Part X: Judging the Unconventional Patriotic Citizen

(A version of this essay was originally published as  “How Should We Judge Unconventional Patriotic Citizens Like Snowden and Kaepernick?”  by the History News Network-online on October 15, 2017.)

This is the tenth essay in a series devoted to examining citizenship and the American citizen, the rights, duties, and norms of which have become ever more contentious since the divisive Sixties. They have become especially relevant in recent years with the actions of Edward Snowden and Colin Kaepernick, and with the election of Donald Trump and his proposed policies on immigration reform and his accusatory statements against those who will not stand for the national anthem.

Along with organized and informal groups of protesting citizens such as those of the Sixties, we have seen in the last five years individual citizens, empowered by technology and social media, roil the American political and social landscape with their individual actions. These techno-powered, defiant citizens are simply carrying on the traditions established and legitimized by the angry, defiant protestors and counterculture groups of the Sixties, only now they are in some cases acting alone. Also, they can gather more information, disseminate it, and garner support more quickly than the protestors of the Sixties.

In 2013, Edward Snowden, an intelligence contractor for the U.S. government and former CIA employee, copied and leaked thousands of classified documents to several British and American journalists, revealing the National Security Agency’s massive, warrantless surveillance and data collection programs. He has been called numerous things: a whistleblower, a traitor, and a patriot. Snowden’s actions broke federal law; he faces charges on theft and two counts under the 1917 Espionage Act.

Colin Kaepernick, the biracial, back-up quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, challenged a common ritual of patriotism by sitting during the national anthem at pre-season NFL games in August, 2016, eventually switching to kneeling. His actions did not break any law. There is no law requiring that a citizen stand for the national anthem.

However, all expectations of a good citizen in a state or civilization cannot be, and should not be, codified. Good civilizations also have unwritten citizen’s norms and codes of ethics. These help to identify and bind the citizenry. The ancient Romans had a word for this, civilitas, which Mary Beard in her book SPQR defines as: “we’re all citizens together.” The best, if uncommon, word we have for this is civicism: civic spirit.

Empowered by the internet and social media, such actions by these unconventional presumably patriotic citizens would appear to have become fixtures in American society. What follows is a five-point framework for evaluating such actions, a framework rooted in the principles of the Just War tradition, reaching back to Hugo Grotius of the 17th century.

I. Noble Aim: Was the citizen’s aim noble or did the citizen perform the action simply for personal gain, for example, for such things as financial gain, fame, or celebrity? If so, this could disqualify the citizen as a patriot.
II. The Clarity and Achievability of the Citizen’s Goal(s): Did the citizen have a clearly stated goal(s)? Would a reasonable person say that the citizen had a good chance of succeeding in achieving it? Without a clearly stated goal, the citizen cannot be focused on achieving some good. If the chances of success are minimal, the citizen can not only be wasting his/her time, but also cause needless conflict, instability, or even chaos.
III. The Suitability of the Means Chosen to Obtain the Goal: Was the means chosen to achieve the goal suitable? Was it discriminatory and focused or was it broad-brushed and heavy-handed causing unnecessary collateral damage?
IV. Proportionality of Action: Did the potential good outweigh the potential bad caused by the action? Was it designed to effect the greatest good while causing the least harm? Before the fact, this question can be hard to answer. In hindsight, of course, the benefits and harm of an action are still challenging but easier to judge.
V. Acceptance of Consequences: Was the citizen prepared to accept the consequences of the actions or, conversely, did the citizen want—so to speak—to have his/her cake and eat it too?

Two prefatory comments: If one wishes to hold the unconventional patriot to a very high standard, his/her actions should meet all five criteria. Second, even if one agrees with these criteria, objective, unbiased information relating to them may be hard to obtain.

Let us consider how the actions of Snowden and Kaepernick stack up against these criteria.

I. Noble Aim: Both individuals appear to have acted with good intentions and for selfless and noble aims. Snowden’s intention was to reveal the global, illegal surveillance programs, many run by the National Security Agency with the cooperation of telecommunications companies and European governments. Impliedwas his desire to stop the illegal surveillance and to improve the privacy of the individual citizen, a right he called “the fountainhead of all our rights.” In June 2013, he stated: “I’m just another guy who sits there day to day in the office, watches what’s happening and goes, ‘This is something that’s not our place to decide, the public needs to decide ….” His authority for making such a decision on the public’s “need to know” can be questioned.
Kaepernick’s intention was to bring attention to and protest police brutality, specifically, that directed at people of color. Of course, implied was his desire for this somehow to change. It does not appear that either took their actions for personal gain. No evidence exist that would suggest they were pursuing fortune, fame or celebrity. Of course, sometime—even for the citizen him/herself—it is hard to be sure of one’s motives.

II. The Clarity and Achievability of the Citizen’s Goal(s):
In the case of Snowden, his short-term goal was reasonably clear and achievable. He wished to reveal the surveillance programs and he did that through a number of international journalists, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Ewen MacAskill. His revelations were eventually printed in high profile newspapers, such as The Guardian and The Washington Post. The larger goal of at least curbing the programs, he argues, was also achieved. In September 2016 he was asked about this and he said: “Do I think things are fixed? No. Can any single individual fix the world? No that’s too much. Have things improved. Yes.” He cited important changes in American and European laws, and that some internet companies have made changes, pushing back against government pressure. People are certainly more aware of the issue. “Things have gotten better,” he said. Snowden’s website currently lists numerous achievements to date, including many investigations into illegal surveillance, greater transparency, legislative reforms, lawsuits, and a more informed public debate.

A U.S. appeals court in 2015 ruled that the bulk data collection of American phone records revealed by Snowden was illegal. Congress then replaced that program with another which keeps the bulk data under the control of the phone companies.
In the case of Kaepernick, a positive goal was implied rather than clearly stated. His statements about his actions were stated in negative terms: “There is police brutality—people of color have been targeted by police.” He criticized the inadequate training police receive and asserted he was not “going to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” By not engaging in a fundamental civic ritual, he presumably was acting for the positive goal of police reform: to end or at least to curb racism, the achievability of which can be questioned with his type of action. He has succeeded in provoking President Trump to weigh in and further elevate the issue. On September 22, Trump publicly urged owners to fire or suspend protesting players and fans to stage boycotts of the NFL.

Kaepernick himself appears content with his achievements. In March 2018, ESPN’s Adam Schefter wrote that “Kaepernick no longer wants his method of protest to detract from the positive change he believes has been created” and that “the amount of national discussion on social inequality…affirmed the message he was trying to deliver.” Kaepernick remains unemployed as a football player. Reportedly he is staying in shape in case a call comes and also running civil rights education events for disadvantaged youth.

III. The Suitability of the Means Chosen to Obtain the Goal:
Snowden did choose means that were suitable. He wanted revelation to the public and so he used highly-reputable newspapers in the U.S., the U.K., and Germany. However, Snowden’s actions get a poor grade for discrimination. Rather than releasing carefully-selected NSA documents, he revealed “thousands.” His website indicates he reached a point where he “realized that the wrongdoing he witnessed was something that should be determined by the public.” Even if one agrees with this, the necessity of the magnitude of the release can be questioned.

Also, in the case of Kaepernick, one can challenge the means he chose. Certainly he can be admired for his courage and clearly he reached a wide audience, but other than interviews on his actions, it appears he never followed with other, more substantive actions to fight racially motivated police brutality, e.g., publishing a thoughtful letter or essay explaining his actions fully and what specific things he would like to see happen to address the problem. He did address the short training period for many police; however, we might expect a better “game plan” from an NFL quarterback.

IV. Proportionality of Action:
In the case of Snowden, the private citizen is now informed about the enormous and illegal NSA surveillance programs. However, he has clearly embarrassed the U.S. government. His critics have also asserted that his actions have made it more difficult to gather necessary intelligence on terrorists and other foreign threats. They speak of the extensive damage done to national security. Given the classified nature of the details, this aspect is had to judge.

In the case of Kaepernick, one can say that he performed a service by elevating the issue to the national level, while producing little substantive damage to anything. He broke no laws; he simply broke a norm of conventional patriotism. The conformist, conventional patriot might argue that he has sown unnecessary division within the country.

V. Acceptance of Consequences:
Snowden has paid a heavy price for his actions. Fleeing from his native country, he traveled to Hong Kong and hoped to reach Latin America via Moscow. However, his passport was “annulled,” and he was left stranded in Russia. His website states that he is currently at an “undisclosed, secure location,” presumably in Russia. Unless pardoned, something rejected by the Obama administration and unlikely by the Trump administration, he faces charges on two counts under the 1917 Espionage Act, an act does not allow for a “public interest” or “whistle blower” defense. Snowden has stated he would consider a prison term as part of a plea bargain.

To date, Kaepernick remains unemployed as a quarterback. His supporters assert collusion among the generally conservative and conventionally patriotic NFL owners who may say publicly that they support his right to protest but privately shun him primarily because of his actions and the trend he began.

Summation
Overall, in using this framework to judge the actions of these two unconventional patriotic citizens, we can say that both were motivated by noble aims and good intentions. Snowden’s goals were clear and he has achieved much at great personal expense, assuming one highly values the individual right of privacy. The means he chose to reach his goals were suitable, and he has stood stoical with the consequences of his actions. Nonetheless, he gets a poor grade on discrimination, as he released so many documents with sensitive material.
Kaepernick gets weak grades for his goals and the means he chose to achieve them. However, he broke no laws and has forced us to think about racism within our society, especially in the ranks of our police. He has remained open and upright in his unemployed status.

Follow me on Twitter: @FredZilian

Fred Zilian has taught Western Civilization, World History, and War & Morality for the past 25 years at the high school and college levels. He currently teaches history and politics at Salve Regina University, RI.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Part IX: Citizenship in the Age of Donald Trump

(A version of this essay was originally published as “What Makes a Good Citizen?” in the Newport Daily News on September 30, 2017, and as “What Citizenship Means Keeps Changing,” on October 8, 2017, by the History News Network-online)

This is the ninth essay in a series devoted to examining citizenship and the American citizen, the rights, duties, and norms of which have become ever more contentious since the divisive Sixties. They have become especially relevant in recent years with the actions of Edward Snowden and Colin Kaepernick, and with the election of Donald Trump and his proposed policies on immigration reform and his accusatory statements against those who do not stand for the national anthem.

As a human body is only as healthy as its individual cells, so a civilization or modern state is only as healthy as its individual citizens. As a healthy human body is sustained by new, healthy cells, so a modern state needs continuous rejuvenation with new, healthy, good citizens to sustain itself, especially in times of stress.

President Obama and Citizenship
In his farewell speech on January 11, 2017, President Barack Obama made frequent reference to the ideas of citizen and citizenship in our democracy. Early in his speech he stated: “For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation.” In stressing the domestic as well as international roles of the citizen, he said: “So, just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.” In calling us to our duty as citizens, he stated: “But remember, none of this happens on its own. All of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power happens to be swinging.” He lauded the role of citizen in saying: “Because for all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen.” (He emphasized the word by saying it twice amidst applause.) Toward the end of his speech, he stressed his own intentions as a citizen: “My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won’t stop. In fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days.”

Trump Assumes the Presidency
A few days later, Donald Trump assumed the office of presidency, with the implied role of “first citizen” of the United States. He is unusual in several ways. He is the oldest person to be elected president and comes to the office without ever having served in public office. His methods are unconventional. Rather than using the normal machinery of American democratic government, such as official statements, press conferences, and national televised speeches, he prefers to tweet.

I have demonstrated that rights, through the ages, have been an important component of citizenship and the citizen. President Trump has emphasized a number of “rights” which stem from his campaign promises as means to “Make America Great Again,” his campaign motto. The right to a job: he signed legislation to lift the Obama-era ban on new coal leasing on federal lands. The right to secure borders: He has vowed to build a wall along the 1,915 mile Mexican border. The right to security at home: He has signed legislation banning immigration from seven Muslim countries. An implied right: to prosper without undue government interference. He appointed Scott Pruitt as the EPA director, signed legislation rolling back Obama-era climate initiatives and proclaimed his intent to withdraw the US from the Paris Accord on climate. Implied in these actions he has taken is that he believes it his duty to fulfill as many of his campaign promises as possible.

Citizenship Since World War II
For the first two decades after World War II, American citizens were in general agreement as to the rights, duties, and norms of the good American citizen. Their fundamental rights were clearly enumerated and codified in the Constitution, though subject to various interpretations. With memories of the war still fresh and now facing Cold War competition with the Soviet Union, Americans were generally united in their duty to support their country’s leaders and policies against Soviet communism, the leader of which said that he would “bury” us.

As the Sixties began and many movements for change proliferated, the consensus of the Fifties cracked. Large groups of mostly younger citizens, middle-class citizens, and African-Americans citizens split from the majority of American citizens who believed generally in the legitimacy of the American system, its leaders, and its policies. The rights to assemble and to free speech gained in prominence and allowed these groups to demand change. They asserted that America was not so beautiful; rather it was deeply flawed. The wonders and prosperity of capitalism were illusions and did not bring happiness and contentment. Social injustice was rife. They asserted that the arms race, especially the nuclear arms race, was dangerous and unnecessary. The country’s involvement in the Vietnam War had to end, some of them going so far as to actually visit with and break bread with the enemy. They asserted that the country’s authority figures were capable of great stupidity, could not be trusted, and had to be challenged. Finally, they asserted that a freer, more open lifestyle was better than mindless conformity.

The Single Model of Citizen–Broken
The most significant legacy of the Sixties regarding citizenship and patriotism was the breakdown of the single model of the “good American citizen” of the postwar period. Large portions of the population believed that a good citizen was no longer just a “red, white, and blue citizen”—“my country, right or wrong.” Now one could be accepted as a “good citizen” by being, let us say, a good “white citizen”—someone who is motivated on pure principle to disagree publicly with the country’s political leaders and policies. One could now be a “good black citizen”—one who is prepared to oppose publicly the country’s policies on minorities. One could now be a “good pink citizen”—one who is prepared to oppose publicly the country’s policies on gender issues. Some would even condone a good “red citizen”—one who is prepared to use violence to change American policies or indeed the American system. After all, it was none other than the writer of the Declaration of Independence who said: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” The “yellow citizen”—one who protests merely for self-interest—has never gained legitimacy or respect.

President Donald Trump in many ways has shown that he longs for the good old days, apparently the late 1940s and the 1950s. As a baby boomer patriot, I sympathize with this. However, with his comments disparaging the members of the NFL who refuse to stand for the national anthem, clearly he is saying to Make America Great Again, the only good citizen is a “red, white, and blue” one. This is mere sentimentalism.

In the song “American Pie,” Don McLean longed to hear some Buddy Holly music again, but the man at the “sacred store” told him “the music wouldn’t play.” Trump longs for that good old-time patriotism, but America—and the world—have changed.

Follow me on Twitter: @FredZilian

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Part VIII: Citizenship in the Age of Edward Snowden and Colin Kaepernick

This is the eighth essay in a series devoted to examining citizenship and the American citizen, the rights, duties, and norms of which have become ever more contentious since the divisive Sixties. They have become especially relevant in recent years with the actions of Edward Snowden and Colin Kaepernick, and with the election of Donald Trump and his proposed policies on immigration reform and his accusatory statements against those who will not stand for the national anthem.

As a human body is only as healthy as its individual cells, so a civilization or modern state is only as healthy as its individual citizens. As a healthy human body is sustained by new, healthy cells, so a modern state needs continuous rejuvenation with new, healthy, good citizens to sustain itself, especially in times of stress.

The most significant legacy of the divisive Sixties regarding citizenship and patriotism was the breakdown of the single model of the good, loyal, trusting,  American citizen of the postwar era. Large portions of the population believed that a good citizen was no longer just a “red, white, and blue citizen”—“my country, right or wrong.” Now one could be accepted as a “good citizen” by being, let us say, a good “white citizen”—someone who is motivated on pure principle to disagree publicly with the country’s political leaders and policies. One could now be a “good black citizen”—one who is prepared to oppose publicly the country’s policies on minorities. One could now be a “good pink citizen”—one who is prepared to oppose publicly the country’s policies on gender issues. Some would even condone a good “red citizen”—one who is prepared to use violence to change American policies or indeed the American system. After all, it was none other than the writer of the Declaration of Independence who said: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” The “yellow citizen”—one who protests merely for self-interest—has never gained legitimacy or respect.

In the last five years we have seen, along with organized and informal groups of protesting citizens such as those of the Sixties, individual citizens, empowered by technology and social media, roil the American political and social landscape with their individual actions. These super-empowered, defiant citizens are simply carrying on the traditions established and legitimized by the angry, defiant protestors and counterculture groups of the Sixties, only now they are in some cases acting alone.

Edward Snowden: Leaking Classified Documents for a Better America

In 2013, Edward Snowden, an intelligence contractor for the U.S. government and former CIA employee, copied and leaked thousands of classified documents to several British and American journalists, revealing the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance and data collection programs. Snowden faces charges on two counts under the 1917 Espionage Act and is now living in asylum in Russia. In September, 2016, he was interviewed by the New York Times via internet and said that he believed his revelations had improved privacy for Americans and that “being patriotic doesn’t mean simply agreeing with your government.” He continued: “I would argue that being willing to disagree, particularly in a risky manner, is actually what we need more of today.” He has been called numerous things: a whistleblower, a traitor, and a patriot.

The case of Edward Snowden illustrates the tension between national security, as defined by the U.S. government, and individual privacy. It also forces the questions: When does patriotism require breaking the law? When does a citizen break his/her country’s laws in order to serve a higher good and to improve the country?

Colin Kaepernick: Sitting and Kneeling for a Better America

Unlike the political activists in the Sixties who stood, assembled in great numbers, marched, sang, listened to stirring speeches, shouted, and sometimes damaged and destroyed property and individuals, Kaepernick choose first to sit and then to kneel in silent protest. The biracial, back-up quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers challenged the conventional ritual of patriotism by sitting during the national anthem at pre-season games in August, 2016, eventually switching to kneeling. He argued: “There is police brutality—people of color have been targeted by police.” He criticized the inadequate training police receive. He asserted he was not “going to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Other football players followed his example of either kneeling or raising a fist: Marcus Peters (Kansas City Chiefs), Brandon Marshall (Denver Broncos), Arian Foster (Miami Dolphins), who was joined by teammates Kenney Stills, Michael Thomas, and Jelani Jenkins. Two New England Patriots and three players from the Tennessee Titans also protested at least once.

Colin Kaepernick was showing his patriotism and exercising his right to free speech. I believe that his goal was selfless, to improve his country, rather than to generate more publicity or money from the sales of his jersey which skyrocketed. He should be grateful to live in a country where this right of free speech is honored, unlike the country where Edward Snowden currently resides. It has also been reported that he did not vote in the 2016 presidential election, saying that “it really didn’t matter …, the system still remains intact that oppresses people of color.” This was surprising for a man who seeks the improvement of the American system.

In the case of Colin Kaepernick, there was no breaking of the law. There is no law requiring that a citizen stand for the national anthem. However, all expectations of a good state or civilization cannot be, and should not be, codified. Good civilizations also have unwritten citizen’s norms and codes of ethics. These help to identify and bind the citizens of the civilization together.

Follow me on Twitter: @FredZilian

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Part VII: Citizenship Through the Ages

This is the seventh essay in a series devoted to examining citizenship and the American citizen, the rights, duties, and norms of which have become ever more contentious since the divisive Sixties. They have become especially relevant in recent years with the actions of Edward Snowden and Colin Kaepernick, and with the election of Donald Trump and his proposed policies on immigration reform.

As a human body is only as healthy as its individual cells, so a civilization or modern state is only as healthy as its individual citizens. As a healthy human body is sustained by new, healthy cells, so a modern state needs continuous rejuvenation with new, healthy, good citizens to sustain itself, especially in times of stress.

In the ancient worlds of Athens and Republican Rome, the citizen was the critical basic unit of the civic body politic. Citizens had both rights from and duties to the political body—the city-state. When the state—facing an emergency—summoned the citizen to military duty, the citizen had to respond, putting his allegiance to the state above allegiance to family, clan, faction, or tribe. Aristotle maintained that a human being could reach his full potential only through the city-state. To Pericles, living life aloof from the affairs of state was stupidity.

In Republican Rome, citizens’ rights become more complex and codified. As Republican Rome increased its conquests through force, it used Roman citizenship as a diplomatic tool to cement political relationships with conquered peoples.

Drawing inspiration from the ideas of the Enlightenment, French revolutionaries early on in their fight against absolute monarchy and the old order of privilege enumerated and codified citizens’ rights in a document. Facing military threats from hostile neighbors, it called upon not only “citizens” but all members of the French nation—young and old, male and female—to perform duty for this new France. Passive citizens no longer sufficed. New active citizens were needed, citizens who possessed and acted on their “public virtue,” what Republican Rome had called “pietas.”

Nazi totalitarian Germany required German citizens essentially to surrender their rights. Emphasizing duties instead of rights, it emphasized that they fulfill these duties to save Germany from the vengeful victors of World War I and to restore Germany to glory. This Germany did not subscribe to any code of rights derived from the Enlightenment. The German citizen was defined in narrow, exclusive terms. Aryanism was the key litmus test. This citizen was to obey, not to question or to not challenge. Commands and orders came from on high; the German citizen’s duty was to obey. To disobey was to denigrate the Fatherland. Echoing Aristotle’s idea in part, Nazi Germany asserted that the German citizen was nothing apart from the German state and that Adolf Hitler and Nazi party officials defined the right and the wrong. Enculturated to think of Jews as subhuman, ordinary German citizens—not just hardline Nazi functionaries—contributed at various levels to the mass execution of Jews and other undesirables.

For the first two decades after World War II, American citizens were in general agreement as to the rights and duties of citizenship. Their fundamental rights were clearly enumerated and codified in the Constitution, though subject to various interpretations. With memories of the war still fresh and now facing Cold War competition with the Soviet Union, Americans were generally united in their duty to support of their country’s leaders and policies against Soviet communism.

As the Sixties began and the many movements of protest were launched, the consensus of the Fifties cracked. Large groups of mostly younger citizens, middle-class citizens, and African-Americans citizens split from the majority of American citizens who believed generally in the legitimacy of the American system, its leaders, and its policies. The rights to assemble and to free speech gained in prominence and allowed these groups to demand change. They asserted that America was not so beautiful; rather it was deeply flawed. The wonders and prosperity of capitalism were illusions and did not bring happiness and contentment. Social injustice was rife. They asserted that the arms race, especially the nuclear arms race, was dangerous and unnecessary. Their country’s involvement in the Vietnam War had to end. They asserted that the country’s authority figures were capable of great stupidity, could not be trusted, and had to be challenged. Finally, they asserted that a freer, more open lifestyle was better than mindless conformity.

The most significant legacy of the Sixties regarding citizenship and patriotism was the breakdown of the single model of the “good American citizen” of the postwar period. Large portions of the population believed that a good citizen was no longer just a “red, white, and blue citizen”—“my country, right or wrong.” Now one could be accepted as a “good citizen” by being, let us say, a good “white citizen”—someone who is motivated on pure principle to disagree publicly with the country’s political leaders and policies. One could now be a “good black citizen”—one who is prepared to oppose publicly the country’s policies on minorities. One could now be a “good pink citizen”—one who is prepared to oppose publicly the country’s policies on gender issues. Some would even condone a good “red citizen”—one who is prepared to use violence to change American policies or indeed the American system. After all, it was none other than the writer of the Declaration of Independence who said: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” The “yellow citizen”—one who protests merely for self-interest—has never gained legitimacy or respect.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Part VI: Citizenship and the New American Citizen in the Divisive Sixties

This is the sixth essay in a series devoted to examining citizenship and the American citizen, the rights, duties, and norms of which have become ever more contentious since the divisive Sixties. They have become especially relevant in recent years with the actions of Edward Snowden and Colin Kaepernick, and with the election of Donald Trump and his proposed policies on immigration reform and his accusatory statements against those who will not stand for the national anthem.

As a human body is only as healthy as its individual cells, so a civilization or modern state is only as healthy as its individual citizens. As a healthy human body is sustained by new, healthy cells, so a modern state needs continuous rejuvenation with new, healthy, good citizens to sustain itself, especially in times of stress.

The Sixties were a time of tremendous social and political ferment, turbulence, and experimentation. A substantial segment of America had high hopes for a new age, and when the state suppressed their efforts, showed rage against an old order in which a substantial number of Americans—relatively privileged young, African-Americans, women, homosexuals, and early environmentalists—challenged the established order, including the duties and acceptable modes of behavior and protest of a true American citizen. Driven by alienation, fear, anxiety, impatience and revulsion, these groups of Americans were better at challenging and finding fault with America’s political, social, and economic systems than proposing alternative systems that were viable.

As the Sixties began and consensus deteriorated, the rights to assemble and to free speech (protest) gained in prominence and allowed these groups to demand change. This challenge could be justified ultimately by Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence: “… whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and institute a new government….” Their strategies for achieving their goals evolved over the course of the decade from organization and publicity, to demonstration, to protest, to resistance, to—by the late Sixties—violence and calls for revolution.

Despite their measured successes in improving social injustices for oppressed minorities at home and abroad, and in making protest politically acceptable, they failed to achieve their loftier goals of truly uprooting and transforming the American, democratic, social, capitalistic order. As a number of these groups turned to more violent methods, a backlash against violence and for a return to moderation and order emerged.

Comparable to the new republican “active citizens” in Revolutionary France, the activist citizens of the Sixties organized in varying degrees and sought change on certain core issues. These organizations and groups challenged the premises and practices of the American political, social, and economic systems of the Fifties and, in a least four ways, sought to replace them with new ones.

America, the Not-So-Beautiful
First, while the majority of Americans in the Fifties were happy to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful,” the disenchanted and disenfranchised segments of the Sixties asserted that America was not so beautiful. Rather, America was deeply flawed. It was not so beautiful because it still had neither delivered on the promises of its founding documents nor lived up to the words spoken by its current political and economic leaders. The gap between its rhetoric and reality was simply too great; hypocrisy seeped from every seam.

Drawing its ethos from the Beats of the 1950s and with roots in the League of Industrial Democracy, mostly white, middle-class, college students organized the Students for Democratic Society (SDS) and at its first national convention in 1962 formulated its Port Huron Statement. This policy statement addressed the basic problems in American society and presented a radical vision for the future. Challenging what it called the “managerial liberalism” of the Democratic Party in power, it called for a more enlightened and genuine “participatory democracy” so that individual citizens could have more impact on government policy and acquire more control over their individual lives. The statement targeted many issues, but mostly importantly, the scourges of nuclear weapons and also the oppression of minorities, especially racism against blacks.

The SDS was in the vanguard of the larger New Left movement, which in the words of Todd Gitlin, elected the SDS president in 1963, “aspired to become the voice, conscience, and goad of its generation.” (The Sixties) In age and activism, its members sought to distinguish themselves from the Old Left of the Fifties—mainly communists, Marxists, and socialists. It “wanted decisions made by publics, in public, not just announced there. It valued informality, tolerated chaos, scorned order. Clamor was the necessary overture to genuine harmony.” It sought participatory democracy which “entailed the right of universal assertion. It meant inserting yourself where the social rules said you didn’t belong. … The expressive tendency was in revolt against all formal boundaries and qualifications….” Throughout the Sixties, the New Left came to address mainly the issues of the Vietnam War, civil rights, civil liberties, and campus reform.

New organized groups of mostly African-Americans arose in the late Fifties/early Sixties, joining already established groups, all seeking social equality, some seeking separation from an “Amerikkka” that they believed would not repent for its original sin of slavery, and some prepared to move beyond Martin Luther King’s strategy of non-violence. Joining the NAACP (founded 1909) and the Congress of Racial Equality (1942), came now the Southern Leadership Conference led by Martin Luther King (1957)and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (1960), the latter forming an alliance with the SDS. Gitlin states: “To identify with SNCC was not only an act of solidarity, it was an alliance with brothers and sisters against the old white men who dead-locked the Democratic Party and fueled future wars.”

In 1966, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton founded the Black Panther Party which advocated black nationalism and socialism, and fought segregation, police brutality, and the military draft. At its height in 1970, it boasted organizations in 68 cities.

Also battling the “American system” was the Progressive Labor Movement, a Marxist-Leninist group established in 1962, which became the Progressive Labor Party in 1965. In addition to its political-economic agenda, it drew inspiration from Castro’s Cuban revolution and joined the anti-Vietnam War movement.

Formed in 1967, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (“Mobe”) was a collection of antiwar activists who sought to organize massive demonstrations against the war. Large marches, eventually with hundreds of thousands, took place in New York City, April, 1967, in Washington, DC/Pentagon in October 1967, and in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention in August 1968.
Numerous other smaller and transient groups, collectively called the Counterculture—sought more to escape from rather than transform what they saw as the hypocrisies, absurdities, and contradictions of American life and culture. They included such groups—some “organized,” some not—as the hippies, yippies, Diggers, Merry Pranksters, and Motherf—-rs.

As the Sixties wore on, militancy increased, especially after the assassinations of Martin Luther King—and subsequent rioting—and Robert Kennedy in 1968. In this atmosphere a radical faction of the SDS broke off and formed “the Weathermen,” dedicated to overthrowing the U.S. government. It aligned with the Black Liberation Movement, opposed the Vietnam War, and in 1970 issued a “Declaration of a State of War” against the U.S. government.

The Anti-War Movement: “Ballots Not Bombs in Vietnam”

The second issue on which the Sixties challenged the loyal American citizen of the Fifties was the Vietnam War. The concept of a good citizen in the Fifties included supporting the foreign policies of the United States, including its policies against the mortal foe: the Soviet Union. The Cold War—a state of tension which existed between the two World War II allies—was fought in various places, near and far, and could turn “hot” at any time. The Fifties underlined the gravity of the situation and urgently called the American citizens to close ranks in the fight against international communism, led by the Soviet Union in cooperation with the People’s Republic of China.

The Sixties’ anti-war movement challenged U.S. policy in one of these distant places: Vietnam. Segments of the movement eventually were not only prepared to use violence to achieve their ends, but also to go so far as to meet, sympathize, and align with the declared enemy.  In place of common American heroes, the movement lofted enemy leaders as heroes, an extraordinary act for a citizen to commit. Gitlin maintains: “Truly the movement against the Vietnam war was a broad-based antiwar mobilization of a sort rarely if ever before seen in the blood-soaked history of the world.”

The first anti-war demonstration took place on April 17, 1965, and witnessed 25,000 assemble on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House. In his closing speech, SDS President Paul Potter spoke to the connection between the protesters and the Vietnamese guerrillas. “In both countries there are people struggling to build a movement that has the power to change their conditions. The system that frustrates these movements is the same. All our lives, our destinies, our very hopes to live, depend on our ability to overcome that system.”

As the war continued and the destruction and casualties increased, this connection grew, challenging a fundamental aspect of citizenship and patriotism of the Fifties: my country, right or wrong. Gitlin indicates that members of the anti-war movement “needed to feel that someone, somewhere in the world, was fighting the good fight and winning….” The exemplars they found were not American; rather, they were foreign—“in Cuba, in China, in the Third World guerrillas movements, in Mao and Frantz Fanon and Che and Debray, most of all—decisively—in Vietnam.”  While the American flag dripped with napalm; these protestors believed that the flag of the National Liberation Front (NLF), the Vietnamese organization for the liberation and unification of Vietnam, was genuinely clean.

Members of the anti-war movement put these words into action. In July 1965 ten American women organized by the Women Strike for Peace met in Indonesia with six North Vietnamese and three women of the NLF. In December of the same year, three Americans made the first visit by Americans to Hanoi, the capital of the declared enemy. In December 1967, an SDS delegation visited Castro’s Cuba.

A few months before in September, 1967, a delegation of 40 Americans met with high-level North Vietnamese and NLF members. Christopher Jencks, a member of the group and writing for The New Republic, stated:  “The common bond between the New Left and the NLF is not … a common dream or a common experience but a common enemy: the US government, the system, the Establishment. The young radicals’ admiration for the NLF stems from the feeling that the NLF is resisting The Enemy successfully, whereas they are not.”

The zeitgeist of this period, felt by the anti-war movement, was captured by the song, “Eve of Destruction,” sung by Barry McGuire. It arrived on cue. For the first time American combat units had arrived in Vietnam in March 1965, to assume control of the war from the South Vietnamese. The song hit the Top-40 chart in August 1965, reached number one, and remained on the chart for ten weeks. Its four verses speak to the confusion and contradictions of the age; its chorus challenges the listener to see the looming doom.

First Verse:

The eastern world it is exploding/Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’/You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’/You don’t believe in war but what’s that gun you’re totin’?/And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’

Chorus: But you tell me/Over and over and over again my friend/Ah, you don’t believe/ We’re on the eve of destruction

Last Verse

Think of all the hate there is in Red China/Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama/You may leave here for four days in space/But when you return it’s the same old place/The pounding of the drums, the pride and disgrace/You can bury your dead but don’t leave a trace/Hate your next door neighbor but don’t forget to say grace

Numerous protest marches and strikes took place between 1965 and the early Seventies. In October 1967,  nearly 100,000 assembled at the Lincoln Memorial. During these years there were generally two major marches annually in the major cities of New York City, San Francisco, or Washington, DC. On April 26, 1968, close to one million college and high school students took part in a national student strike.

In addition to meetings with the enemy and protest marches, the anti-war movement also demonstrated resistance through the burning of draft cards. Resistance to the military draft grew gradually during the Sixties, became substantial in 1967, and continued until national conscription was ended in 1973. Thousands turned in their draft cards in public; many more in privately. According to Gitlin, over 200,000 were accused of draft offenses, 25,000 were indicted, 8750 were convicted, and 4,000 were sentenced to prison. About another 10,000 evaded the draft by going underground, leaving for Canada or other countries. Beyond these numbers another 250,000 never registered for the draft.

To punctuate the end of the tumultuous decade with force and defiance, the song “War” sung by Edwin Starr, hit the Top 40 charts in July 1970, reached number one for three weeks, and remained on the charts for a total of 13 weeks.

Intro (War, what is it good for?) Absolutely nothing /(War, what is it good for?) Absolutely nothing/(War, what is it good for?) Absolutely nothing

Verse 1 War is something that I despise /Because it means destruction of innocent lives/War means tears in thousands of mothers’ eyes/When their sons go out to fight and lose their lives

Chorus (War) good God y’all (What is it good for?)Absolutely nothing/say it again (War, what is it good for?) Absolutely nothin

Verse 4 Listen to me (War), It ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker/(War)Friend only to the undertaker /Peace, love and understanding Tell me, is there no place for them today? /They say we must fight to keep our freedom /But Lord knows there’s gotta be a better way

Don’t Trust Authority

The third way that the Sixties challenged the “red, white, and blue” citizen of the Fifties regarded authority and authority figures. While in the Fifties, citizens for the most part trusted figures of authority, such as elected politicians, professional bureaucrats, police, and parents, segments of the population—especially the young—came to distrust these traditional fonts of morality, legality, probity and wisdom.

The young adults of the New Left in the early Sixties, Gitlin argues, frightened facing the nuclear balance of terror and disgusted with the many perceived social injustices, “extracted the lesson that the fate of the world is not something automatically to be entrusted to authorities.” “All wanted to redeem their parents’ ideals in the face of their parents’ failures.” Younger untainted and enlightened citizens could collectively impact the course of history. “…history was alive and open.”  This younger generation felt it was compelled to act “when power behaved stupidly.”

Elites, not only in America but also in the Soviet Union, were not to be trusted. These elites, based on their own “analysis” of reality, had formulated the wrong policies, which threatened the world and perpetuated injustices. Sound analysis was needed which would lead to a more peaceful, stable world, in which many of these injustices would be remedied. The young intellectuals who led the New Left supplied this new “analysis.” Gitlin maintains that this enlightened analysis “was a ticket to the elite world of movement cadres. It was a sign that one was not beholden to authorities, that one was potentially an authority oneself.”

Jack Weinberg, a student activist at the University of California, Berkeley, was one of the founders of the Free Speech Movement (FSM), organized in early October 1964. The following month a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle interviewed him. When the reporter began insinuating that the FSM was perhaps being manipulated by Communists or other subversive groups, Weinberg became defensive and told him that the FSM had a saying: Don’t trust anyone other 30. Printed on November 15, the statement stuck.

Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll

The final area in which the Sixties differed from the Fifties concerned social conformity and freedom of life style. The Fifties were characterized largely by consensus and conformity. Rules, social codes, and conventions were respected and provided order and stability to American society. Social imperatives for the young were generally agreed and followed: obey authority; control your emotions; fit in and conform with the group; and do not touch the forbidden fruit of sex.

All these norms were supposed to bring, not only social order, but also contentment and satisfaction. However, these proved elusive to many in the face of nuclear holocaust and persistent social injustice. The counterculture movement of the Sixties challenged all these norms. Young people rebelled against the stifling constraints of American society and sought to maximize individual freedom. Gitlin states that now “for the first time, the normal culture of teenagers was becoming infiltrated by grander ideals: freedom, license, religiosity, loving community.”

The drive for more freedom in this counterculture showed especially in the three areas of sex, drugs, and music. The sexual norms of prohibition and restraint of the Fifties gave way in the Sixties to freer, less-inhibited sexual relations and experimentation, all reflected in music. In the Fifties the Everley Brothers sang of teenage embarrassment from falling asleep in the drive-in movies.

Wake up, little Susie, wake up Wake up, little Susie, wake up

We’ve both been sound asleep/wake up, little Susie, and weep/The movie’s over, it’s four o’clock, and we’re in trouble deep

Wake up little Susie Wake up little Susie, well

Whatta we gonna tell your mama/Whatta we gonna tell your pa/Whatta we gonna tell our friends when they say ooh-la-la?

In the Sixties the embarrassment and restraint dissolved into sexual liberation. Songs invited and celebrated sex. Jefferson Airplane sang:

When the truth is found To be lies/And all the joy Within you dies

Don’t you want somebody to love/Don’t you need somebody to love/Wouldn’t you love somebody to love/You better find somebody to love, love

Stephen Stills denied commitment in love and encouraged freer sex.

If you’re down and confused/And you don’t remember who you’re talking to/Concentration slip away/Because your baby is so far away/

Well there’s a rose in a fisted glove/And the eagle flies with the dove/And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey/Love the one you’re with

Don’t be angry – don’t be sad/Don’t sit crying over good times you’ve had/There’s a girl right next to you/And she’s just waiting for something to do/

Well there’s a rose in a fisted glove/And the eagle flies with the dove/And if you can’t be with the one you love honey/Love the one you’re with

Freedom was elevated to a new level. Restraint and control were dashed. In 1966 the Mamas and the Papas celebrated this new ethic in “Go Where You Wanna Go.”

You gotta go where you want to go/Do what you want to do/With whoever you want to do it with

You don’t understand/That a girl like me can love just one man/Three thousand miles, that’s how far you’ll go/And you said to me please don’t follow

You gotta go where you want to go/Do what you want to do/With whoever you want to do it with

The use of illicit drugs to heighten sensation, awareness, and happiness increased dramatically in the Sixties. In Gitlin’s words: “The old world was coming to an end, and square logic with it. So let the good times roll! It was time for Better Living through Chemistry.” The most common chemistry was to be found in marijuana and LSD. The culture of the Fifties called for young adults to have goals and purpose; these meant requirements, decisions, and plans, all adding up to stress. Better to just “be.” “Be-Ins” became common. “Teach-Ins” arose to educate and reeducate about the Vietnam War, the nuclear balance of terror, and social injustice.  In January 1967, a Human “Be-In” (also called “A Gathering of the Tribes”) took place in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, and sought to assemble political activists and acid lovers. At this event attended by some 30,000 hippies, Dr. Timothy Leary, a professor at Harvard fired in 1963, spoke and gave LSD lovers their standard phrase: “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.”

As it did in the area of sexual relations, music again reflected, celebrated, and sometimes lamented, the wider acceptance and pursuit of the drug culture. This music was generally powered by bold, wrenching heavy metal guitars and electric organs. Typical songs of the era included: “Day Tripper” (Beatles, 1965-66), “Good Vibrations” (Beach Boys, 1966), “Light My Fire” (Doors, 1967) “Sky Pilot” (Animals, 1968), and “Time Has Come Today,” (Chambers Brothers, 1968). Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (1968) was unique in that it lasted 17 minutes, 5 seconds in its unabridged form. According to drummer Ron Bushy, organist/vocalist Doug Ingle wrote the song one evening while drinking a gallon of wine.

Both a harbinger and reflection of societal trends, the music dimension of the counterculture provided the third area which saw great transformation from the Fifties to the Sixties. The lovey-dovey, innocent, malt-shop, three-minutes-or-less ballads and upbeat rock ‘n roll songs of the Fifties, during which two teenagers danced together, gave way to songs during which one moved but not necessarily with someone. This reflected the freer form style of the Sixties. Songs of innocence and anticipation of love still existed. Stevie Wonder sang of innocent love: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours;” “I Was Made to Love Her;” and “For Once in My Life.” But new songs entered the air waves, songs of sexual freedom, carnal pleasure, social injustice, and drugs’ ecstasy.

Bob Dylan, nee Robert Allen Zimmerman from Duluth, Minnesota, occupies a unique place as a harbinger and poet of the entire Movement. Gathering a small following in Greenwich Village in the early Sixties, he became a major spokesman and standard bearer for Movement, singing out against white racism, Cold War terror, and the uncertainty and precariousness of the times. Gitlin states: “Whether he liked it or not, Dylan sang for us …. We followed his career as if he were singing our song: we got in the habit of asking where he was taking us next.” His three most influential songs were “Blowin in the Wind” (1963)“The Times They Are A-Changin” (1964) and “Like a Rolling Stone” (1965).

The transition in subject matter, instrumentation, and beat from the songs of the late Fifties-early Sixties to the late Sixties is typified by the music of The Temptations. Their early hits dealt with innocent, chaste, yearning, and unrequited love, and included great songs such as: “The Way You Do the Things You Do” (1964), “My Girl” (1965), and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” (1966). A few years later they sang to the drug culture and to the ambiguity of the times using different beats and instrumentation, hard and provocative, with their hits “Cloud Nine” (1968), “Psychedelic Shack” (1970), and “Ball of Confusion” (1970).

Culminating Events of the Counterculture

Three events in the period 1967-1969, mark the high water mark of the counterculture movement which fused the combustible elements of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll: the Summer of Love (1967), the Woodstock Festival (1969), and the Altamont Free Concert (1969). In the summer of 1967, an estimated 100,000 mostly young people made their way to the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco to celebrate the themes of hippieism: wild and colorful dress, bohemian behavior, music, and drugs—a celebration of communal love, peace, and harmony. A Free Clinic was established for free medical treatment and a Free Store distributed basic necessities without cost. Psychedelic drugs such as LSD and marijuana were pervasive. Bob Weir, the guitarist for the Grateful Dead stated:

“Haight-Ashbury was a ghetto of bohemians who wanted to do anything. … Yes, there was LSD. But Haight Ashbury was not about drugs. It was about exploration, finding new ways of expression, being aware of one’s existence.”

Scott McKenzie’s song, “San Francisco, Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair,” celebrating the summer, hit the charts in June 1967, and reached number 4 on the pop charts.

If you’re going to San Francisco/Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair/If you’re going to San Francisco/You’re gonna meet some gentle people there

For those who come to San Francisco/Summertime will be a love-in there/In the streets of San Francisco/Gentle people with flowers in their hair

All across the nationSuch a strange vibration/People in motion/There’s a whole generation/With a new explanation/People in motion/People in motion

In terms of size, the largest of the three events was the Woodstock Festival with an estimated 400,000 people attending the three-day music concert at a 600-acre dairy farm in upstate New York. It was billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music,” August 15-17; however, it ran into August 18 because of bad weather. A total of 32 acts performed outdoors with Jimi Hendrix taking the stage for the final act. Included in his set was the now famous psychedelic rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner,” which he played wearing a blue-beaded white leather jacket and a red head scarf.

While the first two events were generally peaceful, the Altamont Free Concert was marred by violence. This concert, on December 6, 1969, at the Altamont Speedway in northwestern California, was attended by an estimated 300,000 people. It featured such artists as Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. The Rolling Stones performed the final act. The crowd, fueled by alcohol and drugs, became unruly and violent which eventually led to the death of Meredith Hunter at the hands of a member of the Hells Angels. There were also three accidental deaths. Ironically, the Grateful Dead, who helped organize the concert, declined to play because of the threat of violence. Rolling Stone magazine characterized the day as “rock and roll’s all-time worst day, December 6th, a day when everything went perfectly wrong.”

Legacy

The entire Movement of the Sixties did not achieve its goals because it never satisfactorily resolved at least three conundrums. First, the challenge of factionalism: As the decade continued, new groups with new leaders eventually emerged with disparate visions, goals and methods. The issue of which goals took priority and what were the legitimate means of achieving the goals undermined the unity of the Movement. Second, the individualism-collective dilemma: Individuals hooked on liberation from social norms and pursuing maximum freedom were not always prepared to submit to the needs of the collective. The “general will” was not always evident and was defined differently by different groups. And third, the means dilemma: Eventually segments of the Movement were prepared to use the very thing they were demonstrating against—violence—to stop the violence they saw the Unites States perpetrating domestically and internationally. In the late Sixties—the more radical phase—some segments believed using violence was justified to end violence by the State. This not only alienated many segments of the general American population, but also fellow members of the Movement. Therefore, a distinct legacy of the divisive Sixties was the affirmation in the minds of most Americans that the use of violence against established power and authority centers within the country was to be reserved only for extraordinary circumstances.

The most significant legacy of the Sixties regarding citizenship and patriotism was the breakdown of the single model of the “good American citizen” of the postwar period and the legitimization of the large, loud, and lengthy protest against political leaders and policies. Large portions of the population believed that a good citizen was no longer just a “red, white, and blue citizen”—“my country, right or wrong.” Now one could be accepted as a “good citizen” by being, let us say, a good “white citizen”—someone who is motivated on pure principle to disagree publicly with the country’s political leaders and policies. One could now be a “good black citizen”—one who is prepared to oppose publicly the country’s policies on minorities. One could now be a “good pink citizen”—one who is prepared to oppose publicly the country’s policies on gender issues. Some would even condone a good “red citizen”—one who is prepared to use violence to change American policies or indeed the American system. After all, it was none other than the writer of the Declaration of Independence who said: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” The “yellow citizen”—one who protests merely for self-interest—has never gained legitimacy or respect.

President Donald Trump in many ways has shown that he longs for the good old days, apparently the late 1940s and the 1950s. As a baby boomer patriot, I sympathize with this. However, with his comments disparaging the members of the NFL who refuse to stand for the national anthem, clearly he is saying to Make America Great Again, the only good citizen is a “red, white, and blue” one. This is mere sentimentalism.

In the 1971 song “American Pie,” Don McLean also longed for the good old days, wanting to hear some Buddy Holly music again from the late 1950s, but the man at the “sacred store” told him “the music wouldn’t play.” Trump longs for that good old-time patriotism, but America—and the world—have changed.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Part V: Citizenship in Postwar America

This is the fifth essay in a series devoted to examining citizenship and the American citizen, the rights, duties, and norms of which have become ever more contentious since the divisive Sixties. They have become especially relevant in recent years with the actions of Edward Snowden and Colin Kaepernick, and with the election of Donald Trump and his proposed policies on immigration reform and his accusatory statements against those who do not stand for the national anthem.

As a human body is only as healthy as its individual cells, so a civilization or modern state is only as healthy as its individual citizens. As a healthy human body is sustained by new, healthy cells, so a modern state needs continuous rejuvenation with new, healthy, good citizens to sustain itself, especially in times of stress.

The Greatest Generation of citizens experienced not one but two searing events during their lifetimes: the Great Depression and World War II. Having endured and survived these two mortal threats, they had come to know and understand each other better because of these common experiences and, by the early 1950s, faced a common threat—the Soviet Union.

Generally, the greater the threat to a civilization and—in modern history—a state, the greater is the importance to the state of devoted, patriotic citizens and the greater is the tendency of citizens to suppress their differences and strengthen their allegiance to the state. Such was the case in the United States during the first two decades of the Cold War (roughly 1947-1967), the latter half of which I personally experienced as a young adult.
Growing up in the 1950s and early 60s in a middle-class town in northern New Jersey, I drew a sense of citizenship from the common national and local symbols and rituals of the era, which citizens never significantly challenged. At our elementary school we recited daily and dutifully the Pledge of Allegiance and endured the occasional air raid drill. During these drills to prepare us for a nuclear war, we marched to a protected place in the school where we would sit and cover our heads with our arms and hands.

At the movies, everyone stood without hesitation before each movie and listened respectfully to the national anthem as an unfurled and flowing flag filled the screen. This tribute was also done before each sporting event. On those lucky summer days when my father would bring me to a New York Yankees baseball game, I cannot recall anyone not standing or even anyone not paying attention.

The two most jarring events of these years were the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. After the first I could sense from the adults I heard and the news media I saw the surprise and anxiety that our enemies, the Soviets, had beaten us in the space race. There was distress, captured in the movie, Hidden Figures, that they could now launch an attack on the continental United States, and we did not have the corresponding capability. Fallout shelter designs appeared in the major magazines. Perhaps not so coincidentally at this time, my father, brother and I, enlarged a crawl space in our basement to accommodate our family in case of a national crisis. It seemed these crises and news of proxy wars in distant places like the Congo and Vietnam between “us” and “them” galvanized American citizens to our country and its way of life. The requirements and rituals of citizenship were clear and unchallenged, at least in white, middle-class America.

In postwar America, then, the common beliefs and duties of the American citizen were clear and unchallenged in white, middle-class America. First, a belief in “America the beautiful.” We had led the Allies to victory and were once again pursuing happiness and making our country even stronger. We had accepted the mantel of leadership and gladly assumed the title of “leader of the free world.” New York was the financial capital of the world; Hollywood and New York made us the cultural capital of the world. Middle class Americans were moving to the suburbs and had enough income to buy the newest cars, appliances, and televisions. The popular family TV shows portrayed idealistic families and family life. In the movies as well as in our TV shows, truth, justice, and the American way usually prevailed in the end, good guys generally beat the bad guys.

Second, we certainly had some problems but the country as a whole was a just and fair society, based on the rule by law. There were no genuine and systematic injustices. Those who complained or said otherwise were either insignificant or un-American.

Third, the good American citizen had to stand by America. It was “America: May it always be right, but my country, right or wrong.” America was faced with a mortal enemy who had a political and economic system entirely opposed to the American system: Soviet communism. Unquestioning faith in our leaders and our policies, unity, and vigilance were now needed. While the Cold War had begun in Europe, throughout the late 1940s and 1950s, it had spread to entire globe. In 1949, China also went communist. In 1950, Korea exploded into war. By the early 1960s, the Cold War was global and the threat of nuclear war hung over American civilization.

Fourth, during the first two decades of the postwar era, the traditional authority figures of American society held the commanding heights of our ethical codes of behavior. Political leaders, community leaders, the leaders of civic organizations such as the Rotary, Elks Club, Lions Club, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars; church leaders; the police; and finally parents were all generally trusted and respected.

Lastly, while there were the exceptions like the Beats Generation in Greenwich Village and the rebels who followed the lead of James Dean, conformity was the general rule. The movie stars set the fashion trends. Men’s haircuts were short. High school and college students dressed up to go to school and to dances. Parents, school officials, and other authority figures enforced the rules, and most children and young adults obeyed.

The 1950s’ age of conformity and consensus was a high time for citizenship, patriotism, and American unity in white, middle-class America. However, by the mid-1960s, the fissures in American society, simmering since Brown vs. Board of Education, began to gain force. In February, 1960, four young black men endured abuse as they sat at a whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, waiting to be served. The golden age of the Kennedy Camelot ended with bullets on November 22, 1963. The first American soldier was killed in Vietnam in 1959; in March 1965, the first US combat units were deployed to Vietnam to take over and win that proxy war we believed was being led by Moscow. Our unity in patriotism to the state, its leaders, and its policies were now to be challenged by forces of change from the Left Movement, including the civil rights movement, the movement against the arms race and the Vietnam War, the counterculture movement, the women’s movement, and the environmental movement.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Part IV: Citizenship  in a Totalitarian State: Nazi Germany

This is the fourth essay in a series devoted to examining citizenship and the American citizen, the rights, duties, and norms of which have become ever more contentious beginning in the divisive Sixties. They have become especially relevant in recent years with the actions of Edward Snowden and Colin Kaepernick, and with the election of Donald Trump and his proposed policies on immigration reform.

As a human body is only as healthy as its individual cells, so a civilization or modern state is only as healthy as its individual citizens. As a healthy human body is sustained by new, healthy cells, so a modern state needs continuous rejuvenation with new, healthy, good citizens to sustain itself, especially in times of stress.

From the point when Adolf Hitler became chancellor in 1933 until the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the German citizen had ever-diminishing freedom of thought and action, as National Socialism’s program of propaganda and terror prescribed the duties of the German citizen. Rights were not emphasized at all to the degree they were in Revolutionary France, Republican Rome, and ancient Athens. Under a totalitarian regime which demanded total and active loyalty from its citizens, enforced by terror and fear, the German citizen became atomized and isolated. The citizen became a member of a mass movement which sought not only redemption from World War I but also continental conquest to secure Lebensraum (living space). Moreover, in systematically hunting, herding, brutalizing, and exterminating six million Jews as well as millions of other undesirables, German citizens took various roles beginning with acquiescent bystander all the way to fervent killer of innocents. At the extreme they were the proud, efficient, fully Aryan, Nazi executioners of people they considered sub-human.

During the period 1933-1945, Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party sought to impose a totalitarian system upon Germany and its citizens, a system seeking to control all aspects of their lives, from politics to the ways in which citizens entertained themselves.

The average working-class or middle-class citizen, angered by the perceived injustices of the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I,  destabilized and demoralized by the postwar runaway inflation and then a decade later by the worldwide economic depression, never gave full support to Germany’s postwar attempt at republican government—the Weimar Republic. When the economic depression hit in the 1930s, the leaders of the government, hapless Social Democrats, proved incapable in dealing with the economy or with the increasing radical elements in society, including the Nazi Party. The average German citizen, remembering the successful Russian Revolution of 1917, also feared the rise of the communist party in Germany. Conditions were ripe for the ascension of a charismatic leader.

All these factors affected the average citizen’s view of Adolf Hitler, which evolved over the course of the 1930s, from disregard, to consideration, to acceptance, to—in many cases—adoration. In his landmark book, Behemoth, The Structure and Practice of National Socialism, 1933-1944, Franz Neumann, asserts that the individual citizen became a “mass-man,” part of the mass movement in German society in which ruling elites were consolidated, subordinate social segments and autonomous groups were eliminated, and “autocratic bureaucracies” were created by the Nazis to control society. “National Socialism has annihilated every institution that under democratic conditions still preserves remnants of human spontaneity: the privacy of the individual and of the family, the trade union, the political party, the church, the free leisure organization.” In terms of rights, so emphasized in ancient Rome and the French Revolution, “[i]n a totalitarian society … even if his rights are still recognized on paper, they are completely at the mercy of private bureaucrats.”

The Nazi Party gave the opportunity to the average citizen to raise his status in this new society, as long as he met the critical condition: “…if they are pure Aryans, physically outstanding, and politically docile.”

According to Neumann, the Nazis employed five “principles” to assert and maintain their control. First, the former pluralist German society was to be replaced by a “monistic, total, authoritarian organization.”

Second, the citizen was to be isolated physically and psychologically, leading to the “atomization” of society. There was to be no social intercourse among workers, civil servants, even family members, outside the approved totalitarian organizations. The church was to remain focused on matters spiritual and holy, not secular and political. Eventually these citizens would be molded into a “super-machine” driven by “an irresistible force of nature, by providence, or by a fate that is stronger than any individual—leading to the ultimate victory of Germany.” Even leisure time was to be controlled by the appropriate and approved Nazi organization: Strength through Joy. “Free leisure was incompatible with National Socialism. It would leave too great a part of man’s life uncontrolled.”

Third, ruling elites were to be created to control the masses. They “receive preferred treatment, greater material benefits, a higher social status, and political privileges. In return the elites act as the spearhead of the regime within the amorphous mass.”

To accomplish the necessary control, the elites—especially the SS (Schutzstafel), SA (Sturmabteilung) and Gestapo—employed propaganda, the fourth principle, and terror, the final principle. Neumann states that propaganda is “violence committed against the soul. The two have the identical purposes of making men amenable to control from above.”  Regarding the use of physical violence, he maintains that violence “is the very basis upon which society rests” and that it “not only terrorizes but attracts.”

In Revolutionary France, all were citizens and therefore all—in theory—were equal before the law. In Nazi Germany there was essentially no equality before the law. The general applicability of existing law evaporated. Judges lost their autonomy. The law ultimately became subject to the command and whims of Hitler. In the words of Hans Frank, all “political power of the German race is united in the Leader, its rests in his hand. All law, therefore, derives from him.” Concerning the equality of citizens, National Socialism sought to destroy any protections and rights offered by the law. “The new equality of National Socialism is an equality of duties, and not of rights.”

When we consider the role of the German citizen in the horror of the Holocaust, the citizen’s image is anything but that sketched above: a citizen mesmerized by propaganda and terrorized by the militant organs of the Nazi state. According to Daniel Goldhagen in his book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, “ordinary” German citizens conducted, contributed to, or at least acquiesced in the most extensive genocide in history, the mass killing of six million Jews, not to mention millions of others considered undesirable.

It is impossible, he maintains, to arrive at precise numbers. Nonetheless, he asserts that “antisemitism moved many thousands of ‘ordinary’ Germans … to slaughter Jews.” Beyond this, “hundreds of thousands of Germans contributed to the genocide and the still larger system of subjugation that was the vast concentration camp system.” And finally, he asserts that “millions knew of the mass slaughters.” (Emphasis added)

Goldhagen argues that it was a virulent, already-existing anti-Semitism which moved many thousands of “ordinary” Germans to slaughter Jews. To understand the behavior of these German citizens, one must understand the German way of thinking—its culture—at the time. There developed “in Germany well before the Nazis came to power … a virulent and violent ‘eliminationist variant of antisemitism, which called for the elimination of Jewish influence or of Jews themselves from German society.”  Goldhagen asserts that this thinking had its modern roots in the 19th century; however, its ancient roots harkened back to the writings of the early Christian fathers.

This thinking regarding the Jews included a “set of beliefs that defined a Jew in a way that demanded Jewish suffering as retribution, a set of beliefs which inhered as profound a hatred as one people has likely ever harbored for another.”

Devoting an entire section to German police battalions, units consisting of men who were probably not fit to be members of more elite military organizations such as the SS or the Einsatzgruppen, Goldhagen argues that at least 38 of these battalions killed or deported Jews to death camps, 30 of which took part in mass killings. “These genocidal executioners were not the clichéd, atomized individuals that they are asserted to have been.” And later states: “These were not robotic Germans ….” He concludes with two fundamental facts: “First, ordinary Germans easily became genocidal killers. Second, they did so even though they did not have to.”

Goldhagen maintains that the behavior of these more representative members of German society in the police battalions indicates the existing beliefs of the wider German population. “What these ordinary Germans did also could have been expected of other ordinary Germans.” Steeped in racial vocabulary, thinking, and stereotypes, the annihilation of Jews made sense to Germans. “In order to safeguard the existence of the Volk (people), the extermination of the Jews was to be a German national project. Behind their problems and the problems of the world “stood the global ogre, variously called “World Jewry” (das Weltjudentum) or “the Jew” (Der Jude)….”

Nazi totalitarian Germany required German citizens essentially to surrender their rights. Emphasizing duties instead of rights, it demanded that they fulfill these duties to save Germany from the vengeful victors of World War I and to restore Germany to glory. This Germany did not subscribe to any code of rights derived from the Enlightenment. The German citizen was defined in narrow, exclusive terms. Aryanism was the key litmus test. This citizen was to obey, not to question or to not challenge. Commands and orders came from on high; the German citizen’s duty was to obey. To disobey was to denigrate the Fatherland. Echoing Aristotle’s idea in part, Nazi Germany asserted that the German citizen was nothing apart from the German state and that Adolf Hitler and Nazi party officials defined the right and the wrong. Enculturated to think of Jews as subhuman, ordinary German citizens—not just hardline Nazi functionaries—contributed at various levels to the mass execution of Jews and other undesirables.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment