Saturday, June 24, 2017

Our history refined... truth be known

I am watching PBS' American Experience: The Great War. I used to think President Wilson a pragmatic pacifist, and a horribly racist man. While watching part II, I have discovered his administration was most expert at public manipulation that I suspect the Trump administration has emulated closely.

Prior to America's involvement in World War I, public sentiment was overwhelmingly against U.S. involvement. Once it became clear that mindset could not survive, Wilson's administration launched a public affairs effort to change the hearts and minds of Americans' attitudes.

Almost overnight, our government's stance changed from its isolationist, pacifist to one of aggressive participation. Propaganda posters and millions of leaflets were posted everywhere. To maximize the effort, the leaflets were published in English and 18 foreign languages.

Worse, President Wilson acted aggressively to squash public dissent with the passage of anti-espionage and sedition laws. Wilson would not permit public opinions that would endanger his efforts to bolster our military's ability to wage war.

It became clear to Wilson a strong effort to grow our military would be necessary. At the time, prior to our involvement in the "war to end all wars," the U.S. Armed Forces was ranked 18th in military might.

Conscription laws (the draft), long unpopular in our country (look at what happened during the Civil War--riots, imprisonment, and even public hangings were used to force those who wished not to fight or succumb to government policy).

Wilson's racist beliefs visibly manifested itself on the military registration card. The bottom left-hand corner had a tear-off section with the instruction that it be torn off IF the applicant was of African-American descent, thus formalizing (for the first time) a strictly segregated Army.

Blacks were seen as a problem. The thinly veiled belief was the fear made clear in a statement made by a US Senator from Mississippi that "once you draft a Negro man and give him a gun and tell him to fight with it, it is one short step for him thinking he should fight for his rights at home."

Pacifists and Conscientious objectors were characterized as unpatriotic and called "slackers." A movement to demonize Americans of German descent, even those whose ancestors had lived here as far back as the Revolutionary War, was put for both in public sectors as well as in government housing. German-Americans were forced to register letting the government know where they resided, worked and worshiped.

Encampments were created to house people who the government considered a threat to national security.

Does any of this sound familiar to today's readers?

The documentary is sobering. History books all t often white-wash our nation's past. One group shot photo showing the first battalions look like a lot like today's GOP (all white, all male).

I find all of this very troubling because 1) History classes in elementary and high school have not taught these events (or spent much time focusing on these particulars. 2) The documentary shows how easy we have been steered into war, and 3) How easy nationalism has shaped our behaviors and how we have treated minorities in times when our nation faced adversity.

The documentary is available for purchase... or go to your local library. I strongly urge you to watch this documentary to see our involvement in WWI and to see just how easy our government has found it to manipulate the public into going to war.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Vir has gone to the stars

Actor Stephen Furst Stephen Furst has died. He was a favorite of mine based on his performance as Vir Cotto on the science fiction program Babylon 5, but his career far predated that with his part in the movie Animal House and later on NBC-TV's St. Elsewhere.

Furst loved his fans and I have a funny story about Mr. Furst that will I forever hold dear. Ten years (or was it 15?) ago, my friend Sherri and I went to a Star Trek convention in Chicago. Furst was one of the scheduled guests. Back then I used to run nearly every day. Early that particular morning I slipped into the hotel gym and was running on the treadmill for about 15 minutes when Mr. Furst joined me on the treadmill next to mine.

I kept looking at him, thinking "I know this man, but from where?" ... and I could not figure it out... This went on for about 45 minutes. Silently, I left and went to my room and showered. After Sherri and I had breakfast we joined our friends from USS Magellan (a Star Trek group of which we were members at the time).

Later in the day, we went to the convention hall and spent our time listening to the guests speak. When Stephen Furst came on stage it dawned on me who he was.

Now here is why I did not recognize Mr. Furst, something he discussed while on stage, he had lost approximately 50 lbs. in an effort to better his health. He looked very different than his persona on B5.

At one point when he was taking questions from the audience, I stood up to ask him one and he stopped and pointed at me, "You! You're the dude that was running with me at the gym this morning!" When I nodded in the affirmative, and said, "Yes, that was me." He replied, "damn dude, you're a speed demon!"

I loved Mr. Furst on Babylon 5 and mourn his loss. He was a warm, personable comic actor. My condolences to his friends, colleagues, and family. He was 63 and passed away due to complications from diabetes. Rest in peace, sir.