“The President Is Dead”

Tuesday, 22 November 2005, 14:16 | Category : History
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I was in the fourth grade at Sykes Elementary in Jackson, MS. Mrs. Hicks was my teacher. Earlier that morning, November 22, 1963, the principal, Mr. Bennett, had come into the classroom and whispered something to Mrs. Hicks. Her face went pale, and she gravely announced to the class that President Kennedy had been shot. Not long after that, Mr. Bennett returned to the classroom and once again quietly said something to Mrs. Hicks. She then announced, “The President is dead”. I can remember the entire scene like it was yesterday – the rows of desks, the chalkboards, Mrs. Hicks’ desk in the front center, a few feet in front of the chalkboards. It was probably the first time I had seen an adult with that look on their face. I don’t think we, the students, really understood. In fact, I know we didn’t. All we knew was that school was dismissed for the rest of the day, and there was no school until after the funeral. Kennedy wasn’t particularly popular in Mississippi. More than one Mississippian expressed something very near happiness that he was dead, although those sentiments, even here, were rare. The image I retain from the televised funeral was that of the riderless horse, and the relentless drum cadence – I remember it being a single drum, although that may not be correct. At some point over the next days, the shock our parents were feeling got through to us, but we had no idea that the world had changed that day, that the United States had aged in a split second. November 22, 1963.

A Different Time

Tuesday, 22 November 2005, 11:13 | Category : History
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World War I has been seen as the last chapter of an earlier time, one that is somehow, sometimes described as more civilized, despite the brutality of the war. One example that’s often pointed to is the “Christmas Truce” of 1914, when German and British soldiers, and to a lesser extent French and Belgian soldiers, more or less spontaneously mingled in No Man’s Land and exchanged greetings and spur-of-the-moment gifts. All too soon, however, the trench warfare and killing began again. I write this because the last known Allied survivor of the Truce has died. Alfred Anderson died in his native Scotland on Monday at the age of 109.

H/t to James at Apropos Of Nothing.

Dissent In The Land Of The Free

Tuesday, 22 November 2005, 7:42 | Category : Politics
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Vice President Cheney has said that those calling for withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, or even publicly doubting the Administration’s “Stay the course” policy, are disloyal, and guilty of aiding the terrorists and betraying our soldiers. Opponents of the Administration policy respond by saying that leaving our soldiers in Iraq just continues making them targets for insurgent actions. Is either side right, or wrong, entirely? But when, and how, is public dissent proper? It would appear that Cheney and his supporters believe that once US soldiers are committed, dissent should stop. It seems to me, however, that such a practice would make it far too easy for a president to commit troops. In essence, once hostilities had begun, the nation would be locked in. So, we presume the right of dissent, at least in some circumstances. During the Vietnam War, some dissent took the form of direct action against government installations, such as the 1970 armory bombing in Santa Barbara, CA. I think most of those opposed to the Iraq war would agree that antiwar violence is inappropriate. But if a senator speaking out against the war is aiding terrorists, is that also true of a citizen writing a letter opposing the war to that senator? Is a letter to the editor of the local paper an act of disloyalty? In a democracy, in a government of, by, and for the people, is it not the role of a citizen dissatisfied with the policy and actions of the government to signify that dissatisfaction? On the other hand, many of those who oppose the war insist that they support the troops. That’s a sentiment that’s expressed so often that it runs the danger of becoming nothing more than a platitude. So, if public dissent is proper, when is it proper, and where? I think it’s important to remember that the policies behind the war are political, which means the arena of dissent should be political. If you’re going to claim you support the soldiers, that means no protests at military installations, or occasions that honor troops or veterans. At least, if I were in charge of the rules, that’s what they’d be. You’re not protesting the war, you’re protesting the politicians who committed us to the war. That’s where dissent should be aimed. But that’s a fine line to walk, especially when your opponents are charging you with disloyalty or even treason. Could it be that those are the people who are being “un-American” – those who would stifle any protest by hiding behind a Nixonian brand of patriotism that divides the world into only unquestioning supporters and enemies? While that may be sufficient in a dictatorship, it’s poison to a democracy, just as dissent that includes personal attacks, that denigrates those who hold different opinions and ideas, is also poison to a democracy. Dissent that relies on cheap stunts – and I’m thinking of Cindy Sheehan and other activists “dying” in front of the White House – is only slightly less poisonous. To be effective, dissent must be honest, respectful, and thoughtful. Anything less is just angry men, and women, shouting.