Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mary Surratt and Crazy Horse

    Mary Surratt, a Maryland widow, was accused, tried, and hanged for conspiracy to kill President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. 

     Let us suppose a question:  Did she receive the due process guaranteed by the Bill of Rights?  In some sense, yes, due process was observed:  that is, there was a public trial -- very public, in fact.  But the probity of her accusers, and the judges, and the politicians who hired them -- well, that would raise other questions.  And her actual guilt would be yet another question.  Robert Redford's recent movie, The Conspirator, revisits that very disturbing (to me, at least) episode in American jurisprudence.  I urge you to watch that movie, if you haven't already.  (No, it is not a feel-good movie.)

     Twelve years later, Crazy Horse, the Sioux war chief, was in federal custody when he died "resisting arrest" in 1877.  A look at the sequence of events which preceded his death is likely to make you wonder whether "resisting arrest" was the crucial part of the story.

     I am aware that I can be accused of a kind of "disloyalty to America" by bringing up such painful episodes from the distant past.  After all, the Civil War had just ended and feelings were understandably high, in the case of Mrs. Surratt.  And after all, in the case of Crazy Horse, the death of Custer and his men at the Battle of Little Big Horn had occurred only the previous year.

     I should like to make two points.

     The first is that I am not blaming your ancestors, or mine, for what happened either to Mrs. Surratt or Crazy Horse.  (Not at this point, anyway.)  After all, the deaths were carried out by paid agents of the government, both military and civilian.  If I am talking about rank injustice and administrative murder, I am faulting the Federal establishment, in both cases.

     But the Constitution of the United States, with its very fine Bill of Rights that seeks to restrain injustice, was in full force at the time -- and yet that Constitution had no decisive power in the minds of the men who were the agents of the government that it created.  At the critical moments in these cases, control was firmly in the hands of morally-challenged politicians, party hacks, and men under military constraints.

     This is disturbing.  We cannot blame "Communist infiltrators" or "Nazi agents" or the "New World Order" for these aberrations -- this was long before their time.  We may have the finest Constitution in the world; but if our government -- who "derives its just powers from the consent of the governed," in the words of our own Declaration of Independence -- ignores the restraints of that Constitution whenever it feels the urge to do so, then we do not have a functioning constitution at all.  We kid ourselves if we think that we do.

     I proceed to the second point.

     Feelings did run high.   There were hundreds of thousands (millions?) of Americans who hated white Southerners enough, as a class, to engage in the protracted killing-crusade that was the Civil War.  There were hundreds of thousands (millions?) of Americans who agreed with "exterminating" the plains Indians (William T. Sherman's word), since their lands were "needed" for the great manifest-destiny-fulfilling transcontinental railroads.  And, it is possible -- by no means certain, but possible -- that one or two of our ancestors, yours and mine, were numbered among those people with those strong moral or patriotic feelings.

     Old prejudices take new forms in new generations.  Large numbers of Americans have hated, in their turn, the French, the British, the Spanish, the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, the Japanese, the Russians, the Vietnamese, just for being what they are -- people with a distinctive nationality.  Or, in the most recent case, the Muslims, people with a distinctive religion.

     Have you noticed that this antagonism is highest when "they" have something that "we" want?  Like land?  Or new "trading markets"?  Or a "native" population that "we" want to work for us, cheap?  Or oil?

     Have you noticed that very often this organized hostility (is hatred too strong a word when the end is murder?), whether ethnic or religious in motivation, is enthusiastically supported by men who claim to speak for God? 

     Right now, for instance, and for the last decade since "Nine-Eleven,"  the political church and the political parties have maintained an anti-Muslim, anti-human-rights media chorus that is so consistently on-message, and so consistently ignorant of countervailing realities, that it could lead you to wonder . . .

     Was the "Nine-Eleven Event" a staged hypocrisy?  Folks who have read my earlier posts know that I find persuasive evidence that the media-government story is false.  False, as in physically impossible.  And if the last decade has been a media-political charade, what is the truth that is so dark that it must be protected, in Churchill's words, by a "bodyguard of lies"?

     Who is complicit in this?  Who benefits?

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