Wednesday, December 3, 2014

History 361 - Antebellum 1820-1860 Opinion Piece #3 - Slavery

            Though we examined a lot of the dynamics of the Antebellum period, the crux of the sectional differences that led to the Civil War, was slavery.  As a result, my final essay will deal with my own revisionist interpretation of that issue. 
            There are several points that I feel are critical when examining slavery in the southern section.  The fact that slaves were only held by the aristocracy or planter class is revealing.   Most accounts that I have seen put that group at less than five percent of the population.  It is my belief that solely on the issue of slavery, the majority of southerners would not have been willing to secede from the union and/or go to war with the north.  The promoters of secession would have sold it by instilling fear of northern aggression and an us against them mentality.  There was a rallying of support based on "southern pride," which still exists today.  Also, I suppose, as long as the blacks were enslaved, the poor, uneducated, white people felt farther up the pecking order.  Maintaining the status quo allayed their fears, that they too could be enslaved by the rich and powerful.   Additionally, there was a trepidation that several million newly freed blacks might seek revenge against southern whites, slaveholders and  non-slaveholders alike.   Of course, this didn't happen when emancipation did come.
            I found it interesting that politicians and newspaper scribes of the day wrote in elevated language that the largely illiterate southerner rabble could not possibly have understood.   In comparison, today's print journalists write in very basic language and we have limitless "news" sources that further simplify and skew it.  The antebellum southerner trusted the more learned among them to make their choices for them. 
            In the north, though the rhetoric was "all men are created equal," and sounded good to gain momentum for the abolitionist movement, did they really believe that?  If so, why did it take 100 years for blacks to have an unrestricted right to vote and to fully be integrated in the  public education system?  Many of those who abhorred the idea of slavery did not consider any people of color their equal, and still don't.  A lot of the opposition to slavery was dread that the expansion to the  territories would create more slave states and weaken their clout in Congress.    In addition, the economic impact of losing the agricultural production of the south was worrisome, as I have seen it estimated at up to three-quarters of the entire national export. 
            Both northerners and southerners believed they had the Bible and the Constitution on their side with regards to the issue of slavery.  The question divided the Christian churches sectionally.    Baptist and Methodist ministers in the south, split from their northern brothers, and changed their doctrine to accommodate the institution of their members and contributors. White southerners, knowing in their heart that subjugation of another human being was evil, insisted that the slaves were no more than property, much like livestock.  This belief allowed them to sleep at night.  They argued for the compatibility of Christianity and slavery,  citing scripture to justify the evil. 
                It is my opinion that if the north had a viable and profitable use of slave labor, the abolitionist movement would have never gotten traction.  It has been a common theme in our nation that capital gains trumps morality and decency.  Before the creation of the Republican Party and the election of Lincoln, no presidents were willing to seriously consider emancipation, rather attempts were made to halt the expansion.  Compromise after compromise was made to placate both sides.  Lincoln was no longer willing to appease the south, nor allow secession,  and the only way to sustain the union was with military might.  Thus, the Civil War.        

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

History 361 - Antebellum 1820-1860 Opinion Piece #2 - The Texas Revolution

The Texas Revolution
            As I am a veteran of twenty years in the military, I am often drawn to historical accounts of military engagements.  As a result, the Texas Revolution became an obvious choice for my second response essay. 
            There are several factors that come to mind when examining Texas Revolution combatants and warfare with the eyes of a modern armed forces veteran.  It is hard not to contrast military actions of two centuries ago with those with which I am familiar.  
            During the fight with Mexico in 1835-36, the majority of the Texas fighting force were not professional soldiers.  It was largely composed of a militia of volunteers, colonists, and farmers.  The actual numbers of the small force varied drastically since members were not conscripted and virtually came and went as they pleased.   Soldiers went on furlough, deserted, changed units, or simply went home, at their own discretion.   In addition, the leaders of the Revolutionary Army were elected by the units and the democratic nature of these components did  not lend itself to organization or discipline.  Failure to obey orders  to the point of actual mutiny ran rampant among its ranks.  A revolving door of commanders did not improve the effectiveness.  Any efforts to organize a professional military organization met with funding inadequacies.       
            The only way this small, ragtag group was able to defeat the much more powerful Mexican Army is that the latter was in similar disarray.  Though better equipped and trained, fundamental political differences in Mexico between the Centralists and Federalists continued to take focus away from quelling the Texas revolt.  Allegiances were divided between the  population, military and civilian leadership, and the troops, reducing their capabilities in the north against an inferior force.   Mexico had its own instability of leadership.  The Texas Revolution was the beneficiary of a perfect storm. 
            Another element that piqued my interest was the brutality with reference to prisoners of war.  It seemed the Texas policy towards them was at the discretion of the local commander.  Some were released, others held captive, and still others executed.   The Mexicans appeared to have had orders from the highest authority to execute detainees.  These directives were not always carried out, but more often than not they were.    I believe this might have been due to the Mexican government treating the Texans more as terrorists than with the deference afforded a respected military force.  The Texans sometimes put to death surrendered Mexican soldiers in retaliation from the murder of their own. 
            We have a similar modern argument as to whether captured terrorists are to be treated as prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Convention.  Though we do not execute them, we have tortured and humiliated them, using the distinction between a criminal and a soldier as justification.         
            As with most nineteenth century warfare, much of the fighting in the Texas Revolution was boots on the ground, face to face and hand to hand combat.  Today's warfare can be conducted by piloting drones from the safety of a command center thousands of miles from the battlefield.  This brings up some major discussions  with respect to Just War Theory.  It is much easier to kill an enemy when you don't have to look into his eyes and are not putting your own personnel in harm's way.  In those days, senior officers actually led troops into battle and often died alongside them.  In today's military, generals seldom venture to the front lines unless they have been deemed safe enough for a USO show.    

Thursday, September 11, 2014

History 361 - Antebellum 1820-1860 Opinion Piece #1 - Indian Removal

Indian Removal
            I chose Jackson's Indian Removal as the subject of my first Response Essay.  I think that while most Americans are fairly knowledgeable about the evil of slavery, few are cognizant of the near extinction of an entire race of people. The Native American people still suffer from treatment  that began with the landing of the white man in the Caribbeanin 1492.  Most Americans have not even heard of the Indian Removal and few of those that have realize that it was conducted for nearly the entire decade of the 1830s.    It was not just a single march of 80 miles, like the brutal Bataan Death March.   The Trail of Tears, the final portion of the Cherokee removal, was arguably  the most barbaric of the atrocities visited on the tribes in our history.  It crossed nine states and hundreds of miles.  This dark period was certainly not taught in the history classes of my youth.   
            I am in no way saying that slavery was not an abomination, but I believe that the Native Americans that were uprooted and moved west across the Mississippi River experienced an even  more horrific existence.  Slaves were considered  a valuable commodity so they were housed, fed, and clothed.  They were provided medical  care.  Many slaveholders were cruel, but they valued their slaves as they did their livestock.  Also, many slaves lived on the same land for generations and as a result had some stability in their wretched lives.   
            These tribes were forcibly removed from their land and everything they knew. Thousands died from disease, starvation, and exposure to the elements. These "savages" were not even valued as highly as slaves.  The government just wanted them to go away and they nearly did.   
            The United  States has never been the melting pot that it advertises itself as.  Throughout our history, each ethnic group, nationality, and race has been victimized and exploited by the white, primarily British, male, "ruling" class.  While it is mainly people of color that experienced the most prejudicial treatment, "lesser" white people, such as Irish, Polish, and Italian immigrants have been victims.  The Americans, following the British imperialist model, have colonized and exploited many other countries, expanding the reach of political and military power and desire for resources.  But none of this even approaches the evil it has  exercised  on the Native Americans.  Most immigrant groups have eventually been accepted, if not welcomed, and allowed to share in the quality of life afforded an American citizen   The "American Dream" has  been primarily a nightmare to the American Indian.  
            My mother's grandfather was a full-blooded Native American.  He died long before I was born, and was never talked about.  My mother's grandmother was disgraced by having "been with" an Indian.  I only found out about him by accident.  That is a part of my ancestry that I will never know about.  A philosophy lost to me.     
            I lived in Wyoming for six years in the town of Riverton, in the middle of the Wind River Reservation.  I got a firsthand look at the hopelessness of these people.  I even substitute taught in one of the Indian schools.  Abject poverty; alcohol, drug, and physical abuse are a way of life.  Unlike the African Americans, the Native Americans have scant positive role models to encourage expectations of a better life.  They have no Michael Jordans, Martin Luther Kings, or Barack Obamas to inspire them.  They have casinos.  However, the income from those often does not trickle down below tribal "leaders."      
            Though the American government has always lacked respect for people of color, I believe the Native American has received the poorest treatment for the longest time.                               

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Beatles Come To America - "A Really Big Show".

The second of my pieces for my CCU Music course.  Other geezers will get it.

            I was 11 years old in February of 1964 when the Beatles were introduced  to me and the rest of America on the Ed Sullivan Show.  I knew they were something special because the girls were screaming so loudly that I could hardly hear their music and my Southern Baptist mother thought they were the devil incarnate.  I had to throw a mini-tantrum for her to allow me to watch.  I had never seen anything like them.  To a blue-jeaned boy with a flat-top haircut these four guys in Edwardian suits and bowl haircuts were as alien as if they had arrived  in a spaceship.  If not for the assassination of President Kennedy a few months earlier, this would have been the most memorable event of my youth.  It turned out to be one of the most significant in my life.
            The arrival  of the Beatles gave the nation a much needed diversion  from  the grim  realities of the previous year:  the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination.  It could not have come at a better time and timing is everything.  They made four appearances that month, but none had the impact on the world, or me, that the first one did.  It is estimated that 40% of the population of the United States watched that program.   They performed five songs:  "All My Loving", 'Till There Was You", "She Loves You", "I Saw Her Standing There", and "I Want To Hold Your Hand."  Using my paper route money I purchased Meet The Beatles the very next day from a local drug store.  I was disappointed that only four of the songs I had heard were included, but still excited.  "She Loves You" came in the second of many Beatles albums that I subsequently purchased.           
            My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Wakefield, was young and beautiful (to a boy entering puberty) and had already become a Beatles' fan.  She used to post the Billboard Top 10 on our bulletin board and each week at least half of those songs belonged to  the Beatles.  She brought in fan magazines and was my source of all things Beatles for the remainder of that school year.  I remember being amazed that though I could sing along with all the song lyrics I could not understand a word they said during interviews.  It was as if Liverpudlian English was a foreign language.
            The Beatles stayed together throughout my Junior and Senior High years until my graduation in 1970.  In just six years they produced more memorable music than any of the flood of British bands that followed in their wake.  Like great composers throughout history, much of Lennon/McCartney music was timeless.  The songs I heard in that first televised performance were nowhere near their best compositions.  They continued to evolve.  Unprecedented success allowed them to continuously experiment and creative genius insured those endeavors were nearly always fresh and interesting.  It seemed to me that every new release ventured into unexplored musical territory, borrowing from many genres of music.  Early in their careers, they covered songs from a variety of artists from R&B to Country.  They were inspired by such artists as Elvis, the Everly Brothers, Beach Boys, Buddy Holly, Carole King, and Little Richard.  Their initial  influences  of American Folk, Rockabilly, Skiffle, Ragtime, and Motown, eventually expanded to include both   Western  and Indian Classical, innovations  previously unheard of in rock/pop music.
            Though I became a fan of many other performers, no others had the life-long influence on me, or the world, that the Fab Four did.  All four had successful post Beatle  careers, though none captured the magic in a bottle that the synergy of their collaborative efforts produced.