Lessons of the Past
9 April 2k9
“All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.” ~Edmund Burke
I. “Mankind must put an end to War, or War will put an end to Mankind.” ~J.F.Kennedy
As is each day when seen in the lantern of the past, April 9th is a date rich in history, a date of great deeds and sorrows. A date of paradox to which so many are apparently blind. And looking closely, there are some glaringly obvious and tragic echoes. As now, the Sixties found us mired in war and growing turmoil here in America.
—1968, our nation mourned as the Reverend Martin Luther King jr. was laid to rest, slain at the hands of a racist coward.
—1969, the Chicago Eight were arraigned, and pled Not Guilty, in federal court to felony charges of “conspiracy to incite a riot” under the Anti-Riot Act, which Congress had enacted just one year earlier on 11 April 1968. The charges stemmed from the 1968 protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
However, looking farther back into the shadows of history and herstory there are moments of humanity at its best. In 1947, the Journey of Reconciliation began, using non-violent Direct Action to challenge “Jim Crow” segregation laws, particularly interstate public transportation in the South. A 1946 ruling by the US Supreme Court had removed such laws, but was not being enforced by the states. Sixteen interracial riders took part, facing arrest, violence, even possible death, to help enforce basic Human Rights. The Congress of Racial Equality who organized the Journey is said to have directly inspired the Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights Movement.
Not to mention the fateful 9 April 1865, when Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, in what is now considered to be the end of the American Civil War.
And looking even farther back, we can find a Roman General, Septimius Severus, who was proclaimed Emperor of Rome by the legions he commanded on 9 April 193 AD. He promptly went to Rome and took it unopposed, after the Senate ordered the execution of the former Emperor, Didius Julianus; although he did not gain full control over the Empire until 197, he fought for it tooth and nail during those four years. Septimius Severus stands out among other Emperors notably for his treatment of his armies. Much like Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, and other military dictators to follow, Severus was a soldier first. He determined that all of his troops were entitled to a share of the spoils and nearly doubled their annual pay. Such treatment made him immensely popular with the legions; and if the Roman Senate had a problem with it, they were probably smart enough to keep their mouths shut. That is, after Severus had a few dozen of them executed on various charges, mostly for corruption and conspiracy. However, he went further still in elevating the status of the soldiery. During his reign he greatly increased the legions. He engaged in campaign after campaign, using a tried and true method for enriching an economy through warfare, while at the same time heavily taxing the people for the welfare of his army. Sound familiar?
His advice to his sons prior to his death sums up a military dictatorship perfectly: “Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, and scorn all other men.”
II. Violence may be defined as that harm which is done without our consent.~D.C. McKenzie
The attitude of Septimius Severus, that soldiers are a better class than the citizenry they allegedly defend, is an easy correlation to draw directly to many armies of today, especially the United States. I understand this will be hard to hear, but in our lust for Freedom (read as: Power) it seems the true definition of the word mercenary has been twisted or altogether ignored. Although it basically means “one who soldiers for pay”, we are nevertheless creating more of them every day; with promises of enlistment bonuses, education, and a sense of entitlement that comes with the ingrained belief that a soldier is better than a citizen.
Yet our freedoms, our human rights, are inalienable; they are neither given to us, nor ensured, by any army. And to cry otherwise is to deny your own rights as a citizen. For good or ill, a citizen of a nation which I agree that an army fought to create, but I remind you that it began as an army of citizens, to which the professional soldiers came later. An army should exist by agreement of the people, not the other way around.
As a nation, we have always been happy to ignore the Armed Services’ active recruitment of the poor, telling ourselves they are receiving a better life then they would otherwise have gotten. And whose fault is that in the first place? If they had the same educational and occupational opportunities, how many do you think would sign up to fight an unjust war just for a college degree?
Society looks askance at the misery of the truly poor, which we allow to occur through mass apathy and greed. Yet after we put them in a uniform and teach them the killer’s creed, they becomes heroes; whereas before, many of them were just punk kids in the eyes of society, without a future, waiting to be scrubbed off the street.
Each American soldier who dies is tallied up against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan as if every individual committed murder. Meanwhile, we don’t even bother to count their civilian dead, a tacit admission of our belief that there are no civilians in this war. Watch ten minutes of CNN and you can see that the paradigm used by Emperor Severus is very much alive and kicking today. But changed, the popular belief in this paradigm remains, yet now the new Aristocracy need not send their children to die in the sands. Due to the masses who see too few other options, plenty are signing up…though not nearly enough we are told. Just how many will be enough?
While with the same jingoistic, vile breath that sent them to war, our returning wounded are finding themselves in a limbo of disdain from their own VA. (Emperor Severus would probably be kicking some serious ass about that… While I do not advocate it, I wonder how 21st Century Generals would handle this injustice if President Obama started chopping off heads over the issue of veterans rights?)
Please understand, I’m not opposed to having an armed service to defend the people. And I give honor to those who serve. My problem is when that army is turned on its own populace with fear-mongering propaganda, which is a shameful disservice to us all.
My dissent is that our service men and women are being used, with their lives put in danger, to further the aims the few (rich) with massive disregard to the many (poor).
History teaches us that such paradigms last only as long as we let them.
For my part, allow me simply to quote Abraham Lincoln: “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.”