Thursday, May 21, 2015

 

Reflections on the 95th Anniversary of the San Remo Conference

In April 1920--95 years ago last month--representatives from Great Britain, Italy, France and Japan met in San Remo, Italy to finalize the boundaries of territories captured by the Allied forces in World War I. The United States attended the conference as a neutral observer. At the San Remo Conference, the Allies reaffirmed the promises made by Great Britain in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, namely that "a national home for the Jewish people" should be established in Palestine and that in doing so "nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other county."

It is important to understand that the geographical entity Palestine--there was not then, nor has there ever been, a sovereign country with that name--consisted of the areas now known as Jordan, Israel, Judea/Samaria and Gaza. Palestine was largely uninhabited and almost completely undeveloped agriculturally, economically and industrially. The Jewish people were the last people to create an independent nation there, but that nation--like many others--was conquered by the Roman Empire and then subsequently ruled by a number of other empires. None of those conquerors valued the area for anything other than its strategic importance as a land bridge between Africa and Asia; no regional capitals or significant cities were established by anyone after Rome quelled the third and final Jewish Revolt (132-135 C.E.). For nearly two millenia, the Jewish people dreamed--and prayed daily--to return to their homeland and rebuild an independent state. The defeat of the Ottoman Empire during World War I made it possible to create several independent Arab states and one independent Jewish state in the Mideast.

Three delegations--two Arab and one Jewish (there was no "Palestinian" delegation because Palestine was a geographical designation only)--made presentations at the San Remo Conference. The two Arab delegations focused on the fates of the territories that ultimately became the nations of Syria and Lebanon, while the Jewish delegation wanted to ensure that the Balfour Declaration would be honored. No one objected to the idea of recreating a Jewish State in Palestine and so the San Remo Conference voted unanimously to do so, a decision that was also ratified by the 51 members of the League of Nations. Thus was created a binding obligation under international law.

The British Empire--which was granted trusteeship over the Palestine Mandate until such time as a Jewish State was created there--reneged on their promises and the terms ratified by the San Remo Conference. The British illegally partitioned the Palestine Mandate, slicing off 80% of the territory to create what later became known as Jordan. The remaining portion of Palestine was further partitioned by the United Nations in 1947 after the British abandoned the Palestine Mandate. The Jewish residents of Palestine accepted this partition and built the modern State of Israel, while the surrounding Arab nations--already granted independence--rejected the partition and vowed to destroy the young Jewish State. Israel survived the Arab attempt at genocide, committed in the immediate aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust that decimated European Jewry, and to this day remains the only fully functioning democratic state in the region. The Arab nations could have taken in Arab refugees, much like Israel took in the Jewish refugees who were expelled from or fled Arab countries, but instead the Arab nations decided to keep the Arab refugees in camps to use as propaganda pawns, a practice that continues to this day.

Israel is the only Mideastern country where Arabs can vote in free elections, where women and minorities enjoy full rights and where the economy is not completely controlled by a dictatorship or monarchy. Israel made the desert bloom, Israel has made numerous contributions in the fields of science, medicine and technology and Israel has often extended her hand (and her resources) to help countries that are less fortunate and/or have been beset by natural disasters.

Israel was created under the tenets of international law (including the Balfour Declaration and the San Remo Conference), she has survived repeated attempts by her neighbors to annihilate her and she has made many positive contributions to the international community. Israel has repeatedly given up "land for peace" (including the Sinai Desert, Gaza and portions of Judea/Samaria) only to see those gestures answered by terrorist attacks and calls for Israel's destruction.

The terror and mayhem spreading throughout the Mideast now has nothing to do with Israel. If Israel disappeared today, the violence, death and destruction would continue tomorrow unabated. Yet, some people insist that all of the region's problems would be solved if Israel gave up more land and made herself more vulnerable. Look at a map of the Mideast. You need a magnifying glass to find Israel. Read the international law preceding Israel's creation. Read the long history of brutal Arab and Muslim attacks against Jews, Christians and other minorities in the region. Then ask yourself what really motivates those people who insist that the existence of one tiny, democratic, country within a region otherwise consisting of large, undemocratic Arab/Muslim countries is the main source of discontent, anger and violence?

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Friday, May 8, 2015

 

Don McLean Reflects on Iconic "American Pie" Song

Don McLean's "American Pie" became a chart-topping hit in 1972. It is remembered most for its poetic--and mysterious--lyrics that expressed an aching, heartfelt yearning for a simpler, happier time. The tragic deaths of 22 year old Buddy Holly, 17 year old Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (better known as "the Big Bopper") in a plane crash in 1959 provided the direct inspiration for the song but "American Pie" also referred to a wide range of cultural and political events, including the rise of Communism, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War.

People have tried to parse the lyrics word by word to figure out exactly what each line meant and for many years McLean refused to offer any explanations. That changed, at least a bit, when McLean recently sold the original 16 page working manuscript of the lyrics for $1.2 million at auction. McLean told Rolling Stone, "I'm going to be 70 this year. I have two children and a wife, and none of them seem to have the mercantile instinct. I want to get the best deal that I can for them. It's time."

Here is what McLean wrote on February 13, 2015 in the Christie's auction catalog:

For more than 40 years I have rambled around every state of the union and many, many countries of the world. My primary interests in life have been America, singing, songwriting, and the English language. I love the English language as much as anything in life and words really do mean something. I thought it would be interesting as I reach age 70 to release this work product on the song American Pie so that anyone who might be interested will learn that this song was not a parlor game. It was an indescribable photograph of America that I tried to capture in words and music and then was fortunate enough through the help of others to make a successful recording. I would say to young songwriters who are starting out to immerse yourself in beautiful music and beautiful lyrics and think about every word you say in a song.

The catalog also includes an essay by Douglas Brinkley. Here is a poignant quote from Brinkley's piece:

McLean was a paperboy when, on February 3, 1959, he saw that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson had been tragically killed in an airplane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa. "The next day I went to school in shock and guess what?" McLean recalled. "Nobody cared. Rock n'roll in those days was sort of like hula hoops and Buddy hadn’t had a big hit on the charts since 57." By cathartically writing "American Pie" McLean has guaranteed that the memory of those great musicians lives forever.

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