James Reece Europe and the Harlem Hell Fighters Band
Setting the Record Straight
In the coming months we will hear endless praise for “American Exceptionalism,” and while the Republicans are sick with this, some consider commitment to this ideology a litmus test for one’s fitness to become President, large numbers of Democrats are also seduced by this self-serving fiction. Alas, since “patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels,” as George Bernard Shaw observed, we must look at those who boisterously wrap themselves in the American flag with a jaundiced eye. The ground breaking Afro-American historian Dr. Benjamin Quarles, author of “The Negro in the American Revolution” advised us that “he who would understand the present realities need the added dimension of historical perspective.”
This is especially true when evaluating the doctrine of “American Exceptionalism,” which argues that America is exceptional among the nations of the world in promoting freedom, equality and justice “for all” people. This point of view is especially promoted by Republicans and ding bat White Nationalists like the supporters of Donald Trump, but it is shared to some extent by virtually all white Americans, and some black Americans as well as misguided immigrants who know little of America.
However it is a fiction. The actual history of the US reveals it to be the most racist nation earth! Both Adolph Hitler and the White South Africans got their racist ideology from white American eugenicists – especially Madison Grant’s tome “The Passing of the Great Race” – which Hitler called “My Bible” in a recently discovered letter in Grant’s papers. Furthermore, the Nazi’s based their racist laws on America’s anti-black laws.
Although Afro-Americans have fought in every war since the Revolutionary war against Britain – which Professor Quarles details in his book, their courage and manhood was still being denigrated at the outbreak of World War I. However when the all black 369th Regiment from New York, the famous “Harlem Hell Fighters,” was assigned to the French Army they became the most highly decorated of ALL American military units in the First World War. Yet upon returning home their racist American government refused to recognize their valor, and had even tried to prevent the French government from decorating them! That was certainly EXECPTIONAL among the nations of the world.
Real American Heroes!
The 369th Regiment aka “Harlem Hell Fighters
Afro-American music, and the dances it inspired, changed the popular culture of Europe. One European philosopher remarked that had it not been for the popularity of Afro-American music they would have been left to listen to European classical music, and in the spiritual angst that engulfed the European intelligentsia trudging among the ruins of a civilization gone mad in the aftermath of World War I “we would have all committed suicide.” The Afro-American Renaissance Man, James Weldon Johnson, may well have been right when he called the Harlem Hell fighters band “The greatest military band ever assembled!”
Yet true or not, one thing is certain, the Harlem Hell Fighter’s Band won the hearts and minds of Europeans through the power of music in a way that military power could not. And I cannot think of a more powerful example of positive American Exceptionalism. For a further discussion of this question see my critical essay on Woody Allen’s thoughtful and artistic film about the period, “Midnight in Paris: A Flawed Masterpiece,” at https://commentariesonthetimes.me/…/midnight-in-paris-a-fl…/ This is a multi-media presentation with text, photographs and video of the Hell Fighter band performing in Paris.
As one who taught history in a variety of situations from church basements and adult ED classes, to university seminars, I have learned how to plan an effective lesson. Fortunately I am lucky enough to be living in interesting times, a period of tumultuous change, and the Gods of the pedagogues have provided me with the internet, a marvelous medium in cyberspace that allows me to publish my Commentaries on these events to a world-wide audience.
Furthermore, on the Internet I am able to publish my views without the censorious mediation of editors who are owned by corporate media organizations that determine what we shall see, hear and read. Added to these blessings are the magnificent video files on You Tube; which provide compelling evidence to buttress my often controversial arguments. The videos cited here are prime examples, because they support my arguments in the essays superbly.
To view History Channel film on “Harlem Hell Fighters” click on link below.”)
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
June 30, 2016