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Jan 15 2013

Historical projection

One of the things that blogging has moved me to do more often is to learn about history. I am somewhat ashamed to say that between, let’s say, grade 10 history class (which was in 2000) and the founding of this blog (in 2010), I was not exactly what you might call ‘a student of history’. Sure, I picked up things in fits and snatches from newspaper articles and what I gleaned from just generally being a person who was paying attention to the world, but it would be a rare occurrence indeed for you to catch me studying history for its own sake. I have since learned the critical role that understanding history should play in our daily lives.

I think history is kinder to liberals than it is to conservatives (although these labels break down once you reach more than 30 years back). While there have been, and technically continue to be good conservative arguments to make about things, the political ‘left’ has moved to more or less occupy what was once the centre, while the right (particularly in America) has steadily moved to the extreme. As a result, American conservatives lionize Ronald Reagan – a man who was a terrible President and a terrible influence on the world – a man whose policies they would demonize as Satanic socialism were he living today. They don’t really have many other icons to boast about, nor major policy positions they can hang their hats on. They have become the less-clever Statler and Waldorf of policy – having nothing substantive to contribute, but always lobbing criticisms.

And it is a combination of their own lack of laudable history, and the same failure to learn actual history that I have been guilty of, that leads them to accept shockingly ahistorical statements like this:

In an interview with conspiracy website WorldNetDaily, [NRA Board member and Gary Busey sanity-double Ted] Nugent falsely claimed that an executive order would confiscate guns, a popular myth in the right-wing blogosphere. He encouraged gun owners to model the 1960s civil rights movement and Rosa Parks, who became an icon after she refused to give her seat up on a segregated bus:

If it comes to the actual implementation of an actual confiscatory directive from our president, then I do believe that the heroes of the law enforcement will defy this order. I do believe that there are enough soulless sheep within our government who would act on such an illegal order but I believe the powers that be at the local, state, and regional law enforcement would halt such an illegal, anti-American order…These are top notch heroes of law enforcement and military who understand this experiment in self-government and we will not let it [gun confiscation] happen, we will do it peaceful. But there will come a time when the gun owners of America, the law-abiding gun owners of America, will be the Rosa Parks and we will sit down on the front seat of the bus, case closed.

The first and most obvious question is why on Earth would anyone give two festering shits what Ted Nugent, a man who wasn’t even particularly famous when he was famous, thinks about anything? The second question is who exactly he thought Rosa Parks was, and what it was she was protesting. And I guess the third one is what he think ‘illegal’ means, but maybe we’ll just give him that one for a minute. Rosa Parks was, in fact, a member of a long tradition of civil disobedience protesting against unjust laws (not illegal laws, a contradiction in terms) in which black people were barred from equal public participation by virtue of their skin colour. In order for Nugent’s comparison to make even a whiff of sense, gun owners would have to be born with guns inextricably attached to their bodies, and then have their rights curtailed as a result.

Or how about this one:

Larry Ward on Friday told CNN that he created the first annual Gun Appreciation Day just days before President Barack Obama’s inauguration and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to “honor the legacy of Dr. King” and that slavery may never have happened in the United States if African-Americans had owned guns.

(snip)

He added: “The truth is, I think Martin Luther King would agree with me if he were alive today that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country’s founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history. And I believe wholeheartedly that’s essential to liberty.”

I wonder if we can find even one example in history where people with guns have managed to capture and deprive freedom from other people with guns. Larry Ward seems to think the answer is ‘no’. He also thinks that Martin Luther King Jr. would be pro-gun if he were alive today. But he’s not alive today. Can anyone remember why?

And yet, the well runs deeper:

The American Family Association, a top conservative Christian organization, emailed members today with a dire warning that, within 50 years, Christians will be treated like African Americans during the Jim Crow era.

In an email entitled “What will religion look like in the year 2060?”, the AFA warned about the coming onslaught against Christians, who currently make up over three-quarters of Americans. The group’s predictions include that Christians will be brutally discriminated against like blacks in the Civil Rights Era, government will take children from parents at birth, and any city with “Saint” or other loosely-religious name will be forced to change.

Ah yes, once again the absurd anto-gay hate group has decided to force itself into relevance by saying the most outlandish shit it can manage to get into print. This time around, they’ve come out with a list of things that all sound amazing, but are spinning them as though they were a bad thing. To drive home their complete lack of self-awareness (or, really, awareness of anything other than how frothingly they hate gay people), they make a ham-handed analogy to Jim Crow, a comparison which would retroactively require blackness to be something that one had to proclaim loudly and in public before anyone noticed enough to pass discriminatory laws.

It’s funny, in a twisted way, to note how all of these fantasies are run through with the same vein of fear: that conservatives will start to be treated the way they’ve been treating black folks for generations. That the guns they bought in order to ‘protect themselves’ from black people have now made them a target of legislation. That the right’s history of racism and full-throated endorsement of Jim Crow policies (and modern policies that accomplish many of the same functions) might see them on the receiving end. That the power of Christianity, once used to justify slavery and the witholding of civil rights, might have dwindled to the point where they will no longer enjoy the ability to flaunt the law.

But don’t worry, paranoid and ignorant* conservatives, we liberals aren’t going to treat you the way you treated black people. Because there are many of us who have learned from history, and do not wish to repeat the mistakes you’ve made.

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*Although when the ignorance is this extreme, I have a hard time believing that this is simply a case of people not knowing better.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    Crommunist

    Keith Penner offers this comment via e-mail:

    Addressing your Larry Ward quote, it seems to me that this is an excellent comment on the irrelevant nature of the 2nd amendment today.

    Slaves originally came from Africa, where they were perfectly able to bear arms. In some cases they were originally taken by other African tribes, in ther cases by European slavers. I assume that the Europeans
    were far better armed than the Africans. The disparity in military power allowed the more powerful entity to enslave the weaker.

    If the 2nd amendment exists in part to keep the government honest for fear of an armed insurrection, it has long outlived its usefulness. Long gone are the days if the Massachusetts minuteman, armed with a
    musket confronting Redcoats armed with muskets and field artillery. That was at least a reasonable matchup once you consider England’s long supply lines and the support of France. But no state militia armed with assault rifles can come close to standing against a brigade of the US marines.

    These historical facts not only show that Ward’s argument is wrong, but really eliminates part of the reason for the 2nd amendment. It certainly addresses objections to gun control.

  2. 2
    Crommunist

    I’ve heard two intended justification for the 2nd Amendment. The first was about making sure that an armed state citizenry was capable of fighting off a tyrannical government. I’m skeptical that this was ever possible – a national institution is always going to be able to press more arms and money into service than any state could hope to.

    The second one is that the militias were supposed to be well-regulated so they could be USED by the federal government in times of need. Specifically, for killing Natives. So if they wanted to expand their territory (or there was fear of encroachment), the government didn’t have to send an army detachment, they could just wire the state and say “go kill you some Injuns”. This seems more plausible to me, given my meagre grasp of the political landscape when the Bill of Rights came into existence.

    Then again, I’ve never read the Federalist Papers, so I have no idea.

  3. 3
    keith

    The second rational you cite is also obsolete of course. Aside from the native killing, the National Guard nicely fills the role of an organized group (militia if you will) that can be called on in emergencies, whether the emergency be civil disorder, natural disaster, or waging war in the Mid East.

    A bunch of guys with AR-15 s really does not help anybody.

  4. 4
    flex

    IIRC the writers of the Federal Constitution were suspicious of the idea of a standing army. After the Revolutionary War one permanent regiment was formed to protect the Western frontier, and a permanent garrison was placed at West Point. The rest of the army was disbanded.

    The idea was that state militias would be sufficient as a defense force and there would be no need for an army to conquer new territory. This is one of the reasons why the militia is mentioned a few times in the Constitution. In the body of the Federal Constitution militia are placed under the authority of the President and Congress has the authority to call forth the militia to repel invasions or suppress insurrection. (I always wondered if the various militia groups realized that if an insurrection occurred, they would be called by the authority of the Federal Constitution to suppress it.)

    All this was written in 1787. By 1791 attitudes had started to change and people were already thinking that a permanent army might be necessary. Calling upon a militia took more time than expected, and not everyone turned up.

    The militia was supposed to be an organized, disciplined, force. Ready to be called out at a moments notice, and repel any invasions. It didn’t work out then any better than it does now.

  5. 5
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    The militia was supposed to be an organized, disciplined, force. Ready to be called out at a moments notice, and repel any invasions. It didn’t work out then any better than it does now.

    I take exception to that claim. The current militia (i.e. the National Guard), is, in fact, an organized, disciplined force ready to be called out at a moment’s notice. I bet they’d do pretty well against an invading force, too, although the likelihood of such a force existing approaches zero. The thing is that the Guard is a trained, disciplined, well-equipped force, not a bunch of yahoos with smallarms.
    Another difference between then and now, of course, is that a civilian reasonably could afford a military grade musket, and thus equip himself as well as any soldier. In the modern era, only governments and similar bodies can afford to provide the kind of arms and equipment that are needed to make a difference in a modern battle. Yet another reason why the 2nd Amendment is obsolete, not that it was ever good for anything but keeping down slave revolts and killing the killing of Natives Crommunist mentions above. The militia would never have gotten anywhere against the British without French help and American regulars.

  6. 6
    flex

    My apologies, my intent was not to denigrate the existing National Guard but to explain some of the thinking behind the wording within the Federal Constitution. At least as I read history. I know that others have different interpretations.

  7. 7
    jesse

    if it helps any one reason for the militia idea was money.

    Yes, the Founders distrusted a standing army — military coups of sorts were a possibility even in 1787, for one thing. (Napoleon would demonstrate that, too).

    But more to the point, maintaining an army is damned expensive. Far easier to have a group of citizens to call on like the current National Guard/ Army Reserve (many units of which are currently fighting in the Middle East). And having state militias was cheap. No cost to figuring out who to pay an when, no pensions, no equipment cost.

    (A musket would have been an expensive item in 1800, perhaps five or six British Pounds which would have been half a month’s pay for many people — you have to remember that it was a $5 a week economy in the US until what, 1900? To put it in perspective, a maid as late as 1920 in the south could get as little as $5 per week, and Henry Ford was lauded for his “five dollar day.”).

    You know all those state-named Civil War regiments? That was because back then the army was raised state by state. The Civil War more than anything else demonstrated that state militias were a bad idea if you needed a “real” army. Mostly it was just the sheer cost, though military effectiveness played some role (the problems were mostly organization, not sheer firepower).

    Anyhow, the US government learned its lesson and after the Civil War and getting into WW I the military took on a structure that looks more like what you have now — a truly national army.

    In any case, no matter how you look at it, there’s a real anachronistic quality to the 2nd Amendment. Those that think an armed populace keeps the government honest should visit Somalia, or think about what happened in Yugoslavia (where many people were armed b/c they were veterans).

  8. 8
    Crommunist

    Those that think an armed populace keeps the government honest should visit Somalia, or think about what happened in Yugoslavia (where many people were armed b/c they were veterans).

    The line I’ve always found extra-bizarre is the one that says something like “The 2nd amendment is the most important, because it ensures you can’t take away any of the other ones”. As though free speech rights or the right not to incriminate yourself in court or the right to not have soldiers quartered in your home are going to be enforced by some nut with an AR-15, but violated repeatedly if you can’t what, shoot the judge in the face for asking you to testify against yourself? It’s patently absurd.

  9. 9
    medivh

    I’ve one objection to the post: Laws can be illegal, if and only if they contradict a higher law. An example would be the current Republican defense of DOMA by claiming that disallowing gays from marriage isn’t contraindicated by the US Constitution. Or the ongoing battle over Proposition 8 in California being, again, contrary to the US Constitution – and therefore illegal to include in California’s.

  10. 10
    paullawley-jones

    It’s ‘flout’ (treat with disdain or contempt) the law, not ‘flaunt’ (display conspicuously, boldly, defiantly).

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