The Relationship Between Forgetting Ourselves And War


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“The essential thing is to WANT to sing.” — Henry Miller

“Education in this country just boxes you in.” — Emil White

Just prior to Emil White dying, I had a chance to interact with the publisher, artist and well-known friend of Henry Miller at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, California in the late eighties. One of the questions I asked him was what advice he thought Henry would give me, an aspiring writer at the time. He said that Henry would have recommended to me what he would recommend to anyone.

“Develop interest in life, as you see it; in people, things, literature, music — the world is so very rich, simply throbbing with immeasurable treasures, beautiful souls and fascinating dynamics in the natural and unnatural world. Forget yourself.”

I’m often asked what my educational philosophy is when I apply for teaching positions these days, over two and half decades since my contact with Emil. Those words often leap to mind, for not even in most of the so-called alternative educational institutions nationwide does one come across a fully authentic honoring of Emil’s (Henry’s) excellent advice. And if I want to condense my academic philosophy into a telegraphic sound bite of less than 40 words, well… I could do a lot worse than to reiterate what Emil said.

Brenda Ueland, whose book If You Want To Write has been praised by everyone from Henry Miller to Carl Sandburg, said, “Think of yourself as an incandescent power, illuminated and perhaps forever talked to by God and his messengers.” That resonates deeply with me, and I see her words as being totally aligned with the spirit of Henry Miller, which did not allow much room for any traditional notions about God, to say the least. In Tropic of Cancer he says, “I have found God, but he is insufficient.”

Bouncing off of Brenda’s words, I’d say that God has been speaking to me in one long sentence for a very long time, and that — recently — a semicolon was inserted into the communication. Thus far, I’ve received a very clear message illuminated repeatedly. And it has something significant to do with being against war, all war regardless of the rationalizations which are always available to those who fancy they profit from its horror.

Educational institutions churn out U.S. citizens — whether they are schooled in public, private or alternative settings — which (to put it mildly) allow war to proliferate, as it has been doing forever in the realms where America has staked its various nefarious claims. The best institutions and groups are not producing concerned citizens who are coming up with any new paradigms for ending our unnecessary, inhuman atrocities.

“The only true obscenity is war,” said Henry. Well, whereas I might want other abominations to be included, I can certainly get the thrust of what Miller meant. With or without God in gear.

I fear that to be considered highly educated today does not have to include a recoiling in horror from the dynamics of war. Which explains, I believe, why STEM education is so popular these days, graduating students who think that personal advancement in the realms of High Tech and/or Military Circles constitutes success.

Perhaps we need to forget ourselves for a number of reasons now. Maybe we need to sing outside of the educational box.

Richard Martin Oxman has been an educator and activist for over half-a-century. He would be honored to speak gratis at any educational institution which makes a request at [email protected].



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