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April 18, 2008

What's goin' on across this land?

    The following lyrics are from a song about a soldier returning from war who’s trying to catch up on what he’s missed while being overseas.

Hey, baby, what you know good?
I’m just gettin’ back, but you knew I would.
War is hell, when will it end?
When will people start gettin’ together again?
Are things really gettin’ better Like the newspaper said?…
Can’t find no work, can’t find no job, my friend.
Money is tighter than it’s ever been.
Hey, man, I just don’t understand What’s goin’ on across this land.

What makes those lyrics all the more poignant—and disturbing—is the fact that Marvin Gaye wrote them as part of his "What’s Goin’ On" album, which was released on May 21, 1971—37 years ago next month. Unfortunately, those same words, which were supposed to represent the Vietnam veteran, could be spoken by any young soldier returning from Iraq or Afghanistan today.

“War is hell, when will it end?” That’s what Americans have been asking ever since President Bush stood on the USS Abraham Lincoln in front of his victory banner that proclaimed “Mission Accomplished” on May 1, 2003—five years ago next month. Since that banner was hung, 3,898 Americans have been killed in Iraq.

“Can’t find no work, can’t find no job/Money is tighter than it’s ever been.” Unemployment has spiked in recent months, rising to a three-year high. Food and gas prices are at their highest. Many economists are finally admitting that we are indeed in an economic recession with no foreseeable end.

When it comes to politics, most people are smart enough to reach their own conclusions about candidates. You’d have to be crazy to vote for a candidate just because some celebrity endorses him or her. After all, what does fame in acting or accomplishment in sports have to do with knowledge in politics? Pretending to be a cop in a blockbuster movie or tossing a ball through a hoop doesn’t make you an expert on domestic or foreign policies.

Yet, here I am writing about politics.

My achievement in basketball provided me with the platform to reach you, but it’s my achievement as a historian that provides me with some small measure of expertise. I’ve been writing books as long as I played professional basketball, so I’m not writing here as Kareem the athlete, I’m writing to you as Kareem the historian.

The most important lesson I’ve learned from all my years reading and writing about history can be summed up by the famous statement attributed to American philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” When I listen to Marvin Gaye singing those lyrics in “What’s Happening, Brother,” and I realize that here we are 27 years later wondering when the war will end and how we will keep our jobs and feed our families, I can’t help but look around for someone to lead us who has the ability to learn from history. To make sure we aren’t doomed to repeat our past mistakes.

For me, that person is Barack Obama. I believe that because his personal history has taught him so much. His parents came from modest means and knew the hardships of tough economic times. Barack learned from their struggles, which motivated him to move to Chicago to become a community organizer to help make the lives of people in poor neighborhoods better. Even after getting his law degree from Harvard, he continued to help people in need by practicing civil rights law. That, and everything he’s fought for as a state senator and U.S. senator, convince me that this is a man who will use his knowledge of and respect for history to lead us into a future that avoids the mistakes of our past. And that future promises to make all our our lives better.


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Awesome blog, Kareem. But it was 37 YEARS AGO!!! (what makes your post's point even more accurate).

Greetings from Spain,


Captain America

Hello, Kareem, it is nice to heard from you after so long. Really enjoyed the "Show Time" Lakers and the West/Wilt team although not much of a contemporary Laker fan.

No offense, but I'm not in it for Mr. Obama. I lost my only brother to terrorism so I see our conflicts against terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan a bit differently than you do. I see it as a fight against the tyranny of terrorism (Al Qaeda is a pretty oppressive bunch) and a fight for freedom.

I'm also concerned about the company Mr. Obama has kept. People have a right to speak out for or against America just as people have a right to choose the company they keep. Mr. Obama has chosen to accompany himself with unrepentant individuals who have carried out terrorist acts in our country and who have damned our country.


Right on!! Loved the song then and it's still a great song.
For anyone that lived through Veit Nam, our worst fears were realized with what has happened in Iraq. I knew we had made a mistake when we invadeed Iraq, but that carrier tv show, photo -op, ( Isnt this cool I get to play Top Gun) just about made me throw up. G. S. had it right, but I think the real problem is that the bad guys can learn from history too. Time and technology may move and chage at a fast pace, but, human nature changes at the pace of generations. here's hoping that the next generation is that much less subject to being manipulated.
I'm an indepent voter, so I don't have a say until the general election, right now Obama looks like the best out there, if he becomes the candidate I'll vote for him. It counts for lot with me that he voted against the war.


A great Vietnam, and war in general, documentary: Hearts and Minds.


Paul Blankenship

Hello Kareem. This is my 1st time on your website. I came across it while reading the L.A. Times online. I am voting for Obama because I believe that he actually wants to do the things he talks about. Hillary and McCain are professional politicians. They will say whatever it takes to get them elected. My wife works at a government facility where the talk is that Obama is a plant and a terrorist. Even though I tell her that is one of the most unintelligent statements I've ever heard, she still holds on to it. That is like saying you are AlQaida because you are a Muslim. Those rumors are the one of the reasons that Obama hasn't already sewn up the nomination.

Abogada Adelante

We are greatful that a professional basketball player/historian is around to remind us of the continued atrocity of war and its devastating consequences on the economy affecting all working people who believed in the dream that if you worked hard to raise your familiy to provide them with health care, education, and ethical values your children and grandchildren's future would be better off for it. Society has been robbed by the very institutions created long ago to protect the taxpayer from the indsidous greed currently in place that allows 300 million dollars in salaries and bonuses to one individual while working voters struggle daily to survive. Young people will carry student loans the size of their parents' mortgage as additional credit that can cancel their social security benefits. Poor people and middle class alike have been provided mortgages, loans upon loans and credit upon credit that only twenty years ago would have been considered unconscionable. That these unmanageable lines of credit provide the basis for investor markets internationally should serve as a warning from the financial crisis nearly fifty years ago when the bankers came to Washington begging for handouts and corporate charity. Let us not forget that any government, purportedly for the people can be changed by the people on election day. This election is the most important in our lifetime and we should applaud this nation's youth for organizing America's voters, whether or not they wear a flag pin on their lapels. It is their future that is at stake and the reason so many have come out for Barak and Michelle Obama.

Larry U

What amazes me about "Operation Iraqi Freedom" (a term that really ticks me off) is how many Americans still support the war. It reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw once: "If you're not outraged, you haven't been paying attention."

Kareem, do you have any idea why so many people are asleep in our society? I have no idea.

By the way, I saw a clip of you speaking before a small audience, and someone in the crowd asked you what your favorite moment was as an athlete. Before you answered, I *knew* you'd say the '85 finals, against the Klingons of the NBA. Twenty-three years later, I thank you for making Aurbach choke on his freakin' cigar.

Mark Milligan

You are just gettin' better with age Dude! As they say, "we live in interesting times." Each of us contributes to what makes it interesting-if we live laugh love and- GIVE...of ourselves, our time, our opinions, our resources. You are a shining light for a generation exhibiting the giving spirit that will take us all to higher ground. Keep it up!

Kit Stolz

Kareem, I love your blog, and I think it's showing fans (such as myself) a side of you we haven't seen before. Not the warrior, not the historian -- the teacher.

I totally agree with you that Obama is by far the best of the candidates, but I wonder what you think about his bball game (as shown in a HBO/Bryant Gumbel special -- see below). Hope you let us know if you get the chance.




Great blog - I was particularly taken with your remarks on Horton Hears a Who and this latest blog extolling my favorite Marvin Gaye song, "What's Happening Brother."

Perhaps in your position you may be able to influence Mr. Obama with respect to the war -- for it seems that he wants to change the field of battle from Iraq to Afghanistan. Also, he wants to add 100,000 American troops. Does this seem a wise policy to you? And are you concerned about the presence of Zbigniew Brzezinski as Obama's advisor? Brzezinski, of course, was the architect of the Russo-Afghan war while he was Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor. (He is quite proud of his role, having crowed to La Novel Observateur about it.)

I don't mean to single out Obama. One of Brzezinski's sons is advising McCain, and either Clinton or McCain would be equally disastrous in my view. However, if you have any degree of influence on Mr. Obama, I will hope that it is in the direction of ending -all- wars, not merely a redirection of a demonstrably failed policy. Much respect to you and thanks.


Keep beating the drum, Kareem - for our past and our future. And, you can always throw in an 8-clap now and then.

I have a lingering question and I'm hoping you can provide some insight. Why is it that active professional athletes (particularly African-Americans, really) don't talk about or involve themselves in the political process? The owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers just endorsed a candidate, but the players - ??? Former Steelers Jerome Bettis and (the great) Franco Harris did, but not a peep from the active squad. As for active NBA players, I've only heard of maybe five or six total. In other areas of entertainment culture like music, film and tv, political activism is the norm. I would think that pulling down salaries like those in the NBA, NFL, MLB, USTA, PGA, etc. would make one feel empowered to vote and like you, beat the drum soundly - especially given the voting disenfranchisement of people of color in this country that continues today - but from what I've read, it's almost NEVER discussed amongst players. Isn't this a part of the intellectual freedom you, Arthur Ashe and others fought for? How and why are politics taboo?

norm lubke

as an historian you are aware that during the some 10,000 plus years of recorded world history it is documented that approximately only 400 years have been war-free....i am afraid that human nature being what it is that the next 10,000 years will repeat this cycle....

Hungry Mother

Right on! I enjoyed you as a player, actor, writer, and now as blogger.

fred warrick

during the clinton/gore era i vowed never to vote democrat again - i usually vote libertarian or indie anyway. but obama has made me look anew at the dems. he hasn't sold me on grabbing my vote, but i never thought i'd see a dem - or republican i felt meant what he said.

it's odd, or maybe a good sign in that both obama and mccain seem to be relatively upright candidates.

everybody has issues. everybody has pasts. not everybody has to practice the slash and burn politics of carville and rove. the taxpayers deserve better


Here you are talking eloqently about barack, and he's on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel talking about basketball. It's a refreshing swtich

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Captain Kareem

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is considered by many fans and sportswriters to be the greatest basketball player of all time. The 7-foot-2 Hall of Fame center, famous for his indefensible skyhook, dominated the NBA for 20 years, first with the Milwaukee Bucks then with the Los Angeles Lakers. Before that he was the star of the UCLA Bruins teams that won three consecutive NCAA championships. Kareem was the NBA's MVP six times, a 19-time all-star and set the NBA all-time records in nine categories. He is the NBA's all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, a record that may never be broken.

Since retiring as a player in 1989, Kareem has balanced his love of basketball with his love of history. In 2002 he led a USBL team, the Oklahoma Storm, to a championship. Since 2005, he has been the special assistant coach for the Lakers, working with Andrew Bynum.

In 2008 he was chosen The Greatest Player in College Basketball History.

Kareem also remains intellectually active, authoring six bestselling history books intended to popularize the contributions of African-Americans to American culture and history. His books include "Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement"; "Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes"; "A Season on the Reservation," which chronicles his time teaching basketball and history on an Apache Indian reservation in White River, Ariz.; and the current New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance."

His audio adaptation, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Audio & Musical Journey through the Harlem Renaissance," is a four-volume compilation read by Bob Costas, Avery Brooks, Jesse L. Martin, and Stanley Crouch, and features private and fascinating conversations with dozens of icons, including Coach John Wooden, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones and Billy Crystal. He has also been written to L.A. Times, under the Sports section.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been appearing on various radio stations and TV shows, as well as the most relevant websites talking about his life and his new audio book, On the Shoulders of Giants.

All images are property of www.iconomy.com unless otherwise stated. All info copyrighted and owned by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not replicated without permission.

Come meet Kareem at the NBA Store on 5th Avenue: Friday, May 16th, from 3:15pm - 4:15pm.

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Mr. Abdul-Jabbar is the 2008 Honorary Chair Library Card Sign-up Month, which takes place in September. He will also appear at the American Library’s National Convention on June 28th and 29th at the Long Beach Convention Center to sign his poster.

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