Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Fake Racism and Welfare Fraud

Just a few weeks ago, I posted a speech by the Commandant of the Air Force Academy responding to a racist incident at the Air Force Academy Prep School.[1]

About a week ago, the New York Times reported that the alleged victim of the racist remark actually planted it.[2]  Apparently the student wrote the racial slur on his and other minority students’ doors in an ill-advised attempt to get out of some unrelated difficulty he was in.

The incident was seized upon by some commentators as proof that all racism is fake, or at least overblown.  That is a tragedy.  Racism is real and pervasive in our society.  It is just a shame that a misguided attempt by a teenager (I presume) could cause some to question our national shame.

I am reminded of some criminal cases that I handled, both as County Attorney and as judge.  I am particularly offended by people who attempt to steal money from the government by claiming welfare benefits to which they are not entitled.  Public assistance is a lifeline to people in desperate straits.  It is, most literally, all that stands between a parent having food for her family and becoming homeless.

Far too many people put blame on these unfortunate folks, claiming they are lazy, greedy or dishonest.  

And, those who attempt to cheat the system give grist to that mill. 

I tried, in my professional life, to send a message to those cheats:  Commit this crime and you will go to jail.  Too often, because of a weakness in the prosecution’s case or innocents (children) who would suffer if jail were imposed, I relented.  But these crimes are particularly reprehensible to me. 

But this crime, like a false report of a racist act, does not only affect the perpetrator and those close to him/her.  It affects all those real victims of racism and those honorable folks who become near destitute and must rely on government assistance.

This case in the Academy prep school was false.  But we should remember the words of the Commandant of the Academy addressing the new reality:  

"Regardless of the circumstances under which those words were written, they were written, and that deserved to be addressed," Silveria said in a Tuesday email. "You can never over-emphasize the need for a culture of dignity and respect - and those who don't understand those concepts, aren't welcome here."[3]


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Pershing False Story

Recently, and old and false story about General John J Pershing was revived, claiming he had ordered the execution of Mora Islamist rebels in the Philippines in the early 20th Century by bullets dipped in pig blood.  The story has been fully debunked and is contrary to everything I have read about this extraordinary military leader.  Here is an excerpt from the Snopes.com article on the issue:[1],[2]

The history of the American administration of the Philippines between the Spanish cession of the islands at the conclusion of the Spanish-American war in 1898 and the attainment of full political independence in 1946 … is too long and complicated to explicate here. Suffice it to say that General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing was part of the process as Governor of the troublesome Moro Province between 1909 and 1913. We found no references to this alleged incident in Pershing biographies, however, nor does it match the way Pershing is generally recorded as having dealt with the Moros in 1911. When they refused to obey Pershing’s order banning firearms by surrendering their weapons, his response was to draft a letter to the Moros expressing sorrow that his soldiers had to resort to killing them to enforce the order:

I write you this letter because I am sorry to know that you and your people refuse to do what the government has ordered. You do not give up your arms. Soldiers were sent to Taglibi so that you could come into camp and turn in your guns. When the soldiers went to camp a Taglibi, your Moros fired into camp and tried to kill the soldiers. Then the soldiers had to shoot all Moros who fired upon them. When the soldiers marched through the country, the Moros again shot at them, so the soldiers had to kill several others. I am sorry the soldiers had to kill any Moros. All Moros are the same to me as my children and no father wants to kill his own children …

When negotiations stalled and matters came to a head, Pershing was still reluctant to be responsible for any more loss of life than was necessary:

[The Moros retreated to a sacred extinct volcano in December, 1911.]  It was the refuge against fate, the last bastion of the hopeless, the place where their ancestors stood off great waves of enemies. Once on the mountain, ensconced in its big cotta, Moros would die gladly, …. Retreat to Dajo meant a clear declaration of war.

Sobered and depressed, Jack wrote of an overriding worry: “I am sorry these Moros are such fools, but … I shall lose as few men and kill as few Moros as possible.” …

Pershing’s strategy was to surround the Moros and wait them out while attempting to induce them to surrender, a strategy that worked effectively: the Bud Dajo campaign ended with only twelve Moro casualties. But in his report Pershing seemed keenly aware that the best approach was not to take any action that would encourage religious fanaticism:

There was never a moment during this investment of Bud Dajo when the Moros… would not have fought to the death had they been given the opportunity. They had gone there to make a last stand on this, their sacred mountain, and they were determined to die fighting … they were chagrined and disappointed in that they were not encouraged to die the death of Mohammedan fanatics.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

John J Pershing

In 2013, I attended a Masonic conference in Kansas City.  The headquarters hotel was within a couple of blocks of the World War I Museum.  I played hooky one afternoon and visited the museum. 

At that time, there was an exhibit about the American cemeteries in France.  Over 53,000 Americans died in combat in World War I, many of them unidentified.  Seven cemeteries were established and maintained by the governments of the United States and France[1].

General John J Pershing was the commander of the American Expeditionary Force in France.  After the war, President WarrenHarding appointed him to oversee the establishment of the American cemeteries.  According to the exhibit, Pershing insisted that the graves of unknown soldiers have Stars of David, rather than crosses, in the same proportion as the graves of the identified soldiers.  “That sounds like a Masonic type thing to do,” I reflected.

It turns out I was right.

Pershing attended West Point, where his instructors were Civil War veterans.  He fought in the Indian wars, and was present (in a supporting cadre of soldiers) during the Wounded Knee massacre.  He commanded a troop of Buffalo Soldiers (Black American), where he gained the nickname, “Black Jack.”

Pershing commanded the American forces in the Philippines during the insurgency there.  He became quite active in Pilipino Masonry and became adroit at negotiating with the natives and rebels as well as effective as a military strategist.

He chased Poncho Villa into Mexico in 1916-17.

And, finally, he was appointed Supreme Commander of the American Expeditionary Force during World War I.  After the Great War, Pershing was promoted to General of the Armies -Five Star.  The first to attain that rank since George Washington.

I admire Pershing because he treated his troops, especially the Buffalo Soldiers, with firmness and fairness.  He treated his adversaries in the Philippines with respect. 

And he provided Stars of David for a percentage of the graves of the unknowns.

You don’t have to be a bleeding heart to be tolerant and respectful.  You can be a badass military man and true American hero.[2]

[1] https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials#.WeTVcTCP7IU
[2] See the excellent two-volume biography of Pershing:  Black Jack:  The Life and Times of John J. Pershing, by Frank E. VanDiver (Texas A&M University Press 1977).