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"Why here?" was the reaction of many when the shooting of students by a fellow student at Oregon's Thurston High School in Springfield grabbed national headlines in May, 1998. The author's study suggests the spring term is the most dangerous time in schools, dating from springs of many years ago.
Fundamental questions are asked in an important book, "The Shooting Game," by Eugene's Joseph Lieberman. It reviews the Thurston shooting in the context of a national-- maybe even global-- pattern: Why does it happen anywhere? Why does it continue to happen?
Concern in Oregon takes on greater immediacy in light of a shooting last February at a high school 60 miles south of Springfield, just a month before publication of Lieberman's book. A 14-year old shot a classmate while they were in the schoolyard of Roseburg High School. His weapon was a handgun smuggled out of his home. A day earlier in the nearby town of Sutherlin, a 15-year old high school boy was arrested for having a loaded handgun in his school locker. Then a week later, four teens were arrested for bringing a gun to school. Amazingly, this was at Springfield High School, only a few miles from Thurston.
Had parents, teachers and school officials been able to read Lieberman's "The Shooting Game" before the Thurston tragedy, it might have been prevented through measures taken at home and at school. Lieberman is an Oregon journalist who has completed the first comprehensive book on causes and history of school shootings dating from 1974. He reveals what he has found to be the linked nature and common roots of school shootings, workplace rampages and suicidal terrorist acts.
Primary focus in the survey of dozens of school shootings and near-shootings in the past three decades is the attack at Thurston. It is the only case where the shooter was arrested the previous day for having a gun in his school locker, and released. Kip Kinkel, then 15, shot to death both his teacher parents at home, before the next day killing two classmates and wounding 25, the largest number in the history of such shootings.
The book (Seven Locks Press) identifies causal similarities from the earliest attacks to the most recent. Its scope crosses international borders with the 2002 school shooting in Erfurt, Germany, that killed 17. As Lieberman connects the dots for many shooting parallels, he offers startling conclusions that must be addressed by schools nationwide to prevent more from occurring. Lieberman suggests how-- when terrifying reality hits close to us-- society needs to study warning signs it ignored for many years. His views are reinforced by Springfield Fire Chief Dennis Murphy, founder of "Ribbon of Promise," national campaign to prevent school violence.
Early reaction to the Thurston shooting was that it came 'without warning." That was not the case, as Lieberman found during three years of research into school shootings. "Thurston," he says, "was a tragedy waiting to happen. That it happened here was an accident of fate which resulted in the teenage gunman being enrolled at Thurston." School shootings that preceded Springfield's indicate they are something more than copycat coincidences. Lieberman has found something deeper at play in the psyches of the involved children. It can involve a thinking mode that causes them to see only one solution to their problems, an option that for a troubled child can become violent. Such a thinking pattern can cause the child to see people as targets, especially if fueled by years of playing video games with violent themes.
His research reveals a seasonal pattern in school shootings that should make teachers and administrators especially alert at this time of year. The Thurston shooting in May was one of a national series of eight successive shootings that occurred in the season when the school year comes to a close.
If our civilization is to survive, he writes, we must study, recognize and learn to cope with the violence that overtakes some children, and which can be symptomatic of violence within society itself. The need for attention grows greater as the school year nears its close.
Over the last decade or so, Kurlansky has fashioned a distinctive literary career interpreting the past from the unique perspectives of such edibles and condiments as codfish, salt, and now, oysters. But about three years ago he wrote 1968: The Year that Rocked the World, a book which received critical acclaim across the nation at the time. In his account of that pivotal year, Kurlansky makes no effort to be objective. That, he contends, would be dishonest. Born in 1948, Kurlansky says that he “was of the generation that hated the Vietnam War, protested against it, and has a vision of authority shaped by the peppery taste of tear gas . . . .” Accordingly this book is not a scholarly analysis. Rather it is an engaging yet deeply biased account which appears to be based upon views he formulated at the time. What is unusual is that the passage of over thirty-five years seems not to have altered his view of those experiences by much more than a millimeter. Kurlansky is still a child of the “sixties,” a man who has retained all the prejudices of his youth, in short, a “sixty-eighter.”
Although 1968 focuses on politics it has a wider scope and purpose. Its objective is to interpret not only the events of that year, but more importantly the generation that came of age during the era of the Vietnam War. Kurlansky’s account is not limited to the United States. This is an international history which highlights political uprisings in France, Mexico, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere, as well as at home. In part his thesis holds, as many of the young did at the time, that despite divergent sources of discontent, the worldwide upheavals that marked the year were linked by a form of generational unity and that youths everywhere were in rebellion against the world their fathers had made. Thus the French rebels who almost toppled Charles de Gaulle, and the Czechs who defended Alexander Dubcek’s “Prague Spring” against Russian tanks, shared a vision of a new and different world with their American brethren who battled the police in the streets of Chicago during the Democratic National convention. As a generational interpretation, 1968 invites comparisons between the so called “greatest generation” and their offspring. It also raises all the controversial issues related to the impact of the “sixties” on American society. Kurlansky contends that “Four historic factors merged to create 1968.” Among these were “the example of the civil rights movement,” the arrival on the scene of a generation “so alienated that it rejected all forms of authority,” universal hatred of the war in Viet Nam, and television.
Early in the book Kurlansky asks a pregnant question: “Like an unnoticed tree falling in the forest, if there is a march or a sit-in and it is not covered by the press, did it happen?” Civil rights leaders agreed that it didn’t. In discussing the impact of civil disobedience, Kurlansky relates a telling incident that took place during a 1965 march in Selma, Alabama. Martin Luther King apparently noticed that Life Magazine photographer, Flip Schulke had put down his camera in order to help a demonstrator injured by the police. Afterward, according to Kurlansky, King rebuked Schulke, telling him that “Your job is to photograph what is happening to us.” Clearly, in the age of television and mass politics, it was more important to get the picture than to help the injured. This incident can be seen as key understanding much of the politics of 1968, from the antics of Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman to the demonstrators at the Democratic National convention who chanted “The whole world is watching,” as police waded into them with their nightsticks swinging. The civil rights movement, Kurlansky contends taught the new generation how to bring their discontents to the attention of the world: exploit television’s craving for scenes of violence.
What in Kurlansky’s view was distinctive about this generation and why was it so alienated? His answer is that it was born after World War Two. As Kurlansky puts it, “People born during and directly after World War II grew up in a world transformed by horror, and this made them see the world in a completely different way. . . .as children [they] learned of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” They learned that both sides in the Cold War were preparing to use nuclear weapons. They had seen the mushroom clouds on television. “It made them fearful,” he says, “of both [the capitalist and the communist] blocs.” The antics of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the execution of the Rosenbergs taught young Americans to mistrust their government. Such interpretations have been offered before and have never seemed satisfactory. They may explain the views of some like Kurlansky, but they represent only a small proportion of the postwar generation.
Boomers may have been born into a world twisted by the horrors of World War Two, but the critical fact is that they were born after the war was over and hence did not experience those horrors directly. The generation that experienced those horrors firsthand did not react fearfully. In fact, as parents, they sheltered their children from those horrors as much as possible. Not every child learned of Auschwitz while he grew up, and it is doubtful that many first graders were traumatized by the ranting of Joe McCarthy or by the fate of the Rosenbergs. Millions of children experienced “duck and cover” drills not as the cause of childhood nightmares, but as welcome diversions from the boredom of the classroom. One suspects that Kurlansky is describing his own experiences and projecting them onto the postwar generation as a whole.
Although 1968 covers a great deal, the reader will be surprised by what’s left out. In a year profoundly influenced by political assassinations, the reader is struck by how little attention is devoted to the murders of Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy. In a year wracked by turmoil in the streets, both in the United States and abroad, the reader is surprised to find little more than a paragraph about the violence which swept American cities in the aftermath of the King murder.
Other than a brief description of the emergence of modern American feminism, the reader likewise will be surprised that Kurlansky has very little to say about the cultural transformation which seemed to be sweeping American cities and suburbs in the 1960s. Aside from a few lines about the significance of long hair and rock ‘n roll, there is little about the emergence of what Theodore Roszak called the “counterculture,” that is unless one counts references to Allen Ginsberg chanting “om.” To the extent this development is covered, it is within the context of a discussion of Abbie Hoffman and the emergence of the Yippies, in short, politics. Even Timothy Leary, that pied piper of LSD, the drug which gave the sixties their psychedelic quality, rates no more than a couple of mentions.
This is preeminently a political book focused the contest between those in authority and those who took to the streets to challenge that authority—often by extra-legal means. Kurlansky has scant praise for those millions who, like John Lennon, merely wanted “to give peace a chance.” Rather he admires those who wanted change, and were willing to strike for it. He agrees with Albert Camus whom he quotes as writing in The Rebel that those who merely want peace are really longing for “not the alleviation but the silencing of misery.” No justice, no peace.
His judgment of the political realignment of the South which took place in the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement is harshly partisan. Essentially he describes a tacit bargain made between the Republicans led by Richard Nixon and the northern wing of the Democratic Party. “The Republicans get the racist vote and the Democrats get the black vote, and it turns out that in America, there are more racist votes than black votes.” The so called “southern strategy” he contends “became the strategy of the Republican Party,” as though the opposition would do nothing to take advantage of LBJ’s amputation of the South from the electoral coalition that FDR had fashioned. This interpretation ignores the substantial scholarly literature on this subject which makes this argument far more tenuous than it might appear. Kurlansky can say nothing good of Nixon, the president who more than any other embraced affirmative action, a policy which likely meets with his approval, and the president who withdrew American troops from the war which the young so passionately hated. Nixon was merely an “opportunist.”
None of this is to suggest that this is a poorly written book. On the contrary, the author glides easily from one subject to another in a conversational style, offering apt descriptions and highly partisan interpretations as he goes. The casual reader will enjoy this book. The scholar will learn little.
SOURCE: Written for HNN ()
This is a fine mess of a book. Happily, the emphasis is more on "fine" than on "mess," but both do apply, and in any case, it is fun to read. Trav S.D. (pen and stage name of D. Travis Stewart) has written a sprawling, exuberant, rambling and affectionate book on the history of vaudeville. For readers less than familiar with the subject, it is as good an introduction to vaudeville as they can read; for those who know the entertainment form well, it offers a few surprises and some sheer enjoyment.
Richard Canedo teaches history at the Lincoln School in Providence, RI, and is a Ph.D. Candidate in History at Brown University. He is writing a dissertation on American vaudeville.
The book is organized chronologically, beginning with the roots — the deep, deep roots — of vaudeville and variety entertainment in general. In a sometimes fitful book, the first full chapter positively sprints from Biblical times to ancient Greece and Rome, gallops through the Middle Ages and skips across the early modern era. The theme is the (sometimes justified) suspicion and even hostility with which society and authorities regarded performers, variety entertainments and the theater in general. The breathless pace slows as the real focus of the book emerges: the immediate late nineteenth-century antecedents of vaudeville in the shabby but respectable world of circuses and dime museums (especially P.T. Barnum's), and in the rough-and-tumble, shady realm of the concert saloon.
From these unlikely predecessors came vaudeville, the carrier of a new concept in commercial entertainment: good, clean fun. That, at least, is what the advertising claimed. The degree to which it truly was "clean" does not trouble the author much, though he is correct in asserting that it was positively immaculate compared to, for instance, the concert saloon. The men who created the first vaudeville theaters and circuits were not, Trav S.D. emphasizes, public-minded do-gooders (as they liked to depict themselves). They were, instead, commercially-minded and very competitive entrepreneurs who were responding to and then cultivating market demands. The explanations are remarkably clear of sometimes complicated commercial maneuvers and decisions: the author injects life into both terms in the "show business" equation.
Appropriately, however, the show and its performers receive the most attention in the book. The heart of vaudeville was its wide range and variety of acts. Trav S.D. vividly and compellingly describes the appeal of these acts, the challenges the vaudeville format presented to them, the social, ethnic, racial and national roots of the performers, the fierce competition among performers, among theater and circuit managers, and between owners and performers. The cast of characters is, of course enormous, from the well-remembered, such as the Marx Brothers, W. C. Fields, Bob Hope, Fred Astaire, George M. Cohan, and Harry Houdini, to the stars who have all but faded from popular memory, such as Nora Bayes, Jack Norworth, Weber and Fields, Julian Eltinge, Eva Tanguay, Harry Lauder, Frank Fay, and Joe Frisco. These and dozens of others are woven — sometimes smoothly, sometimes not — into the always energetic narrative. In telling his story, Trav S.D. manages to steer clear of some common clichés of popular vaudeville lore. Chief among these is the image of oppressed vaudevillians suffering terribly under the overseer-like cruelty of tyrannical vaudeville managers. He points out, rightly, that while there were great costs to the profession, like the endless grind of one-week stands (at best), strained marriages and near-constant time away from home and friends, vaudeville performers were paid extraordinarily well for working, typically and at most, an hour a day.
The book is clear and lucid in describing vaudeville's dizzying fall from entertainment dominance in the 1920s. The phonograph, nightclubs and revues, radio, movies (especially talking pictures) and finally the Great Depression all contributed to vaudeville's death — Trav S.D. compares the multiple killers to Murder on the Orient Express. The book is unmistakably unsentimental about vaudeville's demise: just as canals had been revolutionary in creating a national market in the U.S., only to be made obsolete by the railroads they had helped make possible, so too was once-innovative vaudeville made passé by its progeny. Oddly, the book ends with a strong dose of sentiment, as it considers vaudeville's immediate legacy (in sound films and in early television), and its longer-term significance. In this final section the author placing his heart firmly on his sleeve and makes an impassioned plea for the continued worth of live variety performance. This appeal is persuasive enough, but it has little to do with the entertainment form that is the book's subject. Vaudeville had great historic importance in a number of ways, and it had a great legacy, but as a distinct entertainment form organized nationally, it is indeed dead.
This is not an academic book: it is unfootnoted (sometimes frustratingly so), and written in an unpretentious, animated, and breezy style, to say the least — at times it is downright chatty. The author's background as a stage comedian influences both his writing style — no pun is left unpunned — and the work's emphases: while types of vaudeville acts such as magicians, dancers, song-and-dance solo and duo performers, female imitators, and animal acts receive their due, the comedians get the lion's share of the attention. Still, along with music, comedy was indeed king in vaudeville, so accentuating the jocular may be forgiven.
No Applause is an inheritor to other popular "insider" narratives on vaudeville, such as Douglas Gilbert's American Vaudeville (1940) and Joe Laurie, Jr.'s Vaudeville: From the Honky-Tonks to the Palace (1953). Both of those books were written, however, for nostalgia purposes; this book seeks to situate vaudeville in a much broader sweep of entertainment history, and of American history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Trav S.D. links vaudeville's rise and fall to such themes in the era as mass immigration, the consolidation of a national economy, the crosscurrents of ethnic, religious and racial toleration and bigotry, and the way capitalism worked on both the corporate and individual levels. The author recounts dozens upon dozens of entertaining anecdotes and makes myriad wry observations about the appeal of vaudeville and the people who created it. He has carefully read every important memoir penned by vaudevillians, and many unimportant memoirs as well. In the midst of describing the incredible parade of varied acts that marched across the stages of many hundreds of vaudeville theaters from the 1890s to the 1920s, Trav S.D. paints a vivid portrait of this entertainment as not only mirroring American culture, but helping to shape it as well. While the author's reach exceeds his grasp in this regard, No Applause goes well beyond nostalgia in staking its claim for vaudeville's importance in the history of America at the turn of the twentieth century.
Trav S.D. is a master of the sharp analogies, apt comparisons and well-turned phrases. Dime museums are linked to the Elephant Man, burlesque to Forbidden Broadway, and virtually every person involved in making the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz to his or her roots in vaudeville. Tony Pastor, the "father" of vaudeville, showed others the way toward clean, family entertainment, but far more hard-headed businessmen like B.F. Keith and E.F. Albee ultimately profited the most and forced Pastor out of business. On Pastor's death, the author comments, "With him died the Mr. Fezziwig model of leadership; Scrooge now held dominion throughout the land."(p. 157) On Albee's downfall, the author comments, "Eventually, Father Time eats even the strongest of his children. I bet Albee tasted terrible." (p. 252) On the threat of movies to the huge Keith-Albee-Orpheum vaudeville circuit of the 1920s, Trav S.D. writes, "Yet within this Leviathan lived an equally monstrous parasite, a tapeworm made of real tape: celluloid, fed through projectors with interlocking gears and sprockets, and very soon it would strangle the life out of vaudeville."(p. 203) His description of performer Eva Tanguay's appeal is the clearest explanation in print of how an essentially talentless and homely woman came to be the highest paid performer in America.
So if ebullient writing on a lively subject makes this a fine book, where is the mess? Ironically, many of the book's strengths are its weaknesses as well. The flip side of liveliness in this book is the storyteller's penchant for hyperbole and ignoring small (and occasionally large) facts that get in the way of a good story. In the chapter on vaudeville's prehistory (the least sound in the book), the author exaggerates the degree to which theatrical entertainments were socially and culturally suspect throughout all history in all places. This narrative ignores, for example, the enormous prestige the ancient Greeks attached to theater, as well as the importance of mystery plays and morality plays in instructing the faithful — with the Church's support — in medieval times. Further, smaller errors appear with alarming frequency: the origin of the term "blue laws," writer Edwin Royle's name (not "Royce"), the state and year that the last established church was disestablished (Massachusetts in 1833, not Connecticut in 1818), the myth that in pre-modern times only Jews loaned money at interest, even the years vaudeville managers B.F. Keith and Tony Pastor died. There are many more.
While Trav S.D.'s extensive reading in memoirs and popular books on vaudeville is admirable, he sometimes falls into the trap of uncritical acceptance of the oft-repeated tale. This is where the lack of footnotes becomes problematic: did B.F. Keith really say "I never trust a man I can't buy"? Douglas Gilbert and Joe Laurie claim that he did, but their source is unclear, and it was probably Variety journalist Epes W. Sargent, who was famously hostile to Keith.
Finally, there are problems of expression, organization, and even copyediting. Occasionally, the author's puckish wit steps over a line of taste that any vaudevillian would have known not to cross, as when he describes Al Jolson's rendition of the song "Hello, My Baby" as "surely history's first recorded phone sex." (Moreover, the book implies that Jolson "introduced" it in 1909: the first time Jolson sang it may have been in 1909, but it had been a hit in 1899. And the title is "Hello, Ma Baby.") Elsewhere, many terms, such as "entrepreneur," "fared," "forbade," and "cigarettes," are simply misspelled, as are the names of authors Gunther Barth, Albert McLean, Myron Matlaw and David Nasaw.
As to organization, a section within a chapter is labeled "Monopoly — Phase One," but the reader waits in vain for "Phase Two" to arrive. Certain themes get repeated and reexamined in various places in the book, and in one case, nearly whole sentences are reiterated. The author notes on p. 132 that "If anyone embodies the spirit of vaudevillianism, of the triumph of personality, originality, and sensationalism — not only over discipline and craft but even over beauty and talent — that person was Eva Tanguay." On p. 141 while discussing publicity and "PR," he mentions Tanguays' billing, "The Girl Who Made Vaudeville Famous," (note the book's title), and comments, "If anyone embodies the spirit of vaudevillianism, of the triumph of personality, originality, and sensationalism, over craft, beauty and talent, that person was Tanguay." There are also numerous contradictions, or at least dissonances, within the text: on p. 109, after noting the singular success of black comedy team Williams and Walker in 1898, Trav S.D. says that "it would be decades before African-American would be a common sight on a vaudeville stage." On p. 176 comes the claim that "Vaudeville was a showcase for black heroes fifty years before the Dodgers hired Jackie Robinson," which would have been 1897. So was vaudeville a "showcase" for progressive racial standards, or were Williams and Walker the rare exception that proved the rule of whites?
Sloppiness of these various sorts hurt the book's credibility. This is a substantial problem, since Trav S.D. clearly wants vaudeville to be taken seriously by discerning readers. Indeed, vaudeville merits such serious consideration, even while we need to remain conscious of the energy and sprightliness that made it so popular. Like vaudeville itself, No Applause — Just Throw Money is a mixed bag of sharp insights, colorful quips, and unexpected gaffes. In the end, it tells a compelling and absolutely entertaining story. One can only hope that the mistakes will be corrected before the paperback edition comes out — and it should come out — to greet the even wider audience this spirited book deserves.
SOURCE: New Republic ()
At first, in the great euphoria that followed the victory in 1967, amid the astonishing relief from the long sense of siege, the two partners scarcely noticed their differences. Both saw the Western Wall, the magnificent deserts of Judea and Sinai, and the ancient sites of biblical Samaria through teary, myth-struck eyes. The aging party, nostalgic for its vigorous youth, looked favorably on the younger religious movement, pioneering the new frontiers as Labor itself had pioneered the old ones under Turkish and then British rule. To be sure, there were significant differences. Concerned about international pressure against annexation, Labor's plans for settlement were more careful and hesitant, and they sometimes clashed with the messianic impatience of the younger religious movement. And the messianic impatience in those giddy days was indeed great.
The theological origins of the settlers' eschatological passion were to be found in the thought of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, who was a kind of Orthodox Jewish Hegelian. Orthodoxy had mostly viewed Zionism as a violation of God's punishment: God sent his children to exile, and they were not to return before the messiah called upon them to do so. But Kook saw secular Zionism and its Orthodox adversaries as the unexpected elements of a larger synthesis that lay in the future. And Kook's son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Hacohen Kook, with whom many of the early settler activists studied, thought that the future envisioned by his father had arrived. The "miracle" of the lightning victory of 1967 was proof of it, and an unveiling of its course: it would proceed through the "redemption" of the land. In Kook the son's teaching, settlement was "heaven's politics," and no earthly politics could ever stand against it....
SOURCE: Weekly Standard ()
ACCORDING TO THE FLYLEAF, "Everything in this book is true according to transcript, interview, secondary source or official document. Interpretations, deductions and opinions, which should be clear from context, are our own."
Never mind the transcript, interview, secondary source or official document; let's get to the interpretations, deductions, and opinions. Stephen Hunter, a Washington Post movie critic, has written a book about the attempted assassination of Harry Truman, and shares the blame with John Bainbridge Jr., who is described as a Journalist Lawyer, coupling two professions despised by millions.
American Gun Fight purports to be the up-to-now suppressed account of what really happened on that November day in 1950 when two Puerto Rican heroes (according to the authors) made the fatal attempt to free their island home from the tentacles of the Octopus to the North.
The authors offer a list of the myths they believe the gullible public was tricked into believing by the FBI and the Secret Service: The assassination attempt was thrown together on the run; the assassins were upset by newspaper reports of what was going on in Puerto Rico, where an equally silly group of men were attempting a coup; they thought that Truman lived in the White House until a cab driver told them that he was temporarily living in Blair House across the street. Harry Truman was never in any mortal danger, and, due to the machinations of the government, the public regarded the attempt as a joke, a farce, an opera bouffe. Hunter and Bainbridge then try to blow it all down in one big breath. They say, of the items listed: "Every single one of them is wrong."
Actually, every single one of them is right. The assassins were Griselio Torresola, who was killed, and Oscar Collazo, who killed a policeman but survived. Meanwhile, their leader, Pedro Albizu Campos, was sitting out an uprising in Puerto Rico. There were five uprisers and all five were shot, four fatally. The authors seem persuaded that the attempt to kill Truman was perfectly understandable and, indeed, noble. They try hard to make Griselio and Oscar heroes, and El Pedro a superhero. (He had run for president of Puerto Rico and received 5,000 votes out of the hundreds of thousands cast.) They seem to believe that, with a little bit of luck, El Pedro would have been the Father of a Brave New Country.
The oddest thing about this odd book is the argument the authors are having with themselves. On Page 41 they mock the idea that the assassins were so out of touch with reality that they thought that Truman was in the White House until the cabby told them he was across the street. On Page 87 they report, matter-of-fact, that Grisella and Oscar did think Truman was in the White House and, when the cabby told them otherwise, they were so surprised that they felt "slapped in the face."
They assure us that Oscar, Griselio, and El Pedro were able planners. Consider the planning. They had intended to gun down Harry Truman in the White House. How would they have gone about it? Would they have shot the guards in the guardhouse, run up the long curving path to the front door, shot the guards there, and then run around the huge building, shooting guards and innocent bystanders, until they found out where the president was?
Why shoot Truman, that gentle, dedicated man? Oscar, the one who survived, says it was nothing personal; the grim fact that Truman would have been dead was beside the point. These noble savages weren't after him, they were after "the president of the United States." What lover of crackpot nationalists could object to that?
Why did they want to kill the president? The authors aren't quite sure, but they offer us choices. Maybe it was the Spaniards, who "had left a legacy of violence" in Puerto Rico. Maybe it was the Americans, who arrived there after the Spanish in 1898, "advancing behind piety and bayonets," and who had changed "their language, their customs and even the spelling of the name of the island itself."
Or maybe it was simply the inspired idea of their leader, "fiery Pedro Albizu Campos." Fiery Pedro, a Harvard Law School graduate, was "a fighter against imperialism, a plotter of revolution, a man of almost saintly composure and assuredness [who] dazzled them all with his courage, his strength, his absolutism, his wit, his powerful oratory and his way of seeing through things to the absolute core." He was, they say, "smart. He was very smart." At Harvard he failed to maintain the C average required, but two professors recommended him for the law school anyway. One said Albizu was "a gentlemanly Puerto Rican, not brilliant intellectually but of good habits and appearance." The other said he was "unusually courteous and gentlemanly . . . and his work, if not brilliant, has been thorough and absolutely satisfactory."
El Pedro's courage wasn't always dazzling. In the brief, abortive revolt that preceded the assassination attempt in New York by a few days, he stayed home while five of his followers were being riddled with bullets. After a three-day siege, he and a young man named Rivera Walker surrendered. Walker went out, carrying a white napkin on a pole, while the Maximum Leader waited inside.
This book is without substantial new facts, but loaded with suppositions, deductions, and opinions. The main players are long dead, but Hunter and Bainbridge seem able to move back in time and into the heads and hearts of the assassins, as well as bystanders, innocent or not, at home and abroad, and hear with their ears, see with their eyes, and read the thoughts that ran around in their brains.
Why did they write this loopy book? Perhaps, like many dedicated members of the modern media, they believe it is part of their job to present America as an exploiter of mankind and greedy gobbler of other peoples' goods. Why is the country that fought a civil war to abolish slavery, rescued Puerto Rico from "gold hungry" Spain, helped defeat Hitler, saved the Philippines from Spain, and brought Saddam Hussein, the butcher of hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, to judge and jury, the villain? Maybe Hunter has seen one Oliver Stone film too many. Perhaps Bainbridge feels, as lawyers often do, that the truth isn't important as long as you can persuade a jury. Why did Simon and Schuster publish this book? Maybe the publisher had a couple of idle presses, a lot of paper, and a desire to keep busy.
© Copyright 2005, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.
On May 4, 1886, a bomb was detonated at a peaceful worker’s protest meeting in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, killing seven policemen and wounding a larger number of civilians. No one has ever discovered who threw the bomb, though two scholarly studies of the Haymarket calamity by the late historians Paul Avrich and Henry David, each had their favorite candidate.
It was a momentous event in the bitter battles between labor and capital after the Civil War when working people, many of whom were immigrants from Germany and Eastern Europe, tried to organize unions and humanize their labors while corporate owners, backed by the courts and federal and local governments, tried and generally succeeded in smashing their peons’ rebellions. The bloodletting at Haymarket effectively castrated the anarchist movement, but it also virtually eliminated the more moderate Knights of Labor and further empowered tycoons such as Cyrus McCormick and George Pullman and their unyielding political and judicial allies. “It is clear,” writes James Green, professor of labor history at the University of Massachusetts Boston in this thorough and acute chronicle of the Haymarket tragedy, that the bombing and subsequent trial of Haymarket suspects “should be read as a warning to citizens who allow the civil liberties of immigrants to be violated in the name of fighting terrorism.”
The demand for an 8-hour day was the central theme for working people. The owners of industry fiercely resisted 8-hours preferring 10 hours, six days a week. They responded to strikes and efforts to organize unions with killings, blacklists, firings, and reductions of wages. They hired the ubiquitous Pinkertons, and availed themselves of local police, federal troops, the National Guard and the courts to battle the extreme class divisions that had emerged in the wake of the swift growth of mass industrialization. Moreover, European dreams of anarchism and socialism, which arrived with many newcomers, terrified them.
After the bombing in Haymarket Square demands for revenge and punishment were stoked by the local press and opportunistic and reactionary politicians. The trial of the indicted men, presided over by a biased judge, was less than fair. Testimony favorable to the defendants was ignored and manufactured evidence favored, leading to inevitable guilty verdicts and the death penalty for four men. Two defendants received lengthy prison sentences and one committed suicide in his prison cell.
What developed among far too many Americans was a form of mass paranoia against “Reds”—a phenomenon that reappeared with devastating regularity in the 20th Century. The most prominent among the Haymarket defendants were Albert Parsons, a Confederate veteran and anarchist who sided with ex-slaves during the Reconstruction era and whose black wife Lucy fought for decades after his death to rehabilitate his reputation, later joining the Socialist Party and composing his biography. Parsons had no record of violence. But another defendant, August Spies, German born, a longtime supporter of the 8-hour day was also a revolutionary. Green quotes one of his speeches in which he tells his audience “you have endured the pangs of hunger and want; you have worked yourself to death; your children you [sic] have sacrificed to the factory lords…destroy the hideous monster that seeks to destroy you. To arms, we call you. To arms!”
Which, given their history in Europe, proved to be part of the problem facing American anarchists in general and the defendants in particular. The more violent their rhetoric became, the more they incited opponents to commit even more violent acts.
How, then, to battle the awesome power of corporate and state power, especially when employees had little or no rights and certainly no safety nets? Some have written in defense of embattled working people in that pitiless age that anarchists wished to give birth to a more moral world. The problem was what, specifically, was that new world and how best to reach it? And more specifically, what was the best way to attain an 8-hour day and the right to belong to unions? Was Bakunin, Berkman and Johann Most’s approval of violence the model or Kropotkin’s, the socialist Debs or even the accomodationist Samuel Gompers?
In time, however, the tide turned. It was too late for the dead police and anarchists but Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld pardoned the two remaining Haymarket survivors in 1893, and accused the presiding judge of “malicious ferocity.” Excoriated by many but also widely defended, the courageous and principled Altgeld, whose future political career was permanently damaged, “feared that when the law was bent to deprive immigrants of their civil liberties,” comments Green, “ it would later be bent to deprive native sons and daughters of theirs as well.”
This remains wise advice in our own very troubled time.
SOURCE: Weekly Standard ()
IN THIS ESTIMABLE VOLUME, Richard Striner effectively demolishes the fashionable myths of Lincoln the Reluctant Emancipator and Lincoln the White Supremacist. Deeply committed to the antislavery cause, the sixteenth president was, as Striner persuasively argues, "a fervent idealist" and "an artist in the Machiavellian uses of power."
Lincoln loathed and despised slavery early on. "I have always hated slavery I think as much as any abolitionist," he declared during his unsuccessful quest for a Senate seat in 1858. Six years later, as he prepared his bid for a second term in the White House, he wrote a public letter avowing "I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel."
But Lincoln also revered the Constitution and felt bound to abide by it, even the odious fugitive slave clause. To his best friend, Kentucky slaveholder Joshua Speed, he confided in 1855: "I . . . acknowledge your rights and my obligations, under the constitution, in regard to your slaves. I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils; but I bite my lip and keep quiet." That sight was "a continual torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border. It is hardly fair for you to assume, that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable. You ought rather to appreciate how much the great body of the Northern people do crucify their feelings, in order to maintain their loyalty to the constitution and the Union."
As president, Lincoln would have issued the Emancipation Proclamation much earlier than he did if he had acted on his own wishes. But he felt bound by his oath of office to uphold the Constitution, which meant preserving the Union. If he moved prematurely, he rightly feared driving some or all of the loyal slave states (Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware) into the arms of the Confederacy, and thus losing the war. Only when those states were securely cemented to the Union did he announce the emancipation policy. Critics who accuse Lincoln of being soft on slavery denounce the pragmatic justification of military necessity he gave for taking that step. But as he cogently explained, the only constitutional ground for ordering emancipation was his authority under the war power. Because emancipation was legitimate as a measure for undermining the Confederacy, he restricted the scope of the proclamation to those areas still in rebellion. Exempt were the Border States and parts of the Confederacy occupied by Union forces. Greasing the skids for the proclamation, Lincoln wrote a public letter a month before its issuance that, as Striner emphasizes, has been widely misunderstood:
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. . . . I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.
This letter was not a definitive statement of Lincoln's innermost feelings about the aims of the war but, rather, a political utterance designed to smooth the way for the proclamation, which he had already written and intended to promulgate as soon as the Union army won a major victory. He knew full well that millions of northerners and border state residents would object to transforming the war into an abolitionist crusade. They were willing to fight to preserve the Union but not to free the slaves. As president, Lincoln had to make the mighty act of emancipation palatable to them. By assuring conservatives that emancipation was simply a means to preserve the Union, Lincoln hoped to minimize the white backlash that he knew would come.
Lincoln feared that his proclamation might not stand up in court. Striner shows that the president worked assiduously behind the scenes to reconstruct Confederate states during the war as Union forces penetrated ever deeper southward. His Ten Percent plan, which enabled a state to resume good standing in the Union if one-tenth of its eligible electorate took a loyalty oath, represented no abandonment of blacks, as critics charged. Lincoln wanted white southerners in the reconstructed states to abolish slavery through their legislatures, which the Constitution did not forbid. Moreover, he knew that white backlash would be diminished if emancipation were decreed by their own state governments rather than by the federal government.
When that strategy fizzled, Lincoln vigorously supported a measure guaranteeing freedom to all slaves that no court could undo: a constitutional amendment. Using his powers of persuasion, he cajoled Congress to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which finally did abolish slavery throughout the nation.
Once slavery was abolished, Lincoln wanted the liberated blacks to enjoy real freedom. To that end he signed legislation establishing a Freedmen's Bureau, which Striner rightly characterizes as "an unprecedented social welfare agency." In addition, the president publicly endorsed limited black suffrage in an important speech two days after Robert E. Lee surrendered. His recommendation applied to tens of thousands of black veterans of the Union army as well as "very intelligent" black men.
That speech cost Lincoln his life, for John Wilkes Booth was in the audience and declared to companions who would help him assassinate the president three days later, "That means nigger citizenship. Now, by God, I'll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make." And so it was. Thus, Lincoln was a martyr to black civil rights as much as Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers.
Striner's treatment of Lincoln's pre-presidential years focuses on the period 1854-61. In dealing with the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, Striner notes that it "is easy enough to view Lincoln in a very bad light by our contemporary standards." But he correctly points out that Lincoln's statements that grate most harshly on modern ears (opposing black citizenship rights) were "a defense against the crude demagoguery of Douglas." Douglas, like many of his Democratic colleagues, engaged in shameless race-baiting, compared with which Lincoln's reservations about black equality seem mild. Lincoln argued that the question of black citizenship was a red herring, that the real issue before the public was slavery. Republicans believed slavery was wrong and should not be allowed to expand; Democrats did not believe slavery was wrong and would allow it to expand.
Memorably, Lincoln declared in the final debate:
That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles--right and wrong--throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other the 'divine right of kings.' It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, 'You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it.' No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.
Striner makes his case well, skillfully utilizing the work of such fine historians as James M. McPherson, LaWanda Cox, Harry V. Jaffa, and William Lee Miller. He could have strengthened his argument by citing defenses of Lincoln by thoroughgoing abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and Owen Lovejoy. But he does quote Frederick Douglass's too-little-known 1865 speech in which the black orator called Lincoln "emphatically the black man's president, the first to show any respect for their rights as men."
Striner's readable account is not aimed at specialists, who will discover little new in it, but at the general reader, who will be impressed by the relentless way the author shows how relentless was Lincoln's struggle to end slavery.