Posts tagged George Wallace

Evildoers

For the past week, there’s been a lot of hubbub over All Things Beautiful’s Ten Worst Americans challenge. For a lot of reasons, I don’t have a comprehensive list, and I’m not that keen on the whole project (there’s lots of evil and ugliness in the world without going out of your way to seek it out, compile it, and cross-index it; I have no idea what the criteria would be for choosing ten people as more evil than any others; and I think that most of us are already far too fascinated with and fixated on demonology as it is). So I don’t have a Worst Ten list to provide. But I do have a list of additions that I think ought to be there, if lists are to be made. Coming out for the left-liberal corner we have Ampersand at Alas, A Blog (2005-12-27) with a list of seven villains, Patrick at Tiberius and Gaius Speaking… with a list of ten, and Glenn Greenwald and Hypatia at Unclaimed Territory (2005-12-28) with another ten to throw on the barbie. With the exception of Glenn’s silly inclusion of Harry Blackmun, they are pretty much right, as far as it goes, but there are some notable names that I notice tend to get left out. I suggested some additions at Alas and some dishonorable mentions at Tiberius and Gaius, which have been followed up with some debate.

Here’s my contribution of evildoers. I make no attempt to be comprehensive — there are lots of truly rotten people who aren’t on the list, mainly because they are mentioned elsewhere. But these folks are truly rotten, and often overlooked — sometimes because they get shoved out of the way by contemporary contenders that contemporary writers tend to give disproportionate space to, sometimes because the villains are overlooked by pop history anyway, and sometimes simply because political blinders prevent their names from being given serious consideration. The interesting thing is that the blinders rarely constitute defenses of their deeds — although in at least two of the three cases I discuss with Patrick that is what’s happening. It’s just that, for whatever reason, some folks whose crimes are readily admitted, if mentioned, aren’t thought of when you sit down thinking Who should I put down as a terrible evil-doer? I have some ideas about the reasons behind that, but I’d be interested to hear what you think in comments, too.

In any case, here’s my unordered list of overlooked evildoers, cobbled together from my suggestions elsewhere:

  • Harry S. Truman. He ordered or approved the murders of 500,000 – 1,000,000 Japanese civilians over the course of half a year in 1945.

  • Curtis LeMay. He carried out the murder of 500,000 – 1,000,000 Japanese civilians over the course of half a year in 1945. He planned and carried out the low-altitude firebombing of Kobe, Tokyo, and 65 other Japanese cities. A nuclear maniac who explicitly denied that there were any innocent bystanders in war, went on to coin the phrase bomb them back into the Stone Age (in reference to the Vietnam War), and went on to become George Wallace’s running mate in 1968, on a platform of white supremacy and more militant anticommunism. During World War II, he repeatedly indicated his belief that the Japanese deserved wholesale slaughter of civilians, and his own public statements and the reminiscences of the soldiers who served under him reveal him as simply reveling in death and destruction.

  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a pseudo-leftist demagogue who created the military-industrial complex; imprisoned political opponents; seized sweeping censorship powers; pandered to the worst sorts of racism, first in his political alliances with arch-segregationist Dixiecrats and then in whipping up war fever for war against Japan; ordered internment of Japanese-Americans; happily allied with, propagandized for, and consigned 1/2 of Europe to the totalitarian terror of, Joseph Stalin; and became one of the three men who came the closest to becoming a dictator in the United States.

  • Woodrow Wilson, unreprentant liar and war-monger, KKK fan, arch-segregationist, ardent anti-feminist. His published academic work delighted in white supremacist myth-making; his warmongering drew the United States needlessly into one of the worst and most senseless wars in world history; he built a slave army with the second federal draft in American history, and shredded civil liberties with abandon, happily imprisoning political opponents both during and after the War and presiding over the devastating Palmer Raids. Wilson is one of the three men who came the closest to becoming a dictator in the United States.

  • George Fitzhugh, who fused the worst elements of statist utopian socialism with a nostalgic view of feudal hierarchy to provide the most militant theoretical defense of white supremacy and race slavery in the prewar South. He authored Slavery Justified, Sociology in the South, and Cannibals All!.

  • William Tecumseh Sherman, one of the inventors of modern scorched-earth warfare, ravager of the South and murderer of Southern civilians. Sherman followed up his most famous role by pursuing genocidal campaigns against the Plains Indians and Indians in the Southwest from 1869 until his retirement in 1884.

  • James Eastland, the militant white supremacist Senator from Mississippi, mad dog McCarthyist, and founding father of the White Citizens Councils.

  • In addition to another Alas commenter’s suggestion of Larry Flynt, I’d also like to add Chuck Traynor, the pimp / pornographer / rapist / batterer / slave-driver who forced Linda Boreman into Deep Throat (among other pornography) and played an instrumental role in founding the mass-market, above-ground film pornography industry in the U.S. through repeated filmed rapes.

  • Sergio Méndez reminded me that Ronald Reagan certainly needs a mention, yet he seems notoriously absent from many of the lists. I mention him here not because I think he’s often overlooked on lefty lists of rotten people, but rather because I think the primary reasons to include him — his complicity in the formation of the death squads of El Salvador and the plainly genocidal massacre of some 200,000 Indians in Guatemala — is often overlooked in favor of a frankly silly focus on his contributions to the rhetoric of the contemporary Right in America.

The exercise, whatever its demerits, does seem to be a good conversation-starter. What do you think?

Condoleezza’s Right

Here’s something that you may have thought you’d never see in the pages of the Rad Geek People’s Daily: Condoleezza Rice is absolutely right.

Over at Stone Court (thanks again, Feminist Blogs!), Fred Vincy’s pointed out Condoleezza Rice’s stance on gun control, offered up by The Times (2004-11-21):

Violence was turning her hometown into Bombingham as Alabama’s governor George Wallace fought a federal court order to integrate the city’s schools. The Ku Klux Klan bombed the homes of blacks who were beginning to move into white neighbourhoods. Among the targets was the home of Arthur Shores, a veteran civil rights lawyer and friend of the Rices. Condi and her parents took food and clothes over to his family.

With the bombings came marauding groups of armed white vigilantes called nightriders who drove through black neighbourhoods shooting and starting fires. John Rice and his neighbours guarded the streets at night with shotguns.

The memory of her father out on patrol lies behind Rice’s opposition to gun control today. Had those guns been registered, she argues, Bull Connor would have had a legal right to take them away, thereby removing one of the black community’s only means of defence. I have a sort of pure second amendment view of the right to bear arms, she said in 2001.

— The Times 2004-11-21: Condi: The girl who cracked the ice

Condi’s experience wasn’t out of the ordinary. During the hardest fights of the civil rights movement in Mississippi and Alabama, ordinary Black families and civil rights activists defended themselves against the Klan terror by arming themselves. (Yes, organizers who were passionately committed to the principles nonviolent civil disobedience did too–nonviolent demonstrations don’t mean letting the night-riders burn or bomb your house. When they asked Fannie Lou Hamer why her house in Sunflower County never was dynamited, her answer was I keep a shotgun in every corner of my bedroom.)

And I think they were right to do so. So I can’t agree with Fred when he objects:

My initial, flip reaction, was — well, that’s not the lesson I would have drawn. Vigilantes make a practice of driving through your neighborhood shooting, and you conclude that making guns more available is a good thing?

Yes, it is–because the night riders wouldn’t have any trouble getting guns even with stringent gun control laws. Stricter gun control in Bombingham would have only meant fewer Black families able to defend themselves against the night riders. And what would they have done? Called the cops? Bull Connor’s cops? Condi is right to point out that what gun control means is that somebody in the government–usually the sheriff or the police commissioner–has the power to decide who can arm himself or herself and who can’t. It means that the government prohibits some substantial portion of the population from buying the weapons that they can use to defend themselves, in the expectation that they will depend on the Authorities for the protection of their lives. But for a Black woman in Bull Connor’s Birmingham, depending on the Authorities to defend your life was a sucker’s bet. Depending on Bull Connor to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous white supremacist terrorists was a sucker’s bet. And the fact is that, for all the progress we’ve made, it’s still far from clear that relying on the cops is a good bet for Black people–or for that matter, for women, for Muslims, for any number of people who have historically had the boots on their necks (see, for example, GT 2004-11-14, GT 2002-02-13, GT 2001-10-25, GT 2001-04-21, and GT 2001-04-04).

You might be inclined to say: look, Jim Crow is over; things got better, and they still can get better. (I think this is the take that Fred’s suggesting when he says for Rice, the deeper lesson of growing up in Birmingham in the early 60s was that government is fundamentally corrupt and untrustworthy.) Yes, gun control now wouldn’t be as bad as it would have been in Bull Connor’s day. But it will still be bad. The answer is not to throw the wankers out and find the right people to head up the gun control regime in their place. There’s a strong historical argument against that suggestion: the first gun control legislation in American history were laws to ban free blacks from owning guns in the South; later efforts were driven by fear-mongering against the alleged criminal (or revolutionary) tendencies of labor leaders, Slavic and Italian immigrants, and urban Blacks. And I can’t see any good reason to set the history of gun control aside when we consider what it means for real people in the present world.

Even setting the historical arguments, though, I still can’t find a good reason to trust the right people to manage a gun control regime. In fact, I’d argue that there aren’t any right people to find: the power to disarm a whole class of people is inevitably a corrosive power. There is no way to do it without creating a class of people who are completely dependent on the ruling class and their agents for the defense of their very lives and livelihoods: that’s what gun control means. As Leftists–opponents of unjust and arbitrary power–it should be very troubling to those of us on the Left when the powerful have all the weapons and the people over whom they have power have none to defend themselves. That’s absolute power, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. You see it today in the professional paramilitary police forces that occupy most major cities today; and it’s important to see how it’s a power that can’t help but corrupt any class that seizes it.

Écrasez l’infâme.

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