When I remember the world I grew up in, I see the parts of it that were Paradise — and I also see all the little hells. I was a kid in California when it had the best public education system in the world and universities were nearly free and the economy was not so hard on people and the rich paid a lot of taxes. The weather was predictable and we weren’t thinking about it changing any time before the next ice age.
That was, however, the same California where domestic violence was not something the law took an interest in, where gays and lesbians were openly discriminated against, where almost all elected officials were white men, where people hadn’t even learned to ask questions about exclusion and racism.
Which is to say, paradises are always partial and, when you look backward, it’s worth trying to see the whole picture. The rights gained over the past 35 years were fought for, hard, while so much of what was neglected — including public education, tuition, wages, banking regulation, corporate power, and working hours — slid into hell.
For the aging Wall Street speculator stepping out for an evening to squander his investment in Viagra. For the damsel in distress shopping around for a nose like the one seen advertised in a painting by Botticelli. For the distracted child depending on a therapeutic jolt of Adderall to learn to read the Constitution. For the stationary herds of industrial-strength cows so heavily doped with bovine growth hormone that they require massive infusions of antibiotic to survive the otherwise lethal atmospheres of their breeding pens. Visionary risk-takers, one and all, willing to chance what dreams may come on the way West to an all-night pharmacy.
The war against human nature strengthens the fear of one’s fellow man. The red, white, and blue pills sell the hope of heaven made with artificial sweeteners.
|—||Lewis Lapham, the former editor of Harper’s Magazine and current editor of Lapham’s Quarterly, writes about drugs, alcohol and all sorts of intoxicants in “Drugs and the National Security State” at TomDispatch.com|
When the enemy was at Frederick, Maryland, Lincoln had made a “promise to myself, and…to my Maker” that “if God gave us the victory in the approaching battle, [I] would consider it an indication of Divine will” in favor of emancipation. Antietam was God’s sign that he “had decided this question in favor of the slaves.” Thus he intended to issue that day the proclamation warning Confederate states that unless they returned to the Union by January 1, 1863, their slaves “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
As Harold Holzer points out, there had been plenty of hints that something like this was forthcoming. Nevertheless, the proclamation landed like a bombshell on the American public. Republicans praised it, Democrats denounced it, some officers and soldiers in the Union army welcomed it, others including General George B. McClellan privately condemned it, many in the border states reprehended it, Southern whites ridiculed it, and blacks both free and slave thanked God and Abraham Lincoln for this righteous decree.
‘A Bombshell on the American Public’ by James M. McPherson
Photo: President Abraham Lincoln and General George McClellan (second from left) after the Battle of Antietam, October 3, 1862 (Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress)
We have returned to class war in conflicts around the world — including the Chicago Teacher’s Strike of 2012 and the Walmart protests in this country (which led to 1,197 actions nationwide in support of that company’s underpaid workers on Black Friday), as well as the great student uprisings in Quebec and Mexico City.
There has, of course, been a war against working people and the poor for decades, only we didn’t call it “class war” when just the rich were fighting hard. We called it corporate globalization, the race to the bottom, tax cuts and social-service cuts, privatization, neoliberalism, and a hundred other things. Now that the poor are fighting back, we can call it by its old name. Perhaps what the conservatives have forgotten is that if you return us to the grim divides and dire poverty of the nineteenth century, you might also be returning us to the revolutionary spirit of that century.
“Nick’s book makes for timely if extraordinarily painful reading, and I sat down with him recently to talk about the ongoing relevance of Vietnam, massacres, and secretly photocopying whole US government archives.” So writes Dan Denvir in prelude to an interview with me for VICE magazine about my new book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.
Read the full interview here: “The Secret History of the Vietnam War” | VICE