NOT THE REVOLUTION WE HAD IN MIND…SO FAR

13 09 2015

I came of age in the 1960’s.  I was brought up Jewish, in a synagogue whose Rabbi was an enthusiastic supporter of the civil rights movement, travelled to the South on several occasions in solidarity with Rev. Martin Luther King, and asked probing questions about segregation and racism in our home community, Dayton, Ohio.  While this dismayed some members of the congregation, it was fine with my mother, and we used to go to “interfaith retreats” where we would spend the weekend mixing it up with people–mostly Christian, many African-American–who were similarly interested in a cross-cultural experience.  I joined a local civil rights group, the Dayton Alliance for Racial Equality, and did door-to-door canvassing for them in Dayton’s African-American ghetto, as we freely called it.  This was not a neighborhood of towering, run-down tenements.  Homes were mostly single-family, mostly small, and often a little threadbare.  In those days–the early to mid sixties–somebody was usually home during the day.  There was no air conditioning, so I often found myself knocking on a screen door as I looked through it  into the family’s living room.  I had been brought up comfortably middle-class, but through this exposure I began to understand poverty.

The people I worked with, or, rather, for, were in their 20’s and 30’s, and pretty much all African-American. DARE was a small group, with a half-dozen to a dozen regular members, which, I learned in the course of writing this, did not excuse us from FBI surveillance.  We all had a tremendous admiration for Rev. Martin Luther King, whom we humorously but reverentially referred to as “Maximum Leader.” I lost touch with DARE when I graduated from high school and went off to college, and I’ve often wondered if they followed Rev. King’s lead through his final year, marked by his famous speech at Riverside Church in New York, where he took his crusade for civil rights to a whole new dimension, saying:

….the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” [applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

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THE HIROSHIMA-FERGUSON CONNECTION

14 12 2014

music:  Christy Moore, “Hiroshima Nagasaki Russian Roulette“(lyrics)

From time to time, I find myself telling somebody that the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not necessary, and often as not I am met with the rejoinder that the attacks “saved American lives.”  I’ve been meaning to explore that reasoning for a while, but recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, and Cleveland and Dayton Ohio, to name just four examples, have brought the subject to the fore, and I think that going into this meme in some depth, and tracing its history both backwards and forwards from 1945, might just raise somebody’s consciousness besides mine–which, as those who know me well will attest, needs all the elevation it can get.

The historical record seems to indicate that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks were, in fact, entirely superfluous.  The Japanese had been begging for peace terms for months.  But let’s assume  that when the United States nuked those two Japanese cities in August of 1945, American lives were saved by sacrificing Japanese lives.  Which Japanese lives were lost?  And which American lives were saved?

The Japanese who died were, by and large, non-combatants–women, children, and older men.  These people may or may not have been supportive of the Japanese war effort.  They were civilians, subjects of a government that had long ago insulated itself from the influence of its citizens’ opinions. By contrast, the Americans whose lives were allegedly spared by the use of atomic weapons were soldiers, individuals who had indicated a willingness to die for their country, if need be.  And, by the way, they were mostly white guys.  The equation that resulted in the only wartime use of atomic weapons was an equation that valued the lives of white warriors over the lives of dark-skinned civilians.  At least 225,000 non-combatants were killed in these attacks, in order to save an estimated 450,000 American lives, the military’s guess at the human cost of invading Japan–a country that was largely out of food, fuel, raw materials, and weapons, and whose government was actively seeking an end to the war.  Smells like U.S. propaganda to me, but there you have it–one Japanese civilian’s life (either sex, any age) was calculated to be worth the lives of two (male, probably white) American soldiers.

This is right in line with the assumptions our culture has been running on right from the start, and right in line with the assumptions it still runs on.  The lives ofunnamed white males are most important, and most worth protecting.  At the time the Constitution was written, “We, The People of the United States,” when it came to voting and running for office, referred to white, male property owners. I have to wonder–when Republicans advocate “returning to the original meaning of the Constitution,” is this what they’re really talking about? Some things have changed since the 1790’s, but white males are still widely considered to have a right to do as we see fit in order to feel safe.  We are more likely to get away with abusing our wives and children.  We can attack uppity people of color and, more often than not, do so with impunity. Let’s not forget that the Second Amendment–the one about militias and the right to keep and bear arms–was included so that those “militias” would be available to put down slave rebellions–i.e., summarily execute African-Americans who objected to being enslaved. Read the rest of this entry »








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