After dropping nuclear bombs on Japan, Americans hungered for its wisdom. The spiritual teachings they lapped up as Zen owed as much to interpreters as to ancient Asian ways. These mystical insights helped dropouts and "squares" to find new meaning. They also fired up debate on transcendent experience. But beguiling suggestions of change in social order petered out. Buddhism quietly endured. It's resurgent today in psychologised mindfulness. Practice might help free our minds, but where that leads is up to us.
Justice is criminally unjust in the United States. Bankers and warmongers rarely face charges, but prisons are packed with impoverished small-time crooks. If the cells were a city, it would be the fourth largest after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago: 2.3 million Americans live behind bars. One in 100 adults is a convict, a rate that rivals North Korea. The figures shot up when the War on Drugs began in the Seventies. The result is a nationwide "prison-industrial complex", which a new book compares to the Soviet Gulag.
Even 10 years after the invasion of Iraq, few journalists talk about a crime. They might rue the "catastrophe", "horror" and "obscenity" of a war that killed hundreds of thousands of those it was meant to be helping. The timid still passively say "mistakes" were made. They list "failures", "setbacks" and "lessons" for "the West", but not the case to be made against those who launched the war. Instead of challenging people in power, most reporters assist them - and then claim to oppose what turns out badly.
Straddling the Ganges, beneath Himalayan foothills, Rishikesh calls itself "Yoga Capital of the World". As Yoga Journal tells visitors: "your destination is ultimately the Self.” Spending a morning in one of its cafes makes this clear: plenty of tourists are getting absorbed in self-indulgence, along with higher-minded matters (sometimes drug-fuelled). Still, it's a beautiful place, and you can train to teach yoga in less than a month, with no experience. Which isn't to say there aren't good local teachers...
A decade ago, hardly anyone in China practiced yoga. Now it's almost as popular as in America. Recently, China and India staged a "yoga summit". Aged 92, B.K.S. Iyengar taught a masterclass. He urged the Chinese to practice deeply, for liberation. The one-party state appears enthused. Yoga isn't seen as a threat like Falun Gong, or the Dalai Lama; it supports "social harmony". Besides, a summit organiser said: "China has a tradition of embracing foreign cultures and making them its own. That's why it's been so vibrant."
What Barack Obama might have said to deserve the Nobel Prize: we're closing all overseas bases, ending the world's biggest arms trade, and spending the savings on weaning America off fossil fuels. As this censored speech explained: "No longer will we need foreign outposts to protect resources, or the shipping lanes and pipelines that ferry them. We can leave that work to regional powers, and resume our rightful place in our own backyard." If Obama really channeled Martin Luther King, he might have wound up getting shot.
The Chagos Islanders lost their homeland to the retreating British Empire, which gave it to Washington for an American military base. For decades, these dispossessed exiles have demanded the right to return to their islands in the Indian Ocean, but to no avail. Most remain where they were dumped: in the shantytowns of Mauritius and the Seychelles. Appeals for assistance have gone unheeded, and been thrown out by courts despite multiple rulings in favour of the islanders. Some have given up on their dream of going home and moved to Britain, creating tensions with their kin.
Two reports from one of the world's forgotten conflicts, in which Uganda wages war on its people with Western support. In return, it provides the U.S. with a mobile army in East Africa, and an economic pseudo-success story. Meanwhile, the world’s weirdest warlord is at large, unhindered by the viral #KONY2012 campaign. I met the architects of that while researching this article and film. Their work got more attention, but a book by my friend in the video explains the issues in more depth.
It would be difficult to find a more divisive figure in Serbia than Svetlana Raznatovic and her come-hither cleavage. But it isn't the cut of her revealing outfits that irks her detractors, nor the fact that her murdered husband, Zeljko, better known as Arkan, was the most notorious warlord in the Balkans. Rather, it is the sound of her music. Love or hate her, few Serbs are indifferent. The songs of Ceca, as Ms. Raznatovic styles herself, were the soundtrack to a decade of destruction that reduced their country to a pariah state.
A report that inspired me to copy my interviewees: "To most young people, the idea of inviting both their favorite DJs and government ministers to the same party would sound distinctly uncool. But Bojan Boskovic and Dusan Kovacevic, two 24-year-old Serbs brimming with the can-do confidence they acquired as leaders of student protests, look at it differently. The first time they organized a music festival, it lasted almost 100 days, mutating into one of the mass political protests in 2000 that led to the downfall of the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic."
Christmas has never been quite the same for Dorin Carlan and Octavian Gheorghiu since they executed Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife on December 25, 1989. But flashbacks to the day they pumped bullets into Romania's first couple disturb them less than bitterness about their own fate. Many Romanians feel the same. Their revolution was hijacked by second-tier communists, and for much of society the standard of living has barely improved. The national mood is a wistful melancholic shrug.