Don’t forget the Wobblies
There is a longstanding and persistent myth in America that both World Wars were “good wars,” in which the United States rose to prominence on the world stage as the arbiter of peace, human rights and democracy around the globe. Matthew Jude Barker’s piece in the November issue of The Bollard (“When World War Knocked on Portland’s Door”) does little to challenge this narrative, although, looking back through history, it is easy to see that our modern idea of those conflicts as just causes is easily challenged.
No one is questioning Harold T. Andrews’ bravery, or the heroism of the millions of veterans who sacrificed for a war they did not create and that did not serve their interests. But there was another type of heroism taking place, and another type of war being fought at the time, much closer to home. At the same time that working-class people from around the world were perishing in the mud and the mustard gas that exemplified the trench warfare of what was supposed to be “the war to end all wars,” working-class Americans of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) were organizing to challenge the persistent nationalism and xenophobia at home that served to turn working-class people against each other and solidify the power of the capitalists who truly benefited from the First World War — and every war since. Many of these brave people were imprisoned, forced into exile, or killed for their actions.
By conflating the anti-war movement of the time with the work of German espionage, Barker does a disservice to the Labor movement, which was the true driver of anti-war sentiment in the U.S. at the time. The pro-war, pro-capital propagandists of 1917 would have been proud to see that their fabrications persisted through a whole century, and to know that America continues, largely unchallenged, its march of militarism and world-domination that concentrates vast wealth and power in the hands of a few while the many suffer on a planet that is being squeezed for the last of its vitality. Certainly that is not the vision of the country and the world for which Andrews valiantly fought and died.
The Bars on Windows Test
I can certainly agree that there are hate groups in America, but to point out some and make it racially specific to “white” folks is just wrong [Racisms, Oct. 2017]. Please, if you’re going to speak out about hate groups, let’s include all of them and acknowledge that it happens for all races.
I have experienced the same thing and, lo and behold, I’m white, but that doesn’t matter. The concern is that it happens, at all, to any race.
I was lost in Atlanta and low on gas. I got off an exit at night and pulled into a station. Bars on the windows, groups of young black kids in the parking lot. Was I nervous — hell yes. Thank goodness the credit-card machine at the pump worked and I didn’t have to go inside. And just like Mr. James, no one said anything to me — I could just feel it.
On another occasion I was two blocks off The French Quarter in New Orleans, where someone did say something to me. I had a van-load of teenagers and stopped to ask directions. The “black” lady came running out of the store before I even got out of the van and said (and these are the exact words): “What are you doing here? They will kill you down here.” She then gave me directions to get out of the “’hood,” as she called it, and told me not to even stop for red lights until I saw the Superdome.
My concern with the column is that Mr. James chose to single out a race while not acknowledging that there are hate groups in all races. This, to me, only perpetuates more division. I work in a building with over 100 people and the vast majority are, dare I say it, “black.” I hear racial remarks from time to time and choose to do one of two things. I either confront it and let them know that I don’t appreciate it and will not tolerate it, or I ignore it and try to show that how I live promotes equality to all.
I do this with all races I encounter. Your “McDonald’s Test” would work well here in Atlanta. My “Bars On Windows Test” works well where I go. Isn’t it a shame that we have to use them?
I enjoy your articles and read The Bollard every month. I wish you full joy.
The writer is the editor’s brother.
Samuel James responds: If you read through my column again, please notice that I specifically reference the Southern Poverty Law Center when mentioning hate groups. If you visit their website (splcenter.org), you’ll see that the information you have on what hate groups are and how they are classified according to race is inaccurate.
In the column, I tell a story about a white man threatening me with the Ku Klux Klan. In a story you present as a rebuttal, a black woman saves you from a threat you cannot name and don’t actually know exists. Please consider why you think those two stories compare.
I’ll also add that you don’t need to put quotation marks around the word black, and your “Bars on Windows Test” speaks to poverty, not race, as there are bars on the windows of trailers owned by white people in mobile-home parks all over this country.