Second Amendment Follies, Part 3: “the Security of a Free State”

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So we have seen that the real purpose of the Second Amendment was to guarantee a “well-regulated militia”. Why? Well, continue reading to the next phrase: “being necessary to the security of a free state”. Which is, compared to some of the other amendment’s components, rather straightforward. Which hasn’t prevented the gun fanatics from turning it completely on its ear.

According to them, the real function of this beatific addendum to the Constitution is so “patriots” can be armed to fight against their own government (if the president happens to be a Democrat). Under their logic, they could offer the ultimate demonstration of their “patriotism” and “support for the troops” by killing as many troops as possible.

Never mind that the chances of an armed citizenry successfully fighting an armed government are exactly two: slim and none. No, make that infinitesimally slim and none. The peddlers of this myth like to claim that the American Revolution itself was an example of such a successful campaign. Nope. The Revolutionary War was not fought between civilians and their government; it was fought between armies, supplemented by militia. And that militia, as we’ve already noted, was not merely a gaggle of armed citizens.

But at the moment, we’re not really concerned about how realistic this bit of dogma is, but rather with how constitutionally grounded it is or isn’t. And the gunsters also maintain that the Founders wanted future citizens to be prepared to fight their own government because that’s what they themselves had had to do. In other words, having overcome a tyrannical regime imposed by a monarch on the other side of the planet, the Founders carefully and meticulously constructed a new republic with a system of checks and balances designed to make certain that its government never became monarchical; yet they had such little faith in this new system they designed that they also installed a loophole to encourage anarchy against it.

To buttress this claim, gunsters often quote the Founders on the topic, or at least so it appears. Here’s one example that’s been making the rounds.

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Seems like an unequivocal pronouncement from an unequivocal Revolutionary authority, no? Unfortunately, this photo is fake, and so is the quote — at least the part of it that really matters to the gun cult.  Washington’s actual statement, in part, was this:

A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined; to which end a Uniform and well digested plan is requisite: And their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent on others, for essential, particularly for military supplies.

The comments about “discipline” and a “Uniform and well digested plan” is a strong indication that the Father of the Country wasn’t talking about the kind of nightmare scenario that today’s NRA has brought to fruition.

Yet there are other quotes from figures of the Revolution that the NRA cult has packed into its arsenal.  For example, there’s this one from Thomas Jefferson:

The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.

That’s definitely a strong case, and Jefferson is definitely a well qualified person to make it, so… um, wait a minute. Turns out that one is bogus too.

Of course, there are many genuine quotations from the Founders and their compatriots that seem to support a citizen’s right to be armed. But it’s important not to take them out of context. And it’s especially important not to take them as an admonition to be armed against one’s own government.  There are at least two major obstacles to such a conclusion.

First, there’s Article 3 of the Constitution, which includes this:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

In other words, taking up arms against your own government. That’s a very serious offense, traditionally punishable by death. So do you believe that the Founders spelled out what treason is, and then appended a provision to the Constitution that encourages citizens to commit it?

The second obstacle can be found in Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States;

And in the Militia Acts of 1792:

That whenever the laws of the United States shall be opposed or the execution thereof obstructed, in any state, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by this act, [words requiring notification by an associate justice or district judge were omitted in 1795 revision. The revision gave the President more authority] the same being notified to the President of the United States, by an associate justice or the district judge, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States to call forth the militia of such state to suppress such combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed. And if the militia of a state, where such combinations may happen, shall refuse, or be insufficient to suppress the same, it shall be lawful for the President, if the legislature of the United States be not in session, to call forth and employ such numbers of the militia of any other state or states most convenient thereto, as may be necessary…

All of which adds up to the bottom line that the militia is ultimately answerable to the president.  Furthermore, if one state’s militia is unwilling or unable to do his bidding within the bounds of its state, the president is authorized to summon forth militias of other states to do the job. (And note that the mention of different militias for different states is a strong indication that a militia was meant to be more than just an armed populace.) Which means that in order for the gun culture fantasy of bringing down Uncle Sam to be realized, the president would have to mobilize the militia against himself. And while some really kooky happenings are happening at the White House these days, this is not likely to be one of them any time soon.

Still, it’s not inconceivable that the Founders did indeed intend for the militia to be available to combat tyranny. It’s just that, inevitably, it would be marshaled to support the federal government instead of to oppose it.  A classic example occurred in 1957 when Arkansas governor Orval Faubus refused to comply with federal directives to desegregate Little Rock Central High School. Faubus initially mobilized the Arkansas National Guard (i.e., the militia) to impose his own will and resist what many southerners considered the “tyranny” of forced desegregation. This sounds like the gun culture wet dream. No, actually, it would be more like armed civilians marching on Washington and overthrowing the president because of this “tyranny”.

But what happened then was that President Eisenhower stepped in and took control of the Guard, as presidents have the right to do. The tyranny of Faubus was suppressed, and segregation in Arkansas schools was ended. This is the kind of “security of a free state” the Founders had in mind. And it’s the way they intended militias to work. How do we know? Because they clearly said so.

(Next installment: we get to the heart of the matter, the gun culture’s favorite part of the Second Amendment.)

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Second Amendment Follies, Part 2: “a Well-Regulated Militia”

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As we have seen, the purpose of the Second Amendment was actually to guarantee a “well-regulated militia”. But what exactly does that mean? Just what is/ was a militia, anyway? The gun culture, of course, has its own answer for that, whether it conforms to reality or not.  Let’s turn again to what is perhaps the definitive treasury of NRA talking points, the publication and website called GunFacts:

Today “militia” might be more meaningfully translated as “defense service”, associated with a “defense duty”, which attaches to individuals as much as to groups of them, organized or otherwise. When we are alone, we are all militias of one. In the broadest sense, militia is the exercise of civic virtue.

Wow. Militia of one. Fancy that tattooed on your knuckles as you pump off a few rounds of civic virtue. In less grandiose terms, what gunsters proclaim is that “militia” today means all of the citizenry, because that’s what it meant when the Second Amendment was etched in stone. But there are at least two major flaws with this claim.

First of all, it just isn’t true.  Gun fetishists likes to quote George Mason, Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention, thus:

I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.

But this line uttered in debate is not a part of an official governing document. (Ironically, many individuals willing to brandish it as gospel are also quick to brush off Tom Jefferson’s comment about the wall of separation between church and state because it’s unofficial.) And given the tenor of the times, it’s likely that Mason didn’t quite exactly mean all of the people. Because the Second Militia Act of 1792 (passed only a few months after the Second Amendment was written) designated the composition of the militia as being:

every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years

So if the NRA crowd actually adhered to the original intent (or rather the original meaning, as they really seem to be professing to do), then today’s “militia” would consist only of white males between 18 and 45. And they would be outfitted only with

a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder

And maybe a slingshot or two.

Either Mason was being non-literal, or he was just plain wrong.

Of course, the original definition of militia has been tinkered with over the years since then. In 1862, a new Militia Act finally eliminated the restrictions of race; but there was still no remedy for the sexism and ageism of the original.

Then in 1903 another Militia Act, also known as the Dick Act, established the National Guard as the official “organized militia”, and demoted those who are eligible for Guard membership (i.e., able-bodied males within a certain age range) but not actual members as “unorganized militia” . In recent years, the gun culture has twisted the language and intent of this law into an assertion that “unorganized militia” means anyone who wants to tote hardware for any purpose.  The gun culture asserts that all civilians are a part of the “unofficial” militia and therefore covered by the Second Amendment; they must be wondering why the army never seems to need their services.

Sorry, but the Dick Act does not authorize you to be a — well, jerk. Being part of that “unofficial militia” doesn’t entail wearing a uniform or being privy to a secret handshake. And even if one could make a case that the Dick Act makes all of us “unofficial militia”, whatever rights it confers/ enshrines are legal (i.e., legislative) rights rather than constitutional rights. Its concept of militia is Twentieth Century rather than Eighteenth, and its provisions were not part of either the original Constitution or the Second Amendment; indeed, the Dick Act was passed when the Founders were all long deceased.

The other problem is that the obsession with the composition of the militia is to an extent a red herring. The most important thing about the militia was not its qualifications for membership, but its purpose for existing.  And that’s also clearly spelled out in the two Militia Acts of 1792:

That whenever the United States shall be invaded, or be in imminent danger of invasion from any foreign nation or Indian tribe, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, to call forth such number of the militia of the state or states most convenient to the place of danger or scene of action, as he may judge necessary to repel such invasion… That whenever the laws of the United States shall be opposed, or the execution thereof obstructed, in any state, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by this act, the same being notified to the President of the United States, by an associate justice or the district judge, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States to call forth the militia of such state to suppress such combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed.

In other words, the militia was designed to be an organized armed force supplied by the states to execute the laws of the nation. Nothing in the Militia Acts said anything about citizens being armed for deer hunting. Or for “defending” yourself against your government — more about that in a future installment. (And the militia was by no means universally revered among the Founders; George Washington spoke of it disapprovingly on more than one occasion.) The Dick Act actually makes this even more clear. With the establishment of the National Guard as the go-to unit of reserve manpower, the need for a militia in the traditional sense effectively became obsolete — which means that the Second Amendment also became obsolete.

The purpose of the militia is further emphasized by the expression “well-regulated”. And as you might expect, the gun culture also has its insistence that “that word does not mean what you think it means”. Thus from GunFacts:

The origin of the phrase “a well regulated militia” comes from a 1698 treatise “A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militias” by Andrew Fletcher, in which the term “well regulated” was equated with “well-behaved” or “disciplined”.

And the author goes on to cite several other illustrations of the word well-regulated from the Oxford English Dictionary:

1709: “If a liberal Education has formed in us well-regulated Appetites and worthy Inclinations.”

1714: “The practice of all well-regulated courts of justice in the world.”

1812: “The equation of time … is the adjustment of the difference of time as shown by a well-regulated clock and a true sun dial.”

1848: “A remissness for which I am sure every well-regulated person will blame the Mayor.”

1862: “It appeared to her well-regulated mind, like a clandestine proceeding.”

1894: “The newspaper, a never wanting adjunct to every well-regulated American embryo city.”

What the gun culture has done, in other words, is set up a false dichotomy. On the one hand, there is what they want “well-regulated” to mean: skilled in marksmanship. And on the other hand, there is what they want the “gun control” advocates to want it to mean: strict prohibitive legislation imposed by the government.  And, they suggest, if it means one then it can’t possibly mean the other.

In fact, as you can see from the above examples, even GunFacts acknowledges that well-regulated spans a range of meaning. But all of its possible definitions embrace the sense of disciplined, organized and efficient. And they all apply to a military unit, such as a militia. Incidentally, members of the militia in Revolutionary days were generally conscripted for service. And one of the major ironies of today’s gun fetishists is that they worship the Second Amendment as the embodiment of what they believe to be the ultimate freedom, when in fact it was intended to be a codification of civic obligation.

Indulge the gun zealots for a moment and imagine that “well-regulated” means only skilled in marksmanship. Imagine all the “militias of one” running around on their own initiative and dispensing “civic virtue” in each other’s direction at will. Do you really think this would be a well-regulated militia in the sense that the Second Amendment intended? Militia, like military, is derived from the Latin word for soldier. And a soldier never acts alone even when he is alone.  It is only when an organized body of soldiers, whether they be regular army or militia, is well-regulated in virtually every possible sense of the term, that it will effect the “security of a free state”.

Which is the troublesome phrase we’ll examine in the next installment.

 

 

Second Amendment Follies, Part 1: An Inconvenient Clause

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Let’s be clear: Americans have a right to own guns. But it’s not a constitutional right. And it’s not a “God-given” right. It’s a right conferred by the rulings of a “conservative” Supreme Court, in a grotesquely distorted reading of the Second Amendment.

But in the interests of accuracy and satisfying curiosity, let’s consider the Second Amendment in more detail. We’ve touched on this topic in a previous discussion, but it was hardly exhaustive. In fact, it was quite cursory, and was designed to show that the amendment is a semantic mess that, at the very least, casts serious doubts on the gun culture’s claims of a constitutional right to be armed. And as long as there is one scintilla of doubt, then you cannot say (as many do) that there is an absolute right enshrined in the Constitution to tote a hogleg.

The gun culture tries to dance around the actual meaning of the Second Amendment in several ways. First of all, it simply ignores the first part of the sentence, the inconvenient explanation for its existence:

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…

And instead, gunsters just cut to the part they actually like…

…the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

You seriously will hear many of them simply quote that second half as representing the entire Second Amendment (as on that handy-dandy magnetic sign pictured above), perhaps followed by a haughty “what part of that don’t you understand?”

How about the part they omitted? The part which, as we mentioned before, could be construed as the actual subject of the sentence. The part which, whether one reads it as the subject or not, is placed at the beginning and is clearly crucial to understanding the Amendment’s meaning and purpose.

Even when they acknowledge this elephant in the living room, the gun fanatics try to diminish its importance. They often try to dismiss the opening as merely a “justification clause” while the second half is the actual “rights clause”; or alternatively, “prefatory clause”, and “operative clause”. Nice words, but they don’t change anything: the beginning clause still expresses the purpose and reason for the amendment being drafted in the first place: i.e., to ensure a “well-regulated militia”. The gun culture’s conclusion that “gun rights” were not meant to be limited to this purpose alone is based on clues extraneous to the amendment itself, and indeed extraneous to the Constitution. (Incidentally, in strict grammarian usage, the two phrases referred to are not really “clauses”; but since that’s the label they’re commonly given, we won’t be sticklers on this point for the time being.)

Suppose you opened up a cookbook and found a passage like this:

A well-made fruitcake being necessary for a traditional Christmas celebration, you should make certain to have a supply of citron on hand.

Would you conclude that this sentence was written to encourage everyone to stockpile citron, all year long? Or would you conclude that it was written to help ensure a well-made fruitcake?

Another tactic the gun culture (and right-wing extremists in general) often employ is playing the “original intent” card; if the Constitution doesn’t say what they want it to, they try to discern what the framers really meant. They do this in part by just playing psychic, though they try to buttress their claims by scratching through an endless supply of documents for “historical context”.

Now certainly historical context is, up to a point, useful and even vital. It’s important, for instance, to understand what words like “militia” and “arms” meant to the Framers who used them. But the “original intent” crowd often turn historical context into a bottomless pit by mining all manner of documents for clues that are really tangential to the point under consideration. I recently had someone try to argue with me, for instance, that the Civil War was really not about slavery because her great-grandfather fought for the Confederacy, and by god he had other motives, and if I would just read all the letters and other papers left by the other Southern peasants, I’d see that they had other reasons for fighting. No doubt. But they weren’t exactly the ones who made the decision to declare war, were they? The ones who did make the decision were quite unequivocal about their motive.

An excellent illustration of how the gun culture utilizes this tactic can be found in what is surely the ultimate compendium of gun culture propaganda: Gun Facts , which is intended to address every “myth” that has been, is being, or ever will be, perpetrated by the “gun control” advocates. It covers gun culture talking points of every possible breed, from mass shootings, to children and guns, to gun laws, to microstamping to concealed carry — and of course to the Second Amendment and court rulings as well. A sleek PDF of Gun Facts can be downloaded for free; and oh by the way while you’re at it, you also can purchase another book heavily marketed within its pages that betrays the real NRA agenda: drawing a bead on “liberals”.

Incidentally, there is a simple but quite reliable litmus test for gauging the probable reliability of any such source of gun “facts”; just check to see whether it places obeisant faith in the absurd “statistic” of 2.5 million defensive gun uses per annum. If it does, there’s an excellent chance it will be just as sloppy about the rest of its “facts”. Gun Facts does, and is. (It also fails another telling litmus test, parroting the claim that Nazi Germany “established gun control” in 1938.) Furthermore, in another section, GunFacts states that firearms are used to prevent 400,000 crimes per day — which would be a whopping 146 million annual DGUs! How can this publication expect to shoot down “gun control propaganda” when it goes gunning against itself?

The main tactic the author uses in the “original intent” argument is to cite passages from several state constitutions (written before and after the U.S. Constitution) that declare residents of those states have the right to be armed for individual purposes. This supposedly demonstrates that the Second Amendment was drawn up with the same intention. See if you can follow the logic here: (a) Several states had constitutions that enshrined an individual right to “bear arms”; (b) the framers of the U.S. Constitution were familiar with these provisions; (c) they did not insert such a stipulation into the U.S. Constitution; (d) therefore, they meant to insert such a stipulation into the U.S. Constitution.

The author also mentions that during the deliberations on the Second Amendment, one senator proposed inserting the words “for the common defense”, but this suggestion was voted down. Evidently, he concludes that rejecting that wording also means a rejection of the concept. (In fact, “for the common defense” is, for one thing, redundant when you already have “well-regulated militia”).  And note the logic here: the absence of a phrase about the common defense means the whole concept is null and void, whereas the absence of a phrase about individual defense means this is clearly what the founders had in mind.

Not content with having shot himself in both feet, the author then turns around and shoots himself in the ass as well by quoting the first draft of the Second Amendment:

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.

Talk about an inconvenient clause. Why would there be a provision for conscientious objectors if the purpose of the amendment is to guarantee individuals the right to go deer hunting or gun down illegal immigrants invading their homes? Yes, this clause was eventually eliminated (after being retained in the second draft). And evidently, the Gun Facts author believes, in Orwellian fashion, erasing the text of it erases it from ever having existed at all. But if you’re talking about original intent, it’s hard to argue that the Framers had private gun ownership in mind when they talked about military service and religious objections. It’s very clear that they were really talking about a well-regulated militia, whatever that means.

And just what that means is something we’ll be looking at in the next installment.

 

 

Charlottesville, Nazis and Confederate Monuments: Myths, Lies, Absurdities and Insanities

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Another tragic demonstration of extremist lunacy. Another subsequent orgy of false equivalence and general stupidity. But this time was different. This time we had the acting president of the United States repeating and amplifying the deranged fringe media rhetoric. Here were some of the most notably absurd, delusional, hateful and downright idiotic reactions to Charlottesville:

1. “Both sides are to blame”

It’s inevitable that whenever a gaggle of right-wing miscreants get caught doing something unpleasant, their defenders will try to defend them by resorting to the “both sides” tactic. “Both sides are equally to blame”. The other side does it too. It’s a result of conflict from “many sides”.

This is never an encouraging bit of rhetorical legerdemain, but in this case it was especially chilling: the supposed leader of the free world declared — twice — that Nazis were morally equivalent to those taking a stand against them. Nazis, he insisted, weren’t all really Nazis or white supremacists, and included some “very fine people”.  As usual, he merely was brainlessly parroting his media enablers, who declared that the demonstrators had “a reason” to be there.  The White House Occupant also tried to defend the white supremacists by saying that they had a permit, and that “the other group didn’t”.  The former is irrelevant; the latter is a baldfaced lie. The counterprotesters did indeed have a permit of their own.

Coincidentally, the white supremacists who are rallying and stirring up violence around the country are the putative president’s most solid base, the main choir he is preaching to — the hardcore supporters who view him as their messiah who will lead them to their Promised Land of ivory purity. It was they, more than anyone, who praised his remarks about Charlottesville — while also praising the murderous driver and belittling and insulting Heather Heyer, the woman he killed. Very fine people, very fine.

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2. What about violence on the other side?

Hand in hand with bothsidesism, you have whataboutism. Like a schoolyard brat caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he often tries to deflect focus away from his culpability by accusing someone else of something.

What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right?’ Do they have any semblance of guilt…. What about the fact they came charging with clubs in hands, swinging clubs?

Once again he’s just echoing unfounded rumors.  There’s been no evidence of any violence by counterprotesters, nothing more than using mace to defend themselves when they were surrounded, threatened and assaulted by the “very fine” Nazis — who were the only ones swinging clubs.  The Cult Of Trumpery, however, has been so desperate to pin blame for violence on the antifascists that they have circulated a fake photo of one of them assaulting a police officer.

3. The “alt-left”

Not only does the putative president parrot the loony ideas of the fringe media, he also uses their vocabulary. There is no such thing as the “alt-left”.  What exactly would an “alt-left” do, anyway? Gang up on people and try to give them healthcare?

“Alt-left” is a label made up by the “alt-right” to help advance a false equivalence.  And while “alt-right” is itself a label of questionable accuracy (which is to say, it’s a euphemism used to cover up fascism and white supremacy), it is at least a legitimate category because it was coined and self-applied by the right-wingers themselves. There is no comparable label, or coalition, on the left.

4. Greasing the slope

It’s a very common tactic, almost a knee-jerk reaction, for right-wing extremists to attach the term slippery slope to any action that doesn’t meet their seal of approval. They never seem to apply it to any situation where it’s actually appropriate — i.e., environmental plundering or the intrusion of religion into government — but they are ever eager to apply it to situations it doesn’t fit.

If we take down Confederate statues, say the putative president and his puppeteers, then it won’t be long before we’re taking down statues of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln, and demolishing Mt. Rushmore. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that they’re comparing a group of historical figures who fought to establish, strengthen and protect the union to a group who fought to rip it apart.

The metaphor of a slippery slop works only if you are talking about a continuum of possible events along the same slope. Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln are on a totally different slope, and indeed an opposing slope, from Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. No, it still isn’t comparable just because Washington and Jefferson owned slaves; Lee and Jackson not only owned slaves, they waged a war against their own country to protect the very institution of slavery.

Most preposterously, some members of the punditocracy even suggested that maybe book burning will come next on the slope. Apparently, they’re blissfully unaware that Confederate monuments are being defended by neo-Nazis; and it was Nazis themselves who were among the most infamous book burners.

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4. Those beautiful statues

Another of the putative president’s tactics was to bemoan the destruction of such beautiful works of art as the Confederate monuments. But no monuments have actually been destroyed, nor is that the plan. The plan is to move them to museums, or somewhere besides the public forum.  Even the one that was torn down by citizens in North Carolina is currently stashed in a warehouse until someone figures out what else to do with it.

And the neo-Nazi mob that gathered in Charlottesville was not there to protect statues. It was there to take a stand for white supremacy — as its swastikas, Confederate flags and chants of “We won’t be replaced” and the like make clear.

Your putative president is obviously very concerned about the preservation of beautiful historical markers. So much so that he’s willing to erect one himself on his golf course, in commemoration of a battle that never occurred. Good thing he’s so adamantly opposed to “fake news”.

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5. Birds of a feather

People in North Carolina were understandably upset about the Charlottesville incident. Even so, their angry reaction was in itself rather dumb. They should have been aware that the punditocracy is constantly on the lookout for any little event they can tout as proof that “liberals” are unruly scum. And guess what? That’s exactly what happened.

It was a different group in Durham, and a much smaller one — just 10 people appear to have participated in actually toppling the statue. But the punditocracy wasted no time in lumping them all together, and declaring that they were all representative of the violent and unsavory Left in general. But they didn’t stop there; they also lumped the protesters together with the Taliban, with the Khmer Rouge, with ISIS — with anyone who’s ever taken down a statue in any manner for any reason.

A few hours later, vandals spray-painted the Lincoln Memorial in Washington with graffiti. (So, Mr. President, was the Memorial equally to blame?)  As of this writing, there is no word on who the guilty party was, or whether they had any particular motive, or what their ideology was, if any, other than destructiveness. What we do know is that this was one of a spate of such vandal attacks that have occurred in DC over the past few months; and there appears to be no rhyme or reason to them.  They have targeted the Lincoln Memorial before, as well as the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the Smithsonian Institution. Messages have included “Jackie Shot JFK” and a reference to 9-11.

No matter. As far as the reactionaries were concerned, this latest attack on the Lincoln Memorial was obviously related to Durham and Charlottesville, and was more conclusive proof that them librulz are all a bunch of lawless thugs. It never seems to have occurred to any of them that Lincoln was about as far on the other side of the racism divide as you can get.

Needless to say, we’ve seen the same tactic after a gang of hooded, self-branded “anarchists” crashed a peaceful demonstration in Berkeley more recently. There’s a big difference between anarchist and antifascist — except in the brains of reactionaries.

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6. “Erasing history”

This is the most absurd spin of all, so naturally it’s the most frequently invoked. Eliminating Confederate statues, they say, is an effort by them librulz to erase history and rewrite it to their liking. As if statues are the way we encapsulate, preserve and transmit history. As some people have noted, you’d be very hard pressed to find a monument to Hitler anywhere in the world; yet virtually everyone everywhere in the world knows perfectly well who he was, what he did, and even what he looked like. Monuments do not exist as vessels of history, but as vessels of emotion. (More about that in a moment.)

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Newt Gingrich, whose neurons have not held up well under advancing age, even proclaimed:

And you have a great deal of people on the left who if they could destroy our entire memory of America, they would wipe it out and we would have no knowledge of what it meant to be an American.

There is no reason for you to be this stupid too. So here are two facts Mr. Gingrich is trying to ignore: it was the Confederacy that fought to wipe out “what it meant to be American”.  It is the people who defend the Confederacy who are trying to destroy the memory of what happened.

Far from erasing history, removing Confederate monuments is an effort to get history straight — to cease making heroes of men who fought against their own nation in the deadliest American war ever, for the cause of continuing the practice of brutally enslaving countless others. (And yes, the Civil War really was about slavery.)  And while it’s true that the Founding Fathers also declared war against their own country and were considered traitors, the cause could not have been more different: eliminating oppression as opposed to preserving it.

It doesn’t work to glibly say “heritage, not hate”, because the Confederate heritage is a heritage of hate. And it’s especially bizarre to hear Santayana’s maxim “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” spouted in defense of mobs displaying the swastika and the “heil Hitler” salute.

7. Butwhatabout Muslims?

“Okay, so the Confederates attacked the United States. But so have Muslims. So if we’re going to remove Confederate monuments, shouldn’t we also remove mosques?” That, in all seriousness, was an argument made by an Oklahoma lawmaker, and picked up by many of his kindred spirits on social media.

Have you ever heard anyone suggest the removal of churches because the Confederates were Christians? You’d probably never think of holding Christianity accountable because millions of traitors were Christians; so why would you hold Islam accountable because an infinitely smaller handful of terrorists have been Muslim? (Particularly when terrorist attacks are carried out more often by white Christians than anyone else.)

If, though, there were statues of Osama bin Laden on U.S. soil, it might not be a bad idea to remove them. But there aren’t any. Because Americans had the good sense not to erect any in the first place. There are, however, countless statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson — who killed far more Americans than bin Laden did.  So why the preferential treatment? Are we cutting them slack because they were Americans too? That says we consider it not only acceptable but heroic and honorable to commit mass slaughter and devastation against America if you’re American and a traitor to boot; and that doesn’t speak very highly of our values. Or are we cutting them slack because they were white Christians? I shouldn’t have to tell you what that says about us.

8. Defensive about offensiveness

Also making the rounds on social media was this little gem:

Ok, I can play “Lets Erase History” Erase Welfare, Food Stamps, Free Housing & College – that’s OFFENSIVE to those of us that WORK

You have to be impressed when anyone can compress so much nonsense into such a small space. We’ve already discussed the straw man of “erasing history”. It’s unclear what “free housing and college” is supposed to be referring to but this meme is evidently changing the subject by paying homage to a number of myths about public assistance (“welfare”).

For one thing, there’s the myth that Americans can be neatly divided into either working stiffs or welfare bums. In reality, most “welfare” recipients also work — including quite a few military families. Thus, it’s absurd to suggest that working people on the whole resent “welfare” recipients. There’s also the myth that funding these assistance programs significantly drains the pocket of the average American. In reality, if you earn 50,000 a year, you pay about 10 cents a day for “welfare” — as opposed to about $16.50 a day to support corporations.

The biggest red herring here, however, is the use of the word “offensive”. The official spin is that the whole reason people want to take down Confederate monuments is that they are “offensive” to African-Americans. And hey, so what if they are thereby reminded of the bondage and torture and persecution their forebears endured? They should just get over it like us white folk have done.

It’s probably true that these monuments stir some unpleasant feelings among many African-Americans, but that isn’t the main reason for taking them down. The big problem is not the reaction they provoke among some blacks, but the reaction they provoke among some whites. Monuments, as mentioned, are not erected for the purpose of preserving history. They are erected for the purpose of preserving and inciting emotion – generally pride, honor, duty, etc.

So what response do these monuments provoke in today’s white supremacists? Exactly the response they were designed to. And that’s the main reason they need to come down.

9. Confederate flag and rainbow flag

Meanwhile, back at the loony bin of fairandbalanced Fox “News”. Star Parker declared that the Confederate flag and the rainbow flag “represent the exact same thing”. Parker, by the way, is both a right-wing extremist and an African-American; as such, she’s a popular token black on outlets like Fox, much like the appropriately deranged fellow who keeps popping up at presidential rallies. You have to hand it to them for doing their part for racial equality by demonstrating that African-Americans can be just as dopey as anyone else if they put their minds to it.

10. Butwhatabout Black Lives Matter

Speaking of African-Americans, there’s been another popular thread among reactionaries in comparing the antifascists to Black Lives Matter. And the comparison is somewhat valid, but not in the way they intend. The antifascists are peaceful protesters, and so are those affiliated with Black Lives Matter — which, unlike the guy in the White House, denounces violence promptly and unequivocally.

11. False flag

It goes without saying that, as usual, the right-wing loony fringe media from which your putative president obtains his Real News went ballistic with the conspiracy theories.  The organizer of the Nazi demonstration was actually a “liberal” spy. It was all a setup by Democrats. Obama was behind it. Hillary was behind it. Black Lives Matter was behind it. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe was behind it. Jews were behind it. Extraterrestrial lizard people were behind it. Etc., etc., etc.

12. What matters to the putative president

And of course in delivering his remarks about Charlottesville, the putative president made certain to emphasize what mattered to him most about the community: he owns a house and a winery there. And it is, naturally, the biggest and best winery in the whole fucking galaxy.

Goliath Usually Wins

th

The ancient folktale about a shepherd boy who defeats a ferocious, gigantic warrior has become one of the most widely known story types in the world. Not only was it incorporated into the Bible and imbued with religious significance, but it’s also filtered its way into the lore of other cultures, appearing in the guise of Jack and the Beanstalk, The Brave Little Tailor, and other tales.

The motif has become so deeply ingrained into the collective psyche that we’re constantly on the lookout for real-time parallels — and indeed we’ve even come to expect them.

Which might be why so many people were stunned and shocked by the 2016 presidential election. The Donald totally blindsided them. But he really shouldn’t have.

His fans no doubt would like to cast him in the role of David. But he qualified as an underdog only on two counts: he was behind in the polls, and he had no qualifications or experience relevant to the position. But in every other way, he was about as Goliath as they get.

One of the (allegedly) richest men in the world, he has spent his entire life having people pamper him and cater to him. He is the embodiment of schoolyard bullying, of anti-intellectualism, of all that is vile, nasty, corrupt, hateful and cruel.

And he has powerful allies, including the American media – which trumped up and trumpeted phony “scandals” about his opponent while burying dozens of very real scandals about him. Even the director of the FBI violated the agency’s own directives to interfere in the election on his behalf. Under the circumstances, it would have been a miracle if Hillary Clinton had won. And miracles are in very short supply – that’s what makes them miracles.

Here’s an uncomfortable fact that they neglect to teach you in Sunday school: Goliath usually wins. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be particularly remarkable for a shepherd boy to bring him down. Before that fateful encounter, the obnoxious brute already had dispatched a number of worthy opponents. David typifies the hope that there is always hope if we act courageously in the face of evil, no matter how overwhelming the evil; and that sometimes one defeat of Goliath makes up for all the times he’s won.

Another important truth to remember is one so succinctly articulated by Tony Kushner in Angels In America: “The world only spins forward.” Civilization will keep advancing no matter how many obstacles Goliath throws in its path. Sometimes it will take two steps forward and one step back – or sometimes even (as we’ve just seen) vice versa. But overall, it keeps progressing.

African-Americans struggled for centuries against the Goliath of racism (which still isn’t dead but at least has been crippled). They faced bondage, lynchings, beatings, torture, discrimination and oppression before civil rights advances and even the election of a black president.

Gays have faced a similar Goliath, and have received comparable treatment. But eventually they were represented with respect in the media and by the law, and some have become openly gay elected officials. Today, they even can get married. What makes that miracle even more miraculous is that the change was delivered by a Supreme Court dominated by right-wingers. (It’s worth noting that the oppression of both groups, like many other social injustices, was fervently endorsed by Christian zealots — who now are beside themselves with ecstasy over Trump’s win.)

The world only spins forward.

During that same week in November when America officially embraced fascism, the world lost visionary singer/songwriter/poet Leonard Cohen, whose distant relatives were murdered back when Europe officially embraced fascism. That weekend, Saturday Night Live faced a dilemma: was it appropriate to open the week’s episode with the customary light-heartedness after such a heavy double dose of sadness?

The solution was simple, elegant and powerful. Kate McKinnon, who had been portraying Hillary Clinton in the program’s satirical skits, sat at the piano and accompanied herself singing Cohen’s somber anthem Hallelujah – which coincidentally opens with a reference to that fabled shepherd king of Israel who once toppled a giant. At the song’s conclusion, McKinnon turned to the camera tearfully and said, “I’m not giving up. And neither should you.”

No, you shouldn’t. The world only spins forward. Fascism has been defeated once, and will be defeated again.

Goliath usually wins. But he can’t go on winning forever.

5 Years On: Hitler and Guns Still Reign Supreme

Hitler with gun

It’s now been five years since I began this blog, with the purpose of ferreting out, exposing and correcting myths, misinformation and disinformation in a variety of fields. In many ways, it’s been a productive five years. I’m pleased with the work I’ve done, and of all that I myself have learned in the process. And I’m pleased to see that I have a steadily growing following, and that I have received some wonderful feedback from readers. Equally telling, I’ve received my share of nay-saying and nasty attacks from those whose ideological feathers I’ve ruffled. The readership is not as large as I’d like, but considering that I’ve done next to nothing to promote it (I’m a very busy man, and not very tech savvy), it’s rather impressive.

These investigations have turned out to involve, much more frequently than I ever imagined, debunking the talking points of right-wing extremists. Which inevitably has prompted the accusation that I’m just here to promote a “liberal agenda”. Which is, alas, far from being the looniest thing right-wing extremists have said.

Which brings me to a fact that really bothers me. Out of 162 posts that I have written to date, the most popular by far is the one titled The Myth Of Hitler’s Gun Ban. And when I say by far, I mean really, really by far. More precisely, it receives more than twice as many views as all the others combined.  That’s right: more than twice as many as all the others combined. In one day alone, right after being linked in a commentary by pundit Randi Rhodes, it was viewed more than 23,000 times. It also has elicited about a third of the total comments.

I mentioned all of this to my wife and she said, “Well, maybe reading that post will make people want to read your other posts as well.” But the evidence indicates that this is not the case.  The blog is averaging barely more than one page view per visit. Most people come here to read just one thing. And most of the time, it’s the same one thing.

And it is far from being the best of my articles. Oh, there’s really nothing wrong with it, except that it’s rather cursory. Which is why I wrote two sequels that explore the topic in greater depth. But guess what? Those two posts are no more popular than any of the others. It’s bad enough that people consider this subject of such vital importance — I actually wrote the first post to show that it’s a bullshit question, and really not very important except as a historical footnote. What’s even worse is that so many readers don’t want to know the ifs, ands or buts. They just want a simple answer: did he or didn’t he?

They believe this question is vital because they have been duped into believing it’s vital by a relatively small cadre of gun culture propagandists who keep hammering away at one of their favorite little formulas: (a) Hitler banned guns and (b) therefore, any attempt to regulate guns is superlatively evil. Not only are both premises patently false, they are by no means interdependent, as the propagandists insistently suggest.

The irony is that, far from shunning firearms, Nazis embraced them with a white-hot passion. And it’s hard to imagine that anyone who knows anything about history at all doesn’t realize this. Thus, it’s hard not to suspect that the gun fanatics who conjure up the specter of Der Fuhrer are doing so not out of revulsion, but out of some level of admiration. Not for the man himself, or his policies or evil deeds. But for the way he and his followers fashioned such a powerful and influential movement — aided and abetted by guns.

In any case, there are numerous subjects I’ve written about that deserve far more attention, especially from American readers. There is, for example, the Christian Right’s Nazi-flavored campaign to marginalize gays. (No, “Nazi-flavored” is not an exaggeration.) There’s the way a shamelessly partisan media cartel colluded with Republicans in the hijacking of the 2000 presidential election. Or, if we must talk about guns, there is the way the gun lobby manipulates statistics to make it appear that guns make us safer; and in particular, there’s the frequent naive reliance on bogus “statistics” that grossly inflate the frequency of defensive gun use, giving gun owners a dangerous false sense of security and coincidentally swelling the coffers of gun merchants. Instead, many readers just zero in on a bit of minor marginalia in the history of Twentieth-Century Europe.

But there is a bright spot. I omitted something from the stats I referred to (and one reason I did so is to illustrate how incomplete information can be misleading). The counts do not include visits to the home page, which presumably reflect readers checking out the latest post without actually clicking on it. That count is on average nearly as high as that of the Hitler-gun post; in fact, for the past couple of weeks, it’s actually been considerably higher almost every day. If this continues, it certainly offers some encouragement.

Still, I’m glad that this blog is geared toward those who have a sincere interest in learning the truth. If it had been designed for the edification of the general public, one would have to conclude that it’s been a dismal failure.

Crusading for the Crusades: How Revisionists Are Whitewashing a Bloodbath

crusades

As you may have noticed, the Crusades have become something of a sacred cow in the U.S. As President Obama discovered, anyone who dares point out how brutal they were is in danger of being branded as anti-Christian and anti-American.  In recent years, a spate of revisionist books have tried to paint the Crusades as a noble and just endeavor; one of the most egregious of these volumes, for instance, is The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Crusades (“politically incorrect” being a euphemism for ideologically tilted and/or historically inaccurate).

There are basically four flimsy defenses that the Crusades Crusaders offer for their pet cause:

Flimsy Defense # 1: It was a long time ago

Because a millennium has passed, some crusaders suggest, it’s no longer cricket to express horror and outrage — at the same time, however, they see no problem with reaching back into the past nearly half a millennium in order to find some grounds for defending the Crusades (which we’ll get to in a moment). The implication is that because the Crusades are so deeply buried in the vaults of history, Christian violence is too.

Wrong.

These folks are overlooking the Inquisition. They’re overlooking the witch trials. And they’re overlooking events in modern times as well. For example, violence between factions in Ireland (a centuries-old tradition carried over into recent years), though officially pegged as politically rooted, was in fact largely occasioned by differences in religion. This conflict gave rise, among other things, to The Shankill Butchers, a band of Protestant fanatics who abducted, tortured and murdered Catholics (as well as a few fellow Protestants who pissed them off).

More recently, there was the “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslavia, which might be more accurately characterized as religious “cleansing”.

And we’re certainly not out of the woods now. You’ve surely heard a great deal about Muslim terrorists these days, but chances are you’ve heard much less about the more common and more menacing Christian terrorists. Violence isn’t exclusive to any one age or country or religion. And somebody once said something important about those who can’t remember the past.

Flimsy Defense # 2: Everyone else was doing it too

Because the Crusades occurred so far in the past, some people imagine that there is a magical boundary between Then and Now; and that once humanity crossed that line, it was suddenly transformed into a different biological order. Back then, they want to believe, people were just more violent in general, so it’s understandable that Christians would have been too (though at the same time, Christians were supposed to be morally superior to everyone else).

I was having a discussion along these lines a few years ago with a friend — a highly intelligent friend who knows more about history than I do — when I brought up what a bloodthirsty sleazeball Columbus was. To which he replied, “Well, can we really judge a Fifteenth-Century man by modern standards?”

Yes, absolutely, we can.

One reason we know so much about the misdeeds of Columbus and other Christian conquerors in the New World is that a contemporary priest, Bartolomé de Las Casas, recorded them with disgust. If he could feel compassion and respect for the Natives and revulsion over violence and exploitation, why couldn’t Columbus?

It isn’t human nature that has evolved. It’s the collective social order, to the point that most societies now frown on genocide, slavery and torture. On an individual level, though, some people still do it when they can get away with it. But just because some people do it is not, and has never been, ample cause for someone else to do it.

Flimsy Defense # 3: It was self-defense

This is the most popular of the flimsy defenses, the very heart and soul of Crusades revisionism. According to this tidy fairy tale, the Crusades were a just and holy undertaking, quite pleasing unto the will of God, because they were a defensive maneuver against those nasty Muslims who were picking on Christians. But this narrative is at best a gross oversimplification.

There were numerous crusades — the exact number is a matter of debate — over a period of a couple of centuries (some historians maintain they lasted as long as five centuries). Some were motivated by political and economic rather than, or in addition to, religious factors. Not all of these were directed toward Muslims; the Christians also targeted Jews, pagans and even their fellow Christians whose beliefs were considered “heresy” by those in power. And far from being uniformly defensive, these were often aggressive campaigns with the aim of not only conquest but eradication.

The mythos of  Crusades as defense has its roots, curiously enough, in what is generally taken to be the first major Crusade (1096-1099), which was organized ostensibly for the purpose of retaking Jerusalem, which had been conquered by Muslims.  Evidently God wanted Christians to have Jerusalem for themselves, because they consider it a holy place and all.  It is, for one thing, the site of the “Holy Sepulchre”, the reputed burial place of Jesus. The expedition, in other words, was at least as much about recovering control of a shrine as it was about protecting Christians from alleged abuses — arguably a campaign about conquering places and things rather than liberating the oppressed or defending ideals.

Furthermore, the Islamic sacking of Jerusalem occurred some 4 centuries earlier. If the Crusaders were following the calling of The Almighty, they certainly were taking their sweet time about it. One explanation for the delay is that the subjugated Christians in and around Jerusalem found life tolerable enough until the Seljuk Turks took over and began oppressing and persecuting them more heavily. But even if we grant this, they at least were allowed to live under Muslim rule. The conquering Christians did not return the favor, but systematically exterminated the Muslim men, women and children they encountered. They also slaughtered Jews living there, some of whom joined the Muslims in fighting off the Christian invaders — which just might provide a clue as to who the real bad guys were.

Flimsy Defense # 4: The numbers have been inflated

Of course they have. The Crusades, like the witch trials and the Wild West gunfights, have become the stuff of legend. And legend invariably lends itself to hyperbole.

So what’s the point here? That murdering 1000 people is more morally upright than murdering 10,000? This kind of argument might carry a bit more weight if the difference had been 10 or even 100 versus 1000.  But even though the numbers have been exaggerated, they are still quite extreme enough, numbering in the high thousands if not the millions.

Perhaps the purpose of playing the exaggeration card is to suggest that Christian atrocities like the Crusades were carried out by fringe elements, and thus do not represent “true” Christianity, whatever that may mean. In fact, the Crusades were carried out with the approval of, and even under the impetus of, the Pope.

Finally, we should mention that one of the most troubling things about Crusades revisionism is its Machiavellian implications. Which is to say, it suggests that many Christian apologists believe that if they can establish there was worthy reason to undertake the Crusades, then it excuses any and all actions undertaken by the Crusaders. That’s a similar line of reasoning to that exercised by guys who fly planes into buildings.

Let’s be very clear: these holy Crusaders ruthlessly butchered, tortured, beheaded, dismembered, impaled, burned, and even cannibalized innocent people of all ages. At times they literally waded in the blood of their victims, with which they were smeared from head to toe, and wore proudly as a token of their triumph as they exhibited the severed heads and limbs of the vanquished.

Is there really any cause sufficiently holy to justify all of that?