Archive for the ‘History’ Category

How Far We Must Go

Wednesday, April 21st, 2021

In 1675, the first and one of the deadliest wars ever fought on what is now American soil began. Fifty-six years after the sailing of the Mayflower, the tenuous Native American-Puritan bonds, built with careful distrust, burst asunder with disastrous results for everyone.

In 1616, European traders had brought yellow fever to Wampanoag territory, which covered present day Provincetown, Massachusetts, to Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. The epidemic wiped out two-thirds of the entire Wampanoag Nation (estimated at 45,000 at the time). So, when the first batch of Puritans landed in 1619, Massasoit, Sachem of the Wampanoags, was on high alert. He waited until 1621 to meet the new immigrants, and then forged a guarded relationship between his people and theirs. In late-March, 1621, he and Governor John Carver signed the Wampanoag-Pilgrim Treaty. In the Treaty the two peoples agreed to do no harm to each other, to come to each other’s aid if attacked by third parties and to have equal jurisdiction over offenders: if a Wampanoag broke the peace, he would be sent to Plymouth for punishment; if a colonist broke the law, he would be sent to the Wampanoags. In addition, the Wampanoag leaders agreed to tell neighboring indigenous nations about the treaty.

For fifty years, the entente, occasionally fraying, held. But as more and more English immigrants arrived with weapons native Americans had never seen, and as the new immigrants began asserting themselves more and more over the indigenous nations, it became a when, not an if, a war would break out.

When Massasoit died in 1665, his son Philip became Sachem. Philip had few of his father’s diplomatic skills, and his people were becoming more and more angry at the dictatorial actions taken by the white people. After three of his trusted lieutenants were executed by the pilgrims in a woeful miscarriage of justice, Philip had no choice but to go to war if he wished to remain in power. In 1675, he did just that.

King Philip’s war brought tragic consequences for all. As so often happens, the white settlers of Plymouth Colony grossly underestimated the tactical skill of the warring indigenous nations, but in the end European firepower won out. Before the war, historians estimate about 80,000 people lived in New England. Nine-thousand died during the fourteen months of King Philip’s War, more than 10% of the total population. Proportionately, that’s more than in both the Civil War and the Revolution. One-third of the towns in New England lay in ashes, farms were abandoned and the fields lay fallow. Philip was hunted down in Rhode Island’s Misery Swamp and killed. His body was quartered and pieces hung from trees. The man who killed him, John Alderman, sold his severed head to Plymouth Colony authorities for 30 shillings.

And so we come to war’s end in 1676, and Josiah Winslow, the governor of Plymouth Colony, had a problem. Namely, what to do with hundreds of native Americans—surviving leaders of King Philip’s War and their families.

Winslow decided to get rid of them by loading them all, including Philip’s wife and nine-year-old son, onto several ships bound for the Caribbean, one of which, ironically, named Seaflower.

As Nathaniel Philbrick writes in his masterful Mayflower (Viking Penguin, 2007):

In a certificate bearing his official seal, Winslow explained that these Native men, women and children had joined in an uprising against the colony and were guilty of “many notorious and execrable murders, killings and outrages.” As a consequence, these “heathen malefactors” had been condemned to “perpetual slavery.”

Thus, joining Rome and other ancient societies, our white ancestor enslaved a conquered people.

Yesterday, 345 years after the Seaflower sailed from Plymouth harbor, a jury of his peers, a diverse jury, convicted Derek Chauvin on all three counts of murder in the death of George Floyd. What struck me most, the image that cannot be unseen, is the smirk on Chauvin’s face as he kneeled the life out of a man who did not look like him. I imagine it to be the same look Governor Winslow had on his face as he signed the certificate condemning hundreds of indigenous people, who did not look like him, into perpetual slavery.

How far we’ve come. How much, much farther we must go.

 

The WCRI And Sidney Powell’s “No Reasonable Person” Nutty Defense

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021

Interesting day today at the first 3-hour day of the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute’s virtual and strange two-day conference where all the presenters looked as if they’d really rather be in the Grand Ballroom of Boston’s Westin Hotel. I’ll have a wrap up of the two-day, six-hour conference after it ends tomorrow. But for today…

In early February, 2021, an Associated Press-NORC* poll found 65% of Republicans believed Joe Biden was not legitimately elected President of the united States. One week ago, a Monmouth University National Poll found exactly the same thing. Nothing had changed in a month and a half. Why do you suppose that is?

 

 

You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to know that since the election, in fact since well before it, authority figures in the Republican Party, including the President, insisted the only way Donald Trump could lose the election would be through massive fraud. One of the leaders of this disinformation campaign is the lady pictured here: Attorney Sidney Powell, Trump’s on-again off-again lawyer in his attempt to overturn the election result.

Powell manufactured far-fetched claim after monstrously far-fetched claim of election fraud beginning two days after the election. Powell and her team of conspiracy theorists filed more than 60 lawsuits around the country that all died in court. But that didn’t stop her and her sidekick Rudy Giuliani from sharing their bird-brained ideas from the stage of the Republican National Committee in a November press conference carried on C-Span. Neither did it stop them from doing the same dozens of times on Fox News and Fox Business, never challenged by anybody from the network.

When none of that worked, Powell went for the big time and won the Gold Medal for the craziest claim of 2021 (thus far). To wit, Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems conspired with Venezuela’s communist leadership, ditto with Cuba, and “likely” China to create software to fix the election for Joe Biden against Donald Trump. On 8 November on Fox Business she was interviewed by Maria Bartiromo and claimed Dominion created a secret “algorithm to calculate the votes they would need to flip. And they used the computers to flip those votes from Biden to—I mean, from Trump to Biden.”

In late January, after the Dominion Voting Systems leaders had heard this lie a few thousand times, they had enough and sued Powell, Giuliani and others for $1.3 billion for defamation. That’s billion.

Yesterday, Powell’s defense team responded to the lawsuit. It’s 90-page filing can be summarized in two words: Just kidding.

In legalese, what her lawyers said was, “no reasonable person would conclude that [Powell’s] statements were truly statements of fact.” Moreover, her high-priced defense team writes that Dominion itself “characterize(s) the statements at issue as ‘wild accusations’ and ‘outlandish claims,’” and that “Such characterization of the allegedly defamatory statements further support Defendants’ position that reasonable people would not accept such statements as fact…”

In otherwords, if the company she defamed considers the accusations off-the-chart lunacy, then nobody else could ever possibly believe them.

Finally, the Powell team claims she never knew her accusations were false. “In fact,” they write, “she believed the allegations then and she believes them now.” So, she’s not guilty; she’s just crazy.

This would all be riotously funny if it weren’t so deadly serious. Deadly, as in five people died and more than 140 were injured at the Insurrection of 6 January, a day, to quote Franklin Roosevelt, “that will live in infamy.”

But notwithstanding the Insurrection, could Sydney Powell’s defense team actually be right? Would no one believe her claims, as well as all the other ridiculous claims made by Trump apologists, because they are all so nutty? The early February AP-NORC and the mid-March Monmouth University polls, as well as the Insurrection itself, appear to give the lie to that defense. Sixty-five percent of Republicans still believe Biden cheated his way to the Oval Office. They’re getting that belief from somewhere. And unless we figure out how to disconnect this significant faction of the American public from the Big Lie, it will continue as a grotesque cancer on our society.

In the 1930s, Joseph Goebbels made famous the Big Lie.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

We have seen this movie before. And it never ends well.
________________
* The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, founded in 1941 whose name is now officially NORC.

 

Our Unending Tragedy: America’s Middle East Fiasco

Sunday, March 21st, 2021

Hubris is the one word that defines war to me. I’m reminded of that when I think of our experiences in the Middle East over the last nearly 30 years, and when I consider my own odyssey in Vietnam.

We’ve been in Afghanistan since invading the country on 7 October 2001. After 20 years, like the dog that caught the bus, we still have no idea what to do next, which is exactly what President Biden and his team are trying to figure out now.

In a superb piece for The New Yorker (8 March issue), Dexter Filkins makes a compelling case that after America leaves, the Taliban will once again command the country with Sharia law. Although the Trump administration went through the motions of trying to craft a power-sharing deal between Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban to let America save a bit of face as it leaves, a Talib leader Filkins met with said, “We’re not sharing power with anyone.” And he meant it.

I can’t help thinking that when we do pull our last troops from the country, Afghanistan will be in precisely the same position as it was before the twin towers came down. So much for $130 billion and 22,266 American casualties.

Yesterday, 20 March, was the 18th anniversary of America’s second invasion of Iraq. The war officially ended on 15 December 2011, but it wasn’t until three days later, on the 18th, that the last 500 troops left the country. During that nearly eight-year war, 4,497 Americans died in combat and more than 32,000 were wounded, wounds that echo resoundingly to this day.

In Iraq and Afghanistan we never figured out what to do next.

Just as in Vietnam.

In 2005, I wrote a column for the Boston Globe comparing the Iraq war to my own experiences in Vietnam. In memory of the Iraq anniversary, I want to share that column here. It’s as true now as it was then.

Where Have All The Soldiers Gone

Listening to all the arguments about the Iraq war is like being at a rappers’ convention; it’ll make your head spin. It reminds me of another national mistake, one that I was part of, 40 years ago.

I graduated from college in June 1967, without a care in the world, a thought in my head or a desire to find a job.

My grandfather, the retired chief of police for Haverhill, Massachusetts, population 65,000 or so, was chairman of the local draft board. He and my grandmother lived with us. Every Monday night someone would drive to our house, pick up Grampie and take him to the weekly meeting of the draft board where a group of older men would decide the fate of a group of younger men.

One night during dinner Grampie looked across the table and said, “Tommy, I can’t keep you out of this any longer. It doesn’t look right.” I hadn’t known that he was keeping me out of anything, and it took me a minute to figure out that he was talking about the draft.

My father, sitting at the head of the table, put down his fork, but didn’t say a word. During World War II, after slogging through Italy and France for three years, he’d been seriously wounded and left alone to die in an army field hospital corridor. He didn’t die, but it was eight months before he was well enough to be discharged for home. My dad knew war.

When my grandfather spoke of the draft, Dad immediately decided that what happened to him wasn’t about to happen to his first-born. So he and Grampie determined on the spot that I would become a card-carrying, uniform-wearing, quasi-killing machine in the Army Reserve: a weekend warrior. And the very next afternoon I found myself, along with the two of them, sitting on the porch of the Lawrence Army Reserve unit’s commanding officer, signing on for six years of weekly drills and two-week summer camps.

I started going to the drills with the other reservists. Every Monday night we’d march around the Reserve Center’s parking lot, a small sea of out-of-shape, overweight 20-somethings in olive drab, singing cadence and lusting for battle. Well, the simulated kind, anyway. “I want to be an airborne ranger.”

Today, members of the Army Reserve and National Guard are fighting courageously, many of them dying, in Iraq. More than 425,000 have been deployed. More than 95,000 have served two or more 18-month tours. Clearly, these men and women, as well as their families, are making large sacrifices every day.

But in the late 1960s, because of the draft, there were only two kinds of people in the Army Reserve. There were veterans of the Korean conflict, men who had been to war, but had decided to stay in the Reserves for the camaraderie, and, then, there were the rest of us, all college grads who knew the right people, or whose parents did, and had joined the Reserves to avoid Vietnam, and we’d march around playing silly soldier games to do it.

I did that for three months. Then a high school friend, Bobby Schena, came home in a coffin. Then another friend and then another, each in his individually wrapped, olive green shroud.

In Fenruary,1968, to the consternation of my father (“Have you lost your mind, Tom?”), the displeasure of my grandfather and the utter disbelief of my peers in the Army Reserve, I joined the regular Army to become a real airborne ranger, went to Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, then Airborne, then Ranger, and in 1969 found myself, a newly minted second lieutenant, passing through Saigon and heading north. I was in a C-130 with a planeload of young soldiers who did not know the right people and had no idea of why they were there or what they were in for. Most were teenagers, lonely souls far from home. Regardless of who they were, all of them, all of us, eventually became somebody’s cannon fodder, and more than 50,000 of us didn’t make it out alive. Like my dad, we all learned to know war.

Now, nearly 40 years later, our country is in an awful, no-win position, maneuvered there by men with names like Cheney, Wolfowitz, Pearl, Kristol, Feith and, of course, Bush. All of them did know the right people and either had deferments, lots of them, or, like the president, were weekenders. Although it appears to have been fine for weekenders of Mr. Bush’s social and political status to skip those tiresome drills if they proved inconvenient.

What these “neocons” know of war they got from a board game. In their clueless imperialism they have managed to move their game pieces, us, to the brink of an obscene disaster, an American and global tragedy.

A lifetime spent walking war’s sanitized sidelines, never hearing that unforgettable, but very special, sound a bullet makes as it whizzes past your ear, prevents one from appreciating the chaotic hell of war and from grasping how terrifying it really ought to be to rip men and women from the fabric of their families to face the horrifying prospect of fighting and dying in a strange land for a counterfeit cause.

This new national nightmare is certainly sad, but what is sadder still is that nobody, not I, not you and, least of all, not the egotists that tossed us into this deepest of pits, has any idea of how to get us out without causing even more harm than we already have. Posterity will be tripping over America’s arrogance for a long time to come.

In the pantheon of man-made catastrophes, this has been a monumental achievement.

From Dreyfus To Trump: Only The Tech Has Changed

Saturday, February 20th, 2021

The only thing new in this world is the history you don’t know – Harry Truman

Here in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts, I find myself thinking about the events of 6 January and of how 87 years ago the French suffered a similar tragedy. The fact that Americans have not learned from this long ago fiasco, in fact, don’t even know about it, should be remedied. So, let me tell you a story.

At the end of 1894, Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer of the French General Staff, was accused and convicted of espionage for Germany. The verdict was unanimously adopted by the trial court, and the sentence was lifelong deportation to Devil’s Island. The trial was conducted behind closed doors and only a so-called “bordereau” was publicly shown. This was a letter, a detailed memorandum, allegedly in Dreyfus’s handwriting, offering to procure French military secrets and addressed to German military attaché Maximilian Von Schwartzkoppen. French agents had discovered it in the attaché’s waste paper basket

In July, 1895, Colonel Georges Picquart became head of the Information Division of the General Staff. The following May, he became convinced of three things: There had been espionage, Dreyfus was innocent and Major Walsin-Esterhazy was the guilty party. The Army did nothing, and six months later Picquart was transferred to a dangerous posting in Tunisia.

Dreyfus’s brothers then began a movement aimed at freeing him. Subsequently, Picquart, back from Tunisia, but in a reduced role, met with the Vice-President of the Senate, persuading him of Dreyfus’s innocence. In June, 1897, future Prime Minister (twice) Georges Clemenceau, took up the cause primarily through his influential newspaper L’Aurore. Four weeks later, prominent journalist and author (Les Miserables), Emile Zola, penned his famous J’Accuse attacking the military for its anti-Semitic injustice in the Dreyfus matter, and then immediately fled to England before he could be arrested. In absentia, he was tried by a Paris court and convicted for “calumny of the army.” He never returned to France.

In August, 1898, Esterhazy was dishonorably discharged, and then confessed to a British journalist that he, forging Dreyfus’s handwriting, was the author of the “bordereau” on the orders of his superior officer Colonel Sandherr, former head of the counterespionage division. A few days later Colonel Henry, of the same department, confessed to forging other documents aimed at incriminating Dreyfus, and promptly killed himself. Finally, after four and a half years, the Court of Appeals ordered an investigation into what came to be known as The Dreyfus Affair, but it never went anywhere, because of what happened next.

It was then that a small group of anti-Republican, anti-Semitic Frenchmen, thinking the Dreyfus case was being hijacked by leftist elites like Clemenceau and Zola, created Action Francaisea far-right, extremist organization that grew steadily over the next 35 years in France. Its leader, Charles Maurras, a highly educated bigot, founded what became one of France’s leading newspapers, L’Action Francaise, and sold his bigotry and hatred to the masses through his Twitter feed of the day. The movement called Maurassisme takes its name from Maurras. It advocates absolute nationalismmonarchism, and opposition to democracy and liberalism. Sound familiar?

During those years, with an interlude for the First World War, a cultural divide opened in France, much as it has in America today, with Dreyfusards on one side and anti-Dreyfusards on the other. Things came to a head with the Parliamentary elections of 1934, when the Action Francaise far-right candidates were defeated and the job of running the government went to more moderate leaders, just as in November, 2020, the egomaniacal autocrat Donald Trump was shown the door, the more moderate Joe Biden became president, and Democrats took over the Senate.

As on 6 January when Trump’s cultist loyalists, refusing to accept defeat, stormed our nation’s Capitol, Action Francaise loyalists did not take defeat lying down, and on 6 February 1934 rioted on the Place de la Concorde, the largest square in the capital lying at the eastern end of the Champs-Élysées. Fifteen people died that day and hundreds more were injured.

Over the next ten years, after siding with the pro-Nazi, soon-to-be-disgraced, Vichy government of General PetainAction Francaise slowly faded into the mist of history, finally disbanding in 1944.

As for Dreyfus, he continued to fester on Devil’s Island until 1906, when Clemenceau became President and ordered the Court of Appeal to reexamine the case. In July of that year, the Court of Appeal annulled the sentence and acquitted Dreyfus. But his troubles weren’t over. Maurras and others continued to stoke the fires of anti-Semitism, and in 1908, when Clemenceau brought Zola’s body back from England for entombment in the Pantheon, a mob attacked Dreyfus on the street. A Paris court acquitted his assailants and wrote in its decision that it “dissented” from the Dreyfus acquittal.

Friends, as Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” The rhymes are ringing loud and clear today.

The Second Impeachment of Donald Trump Approaches

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021

Next Tuesday, the 9th of February, the Senate will begin the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump. With ten Republican Representatives voting in the affirmative, the House impeached the former president for inciting insurrection on 6 January, an insurrection that has resulted in the deaths of five people.

Trump supporters in Congress and around the country have viciously attacked the ten House Republicans who voted for impeachment. Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, the third most powerful Republican in the House, has come under particular fire. Die-hard Trump disciples have petitioned Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to remove her from her leadership post. That group is reported to have more than 100 signatories to its petition. The entire caucus will meet about this later today. It could happen that when the dust settles tonight, Liz Cheney, who, with Leader McCarthy’s approval, gave voice to her conscience, could become the only person to this point punished for anything that happened on the 6th of January. I make this point to illustrate just how far the devolution of Congress has progressed.

On the Senate side of the building, Trump’s latest lot of lawyers yesterday filed a 15 page initial brief that bases their defense of the former president on two major points. First, Trump did nothing wrong either before or during his 6 January rally in DC; he was simply exercising his First Amendment rights. Second, they contend it is unconstitutional to impeach Trump, because he is no longer in office and therefore cannot be “removed,” a view that is shared by most Senate Republicans ( there is also a third defense position – the Bill of Attainder defense – that is altogether too wacky to go into).

With respect to the first defense, the question before the Senators is whether Trump’s oratory was advocacy or incitement. The U.S. Supreme Court explained in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) that “the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”  The Court’s ruling in Brandenburg meant that KKK leader Clarence Brandenburg’s statements such as “it’s possible that there might have to be some revengeance taken” did not amount to criminal syndicalism under Ohio law.

In addition to the “incitement to lawless action” charge, there is the “clear and present danger” test. In applying the clear and present danger test in Schenck v. United States (1919)Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., observed: “The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.” Holmes cited the example of a person who falsely shouts “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, causing a panic. The impeachment prosecutors will doubtless advocate that Trump really did, metaphorically, shout “fire” on 6 January, causing his followers to panic and storm the Capitol.

Regardless, the House Trial Managers are going to have great difficulty in convincing people who do not want to be convinced, in fact, refuse to be convinced, that Trump’s words at his rally on 6 January presented a clear and present danger to incitement to lawless action. This, despite the video and myriad recordings showing Trump egging on his followers to “fight” and “be strong,” because he “won in a landslide” and “the election was stolen” from him.

The Trump defense team’s second claim, that impeaching an out of office president is unconstitutional, will be equally difficult to counteract, even though the Congressional Research Service (the best research agency you’ve probably never heard of), at the request of House members, published a study on 15 January that showed clearly the precedence and constitutionality of such an action. The study, which is quite the civics history lesson, should be required reading for every high-school student.

In the study, Legislative Attorneys Jared P. Cole and Todd Garvey meticulously analyze this issue and write:

The Constitution does not directly address whether Congress may impeach and try a former President for actions taken while in office. Though the text is open to debate, it appears that most scholars who have closely examined the question have concluded that Congress has authority to extend the impeachment process to officials who are no longer in office. As an initial matter, a number of scholars have argued that the delegates at the Constitutional Convention appeared to accept that former officials may be impeached for conduct that occurred while in office. This understanding also tracks with certain state constitutions predating the Constitution, which allowed for impeachments of officials after they left office.

They also note:

Scholars have noted that if impeachment does not extend to officials who are no longer in office, then an important aspect of the impeachment punishment is lost. If impeachment does not apply to former officials, then Congress could never bar an official from holding office in the future as long as that individual resigns first. According to one scholar, it is “essential” for Congress to have authority to impeach and convict former officials in order to apply the punishment of disqualification; otherwise Congress’s jurisdiction would depend on the whims of the individual who engaged in misconduct. Another scholar notes that the grave nature of the disqualification punishment indicates that it should apply independently of the need for removal.

Some Trump defenders point to the Richard Nixon case. When Nixon resigned on 9 August 1974, the House of Representatives had already drawn up articles of impeachment. After his resignation, the House did not send the articles to the Senate for trial. Less than a month later, President Ford granted Nixon a full pardon, thereby ending the case. The Trump defenders claim not impeaching Nixon proves their case that a president cannot be impeached after leaving office. What they fail to mention is that Nixon had already served two terms as president and was barred from running again by the 22nd Amendment. The whole purpose of impeaching someone after leaving office is first, to set an example, and second, to disqualify them from future office. Donald Trump, if not impeached and convicted, is free to run again for President in 2024.

Let me end on a hypothetical question. Suppose a President commits an impeachable action on the 19th of January; say it is discovered a week later that he or she had been colluding with a foreign power for personal gain at the expense of our nation. If the action is committed while in office, but not discovered until after he or she flies off in Marine 1, what is to be done about it? It is almost sacred theology that a President cannot be criminally charged for actions committed while in office (See the Mueller Report). How else is the miscreant punished other than impeachment?

I have no illusions about the Senate convicting Donald Trump of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” although I think he is guilty as charged. Further, I think he is responsible more than anyone else for the deaths that happened during and after the storming of the Capitol.

It is dispiriting for me to have to conclude that, rather than suffering one day of punishment for any of it, he will just live in the lap of luxury for the rest of his horrid life, the same mass of stunted protoplasm he has always been.

 

Plus ça Change, Plus C’est…

Thursday, December 10th, 2020

Republicans, Democrats, the White House, and all the lobbyists on K Street continue to scrimmage over a relief package for tens of millions of our fellow citizens who hang on by the thinnest of threads, getting thinner by the moment, as they wait for the end of 2020 when the moratorium on evictions will end, unemployment benefits will end, life as they know it — will end. State governments can’t help. Local  governments can’t help. Small businesses can’t help. None of them have any money. They all need help, too.

Meanwhile, back at Ronald Reagan’s “shining city upon a hill,” internecine, malodorous warfare is in full view. Looking for all the world like a gussied-up version of the Hatfields and McCoys, Republicans and Democrats are assembled in a highly organized circular firing squad, seeming far more intent on annihilating each other than on devoting themselves to the moral imperative of bringing help to our neighbors, economically pulverized through no fault of their own. As Joseph Welch said to Joseph McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency at all?”

Throughout history, governments have let their citizens down. We’ve done it before, horribly, and haven’t learned a thing. The more things change…

1932 – Washington, D.C.

At the close of World War I, Congress decided to thank the war’s veterans for their service with some cash — $500, which, in today’s dollars, would be about $7,500. Quite a bonus. But there was a catch: The “bonus” authorized by the Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 would not be paid until 1945. The veterans did not complain at the time. It was The Roaring Twenties. Everyone was flush.

But then along came the Great Depression. The economy descended from full employment in 1929, where the unemployment rate was 3.2 percent, into massive unemployment in 1933 when the unemployment rate reached 25 percent. From sitting on top of the world, plutocrats were suddenly seen jumping out of windows on Wall Street. Breadlines became the meal du jour. The word, “Hobo,” which had been around, but hardly used, since 1888, became a symbol for the forgotten man.

In the summer of 1932, 25,000 penniless, desperate veterans and their wives and children descended on Washington, D.C. They camped in District parks, dumps, abandoned warehouses and empty stores.  These aging warriors had come to the nation’s capital to ask Congress, admittedly 13 years early, for their $500. Newspapers christened them “the bonus Army,” or “the bonus marchers.” They called themselves the “Bonus Expeditionary Force,” the BEF.

The men drilled, sang war songs, and, once, led by a Medal of Honor winner and watched by a hundred thousand silent Washingtonians, marched up Pennsylvania Avenue bearing flags of faded cotton.

The BEF had pleaded in vain with Congress for the money. They were ignored and left to wither. As a last resort they appealed to President Hoover to meet with them. He sent word he was too busy. Then, confronted with 25,000 squatters he would later label “communists,” while asserting less than 10% of them were veterans*, he isolated himself from the city, canceled plans to visit the Senate, had police patrol the White House grounds day and night, chained the gates of the Executive Mansion, erected barricades around the White House and closed traffic for a distance of one block on all sides of the Mansion. A one-armed veteran, attempting to picket, was beaten and jailed.

Conditions for the veterans were pathetic. The summer heat was severe. Lacking shade or screens, the BEF was beaten down by the climate’s fury. Since the founding of the city, Washington was viewed as a place to be avoided in the summertime. In the words of an official guidebook, Washington was “a peculiarly interesting place for the study of insects.” The veteran men and their families had arrived at the height of Cherry Blossom season, but by July they were debilitated, ghostly, dehydrated and hot. Very hot. The columnist Drew Pearson called them “ragged, weary and apathetic with no hope on their faces.” Downtown businessmen complained through the Chamber of Commerce that “the sight of so many down-at-the-heel men has a depressing effect on business.”

And that was the extent of their crime, their threat to the country. They weren’t good for business.

General Douglas MacArthur, the Army’s only four star general who, even then, referred to himself in the third person, had met with some of the men and assured them if he had to evict them he would allow them to leave “with dignity.” But when the end came for the BEF at 10:00 A.M. on 28 July 1932 there was no dignity to be found. Hoover had had enough, and he ordered “Mac” to get rid of them. Trouble was, he didn’t tell the General “how” to get rid of them. MacArthur, who never did anything small in his life, was unleashed.

First, Police Commissioner Glassford, who had been sympathetic to the men, was sent to tell them they had to leave, orders of the President. They refused, which was when MacArthur sent the Army in, led by then Major George Patton and his 3rd Mounted Cavalry — with him prancing at the front atop his privately-owned horse (he had a stable-full; he was rich) — followed by infantry and a World War I vintage Tank Brigade. Bullets began to fly. BEF men were killed. Two babies were gassed to death. And Joseph Angelino suffered a deep wound from Patton’s sabre-wielding cavalry, the same Joseph Angelino, who, on 26 September 1918, had won the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second highest medal, for saving the life of a young officer named George Patton.

By midnight that day, the Army had driven the BEF veterans, their wives and children across the Potomac and out of the city. But that wasn’t good enough for MacArthur and Hoover. The BEF was chased and harassed west and south, out past Ohio and all the way down to Georgia. Then, the veterans just folded into the vast transient population that roamed the land in 1932.

In 1936, overriding a veto by President Roosevelt, Congress voted to immediately pay World War I veterans their full $500 bonus specified in the Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924.

2020 – Washington, D.C.

Although on the 1st of June, while discussing protests following the George Floyd killing President Trump said, “We need to get control of the streets. We need 10,000 troops up here [in Washington]. I want it right now,” a repeat of MacArthur’s mayhem is unlikely, especially with a “kinder, gentler” administration about to assume command. However, since their one moment of unified governmental leadership — passage of The Cares Act during the early days of the pandemic — the grand poobahs in D.C., stunned and surprised by the pandemic’s severity and longevity, have become paralyzed and have turned their backs to so many in need. They remind me of wizened gnomes with green eyeshades and stubby pencils ticking off their profits at the end of the day, never seeing suffering people all around them.

With little or no leadership  from the Trump Administration, except leadership by cavalier, egomaniacal tweet, and the bunker-like workings of Congress as each side walls itself off from the other, just as Herbert Hoover did in 1932, the situation of millions grows daily more dire.

Despite the lack of progress, one must remain hopeful that morality, courage and decency will rear their heads and, finally, leaders will emerge. Finally, leaders will put their gargantuan egos aside and do whatever it takes to rescue all those who at this moment lie on the bottom of the economic bird cage. After all, we really are all in this together. We really are our brother’s and sister’s keepers. We, all of us, really have been driven low by this deadliest of pandemics. Is it too much to ask our Elected leaders to begin acting like the leaders they claim to be?

 

*The Veterans Administration, which had the actual service records would subsequently refute that with an exhaustive study concluding that 94% of the  bonus marchers were veterans.

Can We Ever Learn From History?

Tuesday, November 10th, 2020

Yesterday was the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, Germany’s Night of Broken Glass.

Two days prior to Kristallnacht, Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish Jew, had assassinated Ernst vom Rath, a young diplomat at the German embassy in Paris, shooting him five times at close range. This gave Hitler and his Minister of Propaganda*, Joseph Goebbels, the excuse they needed to organize a pogrom against Jews in Germany and parts of Austria and Czechoslovakia.

Goebbels told an assembly of National Socialists, “The Führer has decided that … demonstrations should not be prepared or organized by the (Nazi) Party, but insofar as they erupt spontaneously, they are not to be hampered.”

And so, on 9 November 1938, thousands of Nazis and Hitler Youth erupted “spontaneously,” attacking Jewish homes, schools, synagogues and businesses, smashing windows and destroying property. They put everything Jewish to the torch. Firefighters were told to let the fires burn themselves out. Goebbels instructed police to round up as many Jewish young men as possible and cram them into jails.

As far back as 1925 when he wrote his autobiographical Mein Kampf (My Struggle) from jail, Adolph Hitler had made known his anti Semitic intentions. And by 1933 the people of the UK and America knew also, because in that year Mein Kampf was translated into English. Nobody paid attention.

Kristallnacht was Hitler’s first, large scale, organized and overt attack on Jews. Consequently, many historians consider 9 November 1938 the beginning of the Holocaust.

Immediately following the close of the Second World War, social scientists and historians began trying to figure out why so many Germans had, lemminglike, followed, even embraced, hate-filled Hitlerism. The answers are complicated.

Following the First World War, the victors had punished Germany in monumental fashion, both economically and politically. Germans resented this with seething anger. Hitler capitalized on this.

Then there was the Great Depression of the early 1930s, which plunged Germany into even more profound economic chaos. Hitler took advantage of this, also, calling on Germans to throw off the yoke of humiliation. He gave fiery speeches, observed by American and British diplomats, which should have alerted governments to what was coming, but did not.

Hitler  instilled in the German people an us-against-them world view, or Weltanshauung. They would have followed him anywhere, and they did.

A week ago today, more than 70 million Americans voted for Donald Trump. That’s four million more than voted for him in 2016. Although I’m sure perhaps half of them voted out of economic self interest – they like his policies enough to stomach his lies and boorishness – what about the other half, the cheering cult, his own lemminglike followers at his rallies and beyond? As Hitler before him, Trump has sold them the us-against-them Kool Aid, and they have swallowed without questioning and without caring if whatever comes out of their Leader’s mouth is true or not.

As far as I can see, Joe Biden won the presidency and the republican party won the election. Not a single state legislature flipped. Republicans gained seats in the House, and are on the verge of holding on to the Senate. The last time we had a democrat elected president and a republican senate was 1885, 135 years ago, with the presidency of Grover Cleveland.

Donald Trump will eventually leave the White House, but he’s not going away, and neither are his followers or Trumpism. He gets tremendous satisfaction from his Rallies. Can you see him abandoning them? No, he will continue to stoke fear and hatred, just as a certain Austrian wannabe artist did long ago.

If you think 2020 was bad politically, just wait until you get to experience 2021.

Good luck to us all.

* Originally, Goebbels opposed the word propaganda, because in the public usage of the day it connoted – wait for it – Lies!

Seven Days

Tuesday, October 27th, 2020

A diversion

How about a break from anything having to do with COVID-19 or the election? Would you like that? Then let me tell you a story.

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, a 23-year-old, newly-minted, Infantry 2nd Lieutenant airborne ranger with my name spent two-plus years in a little country in Southeast Asia called Vietnam. I think if Donald Trump had foregone the fake bone spurs and taken his chances over there he might have learned a lot.

But that’s another story, and not the point of this one. Couldn’t help myself.

Three months before rotating home to the U.S., I had been pulled from the field, that is, taken out of the jungle, and given a staff job on Firebase Vegel in northern South Vietnam.

With two months to go, I decided to begin keeping a Short-timer’s Calendar.

My Short-timer’s Calendar consisted of the centerfold of the June, 1971, Playboy magazine. My Battalion Commander, Lt. Colonel  Bulldog Carter (that’s right, Bulldog), and my partner, Buck Kernan (who went on to become a Lieutenant General, like his father before him), marked up the luscious photo into 60 puzzle-like areas numbered from 60 down to one. The trajectory of the progression became increasingly lascivious.

Thereafter we held a nightly, candle-lit ceremony in the bunker occupied by Buck and me.

But before I describe the ceremony, I have to tell you about the Macadamia nuts.

During Vietnam  the army  allowed soldiers a ten-day R&R (Rest and Relaxation) vacation. As a two-year guy I got two of them, which I spent in Honolulu, Hawaii, with my wife, Marilyn. One day, during the second R&R, we went to the PX (Post Exchange) at Scofield Army Barracks to pick up a couple of things. While we were there we bought a large bottle of Macadamia nuts for me to take back to Vietnam. In Vietnam, little things became luxurious delicacies.

Back to the ceremony.

Our bunker had a single bunk bed. There was only one bed, because Buck and I took 12-hour shifts in the Op Center keeping the world safe for democracy. One of us would end his shift, wave to the other and crash into the bed.

Every night, at 2000 hours, 8:00 pm to you, the three of us would gather in the bunker. There was a small table to the side of the bed.  I had pinned the centerfold to the wall above the table. At the appointed hour, I would light two candles and place them on each side of the table under the pin-up. I would open the bottle of Macadamia nuts, which occupied a special spot in the center of the table, and hand each of my comrades one nut, taking one for myself. We would then have a moment of quiet reflection, after which I would, with a red marker purloined from the Op Center, X-out the next descending number on Miss June.

We would then eat the nuts.

We did that all the way down to ONE! On that night, we held a special ceremony, inviting the Battalion XO, the other six staff officers and the Battalion Sgt. Major into the bunker, which became almost as crowded as the stateroom scene in Night at the Opera. We gave everyone a Macadamia nut that night, and, in a service worthy of priestly ordination, I passed the bottle of Macadamia nuts to Buck, who, because he still had six weeks to go, later on would replace my centerfold with his centerfold and continue the tradition. We retired my centerfold to a place of prominence on the side wall of the Op Center, where Bulldog could see it every day all day. Six weeks later, Buck’s would be hung beside it.

The next day, I choppered south, boarded a chartered Pan Am plane with about three-hundred other happy guys and flew home to what we called “the world.”

OK. Break’s over

If it weren’t so stupidly tragic and delusional, one might be forgiven for viewing Donald Trump’s campaign swan song as comical. “We’ve turned the corner.” “It will go away.” “On November 4th, you won’t hear about it anymore.” And the list goes on.

But if you really want to know how we’re doing, there are, actually, reliable places to look. Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center and the New York Times COVID Tracker, for example.

And now there is this website, which tracks the Rt factor for each state, daily. Rt represents the effective reproduction rate of the virus calculated for each locale. It lets us estimate how many secondary infections are likely to occur from a single infection in a specific area. Values over 1.0 mean we should expect more cases in that area, values under 1.0 mean we should expect fewer. As of today, only one state, Mississippi, of all places, is below 1. You can see what infection rates are like today, two weeks ago, one, two and three months ago. It confirms what all of us, except the aforementioned Mr. Trump, his minions and cult-like followers, know to be true.

If we’ve “turned the corner” it is only to enter Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell. You remember that one, don’t you? It’s the final, deepest level of hell, reserved for traitors, betrayers and oath-breakers. Up until now, it’s most famous occupant had been Judas Iscariot.

Up until now.

And finally…

Seven days to go.

The number seven comes up a lot in Roman Catholicism. There are seven Cardinal Virtues, called by the church, “Gifts of the Holy Spirit.” They are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

There are seven Corporal Works of Mercy. They are feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, bury the dead, and give alms to the poor.

And there are seven Spiritual Works of Mercy. They are instruct, advise, console, comfort, forgive, and bear wrongs patiently.

Judge, now Justice, Amy Coney Barrett is a devout Roman Catholic. I’m sure she is also a very smart person and probably a pretty good lawyer, too.

But for a month now, I’ve been bothered by something about her, and with seven days to go, I’m bothered even more.

For the life of me I cannot get over that, at her super-spreader Rose Garden introduction and follow-on reception in the White House, she did not wear a mask to protect herself and others. I understand everyone else who attended had swallowed the Kool-Aid, but she should have known better. And last night, in the White House Blue Room and outside on its balcony, she was still unmasked.

There are only three possibilities for this behavior.

  1. She doesn’t believe masks protect us and others from the virus, which I don’t believe for a minute;
  2. She is ignorant about masks and doesn’t understand their importance, which I don’t believe for a second;
  3. She was influenced by Trump’s behavior, as well as that of everyone else’s, and just went along to get along.

I’m voting for door #3, and that is a scary thought for our future.

Seven days.

 

 

Today’s Class: Impeccable Timing 101

Monday, June 15th, 2020

No one will ever accuse the Republican Party of being overburdened with sensitivity. In two stick-in-the-eye moves just oozing with impeccable timing, the Grand Old Party is telling the world just what it can do with its Black Lives Matter folderol.

First, the GOP’s unquestioned leader, President Donald Trump, like a too long cooped up horse, has decided to resume his rallies, which for him seem to be better than crack cocaine. This week in Tulsa Oklahoma he and as many of his followers as campaign officials can cram into the 19,000-seat BOK Center will gather for a couple of hours of The Best Of Trump as if the COVID-19 pandemic had never happened, neither masks nor social distancing required. Reminds me of Ebenezer Scrooge discussing innovative methods to “decrease the surplus population.”

In the first of his two impeccable timing decisions, Mr. Trump announced he would hold his Tulsa rally on 19 June, known as Juneteenth, the date on which in 1865, the last of the South’s slaves were notified of their freedom under the Emancipation Proclamation. It would take until the following December and the 13th Amendment to officially abolish slavery in America.

Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or ceremonial holiday in 47 states and the District of Columbia (what are you waiting for Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota?) and is the oldest celebration marking the end of slavery, dating from 1866.

According to the Associated Press, Trump was unaware of Juneteenth, let alone the significance of it to the Black community, when he announced his rally’s date. Consequently, he did not anticipate the blowback he would get. But get it he did. Even from his own supporters.  In a rare instance of backing down, he moved the rally to the next day, the 20th, still in Tulsa at the BOK Center.

But in America’s Black consciousness, Tulsa is known for a lot more than Juneteenth, as significant as that is. On another day in June, the 1st June day of 1921, Tulsa was the site of the worst race massacre in American history.

The day before, police had arrested a young black man by the name of Dick Rowland for allegedly attacking a white woman in a Tulsa elevator. Soon after Rowland’s arrest, rumors began to spread about a group of whites planning a lynching party. To protect Rowland, African American World War 1 veterans surrounded the jail holding him. There was a standoff with a mob of whites. Somebody fired a shot, and a firefight ensued. The much larger white mob pushed the black vets all the way to Greenwood, Tulsa’s black section.

Greenwood was the wealthiest black neighborhood in the country. Oil had made it rich. Racism was about to destroy it. Over the course of the day, 6,000 homes and businesses and 36 square city blocks were turned to ash. Pilots of two airplanes dropped turpentine bombs on buildings, instantly igniting them. Three hundred African Americans were slaughtered, most thrown into mass graves. Not a soul was ever prosecuted for anything. Then Tulsa, population 100,000, swept it all under the rug. Two generations later nobody knew a thing about it. It was never taught in schools, no books were written, no oral history passed down. It was as if it never happened.

Tulsa’s current mayor, G. T. Bynum, wants to take the rug up to see what’s hiding under it. He’s committed to investigating what happened and determining accountability. He thinks he’s found a couple of the mass graves and is having them excavated. The goal is to at least identify as many victims as possible through DNA analysis.

For the people of Tulsa, especially the black people of Tulsa, this is a deep, open, festering wound, and next Saturday Donald Trump will come riding into town on his big, very white horse to preach the gospel of Trump to 19,000 of his followers. It’ll be an interesting day.

There is one more incident of impeccable timing.

The Republican National Covention had been scheduled for North Carolina, but because North Carolina’s Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, concerned about the spread of COVID-19, would not guarantee a full house for the late August event, the Republican party has moved most of the convention to Jacksonville, Florida. The Coronation of Mr. Trump is set for the night of 27 August.

And, you guessed it, there is a black history story about 27 August and Jacksonville. It is known as Ax Handle Saturday.

The year is 1960 and the Jacksonville Youth Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is holding peaceful lunch counter sit-ins. Peaceful demonstrations. A group of outraged whites taking exception to this level of daring, begin spitting on the demonstrators and calling them names no one should ever be called. Then ax handles, mercifully without ax heads, suddenly appear along with baseball bats, and the demonstrators begin to get hit. Things go downhill from there. When it is all over dozens of young African Americans would be wounded in various ways. On a brighter note, nobody died, but that was probably blind luck.

To give you an idea of racial relations in Jacksonville at the time, a year earlier, in 1959, the year before Ax Handle Saturday, Nathan Bedford Forrest High School opened in Jacksonville, celebrating the memory of a Confederate General and the first Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.

The 60th anniversary of Ax Handle Saturday will be celebrated on 27 August in a park about a mile away from the convention at about the same time the balloons come down. Impeccable timing.

 

 

Racial Justice: If Not Now, When?

Monday, June 8th, 2020

Since the nonchalant murder of George Floyd our nation has galvanized behind the cause of equal justice for all. We have moved past the chaos of the first day or two to a too-loud-to-be-ignored-any-longer chorus peacefully demanding systemic changes in race relations. Now, the question of the moment is: What will come of this? After all, we’ve had demonstrations and protests when abominations like this have happened before. And afterwards, after the thoughts and prayers stuff, life goes on. Is this going to be any different? Personally, I think it will be.

Why? Let me tell you a story.

It is 31 January 1968. In Vietnam, it’s the most important holiday of the year, the Tet Lunar New Year. In years past, this seven to nine day holiday has been the occasion for an informal cease fire between North and South warring forces. But not this year. Since the previous autumn, the North Vietnamese military commander General Vo Nguyen Giap has been secretly caching weapons, ammunition and Viet Cong troops throughout the country. In late autumn 1967, in a brilliant move of military misdirection, Giap has North Vietnamese regular army regiments attack U.S. strategically placed Firebases in the highlands of central Vietnam. The ferocious  battle of Khe Sang is an example. As U.S. commanders concentrate on repulsing these attacks, Giap prepares to spring the Tet trap.

And in the early morning hours of 31 January, 70,000 Viet Cong troops attack all over the country.

The Tet Offensive takes South Vietnamese and American commanders and politicians completely by surprise, shocks the U.S. public and begins the slow erosion of public support for the war. The fiercest fighting happens in the city of Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam. The Viet Cong capture Hue and hold it until they are finally driven out on 24 February by American forces. During the time they hold the city, the Viet Cong exact a terrible price. They go house to house arresting all people thought to be South Vietnamese sympathizers, including a convent full of Catholic Nuns. They massacre them all and throw them into mass graves. Five thousand people.

In three to four weeks, Giap’s forces are resoundingly defeated. He has spread them too thin. The Tet Offensive will prove to be a military disaster for the North, but, more important, it will become its biggest strategic victory. American and South Vietnamese politicians now realize the contest will be longer and much more deadly than they have anticipated, the mood of the American people begins to shift, and U.S. army Killed In Action increases to 500 per week.

And then, twenty days after the recapture of Hue, comes the most horrific and gruesome stain on America’s character during the entire war: The My Lai Massacre.

It is 16 March, and at the village of My Lai an American nerve-frayed platoon of the Americal Division under the command of 1st Lieutenant William Calley massacres hundreds of innocent civilians – men, women and children – as they run from their huts. Then they round up the rest of the village, line them up along a large ditch and shoot them all. According to Vietnamese records, they slaughter 547 people that day (the U.S. admits to only 304).

Calley had been ordered by his Company Commander, Captain Ernest Medina, to enter My Lai and kill the Viet Cong that Army Intelligence thought were hiding there among the civilian population. But there are no Viet Cong at My Lai that day. The Platoon troops don’t care. They kill everyone. And Calley, their commanding officer, stands by and watches. He does nothing to stop it.

Afterwards, Calley’s commanders in the Americal’s 11th Infantry Brigade will cover up the massacre by simply saying there wasn’t one. But the truth eventually comes out when American reporter Seymour Hersh breaks the story a year later (for which he will win a Pulitzer Prize). Calley is court-martialled, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. President Nixon will reduce the sentence to three years and allow Calley to serve it by house arrest at Fort Benning, Georgia. The army also charges fourteen other people up and down the chain of command. All either have their charges dismissed or are acquitted at trial. Everyone seems to live happily ever after, even Calley, who doesn’t publicly admit any regret until 41 years later.

Why am I writing this? For two reasons. First, because the quality of leadership matters. All the leadership, top to bottom,  surrounding the My Lai massacre was horridly bad leadership, and, in the eyes of the public, leadership in many of America’s police departments is of a similar calibre. It is seen as suspect, at best, and despotic, at worst. Second, because the Tet Offensive and the My Lai massacre galvanized the American public into creating a movement that eventually became too powerful for politicians to resist and led to the end of the Vietnam war, a war that killed more than 50,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese.

Today, we are in a similar situation of urgent morality. For hundreds of years, black children have been raised to fear whites, especially white police. “Don’t talk back, keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times, and never ever reach for anything.” Driving While Black is not fake news. The selection and training of police recruits continues to perpetuate this fundamental character flaw in the soul of America.

At the very least, what will reduce the worst in policing and increase the best is a thoroughly reimagined system of selecting and training new police officers. “Protect and serve” begins with empathy, actually seeing the people one is sworn to serve; actually listening to better understand them and their needs.

After My Lai, the army rebuilt its officer training programs. The Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Convention were given more attention. As we moved to an All-Volunteer Army, the selection criteria were rethought and enhanced. We have seen the benefit of that in our military’s improved conduct in Iraq and Afganistan. That kind of retooled selection and training has not happened in police academies. What has happened is more training in crowd control, more buying of military quality weaponry and a perpetuation of an us versus them mentality. These have been on stark display since the killing of George Floyd.

To change this will require sustained, dedicated and empathic leadership, which I’m guessing will not be coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, at least not in the immediate future. But the growing and forceful muilticultural demands for equal justice as vividly  demonstrated recently on the streets of America is a start, a start that urgently needs a finish.