U.S. History postsMonday September 19, 2016
Coming Soon: 'Wilmington on Fire'
From last week's “Talk of the Town” section in The New Yorker:
On November 10, 1898, a coup d’état took place on United States soil. It was perpetrated by a gang of white-supremacist Democrats in Wilmington, N.C., who were intent on reclaiming power from the recently elected, biracial Republican government, even if, as one of the leaders vowed, “we have to choke the Cape Fear River with carcasses.” They had a Colt machine gun capable of firing 420 .23-calibre bullets a minute. They had the local élite and the press on their side. By the end of the day, they had killed somewhere between 14 and 60 black men and banished 20 more, meanwhile forcing the mayor, the police chief, and the members of the board of aldermen to resign.
The new government remained in control, of both the town and the story. Subsequent generations of white residents knew about the events of 1898 as a “revolution” or a “race riot,” if they knew about them at all. In the black community, the episode remained a suppressed trauma.
A new documentary about the masscare will be available (on Amazon) on its anniversary, Nov. 10, two days after the presidential election.
Asa Carter: The White Supremacist Behind the Eastwood Hero
I didn't know this about the original author of Clint Eastwood's “Outlaw Josey Wales,” but it figures. From Wikipedia:
The film was adapted by Sonia Chernus and Philip Kaufman from author Forrest Carter's 1973 novel The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales (republished, as shown in the movie's opening credits, as Gone to Texas). Forrest Carter was an alias assumed by Asa Carter: a former Ku Klux Klan leader, a speechwriter for George Wallace, and later an opponent of Wallace for Governor of Alabama on a white supremacist platform.
Apparently The New York Times uncovered this information in 1976, even as “Forrest” continued to deny it. It gets worse. From PBS:
Carter, a right-wing radio announcer and founder of his own Ku Klux Klan organization, was a man with a dark, troubling past. “He had a long history of violence, in fact, it's not an exaggeration to call him something of a kind of psychopath,” says Wallace biographer Dan Carter. Asa Carter had shot two men in a dispute over money just a few years before joining Wallace's campaign, and his Klan group shared his volatile temperament. “In one eighteen-month period,” recounts Dan Carter in his George Wallace biography, “his followers joined in the stoning of Autherine Lucy on the University of Alabama campus, assaulted black singer Nat King Cole on a Birmingham stage, beat Birmingham civil rights activist Fred Shuttlesworth and stabbed his wife, and, in what was billed as a warning to potential black 'trouble-makers,' castrated a randomly-chosen, slightly retarded black handyman.”
Carter became one of Wallace's main speechwriters, and thought up the now-infamous line, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” When Wallace softened, he didn't, and ran (dead last) on a white supremacist platform in 1970. Then he took up the Forrest Carter mantle, and wrote “Josey Wales,” in which the heroic Southerner's family is butchered and raped by Union forces, survives by his wits and guns, and delivers anti-government sentiments to a receptive audience: Native Americans. Then he wrote a book purported to be the true-life tale of a Native American.
There's a recent documentary on him here.
I might need to revisit Eastwood's movies some time.
Asa Carter, full bore.
Pres. Obama's Speech at the Edmond Pettus Bridge on the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday
Via Ezra Klein's piece on Vox, these two grafs (at 16:26):
We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing's changed in the past fifty years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing's changed. Ask your gay friend if it's easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress — our progress — would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.
Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes. We don't need the Ferguson report to know that's not true. We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation's racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over, the race is not yet won, and that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character requires admitting as much.
The Best Thing I've Read in the Aftermath of the Senate Torture Report
It comes from Adam Gopnik on The New Yorker site. I'd recommend reading it all. It's not long.
Here's the first thing that struck me as very, very true, and very, very ignored by most commenters:
First, there is the truth that the C.I.A. interrogators were, for the most part, following orders and doing what they had been told they were authorized to do; to make them the prime villains is to clear the democratically elected politicians who allowed this to happen—and, more important, to clear the democracy that elected those politicians. We are all implicated, not just those who drowned and froze and tormented prisoners.
The second thing Gopnik wrote that struck me as both true and little said is below—in the second half of the excerpt: the “moral claim of exceptionalism”:
Second, and running directly from the general responsibility, there is the claim that if we hadn’t tortured people—hanging them upside down, raping them rectally, and all the horrible rest—some terrorist would have been able to kill more Americans, possibly with a radioactive bomb, or worse. This is an empirical claim, but without much of an empirical foundation. ... It is also a moral claim of exceptionalism: after all, every nation can argue that it needs to torture prisoners in order to protect its people. The North Vietnamese were under far more direct threat from American bombers than Americans have ever been from mostly remote Arab terrorists, yet no one would ever suggest that the Vietnamese were justified in torturing American pilots, even if they could have found out about, say, the targeting and timing of bombing raids, which might conceivably have saved Vietnamese lives. That was, we said, and would say again, no excuse. We have none, either.
George Packer’s excellent profile on Angela Merkel, “The Quiet German,” begins with a dull speech at the Reichstag, whose history is anything but dull:
... the Reichstag was reconstructed [in the 1990s] in an earnestly debated, self-consciously symbolic manner that said as much about reunified Germany as its ruin had said about the totalitarian years. The magnificent dome, designed by Norman Foster, suggested transparency and openness. The famous words on the colonnaded entrance, “DEM DEUTSCHEN VOLKE” (“To the German People”)—fabricated out of melted-down French cannons from the Napoleonic Wars and affixed during the First World War—were preserved out of a sense of fidelity to history. But, after parliamentary argument, a German-American artist was commissioned to create a courtyard garden in which the more modest phrase “DER BEVÖLKERUNG”—“To the Populace,” without the nationalistic tone of the older motto—was laid out in white letters amid unruly plantings. During the Reichstag’s reconstruction, workers uncovered graffiti, in Cyrillic script, scrawled by Red Army soldiers on second-floor walls. After another debate, some of these were kept on display as historical reminders: soldiers’ names, “Moscow to Berlin 9/5/45,” even “I fuck Hitler in the ass.”
No other country memorializes its conquerors on the walls of its most important official building. Germany’s crimes were unique, and so is its way of reckoning with the history contained in the Reichstag. By integrating the slogans of victorious Russian soldiers into its parliament building, Germany shows that it has learned essential lessons from its past (ones that the Russians themselves missed). By confronting the twentieth century head on, Germans embrace a narrative of liberating themselves from the worst of their history. In Berlin, reminders are all around you. Get on the U-Bahn at Stadtmitte, between the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Topography of Terror Gestapo museum, and glance up at the train’s video news ticker: “80 years ago today PEN Club-Berlin forced into exile.” Like a dedicated analysand, Germany has brought its past to the surface, endlessly discussed it, and accepted it, and this work of many years has freed the patient to lead a successful new life.
This is particularly interesting to anyone who has read Rick Perlstein’s “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan,” since much of that book is about America’s inability to reckon with the worst aspects of its history after Vietnam, Watergate, et al. We bought into, in Perlstein's words, Ronald Reagan’s “cult of optimism,” which includes notions of American exceptionalism and applause lines about America being “the greatest nation in the history of the earth.” We're still buying into that cult. Anyone who deviates from it, in fact, is dismissed as part of the “blame America first” crowd. Thanks to its reckoning, Germany is freer now, while we, reckoning with nothing, are trapped by our optimistic account of everything we've ever done.
Will be interesting to see how the Senate Torture Report, released today, affects these trends. I assume not much.