Uncivil War

Spiritual Smart Aleck


By the time this is published, the election will be over, and there will be rejoicing and dancing in the streets, and weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, depending on what your hopes were.

In the last couple of weeks, people were gunned down in parking lots and in synagogues. Bombs were sent through the mail, though they were detected and stopped before they reached their intended targets.

Are we descending into another civil war?

May I recount another time, fifty years ago, when we were at war with ourselves? I was so young the events did not seem unusual.

Assassinations: President Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy. Horrible, traumatic for the whole country – but in those years, assassinations became normal.

Civil rights marchers were beaten with truncheons and blown away with fire hoses, having dogs set on them, and being tear gassed. Black churches were firebombed, children killed, civil rights workers murdered. We saw these things every night on the news.

The Black Panther Party was founded in Oakland, California, in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale to form armed citizens’ patrols to police the Oakland police. They wore berets and leather jackets and carried rifles. Many of the Black Panthers were killed in police shootouts.

Women did most of the Black Panther party’s organization and administration: Elaine Brown, who became the leader of the Black Panthers, Kathleen Cleaver, Angela Davis, Erika Huggins.
The Nation of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad, proclaimed that all white people were devils. Black men stood tall in their dark suits with white shirts and red bow ties. Black women were robed in head-to-toe outfits, sometimes white, sometimes rainbow-hued. Malcolm X rose from their ranks, and when he decided the Nation was too extreme and got out, they assassinated him.

Then there were the Weathermen, a splinter group of white radicals who believed that peaceful means got no results.

In March 1970, three Weathermen who were building bombs in the basement of a Manhattan townhouse died when one of the bombs went off. In June, the remaining Weathermen bombed the New York City police headquarters. In July when a grand jury indicted thirteen of their members for conspiring to engage in acts of terrorism, they bombed a bank in retaliation. After that the Weathermen went into hiding and became the Weather Underground.

On April 8, 1970, then California Governor Ronald Reagan, who had protests and strikes on almost every college and university campus in the state system, suggested a solution: “If it takes a bloodbath to end it, let’s get it over with, no more appeasement.”

A few weeks later Governor James Rhodes of Ohio called in the National Guard to quell student unrest on campus at Kent State, and on May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on anti-war protesters at Kent State. Four people were killed, and nine wounded.
My friends, these are but a few examples of Americans turning on Americans with violence. They occurred in the United States in the sixties and seventies. I didn’t get to the 1967 Detroit riots, which lasted five days, or the Democratic convention riots in Chicago in the summer of 1968. It was determined afterward that the police had rioted. I have hardly brushed the anti-Vietnam war movement and have barely mentioned events on the West Coast.

This country was founded on an uneasy alliance between slaveholders and non-slaveholders who needed one another to make a nation strong enough to defeat and break free from England. We’ve been shooting at each other ever since. From 1861 to 1865 we had a declared Civil War.

Some people say that Robert E. Lee may have surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, but our differences have never been settled. We’re still fighting, and the antagonism between different groups now feels rawer and less susceptible to reason than any of us can remember. So, we ask, are we heading for another civil war? And if we are, where would the boundaries be drawn? I read somewhere the other day that at least one white supremacist group had the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming staked out to make up their all white homeland.

So I’ll say that I certainly hope we don’t have a declared civil war. We are already uncivil enough to each other.

No matter how the mid-term elections have gone, our differences remain, and there are plenty of weasels out there willing to exploit those differences. We need to learn how to live with our differences. We need to be smarter than the weasels.

Life is so short. Keep breathing, keep loving, keep encouraging and hugging one another. We all need those things.

Blessings to you all.