A Personal History of Moral Decay

Book Review
Published: 2014-08-29

Introduction

What a delight is was to receive a copy of Bradley Smith’s latest book in the old pocket-book size of 7x4 inches, a measure that translates into 18x10cm. It is of 316 pages and made in the USA at San Bernadino, CA on 15 June 2014 by www.NineBandedBooks.com, PO Box 1862, Charleston, WV 25327, USA. ISBN-10: 0989697282; ISBN-13 978-0989697286

In his May 2014 Foreword to the book Tito Perdue sums up Bradley Smith’s character and world view:

What Bradley Smith has done is to call up instances from his own life, and in a calm, even whimsical voice to confide the adventures and sudden elucidations that have been granted him.

Perdu welcomes such an approach because in effect it puts an end to this pop-psychological approach of solving life’s problems by seeking “closure” to events and incidents that disturb and challenge us throughout life. Life, indeed, is a journey that requires us to digest the experiences that come our way so that we are not overwhelmed by the inevitable painful episodes. And Smith shows us how in his case  such disagreeable episodes inevitably fade away – but only if you do not fall into the trap of playing the victim, something Holocaust Revisionists know about but would never fall into.

In other words, and Smith himself echoes in his own Author’s Note placed at the end of the book, what the reader can expect from reading this book is finding some pearls of wisdom that Smith has gathered along the way of having lived a full life.

Smith claims not to be an intellectual – whatever that overrated word means! – and so

I could not give up on what my heart told me was the right thing to do ... I don’t depend on thought to guide my actions, but on awareness. For me, thought comes after the moment I recognize what it is I am seeing, or understanding. After that first moment I can go on to reflect on what I saw, judge its value, its good sense or the absence of it. Then I can use my memory, my experience, to write about what I have in that moment become aware of.

This kind of wisdom reminds me of Goethe’s simple maxim as he, as an old man, reflected on what was left for him to do: Imbue the young with a little bit of wisdom and pay compliments to elderly ladies, so that they do not despair. I would say that old men also need that kind of compliment as well.

And Smith is doing this, and has lived an exemplary life with his Mexican wife of over 40 years that resulted in two children and three grandchildren, of course after numerous detours that were part of his growing up process.

Now let’s see what 84-year-old Bradley Smith has reflected upon in this his twenty-chapter-long fourth book.

Content

The title itself is challenging because over seventy years after World War Two we are witnessing an apparent moral decline of the so-called free-and-democratic western world, and I wonder whether Smith’s autobiographical account will focus on that aspect as well. Perhaps some defining moments in his life will have been his time as a soldier in Korea and as a reporter during the Vietnam War.

...then the memories slowed down until they hardly came at all, says Bradley after detailing how he cried when his younger twin brothers died in infancy. This is a normal human reaction to painful events, but in his case the death of his brothers re-surfaced when he was about 15 and then again when he was well into his 30s. His brothers had died of whooping cough, which he had transmitted to the twins by cuddling them, something his mother had expressly forbidden him to do.

This whole episode led him to develop an empathetic understanding of what I call the PRIME UGLY person/event, where sympathy and sadness arises instead of blinding hatred. I think this capacity enables individuals to survive traumatic experiences without falling into the victim trap, something that the social Internet media is so good at nurturing. Playing the victim is emotional parasitism that drains others of vitality – which is often the aim of those who encourage in others such infantile behaviour.

The second chapter, again just on seven pages of small print, deals with Bradley’s gruesome Korean war experience and how it led to his almost year-long convalescing from a sustained injury, and subsequent discharge from the Army. His quest to find any meaning in what he was doing continues, and I recall how William Joyce covers that period of essential soul searching in The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man or William Blake in Songs of Innocence and Experience. Smith did not shy away from working at any job, and I can certainly relate to such a positive mindset, which however generally began to fade during the 1970s and early 1980s in most of the western democracies. A total degeneration set in when, for example in Australia, educators propagated the idea that students ought to be taught how to survive on unemployment. Currently there is the story of student evaluation of lecturers in the USA that produced the delightful comment from a student to the effect: I don’t like my lecturer because he is teaching me things I didn’t know!

The next four-page chapter takes us into Smith’s dark family secret – his father was a violent man who beat his mother. He discovered this from a conversation he had had with his uncle and aunt – and when he was about to confront his father on that particular night at home, his mother forbade him to intervene, and Smith obeyed his mother’s command!

Smith’s next experience indicates to him there is a moral dimension that is going to influence and shape his developing world view – as a bull fighter in Mexico. In concise language he portrays what this entails, then his illumination:

At the same time I couldn’t get over my uneasiness at the barbarity of the way of life I was entering, because I knew that was what it was. I could never be able to convince myself it was right to perform cruel acts in public for pleasure and money.

This experience was compounded by an observation he made in the streets where from a truck full of workmen one had fallen and lay on the road. As he walked by the men expectantly watched how Smith would react to the scene – he did what they did, grin. It upset him later that he had been laughing at the dead, and as he strolled through a park he looked at a photo display of the revolutionaries who had been hanged – Zapata, Villa and Carranza. This enraged him because the display suggested it was an art exhibition, and he wanted to tear down the photos!

The eleven-page Chapter Five contains another typical Smith insight:

People see me laughing, I’m a big laugher, and they think I’m on top of things. I’m not on top of anything. I just like to laugh.

Smith recounts his time spent living in a room near Hollywood Boulevard with Marlow and Worthington, and making acquaintances with their friend Katz. He relates in amusing detail how for lack of money Marlow and Katz regularly steal food at the local supermarket. His writing activity progresses ever so slowly.

Next Smith recounts an episode with his wife, Pamela, and remarks how his well-connected working wife had married below her social station. He temporarily leaves home and settles in a rented room, then over a four day stretch in bed devours Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Then Smith returns home and had visions that his wife could not see or understand, and so as he routinely walks his wife to the bus stop Smith swoons about

...the vermilion sun...was a knockout. A real knockout!

And so Smith continues to recount and reflect on how he was down-and-out, his relationships with the two women he loved, and/but still yearning to become a writer, still yearning again to set off for Mexico.

In Chapter 8 Smith flashes back to his parents’ home and we catch a glimpse of his mother’s basic nurturing instinct still soundly expressed as she wakes her husband from a deep snore. She fears that such could lead to his death, something one would expect her to welcome after the way he treated his wife. Then Smith bewails the fact that Morgan, who works at Barney’s Beanery, is driving him crazy, and he flippantly comments on the fact that she had had a couple of abortions but was now regaining her beauty. Smith is here slowly coming to terms that a woman’s love, or rather that sexual freedom, so easily becomes an expression of hedonistic nihilism. But that is the essential euphoric phenomenon that took hold of the world after World War Two when you can be anything/you can do anything was driving the consumer society’s value system, and which through the revolutionary Internet communication system has eagerly embraced. Advertisements now dominate Internet media outlets to the extent that one wonders where this will lead to.

Smith’s flashback to Barney’s Beanery, again where he is well under the weather, and it indicates his instinctive moral perspective is taking shape. He hears about the latest magazines coming out of Greenwich Village, which does not impress him at all:

...what we have here is one more New York literary mag setting out to right the wrong of the people, of life itself. What do i care for those people? They think the final cure for every ill is to be fucked in the ass by some guy with a dark complexion and no inheritance. They’re constructing their literature out of cowardice and perverted sexuality. American letters is being stunk up badly by these literary shit-lovers, these creepy purveyors of black romanticism who sprout like slimy weeds from the gutters and garbage of decaying cities...Under afternoon suns they exude the malodorous scents, the heavy fumes of steaming assholes.

This marked the end of Chapter Eight and now, after seeing Smith develop a moral framework with such clarity, I expect it to be a constant theme from now on. Chapter Nine, 39 pages long, may be the beginning of that journey towards a personal development, a deepening of an awareness of basic natural morality. At 35 and living, again, with his parents, Smith has experienced enough of the physical life that it appears to be a truism – a boy needs to be smacked on the bottom so that his brain starts to function. While having a bath at home Smith does go off again – he has another one of his daydreaming visionary spells.

The somewhat mundane diary entries, which for Smith are journal entries, meander from observing his father’s steady decline into dementia-old age, and his mother’s continued unconditional devotion both to her husband and to her son – who is still trying to find himself, still riding on life’s merry-go-round. He has a hernia operation and while recuperating from that he comes across a book that mentions America’s founder of Pragmaticism-Fallibilism and of the logical form of abduction – and on whom I wrote my thesis! Smith now regards his life so far as having been wasted, i.e. in comparison to the early start CS Peirce had on account of a nurturing father.

While whiling away his time at home Smith becomes irritable when he hears that a possible cease fire was coming into effect in Vietnam – he now had his mind set on getting there and report from the trenches:

Maybe I can make Vietnam my war. Maybe I can create a real war out of whatever is going on over there.

And during his convalescing time he also read The Autobiography of Malcolm X where a single line captured his attention:

Anything I do now I regard as urgent...

... and Smith bemoans the fact that he doesn’t have the hatred Malcolm X expresses, and then goes back to his old haunt to meet his old comrades, one of whom is still waiting to find a fag that will get him connected with Hollywood and make him a star.

Smith’s next chapter details the rawness of life on a tramp steamer that’s taking him to Vietnam in 1968 – and with that of the accompanying humidity and sweat and dreams of becoming a famous writer. And following that Smith inserts a chapter – Sue, Ann, Ruby, Jenny and Me wherein he confesses to his adulterous temptations. After all, the ladies exclaim to him they need him – but he finds out none wait for him! This is followed by a chapter that reflects on his having reached the half century mark and how he nurses his volumous diary collection in the hope that one day they will turn into books. He then recounts how his long-time friend Marlow, just before the SS Explorer departs from Long Beach, also signs up as crew for that trip to the South China Seas. His attempt to jump ship at Saigon failed on account of the Tet Offensive and so he landed in Thailand.

The 18-page Chapter Thirteen, Waiting for Saigon to Fall, reveals an interesting mindset that philosophically is labelled British Empiricism – the plodding along from one particular to another without ever developing any overarching narrative that ties together such incidents. Such mindsets love to label anyone who has that overarching narrative of an event as a “conspiracy theorist”, and thereby retaining for themselves a belief that any official government explanation of a catastrophic global event is factually true.

Smith senses, then expresses his emotional and mental maturation battle quite clearly:

If I wanted to right myself in my own eyes I’d have to take up a position against the American military in Vietnam and fighting it out to an ending. I won’t do that, however; I’ve waited too long and now it’s too late. I am going to have to postpone my ethical life. As a matter of fact, I have postponed it.

Smith is not the only one who had lost his moral compass. He reports on US soldiers, who had street orphans polish their shoes, and who would then readily pay these orphans extra to also perform oral sex on them. What comes to mind here is what my English teacher taught me:

You must know everything about life but you need not have done everything in life!

Then, after meandering in Saigon and recounting some horror stories about Cambodian mercenaries head-hunting VCs for the Americans – bringing in severed heads, Smith negates his moral awakening by stating:

The question of manners is no longer important to me. In America, the issue of good manners is academic.

Smith gains further insights about the war while hitching a ride, then meeting up with South Vietnamese Lieutenants Duong and Han. The casualness of it all – perhaps the banality of war moves him -

...I believe I still believed that I was convinced that in the process of risking death something significant could be identified.

And then while Smith tries to get some sleep he reads a copy of Ramparts that contains Che Guevar’s Letter to the Bolivian People – and for once Smith aggressively monologues, albeit in a somewhat indistinct mumble:

Inwardly I began arguing with him. Inwardly I shouted:”Why don’t you start at the top you asshole? Why are you starting at the bottom again?....Kill the rulers, you fucking intellectual....You always kill the people the tyrant rules, never the tyrant. Kill the generals, not the soldiers. Kill the politicians, not the citizen. When will you ever understand?”

Chapter Sixteen turns from the above expressed detached violence to reflective domesticity, and to that inevitable/continuous fixation on the writing process. Smith remarks on reading about a man who recently -

... died of alcohol, barbiturates, and self pity. He was a sot, a contemptible husband, pathetically unable to take care of himself. ... I was aware of how contemptuous I felt towards him. Where is the good in writing a book and living a life like Lowry? That isn’t what my aim is. His attitude seemed to be that because he had written some work that was praised by literary people he could forego acting like an adult....This morning I woke thinking about him. I feel aimless, and wonder again what it is all about. Most likely the whole affair, this life, this living, is about absolutely nothing whatsoever. No meaning, no purpose, no consequence. Nothing but happiness, pain and boredom.

This is the first time that Smith clearly becomes judgmental, that concept so frowned upon by the Libertarians who condemn anyone for openly espousing moral values. It indicates to me how selfish such a viewpoint is because empathetic understanding is reduced to a degree of mere hedonistic gratification without responsibility. By talking about “acting like an adult” Smith embraces morals and manners, something he consciously attempted to reject. Until now he has been seeking the immediate and not the mediated life experience, much like Heidegger’s endeavour to discovering what it is that makes up our BEING. He thereby rejects much of the Objectivism nonsense Ayn Rand espoused, and he recognized pure selfishness in the Rand/Darwinian sense cannot sustain relationships, much as the Talmudic-Marxist death dialectic of win-lose cannot sustain societies, as is illustrated in the Zionist state of Israel.

Smith has now broken away from the constraints the various language philosophers have imposed on the thinking process, most notably Ludwig Wittgenstein who preached that all our human problems would disappear if only we correctly analyze our language. And I am reminded of an anecdote, told to me by Karl Popper, who opened that thought-structure by asking a simple question: ‘What about moral problems?’ It was at Cambridge where this exchange took place and where in his response to Popper Wittgenstein picked up a fire poker and exclaimed: ‘There are no moral problems!’, to which Popper replied: ‘What about a host threatening his visitor with a fire poker?’

Smith recalls how while serving in Korea he asked his mother to send him a copy of Somerset Maugham’s Rain, which he devoured but then found it wanting, and it was this evaluation of Maugham’s book that made him decide he could write a better book. What helped solidify his dream of becoming a writer was his then months of convalescing in the hospital at Camp Cook, California. And later out of this experience Smith the philosopher emerges:

Why is it that the present moment most often is not so important as the past or the future? Probably, I see this now, it is that we figure out what the present moment is. I want to be able to describe it, and it is indescribable. It is too varied, too complicated, too full to describe, to identify, to delimit, to embrace. For the first time I see what is meant by the idea – of thought itself – as being limiting. Experience happens too quickly for thought to identify it and sort it out and understand the significance of it.By the time that process has even begun, that process of identifying, and then through comparison making a decision on what is important, the moment is gone and I am faced with a new one where I have to begin the thinking, identifying, comparing process all over again and then the moment too is gone.

I assume Smith doesn’t know it yet but in this paragraph he has asked the four questions that German philosopher Immanuel Kant asked, and which sums up philosophical enquiry: What can I know? – Epistemology/Theory of knowledge/Science; What could I do? – Ethics; What can I believe – Religion; What is Man – Anthropology.

Obviously, Smith adds to this David Hume’s distinct scepticism without falling into nihilism, and the truism of that is demonstrated by Smith’s getting down to writing this book! A nihilist would never do anything like that.

Smith goes on:

With memory, on the other hand, I have all the time I need to dwell on the remembered and forgotten experience. I have the time with any certain memory to try to identify it, to explore it, to compare it to other experiences and to what I wanted during the first living out of the experience I can perhaps find out what was pleasurable in the original experience, why it was pleasurable, and think about how I could get a similar kind of pleasure from it.

In real life, the real present living moment, where the qualityof experience changes from moment to moment quicker than the eye casn see, whast good does thinking do? Thinking cannot keep up with it. The problem, probably, then is to be in relationship, nothing more, nothing less, whatever that means. To be in relationship then means to be completely aware without thinking, completely open, the entire system experiencing the reality of the moment, not merely the mind.

How can thought keep up with the moment?

...and so he goes on to reflect about what is the purpose of living, and when he drives along a street he sees a man watering his lawn, others “puttering in their gardens ... sitting on their front steps”, and he cries.

In the 13 pages of Chapter Seventeen Smith deals with his 1979 illumination of another kind: he is confronted with the American Civil Liberties Union-ACLU. The issue is abortions on demand, which entails that ever fraught concept freedom of choice ... and he is then confronted with a Holocaust exhibition in the Martyrs Memorial at the Jewish Community Building on Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles. The American Jewish Committee aims to spread the “Holocaust lessons” to all faiths, and Smith wonders what such lessons would be all about.

It creates “Jewishness” on the one hand, and on the other  it creates a “space” for them to be...But the Holocaust was then, and here we are now. Why not get on with it. I’ve never met a fifteen-year-old kid who would think it proper to incinerate his neighbours. But I know plenty who were willing to grow up and incinerate foreigners under the direction of the United States Government, and I know one boy today who’s looking forward to joining the Air Force where he will sign a contract with the American government agreeing to incinerate or otherwise destroy any living person that the government chooses in exchange for learning how to fly airplanes.

Smith expresses his moral awareness when he reflects on his own prejudicial reaction to a feminist’s message:

To say that we live in sexist societies is one thing, to say that these societies have been created by men is to suggest an almost unimaginable lack of responsibility on the part of women, an abysmal failure of courage in the face of history, a profound weakness of character, lack of imagination, self-serving repression, and the pathetic cowardice of an entire gender.

In this single sentence Smith formulates his philosophical moral viewpoint, which, it would be safe to conclude, is a product of his basic obsession, of wishing to become a writer, and who has now also become a philosopher. It also proves that in order to do something in life an individual needs to have a certain amount of obsession in order to overcome that inner inertia enveloped in hedonism, or as the Germans would formulate it – “den inneren Schweinehund überwinden”, to overcome the inner temptations, i.e. to modify sense gratification and not go along with what is currently propagated in the western media: enjoy yourself, have a good time, live for the day – carpe diem!

In Chapter Eighteen Smith recounts how at a Libertarian party convention a man hands him a photo copy of a newspaper article and then informs Smith the Holocaust stories, especially the gassing stories, are not true. Smith captures this moment so well:

The first thing I want to do is to get away from the man. I’m excruciatingly aware of the many other people around us, that they can hear what he is saying. He has almost certainly proselytized those others before I arrived. The others, then, have already heard what I am hearing now, and in my imagination each of them has one eye on me, waiting to see what my first move will be, waiting to judge me.

I feel ashamed listening to the man talk about Jews. I feel ashamed holding the photocopied article in my hand. I’m listening, but after the first few words I don’t understand anything he is saying. My brain has closed itself down in selse-defence. And yet, at the same time, I’m aware that the man sounds knowledgeable, and even sincere.

I feel trapped between what I take to be the man’s sincerity asnd my own embarrassment. I want to get away from him, to hand back his flyer and turn away so that those who are watching can see that I reject, out of hand, everything he is saying. At the same time, because of his honest and open manner, I don’t want to cause him to feel ashamed by rejecting him publicly. I’m ignorant of the whole business. What right to I have to do something that will embarrass another simply because he’s saying that he does not believe what I believe? And then the man makes my decision for me. He turns to a new arrival and begins his spiel all over again. ...

...As I approach the trash can I glance down at the flyer’s headline. It’s titled “The Problem of the Gas Chamber, or The Rumor of Auschwitz.” What rumor, I wonder? What problem? There isn’t anything there that rings a bell for me. The author of the article is a certain Professor Robert Faurisson, I’ve never heard of him. Then I notice that the article had originally appeared in Le Monde, the Paris daily. It’s confusing. I have no idea at all what the “problem” of the gas chamber might be, or what the “rumor” of Auschwitz refers to. It sounds crazy. It sounds crazy. And I have never heard of Faurisson. But I’m familiar with Le Monde. Le Monde is one of a handful of world-class newspapers.

And so, Bradley Smith, forever the diplomat was in a bind – for once his usual constructive ambiguity could not extricate his own mind from a meeting of objective reality and the abstract truth concept merging into a new proposition.

I now understand why David Cole also had to break with Bradley Smith because Smith is one of the originals who has also not recanted his belief!

The man who handed Bradley Smith the article was none other than John Bennett of Melbourne, Australia, who at that time had co-founded the Victorian Civil Liberties Union. When he published in his own publication, Your Rights, Holocaust Revisionist material, the mainly Jewish-members expelled him. Upon that Bennett founded the Australian Civil Liberties Union-ACLU and continued to publish revisionist material until his death on 23 July 2013.

The penultimate chapter of 12 pages continues the story and Smith mentions The Hoax of the Twentieth Century to his colleagues who grew up on the Holocaust story. A friend advises him:

You’re going to be associated in everybody’s mind with all the worst kind of people. It’s all set up. It’s all set up. It’s right there waiting for you.

Smith wonders if Arthur Butz got it right when he called the Holocaust narrative a hoax.

In the final Chapter Twenty, also of 12 pages,  Smith’s Revisionism is beginning to ripple through his circle of friends, especially the ones he is close to such as Jenny and her daughter Marrissa. He is asked why he continues to write revisionist material when he knows it hurts his Jewish friends. Smith counters by asking them for empathetic understanding.

Think about it now. Put yourself in the place of a German girl. How would you feel.

* * *

In conclusion, Bradley Smith done good, as the Americans would say, in capturing his own physical and mental maturation process. I do not, however, see how the title of the book A Personal History of Moral Decay, can relate to his personal life. In contrast to David Cole’s expressed hedonistic nihilism in his autobiographical book, Republican Party Animal, Smith enables the reader to rise above such basic self-destruction. And there is growth and development in Smith’s intellectual grasp of what life is all about. He does develop a world view that certainly embraces traditional values of generational thinking. He expressed it so beautifully when referring to a woman he thought was a lesbian but he felt empathy for her cause when he realized she had given birth and raised her children.

 

I would certainly recommend his book to a younger audience, especially who have been raised on the bread and circus diet of McDonalds and television, and also to those who are the Internet-savvy younger still. Smith’s life has been a lived life and it will be interesting to see if he will write a sequel that offers a perspective from his home in Baja, Mexico. Literally, he has been a typical soldier of fortune who did make it ultimately to settle down and raise a family – and cope with all that this mammoth task entails.


Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Fredrick Töben
Title: A Personal History of Moral Decay, Book Review
Sources:  Newsletter of the ADELAIDE INSTITUTE, no. 805, September 2014

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Published: 2014-08-29
First posted on CODOH: Dec. 9, 2015, 6:20 a.m.
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