A Riot To Remember

In July 1863, the war was not going very well for the northern Union forces as they tried to defeat the Southern Confederacy. Recruitment was slipping in a sign of war weariness and casualties were staggering. To try to replenish ranks and encourage more volunteers, the Republican Government under President Lincoln took the step of establishing a draft, a serious extension of national power. Opposed to the war, the Democratic Party denounced the move as a threat to civil liberties.

Those likely to be drafted then took action. They were mostly Irish American immigrants with few means, living in cramped often fetid quarters in New York City. They had low paying jobs without the benefits available today. They were indifferent to slavery and feared that if they went off to war, freed blacks would replace them. Adding to their anger was the fact that those with money could buy their way out of the draft or find substitutes. It was a rich man’s war, they complained, and a poor man’s fight.

“Charge of the Police on the Rioters at the ‘Tribune’ Office.” Harper’s Weekly, Aug. 1, 1863.

Unimpeded, they took to the streets. There were no statues to be tumbled but plenty of damage to be done otherwise. They attacked, looted and burned stores, often owned by blacks, and police stations and Protestant churches. They lynched several blacks with genuine nooses. They particularly targeted known abolitionists and their newspapers like the New York Tribune. At a time of more assertive journalism, editors armed their staffers to confront the rioters. New York Times editor Henry Raymond, a top Republican, wielded a newly invented Gatling gun to defend his paper.

But there was no stopping the riot with available forces. Police tried but were undermanned. Federal troops normally nearby had gone off to war. In desperation, Washington rushed several regiments from the war in Pennsylvania to the city where they fired on rioters the way they had on Confederates. That did it. Twenty thousand troops maintained the draft and kept the peace for the remainder of the war. More than one hundred people had been killed, most of them rioters.

As it turned out, the draftees were not needed very much. There were about 46 thousand of them compared to 800 thousand volunteers who did most of the fighting and dying. The riot was an indication of seriously divided opinion in a war that cost more lives than any other in U.S. history, and it should be noted that Irish Americans, removed from the slums, fought willingly and gallantly in subsequent wars.

Black Lives 1860

In the year 1860 American blacks were locked into slavery. Then the Civil War began which liberated the slaves at the cost of 360 thousand Union lives, mostly whites with ten per cent blacks who had been freed. They died, yes, but usually with the battlefield agony that preceded death. It was not a pleasant thing.

Lt. Colonel Richard Irwin, who participated in the Union capture of Port Hudson in 1863, describes the battlefield: “Our loss in the two assaults was nearly 4000, including many of our best and bravest officers. The heat, especially in the trenches, became almost unsupportable, the stenches quite so, the springs gave out, the creek lost itself in the pestilential swamp and the river fell exposing to the tropical sun a wide margin of festering ooze. The illness and mortality were enormous. The labor of the siege, extending over a front of seven miles, pressed so severely upon our numbers, far too weak for such an undertaking, that the men were almost incessantly on duty. And as the numbers diminished, the work fell more heavily on those that remained. From the first we had nearly 20 thousand men of all arms engaged before Port Hudson and at the last hardly 9000, while every other man might well have gone on sick report if pride and duty had not held him to his post.”

Battle of Port Hudson / J.O. Davidson – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

This of course was just one of innumerable battles in the four year war. It was sustained by a cause that was both clear and uplifting – the abolition of slavery, which distinguishes it from current U.S. wars that seem to have no particular purpose and unlike the Civil War don’t end in victory. To be sure, not all who fought necessarily opposed slavery. They reflected northern opinion which was divided. But they fought nonetheless and thereby contributed to the cause that prevailed.

There were other reasons for the war: a need to prevent southern secession and preserve the union and an increasing hostility between north and south. As always, hotheads on both sides yearned for a violence they would not be able to control. But at the heart of the conflict was the issue of slavery. Without that there would have been no war.

The war did not solve all the problems between the races. Years of brutality and discrimination against blacks continued on the long road to equality. But the Civil War set the precedent. There was no going back. The enormous bloodshed – far beyond any other U.S. war – settled the matter. Standards for justice are very high today. No shirking allowed. But what more could be asked of the Union soldiers who gave all they had?

Freud Up To Date

In a somewhat controversial piece celebrating Jewish genius, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens makes a surprising omission. Absent from his list of Jewish notables over the years is famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. This may have been a lapse on his part, but it does reflect current opinion. Freud has little to say to present times, rooted as he is in outmoded concepts of the role of sex in human life and unconscious drives over which we have no control.

For Freud sex was unforgiving. Infancy wasn’t spared. That’s where it all began in confusion over mother and father, leading by stages to sexual fulfillment or repression and neurosis of which psychoanalysis held the cure. No such thing, said later analysts. Free will still exists and accidents even happen that are not dictated by fate.

Sigmund Freud – By Max Halberstadt – [ Christie’s]

What’s more, Freud is definitely out of place today, very politically incorrect. He was condescending to women and considered all departures from normal sexuality a matter of arrested development. Politically, he was a conservative who favored strong man rule, though not, to be sure, Hitler who drove him from Vienna. He detested America with all its talk of equality while enjoying chats with that teller of tall tales Mark Twain. Today he would probably be closer to Trump voters than to the elite of Manhattan who once adored him. So goodbye to Freud.

But not so fast. His probing of the unconscious has ties to world affairs. Like everyone, he was appalled by the barbaric eruption of World War One after a century of general peace and prosperity. He rejected the common explanations – too much nationalism, too little love, not enough communism and a dozen other ideological cures. The reason he concluded in his book “Civilization and Its Discontents” lay in the permanent drive of aggression in every human that surpasses even the sexual drive. “The inclination to aggression is an original self-subsisting instinctual disposition in man that constitutes the greatest impediment to civilization… All life essentially consists of the struggle between the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction, as it works itself out in the human species.” Which wins depends on the determination of humans who recognize what they face and are not misled by the spurious reasons that lead to wars, including U.S. wars since 9/11. It’s the Freudian cure of self-recognition – Freud up to date.

The Charitable Cartels

The drug cartels are killing more Mexicans than ever, far more than are dying from coronavirus, but with a new twist. They’re also trying to keep some alive by supplying needy Mexicans with food and other supplies they don’t get from the government. “Who do they think they are?” asks an indignant President Lopez Obrador. “The government?” That seems to be the case.

With much fanfare and social media promotion, the cartels are enjoying their new charitable image. It can’t hurt business. But true to form, they’re also imposing a strict quarantine in parts of Mexico. Troubled U.S. states like Michigan and New York might take note of their means of enforcement. No fine or reprimand but in one case – according to the Wall Street Journal – a stiff whacking of a violator with a paddle marked “Covid 19.” Mexicans stay willingly indoors.

Though drug czar El Chapo Guzman is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison, he is nevertheless an influence in the relief effort. His daughter Alejandrina is distributing boxes of supplies with his familiar face stenciled on them. No escaping El Chapo if you want to eat. Alejandrina in fact has a business offering products in the name of her father whom she describes as a “humble orange seller with many goals and ambitions.”

An unidentified woman distributes provisions in boxes stamped with the image of the convicted drug trafficker (Mexico News Daily)

There’s an even more impressive name associated with cartel enterprise: Osama bin Laden. In fact, a leader in the Sinaloa cartel is known as “El bin Laden,” who appropriately uses heavily armed gunmen in pickups to distribute supplies bearing, course, the image of bin Laden. He taunts authorities by saying if you don’t like bin Laden, then provide supplies of your own.

Sometimes the cartels cannot help themselves and go back to business. Some criminals disguised as health workers approach elderly people with sanitation tips. With a special lubricating oil on their hands they quickly slip off rings, bracelets and other jewels, leaving their victims in worse condition.

What matters is that in sickness or in health the cartels rule.

The Biden We Don’t Know

What we know about Joe Biden is none too flattering. On his rocky road to the Democratic Presidential nomination, which promises to be even rougher on the way to the election, he has stumbled in speech and action. Critics deride his snarled syntax and lapses of thought. A former Senate staffer claims he sexually assaulted her 27 years ago. And there’s no explaining how he used his Washington influence over Ukraine to add to his wealth at the expense of this distraught nation.

Yet there is something more to the Vice President that has been hidden from view but becomes clear in Bob Woodward’s 2010 book “Obama’s Wars.” This inside look at the White House debate over the Afghan war is filled with the endless, windy pronouncements of the President, his aides and top military commanders. They circle round and round the topic without deciding why we were in the eight-year war and what it was expected to accomplish. Just continue what we’re doing. was the consensus. Only try harder.

One voice stands out for independence and freshness of thought, and that is Biden’s. The room, he complained, confuse al Quaeda with the Taliban. Al Qaeda terrorists threaten the U.S., the Taliban do not. The U.S. has pushed al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, and they’re not likely to return. So why continue with nation-building and remaking Afghanistan when it’s not really working even with ten thousand troops on the ground.

Biden insisted the Taliban is not monolithic as commonly portrayed. There are hard core believers at the top, but down the line many others are far from committed and open to change. Their differences are exploitable as opposed to trying to kill them all. And the top echelon who will fight to the end are all in Pakistan. Yet we’re at war in Afghanistan. For what?

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden.

There were no answers to Biden at the meeting, just some shrugs and eye rolling. Obama rather condescendingly urged him on without seeming to mean it. “Verbosity” was the charge against him, as it is today, but was it the length and style of his talk that offended or the content? With consistency he went on to oppose the war in Libya as “madness” since the U.S. was already engaged in two other wars – Afghanistan and Syria. Considering the shambles of Libya today, he knew what he was talking about. He also noted that the extensive U.S aid to the rebels against the Assad regime in Syria was largely going to terrorists. Once again, a policy that made no sense.

What if Biden, instead of being ignored, had prevailed? The world would look different today – no ruined, inflamed Middle East and North Africa with a flood of refugees adding to the global burden. But sadly, this point rarely comes up in the current Presidential campaign where Biden is mainly seen to be faltering, unsure of the message he once strongly conveyed.

The Mexican Plague

What is more dangerous for Americans than the coronavirus? Going to Mexico.

Edgar Lopez, a golfer who lives in El Paso, Texas, was quarantined from coronavirus along with his Mexican girlfriend just across the border in Juarez. They were protected from the wrong ailment. Both were shot to death in broad daylight by assailants who were not caught and never will be. That same weekend an American woman and a young boy were shot and killed after crossing the bridge from El Paso. Another American woman was murdered inside a tortilla shop in Juarez

Americans used to be immune from drug cartel violence – bad for business. But no longer, and they are just a tiny fraction of the more than 2000 murdered so far this year in Juarez. Imagine if that number of people had been killed in a U.S. city. A frenzied media would be demanding accountability, urging concern and compassion. Yet the Mexican massacre hardly rates any coverage as if death across the border is somehow less consequential. Who really cares?

Yet a case can be made that Americans’ vast consumption of Mexican drugs finances the cartels that do the killing. To what extent then are Americans responsible, and shouldn’t the media be making that crucial connection? Or perhaps it doesn’t care to. Americans dying of overdose is one thing, Mexicans murdered quite another.

In the meantime Juarez is well on the way to reclaiming its title of the “murder capital of the world” in competition with equally crime ridden Acapulco, where in that same weekend of slaughter three police officers were gunned down while patrolling an upscale tourist district. Ten other people were also killed in the area, and an investigation continues of  a burned body in a car that may be that of a Canadian businessman who had disappeared.

A small sampling of a larger disaster that unlike coronavirus is man made and thus can be unmade by man if so desired. No search for a vaccine is necessary.

Tent Life

If you drive west out of Lake Worth on the eastern Florida coast, you suddenly notice an array of brightly colored tents that contrast with the well manicured green of a vast park. But the sight is not altogether welcome since the tents signify the homeless inhabitants within – a picture of despair in many cities where far more ragged tents along with filth and crime are a blight on urban living.

But this Tent City, as it’s called, might be an acceptable compromise in light of the problem. Nationally, more than half a million people are considered homeless who have not fared well in an otherwise booming economy. Many causes have driven them to live outside – medical, financial, psychological – but they boil down to a basic one: they cannot afford housing. A tangle of state and local restrictions helps prevent the building of housing they might afford. As the libertarian Cato Institute notes: “It’s a problem of too much demand and too little supply.”

“June” (Photo by author)

So what is life like at Tent City where some 150 people occupy seventy tents? Compared to conditions in other parts of the world, living is tolerable. Residents are cheerful and chatty, leaving some critics to ask why are they then here? A woman says she fled a nearby beach town when her boy friend was shot and killed. Here she feels safe. A marine veteran, who arrived a few days ago, says he wanted to escape the coronavirus surrounding him. No reported cases yet of the disease in Tent City perhaps because they live outside.

Occupants seem to talk in terms of a temporary stay. Tents are clean and well kept, but they are hardly adequate housing. My guide – let’s call her June since county authorities don’t encourage visiting journalists and she wants to stay out of trouble – aspires to live in a “sanctuary with four walls,” which other Americans take for granted. Wherever she goes, she is welcomed by companionable tent dwellers along with her pet cat that she carries in a handbag. Robbery and violence are infrequent, but she was sexually assaulted a few years ago. Park rangers are helpful, she and others say, yet the law outside is not always practiced within.

The homeless know they are not wanted and hear talk of removing them. They’re provided with food and other necessities, but complain about a barricade that has been erected along the road to prevent cars from dropping off supplies. They note the county spent two million dollars on a nearby dog park complete with gazebos, drinking fountains and wash basins. Yet it would seem, given the enormous inequality in America today, that one and a half acre of a 700 acre park devoted to those who are much less equal is a reasonable arrangement.