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Kissinger, Hitchens, Springsteen, Haggard and Presley

by Alexander Cockburn

Clearly irked by the thought that he and Henry Kissinger may be on the same wave length when it comes to attacking Saddam Hussein, Christopher Hitchens is now declaring in the London Observer that H.K. is against any such war: “A week or so ago I wondered when he was going to pronounce on the impending confrontation with Iraq. And I bet right. He is against it.”

Oh no he’s not. As a Kissinger-hater Hitchens isn’t doing his homework. The veteran war criminal set forth his views on war against Iraq in the Chicago Tribune on August 11. The entire purpose of the piece is to offer the appropriate justification for attacking Iraq. The only bit Hitchens bothered to read is Kissinger’s initial critique of Bush’s simple ratiojaleforwar is that a “regime-change” in Iraq is desirable. Kissinger dismisses this as an appropriate pretext for a US attack.

“Regime change as a goal for military intervention challenges the international system established by the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which, after the carnage of the religious wars, established the principle of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other states. And the notion of justified pre-emption runs counter to international law, which sanctions the use of force in self-defense only against actual, not potential, threats.”

But Kissinger then makes the case for an attack, based on the rationale that Saddam possesses and intends to use weapons of mass destruction:

“The objective of regime change should be subordinated in American declaratory policy to the need to eliminate weapons of mass destruction from Iraq as required by the UN resolutions. The restoration of the inspection system existing before its expulsion by Saddam is clearly inadequate. It is necessary to propose a stringent inspection system that achieves substantial transparency of Iraqi institutions. Since the consequences of simply letting the diplomacy run into the ground are so serious, a time limit should be set. The case for military intervention will then have been made in the context of seeking a common approach.”

It’s clear that Kissinger has no time for the argument that, if we are to believe former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, all weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have been destroyed. He knows well enough that all it would take is for the CIA suddenly to “discover” a new launch pad on its satellite photos, and the pretext would be there.

Hail to the Chief

Bush faced around a thousand protesters in Portland, Oregon, when he arrived to make a speech on behalf of the timber industry.. The riot police came and the protesters gassed and sprayed and shot with plastic bullets. These days any public public demonstration against the commander in chief is taken as lese majeste, to be. Look at those kids in Ohio a couple of months ago when Bush came to speak at a commencement. They were told that if they shouted anything obstreperous or otherwise displayed themselves in a critical posture, they would not be allowed to graduate.

I heard Bruce Springsteen Tuesday night in San Jose and liked the show better than a performance on his last tour, maybe two or three years ago, I heard in Portland, Oregon. His voice sounded great through pretty much three straight hours of solid singing. If anything the show was too long by half an hour or so. Patti Scialfa’s keening reminded me of Ireland (remember, we’re supposed on one theory to be descended from Berbers) as did some of the warm violin playing by Soozie Tyrell. In Ireland The Rising means primarily the rebellion of Easter 1916 whereas Springsteen’s references here address the conjuring of the dead into Redemption.

The crowd was wildly with Bruce through the older standards but also through the quieter songs which in San Jose included 41 Shots. This last got a particularly warm welcome in our section of the crowd, which contained folk from the Public Defenders Office of Contra Costa county, plus the entire defense team for Lamont Johnson, currently looking at the gallows on trumped up charges, amid prosecutorial misconduct well beyond the norm.

Right at the end Springsteen put in a plug for the Santa Clara food bank, and then in a couple of sentences which hung too meekly in the air like afterthoughts reminded the crowd that “We must be vigilant against erosions to our civil liberties which come with the territory of being Born in the USA,” which he then sang.

Far more forthright and rambunctious is Merle Haggard, according to Cheryl Burns who reports this from Kansas City: “I saw Merle Haggard tonight in KC–great show. He said something about ‘so now we’re in another war’ and went on to say he was still proud to be an American and all that, so I was wondering just where he was headed. But then he said there was nothing good about any war except the soldiers, sailors, etc.

“Then he says, ‘I think we should give John Ashcroft a big hand …(pause)… right in the mouth!’ Went on to say, ‘the way things are going I’ll probably be thrown in jail tomorrow for saying that, so I hope ya’ll will bail me out.’

Cheryl concludes, “Proud to be an Okie from…um…Oklahoma City.”

Right on, Merle. At another concert, June a year ago, he was quoted by John Derbyshire in National Review online as saying, “Look at the past 25 years we went downhill, and if people don’t realize it, they don’t have their fucking eyes on … In 1960, when I came out of prison as an ex-convict, I had more freedom under parolee supervision than there’s available to an average citizen in America right now… God almighty, what have we done to each other?”

Was Presley A Racist?

On the occasion of the recent 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death I read a truly stupid piece in the London Guardian, “He Wasn’t My King” by Helen Kolawole, to the effect that Elvis stole songs like Hound Dog from black folks, that Willie Mae (Big Mama) Thornton wrote Hound Dog and sang it better and that anyway Elvis was a racist, noted for having said, The only thing Negro people can do for me is to buy my records and shine my shoes.

Wrong on every count. Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, white men, wrote Hound Dog and Big Mama Thornton’s version is markedly inferior to Presley’s, made three years after her’s. Peter Guralnick, in his Last Train to Memphis, The Rise of Elvis Presley (1994), cites a good story that appeared in Jet magazine on August 1, 1957.

“Tracing that rumored racial slur to its source was like running a gopher to earth”, Jet wrote. Some said Presley had said it in in Boston, which Elvis had never visited. Some said it was on Edward Murrow’s on which Elvis had never appeared. Jet sent Louie Robinson to the set of Jailhouse Rock “When asked if he ever made the remark, Missisissippi-born Elvis declared: ‘I never said anything like that, and people who know me know I wouldn’t have said it .”

Robinson then spoke to people “who were (itals) in a position to know” and heard from Dr W. A Zuber, “a Negro physician in Tupelo” that Elvis Presley used to “go round to Negro ‘sanctified meetings’; from pianist Dudley Brooks that he “faces everybody as a man” and from Presley himself that he had gone to colored churches as a kid, like Reverend Brewster’s and that “he could honestly never hope to equal the musical achievemets of Fats Domino or the Inkspot’s Bill Kenny.” “To Elvis,” Jet concluded in its Aug 1 1957 issue, “people are people regardless of race, color or creed.”

Visiting Memphis, Ivory Joe Hunter was invited by Presley to visitiwithhim in Graceland and Ivory Joe was worried about the stories of prejudice that had been circulating about Elvis through the spring of 12957. Presley received him with warmth and admiration, sang his composition “I almost lost my mind” with him, and they hung out for the day singing. Hunter said later, “He showed me every courtesy and I think he’s one of the greatest.” (Jimmy T-99 Nelson told Jeffrey St Clair the other day that Ivory Joe had the biggest feet he’d ever seen. Bigger than Howlin’ Wolf’s, Jeffrey asked. Bigger by far, said Nelson. When Ivory Joe stamped, the whole stage shook.)

If you want to look at some great photographs of Elvis in black locales and with black musicians in Memphis in the 1950s, get Daniel Wolff’s wonderful edition of Ernest Withers’ photos, The Memphis Blues Again.

When my daughter Daisy was around 12, in the course of a couple of chance encounters, I was able to get Lieber to play her Hound Dog and Yip Harburg to sing her “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, all in one summer. Oh, just something any Dad would do.


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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