Culture and Life
by Rob Gowland
The New Internationalist last August carried an article by Jim Trautman on the way the Canadian Arctic has been polluted by abandoned US radar sites. Built in the '50s, they were part of the very expensive (and freezing cold!) Distant Early Warning system (the DEW Line) that was supposed to prevent Soviet long range nuclear bombers from reaching the US. Succumbing to Cold War pressures and reasoning, Canada helped the US build, man and pay for the DEW Line. There were 42 of these radar establishments set up across the frozen north of the continent. While US Strategic Air Command bombers with nuclear payloads ringed the Soviet Union, the US was supposedly immune behind its early warning system. However, the Soviet development of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) rendered the long range bomber obsolete and the DEW Line useless. The radar stations were abandoned in 1963. More than three decades later, Canadian environmentalists who have visited the sites are raising the alarm at the way these abandoned military outposts are polluting what is after all a very sensitive environment. Jim Trautman writes that "large tanks that contained heating oil and gasoline have been leaking; toxic chemicals, such as PCB transformers, have been left behind; paint, garbage, sewage, airplanes and trucks remain onsite". The Canadian Government is in a bind: it's their territory that's being polluted and technically half the DEW Line sites belonged to them anyway. But the cost is prodigious and they would rather just forget about them. If they do have to clean them up, then it seems only fair that the US should pay the lion's share — after all, they were there to "defend" the US. But of course the US claims that the abandoned stations are nothing to do with them. Now why doesn't this surprise us?
* * *Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man — but no Red Man
You don't have to be particularly erudite to name the author of The Wizard Of Oz. Frank Baum's characters — Dorothy, Toto, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, as well as the host of other fantastic creatures he created in the series of Oz books — are loved all over the world. But some inquisitive researchers in the US have uncovered another side to Mr Baum, one that is not all appealing to modern tastes. In the 1890s, the decade before he published Dorothy's adventures, Baum was editor and publisher of The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. In his paper, Baum is revealed as a fiery advocate of genocide against the American Indians. By the closing weeks of 1890, the resistance of the Lakota Sioux to the rampant genocide of the US Army was almost crushed. Sitting Bull had just been killed. Baum produced an editorial that begins with a sentimental tribute to the "original owners of these vast prairies" but soon degenerates to show his real sentiments. "The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies, inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their possession, lingered last in the bosom of Sitting Bull. With this fall the nobility of the redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs. "The whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilisation, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. "Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. We cannot honestly regret their extermination." Ten days later the US would massacre around 300 Lakota men, women and children at Wounded Knee. At the beginning of 1891, after Wounded Knee, Baum again took up his pen to proclaim in an editorial: "The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. "Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilisation, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untameable creatures from the face of the earth." Small wonder then that a proposal to build an $861 million Wonderful World of Oz theme park (what else!) on former Shawnee lands near De Soto has aroused fierce opposition from Native Americans and their supporters. "If it has anything to do with Baum ... it's never going to be on Shawnee land", says Jimmie Oyler, principal chief of the United Tribe of Shawnee Indians.
* * *Dame trouble
I slipped up badly a couple of weeks ago (in issue 1025 to be precise). My only excuse is rushing to meet a deadline and sheer bloody carelessness. I mixed two people together whom I know perfectly well to be separate individuals. The result was a trifle embarrassing. I wrote: "When Dame Nellie Melba was due to tour Australia, she wondered what sort of thing she should sing in the wilderness down south and was advised to `Sing 'em muck, luv'." This is a frightful gaffe. Nellie Melba was of course Australian (born Helen Porter Mitchell in Melbourne, from which city she derived her stage name) and needed no advice on what to sing during her several tours of Australia between 1902 and 1924. As it is well known, including by me, it was Melba who gave the advice. The recipient of Melba's recommendation to "Sing 'em muck" was the English contralto Clara Butt, who with her husband the singer Kennerley Rumford, undertook "various long tours in the colonies" from 1900 onwards. Butt had, by all accounts, a voice of "exceptional power and wide range" and specialised in ballads and oratorios. During WW1 she donated the proceeds of her concerts to war charities and consequently was made a Dame in 1917.