Posts tagged Ku Klux Klan

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?

Over my shoulder #1 (or: Friday Book-Bragging)

Everyone’s got their own Friday afternoon game to play, and this one’s mine. I’m introducing a new recurring feature for the Rad Geek People’s Daily: Over My Shoulder, quotes (mostly without commentary) from something I’ve been reading this week. Irony to one side, this isn’t really intended as bragging about my reading list; the point is that what I’m reading is a way of getting at things I’ve been thinking about, even if I don’t yet have a confident position to stake out yet; and also that there are a lot of people out there who are smarter than I am, and not everything they write is something I can link to in online commentary or read the whole thing weblog posts. So here’s the rules.

  1. The quote should be something that I have read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It has to be something I’ve actually read, and not something that I’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post my favorite quote.)

  2. It should be a matter of one or a few paragraphs.

  3. There’s no commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  4. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I don’t. Whether I do or not isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

If you like this idea, feel free to repeat it or adapt it as you see fit on your own page or in the comments. (Just please don’t call it a meme: there’s no such thing. Thanks.)

And we’re off. The inaugural selection is a bit I read yesterday on the bus, from the first chapter of Paul Buhle’s Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor (all emphasis is in the original):

Fraina argued that what he called state capitalism, an expansive capitalist state embracing administrative centralization and militarization, had rendered the old socialist expectations irrelevant. Liberalism, as it had taken ideological form (Fraina found fault in the philosophy of pragmatism), now offered the intellectual counterpart to AFL unionism, narrowing the range of radical thought, aiding and assisting the upper classes and upper strata of labor against the threat of the irrational lower classes and of the world’s suffering peoples at large.

Fraina directed the sharpest of his polemics against William English Walling, a renowned socialist intellectual en route to becoming an AFL spokesman. Walling had observed shrewdly that socialists had been blind to the inner strengths of capitalism, the increased power and strength that it will gain through state capitalism and the increased wealth that will come through a beneficent and scientific policy of production. Being regulated, the system would be successively transformed by the mechanics of a complex struggle: a state capitalism under the hegemony of big and petty bourgeoisie would besupplanted by a state socialism under the petty bourgeoisie and the skilled workers. In the process, the allegedly messianic character of socialism would fall away entirely, and the social question would become no more than the struggle by those who have less, against those who have more in matters of income, hours, leisure, places of living, associations, and opportunity. Such a struggle could be properly ordered, guided by reform through existing institutions. The disorder implied by the ideas and very constituency of the IWW was, finally, a danger to the social détente which could make this benign process possible.

Even in AFL circles, confidence in such a benign outcome wavered. As the class conflicts of 1909-1913 took shape, skilled workers once again began to perceive that the emerging system often delivered fewer benefits for them than thinkers like Walling predicted. Solidarity campaigns of mutual support in strikes, like a dramatic one by railroad workers over several years, violated the AFL norm of workers with union contracts crossing picket lines and in effect scabbing on those still striking. The attempt at coordination by railroad brotherhoods, the appearance of metal trades councils, and (by the time of the war) the appeal for solidarity among the skilled and unskilled often bypassed the idea of political or electoral socialism altogether for a more popular American idea: workers’ control of production. Many local AFL members and even leaders unmoved by socialism mulled the idea, while Gompers’s circle rejected it out of hand as impossible and undesirable, an erasure of the line between labor’s prerogative and capital’s rights.

Conservative chiefs of AFL unions ranging from the hatters and pattern-makers to tailors, sheet metal workers, carpenters, and machinists, all lost their offices to socialist-backed candidates during 1911-1912 on grounds of solidarity versus conciliation with employers. A combination of administrative manipulation, political alliances with Democrats inside labor, and forceful support of labor conservatives by the Catholic Church was required to bring anti-socialist functionaries back into union office. The renewed victory of Gompers was sealed by the events of the First World War. As labor surged forward, anti-war ideas were in many parts of the country forbidden in published or spoken form, and those who voiced them faced deportation, arrest, beatings by vigilantes, and even lynching. The IWW, which carefully refrained from any political statements, was nevertheless suppressed in a fashion unknown hitherto in the United States, save perhaps for the attacks on Reconstructionist radicals in the post-Civil War South. This time, the modern version of the Ku Klux Klan had the presidential seal of approval and top labor leaders’ avid cooperation. Gompers demanded political acquiescence to the war, or at least silence, as the price of admission for newcomers to the AFL’s own swelling wartime bureaucracy. Upwardly mobile intellectuals around labor, like Walling, made their contribution by insisting that the U.S. economic empire that had expanded dramatically in wartime was benevolent, and that the leaders of the AFL, in their appeals for loyalty to government and indifference to those suppressed, accurately represented the interests of the working class.

Regulated state capitalism did indeed take shape, even by 1917, though it more resembled Fraina’s nightmares than Walling’s dreams. As newspapers were suppressed, Socialist Party offices destroyed, and local and national anti-war spokespeople, including Eugene Debs, sentenced to long terms in prison, Fraina acutely observed that the newly regulated system included the extension of the functions of the federal government, regulation equally of capital and labor, the Strong Man policy of administrative centralization, and the mobilization of everything by a national administrative control of industry. Having failed to organize an international system to regulate the transfer of profits among ruling groups, capitalism now rended the world, and (as Fraina correctly anticipated the worse horrors to come in the next world war and after) prepared the basis for future global conflicts. In that process, Fraina argued, leaders like Gompers could be depended upon to serve their true masters, while former socialists like Walling would tag along and rationalize the process–as perhaps termporarily dreadful but inevitable, and ultimately beneficial.

— Paul Buhle, Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor, pp. 69-71.