Jon Wiener teaches US history at UC Irvine. His most recent book is How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America. He sued the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act for its files on John Lennon. With the help of the ACLU of Southern California, Wiener v. FBI went all the way to the Supreme Court before the FBI settled in 1997. That story is told in Wiener’s book, Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files; some of the pages of the Lennon FBI file are posted here. The story is also told in the documentary, “The U.S. Versus John Lennon,” released in 2006. His work has also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New Republic, and the Los Angeles Times. It has been translated into Japanese, German, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Danish and Italian.
Wiener hosts a weekly afternoon drive-time interview show on KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles His guests have included Gail Collins, Jane Mayer, Joan Didion, Gore Vidal, Barbara Ehrenreich, Frank Rich, Seymour Hersh, Amos Oz, Mike Davis, Elmore Leonard, John Dean, Julian Bond, Al Franken, and Terry Gross.
Jon Wiener was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and attended Central High School there. He has a B.A. from Princeton and a Ph.D. from Harvard, where he began working as a writer in the late sixties for the underground paper The Old Mole. He lives in Los Angeles.
"They'll send me to jail if I don't sign up for Obama's health care," an 89-year-old woman said at my family holiday gathering last week. She was agitated and angry. "Imagine sending someone to jail – at my age!"
Even the Republicans in the room rushed to reassure her: "You're covered by Medicare. You're already signed up. Nobody is going to jail."
"Well I don't like it one bit," she said, still upset.
"War Is Over! If you want it" – a full page ad in the Sunday New York Times Dec. 27 must have puzzled many readers. The ad marked an anniversary: it was 40 years ago today that John Lennon and Yoko Ono launched their "War Is Over!" campaign, with billboards in New York, London, Hollywood, Toronto, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Athens and Tokyo proclaiming the message in giant black letters on a white field – and in much smaller type at the bottom, "Happy Christmas, John and Yoko." The message was repeated on posters, leaflets, and newspaper ads.
The war in Vietnam was reaching a climax that month as American deaths reached 40,000. And the anti-war movement also reached a climax: Nov. 15, 1969, 250,000 people marched in Washington D.C. in the largest anti-war demonstration in the nation's history. At the Washington Monument, Pete Seeger led the demonstrators singing Lennon's new song, "Give Peace a Chance."
Now that the US is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the campaign is being brought back to life by Yoko – with a new twist: "War Is Over!" will be appearing, among other places, on the ad displays on top of 160 taxis in New York City for the month of January -- a project of the nonprofit Art Production Fund.
For those of us on the left, the best argument in favor of the Afghan war is not Obama's claim that we need to stop Al Qaeda from returning to its bases in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda doesn't need to be in Afghanistan, the 9-11 plot was hatched by Saudis in Hamburg and Miami, and they can relocate to Somalia or Yemen or someplace else if they need to. (They have already relocated to Pakistan.)
The best argument is that we have an obligation to the Afghan people – especially to the feminists, secular teachers, labor organizers, health workers, democrats, all those working to build a secular, civil society. We encouraged them to help create a real alternative to religious fundamentalism. It would be wrong now to abandon them to the Taliban.
That argument is made by Michael Walzer at the Dissent magazine website, where he writes that "a version of democratic politics has emerged" in Afghanistan -- "radically incomplete but valuable still. And all the people involved in these different activities would be at risk--at risk for their lives--if the United States simply withdrew."
Fans have been puzzled and troubled by Bob Dylan's new Christmas album. To help figure out what Dylan is doing, we turned to Sean Wilentz -- he's the official historian at the official website BobDylan.com, and he also teaches American history at Princeton. He's written many books, including "The Age of Reagan."
Q. "Christmas in the Heart" opens with "Here Comes Santa Claus," a Gene Autry song which, I have to say, is one of the most annoying holiday songs ever written, even before Bob Dylan sang it. "Hang your stockings, say your prayers" -- is this a joke?
A. It's not a joke at all. This is Bob Dylan looking back to his own childhood. He sings the songs that he heard as a kid in Hibbing. He's recalling that time and those songs and that spirit.
The first time Howard Zinn's now-classic book "A People's History of the United States" appeared on TV was in "The Sopranos" on HBO, when Tony's teenage son A.J. came home from school with a copy of the book and told his parents that, according to Zinn, Columbus was a slaveowner and murderer. Tony got mad, and replied, "In this house Columbus is a hero. End of story!"
That was 1999. This Sunday, Dec. 13, Zinn's "The People Speak" – the documentary inspired by his books "A People's History" and "Voices of a People's History," will be broadcast on the History channel at 8 PM/7 Central.
The documentary "gives voice to those who spoke up for social change throughout U.S. history," says Anthony Arnove, who produced and co-directed the show and co-edited the "Voices" book. The featured voices "forged a nation from the bottom up with their insistence on equality and justice" and "remind us never to take liberty for granted."
When Barack Obama gave his victory speech on election night last November, he picked Chicago's Grant Park – the legendary site of the battle between anti-war demonstrators and Chicago cops during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. According to campaign manager David Axelrod, Obama chose Grant Park to "symbolically overcome the damage done to American idealism forty years before."
In 1968, Grant Park had dramatized the fratricidal split between Democrats over Vietnam. On the night of Nov. 4, 2008, Obama was suggesting all that had come to an end. The party was united and victorious.
But Obama's speech tonight at West Point, announcing the escalation of the American war in Afghanistan, raised anew the specter of Grant Park in 1968. Once again a Democratic president is making a deeper commitment to an unwinnable war.
It's being called "the most ambitious commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany": "The Wall Project" in Los Angeles -- and its political message will surprise many. Artists commissioned by the organizers have promised works that draw analogies between the Berlin Wall and the wall the Israelis have erected along the border with the West Bank, and the wall the US has erected along the Mexican border.
That's not exactly the sort of thing Ronald Reagan had in mind when he stood in Berlin in 1989 and said "Tear down this wall!"
LA's Berlin Wall anniversary commemoration has been organized by the Wende Museum, a private institution in Culver City, with the support of the City of L.A. It includes "The Wall Across Wilshire," a one-hour event on November 8 at which a replica of the Berlin Wall 60 feet long will be erected blocking Wilshire Blvd. in front of the County Museum of Art at midnight.
Thursday was a "Day of Action" against draconian budget cuts at the University of California campuses, and thousands of people rallied in protest at all ten campuses. At UC Berkeley, 5,000 students and workers, along with many faculty members, rallied at noon. At the same hour at UCLA, 700 students and workers and a few faculty members gathered at Bruin Plaza. And 500 rallied at UC Irvine, which Time magazine described as "normally placid."
The normally placid UC Irvine is where I teach.
The best sign I saw at the UCI rally read "If I wanted to go to a private school, I would have been born into a rich family."