Category Archives: Social Justice

Social justice includes human rights, the peace movement, labor organizing, etc.

November 27, 1950 (a Monday)

On this date, a Senate subcommittee released a report entitled, “Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government”, that sanctioned homophobia by the federal government in harsh, offensive terms. After running through one stereotype after another and saying that gay people “must be treated as transgressors,” the report rendered the panel’s conclusion:

In the opinion of this subcommittee homosexuals and other sex perverts are not proper persons to be employed in Government for two reasons; first, they are generally unsuitable and second, they constitute security risks.

It’s true that gay men and lesbians in the closet of a homophobic world could be blackmail targets. But the Senate report went way beyond that possibility in rationalizing blatant discrimination:

The lack of emotional stability which is found in most sex perverts, and the weakness of their moral fiber, makes them susceptible to the blandishments of the foreign espionage agent.

Lest one think this represents more bark than bite, the report says “that between January 1, 1947, and August 1, 1950, approximately 1,700 applicants for Federal positions were denied employment because they had a record of homosexuality or other sex perversion.”

Another report, from March 1950, was titled “Employment of Moral Perverts by Government Agencies.”

By March 1950 Republicans were calling for an investigation of the homosexuals in government problem. When President Truman's loyalty board refused, political cartoons like this one from the Washington Times-Herald,the city's most widely read newspaper, accused Truman of protecting "traitors and queers."

By March 1950 Republicans were calling for an investigation of the homosexuals-in-government problem. When President Truman’s loyalty board refused, political cartoons like this one from the Washington Times-Herald, the city’s most widely read newspaper, accused Truman of protecting “traitors and queers.”

Nineteen-fifty was also the year that Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed 205 communists were working in the State Department. The State Department responded by denying that it had uncovered any communists in its ranks, but Undersecretary of State John Peurifoy admitted that it had fired 91 homosexuals. To the public, this seemed to confirm McCarthy’s charges. In the popular imagination, communists and homosexuals were soon conflated. Both seemed to comprise hidden subcultures with their own meeting places, cultural codes, and bonds of loyalty. In the 1950s, fear of political and sexual deviance became intertwined.

McCarthy hired Roy Cohn — who some claim was a closeted homosexual — as chief counsel of his Congressional subcommittee. Together, McCarthy and Cohn were responsible for the firing of scores of gay men from government employment, and strong-armed many opponents into silence using rumors of their homosexuality.

U.S. security officials were concerned that many gay men and lesbians who were fired from the State Department were finding employment in the United Nations and other international organizations. They were afraid that McCarthy and his allies might expose this situation and so they put extreme pressure on these organizations to copy the anti-gay employment policies of the U.S. government. They also pressured America’s NATO allies to exclude homosexuals from sensitive positions within their governments.

However, although a congressional committee spent several months in 1950 studying the threat homosexuals allegedly posed to national security, they could not find a single example of a gay or lesbian civil servant who was blackmailed into revealing state secrets – not one. Subsequent studies have confirmed this. But the myth of the homosexual as vulnerable to blackmail and therefore a security risk endured for decades.

The term for this anti-homosexual persecution was popularized by David K. Johnson’s book on it, The Lavender Scare (2004) which drew its title from the term “lavender lads” used repeatedly by Sen. Everett Dirksen as a synonym for homosexuals. In 1952 he said that a Republican victory in the November elections would mean the removal of “the lavender lads” from the State Department. The phrase was also used by Confidential magazine, a periodical known for gossiping about the sexuality of politicians and prominent Hollywood stars.

The Senate subcommittee’s report from November 1950, according to a Justice Department legal brief filed in July 2011 in the case of a federal court employee seeking health benefits for her same-sex wife, led President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 to issue Executive Order 10450, “which officially added ‘sexual perversion’ as a ground for investigation and possible dismissal from federal service.””

Advertisements

November 27, 1940 (a Wednesday)

Bruce Lee

On this date, Chinese-American martial artist, actor, filmmaker, writer, and philosopher (Bruce) Lee Jun Fan was born in the hour of the Dragon (between 6:00 and 8:00 am) in the year of the Dragon (according to the Chinese zodiac) at the Jackson Street Hospital in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  Today, a plaque in the hospital’s entry commemorates the place of his birth.  His father was in San Francisco while on tour with the Cantonese Opera at the time, so Bruce Lee was actually raised at the family home in Hong Kong.  It was there at the age of 13 that Bruce began his first formal training in martial arts with Master Yip Man, who taught the Wing Chun style of gung fu (or kung fu).

One of Bruce’s recollections of his many training experiences with Yip Man is personally significant to me. It is from an essay he wrote for one of the courses he took while a student at the University of Washington (I have added emphasis to relevant parts):

About four years of hard training in the art of gung fu, I began to understand and felt the principle of gentleness – the art of neutralizing the effect of the opponent’s effort and minimizing expenditure of one’s energy. All these must be done in calmness and without striving. It sounded simple, but in actual application it was difficult. The moment I engaged in combat with an opponent, my mind was completely perturbed and unstable. Especially after exchanging a series of blows and kicks, all my theory of gentleness was gone. My only one thought left was somehow or another I must beat him and win.

My instructor Professor Yip Man, head of the Wing Chun School, would come up to me and say, “Loong [Bruce], relax and calm your mind. Forget about yourself and follow the opponent’s movement. Let your mind, the basic reality, do the counter-movement without any interfering deliberation. Above all, learn the art of detachment.”

That was it! I must relax. However, right there I had already done something contradictory, against my will. That was when I said I must relax, the demand for effort in “must” was already inconsistent with the effortlessness in “relax.” When my [frustration grew], my instructor would again approach me and say, “Loong, preserve yourself by following the natural bends of things and don’t interfere. Remember never to assert yourself against nature; never be in frontal opposition to any problem, but control it by swinging with it. Don’t practice this week. Go home and think about it.”

The following week I stayed home. After spending many hours in meditation and practice, I gave up and went sailing alone in a junk. On the sea, I thought of all my past training and got mad at myself and punched at the water. Right then at that moment, a thought suddenly struck me. Wasn’t this water, the very basic stuff, the essence of gung fu? …That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water…I lay on the boat and felt that I had united with Tao; I had become one with nature.

Master Yip Man essentially guided Bruce to the spiritual aspect of gung fu, an aspect which back in the late 1950s was, and still is, for the most part omitted by martial arts instructors teaching in the United States.  Not only was Bruce attracted to the spiritual aspect of the martial art, he pursued it with great fervor. It was the single factor, even above and beyond his physical prowess and expertise, which made him incredibly unique, and subsequently highly sought after.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

In 1959, at the age of 18, Bruce returned to the United States, invoking for the first time his citizenship from having been born there, to further his education.  After a brief sojourn in San Francisco, he moved to Seattle where he enrolled in 1961 in the University of Washington, majoring in philosophy.  It was here that he began to train students in the art of Chinese gung fu.  With the help of several local television appearances and public demonstrations, Bruce began to give instruction to all Americans — regardless of race, creed, or national origin. Even while growing up in Hong Kong, Bruce had experienced his fair share of prejudice and discrimination.  This led him to become involved in the martial arts for both mental and physical self-preservation.  He often spoke to his friend, Taky Kimura, of the way the British officers looked down upon and mistreated the Chinese.  From this background, Bruce swore to use the martial arts as a tool to express his ultimate desire: to create equality among the peoples of the world.

Bruce Lee

In Seattle, Bruce met his future wife, Linda, and opened his first school, the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute.  He later opened a branch in Oakland, California.

For historical reasons, Chinese in the early 1960s, particularly in America, were reluctant to disclose the secrets of their martial arts to Caucasians. In fact, it had become an unwritten law that the art should be taught only to Chinese. Bruce considered such thinking completely outmoded.  So in 1964, the elders of the San Francisco Chinatown community nominated Wong Jack Man, a local gung fu expert, to challenge Bruce to a contest. For both fighters, the stakes were high: if Bruce lost, he would be duty-bound to either close his school or stop teaching Kung Fu to Westerners; if Wong lost, he would be similarly bound to stop teaching indefinitely. When the time for the fight came around, Wong, intimated by Bruce’s fearsome reputation, tried to delay the match and then to impose restrictions on the techniques which could be used. Bruce was furious and insisted that the fight be a “no-holds-barred” contest. When the match finally took place, Bruce defeated his opponent quickly and easily using his refined Wing Chun technique.  From that point forward, the San Francisco martial arts community never again dared to threaten Bruce directly.

[picapp src=”7/2/4/d/Lee_In_The_bde9.jpg?adImageId=7110604&imageId=3603115″ width=”457″ height=”594″ /]

Despite his ease of victory, Bruce was still concerned that he took too long to defeat his opponent in the Oakland fight.  He quickly began to develop new ideas about martial arts and training based on many of his own experiences, leading him to create his own art called Jeet Kune Do.

Bruce Lee’s name in Chinese.

Interestingly, John Little states that Bruce was an atheist. When asked in 1972 what his religious affiliation was, Bruce replied “none whatsoever.”  Also in 1972, when asked if he believed in God, he responded, “To be perfectly frank, I really do not.”

On January 6, 2009, it was announced that Bruce’s Hong Kong home (41 Cumberland Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong) will be preserved and transformed into a museum by philanthropist Yu Pang-lin.

References:

  • Bruce Lee and John Little, The Tao of Gung Fu: A Study in the Way of Chinese Martial Art, (Tuttle Publishing, 1997), p. 16.
  • Linda Lee, Jack Vaughn, and Mike Lee, The Bruce Lee Story, (Black Belt Communications, 1989) pp. 37-39, 51-53.
  • John Little, The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee to Better Understand the World around You and Achieve a Rewarding Life, (Contemporary Books, 1996) p. 128.

November 12, 1900 (a Monday)

Edward Alsworth Ross

On this date, the economist and sociologist Edward Alsworth Ross was forced to resign from Stanford University as Professor of Sociology. This intrusion on academic freedom, which partly led to the founding of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), clearly mixed not only intramural and extramural speech but also disciplinary and non-disciplinary speech.

In 1896, Ross endorsed the idea of free silver in a pamphlet and spoke in public on behalf of the Democratic presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan. Leland Stanford, the university’s founder, had died and left control of the institution to his widow Jane. She was offended at Ross’ break with Republican orthodoxy and demanded that he be fired. The university president managed to secure a delay and a sabbatical for Ross to provide a cooling off period.

On his return in 1900, however, Ross extended his public persona to include a condemnation of Chinese immigration which mixed labor issues with issues of race. In his words:

I tried to show that owing to its high Malthusian birth rate the Orient is the land of “cheap men,” and that the [Chinese immigrant worker], though he cannot outdo the American, can underlive him [in other words, because Chinese immigrants are racially disposed to work for lower wages, they are able to displace the native workers]. I took the ground that the high standard of living that restrains multiplication in America will be imperiled if Orientals are allowed to pour into this country in great numbers before they have raised their standard of living and lowered their birth-rate. I argued that the Pacific is the natural frontier of East and West, and that California might easily experience the same terrible famines as India and China if it teemed with the same kind of men. In thus scientifically co-ordinating the birth-rate with the intensity of the struggle for existence I struck a new note in the discussion of Oriental immigration, which, to quote one of the newspapers, “made a profound impression.”

I quote Ross at length to show that Ross, although his racism and his deplorable and misguided defense of it were not peculiar to him and were actually quite common among influential “progressives” of the time, was no angel. Somewhat obsessed with race, Ross was of course convinced that “the blood now being injected into the veins of our people is sub-human”; the newer immigrants were “morally below the races of northern Europe”; and that it all would end in “Race Suicide”.

Jane Lothrop Stanford was outraged, not because of Ross’s racism but because the Stanford fortune had been built on Chinese labor. Now he was out of a job.

Professional economists and some of the future founders of the AAUP came to Ross’s defense, despite the fact that while the 1896 comments were partly within his area of expertise, at least insofar as an economist was qualified to comment on the gold standard, the 1900 remarks were clearly not, since they went beyond commenting on Chinese labor to include a plea for Anglo-Saxon racial purity. Of course the 1896 statements included not only economic analysis but also a political endorsement. One would like to think that at least some of Ross’s defenders found his racism objectionable, but that they defended his right to speak nonetheless.

From 1900 to the 1920s, Ross supported the temperance (alcohol prohibition) movement as well as eugenics and immigration restriction. To his credit, by 1930 Ross had shed these notions and spent the greater part of his efforts promoting the New Deal reform and the freedoms of the individual. In fact, he became national chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1940, serving until 1950.

References:

Xinjiang: An Inconvenient Truth for the Chinese Communist Party

“URUMQI, China — An exhibit on the first floor of the museum here gives the government’s unambiguous take on the history of this border region: ‘Xinjiang has been an inalienable part of the territory of China,’ says one prominent sign.

But walk upstairs to the second floor, and the ancient corpses on display seem to tell a different story.”

– Edward Wong. “The Dead Tell a Tale China Doesn’t Care to Listen To“, The New York Times, 18 November 2008

Zen stones

Uncomfortably for the Communist Chinese authorities, hundreds of mummies unearthed in remote parts of the Tarim Basin in what is now the Xinjiang region of China offer a far more nuanced history of settlement than the official Chinese version. By that official account, Zhang Qian, a general of the Han dynasty, led a military expedition to Xinjiang in the second century B.C.E. His presence is often cited by the ethnic Han Chinese when making historical claims to the region ( even though ancient Chinese sources describe the existence of “white people with long hair” — the Bai people of the Shan Hai Jing — beyond their northwestern border).

Tian Chen mummy, close-up of head. One of the mummies from four burial sites between the Tian Shan (‘Celestial Mountains’) of north-west China and the Taklimakan Desert.

The Tarim mummies show, though, that humans entered the region thousands of years before Zhang Qian, and almost certainly from the west. In fact, the mummies provide evidence of heterogeneity throughout the region’s history of human settlement. As a result, the Chinese authorities have been unwilling to give broad access to foreign scientists to conduct genetic tests on the mummies.

What is indisputable is that the Tarim mummies are among the greatest recent archaeological finds in China, perhaps the world.

The corpses, dating from about 2000 B.C.E. to 300 B.C.E., are astonishingly well preservedand Caucasian. In contrast to most central Asian peoples, these corpses have obvious European features — blond hair, long noses, deep-set eyes, and long skulls. Unlike the roughly contemporaneous mummies of ancient Egypt, the Xinjiang mummies were not rulers or nobles; they were not interred in pyramids or other such monuments, nor were they subjected to deliberate mummification procedures. For this reason, these so-called mummies are technically desiccated corpses. Unlike Egyptian mummies, their lifelike appearance is due not to any artificial intervention on the part of those who buried them. Rather, it is the outcome of environmental conditions in the parched, stony desert of the region, with the best-preserved bodies being those who died in winter and were buried in especially salty, well-drained soils — all of which would inhibit putrefaction and prevent deterioration; after thousands of years, not even slight amounts of moisture penetrated these burials. The bodies were quickly dried, with facial hair, skin, and other tissues remaining largely intact. The famous mummies of Egypt appear dry and shriveled, blackened like discarded walnut husks, compared with these lifelike remains.

A Tarim Basin mummy photographed by Aurel Stein circa 1910.

At the beginning of the 20th century European explorers such as Sven Hedin and Sir Aurel Stein recounted their discoveries of desiccated bodies in their search for antiquities in Central Asia. However, no further attention was given to the mummies until 1978 when Wang Binghua, one of China’s most distinguished archaeologists, found one. Before Wang’s work in the region, evidence of early settlements had been virtually unknown. In the late 1970s, though, Wang had begun a systematic search for ancient sites in the northeast corner of Xinjiang Province. Knowing that ancient peoples would have located their settlements along a stream to have a reliable source of water, Wang followed one such stream from its source in the Tian Shan, asking locals along the way whether they had ever found any broken bowls, wooden artifacts, and so forth. Finally, one older man tipped him off to a place they called Qizilchoqa, or “Red Hillock.” It wasn’t much to look at — a sandy slope in a green ravine next to a village called Wupu.

In the early 1990s, several Western academics accompanied Wang to the region to observe the excavations. Among them were Victor Mair, a professor of Chinese literature at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Jeannine Davis-Kimball, executive director of the Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads, and English archaeologist Charlotte Roberts.

Despite the political tensions over the mummies’ origin, the Chinese said in a report published in February 2010 in the journal BMC Biology that the people were of mixed ancestry, having both European and some Siberian genetic markers, and probably came from outside China. All the men who were analyzed had a Y chromosome that is now mostly found in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Siberia, but rarely in China. The mitochondrial DNA, which passes down the female line, consisted of a lineage from Siberia and two that are common in Europe. Since both the Y chromosome and the mitochondrial DNA lineages are ancient, the research team concluded that the European and Siberian populations probably intermarried before entering the Tarim Basin some 4,000 years ago.

East Asian peoples only began showing up in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin about 3,000 years ago, while the Uighur peoples arrived after the collapse of the Orkon Uighur Kingdom, largely based in modern day Mongolia, around the year 842. But politically, the region came under Chinese control only under the Qing Emperor Qianlong in the 18th century. Uighur separatists resist the term Xinjiang — which means “New Frontier,” given to the region by the Chinese in 1884 — and prefer East Turkestan.

Interestingly, in the preface to the 2002 book, The Ancient Corpses of Xinjiang, written by Wang Binghua, the Chinese historian and Sanskrit specialist Ji Xianlin soundly denounced the use of the mummies by Uighur separatists as proof that Xinjiang should not belong to China.

“What has stirred up the most excitement in academic circles, both in the East and the West, is the fact that the ancient corpses of ‘white (Caucasoid/Europoid) people’ have been excavated,” Ji wrote. “However, within China a small group of ethnic separatists have taken advantage of this opportunity to stir up trouble and are acting like buffoons. Some of them have even styled themselves the descendants of these ancient ‘white people’ with the aim of dividing the motherland. But these perverse acts will not succeed.”

Further on, in an apparent swipe at the Chinese government’s lack of eagerness to acknowledge the science and publicize it to the world, Ji wrote, “a scientist may not distort facts for political reasons, religious reasons, or any other reason”.

And, Ji Xianlin, the facts speak for themselves.

References:

October 24, 1901 (a Thursday)

On this date, when U.S. Marines landed in Samar during the Philippine-American War (referred to by Filipinos as the Philippine War of Independence and sometimes patronizingly referred to as the Philippine Insurrection by the U.S.), Brigadier General Jacob Hurd Smith (“Hell-Roaring Jake”) issued his murderous orders:

I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn. The more you kill and burn the better it will please me.

Zen stones
This bloody Philippine-American War, which began in 1899 and officially ended in 1902 (although sporadic fighting continued until 1913), resulted from the foreign policy of a group of imperialists within the Republican Party of President William McKinley. After their quick victory in the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States military found themselves playing the part of an occupying army on the Philippine Islands. A Filipino independence movement had been working to overthrow their Spanish colonizers for years. Emilio Aguinaldo, the charismatic leader of the movement, provided critical aid to the Americans during their war with Spain. However, when U.S. armed forces did not withdraw from the islands and the U.S. government did not recognize Philippine independence, Aguinaldo and his compatriots rose up against the United States. Although General Aguinaldo was captured on March 25, 1901, there followed no mass surrender of other Filipino revolutionary generals. Fighting went on.

“I am not afraid, and am always ready to do my duty, but I would like someone to tell me what we are fighting for.”–Arthur H. Vickers, Sergeant in the First Nebraska Regiment

According to Luzviminda Francisco, the Philippine-American War was a forgotten war in the U.S. annals. American textbooks contain several pages on the Spanish-American War but only devote a paragraph on the Philippine-American War despite the fact that the latter was more pronounced in terms of duration, scale, and number of casualties. The war was ugly, ruthless, and brutal, prompting Stanley Karnow to describe it as “among the cruelest conflicts in the annals of Western imperialism.” Other scholars refer to the conflict as the United States’ “first Vietnam.” Luzviminda estimates that as many as 126,000 American soldiers, or 3/4 of the U.S. army, were shipped to the Philippines, and at least 600,000 Filipinos died during the war. American anti-imperialist Mark Twain claimed that the number of Filipino casualties was close to one million or the equivalent of 1/6 of the country’s total population at the turn of the century. He famously wrote:

. . .There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it — perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands — but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector — not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now — why, we have got into a mess, a QUAGMIRE from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I’m sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation. . . 

Some American infantrymen were equally mystified by what was taking place:

“Talk about dead Indians! Why, they are lying everywhere. The trenches are full of them…There is not a feature of the whole miserable business that a patriotic American citizen, one who loves to read of the brave deeds of the American colonists in the splendid struggle for American independence, can look upon with complacency, much less with pride. This war is reversing history. It places the American people and the government of the United States in the position occupied by Great Britain in 1776. It is an utterly causeless and defenseless war, and it should be abandoned by this government without delay. The longer it is continued, the greater crime it becomes – a crime against human liberty as well as against Christianity and civilization…” –Theodore Conley, 20th Kansas Regiment

Aguinaldo in white with sword

During the war, torture was resorted to by American troops to obtain information and confessions. The “water cure” was given to those merely suspected of being rebels. Some were hanged by the thumbs, others were dragged by galloping horses, or fires lit beneath others while they were hanging. Another form of torture was tying to a tree and then shooting the suspect through the legs. If a confession was not obtained, he was again shot, the day after. This went on until he confessed or eventually died. On the other hand, Filipino guerrillas chopped off the noses and ears of captured Americans in violation of Aguinaldo’s orders. There were reports that some Americans were buried alive by angry Filipino guerrillas. In other words, brutalities were perpetrated by both sides.

Freedom fighter killed by Americans for being pro-democracy (stereoview).

In 1901, the U.S. commander at Balangiga on the Island of Samar had sent troops out to destroy crops and grain reserves, to keep such food from flowing into the hands of the insurgents; he had also ordered all males over the age of thirteen, at gun-point, to work at clearing brush and repairing the streets of the town. The people of Balangiga revolted in reaction to their abuse at the hands of the Americans — an American garrison in the town of Balangiga was attacked between 6:20 and 6:45 in the morning of 28 September 1901 by the local population, with the support of the local police chief and members of the insurgency. Fifty-four of the seventy-eight American troops stationed at Balangiga were killed; only four escaped uninjured. The massacre shocked the U.S. public and many newspaper editors noted that it was the worst disaster suffered by the U.S. Army since George Armstrong Custer’s “last stand” at the Little Big Horn in 1876. Brigadier General Jacob Smith was given the task of crushing the resistance on Samar and exacting revenge for the deaths of the American soldiers at Balangiga.

At the beginning of the campaign when officers had gathered at the site of the Balangiga Massacre, Smith told Marine Major Littleton W. T. Waller:

I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better it will please me. I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States.

Since it was a popular belief among the Americans serving in the Philippines that native males were born with bolos in their hands, Waller asked, “I would like to know the limit of age to respect, sir?”

Ten years,” Smith said.

“Persons of ten years and older are those designated as being capable of bearing arms?”

“Yes.” Smith confirmed his instructions a second time.

Smith's infamous order - Kill Everyone Over Ten - was the caption in the New York Journal cartoon on May 5, 1902.

Smith would later send Waller a written order “that the interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness.” However, aware of Smith’s penchant for making outrageous oaths and the extravagance of his language, Waller therefore did not execute Smith’s orders. Instead, Waller applied the rules of civilized warfare and the rules provided under General Orders No. 100 of 1863 dealing with irregular warfare (involving non-uniformed combatants), which stated that if enemy units gave no quarter and became treacherous upon capture, it was lawful to shoot anyone belonging to that captured unit.

Nevertheless, a sustained and widespread massacre of Filipino civilians followed. As a result of Smith’s policies during the four and half month-long campaign, an estimated 15,000 Filipinos died on Samar.

References:

  • Teodoro A. Agoncillo, A Short History of the Philippines, New American Library, 1969.
  • Bob Couttie, Hang the Dogs: The True and Tragic History of the Balangiga Massacre, New Day Publishers, 2004.

October 21, 2010 (a Thursday)

Human Rights Building in Strasbourg, France.

On this date, in the case of Nikolai Alexeev v. Russia, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France ruled that Russia violated the European Convention on Human Rights with the banning of the 2006, 2007, and 2008 Moscow Gay Pride Marches. The beginning of the Court’s opinion recounted the facts of the historic case (numbers refer to specific paragraphs in the Court’s opinion):

6. In 2006 the applicant, together with other individuals, organized a march to draw public attention to discrimination against the gay and lesbian minority in Russia, to promote respect for human rights and freedoms and to call for tolerance on the part of the Russian authorities and the public at large towards this minority. The march was entitled “Pride March” that year, and “Gay Pride” in subsequent years, to replicate similar events held by homosexual communities in big cities worldwide. The date chosen for the march, 27 May 2006, was also meant to celebrate the anniversary of the abolition of criminal liability in Russia for homosexual acts.

7. On 16 February 2006 the Interfax news agency published a statement by Mr Tsoy, the press secretary of the mayor of Moscow, to the effect that “the government of Moscow [would] not even consider allowing the gay parade to be held”. Interfax further quoted Mr Tsoy as saying: “The mayor of Moscow, Mr Luzhkov, has firmly declared: the government of the capital city will not allow a gay parade to be held in any form, whether openly or disguised [as a human rights demonstration], and any attempt to hold any unauthorized action will be severely repressed”.

8. On 22 February 2006 Interfax quoted the mayor of Moscow as having said, on a different occasion, that if he received a request to hold a gay parade in Moscow he would impose a ban on it because he did not want “to stir up society, which is ill-disposed to such occurrences of life” and continuing that he himself considered homosexuality “unnatural”, though he “tried to treat everything that happens in human society with tolerance”.

(. . .)

11. On 15 May 2006 the organizers submitted a notice to the mayor of Moscow stating the date, time and route of the intended march. It was to take place between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on 27 May 2006, with an estimated number of about 2,000 participants, who would march from the Moscow Post Office along Myasnitskaya Street to Lubyanskaya Square. The organizers undertook to cooperate with the law-enforcement authorities in ensuring safety and respect for public order by the participants and to comply with regulations on restriction of noise levels when using loudspeakers and sound equipment.

12. On 18 May 2006 the Department for Liaison with Security Authorities of the Moscow Government informed the applicant of the mayor’s decision to refuse permission to hold the march on grounds of public order, for the prevention of riots and the protection of health, morals and the rights and freedoms of others. It stated, in particular, that numerous petitions had been brought against the march by representatives of legislative and executive State bodies, religious denominations, Cossack elders and other individuals; the march was therefore likely to cause a negative reaction and protests against the participants, which could turn into civil disorder and mass riots.

(. . .)

16. On 26 May 2006 Interfax quoted the mayor of Moscow as saying in an interview to the radio station Russian Radio that no gay parade would be allowed in Moscow under any circumstances, “as long as he was the city mayor”. He stated that all three “major” religious faiths – “the Church, the Mosque and the Synagogue” – were against it and that it was absolutely unacceptable in Moscow and in Russia, unlike “in some Western country more progressive in that sphere”. He went on to say: “That’s the way morals work. If somebody deviates from the normal principles [in accordance with which] sexual and gender life is organized, this should not be demonstrated in public and anyone potentially unstable should not be invited.” He stated that 99.9% of the population of Moscow supported the ban.

___________________________________________________________
Moscow police dispersed a gay pride rally on 16 May 2009 that was banned by city authorities, drawing attention to Russia’s record on gay rights as it prepared to host a major international pop music competition:

___________________________________________________________

And so on and so forth. The fact that the Moscow authorities were homophobic was firmly established in the Court’s ruling. In reaching its decision, the Court relied on extracts from Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to member States on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, including:

Member states should take appropriate measures to ensure, in accordance with Article 10 of the Convention, that the right to freedom of expression can be effectively enjoyed, without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, including with respect to the freedom to receive and impart information on subjects dealing with sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a stinging rebuke to former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, the Court stated:

86. The mayor of Moscow, whose statements were essentially reiterated in the Government’s observations, considered it necessary to confine every mention of homosexuality to the private sphere and to force gay men and lesbians out of the public eye, implying that homosexuality was a result of a conscious, and antisocial, choice. However, they were unable to provide justification for such exclusion. There is no scientific evidence or sociological data at the Court’s disposal suggesting that the mere mention of homosexuality, or open public debate about sexual minorities’ social status, would adversely affect children or “vulnerable adults”. On the contrary, it is only through fair and public debate that society may address such complex issues as the one raised in the present case. Such debate, backed up by academic research, would benefit social cohesion by ensuring that representatives of all views are heard, including the individuals concerned. It would also clarify some common points of confusion, such as whether a person may be educated or enticed into or out of homosexuality, or opt into or out of it voluntarily. This was exactly the kind of debate that the applicant in the present case attempted to launch, and it could not be replaced by the officials spontaneously expressing uninformed views which they considered popular. In the circumstances of the present case the Court cannot but conclude that the authorities’ decisions to ban the events in question were not based on an acceptable assessment of the relevant facts.

87. The foregoing considerations are sufficient to enable the Court to conclude that the ban on the events organized by the applicant did not correspond to a pressing social need and was thus not necessary in a democratic society.

As a result, The European Court ruled that Russian authorities violated three specific articles of the European Convention, namely, Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association), Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination). In its conclusion, the Court stated:

108. The Court reiterates that sexual orientation is a concept covered by Article 14 (see, among other cases, Kozak v. Poland, no. 13102/02, 2 March 2010). Furthermore, when the distinction in question operates in this intimate and vulnerable sphere of an individual’s private life, particularly weighty reasons need to be advanced before the Court to justify the measure complained of. Where a difference of treatment is based on sex or sexual orientation the margin of appreciation afforded to the State is narrow, and in such situations the principle of proportionality does not merely require the measure chosen to be suitable in general for realizing the aim sought; it must also be shown that it was necessary in the circumstances. Indeed, if the reasons advanced for a difference in treatment were based solely on the applicant’s sexual orientation, this would amount to discrimination under the Convention (ibid, § 92).

109. It has been established above that the main reason for the ban imposed on the events organized by the applicant was the authorities’ disapproval of demonstrations which they considered to promote homosexuality (see paragraphs 77-78 and 82 above). In particular, the Court cannot disregard the strong personal opinions publicly expressed by the mayor of Moscow and the undeniable link between these statements and the ban. In the light of these findings the Court also considers it established that the applicant suffered discrimination on the grounds of his sexual orientation and that of other participants in the proposed events. It further considers that the Government did not provide any justification showing that the impugned distinction was compatible with the standards of the Convention.

Peter Tatchell (left) and Louis-Georges Tin both praised Nikolai Alekseev for his courage in fighting for gay rights in Russia. The two are pictured with 'defiant' placards, with Moscow City Hall in the background, during the first Moscow Pride in 2006. (photo: UK Gay News)

The court awarded 12,000 euros in damages to Moscow gay rights advocate and Pride organizer Nikolai Alexeev and a further 17,500 euros in costs. “This is the first ever decision of the European Court of Human Rights which concerns freedom of assembly in Russia. It guarantees everyone freedom of expression without special permission,” Alexeyev told The Moscow News directly after the verdict.

Speaking to UK Gay News on the Court’s ruling, Peter Tatchell, the campaigner for global LGBT human rights, said in London, “Nikolai and his small band of daring LGBT activists have taken on the might of the Russian state – and won. It is a triumph for LGBT Russians and for all Russians who love liberty.” Louis-Georges Tin, the founder and president of the International Day Against Homophobia organization, said that the decision of the European Court of Human Rights cannot be clearer. “Russia must respect the rights of all citizens for freedom of assembly on its territory without delay, and especially LGBT activists who faced a systematic breach of this basic right in the past years,” he said.

However, under Articles 43 and 44 of the Convention, this “Chamber judgment” is not final. During the three-month period following its delivery, any party may request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court. If such a request is made, a panel of judges considers whether the case deserves further examination. In that event, the Grand Chamber will hear the case and deliver a final judgment. If the referral request is refused, the Chamber judgment will become final on that day.

October 19, 1932 (a Wednesday)

Depression-era U.S. poster advocating early syphilis treatment. Although treatments were available, participants in the study did not receive them.

On this date, Dr. Raymond A. Vonderlehr arrived in Montgomery, Alabama, following a rainy drive from Washington, DC. After meeting Dr. Oliver C. Wenger, both men drove down to Tuskegee, checking into the only hotel for whites in town – the Carr Hotel. Here they intended to spread the word to Macon County’s black population that a new syphilis control demonstration was about to begin. In actuality, this was the beginning of what was to become the notorious Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a non-therapeutic, observational study of the effects of untreated sexually-transmitted syphilis in poor, rural black men who thought they were receiving free health care from the U.S. government.

Investigators enrolled in the study a total of 600 impoverished, African-American sharecroppers from Macon County, Alabama; 399 who had previously contracted syphilis before the study began, and 201 without the disease. For participating in the study, the men were given free medical care, meals, and free burial insurance. They were never told they had syphilis, nor were they ever treated for it. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the men were told they were being treated for “bad blood,” a local term used to describe several illnesses, including syphilis, anemia and fatigue.

The 40-year study was controversial for reasons related to ethical standards, primarily because researchers knowingly failed to treat patients appropriately after the 1940s validation of penicillin as an effective cure for the disease they were studying. Choices available to the doctors involved in the study might have included treating all syphilitic subjects and closing the study, or splitting off a control group for testing with penicillin. Instead, the Tuskegee scientists continued the study without treating any participants and withholding penicillin and information about it from the patients. In addition, scientists prevented participants from accessing syphilis treatment programs available to others in the area. The study continued under numerous U.S. Public Health Service supervisors until 1972, when a leak to the press by Peter Buxtun, a PHS venereal disease investigator, eventually resulted in its termination.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study has been called “arguably the most infamous biomedical research study in U.S. history.”

References:

  • James H. Jones. Bad Blood (Simon & Schuster, 1992) pp. 113-114.

October 12, 1998 (a Monday)

The horrific events that took place shortly after midnight on Wednesday, 7 October 1998, went against everything that Matthew Shepard embodied. Two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, lead him to a remote area east of Laramie, Wyoming. He was tied to a split-rail fence where the two men severely assaulted him. He was beaten and left to die in the cold of the night. Almost 18 hours later, he was found by a bicyclist who initially mistook him for a scarecrow. Matt died on this date at 12:53 AM at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado with his family by his side.

We never knew Matthew Shepard.

But he was our family.

Please, stop killing our family.
________________________________________________________


________________________________________________________

October 11, 1978 (a Wednesday)

Ban the Chinese Government

In October 1978, Huang Xiang was feeling restless and one day was moved to take out of concealment the political poems he had written during the Mao Years. He then conceived of going to Beijing to post them so people could see them, in spite of the danger still inherent in anti-Mao sentiments. Word of Huang Xiang’s plan got around in his circle of friends, and soon three of them – Mo Jiangang, Li Jiahua, and Fang Jiahua – decided to accompany him on the 1,500 mile trip to Beijing.

On October 11, 1978, with a bucket of flour paste, they proceeded to an alley off Wangfujing Avenue in downtown Beijing near the offices of The People’s Daily, and began to glue up the hundred-odd sheets of Huang Xiang’s poetry. The four brushed as big characters a series of Huang Xiang’s poems collectively referred to as “The Fire God Symphony”. According to Huang, those poems were meant “to oppose the idol worship of Mao Zedong and his personal cult, to criticize romanticism, feudalism, fascism, and modern emperorship, to completely negate the Cultural Revolution, and to appeal publicly for freedom, democracy, and human rights.”

Huang Xiang, aged 63. The largest character that appears on his front door is “door” in Chinese.

The well-constructed poems of “The Fire God Symphony” are united in their coherent references to fire symbolism – fire, light, torch, fire god – to express a compelling discontent with reality and an open advocacy of democracy and human rights. In terms of articulating an infectious spirit of defiance and rebellion, Huang Xiang at his best stands shoulder to shoulder with other famous poet-rebels such as Guo Moruo and Walt Whitman. Huang demonstrates a rare political prescience in his frontal assault on the idolatry of Chairman Mao and his suffocating ideology. For example, in “The Fire God Symphony” he writes:

Why can one man control the wills of millions of people
Why can one man prescribe life and death everywhere
Why should we bow and worship an idol
Letting blind faith confine our will to live, our thoughts and emotions

[…]

Let man be restored to his dignity
Let life become life once again
Let music and virtue be the soul’s inner essence
Let beauty and nature be man’s once again

Later on October 11, a curious crowd gathered in the alley off Wangfujing Avenue and soon spilled out onto the avenue, causing a huge traffic jam. Sympathizers linked arms to protect the four from the surge of the crowd. Huang Xiang, encouraged by the crowd, recited all of his poems from memory (some six hundred lines). That night people crowded the alley trying to read the poems by torch light.

Later recalling these events, Huang Xiang wrote:

We “set fire” on Wangfujing Avenue in Beijing. Myself and my three friends, Li Jiahua, Fang Jiahua, and Mo Jiangang, put up my poem “The Fire God Symphony” in big character posters. This first batch of posters lit a spark for seeking enlightenment and freedom in Communist China. We founded and published the first independent periodical ever, called Enlightenment, and staged a poetic campaign to advocate human rights and freedom of expression.

On November 24, 1978 they returned and posted big character posters (dazibao) on seventy yards of fence near Mao Zedong’s mausoleum in Tiananmen Square. Huang Xiang then brushed two big character posters on the spot, “The Cultural Revolution Must Be Reevaluated!” and “Mao Zedong was thirty percent right and seventy percent wrong!” Both were absolute heresies even two years after Mao’s death. These astonishing statements, in full sight of the usual people lined up to enter Mao’s mausoleum, caused a sensation.

By December 1978, cultural and political activists had gravitated to Xidan, west of Tiananmen Square. Many posters appeared on a wall next to a busy bus stop. The wall soon acquired its historic name, the Democracy Wall.

The Democracy Wall Movement quickly spread from the Xidan Wall in Beijing to other walls in the city and to other cities: ­Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Huangzhou and Qingdao. While most focused on economic issues and Cultural Revolution grievances, a small number emphasized political issues. Participants coordinated their actions in each city and sometimes between cities. By mid-1979, activists were beginning to set up connections between regions, which developed into a loose network. Although the activists were small in number, several hundred to several thousand at any one time, their posters, debates and magazines attracted tens of thousands of readers and listeners. Officials as well as ordinary people, who shared their revulsion at Mao’s use of terror and chaos for his own political purposes and also sought to reform the political system were among the readers and discussants at the walls.

From 1959 to 1997, Huang was incarcerated six times for political dissent and spent a total of 12 years in jail. He continued to write even though he was tortured for his work, which was completely banned in China. He has lived in exile in the United States since 1997. Huang has published poems and essays, and a bilingual edition of his Out of Communist China was published in 2003.

References:

October 8, 2010 (a Friday)

All dictatorships like to proclaim patriotism but dictatorial patriotism is just an excuse to inflict disasters on the nation and calamities on its people.

— Liu Xiaobo, “The [Communist Party of China’s] Dictatorial Patriotism” (2005)

[China] provides large quantities of economic assistance to dictatorships such as North Korea, Cuba, and Myanmar, offsetting to some degree the impact of Western economic sanctions and enabling these remaining despotic regimes on their last legs to linger on.

— Liu Xiaobo, “The Negative Effects of the Rise of Dictatorship on World Democratization” (2006)

Zen stones

The prominent dissident writer Liu Xiaobo, one of the first signers of Charter 08.

Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), 54, the prominent independent intellectual and long-time democracy advocate, was awarded the Nobel peace prize on 8 October 2010, for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” The first resident citizen of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to win a Nobel prize, Liu becomes only the second person to win the peace prize while incarcerated, following German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who won it in 1935 while jailed by the Nazis. In its press release, the Norwegian Nobel Committee noted:

. . . [T]here is a close connection between human rights and peace. Such rights are a prerequisite for the “fraternity between nations” of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will.

Over the past decades, China has achieved economic advances to which history can hardly show any equal. The country now has the world’s second largest economy; hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. Scope for political participation has also broadened.

China’s new status must entail increased responsibility. China is in breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own provisions concerning political rights. Article 35 of China’s constitution lays down that “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration”. In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China’s citizens.

For over two decades, Liu Xiaobo has been a strong spokesman for the application of fundamental human rights also in China. He took part in the Tiananmen protests in 1989; he was a leading author behind Charter 08, the manifesto of such rights in China which was published on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 10th of December 2008. The following year, Liu was sentenced to eleven years in prison and two years’ deprivation of political rights for “inciting subversion of state power”. Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China’s own constitution and fundamental human rights.

The campaign to establish universal human rights also in China is being waged by many Chinese, both in China itself and abroad. Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China.

Liu Xiaobo.

Liu is one of the leaders of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC), a group of writers that promotes freedom of expression. The ICPC is among 145 member centers of the International PEN, a human rights organization and international literary organization founded in 1921. Liu’s writing is banned in China but his books are sold in Hong Kong. “Awarding Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize is an affirmation of the central importance to everyone of freedom of expression, of which he is a courageous exponent,” states PEN International President, John Ralston Saul. “Charter 08 contains this phrase: We must stop the practice of viewing words as crimes,” says Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International‘s Writers in Prison Committee. “Liu is serving 11 years for that simple credo, and his belief in democracy for the Chinese people. We fervently hope that Liu’s winning of the Nobel Prize furthers those causes.”

“Liu Xiaobo is a worthy winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, we hope it will keep the spotlight on the struggle for fundamental freedoms and concrete protection of human rights that Liu and many other activists in China are dedicated to,” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International USA‘s Deputy Director for the Asia-Pacific region. “This award can only make a real difference if it prompts more international pressure on China to release Liu, along with the numerous other prisoners of conscience languishing in Chinese jails for exercising their right to freedom of expression”, said Baber.

Harry Wu, former Chinese political prisoner and founder of Laogai Research Foundation, said of the decision, “the Nobel Committee has sent a clear message to China that it will not be intimidated by its economic and political might.” He added, “for decades, Liu Xiaobo has advocated for freedom. It’s time that the Chinese government releases him from prison and listens to his suggestions.”

“This award comes at a critical historical crossroads in China and constitutes a powerful affirmation for the voices calling for change,” said Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China. “As Liu Xiaobo and other Chinese advocates for change have pointed out, the only sustainable road ahead for China is one towards greater openness and political reform. This has most recently even been publicly stated by senior Chinese officials [Ed.: See transcript of interview with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on 28 September 2010].”

I agree. Amnesty International has documented widespread human rights violations in China:

  • An estimated 500,000 people are currently enduring punitive detention without charge or trial.
  • Millions are unable to access the legal system to seek redress for their grievances.
  • Harassment, surveillance, house arrest, and imprisonment of human rights defenders are on the rise.
  • Censorship of the Internet and other media has grown.
  • Repression of minority groups, including Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians, and of Falun Gong practitioners and Christians who practice their religion outside state-sanctioned churches continues.
  • While the recent reinstatement of Supreme People’s Court review of death penalty cases may result in lower numbers of executions, China remains the leading executioner in the world.

Furthermore, the totalitarian nature of China’s government makes it nearly impossible to effect change in the notoriously oppressive government of North Korea (DPRK), essentially a puppet state of China. Human rights in China is a prerequisite to human rights in North Korea.

Not surprisingly, China’s foreign ministry last week warned that Liu was not suited for the Nobel Peace Prize as he was “sentenced to jail by Chinese judicial authorities for violating Chinese law.” The Chinese government told reporters the committee had violated its own principles by giving the award to a “criminal.” Of course, the Chinese don’t get it: Liu is a political prisoner, not a criminal. In the run-up to the decision, China warned Norway that selecting Liu would affect mutual ties and dispatched a Foreign Ministry official to Oslo to press its case. The two countries are in the process of negotiating a free-trade deal, and Norway’s oil industry — a crucial sector of its economy — wants to boost its business dealings in China. In a sign that it was unwilling to be cowed, however, Norway’s government chose to publicize the Beijing official’s ostensibly private visit.

____________________________________________________________


____________________________________________________________

Liu was born on 28 December 1955 in Changchun, Jilin Province. He received a BA in literature from Jilin University, and an MA and PhD from Beijing Normal University, where he also taught.

In April 1989, he left his position as a visiting scholar at Columbia University to return to Beijing to participate in the 1989 Pro-Democracy Movement. On 2 June, Liu, along with Hou Dejian, Zhou Duo, and Gao Xin, went on a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square to protest martial law and appeal for peaceful negotiations between the students and the government. In the early morning of 4 June 1989, the four attempted to persuade the students to leave Tiananmen Square. After the crackdown, Liu was held in Beijing’s Qincheng Prison until January 1991, when he was found guilty of “counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement” but exempted from punishment.

In 1996, he was sentenced to three years of Reeducation-Through-Labor on charges of “rumor-mongering and slander” and “disturbing social order” after drafting the “Anti-Corruption Proposals” and letters appealing for official reassessment of the June Fourth crackdown.

“There was never a question for him of abandoning the struggle, although he was very critical about the [1989 student] movement,” said Jean-Philippe Béja, of the Paris-based Centre for International Studies and Research, who first met Liu in the early 90s.

“He is a person who wants to live in truth.”

Zen stones

TAKE ACTION HERE: Demand that China release Nobel Peace Prize activist Liu Xiaobo!

AND HERE: Demand that China release Nobel Peace Prize activist Liu Xiaobo!

Zen stones

October 5, 1989 (a Thursday)

Tibet celebrates the birthday of HH the Dalai Lama in July 2011.

On this date, the Dalai Lama, the exiled religious and political leader of Tibet, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his nonviolent campaign to end the Chinese domination of Tibet.

After more than four decades of exile, the Dalai Lama continues to travel, publicizing the Tibetan cause.

Suggested Reading:

  • Dalai Lama XIV, Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1991).

October 1, 1944 (a Sunday)

On this date, the first of two sets of medical experiments involving castration were performed on homosexuals at the Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar, Germany.

Buchenwald was one of the first concentration camps established by the Nazi regime. Although not technically a death camp, in that it had no gas chambers, nevertheless hundreds of prisoners died monthly, from malnutrition, beatings, disease, and executions.

The camp boasted a sophisticated-sounding facility on its grounds called the “Division for Typhus and Virus Research of the Hygiene Institute of the Waffen SS”. In truth, it was a chamber of horrors where medical experiments of the cruelest kind were carried out on prisoners against their will. Victims were often intentionally infused with various infections to test out vaccines. Euthanasia was also performed regularly on Jews, Gypsies, and mentally ill prisoners.

Dr. Carl Peter Værnet, serving as a doctor at Buchenwald concentration camp, performed medical experiments on inmates who were convicted under Germany’s notorious Paragraph 175 — the statute against male homosexuality. According to Richard Plant’s The Pink Triangle:

Since surviving entries are spotty, if not nearly illegible, one can only conclude that on October 1, 1944, a group of seven homosexuals was operated on, and a second group, consisting of eleven more, on October 10. Additional tests may have been administered because Værnet visited Buchenwald again in December. … Some subjects became ill; some, so it seems, must have died, because new names appear on the rosters of those actually castrated. Værnet carefully filled out order forms for chloroform, bandages, and new medical instruments, and handed out instruction sheets explaining how Buchenwald physicians should continue the castration-hormone tests without him. No final report has survived that notes the results of the experiments on the castrated men.

Buchenwald was liberated by the Allies on April 11, 1945. Ironically, it was later used by the Soviet Union as a concentration camp for the “enemies” of East Germany.

After World War II, Værnet was captured by the British and handed over to Danish authorities. At some point, he was transferred to a hospital after claiming to suffer from a heart ailment. He told doctors there that his problem could only be treated in Sweden. Despite being accused of war crimes, he was allowed to go to Sweden, where he contacted a Nazi escape network and fled to Argentina where he worked in the Ministry of Health. He was never tried for his crimes. He died on November 25, 1965. His grave was located in Argentina’s Britanico Cemetery in April, 1998.

References:

September 22, 1862 (a Monday)

Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, page 1. Record Group 11, General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives and Records Administration.

Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, page 1. Record Group 11, General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives and Records Administration.

On this date, motivated by his growing concern for the inhumanity of slavery as well as practical political concerns, President Abraham Lincoln changed the course of the war and American history by issuing the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Announced a week after the nominal Union victory at the Battle of Antietam, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, this measure did not technically free any slaves, but it expanded the Union’s war aim from reunification to include the abolition of slavery.

The proclamation announced that all slaves in territory that was still in rebellion as of January 1, 1863, would be free. Since it freed slaves only in Rebel areas that were beyond Union occupation, the Emancipation Proclamation really freed no one. But the measure was still one of the most important acts in American history, as it meant slavery would end when those areas were recaptured.

“President Lincoln, writing the Proclamation of Freedom,” by David Gilmour Blythe.

“President Lincoln, writing the Proclamation of Freedom,” by David Gilmour Blythe.

In addition, the proclamation effectively sabotaged Confederate attempts to secure recognition by foreign governments, especially Great Britain. When reunification was the goal of the North, foreigners could view the Confederates as freedom fighters being held against their will by the Union. But after the Emancipation Proclamation, the Southern cause was now viewed as the defense of slavery. The proclamation was a shrewd maneuver by Lincoln to brand the Confederate States as a slave nation and render foreign aid impossible.

The measure was met by a good deal of opposition, because many Northerners were unwilling to fight for the freedom of blacks. But it spelled the death knell for slavery, and it had the effect on British opinion that Lincoln had desired. Antislavery Britain could no longer recognize the Confederacy, and Union sentiment swelled in Britain. With this measure, Lincoln effectively isolated the Confederacy and killed the institution that was the root of sectional differences.

Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

September 22, 1862

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy thereof, do hereby proclaim and declare that hereafter, as heretofore, the war will be prosecuted for the object of practically restoring the constitutional relation between the United States, and each of the States, and the people thereof, in which States that relation is, or may be, suspended or disturbed.

That it is my purpose, upon the next meeting of Congress to again recommend the adoption of a practical measure tendering pecuniary aid to the free acceptance or rejection of all slave States, so called, the people whereof may not then be in rebellion against the United States and which States may then have voluntarily adopted, or thereafter may voluntarily adopt, immediate or gradual abolishment of slavery within their respective limits; and that the effort to colonize persons of African descent, with their consent, upon this continent, or elsewhere, with the previously obtained consent of the Governments existing there, will be continued.

That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

That the executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States, and part of States, if any, in which the people thereof respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof shall, on that day be, in good faith represented in the Congress of the United States, by members chosen thereto, at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States.

That attention is hereby called to an Act of Congress entitled “An Act to make an additional Article of War” approved March 13, 1862, and which act is in the words and figure following:

“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That hereafter the following shall be promulgated as an additional article of war for the government of the army of the United States, and shall be obeyed and observed as such:

“Article-All officers or persons in the military or naval service of the United States are prohibited from employing any of the forces under their respective commands for the purpose of returning fugitives from service or labor, who may have escaped from any persons to whom such service or labor is claimed to be due, and any officer who shall be found guilty by a court martial of violating this article shall be dismissed from the service.

“Sec.2. And be it further enacted, That this act shall take effect from and after its passage.”

Also to the ninth and tenth sections of an act entitled “An Act to suppress Insurrection, to punish Treason and Rebellion, to seize and confiscate property of rebels, and for other purposes,” approved July 17, 1862, and which sections are in the words and figures following:

“Sec.9. And be it further enacted, That all slaves of persons who shall hereafter be engaged in rebellion against the government of the United States, or who shall in any way give aid or comfort thereto, escaping from such persons and taking refuge within the lines of the army; and all slaves captured from such persons or deserted by them and coming under the control of the government of the United States; and all slaves of such persons found on (or) being within any place occupied by rebel forces and afterwards occupied by the forces of the United States, shall be deemed captives of war, and shall be forever free of their servitude and not again held as slaves.

“Sec.10. And be it further enacted, That no slave escaping into any State, Territory, or the District of Columbia, from any other State, shall be delivered up, or in any way impeded or hindered of his liberty, except for crime, or some offence against the laws, unless the person claiming said fugitive shall first make oath that the person to whom the labor or service of such fugitive is alleged to be due is his lawful owner, and has not borne arms against the United States in the present rebellion, nor in any way given aid and comfort thereto; and no person engaged in the military or naval service of the United States shall, under any pretence whatever, assume to decide on the validity of the claim of any person to the service or labor of any other person, or surrender up any such person to the claimant, on pain of being dismissed from the service.”

And I do hereby enjoin upon and order all persons engaged in the military and naval service of the United States to observe, obey, and enforce, within their respective spheres of service, the act, and sections above recited.

And the executive will in due time recommend that all citizens of the United States who shall have remained loyal thereto throughout the rebellion, shall (upon the restoration of the constitutional relation between the United States, and their respective States, and people, if that relation shall have been suspended or disturbed) be compensated for all losses by acts of the United States, including the loss of slaves.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington this twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord, one thousand, eight hundred and sixty-two, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.

[Signed:] Abraham Lincoln
By the President

[Signed:] William H. Seward
Secretary of State

Remembering Tiananmen Square » The Endless Further

It’s a bit late, but I came across this post about the recent, 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. It’s worth reading.

Remembering Tiananmen Square » The Endless Further.

Image

Criminal Lockup Quotas are Criminal

With crime rates dropping, for-profit prison operators CCA and GEO Group have found a new way to keep beds full and profits high. They call them “bed guarantees.”

Criminal-Lockup-Quota-Infographic

September 15, 1935 (a Sunday)

Massed crowds at the Nazi party rally in Nuremberg. Nuremberg, Germany, 1935.

On this date, the Nuremberg Race Laws, as they became known, stripped German Jews of their citizenship, reducing them to mere “subjects” of the Nazi state.

The laws also prohibited Jews from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of “German or related blood.” “Racial infamy,” as this became known, was made a criminal offense. Interestingly, the Nuremberg Laws did not define a “Jew” as someone with particular religious beliefs. Instead, anyone who had three or four Jewish grandparents was defined as a Jew, regardless of whether that individual identified himself or herself as a Jew or belonged to the Jewish religious community. Consequently, the Nazis classified as Jews thousands of people who had converted from Judaism to another religion, among them even Roman Catholic priests and nuns and Protestant ministers whose grandparents were Jewish.

What was the outside world’s reaction? Because unemployment had dropped precipitously under Hitler’s early commandeering of the economy, and the average German felt renewed hope and pride, the face of Germany seemed brighter, more at peace with itself. While some foreign visitors, even some political opponents within Germany itself, decried these racist laws and practices, most were beguiled into thinking it was merely a phase, and that Hitler, in the words of former British Prime Minister Lloyd George, was “a great man.”

This is David Lloyd George’s impression after a meeting with Hitler on 4 September 1936, from the Daily Express (London), published on 17 November 1936:

I have just returned from a visit to Germany. In so short time one can only form impressions or at least check impressions which years of distant observation through the telescope of the Press and constant inquiry from those who have seen things at a closer range had already made on one’s mind. I have now seen the famous German Leader and also something of the great change he has effected. Whatever one may think of his methods – and they are certainly not those of a parliamentary country – there can be no doubt that he has achieved a marvellous transformation in the spirit of the people, in their attitude towards each other, and in their social and economic outlook. He rightly claimed at Nuremberg that in four years his movement has made a new Germany. It is not the Germany of the first decade that followed the war – broken, dejected, and bowed down with a sense of apprehension and importance. It is now full of hope and confidence, and of a renewed sense of determination to lead its own life without interference from any influence outside its own frontiers. There is for the first time since the war a general sense of security. The people are more cheerful. There is a greater sense of general gaiety of spirit throughout the land. It is a happier Germany. I saw it everywhere and Englishmen I met during my trip and who knew Germany well were very impressed with the change. One man has accomplished this miracle. He is a born leader of men. A magnetic, dynamic personality with a single-minded purpose, a resolute will and a dauntless heart. He is not merely in name but in fact the national Leader. He has made them safe against potential enemies by whom they were surrounded. He is also securing them against that constant dread of starvation, which is one of the poignant memories of the last years of the War and the first years of the Peace. Over 700,000 died of sheer hunger in those dark years. You can still see the effect in the physique of those who were born into that bleak world. The fact that Hitler has rescued his country from the fear of a repetition of that period of despair, penury and humiliation has given him unchallenged authority in modern Germany. As to his popularity, especially among the youth of Germany, there can be no manner of doubt. The old trust him; the young idolise him. It is not the admiration accorded to a popular Leader. It is the worship of a national hero who has saved his country from utter despondency and degradation. It is true that public criticism of the Government is forbidden in every form. That does not mean that criticism is absent. I have heard the speeches of prominent Nazi orators freely condemned. But not a word of criticism or of disapproval have I heard of Hitler. He is as immune from criticism as a king in a monarchical country. He is something more. He is the George Washington of Germany – the man who won for his country independence from all her oppressors. To those who have not actually seen and sensed the way Hitler reigns over the heart and mind of Germany this description may appear extravagant. All the same, it is the bare truth. This great people will work better, sacrifice more, and, if necessary, fight with greater resolution because Hitler asks them to do so. Those who do not comprehend this central fact cannot judge the present possibilities of modern Germany. On the other hand, those who imagine that Germany has swung back to its old Imperialist temper cannot have any understanding of the character of the change. The idea of a Germany intimidating Europe with a threat that its irresistible army might march across frontiers forms no part of the new vision. What Hitler said at Nuremberg is true. The Germans will resist to the death every invader at their own country, but they have no longer the desire themselves to invade any other land. The leaders of modern Germany know too well that Europe is too formidable a proposition to be overrun and trampled down by any single nation, however powerful may be its armaments. They have learned that lesson in the war. Hitler fought in the ranks throughout the war, and knows from personal experience what war means. He also knows too well that the odds are even heavier today against an aggressor than they were at that time. What was then Austria would now be in the main hostile to the ideals of 1914. The Germans are under no illusions about Italy. They also are aware that the Russian Army is in every respect far more efficient than it was in 1914. The establishment of a German hegemony in Europe which was the aim and dream of the old pre-war militarism, is not even on the horizon of Nazism. …

Not much has changed in the more than three-quarters of a century since then. Just consider the way the world looks at China, whose economy is commandeered by the Chinese Communist Party.

References:

  • J. Remak (ed.), The Nazi Years – A Documentary History (Prentice-Hall, 1969), pp.80-82.

September 13, 1970 (a Sunday)

Margaret Thatcher famously claimed that “there is no such thing as society” and mainstream economics works from exactly the same assumption – for mainstream economists society is simply the aggregation, the adding together, of millions of individual economic actors and actions. All of these actors are assumed to be “rational” – a word which economists also use in a way that reflects their own prejudices – a purely calculating and narrowly self interested mentality focused on short and long run material gratification, whose relationship to other economic actors is intrinsically competitive. Thus “rational economic man” has no emotion, is part of no social psychological processes involving mutual influence, common hopes, beliefs and fears, no mutual support, no group or common class interests. Instead “rational economic man” is a calculating machine, focused on maximizing his satisfactions or “utility”.

— Brian Davey, “Economics is not a social science”

It is clear, therefore, that Buddhist economics must be very different from the economics of modern materialism, since the Buddhist sees the essence of civilization not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.

— E. F. Schumacher, “Buddhist Economics” (1966)

Zen stones

On this date, The New York Times Magazine published an article by Milton Friedman entitled “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits.”  It has been held up by neoliberals as the foundation of their economic beliefs ever since.

Neoliberals are fierce advocates of so-called free markets, as though they are some magical solution to all of the world’s problems. What Friedman called the “free market” is actually laissez-faire, the elimination of any government influence in the market. The only role for the government in the system would be for the protection of property rights.

The problem, of course, is that laissez-faire fails every time it is tried. The grand laissez-faire experiments during America’s Gilded Age resulted in the most devastating economic collapses, the last of which we now call the Great Depression. Friedman’s “free market” offers no safety and no rules. The unscrupulous exploit any advantage to develop a monopoly, with the result being that the market itself becomes unstable and will eventually self-destruct.

The other problem with the free market is that it makes no accommodation for the commons. The commons is a very old concept, pre-dating even colonial America, existing in English common law as far back as 800 CE. A “commons” is any resource used as though it belongs to all. In other words, when anyone can use a shared resource simply because one wants or needs to use it, then one is using a commons. For example, the radio frequencies that pass in and around and through us all are part of the commons. Nowadays, a government agency, the FCC, prevents any two businesses from broadcasting on the same frequency because otherwise nobody could listen to either of them. However, in laissez-faire, there would be no commons, and things such as the radio spectrum would be unusable in its entirety, due to encroachment by other ventures.

Sometimes it is not a question of taking something out of the commons, but of putting something in — sewage, or chemical, radioactive, and heat wastes into water; noxious and/or dangerous gases (for example, carbon dioxide) into the air; and distracting and unpleasant advertising signs into the line of sight. If a corporation’s share of the cost of the wastes discharged into the commons is less than the cost of purifying those wastes before releasing them, then we are locked into a system of “fouling our own nest,” so long as the government, even though it represents the people, cannot effectively regulate polluting corporations.

Milton Friedman offered no solution to these problems; in fact, his writings exacerbated them. The article he published on this date was ferocious. He said that any business executives who pursued a goal other than making money were “unwitting pup­pets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades.” They were guilty of “analytical looseness and lack of rigor” and had even turned themselves into “unelected government officials” who were illegally taxing employers and customers. Ironically, Friedman himself was guilty of “analytical looseness and lack of rigor” by assuming the conclusion of his argument at the beginning of his article.

On 26 June 2013, Forbes published “The Origin of ‘The World’s Dumbest Idea’: Milton Friedman” written by Steve Denning. He points out several flaws and inconsistencies in Friedman’s paper:

“In a free-enterprise, private-property sys­tem,” the article states flatly at the outset as an obvious truth requiring no justification or proof, “a corporate executive is an employee of the owners of the business,” namely the shareholders…

If anyone familiar with even the rudiments of the law were to be asked whether a corporate executive is an employee of the shareholders, the answer would be: clearly not. The executive is an employee of the corporation…

A corporate exec­utive who devotes any money for any general social interest would, the article argues, “be spending someone else’s money… Insofar as his actions in accord with his ‘social responsi­bility’ reduce returns to stockholders, he is spending their money.”

How did the corporation’s money somehow become the shareholder’s money? Simple. That is the article’s starting assumption. By assuming away the existence of the corporation as a mere “legal fiction”, hey presto! the corporation’s money magically becomes the stockholders’ money.

Denning then points out how Friedman later, in a conceptual sleight of hand, recasts the money:

The article goes on: “Insofar as his actions raise the price to customers, he is spending the customers’ money.” One moment ago, the organization’s money was the stockholder’s money. But suddenly… the organization’s money has become the customer’s money…

The article continued: “Insofar as [the executives’] actions lower the wages of some employees, he is spending their money.” Now suddenly, the organization’s money has become, not the stockholder’s money or the customers’ money, but the employees’ money.

According to Denning, Friedman’s entire paper rests on the false assumption “that an organization is a legal fiction which doesn’t exist and that the organization’s money is owned by the stockholders.”

The success of the article was not because the arguments were sound or powerful, but rather because people desperately wanted to believe. [emphasis in original]

As a result of Friedman’s writings, self-interest has reigned supreme. His theories justify the impulse to make money by whatever means are available. As recent scandals have made clear, even breaking the law is acceptable, if the corporation gets off with civil penalties that are small in relation to the illicit gains that are made.

Roger Martin, in his book, Fixing the Game, writes:

It isn’t just about the money for shareholders, or even the dubious CEO behavior that our theories encourage. It’s much bigger than that. Our theories of shareholder value maximization and stock-based compensation have the ability to destroy our economy and rot out the core of American capitalism. These theories underpin regulatory fixes instituted after each market bubble and crash. Because the fixes begin from the wrong premise, they will be ineffectual; until we change the theories, future crashes are inevitable.

References:

September 8, 1892 (a Thursday)

Southington, Connecticut school children pledge their allegiance to the flag, in May 1942.

Southington, Connecticut school children pledge their allegiance to the flag, in May 1942.

On this date, the Pledge of Allegiance was published in The Youth’s Companion, the leading family magazine and the Reader’s Digest of its day. It was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892 as a critique of the rampant greed, misguided materialism, and hyper-individualism of the Gilded Age. Furthermore, he wrote it in support of President Harrison’s public education programs, which were called socialist in 1892 just as Obama’s health care program is today.

He did not include the phrase “under God” as part of the original Pledge.

Bellamy, who lived from 1855 to 1931, was a Baptist minister and a leading Christian socialist. He was ousted from his Boston church for his sermons depicting Jesus as a socialist and for his work among the poor in the Boston slums.

Bellamy (cousin of Edward Bellamy, author of two best-selling socialist utopian novels, Looking Backward and Equality) believed that unbridled capitalism, materialism and individualism betrayed America’s promise. He hoped the Pledge of Allegiance would promote a different moral vision to counter the rampant greed he thought was undermining the nation.

In 1923, over the objections of the aging Bellamy, the National Flag Conference, led by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, changed the opening, “I pledge allegiance to my flag” to “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.”  In 1954, at the height of the Cold War — when many political leaders believed that the nation was threatened by godless communism — the Knights of Columbus led a successful campaign to get Congress to add the words “under God.”

The Pledge was now both a patriotic oath and a public prayer. Bellamy’s granddaughter said he also would have resented this second change: He had been pressured into leaving his church in 1891 because of his socialist sermons, and during his retirement in Florida he stopped attending church because he disliked the racial bigotry he found there.

When we recite the Pledge of Allegiance, we should remind ourselves that it was written by a socialist who believed that “liberty and justice for all” meant more equality and a stronger democracy.

September 8, 1504

Plaster cast of original statue of 'David', by Michelangelo, Florence, Italy, 1501-4. Cast by unknown maker, Florence, Italy, about 1857.

Plaster cast of original statue of ‘David’, by Michelangelo, Florence, Italy, 1501-4. Cast by unknown maker, Florence, Italy, about 1857.

On this date, the original statue of David by Michelangelo was unveiled in Florence, Italy.

Interestingly, a replica of the statue of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ was originally presented to Queen Victoria by the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1857, but was immediately given by the queen to the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A). The story goes that on her first encounter with the cast of ‘David’ at the Museum, Queen Victoria was so shocked by the nudity that a proportionally accurate fig leaf was commissioned. It was then kept in readiness for any royal visits, when it was hung on the figure using two strategically placed hooks. In a photograph of the Art Museum taken around 1857-9 the figure of David is shown wearing a fig leaf. The fig leaf is likely to have been made by the Anglo-Italian firm D. Brucciani & Co., based in London.

Male nudity was then a contentious issue. A letter sent to the Museum in 1903 by a Mr Dobson complained about the statuary displayed: ‘One can hardly designate these figures as “art” !: if it is, it is a very objectionable form of art.’

In relation to Mr Dobson’s complaint, the then director Caspar Purdon Clarke noted: ‘The antique casts gallery has been very much used by private lady teachers for the instruction of young girl students and none of them has ever complained even indirectly’ (museum papers, 1903).

Tin fig leaves had been used during the early years of the Museum on other nude male statuary, but later authorities at South Kensington were dismissive of objections. Nowadays, the fig leaf is no longer displayed on the David. Instead, it is housed in its own case on the back of the plinth of the figure.

Hopefully, that’s where it will remain.

September 4, 1957 (a Wednesday)

A page from the Wolfeden Report.

A page from the Wolfeden Report.

On this date, the Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (better known as the Wolfenden Report, after Lord Wolfenden, the chairman of the committee) was published in Britain. It was significant for recommending that homosexual behavior in private between consenting adults, (i.e., over 21) should be decriminalized. The first printing of 5,000 copies of the 155-page document sold out in a matter of hours, and the report quickly went through numerous reprintings.

Male homosexuality had been illegal in England since the Buggery Act of 1533 (female homosexuality was never specified). The law became much more strict in 1885 with the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which made all homosexual acts illegal, even those carried out in private. Perhaps the most famous prosecution was that of the writer Oscar Wilde in 1895.

The number of convictions rose rapidly in the immediate period after World War II as the Home Office pursued prosecution more rigorously. In 1952, there had been 670 prosecutions in England for sodomy; 3,087 prosecutions for attempted sodomy or indecent assault; and 1,686 prosecutions for so-called gross indecency.

At that time, homosexuality was also the subject of sensationalist reporting in the popular press, and there were a number of high profile cases involving public figures. In 1951, the Russian spies Donald MacLean and Guy Burgess, both known to be homosexual, defected to the USSR. Alan Turing, the cryptographer who helped to break the German Enigma code, was victimized for his homosexuality. Charged in 1952 with “gross indecency”, he chose hormone treatment as punishment (the alternative was prison). He also lost his job. His death in June 1954 was treated as suicide. In 1953, newly-knighted Sir John Gielgud was arrested after trying to pick up a man in a public toilet who turned out to be an undercover policeman. He was found guilty of “persistently importuning for immoral purposes.” In 1954, the sensational trial of the Montagu/Pitt-Rivers/Wildeblood case was held, resulting in a peer (Lord Montagu of Beaulieu), his cousin (Michael Pitt-Rivers), and a journalist (Peter Wildeblood) being convicted of having had sexual relations with young working class men. They received sentences ranging from twelve to eighteen months imprisonment.

All of these events and controversies created pressure for a re-evaluation of the criminalization of homosexuality. Two MPs in December 1953 called upon the government to set up a Royal Commission to investigate the law relating to homosexual offenses, leading the Home Secretary, David Maxwell-Fyfe, to appoint the Departmental Committee in August 1954.

In addition to Wolfenden, the committee consisted of eleven men and three women, of whom thirteen served for the entire three years of the committee’s deliberations. The committee included, among others, two judges, a Foreign Office official, a Scottish Presbyterian minister, a Conservative MP, a consulting psychiatrist, the vice-president of the City of Glasgow Girl Guides, and a professor of moral theology. It was charged “to consider (a) the law and practice relating to homosexual offences and the treatment of persons convicted of such offences by the courts; and (b) the law and practice relating to offences against the criminal law in connection with prostitution and solicitation for immoral purposes, and to report what changes, if any, are desirable.”

The committee met for the first time on September 15, 1954. Over a period of three years, they interviewed religious leaders, policemen, judges, probation officers, psychiatrists, social workers, and homosexuals. When they issued their report in 1957, all but one of the thirteen members still sitting on the committee agreed that homosexual acts should be decriminalized if they took place in private, with consent, between persons at least 21 years of age and not members of the armed forces or the merchant navy.

The committee condemned homosexuality as immoral and destructive to individuals, but concluded that outlawing homosexuality impinged on civil liberties and that private morality or immorality should not be “the law’s business.” The function of the law, the committee wrote:

…is to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is offensive or injurious, and to provide sufficient safeguards against exploitation and corruption of others, particularly those who are specially vulnerable…. It is not, in our view, the function of the law to intervene in the private life of citizens, or to seek to enforce any particular pattern of behaviour, further than is necessary to carry out the purposes we have outlined.

_____________________________________________________________

Interview with Sir John Wolfenden in 1967.
_____________________________________________________________

The basis on which the Wolfenden committee made its recommendations was essentially a restatement of the famous “harm principle” of John Stuart Mill, which he stated in his best-known work, On Liberty (1859). Here, Mill’s defense of liberty is as uncompromising as he can make it:

[T]he sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to someone else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute.

The sole dissenter from the majority’s recommendation, James Adair, disassociated himself from the Wolfenden Report, declaring that relaxing the law on homosexuality would be regarded by many homosexuals as “licensing licentiousness.”

Interestingly, despite the testimony of numerous psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, the committee refused to classify homosexuality as a mental illness requiring psychiatric intervention. It found that “homosexuality cannot legitimately be regarded as a disease, because in many cases it is the only symptom and is compatible with full mental health in other respects.” It did, however, urge continued research into the causes and potential cures of homosexuality, such as hormone treatments and psychiatric therapy.

The recommendation to decriminalize homosexuality was widely condemned by many religious and political leaders and by a host of newspapers. The committee’s refusal to declare homosexuality a disease provoked the condemnation of psychiatrists. On the other hand, the British Medical Association, the Howard League for Penal Reform, and the National Association of Probation Officers supported the committee’s recommendations. Somewhat surprisingly, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Fisher, made an eloquent plea on behalf of the recommendations, declaring that:

There is a sacred realm of privacy… into which the law, generally speaking, must not intrude. This is a principle of the utmost importance for the preservation of human freedom, self-respect, and responsibility.

The home secretary, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, was deeply disappointed in the Wolfenden Report. He no doubt expected the committee to recommend additional ways of controlling homosexual behavior, rather than decriminalizing it. In any case, he expressed doubt that the general population would support reform and declined to take action to implement the committee’s recommendation, calling instead for “additional study.” In fact, it took a good ten years for the recommendations in the Report to become law with the new Sexual Offences Act in 1967.

References:

September 3, 1939 (a Sunday)

On this date, two days after the outbreak of World War II, the anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun, written by Dalton Trumbo, was published by J. B. Lippincott.

September 3, 1838 (a Monday)

Frederick Douglass in 1845.

On this date, Frederick Douglass successfully escaped slavery by boarding a train to Havre de Grace, Maryland. He was dressed in a sailor’s uniform and carried identification papers provided by a free black seaman. He crossed the Susquehanna River by ferry at Havre de Grace, then continued by train to Wilmington, Delaware. From there he went by steamboat to “Quaker City” — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — and eventually reached New York; the whole journey took less than 24 hours.

And so began the remarkable career of an American abolitionist, women’s suffragist, editor, orator, author, statesman, and reformer. Called “The Sage of Anacostia” and “The Lion of Anacostia”, Douglass is one of the most prominent figures in African-American and United States history. He was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant. Douglass was fond of saying, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

One of my personal favorites is an excerpt from a speech Douglass delivered at Corinthian Hall in his adopted hometown, Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852, entitled “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”:

But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines. who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity.

For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny, and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke, put together, have done!

The historian David W. Blight has said of this speech, “If Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the fictional masterpiece of American abolitionism, a book Abraham Lincoln would later acknowledge as powerful enough to ’cause this big war,’ then Douglass’s Fourth of July address is abolition’s rhetorical masterpiece.”

The bust of Ludwig Feuerbach owned by Frederick Douglas that he displayed at his home in Washington, D.C. in later life.

One might wonder, based on the excerpt above: was Douglas an atheist?   Apparently not in 1852, but a letter dated May 15, 1871 by his friend Ottilie Assing, written to the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, reveals that Douglas did in fact years later make the leap:

Personal sympathy and concordance in many central issues brought us together; but there was one obstacle to a loving and lasting friendship—namely, the personal Christian God. Early impressions, environments, and the beliefs still dominating this entire nation held sway over Douglass. The ray of light of German atheism had never reached him, while I, thanks to natural inclination, training, and the whole influence of German education and literature, had overcome the belief in God at an early age. I experienced this dualism as an unbearable dissonance, and since I not only saw in Douglass the ability to recognize intellectual shackles but also credited him with the courage and integrity to discard at once the old errors and, in this one respect, his entire past, his lifelong beliefs, I sought refuge with you. In the English translation by Mary Anne Evans we read the Essence of Christianity together, which I, too, encountered for the first time on that occasion. This book—for me one of the greatest manifestations of the human spirit—resulted in a total reversal of his attitudes. Douglass has become your enthusiastic admirer, and the result is a remarkable progress, an expansion of his horizon, of all his attitudes as expressed especially in his lectures and essays, which are intellectually much more rich, deep, and logical than before. While most of his former companions in the struggle against slavery have disappeared from the public stage since the abolition, and, in a way, have become anachronisms because they lack fertile ideas, Douglass now has reached the zenith of his development. For the satisfaction of seeing a superior man won over for atheism, and through that to have gained a faithful, valuable friend for myself, I feel obliged to you, and I cannot deny myself the pleasure of expressing my gratitude as well as my heartfelt veneration.

Frederick Douglas had first met Ottilie Assing when she traveled to Rochester in 1856 as a German journalist for the prestigious German newspaper Morgenblatt für gebildete Leserto to interview him. She then spent the next 22 summers with the Douglass family, working on articles, the translation project, and tutoring his children.

At the same time, Anna Douglass, Frederick’s wife, was somewhat older than Frederick, illiterate, and ill much of the time. She shared little of her husband’s intellect or interests, and seemed unable to cope with the large household.

Assing, on the other hand, was a passionate abolitionist, was politically astute, and contributed a great deal to Douglass’ work.  The affair was never confined to the domestic sphere, and it was never a secret. For most of their 26 year friendship, when apart, Frederick and Ottilie weekly wrote each other.  Assing was confident that, upon Anna’s death, Douglass would marry her.  However, when Anna died in 1882, Douglass wed another woman – white, bright and 20 years his junior.  Heartbroken and ill with breast cancer, Assing walked into a park, opened a tiny vial and swallowed the potassium cyanide within.  Still, Ottilie left Frederick Douglass as the sole beneficiary in her will.

References:

  • Diedrich, Maria. Love across Color Lines: Ottilie Assing and Frederick Douglass (New York: Hill and Wang, 1999), pp. 259-260. Original German letter published in Ausgewälte Briefe von und an Ludwig Feuerbach, ed. Hans-Martin Sass (Stuttgart: Friedrich Frommann, 1964), vols. 12/13, pp. 365-366.
  • Assing, Ottilie. Radical Passion: Ottilie Assing’s Reports from America and Letters to Frederick Douglass, edited, translated, and introduced by Christoph Lohmann. (New York: Peter Lang, 1999). (New Directions in German American Studies; v. 1)

September 2, 1998 (a Wednesday)

The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and punish.

— Article I of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Zen stones

Bodies of murdered Tutsis from Rwanda, pulled from Lake Victoria by Ugandan fishermen. The bodies had traveled more than 200 miles by river from Rwanda.

On this date, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (a court established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 955 on 8 November 1994) found Jean-Paul Akayesu, the former mayor of the small Rwandan town of Taba, guilty of 9 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity (Prosecutor v. Jean-Paul Akayesu, ICTR-96-4), marking the first time that the 1948 law banning genocide was enforced. Because mass killings had occurred in several countries since the law went into effect, the UN received heavy criticism for waiting 50 years before finally enforcing it.

After the Rwandan genocide began on April 7, 1994, Akayesu initially kept his town out of the mass killing, refusing to let militia operate there and protecting the local Tutsi population. But following an April 18 meeting of mayors with interim government leaders (those who planned and orchestrated the genocide), a fundamental change took place in the town and apparently within Akayesu. He seems to have calculated that his political and social future depended on joining the forces carrying out the genocide. Akayesu exchanged his business suit for a military jacket, literally donning violence as his modus operandi: witnesses saw him incite townspeople to join in the killing and turn former safe havens into places of torture, rape, and murder.

Sentencing occurred on October 2, 1998, when Jean-Paul Akayesu was given life imprisonment for his role in the deaths of 2,000 Tutsis who had sought his protection, as well as 80 years in prison for other violations, including rape. Although Akayesu claimed that he was powerless to stop the killings, Judge Laity Kama ruled that the mayor was “individually and criminally responsible for the deaths.” The ruling not only marked the first time a guilty verdict was handed down on the basis of the 1948 Genocide Convention, but also the first time in international law that mass rape was considered an “act of genocide.” This judgement was upheld on appeal.

References:

August 23, 1975 (a Saturday)

Our own tyrants learned this lesson through bitter experience, when the love between Aristogiton and Harmodius grew so strong that it shattered their power. Wherever, therefore, it has been established that it is shameful to be involved in sexual relationships [of men] with men, this is due to evil on the part of legislators, to despotism on the part of the rulers, and to cowardice on the part of the governed.

— Plato, Symposium

Zen stones

Leonard Matlovich comes out.

History tells us that a man being able to admit to the other men in his unit that he is gay is not the antithesis of a successful war-fighting culture. On Saturday, 23 August 1975, U.S. Air Force Tech Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, appeared in his Air Force uniform on the cover of Time magazine with the headline “I Am A Homosexual”. Nevertheless, on 22 October 1975 he was given a general discharge. Matlovich was in many ways the first prominent face of the unjust treatment of gays and lesbians in the U.S. military. He was awarded the bronze star and a purple heart for his valor in combat. When he decided to stand up and tell the truth he knew what he was doing. The story goes that when Matlovich gave his superior officer his coming-out letter, the African-American officer asked: “What the hell does this mean?” Matlovich told him “It means Brown v. the Board of Education.”

Matlovich's tombstone at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC.

In 1979, after winning a much-publicized case against the U.S. Air Force, his discharge was upgraded to “honorable.” In 1988, Matlovich died at the age of 44 of complications from AIDS. He was buried with full military honors at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.   His grave bears his famous statement:

When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.

Suggested Reading:

  • John Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, (New York, NY: Villard, 1994).
  • Plato, Symposium
  • Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, Book 6

August 19, 1920 and the Politics of the Mormon Church

Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. . . . The paramount destiny and mission of women is to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator.

— Justice Joseph P. Bradley, Bradwell v. State of Illinois 83 US 130: 141 (1872)

Zen stones

Men and women are equal.

Following the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which extended suffrage to women on this date (19 August 1920), some believed that the U.S. Constitution should be amended to guarantee full rights for women in all aspects of life, from employment to education to divorce to property ownership. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution was originally written by Alice Paul in 1921 and first proposed in the United States Congress in December 1923. It was promoted by Paul and the National Women’s Party, but opposed by many of their colleagues who had worked to pass the Nineteenth Amendment. The ERA would have eliminated protective legislation which for years reformers had sought for female industrial workers. But Paul was determined that women should be treated as individuals under the law just as men were, not as a class subject to mass governmental regulation. The wording of the proposed ERA was simply:

Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Needless to say, the ERA was not ratified.

Many believed equality was already guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, a belief reinforced in 1963 by the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, which concluded that an equal rights amendment was redundant because of provisions of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. National polls, however, indicated that feminists believed in the necessity of an ERA.

In 1971, the ERA was reintroduced into Congress with the same language as Paul’s original document:

Sec. 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Sec. 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Sec. 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

It passed the U.S. Senate and then the House of Representatives, and on 22 March 1972, the proposed 27th Amendment to the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification, getting twenty-two of the necessary thirty-eight state ratifications in that first year. Most of these were states which had already resolved in favor of women’s rights by enacting equal protective labor legislation for men and women. But the pace slowed as opposition began to take its toll — only eight ratifications in 1973, three in 1974, one in 1975, and none in 1976. By 1976, 34 states had ratified the ERA; only four more were needed to make it part of the Constitution.

The attack against the ERA seemed, at times, alarmist and hysterical. Equation of the ERA with sexual permissiveness, abortion, child care, homosexuality, and unisexuality drew the debate away from the constitutional principal of equality to issues of “traditional family values.” But the attack did reflect the fears of many about the changing roles of women and men and about the changing form of the family. There seemed to be danger in equality for the ideological/cultural concept of the father as head and provider, mother as nurturer and manager, and children as replicas into the next generation. Many feared the equality would make women more vulnerable and exposed, that men would feel freer to abandon family responsibilities.

Then the Mormons got involved. The fears of anti-ERA opponents prompted the Mormon Church (male) leadership to join their financial resources, promotional skills, and broad network of members to the anti-ERA movement. In October 1976, the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) issued a statement against the ERA, concerned it “could indeed bring [women] far more restraints and repressions. We fear it will even stifle many God-given feminine instincts.” This denunciation had a nearly immediate impact in Idaho, home to a relatively large Mormon electorate. The Idaho legislature had previously given the ERA the requisite two-thirds approval, but this was undone by a January 1977 referendum in which a popular majority opposed the amendment. In December 1976, the Church leadership urged all stake and mission presidencies to “to join others in efforts to defeat the ERA”, leading to LDS-coordinated efforts against the ERA in twenty-one states.

The LDS Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Next, the Church mobilized Mormons to participate in the state-level International Women’s Year (IWY) conferences taking place around the country. Mormon women in numerous states worked to block pro-ERA resolutions at IWY conferences. The process was top-down, and controlled by the Church’s leadership. In Utah, for example, fourteen thousand Mormons attended the conference, voting down every proposal in the meeting including anti-pornography measures and calls for world peace. In Hawaii, Mormon women received these written instructions: “Report to Traditional Values Van, sign in, pick up dissent forms. Sit together. Stay together to vote. Ask Presidency for help if needed.” At other state conferences, male Mormon coordinators staked out various rooms and informed their compatriots when a particular vote was pending; the Mormon women in attendance then rushed in to participate. This kind of discipline and cohesion allowed Mormon women to dominate conferences in states where their total numbers were quite small. For example, Mormons represented about four percent of the total populations of Washington and Montana, but accounted for half or more of the women attending each state’s IWY gathering. And in both Washington and Montana, every proposed pro-ERA resolution was defeated.

In typical grassroots fashion, ward bishops solicited donations to support the anti-ERA effort, speeches against the amendment were deemed appropriate at all Church meetings, and Church buildings were used as anti-ERA literature distribution centers. Church-sponsored anti-ERA organizations operated in Florida, Nevada, North and South Carolina, Missouri, Illinois and Arizona.

As the official voice of the Church, the Ensign published articles clarifying the Church’s position, speeches about ratification given by Church leaders in different locations, and official policy statements that left no room for misinterpretation. Bishops, stake presidents, teachers, and women read them in classes, and official press packets were distributed widely to local newspapers, television personalities, and other individuals in the media. The First Presidency reaffirmed its opposition to the ERA in a statement dated 24 August 1978 in which it said, “Its deceptively simple language deals with practically every aspect of American life, without considering the possible train of unnatural consequences which could result because of its very vagueness — encouragement of those who seek a unisex society, an increase in the practice of homosexual and lesbian activities, and other concepts which could alter the natural, God-given relationship of men and women.” In March 1980, the Church went all out with the publication of The Church and the Proposed Equal Rights Amendment: A Moral Issue.

Lists of pro-ERA legislators were posted in the hallways of meetinghouses, and even sample letters of opposition one might send to their legislators were posted as well. At Relief Society or Sunday School, petitions were circulated and delivered to state legislators. One petition read in part: “We consider the Equal Rights Amendment a nonpartisan issue and will, in the 1979 elections, vote only for those candidates who oppose ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.” Here, too, the Mormons’ limited numbers belied their ultimate effect: by one estimate, they generated 85 percent of the anti-ERA mail sent in Virginia, where they made up only one percent of the population.

An article by Jessica Longaker entitled, “Mormon Family Values and the Role of Women in LDS,” might help explain why the Mormon Church entered politics to defeat the ERA:

Polygamous marriage is basically essential to Mormon theology. Mormon Doctrine states that God was once a human man, and “He is now a glorified, resurrected Personage having a tangible body of flesh and bones”. As a matter of fact, “all gods first existed as spirits, came to an earth to receive bodies, and then, after having passed through a period of probation on the aforesaid earth, were advanced to the exalted position they now enjoy”. After death, a good Mormon man who has followed a few certain rules is catapulted to this same status and receives his own planet to populate and rule over. To receive this honor, a man must be “married for eternity” in the Mormon temple. This special marriage is binding after death as well as until it.

“Celestial” marriage, as this eternal marriage is often called, is essential for Mormon women. Without being celestially married to a holder of the priesthood, a woman cannot be “saved”. Mary Ettie Smith, a Mormon woman who left the church and Utah in 1856, said that “women do not amount to much in themselves,” and that women in those times were often celestially married to men they had no intention of ever living with, so that they could have a man who would be able to get them into heaven.

(. . .)

Girls and boys are also told that a good and proper Mormon home is a patriarchal one. A handbook written for fourteen year old boys states that, “The patriarchal order is of divine origin and will continue throughout time and eternity”. Husbands conduct family prayers, bless their wives and children, and generally control the household. They also are in charge of “family home evening”, one night per week set aside for family prayer and togetherness. The Mormon belief is that Eve’s roles in life, those of help-meet and child-bearer, set the pattern for all of her daughters. Girls are told that God wants them at home, and boys are never taught to clean up after themselves, since when their mothers stop doing it for them, their wives will take over the job. These ideas, at least, have not changed at all since the nineteenth century.

(. . .)

The Mormon church of today is still clinging to the beliefs of the nineteenth century; ideas which are becoming more outmoded every day. A few women in the Mormon church are trying to make a difference, but they are usually swiftly excommunicated. . . . Feminists are described as “the Pied Pipers of sin who have led women away from the divine role of womanhood down the pathway of error”. Obviously, the Mormon church is not going to alter its views on women in the immediate future. It is questionable whether it is even possible for Mormonism to equalize the roles of men and women, because the oppression of women is so integral to the religion. Men and women cannot truly become equal in the church, for the basic tenets of Mormonism are so fraught with sexism that equality would change the religion beyond recognition.

Some Mormons favored the ERA. Most notably, Sonia Johnson emerged as a pro-ERA Mormon leader, co-founding Mormons for ERA in 1977. She testified in 1978 in support of the ERA before the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, upsetting Mormon Senator Orrin Hatch. Testifying again in August 1979 before the Subcommittee, she asked Hatch how the Church’s statement against the ERA could discuss the “exalted role of woman in our society” while leaving women in a secondary status “where equality does not even pertain. . . . One wonders if the leaders of the church would gladly exchange their sex and become so exalted.” In September 1979, she further raised concerns of Church leaders when she spoke to the American Psychological Association on “Patriarchal Panic: Sexual Politics in the Mormon Church“. The key paragraph of the speech centered on her cause:

But women are not fools. The very violence with which the [Mormon] brethren attacked an amendment which would give women human status in the Constitution abruptly opened the eyes of thousands of us to the true source of our danger and our anger. This open patriarchal panic against our human rights raised consciousness miraculously all over the church as nothing else could have done. And revealing their raw panic at the idea that women might step forward as goddesses-in-the-making with power in a real — not a “sub” or “through men” — sense was the leaders’ critical and mortal error, producing as it did a deafening dissonance between their rhetoric of love and their oppressive, unloving, destructive behavior.

Sonia Johnson

It was in this speech that Johnson crossed the line between equal civil rights and the patriarchal system of the Mormon Church, a border also blurred by the Church by identifying the ERA as a moral issue upon which the Church could take political action (in harmony with the 29 June 1979 statement of the First Presidency which explained that moral issues, so identified by the First Presidency and Council of Twelve, may be “worthy of full institutional involvement”). Later in the “Patriarchal Panic” speech, Johnson said:

The Mormons, a tiny minority, are dedicated to imposing the Prophet’s moral directives upon all Americans, and they may succeed if Americans do not become aware of their methods and goals. Because the organization of the church is marvelously tight, and the obedience of the members marvelously thoroughgoing, potentially thousands of people can be mobilized in a very short time to do–conscientiously–whatever they are told, without more explanation than “the Prophet has spoken.”

But Mormon anti-ERA activity, though organized and directed through the hierarchy of the church from Salt Lake down through regional and local male leaders, is covert activity not openly done in the name of the church. Members are cautioned not to reveal that they are Mormons or organized by the church when they lobby, write letters, donate money, and pass out anti-ERA brochures door to door through whole states. Instead, they are directed to say they are concerned citizens following the dictates of their individual consciences. Since they are, in fact, following the very dictates of the Prophet’s conscience and would revise their own overnight if he were to revise his, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Mormon church began disciplinary proceedings against Sonia Johnson after she delivered the above speech. She was excommunicated from the LDS Church, after a perfunctory Church trial, a little over three months later. It was not her pro-ERA beliefs that caused her conflict with the LDS Church but her opposition to its political activities in relation to the ERA.

While it might be going too far to say that the Mormon Church killed the ERA, it certainly put the amendment on life support. True, Mormons made common cause with conservative Catholics and Protestant fundamentalists in their battle against the ERA, a collaboration that paved the way for the political sector now broadly known as the religious right. But without the Mormon Church’s timely intervention and efficient opposition, the amendment probably would have passed. In any case, it is clear that the network of LDS wards and stakes coalesced into a tax-subsidized political machine, energetically fund-raising and mobilizing campaign volunteers to influence public policy.

Suggested Reading:

  • Sonia Johnson, From Housewife to Heretic: One Woman’s Struggle for Equal Rights and Her Excommunication from the Mormon Church (Garden City, New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1983).
  • Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1992).
  • Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994).
  • Martha Sonntag Bradley, Pedestals and Podiums: Utah Women, Religious Authority, and Equal Rights (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2005)