Monday, September 22, 2014

Woodrow Wilson, Eugene V. Debs, and Bashing Bashar

Double standards are the norm in propaganda, including history as propaganda. Barack Obama regularly has "terrorists" and innocent civilians near them executed without trial (and in many cases based on poor intelligence). Most U.S. citizens don't think twice about it. It is a small price to pay in order to not have to accept God (Allah), and Mohamed as his final prophet, and some self-styled Caliph as as their sole interpreter in present time.

The refusal of President Obama to work with the President of Syria, Bashar Assad, against a common enemy, ISIS, is typically rationalized by declaring that Assad is a dictator, and a brutal dictator who imprisons Syrians who oppose him. Perhaps he has executed some without trial, or at least without the kind of trial you can get in the U.S. if you are not just gunned down in the street, and if you can afford a good lawyer.

Is there a qualitative difference between leaders like Bashar Assad and American Presidents who have arrested and executed their opponents? If so, what are the factors that make the difference qualitative? Is there a meaningful difference between imprisoning or killing peaceful opposition, as opposed to armed opposition in a civil war?

Here I will examine these question in the context of World War I. That will give some historical distance. Yet it was the greed displayed by France and Great Britain during World War I that led to the Middle East being politically unstable since that era.

Woodrow Wilson was elected President of the United States in 1912. It is difficult today to imagine the politics of that era. Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party had liberal and conservative wings; on the whole I think the Republican Party was still the more progressive of the two. William H. Taft was President and ran for re-election as a Republican. Taft had been Vice-President under Theodore Roosevelt, who ran on the Progressive Party ticket after he failed to get the Republican Party nomination. These were the results:

1912 Party Popular Votes Electoral College Votes
Woodrow Wilson Democratic
Theodore Roosevelt Progressive
William H. Taft Republican
Eugene V. Debs Socialist
Eugene W. Chafin Prohibition
Note that even though Woodrow Wilson was pretending to be somewhat progressive, and Roosevelt ran as a progressive, the Socialist Party candidate, Eugene V. Debs, received a very substantial number of votes, about 6%.

Woodrow Wilson is arguably the intellectual architect of modern segregation. So it should not be surprising that he won every state in the racist, conservative Old South.

Woodrow Wilson was not just a white supremacist, he was a true believer in the supremacy of Anglo-Saxon culture. When World War I broke out in Europe he favored backing the British Empire, which then oppressed about 1/3 of the world's people. But domestic politics, including large numbers of Irish-American and German-American voters in the Democratic Party, kept the President and the United States in a state of neutrality.

Socialism was meant to be an international movement for peace and justice, and before the war Socialist parties in Europe opposed their respective governments militarism. However, after the war started, each nation's Socialist Party tended to rationalize supporting their own nation's efforts.

President Wilson ran again in 1916, rallying voters to the slogan "He kept us out of war." Anyway, he was too busy invading Mexico and a variety of Latin American nations. But the voting went back to the normal Democrat vs. Republican split:

1916 Party
Popular Votes
Electoral College Votes
Woodrow Wilson Democratic
Charles E. Hughes Republican
A. I. Benson Socialist
J. F. Hanly Prohibition
Then Woodrow Wilson asked the U.S. Congress to declare war on Germany. The vote in Congress on April 6, 1917 was 82 to 6 in the Senate, 373 to 50 in the House; hardly unanimous. Thus we entered the war on the side of the evilest empire in history, the British Empire. We did not fight for democracy; most people in the British empire were not allowed to vote.

Unlike in Germany, France, and Britain, the Socialist Party in the United States did not give up its peaceful and internationalist stand. It opposed the war, as did the IWW and other organizations and individuals. Wilson's reaction? He ordered massive arrests of those who opposed him.

One of those arrested was Eugene V. Debs, who had opposed him as a Presidential candidate in 1912. In 1918 Wilson was arrested. He was found guilty on September 12 and was thrown in a dungeon. The Supreme Court of the United States, in Debs v. United States (249 U.S. 211 (1919)) ruled neither Debs nor any other American's right of free speech included the right to be for peace during wartime.

Debs ran for President in 1920, from his jail cell, and received 919,799 votes.

So how different is that from Assad putting one of his critics in jail?

Wilson is not alone among Presidents and other powerful Americans in his crimes against humanity. George Washington executed soldiers for desertion even before he was elected President. Every U.S. rebellion has been brutally put down, most notably in the Civil War. Ronald Reagan ordered peaceful demonstrators to be shot dead even before he became President. The list is finite, but large.

I might sympathize with rebels in certain cases, but I don't expect anyone in power to hand over the keys to the government without a fight. Deciding to rebel, as the American slave masters did in 1776, is a hazardous course, not to be undertaken lightly.

Bashar Assad's crime, from Obama and the American Establishment point of view, is not that he has held on to power, or how he has held onto power. His crime is not becoming a pro-American puppet. His crime is doing what he thinks is best for Syria.

Some times there are happy endings. When Warren G. Harding was elected President in 1920 he tried hard to undo Wilson's worst deeds. He made peace with Germany, and he released Eugene V. Debs from prison. Harding was a Republican, and he made the mistake of letting his corrupt friends run the nation. But I'll take him for a better U.S. President any day over Woodrow Wilson.

And I'll take Eugene V. Debs over any elected President in U.S. history.

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