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Since I Never Get the Last Word

Monday, November 7, 2005
And That's the Truth

The truth shall make you free. John, Acts, 8:32

The major trouble with the idea is how in the hell are you supposed to know the truth when you see it or you hear it? It’s easy enough to use today’s top news stories to illustrate the problem but much more fun to take an older news story, one where there has been plenty of time to sort out the facts, and try to discover the truth in history. For example, ” On this day in Minnesota, more than 300 Santee Sioux are found guilty of raping and murdering Anglo settlers and are sentenced to hang. A month later, President Abraham Lincoln commuted all but 39 of the death sentences… President Lincoln's commutation of the majority of the death sentences clearly reflected his understanding that the Minnesota Uprising had been rooted in a long history of Anglo abuse of the Santee Sioux.” The History Channel, Nov 05

Now that seems straightforward enough. But suppose it is the year 2002 and you are attempting to damn the current U.S. president’s reliance on military tribunals. Well, then you might write in The Texas Mercury, as Paul Weber did that: “This is where the fun really began for the Lincoln administration. Remember, Minnesota never even came close to suffering invasion during the Civil War. The system of courts in Minnesota had not been destroyed. Nonetheless, it was very convenient to identify the Sioux as "illegal combatants" in the war. Maybe they didn’t wear uniforms, or something, or maybe they even attacked innocent civilians—something our own military never does, right? Anyhow, this Military Tribunal, according to David Nichols in Lincoln and the Indians, spent all of about 10 minutes on each "trial." The Sioux, many of whom spoke no English, were not allowed to put up much of a defense, even if they had some foggy notion of what was going on.

Over 300 Sioux were found guilty and sentenced to summary execution. The merciful Lincoln Administration, however, got a few signals from Europe that mass execution of hundreds of starving Indians with whom we had broken a treaty might just be a little bit immoral. Because some of those nations were toying with the idea of coming to the aid of the South, Lincoln decided, in a great show of mercy, to execute only 39 of the prisoners. But to mollify the folks in Minnesota, he also paid $2 million in federal funds, along with a promise to eventually kill or remove every last Indian from the state.” Paul Weber, the Texas Mercury, 2226 Mar 02

Oh my goodness! Not only must thiswriter attack military tribunals, he feels it necessary to bring poor ole Abe Lincoln down with them, and then doesn't bother to tell us his source for the tidbit about Europe's moral outrage. Well, suppose we ask the descendants of those actually involved. Then, we discover: The biggest tragedy to befall the Santee was one of the bloodiest of wars against Indian people in American history, known as the Minnesota Uprising of 1862. Broken promises by an apathetic government left the Santee facing eventual starvation. Mistrust felt by settlers and the Santee led to isolated outbreaks of violence. An argument between two young Santee men over the courage to steal eggs from a white farmer became a dare to kill. This test of courage killed three white men and two women. Anticipating retaliation by "blue coats," the Santee took the offensive, but were soon forced to surrender under the overpowering attack of U.S. troops. Because of this short-lived uprising, 38 Santee were executed in Mankato, Minnesota, in December of 1862. This was the largest mass execution in the history of the United States.” Nebraska Indian Community College web site, 4 Nov 05

Or perhaps we can go to that bastion of truth, the Roman Catholic Church. “Three hundred prisoners were condemned to death by court martial, but the number was cut down by President Lincoln to thirty-eight, who were hanged at Mankato, 26 December, 1862. They were attended by Revs. Riggs and Williamson and by Father Ravoux, but although the other missionaries had been twenty-five years stationed with the tribe and spoke the language fluently, thirty-tree of the whole number elected to die in the Catholic Church, two of the remaining five rejecting all Christian ministration.” The Catholic Encylopedia web site, 4 Nov 05. You see the important part of this story was that 33 of the condemned were Catholic. We don't know if they were Catholic before or after the raping and killing but that isn't as important as the body count. 33 Catholics to 5 heathens - or were they parishioners of the Revs Riggs and Williamson? Well, they'd be heathens under either circumstance.

Well, a more secular encyclopedia might prove more helpful: “After the "Sioux Uprising" of August 1862 in Minnesota, Lincoln was presented with 303 death warrants for convicted Santee Dakota who had taken part. Lincoln affirmed 39 of these for execution (one was later reprieved). Lincoln was strongly chastised for this action in Minnesota and throughout his administration because many felt that all 303 Native Americans should have been executed. Reaction in Minnesota was so strong concerning Lincoln's leniency toward the Native Americans that Republicans lost their political strength in the state in 1864. Lincoln's response was, "I could not afford to hang men for votes." The Wikipedia.org web site, 4 Nov 05 I suppose them Republicans have always been right there at the head of the line to eliminate the opposition.

Here’s one I discovered at a web site that you would expect to provide a pro-Santee outlook. It reads: “A five-man military commission was appointed to try the Dakota who participated in the outbreak.
The commission settled up to 40 cases in a single day. Some were heard in as little as five minutes.
In all, the commission tried 392, sentenced 307 to death and gave 16 prison terms. Many historians today feel the trial was a travesty of justice.
Authority for the final order of execution was passed to President Lincoln. He was pressured by politicians, military leaders, the press and public for immediate execution of the 303 still on the condemned list.
Interceding on behalf of the Dakota was Episcopalian Bishop Henry Whipple, known to the Indians as "Straight Tongue" for his fair dealings.
The Rev. Stephen Riggs and Dr. John P. Williamson, Presbyterian missionaries to the Dakota, wrote letters to the press calling for a fair trial.
Lincoln approved death sentences for only 39 of the 303 prisoners. One of the 39 was later reprieved.
At 10 a.m. on December 26, 1862, in Mankato, the group of 38 ascended a specially-erected timber gallows 24 feet square and 20 feet high. More than 1,400 soldiers of the 6th, 9th and 10th Minnesota Volunteers and of the First Minnesota Mounted Rangers were on hand to keep order among the crowds of hostile citizens.
The Indians sang as they left their prison and continued singing until the end.
It was the largest mass execution in American history.”
Vicki Lockard, AAANativeArts.com website, 4 Nov 05

And finally, I look at at a nominally objective research paper and discovered: “General Henry Sibley, a former Minnesota governor who had been involved in highly questionable trade and claims deals with the Indians, subjected the Sioux to hasty military trials and, one month later, Lincoln was notified by General Pope that death sentences were to be carried out on 303 of the convicted Santees. Pope expressed his view that Lincoln was certain to approve the convictions and thus permit the executions: "The Sioux prisoners will be executed unless the President forbids it, which I am sure he will not do" (Brown 1970, 58). Lincoln, however, telegraphed Pope requesting him to mail "the full and complete record of these convictions" in order to be evaluated before the executions were to take place (Basler V, 1953, 493).

In his December 1 message to Congress, Lincoln noted the "extreme ferocities" of the Sioux uprising (V, 1953, 525). Also on December 1, Lincoln wrote Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt seeking Holt's opinion on what should be done with the condemned Sioux, asking "whether if I should conclude to execute only a part of them, I must myself designate which, or could I leave the designation to some officer on the ground" (V, 1953, 537-8). Holt's answer was that Lincoln would have to decide the matter on his own, but that "[i]n view of the large amount of human life involved," perhaps the Attorney General should investigate "for the purpose of more satisfactorily determining the question of their [the convictions'] regularity" (V, 1953, 538).

Finally, on December 6, Lincoln wrote Sibley ordering that 39 of the 303 condemned Santees be executed (V, 1953, 542-43). One of the remaining 39 was pardoned, and on December 26, 1862, 38 Sioux Indians were hung (VI, 1953, 7). At least one Sioux who had not been approved for execution by Lincoln was nevertheless hung, apparently being included by mistake (Brown 1970, 60; Nichols 1978, 117). Nichols notes that the hanging of the Sioux was "the largest official mass execution in American history in which guilt of the executed cannot be positively determined" (1978, 117).

Lincoln's decision was still yet another clemency act for which he was roundly criticized. A number of Minnesota residents and political figures, including Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey and Senator Morton Wilkinson, expressed outrage with the pardons after having pressured Lincoln to approve the execution of all the convicted Indians (Nichols 1978, 109-13). Responding to a resolution from the U.S. Senate inquiring into his actions in regard to "the late Indian barbarities," Lincoln stated that his primary concern was ensuring that those guilty of rape were to be executed, followed by those who "have participated in massacres, as distinguished from participation in battles" (Basler V, 1953, 550- 1, emphasis in original). After the 1864 election, Governor Ramsey opined that while the President had carried the State, had Lincoln not pardoned the Sioux, he would have received more votes than he did, to which Lincoln replied, "I could not afford to hang men for votes" (Nichols 1978, 118). Inside Lincoln's Clemency Decision Making, P.S. Ruckman, Jr. & David Kincaid, Rock Valley College’s Ed Net, Illinois

From all that I conclude there must have been a trial, a sentencing, and a commutation except for some smaller number of Santee Sioux who Lincoln let die in the greatest masss execution in U.S. history. The why and the wherefore are open to debate as far as I can tell. What I can report with some amount of measured sarcasm and a great deal of ddisappointment, 'the greatest mass execution in U.S. history" was not significant enough to make it into thehistory text books used in the schools - grammar and colleges -in my neck of the woods.

And that's the truth!!?

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-11-07 10:24:05

Friday, November 4, 2005
The Sparrow

On the recommendation of a very good friend, I sought out and read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and, now, I cannot get it out of my mind. Russell weaves a marvelous tale to support two themes near and dear to my heart: the impact of an advanced culture on a less advanced culture and the problem of god. To pull this off, she gave me a cast of characters that sounds uninteresting when listed but, in fact, provided the perfect foils for her story. eight Jesuits, a Christian, two atheists, a Jew, and an other. How they met, how half of them become the first contact team, and what happened as aconsequnce of their mission constitute the story. The fact the hero is a linguist and that ability is essential to the tale had natural appeal to me as well.

Russell wrote that her intent was to present the first contact problem and how the advanced culture must always negatively affect the lesser culture even when they go into the situation with the highest intentions and loftiest motives. She pulls this off with such amazing simplicity and surprise that I wonder I had not heard of her work before this time. Written in 1996, this story pre-dates the legal woes the Catholic Church has experienced in the time since but if you ever were curious about the life style that lies at the bottom of the crisis, Russell provides a layperson’s view with compassion, affection, and brutal honesty.

As to the problem of god, she provides no pat answers but describes the issues with an honesty equal to the treatment she provides to the first contact aspect of her story. While it was easy to guess the significance of her title even before reading the first page, when the biblical quote actually appears in the story, it is the line that follows the quote that sums the issue in a terse, trenchant, and somewhat terrifying observation.

I recommend this one without qualification. It is science fiction at its best.

The Sparrow, Ballentine Books, 1996

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-11-04 09:40:47

Wednesday, November 2, 2005
The Person Behind the Person

There is a new TV show titled Commander-in-Chief that deals with the topic of a female President of the U.S. Whilst the pundits are all atwitter with the concept and its implications for our next Presidential electtion, I have been caught up in a lesser issue that the shows also highlights. If the President is a woman, that seems to make her husband the First Gentleman since wives of male Presidents are titled First Ladies. This TV show makes quite an issue of the feminine nature of the role of the First Gentleman and does so, I concede, in a humorous fashion. But, as it does with so many other more important problems, the show skirts the issue. [Damn, that’s a good pun!]

Because what the TV show highlights is the sheer inanity of the way we treat the spouses of national leaders. On the one hand – and I will freely admit this may be a U.S. problem – we do not want the spouse to be active in the political world. All the gods in all the worlds cannot help a Hilary Clinton who is so bold as to attempt to play a role in her husband’s presidency. There is justification for this attitude. We did not elect the First Lady; we elected the President. No Senate oversight committee can give advice and consent to her role nor can they examine the First Lady's activities. Consequently, the President’s wife should remain in the background hosting tea parties and artsy-fartsy events. We can deal with that.

On the other hand; when a Laura Bush takes a jaunt to Africa, we expect her to make important, non-controversial observations about what she is carefully managed to see. When a Camille accompanies a Prince Charles, we expect her to do the same, make non-controversial, politically-correct remarks and smile prettily for the camera.

Basically, what we have operating is the Puritan ethic. The spouse belongs at home, barefoot and pregnant, while occasionally available as eye-candy on the arm of the President for important social events.

Imagine the outcry if the President’s wife had a real job. Suppose she was a professor, or an aero-space engineer, or a Certified Public Accountant or a trial lawyer or a fashion designer or a secretary. It boggles the mind. First, you must have protection, in the U.S. the Secret Service. Then you must be able to defend against the paparazzi. Then, you must cope with a work force jealous of her position and convinced she only got the job because she is the President’s wife. Then, you must never report her accomplishments and failures because they could reflect poorly on the President.

It is an impossible position to place someone, male or female, and I wonder that any spouse ever agrees to the other holding political office.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-11-02 09:02:34

Friday, October 28, 2005

On this day in 1886, almost six score years ago, the Statue of Liberty, a gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States, was dedicated in New York Harbor by President Grover Cleveland. Emma Lazarus wrote the inscription:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

These days, we seem to have lost that spirit, if we ever truly had it. Gordon Allport wrote in The Nature of Prejudice in 1954 of the treatment of large blocks of immigrants as they arrived in this country. He pointed out you could tell the sequence of arrival by examining the civil service structure in New York City. The newest arriving block occupied the lower social scales of civil employment, e.g., the new guys got the sanitation jobs while their predecessors had worked their way up to police and firemen and then to the desk jobs.

There is a common belief that the illegal immigrants crossing our borders these days are performing all the jobs that no one else wants to do. I have seen discussions that imply this is a myth designed to keep illegals in their place; I have seen equally compelling arguments that portray the stark truth of the assertion. In either case, we are a far cry from Emma’s noble thought.

It may well be impossible for any country to take in the homeless, the tempest-tossed. What we need to discover is how to patch the problems at their source. Haven’t seen any good thoughts along those lines nor have I seen any government or group of governments willing to commit to trying. Self-interest and self-absorption seems to blind us to what I think is obvious: if we can fix problems in situ, they won’t migrate to our shore where we will be required to attempt to fix them anyway.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-10-28 09:30:15

Sunday, October 23, 2005
Giving Thanks

Suppose there is a god who is personally responsible for creation. Consequently, this god stays involved in the day-to-day operation of the universe, manipulating this and that as he sees fit. He makes a universe comprised of opposites, precision (the human eye) and randomness (the value of Pi), black and white, up and down, complementary particles, the truth and consequences of probability waves, the whole gamut of possibilities. He creates storms and droughts, eruptions and sink holes, disease and medicinals, good and bad people.

What is it I should pray to this god about? Should it be: “dear god, please don’t let that hurricane land on our coast.” Meanwhile, the folk further south on our shared continent are praying the same thing to the same god. When the hurricane makes landfall on their coast and not ours, does that mean god likes me better? If it lands there and on our coasts, does that mean god doesn’t like either one of us? If it doesn’t land on one or the other coast, how do we know which prayer, mine or theirs, was the one that moved god to change the storm’s direction?

How about “dear god, please don’t let that avian flu you just created spread to my country and my town”? It seems to have been a natural development and natural developments are just another way of saying god’s gifts to us because he is personally involved in everything that happens or fails to happen. ”So, god, while you know everything and must therefore know what you’re doing, how about just letting us pass on this gift, okay? Or, if we must accept this one, how about creating a cure for AIDS to balance things out?”

Or “dear god, please let me get home safely from this war that you created and we are fighting for you”? If we are not fighting it for god, then, why do we assume this god will be able to influence events and get us safely home? Perhaps we should be praying “dear god, please convert these non-believers to capitalism as expressed by us so that they cooperate with us and not continue to oppose us because it is your will they do so.” It gets a little tricky trying to figure god’s motives in this war thing. He’s the same god on both sides so both sides are praying for his assistance. Can god be schizophrenic?

I am attracted to the idea about asking god to make the stock markets go up or letting me win the lottery. No harm in being on god’s good side if the cost/benefit analysis comes out positive.

There is a country-western song whose lyrics tell us “some of god’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” That makes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma; the earthquakes in Pakistan and Japan, the floods in the northwestern US and the fires in the west some of god’s greatest gifts. Must be along the lines of “anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Now, that’s something to thank god for.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-10-23 11:33:49

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