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The world is watching Hong Kong and China with keen eyes. In a situation similar to David and Goliath from the old testament, the smaller nation must face off against the mightier or be consumed into the giant social machine of Communist China. Hong Kong has worked long and hard to maintain it's capitalism and her freedom. The stakes are high for each country not to be seen as 'backing down'. Saving face carries a different significance in the East than in the West.
For a number of reasons, it is often those in the scientific as well as in the arts and religious fields of work who first feel the creep of totalitarianism in it's two extreme forms-Fascism and Communism. Once a totalitarian type government starts to take hold, those in education will feel it's vice grip-next. Unless you are an avid student of history you may not know that the word "fascism" was originally used not by Hitler or Franco, but by Benito Mussolini in 1919. What people associate with Fascism now, is really the Hitlerism which heinously added the "master race" ideology, the SS units, the Jewish race law, and they called themselves the Nationalist Socialist party. Mussolini's 'fascisti' pre-dated Hitlerism and the Nazis.
Benito Mussolini coined the term “fascism” in 1919 to describe his political movement, the black-shirted members (Camicie Nere) the Fasci di combattimento - “combat groups”, who seized power in Italy in 1922. Mussolini’s party adopted the fasces, a bundle of rods with an ax among them, as a symbol of the Italian people united and obedient to the single authority of the state. They became known as the "Fascisti" and they were feared for their ruthlessness and brutality.
"The first squads—each of which was called Squadre d’Azione (“Action Squad”)—were organized in March 1919 to destroy the political and economic organizations of socialists. By the end of 1920, the Blackshirts were attacking and destroying the organizations not only of socialists but also of communists, republicans, Catholics, trade unionists, and those in cooperatives. Hundreds of people were killed as the Fascist squads expanded in number. A Fascist convention in Naples on October 24, 1922, provided the pretext for the concentration of armed Blackshirts from all over the country for the famous March on Rome that put Mussolini into power." www.britannica.com/topic/Blackshirt When Mussolini appealed to Italian history hearkening back to the Roman empire he created a flag for his "New Roman Empire". Soon the same tactics the Nazis employed, Mussolini adopted and used against all the same groups of people: Jews, Roma and political dissidents, in Italy.
Two months after Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor, the German government issued the Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums—the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service. "The 7 April 1933 law ordered that those in government positions who had at least one Jewish grandparent or were political opponents of the Nazi Party be immediately dismissed. Thousands of people lost their jobs as teachers, judges, police officers—and academics at the country’s top universities were arrested, fled or disappeared. (see photo above of German scientists subject to the 'Professional Civil Service 1933 Act)
The names in the physics section of Berlin universities in the1930s read like a who’s who of early 20th-century physics:
Hans Bethe, Felix Bloch, Max Born, Albert Einstein, James Franck, Otto Frisch, Fritz London, Lise Meitner, Erwin Schrödinger, Otto Stern, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, Victor Weisskopf, Eugene Wigner. Three of them—Einstein, Franck, and Schrödinger—were already physics Nobel laureates; five more would eventually receive the prize. A 2016 study found that the 15% of physicists who were dismissed from German universities accounted for 64% of all German physics citations."
1926: Dr. Orisino Mario Corbino, a physicist and also a member of Mussolini's government, appointed Dr. Enrico Fermi-physicist-to choose a team to work on advancing nuclear physics. Fermi assembled his team in Rome in 1928. Enrico Fermi invited my paternal grandmother, Gertrude Inez Ziniti Patti, (born in Harlem, New York city in 1903 of Sicilian, Italian and Sardinian ancestry) who was pursuing her PhD in nuclear physics, to be the only woman on his team. My grandmother had the gift of having a photographic memory and innovative thinking in addition to her skills in mathematics and science.
Enrico Fermi's wife was Jewish but she converted to Catholicism. However under the Italian "race laws" she and their children would be subject to arrest. The entire Fermi physicists team was anti-fascisti. By 1933 it became clear they were all under scrutiny.
My grandfather, Giovanni (John) Patti who had been part of the Diplomatic police force, then went on to get his law degree in Rome-was also anti fascisti. He was arrested, interrogated by a "squad" of the Camicie Nere (Blackshirts) and sent home to die in 1934. The death certificate initially stated the cause of death as 'heart attack' then it was changed to 'pneumonia' but he died of whatever happened to him under interrogation by the Blackshirts. My grandmother reported to all the family that her husband had died of 'pneumonia'. He was 29 years old.
My grandmother was supposed to continue work on Fermi's team as a single mother with two small children under 7 years old. She asked permission to bury her husband (who was also her cousin) in Sicily to be with family and after, return to Rome. But while in Sicily her family helped secure passage on a ship with her two children (my father and aunt) to New York. When my grandmother did not return to work in Rome her family in Sicily were found, harassed and suffered reprisals. They knew the Blackshirts would come but they also knew it was vital to provide safe passage for my grandmother and her children. The Italo-Ethiopian war started in 1935, then came the formal alliance with Germany and Japan in the Axis powers. World War II was underway in Europe by 1939.
The only job my grandmother could get upon return to the USA was teaching public high school in Brooklyn. At first she taught languages (Italian, French and Latin) and finally they hired her to teach science as well. She told me she loved teaching. A few years later she married a Sicilian/American man who was also a teacher. Together they also created an import jewelry business using materials and designs from Sicily. He adopted my father and aunt, bestowed his family name of "Munisteri" upon them, and was the only grandfather I ever knew. My grandparents were wonderfully supportive, guiding and loving human beings. They were full of energy, curiosity and joy despite the fact both had endured incredible hardship and tragedy in their lives. Over the decades they taught and guided thousands of high school students. They were staunch believers in American democracy and staunchly anti-communist and anti-fascist, wary of fascism in any form.
My grandmother told me when I was 10 years old, the "true story" of what happened to her first husband, her great love-my grandfather John (Giovanni). She impressed upon me that I must never tell "the children" meaning my father and my aunt. She felt she had to lie and protect them but she also felt terrible the real tragedy of his death could not be uttered aloud. She was very considerate of my grandpa Peter Pino Munisteri and didn't want "to hurt his feelings" by dwelling on what was past. She had me repeat the story to her again when I returned to New York from Texas as an adult. I was in my twenties then as we walked around a long Brooklyn block. She said to me, "Do you know how deep the sorrow is to have someone you love so much with you....and then he is gone?!" Oh, how we both wept together as we walked side by side that day.
My grandmother also counselled me that whatever life presents to you on your path, be sure to look where you are going and look ahead. If you must adapt, you must adapt. My grandmother had to change her career plans, aspirations and country. Her own mother had to do the same. Her mother's sister Laura Patti, was widowed with five children and a farm to run. My two great aunts, her sisters; also had their own careers, businesses and great sorrow with their children dying young before them, serious illness and divorce. However, the rationale for her cataloging our family history was to impart the important messages that. "You must persevere as well as keep to your convictions no matter what happens. You need to become competent. Do what is right because it is the right thing to do." This is one of our family maxims often repeated by my father. My father used to make sure my daughter knew it, as well as his personal favorite: 'Never trust the government'.
Until today I kept my grandmother's secret although in some respects I regret I did since when my father (her son) wrote his autobiography, "Born in Rome" he included the 'cover story' of his father's death as that was the only story he had grown up with and believed. At his book launch in Houston last year, I sat squirming inwardly as he read his opening chapter and spoke about his father and his father's death. "He still doesn't know the truth," I thought but I kept silent.
My father Joseph George (Patti) Munisteri also had a natural ability and love for math and physics. He went on to graduate from Brooklyn Technical high school and Yale university gaining a Bachelor of Engineering. One of his specialties in his long career has been nuclear energy. He served on the President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979, and as a consultant for design and safety for other nuclear power projects in the world. He was not afraid to trouble shoot and criticize projects and systems. "Commenting on deficiencies found in the design of nuclear equipment, the training of operators and the procedures they follow, the commission said that an accident like Three Mile Island was eventually inevitable.”
https://www.nytimes.com/1979/10/31/archives/atomic-panel-finds-no-sure-way-to-bar-reactor-accidents-report-to.html? Joseph G. Munisteri holds a number of patents on inventions in hydraulic processes and hydrocarbon extraction. He still works part time.
My grandmother died in 1988 a few months after her only great grandson, my son Denali was born. I envision they are happily altogether now along with her other son, my uncle Arthur Angelo Munisteri and my aunt Lauradele Patti Munisteri Smith and all the other 'family' who have crossed the threshold of this life on earth including her colleague and friend, Enrico Fermi.
Dr. Enrico Fermi and his family escaped to America right after he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1938. Fermi went on to work on many important scientific projects including the architecture of the "atomic bomb". He taught in universities and died in 1954 of stomach cancer leaving his wife and two children to continue on as citizens of the United States. His wife, Laura, became an author and activist. One of her books is entitled: Illustrious Immigrants about, "men and women who came to America from 1930-1941, with their PhD's from universities and diplomas from art academies or music conservatories in their pockets, and who continued to engage in intellectual pursuits in this country." Laura Fermi died in 1977. Their two children Nella and Guilio died before the year 2000. www.geni.com/people/Laura-Capon-Fermi/6000000001482606710
A number of "illustrious immigrants", including physicists, have come to the United States to study and pursue their academic and personal freedom. This time they come from further east...from Communist China. With the advent of sophisticated surveillance technology and online tracking, these immigrants have to be alert to the reprisals and repercussions not only to themselves, but also on the family members they had to leave behind. One courageous physicist and legal US immigrant, is Dr. Yangyang Cheng. Her bio from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists states:
"Dr. Yangyang Cheng is a postdoctoral research associate at Cornell University. A member of the CMS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), she designs next generation silicon tracking detectors and searches for dark matter. Dr. Cheng received her PhD in physics from the University of Chicago in 2015, and her Bachelor of Science from the University of Science and Technology of China’s School for the Gifted Young. Her writings have appeared in Foreign Policy, MIT Technology Review, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Teen Vogue, ChinaFile, and other publications. She contributes to New America’s DigiChina initiative, and has been interviewed by the New York Times, WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, South China Morning Post, spektrum.de (the German edition of Scientific American) among many other media outlets." Dr. Cheng also writes unflinchingly about China, policies of the Chinese communist government and unethical practices conducted by Chinese scientists/doctors/companies and labs.
As she wrote in one of her most recent articles: "Over the past several years, the Party, aided by new technology, has tightened its grip on all aspects of Chinese society. It is one among many examples of rising ethno-authoritarianism across the globe, but arguably the most consequential." supchina.com/2019/08/28/freedom-in-dissent/
Dr. Cheng writes coherently and gracefully in her adopted language of English. Not only is she a physicist and philosopher but she has the heart and sensibility of a poet. This weaves and breathes through her writing. Dr. Cheng writes in the public domain for a general audience and her articles are reachable on many levels. I hope to be reading more of her writing and trust she finds new support and community in the USA. Moreover, Dr. Yangyang Cheng is an LHC Physics Center Distinguished Researcher at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, located just outside Batavia, Illinois, near Chicago, which is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory specializing in high-energy particle physics. The Fermi Laboratory is named after Italian/American physicist Dr. Enrico Fermi.
After my own article on China was published last week, entitled: "Controlling Cognitive Domains" smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/controlling-cognitive-domains
I received a few new readers and comments concerning my viewpoint on the Chinese government's intentions. Some people wondered how I could write about China..."never having been there"...oh, but I have...and just recently. Although I was fortunate enough to be up in the Yun Tai Shan (mts.) doing Shaolin training and not in sprawling Chinese cities, I personally witnessed the creep of 'techno authoritarianism" in the form of surveillance and the implementation of their 'social credit system' over only five months. More on this in my next non-fiction book, "Getting to Yun Tai Mountain".
Somehow, it is the political activists, writers, members of the military and often those in the education fields and/or 'the working class' who are remembered and publicized for their courage against repressive regimes. People are ignorant of the numerous women and men who have vigilantly battled in the fields of ideas, of medicine, of science and the arts trying to open the eyes and ears of their fellow citizens. For example, In the 20th century a group of German doctors and medical students formed "The White Rose". They were all executed (but one) for their valiant courage against the rise of the fascist Nazis. I wrote in more detail about them in my post from Christmas Day 2018, while I was in Henan, China. Here is the link: www.jopatti.com/blog/remaining-resolute
This week I will close with quotes from Dr. Cheng: One of her last sentences is heavy with self recrimination and sorrow:
"In an unfree world, to live freely is the loneliest, most selfish act."
"But freedom is not a gift; it is not found or bestowed. Freedom is a state of mind, a means of existence. Being free is the lightest of feelings, and defending it can be the heaviest of burdens."
Dr. Yang mentioned how much she liked the Hong Kong band "Beyond" so I will include a link to the band singing "Boundless Ocean, Vast Sky" which over 100,000 demonstrators in Hong Kong last week sang in Cantonese as they lit up their cellphones on Lion Rock and beyond to a chorus of these lyrics:
“Forgive me for being wild all my life, loving freedom without restraint
I too fear that I’ll fall.
Anyone can give up on their dreams,
But I’ll stick to mine
Even on the day when it’s just you and me.
Remain vigilant! Until next Tuesday and always...seek the truth and resist tyranny in any form,
One last significant quote from Dr. Enrico Fermi just after the first tests of the "Atomic Bomb" were successful:
"The fact that no limits exist to the destructiveness of this weapon [the “Super”, i.e. the hydrogen bomb] makes its very existence and the knowledge of its construction a danger to humanity as a whole. It is necessarily an evil thing considered in any light. For these reasons, we believe it important for the President of the United States to tell the American public and the world what we think is wrong on fundamental ethical principles to initiate the development of such a weapon."
Dr. Enrico Fermi
Enrico Fermi and I.I. Rabi, 'Minority Report of the General Advisory Committee', United States Atomic Energy Commission: In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: Transcript of Hearing before Personnel Security Board, Washington, D.C. April 12th 1954—May 6th 1954 (1954), 79-80