History

Dizzy Gillespie (No Relation) on World War II Service

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Jazz great Dizzy Gillespie (no relation, alas) woulda been 93 today. He's got a special Google search engine doodle going on and he got 4-F status during World War II by telling his recruitment officer:

At this stage in my life here in the United States whose foot has been in my ass? The white man's foot has been in my ass hole buried up to his knee in my ass hole!…Now you're speaking of the enemy. You're telling me the German is the enemy. At this point, I can never even remember having met a German. So if you put me out there with a gun in my hand and tell me to shoot at the enemy, I'm liable to create a case of "mistaken identity," of who I might shoot.

That's from A Renegade History of the United States, by Thaddeus Russell (Jesse Walker mentioned the book just yesterday), in a chapter titled, "Just How Popular Was World War II?"

Muhammad Ali fans will doubtless recognize a premonition of Ali's famous Vietnam Era explanation of why refused to serve: "No Vietcong ever called me nigger."

Russell, who teaches at Occidental College, notes that, despite the well-documented contributions of many black soldiers and fighting outfits in World War II, African Americans "comprised 35 percent of the naiton's delinquent draft registrants and more than 18 percent of those imprisoned for draft evasion…. There is ample evidence to show that African Americans did not feel that it was their war." Which makes a fair amount of sense, given that the United States was still in the throes of Jim Crow and the forces themselves were segregated.

American entry into World War II became extremely popular after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Yet it also was the first time that the U.S. government recognized conscientious objectors as a legitimate group. Read more about that here.

Here's a Real Audio link to a Gillespie recording of "4-F Blues," featuring Charlie Parker and Clyde Hart's All Stars. More info on the song, which is definitely not the sort of patriotic fare we normally associate with World War II. I am generally not a fan of evaluating the aesthetic value of something through a strictly ideological lense and I hope that readers put off by Gillespie's politics as evinced above can nonetheless enjoy the playing. If all jazz sounded like that, I might even be a fan. 

Longtime readers will know that I owe my very existence to the prescient draft-dodging of my Gillespie and Guida grandfathers, both of whom wisely opted out of fighting in World War I (as Irish and Italian peasants, they had nothing to gain and everything to lose by signing up for that exercise in futility and destruction). And that while I have nothing but respect for veterans (including my own father, who fought in World War II), there's little doubt in my mind that the U.S. government sees war and military interventions in too-facile terms, to say the least. One question left by Russell's account of black reactions to World War II is why a similar response wasn't more pronounced among Italian Americans. As he documents, at that point in history, Italians in the U.S. had been routinely characterized as below blacks in many ways. Yet my oldest Italian-American uncle, born in 1919, not only happily served in World War II, he readily fought in the invasion of his parents' homeland. Go figure.

Hat tip: Doug Mataconis' Twitter feed.

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  1. I’m liable to create a case of “mistaken identity,” of who I might shoot.

    Now we see the origin of every cop’s canned excuse. “I swear, I thought that dog had a gun!”

  2. You’re telling me the German is the enemy. At this point, I can never even remember having met a German.

    I’m sure if he had met a German during WWII, he would have walked away knowing what a jazz-loving, tolerant people they were at that time.

  3. “No Vietcong ever called me nigger.”

    True story: twenty-five years ago, a friend of mine had some Laotian refugees move into the house accross the street and and they would say nigger every time they saw a black man.

    1. Now you tell me!

  4. I bought the book yesterday. Enough with the heavy rotation or I’ll buy Michelle Norris’ & listen to NPR in protest.

  5. “There is ample evidence to show that African Americans did not feel that it was their war.”

    Funny, that’s exactly how we Irish felt about freeing you from slavery, 80 years earlier.

    1. Yes, however nearly 10% of Federal forces were black during the Civil War.

    2. WWII wasn’t our war either. So we didn’t fight it.

      1. Your military isn’t really missed in NATO either.

  6. Black GI’s didn’t exactly get great treatment once they joined the army. Leon Jaworski (yeah, him) railroaded several into a conviction of an Italian POW, including withholding exonerating evidence.
    http://www.seattlepi.com/local/372448_snow28.html

    Also, the largest mass mutiny was of black shipyard workers who objected to the their working conditions. Google “Port Chicago Mutiny”

    Most of our collective memory is about the END of the civil rights era in the early sixties and we tend to forget how bad things were before all the progress in the late forties and fifties.

  7. People tend to forget that when America entered the war, the holocaust was not general knowledge, so I can understand the reluctance by some soldiers to fight a country that, unlike Japan, had not attacked us.

    Especially with Stalin, who we KNEW had killed millions, on our side. And especially after the horror of World War 1. And especially if you had to serve under officers who thought of you as worthless apes

    1. People tend to forget that when America entered the war, the holocaust was not general knowledge,

      Nitpick: The notorious Wannsee Conference, which actually formalized the plans for extermination, did not occur until January of 1942 – after the US had entered the war. Although there was plenty of brutality and murder of Jews and Slavs prior to that date, the Holocaust did not really get started until after the US entered the war.

      1. Picky, picky, picky.

      2. The Wannsee Conference is a Zionist hoax.

        1. by the time of the Wannsee Confrence half of all Jews who were going to die were already dead, usually by bullet or from mobile gas chambers (using Carbon Monoxide). Wannsee was for the ‘Final Solution’ meaning the rest of them.
          So, yes the Holocaust started right away, pretty much as soon as the Wermacht entered Poland with the EinsatzGrupen right behind.

          1. Don’t forget the slaughters in the Ukraine.

      3. True! The holocaust was really a last-ditch effort – Hitler knew he was going down, and wanted to take the Jews with him

  8. Maybe your uncle (and his parents!) had a problem with Mussolini running the homeland, and he thought he could do something about it.

    1. He knew there would be plenty of nice Italian girls who’d give him a warrior’s welcome.

    2. If he was a Sicilian, Sardinian, Algherese, or a member of another Italian minority , he might have resented the fact that Mussolini tried Tuscan-ize them.

  9. One question left by Russell’s account of black reactions to World War II is why a similar response wasn’t more pronounced among Italian Americans. As he documents, at that point in history, Italians in the U.S. had been routinely characterized as below blacks in many ways.

    Though I know this discrimination existed, using my 100% Italian grandfather (first generation born here) as an example, the discrimination was basically ignored and didn’t seem to get under Italians’ skins at all. Italians tended to have their own views about who was better (them, of course) and so the discrimination was viewed as part of life, just like the discrimination against Jews, Micks, Polocks, blacks, etc.

    My grandfather volunteered for WWII, and he is the last person who will die for some politician’s war. It was just what everyone did back then.

  10. You’re telling me the German is the enemy. At this point, I can never even remember having met a German. So if you put me out there with a gun in my hand and tell me to shoot at the enemy, I’m liable to create a case of “mistaken identity,” of who I might shoot.

    But surely Mr. Gillespie was aware of Hitler’s comments concerning Jesse Owens, right?

    1. Owens was cheered enthusiastically by 110,000 people in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium; on the street, Germans sought his autograph. Owens was allowed to travel with and stay in the same hotels as whites, while at the time blacks in many parts of the United States were denied equal rights. After a New York City ticker-tape parade of Fifth Avenue in his honor, Owens had to ride the freight elevator at the Waldorf-Astoria to reach the reception honoring him.[4]

      Owens said, “Hitler didn’t snub me?it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.”[13] Jesse Owens was never invited to the White House nor bestowed honors by presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) or his successor Harry S. Truman during their terms. In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower honored Owens by naming him an “Ambassador of Sports.”

      1. FDR and Truman the Democrats? Eisenhower the Republican? In gasped lefty disbelief: No fuckin’ way!

    2. Which, if true, is relevant how?

      1. Well, it’s relevant in that it reinforces the fact that lots of black folks didn’t see Germany as their oppressor, because the U.S. was doing such a good job of it.

        1. Your reading of the comment is at least as good as mine; I took H.M. to be implying that Dizzy should have been willing to take up arms because Hitler had dissed Jesse Owens.

          But like they say, irony is what doesn’t travel well on the intertubez.

  11. Bonus track: Bob Newman’s* Korean War-era draft-dodging ditty, “Greetings“.

    *Newman’s other claim to fame is as the writer of “Ppht! You Were Gone”, made famous on Hee Haw.

  12. Hate to get all scholar-technical and stuff, but does Russell provide a reliable citation for this quote? The stuff that was quoted yesterday seemed so dubious that I have to ask.

    Longtime readers will know that I owe my very existence to the prescient draft-dodging of my Gillespie and Guida grandfathers, both of whom wisely opted out of fighting in World War I

    You know, not everyone who goes to war dies and fails to reproduce. Which you should know because of

    my own father, who fought in World War II

    1. Yeah, but war-hero Gillespie and Guida probably would have landed much hotter future grandmothers.

  13. Thanks for the 4-F Blues link. To be added to my iTunes Diz collection.

    1. Speaking of iTunes, the recording is available on iTunes as song number 9 on “The Continental Sessions, Vol. 1.” album. It is mislabelled as an Edmund Hall recording. Beware: Hall’s version is song number 8 on the same album.

  14. There were more Schultz’s in the American army than the German one.

    1. Hitler’s and Goering’s nephews both fought in the US military.

      When William Patrick Hitler enlisted, his recruiting officer replied, “Glad to see you Hitler, my name’s Hess.”

      Werner Goering’s bomber unit assigned him a special copilot with orders to shot him if he ever attempted to land in Germany.

      1. I knew about young Patrick Hitler, but had never heard the Goering’s nephew story.

        My own father was finally sent overseas in late 1944, after asking for overseas duty for a few years. He always thought it was because both of his parents were born and raised in Germany, and his mother didn’t naturalize until May 1944. (A lot of these details we didn’t learn until long after they were dead.)

      2. Werner Goering’s bomber unit assigned him a special copilot with orders to shot him if he ever attempted to land in Germany.

        A hole in the space time continuum was torn when Goering started shouted ‘Allah Akbar’ on a one way spiral dive down on Dresden.

  15. My jazz improv teacher in HS used to play with Dizzy.

  16. It’s likely that Dizzy’s bad boy story is pure jive–like a lot of musicians he liked to pretend that he was tougher than he was–but it’s not surprising that a lot of blacks, not all of them musicians, were not excited about entering a racist, oppressive organization that automatically assigned them the lowest jobs and the lowest pay.

    And, I can’t resist:

    “American entry into World War II became extremely popular after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Yet it also was the first time that the U.S. government recognized conscientious objectors as a legitimate group.”

    Who was president back then? Oh yeah, FDR.

    1. Jesus Christ, Vanneman, shut the fuck up.

    2. Hey Vanneman, shouldn’t you be at home writing Pollyanna II: Bitch Set Me Up!?

  17. The worst lynching in America’s history was against Sicilians when New Orleans’ police chief was found shot and said “the wops did this”…there’s a booka bout the incidcident called “Who Killa the Chief?”, after the taunt that New Orleans italians had to hear for years afterwards…

    1. Despite being legal, I consider this to be the worst lynching in America’s history:

      “Largest mass hanging in United States history”
      38 Santee “Sioux” Indian men
      Mankato, Minnesota, Dec. 16, 1862
      303 Indian males were set to be hanged

      http://www.unitednativeamerica.com/hanging.html

  18. A Renegade History of the United States, by Thaddeus Russell

    I’ve read some excerpts from that. It will undoubtedly be panned for its flaws, but in spite of that it has all the makings of a true game changer in the matter of popular public opinion.

  19. Gillespie (the TV-biker one) carelessly racializes the isolationist opposition/reluctance/whatever over WW2 which ran quite a bit deeper than a celebrity sampler of indolent bop musicians. In 1941 Senator Truman had suggested helping whoever was winning and enthused about Germans annihilating Russians or vice versa. The Pearl Harbor bump in Roosevelt approval was erased within a year, leaving a stable-at-51%ish dumbfuck majority who were basically OK with letting a charismatic president do whatever he wanted. What a surprise, 70 years later, we still have that grassroots bloc in the form of latte-chugging libratertarians not giving a shit about the Arab and Indo-Iranian lumpenproletariat trying to incinerate each other–very consistent!

    This Russell book gets praised by noted brain surgeon Susie Bright who I fully expect will feature in this spring’s “2,500 Heroes of Freedom” issue

    1. What means “libratertarians”? Are they even fewer in numbers and influence than L/libertarians?

  20. Elijah Muhammed’s group had a small bit of influence of some black people’s view of the war. He preached that black people were of Asiatic descent like Japanese people. He said that Asiatics were the superior race and would win the war, defeat the white devil and set up a nation for blacks in america. He was prosecuted for draft avoidance just as Ali was. When it came to the Vietnam war Muhammed instructed Ali to refuse to be drafted just as he had done in WW2. Ali’s anti-Vietnam war position was about his religion not about an absence of slights from the Vietcong.

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