August 25, 1916: The National Park Service was founded.
How many national parks have you visited? What’s your favorite?
August 25, 1916: The National Park Service was founded.
How many national parks have you visited? What’s your favorite?
Last night President Obama referred to his first nationally-televised speech at the Democratic convention in Boston in 2004. My mom was a Kerry delegate from Ohio and was there when he spoke. She kept a diary of the convention and here’s what she recorded twelve years ago last night.
By cell phone Dad and I decided to exit, the time being now 10:20 and we wanted to get back to our room so we could watch the coverage of Barack Obama. As it turned out we watched him on one of the TV monitors in the hallway near the concession stands at the arena. A crowd of people about 10 deep gathered around the set. His message was “E Pluribus Unum . . .we are ONE nation, not red and blue states or one religion or another or gay or straight.” There’s no doubt that he’s a star. Sadly, a black woman who was on the escalator toward the exit of the building at the same time we were, muttered, “He’s wonderful, but I hope they don’t destroy him…”
Not to worry. They tried, but he prevailed.
It’s official and unanimous.
Hillary Clinton is now officially the Democratic presidential nominee, making history as the first woman ever to secure the backing of a major American political party.
Clinton was formally nominated on the second evening of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, more than nine years after launching her first presidential bid. It was largely an evening of unity after an opening night marked by resistance from die-hard supporters of Democratic runner-up, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
In a culmination of days’ worth of efforts to unify the party, Sanders himself moved at the conclusion of the lengthy state-by-state roll call vote – after Clinton had won a majority of delegates but before her formal nomination was announced to the thousands gathered in the Wells Fargo Center — to nominate Clinton by acclimation.
“I move that all votes cast by delegates be reflected in the official record, and I move that Hillary Clinton be selected as the nominee of the Democratic Party for president of the United States,” he announced from the convention floor as delegates roared their approval.
The first president I remember is Dwight Eisenhower, and the first political campaign I remember is Kennedy v. Nixon in 1960. I watched my first Democratic convention on TV in 1964 from Atlantic City when Lyndon Johnson was nominated, then watched as the whole world was watching in Chicago in 1968, the tumult of Miami Beach in 1972 when George McGovern finally delivered his acceptance speech at 3 a.m. I watched Ted Kennedy bid farewell to his presidential ambitions in 1980 as he told us the dream will never die, and cheered on my mom in 2004 was a delegate for John Kerry in Boston where we were introduced to a skinny guy with big ears and a funny name who swept us up in his vision of America.
Until then it was only a faint idea that anyone other than a white man would ever be nominated for president by any major party in America. And then it happened, and now another barrier — or ceiling — has been shattered. I have waited more than sixty years to see this moment in history.
I have seen history good and bad in these sixty-plus years. But for obvious reasons this moment means more than most. And I am very happy for the generations of Americans yet to come who will see this moment as both monumental and yet nothing out of the ordinary.
Where were you forty-seven years ago today? I was in Northport Point, Michigan for the weekend at my grandmother’s summer place on Grand Traverse Bay. We watched it on black-and-white TV, and as the walk on the moon approached, the rock band (Newt and the Salamanders) playing at the party next door took a break to watch history take place.
July 16, 1969.
I was born in 1952 so I don’t remember the Depression, World War II, and the state of the world that led up to it. To me they were recent history the way Vietnam and Watergate are to the people who are now in their thirties: what we know about those times comes from anecdotes, film, and what our elders choose to reminisce about.
This rumination is a result of reading this thoughtful article by Josh Marshall reflecting on how, as historical events like World War II recede in memory, we forget what made it happen.
A tous mes amis français, bonne fete!
And here is my favorite rendering of La Marseillaise.
When I was a kid I was very outgoing in putting up displays for the holidays — Memorial Day, Christmas, the Fourth of July — I liked the flags, the lights, the stuff. It was cool to make a big splash. But as I grew up I grew out of it, and today I don’t go much for things like that. I don’t have a flag to fly on national holidays, and the most I’ll do for Christmas is a wreath on the door because it has good memories and the scent of pine is rare in subtropical Florida.
I suppose it has something to do with my Quaker notions of shunning iconography — outward symbols can’t show how you truly feel about something on the inside — and more often than not they are used to make up for the lack of a true belief. This is also true of patriotism: waving the flag — or wrapping yourself in it — is a poor and false measure of how you truly feel about your country.
There’s an old saying that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. As Benjamin Franklin noted, no country had ever been formed because of an idea. But when the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1776 and passed the resolution embodied in the Declaration of Independence, that was what was being done. To create a nation not based on geographical boundaries, property, tribalism, or religion, but on the idea of forming a new government to replace the present form because the rulers were incompetent, uncaring, and cruel. The American Revolution wasn’t so much a rebellion as it was a cry for attention. Most of the Declaration is a punch-list, if you will, of grievances both petty and grand against the Crown, and once the revolution was over and the new government was formed, the Constitution contained many remedies to prevent the slights and injuries inflicted under colonialism: the Bill of Rights is a direct response to many of the complaints listed in the Declaration.
But the Declaration of Independence goes beyond complaints. Its preamble is a mission statement. It proclaims our goals and what we hope to achieve. No nation had ever done that before, and to this day we are still struggling to achieve life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness goes on with no sign of let-up.
That is the true glory of America. Not that we complain — and we do — but that we work to fix those complaints. To put them right. To make things better than they were. To give hope to people who feel that they have no voice, and to assure that regardless of who they are, where they come from, what they look like, who they love, or what they believe, there will be room for them to grow, do, and become whatever it is that they have the capacity to be. It’s a simple idea, but the simplest ideas often have the most powerful impact.
This nation has achieved many great things. We’ve inspired other nations and drawn millions to our shores not to just escape their own country but to participate in what we’re doing. And we’ve made mistakes. We’ve blundered and fumbled and bullied and injured. We’ve treated some of our own citizens with contempt, and shown the same kind of disregard for the rights of others that we enumerated in our own Declaration of Independence. We have been guilty of arrogance and hypocrisy. But these are all human traits, and we are, after all, human. The goal of government is to rise above humanity, and the goal of humanity is to strive for perfection. So if we stumble on the road to that goal, it is only because we are moving forward.
I love this country not for what it is but for what it could be. In my own way I show my patriotism not by waving a flag from my front porch but by working to make things work in our system and by adding to the discussion that will bring forth ideas to improve our lives and call into question the ideas of others. It is all a part of what makes the simple idea of life, liberty, and that elusive happiness so compelling and so inspiring, and what makes me very proud to be a part of this grand experiment.
Photo: The Avenue in the Rain by Frederick Childe Hassam 1917
This post originally appeared on July 4, 2005.
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
Master of the Universe, let us make up. It is time. How long can we go on being angry?
More than 50 years have passed since the nightmare was lifted. Many things, good and less good, have since happened to those who survived it. They learned to build on ruins. Family life was re-created. Children were born, friendships struck. They learned to have faith in their surroundings, even in their fellow men and women. Gratitude has replaced bitterness in their hearts. No one is as capable of thankfulness as they are. Thankful to anyone willing to hear their tales and become their ally in the battle against apathy and forgetfulness. For them every moment is grace.
Oh, they do not forgive the killers and their accomplices, nor should they. Nor should you, Master of the Universe. But they no longer look at every passer-by with suspicion. Nor do they see a dagger in every hand.
Does this mean that the wounds in their soul have healed? They will never heal. As long as a spark of the flames of Auschwitz and Treblinka glows in their memory, so long will my joy be incomplete.
What about my faith in you, Master of the Universe?
I now realize I never lost it, not even over there, during the darkest hours of my life. I don’t know why I kept on whispering my daily prayers, and those one reserves for the Sabbath, and for the holidays, but I did recite them, often with my father and, on Rosh ha-Shanah eve, with hundreds of inmates at Auschwitz. Was it because the prayers remained a link to the vanished world of my childhood?
But my faith was no longer pure. How could it be? It was filled with anguish rather than fervor, with perplexity more than piety. In the kingdom of eternal night, on the Days of Awe, which are the Days of Judgment, my traditional prayers were directed to you as well as against you, Master of the Universe. What hurt me more: your absence or your silence?
In my testimony I have written harsh words, burning words about your role in our tragedy. I would not repeat them today. But I felt them then. I felt them in every cell of my being. Why did you allow if not enable the killer day after day, night after night to torment, kill and annihilate tens of thousands of Jewish children? Why were they abandoned by your Creation? These thoughts were in no way destined to diminish the guilt of the guilty. Their established culpability is irrelevant to my ”problem” with you, Master of the Universe. In my childhood I did not expect much from human beings. But I expected everything from you.
Where were you, God of kindness, in Auschwitz? What was going on in heaven, at the celestial tribunal, while your children were marked for humiliation, isolation and death only because they were Jewish?
These questions have been haunting me for more than five decades. You have vocal defenders, you know. Many theological answers were given me, such as: ”God is God. He alone knows what He is doing. One has no right to question Him or His ways.” Or: ”Auschwitz was a punishment for European Jewry’s sins of assimilation and/or Zionism.” And: ”Isn’t Israel the solution? Without Auschwitz, there would have been no Israel.”
I reject all these answers. Auschwitz must and will forever remain a question mark only: it can be conceived neither with God nor without God. At one point, I began wondering whether I was not unfair with you. After all, Auschwitz was not something that came down ready-made from heaven. It was conceived by men, implemented by men, staffed by men. And their aim was to destroy not only us but you as well. Ought we not to think of your pain, too? Watching your children suffer at the hands of your other children, haven’t you also suffered?
As we Jews now enter the High Holidays again, preparing ourselves to pray for a year of peace and happiness for our people and all people, let us make up, Master of the Universe. In spite of everything that happened? Yes, in spite. Let us make up: for the child in me, it is unbearable to be divorced from you so long.
Liberals Need White Men — Eric Levitz in New York on why Democrats ignore the white working class at their peril.
A specter haunts the left’s last bastions of white working-class support — the specter of right-wing populism. As the New York Times’ Nate Cohn notes, outside of London, Labour’s working-class districts bucked their party’s leadership by voting for a Brexit campaign led by right-wing nationalists. Recent elections in Austria, Denmark, and Germany have produced a similar pattern; in all three countries, working-class areas that once voted with the Social Democrats or the center-left embraced far-right populists who promised to stem the tide of globalization.
Donald Trump has brought his own idiosyncratic brand of reactionary populism to our shores. And it’s playing well in the Democrats’ white working-class strongholds. According to Cohn, Trump’s most reliable voters in the GOP primary were “self-identified Republicans who nonetheless remain registered as Democrats.” On Tuesday, the presumptive GOP nominee made it clear that his general-election campaign will be aimed squarely at these voters. Contradicting decades of conservative free-market doctrine, Trump debuted a seven-point plan for reviving domestic manufacturing through trade protection.
Even if this message resonates with its target audience, current polling suggests Trump will have a tough time winning in November. But if issues of globalization continue to gain political salience, it could drive a wedge between the Democratic Party’s white working-class voters — who disproportionately favor restricting immigration — and the rest of the party’s base, which has been moving steadily toward an embrace of open borders. This is no small threat to Team Blue: White voters without college degrees made up a full 34 percent of the Obama coalition in 2012.
Liberals can’t give these voters what they want (in the aggregate) on immigration. To retain the party’s current share of the demographic, Democrats will need to make their economic pitch more salient than the right-wing’s nationalist appeals. There are many ways to go about this task. But a good first step would be to stop insinuating that non–college educated workers are destined to live miserable lives because their skills are obsolete.
If that strikes you as something liberals never do, you should listen to last week’s edition of Slate’s Political Gabfest podcast. During a discussion on the links between Brexit-backers and the Trumpian proletariat, NPR’s economics reporter Adam Davidson offered the following explanation for right-wing populism’s current appeal:
I know Hillary Clinton’s economic team fairly well, and I’m very impressed by them. They really are top-notch economists and economic policy thinkers. They don’t have anything for a 55-year-old laid-off factory worker in Michigan or northeastern Pennsylvania. Or whatever. They don’t have anything to offer them. And so I think it’s intuitively understandable that a screaming, loud, wrong answer is more compelling than a calm, reasonable, accurate, right answer: Your life is going to be worse for the rest of your life — but don’t worry, these hipsters in Brooklyn are doing much better.
[…] The threshold for wages has gone up. There was a long period in the 20th century where, simply being willing to go to a building reliably everyday for eight hours or 12 hours and do what you’re told was worth a lot. […] And you didn’t need to read, you didn’t need to write, you didn’t need to have any kind of education. Those jobs are all but fully gone. […] So in this country, we don’t have demand for the high-school-only graduates and the high-school dropouts we have, and that’s a big population. Something like 80 million people.
The “accurate, right answer” is that your life is going to get worse because you’ve fallen beneath the threshold for wages. This is how a well-sourced reporter summarizes the consensus of the Democratic nominee’s policy team. And we wonder why so many voters disdain elite expertise.
The Origins of Mordor — Joseph Loconte on what inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to create his mythological Hell.
In the summer of 1916, a young Oxford academic embarked for France as a second lieutenant in the British Expeditionary Force. The Great War, as World War I was known, was only half-done, but already its industrial carnage had no parallel in European history.
“Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute,” recalled J. R. R. Tolkien. “Parting from my wife,” he wrote, doubting that he would survive the trenches, “was like a death.”
The 24-year-old Tolkien arrived in time to take part in the Battle of the Somme, a campaign intended to break the stalemate between the Allies and Central Powers. It did not.
The first day of the battle, July 1, produced a frenzy of bloodletting. Unaware that its artillery had failed to obliterate the German dugouts, the British Army rushed to slaughter.
Before nightfall, 19,240 British soldiers — Prime Minister David Lloyd George called them “the choicest and best of our young manhood” — lay dead. That day, 100 years ago, remains the most lethal in Britain’s military history.
Though the debt is largely overlooked, Tolkien’s supreme literary achievement, “The Lord of the Rings,” owes a great deal to his experience at the Somme. Reaching the front shortly after the offensive began, Tolkien served for four months as a battalion signals officer with the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers in the Picardy region of France.
Using telephones, flares, signal lights, pigeons and runners, he maintained communications between the army staff directing the battles from the rear and the officers in the field. According to the British historian Martin Gilbert, who interviewed Tolkien decades later about his combat experience, he came under intense enemy fire. He had heard “the fearful cries of men who had been hit,” Gilbert wrote. “Tolkien and his signalers were always vulnerable.”
Tolkien’s creative mind found an outlet. He began writing the first drafts of his mythology about Middle-earth, as he recalled, “by candle light in bell-tents, even some down in dugouts under shell fire.” In 1917, recuperating from trench fever, Tolkien composed a series of tales involving “gnomes,” dwarves and orcs engaged in a great struggle for his imaginary realm.
In the rent earth of the Somme Valley, he laid the foundation of his epic trilogy.
The descriptions of battle scenes in “The Lord of the Rings” seem lifted from the grim memories of the trenches: the relentless artillery bombardment, the whiff of mustard gas, the bodies of dead soldiers discovered in craters of mud. In the Siege of Gondor, hateful orcs are “digging, digging lines of deep trenches in a huge ring,” while others maneuver “great engines for the casting of missiles.”
On the path to Mordor, stronghold of Sauron, the Dark Lord, the air is “filled with a bitter reek that caught their breath and parched their mouths.” Tolkien later acknowledged that the Dead Marshes, with their pools of muck and floating corpses, “owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme.”
In a lecture delivered in 1939, “On Fairy-Stories,” Tolkien explained that his youthful love of mythology had been “quickened to full life by war.” Yet he chose not to write a war memoir, and in this he departed from contemporaries like Robert Graves and Vera Brittain.
In the postwar years, the Somme exemplified the waste and futility of battle, symbolizing disillusionment not only with war, but with the very idea of heroism. As a professor of Anglo-Saxon back at Oxford, Tolkien preferred the moral landscape of Arthur and Beowulf. His aim was to produce a modern version of the medieval quest: an account of both the terrors and virtues of war, clothed in the language of myth.
In “The Lord of the Rings,” we meet Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, Hobbits of the Shire, on a fateful mission to destroy the last Ring of Power and save Middle-earth from enslavement and destruction. The heroism of Tolkien’s characters depends on their capacity to resist evil and their tenacity in the face of defeat. It was this quality that Tolkien witnessed among his comrades on the Western Front.
“I have always been impressed that we are here, surviving, because of the indomitable courage of quite small people against impossible odds,” he explained. The Hobbits were “a reflection of the English soldier,” made small of stature to emphasize “the amazing and unexpected heroism of ordinary men ‘at a pinch.’ ”
When the Somme offensive was finally called off in November 1916, a total of about 1.5 million soldiers were dead or wounded. Winston Churchill, who served on the front lines as a lieutenant colonel, criticized the campaign as “a welter of slaughter.” Two of Tolkien’s closest friends, Robert Gilson and Ralph Payton, perished in the battle, and another, Geoffrey Smith, was killed shortly afterward.
Beside the courage of ordinary men, the carnage of war seems also to have opened Tolkien’s eyes to a primal fact about the human condition: the will to power. This is the force animating Sauron, the sorcerer-warlord and great enemy of Middle-earth. “But the only measure that he knows is desire,” explains the wizard Gandalf, “desire for power.” Not even Frodo, the Ring-bearer and chief protagonist, escapes the temptation.
When Tolkien’s trilogy was published, shortly after World War II, many readers assumed that the story of the Ring was a warning about the nuclear age. Tolkien set them straight: “Of course my story is not an allegory of atomic power, but of power (exerted for domination).”
Even this was not the whole story. For Tolkien, there was a spiritual dimension: In the human soul’s struggle against evil, there was a force of grace and goodness stronger than the will to power. Even in a forsaken land, at the threshold of Mordor, Samwise Gamgee apprehends this: “For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: There was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”
Good triumphs, yet Tolkien’s epic does not lapse into escapism. His protagonists are nearly overwhelmed by fear and anguish, even their own lust for power. When Frodo returns to the Shire, his quest at an end, he resembles not so much the conquering hero as a shellshocked veteran. Here is a war story, wrapped in fantasy, that delivers painful truths about the human predicament.
Tolkien used the language of myth not to escape the world, but to reveal a mythic and heroic quality in the world as we find it. Perhaps this was the greatest tribute he could pay to the fallen of the Somme.
Doonesbury — Sameness.
This is significant.
President Obama will designate a new national monument at the historic site of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City to honor the broad movement for LGBT equality. The new Stonewall National Monument will protect the area where, on June 28, 1969, a community’s uprising in response to a police raid sparked the modern LGBT civil rights movement in the United States.
The designation will create the first official National Park Service unit dedicated to telling the story of LGBT Americans, just days before the one year anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision guaranteeing marriage equality in all 50 states.
Significant in the fact that in less than half my lifetime we have gone from an administration that mocked AIDS victims — when it finally got around to saying the word — to one that supports equality in all its forms and venues, including transgender rights.
Of course it’s not over. I and millions of LGBT citizens still live in states where it’s legal to be discriminated against in employment and housing, where it’s still acceptable to bait and stigmatize gays and lesbians in political campaigns, and where a commercial showing two dads or two moms raising a family generates a call for boycotts (and, of course, fund-raising).
Designating a national monument will have no practical effect in changing the remaining conditions of hate and bigotry in places where it’s still not acceptable in the sight of many for a man and a woman of different races to get married. It is, however, a milestone to acknowledge the history and mark the place and then keep moving on.
Cary Gossard Dunn was my great uncle, the younger brother of my maternal grandmother. He was born in 1906 in Indiana, one of four children. He married and had two children of his own.
I never knew him; he died in March 1952, six months before I was born. I knew he served in the military and had heard that he had been part of the D-Day invasion on Normandy in 1944. I don’t have a picture of him, but I remember seeing one in my grandmother’s photo album: a young man with familiar family features and a smile that he shared with my grandmother.
In May 2011, my parents and my brother and sister-in-law went to Arlington National Cemetery to find Uncle Cary’s grave. For some reason, the cemetery administration has no record of his burial, but through his daughter Susan they located it and took some pictures.
After I saw this photo I wrote to Susan and asked for information about her father’s service:
He was with the 467th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion and was in the original landing at Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944. His rank was Captain and he saw service in Northern France, the Ardennes, and the Rhineland before returning to the states in 1945. He was awarded the Bronze Star. He left the military for a brief period of time, but rejoined and was promoted to Major and taught ROTC at the University of Pittsburgh for about two years. He was transferred from the Army to the Air Force in 1949 and was sent to Okinawa in 1950 where he worked as an engineer at Kadena AFB. He died of cancer at Barksdale AFB, Shreveport, Louisiana, on March 12, 1952 at the age of 45.
I wish I had known him. Given his siblings’ long lives (my grandmother lived to be 95), I would have been able to learn about what his service meant to him as I was becoming aware of my own feelings about war and peace, and to put a real connection between the stories I read in history books and the lurid tales depicted in the Hollywood movies about the war.
Susan’s description of her father’s service captures the simple facts, but like the men who served and tell their stories in such tales as Band of Brothers, the simplicity does not tell of the pain and the burden these men and women carried in service to our country then and now, and the honor and pride they have in doing their duty without any other thought than protecting the rest of us.
Rest in peace, Uncle Cary. Thank you.
I grew up in Perrysburg, Ohio. It’s a small town, a suburb of Toledo, and when I was a kid in the 1950’s and ’60’s, it fit all of the images that small towns in the Midwest have: tree-shaded streets, neat homes, lots of churches, and a main street — Louisiana Avenue — with little shops like the drug store with the fountain, the dime store, the barber shop, the hardware store, the bakery with the smell of bread baking and the sweet scent of icing, and the bank with the solid stone exterior. They’re all still there, just under different names now, and my parents, who still live there, still call the drug store by its old name, even though it’s changed owners and become a jewelry shop. In the winter the Christmas decorations line the street, and each Memorial Day there is a parade that starts at the Schaller Memorial, the veterans hall, and proceeds up Louisiana Avenue, taking a turn when it reaches the Oliver Hazard Perry Memorial (“We have met the enemy and they are ours…”) and marches down West Front Street past the old Victorian homes that overlook the Maumee River.
When I was a kid the parade was made up of the veterans groups like the American Legion and the VFW, and platoons of soldiers and veterans, including, through the 1970’s, the last remaining veterans of World War I. They wore their uniforms and their medals, and those that couldn’t march sat in the back seat of convertibles, waving slowly to the crowds that lined the sidewalks. They were followed by the marching band from the high school, the color guard, the Cub Scouts, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the drum and bugle corps, floats from church groups, all of the city fire equipment, antique cars, and the service groups like the Shriners, the Elks, and the Kiwanis Club. After the last float came all the kids on their bicycles decorated with streamers, bunting, flags, and all the patriotic paperwork we could muster. My friends and I would try to outdo each other, and it had less to do with patriotism than it did with seeing how many rolls of red, white, and blue crepe paper we could thread in between the spokes of our wheels.
I was about ten or so on one Memorial Day when I spent a lot of time getting my Schwinn Racer ready for the big parade. It was a perfect day; the sky was a sparkling spring blue and all the floats, cars, and fire trucks were gleaming in the sun as the parade organized on Indiana Avenue in front of the Memorial Hall. The high school band in their yellow and black uniforms marched in precision as the major led off with a Sousa tune, and as the parade slowly made its way down the avenue we could see the crowds along the sidewalks waiting and waving. As we waited our turn we wheeled our bikes in circles, just like the Shriners in their little go-karts, and finally we got the signal that it was time for the kids to roll. There was an organized rush to lead off, and then we were slowly pedaling down the street, waving to everybody outside the library, the Chevy dealership, even the people lined up on the roof of the pizza parlor. I looked for my dad shooting movies with the 8mm camera, but didn’t see him. Oh, well, it didn’t matter; we were supposed to meet at the home of friends who were hosting a post-parade picnic in their backyard. Their house was at the end of the parade route, so that was the perfect place to pull out of the parade and have the first of many Faygo Redpops that summer.
But for some reason I stayed with the parade, on down West Front, and then up West Boundary and past the gates of Fort Meigs Cemetery. The floats and the fire trucks were gone, but what was left of the parade — the color guard and the veterans — went through the gates and along the path. There was no music now, just a solemn drumbeat keeping a steady muffled tapping. The color guard turned at a small stone memorial, and then past it to a gravesite where a family was gathered; a mother in a black dress, a father in a grey suit, and a teenage son and daughter, looking somber and out of place. The grave was still fresh, the dirt mounded over, the headstone a simple marker with a flag. A minister spoke some words, and then the color guard snapped to attention. A volley of rifle fire, then Taps, and then a tall young soldier in dress blues handed a folded flag to the mother, who murmured her thanks and tried to smile.
I suddenly realized that I felt out of place there with my gaudily-patriotic bike and my red-white-and-blue striped shirt. No one noticed me, though, and when the people started to slowly move away from the gravesite and back to the entrance, I followed along until I was able to ride slowly back to our friends’ house, park my bike with all the others, and find my parents, who probably hadn’t even noticed that I was not there with all the other kids running around and playing on the lawn.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.
This post originally appeared on May 25, 2009.
Out of the Death Business — Matt Ford in The Atlantic reports on Pfizer’s decision to stop selling drugs for lethal injections.
Pfizer said Friday it would impose stringent controls on distributors to block its drugs from use in lethal injections, underscoring the pharmaceutical industry’s consensus against participation in the death penalty amid a nationwide shortage in execution drugs.“Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve,” the pharmaceutical giant’s updated policy said. “Consistent with these values, Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment.”
The new policy’s impact on future executions will be difficult to measure. Many states with capital punishment have also enacted laws that shield the identities of execution-drug providers, making those drugs’ origins hard to trace. It is also unclear when or how often Pfizer-manufactured drugs have been used in U.S. executions.
But Pfizer’s move adds new barriers as states struggle to find reliable suppliers of execution drugs. Maya Foa, executive director of Reprieve, a U.K.-based human-rights organization, said in a statement that Pfizer’s move means “all FDA-approved manufacturers of all execution drugs have spoken out against the misuse of medicines in lethal injections and taken steps to prevent it.”
A Pfizer spokesperson said the company opposed the use of its drugs in lethal injections before today’s update. An earlier version of its policy on capital punishment took a less forceful stance on the issue than Friday’s update, insisting that “efforts to influence policy” were better directed towards legislators and public officials.“Our distribution plan, which restricts the sale of these seven products for unintended uses, implements our publicly stated position against improper use of our products and, most importantly, doesn’t stand in the way of patient access to these critical medications,” an October 2015 version of the policy stated.
“However, due to the complex supply chain and the gray market in the United States, despite our efforts, Pfizer cannot guarantee that a U.S. prison could not secure restricted products through other channels not under Pfizer’s control,” it cautioned.
When it comes time to write the Democratic platform, it is likely that the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaigns will have their disagreements. But there is one place where they can find common ground and address a glaring omission in the party’s statement of principles and purposes.
As recently as 2000, the Democratic platform declared support from what should be a basic premise of a party that advocates for voting rights and robust democracy: statehood for the District of Columbia. The platform on which Al Gore ran for the presidency that year declared, “Just as our country has been the chief apostle of democracy in the world, we must lead by example at home. This begins with our nation’s capital. The citizens of the District of Columbia are entitled to autonomy in the conduct of their civic affairs, full political representation as Americans who are fully taxed, and statehood.”
In 2004, however, the word “statehood” was dropped. While the party still advocated for equal rights and representation, it no longer declared that the residents of Washington, DC, should be able to lock in their rights as residents of a state that is equal to every other American state. Despite efforts by DC officials and statehood advocates to get the word restored in 2008 and 2012, the platform has remained vague on the issue.
That should change in 2016.
Clinton wrote a terrific article for The Washington Informer this week, in which she argued that support for DC statehood is critical to “restoring faith in democracy.”
“[Enfranchisement] isn’t solely a matter of individual rights. In the case of our nation’s capital, we have an entire populace that is routinely denied a voice in its own democracy,” explained the former secretary of state. “Washington, DC, is home to nearly 700,000 Americans—more than the entire population of several states. Washingtonians serve in the military, serve on juries and pay taxes just like everyone else. And yet they don’t even have a vote in Congress.”
“Hard as it is to believe, America is the only democracy on the planet that treats the residents of capital this way,” continued Clinton, who argued that
Lacking representatives with voting power, the District of Columbia is often neglected when it comes to federal appropriations. Many of the District’s decisions are also at the mercy of right-wing ideologues in Congress, and as you can imagine, they don’t show very much of it. Everything from commonsense gun laws to providing women’s health care and efforts to cut down on drug abuse has been halted by Republicans, who claim the District is an exception to their long-held notion that communities ought to be able to govern themselves.
Solidarity is no longer enough. We need a solution.
That’s why, as president, I will be a vocal champion for DC statehood.
She will get no argument from Sanders.
“Washington, DC, is currently home to more people than the state of Vermont, yet its residents lack voting representation in Congress,” says Sanders. “I think it is morally wrong for American citizens who pay federal taxes, fight in our wars, and live in our country to be denied the basic right to full congressional representation.”
This is a long-term stance for Sanders, who as a member of the US House, supported DC statehood initiatives.
Sanders once asked during a congressional debate, “How could I in good conscience say that it is appropriate for Vermont to have two seats in the Senate, which we do, to have a congressman who can vote on all of the issues, which we do, to have a governor and a state legislature which deals with all the problems facing our people, which we do, and then say that the people of the District of Columbia, with a population larger than Vermont and larger than some other states, should not be able to enjoy the same rights?”
“I could not make that case. It would not be a fair case. It would not be a rational argument,” replied Sanders, who explained, “This debate is about one thing and the thing alone. That is whether the people of Washington, DC, are entitled to be full citizens. To me the answer is obvious and I intend vote yes for statehood for the District of Columbia.”
Sanders and Clinton are right.
DC statehood is a voting-rights issue and a democracy issue. And the Democratic platform should make that absolutely clear.
Our History in Super 8 — Alastair Gee in The New Yorker on the revelations of gay home movies.
One home movie shows a telegenic group of men on a getaway at a shoreline cabin in the Bay Area town of Vallejo, in 1947. The friends sunbathe, laugh together, mug for the camera with more than a touch of theatricality. A man picks some orange flowers and tucks them behind his ear; another wears a grass skirt and dances the hula.
Another movie, from 1946, shows a house party where guests in suits and ties smoke cigarettes and drink from dainty glasses. Men dance in pairs, hands clasped, a head against a cheek. One giddily air-claps to music the viewer cannot hear.
Both of these films, and numerous others like them, are part of the private home-movie collection of Harold O’Neal, an amateur filmmaker who spent much of his adult life in San Francisco. Born in Stockton, California, in 1910, he was a reserved, somewhat shy man who worked as a rehabilitation officer for the Veterans Administration and later in personnel for the Army Corps of Engineers. Like many gay men and women of the time, he kept his sexuality closely guarded. But over the years O’Neal made dozens of home movies—of house parties, drag performances, skinny-dips, travels with his partner—many of which captured the rhythms and intimacies of gay social life long before it was allowed to flourish in the open.
O’Neal’s home-movie collection spent decades in obscurity, as home movies often do. Then, in the mid-nineteen-nineties, a San Francisco filmmaker, Peter Stein, put an ad on local television soliciting historic footage for a documentary he was making about the Castro, and O’Neal responded. Only a few minutes of his footage, showing parties, San Francisco street scenes, and O’Neal standing atop Coit Tower, ended up in the film, but Stein realized that O’Neal’s recordings were valuable artifacts of San Francisco gay history. Stein alerted Susan Stryker, who was the executive director of the city’s GLBT Historical Society, and on the drive home from a vacation Stryker stopped in Washington, where O’Neal had relocated, to ask him to donate his films. O’Neal was ambivalent. As Stryker was packing up to leave, O’Neal’s life partner, George Torgerson, walked out to the car and handed her paper shopping bags filled with reels. “He wants to let go, but he can’t let go, so I’m letting go for him,” Torgerson said.
With O’Neal’s permission, the movies now live in the GLBT Historical Society archives amid a remarkably varied set of holdings, from a sewing machine used to create the first rainbow flags to the sequinned outfits worn by the disco star Sylvester. Clips from several of the films also appear in “Reel in the Closet,” a new documentary about gay home movies by the Bay Area independent filmmaker Stu Maddux. Maddux read about the Society’s work and spent a year digging through the archives. “To see those same types of mannerisms and the same types of laughter, and laughter at the same things, just made me feel like I wasn’t alone in time,” Maddux told me. “Like my generation and the generations around me are not alone in time.” His film includes footage from a tape discovered in an unmarked can at a San Jose flea market, showing the San Francisco lesbian bar Mona’s Candle Light around 1950. A drag king called Jimmy Reynard introduces a chanteuse; female patrons with immaculate, gamine haircuts listen at tables; there is the twinkle of jewelry. In another clip, from 1978, the documentarian Dan Smith recorded people on the streets of the Castro describing their reactions to the murder of Harvey Milk. There are long-haired men, cops, a leather aficionado. “Nobody filmed us,” Smith says in “Reel in the Closet.” “So we really thought that in order to be recorded it was necessary for us to do it ourselves.”
One challenge for home-movie preservationists is that most footage, having been shot for a private audience of family and friends, isn’t particularly accessible to the general viewer. But what the movies lack in narrative cogency they make up for in a sense of immersion—of giving viewers the feeling of dropping directly into the private worlds of strangers. In the case of gay home movies, the viewing experience is complicated, and enriched, by the knowledge of what’s to come, for good and for bad—the liberation of Stonewall, the devastation of the AIDS crisis, the undoing of the Defense of Marriage Act, which couples like O’Neal and Torgerson, who both died in the mid-aughts, never got to see.
Jim Morin — Lookin’ pretty.
Doonesbury — The happy couple.
The statement emphasized their shared goal of preventing Democrat Hillary Clinton from winning the White House in the fall.
“With that focus, we had a great conversation this morning. We were honest about our few differences, we recognize that there are also many important areas of common ground,” Ryan and Trump said.
The statement also said they are “extremely proud” of bringing millions of new voters into the party’s primary process, a claim Trump has repeatedly made about his value to the GOP.
The Tricks of Memory — Charlie Pierce on forgetting our past at the peril of our future.
… The 2016 presidential campaign—and the success of Donald Trump on the Republican side—has been a triumph of how easily memory can lose the struggle against forgetting and, therefore, how easily society can lose the struggle against power. There is so much that we have forgotten in this country. We’ve forgotten, over and over again, how easily we can be stampeded into action that is contrary to the national interest and to our own individual self-interest. We have forgotten McCarthy and Nixon. We have forgotten how easily we can be lied to. We have forgotten the U-2 incident and the Bay of Pigs and the sale of missiles to the mullahs. And along comes someone like Trump, and he tells us that forgetting is our actual power and that memory is the enemy.
The first decade of the twenty-first century gave us a great deal to forget. It began with an extended mess of a presidential election that ended with the unprecedented interference of a politicized Supreme Court. It was marked early on by an unthinkable attack on the American mainland. At this point, we forgot everything we already knew. We knew from our long involvement in the Middle East where the sources of the rage were. We forgot. We knew from Vietnam the perils of involving the country in a land war in Asia. We forgot. We knew from Nuremberg and from Tokyo what were war crimes and what were not. We forgot that we had virtually invented the concept of a war crime. We forgot. In all cases, we forgot because we chose to forget. We chose to believe that forgetting gave us real power and that memory made us weak. We even forgot how well we knew that was a lie.
A country that remembers, a country with an empowered memory that acts as a check on the dangerous excesses of power itself, does not produce a Donald Trump. It was the very first Republican president who said the most memorable thing about memory, and its mystic chords, and how he hoped, one day, those chords once again would be touched by the better angels of our nature. That was Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address. By the time he came to deliver his second, in which he appealed to the country to remember how it had torn itself apart, six hundred thousand Americans had slaughtered one another in a war that was only then beginning to come to an end:
Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”
Remember, this passage said to the people of a tattered and bleeding nation. Bind up the wounds. Take care of him who has borne the battle, and his widow and orphan, too. Achieve a just and lasting peace between yourselves and all nations. But first, remember how this misery came to pass. Remember what we are capable of doing to one another if we lose faith in every institution of self-government, especially those into which we are supposed to channel our passions to constructive purpose. Remember, Lincoln said in this speech, which was his last warning to the nation he’d preserved. Remember that we can be killers. Remember that, and you can be strong and powerful enough to not allow it to happen again.
The late historian Michael Kammen likened even the newest Americans to Fortinbras in Hamlet, who declares that he has “some rights of memory in this kingdom.” Even the immigrants most lately arrived can, Kammen argued, “have an imaginative and meaningful relationship to the determinative aspects of American history.” In the campaign now ongoing, we see successful candidates running against the very notion of what Kammen was talking about. When Trump chants his mantra—”Make America Great Again”—the rest of the slogan is unsaid but obvious. The implied conclusion is “…Before All of Them Wrecked It.” And that is what has been selling, all year long, because while the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting, there is no guarantee that either struggle will end in triumph.
The Remains of Chernobyl — Alex Wellerstein in The New Yorker on the aftermath of the explosion at the nuclear power plant thirty years ago.
… For many people in the West, Chernobyl has served as a kind of referendum on nuclear power. Those who oppose it see the disaster as the ultimate embodiment of industrial folly. They point to evidence, extremely difficult to confirm, of increased rates of cancer and birth defects in the region around the plant. Those who support nuclear power, meanwhile—a slight majority of Americans today—argue for better and safer reactors and more competent operators. But Chernobyl has also had a strong and lingering political legacy. The Soviet state shared no small part of the blame for the accident, yet even in the era of glasnost it was unwilling to admit it. (Outside the U.S.S.R., the first indication that something was amiss at the plant came not from Soviet authorities, who initially kept quiet, but from a nuclear-power station in Sweden, where fallout, carried by the wind and tracked in on an employee’s shoes, set off the alarm during a routine screening for radioactivity.) To condemn the design of the RBMK-1000, much less nuclear technology itself, was to criticize Soviet know-how and jeopardize other economically necessary reactors of the same type. Human error was the only politically viable explanation. In the spring of 1987, Chernobyl’s operators and engineers were subject to what the historian Sonja D. Schmid has called “perhaps the last show trial of the Soviet era.” Not surprisingly, they were convicted.
There was the battle against the fire, and then there was the battle over its political meaning. Today, there is the battle of memory. The Internet is replete with videos of disaster tourists visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, sometimes with Geiger counters. Poke around in the bushes or buildings and you can sometimes find something “hot”—a rubber boot or glove, a piece of misshapen graphite. Stories abound of wild animals retaking the zone, and haunting photographs of the abandoned town of Pripyat—especially of the ruins of its carnival grounds—are now a staple of social media. (A friend of mine who visited Chernobyl not long ago noted that there was a suspicious overabundance of gas masks and creepy dolls in the town’s most cinematic locations.) But it is a mistake to assume, amid the Cold War nostalgia and post-apocalyptic romance, that Chernobyl was ever really relinquished. The undamaged portions of the plant were in operation until 2000, run by workers who were paid triple their normal wages. There are even some people—mostly elderly—who have, illegally and unadvisedly, returned to their homes nearby, sometimes eating crops grown in the contaminated soil. The acute radioactivity, the sort that can induce radiation sickness and kill people quickly, has largely decayed. The lingering fallout poses a long-term threat to anyone who inhabits the area, but if these people are old to begin with, and small in number, they are likelier to die of other causes.
The late sociologist Ulrich Beck wrote that risk can help human societies rediscover the importance of collective action and responsibility. But risk is a tricky thing to wrap one’s head around, especially once the fires have gone out. Does Chernobyl indict an entire industry, or does it show that, even at its worst, it isn’t that bad? The truth seems to be somewhere in the middle. Chernobyl was a disaster, but it was not the apocalypse. It was a highly specific event—specific to the reactor and to the Soviet state that it was conceived in. But it should give us pause to reflect generally on the high costs of technological mismanagement and deferred maintenance. It is easy to dismiss a few thousand extra cancers, out of the hundreds of thousands of cancers caused by other sources, when they are not in the bodies of our loved ones; it is easy to say that the Exclusion Zone is relatively small when it is on the other side of the world. These battles of Chernobyl are still being waged, but there may be no winners in the war.
Walt Whitman, Wellness Guru — Jennifer Schuessler notes that the poet was a health nut.
“Let the main part of the diet be meat, to the exclusion of all else,” Whitman wrote, sounding more than a little paleo.
As for the feet, he recommended that the comfortable shoes “now specially worn by base-ball players” — sneakers, if you will — be “introduced for general use,” and he offered warnings about the dangers of inactivity that could have been issued from a 19th-century standing desk.
“To you, clerk, literary man, sedentary person, man of fortune, idler, the same advice,” he declared. “Up!”
Whitman’s words, part of a nearly 47,000-word journalistic series called “Manly Health and Training,” were lost for more than 150 years, buried in an obscure newspaper that survived only in a handful of libraries. The series was uncovered last summer by a graduate student, who came across a fleeting reference to it in a digitized newspaper database and then tracked down the full text on microfilm.
Now, Whitman’s self-help-guide-meets-democratic-manifesto is being published online in its entirety by a scholarly journal, in what some experts are calling the biggest new Whitman discovery in decades.
“This is really a complete new work by Whitman,” said David S. Reynolds, the author of “Walt Whitman’s America” and a professor of English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, who was not involved with the find.
“These are the most interesting and mysterious years in Whitman’s biography, and now we have this major journalistic series right in the middle of it,” said Ed Folsom, the editor of The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, the online journal that is publishing the series in its spring issue.
“One of Whitman’s core beliefs was that the body was the basis of democracy,” Mr. Folsom, a professor of English at the University of Iowa, continued. “The series is a hymn to the male body, as well as a guide to taking care of what he saw as the most vital unit of democratic living.”
Doonesbury — Updating.