Thursday, October 1, 2020

Necessary Evil vs. Necessary Trouble.

August 9, 2020 by  
Filed under News, Opinion, Politics, Weekly Columns

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( George Orwell, in his classic novel “1984” wrote, “Who controls the past controls the future.  Who controls the present controls the past.”  Meaning, the ability to control the narrative conveys enormous power.  That’s why the 1619 Project is such a seminal work.  In pushing the beginning of the nation’s founding back one hundred and fifty-seven years, from 1776 to 1619, it changes the focus of the origin story.  And, in-so-doing, brings new focus on the problems of the present age; and mounds of criticism.

Necessary Evil

For instance, the attack on the Project’s central thesis by Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas.  He has written a bill which would defund any school that includes the Project in its curriculum.  According to Senator Cotton, the Founding Fathers said “slavery was the necessary evil upon which the union was built.”  Never mind that instead of debunking the Project he upholds its premise that slavery was integral to the country’s founding, he also echoes other evils past tyrannical regimes have deemed necessary.

1619 project

Take Nazi Germany.  In 1943 Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, told a cheering crowd, “Enemy nations may raise hypocritical protests against our measures against Jewry and cry crocodile tears, but that will not stop us from doing that which is necessary.”

When Saddam Hussein conducted his murderous campaign against the Kurds with chemical weapons: “necessary.”  The same when the Turks began their killing spree against the Armenians in World War I.  A member of the Turkish Committee of Union and Progress said, “It is absolutely necessary to eliminate the Armenian people.”  Mary Papenfuss’ Intercept article gives several more examples.

As far back as the time of the founding of the United States, British Prime Minister William Pitt in 1783 said, “Necessity… is the argument of tyrants” and John Milton, in “Paradise Lost” a century earlier said of Satan, “necessity was the tyrant’s plea to excuse his devilish deeds.” 

Necessary Trouble

The late Congressman John Lewis on the other hand saw necessity in making what he called in his farewell letter, “good trouble, necessary trouble.”  As the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, he spoke with the impatience of youth when he said, “We want our freedom now!”

On that day in August of 1963, people most remember Dr. King’s “dream” for America.  What is less talked about is his description of the nightmare of living in a segregated America.

King started his speech with, “In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check.  When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir… It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned… America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’”

Lewis was merely saying, it’s time to pay up!  And he was willing to pay in blood to make the country fulfill its promise.  Especially since nowhere in those founding documents, or in the Federalist Papers, do I recall anything about slavery being a necessary evil in order to get things going, intending to end it.  Instead, they talked of liberty, equality and happiness for all men; but not those counted three-fifths.

The struggle continues

Nikole Hannah-Jones, who led the 1619 Project for the New York Times, answered Senator Cotton’s criticism by saying, “If chattel slavery – heritable, generational, race-based slavery where it was legal rape, torture and sell human beings for profit – were a ‘necessary evil’… it’s hard to imagine what cannot be justified if it is a means to an end.”  Still awaiting Senator Cotton’s reply.

And so the struggle continues to cash that check, because as Dr. King said back then, “We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”

Staff Writer; Harry Sewell

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