The American Military Retreat from Vietnam: a general history of the prolonged end of the Vietnam War

Carlton Meyer, “The American Military Retreat from Vietnam” (Tales of the American Empire, 19 June 2020)

This video serves mainly as a retelling of the significant events in the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1975: the 1968 date is chosen, not so much because most people in the West believe that was when the war began in earnest for the United States and its allies (including Australia), but because this date was actually the start of the prolonged end of the war. By this time, the US government knew it could not win the war unless the American public was willing to countenance the sacrifice of tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of Army conscripts in a war it had no appetite for. In 1968, the then US President Lyndon B Johnson, his reputation ruined by prosecuting the war, decided not to contest for the presidency which was later won by Richard Nixon. On becoming President, Nixon decided to turn the prosecution of the war to South Vietnam and to arm that country with military materiel and money – but thanks to endemic corruption in the South Vietnamese government and military, the equipment often ended up with the Viet Cong and money in politicians and military generals’ Swiss bank accounts. After throwing money and providing arms to a nation whose soldiers and people were unwilling to fight for corrupt leaders, and preferred instead a united Vietnam, the US government finally withdrew all its forces and assistance from South Vietnam by April 1975, and not long afterwards South Vietnam collapsed. The nation’s elites escaped overseas with American taxpayer money and Vietnam was united under the Communists in Hanoi.

The video presents the war as part of the US strategy to hang onto South Vietnam as a vassal state, in much the same or similar way as it currently hangs onto South Korea as a vassal state. What this video and a later video “The Mythical Threat from North Korea” in this series (Tales of the American Empire) do not actually say is why these countries serve as virtual colonies and what purpose they serve as colonies. Their geopolitical value to the US as battlegrounds between the US and the real enemies – the nations dominating the Eurasian heartland Russia and China – is not mentioned.

Interesting war film footage is shown and photographs and stills of the significant US politicians and military leaders of the war are interspersed with these to match Carlton Meyer’s voice-over narration. The video serves as a good general introduction to the history of the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1975 with a clear theme of the US pursuing an unwinnable war, unnecessarily throwing thousands of soldiers, equipment, ammunition and money, aiming at prolonging the war for imperialistic reasons. The long-term effect of the war on US politics, the economy and society generally – it might be said that the Vietnam War marks the beginning of the decline of the US as a superpower – is not covered in this brief video.

The American Occupation of Iran 1941 – 1978: how being a US colony led to the suppression of democracy in Iran

Carlton Meyer, “The American Occupation of Iran 1941 – 1978” (Tales of the American Empire, 13 March 2020)

In 2013 the CIA finally owned up to what was probably the most open secret in the global intelligence community: that the organisation had masterminded the overthrow of the popular Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and helped make Mohammed Reza Pahlavi absolute monarch of the country, with all the consequences of political corruption and severe repression that followed for the next 25 years. But even before 1953, as Carlton Meyer reveals in this 9-minute video, Iran had been a puppet state colony of the United States as far back as 1941. For much of the first half of the 20th century, Iran had been afflicted by British meddling in its politics through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (which Meyer mistakenly calls the Anglo-American Oil Company) which had claimed first dibs on the country’s oil since Winston Churchill, as head of the Admiralty, decided to make oil the main fuel for British naval ships. This decision enabled to British to build larger, faster and more fuel-efficient sea-going vessels but it also meant that Iran’s oil became a precious commodity and the British were determined to keep that commodity for themselves.

When the British decided to steal Iranian oil outright in the early 1940s due to London’s inability to pay for the royalties, they enlisted the help of the Americans in taking over Iran’s oil. Thousands of Americans poured into the country as advisors to the then newly installed Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, as his father (who had been a little too partial towards Germany) was whisked away into exile. Even after the war ended and US soldiers began leaving Iran, the country was still under neo-colonial US control. The Western advisors ignored the plight of ordinary Iranians who in the early 1950s brought to power Mohammed Mossadegh as Prime Minister. When Mossadegh nationalised the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the British and the Americans under President Eisenhower conspired to overthrow Mossadegh in an early Color Revolution.

The video sweeps over this early history efficiently with Meyer’s even-toned narration though some pictures are not very relevant to the narration. Poor old Mossadegh is completely missing from photographs, film and narration. Meyer goes very quickly over the Shah’s legacy of repressing Iranians through his secret police (SAVAK) and his family’s corruption and lavish lifestyles while ordinary Iranians lived in poverty and were subjected to forced modernisation. Eventually all classes revolted against the Shah in 1978 and the revolution was very quickly taken over by religious leaders such as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who returned to Iran in triumph in early 1979. The Americans in Iran were expelled.

While some details of the video can be disputed – Khomeini and other religious leaders did not enjoy universal popularity among all classes that were against the Shah, and the country did have a secular government for a while before Khomeini installed an Islamic government – on the whole the video presents a good general survey of American domination of Iran during puppet ruler Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s reign. Once again this shameful example highlights US imperial hypocrisy and indifference where the resources of poor countries needed by the US (and the British before them) are stolen to the detriment and impoverishment of their rightful owners. At least the video ends on an upbeat note: the Iranians now have a democracy (where presidential candidates are vetted by government and religious authorities before they are allowed to campaign: this is no more and no less what happens in most Western countries) and the lives of most Iranians have improved since the late 1980s at least.

American Bungling Destroyed Pan Am 103: a tale of aggression, incompetence and enduring injustice

Carlton Meyer, “American Bungling Destroyed Pan Am 103” (Tales of the American Empire, May 2020)

To understand the rush of information in this short video about the role of the incident in which the USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655, a civilian passenger jet, setting in train moves by the Iranian government to seek vengeance on the Americans, leading to the bomb explosion that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland in December 1988 for which Libya was made to endure unending global opprobrium and an economic blockade, and see one of its citizens convicted and imprisoned for the crime, viewers need to have an open mind to accept the possibility that the US government bears ultimate responsibility for the terrorist attack on the ill-fated American passenger jet – not least because the captain of the USS Vincennes at the time it shot down the Iranian passenger jet was a man known by his peers as overly aggressive towards to the Iranian military while the USS Vincennes was stationed in the Persian Gulf. This means considering the very real possibility that Libya never had anything to do with a crime for which the country has endured decades of opprobrium and economic blockade, and for which one of its citizens was wrongly convicted and imprisoned for several years. The video probably needs repeated viewing at least a couple of times for the details about how the Iranian government conspired with a radical Palestinian group to plant the bomb on board, perhaps with the connivance of the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), to sink in. Once the viewer is familiar with these details, the film’s central premise – that a captain responsible for combined deaths of over 530 people ends up receiving an award instead of being court-martialled for reckless behaviour, and that the US covered up for the Iranians to preserve its reputation as a superpower and an exceptional nation that cannot be brought down by a lesser power – eventually sinks in.

Perhaps a slower pace would have been more ideal for the voice-over narration: the video quickly sweeps through Lester Coleman and Donald Goddard’s book “Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut to Lockerbie – Inside the DIA” which posits that terrorists had infiltrated a DEA drug operation outside the US and the DEA’s own incompetence allowed these terrorists to smuggle a bomb on board Pan Am Flight 103. Scant attention is given to a possibility that the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) themselves were fighting a turf war: the scenario is that the CIA was running a heroin ring in the Middle East which had been busted by the DIA; DIA agents boarded Pan Am Flight 103 in London with evidence of this ring; the CIA colluded with its Middle Eastern partners (who themselves had indirect links to the Iranian government) to replace the DIA suitcase containing incriminating evidence with one containing the bomb. Even less attention (that is, zero) is given to the possibility of South African involvement in the bomb plot.

The video expounds at some length on why Libya was picked as the scapegoat for the Lockerbie disaster: the US had long detested Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi for overthrowing Libya’s monarchy in 1969, shutting down a US base on Libyan soil and establishing a society on socialistic lines. Blaming Libya for the bombing rather than Iran conveniently killed three birds with one stone, leaving Libya further out in the cold from the international community, preserving US superpower status, one supposedly impenetrable from challenges by dirt-poor Middle Eastern states, and diverting public attention away from asking hard questions about the actions of the USS Vincennes in shooting down a civilian airliner. By doing this, the US revealed itself as much a coward as it was a liar.

In all of this, the role of other nations, especially Britain, in aiding and abetting an injustice against Libya and Abdelbaset el-Megrahi is unfortunately ignored – but then this video is part of a series of works on US military and political interference around the globe. What other countries, especially European countries like France and Italy, hoped to get out of ganging up on Libya remains unknown. The cynicism and hypocrisy involved in blaming Libya for a heinous crime carried out by other parties with the connivance of their allies in the West are breath-taking.

The Conquest of the Republic of Georgia in 2003: how Georgia gave up independence and became a US vassal state

Carlton Meyer, “The Conquest of the Republic of Georgia in 2003” (Tales of the American Empire, May 2020)

One of a series of films by former US Marine Corps member Carlton Meyer on US political and military interference and intervention in various nations around the world over the past 100 years or so, this short piece is a timely survey of the history of the Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus region between Europe and Asia since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Georgia had been part of the Soviet Union since the early 1920s at least – Soviet leader Josef Stalin had been part-Georgian, part-Ossetian, a fact that will become important later – and even before then, had been part of the Russian empire from 1801 to 1917. After the Soviet Union dissolved, Georgia became an independent republic and at this point the United States became interested in drawing the country away from the Russian orbit into its sphere of influence, mainly through the use of soft power in the form of non-government organisations (NGOs) masquerading as charities and humanitarian groups. The US State Department groomed one Mikheil Saakashvili as a future leader, enrolling him at Columbia Law School and then at The George Washington University, later sending him back to Georgia with a huge pot of money. Saakashvili later entered parliament in the late 1990s. After serving as Justice Minister under President Eduard Shevardnadze, Saakashvili quit the government and Shevardnadze’s party, formed his own party and campaigned in the country’s parliamentary elections in November 2003. Saakashvili claimed his party had won the elections and led mass protests and demonstrations that culminated in the resignation of Shevardnadze as President. The coup came to be known as the Rose Revolution, and is the US conquest of Georgia as described in the title of the video.

Through maps and archival news reels, a hilarious FOX television news interview with two Ossetian-American citizens, and with voice-over narration by Meyer himself, the video covers not only Saakashvili’s rise to power (in the process exposing him as a US-groomed stooge) but also US military infiltration of Georgia’s armed forces and police, paving the way for Saakashvili’s invasion of South Ossetia in August 2008. Russian forces assisted South Ossetian forces in throwing back the invading Georgians in a 5-day war but not before about 350 people were killed and over 1,500 injured. Civilians in the contested territory clearly knew who was to blame, as demonstrated in the FOX television news interview with a teenage girl and her aunt, in which both blamed President Saakashvili for starting the war and praised Russia’s role in ending it, causing their host to hastily end the interview and cut to an ad break. The war and a number of political scandals, including the mysterious death of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania in 2005 and a prison scandal in which prisoners were beaten and sodomised in 2012, dented Saakashvili’s reputation and the President left Georgia in 2013. Criminal charges were filed against him by the Georgian Prosecutor in 2014.

Despite Saakashvili having left Georgia (to resurface in Ukraine in 2014, taking up, then losing, then regaining Ukrainian citizenship in the years following), the video states the country is still very much under the thumb of its US masters. Georgia continues to supply cannon fodder to assist the US in invading foreign countries and subjugating local populations in countries as far apart as Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. The US and Israel continue to supply training to Georgia’s military and security forces. A biological warfare research facility operates in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, often to the detriment of the health of communities in the facility’s immediate vicinity. The US continues to dangle the prospect of NATO membership in front of Georgians even though the country does not fulfill the requirements of NATO membership or those for EU membership. Significant border issues exist between Georgia and its neighbours including Russia.

Far from gaining true independence and security in its neighbourhood, Georgia has given away both to pursue dreams and promises that the US and the EU have no intention of fulfilling.

The American Empire Invades Africa: an overview of US military influence and domination over an entire continent

Carlton Meyer, “The American Empire Invades Africa” (Tales of the American Empire, 11 June 2020)

Former US Marine Corps member Carlton Meyer recently created a series of several short videos, uploaded to Youtube.com, telling the history of US political, economic and military interference in the affairs of nations and continents around the world. In this 11-minute video, Meyer as narrator introduces viewers to a brief and occasionally quite detailed survey of US military activity in the African continent since the end of the Cold War in 1989 through US Africa Command (usually abbreviated to US Africom or just Africom), one of several regional command organisations of the US military. Starting with US general Wesley Clark’s list of seven countries whose governments had to be overthrown in the space of five years (after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001) as home base, Meyer traces the downfall of governments in Somalia, Libya and Sudan (three nations on the list) over a 20-year period. During the 1990s, US activity in Somalia (with Ethiopian assistance) removed a legitimate government in the form of the Union of Islamic Courts and prolonged an ongoing civil war among various clan-based groups in that country, with the result that Somalia became impoverished, huge numbers of refugees fled the country over the years, and political and economic instability still plague that part of Africa to this day. In 2011, NATO overthrew Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi’s government in Libya and likewise that nation, once Africa’s wealthiest country and formerly one of its most stable, is now poor and unstable, with the western and eastern parts of the country opposed to each other and fighting an ongoing civil war. Sudan was subjected to a forced separation of South Sudan from its territory in 2011 in order to weaken the Sudanese President Omar al Bashir; the President was finally ousted after nearly 30 years of rule in 2019. Since its creation from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan has endured several years of civil war, human rights violations, political instability, poverty and the degradation of the cultures of the various Nilotic peoples living within its borders as people flee overseas from continuous war.

Photographs, maps, news reels and even archived news reels, combined with Meyer’s even-toned voiceover, create a straightforward factual narrative detailing overwhelming American imperialism and violence in destabilising African nations. The influence of Africom throughout the continent and the extent of its activities, involving the US National Guard from all 50 states in the Union, are demonstrated in the video’s ultimate centrepiece: a visual advertisement created by Africom itself detailing its activities and the colossal scale of these activities, employing at least a thousand US troops and others, in nearly all African countries except Egypt (part of US Centcom, centred in the Middle East). There is no need for Meyer to say anything about Africom at this point: the marketing is blunt and says all that is needed to say.

Wisely Meyer does not go into too much detail in this video as the target audience (the US general public) is not likely to know very much about US military activity in Africa generally and needs a general overview of the history of such interference. There are online resources for those viewers who want more information and information in depth on particular topics covered in the video. Being a military man, Meyer passes over other forms of US domination (financial, cultural, political, economic) over African countries. He says nothing about how the US became involved in African affairs, how it might have originally supported French and British colonial ambitions in the continent and then taken over once France and Britain left the continent in the 1960s. The video best serves as an introduction to a topic that rarely gets any mention in mainstream news media outlets.

Vladivostok 2020: portrait of a very Russian city on the edge of the Pacific Ocean

Graham Phillips, “Vladivostok 2020” (2020)

In this 20-minute showcase of the glories of Vladivostok, the famed Pacific Ocean gateway to Russia, investigative British journalist lists what he calls his Magnificent Seven features of the city, the Magnificent Seven part being a reference to Vladivostok’s most famous export, Yul Brynner, who was one of the stars of the Hollywood Western classic based on the Japanese film “The Seven Samurai”. And these seven features are indeed amazing, not just magnificent: the two major bridges alone spanning the bay on which the city straddles, Russian Bridge and Golden Bridge, are breathtaking in their scale and architectural beauty; the city’s port is still a working port through which Russia exports and imports goods to and from nations around the Pacific Rim; the city’s emblem, the Siberian tiger, adorns Vladivostok in sculptures and in the city’s popular culture; and most amazing of all, Vladivostok is the only major Russian city in which most people drive right-handed cars, an anomaly from the chaotic years in the 1990s when manufacturing in Russia nearly all but ceased and Russians in the nation’s Far East regions imported cars from Japan to drive and sell.

Initially Phillips sets out to counter and debunk a BBC documentary featuring narrator Simon Reeve who travelled through the city. Apparently Reeve made much of Vladivostok’s geographic proximity to the Chinese border with the insinuation that Chinese investors and migrants would soon overtake the city and turn it into a Chinese city. Although Phillips does an excellent job of refuting Reeve and the BBC to the extent of grinding the Britons into fine powder beneath his feet, the camera lets the city do most of the talking: statues and memorials to famous figures and events of Russian and Soviet history dot public spaces, Orthodox cathedrals vie for tourists’ attention with their onion domes, distinctive crosses and flamboyant colour schemes, and ordinary citizens uphold quaint and eccentric Russian customs and traditions such as going commando in cold water in the middle of winter. Astonishingly Phillips also comments on the rise in shark attacks (!) along the Pacific coast near Vladivostok and accordingly the city authorities have set up shark nets along the coast so residents can indulge in another distinctive Russian custom: going to the beach, swimming and sunning themselves even when the day temperature is barely into the early 20s Centigrade.

Without doubt the best parts of the film are those parts where the camera pans around the cityscape as Phillips walks around or drives across the two bridges. Special mention must be made of a lighthouse whose keeper Phillips visits for tea and sugar, and of a famous submarine whose crews participated in major feats of heroism against the Japanese navy during the Second World War. While Phillips strolls about, one can’t help but notice how clean and tidy the streets are, how wealthy it and its citizens look, and the confidence they have. City panoramas show a gleaming, prosperous urban landscape dominated by cars, cars and more cars, many of them actually being right-hand drive cars imported from Japan. Phillips’ film is sure to have many viewers putting Vladivostok on their bucket lists of cities to visit.

The Tragedy of Russia’s Reforms: a survey of Russia under Boris Yeltsin’s leadership in the 1990s

Leo Mattei, Johnny Miller, “The Tragedy of Russia’s Reforms” (PressTV, 2017)

Made for the Iranian news channel PressTV, this measured documentary turns out to be a detailed survey of the period of Russia’s transition from a Communist society to a capitalist one under President Boris Yeltsin (1991 – 1999) and the neoliberal economic reforms carried out under the guidance of the so-called Harvard Boys (US economists with Harvard University backgrounds tasked to assist the transition). These reforms privatised most state-run industries including the major energy industries and enriched a small number of well-placed people, many of whom were former Soviet government apparatchiks looking out for Number 1, while the vast majority of people in the new Russian Federation became impoverished. Living standards and life expectancies fell as people lost jobs and fell into despair; many turned to drink and dangerous drugs, and in parts of the country, the rates of new HIV / AIDS infections skyrocketed alarmingly. As discontent against Yeltsin’s policies became widespread, in 1993 the Russian parliament impeached Yeltsin who then dissolved the parliament; the stand-off resulted in military units ordered by Yeltsin storming the parliamentary building and the national TV station centre, killing nearly 190 people and wounding nearly 440 others. Yeltsin became a more dictatorial leader and economic “reforms” continued to devastate the country’s economy, especially its manufacturing industries, sending more people into poverty as jobs were lost. The country’s financial situation became dire and Russia was forced to rely on IMF loans which in turn tied the country even more to neoliberal economic policies, placing it on a downward spiral into more economic and financial destruction and instability, and with that political corruption and escalating levels of crime, including gang warfare and homicide.

Through interviews with people who were close to Yeltsin, such as his former bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov and former Soviet Deputy Prime Minister / founder of centrist Yabloko Party Grigory Yavlinsky, or observers of the period, such as sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky and historian Alexander Tarasov, the documentary follows the career of Yeltsin as President starting with a tour of the Yeltsin Center and its museum in Yekaterinburg. This is a strange and sinister place: it whitewashes Yeltsin’s career and encourages not only uncritical hero worship but rewrites Russian history in the 1990s. The interview with Korzhakov who wrote a book of his experiences dealing with Yeltsin in 1997 is an excellent remedy: Korzhakov is frank about the impact of Yeltsin’s leadership and the deeply corrupt and despotic nature of his government. Kagarlitski, Tarasov and other interviewees discuss the economic policies of advisors and ministers such as Yegor Gaidar and Anatoly Chubais who favoured “shock therapy” privatisation. Ordinary people are also interviewed: they speak of how the Soviet aircraft industry, built up over decades, was effectively destroyed by the “reform” policies, and how the corruption in Yeltsin’s government (from which Yeltsin family members benefited financially) and among the country’s new rich elites, known as “oligarchs”, permeated Russian society generally, encouraging the growth of criminal gangs and other criminal activity across the country. Most disturbingly, photographer Alexander Poliakov, interviewed about the 1993 constitutional crisis, implies in his statements that the events of the crisis may not have transpired as reported in official accounts.

In the mid to late 1990s, the most significant events in Russia were the outbreak of war between Russia and the breakaway republic of Chechnya (the causes of which Yeltsin himself must bear some responsibility for) and Yeltsin’s re-election as President in presidential elections held in 1996, for which Yeltsin needed US help in creating a marketing campaign playing on voters’ insecurities and fears, and the results of which (in some regions such as Ossetia) were likely tampered with or made up to help get Yeltsin back into power. Once returned as President though, Yeltsin gave himself over to the demon drink and allowed his government to fall into the hands of others. Powerful oligarchs meddled openly in Russian politics by buying up influence over politicians. The looting of the Russian economy continued with some oligarchs amassing tremendous fortunes reckoned in the billions of dollars. Corruption and crime were rampant throughout the country. Just when people could see no hope out of their predicament, Yeltsin surprised everyone by resigning as President in 1999 and nominating Vladimir Putin to succeed him as caretaker President. The following year, Putin won the presidential elections and since then has been President (with a 4-year break from 2008 to 2012).

The documentary flows smoothly and well, and does an excellent job in following the impact of Yeltsin’s leadership and his disastrous policies on particular sectors of the Russian economy, the social fabric and day-to-day life for many Russian people. The film notes the insidious role the Boris Yeltsin Center plays in whitewashing the politician and the impact he had. Just as insidious though is how the film gives little credit to Vladimir Putin in ending oligarch meddling in the nation’s politics (by making an example of crooked businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky by jailing him for 10 years when he refused to give up interfering in the political process) and reviving the Russian economy, and insinuates that high global prices for oil in the early 2000s were mainly responsible for the Russian economic resurrection. As leader of a centrist, socially liberal party, Yavlinsky is not likely to have a neutral or positive opinion of Putin, and as a dissident academic, neither is Kagarlitsky.

The film ends on a warning note about how undertaking “wrong” economic reforms can ruin economies. This is an incorrect reading of what was done to Russia by neoliberal economic policies during the Yeltsin years: far more correct is that these policies were intended to destroy Russian power and break up the country so its resources could be seized by foreign corporations and elites, and so they were the “right” policies. Attempts by the Yeltsin Center and others to portray Yeltsin as a saintly leader and decision-maker are to be seen in a similar light, parallel to how other major world leaders who also introduced neoliberal economics in their countries have been sold to the public as wise or capable, even as their economic policies sent thousands or millions into unemployment, poverty and despair.

Nazi Quest for the Holy Grail: a pseudo-scientific project with sinister consequences

Tom Barbor-Might, “Nazi Quest for the Holy Grail” (2013)

Of the mish-mash of strange and bizarre ideas, beliefs, pseudo-science and superstitions that were subsumed into Nazi German ideology and helped justify Nazi German war crimes and genocide against various groups (Jews, Roma, Slavs, prisoners of war, people with mental or physical defects among others), few can have been more bizarre than the project delineated in a set of documents apparently found in a cave in southern Germany by American soldiers in 1945: a project to discover the supposed lost Aryan civilisation from which the Nazis believed the German people were descended. To that end, the project (driven by Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfuhrer of the Schutzstaffel) was to be realised in three missions: the search for the lost island of Atlantis, believed to be where the original Aryan civilisation had been based; the search for survivors of the original Aryan master race in Tibet; and the recovery of the Holy Grail in southern France, site of the mediaeval Cathar civilisation. All these missions were related by their ultimate goal (recreating the Aryan civilisation and its creators), by the way in which they selectively used facts and fiction alike to bolster and justify Himmler’s beliefs and assumptions, and in how they corrupted actual research in Cathar history, traditions and culture. Above all, these missions, and the people who took part in them, were used to justify and condone war crimes against Jewish and other victims, and had the potential to discredit science and history, and the methodologies used in scientific and historical research.

Through interviews with historians and a journalist, and using historical film footage and photographs, the documentary carefully and leisurely builds up its narrative in which Himmler, obsessed with his racist beliefs and occult topics, attempted to create a religion to rival Christianity: a religion selectively built upon pagan Germanic beliefs and mythology, a weird cult of ancestor worship that venerated the SS, and a search for religious relics and artefacts thought to have occult power, such as the Holy Grail and the Spear of Longinus. We meet some deluded characters such as the scholar Herman Wirth who worked on the Atlantic project and believed that after Atlantis sank, Aryan survivors went out across the globe to found various civilisations in the Middle East and Central and South America; Otto Rahn, whose research on the Cathars was usurped by Himmler and the SS, and who ultimately paid for his collaboration with the Nazis with his life; and the sinister anthropologist / ethnologist Bruno Beger who participated in the anthropology trip to Tibet in 1938, collecting physical measurements of the Tibetan people, and who later (in the 1940s) was involved in selecting and measuring 100 Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz as part of a project to collect their skeletons: this meant that these prisoners had to be killed, though Beger was to claim later that he did not know the prisoners whose measurements he took were to be killed.

The documentary flows smoothly from one topic to the next, though we never really find out whether the information collected during the 1938 trip to Tibet satisfied Himmler, nor whether Wirth fared all that well with his bizarre ideas about Atlantic civilisation after the Second World War. The film says very little about the information Beger collected on the Tibetans and their culture and traditions, and where that information and any artefacts he brought back might have ended up. (One can believe such findings could have fallen into the hands of those intent on using them later against the People’s Republic of China when that nation incorporated Tibet into its territory.) The music soundtrack is annoying and unnecessary but apart from this, the film’s technical details and pacing are very good.

The sobering message from the film, as one historian interviewed puts it, is that beliefs, ideas, mythologies and narratives can and do have dangerous consequences that can result in the violent deaths of millions of people and destroy entire nations and cultures, particularly when such belief sets have enormous power and compliance behind them. The pursuit of science and history can be corrupted by personal beliefs and ideologies, to the extent that research in those areas most affected by such corruption can be held back decades, often to the detriment of people’s lives and health. This is a warning we would all do well to acknowledge in the current hysterical climate of Russiagate, the March 2018 poisoning of the Skripals (and the supposedly related poisoning death of Dawn Sturgess in July of the same year) in Britain, and the continuing mystery of the July 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

Global hi-tech as the handmaiden of the military and intelligence agencies in “The Secrets of Silicon Valley: What Big Tech Doesn’t Want You to Know”

James Corbett, “The Corbett Report (Episode 359: The Secrets of Silicon Valley: What Big Tech Doesn’t Want You to Know)” (July 2019)

Dense with information, presented chronologically and in a way most people will find easy to follow, this documentary tells the history of how Silicon Valley came to be the metonym for the digital technological industry complex and how its transformation from a centre of horticulture in California into the global centre of digital technologies was cultivated by American intelligence agencies and their backers with the intent to capture every single bit of information about human behaviour and actions, even in real time, all the better to predict and thus control people’s thinking and actions, and ultimately to direct society into particular paths that would serve the interests of a small transnational elite. “The Secrets …” puts forward a credible narrative that the capture and control of information about people and their thoughts and behaviours have always been the main goal of the development of the hi-tech industry and the companies associated with it – companies such as Oracle Corporation, Sun Microsystems, Microsoft and Apple – right from the time the Stanford Research Institute was established in 1946 by Stanford University trustees to promote innovation and economic development in northern California. Ubiquitous technologies such as the Internet are revealed to have had their origins in Pentagon or intelligence agency research to discover technologies that could be used to control and command targeted populations or to wage war against them.

The early history of Silicon Valley’s development, starting with electrical Frederick Terman (the son of educational psychologist Lewis Terman who popularised IQ testing) returning to Stanford University as dean of its School of Engineering and turning the department into a centre of excellence, is easy enough to follow. From the outset, the university and the industrial park that grew up around it and spread outwards depended heavily on military spending and connections with the US Department of Defense, popularly known as “the Pentagon”. As Terman himself fades from the scene, and the Pentagon and US intel agencies invest more monies into research in other areas of information control and surveillance technologies, the narrative becomes more complex, its direction more arbitrary, as the voice-over narration skips from the origins of Oracle Corporation and Sun Microsystems to the foundations of search engines like Google and social media platforms like Facebook, and how they are all ultimately linked to one another and to US government departments and agencies. Viewers may find they’ll need to watch the documentary a few times to digest everything but the general theme behind it is clear.

Once viewers are aware of this secret history behind the development of Silicon Valley and the Internet, they will realise that many apparent anomalies about aspects of information technology and cyberspace start to make sense: the laxity in security in many databases, especially databases of banks and other financial institutions that people depend on to make money transactions, can be explained if such laxity enables spook agencies and others to spy on money transfers and track them. If databases are prone to hacking, that is because they are intended to be so.

The conclusion to this episode of “The Corbett Report” may be despairing – it does not recommend specific actions viewers might take to protest and stop US government intrusion into their lives, nor does it suggest cyber-based alternatives to the Internet and related technologies that cannot be corrupted and undermined by the military and surveillance organisations and their masters – but at the same time, the knowledge that Big Tech is a willing hand-maiden to Western governments can serve as one weapon out of many that we the people can use against those who would try to control us.

A celebration of a major art and social utopian movement in “Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus”

Niels Bolbringer and Thomas Tielsch, “Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus” (2018)

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the artistic / aesthetic movement by Walter Gropius in Weimar-era Germany, this documentary explores both the history and the impact of the movement on art, music and dance, interior design, architecture and urban planning over the decades. The Bauhaus movement was born in a school with the aim of creating a new type of society, one that stressed the full development of the human individual’s physical, mental and artistic capacities in a socially conscious collective environment. Through such development, the ills of early 20th-century Western society that had led to global war, poverty and inequality could be eliminated and a new, better society could result. Artists and intellectuals from across Europe came to study or to teach at the school. The school barely survived the Great Depression and the collapse of Weimar Germany before being shut down by the Nazi Germany, its teachers and students forced to flee overseas.

The early history of the Bauhaus school and movement zips by somewhat confusingly, flitting from dance to painting and to the Swiss architect Le Corbusier’s works and vision – Le Corbusier was not really part of the Bauhaus movement so why the film devotes so much attention to him is puzzling – and viewers can easily get lost in the slew of images and information that whiz by. It’s only once the film starts exploring the Bauhaus impact on architecture, furniture and interior design, and urban planning in Germany and the poor neighbourhoods, known as barrios, of Medellin in Colombia that it becomes focused and its aim of revitalising Bauhaus as an inclusive social utopian movement becomes apparent.

The best part of the documentary is when it shifts to those barrios and the architects bringing Bauhaus principles to the people there analyse the needs of the people living in the slums and adapt the Bauhaus vision to fulfilling those needs. In bringing a communal gym to one slum neighbourhood – which also does multiple duty as a meeting place, child care centre and more besides – the architects encourage a sense of community among the slum dwellers who in turn come to identify more and more with their neighbourhoods and are prepared to support and defend them. The architects look at the issue of transport within overcrowded barrios climbing up the sides of hills and mountains, and come up with the brainwave of building escalators and a cable car system that take commuters up and down hills with minimal disruption to communities and an efficient use of the available land. The added bonus of the cable car system is that it is fun to ride and affords riders incredible views of Medellin and the surrounding mountains.

The Bauhaus approach is contrasted with other rational approaches to urban planning in Paris (here is where Le Corbusier has been influential) which have resulted in a very divided city where the more pleasant (and tourist-oriented) areas are in the middle, industry is banished to one side and housing estates into which immigrants from all corners of the globe have been tossed together with no thought as to how they’ll all get along spread endlessly outside the city with inadequate and inefficient public transport links to the industrial areas where they have to work. Many of the social problems that bedevil France – the annual youth riots in summer, the isolation and alienation of migrant youngsters that encourage their radicalisation by terror organisations – surely have their origins in this form of urban planning. The Bauhaus vision on the other hand is to work with the people and their needs, and the limitations of the physical and social environment in which the people live, and create and develop solutions particular to that context; as a result, no two communities where Bauhaus principles have informed their planning will be the same.

Unfortunately the film says nothing about how and why the Bauhaus movement declined in influence in the later half of the 20th century; surely that decline coincided with significant political, economic and social trends during that period. The movement’s utopian ideals would surely have clashed with the aims of neoliberal capitalism across most parts of the world. The film’s failure to locate the Bauhaus movement, its aims and aesthetic ideals within the political, social and economic ideologies prevailing across the world most certainly accounts for why the documentary seems vague on the Bauhaus movement’s later history.