Some Millennials Think Government Censorship is Good. Who Could They Have Learned That From?

Two days ago, I saw a Pew Research Center study that someone had just shared on Facebook. According to the study, forty percent of Millennials support government restrictions on speech that is offensive to minorities, while fifty-eight percent oppose such censorship. While forty percent is still well below a majority, people from older generations support censoring bigoted speech at far lower rates. The person who posted this study wrote, “A large percentage of Europeans and US Millennials are anti-free speech.” It took me about ten seconds to figure out what was wrong with that statement. Rather than providing information about generational views of various types of censorship, the polling data cited only focused on hate speech. There are two huge problems with this methodology. It ignores the fact that there have been many instances of government censorship throughout American history, and very few of them have involved hate speech. It also ignores the fact that Americans in older generations might be more supportive than Millennials of certain types of censorship, even though Millennials are more likely to support censoring hate speech.

A glance at some examples in American history prove that censorship has often been a go-to response by the State when confronted with speech that government officials dislike. John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts that outlawed “false,” “scandalous,” or “malicious” statements about the government. The federal government and a number of Southern states during the 1800s passed laws restricting abolitionist petitions and other writings. Government officials including Francis Scott Key tried to prosecute abolitionists for exercising their free speech. In the 20th century, Woodrow Wilson signed legislation that, similarly to the legislation Adams signed, effectively banned criticism of the government. In 1940, The U.S. government also passed legislation outlawing any organization that advocated the overthrow of the federal government, regardless of whether or not the members of such organizations were involved in specific violent acts or merely believed that the government deserved to be overthrown. This legal principle, by the way, would mandate throwing Donald Trump in prison, since he has more or less stated that Hillary Clinton should be killed if she is elected. In the 1950s, the government outlawed the Communist Party. Similarly, for much of the 20th century, people could face legal penalties merely for desecrating an American flag. It was not until the Supreme Court intervened in 1990 that this censorship finally ended. Since then, there have been multiple attempts to reverse this decision via a constitutional amendment so that people may once again be fined or imprisoned for protesting the government. Conservatives have favored these amendments at higher rates than liberals. It seems to suggest that a new adage might be in order: When you’re offended, it’s called an outrage, when another (often nonwhite/female/LGBT) person gets offended, it’s called oversensitivity.

There have also been a number of obscenity laws in America, some of which still exist today. For example, there was the Comstock Law that banned people from circulating erotica through the U.S. Postal Service. Or the time the Supreme Court said that there was no First Amendment right to obscene material. Currently, we have a government agency called the FCC that censors television in order to protect children from the terrible damage that briefly spotting Janet Jackson’s nipple might wreak upon them.

Shouldn’t we consider the possibility that older Americans are not more anti-censorship than Millennials but are simply more supportive of censorship in some areas and less supportive of censorship in others? For example, might Generation Xers, Baby Boomers, and the elderly support bans on flag burning, pornography, or sexually explicit T.V. shows at a higher rate than Millennials? I do not have solid statistical evidence one way or the other, but my own gut feeling says “Absolutely.” In any case, until we have assessed this possibility, we should not be labeling Millennials as more “anti-free speech” than any other generation. In fact, some data from Pew Research Center published two days before the study referenced above underscores this point. According to the authors, “Internet freedom tends to be especially important to younger people, as well as to those who say they use the internet at least occasionally or own a smartphone.” They also point out that, “In 16 of the 38 countries surveyed, people ages 18 to 29 are more likely than those ages 50 and older to say that people should be able to make sexually explicit statements in public. And young people in Europe, Canada, the U.S., Australia, South Korea, Russia and Senegal are more supportive than their elders of the press being able to publish sensitive information about national security issues.” Look, I know it’s tempting to blame the latest generation for everything wrong in the world and try to say that they’re the worst group of people ever. But let’s try to stick to facts.

For the record, I strongly oppose government censorship, and that includes censorship of bigoted speech. Censoring bigots drives them underground and can create the illusion that bigotry is no longer a serious problem. Furthermore, there is a risk that more extreme, “fringe” bigoted statements will get censored while more mainstream and therefore more dangerous bigoted statements will be protected. But if we are going to have government censorship, censoring hate speech is far better than most types of censorship. For instance, a ban on flag burning significantly muzzles protests against the government and would put the U.S. on the verge of a police State. On the other hand, bigoted speech denigrates entire groups of people based on immutable traits and can encourage hate crimes as well as helping to fuel mental health issues among the victims of bigotry, up to and including suicide in certain cases. Again, in a free society, we must not use the government to censor bigots, but it would still be a lot less ridiculous than banning an Anarchist from burning a cloth with the government’s logo on it or banning a breast from being exposed during the Super Bowl.

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Dr. Putinlove: How A Lot Of Conservatives Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Russia

In the 1920s, ACLU founder Roger Nash Baldwin visited the Soviet Union. Baldwin was a left-wing Anarchist, in other words not exactly the type of person one would expect to praise a totalitarian state. Especially since Baldwin had rightfully fought against American conscription in World War I, and Russia gave working class men the “honor” of being forced into combat. Nonetheless, the tail wagged the dog. Baldwin gushed with praise at what he saw as the class equality in Russia in contrast to the ruthless capitalism of America. It would not be until Stalin cozied up to Hitler that Baldwin turned against the Soviet Union and became quite anticommunist. Baldwin learned his lesson far more quickly than many leftists. It was not altogether uncommon during the Cold War to see left wing Americans who fought admirably for civil rights and civil liberties in America feel extremely reluctant to condemn the Soviet Union. This problem was exacerbated by the official absence of racial discrimination in Russia, in contrast to the savage system of Jim Crow that received legal sanction until the 1960s and America’s longstanding reluctance to disassociate itself from the vicious Apartheid regime in South Africa. And Russia, which had its own history of ethnic cleansing against Jews, did provide us with “Red Westerns” that offered sympathetic portrayals of Native Americans and were a necessary corrective to the John Wayne-type fare.

Certainly, many civil libertarian leftists, Cold War liberal Democrats, and liberal Rockefeller Republicans took a strong anti-Soviet Union position. But the Right was far more unified than the Left against the Soviet Union, not primarily because of a fierce support for civil liberties but because the Soviet Union’s economic system was Communist, and its leaders a perceived threat to the U.S. Conservative politicians like Ronald Reagan could coddle brutal foreign governments such as South Africa and Iraq that were anticommunist,  but they could never coddle the Soviet Union. We all know what happened at the beginning of the 1990s. The Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union split apart, and Russian Communism died an inglorious death. Many conservatives still distrusted the Russian government. In 2008, John McCain stated that when he looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes, he saw the letters K, G, and B. In 2012, Mitt Romney stated that the U.S. must take a harder line against Putin. But apparently, at least when it comes to the American Right and Russia, to everything there is a season. And after 2012, things started to turn, turn, turn. In 2013, with Putin’s enthusiastic approval, Russia passed one of the most repressive antigay laws to be enacted in Europe in recent years. The law essentially makes it illegal to be an openly gay person in Russia and cracks down on gay adoptions. Russia had never been a particularly pleasant place to be a gay person. Homosexuality had been banned under the tsars, and after a brief respite, Stalin had brought the ban back with a vengeance. Post-Communism, Russia had generally lagged behind Western Europe on gay rights. But now, the Religious Right started to notice that as the United States was getting more liberal on gay rights, Russia was digging its heels in and passing harsher antigay legislation. The right-wing website WorldNetDaily devoted multiple columns to praising the antigay legislation. In one such column, the headline actually read: “Russia to Supplant U.S. As Human-Rights Leader.” Right-wing radio host and former American Family Association official, Bryan Fischer, called Putin a “lion of Christianity.”
“In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues,” Franklin Graham stated. “Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda … Isn’t it sad, though, that America’s own morality has fallen so far that on this issue – protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda – Russia’s standard is higher than our own?”

Because none of the people and institutions I mentioned, except for Franklin Graham, are exactly household names within conservatism, I did not necessarily see their statements as part of a larger trend until Donald Trump became the Republican presidential nominee. Furthermore, Democrats were often too congenial towards Putin as well. Democratic politicians generally failed to push for a trade freeze in response to Russia’s repressive policies. I love Bernie Sanders, I am proud to have voted for him, and I would happily do it again, but during the primaries, he made the absurd suggestion to team up with Russia against ISIS. Bernie Sanders is a strong, longtime ally to the LGBT community, but he failed to adequately take Russia’s homophobia into account with this proposal. But now Trump has gone far beyond Democrats in his friendly relations with Putin. He not only wants to ally with Putin, he has also praised the Russian leader, and tried to soft pedal Putin’s repression of journalists and brutal actions in Crimea. While promising to protect LGBT people from Islamic terrorists, he has nary a word to say about the persecution of LGBT people by Russia. Trump says that he has “always felt fine” about Putin and praised him as a leader. Trump’s response when asked about Putin’s violence against journalists and political opponents is telling: “I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe,” the Republican standard bearer said. “There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on. A lot of stupidity. And that’s the way it is. But you didn’t ask me [that] question, you asked me a different question. So that’s fine.” This sounds exactly like what an American Communist Party official would have said about Soviet repression during the Cold War. One of the funniest things about all of this is that Russia’s continued atrocities could provide former Cold Warriors with an opportunity to say that their criticisms of the country were correct. For example, now that Russia is no longer trying to appeal to disaffected American minorities and African and Asian nations as part of an effort to win the Cold War, we now see that Russia portraying itself as a land of racial equality was a con game. Large swathes of Russian spectators act like they are at a KKK rally during sporting events, to the point that the country’s ability to host the World Cup is in jeopardy. Athletes who engage in blatantly racist behavior are rewarded by Putin. Racial violence is rampant. But while some conservatives do draw attention to this, too many suddenly don’t seem to care about Russian atrocities anymore, because Putin is a “real leader.”

What all of this showcases is that for many conservatives, the Soviet Union was bad because it was Communist, not because it violated human rights and civil liberties per se. Certainly, plenty of conservatives still oppose the Russian government. But the most prominent, outspoken defenders of Russia now come primarily from the Right. Who would have imagined that thirty years ago?

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No, Donald Trump Doesn’t Like Gay, Black, or Native American People Either

Well, Donald Trump is the Republican nominee and will be taking on Hillary Clinton in November. I am certainly unhappy about this, but I cannot honestly say I dislike Trump more than George Bush or Mitt Romney or much more than John McCain. Nor do I feel that Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan or Ted Cruz would have been a better choice. This is not a compliment to Trump but rather a reflection of how much I despise the modern Republican Party with its bigotry and meddling in people’s lives. I wanted to devote this blog to discussing some of the less-talked about aspects of Trump’s bigotry. Most of the controversy has focused on his bigoted attitudes toward Muslims, Mexicans, women, and disabled people. His attitudes toward LGBT, black, and Native Americans have gotten comparatively little attention. This is a serious mistake. This post will catalogue Trump’s bigotry against these three groups.

African Americans: While it was never proven that Trump discriminated against black tenants in the 1970s, his various racist remarks about black people make one think he was probably guilty. There’s his birtherism, which was loaded with racial connotations. After all, how does it look when the first black president is accused of not being a “real American”? But the birtherism is far from the most anti-black thing that Trump has said. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I want to quote myself from the last year: “We should also not accept the narrative that racism is no longer a major problem in America. We got another reminder of this recently when Donald Trump tweeted, ‘Our great African American President hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore!’ This asinine tweet was favorited by over six thousand people. So in Trump’s warped mind, because President Obama is black, he is responsible for everything any black people do. Or something. Never mind that white individuals have rioted over sporting events. Or that a white man in Idaho just shot a cop to death. Does Trump blame these events on Bill Clinton?” It’s obvious why Trump did not get a black Republican to be his running mate–any black conservative who was offered the job would have been afraid that Trump would blame them for any riots that broke out during his presidency. There is also his weird back and forth on whether or not to disavow David Duke. And the fact that he referred to efforts to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the front of the twenty dollar bill as “pure political correctness.” Finally, back in November, Trump tweeted a bogus graphic stating that 81% of white murder victims in America were killed by black people. The correct figure is about 15%. When Bill O’Reilly actually confronted Trump about this, the Billionaire casually deflected responsibility by asking, “Am I gonna check every statistic?” and insisting, “All it was is a retweet. It wasn’t from me. And it did – it came out of a radio show and other places.” Oh, and about black people supposedly loving Trump? Polls taken this year have repeatedly shown him winning anywhere from twelve percent of the black vote to just one percent. Al Gore got ninety-two percent. I wouldn’t be bragging about this if I were Trump.

Gay People: Here, Trump has benefited from the fact that because the GOP is so rabidly homophobic, a candidate such as himself can be blatantly homophobic and still look moderate by comparison. Yes, he is less homophobic than a lot of Republicans, but that’s like saying a colonoscopy is less unpleasant than a fecal transplant. Despite his extramarital affairs and divorces, he has repeatedly stated that he opposes same-sex marriage. And unlike some Republicans, he does not consider it a settled issue in light of last year’s Supreme Court ruling. When asked if he would appoint judges who would overturn the ruling, Trump said, “I would strongly consider that, yes.” He has also promised to champion “right to discriminate” legislation if Congress considers it a priority, flip flopped after initially criticizing Kim Davis, and told a right-wing Christian audience that “marriage and family” are under attack. After singing Trump’s praises for months, the Log Cabin Republicans have now admitted that the Republican Party’s 2016 platform is extremely anti-gay. That’s not a bug of Trump’s campaign. It’s a feature.

Native Americans: Whether he’s trying to expand one of his businesses or going to the mat for the country’s first Democratic president, Trump manages to find time to denigrate Native Americans. As The Huffington Post points out, “While fighting against a proposed Native American casino in New York that would have competed against his Atlantic City properties, Trump took out anonymous ads featuring photos of ‘drug paraphernalia’ whose copy read, ‘Are these the new neighbors we want?’ It continued: ‘The St. Regis Mohawk Indian record of criminal activity is well documented.'” And his remarks about Jackson and Tubman were not just dismissive of the historical experiences of black people. They were also a slap in the face to Native Americans whose ancestors were displaced by Jackson’s ethnic cleansing.

 

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Do Our Lives Belong to the State? Why Selective Service Must End

Last week, I signed a petition to eliminate the requirement to register for Selective Service in the United States. This is an issue that I have been interested in for over a decade, but it has only recently been getting traction. The reason? Attempts to require women to register for the draft are increasingly gaining momentum. On the one hand, it is insulting and discriminatory toward both men and women to require only young men to register for the draft. On the other hand, it is a strange victory for feminism when women previously free from the possibility of conscription are now at risk of being forced to fight in whatever war the United States government deems expedient. The possibility of women being drafted has gotten many more people thinking about whether or not the government should have a right to draft anyone. As I have made clear before, I believe that the answer is “no.” While I understand that good, reasonable people can come to different conclusions on this, I submit that it is morally impermissible for the government to basically compel people to die for them. An inescapable implication of conscription is that our lives belong to the State and that the State decides when we have to put them on the line and possibly die. This is utterly inconsistent with a free society. It is especially egregious when the government engages in unnecessary wars, because it means that conscripts will be forced to die needlessly. It also forcibly separates people from their homes and families and is undergirded by the idea that all people are emotionally fit for military training and service, a clearly preposterous idea. Finally, it imposes yet another burden on people such as LGBT Americans and racial minorities, who have already suffered so much exploitation in this country, by forcing them to fight at the pleasure of a government that has often been downright hostile to them. However, since as mentioned earlier, good people can disagree about the draft, I would like to address some of the most common arguments in favor of it:
1. A Draft is Necessary in Case of Emergency

There are two reasons why this argument fails. The first is that it could be used to defend any of the worst features of a totalitarian police State. In his speech explaining his vote against the Patriot Act, Senator Russ Feingold declared, “Of course, there is no doubt that if we lived in a police state, it would be easier to catch terrorists. If we lived in a country that allowed the police to search your home at any time for any reason; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations, or intercept your email communications; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to hold people in jail indefinitely based on what they write or think, or based on mere suspicion that they are up to no good, then the government would no doubt discover and arrest more terrorists. But that probably would not be a country in which we would want to live. And that would not be a country for which we could, in good conscience, ask our young people to fight and die. In short, that would not be America.” The same basic point applies to the military draft, and, indeed, Feingold voted to eliminate Selective Service during his time as a Senator. The second problem with this argument for the draft is that it assumes that only a minuscule number of people will actually enlist to fight in a legitimate case of emergency. In actuality, the wars in which governments have had trouble finding enough people to fight have usually been unnecessary wars. One of the rare exceptions would be the case of the North during the American Civil War. The North had difficulty getting enough volunteer soldiers as the war went on because so many white Northerners were relatively apathetic to the fate of black slaves, despite the federal government’s stance that the war was necessary to preserve the union. The fact that the United States has never before or since fought an internal war due to certain states trying to secede to obstruct human rights demonstrates the unusual nature of the Civil War. And the Confederacy also instituted a military draft, further reminding us that governments often use conscription to provide boots on the ground for bad causes.

2. A Draft Is Fairer to Minorities and the Poor

This argument has existed since at least the Vietnam War. Some people who have voiced it, such as the late Senator Ted Kennedy, have been sincere. Others, such as retired Senator Ernest Hollings, a former segregationist, have had less than noble motivations. Let’s look at the first part of the argument, that the draft is fairer to racial minorities. Surely, if economic circumstances are causing young nonwhite Americans to be more likely than white Americans to join the military, that is a problem of racial inequality, not an all-volunteer military. Furthermore, the draft itself was grossly unfair to racial minorities, forcing them to fight for a country that denied them equal rights. As I examined in a research essay for one of my MA courses last year, a significant number of African Americans resisted the draft when it was in place. As for the part of the argument that the draft is fairer to the poor, this also withers under closer scrutiny. The draft in the United States has historically been riddled with loopholes that favor middle and upper class Americans. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, conscripts could literally buy their way out of the draft legally. The Confederacy allowed “one person as agent, owner or overseer on each plantation of twenty negroes” or more to be exempted from the draft. In the twentieth century, student deferments kept the burden of the draft disproportionately on people too poor to afford college. Professional athletes and sons of politicians and wealthy businessmen got to serve in “champagne units” where they were at significantly lower risk than other draftees. Furthermore, why doesn’t this argument get applied to other professions? Chances are, relatively few Americans from wealthy families become cops or firefighters, yet nobody advocates forcing everyone to spend time working in those jobs. Finally, there is the elephant in the room that any reinstatement of the draft will necessarily force a lot of poor and minority people into the military who are currently not enlisted.

3. The Draft Would Make It Harder to Start Wars

The argument goes that politicians and affluent civilians feel shielded from the sacrifices of soldiers and are therefore more willing to support wars than they would be if their children had to fight. Putting aside the fact that it’s pretty clear their children wouldn’t have to fight, there is an excellent way of proving this claim false. Far more American soldiers died in the Vietnam War than in the War on Terror. The same point holds true for World War I and the Korean War, two other unnecessary wars fought with conscription in place. How can it be true that a draft makes Americans less likely to put up with war if far more American soldiers have died with the draft in place? The fact is that since the draft stopped being active in the 1970s, the U.S. has not been involved in any war with casualties approaching anything close to the level they were during Vietnam. A big reason for this is probably that the government knows that if casualties in an unnecessary war ever again reach Vietnam-levels, enlistment rates will plummet.

Selective Service must be ended. And legislation ending it should include a clause preventing state or local governments from conscripting people, as state militias did before the Civil War. But I have a suggestion for if the draft is ever actually reinstated. I have noticed that some people who have no military background and are too old to be drafted would like to bring back conscription. Any politician who votes to reinstate the draft and does not have a military background or an equivalent background of service such as participation in the Peace Corps or Freedom Rides, ought to be drafted themselves. No matter their age or physical condition. And a portion of these politicians should be placed on the front lines, commensurate with the percentage of regular draftees who fight on the front lines. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

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The Toxic Nature of Bigotry

By now, all of you know that an Islamic fundamentalist named Omar Mateen shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing forty-nine people and injuring fifty-three others.  Based on statements from those who knew him, his religious fundamentalism, and the location of the shooting, it is clear that Mateen was motivated by homophobia and probably internalized self-hatred due to the fact that he was a closeted gay man. It is impossible to overstate the sheer brutality of this violence, and my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their friends and families. I have long believed that bigoted statements and actions can help create mindsets that motivate hate crimes. People who grow up in societies where the laws and/or culture denigrate people based on sexual orientation, race, gender, etc. or who are raised by parents with bigoted attitudes may one day take these warped values to the extreme and commit murder. These points, among other points, are important to remember when someone asks, “What’s the big deal about a homophobic baker denying a gay couple a cake?” or “Why was it so important to legalize gay marriage if gay people could get all the same benefits with civil unions?” There’s a line in the memoir, Night, by Elie Wiesel that has also resonated with me. When Hitler passed a law requiring all German Jews to wear a yellow star, Wiesel’s father tried to assuage Jewish fear and anger by saying, “The yellow star? So what? It’s not lethal …” Wiesel reflected, “Poor father! Of what then did you die?” The point here is that once you sanction discrimination, there is  no clear endpoint past which you can say discrimination is no longer acceptable. A society that bans same-sex marriage one day (as Hitler banned Jewish-Gentile marriage in 1935) may one day start killing gay people en masse. The slope of bigotry and discrimination is one of the slipperiest in existence.

The bigotry and self-hatred that motivated Mateen was probably bolstered from multiple sources. One source is Islamic fundamentalism. And as I discussed here, homophobia is rampant in mainstream Islam. Only a tiny number of Muslims practice violence against gay people, but many more support the basic bigoted assumptions of Mateen, and homosexuality is illegal in many Muslim countries and a capital crime in some. But what I also brought up in that blog was that not all Muslims are homophobic. Some Muslims are as supportive of gay rights as anyone. By tarring all Muslims with the same brush, we insult people such as London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, former NBA player Kareem Abdul Jabbar, scholar Reza Aslan, Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj, and the Muslim leaders described here. We insult Muslims who are themselves gay. Nevertheless, trying to explain away the role that mainstream Islam–because homophobic fundamentalism is not on the margins of the religion–plays in promoting bigotry is obfuscating part of the problem. We must also look at the rampant homophobia in American society in general, promoted by groups such as the Republican Party, the Roman Catholic Church, and evangelical Protestantism. Our largest religious denominations treat gay people as second-class citizens. In the Republican Party, anti-gay bigotry is not the exception. It is the norm. A Republican candidate has to bow before the shibboleths of homophobia if he or she wants any hope of winning the party’s presidential nomination. In many states, including Florida, businesses are permitted to discriminate based on sexual orientation. In all too many cases, gay taxpayers are forced to relinquish their hard-earned money to institutions that discriminate against them. Until just twelve years, some states, again including Florida, still had sodomy laws. Marco Rubio was on television to decry the shooting. That’s great, but it’s a little hollow coming from a man who has said gay parents are unfit to adopt or foster children, that businesses should be allowed to discriminate, and that he wants to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality. We all have a role to play in addressing bigotry in our society, and Rubio’s way has always been to try and make it worse. Jeb Bush decried the shooting on Twitter. I realize that he’s been trying to portray himself as a moderate, sensible Republican these days, but under Bush’s governorship, Florida had one of the strictest anti-gay adoption laws in the country, and he defended it. He has consistently opposed same-sex marriage. In the 1990s, he stated that gay rights would “create another class of victims.” Florida’s current Governor Rick Scott has consistently opposed marriage equality and refused to issue an executive to prevent state employees from being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Donald Trump is using the shooting to try and generate support for his proposal to ban all Muslim immigrants, but he has said he hopes to appoint Supreme Court judges who will rescind gay marriage and spoke to a conservative Christian audience days ago about “marriage and family” supposedly being under attack. Every minute that people spend arguing about whether Christian or Muslim homophobia should get more attention is a distraction from the larger issue: bigotry. Bigotry is the disease. For some people, Islam is the vessel. For others, it is Roman Catholicism. For others, it is evangelical Protestantism. For others, it is any number of religions or no religion at all. I am thrilled that Anderson Cooper grilled Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on her own history of homophobia, and I think more people need to be castigating homophobic politicians this way. All of us who believe in equality and fair treatment for people regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex must say “enough.” No more discrimination. No more bigotry. No more hate crimes. Bigoted/hate speech should not be censored unless it includes direct threats. A free society must allow even repugnant views to be expressed. And censoring people who advocate bigotry and hate will simply drive them underground and make it harder to identify them. But we must make it clear that there will be no treating the beliefs of bigots with respect or allowing those beliefs to be reflected in our laws.

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Should President Obama Have Apologized at Hiroshima? Part 2

Conspiracy theories abound as to why Truman ordered the bombings. I once heard of a theory that Truman may have been motivated by anti-Asian racism. While there is good evidence to suggest that Truman was racist against Asian people, as well as Jewish and black people, it is a great leap to use this as an explanation for him dropping the bombs. After all, Herbert Hoover lamented that, “the use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul,” while also calling black and Asian people “lower races” and arguing that the offspring of white-Asian relationships were inferior to both parents. If Hoover’s anti-Asian racism did not affect his view of the bombings, it makes little sense to assume that Truman’s racism affected his decision. Some people believe that in order to prevent Japan from being divided up like Germany, Truman wanted to ensure that the war would end before the Soviet Union entered the Pacific Theater. This position, it must be noted, would mean that there was no conspiracy involved in demanding unconditional surrender, then backpedaling. If Truman wanted to end the war as quickly as possible, it would make little sense to intentionally do anything that might prolong it, including demanding unconditional surrender. Another theory is that the bombings were a display of strength, essentially done to let Stalin know what could happen to Russia if he pushed the United States too far. Ultimately, those wanting to form an opinion on whether bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary militarily will have to consult scholars with more knowledge of World War II military history. I sadly do not have a comprehensive knowledge of the arguments that the bombings were a necessity to win the war, as I am far more of a sociopolitical-intellectual historian than a military one.

Given that the bombings were morally unjustified and of ambiguous military necessity, who, if anyone, should receive an apology? Certainly not the nation of Japan itself. The United States did bear some degree of responsibility for the tensions between the two countries that helped lead to a war, but Japan was far from blameless. Japan engaged in viciously imperialistic behavior in the 1930s and 1940s and attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor. And given the Japanese government’s willingness to kill civilians at Pearl Harbor, to say nothing of other atrocities like the Bataan Death March and the Comfort Women Program, there is little doubt that Hirohito would have been happy to order atomic bombs dropped on New York City, Washington, D.C., or San Francisco if given the opportunity. What happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was wrong, but it was different from other American atrocities such as slavery and ethnic cleansing of Native Americans in terms of the context. Instead, the U.S. should apologize to the civilians who were hurt or killed by the 1945 bombings, as well as their descendants, including those still suffering from radiation poisoning. These civilians were not responsible for the actions of their emperor or military, and those actions did not justify harming them. They deserve a heartfelt apology from the United States.

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Should President Obama Have Apologized at Hiroshima? Part 1

Recently, President Obama delivered a speech at Hiroshima regarding the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States in 1945. The speech, as expected, turned out to be rather controversial. Some people would have liked to have seen him apologize on behalf of the U.S. government for dropping the bombs. Others are furious due to believing that the speech was too contrite. While Obama hinted that maybe, just maybe, dropping the bombs was wrong, there was clearly nothing in the speech that constituted an apology. To say otherwise is, in my view, to misunderstand the basic thrust of the speech: regret, not apologizing. He never said the words “sorry,” “apologize,” “apology,” or “wrong.” Instead, he expressed regret for the carnage wrought by the bombings and hope for a better future. But should he have apologized? To determine that, we have to look at three distinct questions. The first is whether the bombings were morally justified. The second is whether they were necessary from a pragmatic, military standpoint to end the war. The third is who the apology would be made to if indeed an apology is due.

The concept of “total war,” in which the destruction of civilian lives and property is accepted as par for the course, is one of the many things that most people are more likely to deem necessary for other societies than their own. I suspect that many Southerners who resent the burning of Southern cities like my hometown, Atlanta, would say that the dropping of the atomic bombs in Japan was a moral necessity. “It ended the war,” they would say, “prevented Japan from taking over, and saved many lives in the long run.” Of course, burning Southern cities probably ended the Civil War and slavery faster and may have prevented more loss of life overall. Many people also condemn the actions of people like Nat Turner and John Brown, because their attempts at slave rebellions resulted in innocent people dying. What William T. Sherman, who cared little for the troubles of slaves, and abolitionists Turner and Brown have in common is that they waged total war on Americans. I fear that all too many people think that civilians in other countries should be subjected to total war, while Americans should never be. This is actually one of the most compelling arguments against bombing civilian targets. Frederick Douglass once said that, “There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven who does not know that slavery is wrong for him.” It could also be said that there is not a person beneath the canopy of heaven who does not know that it would be wrong for them to be a civilian casualty. The argument that the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would themselves have resisted American soldiers out of loyalty to Hirohito if the U.S. military had invaded fails to hold water. In order for this argument to work, it would be necessary to know that every single Japanese civilian killed or exposed to radiation via the bombings would have resisted American forces. This, of course, is impossible to demonstrate.

The question of whether the bombings were necessary from a pragmatic military standpoint to end the war without large numbers of extra casualties is more difficult to answer. Some scholars have maintained that Japan was determined to fight to the finish despite the defeat of Germany and that hundreds of thousands more American soldiers would have died in an invasion of Japan. While they have not proven this point, they have certainly presented some evidence to back it up, and for the last seventy years or so, it has been impossible to definitively refute or corroborate it. Significant evidence exists to support the alternative view, however. None other than General Dwight Eisenhower declared, “The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” Was Eisenhower at all influenced by his political rivalry with Truman to lie about this point after the fact? It is true that in 1948, when the relatively apolitical Eisenhower’s party affiliation was not widely known, some Democrats tried to get him to run against Truman in the Democratic primary. And in 1952, Eisenhower ran against Adlai Stevenson to replace Truman, becoming the first Republican president in twenty years and leaving office far more popular than his predecessor. Thus, it is not inconceivable that Eisenhower would have wanted to make Truman look bad. The same may be said of Douglas MacArthur, who also disliked Truman, was eventually fired by him, and appears to have opposed the bombings. More compelling are statements from Admiral William D. Leahy, who asserted, “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.” One wonders how conservatives would have reacted if Obama had included in his speech another quote from Leahy: “The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.” Finally, it looks quite suspicious that, prior to the bombs being dropped, the United States insisted on unconditional surrender, then allowed Emperor Hirohito to keep his position after Japan surrendered. The decision to allow Hirohito to remain symbolically in power is nearly impossible to justify, given his atrocities, but it also begs a question: if they were going to allow Hirohito to keep his throne, why did the U.S. possibly prolong the war by refusing to offer this concession in negotiations before the bombs were dropped?

 

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