Wednesday, 20 September 2023

Remembering Author and Activist Upton Sinclair, Jr.

Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr. American novelist, writer, socialist, anti-fascist and later Democratic candidate for governor of California, was born on September 20, 1878 in Baltimore, Maryland,  the only child of Upton Beall Sinclair and Priscilla Harden Apart from his bestselling novels, which tend to paint the realities of the United States at the turn of the century, he is remembered today for championing socialist causes that are naturally unpopular in America and for succeeding in having considerable effects on American politics and legislation. Sinclair’s socialist ideals and dreams found their way to his fiction as he believed that no art can be practiced for art’s sake as long as humanity still suffers from persistent dangers and evils. Such orientations have often subjected Sinclair to harsh criticism and even to demonization from numerous critics and politicians of his time, the most distinguished among which was probably President Theodore Roosevelt. By and large, while Sinclair eventually became an established novelist with more than one novel reaching the status of classic, he remained unsuccessful as a politician. 
Sinclair came from a family evolved from the Southern aristocracy.  His father's family had a distinguished naval tradition dating back to the Revolutionary War.  Following the Civil War and the devastation of the South, the family suffered huge economic losses.  Although Sinclair's immediate family was poor, he had wealthy grandparents in New York; so, he grew up with the unique perspective that living both in poverty and in wealth provided.  His father was a liquor salesman whose alcoholism played a major role in the son's early childhood. 
Upton was a shy, thoughtful boy who taught himself to read at age five. When Sinclair was ten, the family moved to New York, where he began writing dime novels, ethnic jokes, and pulp fiction for various magazines.
A religious child with a great love of literature, Sinclair had two great heroes.Jesus Christ and poet Percy Shelley.whom he felt influenced his life and helped him do well in school. At aged fourteen he entered New York City College. He graduated in 1897 and went to Columbia University to study law, but instead became more interested in politics and literature. He never earned a law degree. Through these years he supported himself by writing for adventure-story magazines. While attending Columbia he wrote eight thousand words a day. He also continued to read a great deal. over one two-week Christmas break he read all of William Shakespeare's (1564–1616) works as well as all of John Milton's (1608–1674) poetry. 
 Sinclair moved to Quebec, Canada, in 1900. That same year he married Meta Fuller, with whom he had a son. His first novel, Springtime and Harvest (1901), was a modest success. Three more novels in the next four years failed to provide even a bare living.
In the early 1900s, Sinclair turned to socialism after reading books such as Merrie England (Robert Blatchford), The People of the Abyss (Jack London), Appeal to the Young (Peter Kropotkin), and Octypus (Frank Norris).
Sinclair became a member of the Socialist Party in 1902, and in September, 1905, he joined with Jack London, Clarence Darrow, and Florence Kelley to form the Intercollegiate Socialist Society. The work of Frank Norris especially influenced him. He later spoke about how Norris had "showed me a new world, and he also showed me that it could be put in a novel."  Sinclair was also influenced by the investigative journalism of Benjamin Flower, Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and Ray Stannard Baker. 
He  gained particular fame for his novel, The Jungle (1906), which was intended  to be an exposé of the poor working conditions of industrial labor. His novel became more than that. During the seven weeks that he spent in Chicago’s meatpacking plants, he witnessed the poor working conditions of immigrant laborers. He also witnessed the unsanitary practices of slaughterhouses and meatpackers. He exposed the unsafe labor and sanitary conditions and practices of the meatpacking industry, which caused a public uproar. that partly contributed to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.
However, he believed that the main point of The Jungle was lost on the public, overshadowed by his descriptions of unsanitary conditions in the packing plants. The public health concerns dealt with in The Jungle were actually far less significant than the human tragedy lived by his main character and other workers in the plants. His main goal for the book was to demonstrate the inhumane conditions of the wage earner under capitalism, not to inspire public health reforms in how the packing was done. Indeed, Sinclair lamented the effect of his book and the public uproar that resulted: "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."
Although President Roosevelt despised Sinclair and his socialist writings, famously calling him a “crackpot,” the phenomenal public interest in the novel seemed to force him to take it seriously and gave orders to take radical action and to investigate meat-packing factories. Nevertheless, President Roosevelt still believed that Sinclair exaggerated in his novel and called the novelist a “muckraker,” a term to be used since to describe writers and journalists who do private investigations to expose the corruption of politicians or business leaders. Sinclair was, thus, established as one of the founding fathers of investigative journalism and “muckraking,” a description of which he was proud of though he was only a writer of fiction.   
Still, the fame and fortune he gained from publishing The Jungle enabled him to write books on almost every issue of social injustice in the twentieth century.
Sinclair also established a socialist commune called Helicon Hall Colony in 1906, with proceeds from his novel The Jungle. One of those who joined was the novelist and playwright Sinclair Lewis, who worked there as a janitor. The colony burned down in 1907, apparently from arson. 
Sinclair divorced his first wife in 1913. The autobiographical (based on his own life) novel Love's Pilgrimage (1911) treats his marriage and the birth of his child with an honesty that shocked some reviewers. Sinclair married Mary Craig Kimbrough in 1913. Sylvia and Sylvia's Marriage, a massive two-part story, called for sexual enlightenment (freedom from ignorance and misinformation).
The success of The Jungle and of its adaptation into cinema in 1914 encouraged Sinclair to produce more fiction and publish numerous other stories. These included the publication of King Coal (1917), based on a coal strike of 1914 and 1915, which returned to labor protest and socialistic comment.and in 1919  The Brass Check which is probably his second most important and most influential book, though he often presented it as his number one. The Brass Check is also a muckraking work that centers on the issue of “yellow journalism” and the limitations of “free press” in the United States.  
In 1917 Sinclair left the Socialist Party to support President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924). He returned to the socialist camp when Wilson supported intervention in the Soviet Union. In California Sinclair ran on the Socialist ticket for Congress (1920), for the Senate (1922), and for governor (1926 and 1930).   
He made his most successful run for office, this time as a Democrat. Sinclair's platform for the California gubernatorial race of 1934, known as EPIC (End Poverty in California), galvanized the support of the Democratic Party, and Sinclair gained its nomination. Conservatives in California were themselves galvanized by this, as they saw it as an attempted Communist takeover of their state and used massive political propaganda portraying Sinclair as a Communist, even as he was being portrayed by American and Soviet Communists as a capitalist following the Que Viva Mexico! debacle. Robert A. Heinlein, the science fiction author, was deeply involved in Sinclair's campaign, a point which Heinlein tried to obscure from later biographies, as Heinlein tried to keep his personal politics separate from his public image as an author. 
Sinclair was defeated by Frank F. Merriam in the election, and largely abandoned EPIC and politics to return to writing. However, the race of 1934 would become known as the first race to use modern campaign techniques like motion pictures. 
Of his gubernatorial bids, Sinclair remarked in 1951: "The American People will take Socialism, but they won't take the label. I certainly proved it in the case of EPIC. Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to "End Poverty in California" I got 879,000. I think we simply have to recognize the fact that our enemies have succeeded in spreading the Big Lie. There is no use attacking it by a front attack, it is much better to out-flank them." 
He has been criticized for using racial epithets in his books, but Sinclair grew up in the nineteenth century, where epithets were used to refer to people of certain ethnic backgrounds. In his books, he used these to realistically portray the way in which foreigners and minorities were referred to and treated. For example, in his book Oil!, one character uses a disparaging word to refer to non-Jewish people and a different character uses a disparaging word to refer to Jewish people. Some argue that no offense is intended or implied and that the books were written to accurately reflect the way people thought during the time. However in other books, Sinclair goes well beyond the simple use of racial epithets in quotes. For example in The Jungle, it is the narrator who describes African Americans in a highly negative light. To some, this description is meant merely to capture the mindset of the Eastern European immigrants who are the book's protagonists (a group which was itself held in low regard in America at the time). 
To others, the descriptions reflected what was possibly Sinclair's casual racist attitudes that was typical of his time. Shocking nevertheless for a man who was so passionate about  matters concerning  social justice. Although some might argue that at the time The Jungle was published, the epithets against blacks were unnoticed by both his supporters and detractors, likely these were his white supporters, as African American readers would have been offended by the epithets in a post-Plessy v. Ferguson, dawning-of-the-Jim-Crow-Era period.
It is considered erroneous to assume that if the majority classes expressed no offense at Sinclair's views, they were not offensive to his black contemporaries who had no platform on which to express their umbrage with Sinclair's portrayals of them. Nevertheless, The Jungle's impact was far-reaching.  Sinclair helped found the California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in the 1920s.  Sinclair is well-known for his principle: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it." This line has been quoted in many political books, essays, articles, and other forms of media, including Al Gore's 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth.  He was also firmly in favor of prohibition, most 
Upton Sinclair  was a supporter of Sacco and Vanzetti and his 'documentary novel', 'Boston' (1928), was an indictment of the American system of justice set against the background of the prosecution and execution of the  two anarchists, who themselves feature as characters.
Sinclair faced what he would later call "the most difficult ethical problem of my life," when he was told in confidence by Sacco and Vanzetti's former attorney Fred Moore that they were guilty and how their alibis were supposedly arranged. However, in the letter revealing that discussion with Moore, Sinclair also wrote, "I had heard that he [Moore] was using drugs. I knew that he had parted from the defense committee after the bitterest of quarrels … Moore admitted to me that the men themselves had never admitted their guilt to him." Although this episode has been used by some to claim that Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty and that Sinclair knew that when he wrote his novel Boston, this account has been disputed by Sinclair biographer Greg Mitchell
He was also an active supporter of the Industrial Worker's of the World (the IWW) free speech campaigns and strikes and in his anthology, 'The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest' (1915) he collected selections from the likes of Alexander Berkman ('Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist'), Peter Kropotkin ('Memoirs of a Revolutionist'), Voltairine De Cleyre, Francisco Ferrer, Auguste Vaillant, Henry David Thoreau, Octave Mirbeau, Leo Tolstoy, etc. Sinclair wrote extensively on fascism in the 30s and 40s, both in essay and fiction form, including in 'The Flivver King: A Story of Ford-America' (1937), 'No Pasaran!: A Novel of the Battle of Madrid' (1937) and .Between 1940 and 1953 Sinclair wrote .the eleven volume Lanny Budd anti-fascist spy series  that, read in sequence, detailed much of the political history of the Western world in the first half of the twentieth century.His hero, Larry Budd, travels the world and meets such figures as Franklin Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler. In 1942, his book Dragon’s Teeth, portraying Germany’s descent into Nazism in the 1930s, won the Pulitzer Prize. 
Sinclair continued his tireless and prolific output into the second half of the century, but by the early 1960s, he had turned his attention to Mary, who was in poor health following a stroke. She passed away in 1961, and two years later, at age 83, Sinclair married for a third time, to Mary Willis. 
 Several years later, his own health caused him to move to a nursing home in Bound Brook, New Jersey. He died on November 25, 1968, at the age of 90, having written more than 90 books, 30 plays and countless other works of journalism.  His papers, photographs, and first editions of most of his books are found at the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. 

Saturday, 16 September 2023

Accentuate The Positive

The sweet and sour journeys of our existences are measured by distances and harmony counteracted by static and dark energies that fight among  many long roads.When the wheels of life's locomotive become stuck along the way, it is important to dig yourself out, to keep moving and avoid grinding to a halt and risk falling prey to dour steaming nostrils and fire bombs that hurl their way onto the path like vulturesque skittles.

Swimming through the  sea saws and highs and lows, an infinitesimal light walks with us at every crossroads shimmering with fortuous energy for us to source. Far from getting despondent. let your heart be unexpectedly lifted to another prism with the diamonds of acceptance, enabling oceans of  peace to swell within. 

Give license to dreams of  wonder to carry on rumbling through the mind fogs. leaping ever forwards. Pushing the boundaries of enlightenment to warm and welcoming new heights where the rivers run freely and open up locked floodgates releasing enchantment and goodwill. 

Allow enshrouding dissonance  to float away. far from malignant forces that irritate your eyes. Feel your guts begin to soothe with the ripples of comfort, as flickering.sunlight dances all around. Don't get stuck in the sands of negativity, you may find it hard to extricate yourself. Lift yourself into positivity, follow the moving and unwinding  paths and horizons of blossoming maturity. 

As autumn's cloak gently arrives, and fields are scattered with golden leaves, feel the traces of  mother natures ever present love. Be at one with the world, embrace the mornings and the sunsets. Follow vibrations of kindness and gentleness, music that enriches and wipes away the damp cloths of existence, healing distemperment  and restoring broken minds.

While the days become fractured. disturbed  and confused,take the reins, harvest new directions. Avoid passivity. do not  be afraid to resist the forces of darkness pouring  all around, the blood sucking parasites that will try to devour you. Beyond the bad trips. blaze with possibility.

Take notice of the moment petals stop falling and you will know another season has arrived, to penetrate senses and enrich  beyond forces of trepidation and fear, take us to places where we are greeted  with forces of alacrity and equability.

Friday, 15 September 2023

60th Anniversary of Birmingham Church Bombing


On  Sunday  morning September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the predominantly Black church  16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four African-American young girls.. and 22 others wounded. The Church also hat also served as a meeting place for civil rights leaders.
It would act as a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement and this cowardly, cold, calculating event  saw Addie Mae Collins (14) Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14) killed in an act of racially motivated terrorism. Showing clearly to the World the heart of racial injustice and hatred that today shockingly has not disappeared. This is  just one part of the landscape of America  that should not be forgotten.
The dynamite was placed outside 16th Street Baptist Church under a set of stairs. The girls were gathered in a downstairs washroom before Sunday services when the blast exploded.  A fifth girl, Sarah Collins Rudolph, the sister of Addie Mae, was in the room and was severely injured , losing an eye to the explosion.  The bombing came during the height of the civil rights movement, eight months after then-Gov. George Wallace pledged, “segregation forever” and two weeks after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic, “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington. 
Outrage over the incident and the violent clash between protesters and police that followed helped draw national attention to the hard-fought, often-dangerous struggle for civil rights for African Americans.
Civil Rights activists blamed George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama, for the killings. Birmingham, a violent city, was nicknamed 'Bombingham,. because it had experienced more than 50 bombings in black institutions and homes since World War 1 probably by Ku Klux Klan members. Only a week before the bombing Wallace had told the New York Times that to stop the civil rights movement and the march towards integration Alabama needed a 'few first-class funerals.
In the aftermath of the bombing, thousands of angry Black protesters gathered at the scene of the bombing. When Governor Wallace sent police and state troopers to break the protests up, violence broke out across the city; a number of protesters were arrested, and two young African American men were killed (one by police) before the National Guard was called in to restore order.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a powerful eulogy before 8,000 people at the funeral for three of the girls murdered (the family of the fourth girl held a smaller private service)  “These childrenunoffending, innocent and beautiful — were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity,” Dr. King said. “And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity.” 
If they had lived, the four girls would be in their 70s today. But they never had the chance to grow up, complete their educations, get jobs, pursue their dreams, get married or have children and grandchildren..
Though Birmingham’s white supremacists (and even certain individuals) were immediately suspected in the bombing, repeated calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice went unanswered for more than a decade. It was later revealed that the FBI had information concerning the identity of the bombers by 1965 and did nothing. (J. Edgar Hoover, then-head of the FBI, disapproved of the civil rights movement; he died in 1972.) 
In 1977, Alabama Attorney General Bob Baxley reopened the investigation and Klan leader Robert E. Chambliss was brought to trial for the bombings and convicted of murder. Continuing to maintain his innocence, Chambliss died in prison in 1985. 
The case was again reopened in 1980, 1988 and 1997, when two other former Klan members, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry, were finally brought to trial; Blanton was convicted in 2001 and Cherry in 2002. A fourth suspect, Herman Frank Cash, died in 1994 before he could be brought to trial.
Even though the legal system was slow to provide justice, the effect of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church was immediate and significant.  Outrage over the death of the four young girls helped build increased support behind the continuing struggle to end segregation—support that would help lead to the passage of both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In that important sense, the bombing’s impact was exactly the opposite of what its perpetrators had intended.
But in Birmingham, change was slow to come. Racially-motivated bombings continued in the city nicknamed "Bombingham" for the sheer number of attacks on Black homes, churches, and businesses that went unpunished.
In the 60 years since the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, the church has been rebuilt, and stained glass has been repaired, but there are still wounds time has yet to heal. Family and friends say decades later they are still holding on to their memories and grieving the loss of the four girls who were killed that day.
We can and must remember the Black victims of racism murdered. We must tell their stories to teach children of all races the truth about the awful consequences of racism and all other forms of bigotry and prejudice.
Racism won’t disappear if we pretend it doesn’t exist, any more than cancer will disappear if we refuse to acknowledge it is real. Just as we fight cancer when it strikes, we must unite across racial, ethnic and religious lines to fight racism and other noxious forms of prejudice.

Services for Victim of Birmingham Church Bombing

4 little girls :Birmingham Church Bombing

Wednesday, 13 September 2023

Trees are Sanctuaries - Hermann Hesse (2/7/1877 - 9/8/62)


 Hermann Hesse from Trees: An Anthology of Writings and Paintings

The brilliant German-- Swiss poet, novelist and painter Hermann Karl Hesse vowed at an early age to be a poet or nothing at all. Hesse rebelled against formal education, focusing on a rigorous programme of independent study that included literature, philosophy, art, and history.
One result of these efforts was a series of novels that became counterculture bibles that remain widely influential today.His works include Demian, Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, and The Glass Bead Game, which explore an individual's search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality.In 1946, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. 
During the First World War, Hesse had registered himself as a volunteer with the Imperial army, saying that he could not sit inactively by a warm fireplace while other young authors were dying on the front. He had been found unfit for combat duty, due to an eye condition, and was assigned to service involving the care of prisoners of war.Beyond a desire to serve, he was not caught up in the war hysteria.
In 1917 after a long period of literary abstinence. he published  a thoughtful collection of poems and travel prose  titled, Wandering.The book was translated in 1974 by James Wright. The prose and poems of this volume are counted among the most beautiful works of Hermann Hesse.
His Prose and Poems and watercolours of the time document one of the most important phases of his evolution: distancing himself from the rituals and security of bourgeois life and the passage from active life to the contemplative life. 
The following is a translation of a prose poem that appeared in Wandering  that later appeared in Trees: An Anthology of Writings and Paintings,:a fine collection of Hermann Hesse’s essays, poems, and passages on the subject of trees and nature, accompanied by thirty-one of his watercolor illustrations.
One does not have to be religious to appreciate Hesse’s love of the natural world and his urge to find oneness. I find it very uplifting and  soothing.
While being  a precious literary tribute to the magnificence and power of trees, Hesse uses his subject as a vehicle to explore the human condition and to provide wisdom on how to endure hardships and flourish as a human being with purpose.I hope you enjoy as much as I do.

Trees are Sanctuaries - Hermann Hesse

 For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.
When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured.
And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.. 

Trees are sanctuaries.Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother. 

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

― Hermann Hesse

Monday, 11 September 2023

Marking 50 years since democratically elected Socialist President of Chile Salvador Allende was overthrown by a CIA backed fascist military coup

On September 11, 2001 the USA experienced a great tragedy,I join people all over the world in remembering the lives lost on that day, and the hundreds of thousands more killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the other wars that followed.
Today though I also remember another 9/11, when on this day 50 years ago, on 9/11/1973, the socialist president of Chile Salvador Allende was overthrown by a CIA backed fascist military coup  led by General Augusto Pinochet, which established one of the most brutal regimes of the second half of the 20th century that ushered in decades of darkness, leading  to years of repression, torture, forced disappearance, false imprisonment, fear, death and for many Chileans exile.
Democracy would not return for 17 years with the Chilean people having to endure years of autocratic military rule. In Chile, which marked the 50th anniversary of the coup on Sunday, the events remain deeply divisive and continue to shape modern politics.
In 1970 Salvador Allende  democratically won 36.6% of the vote and established his Popular Unity government in power much to the alarm of the United States government who feared his leftist government would slide into one party rule like Fidel Castro's Cuba. 
Allende's political platform was populist and he promised the nationalization of many sectors of the Chilean economy and the distribution of wealth to the country's poor. These plans, however, were not accepted in Washington, which saw Chile as the new “red menace”, a cancer to be eradicated and in a way to make it an example to anyone who dared to follow in its footsteps.
During the thousand days that his government lasted: Copper was nationalised; agrarian reform was deepened; hundreds of thousands of homes were built; many industries and services were nationalised, and programmes were developed to improve health, education and welfare. Culture flourished for the working people. For the first time, the Chilean people felt involved in the transformation of their country. These reforms inevitably challenged the power of the upper classes. The Chilean hierarchical society could not tolerate the irruption of ‘the bottom’ nor could the US’s Nixon administration.
The involvement of the CIA was also proved by documents and files decrypted that confirm what we already knew: the coup had its legitimation from  President Nixon and the National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, the future Nobel Peace Prize.winner.
In the grips of Cold War fears of communism, the U.S. government had been working since the early 1960s to shape Chilean politics, culminating with "a massive covert effort to 'bring down'" Allende's government, as President Richard Nixon and his cabinet put it, according to "The Pinochet File."  Published in 2013, the book by National Security Archive senior analyst Peter Kornbluh thoroughly summarizes 30 years of declassified documents that expose the role the U.S. played in usurping Allende and supporting Pinochet. 
 “We want to do everything we can to hurt (Allende) and bring him down,” then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird said during a National Security Council meeting in 1970, according to one of the documents cited in "The Pinochet File."
About the U.S. role in the coup, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said in 2003: "It is not a part of American history that we are proud of."
In the early hours of the day of the coup, Allende learned from an aide that the navy had taken control of Chile’s major ports. Fearing the worst, and accompanied by a handful of bodyguards and his personal doctor, Danilo Bartulín, the president rushed to the presidential palace. At first, he thought the navy was acting on its own, and that the army, led by the recently appointed commander-in-chief, Pinochet, would defend the constitutional government.
Arriving downtown, he was reassured to see that the gendarmerie, the famed Carabineros, were defending the palace.  As cabinet members and others began arriving at the palace, the president tried to contact Pinochet. Failing to do so, he feared the insurgents had taken the commander-in-chief prisoner. Meanwhile, Minister of Defense Orlando Letelier, a lawyer who would be assassinated by agents of Pinochet’s junta three years later in Washington, DC, was arrested by the putschists.
At 8:20 AM, it became clear that Pinochet had betrayed the president and was leading the coup. Suddenly, the Carabineros changed sides and joined the insurgents, and the light Mowag tanks that were guarding the palace turned 180 degrees and left the Plaza de la Constitución. The government was isolated and cornered. The president and 60 of his supporters, including bodyguards, some cabinet members, and medical personnel, were on their own. Allende put on a helmet and moved from room to room, holding an AK-47 that Fidel Castro had given him for his birthday. .
At 9:15 AM, Vice-Admiral Patricio Carvajal, one of the putsch leaders, called the president and told him that if he did not resign, fighter jets would bomb the palace. Allende refused to surrender, and at 9:37 AM gave his last radio address, which would become known as the “Great Avenues Speech.” Toward the end of it, he said: “Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Go forward knowing that, sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again where free men will walk to build a better society.
Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!  These are my last words, and I am certain that my sacrifice will not be in vain, I am certain that, at the very least, it will be a moral lesson that will punish felony, cowardice, and treason."
Within a few hours, the military had seized control of the government, and Allende and many of his ministers were left dead  in the presidential palace as the military unleashed a wave of brutal repression against the population and  the people's movements.


Here are  Salvador Allende chilling final words to the world, broadcast ,live on the radio at 9:10 am on September 11, 1973, in the midst of the ultimately successful US-sponsored coup d'etat against the democratically-elected government. Barricaded inside La Moneda, the presidential palace, President Allende gave his life defending Chilean democracy .

He fatally shot himself when it became clear that he stood no chance.To many, Allende became a leftist icon, but others blame him for political failures that led to the coup. 
Pinochet assumed the presidency two days later, outlawing leftist parties and announcing that there would be no more elections. Addressing the nation, Pinochet said that the military was acting "solely out of patriotism, to save the country from the chaos that was caused by the Marxist government of Salvador Allende."  He would rule Chile for 17 bloody years.
The military and secret police began rounding up thousands of  people loyal to President Allende.Many disappeared into army-run, CIA-supported torture centers, never to be heard from again. Pinochet converted the national football stadium into a detention facility like Guantanamo Bay.
Over 20,000 people are established to have been killed during Pinochet's reign  of terror. and 60,000 tortured,  hundreds of Allendes supporters alone were gunned down in Santiago Soccer stadium,In response, the Nixon administration committed more money, more training, more torture equipment.
Chile's economy was turned into a plantation for the 1%, as inequality and poverty skyrocketed under the imposed Milton Friedman-style economic model. The Pinochet regime, sold off nearly two-thirds of Chile’s key copper industry nationalized under Allende and his predecessor, privatized sections of banking, the telephone company, metalworks and other companies placed under state control by Allende, returned factories and land taken by workers to private owners, privatized water, pensions, healthcare, education, transportation, utilities, and other sectors. Taxes and regulations were cut to the bone to turn the country into a playground for the emerging transnational corporations and the local oligarchy. 
The most disturbing and well-remembered tactic of the dictatorship wasn’t what it did in the open, but what it did in secret. The Pinochet dictatorship practiced a form of kidnapping, torture, and murder that has come to be known as “disappearing” so-called because while everyone knew that the missing persons had been taken by the government and were almost certainly being tortured, the government maintained complete silence about their absence and treated them like any other person who had gone missing. Throughout the 1970s, military governments across Latin America used this technique to inspire fear and crush left-wing oppositions.
Disappearance meant that the families and political comrades of the missing faced closed doors and bureaucratic walls when they tried to get any information: there was no way to request a visit, because the government maintained that the disappeared weren’t in detention. They couldn’t seek proof that their loved ones were alive, because the government said it had no way to know that. They couldn’t even get official acknowledgements of their deaths, because the government wouldn’t admit that they had died. 
Roughly three thousand people were disappeared by the dictatorship between 1973 and 1980. This meant lives cut short, funerals without bodies, and parents left not knowing if their children were dead or alive. 
The 1973 coup and resulting dictatorship led to thousands of Chileans going into exile all around the world. Britain, under an international agreement, was one of the countries that welcomed Chilean political activists who fled into exile. Many settled permanently in this country,
British people were profoundly moved by Chilean events and their solidarity strengthened resistance to the Chilean dictatorship. Founded in late 1973, the Chile Solidarity Campaign (CSC) coordinated events and marches, raised money, ran boycott campaigns and increased public awareness.  
Today in Chile  these events are still marked  with anger, people taking to the streets and displaying it, Chileans still having to deal  with the devastating legacy of life  under a fascist regime.As with previous anniversaries of the coup,violence erupted yesterday and  Chile is bracing for more violence on Monday.
Today on  this tragic anniversary, it is time to remember again, a time in our history that still holds daily reverence to most Chileans lives,and for much of Latin America, and for the  many democratic reformers and carriers of solidarity's message worldwide.
For many victims of the dictatorship has proven elusive. Many people  are still demanding truth and justice, and will not rest until they have found out was has happened to their loved ones, who were arrested, and went missing, never to return.
Barak Obama declared on Margaret Thatcher's death that she was "one of greatest champions of freedom and liberty." This is the same bit of poison that told her friend Pinochet that, she was " very much aware that it was you that brought  democracy to Chile, you set up a constitution  suitable for democracy."
Throughout Pinochets regime of terror he was supplied by UK Defence Manufacturers, the military junta that took power  bombed the presidential palace  using British Hawker Hunter aircraft. Margaret Thatcher personally after coming into power lifted the arms embargo on his regime. Whilst Thatcher fawned over him, Pinochet carried on killing critics, and any form of opposition, among them the revered Chilean singer Victor Jara, who was arrested by the military and tortured at Estadio Chile, in front of thousands of onlookers, who was subsequently shot as he defied the taunting soldiers by singing, his body left bloodied, his bones and his hands broken and battered full of bullet holes.

                                             Victor Jara

In Florida in June,2016 a jury  found a former Chilean army officer liable for the murder of folk singer and activist Víctor Jara in 1973. Jara was tortured and shot more than 40 times in the days after the U.S.-backed coup, who after his death became a symbol of Chile's struggle against Pinochet's regime.. The verdict against Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez marked what The Guardian newspaper called "one of the biggest and most significant legal human rights victories against a foreign war criminal in a US courtroom."
Speaking on the steps of the Florida courthouse, Jara’s widow Joan Jara Turner said at  the time, "What we were trying to do for more than 40 years, for Víctor, has today come true." Since then in a form of justice eight retired Chilean military officers have been sentenced to 15 years in prison for Victor's murder.This hero of the people whose life and music has been celebrated ever since.
Though the dictatorship ended in 1990, Pinochet and his allies remained largely shielded from prosecution for their crimes due to legal protections and the Chilean constitution they had drafted. While some of them faced prosecution later in life, many of them escaped it, including Pinochet himself. Pinochet would always be thankful to Thatcher, visiting her on an annual pilgrimage to London. Pinochet eventually died in 2006,  while under  house arrest, with many millions of pounds laundered in banks, but had  managed to avoid going on trial and thus avoiding justice..

General Pinochet  and Margaret Thatcher

                                             General Pinochet the murderous fascist dictator

Fifty years after Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship came to power, Chile’s government has now admitted guilt for the disappearance, and presumed deaths, of over two thousand individuals at the hands of the Chilean military and associated paramilitary groups. The government has also committed to searching for and identifying those whose fates remain officially unknown, numbering over a thousand.  This move marks a major shift for the government, which until now has either ignored the fate of the disappeared or treated them like events from a tragic  and hopefully forgotten  past. Acknowledging the disappeared will go some way toward bringing these victims and their families some closure and justice.  But the initiative isn’t without its detractors,  major sectors of the Chilean military and Chilean society in general oppose this move and continue to extol Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. The controversy over the government’s admission of guilt highlights the divisions that still rend the country, and which have presented serious challenges for progressive president Gabriel Boric since he took office, there are still those that think the Pinochet regime was justified, and that the violation of human rights though regrettable were  inevitable and  leaders like Pinochet could somehow be be justified. .
Pinochet is still seen by somel today, as a savior who oversaw a period of relative economic prosperity.  A survey conducted by pollster Cerc-Mori in May found that 36 percent of people believe the general "liberated Chile from Marxism," the highest figure measured in 28 years of polling.  However, when it comes to people born after the coup, 60 percent disapprove of Pinochet, according to a survey by pollster Activa Research.
For  many his legacy is one of state terrorism, and rampant disregard for human rights, he caused a whole society to become fearful, their daily lives one of terror. We must not forget, the dead and the missing, nor the human rights activists who shone a light on this dark regime.
Fifty years later, Chile is still trying to find its post-coup identity and shape a new political system amid ongoing debate over a new constitution. But Allende and Pinochet cast long shadows.
The coup anniversary comes as the country is led by Boric, a 37-year-old leftist who regularly pays homage to Allende. He came to power after a wave of social protests in 2019 which led to a referendum in which 80 percent voted to replace the Pinochet-era constitution widely blamed for Chile's deep economic inequity. 
However, more than 61 percent of voters last year went on to reject a constitutional draft which would have made Chile one of the most progressive countries in Latin America.  And in May, the far-right Republican Party led by conservative lawyer Jose Antonio Kast  a Pinochet apologist won 23 of 51 seats on the council that will write a new one.  In the days leading up to the anniversary, Kast's party, and other right-wing groups, refused to sign a commitment to "defend democracy from authoritarian threats" put forward by Boric.
But the fact that Chile is finally admitting to its participation in disappearing leftist activists is a testament to the efforts of those whose loved ones were killed by the dictatorship, and to the efforts of the socialist government of Gabriel Boric. The activists who have pushed for the government to make this move recognize it as merely the beginning of a long process of reconciliation for the government’s crimes. 
They commend the government for the “political will” it took to take this step, but also note that it’s too late for many, after all, it’s been almost fifty years since some of their loved ones and comrades were taken, tortured, and killed, and the government is only now acknowledging that it happened.
It is also worth noting that no US presidential apology, has ever been made for what was unleashed on the workers, students and ordinary people of Chile on this day. So today as America  remembers  their own  9/11 lets not forget the other injustice that they helped cause.In Chile, the US murdered tens of thousands and impoverished millions. This wasn't America's first foray in international terrorism, nor would it be the last.
My only hope now is that we continue to express true sorrow, whilst collectively recognising the terrible legacy of these two  9/11's. Let us chart a more just and peaceful path forward. Lets hope the forces of truth and reconciliation long continue to be fostered and that  all victims are  rightfully remembered.

Wednesday, 6 September 2023

Hedd Wyn a'r Eisteddfod y Gadair Ddu / Hedd Wyn and the Eisteddfod of the Black Chair

In September 1917, the Welsh National Eisteddfod was held at Birkenhead Park, on the Wirral, only the third time it had been held outside the Principality.  A huge crowd, including the Prime Minister David Lloyd George himself a Welsh language speaker, had gathered to take part in this annual celebration of Welsh culture and language. 
The highlight of the festival was to take place on 6 September when the name of the winning poem along with its author, would be announced to the expectant audience. This was normally followed by the 'chairing of the bard' ceremony when the winning poet would make his way through the crowd to take his seat in the bardic chair, a beautiful, wooden chair especially carved for each Eisteddfod. 
At the 1917 festival, it was announced that the winning poem was  named as Yr Arwr (The Hero),  The Archdruid, the Reverend Evan Rees,known by the bardic name Dyfed, announced the victor’s creativity and originality. Twice he called for the poet who had submitted under the pseudonym “Fleur-de-Lys,” and twice no one answered. When on the third time no one answered the call of victory, the Archdruid solemnly announced that the winner was Hedd Wyn and that Hedd Wyn had died in Europe only weeks before.'YnArwr (The Hero)' and that the winning author had written under the pseudonym Fleur de Lys.  The tradition was for trumpets to sound a fanfare to invite the winner to make themselves known.
Three times they sounded; three times the Archdruid called out the nom de plume of the winning bard but when no one came forward, he then solemnly announced to the silenced audience that the winning poet, Ellis Humphrey Evans better known by his bardic name of Hedd Wyn, had been killed in action six weeks earlier. 
Welsh language  pacifist  poet Hedd Wyn,(Welsh for Blessed Peace) was born in Trawsfynydd, Meirionydd, on January 13th, 1887. the oldest of 11 children born to parents Mary and Evan Evans. He left school at 14 to work on his parent's farm Yr Ysgwrn.. He spent most of his life there, apart from a short period working in South Wales.
He began writing Welsh-language poetry aged just 11, mastering the hardest form of Welsh poetry (the cynghanedd)  and his talent for poetry became increasingly known and he took part in competitions and local eisteddfodau. He won his first chair (Cadair y Bardd) in Bala, at the age of 20 in 1907. He won his first prize in a local literary competition at the age of twelve, before winning his first chair(Cadair y Bardd) in Bala, at the age of 20 in 1907..
This was the first of the six chairs he would go on to win. He won chairs at Llanuwchllyn in 1913, Pwllheli in 1913, Llanuwchllyn in 1915 and Pontardawe in 1915.
Ellis Humphrey Evans was given the bardic name of Hedd Wyn by a throne of Ffestiniog poets in 1910. He chose to keep the name by submitting further poems in later Eisteddfodau.His poetry drew heavily on the influences of the Romantic era, including themes of nature and spirituality,
In 1915 he wrote his first poem for the National Eisteddfod of Wales—Eryri, an ode to Snowdon. The following year he took second place at the Aberystwyth National Eisteddfod with Ystrad Fflur, an awdl written in honour of Strata Florida, the medieval Cistercian abbey ruins in Ceredigion.
With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the mood of Hedd Wyn's poetic work changed to discuss the nightmare of the war. He wrote poems in memory of friends who died fighting in Europe, 
One of his most powerful  poems that I have  found translated  is “Y Rhyfel” (War), which I post below.

/War-  Hedd Wyn (Translated by Gillian Clarke)

Gwae fi fy myw mewn oes mor ddreng,
A Duw ar drai ar orwel pell;
O'i ôl mae dyn, yn deyrn a gwreng,
Yn codi ei awdurdod hell.
Pan deimlodd fyned ymaith Dduw
Cyfododd gledd i ladd ei frawd;
Mae swn yr ymladd ar ein clyw,
A'i gysgod ar fythynnod tlawd.
Mae'r hen delynau genid gynt,
Ynghrog ar gangau'r helyg draw,
A gwaedd y bechgyn lond y gwynt,
A'u gwaed yn gymysg efo'r glaw
Bitter to live in times like these.
While God declines beyond the seas;
Instead, man, king or peasantry,
Raises his gross authority.
When he thinks God has gone away
Man takes up his sword to slay
His brother; we can hear death's roar.
It shadows the hovels of the poor.
Like the old songs they left behind,
We hung our harps in the willows again.
Ballads of boys blow on the wind,
Their blood is mingled with the rain.

As a Christian pacifist Ellis  at first did not enlist when war broke out, believing he could never kill anyone.Throughout the 19th century, the Welsh predominantly adopted pacifism as a leading philosophy due to the prominence of the Nonconformist movement. According to Alan Llwyd the Welsh chapels were, understandably, much opposed to war. There was also a strong peace movement in Wales, and politicians such as the pacifist Henry Richard, the ‘Apostle of Peace,’ were held in high esteem by the Welsh people. (Llwyd, Out of the Fire of Hell xv).
Whether pacifism pervaded the Welsh people, prominent Welsh people included it in the narrative defining Welshness. Nonconformist ministers advocated for peace and moderation; subsequently,
Wales and  opposition to universal military service remained strong. The governing Liberal Party opposed the idea, as did large sections of the Labour Party and some Conservatives. 
Even after war  had broke  out in August 1914, the Cabinet unanimously dismissed Winston Churchill's proposal for 'compulsory [military] service'.
However, the high casualty rates on the Western Front and the falling number of voluntary recruits for the'issue of conscription went  to the top of the political agenda. After the formation of a coalition government under Asquith in May 1915, the Conservative Party and the Liberal minister David Lloyd George orchestrated a powerful media campaign in favour of universal military service. 
In January and May 1916, Military Service Acts were passed by Parliament, ensuring that all those eligible to serve 'king and country' were now forced to report for duty. 
At the outbreak of the First World War Lloyd George who was already an influential and popular politician before the First World War. A proud Welshman, he had opposed the Second Boer War partially because of the appearance of the British Empire inflicting defeat on a smaller country.  
At the time of the start of the war he held the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer. There was some debate in the weeks leading to war over whether Lloyd George would support military intervention or no but eventually decided to back the declaration of war on Germany..
He continued in his position as Chancellor until 1915 and the Shell Crisis in Britain. The British Expeditionary Force in France had failed in their recent Battle of Aubers Ridge and its commander General Sir John French let it be known that he blamed faulty artillery shells and the inability of factories back in Britain to keep the army supplied.
The resulting scandal brought about the collapse of the Liberal government, at the time lead by Herbert Asquith, and cost Lord Kitchener much of his power and prestige. It would also eventually cost General Sir John French his job. Asquith maintained control as Prime Minister but only within a coalition government that now included Lloyd George as the Minister for Munitions, charged with bringing armament production to acceptable levels.
Following the death of Lord Kitchener, Lloyd George expanded his own power base by rising to take the position of Secretary of State for War and in June 1916.reached out to his countrymen, even convincing  some of  the traditionally pacifistic Nonconformist ministers that war against Germany was the moral duty of all Britons. His people responded passionately enough that Lloyd George celebrated the fact that “the martial spirit has been slumbering for centuries, but only slumbering ...The great warlike spirit that maintained independence of these mountains for centuries woke up once more
Given the loss of life brought about in Wales due to the First World War, it is easy to see why the perception of Lloyd George would sour after the war’s conclusion..
Despitere inevitably told that they had to send one of their sons to join the British Army. Hedd Wyn enlisted rather than having to see his younger brother Robert sent to war. Like 280,000 other Welshmen he was conscripted to fight in the first world war and in 1916 he was join the Royal Welch Fusiliers .
In March 1917, he was allowed to return briefly to Trawsfynydd to help with the ploughing and planting at the family farm, Yr Ysgwrn. While he was at home, he began work on a new poem, Yr Arwr (The Hero)   inspired by Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Prometheus Unbound.  which was to be his submission for the forthcoming eisteddfod. The work on the farm took longer than expected and Ellis overstayed his leave of absence, leading to an abrupt departure as the military police arrived to return him to his post. In the confusion, the uncompleted poem was left behind
pres Salient and there in the mud of the trenches he completed the ode.  Bearing the pseudonym Fleur de Lys he posted his work back to Wales on July 15, 1917.
On July 31, Hedd Wyn went over the top with his regiment in a major offensive to capture Pilckem Ridge in what would become known as the Battle of Passchendaele (or the Third Battle of  Ypres). 
Men were falling on all sides,  amongst them Hedd Wyn who was hit by a shell and mortally wounded.
He was one of 9,300 British troops who were slaughtered in the first three days of the Battle of Passchendaele.Soon after being wounded he was carried to a first-aid post and still conscious he asked the doctor "Do you think I will live?" although he had little chance of surviving. Hedd Wyn died at around 11am 
During the fighting in Ypres, over 500,000 men lost their lives. Hedd Wyn was one of 310,000 allies to die alongside 260,000 Germans during some of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, which was known as the Great War.
Only six weeks later, on 6 September 1917,he National Eisteddfod of Wales took place in Birkenhead Park, Liverpool. An abbreviated occasion due to the war, it lasted three days instead of the traditional seven. David Lloyd George, by then Prime Minister, attended the eisteddfod as he had for many years. Evans’s mentor, Silyn Roberts, attended the eisteddfod and later depicted the scene that followed the bews of Hedd Wynn's death, stating that “The wave of emotion that swept over the vast throng is undescribable and can never be forgotten. The bards enfolded the chair in a great black shroud” 
By all accounts, Lloyd George himself, whose push for conscription had led to Evans’s participation in  the war and his subsequent death, sat there in the assembly also overcome with emotion. Because of the  black sheet that the druids draped over the empty bardic chair, the event became known as the  to as "Eisteddfod y Gadair Ddu" ("The Eisteddfod of the Black Chair"). 
The shockwaves at the time were palpable. “No words can adequately describe the wave of emotion that swept over the vast audience when Wyn’s bardic chair was draped with the symbols of mourning,"  the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard newspaper reported at the time.
The  Black Chair which  had been expertly carved  by Belgian refugee Eugeen Vanfleteren, was brought by train and then horse and cart to his parents farm, Yr Ysgwrn, on a hillside above the village of Trawsfynydd in the Prysor Valley,, the whole village turned out in mourning. The stone farm cottage, which dates back to the early 16th century, quickly became a place of pilgrimage, where visitors were warmly received by the poet’s family and descendants. 
Today, the ornately carved bardic throne can be seen at Yr Ysgwrn as well as many other artefacts from the poet’s short life  Yr Ysgwrn is not an ordinary Welsh farmhouse. In 1917, it and Hedd Wyn became a powerful  and lasting symbol of a lost generation of young lives  senselessly slaughtered  and the bereavement of communities following the enormous losses of the First World War on the killing fields of Europe 
People have visited the house to pay tribute and see the Black Chair ever since.Hedd Wyn’s nephew, Gerald Williams, continued to farm Yr Ysgwrn, always keeping the door open to a steady stream of visitors who made the pilgrimage to the poet’s home. As he reached his mid-80s, Gerald began to think about the farm’s legacy. In 2012 he sold it to Eryri (Snowdonia National Park), with conditions attached: it should remain open to visitors, and it should feel like a home, and not a museum. 
 After careful restoration, Yr Ysgwrn re-opened as a visitor centre.The Bardic chair that Wyn was never able to claim in 1917 remains there as a poignant reminder of the generation of young men from Wales lost in the war. To find out more about Yr Ysgwrn visit 

Aberystwyth’s National Library of Wales hosts the original manuscript of the ode ‘Yr Arwr’,Hedd Wyn’s final draft of the poem which won him the chair at the 1917 Birkenhead Eisteddfod. The collection also includes a number of personal notes and items and notes of the bard. 
Hedd Wyn's   poem  Yr Arwr ("The Hero"), is still considered his greatest work. The ode is structured in four parts and presents two principal characters, Merch y Drycinoedd ("Daughter of the Tempests") and the Arwr. There has been much disagreement in the past regarding the meaning of the ode. It can be said with certainty that Hedd Wyn, like his favourite poet Shelley, longed for a perfect humanity and a perfect world during the chaos of war.
Merch y Drycinoedd has been perceived as a symbol of love, the beauty of nature, and creativity; and Yr Arwr as a symbol of goodness, fairness, freedom, and justice. It is wished that through his sacrifice, and his union with Merch y Drycinoedd at the end of the ode, a better age will come.
While the poem ends hopefully, the hope is found when the “Hero” rescues his beloved and brings her to an otherworldly land of summer and joy. Peace seems not to dwell in this world; rather, it exists only in imagination and hopefully in the afterlife.
Hedd Wyn  as well as all the young men slain in the First World War, came to be associated with the “Hero” and his tragic life redeemed only in death. The poem and a translation can  be found here 

The first page of Hedd Wyn's poem Yr Arwr (The Hero) in his own handwriting. 

Buried initially on the battlefield (out of necessity Hedd Wyn's  body was subsequently moved to Artillery Wood cemetery, Boeinghe, near Ypres, Flanders following the armistice.Visitors can also pay their respects to him and all Welsh people involved in World War One at the Welsh National Memorial Park near Langemarck, Here, a red dragon looks out in the direction of Passchendaele. 
In 1918 the decision was made that Ellis' poems should gave a wider audience, and they were published in a collection called "Cerdi'r Budail" (Shepherd's Songs). The money raised by the sale of the book paid for the  bronze statue by L.S. Merrifield of Hedd Wyn was unveiled by his mother in 1923 in his home village of Trawsfynydd. A plaque on the statue bears the words that Hedd Wyn had written in memory of a friend, Tommy Morris, who died earlier in the war..
He is portrayed not as a soldier but as the shepherd they knew. The cross which  marked his grave at Boesinghe is now displayed at his former school, which was renamed "Ysgol Hedd Wyn" in his honour, and there is a memorial plaque at St George's Church at Ypres which has become a place of pilgrimage for Welsh men and women.
A memorable, Welsh-language film based on Hedd Wyn's life  has also helped bring his story and verse to a wider audience and was produced in 1992. Shot on location in the Prysor Valley. The film was written by the  Alan Llwyd, who has also written biographical works on the poet, and directed by Paul Turner, starring Huw Garmon in the title role and Judith Humphreys as his lover, Jini Owen.
This compelling and moving drama was the first British film to be nominated at the Academy Awards for a Best Foreign Language Film in 1993 and was the first Welsh film to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, in 1993, at the Oscars. The film (Hedd Wyn), is available to watch for free on the BFI Player  
In August 2014, the Welsh Memorial Park was opened at Pilckem Ridge in Ypres, Belgium. The memorial is located near where Hedd Wyn was killed during the war in 1917.
In commemoration of his death 100 years ago in 2017, a new Bardic chair was created and presented by the Welsh Government at a special ceremony in Birkenhead Park. A memorial was also unveiled there,
The 2017 opera 2117/Hedd Wyn, with music by Stephen McNeff and libretto by Gruff Rhys, was inspired by the life of Hedd Wyn; set in the year 2117, it imagines a group of schoolchildren in a post-apocalyptic Trawsfynydd learning about the life and work of the poet. It was recorded by Ty Cerdd Records and released in 2022
This poet/Bardd continues to represent a lost generation that could have further enriched our literature and national life had they been spared. I will end this post with the following poem by Hedd Wynn, translated by Alan Llwyd..

Y Blotyn Du

Nid oes gennym hawl ar y sêr,
Na'r lleuad hiraethus chwaith,
Na'r cwmwl o aur a ymylch
Yng nghanol y glesni maith.

Nid oes gennym hawl ar ddim byd
Ond ar yr hen ddaear wyw;
A honno syn anhrefn i gyd
Yng nghanol gogoniant Duw.

The Black Spot

We have no claim to the stars
Nor the sad-faced cloud that immerses
Itself in celestial light.

We only have the right to exist
On earth in its vast devastation,
And it's only man' strife that destroys
The glory of God's creation.

The Poet's Grave in France reads Hedd Wyn Chief Bardd

Statue of Hedd Wyn , Trawsfynnyd

Sunday, 3 September 2023

70 years of the European Convention on Human Rights

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the landmark ;treaty the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – more formally, the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – coming into effect, a milestone that highlights the enduring importance of safeguarding human rights across Europe, even as ongoing challenges keep putting its principles to the test.  Members of the European Council ratified the European Convention on Human Rights on 4 November 1950, but it only came into effect on 3 September 1953, so exactly 70 years ago today,. 
The Convention’s principal authors were a Frenchman, a Belgian and a Scot: Pierre-Henri Teitgen, Fernand Dehousse and David Maxwell Fyfe (later Lord Chancellor Kilmuir).
The ECHR was a remarkable achievement. Like its better known cousin, the EU, it has become a foundation stone of post-war peace and stability in Europe. We should heap praise on the ECHR, not least for the way it protects those most at risk in our society.
The ECHR is an international human rights treaty between the 47 states that are members of the Council of Europe (CoE) - not to be confused with the European Union. It is the role of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg to make sure that the Convention is respected.
The court is responsible for monitoring respect for the human rights of 800 million Europeans within the 47 Council of Europe member states that have ratified the convention. At present, 47 judges – who are elected for a non-renewable term every nine years by the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe – sit at the court. They are totally independent and can not engage in any activity that would hinder their impartiality. Since the court was established, most cases have been lodged by individuals.
The CoE was founded after World War II to protect human rights and the rule of law, and to promote democracy. The ECHR guarantees specific rights and is a framework people can invoke, should their rights and freedoms be compromised. The UK’s history with the Council of Europe is longer than its relationship with the European Union, as it joined the CoE 24 years before it joined the EU. 
While the UK’s membership of the CoE is unaffected by Brexit, senior cabinet ministers have stated that they would be prepared to pull the UK out of the ECHR in order to press ahead with their Rwanda policy, which would see people seeking asylum moved to the east African country, where their asylum claim would be assessed.  
The UK’s own Human Rights Act reflects the rights included in the ECHR, including rights to freedom from torture, to a fair trial and to respect for family and private life, to name a few.  Legislation moving through parliament 
Before the incorporation of the Convention, individuals in the United Kingdom could only complain of unlawful interference with their Convention rights by lodging a petition with the European Commission of Human Rights in Strasbourg. That all changed on 2 October 2000 when the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force, allowing UK citizens to sue public bodies for breaches of their Convention rights in domestic courts. 
Ever since, it has protected the basic human rights of every single person in the UK.
Governments signed up to the ECHR have made a legal commitment to abide by certain standards of behaviour and to protect the basic rights and freedoms of people. It is a treaty to protect the rule of law and promote democracy in European countries. 
The idea for the creation of the ECHR was proposed in the early 1940s while the Second World War was still raging across Europe. It was developed to ensure that governments would never again be allowed to dehumanise and abuse people’s rights with impunity, and to help fulfil the promise of ‘never again’. 
In May 1948 after the war had ended, the ‘Congress of Europe’ was held in The Hague, a gathering of over 750 delegates which included leaders from civil society groups, academia, business and religious groups, trade unions, and leading politicians from across Europe such as Winston Churchill, François Mitterand and Konrad Adenauer.  In his speech to the Congress, Churchill stated: 

  “In the centre of our movement stands the idea of a Charter of Human Rights, guarded by freedom and sustained by law.”  

 Winston Churchill, (The Hague, 7th May 1948)

The European Convention on Human Rights  guarantees a range of political rights and freedoms of the individual against interference by the State and protects  the basic human rights of every single person in the UK, and the rights we are all familiar with come from it..
Now, the ECHR is under threat.  Senior Government ministers are on record saying they want the UK out of the Convention, all so they can push forward plans that breach human rights. We cannot allow this to happen. 
The controversial Rwanda deportation plan put in place by the Conservatives continues to be blocked on all sides of the political strata, including from within the Conservative Party itself. This has led to potential threats from senior members of the Conservative Party to campaign to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) at the next election. 
The Home Secretary Suella Braverman is among  those thought to support leaving the ECHR are home secretary Suella Braverman who  stated back in March of this year, that the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) was ‘sometimes at odds with British values’
This is an unsurprising response given that the first planned deportation flight to Rwanda was dramatically blocked at the last minute by the ECtHR, who granted an urgent interim measure indicating to the UK Government that the applicant (an Iraqi national) should not be removed to Rwanda until three weeks after the delivery of the final domestic decision in his ongoing judicial review proceedings. 
Whether the ECHR is truly ‘at odds with British Values’ is debatable. Recent data from King’s College London shows that the UK public are the most accepting of immigration, of 17 countries represented in the survey, ahead of Germany, the United States and Brazil to name a few.  The survey highlights that the UK is among the most likely of those nations to think that immigration strengthens cultural diversity, and among those least likely to believe that immigration increases unemployment or the risk of terrorism. 
We need to make sure the Government – and all political parties – commit to keeping the UK in the  European Convention on Human Rights. If the UK government pulled  out of the ECHR, we would lose our protection from human rights abuses and we would not be able to hold them to account.  All of us would lose out.
Above everything, threats to leave the ECHR appear to be a last-ditch attempt by the Conservatives ahead of a general election next year to be seen to be defending UK borders, rather than actually reflecting UK values on immigration.
The ECHR continues to play a significant role in the protection of justice in this country, and it is crucial that progress made in human rights law is not undone as we approach the next general election.
However politicians are trying to divide us by scapegoating sections of society, like refugees and asylum seekers,
Exiting the  European Convention on Human Rights, would have far-reaching consequences affecting every citizen of the UK, including disabled individuals, the elderly, women, LGBTQ+ individuals, minorities, and vulnerable groups. Additionally, workers’ rights, freedom of expression and press, as well as privacy and surveillance, would all be influenced. in an attempt to weaken our rights.
The government has also  recently passed a series of draconian new laws that will have a chilling effect on peaceful protest and restrict free speech,  It’s not just our right to protest that’s at risk. All our human rights and freedoms are under threat. 
One thing the government and Tory backbenchers in favour of leaving the ECHR are conspicuously silent about is that most cases brought to the ECHR are cases about human rights violations committed by states against their own​ citizens. Only two countries have ever left the treaty: Greece when it abolished democracy and imposed a junta in 1969 - Athens later rejoined when military rule ended in 1974 - while Russia was expelled following its invasion of Ukraine in 2022.  
Human rights  are in place to stop corrupt Governments like the one we have at the moment, and the European Convention on Human Rights  brings home fundamental, universal rights we all have as human beings, and allows us to challenge authorities if they violate them.and acts as a safety net  for all of us, working quietly to ensure our rights are respected, and a crucial means of defence for the most vulnerable. 
It should be no surprise, that those who seek to undermine support for the ECHR have started not by criticising the Convention but rather by attacking the legal profession in general and human rights lawyers in particular. Just as with Brexit, they recognise that the pathway to leaving the ECHR lies through polarising and dividing public opinion.
Human rights protections  must not weakened or abandoned. They should be strengthened. We must  not be divided. Either everyone has human rights, or no one does.. We all want to live in a society where everyone is treated with dignity and respect The ECHR is a step towards that vision. On its 70th birthday, let’s celebrate the ECHR and fight to keep the UK in it, and to  pledge never to let this or any other government to  take our fundamental  human rights and freedoms. away from us.

Tuesday, 29 August 2023


Another year has passed 
My weary legs carry me forward.
Continuing to walk without pause
The paths of justice and freedom 
In a world plagued by woes
Striving for an assemblance of mercy
In troubled disturbed waters 
Where human lives have become a statistic
Measured by hearts cold as stone
Where truth  becomes laden with lies
The air reeks of persecution and betrayal
With borders that deny humanity and compassion
My mission remains boundless. 
My ideology unchanged
My hope unwavering 
My dream unfaltering..

Thursday, 24 August 2023

Thomas Chatterton : Hero and Martyr of the Romantics (20 November 1752 – 24 August 1770)

Henry Wallis's painting 'The Death of Chatterton,

Thomas Chatterton was an English poet and a brilliant forger of medieval poetry who tragically died of poisoning from self-administered arsenic, aged just seventeen years and nine months old, on this day August 24 1770.
Chatterton was born at Bristol,on November 20 1752. His father, the sexton of St Mary Redcliffe, a musician, a poet, and a numismatist, who had dabbled in the occult had died four months previously.  Thomas was raised by his mother, grandmother and older sister. But he was close to his uncle, who had taken over his late father’s role as sexton, and he encouraged his precocious nephew in his academic and literary pursuits, as well as giving him the run of the church.
Inspired by illuminated music folios discarded by his father, the young Thomas taught himself to read and spent hours poring over old books, scraps of manuscripts and minuments (title deeds) hidden in his father’s wooden chest.
Chatterton's love for reading was nurtured by his sister, who related that he did not like reading small books. Instead, he was drawn to the illuminated capitals of an old musical folio and the black-letter Bible. Chatterton was a wayward child, uninterested in the games of other children, and thought to be educationally backward. When asked what device he would like painted on a bowl that was to be his, he replied, "Paint me an angel, with wings, and a trumpet, to trumpet my name over the world."
Despite his eccentricities, Chatterton's capacity for learning was recognized by his mother at age 6, and by age 8, he was so eager for books that he would read and write all day long if undisturbed. By the age of 11, he had already become a contributor to Felix Farley's 'Bristol Journal.' His confirmation inspired him to write religious poems published in the paper.
The destruction of a cross in the churchyard of St Mary Redcliffe by a churchwarden in 1763 left a deep impression on Chatterton. He sent a satire on the parish vandal to the local journal on 7 January 1764, demonstrating his strong sense of veneration for the church. Chatterton also had a little attic that he had converted into his study. There, surrounded by books, cherished parchments, loot purloined from the muniment room of St Mary Redcliffe, and drawing materials, the child lived in thought with his 15th-century heroes and heroines.
Chatterton's childhood was full of mystery and wonder, which would go on to shape his literary output in later life. His love for the past, his interest in the occult, and his sense of veneration for the church all contributed to his unique perspective on life.
Best known by his contemporaries for his series of Thomas Rowley poems, purportedly the work of a forgotten Medieval monk but in reality written by Chatterton himself on 15th century parchment.
Chatterton's adoption of Rowley is believed to have been driven, in part, by his desire to reconstitute the lost father figure in fantasy. 
Having been raised by two women,his mother Sarah and his sister Mary, Chatterton's masculine identity was held back. To compensate for the lack of a paternal presence, Chatterton unconsciously created two interweaving family romances, each with its own scenario.
The first of these family romances was the romance of Rowley, whom he created as a father-like figure with a wealthy patron, William Canynge. Chatterton imagined himself as a talented poet who could earn fame and wealth through his work and thus rescue his mother from poverty. The second family romance was his romance of "Jack and the Beanstalk," which is said to have been a means of resolving his feelings of powerlessness and oppression. Chatterton's adoption of the Rowley persona is notable for the extent to which he immersed himself in the character and he went to great lengths to create a detailed backstory for him, complete with a jargon that he called "Rowleian."
As Thomas Chatterton's literary ambition grew, so did his need for financial support. In search of a patron, he first turned to the antiquarians of Bristol, who were eager to use his Rowley transcripts for their own work. However, they were not willing to pay him enough, and so he set his sights on the wealthier and more influential figure of Horace Walpole. Chatterton sent samples of Rowley's poetry and a manuscript on the rise of painting in England to Walpole, hoping to impress him enough to secure his patronage.
Walpole, intrigued by the possibility of discovering lost works of medieval literature, initially expressed interest in publishing Chatterton's pieces. But when he discovered that Chatterton was only 16 years old and that the authenticity of the Rowley pieces was in question, he turned his back on the young poet, dismissing him with scorn.
Yet Chatterton was not cowed: he went on to publish more than fifty works across literary, political and historical journals under an array of pseudonyms and is alleged to have written a poem attacking Walpole (later persuaded from sending it by his sister Mary). ‘Walpole!’, it begins, ‘I thought not I should ever see/So mean a Heart as thine has proved to be.’Say, didst thou ne’er indulge in such Deceit?/Who wrote Otranto?’ These ‘Lines to Walpole’ were probably a forgery by Chatterton’s biographer John Dix but they certainly shed light on the poet’s clash with Walpole.
All this is should be noted because  Walpole himself  was highly sensitive to questions over authenticity having himself fallen foul of critics over his Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto (1764) where he had been accused of plagiarism.
The revelation led to Walpole being condemned as ‘false’ and ‘preposterous’ by the poet and clergyman John Langhorne on account of  deceit. The whole affair is curious when Walpole’s extensive antiquarian credentials are taken into account. Perhaps Walpole was ashamed that Chatterton held a mirror up to his own literary forgeries.
Chatterton's search for a patron was not just a matter of financial need, but also a quest for validation and recognition. He yearned for someone to appreciate his talent and to help him achieve the literary success that he believed he deserved. Unfortunately, his attempts to win the support of the literary establishment were met with skepticism and rejection, leaving him feeling disillusioned and alone.
After being rejected by Horace Walpole, Thomas Chatterton's creativity took a hit. However, he soon bounced back and turned his attention towards periodical literature and politics. He started writing for London periodicals like the 'Town and Country Magazine', where he adopted the pseudonym Junius. Junius was a popular letter writer of that time who was known for his strong opinions and controversial writings. Chatterton, in his Junius persona, targeted the Duke of Grafton, the Earl of Bute, and the Princess of Wales.
However, Chatterton's political writings were not without consequences. His attacks on the government and monarchy were seen as treasonous, and he was accused of seditious libel. In 1770, he was arrested for writing a letter that accused the Lord Mayor of London of being corrupt. Although he was eventually released, the incident left a lasting impression on him.
Despite the risks, Chatterton continued to write politically charged pieces. His writing not only reflected his own beliefs but also mirrored the sentiments of the common people who were fed up with the corrupt government and the aristocracy. His writings became a voice for the voiceless and inspired others to speak out against injustice.
Chatterton's political writings were a testament to his courage, wit, and passion for justice. He used his pen to expose the corruption and hypocrisy of those in power and gave a voice to the common people. Although his writing was controversial and led to legal troubles, his legacy lives on as a writer who was unafraid to speak truth to power.
 On the evening of  24 August 1770, Chatterton locked himself  in his room in his Brook Street attic and drunk a dose of arsenic mixed to water after tearing into fragments whatever literary remains were at hand. A few days earlier, while walking in St Pancras Churchyard, Chatterton had fallen into a newly dug grave, which prompted his walking companion to joke that he was happy in assisting at the resurrection of genius. Chatterton, however, replied that he had been at war with the grave for some time, hinting at his troubled mental state.
His body was discovered on the 25th of August. The coroner's ruling, a suicidal death as a result of insanity.He may  also have been suffering from a venereal disease.
'Since we can die but once, what matters it,
If rope or garter, poison, pistol, sword,
Slow-wasting sickness, or the sudden burst
Of valve arterial in the noble parts,
Curtail the miseries of human life?
Though varied is the cause, the effect's the same:
All to one common dissolution tends.' -  Thomas Chatterton
Thomas Chatterton was buried in a mass paupers grave at London’s Shoelane Workhouse Cemetery. It sadly no longer exists.Chatterton's  untimely death was a tragic end to a brilliant career that promised great things, as as he had shown exceptional talent at an early age and was regarded as a prodigy. His writings showed exceptional talent and revealed his deep knowledge of English literature and history. Chatterton was a master of deception, having created a literary hoax that deceived many scholars of his time. His works, which often imitated the style of medieval poetry, were remarkable for their depth and richness. He was a true genius who died before his time, leaving behind a legacy that continues to inspire writers and readers today. Chatterton was a seminal figure and precocious and original literary talent, whose been honoured by the powers of  his  literary invention by invoking their reimaginings of his life and legacy.
The Rowley poems were published in 1777 and the 'Rowley controversy' '  continued until the end of the century, By then most people were convinced that the poems were the brilliant creations of Thomas Chatterton.
Seen as a symbol of society's neglect of the artist he was elevated to the status of hero and martyr by the Romantics and the life of this ‘marvelous boy’, as Chatterton came to be known, would subsequently touch some of the most eminent English poets – Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott and Dante Gabriel Rossetti – several of whom came to regard him as a muse who mythologized him in their own poetry. 
In popular culture Chatterton's genius and his death are commemorated by Shelley in Adonais (though its main emphasis is the commemoration of Keats), by Wordsworth in "Resolution and Independence", by Coleridge in "A Monody on the Death of Chatterton," by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in "Five English Poets," and in John Keats's sonnet "To Chatterton".  Keats also inscribed Endymion "to the memory of Thomas Chatterton". French singer Serge Gainsbourg wrote a song, Chatterton:
 Chatterton suicidé Hannibal suicidé [...] Quant à moi Ça ne va plus très bien
and Peter Ackroyd's 1987 novel Chatterton was an acclaimed literary re-telling of the poet's story, giving emphasis to the philosophical and spiritual implications of forgery.
Henry Wallis's painting 'The Death of Chatterton,' now displayed at the Tate Britain in London, is the most famous image of the poet in the 19th century. Two smaller versions of the painting are held by the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art.
The painting  alludes to the idea of the artist as a martyr of society through the Christ-like pose and the torn sheets of poetry on the floor. The pale light of dawn shines through the casement window, illuminating the poet's serene features and livid flesh. The harsh lighting, vibrant colours and lifeless hand and arm increase the emotional impact of the scene. A phial of poison on the floor indicates the method of suicide. Following the Pre-Raphaelite credo of truth to nature, Wallis has attempted to recreate the same attic room in Gray's Inn where Chatterton had killed himself. The model for the figure was the novelist George Meredith (1828-1909), then aged about 28.  
The British Library holds a collection of "Chattertoniana," which includes works by Chatterton, newspaper cuttings, articles dealing with the Rowley controversy, and other items relating to the poet's life and legacy.
In 1886, architect Herbert Horne and Oscar Wilde unsuccessfully attempted to have a plaque erected at Colston's School, Bristol. Wilde, who lectured on Chatterton at this time, suggested the inscription: "To the Memory of Thomas Chatterton, One of England's Greatest Poets, and Sometime pupil at this school."
In 1928, a plaque in memory of Chatterton was mounted on 39, Brooke Street, Holborn, bearing the inscription below. The plaque subsequently has been transferred to a modern office building on the same site.

In a House on this Site
Thomas Chatterton,
24 August 1770.

Tho end this post here are the final words from Thomas Chatterton:

Farewell, Bristolia's dingy piles of brick,
Lovers of mammon, worshippers of trick!
Ye spurned the boy who gave you antique lays,
And paid for learning with your empty praise.
Farewell, ye guzzling aldermanic fools,
By nature fitted for corruption's tools!
I go to where celestial anthems swell;
But you, when you depart, will sink to hell.
Farewell, my mother!—cease, my anguished soul,
Nor let distraction's billows o'er me roll!
Have mercy, Heaven! when here I cease to live,
And this last act of wretchedness forgive.
- Thomas Chatterton , 24 August 1770