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How is history made — songs, dreams, and sermons included?

Saturday, October 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — the moral arc of history from Billie Holliday via MLK to Obama — and beyond, who knows? ]

Our topic here is foresight — prediction, prophecy, prognosis, projection.


The Legatum Institute today tweeted a Pew Research projection of Muslim and Christian growth 2010-2050.

Pew Christian Muslim to 2050

It is now 2015, so for practical purposes, we’re thinking here about prophecies and predictions that offer what their authors hope will come close to 35-year foresight.

Short form: I don’t get it.

Obama, like him or not, Christ or Antichrist, Peace-Nobelist or Pol, is now US President and has — whatever his strengths, failings, or both — some influence on how the earth turns, which way the moral arc of the universe bends, and or what history will be seen and written once the future is present.

Short form: How does history happen?

I’ll raise that question by posting three videos along one such arc of history — and I’ll avoid the usual genre of “news” and work with song, dream and sermon.


Describing the impact of Billie Holliday’s song, Strange Fruit, David Margolick wrote in his “biography of a song“:

An “historic document,” the famed songwriter E.Y. “Yip” Harburg called “Strange Fruit.” The late jazz writer Leonard Feather once called “Strange Fruit” “the first significant protest in words and music, the first unmuted cry against racism.” To Bobby Short, the song was “very, very pivotal,” a way of moving the tragedy of lynching out of the black press and into the white consciousness. “When you think of the South and Jim Crow, you naturally think of the song, not of `We Shall Overcome,’” said Studs Terkel. Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary record producer, called “Strange Fruit,” which Holiday first sang sixteen years before Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, “a declaration of war … the beginning of the civil rights movement.”

As Shelley reported, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”


Preaching borders on prophecy when it addresses dreams, as in Martin Luther King’s great 1963 oration, spoken decades after Abel Meeropol published Strange Fruit as a poem in 1937 and Billie Holliday recorded it in 1939:

It’s surely notable that a singer had a part in that speech, too. As Wikipedia reports, citing DD Hansen‘s The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation:

The focus on “I have a dream” comes through the speech’s delivery. Toward the end of its delivery, noted African American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted to King from the crowd, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” King stopped delivering his prepared speech, and started “preaching”, punctuating his points with “I have a dream.”


The President of the United States is an acknowledged legislator, constrained by checks and balances that preachers and poets do not face, yet his voice too has been raised from rhetoric to song:

Here are the Here are the “three rhetorical aspects” of Obama’s speech that James Fallows singled out for special praise:

  • The choice of grace as the unifying theme, which by the standards of political speeches qualifies as a stroke of genius.
  • The shifting registers in which Obama spoke—by which I mean “black” versus “white” modes of speech — and the accompanying deliberate shifts in shadings of the word we.
  • The start-to-end framing of his remarks as religious, and explicitly Christian, and often African American Christian, which allowed him to present political points in an unexpected way.
  • Amazing Grace now takes the place of Strange Fruit, and a President that of a poet and a singer — much has changed, yet much remains.


    My own Prior Art on prognostication:

    Recently, in Simply so much.. 02 here on Zenpundit, I pondered the nature of foresight in terms of a Marine Corps forecast:

    I’m thinking of Lise Meitner as I view the Marine Corps’ ambitiously titled Security Environment Forecast 2030-2045. Who would have thought in 1919 that Hahn, Meitner and Strassmann in 1935 would begin a program that resulted in 1939 in her 1939 paper Disintegration of Uranium by Neutrons: A New Type of Nuclear Reaction — which in turn led to Moe Berg‘s attending a lecture by Heisenberg, the Trinity test at Alamagordo, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

    And yet the period from 1919 (Treaty of Versailles) to 1939 (fission theorized) is only 20 years, and from 1919 to 1945 (nuclear warfare) is 26 years — equivalents, respectively, to the periods from 2015 (today) to 2035 (a third of the way into the USMC’s period of prediction) and 2041 (still within the UMSC timeline).

    That’s my attempt at a sober assessment of how difficult it is to “see ahead”.


    My Art of Future Warfare story, War in Heaven, is set — as the contest rules required — in 2090.

    By twenty-ninety, in my fanciful hypothesis, we may well have learned how to choose which timeline we want to live along in a “manyworld” of constantly branching possibilities – “words are many, worlds are many more, if possible” I wrote, and supplied portals to worlds secular, magical, religious and fictitious:

    Forty some years from now, in the wake of John Hardy Elk’s vision and its definitive corroboration “in the external” by physicists at the CERN Diffraction Lab, Shamanism is overturning “the Enlightenment” as the preferred intellectual basis for inquiry. With its gestalt understanding of the interconnectedness not only of space and time but of chance and will, context and perspective, self and other, the Shamanic method of burrowing into deep external space “in the internal” has proven more powerful, faster, and – yes — way more creative than what are now known as the old “heavy lifting” methods of transport.

    With schools of Tibetan, Navaho, Benedictine and other forms of contemplative instruction now rapidly surpassing CalTech as the educational venues of choice, and Oxford morphing back towards its earlier life in which theology was Queen of the Sciences, a great many talented explorers have now visited realms considered impossibly “far away” even a decade earlier, the “digital” has fallen away at a time when communication between the like-minded is achieved telepathically, and “radiance bombs” vie with “dark bombs” in the end-of-century duels scattered across many galaxies in which “white” and “black” magics compete — under the law, some would say theory, of the Conservation of Moral Balance.

    Who knows? Who can really say?


    And then there was the ChicagoBoyz Afghanistan 2050 RoundTable. Introducing the RoundTable, Lexington Green noted:

    40 years is the period from Fort Sumter to the Death of Victoria, from the Death of Victoria to Pearl Harbor, from Pearl Harbor to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. It is a big chunk of history. It is enough time to gain perspective.

    The event, then, was pitched five years past the Marines’ forecast, though still forty years short of my War in Heaven. And once again, though more explicitly this time, I relied on the branching worlds idea.. Here, though, I attempted –- not unlike a circus performer astride two horses -– to bring together the physical and moral universes:

    Historians — on the world-line this is written from, and consequently in those cognate worldlines in which you are reading me — tend to date the by now (2050) clear shift in priorities (if not in actualization) currently emerging along these world-lines to the 2020 joint publication in Nature and Physical Review G of Dogen’s confirmation of the Everett-Klee Transformation Hypothesis, which stated (in its minimal formulation) that free choice is the mechanism by which a human individual switches tracks in a given “present moment” from a “past” world-line to a particular “future” world-line, branching “in that moment” from the first.

    We don’t, I posited, move across parallel “shadow” worlds by diving into portrait size Tarot cards, walking a kundalini-enhancing maze, or substituting the sky, landscape and other furniture of one world-line into that of another, though the great Roger Zelazny in his Amber series posits these as methods for planet-hopping.

    My suggestion: we chose which routes we take when faced with the constant bifurcations of the manyworlds by the moral choices we make.


    And in all this I attempt, however playfully, to glimpse how the past and present might prefigure our possible and impossible futures — and how one or more of those futures may pass through the sieve of the onward-pressing present to become history

    Interviews at SWJ Blog

    Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

    I very much  like the turn toward the publication of short interviews with experts occurring of late at SWJ BLog, for example the COIN series by FP’s Octavian Manea. To toot my own horn for a moment, I did an early one for SWJ when I interviewed Tom Barnett.

    There are two new ones up right now that I recommend:

    Octavian Manea – Thinking Critically about COIN and Creatively about Strategy and War An Interview with Colonel Gian Gentile

    Q: To what extent should Algeria be a warning for present?

    A: The warning it should provide is that you should never think that improved tactics, whether it is a conventional or a counterinsurgency war, can rescue a failed strategy or policy. Sun Tzu offers one of the most profound statements on the relationship between tactics and strategy: Strategy without tactics is the slow road to victory, but tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Another historical example comes to mind. The German army up to a certain point in WWII was arguably one of the finest tactically fighting armies in history. But it lost. The warning is to be careful how much faith you place in the idea that better tactics can save a failed strategy or policy (or in the case of the Vietnam War – better tactics rescuing a war that was unwinnable in the first place)

    Mike Few –A Conversation with Dr. Douglas Porch Relooking French Encounters in Irregular Warfare in the 19th Century

    A:  Alas, Arquilla’s representation of these incidents as primitive versions of modern concepts are a stretch, when not total misrepresentations. At worst, his examples are lifted from context, include material factual inaccuracies, and misconstrue reasons for French “success.” (The “successes” themselves are debatable.) Finally, Arquilla perpetuates the fundamental COINdanista heresies that tactics can rescue flawed policy and defective strategy, while “modernizing” Western occupations will be perceived as “liberation” by indigenous societies. I will take each of Arquilla’s examples in turn to explain their context, in the process illustrating why an incomplete history can lead to misleading results.

    Under Suchet, Aragon did in fact enjoy the reputation as the most pacified Spanish province in Spain. But Suchet’s achievement was temporary, contingent and a “success” only when contrasted with the overall catastrophic outcome of Napoleon’s Spanish project. Aragon and the sliver of bordering Catalonia over which Suchet had charge only shines in context: The French totally lost the narrative in Spain. Napoleon’s deposition and imprisonment of the Bourbon Ferdinand VII — whom he replaced with his brother Joseph Bonaparte in 1808 — established a government regarded as illegitimate, not only in Spain, but in Europe and Latin America as well. The obligation imposed by the Napoleon that the Spaniards pay the costs of occupation meant high taxes and requisitions of Church lands. “Modern” French secular ideas taken from the French Revolution were an affront to the values of conservative Spaniards, who were horrified that Napoleon had imprisoned two Popes and annexed the Papal States to the Roman Republic. The fact that Napoleon was unable to vanquish Great Britain, and the presence

    Kudos to Bill and Dave! Keep’em coming!

    Cameron on Afghanistan 2050

    Sunday, August 29th, 2010

    The  Afghanistan 2050 Roundtable going on at Chicago Boyz:

    Charles Cameron –Afghanistan 2050

    ….Let me clothe my speculations, then, in science fiction, openly presented as such, about “branching world-lines” and the ways in which possible futures branch out from the experienced present and often ill-remembered past… I’ll take Everett’s “Many-Worlds” theory as my framework, and throw in a very slight shift of the long pendulum – I see us backing away from the intensive cultivation of material goods and values which has characterized the last few centuries, and very gradually turning towards a more introspective, contemplative sense of the world and our place in it.

    ….Historians – on the world-line this is written from, and consequently in those cognate worldlines in which you are reading me – tend to date the by now (2050) clear shift in priorities (if not in actualization) currently emerging along these world-lines to the 2020 joint publication in Nature and Physical Review G of Dogen’s confirmation of the Everett-Klee Transformation Hypothesis, which stated (in its minimal formulation) that free choice is the mechanism by which a human individual switches tracks in a given “present moment” from a “past” world-line to a particular “future” world-line, branching “in that moment” from the first.

    Gupta’s 2024 dissertation at the revived Nalanda University suggesting that “morality decisioning” (a horrible phrase, now thankfully forgotten) was the key to shifting from more suffering-dense, competitive and warlike to less suffering-dense, more collaborative and peaceable world-lines was quickly followed by the recognitions that meditative (Snyder, 2025) and liturgical (Hopkins, 2025) practices were among the most powerful methodologies, certainly complementing and perhaps even surpassing “good works” by considerable margins in widely repeated tests of “world-hopping” as the practice of side-stepping from one line to another came to be called.

    Read the rest here.

    The Afghanistan 2050 Roundtable Continues…..

    Monday, August 23rd, 2010

    The  Afghanistan 2050 Roundtable going on at Chicago Boyz:

    Dr. David RonfeldtAfghanistan 2050: Tribes vs. Networks, cont.:

    The dozen BOIDS – small ultra-quiet stealthy long-range aerial DIY drones designed to swarm against an adversary’s OODA loops – idled in range of the target, undetected, waiting for a signal that the first stone was being cast.  Ten of the drones were piloted remotely by individuals who had paid large sums to train and participate in what they were about to do: stone the stoners.  The other two were for tactical topsight and command (TTC, the new C4ISR) and were operated by a unit of HubrisNemesis, the secretive ethicalist netfirm whose lineage included Sea Shepherd.*  ….

    Dr. Daniel Abbott –  Afghanistan: Breaking Away from the Pack

    Without comment, this animation courtesy of gnxp

    Karaka Pend – Back to the Future: Afghanistan in 2050

    ….The differences between Afghanistan pre-Taliban and Afghanistan post-Taliban are challenging to conceive. From 1996 until the invasion of the United States in 2001, the world as Afghanistan knew it changed dramatically, and undeniably for the worse. The lot of women under the Taliban’s harsh regime was devastating. But perhaps the greatest hope for Afghanistan in 2050 is to look into its past.


    From the ’50’s to the ’70’s, Afghanistan was a largely stable country under the rule of Mohammed Zahir Shah. The King steered his country slowly into modernization, opening it to the West and allowing his subjects greater political freedom. The culture of the time also liberalized, providing social freedoms for both men and women. Notably, women were allowed into the work force, chose whether to cover or uncover their hair and bodies, and had more substantial agency over their own lives.

    Joseph Fouche – Afghanistan 2050: Walking and Chewing Gum at the Same Time

    ….I’ve referenced this podcast by the distinguished soldier and military commenter Col. Douglas Macgregor (ret.) before. Macgregor, who served in Armor, talks about the U.S. Army’s light infantry and its patron saint Lt. Gen. David “Make No Waves” Petreaus as if it was a mortal enemy of the Armor (as opposed to a real enemy like the U.S. Navy or U.S. Air Force). Counter-insurgency (COIN) in this world view is primarily a conspiracy by the light infantry to direct resources away from the Armor in order to kill it. On the other side of the debate, you have COIN advocates who labor under the impression that high intensity warfare is as dead as disco.

    Even if disco came pouring through the Fulda Gap.

    My question as an American taxpayer interested in getting the most bang for my defense dollar is this: why are we having this discussion at all? I’m no expert but, given the full range of active and possible threats that this nation faces, don’t we have a need for both high intensity capabilities like armor, motorized infantry, and artillery as well as low intensity capabilities like light infantry? Is it so hard to carve out the necessary resources necessary to sustain both high intensity and low intensity capabilities? Isn’t the logical solution to have some formations dedicated to maintaining high intensity combat skills and other formations dedicated to maintaining low intensity combat skills?

    Before he turned to the dark side, Marshal Pétain summed up twentieth century warfare as “artillery conquers, infantry occupies”. This suggests a logical division of responsibilities for any post-World War I land force based on the more general principle that “fire conquers, infantry occupies”. The late Rear Admiral J. C. Wylie wrote in his classic Military Strategy that:

    The primary aim of the strategist in the conduct of war is some selected degree of control of the enemy for the strategist’s own purpose; this is achieved by control of the pattern of war; and this control of the pattern of war is had by manipulation of the center of gravity of war to the advantage of the strategist and the disadvantage of the opponent.

    In Wylie’s conception, control ranged from suasion through diplomacy to complete destruction. In a narrower military sense, destruction is a form of control and occupation is a form of control. Consequently, in war you try to control two human targets:

    • you control the fighting enemy i.e. enemy control
    • you control the target population i.e. population control

    Last time I checked, every military in history has attempted to control both targets to whatever degree they select.

    Read the rest of these posts at Chicago Boyz.

    More Afghanistan 2050 Roundtable Posts

    Thursday, August 19th, 2010

    Colonel Gian P. Gentile –  2050: Newly Published History of the American Army’s Disaster in 2016

    ….Then in early 2016 the war started between the United States and Turkey and Iran over the fate of Kurdistan. Both Turkey and Iran had become fed up with the constant attacks and concomitant separatist movements of their Kurdish populations and decided to ally together and act once and for all to crush Kurdish desires for independence. The Iraqi government requested American assistance and only a short while after pulling its remaining brigades out of Iraq sent in Brigades from the 101st and 82nd Airborne, 1st Cavalry and 4th Infantry Divisions; many of these Brigades had just returned from deployments to either Iraq or Afghanistan. The outcome was not pretty. American commanders, so long accustomed to training and operational deployments that involved stability and counterinsurgency operations were unable to perform the most basic tasks of combined arms synchronization. The Army’s soldiers too lacked essential individual skills of fire and movement; artillery battalions were unable to mass fires, and even though the Navy and Air Force had substantial amounts of airpower in the region the Army on the ground was unable to coordinate it against an enemy who stood and fought. Operational level logistics quickly collapsed due to the fact that a majority of it had been conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan by contractors, and those contractors refused to deploy again to Iraq to fight the Turks and Iranians. The Army under the zeitgeist of counterinsurgency had bought into Lawrence’s quip and had come to place priority for its senior commanders to be able to build trusting relationships with local populations instead of how to conduct combined arms maneuver….

    Historyguy99 – Afghanistan:2050

    ….An Afghanistan confederation sponsored by the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the United States, survives today, in the old territory of the Northern Alliance and in the enclaves of Tajik, Baluchi, and Hazara. This area encompassed most of the oil and gas reserves and where many discoveries of lithium deposits were found. The foundation for this confederation came from the efforts of the United States to provide what some had dubbed, “Diplomacy by cruise missile.” This strategy is the threat of conventionally assured destruction via missiles and bombs if the Pashtun government violates the rules of the armistice, by undermining or attacking the non-Pashtun areas or sponsoring any kind of global terrorist camps.

    The only caveat to this arraignment was that it gave an enormous boost to those elements who believed that they had defeated the infidels. Within two years of the brokered armistice other pan-Islamic fundamentalist groups taking heart in the perceived defeat of modernity, began to strike at the more moderate Gulf States and across Africa. The United States had entered into a period of isolationism brought on by extended long term unemployment and falling revenues that caused a drastic cutback in military spending after the collapse of the dollar as the foreign reserve currency.

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