Mike Littwin is taking some much-deserved time off, so we decided to share some of our favorite Littwin columns with you until he returns. In this first selection, he marks the new National Park status of Colorado’s World War II Japanese American internment camp — and one man who has for two decades been a keeper of the flame.
Littwin: Camp Amache, the oft-forgotten World War II internment camp, is now officially remembered
Sometimes, even as a cynical columnist, you find yourself moved to write about something truly good, something extraordinary, something — OK, I don’t want to get carried away here, because this story also has the expected opposition, setbacks and struggle — that shines a light on the fact that, contrary to what you might hear on certain cable news TV outlets, history and truth still matter, particularly history that isn’t cherry-picked or doubles as nationalist propaganda.
So, yes, the often lonely quest for truth can still yield results, even in a remote area of southeast Colorado where a shameful, nearly forgotten World War II Japanese internment site is now, after years of struggle, recognized as a national historic site and as part of the National Park Service.
It’s a momentous week, with Saturday having been the 80th anniversary of what’s called the Day of Remembrance, when Executive Order 2066 was signed — by the progressive President Franklin Roosevelt — that led to 120,000 Japanese Americans living near the West Coast being interned, losing nearly everything, being ripped from their communities, living behind barbed wire and with armed guards at the ready should anyone try to escape.
I don’t have to tell you what that means today, when historical truth often finds itself at odds with the benighted anti-CRT crowd, many of whom believe that whites are the primary victims of racism. And with the battle led by the new DougCo 4 so-called reform school board members who want Colorado’s and America’s history taught as an inexorable fight for good and justice and will move to fire a dedicated and nearly universally respected superintendent and teachers still have to worry about possible repercussions.
When a Coloradan took a star turn with this cinematic metaphor for the climate crisis, Mike turned his sharp eye — and keyboard — to film criticism.
Littwin: Wouldn’t a comet hurtling toward Earth move people to act? Hmmm, maybe.
Now that “Don’t Look Up” is officially a best-picture Oscar nominee, I have a confession to make.
I didn’t much like the movie. I thought it was too scattershot, not quite sharp or funny enough and, worst of all, seemed to get the premise all wrong.
But it’s not as simple as that, of course. “Don’t Look Up” — a star-studded, Netflix-hit satire on America’s unwillingness to face up to the existential threat of climate change — is not just a movie. It’s a movie that has also become a kind of litmus test.
If you agree with the idea that America, as well as most of the rest of the world, has failed miserably in its duty to address climate change, you are supposed to cheer the movie on. And I see the logic. I mean, let’s face it, it’s not often you get a popular comedy that also grabs you by the throat and screams, even as you might be laughing, that it’s time — long past time — to freaking wake up, people.
This isn’t Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth,” which was always going to be dismissed, or worse, by those who didn’t vote for Gore. This is Denver native Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “The Big Short,” “Vice”) who was ready — with some help from Denver-based journalist, provocateur, and chief Bernie Bro, David Sirota — to go all Dr. Strangelove on us.
The problem is not that the movie failed to reach Strangelovian heights. How many movies ever will? The problem, for me and for a bunch of nitpicking film critics, is with the movie’s central metaphor — that climate change is like a speeding comet that will collide with Earth in six months and destroy all life, and that even with the prospect of an Earth-destroying collision, people would still willfully ignore the danger.
From film critic to book critic — no observational leap is so great that Mike can’t land it. Here, he took stock of the literary offerings that helped get him through a challenging pandemic year.
Littwin: In case you’ve been waiting, here are some of the best books I read in the annus horribilis that was 2021
Back by popular demand — there were at least two emails, I’m sure — we bring you my annual favorite books of (fill in the year). In this case, it’s 2021, the year that was promised to us as an antidote for the terrifying year that was 2020. That promise lasted approximately six days. Should we start a poll for 2022?
So, what went wrong? COVID. And more COVID. And inflation. And storms and wildfires. And floods and tornadoes. And 100-mile-an-hour winds from God knows where. And having to learn how to spell, and pronounce, omicron. And, sure, voter-suppression laws. And Joe Manchin. And the mask/vaccine wars. And the many episodes of Court TV. And Tucker Carlson. And Dr. Seuss and the book burners. And, hell, let’s move on. I’m limiting the nonfiction recommendations this year to a few because there was so much good fiction and all of it dependably better and much truer to life than the Big Lie.
“The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois,” by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
If I could recommend only one book this year, this would be it — and not just because, at 790 pages, “Love Songs” might take a year to read. The truth is, when you get to the end of this remarkable story — a first novel by a much-awarded poet — you want more. It is the multigenerational story of a Black family from Chickesetta, Georgia, told from the days before there was a Georgia, but also of Native Americans and genocide and white Americans in the time of slavery, state-sanctioned rape, Jim Crow and beyond. Be warned that there is much hard-to-read cruelty in the book, but cruelty that is never gratuitous.
Call this next one a crossover column. Mike’s response to the controversy over some imagery in Dr. Seuss zeroes in on the intersection of politics and so-called cancel culture.
Littwin: Dr. Seuss was not canceled in a box. He was not canceled with a fox.
Before we get into the question of whether anyone has “canceled” Dr. Seuss for racist imagery in some of his books — uh, he hasn’t been canceled, of course — let me first say that “wokeness” can be overzealous and that claims of racial or gender bias are not always what they seem. (See: the question of race and Smith College.)
And furthermore, this can be a tricky issue. Is the casual use of the N-word in Huckleberry Finn a reason to not read the book or (far worse) ban it from school libraries? I’d say obviously no, but that it clearly should be accompanied by an explanation because context is everything. And the context in one of America’s great novels is not the same as, say, the context in one of America’s most important, but clearly racist, films — “Birth of a Nation,” or, for that matter, “Gone With the Wind.”
But if you watched any part of the CPAC convention — I confess, I only watched clips before tuning in to a certain former president’s speech in full — you know that “cancel culture” is now the reason America must be saved from Hollywood, socialists, professors, Big Tech, journalists, Mickey Mouse, progressives, probably my grandson’s elementary school, which is in the midst of its annual No Place for Hate Week, and, of course, anyone deciding not to publish Josh Hawley’s book. I mean, how can you still make America great again if Josh Hawley is forced to change publishers?
So-called cancel culture — the latest battle in the culture wars; I forget, has Christmas been saved? — is the leading edge of conservative politics of the moment. I’m not against cancellation, per se. I’d like to see, for instance, violent right-wing extremism canceled. I’d also like to see Andrew Cuomo cancel his remaining time as governor of New York.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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