We Are Rabble.

by Daniel Russ on August 25, 2011

Norman Rockwell's Painting Of The Desegregation Of Little Rock Schools

The first Americans to settle here came for a number of reasons. Many came here to worship as they pleased without prosecution or persecution. Their respective governments often brutally forced some other church doctrine on them. Ironically the Anglicans and Huguenots and Quakers who came here found that the Puritans had already created a sort of Taliban like state where the disbelievers were often punished. They were whipped and beaten, hanged or burned for sinning. There was a backlash and a return to law eventually. Once the Puritans were put in their place, other religions established new churches. Many of the Europeans who sailed over the Atlantic came looking for adventure leaving behind a crowded and dirty Europe. Many came because they wanted to just make a buck. Many came here because they heard it was immense and beautiful and mostly empty. The idea that the Europeans who braved the trip over here were all high minded and religious is specious. There is no indication that the vast majority of immigrants to the New World were scholarly, or religious, or even particularly good. Many of the people who crowded ships and came here had nothing left for them in the Old Country. Many were deeply in debt. Some were on the lam. Others were just greedy and saw appropriating huge plantations as a way to build good income streams. Still others were mercenaries and trappers, people who made money on the edge of a weapon or the teeth of a trap. Europe was getting populated, and royalty owned what land was left after invasions and wars and merging nations. For many, the call of a large empty country filled with resources sounded too great to pass by. They weren’t adventurers so much as they were opportunists.


Eventually many of the new worlders became slave-holders. Many traded slaves and helped to create entire slave after market economies. If you owned slaves, you had to have chains. So blacksmiths made money. You needed clothes, so clothes makers made money. You had to have a place where they could stay, so wood smiths and builders and timber cutters and trappers all made money helping people keep slaves. The entire South, within two years of engaging in slave trading had 500,000 slaves doing manual labor for the cost of feeding clothing and housing them. It was the tobacco, cotton, sugar and coffee industries that propelled slavery to new heights. It was Eli Whitney’s cotton gin that really pushed the demand up for cotton harvesting as the processing time for a bushel of cotton to clothes on someone’s back had been shortened dramatically.


By the American Civil War there were four million slaves in the US.


We are rabble.


Half the country saw nothing wrong with keeping slaves for over a century. The slaveholders were not all scholarly worldly people. Most of them were businessmen, barely educated and blind to any moral standards. Ironically, prototypical Americans. Money first.


When Roosevelt sought equality for Blacks in the armed services, the Conservatives went nuts. The argument du jour was that Blacks in the military would make everyone else in the US military uncomfortable and therefore unit cohesion would falter. Of course this was all offal. Women built much of the war infrastructure in World War II. Women taught men how to fly. However, when women were given a chance to help in the war effort and Black men became heroes in combat, both were cast aside after the war and their new status rescinded immediately. The WAVES and the WACS and the Tuskegee Airmen all suffered as second-class citizens until the last few decades. The fact that Japanese Americans fought for the US made no difference to the largely tone deaf, class warfare addicted American populace who also turned a blind eye to the imprisonment of Japanese Americans. We pat ourselves on the back for our supposed first in equality.


It wasn’t until 1965 that a Black man could vote or sit at the front of the bus. Jim Crow laws lasted for years. The Ku Klux Klan terrorized Blacks and Jews and Catholics and anyone else who disagreed with them up until the late 90s. Up until then and still today half this country has been  fine with a Black underclass.


Today, Gay Americans still face blinding bigotry at the hands of local governments and the right wing. The fact that so many fire-brand anti gay republican politicians and religious leaders have themselves been outed also falls on deaf ears.


As I write history, I like to compare what facts reveal to me that differ from the spin. There is, as it turns out, quite a lot of spin about American exceptionalism. Since no one in America knows any history or considers it important, it is worth noting that when you really look at the facts of the case, the United States had one Great generation, the generation of World War II. Those that preceded were worse. Those that followed? Way worse.





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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Louis September 5, 2017 at 9:51 am

During World War II the black american troops were kept away from the colonial french ones, which not only had black soldiers, but also black officers, up to, and including colonels and (I believe) one general, just to ensure that the black americans would not get any ideas above their station.

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