2012/12/29

Lincoln

Finally saw the movie "Lincoln" after having written about a piece that was about the movie. Although I show in my piece that the article is wildly inaccurate in some respects, now that I've seen the film, I would characterize the article as not so much inaccurate as it is over-determined through the author's own perspective. There's a scene near the end of the film where the long-time Radical Republican abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens (Played by Tommy Lee Jones) borrows the official copy of the just-passed 13th Amendment (It had been passed by the Senate, was passed by the House in the movie and was then ratified by the states) and then


...brings it home, where he is greeted by his Black housekeeper Lydia Smith, played by S. Epatha Merkerson. He presents it to her with the words “a gift for you,” whereupon the satisfied servant crawls into bed with the White man, for a night of emancipation fornication, one assumes.

I'm not familiar with the actual facts of the Stevens-Smith relationship, but my interpretation of that scene in the movie was that Stevens and Smith were in a long-term, comfortable, romantic relationship and Stevens felt, accurately, that Smith would appreciate seeing the real, genuine words of what represented freedom for her people. Yes, emancipation resulted in a very real improvement for black people for a number of years, then white America kicked back, ending Reconstruction, and what followed that was nearly a century of conditions that powerfully resembled slavery. Greatly improved conditions followed that were brought about by the Civil Rights Movement and by white people who wanted to see America fulfil its promise as a land that treated all people with dignity and respect.

I don't see the movie as glossing over Lincoln so much as it introduces a game-playing Lincoln who made necessary compromises when ha had to and who juggled many balls at once, trying not to let any of them drop. There were points where both Lincoln and Stevens said things they obviously didn't believe to be true (Though Lincoln used a semantic dodge to prevent his statement from being an outright lie), but both of them agreed that freedom for the black people was a good thing, even if their methods of achieving that freedom had to be a bit indirect and had to involve covert appeals.

Are the black people seen as one-dimensionally grateful to the white politicians here? They certainly play a secondary role here. They certainly are not the primary characters around whom the plots of the film revolve. So, up to a point, yes, blacks are seen in the light of being the grateful recipients of what Northern whites do for them, but I reject the idea that blacks played no role in their own liberation. I think that the entrance of blacks into the House gallery before the critical vote probably strengthened the resolve of the Congresspeople who decided to go against their peers and most likely, against a lot of their constituents back home by voting for the 13th Amendment. So I see FinalCall's interpretation as an overly simplified one. Could blacks have simply freed themselves by their own efforts? The South had taken many measures and a great deal of thought and time and effort over the preceding centuries to prevent rebellion by their slaves. No, I think the blacks of that era simply didn't have any choice. If they wanted freedom from chattel slavery, they had to work with Northern whites, which they did, to the ultimate benefit of both groups.

2012/12/07

Arrow

Saw a bit of the last episode and just saw a full episode tonight. According to IMDB, these were the only two appearances, so far, of Helena Bertinelli (Played by Jessica De Gouw). Her role is a pretty obvious one for a "billionaire playboy." What does a man with everything else want? Well, back in the old days, as Jane Austen had one of her characters say in Pride & Prejudice, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Now, these are not the old days (Pride & Prejudice was published in 1813) and Oliver Queen (Played by Stephen Amell) gets Bertinelli into the sack right away, but for Bertinelli to give Queen a sense of purpose, to give his life meaning, a mission to focus on, is a favor he greatly appreciates. He tries to turn her away from simply killing her hated target, to taking apart the guy's fortune without killing him or anyone else.
Now the character that Arrow is clearly based on is the comic book character Green Arrow and sure enough, there's a Dinah Lance (Played by Katie Cassidy), who's his girlfriend in the comic and who's apparently on the outs with him at the moment. Looks like Bertinelli is going to be Arrow's main opponent here. Should be fun!

2012/12/02

A critical review of “Lincoln, lies and Black folk”


First off, let me state my view on how the races/ethnicities relate to each other. Initially, all of the ethnic groups saw each other the way that the US Navy and the Marines do today, the “squids” are lazy and disorganized, the “jarheads” are not so bright, but when we're down to brass tacks, when our backs are to the wall, we're all Americans, we get our instructions from the same Commander-in-Chief and both branches serve the same country. We'll never occupy a world where there's no friction or conflict between the ethnicities, but in the Western world, in the early 1500s, that relatively comfortable situation changed with the introduction of Western technology. It went to the heads of Western white people, who began to think of themselves as Übermensch. Around 1950, the Nazis had taken the theory of the racial supermen to its logical and horrifying conclusion and the colonies that Europe acquired demanded to be free of direct Western control. Westerners began to lose the conviction that they were humanity's supermen. So, when a white person becomes a non-racist, he's not so much moving forwards to enlightenment as he is simply returning to ancient norms, which is why children are not naturally racist. Their racism has to be taught.

Lincoln was very much a man of his time and still retained a feeling that white people were essentially superior to black people. Fortunately, he also felt that Africans had suffered enormously under the boots of white Americans and that the imposition of that suffering was fundamentally immoral. Eventually, he felt near his final days that the political spectrum of his day, with white supremacists feeling that the slave system was just fine and needed no alterations, the centrist middle-of-the-roaders who felt that slave-owners should exercise responsibility and self-control (The idea of commercial regulations was still a few decades in the future) to the wild extremist abolitionists who were radical lefties.

As Lincoln's thought on the subject progressed, he found himself more and more in agreement with what the TV commenter Bill O'Reilly would call “the far left” on the subject.

As to the piece “Lincoln, lies and Black folk” (I have not, as of this writing, watched the Steven Spielberg film, Lincoln) was the Civil War fought for the benefit of the Africans who had been dragged against their will to America? Before and early in the war, Lincoln made his feelings on that subject quite clear, he wanted to preserve the Union whether the Africans were freed or not. Was the fate of the Africans then irrelevant? No, their plight touched sympathetic chords within white people in the North and as the Civil War progressed, rescuing the blacks from their fate was seen as a fine and noble cause and it inspired many Northerners to great efforts.


We deem our cause most holy,
We know we're in the right,
And twenty million freemen
Stand ready for the fight.
Our pride is fair Columbia,
No stain her beauty mars,
On her we'll raise the brave old flag
That bears the stripes and stars.

Preserving the Union was a fairly abstract goal, white people supported it, but rescuing the Africans in America from their fate as it was outlined in “Uncle Tom's Cabin” was an inspiring goal that was worth a lot of bloodshed.

What was the essential cause of the Civil War? Lincoln wisely stated:

A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.

Not sure how completely Lincoln understood the issue here (though he states the problem quite well), but America had two economies, the North was a rising industrial, capitalist power, the South was a Medieval-style, feudalistic source of raw materials. What was the essential difference between the two regions? Slavery. Without chattel slavery (Very different and far crueler than slavery in Biblical times and in South America at the same time), a feudalistic system where very few people owned lots and lots of land was simply impossible to sustain. The only way to sustain a Medieval-type system was to have people in bondage, chained to the land. So yes, without slavery, the South would have been economically indistinguishable from the North. To strike at slavery was to strike at the essentially feudal system of the South.

Did white Americans fight for “free black people”? Ultimately, yes. In order to break the feudal system of the South, the slaves had to be freed. Was that the deliberate, conscious intent of white people in the North? I suspect the Radical Republicans understood the connection at the time, but I doubt many other people truly understood that.

What was the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation? Wikipedia says that 50,000 slaves were freed immediately by the Proclamation as that was the number of black people living within the Federally-occupied areas of the states that were in rebellion when the Proclamation was issued. In the following paragraph about the Hampton Roads Peace Conference, that number had increased to 200,000 as the Conference occurred much later in the war.

This discussion led into the overarching issue of emancipation and the status of blacks in the South. Lincoln, in response to an inquiry by Stephens, indicated that opinions in Washington differed as to the "operation" of the Emancipation Proclamation, particularly after hostilities had ceased and it could no longer be considered a war measure. Some people, he said, believed that it was not operative at all; others, that it applied only to federal-occupied areas; and still others, that it applied to all of the Southern states listed in the proclamation. Seward pointed out that about two hundred thousand slaves had already been freed under the authority of the proclamation, an estimate with which Lincoln agreed. The issue of the Emancipation Proclamation's legality, Lincoln told the Confederate commissioners, would be decided by the courts after the war. Meanwhile, he reminded them, he would not retract or modify any of the proclamation.

Also,

Though "the abandonment of armed resistance to the national authority [was] the only indispensable condition to ending the war," the president made it clear that he would not "retract or modify the emancipation proclamation, nor ... return to slavery any person who is free by the terms of that proclamation, or by any of the Acts of Congress." (emphases added)

Yes, Lincoln put the preservation of the Union first in his short list of demands, but very clearly, black emancipation was a close and very important second.

Lincoln, lies and Black folk” goes on to claim:

In 1861, when General John C. Fremont freed all slaves in the state of Missouri, Lincoln fired him. When General David Hunter freed the slaves in three states, Lincoln cancelled and reversed the order.

Yes, clearly these early attempts at emancipation were premature and occurred before Lincoln decided that freeing the slaves was a necessary precondition for ending the war. Lincoln needed the loyalty of the border states and he felt that taking away slaves before slave-holders were ready to give them up would damage the war effort, so he rhetorically concentrated on “Preserving the Union” as his announced motivation for pursuing the war. Was this the act “of a Saviour or of a Salvation Army”? Obviously not, but it was clearly the act of a politicians trying to balance competing demands, to pursue a war of liberation while asserting that liberation was not his goal at all,

Was Lincoln a “hero for the Black man”? Certainly in the long run, for African-Americans to make the progress that they have, ending slavery was a first, necessary step. I certainly don't consider their experience under American law to be much better than slavery from the end of Reconstruction until the successes of the Civil Rights Movement under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

No, I'm not convinced that Lincoln deserves to be stripped of the honor in which many Americans hold him. We need to look at him with open eyes, of course, and not with blind hero-worship.