Tortured

copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

Never for a moment in my life have I been “in love.”  I do not believe in the notion.  Fireworks have not filled my heart.  Flames of a fiery passion do not burn within me.  Indeed, my soul has not been ablaze.  Thoughts of a hot-blooded devotion seem illogical to me.  Such sentiments always have.  Fondness too fertile is but torture for me.  I admire many, and adore none.  For me, the affection I feel for another is born out of sincere and profound appreciation.  To like another means more to me than to love or be loved.  Excitement, an emotional reaction to another, rises up within me when I experience an empathetic exchange with someone who has glorious gray matter.

Today, it happened.  I felt an a twinge that startled me.  I stood still as he entered the room.  I expected nothing out of the ordinary, or at least nothing other than what has become his recently adopted, more avoidant, routine.  Although long ago, I had become accustomed to his face, his voice, and his demeanor, for I have known the man for more than a few years.  In the last few weeks, while essentially he is who he always was, some of his stances have changed.  Possibly, Barry has felt a need to compromise his positions, but I wonder; what of his principles.

Early on, I knew that he and I differed in some respects.  While we each loathe drama, I was never certain if he felt as I do; love need not be a tortuous trauma.  Barry spoke of the need to work together.  Yet, not necessarily in aspect of life.  At times, he advocated aggressive actions I could not consider.  This, for me, caused much confusion.  Nonetheless, I liked the man I saw before me.

I recall the day we first met, face-to-face.  We shook hands.  He smiled.  Barry was polite, not pushy.  Amiable is the way I would describe him.  Then, the second time we saw each other, we had a more extensive conversation.  He took my hand in his.  We each spoke with greater sincerity.  As Barry and I chatted, he looked me straight in the eye.  He listened to my personal tale.  Visibly, he pondered the story I shared.  Barry responded so genuinely to my inquiry, albeit an unconventional concern, I was surprised.  Indeed, I was impressed, although less than I was when I read what he had written.

His books moved me.  The more autobiographical tome endeared him to me.  His notes on hope did not lack the spirit to inspire me.  As one who “loves” to learn, which differs from the impulsive idea that I might be “in love,” a person that can kindle my earnest thirst for knowledge truly electrifies me.  I recall the moment I read the text that, all these years later, still resonates within me.  Barry humbly offered, in a discussion of empathy . . .

It is at the heart of my moral code, and it is how I understand the Golden Rule – not simply as a call to sympathy or charity, but as something more demanding, a call to stand in somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes.

Barry told tales of his mother, his grandfather, and how through his interactions with each he realized there is reason to think “about the struggles and disappointments” others have seen in their lives.  Reflection helped the younger Barry understand, every individual is not solely right or wrong.  If he were to insist that, his way was the only approach that worked, “without regard to his [or her] feelings or needs, I was in some way diminishing myself.”  Such awareness, such a superior soul; Barry showed what I believe to be a human’s greatest strength, vulnerability.  Were I to have a heart to win, the words of this gentle-man could have surely swept me off my feet.

Even his calm demeanor is as I desire and live.  Those close to me wonder of my own emotional tranquility.  From his manner and manuscript, it would seem Barry believes as I do.  Empathy elicits equilibrium.  Today, he seemed to embrace this notion once again.  We can choose to love our neighbors.  We need not torture “those who are different from us.”

Near noon, on April 23, 2009, at the Holocaust days of Remembrance Ceremony, Barry, the now President of the United States, Barack Obama spoke of this belief again.  Once more, I felt a pang for the person who oft-expressed a profound connection to the feelings of another.  The sweet soul who can bring me to tears, did so once again.  On this historic occasion, Barry shared a profound realization through a personal story.  The subject; the Holocaust and the torture our forebears felt or beheld.

In the face of horrors that defy comprehension, the impulse to silence is understandable.  My own great uncle returned from his service in World War II in a state of shock, saying little, alone with painful memories that would not leave his head.  He went up into the attic, according to the stories that I’ve heard, and wouldn’t come down for six months.  He was one of the liberators — someone who at a very tender age had seen the unimaginable.  And so some of the liberators who are here today honor us with their presence — all of whom we honor for their extraordinary service.  My great uncle was part of the 89th Infantry Division — the first Americans to reach a Nazi concentration camp.  And they liberated Ohrdruf, part of Buchenwald, where tens of thousands had perished.

Stunned, by the saga, and the words that preceded the legend, I began to believe again.  Perhaps the Barry I admire had a change of heart.  Policies he never fully embraced, might not seem reasonable to him now.

During the campaign, Barry, Senator Barack Obama only promised to investigate, not to prosecute.  Many months ago, before the August 2008 declaration, and thereafter, I had thought his stance reflected his vast ability to empathize.  Yet, in the light of the ample evidence, most if not all of which affirms the Bush Administration engaged in extreme methods of interrogation, President Obama still supports or chooses to sustain a position that negates empathy for the victims.  I shudder to think of how the Seventh Generation might be affected.

Hence, I am left to question what I thought was truth.  Was the empathy I envisioned not as sincere as I hoped it to be?  Perchance that is why, for me, love is as torture.  I have faith no one has the power to disappoint me.  Only my choices can be a source of much concern.  For as long as I can recall, I have observed, once infatuation fades, we learn as I had before Barry entered the Oval Office.  He is but another human.  He embraces and then forgets, the power of empathy and the force of our past?

When, in homage to Holocaust victims, and survivors of a heinous hostility that forever stains world history, I sensed he knew.  As I looked on, I forgot the setting.  Intent on the torrent of news on torture techniques I read and heard throughout the day, I made an erroneous connection.  As Barry, President Obama spoke of the deeds done in decades past, and those crimes committed by the previous Administration, I imagined the man I thought I knew meant to express empathy for those who suffered at the hands of Americans.  The Chief Executive, on behalf of the United States avowed.

Their legacy is our inheritance.  And the question is, how do we honor and preserve it?  How do we ensure that “never again” isn’t an empty slogan, or merely an aspiration, but also a call to action?

I believe we start by doing what we are doing today — by bearing witness, by fighting the silence that is evil’s greatest co-conspirator.

In the face of horrors that defy comprehension, the impulse to silence is understandable.

I cried.  Tremendously thankful for the oratory, indeed, I must say, for a second, I was elated.  I wondered.  Had the person many think beloved, the individual I at least treasure, decided to rescind his prior position?

Might he have rejected the thought offered recently; “nothing will be gained by our time and energy laying blame for the past,”  

Could it be the Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony helped the President to renew his faith in his earlier expression;  “(H)istory returns “with a vengeance . . . “(A)s Faulkner reminds us, the past is never dead and buried — it isn’t even past.”  I hoped.

Perchance, he had worked through a struggle I too experience.  As one who has no desire to hurt others, even those who have physically and psychologically harmed individuals, and our country’s image, how might I think prosecution is just?  

I truly embrace such an honorable ability to seek no retribution.  Indeed, I may not fall “in love”; nonetheless, I would hope to live love.  

I feel harsh reprisals are never wise.  I also accept the enduring wisdom of a finer balance.  I have experienced the need to empathize and the conflict of what I might do if one I treasure intentionally injures another.  I have come to discover, if deleterious deeds are allowed to stand, sooner or later the other, I, and perchance, society will be subjected to adulterations that individuals or a culture cannot endure.

Awful actions we accept, avoid, or merely do not acknowledge become a foundation for the future.  Humans inure.  Lest we forget the Milgram shock experiment of decades ago, or the knowledge that when repeated in the present, proves again, as a Psychologist, Thomas Blass, espoused in  “The Man Who Shocked the World.” Milgram extrapolated, to larger events like the Holocaust, or Abu Ghraib.  “people can act destructively without coercion.”  “In things like interrogations, we don’t know the complexities involved.  People are under enormous pressure to produce results.”  

I wonder how many Americans came to accept violence as a necessity on September 11, 2001.  On that dreadful day, a date that now lives in infamy, all Americans were placed in a precarious position.  With the threat of terror etched into our every cell, each of us had to ask, what were we to do.  In the 2004 edition of Dreams From My Father, the Barry, who I trusted to be so thoughtful whispered his woe for what might occur once the “world fractured.” He penned . . .

This collective history, this past, directly touches my own . . .

I know, I have seen, the desperation and disorder of the powerless: how it twists the lives of children on the streets of Jakarta or Nairobi in much the same way as it does the lives of children on Chicago’s South Side, how narrow the path is for them between humiliation and untrammeled fury, how easily they slip into violence and despair.  I know that the response of the powerful to this disorder — alternating as it does between a dull complacency and, when the disorder spills out of its proscribed confines, a steady, unthinking application of force, of longer prison sentences and more sophisticated military hardware — is inadequate to the task.  I know that the hardening of lines, the embrace of fundamentalism and tribe, dooms us all.

Those are the words of the Barry I was inspired to meet, the person I was reminded of when he stood with an audience of individuals who never forget the agony of torture.  Today, as that empathetic soul, the President referred to the future, the generations to come, he stated, “We find cause for hope” when “people of every age and faith and background and race (are) united in common cause with suffering brothers and sisters halfway around the world.”  I thought of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay prison, and the prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the need to empathize with victims of “extreme duress.”

Oblivious to the purpose of this particular speech, in my moment of stupor, I surmised Mister Obama had not only accepted the association, but perhaps had realized what could occur if the transgressions of the previous Administration were allowed to stand as if all was in the past.

“Barry,” Barack, the Commander-In-Chief, further elucidated; “Those [persons] can be our future . . . (D)uring this season when we celebrate liberation, resurrection, and the possibility of redemption, may each of us renew our resolve to do what must be done. And may we strive each day, both individually and as a nation, to be among the righteous.

I imagined the reference was to empathy, to the paradigms I too embrace. Punishment offers no benefits for people.  Yet, there is a need to prosecute the culpable, to ensure that people are answerable for the most atrocious aggressions.  It is vital, if we wish to prevent the numbness that humans so easily adopt, we must bring torture to the full light of day.  Torment executed in our names, I think Barry would agree, hurts us.  Surely, General and President Eisenhower did.  Mister Obama acknowledged this only hours ago .

Eisenhower understood the danger of silence.  He understood that if no one knew what had happened, that would be yet another atrocity — and it would be the perpetrators’ ultimate triumph.

What Eisenhower did to record these crimes for history is what we are doing here today.  That’s what Elie Wiesel and the survivors we honor here do by fighting to make their memories part of our collective memory.  That’s what the Holocaust Museum does every day on our National Mall, the place where we display for the world our triumphs and failures and the lessons we’ve learned from our history.  It’s the very opposite of silence.

But we must also remember that bearing witness is not the end of our obligation — it’s just the beginning.  We know that evil has yet to run its course on Earth.  We’ve seen it in this century in the mass graves and the ashes of villages burned to the ground, and children used as soldiers and rape used as a weapon of war.

Barry knows what President Obama. spoke of in his address at the Holocaust Day of Remembrance Ceremony  Love needed not be tortured.  Expressions of fondness are found in empathy, not extreme duress.

President Eisenhower understood as I had hoped, on this day, Barry Obama had.  What occurs far from view is never truly unseen.  Nor can avoidance erase the scars left on a heart. While as a country, or as individuals we may prefer to retreat to the attic as President Obama’s great uncle did, in truth, it is impossible to forget.

People who participated know this to be so. A belatedly brave Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, Ali Soufan, tell his tales of sorrowful love in My Tortured Decision.  The mediator recalls how for seven years he has remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding.  Mister Soufan, as General Eisenhower did before him saw the need to “shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.”

I inquire; what will Barry do, and what of President Obama.  Will the man who once held my hand and professed a need to be empathetic do as he declares his commitment? “(W)e have an opportunity, as well as an obligation, to confront these scourges.”  Might he instead do as he hopes we will not, “wrap ourselves in the false comfort that others’ sufferings are not our own,”

I can only hope Barry will encourage the President to heed his own call. “(W)e have the opportunity to make a habit of empathy; to recognize ourselves in each other; to commit ourselves to resisting injustice and intolerance and indifference in whatever forms they may take — whether confronting those who tell lies about history, or doing everything we can to prevent and end atrocities like those that took place . . .”

Let us never forget Guantanamo Bay prison, Abu Ghraib, or any America penitentiary camp, need not be our holocaust.   Tales of tortured love need not be an American truth.

References for tortured love . . .

America is One of Three



TrueMajority Nuclear BB Demonstration

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

“America is one of three.”  Some might say the United States is one in a million.  Surely, the superiority of this western nation is rarely questioned.  The “land of milk and honey” is frequently referred to as a Superpower.  Most think America might be considered truly supreme.  Politically, economically, and militaristically the United States excels.  This democratic nation has clout.  America is able to control a situation, or a strategy.  Citizens here consistently prove they are strong.  This is the “home of the brave.”  It is well known, Americans are courageous enough to take a stand, and they have.  The United States is one of three nations that, regardless of outcry, refuses to support a United Nations resolution which would abolish the manufacture and use of all nuclear weapons.  

Cries from citizens in Hiroshima do nothing to change the minds of Americans.  The 63rd anniversary of the atomic blast that annihilated the Japanese city does not move residents of the United States.  People who inhabit this Superpower do not recall the intensity of a moment that instantaneously killed 140,000 people.  Perhaps, that is why here, in the States, few think it essential that we all remember that power, nuclear, or absolute destroys.

On a bright and beautiful August morning, on the 6th, in 1945, America with the assistance of its allies, dropped an enormously powerful explosive on an entire community.  Innocent inhabitants of Hiroshima did not awaken.  The sound, while deafening, did not cause those still asleep to stir.  People, out and about, did not dare run for shelter.  There was no time.  Immediately after the blast, bodies flew through the air aimlessly.  The blameless could not scurry.  There was no escape from the explosion the one of three initiated.  Ultimately . . .

An estimated 140,000 people were killed instantly or died within a few months after the bombing.  Japan’s official death toll of nearly 260,000 includes injured who have died in the decades since.

The scars still linger.  Today, Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba announced a two-year study would commence.  Researchers would estimate the psychological toll of the August 6, 1945, attack.  It is obvious to the Mayor and to all who reside amongst the survivors, invisible, invasive thoughts have been difficult to calculate, although for too many these are palpable.

Much discovery, and documentation of the physical toll the atomic ammo took, is available.  However, the horrendous effects from an explosive too brutal to speak of sadly, remain hidden in the recesses of many a mind.  Pronounced affects, early on, were perhaps more apparent then they are now.  Nevertheless, what occurred in the final days of World War II continues to have an effect, evident and precarious.  

Perchance that is why at 8:15 Ante Meridian, three-score, and three years later, an assembly of 45,000 people gathered beneath the spot where the one in three detonated an atomic bomb.  Modern-day mourners recall too vividly the lives lost, the family’s devastated, the history that could haunt all people planet wide if only everyone chose to be aware of it.  Most, at least in America, prefer to forget, and perhaps have.  History for those in the States does not endure in the present.  In this nation far removed from a reality so grim, few recall, in that fateful month of August 1945, those drunk with absolutism pounded again and again.

Three days later, another U.S. airplane dropped a plutonium bomb on the city of Nagasaki, killing about 80,000 people.

The total number of deaths in a single week was staggering.  The effect on generations of Japanese citizens is no less stunning.  Yet, here in the United States, the ability to ignore, or excuse what was, and is, endures.  Perchance, the capacity to remove an event from consciousness enables the luxury of repudiation.  Thus, the United States continues to reject the United Nations resolution to eliminate nuclear weaponry.  

People in the States rationalize.  Some say these brutal bombs ended the war.  Indeed, the nuclear explosives did nothing to bring peace to the people in Japan, or elsewhere for that matter.  Today, the same nation that aggressively assaulted Far Eastern enclaves continues to threaten the sanctity of life everywhere.

American leaders intent on dominion, arrogantly demand that all other countries relinquish nuclear weaponry.  Nuclear energy endeavors also must be eliminated if they exist on foreign territory.  After all, the capability to crush an enemy is a concern.  The one of three, or one in a million superpower maintains only the United States need have this command.  Might we inquire; is conquest the manifest destiny of a democratic nation?

It seems the answer is yes.  For decades, each Administration demands only allies can make use of fission.  Foes must cease, and desist.  Development of nuclear power could lead to another atomic attack, and not by the world’s most dominant force.  That, in the mind of many Americans must not occur.

Therefore, any research in the realm of nuclear energy must be restricted, that is except if the Americans do the investigation.  Development that might advance an ability to build such a dangerous arsenal need be forbidden, outside the United States.  The risks, say American officials are too great.  We must stop potential enemies at any cost, just as we did in 1945.  Money spent at home is not a problem.  Funds for fission is essential if we are to remain safe.  Nuclear power is our protection.  Hence, cost is no object and currently, in this country, the stockpile of explosives is vast.

  • 1 Cost of the Manhattan Project (through August 1945): $20,000,000,000
  • 2.  Total number of nuclear missiles built, 1951-present: 67,500
  • 3.  Estimated construction costs for more than 1,000 ICBM launch pads and silos, and support facilities, from 1957-1964: nearly $14,000,000,000
  • 4.  Total number of nuclear bombers built, 1945-present: 4,680
  • 5.  Peak number of nuclear warheads and bombs in the stockpile/year: 32,193/1966
  • 6.  Total number and types of nuclear warheads and bombs built, 1945-1990: more than 70,000/65 types
  • 7.  Number currently in the stockpile (2002): 10,600 (7,982 deployed, 2,700 hedge/contingency stockpile)
  • 8.  Number of nuclear warheads requested by the Army in 1956 and 1957: 151,000
  • 9.  Projected operational U.S. strategic nuclear warheads and bombs after full enactment of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty in 2012: 1,700-2,200
  • 10.  Additional strategic and non-strategic warheads not limited by the treaty that the U.S. military wants to retain as a “hedge” against unforeseen future threats: 4,900
  • 11.  Largest and smallest nuclear bombs ever deployed: B17/B24 (~42,000 lbs., 10-15 megatons); W54 (51 lbs., .01 kilotons, .02 kilotons-1 kiloton)

The list of facts and figures continues.  Perhaps, the numbers that might cause Americans ample concern, were they not so emotionally removed from events in the Far East, and from the effects of nuclear explosives are these.

There are bombs in most every backyard.  From Alabama to Wyoming, Americans face potential hazards.  Nuclear waste, nuclear weaponry, and or navel nuclear propulsion fills our fields and oceans.  This inventory is thought to be safely stored.  Yet, in truth, it is not and biologically cannot be.  Still, leaders of the one of three, tell citizens of this country not to worry.  All will be well.

Administrations in this one in a million Superpower surmise and then suggest to civilians, we must consider the priorities.  Americans need energy to support the economic system.  Nuclear explosives will ensure our nation’s safety.  What is not said to inhabitants in the one of three is the use of nuclear energy or explosives are a crisis waiting to happen.  With either, there is waste.  The destruction from a detonated bomb is bad.  What is worse is the damage, discarded rods can cause.

“The spent [depleted] fuel rods from a nuclear reactor are the most radioactive of all nuclear wastes.”  Ninety-nine percent of the toxic atomic emissions come from radioactive rods.  Currently, there are no permanent storage sites, internationally, for spent fuel rods.  Not even a Superpower can construct what may never be viable, physically or psychologically.

While the public is reassured, temporary storage facilities are being used until a stable site is searched for and secured, indeed, that truth may never be.  Certainly, in the lifetime of any citizen worldwide the hot rods will not expire.  Only people will perish, people in the Far East, the West, and throughout the planet.  Time is not on the side of man, no matter how super his power might be.

High-level radioactive wastes are the highly radioactive materials produced as a byproduct of the reactions that occur inside nuclear reactors.  High-level wastes take one of two forms:
  • Spent (used) reactor fuel when it is accepted for disposal
  • Waste materials remaining after spent fuel is reprocessed

Spent nuclear fuel is used fuel from a reactor that is no longer efficient in creating electricity, because its fission process has slowed.  However, it is still thermally hot, highly radioactive, and potentially harmful . . .

Since the only way radioactive waste finally becomes harmless is through decay, which for high-level wastes can take hundreds of thousands of years, the wastes must be stored and finally disposed of in a way that provides adequate protection of the public for a very long time.

However, hundreds of thousands of years is longer than most of us can fathom.  To date, humans from Hiroshima and Washington District of Columbia have not been able to produce a product that lasts that long.  People seem only able to destroy what was created that long ago.  Perchance, Americans do this best.

Nevertheless, politicians and pundits in this, the one of three, tell the citizens, who are intent on creature comforts, nuclear energy will provide us with power.  Nuclear weaponry will secure American shores.  Indeed, leaders in this prosperous nation say, if Americans continue to invest in fission, the economy will flourish.  Citizens in United States will retain the claim, World Superpower.  In the most power-full nation on the planet, we are one in a million, and we can take people out, or we can take on more nuclear power   As evidence, we remain one of three unwilling to relinquish our atomic strength.

Sources of Energy and the Enigma . . .

Please Consider Recent “Accidents.” . . .

The Black Soldier



The Black Soldier (clip)

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

Three score ago, after a long history of service, superior, and yet segregated, Black soldiers were recognized as equal, or at least consideration for the possibility was put forth.  In truth, then and perhaps now, manpower needs took precedence over racial prejudice in name only.  The story begins on July 26, 1948, or perchance, years earlier.  Historians speak of President Harry S. Truman’s doctrine, Executive Order 9981.  The directive states, “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.”  While the words are wondrous, the tale of what was and is, does not begin or end with this decree.

Segregation in the Armed Forces was perhaps a source of embarrassment to many Americans and the President of the “United” States.  Before 1940, and America’s entrance into World War II, African American soldiers served with honor and little acknowledgement.  Troops whose complexion was dark were forbidden from flying for the U.S. military forces.  Frustrated with the reality that, years after being freed from slavery, African-Americans, had little opportunity to “soar,”  “Civil Rights organizations and the Black press exerted pressure.” The strength of community outreach and a media delivered message helped to bring about long overdue change.  Ultimately, in 1941, an all African-American squadron based in Tuskegee, Alabama, was formed.  They became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.  After the Second World War, the honorable actions of the Tuskegee Airmen were recognized more than once amongst average Americans.  Indeed, these prized professionals were revered.

Perchance, Harry Truman heard the words of praise for the Black military pilots and realized he could no longer ignore the issue of segregation amongst servicemen; nor would he wish to.  For, possibly, to this President, it had become obvious; when a man is allowed to be truly powerful, as the Airmen were, they serve in more than name only.  The President proposed as he placed his signature on the proclamation,

“Whereas it is essential that there be maintained in the armed services of the United States the highest standards of democracy, with equality of treatment and opportunity for all those who serve in our country’s defense.. . .

It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.”

Had Harry Truman not been aware of the esteemed Airmen, he may have known of the presence of dark skinned soldiers in American history, Buffalo Soldiers. These troops may have influenced his thoughts.  The all-Black brigades became better known after the second war meant to end all wars.  From 1941 through 1945, in World War II, Black military men served proudly and prominently, under the direction of Commander-In-Chief Truman.

Some 500,000 Blacks were stationed overseas, amounting to 4% of the 11 million Americans who served on foreign shores. About 10% of blacks were in combat units. The all-black 92nd Infantry was in Italy, and had 616 killed in action and 2,187 wounded. The 93rd Division was stationed in the South Pacific, losing 17 KIA and 121 WIA. There was also the black 366th Infantry (Separates).?

During the Battle of the Bulge, 2,500 blacks were formed into all black Infantry platoons and attached to larger units. The famed 761st Tank Battalion spent 183 continuous days in combat in the European Theater, earning a Presidential Unit Citation. The 333rd Field Artillery bravely supported ground operations in France.?

Three all-black air units flew overseas: 332nd Fighter Group, 477th Bombardment Group and the 99th Fighter Squadron. Sixty-six Black pilots were killed in action. A total of 140,000 blacks served in the Army Air Forces. Nearly 150,000 Blacks served in the Navy. Of the 12,000 Black Marines, 9 were killed in action.

President Truman may have understood all that African-American soldiers had done to help achieve an American victory.  Yet, he also understood, that no matter what the Black troops did in the service to their country, they would always be seen as unequal, that is unless action was taken to correct the fate of soldiers whose skin was a purplish-brown hue.

This was made more apparent when, on February 13, 1946, two years before President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 into law.  On Valentine’s Day eve, love was lost for an African-American World War II veteran, Isaac Woodard.  The honorably discharged Sergeant, a decorated soldier, was attacked and blinded by policemen in Aiken, South Carolina.  President Truman took notice.  Actually, he had too.  Although, initially the periodicals did not cover the story, word did spread.  Soon the major news outlets printed reports and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) publicized the occurrence.  Manpower, precedence, and prejudice again are considerations in the life of a Black soldier.

(N)ews soon also emerged in popular culture. Via his radio show, broadcaster and movie celebrity Orson Welles soon began to crusade for the punishment of Shull (the officer who intentionally blinded Mister Woodard) and his accomplices.  Welles, a follower of the civil rights movement, found the reaction of the South Carolina government to be intolerable and shameful.

The news would also have an impact on music as well. A month after the beating, calypso artist Lord Invader recorded an anti-racism song for his album Calypso at Midnight entitled “God Made Us All,” with the last line in the song directly referencing the incident.

Perhaps, President Harry Truman was not moved by music or media personalities.  Possibly, more prominent in his mind were the internal communications that circulated through the White House.  Two years to the day, before Executive Order 9981 was signed a memorandum “Re:  Stoppage of Negro Enlistments” marched through the halls at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  The document, from the desk of  Philleo Nash, Special Assistant to the President, was addressed to David K. Niles, Administrative Assistant to Harry Truman. The communication referenced “undesirable and uneconomical” Black soldiers.

As the discussion of what to do with Black troops raged on within the walls of the White House, a Caucasian crowd pulled two African-American veterans and their wives from their automobile near Monroe, Georgia.  The Black citizens were shot to death; their bodies riddled with bullets.  Upon investigation, it was discovered sixty (sixty) rounds were fired into the purplish brown flesh of these four innocent persons.  Their only crime was the color of their skin.  Whites in the community found the darker hue objectionable.  Again, it mattered not that the men were soldiers, honorably discharged after years of service to the country that denied them equal rights, the “United” States of America.  On this occasion, the need or want of a few white men took precedence over racial justice.  This may have disturbed the man in the Oval Office, Harry Truman.  The Commander took action.

Within days of the horrific occurrence, on July 30, 1946, Attorney General Tom Clark announced that the President had instructed the Justice Department to “proceed with all its resources to investigate [the Monroe, Georgia atrocity] and other crimes of oppression so as to ascertain if any Federal statute can be applied.”

Months later, in a letter to the National Urban League, President Truman resolved; the government has “an obligation to see that the civil rights of every citizen are fully and equally protected.”  Yet, it became increasingly apparent the Administration had done nothing to ensure the rights of African-Americans, in, or out of the Armed Forces.

As months turn into years, and racism remained rampant on the streets and in the barracks, Presidential Advisor Clark Clifford urged President Truman to consider the importance of the African-American vote and Civil Rights issues in the 1948 Presidential campaign.  Perhaps, that was the catalyst.  Expedience advanced equality.  Thus, Executive Order 9981 was signed into law.  End of story, all is well, and sixty years later Americans celebrate the anniversary of equal Rights for Black soldiers, or so it would seem.

Yet, on the same day the order was executed, Army staff officers spoke anonymously to the press.  Each official explained the Executive Order 9981 did not specifically forbid segregation in the Army.  Then Army Chief of Staff General Omar N. Bradley stated desegregation would come to the Army “only when it becomes a fact in the rest of American society.”  

While Americans may wish to believe that the ugly face of bigotry is gone for good, indeed, even in the twenty-first century, intolerance surfaces in subtle ways.  Once again, manpower needs took precedence over racial prejudice in name only.  Filmmaker Clint Eastwood had a need for a cast of characters.  He hoped to document the mêlée at Iwo Jima, 1945.  Yet, he did not tell the story a Black soldier who served in the battle might have.

On February 19 1945, Thomas McPhatter found himself on a landing craft heading toward the beach on Iwo Jima.

“There were bodies bobbing up all around, all these dead men,” said the former US marine, now 83 and living in San Diego. “Then we were crawling on our bellies and moving up the beach. I jumped in a foxhole and there was a young white marine holding his family pictures. He had been hit by shrapnel, he was bleeding from the ears, nose and mouth. It frightened me. The only thing I could do was lie there and repeat the Lord’s prayer, over and over and over.”

Sadly, Sgt McPhatter’s experience is not mirrored in Flags of Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood’s big-budget, Oscar-tipped film of the battle for the Japanese island that opened on Friday in the US. While the film’s battle, scenes show scores of young soldiers in combat, none of them are African-American. Yet almost 900 African-American troops took part in the battle of Iwo Jima, including Sgt McPhatter.

Apologies are offered.  Yet, not to Sergeant Thomas McPhatter, or by the director, Clint Eastwood.   The filmmaker said he did not include Blacks in the script “because there were no Afro-American soldiers involved.”  Notwithstanding, the facts, many servicemen of color fought for this country long before they were acknowledged or recognized by the State, society, or a screenwriter such as Clint Eastwood.  Mostly, the military men of color fought on two fronts.  First, Black servicemen battled with foreign foes.  Then they clashed with those at home who only saw their skin color.  Neighbors acted as local combatants, not allied forces.  Civilians, protected by active duty Black soldiers, accused those whose complexions were charcoal of crimes they had not committed.  The evidence offered was but a reflection of reality;  racial prejudice is preeminent.   Please consider a tale too true.

Army apologizes to soldiers convicted after 1944 Fort Lawton riot

By Keith Ervin

Seattle Times

For decades, Willie Prevost kept his secret.

Like most of his World War II Army buddies, he never told his family about his conviction for rioting during a night of violence that left a number of men injured and one dead at Seattle’s Fort Lawton in 1944.

But on Saturday, his family was there as the U.S. Army apologized in a ceremony to clear the names of Prevost and 27 other African-American soldiers who were convicted in a now-discredited court-martial.

Sixty-three years after they were sentenced to hard labor, and nearly all dishonorably discharged, “The Fort Lawton 28” were given military honors, with an Army band and color guard, gospel choir and speeches by U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, Mayor Greg Nickels, King County Executive Ron Sims and Assistant Secretary of the Army Ronald James.

Only two of the veterans lived to see the day. . .

In total, the families of five veterans were present.

Saturday’s ceremony took place on a Fort Lawton parade ground – now part of Seattle’s Discovery Park – 60 years to the day after President Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces.

Again, actions taken six decades earlier prove profound.  The past permeates the present.  As Americans celebrate six decades, since the end of segregation in the Armed Forces, we must accept that in actuality, prejudice still permeates and is prominent.  While it might be argued; there has been some progress. Decades later, apologies are offered to a few, or two.  There is still much to be done to right persistent wrongs.  Perhaps we may wish to ponder the present,

Blacks still rare in top U.S. military ranks

While blacks make up about 17% of the total force, they are just 9% of all officers, according to data obtained and analyzed by The Associated Press.

The rarity of blacks in the top ranks is apparent in one startling statistic: Only one of the 38 four-star generals or admirals serving as of May was black. And just 10 black men have ever gained four-star rank – five in the Army, four in the Air Force and one in the Navy, according to the Pentagon.

All is not well on the Western front.  America and Americans do not honor the contributions of all hues.  Accolades of “equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.” aside, pinkish persons have yet to embrace the notion; we are one, the human race.

References Racial Discrimination and Executive Order 9981 . . .