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The Idolatry of Lesser Gods: Bogeymen and Heroes in the Bush Age

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No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts. No just and loving god looks upon them with favor. — President Obama, speaking at the Fort Hood memorial service on November 10, 2009

Listening to the radio yesterday, I heard Obama speak at the memorial for the 13 slain soldiers at Fort Hood. I listened to another mourner call the shooting rampage a “mini 9/11.” I listened to Obama.

At the risk of committing blasphemy, I’m going to state the obvious. When it comes to honoring tragedy, violence and death, Americans rise to the occasion. But only so long as these can be turned into a cause, of sorts: a cause for waving the flag and waxing patriotic about how great we are, as a people and a country — a cause, ultimately, for uniting against a common enemy. Because  without our enemies, we’d be nothing.

pro war
More than 200 demonstrators gathered at a Lafayette, California hillside in 2007 to voice their support for Bush and the Iraq War. The more than 3,000 crosses in the background represent the soldiers killed in Iraq.

I say this not to dishonor the victims of this horrible tragedy, but because it is incomprehensible that the American people have not embraced, with an equal degree of passion and mourning, the estimated 738 innocent American lives that have been lost — due to the simple inability to afford medical care — since the November 5th shooting rampage at Fort Hood.

Traditionally, Americans don’t rally around common enemies like poverty, racism or injustice. Quite the opposite, in fact. Our enemies are whatever bogeyman currently embodies our centuries-long hatred of other races, of other cultures,  and most especially of non-Christians.  And — as we learned during the Bush-Cheney Administration — it makes no difference whether these enemies are real or imaginary. The important thing is that we have them.

Without our enemies, around whom would we unite? Against what would we fight? What would be our common cause? Certainly not a reverence for the living.

If we’ve learned nothing from the health care wars of 2009, it’s that here in American, there are some folk who wouldn’t give a slug nickel to buy a poor man 5 minutes with the doctor — and who would, in fact, fight to the death to ensure he doesn’t get a red cent. By no coincidence, these are the same folk who have proved they don’t give a rat’s ass how big the price tag, when it comes to war.

The proof of this is in the pudding of the last 8 years. The rabid mobs who took to the streets this summer in protest against health care reform are the same folk who raised nary a squeak over the trillions of their grandchildrens’ futures that were mortagaged by Bush, Cheney & Co. Not a single pip was heard over the trillions that have been squandered to foot the bill for two wars that were waged on false pretenses and lies — wars which have accomplished little more than generating new armies of enemies, while making billionaires out of oil men, defense contractors and the myriad other for-profit agents of modern warfare. 

And in the wake the shootings at Fort Hood, we’ve learned something else. Americans easily unite to shed tears and decry the tragedy of 13 soldiers whose lives were brutally cut short by an irrational act of insanity. Yet we, as a people, are unable to extend this same level of sadness and outrage over the 123 Americans whose lives are brutally cut short each and every day — lives that could be saved, were these human beings simply given access to medical care.    

child-of-warIn America, we readily unite around our wars, our enemies and our soldiers. We generously open our pocketbooks to bullets and bombs and missiles. And we turn a blind eye to the repercussions of our purchases — millions maimed and slaughtered, falsely imprisoned and tortured, the women and children forced by American mercenaries into servitude and sex slavery, the uncounted number of babies born grossly deformed and dead in the wake of our depleted uranium bombs. Even as we don’t dare look our deeds in the eye, we rejoice in their righteousness. 

Yet, we fracture at the prospect of peace; ridicule peacemakers as weak; label them “terrorist appeasers.” We resent humanitarian causes, squabble over whose job it is — and isn’t — to protect and care for the sick, the oppressed, the hurt, the weak and the hungry. 

It should come as no surprise, then, that we were unable, as a country, to unite during the summer of 2009 to ensure that — never again — would any American citizen suffer fear, hunger, destitution, bankruptcy or homelessness due to medical bills  — or, worse, that any American citizen would die for simple a lack of money to pay for medical care. It should come as no surprise, but yet it caught us all by surprise to find our nation split in two, with many citizens taking to the streets with guns and threats of violence, sedition, assassination and lynching. 

Could it be that — for all our claims of being a godly nation — the moral pulse of our country is driven less by love than by hatred? Could this be the reason why Christians want to embed their religion into our laws, post their commandments in our national parks, plaster their piety on bumper stickers — cramming their hypocritical holiness down the throat of every non-Christian — so that we may, as a country, legitimize greed, ignorance, fear and intolerance? So that we may, on paper, divide the godly from the godless — and, in doing so, elevate our wars, our hatreds, and our petty missions into something they’re not? Is this why — whenever our leaders have attempted to pass legislation to protect people from racism, discrimination, lynching and hate crimes, or to protect the earth, feed the hungry or heal the sick — the Christians are the ones who take to the streets, armed to the teeth in protest? 

Could this be the reason why the American people seem almost obsessed with the need to know that the tragedy in Texas was not a random act of insanity but was, indeed, the long hand of the Muslim bogeyman reaching out to get us?  

Here, the tension is palpable. Patriotic Americans everywhere are waiting with bated breath — flags in hand — for the answer to that question. The media and our leaders wait with us, their fingers on the trigger, ready at a moment’s notice to shoot the answer to this all-encompassing question: Was Nidal Hasan’s shooting rampage part of a *gasp* Muslim terrorist plot?

They hope the answer is yes. 

They hope the answer is yes: permission granted to loathe and fear Muslims. Permission granted to believe that all Muslims are secretly planning to wage jihad against America. Permission granted to label all Muslims — and anyone who resembles, sympathizes or socializes with Muslims — as terrorists. Permission granted to elevate them all to the status of enemy.  And because all foreigners look alike to Americans, permission granted to fear and loathe all foreigners. 

They hope the answer is yes. Otherwise, Nidal Hasan’s rampage wouldn’t be so different than that of a disgruntled, white Protestant American worker who — perhaps suffering one more ounce of burden, stress or perceived injustice than he could handle — simply snapped. He succumbed to insanity; we went “postal” and slaughtered innocent people. 

By the same token, what if Nidal Hasan were, indeed, on a self-appointed mission from God? Americans have never, in the wake of similar tragedies, waged war against postal workers or factory workers. Nor have they persecuted Christians in the wake of crimes by men such as Timothy McVeigh, Jim Jones, Warren Jeffs and others who have committed equally heinous acts, including mass murder, under the delusion that they were on a mission from God:

Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.” — George W. Bush in early 2003, before the US-led invasion of Iraq began, speaking to French President Jacques Chirac, in the hope of drawing his country into the “coalition of the willing.”

I am driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan’. And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq’. And I did.George W. Bush four months after the U.S. led invasion of Iraq, speaking before a Palestinian delegation in Egypt during the Israeli-Palestinian summit, four months after the US-led invasion of Iraq began. 

As the child and grandchild of World War veterans, I am grateful to those who lay their lives on the line to protect America and our allies from real enemies. But being an American does not commit me to leave my mind and my conscience on the doorstep every time the decision is made to go to war. History has already shown — and one day the history books will catch up: America’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan — be they Christian crusades, wars for oil, or a crude mix of the two — were unnecessary and avoidable.  

Had the shoe been on the other foot — had, say, Timothy McVeigh et al been accused of flying suicide planes into the heart of Afghanistan, we would have responded exactly as the Taliban did in the wake of 9-11:  Show us the evidence that these people committed this horrible crime, and we will turn the criminals over to the courts for prosecution. Specifically, America was told:

“Punishment must only be brought once clear evidence of the crime has been established, and that must come through the relevant judicial channels.”

Judicial channels. What a novel concept. The Bush cabal cast such quaint notions aside, in what was to be their first successful abuse of the “state secrets” priviledge to deny accountability for their actions. To provide evidence that al Qaeda was responsible for 9-11 would have been “in conflict with the imperative of keeping intelligence information secret.”

The United States is going to do nothing that jeopardises the investigation,” opined Condi Rice.

The American people take encouragement from the fact that this government will not have loose lips,” bragged White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

But “In the near future,” promised Colin Powell, “we will be able to put out a paper, a document, that will describe quite clearly the evidence that we have linking him to the attack.” Of course, these documents never materialized. And the American people, it seems, didn’t really care, anyway.   

bush praying

"I accept the legal conclusion of the Department of Justice and determine that none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with al Qaeda in Afghanistan or elsewhere throughout the world..." Bush memo, dated February 7, 2002

And as the 8 years wound on, around the world, in dark, secret places, America accumulated prisons full of accused bogeymen — prisoners for whom, we were assured, the normal judicial channels and international law didn’t apply. Indeed, to have provided things like evidence, formal charges and jury trials against any man on the planet accused of terrorism would have also been “in conflict with the imperative of keeping intelligence information secret.” These bogeymen were so very bad, that they didn’t even deserve the normal channels of justice. In fact, these men were so evil that the only way to proving their crimes was to torture them into making confessions.   

Imagine a court of law in Podunk, USA pronouncing a man guilty of murder, yet refusing to allow the evidence of his guilt, based on the argument that to do so would jeopardize the police investigation. Or that the only way to proving his guilt was to torture him — beat him, starve him, keep him awake for weeks on end, cut his genitals, rape him with broom handles, suffocate him with water, threaten to torture or kill his wife, his sons, his daughters — whatever means were necessary to making him ‘fess up.     

It would be equally unjust, under the scenario above ( with Timothy McVeigh being accused of flying a suicide mission into the heart of Afghanistan)  if Afghanistan simply refused to follow judicial channels and, instead, chose to invade American soil and kill tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Or if Afghanistan were to go on a worldwide crusade to round up and imprison whatever Christians they deemed terrorists. No evidence necessary, of course, beyond whatever confessions could be extracted under torture. After all, as we now know, Christians can and do commit heinous crimes under the delusion that they are on a mission from God. 

My heart goes out to the victims and the families who suffered from the brutal violence and murders commited by Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009. My gripe is not with those who fight real enemies. My gripe is with people who hurt innocent people. My gripe is with those who try to elevate ignorance, fear, intolerance, indifference, greed and violence into something they are not. Namely patriotism, capitalist enterprise, or a mission from God. There is nothing noble or heroic in murdering or allowing harm to come to innocent people, no matter what your religion, nationality or office, and no matter how justifiable your fear, anger or rage.   

A blind reverence to those institutions and individuals who claim license to kill innocents flies in the face of all gods. Obama got that much right yesterday.    

No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts. No just and loving god looks upon them with favor. — President Obama, speaking at the Fort Hood memorial service on November 10, 2009

Similar words were spoken 3 years ago, by the United States Conference for the World Council of Churches, in their criticism of the Bush Administration’s response to the 9/11 attacks:

We are citizens of a nation that has done much in these years to endanger the human family and to abuse the creation. Our leaders turned a deaf ear to the voices of church leaders throughout our nation and the world, entering into imperial projects that seek to dominate and control for the sake of our own national interests. Nations have been demonised and God has been enlisted in national agendas that are nothing short of idolatrous.

 

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by Mantis Katz for canarypapers

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Joe Wilson, the Know-Nothings and the Great Lost Cause: The South Rises Again

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(LEFT) A 9-12 protester, dressed in camouflage, carries a sign with a picture of an assault rifle pasted to the front. The caption reads: "A PICTURE this time. DON'T make me come back!" (RIGHT) D.C. Protester sporting a shirt that reads, "God & Guns ~ Back by Popular Demand."
(LEFT) A 9-12 protester, dressed in camouflage, carries a sign with a picture of an assault rifle pasted to the front. The caption reads: “A PICTURE this time. DON’T make me come back!” (RIGHT) A man wearing a shirt that reads, “God & Guns ~ Back by Popular Demand,” is flanked by D.C. protesters carrying “Don’t Tread on Me” flags.

 

Doomed to repeat
  
Unless we choose to learn something from this particular chapter in our history, there’s no point in belaboring Joe Wilson’s outburst or gawking over the stream of vigilante protestors who commemorated 9-11 this past weekend by issuing thinly veiled threats to kill the President of the United States, along with certain Democratic members of Congress.  The fact is, until men like Joe Wilson cease being revered as the patron saint of the great Lost Cause, we can make no claim to have learned one of our country’s greatest history lessons.
 
 
flags

The Lost Cause

Growing up in South Carolina, I developed a mental block toward history, beginning sometime in elementary school. What child of 1960s South Carolina could possibly keep straight which was our state flag (the pretty blue flag, with the palmetto tree? or the scary red flag, with the big blue X in the middle, that flew from the yards and pick-up trucks of certain people?) — much less keep straight all of the Important Wars that our state had fought over slavery: the War Between the States, the Civil War, the War for Southern Independence, the War of Northern Aggression, the War of Secession, the Lost Cause?

Had someone told me then, what I know now, I might not have been a C-student in history and would have understood — long before the Lee Atwater era and the rise of the Southern strategy that has given birth to today’s tea baggers, deathers, birthers and twelvers — that the Lost Cause by any other name is still just a bloody war that has to be conceded. 

Before the Civil War, both the President and Vice-President of the Confederacy of newly seceded states (Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens, respectively) named slavery as the primary cause of the war. After all, until the Civil War, slaves were chattel property — not human beings. What right had the Federal government to stand between a man and his property?

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite [from the U.S. Constitution] idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.  — Alexander Stephens in March 1861, comparing the new Constitution of the Confederacy with the “old” constitution — the U.S. Constitution — which Stephens claimed was built on a “sandy foundation ” as it “rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. “

It [slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts. — Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America.

After the war, Davis and Stephens backpeddled a bit, trying to divorce slavery from the equation. The emphasis was put entirely on states’ rights and secession, as if slavery had nothing to with either. It was during this period that the “Lost Cause” moniker was born.   

The Lost Cause was a purely Southern term, intended to convey for posterity the nobility of the Southern cause against the overwhelming force of the North. To this end, the Lost Causers made clear that the war was never about slavery. It was about state’s rights. It was not about the Federal government’s increasing encroachment upon the institution and expansion of slavery; it was about the South’s justification for seceding from the Union. According to this revised history, the South seceded from the Union because it was their right to resist Northern aggression toward their independence, their “Southern way of life.”

Understandably, it must have been difficult to continue infusing nobility onto a bloody war that decimated the Southern economy and humiliated its people; even more so to continue justifying the loss of 620,000 lives in a war that sought nothing more noble than the right to continue enslaving 4 million people.

dc obama massaMuch like today’s protesters who carry signs that read, “I want my country back!” — all the while insisting that their cause has nothing to do with racism — Jefferson Davis spent the balance of his life deriding the North for destroying the “Southern way of life,” all the while insisting that the war had nothing to do with slavery. Just like the protesters of today –who see today’s struggle for equal rights in health care as an assault on the Constitution and who decry Obama’s stimulus money and proposals on health care reform as the greatest assaults ever committed on our economy (even as these same protesters were perplexingly silent throughout the 8-years of the Bush-Cheney Administration’s unprecedented assaults on the Constitution and the federal budget) — Jefferson Davis was never quite able to connect the dots, never quite able to see what he was blind to seeing: the real motivation behind his selective memory on history.    

Writing in 1881, Jefferson accused the North of arriving, “like the serpent of Eden” tempting slaves with “the magic words of ‘freedom.'” If not for North, Jefferson said, these slaves — whose “servile instincts rendered them contented with their lot” — would never have succumbed to their “humble but emotional natures” and been incited to take up the cause of the North to “devastate their benefactors [slaveowners].”

And so it has been for 150 years and counting, with the torch of the Lost Cause being passed from generation to generation by various “historical” orders and “benevolent” societies thoughout the South, whose nativist, racist agendas are, at best, thinly veiled — and nearly always laid on the altar of God, Christianity and the Bible: from the Ku Klux Klan, to the  Junior Order of United American Mechanics, to the League of the South, the Association of Confederate Soldiers and the United Confederate Veterans of yore, to today’s Military Order of Stars and Bars, the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the group to which the now-infamous Rep. Joe Wilson (SC) belongs, and which still embraces, today, the charge issued to them in 1906 by Lt. General Stephen Dill Lee, Commander General of the United Confederate Veterans:

To you, Sons of Confederate Veterans, we will commit the vindication of the cause for which we fought. To your strength will be given the defense of the Confederate soldier’s good name, the guardianship of his history, the emulation of his virtues, the perpetuation of those principles which he loved and which you love also, and those ideals which made him glorious and which you also cherish. 

And thus Joe Wilson’s Confederacy took the torch from Jefferson Davis, carrying it into the 21st century, their mantle cloaked in the noble language of abstracts: virtues, principles, ideals. No overt mention of the actual cause for which they fought — a cause which, by their own admission, they are committed to vindicating. You’ll find no overt pro-slavery sentiments among their literature; no overt mention of racism or oppression among the Lost Causers of today, even as their politics seek to institutionalize racism, and even as their politicians — from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan to the Bush Dynasty — employ men such as Harry Dent, Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, whose job is  to groom the Southern vote by exploiting old hatred. As Lee Atwater explained in his description of the Southern strategy he used in Reagan’s campign:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites….. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

This is the secret language of the great Lost Cause. This is the language being spoken, today, by politicians who seek to romance the racist vote. This is the language of those who have hijacked Christianity, using it to justify their evil deeds, exploiting religion as a tool to claim moral superiority over those whom they seek to commit oppression and violence. This is the language of corporations who exploit old hatreds and fears to incite protest against laws that would counterbalance their corruption and abuse of the American people. This is the language that will be spoken in the upcoming event being hosted by Joe Wilson’s Sons of Confederate Veterans: The American System of Liberty: Nullification, Secession and States’ Rights.  It is the adopted tongue of the common everyday man — birthers, deathers, teabaggers and twelvers alike — who, in the process of doing the dirty work for their politicians and the corporations that line their re-election coffers,  shoot themselves in the foot, under the misguided notion that they are fighting a nobler cause than the oppression to which they, themselves, will be made victim by these same politicians and corporations.  

A riddle: How to say the N-word without saying the N-word?

Here's a riddle for you: How to say the N-word without saying the N-word?

The Lost Cause and the Bogeymen

The Lost Cause, then, is why, when I was a young child — during our night-time drives home from family weekends at the lake — I used to cover my eyes and hide on the floorboard whenever we got mired in slow traffic, as passers-by gawked at the sight of men in white hoods, burning a cross in the middle of a field. The Lost Cause is why my teachers used to turn a blind eye to my classmates, who issued my daily ass beatings to punish me for being friends with a black child. The Lost Cause is why, every year, Civil War re-enactors descend on our town to reserruct the glory of that war.  

As much as this phrase is overused — those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it — it is apropos to Joe Wilson’s outburst, pertinent to his rebel yell, “You lie!” which served as a lightning rod to draw together the forces of fear, power, money and hatred into a single hot lick of flame. This is how the torch is passed — always, always ignited by fear: fear of blacks, fear of immigrants; fear of other religions; fear of things that are different, unknown, unknowable; the fear of the bogeyman that creeps in the shadows, hiding under our bed at night, lurking in our closet, stalking us from the cradle to the grave.

The bogeymen Joe Wilson conjured in those two words were not just the stereotypical black man archetypes that white men have been inventing for the past 350 years: the arrogant Negro, the militant African American, the lazy welfare buck, always trying to pull something over on whitey. No, Joe Wilson also specifically designed to conjure the fear of the immigrant bogeyman: that foreign enemy that relentlessly steals into our borders, into the American dream — OUR American dream — the greedy Polish, German and Irish immigrants intent on stealing our jobs from under us, the gluttonous Hispanics and Latinos content to suck dry the milk of human kindness on the taxpayers’ dime, the conspiratorial Catholics, Muslims and Jews seeking to undermine and, ultimately, overthrow the American democracy and capitalism, replacing these with communism, socialism, Nazism, facism…. Or worse. This is the immigrant Joe Wilson conjured in the lick of flame he passed to his audience during President Obama’s speech — the immigrant of the Know Nothing Party.

Joe Wilson and the Know Nothing Party

Rising to power in the decade preceding the Civil war, the Know Nothing Party was born from a fear of immigration — specifically Irish Catholic immigrants. The Know-Nothings were convinced that the Pope and his Irish Catholic minions were secretly plotting to take over the U.S. government in an effort to kill freedom and democracy, and to subjugate Protestants. The Know-Nothings worked in secrecy, helping to elect leaders sympathetic to their cause. Hence, the origin of their name: Whenever asked about their activities, they answered, “I know nothing.”

On the point of anti-immigration, the Know-Nothings were united, working behind the scenes to elect leaders who promised to deliver the goods. Specifically, to institutionalize their xenophobic agenda by enacting laws to restrict immigration; by barring immigrants from working at certain jobs; by excluding immigrants from voting or holding public office; and by requiring a 21-year residency as a prerequisite to citizenship. By 1855, with their numbers swelled to a million-strong, the Know Nothings jubilantly came out of the closet and formed the American Party. 

Had the only issue been immigration, the American Party would likely have survived intact into the 21st century. However, they were divided on points of prohibition and slavery, with the issue of slavery putting the final nail in the coffin of the Know-Nothings and their American Party. The anti-slavery faction migrated into the newly-formed Republican Party of the North, while the pro-slavery faction moved their numbers to the Democratic Party of the South, joining forces in what was to become the Lost Cause. 

The rest is history:

  • the Pope and his Irish Catholic minions did not overthrow the American government, despite the Know Nothings fears;
  • the emancipated black slaves did not go on a rampage and kill white people, nor overthrow the American government in the wake of the Civil War, despite the predictions of the Southern Democrats, the Red Shirts, and Ku Klux Klan;
  • the influx of immigrants in the early 20th century was not, as the Ku Klux Klan warned, an attempt to bring the Bolshevik Revolution to American soil
  • the labor unions of the early 20th century did not topple capitalism or turn our country into a communist labor camp
  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms (e.g. the FDIC, SEC, organized labor and the Social Security Act) did not turn America into a fascist state, as myriad detractors cried would happen
  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower was not a “conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy,” as the suggested by John Birch Society
  •  President Harry Truman and the civil rights activists, artists, intellects, writers, actors and independent-minded politicians of the 1950s were not communists conspiring to infiltrate and overtake our government, as Joseph McCarthy believed to the core of his being.
  • President John F. Kennedy, it turns out, was not the AntiChrist. And history has since shown that, despite the concerted fears of Southerners and Protestants everywhere, Kennedy’s presidency was not a secret plot to incorporate America into the Catholic hierarchy, nor to decimate our First Amendment rights. 
  • the Medicare Act of 1965 did not turn America into a socialist country, as was warned in the early 60s by Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush
  • Martin Luther King was not a communist, as Joseph McCarthy insisted, nor was the civil rights movement part of a larger communist plan to overthrow the American government. 
  • blacks did not overthrow the American government or subjugate white men in the wake of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts of 1964-65, nor was America transformed into a communist regime, as the John Birchers predicted 
  • the idea of allowing blacks equal access with whites to schools, restaurants, bathrooms, drinking fountains and other public places did not spring from the minds of “communist philophers,” as George Wallace and others had insisted, nor did desegration “forever” kill America’s freedom
  • Hillary Clinton’s book, “It Takes a Village,” was not a Marxist manifesto calling for the destruction of the American family unit, so that our children could be placed under the care of a socialist Big Government. Nor was her health care plan.

Since the history has not yet been recorded, it will be a few years before we can offiicially add what we already know to this list:

  • health care reform is not a secret socialist plot by the Obama Administration to take over the government, subjugate Christians, empower immigrants and minorities to overpower whites, rob us of our rights and freedoms, topple capitalism, institute death panels, install fascist rule or turn American into a communist state
  • the closest America has ever come to being a fascist state was under the rule of Dick Cheney, during which time the birthers, deathers and tea baggers were asleep at the wheel

Still, hope springs eternal. Maybe one day we will no longer be a nation doomed to keep repeating this same sad, pathetic history, marching to the tune of the Know Nothings and the great Lost Causers.

 

A view of the 9-12 protest march in DC: the Confederate flag and the South Carolina state flag frame the dome of the U.S. Capitol.

A view of the 9-12 protest march in DC: the Confederate flag and the South Carolina state flag frame the dome of the U.S. Capitol.

The National Association of Retarded People and Joe Wilson’s flag

Even as the Confederate “bars and stripes” flag was never the official flag of South Carolina, nor the Confederacy, it is the official flag of the Lost Cause and all who have yet to concede the outcomes of the Civil War, the Voting Rights Act , the Civil Rights Act and desegregation.

The Confederate flag was planted on the South Carolina State House in 1961, ostensibly to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Civil War. And there it remained for 38 years, during which time the Confederate flag grew to be symbol of the Ku Klux Klan, serving as the banner under which the white supremacists marched during the Civil Rights era, then later, during the Reagan era, the flag carried by the rising movement of white supremacist skinheads and neo-Nazis. While the Civil War revisionists have long-insisted that the flag is a cherished part of our history and has nothing to do with racism, anyone who lives in the South knows the de facto symbolism. We can argue the point ’til we’re blue in the face, but the fact remains that we all know the sort of people who fly Confederate flags in their yards, or plaster its image onto their pickup truck bumpers, or proudly boast it during their Civil War re-enactments. 

And one needn’t scratch far below the surface to elicit the racial animosity that attends to this adopted symbol of our “cherished” history. In 1999, for example — after the Confederate flag had been flying over the S.C. State House for 38 years in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Civil War, and despite many efforts to have it removed — the  NAACP threatened a boycott of South Carolina tourism if the Confederate flag were not removed from the State House. In response, S.C. Sen. Arthur Ravenel announced that he wouldn’t be pressured by “that organization known as the National Association of Retarded People.” For his part, then-Senator Joe Wilson defended the flag as a “very honourable” part of his Southern heritage: 

That’s offensive to me that they would take my heritage and make it into a Holocaust era type description. I find that very offensive, and it’s not true. The Southern heritage, the Confederate heritage is very honourable.

The fact is, slavery WAS a 200-year holocaust commmitted by Christian white men – not only against blacks, but against Native Americans and any other non-white, non-Christian race that could be kidnapped and sold into slavery. Those Native Americans who were not slaughtered, were sold into slavery to fund the African slave trade, in which millons of blacks were kidnapped from their homes and stacked like common cargo into the bellies of ships for their trip to America, where they were sold  into slavery, forced to work as beasts of burden for white men. This was written into the laws, called Slave Codes, of each and every slaveholding state in our great Christian nation:

All servants imported and brought into the Country…who were not Christians in their native Country…shall be accounted and be slaves. All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves within this dominion…shall be held to be real estate.” — from the Virginia Slave Code of 1705, defining slaves as those non-Christian people of color — a population that encompassed Africans and Native Americans alike, none of whom were deemed human beings in the eye of the law but were, rather, held as “real estate.” The Virginia Slave Code of 1667 had already established that Christian baptism did not alter the state of bondage.

It would be difficult to make a factual case that any of these slaves were “contented with their lot” as the Jefferson Davis-Joe Wilson school of historical revisionists would have us believe. The punishments for escape, or for stealing food, were prescribed by law and were anything but “honourable”:

For the slave first offense of petty larceny (stealing or destroying goods valued at less than twelve pence) the punishement was to be publicly and severely whipped, not exceeding forty lashes… second offense shall either have one of his ears cut off or be branded on the head with a hot iron that the mark thereof may remain… for his third offense shall have his nose slit… a fourth time shall be adjudged to suffer death or other punishment as the said judge shall think fitting. — from the South Carolina Slave Code of 1712. Similar punishments were meted to runaway slaves, with the letter “R” branded on the right cheek for a second offense. Upon the third attempt to run away, males were castrated. Should a slave die as a result of the castration, the slaveowner was compensated our of the public treasury for the value of the slave! Upon the fifth offense the “cord of the slaves legs” would be cut above the heel or, alternately, the slave would be killed. Slave owners who failed to carry out these punishments were subject to punishments ranging from fines to forfeiture of his slave.

The South Carolina Slave Codes of 1722 and 1735 took a more charitable view toward the “pretence of hunger” that might compel a slave to steal food, changing the law to reduce the number of lashings from 40 to 30 for any slave who stole “fowls, lambs, pigs, hogs, calves or pountry or any other edible matter or other thing under the value of twenty shilings.” Too, the law reflected on whether it was really in the master’s interest to kill his slave for such thefts: 

Negroes and slaves, under pretence of hunger, do frequently break open corn houses and rice houses and steal from them corn and rice…. If these slaves sought food when inadequate amounts were provided, was it in the master’s interest to kill them for burglaries committed to alleviate hunger pangs?”  from the South Carolina Slave Code of 1722

These Slave Codes remained in effect until the Civil War era, when they were replaced by a new system of laws called Black Code, then Jim Crow, then the “racial code” of the Atwater era that is with us today. For 100 years of this time – from the 1860s to the early 1960s, lynchings were the rule of vigilante justice throughout the South. Throughout this century, Southern politicians, such as Joe Wilson’s  old boss, Strom Thurmond,  fought tooth and nail against Federal anti-lynching laws — all the way into the 1950s —  insisting on the preservation of their beloved “states’ rights” for handling lynchers, sans the intrusion of the Federal government. It worked. Despite nearly 200 anti-lynching bills introduced into Congress, not a one passed, due entirely to the power of the filibuster by Southern politicians.  As some compensation, the Senate apologized in 2005 for their failure to pass antil-lynching laws.

And Joe Wilson is offended by those who would take his “heritage” and “make it into a Holocaust era type description”? Untold thousands of blacks were wantonly murdered from the 1600s onward into the earely 1960s, with a near absence of laws to protect them, much less to punish their murderers. During this time, millions of Native Americans were targeted by the U.S. government for extermination. It’s an ugly and shameful history, to be sure — one that no man or flag could, in all honesty, claim as an honorable cause. Yet, they do.  

As Joe Wilson’s own group, Sons of Confederate Veterans puts it: 

The citizen-soldiers who fought for the Confederacy personified the best qualities of America. The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South’s decision to fight.

This is all fine, so long as we understand what that fight was — and still is — really about. It’s about the cherished belief among some people in this country that the  American ideals of liberty and freedom were never more fully realized than in the days of slavery — when white men held an entire race under bondage.

This is why, when I heard Joe Wilson bellow, “You lie!” in the Senate Chamber, I knew I wasn’t hearing the voice of a principled politician fighting for a noble cause. What I heard — what we all heard — was the collective voice of the slaveowners and Know Nothings echoing their Lost Cause. It was the voices of  Jefferson Davis, Strom Thurmond, Joseph McCarthy and Lee Atwater whispering from the grave. It was the voice of schoolchildren spitting the words “Nigger lover” as they kicked their classmate in the head. It was the voice of the men in the fields, their hands raised to their hearts, singing, “God Bless America,” their dark faces lit by the glow of a burning cross.

 

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by Mantis Katz for the canarypapers

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