Thursday, February 2, 2023

A Liberal Dose, February 2, 2023 "Protesting with Nazis Is Alliance with Nazis"

 


A Liberal Dose

February 2, 2023

Troy D. Smith

“Protesting with Nazis is Alliance with Nazis”

 

As I write this, it is Holocaust Remembrance Day. My uncle-by-marriage, who was a huge influence on me as a child and is the source of my love for history books and foreign languages, was a Holocaust refugee. He and two of his brothers were the only members of his entire extended family to escape and survive. I remember, even as a kid, feeling the weight of history on the couple of occasions I met his sister-in-law… a dignified lady who was also a concentration camp survivor, with numbers tattooed on her arm. I remember the feeling I had just a few years ago when one of my uncle’s cousins sent me a link to their ancestry.com page, and I noticed that dozens of their family members all had the same death date. I remember, also, the many other Holocaust survivors I met when I was living in Brooklyn in the 80s.

And just a few days ago, there were literal Nazis protesting on the streets of Cookeville, waving a swastika flag. I’m still hopping mad. These particular Nazis had joined a small crowd of Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and (as I understand it) some members of a local church (including a pastor) in front of Ralph’s Donuts to protest an adults-only drag brunch taking place at the bar across the street. The whole crowd was yelling and chanting insulting things about drag performers and the LGBTQ community, but the Nazis were adding to the mix chants of “kill the Jews” and “Jews rape kids.” Some of the out-of-towners left the group and walked away after the Nazis did these things, while many of the local protesters expressed discomfort and even dismay at the activity- but remained on the protest line.

Let me be clear. Even Nazis have the constitutional right to assemble peacefully and to express their ideas. I’m not one of the people who think the police should have dispersed or arrested them, unless and until they did something illegal. But here’s what I do think.

The rest of us have the right to be disgusted by them. And the rest of us should be disgusted by them, and by their ideas (such as white supremacy, homophobia, and antisemitism). And we should express that disgust loudly, clearly, and without any hesitation or equivocation. It was Nazi ideas that led to millions of people -most of them Jews, but by no means all -being murdered in concentration camps. It was Nazi ideas that led to the situation that our fathers, grandfathers, or great-grandfathers risked their lives to stop, and which hundreds of thousands of American servicemen (and women) died opposing.

It took days for Cookeville city leaders to make any public statements at all about the situation, and on the couple of occasions they did they were very delicately phrased so as not to offend the people there WITH the Nazis. A lot of people are outraged by that, and they should be; we should know where our elected officials stand on issues, and if there is one issue that everyone should stand firmly (and without hesitation) against, it is Nazis.

And if there is one thing no one should ever stand BESIDE, it is Nazis. If you tell me not everyone on that line was a Nazi, I tell you that everyone who remained on that line chose to stand with Nazis and that makes them Nazi supporters and allies. Again, I am not saying the power of the city government should have silenced them, it should not have, but the people of the Upper Cumberland have the right, and in my opinion the moral duty, to condemn them. And WE have the freedom of speech to say so, and say so loudly.

And if your moral and political beliefs match those of Nazis so well they travel to protest with you… and you let them… that should tell you something.

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.


You can find all previous entries in this weekly column HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE


Thursday, January 26, 2023

A Liberal Dose, January 26, 2023 “A Few Words About Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”


 

A Liberal Dose

January 26, 2023

Troy D. Smith

“A Few Words About Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

 

Last Thursday (January 19) was the 1st Annual Tennessee Tech Martin Luther King, Jr. Candlelight Vigil. The event was organized by Student Activities Coordinator Lakeisha Claybrooks, and hosted by Student Engagement Director Charria Campbell. I was one of several people invited to speak briefly. Other speakers were Krystal Akehinmi and Arthur Banton (both, like me, from the History Dept.), Helen Hunt, Andrew Smith, and Erin Hoover (all from the English Dept.), and three students: Mark Rine (Biology grad student and president of the campus NAACP), Na’Quaija Gaines (Criminology), and Kelley Fluker (Mechanical Engineering).

For my column this week I am sharing the speech I gave:

“Hello, I am Troy Smith, from the History Department. I was born in July, 1968, three months after the assassination of Dr. King… he has been my hero pretty much my entire life, so it is indeed an honor for me to be here tonight and be part of this event.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Now, when people hear Ebenezer, they think of Scrooge... but Ebenezer is a place in the Bible. It is the spot at which, after God had given His people a great victory, the Prophet Samuel set up a memorial stone to mark that day. Ebenezer literally means ‘Stone of Help.’ And when Samuel sanctified that stone, he said, ‘We have come this far by God’s help.’ Yes, friends, it is appropriate to memorialize the victories that God has given us, and the people He has sent to help us. That’s one of the things I love about Dr. King. He knew and honored the past. He acknowledged he stood on the shoulders of giants. People like A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, both of whom Dr. King brought in to his actions. He didn’t leave them in the past, any more than we leave him in the past. We honor him, and what he stood for, and all those who came before him and after him too.

In Dr. King’s day he was vilified as an agitator, as a troublemaker. And yet this week there are some people out there -often the very people putting stumbling blocks into the path of those still working for dignity and freedom -who say ‘God Bless Martin Luther King. At least HE wasn’t an agitator.’ Well, they weren’t paying attention.

What is agitation? That word does not mean ‘violence.’ I found three definitions.

1.       To stir or disturb something briskly. It’s usually done to make something clean. Just try washing your clothes, or anything else, without agitation and see where you get.

2.       To campaign to arouse public concern about an issue in the hope of prompting action. Well, that’s Dr. King to a T, isn’t it.

3.       To make someone troubled or nervous.

There you have it, friends. You can’t make something clean without agitation. You can’t cause change without making someone troubled and nervous. And we honor Dr. King for doing that. But we don’t just set up a memorial stone and just stop. We’ve come THIS FAR with God’s help. But we are NOT THERE YET. We have to keep moving forward.

The other day I heard the Reverend Al Sharpton say ‘Martin Luther King Day is not a day to take off. It is a day to take ON.’ To take on the inequity that is still there. So, let us set our Ebenezer, let us memorialize those God has used, and then let us move forward -because it is our turn, our turn to agitate until the stain is finally gone.

Thank you.”

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.

 

You can find all previous entries in this weekly column HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE

 

 

Friday, January 20, 2023

A Liberal Dose, January 19, 2022 "In America the King Is Not Law, the Law Is King"

 



A Liberal Dose

January 19, 2023

Troy D. Smith

“In America the King Is Not Law, the Law Is King”

Boy, do we now know more than we ever wanted to know about classified documents, or what? First, the FBI executes a search warrant on Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort and finds a couple of hundred documents which the National Archives had been pressing him for since he left office, and which he had claimed not to have. Not only were they there, some of them were in a poolside storage room -not the most secure location in the world. Some folks were saying, due to the obstructive attempts by Trump and his people to prevent the return of the documents, that this might be the one thing out of all his borderline or outright criminal behaviors that brings him down and possibly sends him to a resort where his jumpsuit would match his hair and skin. Many of us on the left were saying, “Wow! All that talk about Hillary’s emails not being secure, and your guy has classified documents squirreled away in his office and tucked into corners of his pool house!”

And now we have word that, a couple of months ago, Joe Biden’s people found classified documents from his vice-president days in his office. And then they found some more. And then they found some in his garage. And now Attorney-General Merrick Garland has appointed Special Counsels to investigate both Trump AND Biden.

Trump’s supporters are turning the finger around and saying “Aha! Your guy did just what you accused our guy of doing! Throw the book at him!” Biden’s supporters are pointing out that the two situations, while about the same thing, are different: Trump’s people actively hid documents and/or refused to turn them over, or lied about having them, whereas Biden made a simple mistake and his people turned them over voluntarily as soon as they found them. Well, a couple of months after they found them.

I submit than neither “You guy did what you say ours did, throw the book at him” nor “Yeah but when our guy did it, it wasn’t a big deal” is the right attitude. While the distinctions between the two cases I mentioned above are true, that does not mean Biden’s situation is “not a big deal” and should be dismissed at face value. You can’t say it is a big deal when one person does it but not another. This is why I believe Garland made the right choice. Despite the differences in the cases, Biden’s document situation should be investigated. If it turns out to have been an honest mistake -something your 80-year-old forgetful uncle might do -well and good (though that raises some issues, too). If there actually is anything nefarious about it, and its magnitude warrants, he should be charged. As simple as that. Everyone should be treated the same.

On the other hand, there is a big logical flaw in Trump supporters calling for Biden’s head… considering Trump’s actions involved a lot more material (so far as we know now) and a lot more obstruction. You can’t say “it’s no big deal” when it’s Trump and scream bloody murder when it’s somebody else.

That’s what the rule of law is supposed to be about. To paraphrase Paine, in Britain the King is law but in America the Law is king. It should apply to everybody, equally. It’s not a ball game, where you yell at the umpire when he rules against you no matter how right he is, or when you gloat when he rules for you and you know he’s wrong. In both cases, the facts should be ascertained and weighed with deliberation, and the conclusion should be acted upon.

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.


You can find all previous entries in this weekly column HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE


Tuesday, January 17, 2023

A Liberal Dose, January 12, 2022 "Today's News or Yesterday's History, Learn to Read Between the Lines"


A Liberal Dose

January 12, 2023

Troy D. Smith

“Today’s news or yesterday’s history, learn to read between the lines”

 

In recent weeks, John Gottlied has used his column, not only to encourage readers to think for themselves, but to be more discerning when evaluating news and social media. He has made some very good points about social media using algorithms to channel to users the news media that will buttress their own preconceptions. This has resulted in most of us walking around in our own echo chamber, with a completely different set of “facts” from those folks with whom we disagree. I was struck by John’s encouragement for us all to question WHY news and social media items are structured the way they are, and want to speak to that now.

I do my best to train history majors to interpret historical documents (like newspapers, for example). It is often necessary to be able to read between the lines if you are to move beyond the “what” and “how” and get to the “why.” This requires both critical thinking skills and familiarity with context, and it applies equally to today’s news (which will be tomorrow’s history). I often use two 21st century phenomena to demonstrate my point.

First: missing or murdered young women. Those few words alone embody unimaginable tragedy. From time to time a case will get national attention and the media will seem to talk about nothing else for days or weeks. We’ve all seen it. What do those cases have in common? It is always young white women. Plenty of non-white women suffer the same fate, but don’t make it on CNN. So is it about race? Well… large numbers of young white women are killed each year who may live in a trailer park, or work at Walmart or McDonald’s, and sometimes they don’t even make the news in their own town. It is young, white, middle-to-upper-class women who are given 24-hour news coverage. Again, no matter WHO it is, it is a terrible tragedy. But the fact is, most of that news media -especially on television -is supported by ad revenue. It is a vehicle to get you to watch commercials, with the goal of selling you something. Most of their audience is white, and from among that audience the ones they want glued to the TV are the ones with expendable income that might buy their stuff. Missing children who could have been THEIR children -that is going to compel them to watch.

Second: Native Americans protesting pipelines near their reservations, which could endanger their water supply. There are several such protests going on right now -have you heard about them? Probably not. The biggest such event happened in 2016, at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. There were more Native Americans assembled together in one place since Custer’s Very Bad Day (seriously). That particular pipeline was supposed to go near Bismarck, but the citizens there were against it so it was rerouted along the edge of the reservation, passing beneath the tribe’s only water supply. Militarized police forces from all over the state were mobilized, and there were countless incidents of violence against the peaceful protesters. This went on for months. I was seeing it every day on the social media feeds of my indigenous friends, and on Native news outlets. But not one word from the news networks… until the very end, when many reported that the Natives had “provoked” the police into using force against them. Why was it not in the news the whole time -Fox, CNN, MSNBC, anywhere? Because there are not that many indigenous viewers, and they don’t have much money, but oil companies provide enormous amounts of ad revenue to all those stations.

If national news or social media is inundating you with something -or, sometimes, hiding something from you -someone, somewhere is trying to sell you something (or, in the latter case, make sure you keep on buying it).

Read between the lines.

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.

 

You can find all previous entries in this weekly column HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE



 

Saturday, January 7, 2023

What If: An Alternate Imagining of Lonesome Dove

 


I love Lonesome Dove. I read the book when it first came out, when I was in high school. Four years later the miniseries came along, and I loved that, too. The novel, of course, became just one part of a four-part cycle of novels, which I think compare to Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales when it comes to encapsulating the mythology of the American frontier. Years ago, I came across a fascinating story about the writing of the novel by Larry McMurtry, and it has stoked my imagination ever since. Maybe you've heard it before.

In 1971, McMurtry and the young director Peter Bogdanovich were fresh off adapting McMurtry's novel The Last Picture Show into a screenplay, and then a critically acclaimed movie. They wanted to follow it up with something even bigger: an original screenplay for an epic traditional western that would star three of the biggest names in the history of Hollywood westerns -John Wayne, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda. It would be an elegiac western, a swan song about three aging cowboys facing their own mortality and the passing of their way of life. McMurtry and Bogdanovich co-wrote a treatment of the proposed screenplay -that is, a comprehensive overview of the story and the characters, essentially writing out the story in prose form which could then be hashed into a screenplay with all the dialogue. It was called Streets of Laredo.

Stewart and Fonda signed on to the project as Gus McCrae and Jake Spoon... but Wayne balked. One source says that he felt the character of Woodrow Call was "too much of a hardass" and might be bad for his image. Another says that Wayne felt the story was too elegiac, like it was the actors saying goodbye to the West, and might impact the success of his future westerns. Maybe it was both. Maybe, as this is John Wayne, he felt it was too "revisionist," though that is speculation on my part. It is worth pointing out that many of Wayne's best, most electrifying performances came when he was being a cold, somewhat cruel, hardass... Red River and The Searchers, for example. It is also worth noting that, five years later, Wayne did star in an adaptation of a very elegiac western novel (Glendon Swarthout's The Shootist), which wound up being the perfect capstone to his career.

Regardless, without John Wayne's participation the project fell apart and languished for years. McMurtry eventually bought back the rights to the treatment so he could write it as a novel (with a different title), and -one Pulitzer Prize later -the rest is history. 

But I've always wondered.

Most people couldn't imagine anyone other than Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duval as leads to an adaptation of Lonesome Dove. However, Wayne, Stewart and Fonda would have been outstanding in the roles that were, in a way, literally created for them. It is worth pointing out that all four novels in the cycle were adapted as TV miniseries -as well as a non-McMurtry-approved sequel called Return to Lonesome Dove -so, actually, there have already been five actors to play Woodrow Call.

I am going to interject what will probably be an unpopular opinion. I would give anything if someone like HBO, Prime, or Netflix would re-film the entire four-novel saga using the same set of actors throughout, for consistency's sake.

All this has set me thinking -for years -what it would have been like had the whole saga been produced with the originally envisioned Hollywood icons in the lead roles. For my own diversion -I'll do anything to avoid actual work -I have put together imaginary casts for them all. I am envisioning each novel adaptation coming at an appropriate time in the actors' lives, and have used actors from around that time to fill out all the supporting roles.

It occurs to me that AI could be used in the not-too-distant future to actually do this -but that would not only require an enormous number of permissions, but would be entirely too creepy in both a moral and "uncanny valley" sense.

But I can daydream.




























Thursday, January 5, 2023

A Liberal Dose, January 5, 2022 "January 6: A Day That Will Forever Live in Infamy"

 



A Liberal Dose

January 5, 2023

Troy D. Smith

“January 6: A Day That Will Forever Live in Infamy”

 

Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of one of the low points of American history. A lot of people who supported Donald Trump might not want to think so; they may wish people would stop talking about it. They may change the channel, especially when news programs show the actual (and shocking) footage of that day. They may say everyone is exaggerating the violence of that event -or that it should not count as an insurrection, because only a handful of people died.

But guess what. History teachers are still talking about Shays’ Rebellion (1786) and the Whiskey Rebellion (1791). Only nine people died in the former, and only four or five in the latter. We do not talk about them because of the magnitude of death and destruction that occurred, but because of the magnitude of their historical significance. Shays’ Rebellion led indirectly to the drafting of the U.S. Constitution. The Whiskey Rebellion demonstrated (to the country and to the world) that the government created by that Constitution had the authority, will, and power to suppress violent actions against the Constitution, the government, and the law. All three of which, by the way, perfectly describe the insurrection of January 6, 2021.

Except, in the case of the January rebellion, it was the president himself who instigated, encouraged, and allowed the violence directed against both his own executive branch (in the person of his vice-president, who came within a hair’s-breadth of assassination) and the whole legislative branch. The House Select Committee investigating the attack, who have recently released their interview transcripts, uncovered a breathtaking array of evidence that our authoritarian ex-President intentionally stirred up his fervent followers to stop the Constitutionally mandated certification of the election, or at least delay it long enough for some of his other schemes with the same purpose to come to fruition. One of the most frightening disclosures of the transcripts is that the Pentagon refused to send troops in to quell the riot out of fear that, if they were that close to the action, the president would illegally order them to help the rioters overthrow the government chosen by a majority of the American people. Fittingly enough, Trump started his presidency with a warning of “American carnage,” and ended it by delivering it.

On the day itself, my pro-Trump friends were uncharacteristically quiet. It was virtually impossible to defend the carnage while it was unspooling live on television. I believed at the time they were overcome by shame, and maybe (hopefully) they were. Within a few days, though -following the Trump doctrine of denying that the past happened -they were minimizing or excusing the whole thing.

But the truth is -and this is why January 6 will be talked about by historians for centuries to come -that day (like the Whiskey Rebellion) was a major testing of constitutional democracy. It could have gone very differently -and if Trump had installed the type of hyper-loyal-constitutionally-averse-authoritarian staff he no doubt would install in a second administration, it would have.

For those of us paying attention, the months leading up to the 2022 midterms were almost as frightening. A whole slew of Trump-backed candidates were on the slate who, had they won, would have been situated to change the results of the next election in Trump’s favor. Thankfully, almost all those candidates in swing states lost, demonstrating that Trump was losing some of his influence. This, in turn, led to the Republican establishment finally feeling emboldened to buck The Orange One, and the conventional wisdom now is that Trump will not be favored to win the nomination this time.

But he wasn’t favored to win the nomination in 2016, either. Many thought it was impossible for him to do so, or to win the general election. He has enough devoted followers to get the Republican spot. It’s still an urgent necessity that we remember January 6.

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.

 

You can find all previous entries in this weekly column HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE


Tuesday, January 3, 2023

A Liberal Dose, Dec. 29, 2022 "9/11 and the Unraveling of Hegemony"

 



Note: this is the 4th in a 4-part series. There are links below to the previous parts.





A Liberal Dose

December 29, 2022

Troy D. Smith

“9/11 and the Unraveling of Hegemony”

 

Last week I closed by describing several CIA/state department actions in the 1950s that many citizens might find shocking or disturbing. Helping overthrow democratically elected governments in second-and-third-world countries in order to install brutal dictators who were friendly to U.S. foreign interests… this seems like the opposite of what we imagine ourselves to be. It is not my goal, in telling you these stories, to “run down America” or solely to focus on the negative. My goal is to help you understand the present. Frankly, unless you know the story about the Shah of Iran and Mohammed Mossadegh, it is impossible to understand just why people in Iran have hated us so much in the past.

Now I’m going to tie it together in the present. Notice that the U.S. trained and equipped Ho Chi Minh when his Vietnamese guerrillas were fighting our enemies the Japanese in WWII. You doubtlessly know that we also trained and equipped Saddam Hussein when he was fighting our enemies the Iranians in the 1980s, and Osama bin Laden when he was fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan (also in the ‘80s.) Whether we fought with or against any specific group often depended on our national interests at the time -which a hegemon must protect even more than countries normally do.

Let’s talk about Afghanistan. The Soviets invaded them in 1980 and fought there for almost a decade- it was a quagmire for them, roughly equivalent to our own experience in Vietnam. Muslim fighters from around the world went there to help the Afghans resist. They were called mujahedeen, “fighters for righteousness,” engaged in jihad. And we trained and equipped them, because they were fighting communist Russia. Heck, if you recall, they were the good guys in Rambo III.

Now, there were a lot of factors in the collapse of the USSR… but this was one of the major ones. Stuck in an unwinnable war, forced to stretch their own resources, losing support of their citizens at home, their economy collapsing… this set the stage for the Russian people to rebel. The mujahedeen helped topple a superpower.

Here comes the heavy part.

What is hegemony? Being globally dominant financially, militarily, and politically. What did Osama bin Laden attack on 9/11?

The World Trade Center. The Pentagon. Washington, DC (though that one was foiled by brave passengers).

The attacks were deeply symbolic of destroying American hegemony. And what was bin Laden’s goal? To do the same thing to the U.S. he had done to the USSR: entice us into a series of unwinnable wars which would cause us to overextend our resources, thus crippling our economy and hopelessly dividing our citizens, turning them against the government and leading to our collapse. This would be a speeding up of the natural process of hegemony: once you get it, you start losing it, by virtue of the things you have to do to hold on to it. I’m still not sure it didn’t work, just in slow motion for the past twenty years.

In 1988, Henry Kissinger said, “peace requires either hegemony or balance of power. We have neither the resources nor the stomach for the former. The only question is how much we have to suffer before we realize this.”

Hegemony is not permanent. What happens when it is gone? Either a return to balance of power, or a new hegemon. The question is, can Americans do what Brits have been forced to do since their empire collapsed- be content to be ONE OF the main countries, but not THE main country. If you haven’t noticed, older Brits are still having a hard time dealing with this. And who would be the main country then? That is a justifiably scary question.

Regardless, though, it does not help to bury our heads in the sand. It is very important to use history to understand the present and the future.

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.


You can find all previous entries in this weekly column HERE

A list of other historical essays that have appeared on this blog can be found HERE

Author's website: www.troyduanesmith.com

The author's historical lectures on youtube can be found HERE