Whitman wrote and recited many original works about life, death, and dying. His seminal work, Leaves of Grass, may have been his best-known contribution of loosely connected poems about his life and philosophy but it took him his entire life to write it. He was updating and rewriting Leaves of Grass up until his death.
Like many authors or writers, his works weren’t appreciated in his time. In fact, much of Leaves of Grass was considered obscene. Too sensual for the time. Whitman was also presumed to be a homosexual, that too was scandalous and salacious for his time. Not to mention illegal. Whitman died at 73 over 123 years ago. In temporal terms, that was yesterday. The first manned balloon flight was in 1793. The first man space flight was in 1961. Only 168 years apart.
The Gift of Time and Distance.
Time matters. History is important. We make better decisions when we take a step back, consider all the evidence, and then decide what is right and what is wrong.
I never got into Hemingway, but I am a fan of TE Lawrence (the actual man referred to as Lawrence of Arabia, author of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom). I’ve read everything written by CS Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia fame) and AA Milne (Pooh). As a matter of fact, the Seven Pillars of Wisdom and The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet are on my suggested reading list for new instructors.
I throw JRR Tolkien into this esteemed group. I was hooked by The Silmarillion. Given to me by my oldest brother Brian when I was in high school in 1977, The Silmarillion gave me a virtual tour of mythological worlds replete with heroes and terrors that stretched my young imagination to its limits.
I cherished Roald Dahl, his fantastic worlds and rich characters appealed to me as much as his unique style of writing. A fantastic blend of humor couched in sarcasm. I still have every book written by Robert A. Heinlein in boxes in my basement office. I had always hoped that either Andrea or Nico would have tuned in to the magic I found in Heinlein’s science fiction. I felt the same way later when I picked up Frank Herbert’s Dune series.
Eric Blair wrote poetry, fiction, and novels. An underlying theme being his support of democratic socialism and opposition to totalitarianism. Like Jonathan Swift in Dublin, Ireland 250 years before him, Blair hid his messages in his writing. His allegories were clear only after you finished the novel and noted that there were no clear winners. His dystopian vision of the future was based on his experiences in his present and immediate past.
Blair wrote under the pseudonym ‘George Orwell’.
Democratic socialism creates a world of property held by worker-owned cooperatives with publicly owned enterprises managed by workers and consumer representatives through a democratically elected government. This includes everything from industries to energy, utilities, public transportation to control of the economy by regulation. Strict limits on private property and extensively funded financial assistance programs and pensions. Many of the same issues Americans are fighting over today.
Orwell wrote about increases in the surveillance of private citizens to gather evidence that can be used to discredit that person in the future. In instances where there wasn’t enough evidence, Orwell wrote that one side would create evidence about the other side. The government quickly found out the more damning the accusations, the better. Orwell noted that authoritarian or totalitarian governments were powerful and that power corrupted them absolutely.
Orwell wasn’t a prophet. He wasn’t predicting the future. Orwell was writing about recorded history and his first-person observations and experiences of the Spanish Civil War. 70 years ago, when Orwell put pen to paper, he endeavored to show us that even simple single words or clusters could be used to manipulate and oppress people. To control them. To shape their societies. He had learned about it from history (school, self-study, experience) and he saw it in action.
Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.
As my dear friend and consiglieri, Shon would say, “I thought 1984 was a warning NOT an instruction manual. Is anyone awake at the wheel, Remo?” He punctuated his RFI with a couple of Orwell quotes. I answered with my favorite quote from the book, “Who controls the PAST controls the FUTURE.”
George Orwell was merely an efficient writer and reporter using prose from his time to illustrate the short jump that needed to be made before ‘Big Brother’ became a reality. In a recent article, I read about the execution of a search warrant that went bad. An innocent civilian was killed during the warrant service. That is a function of training. It’s also illegal.
The first ten amendments of the US Constitution are referred to as ‘The Bill of Rights. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Additionally, it requires that all search warrants are supported by probable cause and authorized by a Judge. The Fourth Amendment states that; “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
A search warrant which followed the US Constitutional guidelines led to the death of Breonna Taylor, 26 who was working locally as an emergency medical technician. A number of officers both uniformed and plainclothes were on hand just after midnight on 13 March 2020 at the front door of Ms. Taylor’s apartment. According to police, they were lawfully fulfilling a search warrant signed by a Judge that gave them permission to enter without knocking.
Laws vary from State to State, but everywhere in the United States, the law is clear that when executing a search warrant that the police shall knock and announce themselves and wait for a reasonable amount of time for the knock to be answered before they are allowed to enter a home or residence. In many states, police are afforded a temporal advantage with what is known as a ‘no-knock’ warrant service. The warrant is just as legal and must be authorized by a judge, but it allows the law enforcement representatives who are executing the warrant to enter private property without knocking and announcing.
This type of warrant is desirable when the police fear imminent destruction of essential evidence items in the time-lapse during the time they knock and announce and the time that they actually gain entrance. The feeling is that if the occupants are sufficiently surprised, they will be overwhelmed by the events and therefore the evidence would be preserved.
The Louisville Police on 13 March 2020 entered Breonna Taylor’s apartment by their description with immediate prior notification. In numerous reports, they say that they announced loudly that they had a search warrant and that they were the police as they rammed the entry door down. This is legal based on the fact that a judge authorized the warrant. Before you vilify the practice, know that it is rarely requested, much more rarely allowed, and often carried out without incident.
By the accounts of the attorneys representing Ms. Taylor and her boyfriend and her roommate Kenneth Walker, shortly after midnight they heard a commotion. Fearing that they were facing an armed home invasion by criminals, Kenneth Walker secured his handgun and as the unknown persons gained entrance to the apartment, Walker began to shoot in self-defense.
It was only later that Mr. Walker found out that it was police gaining entry. Sadly, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor had been killed by police shooting at Mr. Walker during the entry.
Injecting a new narrative.
This eventuality is evidenced by recent news articles that show the attorneys for Walker and Taylor are taking a different tack. I’d ask you to remember what most Americans have never learned; accusations made in lawsuits do not constitute evidence in a court of law and represent only one side of an argument. Further, that while the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct clearly state that no lawyer shall knowingly make false statements of material fact, lawyers can still be expected to stretch the truth.
Allegations are now being made by the attorneys for Mr. Walker and (the decedent) Ms. Taylor includes that the dynamic, deliberate entry, and the subsequent fatal shooting of Ms. Taylor were clearly part of a neighborhood gentrification plan. In fact, the police squad was called ‘Place-based investigations’ and members of that squad are alleged to have deliberately misled the investigators to believe that the Taylor apartment was, in fact, a location frequently used to order and store illegal drugs in an effort to hasten the abandonment of the neighborhood so that a multimillion-dollar property development plan could begin.
My point is that now it doesn’t matter whether those statements are true or false: Breonna is dead because of poor training and execution during a legal search warrant. Trying to re-write the narrative and make this case about gentrification will sully the good name of Breonna Taylor and not move the dial on a bit towards better police training.
Gentrification means making a trade. Trading out the old apartment where Mr. Walker and Ms. Taylor were staying and trading them for upper-middle-class or high-class offerings that Walker and Taylor might not be able to afford – but that makes the developers a ton of money. The best way to clear a neighborhood for gentrification is to convince people that the current properties need to be cleared out because they are a hotbed of criminal activity and violence. To believe that the police entered knowingly into a gentrification pact would mean that Breonna was murdered, not the victim of a poorly executed search warrant.
On the same news page where I was reading these new allegations regarding the sad, wrongful death of Breonna Taylor I came across a NYT article about the Revolutionary War. The author made the claim that the primary reason the Revolutionary War occurred was to ensure and preserve slavery and the slave trade in the United States.
The Revolutionary war in 7 paragraphs.
Initially, the American Colonies were created by like-minded folks evading the religious persecution of the Anglican church. The more the Colonies pulled away, the more forcefully the British government became involved in Colonial affairs.
During the subsequent French and Indian War, France squared off against the Colonies with both sides choosing allegiances with Native American tribes. For nine years British troops helped the US Colonists fighting against the New French and their allies. This included British troops that were housed inside of private, Colonial dwellings even after the war. Further, the British Parliament decided to tax the American Colonies and asked them to pay and feed the troops. This ‘tax’ was referred to as the ‘Governing Act’.
While before 1764, the Brits allowed the US Colonies to self-govern, now the British were all too eager to help and continued to levy taxes upon the Colonies including the Currency Act, Sugar Act and Stamp Act. This led to the ‘No Taxation Without Representation’ argument of the Colonists. The Brits were taking Colony taxes, yet the Colonists had no representation in the unwelcome British rule.
Colonists pushed. A gang called the Sons of Liberty formed in Boston in early 1765. Colonials liked the cut of their jib and soon the movement spread from Boston throughout the colonies. Boston being the epicenter continued to stage huge protests until during one Sons of Liberty protest a few Colonists were gunned down in what would forever be known as the Boston Massacre.
The Brits continued to impose taxes. In 1773 this included a tax on Tea. The Colonists answered back with a protest now known as the Boston Tea Party. The Brits countered with more laws and taxes. When the Colonists received the list of new laws, they nicknamed them ‘The Intolerable Acts’. The British closed down the port of Boston to trading. This restricted free trade for Loyalists and Colonists alike and led to many tense and sometimes violent encounters.
Word spread like wildfire that the port of Boston had been shut down. Twelve of the first Thirteen Colonies feared that ‘mission creep’ would occur and the Brits would start closing down THEIR ports, harbors and trading centers as well.
By 1774, the First Continental Congress sent a petition for redress to Britain’s King George the Third. King George answered in 1775 by sending troops to disarm the American Rebels and restore order.
Sound familiar? That’s what the history books tell us. Yet, coming soon to your television produced by
Oprah Winfrey and Lionsgate Media, you are going to experience the 1619 Project which “will reframe American history” for you. The author of the New York Times piece (Nikole Hannah-Jones) explains that the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project shines new light on the Revolutionary War demonstrating that “America was founded on slavery, is steeped in racism, and continues to be an illegitimate and malevolent superpower”. Controversial to say the least – but principally a work of fiction. A work of ‘alternative facts. These seemingly spurious claims will lessen the importance of our Nation’s fight for freedom from an oppressive regime.
Reframing history can be dangerous and counterproductive. Consider the boy that cried wolf. The fable of the boy who cried wolf is included in Aesop’s fables but can be attributed to sources between 8th and 6th Centuries BC. It’s a simple story stating that when you continue to call false alarms, sooner than later people won’t respond to the call.
Using alternative facts. rewriting history, endorsing revisionist history, or enabling cancel culture (withdrawing support for someone or something after they have done or said something that others consider to be offensive or objectionable) violates the American principle of Due Process.
The lack of an understanding of the principles of Due Process is what caused the death of George Floyd. The careless or reckless actions of the officers at the scene caused them to act as Judge, Jury, and Executioner just as the Louisville police did with Breonna Taylor. This is a function of training; it demonstrates a failure in training. Both instances must be addressed by improving training.
Due Process is a guarantee. A right. It creates fairness in all legal matters. From the most fundamental notification of rights, proliferation of probable cause in support, to arrest procedures and subsequent civil or criminal court practices each individual must be held to the same set of circumstances and rules so that no prejudicial or unequal treatment can result.
By deleting or rewriting history – even if that history was inflammatory, damaging, hurtful, or racist – we deny that those events occurred and helped shape where we are now. Stronger. Better. More transparent and well on the road to restoring faith in our government and legal system and improving equality. Orwell knew there was only one way to truly control a population and that wasn’t death or the fear of death – it was dominating the conscious mind. The ‘state’ can win if the state can occupy your mind. Orwell’s Winston Smith had one job. He was a government employee whose job was to rewrite history so that his country’s leaders and their accomplishments were viewed as heroes in every case. Always viewed in the most favorable light.
Let’s allow Due Process, our courts, and the judicial system to protect George Floyd’s rights and those of Breonna Taylor – citizens who can no longer speak for themselves. Let’s tackle these big problems with science and precedent (read ‘history’) and logic, not platitudes or the empty gestures of renaming landmarks and destroying statues.
Circling back to my first few paragraphs, each of those storied, historic authors wrote based on their experiences during wartime. From Walt Whitman, a nurse during the American Civil War through Orwell in the Spanish Civil War, including those authors that served in World War I and II.
To deny history, to attempt to escape it, or to dispute their first-person narratives because they don’t coincide with our vision of what the present or future should be, means that we are willing to remove their works from our shelves in fairness to their opponents’ viewpoints. I only wrote about a handful of authors I like. Soon that same wrong thinking will extend to music, art, and then what’s next?
Let’s learn the truth behind the stories before we draw conclusions. Let’s not hurry to an unreasonable conclusion. Let’s not destroy history or deny culture until we exercise due process. Training changes behavior.
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