A Confession by Richard Bleil
Although it’s shameful to say, I didn’t write a blog for MLK day. But, that’s not to say that I wasn’t thinking about it.
A meme on Facebook pointed out that Martin Luther King, Jr., Anne Frank and Barbara Walters all were alive at the same time. How Barbara Walters factors into it is beyond me; I never particularly thought of her is important in civil rights. But she is still alive today which I think was the point.
Time does a funny dilation. When I think of recent history, I’m still stuck in the ‘90’s. Inspired by the passing of Terry Jones, yesterday I wrote about Monty Python. Okay, I’ll give you; I do think of Monty Python as “old news”. I love them dearly, but I was in middle school when their series was on, and in my mind’s eye, middle school was a long time ago.
Prince, on the other hand, isn’t. When “1999” plays, I’m whaling along at the top of my lungs which, frankly, should be when I’m doing it from the stall of the men’s room in the mall. But, it’s 1999!!!
Prince passed on in 2016, which I think pretty much everybody will agree was recent, but was in his “heyday” in the mid ‘80’s to late ‘90’s. To many people, that seems like a lifetime ago.
World War II seems like forever ago to me. I am appalled by the Nazi atrocities, but I don’t have direct knowledge of it. Ann Frank died in 1945, just a few months before the fall of Hitler. This was nearly twenty years before I was born, so I have a hard time thinking of it as recent history. Martin Luther King, Jr. died in 1968. This was about five years after I was born, which means I might have remembered it, but at that age I certainly wasn’t paying attention to events of the day. To me, either may have been news from Ancient Rome. Barbara Walters, born in 1929, was sixteen when Ann Frank died, and if she worked for her high school paper, may well have reported on both.
A lifetime ago for my students was yesterday for me, and a lifetime ago for me was yesterday for our surviving WWII veterans.
Today, we are facing voter suppression, new American “containment” camps for immigrants, and a rise of neo-Nazis and white supremacists. I wonder what Ann Frank and MLK would think of these recent events. For that matter, I wonder what our surviving veterans think.
I wonder how horrific events factor into civil rights movements. It has been suggested that it is because of the “service” Japan did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that saved us from a nuclear exchange during the Cuban Missile Crisis. John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev were both old enough to remember the bombing. They saw photos and very well may have visited the destruction of the city, the suffering of the people, and the horror of the mutations. Some can argue (and I tend to agree) that the use of the bomb helped to bring a rapid end to the war that could easily have stretched on with the devoted soldiers of the Japanese Empire who were entrenched in the islands of the Pacific and sworn to fight to the death. Without this demonstration of might, many more may have been killed before the end finally came. The first US president who was likely too young to remember the use of these weapons was George W. Bush, and it probably is not a coincidence that he is the same president that walked out of the SALT II non-proliferation treated and resumed nuclear weapon development which, arguably, could be the root cause of the modern arms race with Iran and North Korea.
The Civil Rights movement began in 1954, about a decade after the end of the second “war to end all wars”. The Korean Conflict began in 1953, and only eight years after the second war to end all wars ended, we were in a war again.
So, from here on out, it’s all speculation, but I’m wondering how these events contributed to each other. In the ‘50’s, the GI’s who liberated the concentration camps were largely back on American soil, with stark memories of what they had witnessed of Anne Frank’s Germany. A new war could not have been something that they wanted to see (although I’m sure the majority of them supported it), and minorities saw more of their friends going to war than “white” Americans. Is it possible that MLK saw the parallels between the suppression of Jews in Germany and the suppression of minorities in America?
Sometimes social issues are obvious. Those who want to see all realize the climate crisis and economic disparities today, but it takes a special soul and incredibly courageous heart to lead the fight. We all owe Martin Luther King, Jr. a debt of gratitude for his amazing accomplishments, accomplishments that extends beyond race and touches on the most American sentiment: and Justice for ALL.