Being a watchman for Christ in this generation requires knowledge of what propaganda is and how it can be used most effectively. Certainly, a Christian discerner would be able to articulate the insidious nature of such works as Roots, Schindler’s List, Jersey Shore, and so forth. These are obvious targets, though — in the forefront of the public mind due to well-orchestrated publicity campaigns, and fairly straightforward in whatever agenda they seek to promote.
Also worthy of study are those works that may have fallen off the current radar screen and yet left an indelible impression upon older generations, coloring their view of the world and, often, their view of childrearing. These works help prove the adage that slow yet steady wins the race, especially if the finish line is a New World Order.
Case in point: the canon of novelist James Michener.
Upon his death in 1997, the New York Times said that Michener “liked to celebrate the all-American virtues of patriotism, frugality, common sense and courage and to enrich his episodic, educational fiction with the geological origins and prehistory of the territory he staked out as his subject.”1 Not exactly a description of a literary master, but it does represent how Michener is perceived today: as an author of lengthy historical novels rather staid in style but providing a touch of earthy exoticism to readers in the working-class American Midwest and South during the middle years of the twentieth century. The chances are excellent your own grandparents read one or two of his works. TV miniseries based on his works were regularly churned out from the 1970’s onward, increasing his audience.
It’s a pity, then, that this man was so fervently dedicated to establishing a pluralistic, multicultural, culturally Marxist utopia, through the veneer of reasonable, non-threatening, yet no less dedicated prose. How did he accomplish this? And why? Read on!
James Albert Michener was born in 1907. Past that, we have virtually no information on his earliest days, for his origins were notoriously murky. Date of birth, place of birth, and most important, his parents, are all an enigma. He was adopted by Mabel Michener of Pennsylvania, a Quaker who would give him her name and, in keeping with the theological and worldly underpinnings of that sect, a very liberal upbringing.
By his own admission, this lack of a firm identity would greatly influence his future worldview. He was quoted as saying: “I feel myself the inheritor of a great background of people. Just who, precisely, they were, I have never known. I might be part Negro, might be part Jew, part Muslim, part Irish. So I can’t afford to be supercilious about any group of people because I may be that people.”2
Webster’s defines “inherit” as “to come into possession of as an heir; to receive by nature from a progenitor; to hold as belonging to one’s lot.” Note the singularity of “a progenitor” and “one’s lot,” terms which are not compatible with “a great background of [multicultural] people.” As we shall see, though, such malapropisms were a hallmark of all of Mr. Michener’s works, as well.
During a 1991 interview, Michener went a step further in explaining his formative years: “I don’t know who my parents were. I know nothing about my inheritance. I could be Jewish; I could be part Negro; I could be Irish; I could be Russian. I am spiritually a mix anyway, but I did have a solid childhood fortunately, because of some wonderful women who brought me up. I never had a father or a man in the house, and that was a loss, but you live with that loss.”3 No father or father figure was around to teach James of his heritage and the responsibilities inherent in maintaining it, yet there was an abundance of “wonderful women” (plural) around to teach him such Quaker homilies as: “Thee is too conservative. Thee has these children only a few years of their lives. Thee must tell them more.”4 And “more,” not less, is precisely what Michener would go on to write about during his literary career.
After graduation in 1929, Michener took on a variety of teaching positions until WWII, when he served in the US Navy at bases throughout the Pacific. The experience would provide the basis for his first book, Tales of the South Pacific. Published in 1947, it would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction the next year, and it would serve as the basis for the hit Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical South Pacific. The book was quite a hit for a first-time author, yet unsurprising when one considers that Michener was able to successfully tap into the initial stages of white liberal guilt, which were beginning to spring up within the newly-founded suburbs of postwar America. While the book is largely forgotten today, the musical remains a popular favorite. Wikipedia describes its underlying subtext as “the issue of racial prejudice [being] sensitively and candidly explored in several plot threads, including the struggle of the lead character to accept the mixed-race children of her lover.”5 Miscegenation must have resonated with the Pulitzer committee, as the musical would go on to win the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for best drama, and would help to launch Michener’s writing career in earnest.
Another turning point in Michener’s career came in the early 1950’s, when, while still married, he began an affair with the Japanese Mari Yoriko Sabusawa, whom he would later marry in 1955. He would shamelessly promote the racial angle of the relationship throughout his life, issuing such statements as “on the day-to-day operating level at which my wife and I lived, we met with more racial discrimination in Hawaii than we did in eastern Pennsylvania, where we had previously lived.”6 This flirtation would form the basis of his best-selling novel to that date, Sayanora. Purporting to be a novel about the postwar American occupation of Japan, in reality it turned out to be a propaganda piece extolling the exotic nature of mixed marriage for enlisted men. How else are we to explain passages like the following:
“But you know a strange thing, Ace? In the bunks at night you never hear one man who married a Japanese wife complain. You hear a lot of other guys complain about their women. But not the ones who got hitched in Japan.”
This seemed so unlikely that I took a long pull at the bottle and asked, “How come?”
“Sounds old-fashioned, Ace, but it must be love. If a white man with good Air Force pay goes ahead and marries a yellow girl, it must be love. . . . You ever been in the bunks at night? Men with wives back in the States talk about Junior’s braces and country-club dances and what kind of car their wife bought. But the men with Japanese wives tell you one thing only. What wonderful wives they have. They’re in love. It’s that simple.”7
Who could possibly argue against true love conquering all, particularly when the alternative is crass consumerism? Particularly when it’s so (traditionalists take note!) “old-fashioned”? Having the doubting Thomas of the conversation — who, incidentally, gets his own Japanese girlfriend later in the novel — swigging back on a bottle of beer while voicing skepticism surely can’t hurt, either.
Ah, but lest you think Michener is engaging in Japanocentrism, witness how balanced he can be:
Dear, good Katsumi wanted more than anything else to look like an American . . . she had sneaked over to the quack doctor in Kobe. For eight dollars he had slashed her upper lids to make the Mongolian fold fall back into place. He had performed this operation over a thousand times and sometimes his remodeling enabled girls to lose their Japanese looks completely.
Proudly Katsumi stood before us and dropped away her bandages. Joe cried “What have you done?” . . .
”Now I have good eyes,” she said.
Joe’s response: “By damn, Katsumi, you look more like an American than I do.”8
Initial indignation on the part of Joe is quickly followed by his acceptance of Katsumi’s desire to “blend in.” Ace’s girlfriend, on the other hand, vehemently wishes to remain Japanese, yet tenaciously clings to him, apparently caring little whether her children remain Japanese or not. Both parties’ actions are treated as acceptable viewpoints. This moral relativism from a racial standpoint would be featured more and more prominently in Michener’s more epic historical novels of a later time.
Style of Later Works
Beginning with the publication of Hawaii in 1959, Michener would find the niche for which he is best remembered today: the lengthy, ponderously stolid historical novel, workmanlike in craft, yet sufficiently engrossing to keep him on the bestselling lists for the next thirty years.
Michener’s later canon tended to follow a very rigid template. His novels would sometimes open with an (evolutionary) overview of the formation of his geographical subject. More often, though, he would open with a stick-in-the-mud academic being invited to write a paper, attend a governmental conference, confer on an archeological dig, etc. After relating the various historical events that would make up the gist of the novel, the academic would gradually find his mind expanding in favor of the beauty of diversity. This would usually culminate in a debate/discussion between himself and another “expert” with an opposing view, all delivered in the rather artificial, precept-and-statistic-heavy dialogue that was also a Michener trademark. The end.
Historical figures both famous and obscure pop in and out of the narrative. If they are “good guys” (i.e. sufficiently black, Jewish, and/or liberal enough for Michener’s fancy), they are presented as irrevocably noble warriors for freedom through equality. “Bad guys” are, for the most part, portrayed as dense, reactionary, and un-dynamic, perhaps with some grudgingly admirable traits but on the whole not worthy of “serious” consideration. This is what counts as a “fair and balanced” portrayal in Michener’s world. A case in point occurs in his 1978 novel Chesapeake, in which South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun engages in a debate over slavery with two Quaker women:
Calhoun: I think we can start best by agreeing that the Negro is an inferior human being, destined to serve the white man in a secondary capacity.
Elizabeth: That I refuse to concede. I teach Negroes. Yes, against the law. But I do teach them, and I assure thee, Senator, they learn as rapidly as thy son.
Calhoun: It grieves me to think that you put yourself outside the law, Mrs. Paxmore, as if you knew better than Congress.
Rachel: On this we do know best.9
Thus the battle lines are drawn: Calhoun the by-the-book fuddy-duddy vs. the spunky yet pious feminists. After a snide remark from Calhoun that Rachel should be at home “tending her babies,” the discussion continues:
Calhoun: [T]he Negro will not be free in his own mind. He will live not off the charity of the plantation but off the charity of the government. He will never be able to govern himself, or save money, or regulate his life. He will huddle in your cities and receive his charity, and be the slave he has always been.
Elizabeth: Senator, he will be attending Harvard and Princeton, with thy grandchildren, and there will be scarce, if any, distinction between them.10
Of course, the historical record has proven Elizabeth entirely wrong and Calhoun entirely correct, but why dwell on that? The egalitarian catchphrase is all that matters!
The debate continues on in this manner for several more pages, and ends with Rachel’s allegedly succinct summation of Calhoun’s character: “One of the finest this nation has produced, and wrong in everything.”11 This is a classic Michener gambit: acknowledging a “villain” solely on the basis of his stature, yet disparaging everything he stands for, including, presumably, his defense of Southern state rights.
Michener’s villains, created out of whole cloth by the author, of course, usually do not receive even token benefits of the doubt as to their character. Witness, for example, Lodevicus Van Doorn, one of the villains in the 1980 novel The Covenant, about the settling of South Africa. A Boer farmer fighting the English influx of the early nineteenth century, Van Doorn is depicted as a profane, vulgar, savage self-ordained prophet and borderline lunatic, whose hatred of “kaffirs” is eclipsed only by his hatred of kaffir-loving English missionaries. Displaying a sense of Dutch cultural identity that is supposed to sound jingoistic, Van Doorn avers:
Most sacred possession a man can have, even surpassing the Bible, I sometimes think, is his native tongue. A Boer thinks different from an Englishman and expresses that thinking in his own language. If we don’t protect our language everywhere, church and court, we surrender our soul. I say we must fight for our language as we would for our lives, because otherwise we can never be free.12
Lest we be misled into having too much sympathy for his plight, Michener goes on to assure us that Van Doorn “was obsessed with freedom, but only for himself.”13
Directly after this statement, Van Doorn is talked into leading a revolt against the English — but, of course, with a twist:
‘Lead us against the English.’
‘And where would we get the troops?’
Softly the messenger said, ‘The Bezuidenhouts say we must go to Kaffirs.’
Neither man spoke, for this was the moment of treason, the moment when loyalties and moral judgements hung in the balance. Lodevicus van Doorn knew well that the ultimate battle his people would have to fight would be against the blacks, and he had seen how fearful that struggle could be.14
One could argue the case that whites aligning with blacks for the purpose of slaughtering other whites certainly would constitute treason, but in the Michener worldview, treason only counts when directed against an established authority, even if it is one he himself does not like. This is shown to be the case when, in a typically sloppy flaw in characterization, Van Doorn suddenly becomes the bestest buddy the local black chieftain ever had:
‘Old man, you and I don’t have too many years. Let us solve the land question now. We drive out the English, then you and I make peace. We each herd cattle. We share the land.’
‘Can we defeat the Redcoats?’ the old warrior asked.
‘Together we can do anything,’ Lodevicus said with fervor, and impulsively he clasped his enemy’s hand, for at that moment he truly believed those words.15
Redemption, alas, comes too late. After lamenting what might have been for the future of South African harmony, Michener kills him off on the very next page, noting that he died in treachery and begged God for forgiveness. As to what precisely the treachery consisted of, the secular internationalist and the Christian kinist will, of necessity, draw different conclusions.
What of Michener protagonists? More often than not, they are white, prosperous, patriotic, completely and utterly selfless, and all afire to establish multiculturalism within their own families. Picture Ward Cleaver after converting to Baha’i, and you get the idea. A typical characterization also comes from The Covenant, where an older, more tolerant generation of Van Doorns welcomes their new black son-in-law to the fold:
The Van Doorns sat with folded hands, looking at the couple, and the more they studied Bezel the more acceptable he became. ‘You are clean and hard-working,’ Marthinus said. ‘You’re a good carpenter. You never praise your own work, but I can see you prize it.’ Annatjie said, ‘It’s as if you combined the best of your two races, durable like the blacks, poetic like the Malays.’16
As noted before, natural-sounding dialogue was never one of Michener’s strengths.
Should someone — invariably white, and often of a lower social standing, as well — object to this state of affairs, the purple prose becomes heated (or lukewarm, anyway). In The Covenant, when a boorish English doctor objects to his countryman’s mixed-race marriage, the following exchange occurs between him and a “feisty” English girl:
Dr. Keer: ‘It’s a fatal mistake, really. Look at poor Saltwood. How can he ever return to England? . . . With a wife like that, how could he solicit funds from important families?’
Vera Carleton: ‘. . . when I see what a great fool you are, and what a man of nobility Hilary Saltwood is by comparison, I realize that you aren’t fit to tie his boots, or my husband’s, or, for that matter, mine. Now you scamper back to London before the Boers hang you.’17
Isn’t it always the venal types who only care about money who would ever dream of objecting to a beautiful interracial union?
Black protagonists are rarer, although when presented, they invariably are presented as sagacious trans-nationalists who can recite literary passages at the drop of a feather, yet contain enough of the feral within to make them seem exotic, exciting, and irresistible to any liberal whites with whom they come in contact. A classic example comes from the 1989 novel Caribbean. One of the novel’s narratives details the adventures of a Rastafarian named Ras-Negus Grimble on the fictional white-administered Commonwealth island of All Saints. His arrival on the island is depicted thus:
. . . pointing at white people, and shouting in a demonic voice: ‘Pope be Babylon, America be Great Babylon, police, sheriff, judge be Babylon the Whore. All be destroyed Marcus Garvey Great Emperor Haile Selassie. Afrika rule all de world.’18
Now, what would you do if you were confronted by such a specimen? Particularly when it is revealed later on that he illegitimately sired eight children all over the Caribbean, one of whom was half-white?
However, in all fairness, Michener points out that Ras-Negus has a friendly demeanor and loves cricket. The last point is especially important, for as is noted later on:
Local prejudices drove the islands apart, cricket bound them together.19
Circuses have always been one of the preferred tools for keeping a multiracial empire together. Nero would have been so proud of Michener.
The island’s white hierarchy, of course, cannot help but be charmed by this plucky Negro with the “poetic” speech and wild dreadlocked demeanor — so much so, that a group of them go with him to listen to Bob Marley records:
It had a haunting beat, an endless repetition of the title which referred to the years of slavery, and a summons to remember that servitude. Now everyone in the room, including Harry Keeler, who had always liked Marley’s music, became a slave assigned to some sugar plantation.20
This being strictly an emotionally intellectual exercise, no joint was passed back and forth. As well, the follow-up scene, where Ras-Negus goes back to Keeler’s house to listen to Frank Sinatra records so he could become a Sicilian peasant tending an olive grove, seems to have been excised from the final draft.
The conclusion of this narrative ends as you would expect, with the nauseatingly “free-thinking” white heroine bidding him adieu:
Determined to make a gesture that would shock her white friends into realizing that she remained loyal to black causes, she pushed past them, ran to the departure gate, threw her arms about the Rasta Man, and kissed him.21
“Reasonable” whites in Michener’s works are never angered or disgusted, only “shocked.” They may be ciphers, but when attempting to push an agenda, rationality and common sense can be thrown to the wayside. All would make fantastic mid-level bureaucrats.
In the second half of this series we will look at Michener’s perversion of Christianity in favor of Judaism and his love of the god-state.
- Albin Krebbs, “James Michener, Author of Novels That Sweep Through the History of Places, Is Dead.” New York Times, Oct. 17, 1997. ↩
- CNN Obituary. Oct. 17, 1997. ↩
- Academy of Achievement interview, St. Petersburg, FL. January 10, 1991. ↩
- Advice given to Michener from a Quaker woman during his teaching tenure at Newtown, PA, as related in Krebbs obituary. ↩
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Pacific_(musical) ↩
- Krebbs obituary. ↩
- Sayanora, Bantam Books, p. 13. ↩
- Ibid., p. 175. ↩
- Chesapeake, Fawcett Crest, p. 744. ↩
- Ibid., pp. 745-46. Emphasis mine. ↩
- Ibid., p. 50. ↩
- The Covenant, Fawcett Crest, p. 462. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid., pp. 463-464. ↩
- Ibid., p. 465. ↩
- Ibid., p. 279. ↩
- Ibid., pp. 515-516. ↩
- Caribbean, Fawcett Crest, pp. 641-642. ↩
- Ibid., p. 659. ↩
- Ibid., p. 653. ↩
- Ibid., p. 694. ↩