José Martí

Last of the Cold War Warriors

Senator John McCain, 1936-2018. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Even the tempests of Caliban’s island must pause at the passing of John McCain.

Writing about the three great Liberators of the Americas—Bolívar from Venezuela, San Martín from Río de La Plata, Hidalgo from México—José Martí once taught us:

Men cannot be more perfect than the sun. The sun burns with the same light with which it heats. The sun has spots. Ingrates talk only about its spots; grateful ones talk about the light.[1]

As a resident of Arizona, I have had occasion to witness John McCain’s services to his constituency with punctilious efficiency and graciousness. The tag of “maverick”—an unfortunate banality that often diminished the complexity of the man—has led commentators in the last few days to praise his memory as follows: “I disagreed with him on many issues, but …,” usually followed by a lengthy encomium. I will add my voice to this chorus of praise and condemnation. I will write, reducing “a person’s entire life to two or three scenes,” not only about my disagreements with John McCain, but also about the good that should not be interred with his bones.[2]

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Of Haiti and Shitholes

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“Attack and Taking of the Crête-à-Pierrot,” 1839. Original illustration by Auguste Raffet, engraving by Hébert. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

At Hunt the Devil, we believe that America is not just a country, but rather a continent. We have had occasion in the past to write about Haiti after comments by Pat Robertson in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake (a death toll of 100,000 souls) to the effect that Haiti’s misfortunes throughout history were the result of having sworn a pact with the Devil (see our blog post “Compact with the Devil”).

We have written about Haiti again in a recently published book chapter that looks at Barack Obama’s presidency within the context of the general history of the Americas (see Robert L. Ivie and Oscar Giner, “Barack Obama at the Threshold of a New America,” in Robert E. Terrill, ed. Reconsidering Obama: Reflections on Rhetoric, New York: Peter Lang, 2017).

What follows is a brief excerpt from that publication: (more…)

The Two Wars of U.S. Grant

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Battle of Churubusco during the Mexican-American War, painting by Carl Nebel, lithograph by Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot, 1851. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Both wars, in the estimation of U.S. Grant, had been “unholy.”[1]

Details of the Mexican-American War of the 19th century have faded from public memory—except perhaps in Mexico. Still, the following judgment by Grant sets the harsh light of revelation upon the motives and measures of the event:

To this day [I] regard the war which resulted as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.[2]

In Grant’s view the war was not only a naked land-grab, but also a betrayal of the foundations of a democratic republic in the pursuit of the inclinations of an imperial monarchy. It was an unadorned attempt to expand the institution of slavery to new territories: (more…)

The Uniform of U.S. Grant (Part 1 of 2)

Ulysses_S_Grant_by_Gutekunst,_Frederick,_spring_1865

Ulysses S. Grant, spring 1865. (photo by Frederick Gutekunst)

As part of his “Letters from New York” at the end of the 19th century, José Martí wrote several articles about Ulysses S. Grant during the time when the former president was dying of cancer and finishing his Personal Memoirs to secure the financial stability of his family after his death. I have admired for many years Martí’s brilliant prose in these chronicles, and through them I have come to esteem the shining figure of U.S. Grant:

New York prepares to be thankful for the privilege of sheltering in its grounds the corpse of he who led the colossal army of the Federation from glory to glory against the slaveholding rebels…. He would fall, without rage, like an avalanche. Wherever he placed his eye, he planted the flag. (“Death of Grant,” August 3, 1885).

Not until I read British military historian Jon Keegan’s assessment of Grant as military commander (Keegan considers Grant a superior general to Robert E. Lee) did I become interested in reading Grant’s Personal Memoirs.[1]   (more…)

Not This Woman, But Barabbas

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Hillary Clinton on 9 February 2016. (Credit: Ted Eytan)

Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.

KJ, John 18:40

The Mozart of baseball journalists, an exquisite writer whom I have admired for decades, has shamed me into revealing—for whatever little it’s worth—my vote in the next presidential election. To read Roger Angell’s distinctive, lucid prose is like listening to the song of a water spirit in a fresh mountain stream. At the age of a youthful 96 years, Angell has taken to the pages of the New Yorker (his long-time home) to declare his vote for Hillary Clinton.

I once heard Ruben Berríos, leader of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, say that a US presidential election was always a choice between “Mr. Hamburger and Mr. Hot Dog.” The customary spectacle in our time of two unfortunate male clowns lunging for the presidential chair has been—to say the very least—disheartening. But there is a never-before-seen wrinkle in this year’s election: it is a choice between Mr. Hot Dog and a Woman. Hillary Clinton may yet turn out to be another fool in our endless parade of presidential clowns, but there is no doubt that Donald Trump will be a vulgar buffoon.

I have taken my responsibilities as a democratic voter seriously in this election. At the risk of my sanity, I have heard most of the primary debates, followed the news assiduously in print and social media, and have taken the time—seeking surcease of sorrow—to review the history, speeches and debates of the greatest of presidents, Abraham Lincoln. At the end of this self-imposed Way of the Cross, through which I sought revelation in penance, I make mine Roger Angell’s words: “I will cast my own vote for Hillary Clinton with alacrity and confidence.” And let me clarify: I am not voting for Clinton because I think Trump is a punk (although I do). Trump, to my mind, was the very best of the stable of presidential candidates Republicans offered US voters in the primaries; I will vote for Clinton because I trust (I do) that as president she will walk on paths that I think best for this great country. (more…)

Hunt the Devil Arrives

Hunt the Devil cover smallerFive copies of the book, thanks to Atticus (see previous post), arrive. I open one copy to make sure they have the dedication right before showing it to my wife, Margarita. I leaf through the pages and am glad to recognize the names of old friends always with me: Shaw and O’Neill, Las Casas and José Martí.

As always close to Father´s Day I think of my father, of his time in Vietnam, and wish he were here to see this. I remember the lines by Martí through which I always evoke his memory:

When I was honored

by the generous land

I did not think of Blanca, or Rosa,

or of the greatness of the gift.

I thought of the poor artillery man

who lies silent in his grave.

I thought of my father, the soldier;

I thought of my father, the worker.

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Indian Ruins

Palenque (Chiapas). Temple of inscriptions. (Credit: Jan Harenburg / Wikimedia Commons)

Palenque archeological site (Chiapas, Mexico). Temple of Inscriptions. (Credit: Jan Harenburg / Wikimedia Commons)

In the 19th century, José Martí warned that no empire is innocent of what Kenneth Burke called the “exaltation” of sacrificial human offerings: (more…)

José Martí

José Martí. (Credit:  Cuba. Secretaría de Instrucción Pública y Bellas Artes / Wikimedia Commons)

José Martí. (Credit: Cuba. Secretaría de Instrucción Pública y Bellas Artes / Wikimedia Commons)

It is fitting that these Cuban posts will end one day before the birthday (January 28, 1853) of José Martí. We have had occasion in the past to speak of him. But we have not told how on that day, as if following a silent and sacred call, Cuban school children would deposit notebooks, pencils, rulers and other school supplies at the foot of the monuments in honor of the Maestro. And all of them would have learned the rhymes from the Simple Verses:

When I die

without a country, but without a master over me,

I want on my gravestone a branch of flowers

and a flag.

For most of his life he was a banished wanderer. At 17 he was sentenced to political imprisonment with hard labor in the rock quarries of San Lázaro, in Havana. (more…)

The Cuban Thing (Coda: Fly Away)

Douglas DC-6B, N6522C, Pan American World Airways (PA / PAA), August 1964. (Credit:  Ralf Manteufel / Wikimedia Commons)

Douglas DC-6B, N6522C, Pan American World Airways (PA / PAA), August 1964. (Credit: Ralf Manteufel / Wikimedia Commons)

Here is the story I promised in my last post. This is the way I wrote it in my unpublished book about Cuba, The Gospel of Scarface:

On 1 January 1961, exactly two years after the triumph of the Revolution, a lone Cuban refugee arrived at the Miami airport with one suitcase full of carefully bought new clothes and $5 in his pockets. He also carried with him the written address of relatives of a friend who were willing to put him up for his first few days in a new country. Wishing to save his money, he began to walk on the modern American highway leading out of the airport.

A police car stopped him. “You cannot walk on the freeway here.”

“I don’t have money for a taxi,” he replied in his broken English learned in night classes.

The policeman called a taxi cab. Did he have enough money to go where he wanted to go?

“$5 will be enough,” said the cabdriver.

When the cabdriver left him the fare had added up to $4.35.

When my father tells this story of his arrival to the U.S. he throws his hands up in the air in amazement and wonders, without self-pity, at the impossible situation that he faced starting a new life in a new country without friends, without a job, and with only 65 cents. But always the story resonates with a clear, silent message which is the reason why he tells it, an irreducible moral made all the more powerful by the fact that it is left unspoken: if ever you find yourself with only 65 cents, put your money in your pocket, keep on walking, and remember that you are a free man.

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The Cuban Thing (Part 1 of 2)

The flag of Cuba.

The flag of Cuba.

Because I was born in Cuba, many friends, colleagues and acquaintances—oh, so very carefully!—have asked me about my views on the recent normalization of diplomatic relations with, in JFK’s words, “that imprisoned island.” Normally I don’t like to talk about Cuba (although I have written extensively about it) unless the listener is willing to hear the rest of the story. Most people do not have the time (unless they are good friends) or the inclination to sit through it.

I have no patience with inquirers whose only interest in Cuba is cigars, hotels, and baseball players. Conversations between Cubans about Cuba usually degenerate into an exchange of impassioned monologues, which end up in loud shouting matches that break up gatherings in lasting clouds of bitterness.

Above all, I quickly grow to detest non-Cubans who have visited the island in tourist junkets or for academic conferences, and who insist on telling me all they learned about my native country during their short stay, to bring me up to date. (more…)