Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
George E. Bisharat, a professor of law at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, in the Arizona Republic (May 16, 2004):
This month, the 56th anniversary of the Palestinian"Nakba" (Catastrophe), when one people gained a homeland and another lost theirs, I was thinking of a home in Jerusalem.
It was the residence occupied by former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir - author of the famous quip that"the Palestinian people did not exist" - when she was Israel's labor minister. It was also the family home built in 1926 by my grandfather, Hanna Ibrahim Bisharat,"Papa" to all of us.
I went to visit our home for the first time in 1977. Although he was a Christian, Papa named the home"Villa Harun ar-Rashid," in honor of the Muslim Abbasid Caliph renowned for his eloquence, passion for learning and generosity. Painted tiles with this name were inset above the second floor balcony and over a side entrance.
When Papa first built the home in what became known as the Talbiyya quarter of Jerusalem, few other residences existed nearby. As I grew up, my father regaled me with tales of his boyhood exploits in the surrounding fields and orchards. Two of my uncles were born while the family lived there; one uncle succumbed to pneumonia in Villa Harun ar-Rashid. The young boys went to school up the road at the Catholic-run Terra Sancta College. My uncle Emile told me of a wager he made with his younger brother, George (for whom I am named), that he could not stand on a swing on the front porch and swing with no hands - with predictable, but fortunately mild, consequences.
The wall enclosing the front yard was a fledgling design effort by my father's twin, Victor, later a successful architect in the United States, whose buildings helped galvanize the urban renewal of Stamford, Conn.
Beginning of the end
My grandparents eventually suffered a reversal of fortunes, and in the early '30s, leased the house to officers of the British Royal Air Force, expecting to return in better times. Frescoes on the interior walls were plastered over to accommodate the tastes of the British officers. My family moved a short distance to a more modest house. Little did anyone appreciate at the time that the move signified the family's final departure from Villa Harun ar-Rashid.
A sense of foreboding gripped many Palestinians in the years leading up to the wars in the region. Under the gathering clouds of unrest, my father and uncles came to the United States to study, while Papa shifted his business activities to Cairo. Thus, the family was outside Palestine on May 14, 1948, when Israel declared independence and war with the Arab states commenced. Our fortunes were better than most of the 750,000 other Palestinians who were driven out or fled their homes in terror during the fighting.
Villa Harun ar-Rashid was picked by armed Zionist groups for the commanding view it offered from its roof. No blood was shed in taking it, as the British officers simply handed over the keys to the underground Israeli militia Haganah.
Like most Palestinian families, we were subsequently stripped of the title to our home through a law passed by the new state of Israel called the Absentee Property Law.
Villa Harun ar-Rashid was divided into several flats. During the 1960s, Golda Meir occupied the upper flat. Anticipating a visit from U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammerskjold, some claim, she ordered the sandblasting of tiles on front of the house to obliterate the"Villa Harun ar-Rashid" and conceal the fact that she was living in an Arab home.
When I went to Jerusalem in 1977, I had only a photograph of the home and a general description of its location from my grandmother. It was summer, hot and dusty, and I paced back and forth through the neighborhood, inspecting each of the houses, occasionally asking for directions. All the street names had been changed to those of Zionist leaders and figures from Jewish history, and the hospital that my grandmother had described as a landmark apparently no longer existed.
As I was resting against a wall in the shade, I saw a home that resembled Papa's. As I hurried across the street, I could just make out the name in the tile: Villa Harun ar-Rashid. I guess Golda's sandblasters had been a little rushed....
Bryan Burrough, in the NYT (May 14, 2004):
As cherry trees blossom along the Potomac, members of Congress are castigating the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its inability to reign in heavily armed attackers who have struck at the heart of America. Critics say the bureau is incapable of discerning where the attackers may strike next, unwilling to work with rival agencies and unfit to fight what appears to be a new kind of modern war. Some call for its wholesale reorganization. The embattled director of the bureau pleads for more resources to combat the rising threat.
This may sound like May 2004, but in fact it was the crisis that gripped Washington 70 years ago. In May 1934, the armed attackers were not international terrorists but homegrown kidnappers and bank robbers: John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, Ma Barker and Bonnie and Clyde. It wasn't the war on terrorism. It was the so-called war on crime, and for the F.B.I., it was going very badly....
Today critics are calling for the F.B.I.'s reorganization to combat international terrorism. During the war on crime, the bureau underwent two separate reorganizations, one trumpeted in headlines, the other quiet and internal. Both were badly needed.
At the time of the Kansas City Massacre, the F.B.I. was an obscure arm of the Justice Department struggling to shake an unsavory past riddled with scandal. It had the task of handling a grab bag of minor federal crimes, including crimes committed on Indian reservations and the capture of escaped federal prisoners. Hoover's agents, most of whom were lawyers and accountants with little law enforcement experience, were not allowed to carry firearms or make arrests; if an agent wanted a suspect taken into custody, he was obliged to have a local policeman do it for him.
In the initial 1933 reorganization, Hoover radically altered the bureau's focus. Dozens of new agents were hired, given guns and sent in search of Midwestern bank robbers and kidnappers. With the exception of Machine Gun Kelly's apprehension in Memphis in September, the results were underwhelming. As the crimes of Dillinger and his peers increased in audacity, F.B.I. agents too often arrested the wrong people and allowed the criminals they did find to escape; at one point, Dillinger managed to elude the F.B.I. five separate times in a 25-day stretch....
On the surface, the F.B.I. appeared to dodge calls for a second reorganization that May. Behind the scenes, however, Hoover began a sweeping overhaul of key personnel, details of which have emerged only with the release of F.B.I. files during the last decade. The lesson of Little Bohemia, Hoover decided, was that his men were unsuited for modern gunfights. When an aide canvassed 50 F.B.I. offices nationwide to identify agents"particularly qualified . . . for work of a dangerous character," he came up with exactly 11 names. In desperation, Hoover turned outside for help, hiring skilled marksmen from police departments in Texas and Oklahoma.
To supervise his new gunslingers, Hoover replaced Melvin Purvis, the senior agent supervising the Dillinger and other manhunts, with a sad-eyed desk man named Samuel P. Cowley. Assuming command of the flagging war on crime on June 2, Cowley produced fast results with his deft coordination of far-flung agents, informants and investigations....
Defeating international terrorists in 2004 is certainly a far more complex mission than defeating bank robbers in 1934. Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and their fellow travelers won't be stopped by better snipers or managers. Still, the challenge the F.B.I. faces today is much the same it confronted 70 years ago: finding a way to retool an underperforming government bureaucracy to combat an intimidating new danger to the public. The bureau did it to significant effect in 1934, and with luck, it will prove just as nimble again.
Joseph Berger, in the NYT (May 16, 2004):
On n May 18, 1905, Frederick A. Kerry, a 32-year-old Viennese, arrived in New York City by steamship, the Königin Luise, with his wife and 4-year-old son, hopeful that his new country would bring him the success and social acceptance that had eluded him in Europe.
Mr. Kerry probably could not have imagined that within a century a grandson, John Forbes Kerry, would find himself the Democratic candidate for president.
Frederick Kerry brought with him a secret: he was born a Jew, Fritz Kohn, in what is now the Czech Republic, but he and his wife, Ida, had converted to Roman Catholicism. Senator Kerry, a Catholic whose maternal side includes such blueblooded names as Winthrop and Forbes, said he did not know his paternal grandfather was Jewish until a reporter for The Boston Globe told him last year that it had been discovered by a genealogist in Vienna who scoured church records from the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Tomas Jelinek, chairman of the Jewish community in Prague, and Rabbi Norman R. Patz, president of the New Jersey-based Society for the History of Czechoslovak Jews, said that Czech Jews, in contrast to those in Poland, wore their identity somewhat more lightly. Given periodic spasms of anti-Semitism and the difficulty of advancing in the government and military as a Jew, many, like the parents of Madeline K. Albright, the former secretary of state, found conversion made their lives immeasurably easier.
The brother and sister of John Kerry's paternal grandmother, Otto and Jenni Lowe, died in concentration camps.
Frederick Kerry's story begins in Horni Benesov, a town near the Polish border that in 1880 had 4,200 inhabitants, most of them ethnic Germans (only two dozen of them Jewish) and was then known as Bennisch. Felix Gundacker, the genealogist who researched the senator's roots, said church birth ledgers include the notation that on May 10, 1873,"was born Fritz Kohn, a legal son of Benedikt Kohn, master brewer in Bennisch, House 224, and his wife, Mathilde." The handwritten entry was included in the"Pages for Israelites" kept by the church in towns with small Jewish communities.
Fritz's father died when he was 3. Fritz's mother then moved with her three children to Vienna, where she had relatives, Mr. Gundacker said in a telephone interview. Fritz attended high school, served in the army, then worked as an accountant for a shoe factory owned by his maternal uncle in nearby Modling.
In 1896, his younger brother, Otto, seeking advancement in the military, was baptized as a Catholic; he later changed his name to Kerry. In 1901, Fritz, who had married Ida Lowe in a Jewish ceremony the previous year, was baptized in Modling.
Later that year, he changed his name to Kerry, too, a fact recorded in the original church birth ledgers for Bennisch confirming that Frederick Kerry was born Fritz Kohn. Mr. Gundacker said the records state that Frederick Kerry gave these reasons:"1) that this very common name is specifically connected to Judaism 2) that therefore this name could be detrimental to his military career."
After coming to the United States, he settled in Chicago, where he counseled stores like Sears, Roebuck on organization. By 1915, he moved to Brookline, Mass., where Ida gave birth to their third child, Richard, who grew to work as a diplomat, marry Rosemary Forbes and father John Kerry.
In 1921, a virtually bankrupt Frederick Kerry shot himself in a bathroom at Boston's Copley Plaza Hotel.
The family's Jewish connections did not end with his death. In 1983, the senator's brother, Cameron, married Kathy Weinman, a Jew whose mother keeps a kosher home. Before the wedding, Cameron converted to Judaism.
Todd S. Purdum, in the NYT (May 16, 2004):
He was a champion debater, a good student, a strong and graceful athlete in a small, judgmental universe that prized such skills and knew him well. But for five formative years, John Kerry stood a step apart at St. Paul's School, gaining achievement more than acceptance.
Danny Barbiero, a middle-class boy from suburban Long Island who was Mr. Kerry's best friend, remembers how they made common cause in a boarding school full of Pillsburys, Peabodys, Pierponts and Pells. One day, Mr. Barbiero went to see a favorite teacher, the school's first black faculty member, and found someone else already there.
"I went into his apartment," recalled Mr. Barbiero, now an employee benefits consultant."And he said, `This is Johnny Kerry. He's just feeling a little out of sorts because he thinks people don't like him.' I said, `Who cares what people think! You're obviously a terrific person.'"
Mr. Kerry is 60 now and running for president of his country, not of his class. But to a striking degree, the personal qualities that propel him — and daunt him — are the same ones that buoyed and bedeviled him when he was 16 and striving to succeed at St. Paul's, then an austere all-boys enclave, the seventh school Mr. Kerry had attended by the time he arrived here in eighth grade.
Mr. Kerry has always been a pace apart in every world he has inhabited — from grade school to college to Vietnam to the Senate — moving forcefully and successfully through diverse milieus without ever being fully of them. To his critics, his ambition has always been just a little too obvious, his manner too calculating. To his friends, his tenderheartedness and complexities have been too little understood. Always and everywhere, his seriousness has stood out.
"I wish I could give you fresh material, but I can't," said Max King, another classmate, who went on to edit The Philadelphia Inquirer and now, by coincidence, is president of the Heinz Endowments, the wealthy Pittsburgh charity of which Mr. Kerry's wife, Teresa, is the chairwoman."He was at 13 and 14 as serious and earnest and idealistic as he is today, and very much like the person he is today."
If only because life is like high school, Mr. Kerry's adolescent experiences are worth examining in some detail. But for him, those years may loom even larger, since as the son of a diplomat, he grew up in various temporary quarters in America and Europe. From 1957 to 1962, his real home was St. Paul's, and it was here that enduring patterns were set.
"The culture was alien," Mr. Kerry recalled in one of two long interviews late last year."It had a language that I didn't know at first, kind of a body language. It was just a little different. I came from a very different experience. It took some learning."
In an 11th- or 12th-grade student production of"Julius Caesar," Mr. Kerry played a memorable Cassius, warning in his already sonorous voice,"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
"And he still has that lean and hungry look," said another classmate, Philip Heckscher, now a teacher and Chinese calligrapher, who played Marc Antony."He was a very good actor." He was also, Mr. Heckscher said,"a very focused person, and that might have made him seem ruthless to some. He was very focused in a culture where people were generally indirect about things, and that made him stand out a bit."...
Paul Watson, in the LAT (May 14, 2004):
Sonia Gandhi, the woman who Thursday staged one of India's memorable electoral comebacks, is a reluctant politician with a distaste for the rough and tumble of politics.
Gandhi is said to have threatened to divorce her husband, Rajiv, after he decided to enter politics to succeed his assassinated mother and former prime minister, Indira Gandhi.
After Rajiv's assassination in 1991, Sonia Gandhi became a virtual recluse. She avoided Indian politics and tried to shield her two children from it.
But in 1998, two years after Hindu nationalists won power for the first time under Atal Behari Vajpayee, Congress Party leaders persuaded her to lead their party and fight for a secular India that treated all religions equally.
If she becomes India's prime minister, as expected, the 57-year-old Gandhi will be the first foreign-born person to hold the position.
She was first elected to India's Parliament in 1999 after leading the Congress Party to its worst-ever electoral defeat. Her Italian birth left many people convinced that she didn't have the strength or political savvy to revive the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
During the recent campaign, her opponent focused on her "foreignness."
But in a rare interview with Indian television, Gandhi, who speaks Italian-accented Hindi, said most voters didn't care that she was not native born.
"I never felt they look at me as a foreigner," she said. "Because I'm not. I am Indian."
Her election may draw the wrath of religious extremists and hard-line nationalists.
Gandhi was born Sonia Maino into a Roman Catholic family in Orbassano, about 50 miles from the Italian city of Turin. She met her husband in the 1960s when she was studying English at Cambridge University.
They married in 1968. Her fate changed forever when she became a Gandhi.
The Gandhi bloodline has dominated the Congress Party, and India's politics, from the country's birth in 1947. The first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, ruled until 1964. Two years later, his daughter Indira Gandhi took power, and remained prime minister until 1984. She was briefly out of office from 1977 to 1980.
Sonia Gandhi's son, Rahul, won a seat in Parliament on Thursday in his first run for public office. He was elected in the family's traditional stronghold of Amethi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
He is a Harvard graduate who owns a computer consulting company and has lived for many years in the U.S. and Britain. But, like his parents, he angered many Indians by falling in love with a foreigner.
In December, a retired Indian professor filed a complaint with police, insisting they charge Rahul Gandhi and his Colombian girlfriend because they had spent a three-day holiday together at a lake resort in Kerala state and were not married.
Rick Hampson, in USA Today (May 13, 2004):
One of the most surprising things about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S.
soldiers is that so many Americans are surprised.
Decades of research and eons of history point to one conclusion: Under certain circumstances, most normal people will treat their fellow man with abnormal cruelty. The schoolboys' descent into barbarism in William Golding's classic The Lord of the Flies is fiction that contains a deeper truth.
And from Andersonville to the "Hanoi Hilton," no combination of circumstances turns us against our better nature faster than the combination of war and prison, whether we are acting on orders or on our own.
Charles Figley, a Florida State University psychologist who studied the experiences of 1,000 U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War, describes himself as "shocked about people being shocked" by the reports from Iraq.
"About 25% of the vets I've talked to either participated in, witnessed, or were aware of violations of the Geneva Conventions" in Vietnam, he says.
Geneva is a long way from Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, where U.S. military police photographed each other tormenting hooded, naked Iraqis in their custody. Three face courts-martial, and four others could soon learn whether they will be tried, too.
President Bush has called the alleged offenders a relative few whose actions "do not reflect the nature of the men and women who serve our country." Still, many Americans wonder how people described as kind and decent by the folks back home could lapse into such extraordinary behavior.
Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford University psychologist who presided over the single most famous experiment in the field, blames the system, not the soldiers, who "were put in a situation where the outcome was totally predictable."
"It's not a few bad apples," he says. "It's the barrel that's bad. The barrel is war. That's what can corrupt, whether it's in My Lai or in Baghdad." ...
The two most famous experiments that bear directly on Abu Ghraib were separately designed and executed by two members of the class of 1950 at James Monroe High School in the Bronx Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram.
In the early 1960s, Milgram was teaching at Yale and studying the impact of authority on human behavior. He wanted to see whether ordinary people would follow orders to keep administering what they thought were ever more painful and powerful electric shocks to test subjects.
He hired local residents to participate in what he told them was an experiment in "teaching through punishment." They were the "teachers," and they would, on instructions, apply electrical shocks to the "learners." The director would take responsibility for any harm to the "learners."
What Milgram found surprised him: based purely on the instructions of a researcher in a white lab coat, two-thirds of the subjects kept raising the voltage levels, despite the howls (and eventually the ominous silence) of the learners in the next room. The teachers didn't know the electricity wasn't on, and that the learners were actors pretending to be hurt.
Milgram later identified some key conditions for suspending human morality, many relevant to Abu Ghraib: an acceptable justification for the behavior; an important role for participants; use of euphemisms such as "learners" (instead of victims); and a gradual escalation of violence.
A decade later, Milgram's old honors program classmate undertook an experiment of his own in a basement of the psychology building at Stanford.
In 1971, Zimbardo recruited 24 college students from around the San Francisco Bay Area to pose as guards or inmates in a mock prison for two weeks.
But, in contrast to Milgram, he gave them few further orders and supervised them only loosely.
Quickly, the guards became more and more abusive, the inmates more and more cowed. At night, when Zimbardo was gone, guards put bags over inmates' heads, stripped them of clothing and told them to simulate sex acts. Finally, after several inmates suffered emotional breakdowns, a shaken Zimbardo stopped the experiment after six days.
He concluded later that he himself had gotten swept up in the situation and didn't see what was happening until it was too late. "You could never even try that today," he says. "You'd be sued."
While Milgram's study stands for the proposition that most good people will sometimes follow bad orders, Zimbardo's suggests that sometimes good people don't even need bad orders none or vague ones will do.
Milgram had strictly supervised his subjects, and they did the wrong thing he called it "surrendering your agency," your self-control. Zimbardo had mostly left his subjects on their own, and they did the wrong thing. He called it "the power of the situation."
Over the years, the experiments have become famous. They are taught in psychology classes and have formed the basis for novels and movies.
Sean Grindlay, managing editor of Campus Report, in Frontpagemag.com (May 12, 2004):
Columbia University in New York City is looked upon by many as a fountain of academic wisdom—and that’s a problem. A case in point is Mahmood Mamdani, the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government in the school’s Department of Anthropology.
Exemplifying a noticeable trend among Middle East scholars in the U.S., Mamdani has recently come out with a book that places much of the blame for present-day terrorism on American foreign policy during the Cold War.
In Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror, Mamdani argues that the spread of terrorism owes more to U.S. anti-Communist intervention than to anything Osama bin Laden ever did.
Especially culpable in Mamdani’s eyes is former President Ronald Reagan. As Pantheon, the book’s publisher, states: “Mamdani writes with great insight about the Reagan years, showing America’s embrace of the highly ideological politics of ‘good’ against ‘evil.’”
“Identifying militant nationalist governments as Soviet proxies in countries such as Nicaragua and Afghanistan, the Reagan administration readily backed terrorist movements, hailing them as the ‘moral equivalents’ of America’s Founding Fathers,” the publisher explains.
An article Mamdani wrote for the Social Science Research Council in 2001 contains similar themes. Here he discusses “a U.S. decision to harness, or even to cultivate, terrorism in the struggle against regimes it considered pro-Soviet.”
“In Southern Africa, the immediate result was a partnership between the U.S. and apartheid South Africa, accused by the UN of perpetrating ‘a crime against humanity.’ Reagan termed this new partnership ‘constructive engagement.’ … This partnership bolstered a number of terrorist movements: Renamo in Mozambique, and Unita in Angola.”
“In another decade,” Mamdani continued, “the center of gravity of the Cold War shifted to Central America, to Nicaragua and El Salvador. And so did the center of gravity of U.S.-sponsored terrorism. The Contras were not only tolerated and shielded by official America; they were actively nurtured and directly assisted, as in the mining of harbors.”
Bin Laden, too, is a creation of American anti-Communist activity, Mamdani says: “The CIA created the Mujaheddin and Bin Laden as alternatives to secular nationalism. Just as, in another context, the Israeli intelligence created Hamas as an alternative to the secular PLO [italics in original].”
“The grand plan of the Reagan administration was two-pronged,” Mamdani writes. “First, it drooled at the prospect of uniting a billion Muslims around a holy war, a Crusade, against the evil empire. I use the word Crusade, not Jihad, because only the notion of Crusade can accurately convey the frame of mind in which this initiative was taken. Second, the Reagan administration hoped to turn a religious schism inside Islam, between minority Shia and majority Sunni, into a political schism.”
After condemning a long list of American military undertakings in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Mamdani asks rhetorically: “Should we, ordinary humanity, hold official America responsible for its actions during the Cold War? Should official America be held responsible for napalm bombing and spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam? Should it be held responsible for cultivating terrorist movements in Southern Africa and Central America?”
Mamdani, a Uganda-born Muslim of Indian descent, has taught at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Makerere University in Uganda, and the University of Cape Town in South Africa. A contributor to the Socialist Register and the Monthly Review, both Marxist publications, Mamdani has been at the forefront of efforts to encourage Columbia to divest from all companies involved in selling arms to Israel.
Although Mamdani focuses most of his criticism on U.S. actions during the Cold War, his disdain for America’s history is not confined to recent foreign policy. “America,” he writes, “was built on two monumental crimes: the genocide of the Native American and the enslavement of the African American. The tendency of official America is to memorialize other peoples’ crimes and to forget its own—to seek a high moral ground as a pretext to ignore real issues.”
America, according to Mamdani, “has yet to come to grips with its settler origins.”
It goes without saying that the Columbia professor is not a fan of President George W. Bush. But the problem, as he sees it, lies not just with the current political leadership.
“A change in the U.S. administration,” he told the Village Voice this year, “will not simply wash away the current wave of xenophobia.”
Mamdani believes that those who oppose current U.S. policy in the Middle East need to be better coordinated than were Vietnam War protestors.
“This time, though, the anti-war movement will need to focus on both Iraq and Israel—with more than just a passing connection between the strategy of the Israeli state in the Occupied Territories and that of the U.S. in Iraq,” he says. “There needs to be a purposeful link between anti-war organizations in the United States and Israel.”
Randy Scholfield, an editorial writer, in the Wichita Eagle(May 12, 2004):
The argument sounds familiar: The writer rails against a dangerous new"right" claimed by a minority. He cites biblical arguments against this"horrible political nightmare," the result of decadent elements in society, a right that if granted will inevitably lead to the breakdown of marriage and the family.
Not quite. The year is 1887. The writer is Col. Marshall Murdock, founder of The Wichita Eagle. The issue is women's suffrage.
Col. Murdock and many other moral and civic leaders of the day argued that women's"natural" place was in the home, and that"the designs of the Creator" had sanctioned this.
Good old Col. Murdock was a visionary booster of this city, but history has not been kind to his views on women's right to vote.
And, no, marriages and families didn't crumble when women started to vote in municipal elections that same year.
Today, women's suffrage is seen as just another step in the steady progress and expansion of freedom that is America's essential story.
Col. Murdock was on the wrong side of history on that issue. The arguments that seemed so morally crystal clear and irrefutable to him and others are today seen as a foolish and stubborn clinging to the past, a failure to weigh received truth against a new set of social and moral conditions.
I wonder: Do those who condemn gay marriage with such certitude and passion ever harbor the faintest doubt that they might be -- just might be -- wrong?
It's happened before.
Slavery, interracial marriage
Scripture and tradition were often used to justify slavery, in Colonial America and later in the slaveholding South. As reader Don Lambert recently pointed out to me, more than half of the pro-slavery tracts circulated before the Civil War were written by members of the clergy. One of them, Thomas Stringfellow, cited chapter and verse (Leviticus was a favorite) to justify slavery -- which, he wrote,"has brought within the range of gospel influence, millions of Ham's descendants among ourselves, who but for this institution, would have sunk down to eternal ruin."
Interracial marriage was once viewed with public horror -- and was widely condemned with Scripture and warnings of social collapse. As recently as 1967, anti-miscegenation laws were still enforced in 16 states.
One Virginia judge who upheld that state's law said,"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents.... The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."
The U.S. Supreme Court didn't buy these and other half-baked arguments. As the justices stated in Loving v. Virginia:"Freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men."
One needed a powerful argument indeed, they suggested, to deny what is for many a primary life goal and source of happiness.
Opposed civil rights
Amazingly, more than a few clergymen were on the wrong side of the civil rights movement.
In the 1960s, the Southern Baptist Convention organized boycotts against restaurants and hotels that moved to offer racially integrated services.
No doubt it seemed like the moral thing to do at the time.
In 1995, the Southern Baptists issued an apology for their pro-slavery and anti-civil rights positions of the past.
It gives one pause. Or should.
Robin Toner, in the NYT (May 9, 2004):
In the summer of 1988, Republicans rolled out a carefully tested, meticulously planned campaign aimed at turning Michael S. Dukakis, the Democratic nominee, into an utterly unacceptable choice for president.
The message was simple: Mr. Dukakis was a liberal, "outside the mainstream," who let murderers out of prison on weekend furloughs, would not require schoolchildren to say the Pledge of Allegiance and was soft on defense.
Mr. Dukakis, who found it hard to believe that the charges would stick, resisted fighting back. His negatives soared. A generation of Democratic political operatives, many of them now working for Senator John Kerry, swore never again. A generation of Republican operatives, some of them now working to re-elect President Bush, took notes.
So how relevant is the Dukakis model for 2004? How hard is it for a challenger today to introduce himself to the American people, pass a threshold of credibility as a potential commander in chief and at the same time beat back relentless efforts by the opposition to define him first? As harrowing as Mr. Dukakis's experience was 16 years ago, the task facing modern challengers may be even rougher in the blindingly fast world of 24-hour cable and Internet warfare.
There are, at times, eerie echoes of 1988 on the campaign trail these days. For two months, many Democrats have watched, queasily, as the Republicans roll out another disciplined campaign against their nominee as a flip-flopping Massachusetts liberal who is soft on defense, with a huge wave of paid advertising backed up by legions of Republicans and surrogates, all firmly on message. The commercials rattle off some weapon systems Mr. Kerry opposed financing at one time or another, just as they did against Mr. Dukakis in 1988.
Moreover, Democrats have discovered - once again - that a candidate can win a party's nomination, make the covers of the national magazines and still be unknown to many voters, who are only intermittently paying attention right now. With a $25 million advertising campaign launched last week, the Kerry forces are scrambling to fill in the blanks, before the Bush campaign does, and to regain control of the candidate's story - "a lifetime of service and strength," as they put it.
But many Republicans share the view, or hope, of Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, who says of Mr. Kerry: "The country really doesn't know him, unlike Reagan, who'd been around awhile. And the country is being introduced to him more by the Bush campaign than by the Kerry campaign."