Other Opinions About the U.S. Electoral College

A prior post discussed the July 6 Supreme Court decisions about the “faithless electors’ in the U.S. Electoral College for electing the president and vice president and initial reactions to those Supreme Court cases. Here are some additional reactions to those cases as well as other commentaries about the U.S.’ complicated system for election of a president and vice president.

Jesse Wegman[1]

Jesse Wegman, a member of the New York Times editorial board and the author of a book about the Electoral College, rightly says these recent cases did not address the issue of the continued existence of that institution, which, he says,” is rotting American democracy from the inside out.” First, it potentially can award “the presidency to the candidate who earns fewer votes among the people as a whole — which violates the fundamental premise of majority rule.” Second, it violates “the constitutional mandate of ‘one person, one vote.’ In the presidential election, the value of your vote depends on where you live. If you live in one of the half-dozen or so ‘battleground’ states, it matters hugely. If you happen to live in a ‘safe state,’ as a vast majority of Americans do, it’s effectively irrelevant.”

The Electoral College was created in the late 18th century Constitution because its “framers worried that most voters — who rarely ventured far from home and had no easy way of getting information quickly — couldn’t know enough about national candidates to make an informed decision.” However, Wegman says, the College has never worked that way with the immediate formation of national political parties.

As a result, Wegman argues, “there is no remaining rationale for the Electoral College. What remains is a system that serves no purpose other than to erase the votes of 100 million Americans every four years, making them bystanders to the most consequential election of all.” In short, amend the Constitution to eliminate the Electoral College.

Wall Street Journal[2]

A Wall Street Journal editorial also points out that these new cases do not “address the most controversial question about the Electoral College, which is whether the U.S. should have one at all.”

The editorial, however, does not address that issue either. Instead, it discusses the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact whereby some states agree to grant their electors to the winner of the nationwide popular vote and which presumably is valid under the Opinion of the Court. However, says the Journal, Justice Thomas in his concurring opinion, points out that the Constitution in the last clause of Article I, Section 8, states, “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress . . . enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State.”

In any event, that compact currently has 16 members (15 states and the District of Columbia) with a total of 196 electoral votes and by its terms would go into effect when enough additional states join to constitute a majority of the Electoral College (270 votes).

Richard L. Hasen[3]

 Just before these Supreme Court decisions, Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine and the author of a leading book on problems of the U.S. election system, noted several problems with that system.

  • First, it “features deep fragmentation of governmental authority over elections. Not only does the United States use a highly decentralized and localized election system that gives many powers over national elections to state and local bodies, but also, even within the approximately 10,500 bodies expected to run the 2020 election, there is sometimes disagreement over who has decision making authority over voting rights decisions.”
  • Second, “protection of voting rights in the United States is marked by polarized and judicialized decision making.”
  • Third, U.S. “ constitutional protections for voting rights remain weak. The U.S. Constitution contains no affirmative right to vote. It speaks of voting rights mostly in the negative: thanks to a number of constitutional amendments, it is now illegal to bar someone from voting on the basis of race, gender, age of at least 18, or through the use of a poll tax.”
  • Fourth, this “decentralized, federalist approach to voting rights has led to a self-perpetuating system of voting inequality, where in some places you may be disenfranchised even if you do everything right.”

Therefore, Hasen proposes the following short-term remedies. “All states need to expand opportunities for online voter registration in time” for this November’s presidential election. . . . Congress needs to adequately fund additional expenses related to running an election during the pandemic. . . .  States need to form independent bipartisan task forces to conduct full and independent investigations into why areas with more poor voters and voters of color saw significant problems voting in person during the primaries.”

In addition, Hasen advocates for a new constitutional amendment that would “guarantee all adult citizens the right to vote in federal elections, establish a nonpartisan administrative body to run federal elections that would automatically register all eligible voters to vote, and impose basic standards of voting access and competency for state and local elections.

 Wilfred Codrington III [4]

Last year Codrington, a Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, pointed out a racist motivation for the creation of the Electoral College at the Constitutional Convention.

“The populations in the North and South were approximately equal, but roughly one-third of those living in the South were held in bondage. Because of its considerable, nonvoting slave population, that region would have less clout under a popular-vote system. The ultimate solution was an indirect method of choosing the president, one that could leverage the three-fifths compromise, the Faustian bargain they’d already made to determine how congressional seats would be apportioned. With about 93 percent of the country’s slaves toiling in just five southern states, that region was the undoubted beneficiary of the compromise, increasing the size of the South’s congressional delegation by 42 percent. When the time came to agree on a system for choosing the president, it was all too easy for the delegates to resort to the three-fifths compromise as the foundation.”

This racial impact affected the election of 1800, when Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams, 73-65 in the Electoral College and “metaphorically rode into the executive mansion on the backs of slaves,” according to a Yale Law School professor, Akhil Reed Amar.

In the 1876 presidential election, Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but not the Electoral College vote due to disputes about the status of some electors. An ad hoc commission ultimately awarded the disputed electors to Republican Rutherford Hayes with his agreeing to remove federal troops in the South that were intended to maintain order and protect black voters.

Max Boot[5]

Boot, an historian and Washington Post columnist, reports that he recently participated in a “war game” over a hypothetical narrow Biden victory in the Electoral College, 278-260, including narrow wins in three swing states—Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—where Republicans control both houses of their legislatures. Although all three states have Democratic governors, who usually certify election results, there is nothing to prevent the legislatures from certifying different results, especially if Trump “will stop at nothing to avoid the stigma of being branded a ‘loser’” and if hypothetically he and his allies concocted allegations of election fraud in those three states. The resulting dispute over these three states and hence the results of the election could well end up in the Supreme Court, and who could predict how they might resolve the dispute, given what it did in the 2000 election contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

A related concern is whether local, state and federal funding for the expenses of conducting the upcoming election in this pandemic will be adequate. This especially is true for the U.S. Postal Service with the anticipated mailing of election ballots.

David Rothkopf[6]

A lot of these current issues about the Electoral College are prompted by the outrageous conduct of our current president, Donald Trump, who is the “embodiment of the Founders’ worst fears.” So says David Rothkopf, a former professor of international affairs at Columbia University, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown University, former CEO and editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine and a senior official in the Clinton Administration.

Rothkopf continues, Trump “has invited our enemies to interfere with our elections to help him win, then sought to do it again. He has misused federal resources, inappropriately elevated his own family members, and enriched his own businesses. He has repeatedly attacked the First and the Fourteenth Amendments. He has had infants thrown in cages and denied relief to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria at the cost of thousands of lives. He has gutted environmental protections and attacked alliances that the US spent decades building and maintaining. And now he has mismanaged the worst public health crisis in a hundred years, overseen the greatest economic crisis since the Depression, and attempted to use the US military to crush legitimate protests on the streets of the capital.”

Moreover, “in the space of just a few days, . . . [Trump] was revealed to have endorsed concentration camps in China and to have again sought the assistance of a foreign adversary in winning a US election, was quoted as calling for the deaths and imprisonment of US journalists, defended the slave power traitors of the Confederacy, admitted that he suppressed testing during the pandemic because true data about the rate of infections would harm him politically, sought to fire more truthtellers in the administration and had his attorney general remove an official in charge of investigations into him and his supporters. He was reportedly briefed about a Russian scheme to place bounties on American and allied troops in Afghanistan, and not only did nothing about it but continued to act as an advocate for Putin. And so it goes on… before we even consider the many complaints about his character—his racism and misogyny, his ignorance and contempt for science and history, his lies, his narcissism, his vulgarity, his demagoguery. Has there ever been a public official in US history so unable to relate to others, show an emotion besides anger, or view the world through any means but his own self-interest?”

Conclusion

 Support a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College!

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[1] Wegman, Can We Please Pick the President by Popular Vote Now? N.Y. Times (July 6, 2020)

[2] Editorial, States and the Electoral College, W.S. J. (July 6, 2020); Kendall & Bravin, Supreme Court Rules States Can Prohibit Electors From Breaking Rank, W.S.J. (July 6, 2020); Astor & Stevens, Did the Popular Vote Just Get a Win at the Supreme Court? N.Y. Times (July 6, 2020); National Popular Vote, nationalpopularvote.com.

[3] Hasen, Bring on the 28th Amendment, N.Y. Times (June 29, 2020).  Since there are now 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, this article calls for a 28th amendment even though an existing non-profit organization has drafted and is promoting what it calls the 28th Amendment “to end the escalating influence of big money that dominates our elections . . . [by enabling} Americans to enact reasonable limits on campaign contributions and dark money political spending [and] reversing the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision.” (American Promise, The 28th Amendment.)

[4] Codrington, The Electoral College’s Racist Origins, The Atlantic  (Nov. 17, 2019); 1800 United States presidential election, Wikipedia.

[5] Boot, What if Trump loses but insists he won? Wash. Post (July 6, 2020); Reuters, ‘Epic failure’: U.S. Election Officials Warn of November Chaos Due to Budget Crunch, N.Y. Times (July 10, 2020); McCarthy & Jameel, The Postal Service Is Steadily Getting Worse—Can It Handle a National Mail-In Election?, propublica.org (June 15, 2020). See also Will Upcoming U.S. Presidential Election Be Legitimate? dwkcommentaries.com (July 5, 2020).

[6] Rothkropf, “The Most Ignorant and Unfit’: What Made America’s Worst Ever Leader? N.Y. Rev. Books (July 3, 2020).

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 26): Reflections on Life During the Pandemic  

Here are my latest reflections on living through this pandemic.

The morning news on July 1 reported that there have been 10,483,100 people in the world who have been sickened with the coronavirus with 511,540 deaths, all occurring in nearly every country in the world. For the U.S. the numbers are 2,653,200 cases and 127,461 deaths. The recent hotspots are Arizona, Florida, California, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Washington and Mississippi.[1] My state of Minnesota has had 36,338 cases and 1,476 deaths.[2]

On June 30 in testimony to a U.S. Senate committee, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said  the rate of new coronavirus infections could more than double to 100,000 a day if current outbreaks were not contained, warning that the virus’s march across the South and the West “puts the entire country at risk.” He added, ““I can’t make an accurate prediction, but it is going to be very disturbing, I will guarantee you that [3]because when you have an outbreak in one part of the country, even though in other parts of the country they are doing well, they are vulnerable.”

These are grim statistics and predictions that are endlessly noted in newspapers and television and radio news programs. As an 81-year-old who has been isolated in his downtown Minneapolis condo building since March 19, all I can do is continue to spend time in my condo with my wife, wear a face mask and “physical distance” at least six feet from other people when I leave the condo to buy groceries, walk in nearby parks and go biking.

While in the condo most of my time is spent reading multiple newspapers on my computer and writing blog posts, usually watching MSNBC at night and occasionally other programs. I have to make time to read books for my men’s book group. Within the last week our building’s swimming pool, hot tub and exercise facilities have re-opened to one or two persons at a time, and I have started to use them again.

I have noted the reports that on June 28, Gilead Sciences announced the pricing for the drug remdesivir, the first drug authorized by the U.S. for treatment of COVID-19. The prices were $3,120 for commercially insured U.S. patients (for the shorter treatment course at $520 per dose) and $5,720 for the longer treatment course. For certain U.S. government programs (but not Medicare or Medicaid) and the rest of the world, the price will be $2,340 (for the shorter course at $390 per dose) and $4,290 (for the longer treatment course).These prices were deemed reasonable by the supposedly independent Institute for Clinical and Economic Review on the basis that use of the drug was expected to enable earlier discharge from the hospital and thereby “save” additional hospital expenses. Gilead’s shares suffered a small decline after the announcement based on certain analysts’ belief that the prices for the drug would be higher.[4]

In my opinion, this is a strange way to assess whether a price is reasonable. The proper method, I thought, was to calculate the cost of producing the drug or other product, after subtracting any costs that had been paid for by the government (or by converting that financial contribution into common or preferred stock and paying dividends to the government), and then adding a percentage of the cost as profit, whose reasonableness could then be assessed.

On May 25th I was shocked to hear the news that George Floyd, an African-American man, had been killed by Minneapolis police in south Minneapolis about 3.5 miles from our condo building. To see the teenage bystander’s video of the last minutes of this human being’s life was excruciating. I did not attend any of the immediate protests at this site, but a couple of weeks ago on a pleasant weekday morning, my wife and I visited the site, which felt like visiting the memorial to a martyred saint. As a result, most of my blog posts since then have been about this killing and the related issues of reforming the Minneapolis and other police departments.

Although I believe that the Minneapolis Police Department needs various reforms, I do not support the City Council’s proposed amendment to the City Charter, which will be discussed in a future post.

I also worry about the U.S. and world economy and the financial struggles of so many people, small businesses, political campaigns and our many worthy nonprofit organizations. This concern was voiced in the June 30th testimony of  Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell before the House Financial Services Committee. He stated that although May employment and sales numbers were better than expected, the path forward would depend on both how the virus evolved and a willingness at all levels of government to provide policy support as long as necessary.[5]

I continue to be grateful that I am retired and not worried about keeping or finding a job. Instead I sort through the many requests for contributions and notices of webinars and other ZOOM meetings. I try to respond as I am able.

My church, Westminster Presbyterian in downtown Minneapolis, is shut down because of the pandemic. But every Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m.it has a worship service on ZOOM that is broadcast in the afternoon on local TV station KSTP. Also available on ZOOM are other services on Sundays at 5:00 p.m. and on Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m. Adult education is available on Sundays at 9:15—10:15 a.m. on Zoom. Check the church’s Livestream button for details.

Especially enriching have been Westminster’s conversations with other pastors and theologians about important issues. A future post will discuss the June 21st “Conversation on Big Questions for a Changing Church” between Westminster’s Scholar for Adult Education, Rev. Dr. Matt Skinner, who is a Professor at Luther Seminary, with Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

I also continue to be shocked by the incompetence and outrageous comments from the mouth of President Trump and have to restrain myself from letting them distract me.

=============================

[1] Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak, N.Y. Times (July 1, 2020, 9:32 am (EDT)); Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y. Times (July 1, 2020, 9:32 am (EDT).

[2] Minnesota Coronavirus Map and Case Count, N.Y. Times (July 1, 2020, 9:32 am (EDT)); Carlson, Minnesota deaths up 6, to 1,441, in COVID-19 pandemic, StarTribune (June 30, 2020).

[3] Stelberg & Weiland, Fauci Says U.S. Could Reach 100,000 Virus cases a Day as Warnings Grow Darker, N.Y. Times (June 30 & July 1, 2020)/

[4] Walker, Covid-19 Drug Remdesivir to Cost $3,120 for Typical Patient, W.S.J. (June 29, 2020); Grant, Gilead Is Wise to Leave Remdesivir Money on the Table, W.S.J. (June 29, 2020); Carlson, COVID-19 drug price deemed ‘reasonable,’ StarTribune (June 29, 2020).

[5] Rappeport & Smialek, Mnuchin and Powell Offer Mixed Views of Economic Recovery, N.Y. Times (June 30, 2020).

 

 

Minnesota Romance in the Midst of the 1918 Flu

In April of 1917, LaVerne Roquette, a 22-year-old art student at the University of Minnesota, went dancing at the Roof Garden of the Hotel Radisson in downtown Minneapolis. There she met and danced with Russell Rathbun, a 27-year-old banker from Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. They immediately fell in love and danced every night for a week before he shipped off for France with the American Expeditionary Force to fight in what became known as World War I.

They then became regular correspondents, and some of her letters mentioned what became known as the 1918 influenza or flu.

On October 10, 1918, LaVerne wrote a letter to her beau from her hometown of Dickinson, North Dakota, where she was sequestered. She said, “Mother won’t let me out because that awful disease … is all over the United States in every little town. All the towns and cities for miles around are all closed — everything but the meat markets, grocery, and dry good stores. At some places people have to wear gauze masks when they appear on the streets … the government has closed all schools, churches, theatres. Somehow this pretty day has been wasted. Have just had to sit inside and look out, all day long.”

Later that month, she wrote that the flu “has been raging like wildfire in the United States. It didn’t miss Dickinson by any means. I wasn’t left out of the swim either.” She had caught the flu.

Another letter from LaVerne said government officials were endorsing whiskey “to kill the influenza germ” so she stole a drink from her father’s wine chest. “I drank quite a large glass full of whiskey. In a very short time I talked very loud and giggled to myself. . . I soon fell into a deep sleep and never even moved until almost noon the next day.” After a week in bed, she recovered.

After the fighting in the war ended on the Armistice of November 11, 1918 (“the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”), Russell had survived and returned to the U.S. The two of them were married in January 1920.

They then lived in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota until 1922, when they moved to St. Paul after Minnesota Governor J.A.O. Preus appointed Russell to be State Commissioner of Banks.

These letters recently were discovered by their granddaughter, Holly Hannah Lewis, who used them to write a book for her family members.

=========================

Brown, Letters from earlier pandemic echo with resonance today, StarTribune (May 31, 2020). The 1918 flu has been the subject of other posts and comments to this blog: Pandemic Journal (# 3): 1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020); [Comment]; Naming of 1918-20 Pandemic (Mar. 28, 2020); [Comment]: Other Thoughts on the 1918 Flu (April 22, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 22): Other Reflections on the Flu Pandemic of 1918-20 (May 17, 2020).

 

 

 

What Happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020

By now, everyone in the U.S. and the rest of the world knows or could know that on the evening of May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota (at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue) George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, was killed by a Minneapolis policeman (Derek Chauvin) in the presence of three other Minneapolis policemen (Alexander Keung, J. Alexander Lane and Tou Thao).[1] Here is what is believed to be a fair summary of those horrendous 17 minutes of police encounters with Floyd and certain preceding events that evening:

  • That evening Floyd buys a package of cigarettes at a convenience store (Cup Foods) and pays for it with a $20 bill.
  • After Floyd left the store, a store employee inspects the $20 bill and believes it is forged. Two store employees then go outside and see Floyd in the driver’s seat of a dark blue Mercedes SUV across 38th Street .     
  • The two store employees go to the SUV and one of them from the driver’s side and the other from the passenger’s side of the SUV ask for the return of the package of cigarettes of a man in the passenger seat and Floyd in the driver’s seat. The request is denied.
  • The two employees return to the store and presumably one of them or another employee dials 911 to report a customer who had paid for cigarettes with an alleged forged $20 bill. They apparently also said that the African-American man appeared to be drunk and was now in a SUV across the street from the store.
  • At 8:08 p.m. two MPD officers (Lane and Keung) arrive at the scene and a store employee directs them to an African-American man (Floyd) in the driver’s seat of the Mercedes SUV across 38th Street.  This starts the approximate 17 minutes of police encounters with Floyd before he is removed on a gurney by medics in an ambulance.
  • Lane arrives at the driver’s side of this SUV and with his revolver drawn tells the African-American man (Floyd) to put his hands on the steering wheel. Floyd immediately does so without resistance and Lane puts the revolver back in his holster.
  • Lane then pulls Floyd out of the car, and he and Keung handcuff  Floyd’s hands behind his back and take him across the sidewalk and seat him on the sidewalk with his back to the brick wall, all without any resistance by Floyd.
  • At 8:14 p.m. Lane and Keurig had Floyd get up from the sidewalk and walk across 38th Street to their squad car and tried to get him into the back seat. Floyd said he was not resisting, but could not get into back seat because he is claustrophobic. But officers get him into the back seat.
  • At 8:19 p.m. Officers Chauvin and Thao arrive at the scene in a different squad car. Chauvin pulled Floyd out of the back seat of the first squad car with Floyd, still handcuffed, who falls to the pavement. Clausen then puts his left knee on the neck of the fallen Floyd while Kueng held Floyd’s back and Lane one of his legs.
  • At some time Lane asked Chauvin if they should roll Floyd on his side, but Chauvin says “no” and the officers do not change what they are doing.
  • At 8:24 p.m. Floyd stopped moving.
  • At 8:25 p.m. Floyd appeared to stop breathing and Lane asked again if they should move Floyd onto his side, but Chauvin again refused to do so.
  • At 8:27 p.m. Chauvin moved his leg off Floyd’s neck or 8 minutes and 46 seconds after he had placed his knee on the neck and 2 minutes and 53 seconds after Floyd had become non-responsive. The latter happened when an ambulance and emergency medics arrived and placed Floyd on a gurney to go the Hennepin County Medical Center..
  • At 9:25 p.m. Floyd was pronounced dead at the Medical Center after an hour of unsuccessful attempts to revive him.

Subsequent posts will examine the criminal charges brought against Chauvin and then against the other three policemen, their initial court appearances, initial comments by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freenman, subsequent comments by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and the commencement of efforts to change and reform various aspects of Minnesota and federal criminal law and procedure.

==============================

[1] E.g., Hill, Tiefenthaler, Triebert, Jordan, Willis & Stein, 8 Minutes and 46 Seconds: How George Floyd Was Killed in Police Custody, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2020);  Hennesy & LeBlanc, 8:46: A number becomes a potent symbol of police brutality, Star Tribune (June 4, 2020); Xiong, A timeline of events leading to George Floyd’s death as outlined in charging documents, StarTribune (June 4, 2020).

Pandemic Journal (# 24): What We Are Learning in the Pandemic

Peggy Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist, offers her thoughts on what we are learning in the coronavirus pandemic. Here are her main points along with reactions thereto.

Noonan’s Observations[1]

She says we have learned a lot. “How intertwined and interconnected our economy is, how provisional, how this thing depended on that. And how whisperingly thin were everybody’s profit margins. The well-being of the West Side block depends on human traffic, which depends on restaurants and bars, which depend on the theater being open. It was a George Bailey economy: every man on that transport died. Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry.” [2] “Every economy is, in the end, and if you’re interested in economics you knew this, but not the way you know it after the business catastrophe of 2020.”

“But the biggest things I suspect we learned were internal. No matter what you do for a living, when you weren’t busy introspection knocked on the door and settled in. Two different men, professionals, both blinked with surprise as they reported, unasked, that they can’t believe they have their college-age kids home again and they’re all together and they have dinner every night and play board games. They were so grateful. They had no idea this was possible, that it would make them so happy. That it had been missing.”

“People have suffered. They’ve been afraid. The ground on which they stand has shifted. Many have been reviewing their lives, thinking not only of ‘what’s important’ or ‘what makes me happy’ but ‘what was I designed to do?’ They’ve been conducting a kind of internal life review, reflecting on the decision that seemed small and turned out to be crucial, wondering about paths not taken, recognizing strokes of luck. They’ve been thinking about their religious faith or lack of it, about their relationships. Phone calls have been longer, love more easily expressed, its lack more admitted.”

“It has been a dramatic time. We have stopped and thought about our lives, and our society’s arrangements. We have applauded together, for the first time, those whose jobs kept our towns up and operating, from nurses to truckers. We’ve rethought not only what is ‘essential’ but who is important. All this will change you as a nation.”

“Here is what I am certain of. We will emerge a plainer people in a plainer country, and maybe a deeper one. Something big inside us shifted.”

“[Y]ou can almost hear people thinking eh, our time is finite, our money limited—maybe that’s not gray[hair]. it’s silver. . . . I like the simplicity of this.”

“The world has admired and imitated America’s crisp chic, but I see an altering of the national style. For reasons economic and existential a new simplicity is coming, glitz leaving.”

“We’re getting pared down. We’re paring ourselves down.”

‘The pioneer genes shall prevail, and women will focus on the essentials: nurturing their children in the arc of safety (homes and schools) providing food (driving to breadlines and food banks) and making do with what is already in the closet. Everything old will be suddenly new again.”

“America is about to become a plainer place. Maybe a deeper one, too. Maybe that’s good.”

Reflections

Do you agree with any of these observations?

Some of her reflections concern individuals and every-day life. I certainly hope that “America is about to become a ‘plainer place’ and ‘a deeper one.’”

Economically we certainly should have learned “how intertwined and interconnected our economy is, how provisional, how this thing depended on that. And how whisperingly thin were everybody’s profit margins.”

Noonan, however, fails to mention the big economic lessons of the pandemic for me and many others: the immense economic inequality in the U.S.; the many ways of racial injustice in the U.S.; and our horrendous health-care system. All of these problems require government action.

That, in turn, raises my concern over the future impact of the many, young, conservative federal judges who recently have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate, some in the midst of the pandemic, pursuant to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s agenda.[3]

More generally, the need for government action emphasizes my belief that many aspects of the U.S. system of government are obsolete: the Electoral College; every state having two senators with equal voting rights regardless of the state’s population; the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rule; the horribly complicated system of voting and its manipulation to suppress voting, including President Trump’s recent rantings against voting by mail.[4]

The Trump Administration’s inconsistent and wavering foreign  policies before and during the pandemic raise the question of what will become of the international system of institutions, treaties and laws that the U.S. helped to create after World War II to foster and preserve peace and human rights. In my opinion, we should be leading the world in reforming and modernizing this system, not tearing at its roots.[5]

All of these larger issues raise the issue of what can one individual do about them.

My answer. Carefully review candidates for office and vote for those who promise to work on these problems. Provide financial support to political parties and candidates as well as organizations that are supporting these reform measures. Advocate for individuals, organizations and policies involved in this effort.  (I choose to do my advocacy with this blog.)

Noonan appropriately mentions many people expressing gratitude for simple things in the midst of the pandemic. I  have gratitude for my wife, sons, their families and I being in good health and for my wife and I are not living in a senior-citizen retirement home. I am grateful for being retired with good savings and thus not worrying about keeping my job or finding a new one or about how I will be able to pay for food or the mortgage.[6]

I also am grateful for friends and family and have made efforts to reconnect with them.[7]

Like Noonan, I hope that people are “reviewing their lives, thinking not only of ‘what’s important’ or ‘what makes me happy’ but ‘what was I designed to do?’ They’ve been conducting a kind of internal life review, reflecting on the decision that seemed small and turned out to be crucial, wondering about paths not taken, recognizing strokes of luck.”

For a Christian, this means discerning your calling for a particular time and place and recognizing that your calling may change over time. This includes forgiving others for their wrongs as well as praying for forgiveness for your own misdeeds.[8]

I trust that I will continue learning about the world during this pandemic. Another of the many subjects I have learned something about are prior pandemics, especially the Flu Pandemic of 1918. [9]

==================================

[1] Noonan, A Plainer People in a Plainer Time, W.S.J. (May 22, 2020).

[2] Noonan apparently refers to brothers George and Harry Bailey, characters in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George was a wealthy banker who suffers various difficulties, including not being present to save his brother from drowning. As  a result, George contemplates suicide before being rescued by his guardian angel and friends. (It’s a Wonderful Life, Wikipedia.)

[3] E.g., Hulse, McConnell Has a Request for Veteran Federal Judges: Pleases Quit, N.Y. Times (Mar. 16, 2020; Hulse, Trump Picks McConnell Protégé for Influential Appeals Court Seat, N.Y. Times (April 3, 2020).

[4] See, e.g., these entries in dwkcommentareis.com: Search: filibusterU.S. Needs More Democratization (Feb. 14, 2020); Responses to Ezra Klein’s Democratization Thesis (Feb. 15, 2020); Open Letter to U.S. Senate from 70 former Senators (Feb. 29, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 10): Wisconsin’s  Primary Election (April 10, 2020) (and comments thereto).

[5] E.g., Douthat, The End of the New World Order, N.Y. Times (May 23, 2020).

[6] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Gratitude I (Mar. 15, 2012);  Gratitude II (April 11, 2012); Gratitude III (April 12, 2014); Another Perspective on Gratitude; (Nov. 23, 2015); Other Thoughts About Gratitude. (Nov. 26, 2015).

[7] Pandemic Journal (# 8): Reconnecting with Family and Friends (April 8, 2020).

[8] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: The Roads Not Taken (April 27, 2011); My General Thoughts on Vocation (Feb. 6, 2014); Other Scriptural Passages About Vocation (Feb. 17, 2014); My Vocations (Feb. 23, 2014); Why I do Not Want to Die at 75 (Sept. 25, 2014); What Is Your Call Story? (Feb. 28, 2019); My Call Stories (Mar. 4, 2019). See also List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: RELIGION; A Christian-Muslim Conversation About Forgiveness (May 15, 2017).

[9] See, e.g., the following posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Pandemic Journal (# 3): 1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 22): Other Reflections on the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1920 (May 17, 2020).

 

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 22): Other Reflections on the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1920

Several; other references to the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918-20 have surfaced that remind me of my original post on that horrendous event.

First, Jill Burcum, an editorial writer for the StarTribune, tells us that this prior pandemic was called, in a well-known journal article at the time, as “The Mother of All Pandemics” with an estimated one-third of the world’s population infected and estimated deaths of 50 to 100 million, that it came “in three waves—the spring of 2018, the fall of that year, and then again in the winter of 2019” and that “healthy adults ages 20-40 were particularly at risk of severe disease and death.” She also mentions that in Iowa, her home state, the flu was resurging in October-November 2018, and especially “hard-hit is Camp Dodge, a military training center near Des Moines.” [1]

Burcum then made her research more personal by doing digital research of newspapers for the period in her father’s county in Iowa (Butler County in the north central part of the state) to see how it coped with the Great Flu Epidemic. She discovered to her surprise that her Great-Grandfather George, then a 27-year-old farmer, married with two young boys, became critically ill in December 2018 with what the newspaper said was “pneumonia,” but that the next month was recovering after being critically ill for three weeks. Thereafter he continued farming and with his wife had two more children. Over 40 years ago, Burchum as a young girl knew Great-Grandfather George, “then gray-haired and in failing health,” and would love to have asked him how he endured this, but she was too young to have such a conversation before he died.

This personal discovery, Burcum says, is “a warning about prematurely letting down our collective guard against infectious diseases. Pathogens can go quiet for a few months after an early strike, then come roaring back.”

The second recent mention of the Great Flu Pandemic is an article in The New York Times by David Segal. After noting the above statistics of the Great flu with 675,000 American deaths, Segal reports that “after the slaughter ended, and for decades after, the pandemic somehow vanished from the public imagination. With rare exceptions, it didn’t crop up in novels, paintings, plays or movies. Even scholars overlooked the subject. The first major account of the flu, Epidemic and Peace — later reissued as America’s Forgotten Pandemic — was published in 1976 by Alfred Crosby, who was baffled by the absence of any impression left by the disaster.”[2]

Historians, according to Segal, “say the pandemic sank into oblivion largely because of World War I, the very cataclysm that hastened the spread of the virus, via millions of moving troops. The war and its aftermath overshadowed the disease, too. For the Allies, there was a victory to celebrate, in November 1918, and triumphalism was the mood of the era.” Even then President Woodrow Wilson, “eager to focus on and sustain the war effort . . .  rarely mentioned the virus, even though he nearly died of it [in 1919] during negotiations in France” of what became the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I.

In addition, Segal claims, ignoring the Great Flu Pandemic could be attirbuted to the widespread belief that “dying from flu was considered unmanly.” According to Catharine  Arnold in her book Pandemic 1918: Eyewitness Accounts From the Greatest Medical Holocaust in Modern History, “To die in a firefight . . .reflected well on your family. But to die in a hospital bed, turning blue, puking, beset by diarrhea — that was difficult for loved ones to accept. There was a mass decision to forget.”

Yet another reason for amnesia about the Great Flu, said Segal, was “by 1920, isolationism had regained its prewar popularity, and the flu was regarded as just another malignant foreign force, both in the United States and elsewhere.”

Apparently the only U.S. memorial for the Great Flu is a “five-ton granite bench . . .five feet high and three feet deep in a cemetery in Barre, Vermont.

Third, an article entitled, “Pandemic Notebook,” in the New York Times Book Review, mainly discusses contemporary New York City with passing references to fiction and nonfiction books, old movies and TV series about past plagues and mishaps. Its only reference to the Great Flu is the following: “The main lesson of the 1918 flu pandemic (which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide), the historian John M. Barry wrote in The Great Influenzais that ‘those in authority must retain the public’s trust’ and ‘the way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one.’”[3]

Conclusion

John M. BarryAs mentioned in this blog’s Pandemic Journal (# 3), my Father as a high school senior and Army trainee at Iowa’s Camp Dodge in 1917-18 lived through the Great Flu pandemic as did my younger Mother, but I never heard about their experiences of living through that pandemic. Therefore, I have concluded to write about my living through the coronavirus pandemic for my own edification and for that of my relatives and descendants.I encourage others to do likewise.

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[1]  Burcum, My great-grandfather wasn/t hit by the first wave of the ‘Spanish flu,’ but the second, StarTribune (May 15, 2020).

[2]  Segal, A Pandemic Barely Etched in Granite Memorials, N.Y. Times–Sunday Business (May 17, 2020).

[3] Kakutani, Pandemic Notebook: Finding Solace and Connection, in Classic Books,  New York Times-Book Review (May17, 2020).

Reactions to Louise Erdrich’s Novel, “The Night Watchman”

After a rave review of Louise Erdrich’s new novel “The Night Watchman,” from Luis Alberto Urrea,[1] I was interested in learning more about federal efforts in the 1950s to terminate the legal status of Indians and, therefore, bought and started reading the book.[2]

Immediately, however, I had difficulty. The Table of Contents has a list of  over 100 unnumbered separate sections or scenes, not called chapters, with cursory titles whose significance or meaning becomes clear only after you had read the “chapters.” Moreover, these sections or “chapters” were not  placed into separate titled groups to help the reader. Over the entire list is a heading “September 1953” although it becomes apparent that not everything in all of those sections happens that month. In addition, the Reading Guide by the publisher was not very helpful, in my opinion.

Another difficulty was the large number of characters, many of whom are referred to by their Indian names sometimes and by other names on other occasions. And there is no separate listing of the characters with their different names and relationships with one another that would have helped the reader.

Reading some of the first “chapters” revealed that they are mostly about different facets of life on the reservation of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota. This prompted the thought that Erdrich should have broken this book into two books; the first containing these stories and the second the battle over the legislation in Congress in 1953-54. As these reflections suggest, I was interested in the latter, not the former although the previously mentioned Urrea review emphasized the former.

Rather than giving up on the book, however, I re-read Erdrich’s explanations of the book in the “Author’s Note” at the beginning and the “Afterword and Acknowledgements” at the end. I then did some basic research about the federal efforts in 1953-54 to change the legal status of Indian tribes. Next I returned  to the chapter about the congressional hearing about the Concurrent Resolution (# 83 “Termination of Federal Contracts & Promises with Indian Tribes”) and working backwards scanned the previous “chapters” to see whether and how, if at all, this congressional effort had been discussed. I was amazed to discover that there were many such references, often cryptic, usually involving the Night Watchman (Thomas), all the way back to the fourth “chapter”  (“The Watcher”).

This analysis made me remember that in 1953-54 there were no internet and 24-7 television news programs and think that one of the stories the novel apparently was telling was that even though Congress adopted the Resolution on August 1, 1953, it was not until  the next month (September 1953) that limited information about the Resolution was only gradually discovered by the Night Watchman and eventually prompting him and a committee of the Turtle Mountain Band to organize and mount a (successful) campaign against the applicability of the Resolution to their Band. In the meantime, other members of that Band were engaging in normal events in their lives and implicitly demonstrating the Band was not ready for such termination. However, I confess that I was not interested in these tales.

Here then is my examination of Erdrich’s explanations of the novel, my basic research about the termination issue and the references to that issue in the earlier “chapters” of the book, all causing my re-evaluation of the book.

Erdrich’s Explanation of the Novel

Erdrich’s beginning “Author’s Note” tells us that on August 1,1953, the U.S. Congress “announced ” [adopted] House Concurrent Resolution 108, which would “abrogate nation-to-nation treaties, which had been made with American Indian Nations for ‘as long as the grass grows and the rivers flow,’” for “the eventual termination of all tribes, and the immediate termination of five tribes, including the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.” That Band  then was chaired by Erdrich’s grandfather Patrick Gourneau (the night watchman, Thomas Wazhashk, in the novel), who led the Band’s opposition to such termination. The only other parts of the novel that are factual, Erdrich says, are the Turtle Mountain Jewel Bearing Plant and U.S. Senator Arthur V. Watkins, who was a “relentless pursuer of Native dispossession and the man who interrogated my grandfather.”

Erdrich’s “Afterword and Acknowledgments” says that the mid-1950s were “a time when Jim Crow reigned and American Indians were at the nadir of power—our traditional religions outlawed, our land base continually and illegally seized (even as now) by resource extraction companies, our languages weakened by government boarding schools.[3] Our officials were also answerable to assimilationist government officials: as an example, just look at the ‘advisory committee ‘ in my grandfather’s designation. He and his fellow tribal members had almost no authority. Their purpose was to advise the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], but they seized any opportunity to represent their people. The 1950s were a time when the scraps of land and the rights guaranteed by treaty were easy pickings. With the postwar housing boom, the fabulous Klamath and Menominee forests were especially coveted. It is no coincidence that those tribes were among the first five slated for termination.”

Erdrich also informs the reader that she now possesses her grandfather’s letters from 1953-54 that are “packed with remarkable, funny, stereotype-breaking episodes of reservation life” and reveal a man “of deeply humane intelligence as well as a profoundly religious patriot and family man.” The letters also reveal his “anxieties” as chairman of the advisory committee and his understanding that the Concurrent Resolution was “a new front in the Indian Wars” and “about the worst thing for Indians to come down the pike.” Yet the Turtle Mountain Band “was the first to mount a fierce defense and prevail. They altered the trajectory of termination and challenged the juggernaut of the federal push to sever legal, sacred, and immutable promises made in nation-to-nation treaties.” (Emphasis added.)

“In all, 113 tribal nations suffered the disaster of termination; 1.4 million areas of tribal land was lost. Wealth flowed to private corporations, while many people in terminated tribes died early, in poverty. Not one tribe profited. By the end, 78 tribal nations, including the Menominee. . . regained federal recognition; 10 gained state but not federal recognition; 31 tribes are landless; 24 are considered extinct.” Senator Arthur V. Watkins was indeed a pompous racist.” Erdrich also refers to Ada Deer’s Making a Difference: My Fight for Native Rights and Social Justice (Univocal. Press 2019) as “great reading on this subject.”[4]

Although the Afterword says “the Turtle Mountain Band was the first to mount a fierce defense and prevail,” neither that Afterword nor the novel  itself says when and how the Band prevailed. After the last words of the novel’s last chapter, separated only by three dots, however, Erdrich as the author states, “The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa was not terminated.” But there were no specifics as to how or when it happened or the title or text of the bill or other measure that made it happen. This important fact, in my opinion, should have been included in the Afterword with more details. Even better, in my opinion, would have been a concluding chapter of the novel that discussed the victory and some kind of celebration by the Band.

“In 1970, Richard Nixon addressed Congress and called for an end to this policy. Five years later, a new era of self-determination for Native people began.”

Research About the Federal Effort To End Status of Indian Tribes[5]

I had not previously known about this congressional action and wanted to know more. Therefore, before reading the novel, I did some basic Internet research and came up with the following.

According to Wikipedia, “On 1 August 1953, the US Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 108 which called for the immediate termination of the FlatheadKlamathMenomineePotawatomi, and Turtle Mountain Chippewa, as well as all tribes in the states of CaliforniaNew YorkFlorida, and Texas. Termination of a tribe meant the immediate withdrawal of all federal aid, services, and protection, as well as the end of reservations. Though termination legislation was introduced (Legislation 4. S. 2748, H.R. 7316. 83rd Congress), termination of Federal Supervision over Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians), was not implemented. In 1954, at the Congressional hearings for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, tribal Chairman Patrick Gourneau and a delegation testified at a hearing that the tribe was not financially prepared, had high unemployment and poverty, suffered from low education levels, and termination would be devastating to the tribe. Based on their testimony, the Chippewa were dropped from the tribes to be terminated.” (Emphasis added.)

Wikipedia further states, This Resolution “declared it to be the sense of Congress that it should be policy of the United States to abolish federal supervision over American Indian tribes as soon as possible and to subject the Indians to the same laws, privileges, and responsibilities as other U.S. citizens. This includes an end to reservations and tribal sovereignty, integrating Native Americans into mainstream American society.”

Wikipedia also says, “The consequence of HCR-108 was the beginning of an era of termination policy, in which the federally recognized status of many Native American tribes was revoked, ending the government responsibility to tribe members and withdrawing legal protection to territory, culture, and religion.”

Finally, Wikipedia states, “HCR-108 was passed concurrently with Public Law 280, which granted state jurisdiction over civil and criminal offenses committed by or upon Native Americans in Indian Territory in the states of CaliforniaMinnesotaWisconsinOregon, and Nebraska, all of which have large Indigenous populations.” [6]

The New York Times, which is online searchable for 1953-54 (and earlier), revealed the following additional tidbits of information relevant to the novel: [7]

  • The “Bulova Watch Company and the Simpson Electric Company had jointly established a modern industrial plant at Rolla, N.D,.near the Turtle Mountain Reservation that successfully used the Indians’ “manual dexterity and adaptability” developed through beadwork to produce jewels for watches. However, Peru Farver, Superintendent of the Reservation, believes “every effort [should be] made to move as many Indians as possible toward the industrial centers, rather than attempt to bring industry to them.” Farver also “thinks too much money has been channeled into guardianship of these Indians who have a high percentage of white blood and . . . are well able to look out for themselves.” More help, he thought, should be provided to the estimated 250 older “full-blooded” Indians of the 4,500 members of the Turtle Mountain tribe. (Emphasis added.) (These statements by Farver, perhaps in a written report to the Congress, is not mentioned in the novel, but the reference to Indians with white blood suggests the basis for the questioning at the March 1, 1954 congressional hearing of the Turtle Mountain people about how much white blood they had, which is mentioned in the novel.)
  • In September 1953, at the direction of President Eisenhower, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Glenn L. Emmons, spent the following two months visiting 10 Indian tribes to obtain their views on the proposed termination and discovered that some bitterly opposed the proposal, some favored it and yet others were divided. (Presumably this included a visit to the Turtle Mountain Band, but there was no mention of this in the novel.)
  • On January 30, 1954, it was announced that joint sessions of the Senate and House Indian Affairs Subcommittees would  hold joint sessions during the last of February and the first half of March to consider 10 Administration bills to end federal administration  of roughly 66,000 Indians. The hearing about the bill concerning the Turtle Mountain Chippewas of North Dakota would be held on March 1. According to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Glenn L. Emmons, these bills “resulted from ‘a rising tide of sentiment that the Indians of the United States are entitled to exactly the same rights and privileges as the rest of us’ in general public opinion as well as in Congress.” Yet the Commissioner also said that it was “impossible to apply the same yardstick “ to all the tribes.
  • On March 25, 1954, the Association of American Indian Affairs warned that “ homeless poverty” was in store for thousands of American Indians if these bills were enacted. The bills “would destroy tribal governments and nullify rights assured by treaties” and are “ill-advised, untimely and off-target.” They are “no answer . . . to the poverty of the Turtle Mountain Chippewas of North Dakota.” (No mention of this was made in the novel.)
  • These charges were repeated at the Association’s annual meeting on May 5, 1954. Its president, Oliver LaFarge, said the tribes picked for “termination” included some of the most advanced and some of the most backward. “Even if the tribes concerned were ready for such deprivations, as most of them are not, the bills as drawn up are ill-conceived and objectionable. Commissioner Emmons, who was present, said that education, health and economic opportunity were his primary goals and was trying to persuade legislators “to set termination daters far enough in advance so the tribes would be ready to go on their own.” (No mention of this was made in the novel.)

Another source, “The History and Culture of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa,” says the 1953 congressional decision to terminate the Turtle Mountain Band was based upon reports by  the BIA Superintendent [Peru Farver] that the Tribe members “have always been resourceful.” In 1954, however, “the Turtle Mountain Band raised funds locally to send a delegation to Washington. Tribal Chairperson Patrick Gourneau testified that the Turtle Mountain people were unprepared economically, still living in poverty, and that such a move [termination] would be devastating. Following the testimony of the Turtle Mountain group, the subcommittee decided that the Turtle Mountain Band was not economically self-sufficient, and was dropped from the list.” This decision recognized “that the Chippewa were still poverty-stricken, occupied an extremely limited land base, suffered from low education levels and high unemployment.”[8] (No mention of these reports by the Superintendent was made in the novel.)

The major congressional proponent of the termination of special status for the Indians was U.S. Senator (Rep., UT) Arthur Vivian Watkins (1888-1973). “He equated such action with the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves during the Civil War and asserted that it was backed by the following tenets: (1)To eliminate laws that treated Native Americans as different from other Americans; (2) To dismantle the BIA giving responsibility for their affairs to the tribes themselves, or if necessary transferring some of its duties to other federal and state agencies; (3) To end federal supervision of individual Indians; and (4) To cease federal guardianship responsibilities for Indian tribes and their resources.”

By the time Watkins lost his bid for re-election in 1958, these Indian policies he had pursued “ were proving to have disastrous effects on Native peoples. Tribes were cut off from services for education, health care, housing, sanitation and utility sources, and related resources. Termination directly caused decay within the tribe including poverty, alcoholism, high suicide rates, low educational achievement, disintegration of the family, poor housing, high dropout rates from school, disproportionate numbers in penal institutions, increased infant mortality, decreased life expectancy, and loss of identity. In addition, the era of conformity was moving into the Sixties and its calls for social change and a growing sensitivity to minority rights.”[9]

In 1960 President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Watkins to the Indians Claims Commission, becoming its chairman and subsequently its chief commissioner.

All of this research made me want to search for, and examine, the actual congressional materials from 1953-54 about the “termination” campaign, but such an effort is impossible now due to the “shelter in place” pandemic policies in the U.S.

The Novel’s Early References to the Termination Issue

My previously mentioned analysis of the novel started with the “chapter” that clearly focuses on the Concurrent Resolution (# 83 “Termination of Federal Contracts and Promises Made with Certain Tribes of Indians”) and then skimming prior chapters to see if they mentioned the Resolution in any way. I was surprised to discover that there were many such references, often cryptic, usually involving the Night Watchman (Thomas) all the way back to the fourth “chapter”   (“The Watcher”). Here are those references:

“Chapter”

Number

“Chapter”

Title

Reference
      4 The Watcher !. Thomas wrote to North Dakota Republican Senator Milton R. Young and to newspaper columnist Bob Cory requesting meetings. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Young

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Young

2. At the Jewel Bearing Plant, Thomas read newsletters and other tribes’ newsletters about the passage of “a bill that indicated Congress was fed up with Indians. Again. No hint of strategy. Or panic, but that would come.”

     5 Three Men Moses Montrose (tribal judge) gives Thomas a copy of the bill “that was supposed to emancipate Indians,” but Moses said, “I read it all. They mean to drop us.” (Thomas had not yet seen the bill.).Eddy Mink asked Thomas if he knew about the emancipation. Thomas said yes, but it wasn’t emancipation. Eddy thought it was good idea because then he could sell his 20 acres. He did not care that he would not have a school, clinic, farm agent or government commodities. Thomas:, what about old people who want to keep their land?
     9 Juggie’s Boy Thomas told a Tribesman, “I’m fighting something out of Washington. I don’t know what. But it’s bad.”
    11    Pukkons Thomas tells Biboon (Thomas’ father) government has new plan to take away treaties for all Indians. Dad: Get together with other tribes to oppose.
    13    The Iron Thomas had been trying to understand the papers Moses gave him, to define the unbelievable intent couched in innocuous dry language. The intent was to unmake, unrecognize, erase Indians –all of us invisible and as if we never were here. When the government remembered the Indians, they always tried to solve Indians by getting rid of us. He had no word from the government. He read about it in Minot Daily News. He finally had confirmation that the Turtle Mountain Band was targeted by the U.S. Congress for emancipation. Freed from being Indians, from their land, the treaties that were promised to last forever. The tribal chairman job had turned into a struggle to remain a problem.
    16        A  Bill The Bill: “To provide for the termination of Federal supervision over the property of the Turtle Mountain Band . . in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, and the individual members thereof; for assistance in the orderly relocation of such Indians in areas of greater economic opportunity.” Its author said it was about emancipation, freedom, equality, success. Real purpose was extermination. Another tribal chairman said the author of bill was Arthur V. Watkins, “the most powerful man in Congress” and a Mormon, who wants to change Indians to white.
     17    Who? Thomas thought Indians will be destroyed by “a collection of tedious words.”
     19   2d Who? Thomas: The termination bill. Watkins believed it was for the best. Open the gates of heaven. How could Indians hold themselves apart?
    23 The Old                    Muskrat Biboon (father) tells Thomas: Band got land by forming a delegation and submitting petition. Thomas to take idea to council. Others need to understand contributions of Indians. We are just getting started on our own feet. Have no money for hospitals. Advisory committee met. Thomas suggested petition with signatures and call it The Termination bill.
    26 Louis Pipestone Louis getting signatures on petition.
    30 The Average Woman & Empty Tank Louis getting signatures on petition. Thomas has Juggie preparing tribal newsletter.
    31 The Missionaries Two young Mormons ask Thomas & Noko if they wonder why Indians as ancient people are on this land. Do you want to read Book of Mormon? Thomas asks about Watkins and is told he wrote book about shepherd who learns he is part of secret society. “It was revealed to Joseph Smith that Indians are people of the house of Jacob & children of Lehi.” They gave him a book.
     32 The Beginning Thomas says we need Biboon for Washington fight.
     34 Wild Rooster Driving to Fargo for meeting with BIA to register opposition to Termination Bill.
     35 Arthur V. Watkins Born in 1886 when UT was still territory. Baptized by father (same name), who wrote to Joseph Smith, “We have filed on land on the reservation for us a home” when Ute people & reservation were relieved of 13.8 million acres of land guaranteed by executive orders of Presidents Lincoln & Arthur. Smith & early Mormons tried to murder all Indians in the way. The son was elected to state office & later U.S. Senate. In termination hearing,  he was said to “convey an air of rectitude that was almost terrifying” and “howled in his reedy voice.” He “decided to use the power of his office to finish what the prophet started. He didn’t have to get his hands bloody.”
      38 Metal Blinds 10/19/53 Fargo meeting with BIA officials . Thomas, 45 tribe members & their attorney, John Hail. Thomas: “We are here to discuss the purpose of Concurrent Resolution, which will terminate all federal recognition and support of the [BIA] Turtle Mountain Agency.” The BIA attorney John Cooper read each section of the law. “Disposition of federally owned property to such Indians may be discontinued as no longer necessary—cause such lands to be sold and deposit the proceeds of sale—trust relationship to the affairs of the Band and its members has terminated.” Indians attempting to understand white man reading from sheaf of papers. Thomas asked for comments from other Indians. BIA: it means no “more Indian service for the Turtle Mountains. You will now be equal with whites as far as the government is concerned.” Joyce: This is not equal. Our rights go down. Government is backing out of its agreement. You left us on land too small in size and most cannot be farmed. Government should give more land back, not kick us off the leftovers.” BIA: “you will be relocated to areas of equal opportunity.” Juggie Blue: “We don’t want to leave our homes. We are poor, but even poor people can love their land.. You do not need money to love your home.” Cooper re-read the bill. All 47 Indians voted against the bill. Thomas is told that Millie did research about the Band, maybe that would be useful.
      39    X =? Barnes, the white math teacher & boxing coach talks to Thomas about the Fargo meeting. Barnes thought the bill was good idea; to be regular Americans. Thomas: we cannot be regular Americans. Got right to vote in 1924. We pay taxes, but not on our land.
     41 The Star Powwow Thomas writes to Senator Milton Young & 2 congressmen. Setting up meeting with American Legion to be against bill.
     45 Hay Stack Thomas asks Barnes to set up boxing card to raise money for delegation to go to Washington. We will have a tribal scholar.
     48 Letter to U MN Thomas writes to Millie Cloud at UM for assistance against bill.
     49 The Chippewa Scholar Millie Cloud (the tribal scholar) reads Thomas’ letter at UM.
     53 Battler Royale Thomas worries about testifying in Congress. Reads Mormon books.
     56 The Promotion Thomas explains Bill to Patrice’s Mother.
     59 Good News, Bad News Good news: poor enough to keep & improve status quo; county & state do not want us; sheltered by roofs; we have schools, cure found for TB; we have this report.

Bad news: we are poor; they don’t like us; 97% of roofs by tar paper; many illiterate; many parents died & kids grew up in boarding schools; we have this report.

     64 Two Months Hearing in 2 months (March). Advisory Comm. had to prepare to save tribe. Thomas is scared.
     70 Runner Thomas about to get a county commissioner to write letter of objection. Not sufficient tax base on reservation to care for roads and schools.
    72 The Spirit Duplicator Millie’s report about conditions of tribe printed. To be sent to local & state officials, newspapers, radio announcers. Juggie says erroneous past count of Indians caused reduction of townships form 20 to 2. Mistaken census survey had convinced Congress that Turtle Mountain was prosperous.
     73 Prayer for 1954 Thomas writes to ND’s US Senators Milton R. Young and William “Wild Bill” Langer, the latter favoring termination.
     77 The Lamanites Thomas reads Book of Mormon. Studies text of bill. Writes to Joe Garry, president of National Congress of American Indians for more info on Watkins, who had refused to appropriate funds to relieve Navajo. Book of Mormon explained why he wanted Indians to disappear. Mormons believed they had been divinely gifted of all the land they wanted; Indians were not white and thus had no right to live on the land. Treaties meant nothing.
     79 The Committee Committee was Thomas, Juggie & Millie. Millie worried she could not testify. Moses and Louis don’t want to go. Louis got county & State officials to sign letter of support.
    81 The Journey Train to Mpls/Washington. Thomas read his testimony.
    83 Termination of Federal Contracts & Promises with Indian Tribes March 2-3, 1954 Joint Hearing, Subcommittees of US Congress. Senator Young: ND could not take over; government should fund job-training program on reservation. Thomas: Reservation could not sustain itself without support. Watkins: Indians did not want to farm & leased land to whites. Thomas, I farm. Relocation is ill timed with many difficulties. Watkins: You have to solve most of your problems. Government can’t legislate morality, character or fine virtues. Thomas: I farm & is guard at Plant. Thomas: women at Plant are paid 75 to 90 cents/hr; I take home $38.25/week.  Millie describes her report. Thomas went to Watkins office and thanked him.
     84 The Way Home Thomas recalls every Indian who testified was asked about their degree of Indian blood, and no one knew.[10] (For this reader, these questions were prompted by the previously mentioned prior year’s reports by the Reservation Superintendent that mentioned many of the Turtle Mountain Band had white blood and thus were ready for independence, but this was not mentioned by the novel.) Patrice: Watkins was supercilious with coin-purse mouth, full of sanctimony.
Untitled P.S. by Erdrich Turtle Mountain Band was not terminated.  (However, there was no citation to the name of the bill or other measure that did this or the date on which it happened or the debate (if any) and vote on the measure.)

Conclusion

I am glad that my initial frustrations with this novel did not cause me to abandon the book. The additional efforts at understanding the book and more importantly the congressional efforts to breach U.S. treaties with tribes were rewarded. I also must confess that the stories about the lives of the Indians should make the reader appreciate the courage and imitative of Thomas and the others who went to Washington, D.C. to testify before a congressional committee. I hope this post will encourage others to read the novel and learn about this lamentable facet of U.S. history.[11]

This post has focused on my learning about important aspects of U.S. Native American history after I had retired from practicing law in 2001. I also had learned about another aspect of Native American culture in 1978-79 when as the attorney for the Minneapolis School Board, I sought (unsuccessfully) to persuade the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to modify its school desegregation order to allow the School Board to continue to allow Native American children to attend a new school close to their homes in the Southeast part of the city. That effort also involved the only appeal (also unsuccessful) by the School Board in the many years of that desegregation case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.[12]

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[1] Urrea, a Mexican-American, is a distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago and a writer of fiction and nonfiction. I have enjoyed his novels, Into the Beautiful North and The House of Broken Angels. He also is an entertaining speaker as evidenced by his lecture—”Universal Border: From Tijuana to the World”—at the 2013 San Miguel Writers’ Conference, which I attended. Another positive review of “The Night Watchman” appeared in the Wall Street Journal: Winkler, Louise Erdrich Retells the Story of Her Grandfather and the Chippewa, W.S.J. (Feb. 28, 2020).

[2] The Night Watchman, HarperCollins Publishers (2020); Reading Guide, The Night Watchman; Urrea, Fighting to Save Their Tribe From Termination, N.Y. Times Book Review (Mar. 29, 2020).

[3] Another Erdrich novel, LaRose, involves adults who were “traumatized from their compulsory time spent as students at Indian boarding schools, where students were stripped of their cultural history and forced to assimilate into Western traditions.”   (HaperColllins Publishers, La Rose (2016); LaRose (novel), Wikipedia;.Broida, ‘LaRose’ by Louise Erdrich: brilliant, subtle exploration of tragic histories, Philadelphia Inquirer (May 20, 2016). It also should be mentioned that there is a moving permanent exhibit, “Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories” at Phoenix’s Heard Museum, which I have visited and highly recommend.

[4] Because of Erdrich’s reference to this book, I bought it and discovered that it said nothing about the Turtle Mountain Band’s struggle in 1953-54 against termination. Ada Deer, who was a member of the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin, instead has a long discussion of that tribe’s struggle over termination. Subsequently in 1993-97 she was head of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

[5] Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, Wikipedia; Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa IndiansTurtle Mountain Chippewa Heritage CenterHouse concurrent resolutions 108, Wikipedia; Arthur Vivian Watkins, Wikipedia. In order to flesh out this research would require at least examining the Congressional Record for the 83rd Congress ((1/3/53—1/3/55), which is impossible during the COVID-19 pandemic. I would appreciate suggestions on other potential sources on this specific topic.

[6] The resulting complex legal problem of determining jurisdiction (federal or Native American courts) was the subject of another Erdrich novel, The Round House, which was awarded the 2012 National Book Prize for fiction. It concerns the violent rape of a Native woman by a white man on the border of an Indian reservation in North Dakota in 1988. (See The Round House (novel), Wikipedia; ; Personal reflections on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, dwkcommentariese.com Dec. 10, 2012);  Jurisdictional Black Hole for Certain Violent Crimes by Non-Indian Men Against Indian Women on Indian Reservations, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 13, 2013).

[7] Forest to Factory Easy for Indians, N.Y. Times (Aug. 5, 1953); Congress To Get Ten Indian Bills, N.Y. Times (Jan. 31, 1954); Indian Bills Opposed, N.Y. Times (Mar. 26, 1954); Indian Trust Bill Put Under Attack, N.Y. Times (May 6, 1954).

[8] N.D. Dep’t Public Instruction, The History and Culture of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa at 20-21 (1997).

[9] On August 5, 1954, Vice President Ricard Nixon appointed Senator Watkins to chair a bi-partisan committee to review and determine whether censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy was warranted. Its work led to the Senate’s voting, 67 to 22, to condemn McCarthy for (a) his refusal to appear before a Senate subcommittee to answer questions about his personal character and obstruction of its work and (b) his charging three members of a committee of “deliberate deception” and “fraud” and stating to the press that a Senate special session was a “lynch-party.” This blog has published many posts about the preceding Army-McCarty Hearings of 1954 and the role played by Joseph Welch, the attorney for the Army in those hearings. (See posts listed in the “U.S. History, 1918-2017” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: United States( HISTORY).

[10] These questions about each Indian’s white-blood were undoubtedly prompted by the previously mentioned comments by Peru Farver, Superintendent of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, about “too much money having been channeled into guardianship of these Indians who have a high percentage of white blood and . . . are well able to look out for themselves.”

[11] Yet another horrible part of the history of U.S. treatment of Native Americans was the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War, Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey’s contemporaneous public demand that “The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State;“ and the December 26, 1862, execution by hanging of 38 Dakota men in the town square of Mankato, Minnesota, which is still the largest mass execution on U.S. soil in U.S. history. (Emphasis added.)  (See posts listed in the “U.S. History, 1776-1917” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: United States (HISTORY).

[12] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minneapolis Public School Desegregation/Integration Litigation, 1978-1983 (Sept. 9, 2012); The Impact of the Minneapolis Public Schools Desegregation/Integration Litigation on Native American Children (Sept. 11. 2012); Comment, Larry Leventhal’s Participation in Minneapolis Public Schools’ Desegregation Case (Jan. 19, 2017).

 

 

Prominent Republicans Unite To Defeat Donald Trump’s Re-election

 Eight prominent Republicans have formed The Lincoln Project to hold “accountable those who would violate their oaths to the Constitution and would put others before Americans.” Their mission is to “defeat President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box.” This mission is explained in its website and a Washington Post article, which are discussed below along with information about these prominent Republicans.

The Lincoln Project’s Website[1]

Like President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, “Today, we find ourselves divided again – sectionalism in the country and factionalism in government has led to ever uglier examples of how our political system is failing. President Donald Trump and those who sign onto Trumpism are a clear and present danger to the Constitution and our Republic. Only defeating so polarizing a character as Trump will allow the country to heal its political and psychological wounds and allow for a new, better path forward for all Americans.”

The Project’s Advisors  say they “do not undertake this task lightly nor from ideological preference. Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain. However, the priority for all patriotic Americans must be a shared fidelity to the Constitution and a commitment to defeat those candidates who have abandoned their constitutional oaths, regardless of party. Electing Democrats who support the Constitution over Republicans who do not is a worthy effort.”

Their Washington Post Article[2]

The article states, “This November, Americans will cast their most consequential votes since Abraham Lincoln’s reelection in 1864. We confront a constellation of crises: a public health emergency not seen in a century, an economic collapse set to rival the Great Depression, and a world where American leadership is absent and dangers rise in the vacuum.” It then criticises President Trump and praised Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Criticism of President Trump

“Today, the United States is beset with a president who was unprepared for the burden of the presidency and who has made plain his deficits in leadership, management, intelligence and morality.”

“For Trump, the presidency has been the biggest stage, under the hottest klieg lights in a reality show of his making. Every episode leaves the audience more shocked and divided. Trump’s only barometer is his own ego. The country, our values and its people do not factor into Trump’s equation”

“The coronavirus crisis is a terrifying example of why real leadership looks outward. This crisis, the deaths and economic destruction are immeasurably worse because Trump and his administration were unwilling to do what was necessary to mitigate its worst effects and bring the country back as quickly as possible.”

“We’ve seen the damage three years of corruption and cultish amateurism can do. This country cannot afford to be torn apart for sport and profit for another term, as Trump will surely do.”

“We are in a transcendent and transformative period of American history. The nation cannot afford another four years of chaos, duplicity and Trump’s reality distortion. This country is crying out for a president with a spine stiffened by tragedy, a worldview shaped by experience and a heart whose compass points to decency.”

Praise for Joe Biden

“Biden is now the presumptive Democratic nominee and he has our support. Biden has the experience, the attributes and the character to defeat Trump this fall. Unlike Trump, for whom the presidency is just one more opportunity to perfect his narcissism and self-aggrandizement, Biden sees public service as an opportunity to do right by the American people and a privilege to do so.”

“Biden is a reflection of the United States. Born into a middle-class family in coal-country Pennsylvania, he has known the hardship and heartbreak that so many Americans themselves know and that millions more are about to experience.”

“Biden’s personal tragedies and losses tested his strength, his faith and his determination. They were enough to crush most people’s spirit, but Biden emerged more compassionate toward the suffering of others and the burdens that life imposes on his fellow Americans.”

“Biden did what Americans have always done: picked himself up, dusted himself off and made the best of a bad situation. In the years since he first entered office, Biden has consistently demonstrated decency, empathy and humanity.”

“Biden’s life has been marked by triumphs that didn’t change the goodness in him, and he is a man for whom public service never went to his head. His long record of bipartisan friendship and cross-partisan legislative efforts commends him to this moment. He is an imperfect man, but a man who loves his country and its people with a broad smile and an open heart.”

“Biden understands a tenet of leadership that far too few leaders today grasp: The presidency is a life-and-death business, that the consequences of elections have real-world effects on individual Americans, and that all of this — all of the struggle, toil and work — is not a zero-sum game.”We asked ourselves: How would a Biden presidency handle this [coronavirus] crisis? Would he spend weeks lying about the risk? Would he look to cable news, the stock market and his ratings before taking the steps to make us safer? The answer is obvious: Biden will be the superior leader during the crisis of our generation.”

 The Lincoln Project’s Advisors

The prominent Republicans behind this Project are the following:

  • George Conway III, “a lawyer in New York City and a founding member of , a group of conservative and libertarian lawyers organized to defend the rule of law.”
  • Reed Galen, “an independent political strategist [who] left the Republican Party in 2016 and has spent the last three years dedicated to the political reform movement, creating a better system for all voters.”
  • Jennifer Horn, “a communications strategist and former Chairman of the NH Republican Party [who] was the first Republican woman in New Hampshire nominated for Federal office.”
  • Mike Madrid, “a Republican strategist and former political director of the California Republican Party [who] serves as a senior advisor to the California Latino Economic Institute.”
  • Steve Schmidt, “a national political strategist [who] previously worked for President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
  • Ron Steslow, “a brand and marketing strategist and independent political consultant [who after] leaving the GOP in 2016,. . . has worked to put voters first in our political system.”
  • John Weaver, “a national political strategist [who] worked for President George H.W. Bush, Senator John McCain and Ohio Governor John Kasich.”
  • Rick Wilson, “a long time Republican media consultant and author of the New York Times bestselling book, “Everything Trump Touches Dies.”

Conclusion

These eight individuals deserve our nation’s applause. This blog already has set forth its opinion that the COVID-19 pandemic has proved the incompetence of President Trump and the need for his defeat in the November presidential election.[3]

===========================

[1] The Lincoln Project.

[2] Conway, Galen, Schmidt, Weaver & Wilson, We’ve never backed a Democrat for president. But Trump must be defeated, Wash. Post (April 15, 2020).

[3] Pandemic Journal (# 11): Pandemic Proves Trump’s Incompetence, dwkcommentaries.com (April 14, 2020).

 

Pandemic Journal (# 3): 1918 Flu 

The ongoing news of today’s coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic makes frequent reference to the Spanish flu of 1918, about which I basically knew nothing even though I had seen many references to it and even though I was a history major at Grinnell College (1957-61). [1]

Only now, sketchy internet research tells me that this earlier pandemic is called the “Spanish flu” although it was thought to have originated in the soldiers’ trenches of World War I, virtually the only news of the disease came from Spain, which was not involved in the war. This pandemic started in early 1918 and ended in December 1920, infecting 500 million people around the world (or about one-third of the world’s then total population) and causing 17 to 50 million deaths. In the U.S. the statistics were 25.8  million cases and  675,000 deaths. Unlike typical flu viruses, this one especially affected healthy young adults; almost half of the all deaths were those 20-40 years old. [2]

In that time period, both of my parents lived in Iowa, which had an estimated total Spanish flu cases of 93,000 with 6,000 deaths. In the Fall of 1918 the Iowa Board of Health “quarantined” the entire state and ordered the closing of all “public gathering places.” [3]

At the time, my father, Ward Glenn Krohnke, lived in the small town of Perry in the central part of the state. When the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917, he was 16 years old in the junior year of high school.[4] Thus, In early 1918 he was 17 years old in his last year of high school, facing the prospect of joining the U.S. Army and being shipped to Europe to fight in World War I. That same year, after graduation, he did join the Army for training at Camp Dodge, Iowa (just north of Des Moines), where 10,000 men were treated for the flu with 700 of them dying.[5] The Armistice of November 11, 1918, however, led to his honorable discharge without going overseas.

I do not recall ever hearing that that he or his parents or brother contracted this version of the flu or that his father, Alvin J. Krohnke, who was a train dispatcher (or station agent) for the Milwaukee Railroad in Perry, had any financial difficulties caused by the flu.

In 1956 just before the start of my last year of high school, I was selected to go to Hawkeye Boys’ State, which was held at the old Camp Dodge, where we stayed in what must have been the old Army barracks.[6] I do not recall any mention being made at this gathering about its history during World War I or otherwise. Nor do I recall my Father on this occasion saying anything about his basic training there in 1918.

My mother, Marian Frances Brown at the time, in the larger southeastern Iowa town of Ottumwa in early 1918 would have been in the seventh grade. I never heard of her or any members of her family suffering from the Spanish flu, nor did I hear of any flu-related financial difficulties for her father (George Edwin Brown, who worked for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad).

I deeply regret that now I can only speculate about my parents’ concerns and fears during the Spanish flu pandemic and about my father’s concerns and fears about joining the Army and going to Europe to fight in World War I.

I, therefore, urge younger people to figure out what major national and international events occurred in their parents’ lifetimes and engage them in conversation of how they were affected by these larger events. Similarly those of us who are older should talk or write about such experiences for our descendants.

=====================================

[1] This blogger has decided to periodically post his reactions to living through this pandemic. Here are the earlier such posts to dwkcommentareis.com: Pandemic Journal (# 1): Kristof and Osterholm Analyses (Mar. 23, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 2): Westminster Presbyterian Church Service (03/22/20), (Mar. 24, 2020).

[2] Spanish flu, Wikipedia; Spanish flu, LiveScience (Mar. 12, 2020); Jester, Uyeki & Jernigan, Readiness for Responding to a Severe Pandemic 100 Years After 1918, Am. Journal of Epidemiology  (Aug. 9, 2018); The Deadly Virus: The Influenzas Epidemic of 1918, Nat’l Archives; Searcy, The Lessons of the Elections of 1918, N.Y. Times (Mar. 22, 2020).

[3] Iowa Dep’t Public Health, The 1918 Flu 100 Years Later (April 2018); Schmidt, Lessons for Iowa from the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, The Gazette (Mar. 17, 2020)

4] World War I, Wipipedia.

5] Camp Dodge, Wikipedia; Camp Dodge-Photograph Album-World War I Army Containment 1917 , Wikipedia.

[6]  Growing Up in a Small Iowa Town, dekcommentaries.com (Aug. 23, 2011);  American Legion (Dep’t of Iowa), Boys State of Iowa .

 

Request for U.S. Records in Salvadoran Trial Over 1981 El Mozote Massacre

On December 10-12,1981, during the Salvadoran Civil War, 978 men, women and children were massacred in the country’s northeastern village of El Mozote, the largest mass killing in Latin America’s modern history. Of those victims, 447 were age 12 and under while 4 were unborn infants in their mothers’ wombs.[1]

Eventually it had become clear that  “the Salvadoran military’s Atlacatl Battalion was responsible for the massacre. But details were vague. The commanders of the Battalion remained free. So do the former senior defense officials who allegedly issued orders to the battalion. In the 1990s, the country approved an amnesty that protected war criminals. That law was declared unconstitutional in 2016 by a Salvadoran court, thereby clearing the way for reopening a Salvadoran criminal trial over this massacre.

Early Stages of Salvadoran Trial Over the Massacre[2]

Since that year (2016) a Salvadoran court has been conducting a trial of 16 former Salvadoran military commanders, including a former minister of defense, over this massacre. They are charged with murder, torture, aggravated rape, forced disappearances, forced displacement, acts of terrorism, illegal detention, theft and damages. The evidence implicated the involvement of the Atlacatl Battalion, which had been U.S.-trained, in contradiction of the original Salvadoran and American accounts of the massacre.

U.S. Congressional Decision To Help Salvadoran Trial[3]

In 2019 in establishing the annual budget for international aid, the Congress directed the U.S. Government to cooperate with El Salvador’s investigation of the El Mozote massacre in the following language:

  • “The [House] Committee [on Appropriations] directs the Secretary of State to work with the relevant federal departments and agencies to, as appropriate, assist the judicial authorities of El Salvador in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the El Mozote massacre. [This includes] the identification of and provision of related documents, correspondence, reproductions of Salvadoran documents, and other similar materials from January 1981 to January 1983.”
  • The Senate version stated, “The Secretary of State… shall encourage the Salvadoran Armed Forces to cooperate with prosecutors and investigators, including providing access to archival documents.” The bill also included a mandate for the Department of State to update its report on the current status of the Salvadoran trial.

In response to the Senate’s direction, the State Department on February 5, 2020, sent a letter to the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy, with a report on the Salvadoran government’s cooperation with the court’s investigation.[4]

Recent Developments in Salvadoran Case[5]

In January 2020, a retired Salvadoran air force general, Juan Rafael Bustillo, testified in the trial that that the Atlacatl Battalion had carried out the massacre, which was the first time a Salvadoran military official had admitted such responsibility. He said he had not taken part in this event, but that it had been conducted on orders by Colonel Domingo Monterrosa, the commander of that Battalion who died in a 1984 helicopter accident.

After that testimony, the Salvadoran judge, Jorge Guzman Urquilla, concluded that the court did not have an important set of evidence: “U.S. documents that might shed light on how the massacre was planned and executed.”

 Salvadoran Judge’s Letter to U.S.Government[6]

As a result, the judge on January 27, 2020, sent a letter to  U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo with copies to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Robert P. Ashley, Jr. and CIA Director Gina Haspel. The judge’s letter requested “at minimum, any document in the possession of the Department of Defense, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and other defense or intelligence agencies” relating to the El Mazote massacre. The letter stated the following:

  • “I recognize and am thankful for Congress’ initiative in asking the State Department to look into information that the United States may have on this case. As a judge, I would hope that it would provide me with greater certainty and clarity on these heinous acts that are now part of our country’s history, something we are not proud of, but which the historical record will demand we adjudicate.”
  • “The El Mozote trial is nearing the end of its investigative phase and will soon move to sentencing. Though some expert military testimony is forthcoming, the main phases of the examination portion have been completed. Service members, including several soldiers and a general, have given their accounts of the relevant events, confirming that the massacre took place as well as the role played by various units of the [Salvadoran] Armed Forces. A lack of documents is the last big hurdle. Despite [Salvadoran] President Nayib Bukele’s assurances that he will collaborate, the [Salvadoran] Army has stuck to the position it’s taken since the investigation began in the 1990s: that no relevant documents exist.”
  • “Even if they no longer can be found in El Salvador, it’s still possible that there are copies or records of these files in the United States, a country that was closely involved with and aware of the [Salvadoran] Army’s operations in the 80s as part of its foreign policy agenda.” Though a good deal of documents were already declassified [by President Bill Clinton in 1983], the letter also asked for “any other document that was not declassified by President William Jefferson Clinton or subsequent presidents.”
  • The letter also asked for “any other document that was not declassified by President William Jefferson Clinton or subsequent presidents” and for files on “the operations of the Armed Forces of El Salvador in the Morazán area, including any information on military planning, operational planning, and war planning, and involving any of the military units that I have mentioned,” between 1981 and 1983.
  • The letter specifically solicited information on General José Guillermo García, General Rafael Flores Lima, and 14 others who were charged and remain alive; on Colonel Domingo Monterrosa, Mayor Armando Azmitia, and 14 others who were charged and are now dead; on the municipality of Arambala and the seven sites where the massacre took place; and on the four military units being held responsible: the Atlacatl Battalion, the Third Infantry Brigade of San Miguel, the Fourth Military Detachment in San Francisco Gotera, and the High Command of the Armed Forces.
  • The letter emphasized the need to “move forward with this case in an expeditious manner” and asks Pompeo for a response “within the period of time set forth by the law.”

A journalist for elfaro, a Salvadoran online newspaper, apparently added, “Among the [U.S.] files declassified in 1993, for example, are several diplomatic cables between San Salvador and Washington from January 1981, which make clear that then-U.S. Ambassador Deane Hinton was consistently transmitting details about the operation that would ultimately result in the massacre. ‘[I]t is not possible to prove or disprove excesses of violence against the civilian population of El Mozote. It is certain that the guerrilla forces…did nothing to remove them from the path of battle… Civilians did die during Operation Rescate, but no evidence could be found to confirm that government forces systematically massacred civilians in the operation zone, nor that the number of civilians killed even remotely approached the number being cited in other reports circulating internationally,’ read an initial cable from Hinton, from January 1981.”

The elfaro journalist also said, “Later, in another communication, [Hinton] . . .  offered a different account of what may have taken place: ‘The estimated population of El Mozote during the massacre was about 300 inhabitants. The Atlacatl Battalion conducted Operation Rescate from December 6 to 17 of 1981. The guerrilla knew of the operation since November 15. The civilians present during the operation and the battles with the guerrilla may have been killed.’” Following Clinton’s declassifications, several agencies have continued providing documents in response to petitions from human rights organizations.

Additional support for U.S. production of such documents comes from an analyst for the U.S. National Security Archive, Kate Doyle, who believes the U.S. has additional relevant documents about the Salvadoran civil war that could and should be declassified.[7]

U.S. Government’s Response to the Judge’s Letter

To date, Secretary Pompeo has not responded to the court’s letter; nor have the three others copied on that letter. The subject came up again at a March 11th Salvadoran court hearing in the case when the judge said, ““This information could be very valuable to us. It could clarify what happened.” A State Department spokesman, however, said, “We do not comment on the Secretary’s correspondence.”

Conclusion

 Given the congressional demand that the U.S. cooperate with the Salvadoran investigation of the El Mozote massacre and the U.S. support of human rights by its recent publication of the  latest annual report about human rights in every country in the world and Secretary Pompeo’s proud creation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, there is no excuse for any further delay in providing an affirmative response to the Salvadoran judge’s letter and the requested documents.

This conclusion is buttressed by the following words in the March 11, 2020, State Department’s report about human rights in El Salvador:[8]

  • “In February [2019], in a renewed effort to shield the perpetrators of war crimes and human rights abuses committed during the country’s 1980-92 civil war, a group of influential legislators proposed a draft national reconciliation law. Despite Constitutional Court rulings in 2016 and 2018 that expressly prohibited a broad and unconditional amnesty, the proposed bill would have granted amnesty to several high-level officials who enjoyed immunity from prosecution due to their positions in the recent administration of President Salvador Sanchez Ceren. Victims’ rights groups, other civil society actors, and the international community successfully campaigned against the proposed bill, and President-elect Bukele stated his strong opposition to an amnesty bill and expressed his support for additional consultation with victims. On May 29, [2019] the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the government to immediately suspend consideration of the proposed law. The proposed bill eventually lost support among legislators and failed to reach a floor vote.” (Section 2.E)
  • “Despite a June 2018 Constitutional Court order directing it to release military records related to the El Mozote killings and serious civil war crimes, the Ministry of Defense had not produced the requested documentation as of November 12 [2019]. On November 1, President Bukele stated that he was committed to the truth and that he would release the records. Previously, the Ministry of Defense claimed the El Mozote archive records were destroyed in an accidental warehouse fire. Civil society and victims’ groups continued to press for release of these archives.” (Section 2.E)
  • “On April 23, [2019] the judge in the El Mozote prosecution issued an order adding three new charges against the 16 remaining defendants: Torture, forced disappearance, and forced displacement. He also imposed several provisional measures on the defendants, including a prohibition on leaving the country or contacting victims, and a requirement that the defendants physically appear in court biweekly. The defendants appealed these rulings, which were affirmed by an intermediate appellate court. On February 14, [2019] the Legislative Assembly approved a transitory law establishing mechanisms designed to allow family members to be added to the El Mozote victims’ registry.” (Section 2.E)

=================================

[1] See generally list of posts in the “El Mozote Massacre” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADORThe massacre of children and others at El Mozote, El Salvador Perspectives (Dec. 10, 2017); Posts about El Mozote. El Salvador Perspectives.

[2] Zabiah, El Mozote judge asks the United States for confidential documents on the massacre, elfaro (Mar. 5, 2020) (Zabiah #1).

[3] Zabiah # 1, supra; H. Rep., 116th Congress, 1st Sess., Rep. 116-78, State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill, 2020 (May 20, 2019); H. Rep., Appropriations Committee Releases Fiscal Year 2020 State and Foreign Operations Funding Bill (May 5, 2019); H. Rep. Comm. on Appropriations. Public Witness Hearing: State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (Mar. 12, 2019).

[4] Letter, State Dep’t to Senator Leahy (enclosing three-page report) (Feb. 5, 2020)(hyperlinked to Zabiah #1, supra).

[5] Zabiah #1, supra; Zabiah, General Bustillo breaks the officers’ script and admits that ‘rudeness’ occurred in El Mozote, elfaro (Jan. 26, 2020); Schwartz, What the El Mozote Massacre Can Teach Us About Trump’s War on the Press, The Intercept (Jan. 28, 2020); El Salvador general admits army carried out El Mozote massacre, Aljazeera (Jan. 25, 2020); Pierce, It’s a Bull Market for Bashing the Press. Under Conservative Governments, It Often Has Been, Esquire (Jan.27, 2020); Renteria, Salvadoran general admits army carried out infamous 1981 massacre, Reuters (Jan. 24, 2020).

[6] Zabiah #1 , supra.

[7] Alvarado, “The attorney general can ask the United States for information about El Mazote,” elfaro (Mar. 23, 2018).

[8] State Dep’t, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: El Salvador (Mar. 11, 2020).