Posts from February 2007

Over My Shoulder #32: Mark Kurlansky on the Revolution before the Revolutionary War, from Nonviolence: Twenty-Five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from Mark Kurlansky’s recent book Nonviolence: Twenty-Five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea (2006):

In the years leading up to the American Revolution, the radical revolutionaries, those who wanted to break away from Britain and were prepared to go to war, were a minority, but they were the most vocal and articulate and the best organized faction. Proponents of nonviolence know that it is often not the largest but the best organized and most articulate group that prevails. It is not clear that the decision to go to war against the British was the majority opinion of most of the revolting colonies, but the radicals proceeded and made it a fait accompli.

Another enduring lesson of history is that it is always easier to promote war than peace, easier to end the peace than end the war, because peace is fragile and war is durable. Once the first shots are fired, those who oppose the war are simply branded as traitors. All debate ends once the first shots are fired, so firing shots is always an effective way to end the debate. The silence may not last for long, as the War of 1812, World War I, Vietnam, and Iraq, all unpopular wars, demonstrate, but there is always a moment of enforced silence when debate and criticism are banished and this moment gives the war boosters at least a temporary advantage.

In February 1775 the British sent 240 soldiers to Salem, Massachusetts, to seize ammunition and weapons that the rebels were amassing. Though the nonviolent defense of a weapons cache does not truly qualify as nonviolence, the townspeople’s plan averted violence and prevented the opening of a shooting war. They simply pulled up the drawbridge into town and made the British negotiate entry, which the British did by giving assurances that they would not disturb the town. Apparently the colonists at the drawbridge were less concerned about the fate of the weapons than the principle that the British army had to ask permission before entering their town. According to Hobbesian logic, such happy solutions only put off the inevitable, which came on April 19, when another British column attempted to seize another rebel arms cache, this time in Concord. Whether or not this qualified as what Hobbes termed Natural Law, the reality was that elements among the rebel movement had decided that they wanted a shooting war, and once that kind of decision is made, it is, as a rule, almost impossible to avoid it. American revolutionaries intercepted the British column in Lexington. The rebels only exchanged a few shots and a number of them were killed. Each side claimed the other side had fired first, though all the casualties of this brief first engagement were on the rebel side. The British marched on to the supply depot in Concord. But the shots had been fired, the war begun, and the debate ended.

Curiously, up until those few shots were fired in Lexington, the rebels, even while arguing for war, had been spectacularly successful at what could be considered nonviolent resistance. Both demonstrating and rioting for a wide range of causes were commonplace in eighteenth-century America. One historian, Paul A. Gilje, counted 150 riots and street actions in the thirteen colonies just between 1765 and 1769. Though rules of class conduct were not rigid, generally the upper classes wrote pamphlets and negotiated, while the lower classes took to the street. The lower classes would cart around effigies of officials at their demonstrations before hanging, burning, or beheading them. Even before television there was a belief that effective nonviolence needed to be visual, needed a sense of theater to attract an audience. When the British passed the Stamp Act in 1765, the colonists staged a series of demonstrations throughout the colonies. In Charleston, South Carolina, two thousand demonstrators protested taxes by burning effigies and then staging a mock funeral for the death of American Liberty. The stamp officials were forced to resign in every colony but Georgia. The demonstrations were accompanied by a boycott of British goods. The result of all this was that within a year the act was repealed. But the following year the British attempted another taxation scheme, the Townsend Acts, which, because they only taxed imports indirectly, the British hoped would be more palatable.

The working poor were angry about their economic plight and they were not always nonviolent. They attacked and destroyed homes of officials, and looting was not uncommon. The intellectual leaders, being largely men of property, opposed these acts of destruction and tried to keep the street protests orderly. There was clearly a class division, and the upper-class leaders had to negotiate with the street leaders. The former tried to keep elements that they thought of as rowdy out of demonstrations. They sometimes banned black people from participating in demonstrations, convinced that they were an inherently unruly race.

In 1768 the Massachusetts Assembly dissolved rather than collect the Townsend duties. Not entirely nonviolent, the revolutionaries formed mobs to harass customs officials. On March 5, 1770, boys began throwing snowballs at British troops in Boston. The troops began pushing. Men came to the aid of boys. When one British soldier was struck with a club, he responded by firing into the crowd. Other soldiers also fired and five colonists were killed. When the British soldiers were brought to trial, John Adams, a moderate, defended them and noted in defense of the troops that black people were in the crowd. As a matter of fact, a mulatto man, Crispus Attucks, was among the victims. The British were acquitted.

By 1770 the British recognized the Townsend Acts to be another political and financial disaster and repealed them. But the tax on tea remained. This led to the most famous act of nonviolence in the American colonial period.

The American revolutionaries, in their prewar days, were particularly effective in their use of an important nonviolent tool, the boycott. Women began weaving cloth by hand rather than buy fabric from British mills. Homespun became the fashion. Spinning bees became patriotic gatherings. One result of the tea boycott was that Americans very quickly became coffee drinkers. But there were many debates in Boston on how to take the tea boycott even further. On December 16, 1773, sixty revolutionaries, dressed as Mohawk Indians, boarded three ships in Boston Harbor and dumped 342 chests of tea valued at £10,000 into the sea. This was a perfectly managed act of nonviolent protest. There were no incidents of looting or vandalism. According to legend, one padlock was broken and the revolutionaries replaced it.

Though far less famous today than the Boston Tea Party, the crowning achievement of American colonial civil disobedience, the one that John Adams considered the turning point of the American Revolution, came in 1774, before any shots were fired. The colonies were becoming ungovernable and unprofitable. The British were responding with repression, including the so-called Coercive Acts, which cost them more money and tied up more troops. From the point of view of the rebels, the British response was ideal, as it was mobilizing public opinion against England. One of the new repressive measures enacted by the British Parliament, intended as a response to the Boston Tea Party, was the Massachusetts Government Act passed in the spring of 1774. It removed the right of Massachusetts’ elected representatives to have a say in the appointment of judges. When the new British-appointed Court of Common Pleas for the county of Worcester tried to sit in September, thousands turned out to block them. Of the estimated six thousand, about one thousand were armed. They stopped the court from coming to session and formed a convention that effectively took over, closing courts and freeing prisoners.

The weapons, which were not used, were unnecessary, since no armed force opposed them. Everywhere else in Massachusetts where the British tried to open a Court of Common Pleas, they were also stopped by huge crowds, which often had no weapons at all. The crowds were large enough to keep the courts closed, force the judges to resign, and keep the army helplessly at a distance.

The revolution had overthrown the government in Massachusetts without a shot being fired. Why, then, did the rebels turn to arms? Sentiment was already strongly anti-British. John Adams wrote to Jefferson late in his life, The revolution was in the minds of the people, and in the union of the colonies, both of which were accomplished before the hostilities commenced. So why was the war necessary? Jonathan Schell in The Unconquerable World astutely noted that the participants in other revolutions had reached similar conclusions. The Romantic writer François René de Chateaubriand, who lived through the French Revolution, said almost the exact same thing: The French Revolution was accomplished before it occurred. And Leon Trotsky, one of the authors of the Russian Revolution, wrote, The declaration of October 23 had meant the overthrow of the power before the government itself was overthrown.

So if revolutions are accomplished in the minds of the people, why must they be followed by force of arms? Why do almost all political theorists–not only Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau, but later ones such as Marx and Lenin–insist that a revolution must be an armed movement? If the outbreak of war is inevitable, as seventeenth-century thinkers believed, history teaches the lesson that its inevitability does not rest, as they believed, on natural law, but on individuals incapable of conceiving of another path. Is the source of violence not human nature, as Hobbes contended, but a lack of imagination?

In the case of the American Revolution, could independence have been accomplished without warfare? The British gave up on America even though the Americans had scored very few military victories in the war, because they wanted to get on with other business, including their European wars, and could not afford to tie up military and money in these colonies any longer. But the path of disruption and protest had already been tying up British troops, costing British money, making the colonies unprofitable–the very reasons that Britain later gave up the war and negotiated peace. Colonies were supposed to earn, not cost. It seems quite possible that the British withdrawal could have been achieved by continuing protest and economic sabotage.

–Mark Kurlansky (2006): Nonviolence: Twenty-Five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea. 75–80.

Over My Shoulder #31: J.R. Hummel on the occupation and the insurgency in the border states during the American Civil War

Welcome to a special President’s Day edition of Over My Shoulder! The Ministry of Culture in this secessionist republic of one does not recognize President’s Day as a national holiday, but our Foreign Service thought that it might make interesting reading for our American neighbors. Anyway, here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from Chapter 5 of J. R. Hummel’s excellent history of the American Civil War, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men (ISBN 0-8126-9312-4). Hummel’s book has the advantage of being perhaps the only comprehensive historical overview of the Civil War that avoids counterhistorical nostalgia for the marble men of either the North or the South. (If anything, the dominant trend in Civil War historiography has been counterhistorical nostalgia for both.) Here’s a bit about how the slave lords of the South and the Great Emancipator waged their war in the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Maryland. Observers of modern-day Deciders and insurgents may find some interesting points to note.

Holding Maryland and Missouri

Four slave states on the border remained to be heard from: Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. Only tiny Delaware was unquestionably loyal. In Maryland popular sentiment was bitterly divided. The governor was timidly pro-Union, whereas the majority of the legislature leaned toward secession. Maryland, however, was vital to the Lincoln Administration. It not only contained Baltimore, the country’s third largest city; the state also isolated the nation’s capital, itself a southern town, from the free states further north. No sizable regular army units were on hand for Washington’s defense, and with Confederate flags already visible across the Potomac River to the south, Lincoln feared he might have to flee.

The arrival of the first regiment to answer Lincoln’s call, the 6th Massachusetts, did nothing to dispel the panic. A mob had attacked the troops in Baltimore as they shuttled between train stations. In the ensuing melee shots were exchanged. Four soldiers and at least nine civilians died, with many more injured. While the 6th Massachusetts limped into Washington, Baltimore officials burned the railroad bridges and cut the telegraph wires.

Not until more regiments began pouring into the beleaguered capital a week later was it truly secure. Lincoln then suspended the writ of habeas corpus along the military line between Philadelphia and the District of Columbia and clamped a military occupation down upon Maryland. The governor convened the legislature in the northwest part of the state, where unionism was strong. Although the legislature rejected secession, it came out for the peaceful and immediate recognition of the independence of the Confederate States; the state hereby gives her cordial consent thereunto, as a member of the Union. The legislature also denounced the present military occupation of Maryland as a flagrant violation of the Constitution.

The military authorities soon began imprisoning prominent secessionists without trial. The writ of habeas corpus was a constitutional safeguard to prevent such imprisonments without sufficient legal cause, and one of the incarcerated Marylanders, John Merryman, attempted an appeal on that basis. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, sitting as a circuit judge, ordered Merryman released, but federal officials, acting under Lincoln’s orders, refused. The aging Chief Justice, just three years from death’s door, thereupon issued a blistering opinion holding that only Congress had the constitutional right to suspend habeas corpus. The President certainly does not faithfully execute the laws, if he takes upon himself legislative power, by suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and judicial power also, by arresting and imprisoning a person without due process of law, declared Taney. If Lincoln’s action was allowed to stand, then the people of the United States are no longer living under a Government of laws, but every citizen holds life, liberty and property at the will and pleasure of the army officer in whose military district he may happen to be found.

Lincoln simply ignored Taney’s opinion. He also wrote standing orders for the Chief Justice’s arrest, although these were never served. The President did not ignore, however, the increasingly outspoken Maryland legislature when it lodged a sharp protest with Congress. Rather, Secretary of State Seward ordered a lightning statewide raid that jailed thirty-one legislators, the mayor of Baltimore, one of the state’s Congressmen, and key anti-Administration publishers and editors. At the state’s next election in the fall of 1861, federal provost marshals stood guard at the polls and arrested any disunionists who attempted to vote. The outcome was further rigged by granting special three-day furloughs to Marylanders who had joined the Union army so that they could go home and vote. Unsurprisingly, the new legislature was solidly behind the war.

Events in Maryland inspired the words to one of the Confederacy’s favorite marching songs, Maryland, My Maryland. Written by James Ryder Randall, they were adapted to the music of O Tannenbaum:

The despot’s heel is on thy shore,
Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door,
Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

I hear the distant thunder-hum,
Maryland!
The Old Line’s bugle, fife, and drum,
Maryland!
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb–
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes! she burns! she’ll come! she’ll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!

The song with only minor changes eventually became the state’s official anthem, but Maryland was never able to come to the Confederacy.

Farther west, the border state of Missouri contained a larger population than any other slave state outside of Virginia. A special convention chosen by the people had rejected secession before the attack on Fort Sumter. But the state’s newly elected governor, Claiborne Jackson, a former border ruffian, favored the Confederacy and refused Lincoln’s call for troops. The governor controlled the state militia, which was in spring encampment near St. Louis. The local Union commander, the impetuous and intolerant Captain Nathaniel Lyon, precipitated open hostilities by surrounding the militia encampment with his own force of regulars and hastily recruited German immigrants. The militia laid down their arms, but a crowd gathered that was not so peaceful. The raw Union recruits fired indiscriminately, killing twenty-eight mostly innocent bystanders.

This provocation converted many Union sympathizers into secessionists. One delegate to the state convention, who had voted against Missouri’s secession, announced his change of heart to a city crowd. If Unionism means such atrocious deeds as have been witnessed in St. Louis, I am no longer a Union man. The Lincoln Administration’s heavy-handed ineptitude had managed to provoke open hostilities within a state that had not formally seceded. The legislature rallied behind Governor Jackson and granted him dictatorial powers, but Federal troops chased them all out of the state capital. Missouri ended up with two shadow governments, one in the Union, the other in the Confederacy. Declaring the governorship vacant and the legislature abolished, the anti-secessionist members of the state convention operated without elections as a provisional government loyal to the Union for the next three years. The remnant of the legislature, meanwhile, joined the deposed governor in aligning with the Confederacy.

The real power in Missouri was the Federal military, which gained nominal control over most of the state. A ferocious guerrilla war devastated the countryside, however. John C. Frémont, who assumed command of the Union’s Western Department, imposed martial law at the end of August. Circumstances, in my judgment, of sufficient urgency render it necessary that the commanding general of this department should assume the administrative powers of the State. On his own authority, Frémont freed the slaves of those in rebellion and confiscated all their other real and personal property. He also proclaimed the death penalty for any captured guerrillas. All persons who shall be taken with arms in their hands within these lines shall be tried by court-martial, and if found guilty will be shot. … All persons who shall be proven to have destroyed, after the publication of this order, railroad tracks, bridges, or telegraphs shall suffer the extreme penalty of the law.

The President countermanded the precipitate emancipation and replaced Frémont in order to placate what loyal sentiment was left in the various border states. But Missouri remained under martial law. The internecine warfare was further aggravated as Kansas jayhawkers crossed the border and took revenge for the earlier efforts of the Missouri border ruffians to extend slavery into Kansas. What one historian has called a maelstrom of retaliation and counter-retaliation built to a howling crescendo. During the war’s second summer, the most notorious band of Confederate partisans, lead by William C. Quantrill, descended upon Lawrence, Kansas, burned the business district to the ground, and murdered in cold blood every male inhabitant they could locate–183 in all.

Union commanders responded with such harsh measures as General Order No. 11, which forcibly relocated nearly all the residents of four western counties in Missouri, destroyed their crops, and razed their homes and barns. The relocation made no effort to distinguish between citizens loyal to the Union and those disloyal. Only six hundred persons were left in Cass County, which before the war had a population of ten thousand. After observing a boat that was crowded full of deportees, one Federal colonel expressed the bitterness widespread among Union soldiers toward a populace that had spanwed Bushwackers. God knows where they are all going for I don[‘]t nor do I care, he wrote his wife. I think if we get rid of the women then it will not be hard to get rid of [the Bushwackers]. This legacy of hatred, dating back six years before Fort Sumter, would continue to plague Kansas and Missouri long after the rest of the country attained peace. Many of the desperate young boys whose families were banished and who rode with Quantrill, such as seventeen-year-old Jesse James, would not abandon their violent grudges until they reached the grave.

Kentucky and West Virginia

The Union handling of Kentucky, birthplace of both Lincoln and Davis, was initially more tactful than its handling of either Missouri or Maryland. Fear that this border state would join the Confederacy was one of the major reasons that Lincoln had revoked Frémont’s emancipation proclamation. The Kentucky Legislature would not budge till that proclamation was modified, he confided in private correspondence. I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we can not hold Missouri, nor, as I think, Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capitol.

Although Kentucky’s governor favored secession and refused to supply Lincoln with militia, the state’s unionists were numerous enough to get the legislature to declare neutrality. This kept Kentucky free from either side’s armies for four months. When Confederate troop movements violated the neutrality, the legislature invited Union forces to expel the invaders. Many individual Kentuckians, however, had already enlisted in the Confederate ranks. They elected a convention that passed an ordinance of secession and set up an alternative state government. Thus Kentucky, like Missouri, was represented in both the Confederacy and the Union.

The Confederate military never could consolidate control over Kentucky, and the Union embrace squeezed tighter as the war heated up. Federal authorities declared martial law; required loyalty oaths before people could trade or engage in many other daily activities; censored books, journals, sermons, and sheet music; and crowded the jails with Rebel sympathizers. By 1862 the military was interfering with elections, preventing candidates from running, and dispersing the Democratic convention at bayonet point. The net result was that the people of Kentucky felt greater solidarity with the rest of the South at the war’s end than at its beginning.

The Lincoln Administration carved still another border state out of the mountains of northwestern Virginia. Owning very few slaves, the regions residents had long been disaffected from Virginia’s tidewater oligarchy. Moreover, the strategically crucial Baltimore and Ohio Railroad ran through the region. Confederate guerrillas cut the railroad within the first month after Sumter. But General George Brinton McClellan led about 20,000 Ohio volunteers into western Virginia in one of the war’s earliest campaigns. By the end of July he had reopened the railroad and driven out enemy formations.

McClellan was a short, dapper man, of only thirty-five, with a natural military bearing. His conciliatory proclamation to the local populace stood in marked contrast to Frémont’s policy in Missouri. To the Union Men of Western Virginia: … I have ordered troops to cross the river, McClellan announced. But they come as your friends and your brothers–as enemies only to the armed rebels who are preying upon you. Your homes, your families, and your property are safe under our protection. All your rights shall be religiously respected. This included property in slaves, notwithstanding all that has been said by the traitors to induce you to believe that our advent among you will be signalized by interference with your slaves. Indeed, not only will we abstain from all such interference, but we will, on the contrary, with an iron hand, crush any attempt at [slave] insurrection. Future campaigns would convert McClellan’s west Virginia success into a minor skirmish by comparison. But at this early date, it gained him a fawning reputation in northern newspapers as the Young Napoleon.

Virginia’s northwestern counties, however, could not yet legally establish a separate state, because the United States Constitution requires permission from the parent state. So instead, the Lincoln Administration organized the loyal residents of the western counties into a pro-Union government for the entire state. The legislature of this bogus Virginia government then authorized the separation of the northwestern counties in May 1862. When West Virginia entered the Union in 1863, the new state encompassed not only unionist counties but also many that would rather have remained part of Confederate Virginia.

The Confederate government made its own attempt in the far west to do the same as the Union did in Virginia. Settlers in the southern and western parts of the New Mexico territory were sympathetic to the South, so in early 1862 they formed the new territory of Arizona and attached themselves to the Confederacy. This separation did not last long, however. Federal troops recovered these settlements later that summer.

The Civil War experience throughout the entire borderland, in short, comprised variations on a single pattern. While military occupation maintained formal Union sovereignty, popular feelings were torn, setting neighbor against neighbor and sometimes brother against brother. Kentucky, home to the now deceased Henry Clay, sent three of the Great Pacificator’s grandsons to fight for the North and four to fight for the South. From Maryland, Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia together, about 185,000 white men served in the Union armies, while 103,000 served in the Confederate armies. Occasionally opposing units from the same border state would engage each other on a battlefield. Nowhere was the designation Civil War more apt.

–Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War (1996), pp. 141–148.

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Quick quiz. What’s wrong with this Monday’s Doonesbury?

[Mike Doonesbury and Kim are watching the news on television.]

Announcer: Today, the White House moved to further shore up its deeply unpopular war policy…

Announcer: In what is being termed surge protection, leading GOP lawmakers were invited to a private reception.

Announcer: Light refreshments were served.

[Dialogue coming from the White House.]

Bush: Another glass of Kool-Aid, Senator?

Senator: Sure, why not?

I’ve commented on this before, briefly, elsewhere. But I’ll repeat myself, because I think it’s important.

I don’t know how clearly many people remember this anymore, but the phrase drinking the Kool-Aid entered our pop culture as a reference to the massacre at Jonestown, Guyana on November 18, 1978. Jonestown was a communal farm established in the jungle in Guyana by a preacher named Jim Jones and about 1,000 members of his People’s Temple–an interracial, evangelical church which had become a major presence in the politics and culture of the San Fransisco Bay Area after Jones and many of his followers relocated to northern California in the mid-1960s. The church’s doctrines combined charismatic religion with a radical form of socialist liberation theology, and in San Francisco Jones won praise from the city press and Leftist politicians. But within the church, Jones had grown increasingly authoritarian and paranoid as he became more powerful in the outer world, and in the late 1970s reports began to reach the press of harassment and violence against former members. After Jones and his followers relocated to Guyana, the utopian community in Jonestown soon descended into little more than a prison farm, with beatings, confinement, and torture used to keep members from leaving the community.

In November 1978, California Representative Leo Ryan traveled to Guyana with a group of reporters and concerned family members to investigate the situation at Jonestown. Several residents at Jonestown approached Ryan to beg him to take them back to the United States. On Jones’s orders, Ryan and four others were murdered at the airstrip on before they could leave, and after the murders he and his lieutenants decided to order a ritual mass suicide for everyone at Jonestown.

Jones’s lieutenants killed several of the elderly members of the congregation by injecting them with poison in their sleep. (About two-thirds of the population at Jonestown were children or senior-citizens.) After they were killed, two buckets of grape Flavor-Aid were prepared and laced with Valium and cyanide. The drink was brought into the assembly hall and passed around in paper cups. Babies and children were the first to drink, with the mixture squirted into the throats of the youngest children with a syringe. The poisoned drink caused convulsions, unconsciousness, and death within about 5 minutes. After the children died, some of the adults began to commit suicide by drinking the Flavor-Aid themselves. It is not known how many of the parents knew that the drink was poisoned before they gave it to their children; some may have killed themselves partly out of guilt after realizing that they had killed their own children. In any case, those who refused were forced to drink the poison or shot to death by armed guards.

The Guyanese authorities learned about the massacre from Jones’s legal advisers, who were not members of the Temple and did not participate. Relief workers discovered the bodies of 913 of the inhabitants lying dead in the jungle. Among the dead were 276 infants and children. The ghastly massacre is still often misleadingly referred to as a mass suicide in the press and reference sources.

Please remember that all those punchlines and snarky little throw-away epithets about how the devotees of some cause you dislike are drinking the Kool-Aid are actually jokes with the senseless deaths of nearly 1,000 people less than 30 years ago, for their punch-line.

Jokes like that suck.

I guess I’m just funny that way…

Here’s today’s Boondocks re-run. It may be of interest if you’ve been following recent exchanges in the comments section.

The Boondocks for 2007-02-02

Jazmine: Why aren’t you coming to our cookout on the Fourth?

Huey: I don’t know if your parents told you this, Jazmine, but we weren’t freed on Independence Day.

Huey: Apparently one of the rights America won from the British was the right to hold slaves and oppress others. I see little reason to celebrate.

[Pause.]

Jazmine: Oh, you can find the downside to anything.

Huey: Like chattel slavery? Yeah, I guess I’m just funny that way.

On a related note:

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? … At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

— Frederick Douglass (1852): What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?