Have you ever heard that before? Maybe you feel the same way? I have always enjoyed history.
In fact, my undergraduate degree from Colorado State University was in history. That was many years ago and I am still a history buff. As citizens of this nation and the world in general, why is it important to know history? More importantly, why is it important to know and understand the particular history of America? Allow me to venture some thoughts.
Our history gives us a sense of the mistakes our politicians and government have made in the past. This allows us to consider not repeating them in the future. A good example of this was the Korean War. The war ended in a stalemate and divided the Korean peninsula into two countries North and South Korea. Should the United States consider another full scale war in Asia? Speaking to an audience of West Point Cadets, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who served in both the George W. Bush and Barrack Obama administrations made his opinion quite clear: “Any future defense secretary of defense who advises the president to send a big land army into Asia, or into the Middle East or Africa, should have his head examined,’ as General Douglas MacArthur so delicately put it”. That was what we learned from our involvement in the Korean War-No land war in Asia.
But we didn’t learn that lesson MacArthur warned us about. Since he spoke those words over 50 years ago, we still have a formidable military presence in Korea, we fought a losing war in Viet Nam, we invaded Iraq and still have troops there 15 years later, and we are sending more troops back into Afghanistan as you read this. Furthermore, the current occupant of the White House blows with the wind on the threats by North Korea. One day it is diplomacy. The next day it is saber rattling. Is he aware of the consequences of his actions? Does he understand the results of our history of governmental decisions on our nation?
Let’s look at another current issue for the United States and what our history tells us. What are we to do with the “Dreamers”? Those children of Mexican undocumented immigrants who came here with their parents. Consider if you moved from Colorado to Florida. Would you want to bring your children with you? Of course you would. However, you wouldn’t have to worry about bringing your children with you if you were a legal citizen of the United States. The key word here is “legal”. The argument for deporting the Dreamers is that they are here illegally and should be deported back to the country they have never known. Recently the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, made it quite clear. Dreamers are here illegally and must be deported even though the president has given Congress six months to come up with a solution. If they don’t Sessions will enforce the law and begin a roundup and deportation of the Dreamers.
Sessions has never been an advocate of minorities and much less immigrants. When he was a Senator from Alabama he had no record of supporting civil rights, he advocated a ban on Muslims coming into the country and agreed with Trump that the government must build a wall all along our border with Mexico. As the nominee to become the nation’s Attorney General he essentially lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee when was in the vetting process. He claimed to have taken an active role in the prosecution of four civil rights cases as Attorney General of Alabama. According to Justice Department attorneys and investigators, who worked those cases, he did nothing of the sort. Which brings us back to the question of “legality”. Sessions, in his strident announcement prior to the president’s final decision on the matter, reminded us that America “is a nation of laws and the laws of the land must be enforced.” I am paraphrasing a bit here, but that was the gist of what he said. It is true we are a nation of laws, most of which are passed by the representatives of the people. However what our history teaches us is we have not only made mistakes in making laws, but at times have been selective in how we enforced them. Several examples might suffice to make my point:
The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 essentially ended the war between the seven bands of the Lakota (Sioux) and the United States government. This treaty ended the hostilities often referred to as Red Cloud’s War. The Lakota had proven they could not be defeated by the United States Army. The treaty guaranteed the Lakota all the land west of the Missouri River and the Black Hills in Dakota Territory (present day South Dakota). When gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1873, an influx of whites invaded the Great Sioux Reservation. This resulted in continual violations of the treaty by white settlers, forcing the Lakota to renew hostilities. Despite the efforts of what one observer of the Lakota called, “the finest horse cavalry in the world”, the Native Americans could not defeat three field armies sent by the United States government. In the end, the Lakota were moved onto reservations here being that the The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 was the law of the land, the federal government failed to enforce it. The political consequences of doing so were too great. Are we to believe then that political consequences take precedence over the laws of the land?
Executive Order 9066 was an executive order signed by President Franklin Roosevelt giving the Secretary of War the authority to set up “military zones” in the continental United States and set up concentration camps for Japanese Americans, German Americans and Italian Americans. The actual impact of 9066 f ell on the Japanese Americans only forcing 120,000 of them into 10 major camps across the western United States. Japanese Americans had long been the target of target of prejudice and racially motivated terror. Long before Pearl Harbor these people were subjugated to laws preventing Asian Americans from owning land, voting, testifying against whites in court, and other racially discriminatory laws. 70% of the internees were American citizens the others legal immigrants. Despite an extensive investigation commissioned by the State Department and conducted by Curtis Munson in 1941 concluded “For the most part, the local Japanese are loyal to the United States or, at worst, hope that by remaining quiet they can avoid concentration camps or irresponsible mobs.” An earlier study performed by U.S. Naval intelligence officer Kenneth Ringle and submitted in January 1942, likewise found no evidence of subversive activity and urged against mass incarceration.
What then was the justification for the enactment and implementation of Executive Order 9066?
By 1944, President Roosevelt rescinded his executive order and the Japanese Americans were moved to resettlement camps. In 1980, U. S. President Jimmy Carter signed legislation to create the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians(CWRIC). The CWRIC was appointed to conduct an official governmental study of Executive Order 9066, related orders, and their impact on Japanese Americans in the West. The report determined that the decision to incarcerate was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership”. The report’s primary findings implied there was no justification for 9066. Once again we learn from our history that mistakes can be made by those who make the laws based on political considerations grounded in fear and prejudice.
Perhaps what we can learn from our history is that there are some questions we should answer before venturing down the legal path. In other words, given the four examples above, did or does any of them threaten the security and well being of our nation? Is there a moral imperative that supersedes legality? Are there political circumstances that justify a legal response?
Let’s take the first example of North Korea. Does North Korea pose a threat to the security and well being of the nation. The answer would be yes. Is there a moral imperative that would supersede taking legal action by Congress to declare war on North Korea. In my opinion there is. The potential for unimaginable death and destruction, and the end of the planet as we know it, is a real possibility. Who are we to make that decision for the rest of world. No amount of political posturing, tough talk and saber rattling will resolve the issue of North Korea. Diplomacy is the only option regardless of how well the president’s behavior fires up his base. Ultimately the only justification for war in Asia is if our nation is attacked first
The second example of the Dreamers is not as difficult to solve. Do the dreamers pose a threat to the security and well being of nation? Not hardly. Most are employed and paying taxes, going to K-12 schools or colleges, receive no federal benefits except a work permit and are not criminals, as suggested by some. At this point, to threaten the Dreamers with deportation after having the government’s approval to remain in the country seems immoral to me. The refusal of Congress to enact legislation for fear of reprisals at the ballot box by those who fear more Latinos having a path to citizenship is reprehensible in my opinion. And we can’t expect much from old racist and immigration cynic Jeff Sessions. He is still bound by the attitudes of the Deep South six decades ago!
The next two examples have the benefit of historical hindsight. Nonetheless, they provide significant understanding to our history, particularly when we apply the same set of questions offered above.
Did the Native Americans or the Japanese pose a threat to the nation’s security and well beings? Obviously the Lakota weren’t posing a threat. They were simply trying to defend their lands, granted by the federal government, from white interlopers. The Japanese Americans were not either given the investigation results conducted by the federal government which concluded they offered no threat at all. The morality of the decisions in both instances can certainly be questioned. And finally, political fear and expediency was present in both.
This is the longest post I have made to this blog. My fear is I have affirmed the title of this post. However, always the optimist, my hope would be that a knowledge of our history will cause you to think critically about the current issues facing our nation. It is obvious to me that many of our leaders have not and did not do that.