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If You Want To Know Why We Keep Fighting Wars, Look No Further Than The South.

By       Message Lawrence Velvel       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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            For nearly two centuries (or longer), the South has been controlled by persons who favor military action and violence, and who have had phenomenally disproportionate power in the national government.  We are likely to keep getting into wars unless there are structural changes that enable decent, progressive people in the South to wield their fair share of political power instead of almost always being subordinated to the militaristic yahoos who have controlled it for so long, and who have used their political power to create wars.

  

March 22, 2007

 Re:  If You Want To Know Why We Keep FightingWars, Look No Further Than The South. From: Dean Lawrence R. VelvelVelvelOnNationalAffairs.com  

Dear Colleagues:

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            One who often reads American history can hardly avoid being constantly reminded why the historical South deserves contempt, if not sheer anger.  Southerners of today dislike hearing this.  They point out such truths as that the South has undergone much change; not everyone there is a yahoo; it has millions of intelligent citizens of good will; politeness and courtesy are valued there, as one wishes (forlornly) that they were valued elsewhere.  Yet one is always reading -- ineluctably -- of a history so horrible that the mind boggles that this could have been America.  As bad as the North was, it was nothing as compared to what went on for hundreds of years in the region that the supposedly sainted Robert E. Lee fought for -- what horrifically went on, indeed, for 100 years after he fought for it.

 

            The latest book I’ve read that brings up this appalling history is one I’m currently in the midst of.  It is “The Race Beat,” by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff.  The authors are not exactly chopped liver; they are eminent in their field.  Roberts, among other things, was the Executive Editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer for an 18 year period in which, on his watch, it won 17 Pulitzers.  He subsequently was managing editor of The New York Times.  Klibanoff is the managing editor for news at The Atlanta Constitution.  Their book is a fascinating history of the press coverage of the Civil Rights movement.  I’m almost half way through it, and the portion I’ve read often describes, of necessity, horrid things that were daily fare in the South.  The worst are the murders and lynchings -- themselves nearly daily fare in the South.  With apologies to the authors for lengthy quotes describing two of the worst of these events in order to give the reader a sense of what was going on in the South, here are descriptions of the lynching of Claude Neal and the never to be forgotten murder of Emmett Till:

 

“In the same way that Emmett Till would become the most defining event in the childhood lives of Negro children in Mississippi, the terrifying story of Claude Neal had made an indelible impression on the lives of Negro residents in north and central Florida.  Newson [an African American reporter] had been seven years old in 1934 when Claude Neal was tortured and lynched in Marianna, a north Florida town not far from Alabama and Georgia.  Neal, who was accused of having killed a white woman, was scalded repeatedly with a hot iron, castrated, and dragged through the streets before being stretched and displayed in a tree.  This had not been an impulse lynching; newspaper and radio stories had given advance notice of it.  As Neal was being hauled by a mob from an Alabama jail to Marianna, a crowd estimated at about four thousand had time to get to the scene.  By some accounts, he was forced to eat his own genitals, and his finger and toes were put on display in the town.  It was a story that haunted the Negroes of north and central Florida for decades .”  P. 95.

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“On August 31, three days after Till was reported  abducted, his tortured, bloated, and decomposed body floated partially to the surface of the Tallahatchie River.  It was a ghastly sight, made all the more horrible because Till’s neck was wrapped in barbed wire attached at the other end to a cotton gin fan that weighed twice its seventy pounds because of the mud on it.  The left side of the boy’s head was beaten in and “cut up pretty badly, like an axe was used,” the sheriff said.  One eyeball was dangling from its socket; his tongue extended from his mouth, swollen to eight times its normal size.  Behind his left ear was a bullet hole.  Around one of his fingers was an oversized ring that his mother had finally agreed he could wear with a little tape to help it fit.  The ring was engraved “LT,” the initials of his dead father, Louis Till.”  P. 87.

 

“At the Illinois Central station, accompanied by Simeon Booker, other reporters and photographers for the Negro press, and scores of mourners, Mrs. Mamie Bradley [Till’s mother] waited for the pine box to arrive.  Booker later wrote that when the box was handed down and opened for her to see, some of the young boy’s skull fell off and some of his brains fell out.”  P. 88.

 

            Till’s murderers were acquitted by a Mississippi jury in one hour and seven minutes.  It was these kinds of things, it was the denial of almost all human decency in almost every way to almost all African Americans in the South, it was howling white mobs screaming at African American children, it was this kind of South, and Southern violence, that those of my generation in the North grew up learning about, reading about, seeing on television.  And a good thing too, or it would never have changed. 

 

            But, in reality, perhaps the question is whether it all has changed.  Let us put race aside, notwithstanding what appears to be in the heart of big league Southern leaders like Trent Lott, who wishes the country had followed Strom Thurmond.  Let us confine ourselves to a single issue relating to violence; let us confine ourselves to regularly favoring the use of military force.  Or, to put it more bluntly, regularly favoring starting and continuing wars. 

 

The most famous Southern writer, Faulkner, said the past is not dead, it is not even past.  This would seem true of the Southern attitude towards war.  War has regularly been a Southern policy of choice -- not excluding the Civil War.  The South wanted the War of 1812, it wanted war with Mexico, it wanted the Civil War, it wanted to invade and take over Cuba and parts of Central America.  Woodrow Wilson, a Southerner, got us into World War I after saying he kept us out of war.  Even Harry Truman, who took us into Korea without Congressional authorization and thereby set the stage for a militarized nation and Viet Nam, was in effect a southerner -- Missouri was a rebel leaning border state with lots of Southern feeling (and guerrillas) where Truman grew up not long after the Civil War.  Lyndon Johnson was a Southerner, and so was Dean Rusk.  So is the current George Bush. 

 

It’s not that no northerners ever got us into (and kept us in) war:  there were FDR and the first George Bush, after all.  (The first Bush was really a Northerner even if he eventually repaired to Texas).  But the fact is that Southerners have been prominent in seeking wars throughout American history.  The South became militaristic at least as early as the 1830s or so if not before -- it started creating military academies to train men against the day it might be necessary to fight the North, and it never gave up its violent, militaristic attitudes.  Faulkner’s point that the past is not even past would seem especially true with regard to the South’s love for war.  Another way to say the same thing, a way I just heard a few days ago, is that Southerners just don’t care enough about their kids.  (Which reminds me of the German nobleman type who said in the 1930s that he would give one of his sons to defeat England.) 

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            Consider, most recently, the Congressional vote for war with Iraq in 2002, and the 50 to 48 Senate vote last week against pulling out most troops by 2008, a pullout that would have had to begin within four months.

 

            When it came to the initial resolution authorizing the war in October 2002, the vote in the Senate was 77 for, 23 against.  23 of these yeas came from the Old Confederacy plus the three Southern Border States of Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland, while only three of the nays came from these.  (Two of the three nays came from the border state of Maryland, so that there was only one nay from all 11 states of the Old Confederacy.)  In the House there were 296 for and 133 against.  122 of the yeas and only 24 nays came from the Old Confederacy plus the border three.  So, what is obvious is that the vote for war was overwhelming from the Old Confederacy plus the border three, with Senators and Congressmen from the rest of the country being much more divided.

 

            Or to look at the recent 50 to 48 Senate vote against ending the war, only seven Senators from the Old Confederacy or the border three voted to end the war, while 19 voted against ending it.

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Lawrence R. Velvel is a cofounder and the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, and is the founder of the American College of History and Legal Studies.

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