Monday, September 28, 2020

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Echoes of Vietnam: "Cheeseburger," Sandy Bull, Hamza El Din


I only "discovered" (really, because a friend turned me onto him) Sandy Bull fairly recently.  My pal burned a CD or two of Sandy Bull for me, and then I found his 1972 Demolition Derby at a vintage record store, and of course bought it. What had intrigued me about Bull was that he was very eclectic and that his eclecticism included playing the oud, in addition to his basic folk instrument, the guitar.

I was intrigued by this note from the back of the Demolition Derby album. 



 Just a small anti-war message, from the era of massive opposition to the Vietnam War, on a modest "folk" album. When you hear the album, you hardly notice it, it's just 2 seconds long, and sounds like a scratch, or a quick movement of the needle across the vinyl.

I did some hunting around, and it turns out that the "Cheeseburger" is better known as the "Daisy Cutter," the name for the BLU-82, a 15,000 pound "conventional" bomb. According to wikipedia it was used in Vietnam to flatten a section of forest into a helicopter landing, hence the name "Daisy Cutter." (This of course was how the US military described its uses, and you can find video clips on the web that describe it in this way.) But wikipedia also tells us that it was used against the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese troops in Laos in 1971, and by the South Vietnamese army in 1975. They were later used in the Gulf War in 1991 -- "as much for their psychological effects as for their anti-personnel effect." 

Check out what Newsweek wrote about the BLU-82 and its effects in Kuwait in 1991.

"The men of the Eighth Squadron believed that the BLU-82 bomb could send an even more powerful message. In the early-morning hours of Feb. 7, Maj. Skip Davenport's MC-130E Combat Talon cargo plane lumbered off the runway. In its belly sat the massive bomb. Behind Major Davenport, a companion plane lifted off, carrying another BLU-82 (Davenport and his wingman became known as the Blues Brothers).

The day before, their target area had been rained with leaflets warning the soldiers below: "Tomorrow if you don't surrender we're going to drop on you the largest conventional weapon in the world." The Iraqis who dared to sleep that night found out the allies weren't kidding. The explosion of a Daisy Cutter looks like an atomic bomb detonating. In the southwest corner of Kuwait that night, an enormous mushroom cloud flared into the dark. Sound travels for miles in the barren desert, and soon Iraqi radio nets along the border crackled with traffic. Col. Jesse Johnson, Schwarzkopf's special-operations commander, cabled a message back to the U.S. Special Operations Command headquarters in Florida: "We're not too sure how you say 'Jesus Christ' in Iraqi." A British SAS commando team on a secret reconnaissance mission near the explosion frantically radioed back to its headquarters: "Sir, the blokes have just nuked Kuwait!"

The next day a Combat Talon swept over the bomb site for another leaflet drop with a follow-up message: "You have just been hit with the largest conventional bomb in the world. More are on the way." The victims below didn't need much more convincing. The day after the BLU-82 attack, an Iraqi battalion commander and his staff raced across the border to surrender. Among the defectors was the commander's intelligence officer, clutching maps of the minefields along the Kuwait border. The intelligence bonanza enabled Central Command officers to pick out the gaps and weak spots in the mine defenses. When the ground war began Marine and allied forces breached them within hours." (emphases added)

It was also used against the Taliban and al-Qaida early in the Afghanistan War, in an effort to destroy cave complexes as well as to demoralize enemy fighters. It was used at Tora Bora! Last dropped, in testing in Utah, in 2008. 

What about Sandy Bull and the oud? He picked it up after he met Egyptian Nubian artist Hamza El Din in Rome in the early 60s (Hamza was studying music there at the time). They met up again in New York City, roomed together for five years, and in that apartment Hamza El Din recorded his second album, Al Oud (Vanguard, 1965) and Sandy Bull recorded his second album, Inventions for Guitar & Banjo (Vanguard, 1965). As Hamza El Din told SFGate in 2001, Bull was far ahead of his time, doing what we would term "world music" long before it became a popular genre, by the 1980s. His experimentations were not all that successful, at least in the marketplace, and his recording career was in hiatus from the mid-seventies until the late 1980s. He passed away in April 2001. (For more details on Bull, please consult the SFGate article, linked abovve.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

#kufiyaspotting -- Palestinian Communists in Israel

 This is from the anthropologist Sharif Kanaana's article, "Survival Strategies of Arabs in Israel," published in Merip Reports #41 (October 1975). It is based on research he conducted in Israel in 1969-70 for his dissertation. Kanaana received his PhD in Anthropology from the University of Hawaii. Kanaana began his teaching career at Birzeit University in 1975; he has since retired, I'm not sure what year.

The quote is from his discussion of what he calls the "middle peasant" survival strategy of the Arabs in Israel. (Interestingly, he does not use the term, "Palestinian," which has more recently become the preferred nomenclature: rather than "Arabs in Israel" (state language), "Palestinian-Israelis" or, "Palestinian citizens of Israel."

I'd love to find some photographs of Israel's Palestinian Communists garbed in kufiyas, from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. If you've got a clue as to where I might find some, please let me know.