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Bolsheviks Robbed Russia of What Would Have Been ‘The Russian Century’

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This is essentially a short history of the 20th century from the point of view of HBD realism and the maxim that “population is power.”

This century turned out to be an “American Century.”

But it wasn’t obvious that it was going to be that way – while the United States was almost predestined to play a primary role, several other countries – primarily, Germany and Russia – had the potential to emerge as true peer competitors. And China took a surprisingly long time to emerge out of its slumber.

Why did things turn out the way they did?

***

Hopes of the Great War

Germany in 1914 was the single strongest Great Power in Europe – had Great Britain or Russia not entered the war, it would have almost certainly crushed France “by Christmas”. Germany had more than 150% of the population of France (65 million to 40 million), more than twice as many men of conscription age (Germany’s TFR was at 5 children per woman during the 1890s, while France’s hovered at 3 children per woman), and to top it all off, its troops consistently had 25% more combat effectiveness than the French and British. France wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Germany’s war aims involved annexing large chunks of France, levying massive indemnities on the losers, annexing or controlling Belgium, converting the western parts of the Russian Empire into German vassal states, and making a continental economic association dominated by Germany. This would be the EU on steroids, under German political suzerainty. It would consequently speak on equal terms with Britain on naval and colonial matters.

Probability: Benefit of hindsight and all that, but had the Schlieffen Plan been carried out as originally intended, without weakening its outermost wing, and if German divisions hadn’t been panickedly redirected towards the Eastern Front, there’s a good possibility that France might have been knocked out in 1914. And had France lost, then Germany would have almost certainly crushed Russia in 1915. As it was, the French held, and for the next two years, no side in particular could be said to have been winning, though the situation on the home front in the Central Powers was deteriorating at a faster pace due to the British naval blockade. The critical turning point came in early 1917, when unrestricted submarine warfare and Zimmermann’s extraordinary blunder helped coax the United States into the war. After that, the odds shifted sharply against Germany, Russia’s revolutionary troubles and the French mutinities after the Nivelle Offensive regardless. The collapse of Russia gave Germany a reprieve, and a second chance to seal the deal before American reinforcements made themselves felt. But after the Second Battle of the Marne it was all over; a bloodied, strangled, and mutinying Germany could not hope to resist the more than 100,000 new American troops pouring into the European theater every month.

Consequences: A victorious Germany would have been a strong challenger to the United States, but its position would have been fragile nonetheless – the major loser states of Europe (France, Italy, Russia) would have been resentful, with France and Russia in particular coveting their lost territories; Britain would be deeply hostile, its natural reaction to any continental hegemon, and doing its utmost to foment new coalitions against Germany; and Russia in particular, despite being shorn of much of its territory, would still be developing much more quickly and healthily had it not been hobbled by Communism. Germany’s geostrategic position would remain precarious.

Had France won on its own terms, Germany would have been basically finished as an independent Great Power: Alsace-Lorraine and the Saar would have been re-annexed, the West Rhineland would have been demilitarized for the next 30 years at best if not occupied for the indefinite future, and there were ideas about breaking up Germany into its constituent states altogether.

However, France itself obviously would not had the demographic weight or momentum to dominate the 20th century. Moreover, Britain was not going to be much more supportive of French and Russian territorial expansionism than they would have been of German.

The country that would have prematurely emerged as a superpower – in the late 1910s, as opposed to 1945 – would have been the Russian Empire.

Probability:

Scenario #1:
Russia was neither winning nor losing in WW1. Geographically, it was winning strongly against Turkey and Austria-Hungary, but only holding the line against Germany. Despite initial difficulties with shell production, the Russian Army by 1916 was a well-supplied and well-fed force capable of successful large-scale offensives. The Russians, for their part, did not consider themselves to be losing; the Budenovka had been designed and mass produced for the victory parade in Berlin and Constantinople.

Scenario #2:
The February Revolution, which only occurred by a fluke of weather and miscommunication, portended massive problems for the war effort. Even so, though much is made of desertions in 1917, it’s worth pointing out that Russia was unique in having issued edicts abolishing the death penalty in the military, allowing soldiers’ soviets, and allowing Bolshevik agitators free reign to demoralize the Russian armies. Most of these radical and insane measures were getting revoked after the first half-year of the Provisional Government’s rule, with accompanying improvements in morale and offensive capability. Certainly holding out for another year – probably even less, since the Germans would not have had access to Western Russia’s resources and would have not have been able to release troops for their final western offensives – would have been perfectly feasible. But as it was, a further series of incredible mistakes and flukes led to the Bolshevik coup and the collapse of the Russian as the Bolsheviks unilaterally demobilized Russia’s 7 million man military.

Consequences:

Scenario #1:
Romanovs, not Hohenzollerns, would have headed the kingdoms of Poland and Bohemia (which was highly Russophile at that time); Romania and Serbia would also be allies; needless to say, the Ukraine would remain in the Russian Empire. The only country that could be expected to be unhappy with this arrangement is Poland. Germany itself could be expected to be resentful at its territorial losses, but these would sooner (conveniently) be directed towards Poland. Finally, the Turks would have been bottled up within internal Anatolia, with Constantinople (Tsargrad) going to Russia and Western Armenia forming a land bridge all the way to the Holy Land. With control of the Bosphorus, the Mediterranean gradually becomes a Russian lake as the Great Naval Program is resumed post-1918. In this scenario, it is plausible that a Cold War would develop between France/Great Britain and Russia.

Scenario #2:
Much of this became moot in 1917. The Provisional Government denounced annexations, and in any case, the United States’ entry into the war meant its rhetoric about national self-determination would also need to be honored to some extent. Russia’s territorial gains after this point would have likely been limited to just Galicia, but then again, it hardly needed more territory. This may well have been the most stable postwar configuration. There would be no cause for a Cold War between Russia and the West. Germany would remain resentful – if not as much had the more maximalist territorial ambitions of France/Russia been met – but Russia would have had no cause to cooperate with it as the outcast USSR had to, and Nazis would not have come to power in Germany without the Bolshevik menace.

***

Russia Shoots Itself in the Foot

It’s no exaggeration to say that the Bolsheviks lost Russia its century, and in all likelihood its future for all time. This is a point made all the more painful by the fact that it was largely self-inflicted, whereas Germans could at least reconcile themselves with the thought that they made two “honest” attempts to achieve world supremacy.

Demographics: No Bolshevism means no Russian Civil War, no famine, no collectivization, no Great Famine, no Great Terror, no World War II because they left the job unfinished in the first one, no post-war famine to mark Stalin’s “gratitude” to the Russian people, no alcoholization epidemic. It would not have had a population of 600 million, as Dmitry Mendeleev (yes, that one) projected for the end of the century. But it would be vastly higher than today.

One massive study headed by Russian demographer Anatoly Vishnevsky calculated that without the demographic catastrophes of the 20th century, the population just within Russia’s borders would have constituted 282 million by 2000 – that’s almost exactly twice its actual figure.

Not to get into an extended debate about the Ukraine Question, but it also seems obvious that a Russia whose brand was pumped up by victory in the Great War (or at least not tainted by defeat), which was not forcibly identified with Bolshevism and divided up into ethnic republics with artificial borders, and which didn’t create man-made famines in the Ukraine in the 1930s would have remained quite solidly unified. Since the Ukraine and Belorussia had even higher demographic losses than Russia due to Soviet tyranny and WW2 German depredations, respectively, their end of century populations can also be safely doubled. Adding in Russian settlers in Southern Siberian (northern Kazakhstan), you would have a population of 400 million 100 IQ Slavs.

The question of whether Finland, the Caucasian states, southern Central Asia, and the Baltic states would remain is more questionable. If so, that would be another 100 million.

Economics. With primary enrollment above 80% by 1914, and projected by the Education Ministry to reach 100% by 1925 – in the event, the Civil War postponed that to 1930 – full literacy was “locked in.” A Russian economy that didn’t lose out on more than a decade of economic development, only to be consequently burdened and distorted by central planning, would have converged to broadly West European living standards, like East-Central Europe was doing prior to the Soviet occupation, and as the Mediterranean states progressively managed to do after WW2.

Culture/Science. It is equally obvious that a country with Europe’s second largest number of university students in 1914 after Germany, which was spared “philosophers’ ships,” the abolition of university entrance exams in the 1920s, Lysenkoism, Stalin’s mass murders, sharashkas, and subsequent decades of ideological orthodoxy would have generated much more science, culture, and soft power.

What could have been: A half-billion population continental superpower with a GDP comparable to that of the United States producing vast amounts of science and culture.

What the Bolsheviks created: A 145 million population rump empire with a GDP comparable to that of Germany (if measured on a PPP-basis; otherwise, Spain) producing as much science as the University of Cambridge; in the long-term, probably destined to be a mere resource appendage of China, with little more than the sight of Germany “doing away with itself” and an America turning into Greater Mexico to console itself with.

De Tocqueville had forecast a bipolar world dominated by the United States and Russia. While American military planners were writing of them being the last two superpowers before WW2 had even ended, by dint of “geographical position and extent, as well as vast munitioning potential,” as Paul Kennedy points out in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, “of the two, the American “superpower” was vastly superior.” In 1945, the US accounted for half the world’s manufacturing output; the USSR was a military giant with feet of clay. While it slowly gained on the US up until the 1970s, the legacy of its demographic bloodletting and economic inefficiency precluded true parity from ever being achieved – up until the point its own historyless elites sold it down the river.

Germany’s Missed Opportunity

Germany’s plans for WW2 victory are relatively well-known: Apart from the total extermination of Jews within Europe, it would also gobble up Lebensraum in Eastern Europe. Generalplan Ost called for the genocide of most of the European Slavic populations through a threefold approach: Outright extermination; helotization; and selective assimilation of the more Aryan-looking Slavs into the German race. Moscow and Leningrad would be wiped off the surface of the Earth. Some Russians would be expelled into a rump USSR behind the Urals. In Robert Harris’ Fatherland, the post-war Nazi regime wages an unpopular Vietnam-style campaign against Soviet partisans around the Urals in order to build character and patriotism amongst its conscript soldiers.

Probability: I think the objective chances of German victory in 1941-42 were high. They made three critical meta-mistakes:

(1) Declaring war on the United States.
In that case, there be no American Lend-Lease, which was critical for making up deficiencies in Soviet production (e.g. copper wire, aviation gasoline). There would also be no “second front” in the form of the bombing campaign, which put a crimp on German production when they did start to ramp it up. The Soviets would have never enjoyed air superiority, and the resources invested into AA defense would have gone into more tanks and artillery.

(2) Treating the peoples of the occupied territories and POWs extremely harshly.
They could have always just promised them everything, then drawn out the daggers once the USSR was definitively defeated. I guess it doesn’t pay to be prematurelynasty.

(3) Waiting too long to go into full economic mobilization.
German military production peaked in 1944, when the air campaign was at its peak and the Allied armies were already closing in.

Consequences: With France and the European USSR occupied, Germany would dominate the entirety of the North European Plain, making it truly strategically secure. Germany was behind in the nuclear program, but massively ahead on missile technology; a rapid victory over the USSR would have also allowed it to reassign production points into air defense and a heavy bomber force. It would also embark on a bigger buildup of its U-Boat fleet, which might enable it to force Britain to sue for peace.

The idea of a Nazi German superpower is the topic of countless alternative histories from The Man in the High Castle to Wolfenstein. Their economic system wasn’t the best, but it was still far more efficient than central planning. German population perhaps at around 150-200 million today, comparable to the White population of the United States, and of similar quality. It would also form an economic association with 200 million other Europeans, with itself at the center. There would be resentment against its hegemony, but Nazi Germany would also be far more ruthless in crushing it than its Wilhelmine Germany. In this scenario, I would sooner bet against the United States.

The results for Europe’s non-German nations would be pretty glum, ranging from various degrees of extermination to mere subjugation. In all fairness, there were many power centers in Germany (what some historians call “polycratic chaos”), with different ideas about what to do with the occupied territories. Perhaps there would have been no extermination of the Slavs, but merely their breakup into small, German-dependent entities such as the Lokot Autonomy, with mentions of Russia rigorously suppressed/replaced with terms such as the “Muscovite state” (funnily enough, this sort of historiography live on amongst Ukrainian nationalists). The Germans allowed prostitution and abortion to flourish in France while suppressing it in Germany, in the belief that they would accelerate France’s “race degeneration” into demographic irrelevance; on the other hand, Himmler once suggested killing 80% of the French population. It’s hard to tell what would have happened. One might also point out that Hitler was in ill health by 1944, and unlikely to live past 1950. The successor would have played a large role in determining what would later happen, e.g. a hardcore ideologue such as Himmler, the more practical German military, or the hedonistic and corrupt, but not very ideological Goering.

***

The American Singleton

The US unambiguously won the war – it accounted for something like 50% of world manufacturing production by 1945. It dominated all the markets. From the late 1940s, it effected a blisteringly rapid buildup of nuclear arms. The USSR, in contrast, had been economically hollowed out by the war. Some 40% of its military-aged male population was gone, and a good part of the rest was incapacitated. Its nuclear deterrent would not become credible until 1955 or so.

In the late 1940s-early 1950s, if it had really wanted to, the United States could in theory have conquered the entire world and/or instituted a one world government.

In this scenario, the USSR/Russia would probably have been ended as a world power forever. A good percentage of its top cities would have been nuked, resulting in the deaths of perhaps 10-20 million further Russians. Its non-Russian territories would have been detached, and it would have been occupied and vassalized by the US as surely as was Western Germany. Its population today might be around 120 million, though having transitioned back to capitalism much earlier, it would be quite a lot richer.

There were several groups of people calling for preemptive nuclear war on the USSR. The first group were some more hardline American generals, such as Patton and MacArthur. Another surprising proponent was John von Neumann. The common thinking was that nuclear war was inevitable, so the US might as well launch it now, while it still had vast preponderance and the capacity to emerge largely unscathed. In all fairness, they had a point from a purely rational perspective, especially one that privileged their own countrymen’s (future) lives over Russians.

However, in the event they were all overruled, so an American singleton didn’t come to pass.

***

Another interesting scenario suggested by commenter Thorfinnsson is what would have happened if the USSR had signed a separate peace treaty with Nazi Germany in 1943.

I don’t think this was really politically realistic, even for a totalitarian regime like the USSR. And it was perfectly understandable for Stalin to think that he might as well finish the job and seize the eastern half of Europe, now that half of the job was done.

With the Wehrmacht having its hands untied in the East, D-Day would no longer be feasible. However, the Manhattan Project would not be going away, with the result that a campaign of democidal atomic attrition against the German population would begin from 1945.

The Nazis are not limp-wristed like the Kaiser or even Hindenburg/Ludendorff and will hold onto power as German city after city gets wiped off the Earth.

At some point, Germany will be sufficiently weak for an Allied invasion to be possible, especially considering that there would have been years to prepare for it. Obviously, at this point, the USSR could use the opportunity to scavenge. Even the East Europeans will be less of a problem at this point, having been subjected to 2-3x the degree of democide by the Nazis as they were historically. There would be fewer of them, and they’d hate the Germans even more.

The USSR could have used the armistice with Germany to refocus on science spending and turbocharge the nuclear program, developing it earlier and having a credible deterrent by 1950 instead of 1955 – so no Operation Unthinkable in principle. On the other hand, spying might have become much more difficult, since the Western Allies would be highly hostile to the USSR had it unilaterally quit.

Once the Western Allies finished atomically deconstructing Germany, having reduced its population by perhaps 10 million and subsequently occupied it, they would have turned their attention to the USSR. Hopefully it had used its 5 year window wisely.

***

The Maoist Swamp

China during the first half of the 20th century was too disunited, too illiterate, and too agrarian to entertain any superpower pretensions.

That said, it could have emerged into the limelight a lot sooner if not for the economic idiocy of Maoism, which even made Soviet central planning seem rational.

Here is a typical series of anecdotes from a textbook on the Chinese economy:

The government assumed direct control over all urban hiring: From the early 1960s onward, the government assigned 95% of high school or college graduates to work and took the authority to hire and fire away from individual enterprises (Bian 1994). Voluntary job mobility within urban areas disappeared, while workers gained protection from being fired. By 1978 voluntary quits and fires had become virtually nonexistent: in that year 37,000 workers in all of urban China quit or were fired, about one-twentieth of one percent of all permanent workers. A worker was 10 times more likely to retire and four times more likely to die on the job than to quit or be fired. The state decided your job, and a job was for life. This complete absence of labor markets was an extraordinary feature of the Chinese command economy. In the Soviet Union, workers were rarely fired but they were free to quit. In fact, in 1978, in the Russian Republic, 16% of all industrial manual workers quit their jobs during the year (Granick 1987, 109).

China in 1950 was perhaps 10 years behind Taiwan, and level pegging with the Koreas. By 1990, it was 20 years behind South Korea.

Had China maintained pace with Korea, its economy would have overtaken the US around 1985 in PPP terms (IRL: ~2012) and around 1995 in nominal terms (IRL: ~2022).

Today, Korea is close to Japan’s level in per capita terms, or around two thirds of the US level. So a capitalist China would now be perhaps three times the size of the US economy.

Today, China produces half the world’s elite level science (up from 25% five years ago). But a China at Korea’s or Japan’s per capita level would already be at about 150% of the American level (where it would level off because Mongoloids seem to be consistently less scientifically productive than Europeans, despite higher IQs).

Still, the one good thing about the Maoist legacy is that it did not destroy China’s demographic potential, like the USSR destroyed Russia’s through democide and promotion of national autonomies. The populations of both South Korea and Taiwan increased by a factor of 2.5x from the early 1950s to today; China’s increased by almost the same number. The Great Leap Forwards famine was canceled out by a lagging fertility transition.

And of course the Maoists didn’t try to set up Fujianese Soviet Republics, enshrine their right to leave the PRC in the Constitution, and promote non-Standard Mandarin languages.

A high-IQ, fully literate country with the world’s largest population was always bound for great things. The Chinese Communists didn’t screw things up too much, apart from delaying its emergence by a generation.

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Art fakes: Disputed ‘Basquiats’ seized by FBI shake the US art world | Culture

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While New York surrenders once again to the genius of Jean-Michel Basquiat with an exhibition of unpublished work curated by his family, in Orlando (Florida), there is considerably more controversy over the work of the artist who died at the age of 27. An exhibition at the Orlando Museum of Art dedicated to the former close friend of Andy Warhol, entitled Heroes & Monsters, has cost the head of that gallery his job, while the FBI investigates the authenticity of 25 of the works, not to mention the threats made by the director against an expert who had been commissioned to evaluate the authorship.

Although the scandal began to take shape in February, when the exhibition opened, the FBI raid took place last Friday with the seizure of the paintings with a contested attribution to Basquiat. Aaron De Groft, director and chief executive of the museum, has relentlessly defended that these are genuine works, while emphasizing that it is not a museum’s role to certify the authenticity of the works it exhibits. “[The paintings] came to us authenticated by the best Basquiat specialists,” he told the local NBC television station in February.

De Groft had for months championed the importance of the paintings, asserting that they are worth millions of dollars, until an expert showed up who’d been hired by the owners of the paintings and she began to question his version of events. The director was fired on Tuesday, just two business days after agents seized the 25 suspicious works. The museum’s board of trustees met for hours that day, but not before warning employees that anyone who dared to discuss the matter with journalists would suffer the same fate as De Groft. Hence, it is impossible to know the version not only of the former director, but of any worker at the center. Nor can any information be gleaned at the New York exhibition, a mixture of unpublished work and memorabilia, where organizers are fearful of the devaluation caused by the Orlando scandal.

FBI agents during the seizure of the dubious Basquiat paintings at the Orlando Museum of Art on June 24.
FBI agents during the seizure of the dubious Basquiat paintings at the Orlando Museum of Art on June 24.Willie J. Allen Jr. (AP)

“It is important to note that there is still nothing that makes us think that the museum has been or is the subject of an investigation,” Emilia Bourmas-Free told the local chain on behalf of the art gallery. Cynthia Brumback, chairwoman of the museum’s board of trustees, expressed itself in similar terms in a statement, saying that the board of trustees is “extremely concerned about several issues related to the exhibition Heroes & Monsters,” including “the recent revelation of an inappropriate e-mail correspondence sent to academia concerning the authentication of some of the artwork in the exhibition,” as reported by The New York Times.

The statement refers to a disparaging message sent by De Groft to the specialist hired for the expert opinion, cited in the FBI investigation as “Expert 2″ but who the New York Times has confirmed is Jordana Moore Saggese, an associate professor of art at the University of Maryland. This expert, who received $60,000 for a written report, asked the museum not to have her name associated with the exhibition, according to the FBI affidavit. Angry, De Groft threatened to reveal the amount of the payment and share the details with her employer, the university.

“You want us to put out there you got $60,000 to write this?” wrote De Groft, according to the affidavit. “Ok then. Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than thou. Do your academic thing and stay in your limited lane.” The board said it has launched an official process to address the matter. The scandal was precipitated a few hours after the closing of the exhibition, which had originally been meant to travel to Italy.

Facade of the Orlando Museum of Art, with the promotional poster of the exhibition dedicated to Basquiat, on June 2.
Facade of the Orlando Museum of Art, with the promotional poster of the exhibition dedicated to Basquiat, on June 2.John Raoux (AP)

The mystery of the cardboard box

But how did the paintings get to the Orlando Museum? The museum and its owners maintain that the paintings were found in a Los Angeles storage unit in 2012. The New York Times reported that questions arose over one of the paintings, made on the back of a cardboard shipping box with FedEx lettering in a typeface that was not used until 1994, six years after Basquiat’s death, according to a designer who worked for the company.

Both De Groft and the owners of the paintings maintain that they were made in 1982 and that Basquiat sold them for $5,000 to a famous television screenwriter, now deceased, who deposited them in a storage unit and forgot about them.

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Ramón Estévez regrets his name change to Martin Sheen | Culture

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At the beginning of the sixties, Ramón Estévez was desperate. His first steps as a television actor had gone well, but he felt stuck in that medium and wanted to get into theater and film. However, at the time, his name held him back: there were few successful Latinos in the United States. “Whenever I called for a position, whether for work or for an apartment, they answered me hesitantly when I gave my name, and when I arrived, I found the position already filled.” He said in 2003. And so, Ramón decided to create an artistic name by merging the name of Robert Dale Martin, the CBS network’s casting director, who had helped him in those essential appearances on the small screen, and that of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who, as Estévez’s little sister Carmen recalls, “regularly appeared on TV.”

This is how Martin Sheen came about, and owing to his great talent, he triumphed first in theater and, later as an actor in the movies, notably: Badlands, Apocalypse Now, The Departed, and Wall Street. However, the identity of Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez did not disappear: this name remains in all of Sheen’s official documents (passport, driver’s license and marriage license)… and in the actor’s soul. Last week, in an interview with Closer magazine, he confessed that one of the great regrets of his life was his change of name. He speaks with pride of the obstinacy of his son Emilio, who kept it despite “his agent’s advice to change it”. In relation to his own decision, he reflects: “Sometimes they convince you, when you don’t have enough insight or even enough courage to stand up for what you believe in, and you pay for it later.”

Martin Sheen in 'The West Wing' reunion, last October.
Martin Sheen in ‘The West Wing’ reunion, last October.

Over time, Sheen recovered his Galician roots, the land where his father, Francisco Estévez Martínez, was born. His father was an immigrant who left Parderrubias, in Salceda de Caselas (Pontevedra), for Cuba at the age of 18 in 1916. He left with no Spanish, a language he learned on the Caribbean Island. In the early 1930s, he emigrated to the United States to a modest Irish neighborhood in Dayton (Ohio), where he married another immigrant, Mary-Ann Phelan.

Martin Sheen’s life has been profoundly marked by his childhood. His father worked at NCR Corporation, an industrial conglomerate that began manufacturing cash registers. Shortly after his marriage, the company sent him to the Bermuda Islands where his first children were born. Sheen was the seventh of ten children (nine boys and one girl), and the first to be born in Dayton, in 1940, after the family moved to the US. His left arm was clasped by forceps during birth, leaving it three inches shorter than his right arm. As a result of this, the character that Sheen interprets in the series The West Wing of the White House, President Josiah Bartlet, puts on his jacket with a strange twist of the body. As a child, he suffered from polio which kept him bedridden for a year, and at the age of 11 his mother died. Thanks to the support of a catholic charity and his own father’s efforts, the family remained united against the distribition of children to orphanages or foster homes, a common practice at the time.

Martin Sheen abd Francis Ford Coppola during the recording of 'Apocalypse Now'.
Martin Sheen abd Francis Ford Coppola during the recording of ‘Apocalypse Now’.

He was the eccentric of the family: he decided to go into acting. Against his father’s objections, Ramón, the most reserved son only enjoyed the theater and decided to study acting. “You don’t know how to sing or dance!”, his father told him, to which his son replied: “You love westerns and in those nobody sings or dances”. “But you don’t ride a horse either!” was his father’s comeback. Despite this discouragement, he moved to New York, following in the footsteps of his idol, James Dean.

In the mythical episode Two Cathedrals of The West Wing, he explains how the character President Bartlet reflects the experiences of his own childhood and adolescence. Estévez/Sheen: a practicing Catholic and relentless campaigner against global warming, a man in favor of civil and immigrant rights, he was arrested several times during demonstrations outside the White House. His activism began when he was just 14 years old in a golf club where he worked. He led a strike of caddies, protesting against the club members’ use of bad language in front of children.

Actor Martin Sheen takes part in a "Fire Drill Fridays" protest calling attention to climate change at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
Actor Martin Sheen takes part in a “Fire Drill Fridays” protest calling attention to climate change at the U.S. Capitol in WashingtonJOSHUA ROBERTS (Reuters)

And then there’s the Spanish context. Francisco Estévez did not teach his children Spanish, but the Estévez family went back to their roots. Francisco was able to return to his hometown in Galicia in 1967 (just as Sheen landed his first big role in In the Custody of Strangers), where he began building a house, while making regular trips back to Dayton. He would never see this house finished. He died in Dayton in 1974, and was buried with his wife and son Manuel, who had died in 1968. His only daughter, Carmen, ended up working as an English teacher at a school in Madrid, where she married. For years people in Madrid have bumped into Sheen during his visits to his sister. Carmen finished building her father’s house and inaugurated a river promenade dedicated to his memory. Indeed, she has kept the memory of the Estévez alive in Salceda de Caselas.

The Camino de Santiago, a dream come true

In the early years of the 2000s, Sheen, his son Emilio Estévez and his grandson, Taylor, walked the Camino de Santiago. In Burgos, the grandson met a girl, and at the end of the walk he decided not to return to Los Angeles, but to remain in the Castilian city, where he got married. Influenced by that experience, Sheen and Estévez made the film El camino (2010), in which both co-starred and the latter directed. A few months ago, Sheen spoke proudly of El camino, a great success, and a faithful portrayal of his spirituality. During filming, at a lunch under huge pergolas at the back of Burgos cathedral, Sheen explained: “I am a Catholic, and a lot of that spirituality is in this movie. I have had an extremely happy life, with the normal highs and lows of a career. I have survived disease and my family is wonderful [his four children, including Charlie Sheen, are actors]… I believe in a church that does incredible work in the Third World. Other things, like some of the pronouncements from the Pope [at that time, Benedict XVI], are more difficult for me. I live my faith, and it is between God and I.” A few meters from Sheen and the journalist, at the long tables, was a strange group that didn’t not look like actors: “That’s my wife, that’s my sister and her husband, that my best childhood friend… I’ve invited them to come and have a good time with Emilio, Taylor [who worked as an assistant] and me”. Taylor Estévez currently works as a stunt coordinator in California.

Martin Sheen at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral with his sister Carmen, 2009.
Martin Sheen at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral with his sister Carmen, 2009. Andres Fraga

Carmen Estévez says that for decades the family did not understand their father’s deeply Galician sense of humor, until they realized that for much of the time he was not being serious. This sarcasm was inherited by his son Ramón/Martin, and he made a display of this in Burgos. In response to a question about his career, he said: “With my resume full of bad movie titles, what can I say. I’m an actor and that’s how I’ve supported my family. But I’ve been in about 10 films that I can be proud of…” at which point he dropped his cup of coffee and blurted out: “See? For gloating over my career. Divine punishment”.

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Buzz Lightyear: To Lesbians and Beyond | Culture

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Buzz Lightyear and Alisha Hawthorne in a still of 'Lightyear' (Disney/Pixar, 2022).
Buzz Lightyear and Alisha Hawthorne in a still of ‘Lightyear’ (Disney/Pixar, 2022).Pixar (AP)

The first homosexual kiss in a Disney movie has been more than expected. Many of us wanted to see it in Frozen: some interpret the ice princess’s song “Let it Go” as a reference to being gay. Lots of people awaited it in Luca, where the love between protagonists Luca and Alberto was at times more obvious even than that of the cowboys in Brokeback Mountain. We longed for a legendary, effervescent kiss, the fruit of a rebellious and passionate love. It was going to be a vindictive kiss, full of fireworks. It would be one of those kisses that precede the mythical The End, when the screen fades to black behind the lover’s mouths. It was a kiss that was going to take everything over. Above all, it was going to be the great kiss of the 21st century, undoubtedly the century of homosexual visibility and the century of the gender revolution, the moment when women fall in love and kiss for the first time and do all of it on the big screen. (Well, not all of it.)

The first lesbian kiss in Disney history appears in the recently released Lightyear, and it has sadly led to the censorship of the film in 14 countries in the Middle East and Asia. The kiss takes place in 1995, that is, 27 years ago. The first homosexual kiss of the Disney Pixar factory recognizes that it is years late. It is a 90′s kiss. It comes not from the 21st century, but the 20th. How? The film starts with the following premise: in 1995 Andy, the protagonist of Toy Story, went to the cinema to see Lightyear. This is the movie he saw then. Lightyear, therefore, is not the end of the saga but its prequel. In addition, the controversial kiss does not happen between a young protagonist and her girlfriend, but between two mature women who have been married for years. We are not facing a rebellious kiss, much less a political or ideological one. This kiss is not intended to be a novelty or to make anything visible. It is an absolutely conventional gesture. Thank you, Disney Pixar for going beyond my wildest dreams when it comes to normalizing visibility. And thank you for listening to your workers and refusing to remove the scene. In the long run, it will be more profitable to sacrifice box-office earnings than dignity.

In addition to being between two women, the kiss happens between two mothers, on the day that they celebrate their son’s birthday. It is not the classic Disney kiss, a culmination of the romantic love between the leading couple, but a stolen moment of quotidian happiness. It is a fleeting kiss, insignificant in the history of lovers. It lasts just seconds. It is not charged with any special meaning in the love story. It speaks of a way of building affections and meaning different from that imposed by the traditional heterosexual canon: seemingly unimportant gestures of are everything. It represents a kind of love where kisses do not represent a turning point in the lovers’ lives, but rather small anchor points in their story history. In this gesture, romantic love is not ultimately the center of life but part of it. In Lightyear, we witness the anodyne kiss on the lips between space explorer Alisha Hawthorne and her wife, and we realize that partners are not at the center of any story, but rather one of those fragments that give meaning to life. It is a sapphic kiss in the sense that it is another way of building love, more horizontal, quieter and healthier.

Alisha—a female, lesbian and black—does not have as much screentime as Buzz Lightyear—male, white and the story’s protagonist. She is the protagonist’s friend, confidante and inspiration. Together they are trapped on an uninhabitable planet due to a mistake he made. From that moment on their lives run parallel but radically different–almost like the story of lesbian and heterosexual love. She adapts to the circumstances and begins to live the life that has befallen her, without rejecting its difficulties. The conditions are not the best, but Alisha falls in love–with a woman–and celebrates her luck. Together they have a son. Along the way, she takes care of those she loves, she has a granddaughter, she fights and she investigates. She fills her life with meaning, and she dies. Buzz, on the other hand, insists on “finishing the mission,” “being important,” “saving the world,” “succeeding,” “being a hero,” “doing things alone” and “being the first.” Buzz, who will never know love, embodies many of the traditional values of heteronormative love, starting with the desire for protagonism and the sense of a linear life narrated through love or milestones, leading only to deep, intimate failure.

Lightyear attempts to travel into space to escape from the planet where he is trapped, failing over and over again. Additionally, though, time is altered every time he subjects his ship to hyperspeed. Every time he returns, a few minutes have passed for him and a few years–four, ten or twenty–for Alisha. He burns through life, while she lives it. In one of the final moments, Buzz Lightyear explains to Alisha’s granddaughter why he and her grandmother became space rangers. “We just wanted to be important,” he says. “Trust me, she was,” she says. And the hero understands that his whole life has been a huge misunderstanding. He will have to return home, knowing that his home is the one he has tried to flee all his life.

The film is a masterpiece, full of action, emotion, humor and imagination. Its commitment to diversity includes a warrior over seventy years old, a rebel whose role is essential in saving the world. No one is talking about the old woman for the simple reason that old age remains invisible even when it occupies the center of the scene. The film also gives us Sox, an adorable robotic cat that demonstrates how the only technology that works is that which helps people, not that which attempts to change them. It is truly one of the great Pixar movies, much more than action and stars.

At this point, it had gotten hard to explain why we humans want to keep going to infinity and beyond. But there is a moment, at the end of the film, when we understand: when the elite protectors of the universe excitedly observe the bronze statue of Alisha, a black lesbian woman, the source of meaning for humanity, because she is the one who knew how to live a small life with greatness.

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