no geopolitical vision of the Arab Revolt extending to the north of the Arabian Peninsula. And more practically, the lone track that led over the mountains and into the inland from Aqaba was heavily fortified, much more of a tactical challenge than the town of Aqaba itself, and liable to exact prohibitively high casualties from anyone who tried to force the way. After the apocalypse of Gallipoli, the English people has no more taste for attacking Turks in fortified positions, especially in the name of some exotic sideshow like the Arab Revolt.

But Lawrence and Feisal had just been given something better than the British Navy, if they played their cards right. For into Feisal's camp at Wejh had just ridden Auda abu Tayi, sheik of the Howeitat bedouin. Auda, in Lawrence's estimate, was "the greatest fighting man in Northern Arabia." The Howeitat were known wide and far for their belligerence, deriving much of their tribal wealth from raiding their neighbors. Auda was placing himself and his tribe at the service of the Revolt.

Now Lawrence happened to have seen some recently shot aerial photography taken by British reconnaisance planes, that included views of Wadi Itm, the mountain pass that led inland from Aqaba. From it, Lawrence could see that the Turkish fortifications in the pass were much more vulnerable to a force going down the pass from the inland, rather than one ascending it from the sea. Especially if said force could materialize by more or less complete surprise at the top, inland mouth of the pass.

And where could one typically find the black tents and the home pastures of the Howeitat? Why, in southern "Transjordania" as the British called it--a few day's ride, as it happened, from the mouth of Wadi Itm. But where were the Howeitat now?

The Howeitat were somewhere in Wadi Sirhan, the great dry watercourse that connects the northern Arabian Desert with the arable lands of the coast, the pasage from the nomadic to the settled. Reaching the Howeitat in Wadi Sirhan involved crossing some of the least hospitable country in northern Arabia, cutting through an outlier of the Great Nefud desert, and making it across something the Arabs called el Houl, the Terror. All told, it was a desert journey of abot 600 miles -- a huge loop from their current base on the Hejaz coast deep into the Arabian desert, and then back around again down to the sea at Aqaba.
They set off in May, 1917, with Auda, Lawrence, Sherif Nasir, the official Hashemite leader appointed by Feisal, and about forty bodyguards. The crossing was terrible, especially for an Englishman unused to Bedouin life. But they arrived intact at the tents of the Howeitat in their summer pasture in Wadi Sirhan. Auda succeeded in raising the Howeitat for the great raid, and they ultimately left the camp for Aqaba with about 500 of the most avid desert raiders in Arabia. After a string of diversionary raids and manouevers, they entered Wadi Itm, and found the Turkish fortifications falling like plums into their hands. No Turkish planner had anticipated a force of this size or organization to arise out of the disorganized, undisciplined Bedouin in their rear, who only made war on each other. One fort, at Abba el Lissan, held out until Auda, in a fit of pique, ordered an all-out, old-style camel charge. Lawrence, excitedly joining in, accidentally shot his camel through the head, and was sent hurtling head over heels into the sand. When he came to, the Turks had surrendered. The force then headed unopposed down the pass, through a driving sandstorm and entered Aqaba on July 6, 1917.

Hashemite/Howeitat forces entering Aqaba

From then on, the Arabs became a factor in the calculus of the great powers as they planned for the post-War East. And Lawrence's theories about the potential of the Arab Revolt became more than the fevered musings of one lone English eccentric in a black tent.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Happy 55th Birthday, Rock & Roll

July 5, 1954 Elvis records his first single, "That's All Right, Mama"

"The music was new black polished chrome and it came across the summer like liquid night."

Jim Morrison

This Week in the Secret History: Arab Revolt Seizes Turkish Port of Aqaba; Age of "Asymmetric Warfare" Begins

Triumphant Bedouin race through Aqaba to the sea in scene from Lawrence of Arabia

Auda abu Tayi, sheikh of the Howeitat Bedouin

Captain Lawrence, AWOL

One of the most significant developments in the politics and history of the post-colonial world took place in December 1916 inside a hot, darkened tent pitched in a desert gully in the Hejaz region of what is now western Saudi Arabia, where a young Englishman lay in misery for a week sweating off a bout of dysentery. He was a British soldier, but he had no combat or command experience; his previous experience in the army had been interrogating prisoners and making maps. His current status was irregular--at the time, nobody exactly had a name for the position he had gotten himself into, and nobody has a really good one now. We might see him as some unlikely combination of diplomatic envoy and Delta Force operator. Until the war he had never had any kind of military experience. He had in fact been a scholar, an archeologist, and it's what he wanted to get back to as soon as the war was over. He was slight, small (5'6"), fair in coloring, soft-spoken, a hyper-literate Oxonian aesthete. All in all, there was something a little absurd about him being where he was.

Where he was was in the middle of a rebellion against the 500-year domination of the Arabian Peninsula by the Ottoman Empire, a rebellion consisting of a small and very loose confederation of some western Arabian bedouin tribes owing an informal sort of allegiance to Kng Hussein, the Sherif of Mecca, the head of the ancient and aristocratic Hashemite clan. It was World War I, the Ottoman Turks had entered on Germany's side, and had threatened to call for a jihad against Britain in all the Muslim bits of the British Empire. Which made perfect sense. The British response was to try to find a Muslim religious authority of their own who could counter the call for jihad. And so they lighted on the elderly Sherif Hussein of Mecca, hereditary guardian of the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina. Hussein had long had an itch to be master in the province of the Hijaz, which contains the Holy Cities. The British casually promised him self-determination if he would issue a call for revolt against the Turks. It was all supposed to be very local and low-key and 19th century--grizzled tribesmen taking potshots at Turkish columns, and after the hostilities maybe one barren and strategically marginal province would change hands. The British had a lot of experience balancing one obscure ethnicity against another in remote corners of the world while never letting it shake the Pax Britannica. But this was the 20th Century, and new forces were loose. There was a generation of educated, cosmopolitan Arabs who did not take the British, the French or the Ottoman Empires as unchallengeable assumptions. The American president was talking about the end of colonialism. In any hopeless cranny of the imperial globe these days, something or someone could come forth with an assertion, a demand, an idea, that could shake the calculus of power.

Right now one of those people was sweating in that airless tent in the Hijaz. But he was also doing something else. He was occupying his enforced leisure by thinking. He had been watching the little Hejaz adventure fall apart, as any confrontation between a modern, disciplined, mechanized imperial army against a motley crowd of nomads whose style of fighting--the quick raid, with antiquated weapons, on unsuspecting tribal enemies, followed by disapearance into the desert, with a low tolerance, if any, for casualties, orders, or organization--has not changed in generations. No, there was no possible way for the bedouin to contest the Turks for control of the territory. They could not aim to occupy and hold strategic ground, much less come to grips with and destroy significant units of the enemy army. They had tried that in a frontal camel charge against Medina, and been torn to pieces by Turkish artillery. But the 26-year old inside the tent had had no training that would have caused him to give undue weight to established military principles. What did begin to dawn on him in the dark was how vastly outnumbered, outgunned and out-organized partisans might have unsuspected advantages that in the end could conceivably make the continued occupation of their land by conventional forces too costly and too agonizing for them to continue. It was the first glimmering of the practice of what our geopoliticians today call asymmetric warfare, and it has been applied with remarkably consistent success from the first post-WWII and Cold War colonial risings and wars of national liberation, to Vietnam, to the very moment I write this, during which Western forces are engaged on two fronts in classic asymmetric wars. In each one of these, the insurgents, the revolutionaries, the terrorists--take your pick--have either read T.E. Lawrence (for that is the name of the man in the tent) or understood the principles instinctively. And the occupiers, the strangers in the land, have had to read him eventually.

Back to the tent. In a flash of insight, Lawrence saw that it was madness to try to take the city of Medina, the Turkish stronghold in the Hejaz. This was the the British military orthodoxy--you seek out the forces of the enemy, engage and destroy him. Lawrence saw that the Turks in Medina, isolated in the middle of a desert, hundreds of miles from their own territory, were effectively prisoners. 99% of the Hejaz already lay in Arab hands. The Turks' only supply line was the Hejaz railway which ran undefended through a thousand miles of desert dominated by Bedouin tribes, at whose mercy the railroad lay. The power, in this case--here's the asymmetric part--lay with the conventionally weaker force, who could, at will, keep the railway running to whatever extent they chose.

The remains of the vulnerable Hejaz Railway

With that realization, the war in the Hejaz was won, though no-one but Lawrence knew it yet. Now what? If the Arabs were going to have a modern state that meant anything, it meant Arab rule in the Turkish provinces along the Mediterranean--Palestine, the Levant, Syria. No European nation that had made promises to King Hussein has dreamed of such a thing. But Prince Feisal, son of Hussein, whose advisor Lawrence officially was, was a genuine modern nationalist, unlike his father, and he and Lawrence both dreamed of