The music of the thirties and forties—swing, the rise of pure jazz, even honky-tonk—was glorious. We can’t wipe out Bing Crosby’s cloying croon, but the rise of Hank Williams, Sr., makes up for Bing. The creators of “Orange Is the New Black” knew what they were doing when they included “I Saw the Light.” It moves all listeners, regardless of belief or lack thereof. The joy and genius of Fats Waller, the growl of Big Joe Turner, the irresistible combination of Billie Holiday and Count Basie (and of Billie Holiday and Artie Shaw) are ornaments on a period of exceptional music, and diving into it was one of the great pleasures of my listening, and writing, life. These songs, these voices, and the great instrumentals still resonate with me, and that’s why each chapter title is a song from that period.
I would like to have been there.
North Korea has always served as a “devil function,” an enormously useful enemy for the United States.
The Korean War, coming as it did on the heels of World War II, sparked an economic boom domestically and legitimated the unprecedented worldwide garrisoning of large numbers of American troops in a network of bases around the world. In essence, it furnished the occasion for a remilitarized remapping of the globe that in turn enabled the reconstruction of the world market under American auspices.
It began in 1945 when the occupation line was drawn at the 38th parallel. Two junior US Army officers, Charles Bonasteel and Dean Rusk, armed with nothing more than a National Geographic map, split Korea in two within half an hour. This separated one in three families and prompted a war of national reunification.
During a three-year window, 3.5 million North Koreans, the majority of them civilians, were killed. At the hands of the United States, North Koreans suffered one of the most appalling, unrestrained bombing campaigns in our genocidal 20th century, and ever since they have been shouting themselves hoarse at a nation of amnesiacs [the United States] who aren’t listening.
For Americans, the Korean War may have slipped into the ash heap of history and is, at best, a vague footnote. For the North Koreans, the so-called “Forgotten War” has had indelible consequences.
Never in the mainstream US media do you hear that North Korea has asked the United States for a peace treaty more than 100 times. The image of North Korea as a country that actively seeks peace is not consonant with the jingoistic caricature that we’re typically confronted with in mainstream media policy discourse.
In my dial-up youth I was determined to be as dreamy and wide-eyed about the natural world as the fictional character Anne Shirley, so I recited “The Lady of Shalott” on a bed of clovers in my yard as a sort of chant that would comfort the trees and sidewalk—things I turned into living, feeling beings. Then, in the saturnine days of middle school, I found comfort in the fantasia of Plath and Sexton. I remember writing wry little stanzas that I felt proud to see in an edition of Hands on Stanzas and presenting the poem about molasses and fat mothers to my father. As I grew to understand my mother more, I became more convinced by the lyrical beauty and ethical depth of poetry. Words impress themselves behind my eyes.