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A Fisherman’s Reflections on a beautiful but troubled world
Chapter 8 - The USA

            Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,
purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain!
            America! America! God shed His grace on thee
            And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!


            Oh beautiful for pilgrim feet, whose stern, impassioned stress,
            A thoroughfare for freedom beat, across the wilderness!
            America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
            Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law!

Katherine Lee Bates 1913


I had not read much U.S. history before moving to America, but had immersed myself in some of its poetry and light fiction.  My father used to recite John Greanleaf Whittier’s “Barbara Frietchie”, with great gusto, and I later came to enjoy the verses of Longfellow, Lowell, Poe, Whitman, and others, as well as the songs of Stephen Foster and Cole Porter, and the books by O’Henry, Mark Twain, Zane Grey, Herman Melville, and Richard Henry Dana.  As a boy I loved to watch western movies, and devoured the romanticized versions of the ‘wild west’ history, with the detailed accounts of the different Red Indian tribes, that were probably as manufactured as those of the different clans in Scotland. Much later, books like “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”, gave a more factual and far sadder account of that period of American history.

The picture most of us in UK or Europe acquire of the United States, is taken largely from the cinema and television.  Alistair Cook’s long-running “Letter from America”, gave radio listeners a more observant picture of the land of the free and its colourful people. When I first went to work in the USA, it was a surprise to learn that most Americans were quite cautious and conservative, unlike the swashbuckling characters of Western movies or Rambo-like films.  I lived in Rhode Island, New England for two years, and that admittedly is quite unlike the south or west of the country.  New Englanders are often termed “swamp Yankees”, a description that emphasizes their dry uncommunicative characteristics.  But the area like much of America, is also a melting pot of Irish, Italian, English, Scandinavian, Portuguese, and other European immigrants, so generalizations are just that.  I recall in New Bedford stopping a stranger to ask the way, and being surprised by the response :  “Sorry, me Portuguese, - me no speak English” !

Rhode Island had been founded by a Baptist, Roger Williams, who was hounded out of Massachusetts by its Calvinist leaders.  The descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers who left Britain to seek freedom to worship God, were not prepared to grant the same freedom to others whose beliefs differed slightly from theirs. Baptism of believers by immersion was not in their tenets. So Williams moved south-west and founded the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, the smallest in the Union. By the time I came to work there, there were not so many Baptists around.  Churches were fairly conservative, unlike in California or the Southern States.  But little Rhody had a reputation as a centre of Mafia activity, and the first few week-ends I was there, the local godfathers were shooting each other in supermarkets or restaurants.  The police appeared to leave them to it, perhaps reasoning that a self-inflicted cull of gangsters might be in the State’s interest.

Left : Roger Williams the founder of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
Right : Map of the State of Rhode Island

The seal and the flag of Rhode Island.  Note the motto, “hope”, and the symbol – the anchor.

Rhode Island

The smallest State in the Union, with only around one million inhabitants, and sandwiched between Connecticut and Massachusetts, the “Ocean State”, or ‘Little Rhody’ as it is more commonly called, was named after an island in Narragansett Bay that was thought to resemble the island of Rhodes in the Mediterranean.   One of the New England states, it forms a rough north-south rectangle, 48 by 37 miles, with its southern border facing the sea at the outer end of Long Island Sound.

Its full title is “the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations”.  Once the home of various groups of Mahican Indians, it was established as a colonial territory in 1636 under a charter from the English king.  The charter permitted a remarkable degree of freedom of worship, which was the chief desire of its founder, a former English clergyman, Roger Williams.   It was the first of the American States to renounce allegiance to King George III, on 4th May 1776.  Yet it was the last of the original 13 States to join the Union, which it did on 29th May 1790.  Since then Rhode Island has continued to be something of a maverick state, and tends to vote for the Democratic party, even during years of Republican landslide votes.

Roger Williams gave the State its beautiful motto “Hope”, and its symbol, - an anchor.  To this day, the motto and symbol adorn all State buildings, letterheads and furnishings.  Roger Williams was a Baptist, but today over 60 per cent of R.I. people are Roman Catholic, an indication of the degree of influx of immigrants from Europe.   The State flower is the violet, its bird is unsurprisingly the Rhode Island red, and its tree is the red maple.  We lived in West Kingston, near to the University where I served as an Assistant Professor for two years.  The States ocean heritage was reflected in the many marinas, the naval base at Newport, and the graduate school of oceanography at the university.  There was and is a flourishing fishing fleet at Galilee, supported by a successful fishermens’ cooperative at Point Judith.  Apart from flounder, hake, cod and herring, the fleet produces prized lobster, and some swordfish. 

When we arrived, John Chafee was Governor.  He was later Secretary to the Navy, and after that became one of the State’s Senators.  He died in 1999 and was succeeded by his son Lincoln. In our time, the Senators were John O. Pastore who was a senior member of the foreign affairs committee, and Claiborne Pell, who was active in marine affairs.  The Kennedy family owned lavish homes in the State, and often holidayed in, or rather, cruised around, the islands just offshore, - Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Island, (the latter two being part of Massachusetts State).

For me one of the first clear differences of the USA from Britain, was that the whole society was remarkably democratic.  From village halls to school boards, to congress and the senate, Americans treasure and respect their open, transparent systems.  The nation is also largely free from the class distinctions that plague England.  Wealth is perhaps the one distinction that is respected.  But in academic institutions, like the one I had been appointed to, there was a remarkable absence of rank, or its importance.  I had hardly started work when I was asked to join a Marine Resources Committee which included the head of the Graduate School of Oceanography, and later Under-Secretary for Commerce, Dr John Knauss.  At our first lunch meeting, they were discussing the marine and fisheries programmes and how they might best develop.  Dr Knauss turned to me and asked, “Dave, what do you think?”.  I nearly choked on my coffee and ham sandwich at the question.  No one of his rank in a UK University at that time, would have been so ready to consult the institute’s most junior member of staff like that.   

With staff and conference speakers at the University of Rhode Island, 1968.

The democratic and almost class-less nature of American societies and institutions was impressed on me later when I was invited to be one of the speakers at the Boston Fish Expo which was also addressed by illustrious characters like Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator Magnasson of Washington (who gave his name to the new Fisheries Act), and a NASA scientist.  I became close to the head of the Point Judith Fisheries Co-op, Jake Dykstra, who though a working fisherman to this day, was on first name terms with many Senators and Congressmen due to his sagacity and leadership skills.  With Dykstra’s support I was to organize an applied research project at the local port, funded by the then Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, (now National Marine Fisheries Service).  The experiment worked extremely well giving the fleet an extra source of winter income from herring, and generating a welcome profit for the Co-op’s meal plant.  The Bureau chief offered to fund any project I thought would be profitable, the following year, but by that time I was moving on to other fields of work.  I was also invited to join the Oregon State University which had an active fisheries programme.  The Pacific coast and the western forests were fresh and inspiring, so it was with reluctance I declined the offer. 

Part of URI campus

I managed to visit a number of other American States, - mostly the seaboard ones.  The list includes New Hampshire, Maine Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington DC, Texas, Colorado, New Orleans, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii.  A trip round the Gulf ports included stops at Brownsville, Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Biloxi, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; and St. Petersburg, Florida.  Biloxi was one of the towns to be hardest hit years later, by hurricane Katrina at the end of August 2005.

A working visit to Long Island was typical of life in America.  A swordfish skipper, Phil Rhule, invited me there to advise him on seine fishing for hake and flounder.  He had me delivered back to Rhode Island by local float plane which landed in Point Judith harbour.  The pilot flew over the area and asked me to show him where I’d parked my car.  He then landed in the creek adjoining the harbour and taxied up alongside the shore to the car park where I’d left my Chevrolet. 

Lighthouse at Point Judith, Galilee, Rhode Island                   New England dragger

I enjoyed the west coast and Hawaii more than the eastern states, although heavily wooded New England was glorious in the fall of the year. As a fisheries man, I have happy memories of clam bakes in Maine, clam chowder in Massachusetts, grilled swordfish steaks and lobster dinners in Rhode Island, shrimp gumbo in the Gulf States, and Japanese sashimi in Hawaii.   A visit to Oregon’s wide open spaces and rugged coastline, gave me a picture of the more unspoiled parts of the American West.  On a journey from Corvallis to Newport on the coast, my host stopped to attend a lunch meeting of the local Rotary Club.  The speaker that day was a young University student who had decided she should educate the older generation on the music beloved by the new younger people of the country.  It was my first introduction to Simon and Garfunkel, and proved to be a pleasant and memorable experience. 

When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all;
I’m on your side.  When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down.     
Paul Simon, 1969

Newport Oregon was later to become a centre of fishery and ocean science when a large Marine Science facility was established with support from NOAA and OSU.  Its impressive new Library building was to be named after Captain Barry Fisher, former Gloucester schooner fisher, and dragger captain on the east coast.  I first met Barry in 2007, when I made a trip to sea on his New Bedford based dragger in which he was then experimenting with the Scottish seine. We became great friends and he later visited us in UK.  I was instrumental in arranging his first appointment to the Oregon State University.  Following that he did great pioneering work in the north Pacific fishery.

Barry Fisher - a great pioneer fisher

Born in Gloucester Massachusetts in 1929, and died in Newport Oregon in 2001, Barry Fisher was a colourful and charismatic figure in fishery circles wherever he went, but chiefly in Oregon and Alaska from where he conducted a number of pioneer offshore fishery ventures.  The best known was his joint venture with USSR factory ships which had been prohibited from trawling inside the American 200 mile EEZ.  Barry agreed to catch fish for the Soviet fleet, and to sell and transfer the catches to the factory ships at sea.  This was done by using detachable bags on the trawls, and simply un-zipping them and attaching them to buys.  The factory ship was then informed by radio and proceeded to pick up the bag full of fish and draw it up the stern ramp.  The trawl bags were later dropped into the sea near Fisher’s vessel which could recover them for further use.  Barry also led a Cooperative for midwater trawl fishers, and supported applications of marine science to the huge fisheries of NW USA off the coasts of Alaska, Washington, and Oregon.

Captain Barry Fisher, fishing pioneer, leader, and spokesperson.

Barry was respected and admired by fishermen from Alaska to Scotland, and by senior officials in government and business.   Two of these were Alexander Popov, President of Russia’s Binom fishery company, and Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon who spoke of him at the dedication of the building in his honour.   He was an impressive speaker, whether in the cabin of a fishing boat, or on an international conference platform.  He had a poetic gift and salty wit in expressing ideas in effective ways.  To this day, those who heard that speech recall his talk entitled “How to take your wife to Hawaii on 2 cents a pound !”  Fishermen and fishery officials as far apart as West Samoa, and Grimsby England, were captivated by his enthusiasm and colourfully expressive talk.

A ‘Doryman’ report states : “Fate shoe-horned into one man's skin the energy, intelligence, creativity, courage and goodwill of half a dozen ordinary people. It's easy to get lost in the maze of his activities and achievements -- but what an awe-inspiring landscape to be lost in.

Barry Fisher was a Gloucesterman. Add the name "Fisher" to a birthplace like that and it would be hard indeed not to go to sea. Barry did it as young as possible -- after "lumping around the wharves from age 11" -- by joining the U.S. Merchant Marine. This was in 1943: by war's end, still in his early teens, he had seen North Africa and the Mediterranean, witnessed the Allied re-invasion of France, been on the infamous Murmansk convoy in the Russian Arctic, and had his ship torpedoed from under him by a German U-boat.

After the war, he was granted just a few short years of peace in which to roam the east coast fisheries, from North Carolina's Cape Hatteras to Newfoundland's Grand Banks. Then came Korea, and during two tours of combat duty in the U.S. Army he collected a shoulder-load of medals, including two Bronze Stars, the Combat Infantry badge, three Purple Hearts, the Army Commendation medal, the U.S. Presidential and Korean Presidential Distinguished Unit citation, and four Battle Stars on his Korean Service medal.

In a subsequent engagement, this "dauntless leadership" left him recovering from serious wounds in an Army hospital. But relaxation wasn't Barry's style; he used the time to get a GED, and the GED took him to Harvard, where he earned a B.A. in History.

Harvard was important to him for more than just books, however. While there, he met and married Carol Lee Smith. In 1955 and 1957, his sons Christopher and Frederick were born. After a period on a timber cruiser in South America, he came back to Harvard for a Master's in Education, and then came the first of several periods of teaching.”

In 1964, Barry bought a 65-foot dragger and returned to fishing out of New Bedford.  However, it was the west coast fishery that attracted him, and four years later he accepted a post as Associate Professor of Fisheries at Oregon State.  That became a springboard into the Bering and Alaska Sea fisheries, and his now legendary pioneering work with the Pacific fishers.

During and after his commercial fishery work in the Pacific he contributed heavily to marine fisheries programs at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center. He also supported the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Conservation Law Foundation, and other organizations too numerous to list. From 1983, he was president of Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, and was an effective spokesman for fisheries interests at the highest levels of regulation and government. In 1985, he was re-appointed to the OSU faculty, this time as Professor of Fisheries.

Dr William Hogarth of NOAA praised Captain Fisher at the dedication of the Library building in his honour.  "This dedication is a real tribute to Barry," said Dr. Hogarth. "It is a tribute to his vision and will become part of his exceptional legacy. Here, NOAA Fisheries will make a substantial investment in the science of fisheries, and I think Captain Fisher would approve."

F.V. Excalibur was Barry Fisher’s final command. It fished exceptionally well in the north Pacific.

Two major racist blots mar the history of the United States of America.  The first was slavery which provided forced labour for the cotton fields and farms of the southern states for over a century, and its after-effects of racial discrimination for the next hundred years.  Much of the horrid truth of the treatment of slaves in the USA (a mere 150 years ago) has been obscured and romanticised by books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and films like Gone with the Wind.  Anyone brave enough to read an unvarnished factual account of the behaviour of slave owners in the southern states (and beyond), should see the narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, - ‘written by himself’ in 1845.  What is deeply troubling about the picture painted by Douglass, more than the cruelty and injustice, is the incredible hypocrisy of the slave owners who were mostly (on the surface) devout churchgoers and office holders, - often leading prayer meetings and revivals, yet abusing and whipping their slaves severely and forbidding them any education, religious or secular.

Frederick Douglass, author of the powerful and moving testimony, “an American Slave”.  His book is the best eye witness account of the life of slaves in the U.S. southern states in the 19th century.

The second was the ethnic cleansing of the mid-west of Red Indian tribes, to have their lands expropriated by ranchers, gold miners, and railroad companies.  In the process, the U.S. government broke practically every promise and treaty made to guarantee protection of their traditional lands and later reservations.  One of the foremost proponents of the policy of  “manifest destiny” as U.S. imperialism and expansion was then described, to give it some kind of divine right, was the Civil War hero, General Sherman.  Sherman was a fierce soldier who believed in fighting total war, and who led his troops in destroying much of the infrastructure of the Confederate south.  After the Confederate surrender he expressed his own revulsion at the horrors and carnage of war.  But his military instincts came back to the fore during the conflict with Red Indian tribes.  He wrote to General Grant, “We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women, and children.”   He advocated the widespread slaughter of Buffalo herds to deny Indian tribes their main source of meat and hides.  A railroad shareholder, he believed expansion of the railway would be a powerful weapon in the programme to eliminate the whole Red Indian race.

One of his most enthusiastic military officers was Lt. Colonel (called ‘General’ because of his volunteer rank in the confederate army), George Armstrong Custer.  Custer had graduated with the lowest marks of his army college class.  He was twice court-martialled, and had a reputation for disobeying orders and making his own decisions.  Custer was based at Fort Riley in 1866, and given the command of the 7th Cavalry.  From northern Texas to what is now east Colorado and west Kansas, to South Dakota, and Minnesota, his troops harried and murdered Indian people, raping women and destroying villages.  They participated in and encouraged the slaughter of buffalo, and had gold prospectors enter Indian lands contrary to the U.S. government treaties. 

The brutal and swashbuckling Lt. Col (sometimes called ‘General’) George A. Custer.  A flamboyant and controversial character, he was court-martialled at least twice, but always managed to get himself reinstated and ended his days leading the 7th Cavalry at the battle of the Little Big Horn River June 25 1876.  The battle was intended to crush Black Hills Sioux and Cheyenne Indian resistance to the take- over of their lands previously guaranteed to them by the United States government.

General William Sherman, Union army hero             Lt. Col. “General” George Custer, former
     who applied total war concepts in both                Confederate army officer who later led the
        the Civil War and the Indian wars                    7th Cavalry into the battle of Little Big Horn

The famous last stand of ‘General’ Custer at the Little Big Horn river, has been glamourised and romanticised over the years.  Some accounts talk of the 7th Cavalry encountering over 25,000 Indian tribes peoples who overwhelmed and killed them.  Indian versions of the incident mention only a few hundred braves and their families.  They claim that Custer either shot himself to avoid capture, or was killed by a squaw wielding his own sabre.  Indian accounts are probably as fanciful as the western press and Hollywood romanticised versions of the battle.  Reports differ on how many soldiers were killed.  It appears that there were 197 under Custer’s direct command, and 73 killed of those who were in the other two detachments that survived the encounter with the Sioux who were led by chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.   Crazy Horse later stated : "I was hostile to the white man ... We preferred hunting to a life of idleness on our reservations. At times we did not get enough to eat and we were not allowed to hunt. All we wanted was peace and to be let alone. Soldiers the winter..and destroyed our villages. Then Long Hair (Custer) came... They said we massacred him, but he would have done the same to us. After that I lived in peace, but the government would not let me alone.  I was tired of fighting...”

Sitting Bull of the Sioux Hunkpapa tribe.  A Latoka medicine man and chief,
he was killed by reservation police on December 15 1890.

Chief Crazy Horse (Tashunka Witco) of the Black Hills Oglala Sioux.  He was bayoneted and killed by a soldier at Fort Robinson on 5th September 1877 after surrendering to government troops.

One of the final tragic incidents happened on 29th December 1890, when American troops killed over 300 Miniconjou Indians, including women, old men and children, led by the infirm Spotted Elk or ‘Big Foot’.  It was standard practice to attack Indian villages during the winter when families would be together in their tents, and those who survived would probably die of exposure or starvation.  This occurred at Wounded Knee creek in South Dakota.  That same year, old Chief Sitting Bull who had been given assurances of his and his people’s safety after they surrendered, was killed while resisting arrest for allowing a ghost dance to take place.  Below are some expressions of Indian views of their treatment.

Chief Spotted Elk (Big Foot) of the Minneconjou people, Teton Sioux

Old infirm Spotted Elk, massacred along with 200 of his people on
29 December 1890 by Col. James Forsyth and his troop of soldiers

"Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mohican, the Pokanoket, and other once powerful tribes of our people? They vanished before the avarice and oppression of the White Man, as snow before a summer sun.  Will we not struggle, should we give up our homes, our land   bequeathed to us by the Great Spirit, the graves of our dead and all that is dear and sacred to us? 'Never!”*     Tecumseh Shawnee, (from Native American Quotes).

"The white people, are trying to make us into their image, to be what they call "assimilated," bringing us into the mainstream and destroying our own way of life and our own cultural patterns. They believe we should be like those whose concept of happiness is materialistic and greedy, which is very different from our way. We want freedom from the white man rather than to be intergrated. We don't want any part of the establishment, we want to be free to raise our children in our religion, in our ways, to be able to hunt and fish and live in peace. We don't want power, we don't want to be congressmen, or bankers....we want to be ourselves. We want to have our heritage, because we are the owners of this land and because we belong here. The white man says, there is freedom and justice for all. We have had "freedom and justice," and that is why we have been almost exterminated. We shall not forget this."*   (Grand Council of American Indians, 1927)

The first American election I took any interest in was the 1960 contest between Richard M Nixon and John F Kennedy, to replace Dwight D Eisenhower as President of the most powerful country in the world.  This was the first election in which television played a major part.  The public debate between the two young candidates of similar ability was deemed to have been crucial in determining the outcome.  I watched the televised debates with interest at our home in Scotland, and was not surprised that Kennedy won by a narrow margin.  Along with millions of young persons in January 1961, I was impressed by his inauguration speech:

“Let the word go forth from this time and place to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness …the undoing of human rights.  We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to ensure the survival and success of liberty“. 

Above : President John F. Kennedy, assassinated 22 November 1963

Just 2½ years later I was lying in a warm bath in my house in the Zambesi valley with the radio switched on to the BBC overseas service.  An announcer interrupted the light music programme to say something about a President having been assassinated.  I thought she had said “Kennedy”, but reflected, “surely not!”  Sadly the news bulletin that followed confirmed that it had indeed been John F Kennedy who had been murdered. [Conspiracy theories have abounded since the death of President Kennedy.  I have no more insight on the event than other concerned observers, though I was never convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald was guilty.  He was a CIA employee most of his life, and was based in the Dallas CIA office (despite continuing misinformation to the contrary). The murder appears to have been the product of an unholy alliance between anti-Castro Cubans, southern white supremacists, and elements of the Mafia, with possible encouragement from Hoover’s FBI and the military-industrial complex. It is interesting to note that before she died, Jackie Kennedy warned Hillary Clinton that her husband should be very very careful, since he like Jack, evoked strong feelings of support or hostility.]

The Vice-President from Texas, Lyndon Johnson, assumed responsibility immediately after the assassination.  One of his first acts was to increase substantially, the military expenditure in men and arms, on Vietnam.  He was opposed in the 1964 election by Senator Barry Goldwater, whose hawkish views on the Vietnam war, and right-wing attitudes to the economy, got him portrayed as an extremist by the media.  Johnson won by a landslide, and then went on to do most of the things Goldwater had advocated.  It was rather like the way Tony Blair won the British 1995 election by his contrast with Margaret Thatcher (rather than John Major, his milder opponent), and has since gone on to out-Thatcher Thatcher on many domestic and foreign policy issues.  In fairness to Johnson, he did try hard to prosecute his “war on poverty”, and he did support integration of schools, and the granting of civil rights to black people, both being measures for which Goldwater failed to show much enthusiasm.

Johnson was in some ways an enigmatic character.  On the one hand he was largely responsible for the enormous build up of the American war effort in Vietnam.  Some thought he was sold out completely to the military industrial corporations (in which his wife Lady Bird was a large shareholder).  Yet he also sought to pursue the ‘war on poverty’, (with about as much success as George Bush junior pursued the ‘war on terrorism’).  He got the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, and appeared to support the work of Dr Martin Luther King.  Yet at the same time, he allowed the notorious FBI chief, J. Edgar Hoover, to tap Dr King’s telephones, and to spread whatever negative and slanderous material he dug up about him.  Not much of a church goer or a professed believer, he had Dr Billy Graham visit and preach at the White House more than any other President, - much more in fact than Richard Nixon who the press claimed was Billy Graham’s close friend.

President Lyndon B. Johnson

America’s campuses were in fervent opposition to the Vietnam war when I arrived.  Its black communities had been struggling and fighting for justice for nearly ten years, under the inspired leadership of Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders.  That movement was not much in evidence in New England which had very small populations of blacks and coloureds, but it was strongly supported by the academic communities and liberal whites.  King himself did not trust the liberal whites much as he correctly discerned that for many of them their support was intellectual rather than genuine and practical, and that most of them cautioned patience and only passive action.  I recall similar attitudes by Africans who would trust the word of a white Afrikaaner although they did not like him, but would be skeptical of liberal whites whose support or sympathy was seen as shallow and unreliable.

Luther King was a remarkable charismatic figure who was also well educated and had thought out his positions after deep study of the political, social and theological principles involved.  He was also an inspired orator in the tradition of the colourful black preachers of the deep south.  His father, grandfather and great grandfathers had been baptist preachers, and he saw himself as such, although his theology was less than orthodox.  Below are some quotations from the first six years of his struggle against racism.

“If we arrested every day, if we are exploited every day, if we are trampled over every day, don't ever let anyone pull you so low as to hate them. We must use the weapon of love. We must have the compassion and understanding for those who hate us. We must realize so many people are taught to hate us that they are not totally responsible for their hate. But we stand in life at midnight, we are always on the threshold of a new dawn. (1956)

Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the 'fight with fire' method which you suggest is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved community.  Physical force can repress, restrain, coerce, destroy, but it cannot create and organize anything permanent; only love can do that. Yes, love—which means understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one's enemies—is the solution to the race problem.   (1957)

I am convinced that love is the most durable power in the world.  It is not … impractical idealism, but practical realism. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, love is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. To return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love.   (1957)

In our struggle against racial segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, I saw at an early stage that a synthesis of Gandhi's method of nonviolence and the Christian ethic of love is the best weapon available to Negroes for this struggle for freedom and human dignity. The Gandhian approach may well bring about a solution to the race problem in America. His spirit is a continual reminder to oppressed people that it is possible to resist evil and yet not resort to violence.*   (1958)

The reason I can't follow the old eye-for-an-eye philosophy is that it ends up leaving everyone blind. Somebody must have sense and somebody must have religion. We are moving up a mighty highway toward the city of Freedom. There will be meandering points. There will be curves and difficult moments, and we will be tempted to retaliate with the same kind of force that the opposition will use. But I'm going to say to you, 'Wait a minute, Birmingham. Somebody's got to have some sense in Birmingham.'  (1963)

I cannot make myself believe that God wanted me to hate. I'm tired of violence, I've seen too much of it. I've seen such hate on the faces of too many sheriffs in the South. And I'm not going to let my oppressor dictate to me what method I must use. Our oppressors have used violence. Our oppressors have used hatred. Our oppressors have used rifles and guns. I'm not going to stoop down to their level. We have a power that can't be found in Molotov cocktails.  (circa 1963)

Non-violent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored... I am not afraid of the word tension. I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, and there is a type of constructive tension that is necessary for growth.  (1963)”

Dr Martin Luther King, assassinated 4 April 1968

Lyndon Johnson was still President when I arrived in the USA in 1967, to take up an appointment with the University of Rhode Island.  His Vice-President, Hubert Humphrey came to the URI campus to deliver a speech, and our Department was asked to drive him and his entourage from the helicopter pad to the auditorium.  An anti-war demonstration was being held opposite the auditorium, led by radical economics Professor Riach (whose classes I happened to be attending in my spare time).  Humphrey attempted to reason with the protestors for a few minutes, - to the consternation of his body guards, - but gave up quickly and went inside to make his speech.  There was a scuffle, and Professor Riach got arrested, so we had no lectures from him for a couple of weeks. (Riach appeared on the third week and prefaced his lecture with a remark on how helpless and vulnerable a poor man was under the American judicial system.) On a slightly amusing note, there was also a lone anti-protest protestor carrying a banner,  “End this Jewish-Communist plot”, and with a voice that matched the combined shouts of the crowd. So we had alternate cries of : “Stop the war!” – “Bomb Hanoi!”  - “Stop the war!” – “Bomb Hanoi!”

Vice President Hubert Humphrey

Throughout  America, campuses seethed with unrest over the Vietnam war.  The protest songs of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and scores of other ballad singers, were then becoming the hymn book of the anti-war youth.  A favourite was “Where have all the flowers gone”.

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the young girls gone, long time passing?
Where have all the young girls gone, long time ago?
Where have all the young girls gone?
Gone for husbands everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the husbands gone, long time passing?
Where have all the husbands gone, long time ago?
Where have all the husbands gone?
Gone for soldiers everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the soldiers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards, everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the graveyards gone, long time passing?
Where have all the graveyards gone, long time ago?
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Gone to flowers, everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Pete Seeger, 1961

Lyndon Johnson eventually decided not to seek re-election after Senator Eugene McCarthy (not at all to be confused with the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy) won 20 of the 24 delegates in the New Hampshire Democratic primary.  To many people it seemed that Johnson withdrew because Robert Kennedy had decided to enter the race for the Democratic nomination.  However, as a close observer in the country at that time, it was clear to me that Bobby Kennedy decided to make his bid only after seeing how the McCarthy campaign was gaining remarkable steam, and attracting huge crowds of disaffected youth.  McCarthy beat Kennedy in the Oregon primary (I think that was the first election defeat for a Kennedy in the USA).  As things turned out, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated on June 4th after narrowly beating McCarthy in the California primary, and Hubert Humphrey won the nomination of his party with significant help from Mayor Daley of Chicago, and deals made by the Democratic power brokers, behind closed doors in smoke-filled rooms.  But it was to no avail, Richard Nixon won the election, or rather Humphrey lost since the anti-war voters did not trust him.  He also lost democrat votes in the South due to the third party candidature of George Wallace.  But for my money, - if Bobby Kennedy had stayed out of the race, - Eugene McCarthy would have been the next President of the United States.

Above : Senator Eugene McCarthy

(Incidentally, one of the many youthful supporters of Eugene McCarthy and his anti-war stance in 1968, was a Miss Laura Welch, a less than conservative Texan Democrat, who was to wed George W. Bush 9 years later, and go on to be America’s First Lady when George was inaugurated as President in January 2001.  Not surprisingly, she adopted quite different political views on her marriage to George.)

Robert Kennedy, assassinated 6 June 1968

That Eugene McCarthy might have won the 1968 election, I would qualify the above by adding, - “depending on the influence of the military-industrial complex”.  This enormously powerful lobby group which President Eisenhower had warned about on leaving office, had grown fat on the spoils of the Vietnam war.  It was said that Johnson’s wife “Lady Bird”, was a major shareholder in one of the biggest military corporations.  Some surmised that the military-industrial group may have been behind the JFK assassination, and that they used an unholy alliance of anti-Castro Cubans and southern supremacist whites to carry it out.  The one was seething with rage at what they saw as Kennedy’s betrayal of the “Bay of Pigs” invasion adventurers, and the other was equally furious at the support John and Robert Kennedy gave to the black civil rights movement in the southern states. [Some have surmised that there are references to the Kennedy assassination plot in the White House tape recordings of Richard Nixon.  He kept trying to get the FBI, the CIA and Congress to stay out of the Watergate investigation.  “Tell them this will open the whole Bay of Pigs thing”, he ordered his subordinates.  The “Bay of Pigs thing”, informed observers claim, was code for the Kennedy assassination by some vengeful CIA officers and Miami Cubans, possibly aided by mafia bosses and southern white supremacists.]  I guess we may never know.  Certainly Lee Harvey Oswald was not the assassin.  He was a CIA employee till the day he died, and as he said in one of the few statements made after his arrest, - he was set up, - he was a “patsy”.   I say this having read all the evidence I could obtain, including the many official and semi-official attempts to portray Oswald differently.

Do I know of any evidence for that, other than what I have read in newspapers and books?  Only this tiny bit, and it is hearsay evidence.  Clay Kelly was 18 years with the CIA, much of the time in Vietnam.  After leaving the service, he and his Vietnamese wife ran a restaurant in Makati, Manila.  Liking Vietnamese food as I do, I was a regular diner on my periods in the Philippines.  Much of what Clay told me over several evenings, later came out in the JFK film and subsequent books.  But some of what he alluded to has never been published, though he claimed to have left a manuscript with the New York Times.  Clay had tried to expose much of what he uncovered in Vietnam, and the senior US officials involved.  However, even Senators as senior as ‘Scoop’ Jackson, felt the material was too explosive to touch.  Clay was forced out of the CIA, and had a contract taken out on his life at one point.  The dogs were called off when he agreed to keep quiet on the subject.

But in America of 1968, sad and traumatic events were taking place.  Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis on April 4th.  I was surprised, even in the liberal north-east, how many red-neck, conservative whites were pleased that he was killed.  Not in the University, I hasten to add.  Most of the professors were tolerant and broad-minded men.  Two months later Robert Kennedy was shot. My mother called from Scotland to ask me “what kind of a country are you living in?”   It all smacked of the involvement of ruthless power groups. One high level assassination might be the work of a single crazed person, - but three assassinations in the space of six years?  I think not.  A lawyer I knew had been a school friend of Sirhan Sirhan (the young man who shot Robert Kennedy), in his youth.  He said the boy never struck him as a potential murderer.  But his behaviour in that fateful year smacked of sophisticated mind control.  However, here again, we may never know the whole truth this side of time.

The murder of Dr King followed a similar pattern.  James Earl Ray was eventually convicted of the killing, but he maintained his innocence till the day he died.  And strangely, the King family believed him, as did most of the civil rights leaders who concluded that Ray was set up to be the fall guy, much as they thought that the charges against Lee Harvey Oswald were designed to take public attention away from the real perpetrators of the Kennedy conspiracy.

Martin Luther King

Born in Atlanta Georgia in 1929, the son of a notable black minister of the same name, the future preacher, civil rights leader, and fearless opponent of injustice, was to die at 39 years of age.  In his short life he traveled over 6 million miles, delivered over 2,500 messages, wrote 5 books, received 20 honorary degrees, plus the Nobel Peace prize, was declared “1963 Man of the Year” by Time magazine, and changed the course of history for America and its black peoples. 

The young King attended Booker T Washington high school and Moorhouse College, both in Atlanta, then Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.  There he obtained a BD degree and won the Plafker award as the outstanding student, and also the J. Lewis Crozer Fellowship.  This allowed him to enter Boston University although he had also been accepted for Yale and for Edinburgh.  He received his PhD from Boston, where he also met and married his wife Coretta Scott (who died in 2006).  The same year saw him commence his non-voilent activities in the civil rights field, beginning with the Birmingham bus boycott started by Rosa Parks.   He was to accept the Presidency and leadership of numerous civil rights associations over the next 12 years. 

King was imprisoned over 20 times, attacked and beaten on a number of occasions.  In January 1956, after being released from jail in Montgomery, Alabama, he received a hate call at his home around midnight.  This was followed by a profound religious experience.  He said later that he experienced the presence of the Divine as never before … and heard the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying, “Stand up for righteousness.  Stand up for truth.  And God will be at your side for ever”.   Four days later his house was bombed.  But from then on, King was to display amazing bravery and courage in the face of danger, until his murder by white racists in 1968.

In 1962, King’s efforts led to the defeat of the brutal public safety commissioner of Alabama, Eugene ‘Bull’ O’Connor.  When in jail during that struggle he wrote a now famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”.  In 1963 he led a march by 250,000 persons in Washington DC where he delivered the famous “I have a dream” speech.  The following year, in July 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

In King’s final speech, delivered just before his death, in Memphis Tenessee in 1968, when seeking to support a local sanitary worker’s strike, he summed up his life’s goal and purpose thus:

“Let us rise up with greater readiness.  Let us stand with greater determination.  And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to make America what it ought to be.  We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.  And I want to thank God for allowing me to be with you here in Memphis.  Some here talk about threats, and what might happen to me from some sick white brothers.  I don’t know what will happen.

           We’ve got difficult days ahead.  But it really doesn’t matter with me now – because I’v been to the mountain top.  Like anybody I would like to live along life.  But I’m not concerned.  I just want to do God’s will.  He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land.  I may not get there with you, … but as a people we will get to the Promised Land.*  And I’m so happy tonight.  I’m not worried about anything.  I’m not fearing any man.  Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord !” 


So Richard Millhouse Nixon was duly sworn in as the 37th President of the USA in January 1969.  We watched the inauguration, and the cabinet introductions later that week.  Afterwards, in hindsight, it was hard to believe that most of those smiling family men who were assuming high responsibility after years in public service, were to break the law, and to lie and hide evidence, at the behest of a paranoid chief executive.  Nixon himself was a remarkably able statesman who sadly had a dark, vindictive and dishonest side to his nature.  But the Watergate scandal was not to break for another five years.

President Richard M. Nixon

I read all of the books published by the characters in the Watergate affair, which gave a fascinating insight to the behaviour and mind-set of persons in high political or executive office.  While working for the World Bank in 1978, and on later occasions, I was able to visit many of the locations where the events took place.  Even now, interesting facts or tit-bits of information arise to shed further light on Watergate (or to add to the confusion, depending on one’s point of view). [The identity of “Deep Throat” who guided Woodward in his search for the truth, has since been revealed.  He was then the second highest official in the FBI, and former WW2 spy, W. Mark Felt, whose abhorrence of the Nixon White House behaviour led him to encourage the Watergate scandal investigators.  Interestingly, American opinion is divided between those who regard him as a hero, and those who believe he was disloyal and unpatriotic.] It has emerged that one of the reasons that paranoid Richard Nixon wanted to get inside information from the Democratic Party office in the Watergate complex, was his fear of their support by a wealthy maverick American businessman.  It was believed, not without reason, that Howard Hughes had decided to use his colossal wealth to take over the party machine through Larry O’Brien following the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, in an effort to put his own man into the White House.

The Watergate building in Washington DC


If you walk south from the rear of the White House in Washington DC, you will pass the headquarters of the World Bank on your left hand side.  Continue towards the Potomac river and Georgetown beyond, and you will see a stately building on your left before the river.  It is the Watergate complex of offices, hotel and apartments.  At 2.30 am on the 17th of June 1972, plain clothes police were alerted to a possible break-in, and found five men inside.  They had been trying to place bugs in the office of the Democratic National Committee.  The men were an assortment of Cuban Americans and ex-CIA security men.  They had been directed by another ex-CIA man working in the White House, - Howard Hunt.  The operation, along with umpteen other illegal acts, had been financed by the Committee to Re-Elect the President or CREEP (what a Freudian slip choice of letters!).  The full facts of the criminal activities took two years and countless inquiries and hearings to establish as the White House and all involved tried to stonewall the investigation. 

Among those guilty of complicity in criminal acts, or of perjury at the subsequent hearings and trials were :  John Mitchell, former Attorney General;  Patrick Gray, former head of the FBI; Maurice Stans, Fund-Raiser to Richard Nixon; Jeb Magruder, White House Official; John Erlichman, Counsel to the President; and H R Haldeman, White House Chief of Staff; and finally President Richard Nixon himself who had to resign from office before he would be impeached.

The story was first unraveled by two young newspaper reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who worked for the Washington Post.  They were persistent in their enquiries, and were assisted by an anonymous inside source nick-named “Deep Throat”.  In June 1973 the President’s former Counsel, John Dean, broke ranks and started to reveal the cover-up.  A month later, a security officer Alexander Butterfield, revealed that Nixon had taped all the conversations in his office.  The Justice Department’s special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, subpoenaed the tapes.  Nixon refused to release them, and fired the prosecutor instead.  The new attorney General, Richardson, refused the order to sack Cox, as did his assistant Ruckelshaus.  Both had to resign.

The Supreme Court unanimously ordered the President to hand over the tapes.  As they were gradually released, they failed to support Nixon’s side of the story.  One tape had a mysterious 18 minute gap from an erasure. Further tapes revealed clear obstruction of justice.  On July 17 1974, the House (Congress) judiciary committee passed the first of three articles of impeachment.  Within 2 weeks, on 8th August, Richard Nixon became the first American President to resign from office.

The events happened over 30 years ago, but they are relevant to present day attempts by supposedly democratic governments to suppress opposition and dissent, and to control the media and conceal unpleasant truths about themselves.  The behaviour of senior officials in Nixon’s White House reads like a Shakespearian tragedy.  Most of them, but not all, have since confessed their culpability.  Several came to personal faith in God through the crisis.  One of the original burglary organisers remains a ‘true believer’ in the Nixon cause.  G Gordon Liddy, still maintains his and Nixon’s innocence.  A Nixon foundation currently propagates his statements to discredit the accepted view of the Watergate scandal.


The identity of “Deep Throat” who guided Woodward in his search for the truth, has since been revealed.  He was then the second highest official in the FBI, and former WW2 spy, W. Mark Felt, whose abhorrence of the Nixon White House behaviour led him to encourage the Watergate scandal investigators.  Interestingly, American opinion is divided between those who regard him as a hero, and those who believe he was disloyal and unpatriotic.

A far greater scandal than Watergate, to my mind however, was the mass murder of thousands upon thousands of Asian civilians in the intense carpet bombing of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia by the US military, - in the name of liberation. It had escalated under President Johnson following the Gulf of Tonkin resolution which was passed in a frenzy of patriotic anger after two small Vietnamese boats were said to have attacked an American warship in international waters.  The event was totally fabricated by the US Navy and the CIA, as is now openly admitted.  I have never trusted military statements in time of war since.  But the bombing was further escalated by the paranoid and single-minded determination of two men who did not want to lose face, and who were determined to achieve a military victory at all costs.  These two men were Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.  In my travels through Indo-China I have met several families who lost innocent relatives to those bombs.  Much of the bombing was indiscriminate and based on wild hunches rather than genuine intelligence.  Clay Kelly of the CIA informed me in some detail about the myths of the Ho Chi Minh trail which supplied only 20% of the Vietnamese war material. This is now admitted by the authorities.  Many years later, when working in Vietnam, I was made aware of the human toll on innocent civilians, and the environmental destruction and contamination that was still evident over 30 years later.  “No civilians live in the east part of Cambodia”, (which was heavily bombed), according to the Nixon administration.  What wicked nonsense!  No one who knew Indo-China could have ever swallowed that lie.

Kissinger was the ultimate modern exponent of power poitics and American imperialism. It is strangely to the credit of Ronald Reagan that he never appointed Henry Kissinger to any office or position of power, perhaps with the exception of membership of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in 1984. This view is expressed by former hostage David Jacobsen in The Nightmare in Beirut, who together with his fellow prisoners was appalled by Kissinger’s repeated advice to leave the hostages to their fate. Henry K. and Nixon practiced Realpolitik, - the view that government and state policy are matters divorced from moral considerations, to be dictated only by the necessities of power, and judged only by success.  Historians tell us that modern realpolitik was developed in the nineteenth century by Count Camillo Benso di Cavour in Italy, and by the great Bismarck in Germany.  In their eyes, reasons of state justified any means, provided they yielded the results intended.  Looking back at the results of Kissinger’s realpolitik, one must doubt that it actually met the latter criteria, and simply conclude that it caused untold misery, involved great cost in money and lives, and sowed the seeds of future global instability, enmity and cynicism.  All that just to save the faces of those two men who confused their vanity with national prestige.

Henry Kissinger

It seems to me as a complete amateur in this field, that it was based on very short-term political views and goals.  Is Indo-China today any different from what it would have been had it been left alone to develop its own forms of government?   Was all that war effort, and all that human sacrifice really justified?   Yet the world still honours the guilty, blames the innocent, and ignores the victims.  Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, an event that made the musician-comedian, Tom Lehrer exclaim that “satire is now officially dead!"   This was one of the strange relapses of the Nobel Committee set up by Alfred Bernhard Nobel of Sweden, the inventor of dynamite and gelignite.

Most Americans now regard the Vietnam War as a mistake.  But many of them believe so only because the USA did not win the war, or because the war was not really winnable.  Not so many see it as unjustified interference in a foreign country’s internal affairs.  Few Americans know that the United States prevented nation-wide elections from taking place in Vietnam since it knew that Ho Chi Minh would win such an election by a landslide.  Few also will admit that the United States overturned or undermined democratically elected and legitimate governments in Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Grenada, Guatemala, Panama, Nicaragua and Haiti, simply because it did not like their politics or policies, though they were no threat to the security of the USA.  The U.S. also financed the suppression of opposition movements fighting for social justice, in El Salvador, Dominica, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay.  The events referred to are well documented, and occurred within the past 40 years. Even less Americans know how their government covertly supported Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, or armed and encouraged Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden when it suited it.  American governments support democracy and free trade only when it works to their perceived benefit, and rarely when the results of those measures weaken US influence, or affect US business profits.   The hypocrisy of American administrations that magnify the crimes of dictators or the supposed ill-intentions of democratically elected leaders when it suits them, and which camouflages its own military misdeeds, is one of the most distasteful features of that great country’s character and international behaviour.

The Bush Family Dynasty

I had little direct contact with senior US politicians apart from being introduced to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and Senator John O. Pastore, then a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  I missed meeting senator Edward Kennedy at the Fish Expo, Boston, 1967, which he addressed a day before I spoke there.  Later, when working for the World Bank in Washington DC, I sometimes encountered Cabinet members like Zbigniew Brzezinski, as they went to and from the State Department Building.

When I first served at the University of Rhode Island, a young George W. Bush was still attending Yale, over in adjacent Massachusetts.  During my final year, he was eligible for the draft (for Vietnam), but avoided that by getting accepted in the National Guard regardless of a waiting list of some 100,000 candidates, and as an officer and a trainee pilot, despite not attending an officer school, his low exam grades, and a waiting list of 150.  However, in this he was little different from other sons of politicians or high ranking government officials.  Of the 234 sons of Senators and Congressmen who were eligible to serve in Vietnam, only 28 ever did, and only 19 of those experienced conflict action.  Those who send other parents’ sons to fight in their wars rarely allow their own sons to do so.  I believe the same is true for the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

George W. Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, a successful businessman, was a respected Senator from Connecticut.  A very moral man, he had much more liberal views than his son and grandson, and resembled what we call in UK, a “one-nation Tory”.   He had a social conscience, supported civil rights, and social programmes for the poor and underprivileged.  Some complain that he traded with Nazi-sympathising businessmen in Germany before WW2, but I believe it was older generation members of the Bush and Walker families that expressed fascist and racist views many years before that.  Prescott Bush voted to censure Senator Joseph McCarthy following his witch-hunt to expose “communists” and “commy sympathizers” in government, Hollywood, and the military.  When his son GHW Bush lobbied for deregulation of the oil industry, PB refused to support him, believing that measure would only enrich oil barons at the expense of consumers.  Prescott Bush had stepped down as a Senator for Connecticut just four years before I arrived in neighbouring Rhode Island.  Son George attempted to become a Senator twice (for the State of Texas), but was defeated both times, first by Ralph Yarborough, and then by Lloyd Bentsen.

George HW Bush, the former President, and father of George W Bush, was a Congressman representing the 7th District Texas when I went to the USA.  He had previously set up the Zapata oil corporation.  Richard Nixon made him Ambassador to the United Nations, and later Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Gerald Ford appointed him Ambassador (actually Chief of the Liaison Office) to China, and then made him Head of the CIA.  But it was the Presidency that attracted him, and he made several attempts to become Vice President, but Nixon rejected him in favour of Spiro Agnew, and later Gerald Ford.  Gerald Ford rejected him in favour of Nelson Rockefeller, and in the election against Jimmy Carter, chose Bob Dole instead of Bush.  GHW’s opportunity finally came when Gerald Ford toyed with but declined President Reagan’s offer to serve him as Vice President.  Following Reagan’s second presidential term, George HW Bush was elected President in 1988.

Neither George HW Bush nor George W Bush shared the liberal views of Prescott Bush.  Both fought subtly (and not so subtle) racist campaigns when standing for election in Texas.  Both opposed civil rights.  In 1968 young GW Bush helped Edward Gurney win his senatorial election in Texas against Leroy Collins.  Collins believed that segregation was unfair and morally wrong, but Gurney and Bush portrayed him as a radical, an agitator, and a race-mixer. To prove their point they distributed pictures of Collins meeting with Martin Luther King.   Such messages strongly influenced affluent and conservative white voters in Texas at that time.   Aided and encouraged by Karl Rove, GWB was to descend to more visceral levels in 2000, when he sought successfully, to defeat John McCain for the Republican party presidential nomination.

G H W Bush and Barbara Pierce had six children one of which died in infancy.  They were George Walker Bush who became President, John Ellis Bush (Jeb), Neil Mallon Bush, and Marvin Pearce Bush and surviving sister, Dorothy (Koch). 

G W Bush’s brother Jeb who became Governor of Florida, made some of his money with Miami businessmen of Cuban extraction who were reputed to have been part of the Miami mafia.  The characters included Miguel Recarey jr. who was believed to be involved in extortion and medicare fraud; Hiram Martinez jr. who served 6 years in prison; Camilo Padreda who was indicted for embezzling $ 500,000; and Orlando Bosch who was believed to have masterminded the bombing of a Cuban Airlines flight in October 1976, with the death of all 73 on board.  Jeb Bush lobbied his father several times to get concessions on their behalf, and President Bush pardoned Orlando Bosch for his suspected terrorist crimes.  Another brother, Neil, was deeply involved in the collapse of the Silverado Savings and Loan of which he was a Director, and which cost U.S. taxpayers some $ 1.0 billion.  He and his co-directors faced a $ 200 million civil suit. Being insured against such actions he had to pay only a nominal $ 50,000 yet had that amount and legal expenses of $ 200,000 paid by sympathetic friends of the family.  His mother Barbara claimed Neil was being victimised because of who he was.  The fourth son, Marvin Bush had a strange connection with 9/11.  He was a Director of Securacom (later Stratesec), which was responsible for security at the Twin Towers.  The company also did work for the U.S Army, Navy and Air Force, and for Dulles International Airport (surprisingly since an Arab firm was a partner in Securacom).  Following his 7 years with the firm, Marvin Bush joined the board of HCC insurance which also insured the World Trade buildings.                

In fairness to former President George HW Bush, he was a handsome, athletic man, wholly loyal to the Republican party and to other Republican Presidents.  He had a distinguished war career as a naval pilot, and all who worked under him at the CIA confirmed that he was a good boss to have.  He and wife Barbara were tireless and enthusiastic participants in the endless series of receptions and social gatherings for the elite of government, business, and the diplomatic scene.

On the downside some Republican colleagues considered him to have little knowledge or understanding of foreign affairs when he was made Ambassador to the UN, and White House colleagues have said that he rarely spoke at cabinet meetings.   Although he consistently denied any inside knowledge or involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal, GHW’s diaries indicate otherwise, and before leaving office he gave a Presidential pardon to Caspar Weinberger, Elliott Abrams, and others who were believed to be guilty, and who had lied to Congress about their roles and activities.

I learned some interesting background to George Bush senior’s wartime record from Hugo Parkman when he was serving in the Philippines.  Hugo is long since retired to Georgia, but he was a sailor on the US submarine Finnback when on September 2 1944, they picked up a downed pilot near Chi-Chi Jima island in the Pacific.  The pick-up scene was filmed and can be viewed. Bush had bailed out from his Avenger aircraft, leaving his two crewmen behind, instead of attempting to ditch in the sea.  Apparently the only close eye-witness to the bail-out was Chester Mierzejewski, rear turret gunner of an escorting plane.  Later, on the San Jacinto, Bush told Chester that he was sure the two crewmen, Lt. Ted White and Jack Delaney, were already dead, but deserting them caused him some obvious concern.  Subsequent accounts claim that Bush’s Avenger aircraft was on fire and billowing smoke, and that one of the crewmen did bail out, but Mierzejewski refuted those versions consistently throughout his life. Some biographical books glorify Bush’s wartime service to a ridiculous degree, for instance, claiming that he fought off sharks for hours before being rescued by the USS Finnback.   However, he did serve his country’s air force with distinction, which is more than could be said of George junior.  Also it is strangely characteristic of the extreme neo-conservatives who surrounded his son, G W Bush, that they despised his father as being ‘soft’ because he had a humanitarian conscience.

Politics and the Faith Community

As a Christian, one of the aspects of the political views of Americans, that has long saddened and grieved me, is how evangelicals have been seduced by right wing politics.  So we had the rise of the “religious right”.  Coupled to that we have the abomination of the “prosperity gospel” proclaimed by TV evangelists with millionaire lifestyles.  Most American Christians are genuine, sincere, compassionate persons.  But many have been brain-washed into accepting extreme right-wing views as essentially Christian and Biblical.  Some churches have statements of faith adorning their sanctuaries, - not the ten commandments or the eight beatitudes, but a summary of the rightness of the capitalist system, as if it was part of holy writ. I guess it is the same for them as it was for British Christians in the Victorian era. The spread of the Empire and the spread of Christianity were synonymous. Or so they thought.  For many U.S. believers, there is little distinction between the spread of capitalism, U.S. business, and American values, - and the spread of the Gospel.  For example, they swallowed Reagan’s assertion that the brutal “contra” thugs of Nicaragua, were  “freedom fighters”, and “the moral equivalent of the founding fathers”.   In their attitude to the Watergate affair mentioned above, some evangelical leaders condemned Mark Felt for leaking clues about the misdeeds.  Apparently, in their morality, it was all right for the President and his staff to lie, to break the law, and to cover up the truth, but it was wrong for any government employee to blow the whistle on them. 

Historical precedents are many.  From the Crusades, to the Papal indulgences, to the Inquisition, to the Protestant–Catholic wars, to Apartheid, to Northern Ireland, - religion has regularly been used to instigate bloodshed or to justify blatant greed and political ambitions.  At times these ambitions were downright stupid, but that did not prevent the powers that be from using God’s name to justify them, and shedding the blood of innocent civilians and young soldiers in the process.

Not all evangelicals in the USA subscribe to the religious right line.  Black Christian leaders tend to take an opposite view.  Martin Luther King, Jessie Jackson and others spoke out fearlessly and eloquently for social justice and peace.  White leaders and writers like Professor Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis, regularly speak out against injustice at home and abroad.  Campolo runs a number of children’s and educational charities in American inner cities, and in countries like Haiti.  Wallis fights for social justice, moral politics and personal responsibility.  He is the founder of Sojourners, and seeks to respond to cultural breakdown and political impasse with a call to integrate politics and spirituality.

Recently, a prominent conservative Christian who was appointed to the White House staff, and assisted in the Administration’s programme of support for faith-based organizations, David Kuo, wrote a book about the seduction of American believers by the right-wing core of the Republican party.  Once fully involved in that activity himself, Kuo has had time to reflect, now that he has left the White house and is suffering from a terminal disease in the form of a brain tumour.  In the book “Tempting Faith” he blames the churches as much as the government for the state of affairs, although he claims that senior Bush administration figures like Karl Rove and his subordinates, treated the faith leaders with ridicule and contempt behind their backs, while courting and encouraging their loyalty.  He said that he, “Felt a pressing spiritual need to say what is important, - to warn Christians about politics, … because they are being used, and it will not answer the problems, and it corrupts the name of the God we are trying to serve”.

Interesting Comparison with the 4th and 5th Centuries

The marriage of, (or alliance of) religious fundamentalism and neo-conservatism in the USA, has been documented in recent books like American Theocracy by Kevin PhillipsThis is not a new phenomenon in the church’s history, and in fact goes back to the 4th Century AD when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, - with similar unpleasant results.  In the prologue to one of his early books on church history, “Light in the West”, Professor F F Bruce, (mentioned in chapter 2), reviewed the church’s experience from 300 to 500 AD, and made some observations that could be relevant to church – state relationships in the USA under President G W Bush’s administration. 

Bruce wrote of a number of unhappy precedents that occurred under Constantine and in the aftermath of his rule :

“The evident patronage extended to Christianity by the ruling powers, made it popular in an undesirable sense.  Christian leaders were tempted to exploit the influential favour they enjoyed, even when it meant subordinating the cause of justice to the apparent interests of their religion.  On the other hand, they were inclined to allow the secular power too much control in church affairs, even if it was by way of gratitude for the imperial goodwill.  Where church leaders were able to exercise political as well as spiritual authority, they did not enjoy any marked immunity from the universally corrupting tendency of power – a tendency which presents an even more displeasing spectacle in Christians than it does in other people, because it clashes with the first principles of Christianity.  We see in these centuries the emergence of worldly ecclesiastics on the one hand, balanced by the inordinate extremities of asceticism on the other.  We see nationalist animosities interfering with the proper exercise of Christian duty, to the point where national groups professing Christianity wage fierce warfare upon each other.  We see the ugly spirit of intolerance not only directed against non-Christians but also against Christians of divergent beliefs or practices; we even see some Christians invoking against others the aid of the imperial state which but lately had persecuted all Christians alike.  We see an unreasonable insistence on uniformity in non-essential matters, such as the fixing of the date of Easter and even more unimportant things than that.  We see spiritual liberty hampered by a steady increase of centralized control and organisation.”                             

                                                  (Light in the West, F. F. Bruce, Paternoster Press, 1952)

Although Jimmy Carter was elected in 1974, the country swung to the right until Bill Clinton won the Presidency.  Carter’s election was largely a reaction to the Watergate scandal, and an expression of the public desire for decency and truthfulness in high office.  If in the 1960’s anyone had predicted that Ronald Reagan would be elected President, the idea would have been treated with some derision. (I think there is a brief scene to that effect in one of the “Back to the Future”  movies).  Reagan’s election (helped by an ‘understanding’ with the Iranians not to release the U.S. hostages till after), marked a major advance of Conservative politics in America, as Margaret Thatcher’s one did in UK.  By that time, the youth of both countries had switched off politics due to sheer disillusionment. The ferment that occurred in the college campuses in the sixties, was conspicuous by its absence in the eighties, despite the Iran / contra scandal, the Grenada invasion, and the support of rotten dictators from Chile to the Philippines.

It was the same in 1980’s Britain.  I attended a lecture by Caspar Weinberger in Edinburgh University, when he lauded the “star wars” militarisation of space, as one of the greatest potential boons to mankind.  Though the auditorium was packed with students, there was not a murmur of protest or rebuttal.   In 1992 the same Weinberger was found guilty of five felony charges of obstruction, perjury and false statements in connection with the Iran / contra arms scandal.  He was given a full pardon by President HS Bush later that year.

I guess that most Americans view of the rest of the world from the perspective of their own culture, values and prejudices, just as the British did during the heyday of empire under Queen Victoria and for half a century thereafter.  An explanation of the American global psyche is given by Eric Alterman:  Despite their long history of involvement in the global marketplace as buyers and sellers, the American people were new to the concept of diplomatic give-and-take. …  The buffer of two oceans, a vast expanse of land, and a dearth of powerful neighbours had combined to create habits of mind that led Americans to believe that they could construct a world system based on what they considered their own universally applicable principles, rather than on more traditional considerations of balances of power. [Roosevelt, Truman, and the Yalta Conference, in When Presidents Lie, E. Alterman, Penguin, 2004.]

The Clinton Presidency followed that of George Bush senior, and it may yet be judged by history to have been one of the most successful of those in the post-war years, despite the man’s personal failings. (Although Michael Moore calls him ‘the best Republican President we have ever had”, and the late Senator Eugene McCarthy described his administrational approach as being “Governor of the United States”).   There were no foolish, costly foreign wars apart from attempts to halt tribal conflicts in Africa, the budget was balanced, employment reached high levels, progress was maintained with Arab – Israeli negotiations, and the “star wars” program was mercifully shelved. Yet some observers felt that Clinton was much too hesitant in pushing social programmes.  His gifted wife Hillary, tried to strengthen medicare, and was demonized for the attempt by the powerful pharmaceutical-medical industry lobbyists.  One of the few Republicans to express admiration of her efforts was surprisingly, ex-President Nixon.   Bill Clinton went on to become a close friend of Bush senior in his retirement.  Although once political foes, George would often say, “You just can’t help liking Bill Clinton”. 

The year 2000 brought the election of George Bush junior (assisted by a weak campaign by his Democrat opponent, Al Gore, and some doubtful practices and manipulation of the vote in Bush’s brother’s state of Florida), and the conservative agenda was revived. This time, the White House was taken over by an oil industry clique that had long planned for major interventions in the Middle East.  The September 11th attack on the twin towers in New York, and on the Pentagon, gave them the excuse they needed.  The people of Afghanistan and Iraq were to pay the price for America’s revenge, and the administration’s hidden agenda. [Contacts in diplomatic circles in London are of the opinion that the U.S. Administration had decided that Saudi Arabia had become a risky long-term prospect for American bases in the Middle East.  To maintain a military presence there and protect future oil supplies, it was decided to ‘make’ Iraq the location of permanent U.S. bases.  It was also thought that removal of Iraq as a threat would make Israel more secure.  So the Bush administration sought ‘legitimate’ cause to wage war on and invade Iraq.    This was also the view of George Soros ( The Iraqi Quagmire, in The Bubble of American Supremacy, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2004).] To justify the invasion of Iraq, and convince the United Nations and other countries, the White House mounted a massive propaganda wave based on false information that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.  A former CIA officer, Ray McGovern claims that the decision to go to war predated the garnering of ‘evidence’ by the CIA, and not vice-versa.  Practically all of the Iraq intelligence produced by the CIA and the MI5 in Britain, has been discredited, leading taxpayers to wonder what these colossally expensive institutions are actually doing.  Respected American diplomats like Ambassador Joseph Wilson have catalogued with care the way that truth was suppressed and lies given credence in order to justify the invasion of Iraq. [Ambassador Joseph Wilson, The Politics of Truth, Carroll and Graf, New York, 2004] But he and other critics of the war and its supporting lies, in both the USA and the UK, have had to pay a price in unprincipled official attacks and vindictiveness by their governments.

A great many more thousands of innocent civilians were to die from the bombing and shelling of Iraq and Afghanistan than were killed in the twin towers attack, - possibly 200 innocent Iraqi civilians for every person who died in the twin towers attack – which Iraq had nothing to do with!  But the U.S. military has never been squeamish about ‘collateral’ damage. What made it all so hypocritical was the undisputed fact that it was America that supported and armed Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, and that it had trained and armed and financed Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban / Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, when it used them to drive the Soviet army out of that country.  Those two evil characters and the extreme Islamic movements were kept in power or put in power by America herself.  The whole sorry saga has been well documented by ex-CIA officers and former diplomats who served in Pakistan and the Middle East throughout that period.  The removal of the Taliban regime from Afghanistan had unfortunate repercussions for the west.  That regime restricted women and supported some extremist groups, but it stopped the culture of opium poppies, and the processing and export of narcotic drugs. Now that the country has been ‘liberated’ by the U.S. the opium trade is flourishing as never before.

An interesting and prophetic statement about US military involvement in the Middle East, was made by then Senator John F Kennedy on 27 June 1958, in relation to the U.S.  Administration’s handling of a crisis in Lebanon.  He said, “The fact remains that the American people have no clear and consistent understanding of why we are there, what we are going to do, or what we hope to accomplish ….  We are confronted once again with armed conflict in the Middle East because we have developed no alternative to armed conflict”.  (Following the New England Conference of Senators, 26.6.58).

Some will protest that without the strong stand of the United States, the world would have been dominated by ruthless dictators and totalitarian regimes.  Also, while criticizing the excesses of the capitalist system, I have said little about the evils of Communist and Marxist regimes in Russia, China, East Europe, and Indo-China.  These issues on the other side of the political coin, I have tried to address in the sections on the Soviet Union and on Cambodia.  I have also commented on the cruelty and mis-rule perpetrated by corrupt governments on their own people, in developing countries in Africa and in S.E. Asia. However, two wrongs do not make a right, and the West should at least live by the standards it proclaims, or else it has no moral authority to put the rest of the world right.

The temptation for the most powerful country in the world, in any century, is to use its power to protect its own interests above all others.  Even then, as Machiavelli indicated, they have to find moral arguments to defend their actions.  As Joseph Schumpeter wrote of the Roman Empire in Imperialism and Social Classes in 1919 :  “(It’s wars) were always invested with an aura of legality.  Rome was always being attacked by evil-minded neighbors.  The whole world was pervaded by a host of enemies, it was manifestly Rome’s duty to guard against their indubitably aggressive designs. …  There was no corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger or under attack.  If the interests were not Roman, they were those of Rome’s allies; and if Rome had no allies, the allies would be invented.  When it was utterly impossible to contrive such an interest, - why, then it was the national honor that had been insulted”.  The much maligned Ramsay MacDonald, in a speech to the House of Commons in 1914, responding to the Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, argued that the stupidest and most costly of Britain’s wars then, from the Crimea to South Africa, had been fought to ‘defend the national honour’.

The Iraq war was entered into in accordance with a well developed plan by right wing Republicans and the oil industry in the United States.  Iraq had the second largest oil reserves in the world.  The United States needed to secure more and more petroleum from the Gulf region to feed its seemingly insatiable domestic appetite for oil.  Yet we had a cacophony of different reasons for the invasion broadcast and spread around by insidious propaganda.  There were ‘weapons of mass destruction’ – which never materialized.  There was ‘Al Qaida’ which had no links at all with Saddam Hussein.  There was ‘regime change’, which must have been illegal under international law.  And now there is ‘democracy’.  Democracy achieved by force?

Along with most foreign friends of the USA, I believe that great country lets itself down in the eyes of the world by its paranoid insistence on seeking military solutions at the expense of patient diplomacy and in the absence of any apparent attempt to see issues from the perspective of peoples of different nationalities, cultures and faiths. 

Iraq is a tragic example.  Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson school of public and international affairs, Princeton University, wrote, “we Americans are the preachers and promoters of democracy.  If America won’t listen, won’t consult, won’t play by the rules, won’t try to see the world through any lens but its own, can we still be sure that American power is a force for good?”

America however, contains so much that is good and admirable.  The land that produced or gave opportunity to, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, William Penn, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, Elizabeth Blackwell, John Muir, Mary Cassatt, Henry George, Helen Keller, Paul Robson, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Dale Carnegie, Jesse Owens, Bobby Jones, Martin Luther King, and Billy Graham, has shown much excellence in the fields of statesmanship, literature, art, ideas, invention, athletics, music, justice, and inspiration. It has also brought some wonderful benefits to the world, - and I am not referring to Coca Cola, Microsoft, hamburger or Hollywood!   (Some of those I name were born abroad, and some died abroad, but it was in America that they served with distinction. They were all human of course, and subject to human frailties, but still they were people of tremendous character, dedication, and vision.) 

The country is amazingly democratic, and remarkably responsive to entrepreneurial initiatives.  Even America’s enemies admit this.  One Iraqi Arab recently conceded that America was a just and democratic state, - only he added, “that is just within its borders.  It is not ready to treat people in other lands with the same values or respect”.  Be that as it may, the country has a rich heritage of opportunity and countless examples of the pioneering spirit.  Young men and women from the USA have served abroad selflessly in the Peace Corps movement and with charities and missions. Thousands of brave young Americans have given their lives abroad, however misled their politicians may have been in asking them to make that sacrifice in certain of their foreign wars.

Within the United States, however, there are growing tensions that have been fortified by generations of neglect of the poor and underprivileged.  The lack of justice and opportunity for the urban poor, has led to outbursts of seemingly irrational violence at times, like the Watts ghetto riots in Los Angeles in August 1965, and the shocking behaviour of desperate people and opportunist criminals in Louisiana during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in September 2005.  Socialism is a bad word in the USA, and the prevailing philosophy is that everyone ought to work to maintain themselves and their families.  That is fine, if reasonably paid work is available, and the people remain healthy, or have access to medicare. But as we were told long ago, “The poor you have always with you”.  And if any nation fails to provide a safety net for the sick, handicapped, unemployed or other victims of society’s ills, then it will ultimately reap consequences that could threaten the stability and future of the state. 

President Jimmy Carter

Who are America’s best ambassadors today?  I think of individuals like Andrea Jaeger and her Silver Lining Foundation for children suffering from cancer and other serious disease.  I think of Joni Ericsson Tana who has shown the world how to serve others through music and art despite a crippling life injury. I think of the schools established in Haiti to educate poor ‘slave’ children, funded by one of Tony Campolo’s organizations. Then there is Peter Hun of California who established a garment factory in Vietnam with 1,400 employees.  After observing how they cycled many miles to work, he provided all with a free breakfast.  When that increased productivity significantly, he also provided a free lunch. Then he hired two doctors to serve the 5,000 family members of workers so all could enjoy free professional medicare.  I also think of numberless missionary and charity workers, and the results of their labours, like Hugo and Doris Parkman who helped so many Filipino children obtain corrective surgery for hair-lip malformations.

Joni Ericson Tana, one of many exemplary Americans

Since I have been critical of some U.S. administrations, let me mention one ex-President who has been undertaking marvelous humanitarian work for over 20 years.  Jimmy Carter has been active in conflict mediation all over the world through his foundation and the Carter Centre. He and his wife also work for Habitat for Humanity, a global housing charity for the poor. Thousands of selfless American men and women laboured and died abroad, unheralded and barely recognized, rescuing and educating street children in many cities, serving in mission hospitals, schools and charities in Latin America, Africa and Asia. 

Their work is often criticized by Marxists and leftists.  From first hand personal experience my view is that apart from a few exceptions it was almost entirely exemplary.  Some of the missions have been accused of being fronts for the CIA.  Well, the CIA at times has infiltrated and used all kinds of vehicles as fronts, including internationally respected bodies like the BBC, the Reader’s Digest, and the Care organization, and so I do not doubt that charities and missions were similarly used when it suited CIA purposes.  But some communist movements, and extreme Islamic groups have similarly penetrated innocent organizations, so the accusation is one that could be made in several directions. [The S.I.L. or summer Institute of Languages is a Christian organisation that has been prominent in mission work in Latin America among the tribes of the Andes and the Amazon forests.  It has been accused of being a front for the CIA, and for logging, mining and petroleum companies that wish to exploit the natural resources of that continent.  However, even those who suggest this relationship offer no direct proof except that these corporations appear to penetrate the region on the coat-tails of the missions which established relationships with the tribes and began to provide education and medical services. 

 My own guess is that some corporations viewed the missions as an easy entry point, and may have provided donations towards their educational and social work.  Few missionaries would have objected to that as in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, there was little awareness of global resource exploitation.   My own experience however is that such corporations almost never donate to charities or missions serving the rural poor.

In 2008 Barack H Obama was elected and was sworn in as the US’s 44th President in January 2009. My wife and I were deeply moved at his election and the sense of hope he brought to the country. That has since been dissipated by a polarized Congress and Senate and a fiercely partisan Republican party determined to stop his reforms at every turn.  This polarization has been so sad for America and for the whole world that looks to the USA for leadership in democracy and justice.

I close with two more verses from America the Beautiful.  That anthem never moved me more than when it was played at the funeral of Robert Kennedy, and as his coffin was carried to the graveside at Arlington, and laid to rest there.

O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife
Who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine !

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears !
America! America! God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea !

Katherine Lee Bates 1913

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