Apr 242010
 
 
Physical evidence is the building blocks of history.  The historian can design the arrangements of these to create a certain presentation:  what the shape of the structure will be (comedy, monograph, etc), how large will it be, how will your audience view it, etc.  It’s like putting Legos together to make a model.  You can take the same little shapes and make a variety of different items from them, but in the end, you aren’t making anything without those little pieces.  Everything else may be the artist’s creation — except these.
 
Ironically, over time, we lose these concrete historical bits that connect us to past events.  For the most part, we no longer have the arsenal from World War I (although we have bits of it) or the tableware of medieval peasants or the knives that struck down Caesar.  There is something so connecting about being able to have contact with the same items that our ancestors used.  I really was in awe in visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to see the collection of items he touched and especially those he had collected of Gandhi’s.  I was looking at the very same fabric that the Great Soul touched.  I felt a special connection to someone I so valued at that moment.  It’s a momentous feeling.  But, for all the artifacts we still have, there are so many we have lost.
 
What happens to this evidence?  History, mostly.  Time passes;  people die;  items get left, destroyed, forgotten.  That’s why it’s so vital that we make a record of these things.  We must document them as best we can — with photographs, pictures, descriptions, reports — so we have the confirmation of the thing, if not the thing itself.  After that, after we have the historical record preserved so that we will always have it for future historians to use, the loss of it is more tolerable.  The thing’s history becomes its own.
 
For example, recently the gun shop owner who sold Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh the Glock pistol with which he was arrested after fleeing the scene of his crime resold the weapon.  Apparently, the government returned it to him (Why?  He was no longer the legal owner if he sold it to McVeigh, correct?), and he sold it to a collector.  There seems to be something disturbing and revolting about someone wanting to own the gun of a famed terrorist.  Why would you want that connection to a mass murderer and traitor?   He’s no hero.  Why hold the tool of the monster in awe?  Yet, it has become an infamous item — valued and sought of itself.  It has its own history — one that extends past the event of the bombing.
 
In a sense, it has no place in a museum, particularly at the memorial museum.  There, we honor the victims, the sacrifice of the rescue workers, the grief of those of us left behind.  We want no remembrance of McVeigh there.  We will not add to his infamy there.  We will not give him that — the twisted heroism he wanted.  It is a place to promote peace and reject the violence that made the memorial a necessity for us.  Even if that gun did not kill, it is the gun of a killer.  It is better that this item pass from our national collection to whatever individuals can show our compatriots lost this dishonor.  As a people, we want no part of that.
 
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 Posted by at 1:19 pm
Apr 082010
 
 
The main problem with lawyers and judges is that they truly believe that the law exists in a vacuum.  Their talk is consumed with legal reasoning and principles.  They tout precedents and logic as the cornerstones of their work.  Mundane issues like indoor plumbing, pollen counts, or rain delays have no bearing on that.  No, the law exists in the rarified air of intellectual discourse — or so legal thinkers believe.  Other concerns are really just below them, they think.  They can’t be bothered with good grammar, literary references, or other relevant influences.  The only time they really seem to talk about history is when some conservative legal beagle wants to go on about the Founding Father’s intent and the primacy of that in interpreting the law.  Occasionally, it occurs to a judge that history might be relevant, but that’s so rare.  Even then, though, the history is often a tool used to justify a judge’s weak reasoning.  They aren’t historians and their history is bad.  The result is bad law that will make poor history.
 
Just so, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently abused history to reach the simplistic and dull conclusion that the inclusion of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance is not a violation of the principle of separation of church and state.  An atheist in California sued on behalf of plaintiffs who objected to their children having to recite this part of the pledge at school.  After months of consideration, the court issued a voluminous opinion that was long on empty words and short on historical reference.
 
The court held that the pledge did not promote a belief in God or religion because it served to unite citizens through a recitation celebrating the ideals on which the country was founded.  As such, it had a patriotic rather than religious purpose.  The problem with this conclusion is that it lacks understanding of the history of the development of the pledge.  Our founders did not write it.  They never would have.  They were not nationalists.  That didn’t develop until after the Civil War decided the state’s rights issue with blood.  Andrew Jackson may have been a budding nationalist, but Thomas Jefferson was not.  So pledging allegiance to the U.S. rather than the State of South Carolina or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would have been anathema to them.  It was a full century after the Constitution was adopted before the pledge was even written.  The country was not founded on the ideal of nationalism, so any pledge celebrating that diverges from our first principles.  Thus, the history gives the lie to the court’s contention.
 
Further, the first draft of the pledge did not contain the words “under God.”  That wasn’t added until the 1950’s — as a reaction to the threat of godless communism from the U.S.S.R.  For the first sixty years of its recitation, no one needed to reference God as part of their patriotism.  That changed with the Cold War.  Then, patriotism and religiosity became intertwined.  Prior to that patriotism was secular.  There was a division between civic activities and faith.  Although the court correctly notes that the founders did reference a creator in the Declaration of Independence, it conveniently ignores the fact that they omitted any such reference from the Constitution, the framework for our political organization.  So, if the court relies on the founder’s intent, it should have to reject the pledge in its entirety — and especially any reference to God.  That was okay for justifying breaking with England but had no place for them in constructing a new national (anti-federalist influenced) framework.
 
Ironically, in its decision, the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ argument because it said it failed to consider the context and history of the pledge.  Of course, what the court means is the legislative history of adding “under God” to the pledge — not the rest of the history.  This is a carefully tailored, selective reading that justifies the court’s stand.  Through this, the court can maintain that Congress’ purpose in amending the pledge was not to require any allegiance to God or religion.  In doing so, it relies on the preamble to the legislation for support.  Congress said that wasn’t the purpose, so it must be true.  The judges recognized that such a contention had to be real and not a sham, but then offered no reasoning for concluding that it wasn’t just empty words.  Rather, they took Congress’ word for it.  Of course, to be able to claim that is to ignore the history of why the amendment was made.  From their pulpits, preachers of that time denounced the “godless atheism” of the communists and political leaders made grandiose statements about the superiority of American culture thanks to the hand of God working on the nation’s behalf.  Anti-communism was most certainly not secular in those years.  The court ignores that inconvenient truth.
 
Finally, the court decides that its final out is that students are not required to say the pledge anyway.  They can just opt not to participate at all.  Thus, it isn’t a violation of their rights to have “under God” in the pledge.  If students object, they don’t have to say it.  But, what the court is doing there is requiring religious patriotism.  You have to make the religious affirmation or you must refrain from the patriotic activity entirely.  It makes no room for secular patriotism, and in doing so, the court misses the intentional addition of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  There was a time in this country when the states did have official religions, but the founders purposely rejected that when building a federal government.  They omitted God, a Creator, even Providence from the Constitution because they had learned from the mistakes of murderous Puritans and intolerant Anglicans.  In short, they learned from history.  Too bad the court missed that lesson.
 
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 Posted by at 10:38 pm