By David Glenn Cox
We cannot measure the dimensions of the past with the rulers of today. In 1920, Henry Ford was voted as the third most important person in history behind Jesus Christ and Napoleon. Ford was a racist and virulent anti-Semite. What could those people have been thinking? Of course, Ford did help ignite the automobile industry creating millions of jobs and prosperity. The automobile freed millions of women from the farmhouse and allowed millions to go to school.
I recently wrote a series of articles using historical figures as analogies. I wrote about FDR, but the article was not about FDR. I got some unhinged messages, “Don’t you know what he did! He put the Japanese in concentration camps! He was a racist bastard!” Another offered, “You’re a stooge of the Capitalist imperialists! FDR was a marauding Capitalist!” In another article, I used the words and images of Winston Churchill. “Don’t you know what Churchill did! He let millions die of famine in India! He set the black and tan on the Irish. He was a racist and an Imperialist and you should be ashamed of yourself for posting his image!” Excuse me, but Time Magazine listed Churchill as the second most important person of the Twentieth Century warts and all.
Then there was Harry Truman. Don’t you know what he did? He dropped atom bombs on the Japanese! He’s guilty of genocide! On one night during WWII a B-29 raid firebombed Tokyo clearing twenty square miles of the city killing almost as many people as Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. But where is the outrage? All that was lacking were the mushroom clouds. I don’t mind criticism and I welcome comments, but you know what these protesters all had in common? None of them had read the articles; they had become outraged and unhinged over black and white photographs.
If they had read the articles, they would have seen that I used FDR as a starting point for how the political landscape has been changed. How Truman had fought for election against long odds and a partisan media buoyed by the crowds which just kept growing ever larger at his events. I used Churchill because like the British at Dunkerque, we too have our backs to the sea fighting a Fascist menace all alone. I wrote these articles to promote the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. If I could, I would send Bernie a check for a thousand dollars, but I don’t have a thousand dollars, I don’t have twenty dollars, I don’t have lunch money. So, I use what meager tools I can.
Martin Luther King was one of the greatest men of our times. His writings and teachings have changed the world and inspired generations to advocate for non-violent change, but he cheated on his wife repeatedly. Does that disqualify his teachings? Should the world scorn him for his moral lapse?
Henry Ford built millions of cars and never once thought about how it might affect the climate. Julius Caesar was wantonly cruel killing thousands and yet Shakespeare wrote a play about his murder. What was he thinking?
The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in territories in rebellion. How could Abe Lincoln have been so cruel? Slaves in Kentucky still labored in the field while in Tennessee the slaves had been freed. George Washington worked his slaves six days a week and Thomas Jefferson had sex with his slaves. Adam was but human, which explains all.
Jesus claimed to be the son of God. He healed the sick and raised Lazarus from the grave. Well, not exactly. Jesus healed a blind man and a leper but there were lots of blind men and lots of lepers. With a blink of his eye he could have thrown up his hands like Oprah and declared, “You’re all healed! Everyone is healed! You’re healed and you’re healed, and you can see! Why was Jesus so stingy? Historically it would have made no difference as the message would have been the same. But to the lepers and the blind of that day it made a big difference.
So, as we overturn the false idols and declare all admiration as heresy what about today? How will following generations view us? Provided that there are following generations. How will they judge a United States Senate that cleared a guilty President from wrongdoing? How will history judge a foul and despicable Fascist President? And how will history judge us? Our streets are filled with homeless, needing food and healthcare and yet we do so little. The bastard still locks children in cages and what are we doing about that? Our planet faces an existential climate crisis as millions watch Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey.
The French Revolution pulled a King from his throne and cut off his head. The French have had no further troubles from the nobility to this day. Without historical guideposts who then shall we follow? Who among us doesn’t live in a glass house and who among us doesn’t have a mote in our eye?
I have marched in the streets of Washington D.C. and I found it one of the most liberating activities of my life. I’ve also marched in Portland Oregon, but did we accomplish anything constructive? Maybe not, probably not, but we were there, and we were making our voices heard. We were petitioning our government for redress of grievances and perhaps it was just a practice run for the times ahead of us.
Perhaps there is another lesson for us. As Jesus carried his cross to Calvary he was mocked and scorned by the crowd. Martin Luther King was murdered as was Abe Lincoln and Gandhi, John Lennon and Malcom X. Watching TV is still safe, and the couch is comfortable. There will always be critics but what did you do to stop the Fascist takeover of the country daddy? Where you afraid you might be criticized?
My Grandfather was a union organizer in the thirties. He was beaten up and arrested many times. His children criticized him for leaving their mother at home alone while he sat in jail or attended Union meetings. They criticized him for their poverty during strikes. But because of his actions and the actions of those unafraid of criticism millions, literally millions of people had better lives and a chance to better themselves. Me, I’m going to volunteer for the Bernie Sanders campaign because I am more outraged by the state of this country than by black and white photographs of men dead over fifty years.