It get misty around here, but welcome.
All rights to the estate of Phil Ochs, and the noble man who posted this Bitter End film on his Youtube channel.
It get misty around here, but welcome.
All rights to the estate of Phil Ochs, and the noble man who posted this Bitter End film on his Youtube channel.
Or, what our dissenting soldiers might have thought of the 1787 Constitutional Convention.
In Philadelphia that September, President Washington joined many signers of the Declaration of Independence to discuss revision of the Articles of Confederation, the document governing the way the country was put together. Many came with ideas: James Madison had drafted a “Virginia Plan” which contained a bill of rights, to spell out what was contained in “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”
By then. Pennsylvanian Jacob Ritter was a busy shoemaker/preacher, converting others to the Society of Friends while traveling to sell his shoes to southern Quakers. Matthew Lyon was representing Vermont in Congress, publishing Federalist newspapers. Daniel Shays had built a fortified village in Vermont for his family, and was in touch with Regulators back home (Alas, no one has turned up any records of interaction between Lyon and his accidental neighbor.). All three, one we can be reasonably sure, followed the Convention as it was reported in the newspapers — perhaps even in Lyon’s own Fair Haven Gazette.
Ritter, Shays and Lyon likely noticed, if too politic to mention, how few of the 55 delegates had themselves been soldiers on the front lines; Lyon certainly noticed his soon-enemy John Adams and his well-known medical militia waivers. There were storied generals, between Commander-in-chief Washington, Pennsylvania’s John Armstrong Sr. and Jr, and Pierce Butler, who’d mobilized southern patriots to retake Charleston from the British. But to find any of lower ranks, one must dig into the fine print of delegates’ biographies, e.g. Connecticut’s Thomas Mifflin, Army Quartermaster General until 1780. This was a gathering of politicians and intellectuals, from Alexander Hamilton to Benjamin Franklin. Delegates were bankers, landowners, owners of small factories; some were slave-owners.
Among delegates’ few truly shared beliefs was that they did not want to put soldiers in charge. Indeed, very few topics consumed the convention more than that of how to simultaneously defend the new nation and avoid oppressive standing armies like those of the empire. Lyon and Shays, having started as militiamen and small farmers, were likely cheered as the Second Amendment affirmed a “well-regulated militia” as the country’s the principal defender, and set some guidelines for those militias’ future.
But where in that scheme were the likes of Jacob Ritter, or the Quakers young Colonel Washington had admired, or other doves in uniform? “This was called the land of liberty, and yet we are going to make a respectable class of citizens pay for a right to a free exercise of their religious principles?” asked delegate Aedanus Burke, a South Carolina judge deeply affected by his own militia service.
The writers of the Constitution listened, at least at first. James Madison’s first draft of the Second Amendment contained explicit language to protect the rights of conscience: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, a well-armed and well-regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.” This “conscience clause” survived weeks of negotiations before it was jettisoned, its implied national jurisdiction over state militias unacceptable to many Southern legislators already angered by the Quakers’ explicit anti-slavery position.
Even Burke, the pacifists’ unlikely ally, said of the Friends’ antislavery petitions: “it gives particular umbrage that the Quakers should be so busy in this business. That they will raise up a great storm against themselves appears…very certain.” The centuries to come would not contradict him.
Quakers were among the interests represented at the state conventions then convened to discuss the new constitution. Their sessions were notoriously brutal, from Vermont to Virginia. Lyon covered in his Federalist newspaper the proceedings of that of his home state. Daniel Shays, still a fugitive, was also in Vermont, in the fortified village he’d built for his family, but some of his fellow regulators were aggressive participants the Massachusetts convention. On February 3, 1788, Madison wrote to Washington that “We have in the Convention 18 or 20 who were actually in Shay’s army,” naming them among the “three parties opposed to it—1. all men who are in favour of paper money & tender laws; those are more or less in every part of the State. 2. all the late insurgents & their abettors. In the three great western Counties [the insurgents] are very numerous.”
Then John Hancock, recently elected governor of Massachusetts, brokered the “Massachusetts Compromise”, in which the bill of rights drafted by Madison was explicitly added to the published Constitution. Hancock was also in the process of negotiating a pardon for Daniel Shays, which became final in 1788. No explicit mention was made, in either the Compromise or the pardon, of Shays’ possible role in the nation’s Constitution.
While Shays got to go back home and congratulate his peers on their victory, Matthew Lyon was about to test that constitution’s boundaries, even if it was from a jail cell.
I keep wondering why, as Hurricane Irma’s storm surge barreled toward the Florida Keys, no one has thought to mention the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 — if only for the Humphrey Bogart clip, or the Ernest Hemingway article,’Who Killed the Vets?”
A new bridge between two of Florida’s Upper Keys, Lower Matecumbe and Windley Key, employed 700 veterans, most encamped on the margins in the then-sleepy beach. “Some of them were punch drunk and some of them were smart; some had been on the bum since the Argonne almost and some had lost their jobs the year before last Christmas; some had wives and some couldn’t remember; some were good guys and others put their pay checks in the Postal Savings and then came over to cadge in on the drinks when better men were drunk; some liked to fight and others liked to walk around the town; and they were all what you get after a war.” In Islamorada, the closest thing to a nearby town, children being told to stay away from the strange men. Then came 1935, and the worst hurricane anyone had ever seen.
The Labor Day Hurricane, still the most devastating in American history, took Key West by surprise, after forecasts predicted an ocean landfall. Instead, it erased most of Matecumbe’s trees and buildings, and a train sent to rescue the veterans was crushed in its winds. The veterans were left alone.
“Panicked men flailed blindly, their limbs tangling with those of others clawing just as wildly in return.” Ernest Hemingway, who now owned a home in Key West, was outraged, convinced that the train for the vets had been ordered too late. He got the lefty magazine New Masses to underwrite a reporting trip, and to publish the result, entitled “Who Murdered the Vets?”
A few years later, Maxwell Anderson’s hit play Key Largo featured the hurricane in its narrative about the Spanish Civil War, a project then seized by John Huston for a movie starring Humphrey Bogart,
Huston turned the Maxwell Anderson project into a troubled veteran’s story.
We weren’t making all the sacrifice of human effort and lives.. .to return to the kind of a world we had after the last world war. We were fighting to cleanse the world of ancient evils. Ancient ills.
Huston was trying, like Bogart’s character, not to give in to cynicism and fear. That wasn’t easy: 1947 was full of both.
While Huston was turning a Hollywood sound stage into Key Largo’s Florida, a “Loyalty Program” began in Washington, with government-mandated “loyalty oaths” and FBI investigation of anyone suspected of Communist ties. And the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), including a California freshman named Richard Nixon, had decided to investigate Hollywood. That summer Ayn Rand and Gary Cooper testified at HUAC hearings about pro-Communist themes in movies like Robert Benchley’s “Song of Russia.” Back in Hollywood, gossip queen Hedda Hopper took up the cause of forcing every studio to require such oaths of their writers and stars.
Huston’s answer, along with Signal Corps peer William Wyler, was the Committee for the First Amendment, whose members included Humphrey Bogart, Albert Einstein and Lewis Milestone, who’d followed his Signal Corps tour by making All Quiet on the Western Front. Wyler told reporters that the “current climate” would have precluded his 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives, whose soldier-protagonists come home with shattered limbs, marriages and psyches (one, played by Dana Andrews, screams in his sleep every night). In October, during the trial of the Hollywood Ten, Huston borrowed Howard Hughes’ plane to take a raft of celebrities to Washington, D.C. with great fanfare. Fur-clad Hollywood stars in their own TWA jet nearly overshadowed the committee’s own theatrics.
But the Committee was deflated after that trial, in which member after member of the Ten refused to speak. (Bogar even disowned the project on the cover of Photoplay: I’m No Commie”). HUAC raged on with help from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, destroying the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions (HICCASP), accusing it sheltering commies” in Hollywood.
By 1948, FBI attention was also focused on another group of young veterans, far beyond the movies: returning African-American soldiers who found themselves resisting Jim Crow laws. This included Medgar Evers, who’d come home remembering that Europeans “treated him just like he was one of the people,” his sister said later. “Not black or white.” Evers and his brother Charles Evers had both returned believing their father, who said that their service would make society “treat them with dignity. My children will be able to vote. ” It also included Lt. Jack Robinson, court-martialed in 1944 for refusing to go to the back of an interstate bus. Robinson’s action occurred two years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Morgan decision declared such segregation unconstitutional– and three years before Robinson first took the plate at Ebbets Field, breaking the major leagues’ color barrier.
He didn’t speak English when he joined General Washington’s army.
And by 1790, he was both a combat veteran and a torture survivor.
No wonder he became and stayed a Quaker.
A careful reading of his 1840 memoir (a smash in Quaker circles) yields both facts, but I confess I was too distracted by what I already knew was there: his account of becoming a conscientious objector during the Battle of Brandywine.
Now, after reading more carefully about his time as a prisoner of war in Philadelphia under cruel British Colonel Cunningham, I’m realizing that as a student of PTSD, I have a lot more to learn from him than I’d thought.
This summary of Ritter’s experience in that prison has the basics: “Historian Watson interviewed a survivor of the Walnut Street Jail some years after the War’s end. The veteran, Jacob Ritter, recalled that prisoners were fed nothing for days on end and were regularly targets of beatings by the British guards. The prison was freezing as broken window panes allowed snow and cold to be the only blankets available to the captives. Ice, lice, and mice shared the cells. Desperate prisoners dined on grass roots, scraps of leather, and “pieces of a rotten pump.” Rats were a delicacy. Upward of a dozen prisoners died daily. They were hauled across the street and slung in unmarked trenches like carcasses from an abattoir.”
That excerpt doesn’t mention that Ritter was beaten severely because he turned down English pounds offered by Cunningham if this young man was willing to defect to the British Army.
Or that when he was released, it was into the care of a local Quaker, trusted by the British to get Ritter safely home.
On top of his memories of standing at Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania while mortars rained on him, Ritter had those beatings, those days without food or water. His early twenties were laced with trauma. I’m kind of amazed he could talk.
Right now, he’s inspiring me to open my first chapter — and thus the entire book — with his story, instead of Matthew Lyon’s.
But I also may finally check out my local Friends meeting, to see what yields such strength.
Should my book START with this guy?
Jacob Ritter and a Vision of Light, 1777
The Battle of the Brandywine,September 11, 1777, was fought in the midst of a largely Quaker inhabited region of Pennsylvania, and the major clash between the British and Patriot forces took place around the Birmingham Friends Meetinghouse. While the battlefield site and museum recall the single day of conflict, the presence ofBirminghamand Old Kennett Friends meetinghouses should recall a commitment to peace. While September 11, 1777, was for most a day of battle, for one twenty year old Pennsylvania soldier, it was the beginning of a commitment to peace. Among the solders defending the crossing at Chadds Ford was Jacob Ritter from Bucks County. Jacob was the child of German immigrants who came to America as indentured servants. He had youthful doubts about war, but his misgivings were overcome by a sermon from his Lutheran pastor on the duty of “standing…
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When anyone asks me how I got started with all this, I invariably mention CCCO and the G.I. Rights Hotline in the 1990s. But it’s not often that I wake up and feel such a strong echo of those years, as I did yesterday upon news of sexual assault of recruits at Fort Benning.
Back then, the Department of Defense had no Victim Advocates, no admiral serving as a sexual-assault response coordinator. As I write this, I’m hoping to learn more about the Pandora’s box opened by that one brave recruit who reported her abuse and led to the discovery of still more.
But excuse me if I feel flashed back to the old days, some of which appears below in more outtakes from Da Book.
In December 1991, Paula Coughlin was pumped when she got to Las Vegas for the Tailhook Convention. The weather, 80 degrees with no humidity, felt a relief from the near-tropical Maryland coast where she served as a rear-admiral’s right hand at Patuxent Air Force Base. A qualified airman with eight years in the Navy, Coughlin had long looked forward to Tailhook, a prestigious if famously boozy semiannual event. She changed quickly and headed for the third floor, where her friends were waiting.
But no one had told her, she told the Washington Post six months later, about the gauntlet:
When Navy Lt. Paula Coughlin first spotted them – a youthful, clean-cut bunch of guys lounging in a third-floor hallway of the Las Vegas Hilton – it never crossed her mind that she should be afraid. After all, she recalls thinking, these were Navy and Marine pilots. Pilots just like her.
But Coughlin, a helicopter pilot and admiral’s aide, was quickly enveloped by terror. Grabbed from behind and propelled down the hallway to jeers of “admiral’s aide, admiral’s aide,” Coughlin was repeatedly pawed and molested. One man grabbed her breasts, another tried to remove her panties.
She bit down, hard, on the forearm of one of her attackers, but still the men kept coming….. “Help me,” she said to another man who seemed to be walking away. He turned and grabbed her breasts.i
After Coughlin, the daughter of a World War II aviator who’d joined ROTC as a college sophomore in 1984, told her superiors what had happened, 25 women also revealed similar assaults at the convention and by fliers attending. Six months after Navy investigators, not excluding her own boss, failed to take decisive action, she held a press conference: by the end of that week Navy Secretary Lawrence Garrett had resigned, taking responsibility for “the leadership failure which allowed the egregious conduct.” “Investigators from two separate Navy agencies had been stymied by a wall of silence put up by pilots and their commanders,” wrote Eric Schmitt at the New York Times, “but the agencies had each made their own fumbles. The Naval Investigative Service omitted important documents from its report; the Naval Inspector General’s office failed to put its chief investigator on the case.”
That has left the Defense Department Inspector General’s office, a larger agency with subpoena powers, to gather up thousands of pages of Navy interviews and try to make sense of them. That could take two or three months, and lawmakers are exasperated. “We now have investigators investigating investigators,” said Senator Sam Nunn, the Georgia Democrat who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee. The committee is venting its frustration by holding up more than 4,500 Navy and Marine Corps promotions until the officers are cleared of any involvement in the scandal.ii
Schmitt knew that the prospect of delaying promotions, interrupting normal military business, for a question of misconduct toward women was unprecedented, and created enormous backlash. Some pointed out that Tailhook, in particular, was a notorious bacchanal, and that Coughlin had therefore “knew what she was getting into” and now had no cause to complain.
Still others, not for the last time, chose this as the moment to question women’s inclusion in the armed forces to begin with. James Webb’s 1979 “Why Women Can’t Fight” was resurrected, and GI’s howled at now-mandatory sexual harassment trainings. Such abuse, they added, was different than women being molested by the enemy, as two POWS had been during the recent war (a fact unveiled during congressional inquiries in the aftermath of Tailhook).
Then, Major Rhonda Cornum told reporters later, her “mission focus” had completely shifted to staying alive.iii That assault hadn’t been made public for multiple reasons; when it was, it was seized by the Elaine Donnelly crowd as yet another reason women didn’t belong in the military. But the truer challenge to established order came not from some random Iraqi, but from the domino effect of multiple reports like Coughlin’s that would reach critical mass by the end of the decade.
When the call came from ABC News, Kathleen Gilberd sat back: This wasn’t a distressed soldier calling the Military Law Task Force, or even a vet like Margarethe Cammermeyer. Then almost immediately she sat up straight again. “Aberdeen Proving Ground? Yeah, basic training. These trainees are usually only 18.” She listened, swallowing hard. ‘”How many are saying they were raped?”
Gilberd was by then well known for her brilliant advocacy for military personnel’ . Bridget Wilson, a former Navy captain and full-time attorney in San Diego, told me that Gilberd’s legal strategies had often “set the bar, especially during the AIDS crisis.”iv In 1992, Gilberd and MLTF had initiated a lawsuit when the Pentagon instituted mandatory AIDS testing in the early 1990s. In their mission to keep the information confidential, Gilberd told the Associated Press: “The rights of people in the military need to be protected against a system which is both institutionally and informally discriminatory.” v
And as the gender wars unfurled, Gilberd became a national expert on dealing with women who reported sexual assault as well as discrimination. That phone call in 1996 was about a rape scandal at Aberdeen Proving Ground, described at the time by Washington Post reporter Jackie Spinner:
From the first allegations of rape late last year to the acknowledgment by the Army that something had indeed gone terribly wrong. To the filing of criminal charges against 11 sergeants and one captain. To the further acknowledgment that there were problems Army-wide. To the national hot line set up that recorded 1,288 complaints of abuse in its seven months in operation, 353 of which resulted in criminal investigations. To, most of all, the trial this spring of Delmar Simpson, an Aberdeen drill sergeant who was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for raping six female soldiers under his command.vi
Those six young women, whose behavior contained all the paradoxes of eighteen-year-olds but who knew that you weren’t “supposed” to complain about your sergeants, also knew five years after Tailhook that they could. They knew partly because of Paula Coughlin and the other 20 women who’d refused to let it go after Tailhook. They’d seen, as kids, the 1995 TV-movie made about the case, and the ongoing reports about the lawsuits Coughlin and her co-plaintiffs won against the Tailhook Association and Hilton Hotels, charging that their safety had been endangered. They might even have heard of the landmark study out of the Minnesota VA, in which nearly a third reported some level of abuse.
After all these years, “women in the military” was as fiercely contested an issue as ever – but now, after 6000 women served in the Gulf, female trainees like those at Aberdeen were seen as essential by both sides, and after Coughlin their charges more likely to be taken seriously. Thousands more women came forward, of every rank and branch of service, giving testimony to their members of Congress, reporters (as did Dorothy Hanson, the WAC mentioned in Chapter Seven) or to their local VA hospital, some of which were developing treatment programs for rape survivors. By 1998, the volume would spur a Department of Defense Task Force headed by General Evelyn Foote, another former WAC who told me, years later, that sexual harassment and abuse had long been endemic.
Foote’s participation in the debate placed the issue as one of “readiness,” a move away from dissent welcomed by advocates pressing press for the final lifting of all restrictions on women in combat.Similar arguments bolstered hopes for gay personnel, who over the decade secured victories in the courts and in the establishment of nonpartisan research and advocacy groups that recorded the costs of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It would take a few more decades for all this energy to be translated into change, and military gender issues would remain a trope of partisan politics.
“History isn’t repeating itself. It isn’t even rhyming,” I tweeted yesterday. “It’s condensing into a poisonous fog.”
A fog that mostly doesn’t belong in Ain’t Marching. But maybe it’s the book after this one?
A journo friend of mine adapted the lyrics of the song above to mark last weekend’s explosion, as well as covering those events for Souciant. Like many who weren’t there, I feel the least i can do is reflect here/
As a super-late boomer (the Obama generation), I’ve spent much of my life feeling I missed out on something important, with the 1960s in the rear mirror. And growing up in a community drawn to the GOP by Nixon’s “southern strategy,” I knew damn well that the fight wasn’t over. In some ways, I’ve spent 40+ years trying to make up for that earlier absence.
But by 2017 I thought the evil had mutated, become more complex: reality-show propaganda (cf Jennifer L. Pozner), Army of One video games, cyberwar. It’s both bracing and more than a little depressing to see the original turn up in such a naked form. Like many of us, I spent much of yesterday glued to the news during the horrific events in Charlottesville, Virginia.
But will having to confront the coming KKK assault on campuses (Charlottesville was practice, apparently) help the Trumpaniacs get on with their big task of shredding what’s left of our civil rights and the country’s safety net? Or will it help unify the fight?
So grateful to have re-connected here with Jan Houbolt, who I first met when he was my boss at a Baltimore anti-hunger organization. I never picked up on hs VA accent, or knew he’d been a footsoldier in that earlier movement. You all look like giants now, Jan.
Also grateful for the young activists already taking up the thread and weaving it into something powerful.We lost one yesterday.
She was a 32-year-old paralegal named Heather, and was one of the young leftists who’d joined others confronting the Unite the Right rally, and was mowed down when a guy driving a Dodge Charger intentionally mowed into the crowd. At a vigil last night for her in Philly, so many were younger than she, giving me hope for the future.
I’m also heartened by the soldier-dissenters who immediately stepped up, including the Iraq/Afpak vets on Common Defense. And the Vietnam Veterans Against the War are gearing up to join the fight, offering this photo to connect with struggles of the past.
Those guys in 1972 probably sang that song about Kent State at the top of this post. I’ll end with the words of Ari Paul, who changed the lyrics for our time:
Tin soldiers and Donald’s coming,
We’re finally on our hill.
This summer I hear the drumming,
One dead in Charlottesville.
Gotta get down to it
Nazis are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?
The summer before Evan Thomas leaves the country, 1915 smells of war.
The smell sickens Thomas, a lean young man with a narrow face and alert eyes. Thomas hates living and working at the American Parish, the East Harlem immigrant settlement house pastored by his brother Norman. On every newsstand, headlines scream of battles in Europe and news from Mexico, whose unfinished revolution now includes tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and sailors. The parish’s immigrants look on with anxiety: They don’t need English to count the European war’s twelve battle zones.
America is officially neutral in that conflict, unlike New York City. Two weeks ago a German submarine attacked the luxury liner Lusitania, leaving 43 Americans among 1153 dead – including one of New York’s own, the dashing millionaire Alfred Vanderbilt. Both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers call Germans “murderers” and demand vengeance. The city’s boy-mayor calls for “preparedness,” as if it’s possible to be prepared for hell.
Even Union Theological Seminary, where Thomas is pursuing a divinity degree, offers little respite. It clusters next to Columbia University, whose flagpoles urging students to “cherish, love and respect ….] the flag of peace and prosperity.” Both campuses mark the 1779 Battle of Harlem Heights. At the seminary, Thomas’ classmates discuss what “preparedness” will require of them.
On Memorial Day tens of thousands cram onto Riverside Drive, to see the veterans of five conflicts march uptown to the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial. Elderly Union soldiers and sailors, their uniforms carefully mended for the occasion, march past signs of the city’s growing wealth: At 74th Street, the veterans and some active-duty troops slowed as they passed Riverside, the three-block French castle built by German immigrant and steel magnate Charles Schwab. At the memorial, a Greek marble stand of Corinthian columns, the United Spanish War Veterans salute General Leonard Wood and retired Rear Admiral Sigsbee, who commanded the U.S.S. Maine when it exploded. Thomas doesn’t go across town to watch the spectacle.
A few weeks later, a similar scent suffuses Princeton, when Thomas goes down for his brother’s graduation. The site of both a 1777 battle and the 1781 Mutiny in January, his alma mater has whole rooms honoring alumni on both sides in the Civil War; at the graduation, its president tells the graduating class of the dangers of peace. If they avoid war, he says, they might lose the chance to become real men.Thomas and some fellow alumni, self-named “the Crusaders,” huddle to wonder aloud what that means for them. The group’s founder, also a Union minister, says the choice is clear: Jesus did his best to stop violence, after all. i Thomas squints into the blinding sunlight.
Thanks for the inspiration, Louisa Thomas. I hope you don’t mind how I reframed the moment you found, and wrote about in Conscience:Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family — A Test of Will and Faith in World War.