So, while the much-touted bi-partisan gun legislation is not final, the details have been widely reported. The politicians pulled off quite a feat. Few are seriously thrilled with the bill, and few are terribly upset with the bill either. That the two opposing political parties can produce a bi-partisan gun bill is, indeed, something about which we can cheer. It’s like the cocker spaniel that gets applauded for walking across the stage on its hind legs; noteworthy not because it was done so well but because it could be done at all.
We should give credit where credit is due, even though the pending legislation is an anemic remedy for an enormous problem. So, in all sincerity, hats off to Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), John Cornyn (R-TX), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Susan Collins (R-ME), Chris Coons (D-DE), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
The Democrats got as much as they could, the Republicans gave up as little as they could, and the NRA has to be breathing a mighty sigh of relief. But here’s the thing: even after the bloodshed in Buffalo, the murder of young innocents in Uvalde, and the ever-repeating occurrence of mass shootings using these military lookalike and shootalike weapons, no one can touch the ridiculous availability to teens of AR-15 or AK-47 semi-automatic weapons—kids who aren’t old enough to buy a can of beer in 24 states. Want to buy a handgun? Only if you’re 21 in every state in America. How about an AR-15 or AK-47 semi-automatic rifle? Eighteen years of age will do just fine. You just don’t have to be the most profound thinker to know something is terribly wrong with this picture.
While I haven’t fired a semi-automatic weapon since completing Air Force basic training many years ago, I am not a knee-jerk anti-gun guy. I have close family and close friends who are responsible gun owners. Some are avid hunters, and some feel more secure with a handgun safely secured in their homes. No problem. Responsible gun ownership doesn’t bother me at all. The lack of responsible gun laws does.
While I assume there may be big-game hunters who own semi-automatic rifles with high-volume magazines, the hunters I know scoff at the notion of firing 10 or 15 rapid rounds at a deer, or a grizzly for that matter. That’s not sport hunting; that’s simply mowing down some creature in the wild. Frankly, if someone decides to go into bear country with a semi-automatic rifle equipped with a high-volume magazine, I’m inclined to root for the grizzly.
While most everyone is pleased to see Republicans and Democrats working to produce some bipartisan legislation that at least addresses some of the steps that could be taken to curb gun violence, the National Rifle Association is, predictably, reserving judgment. The gun group said it does not comment on frameworks and will wait until there is a final bill before weighing in. Fair enough. Then the gun group released a statement confirming its opposition to anything compromising the robust market for lethal weapons. “We encourage our elected officials to provide more resources to secure our schools, fix our severely broken mental health system, and support law enforcement. The NRA will continue to oppose any effort to insert gun control policies and initiatives that override constitutional due process protections and efforts to deprive law-abiding citizens of their fundamental right to protect themselves and their loved ones into this or any other legislation.” Please!
The NRA’s disconnect from reality is, of course, illustrated by the notion that today the founders would object to any laws or regulations designed to keep out of the hands of teens lethal semi-automatic weapons that fire ammo capable of obliterating and pulverizing whatever it strikes in the human body. For starters, there were no such weapons when the founders provided the Second Amendment to protect the new country against an American standing army that might go rogue. Also, the founders had no way of knowing the extent of anti-social violence these weapons would unleash against their fellow citizens. They would be horrified to contemplate their words being used to keep the nation from responding to a national travesty. The founders would roll over in their graves at such lunacy being advanced in their names. Insisting that the US Constitution requires such unrestricted access to these weapons by teenagers so that they can defend America against the men and women who serve in America’s armed forces is both bizarre and disingenuous.
The emerging gun legislation is undoubtedly good as far as it goes. The bi-partisan bill would establish so-called Red Flag laws that would attempt to keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves or others. No doubt, such screening would lessen the ability of some to acquire these lethal weapons. Still, it is wishful thinking to believe that we can identify enough troubled would-be gun owners to reduce gun violence in America significantly.
Similarly, the provisions in the emerging legislation for significant investments in mental health and suicide prevention programs, including crisis and trauma intervention and recovery provisions are, of course, laudable. However, the impact of these provisions on the incidence of gun violence is entirely speculative.
There are other half-a-loaf compromises in the emerging legislation. Instead of prohibiting the sale of semi-automatic weapons to eighteen-year-old kids, the legislation would provide expanded background checks for gun purchasers between 18 and 21. The draft legislation would also deal with the so-called “boyfriend loophole” so that dating partners who engage in domestic violence would be subject to the same restrictions on the books that prevent convicted domestic abusers from buying a gun.
Most experts agree that these provisions would probably have minimal impact on gun violence because most cases of this nature do not involve perpetrators with any prior history of gun violence. We, as a nation, are doing nothing to effectively deal with the widespread availability, even to eighteen-year-olds, of semi-automatic weapons in America because we’ve been sold the nonsense that the founders would not want us to. So, for at least the last decade, we’ve essentially avoided doing anything to curb the availability of semi-automatic weapons or any other weapon used in mass shootings in America.
Unfortunately, others have done quite a bit during that same period of time.
UVALDE, TEXAS: MAY 24, 2022. 21 DEAD – BUFFALO, NEW YORK: MAY 14, 2022. 10 DEAD – SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA: MAY 26, 2021. 9 DEAD – BOULDER, COLORADO: MARCH 22, 2021. 10 DEAD – ATLANTA, GEORGIA: MARCH 16, 2021. 8 DEAD – MIDLAND, TEXAS: AUGUST 31, 2019. 7 DEAD – DAYTON, OHIO: AUGUST 4, 2019. 9 DEAD – EL PASO, TEXAS: AUGUST 3, 2019. 23 DEAD – VIRGINIA BEACH, VIRGINIA: MAY 31, 2019. 12 DEAD – THOUSAND OAKS, CALIFORNIA: NOVEMBER 7, 2018. 12 DEAD – PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA: OCTOBER 27, 2018. 11 DEAD – SANTA FE, TEXAS: MAY. 18, 2018. 10 DEAD – PARKLAND, FLORIDA: FEBRUARY 14, 2018. 17 DEAD – SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TEXAS: NOVEMBER 5, 2017. 25 DEAD – LAS VEGAS, NEVADA: OCTOBER 1, 2017. 58 DEAD – ORLANDO, FLORIDA: JUNE 12, 2016. 49 DEAD – SAN BERNARDINO, CALIFORNIA: DEC. 2, 2015. 14 DEAD – ROSEBURG, OREGON: OCTOBER 1, 2015. 10 DEAD – CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA: JUNE 17, 2015. 9 DEAD – WASHINGTON DC, NAVY YARD: SEPTEMBER 16, 2013. 12 DEAD – NEWTOWN, CONNECTICUT: DECEMBER 14, 2012. 26 DEAD – AURORA, COLORADO: JULY 20, 2012. 12 DEAD.
Add to these totals the shootings that occur regularly in so many major cities every week, and the tragedy of such organized opposition to reasonable and sensible gun control is a national tragedy.Watergate 1972 Versus “Capitolgate” 2021: The GOP Then and Now.
The GOP (my former party for nearly fifty years) was one of our two mainstream, responsible political parties from the time of Lincoln. Certainly partisan, but still responsible.
In 1974 Republicans smacked down President Richard Nixon in no uncertain terms once the Oval Office-managed conspiracy to cover up one of the clumsiest political crimes in the nation’s history became clear. Nixon failed in his effort to corrupt justice, in large measure, because his party would not let him get away with it. How times have changed.
A half-century ago, before my career took me to Chicago, I lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., and was riveted to the news about the Watergate scandal. My dear friend and former business partner, the late Larry Hogan (the father of the current Governor of Maryland), had been elected to Congress in 1968, claiming a Republican victory in one of the most Democratically-controlled congressional districts in the nation.
Those were heady times for me. I was thirty years old when Hogan was first elected to Congress. I was President of the boutique advertising and public relations firm he had founded, which I had joined as a partner in 1964. I was consumed with Hogan’s political campaigns from the time he first ran for Congress as a Republican in a strongly Democratic district in Maryland in 1966. He lost that first time out but never stopped campaigning and went on to score the biggest congressional upset in the United States in 1968.
There had always been a political component to my career from the time I graduated from the University of Maryland in 1960. I started as an account executive at a marketing research and political polling firm, became Vice President for Marketing at a Washington-New York advertising agency, and subsequently became Hogan’s partner at the agency he founded.
Working on Larry Hogan’s campaigns a half-century ago still rates among the high points for me in a career blessed with many high points. I wrote many of Hogan’s speeches and even delivered a few when he had scheduling conflicts. I managed the campaign’s polling and advertising and worked with precinct volunteers and other senior campaign strategists. Larry Hogan was one of the most principled people I knew, which greatly enhanced the excitement of working on his campaigns.
I see in U.S. Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger the same qualities that informed and motivated Larry Hogan. While he was undoubtedly a proud and partisan Republican, he was honest to a fault. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which was considering Articles of Impeachment against Richard Nixon, he listened to many hours of testimony, and the 200 hours of the infamous Oval Office tapes that pertained to Watergate. He became the first Republican and presumed Nixon loyalist to announce he was voting for all three Articles of Impeachment against President Nixon. The following day, a delegation of Republican Senators went to the White House to tell Nixon it was over.
Hogan and I spoke the night before he announced his decision to vote to impeach Nixon. He was sad. He had been a Nixon loyalist. He had campaigned for Nixon, and Nixon had campaigned for him. He knew the conservative Republican Party in Maryland would never forgive him for voting to impeach, and he was right. They denied him the Republican nomination when he ran for Governor. Ironically, no Republican has ever again held Maryland’s fifth Congressional District seat since Larry Hogan vacated it a half-century ago to run for Governor.
Hogan spoke truth to power, even when his party held power. He said Nixon had “lied repeatedly” about Watergate, that he interfered with investigators and tried to obstruct justice. “Unless Richard Nixon is removed from office and the disease of Watergate, which has sapped the vitality of our government, is purged from the body politic, government and politics will continue to be clouded by mistrust and suspicion,” he said when announcing his decision to vote for impeachment.
The press, at the time, speculated that as many as seven of the Judiciary Committee’s seventeen Republicans might vote for impeachment following Hogan’s courageous announcement. And indeed, a short time later, seven of those GOP committee members voted for various articles of impeachment against Nixon.
Hogan’s son, the current Governor of Maryland, said his father’s vote on impeachment cost his dad dearly. “He lost friends and supporters and his party’s nomination for Governor that year,” Governor Hogan said. According to the Baltimore Sun, my late friend and former business partner received about 15,000 letters — some addressing him as “Benedict Arnold” Hogan and “Judas” Hogan. He was even mailed packages of feces, according to the paper.
Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger have shown the same fortitude in confronting former President Trump’s scandalous and possibly criminal election chicanery as did Larry Hogan a half-century earlier when Richard Nixon so sullied the Oval Office. Just as I had the opportunity fifty years ago to speak at great length with Congressman Hogan about an oval office scandal, I have also had the opportunity to speak with Liz Cheney about the more recent White House scandal. She, like Larry Hogan 50 years ago, and his son, Governor Hogan, today, represents the best in American politics. As was Congressman Hogan a half-century ago, she is a textbook profile in courage.
I do not doubt how history will judge the late Congressman Larry Hogan, and the current Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, just as I do not doubt how history will judge their detractors. I have listened to Republicans I know heap scorn on Liz Cheney just as I listened to Republicans I knew fifty years ago heap scorn on Larry Hogan. Not much has changed in that regard.
And so, we return to the question of Watergate in 1972 and what we might call Capitolgate in 2021. Both are monumental scandals. The 2021 insult to American democracy, which some in the Trump White House encouraged, if not planned, was a blatant attempt to sabotage the peaceful transfer of power in the United States and will most certainly be remembered by history as one of America’s most scandalous moments.
History will, I believe, also have a lot to say about the fear many Republicans have today to confront a former President because he remains popular within their Party. They forget, however, that Richard Nixon was also an enormously popular President. He had just won 520 electoral votes out of 537, carrying every state except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. No President has even come close to winning an election with such a wide margin of victory. Indeed, Nixon is still the only President since FDR to win over 60 percent of the popular vote.
So, what is the problem here? It is said, albeit in whispers, within the political class that many Republicans in Congress wish Trump would just go away, but they fear his retribution if they break ranks and speak against him. It is not precisely known how large a group of Republicans feel that way, but whatever their numbers are, their reluctance to speak and lead provides wind for the former President’s sails.
Loyal opposition has been the role of both of our major political parties, depending on which party is in or out of power. The meaning of that loyalty has never been ambiguous. It simply refers to loyalty to the Constitution of the United States, notwithstanding whatever opposition the party out of power has to the agenda of the party in power. When a party’s loyalty is to a man, or a politician, at the expense of loyalty to our Constitution, its members can no longer claim they are the loyal opposition.
Today, the leadership and much of the rank and file of the Republican Party have abandoned any pretense of being the loyal opposition. When the leadership of a political party foments, supports, or ignores an insurrection, we no longer have a party acting as the loyal opposition. Instead, we have an anything-goes political faction that is simply averting its eyes in the face of the first attempted coup in the history of the United States of America.
There is no comparison between the Republican Party of fifty years ago and the Republican Party of today. The Republican Party, following the Watergate outrage, stood up to a Republican president who had gone rogue. The Republican Party, following the January 6th, 2021, attempted coup still quakes in fear of a former Republican President who had gone, and continues to go, rogue. There has been an attempted insurrection in the United States of America. Why would anyone choose to become an accessory after the fact to an insurrection that tried to bring down America’s constitutional democracy? There is nothing honorable about that.
Honorable is not something one chooses, on occasion, to be. Honorable is what one is or isn’t.Texas, Fla. GOP Say “No” to Content Moderation. But Supremes Say, “Not So Fast!”
The United States Supreme Court has, for the time being, stopped Texas (and Florida) from enforcing their recently passed state laws prohibiting social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and others, from moderating or refusing to run content they deem to be in violation of their well-established rules of use.
Three conservative Supreme Court Justices, including two appointed by former President Trump (Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh) and Chief Justice John Roberts, joined Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor in the majority. For the time being, they have stopped the enforcement of state laws in Texas and Florida that would, in effect, force social-media companies to run content that they determined violate their rules of use. Implementation of the Texas and Florida laws will remain frozen until the Supreme Court hands down a final ruling, probably by the end of the month or early July.
Free speech in America means one is free to speak or publish and, of course, free to refrain from speaking or publishing. There is no prior legal restraint on publishing a point-of-view in America, just as there is no legal requirement that a point-of-view be published either. Rules a social media company establishes for what can and cannot be published must, of course, be evenly and fairly applied.
The Texas law, and a similar Florida law that I discussed in last week’s column, would treat social media platforms as common carriers like airlines, trains, and buses that cannot discriminate against who or what they carry. The social media companies contend they are much more like publishers with editorial responsibility and discretion than common carriers. While social media platforms are a relatively new phenomenon, they are certainly more akin to publications than they are to buses, trains, or airplanes.
Some political purveyors of information believe they are entitled to unfettered access to any and all social media sites. In effect, they demand that big technology platforms like Facebook and Twitter run whatever they post and be restrained from removing posts they find to violate their rules of use, such as postings that are untruthful, crude, or incitant to violence. Facebook and Twitter have rules against inciting violence on their platforms. Facebook, which looked the other way time and time again during the Trump presidency, pulled the plug on him after January 6th, finding that its platform had been used “to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.”
While many cry censorship, editorial judgment has nothing to do with censorship, at least not in the sense that our Constitution safeguards against our government prohibiting or restricting (censoring) the freedom of our press to publish whatever it chooses to publish.
Because social media platforms are private entities with established rules for users, they can prohibit or deplatform users who violate those rules. While there is always a danger that these private companies might enforce their rules selectively, no one until now has suggested that these private companies are not entitled to establish standards or rules that users are expected to respect.
Similarly, since the beginning of the republic, most newspapers and magazines in America have published letters to the editors, which allow readers to opine on and criticize almost anything. The editors of these publications reserve the right to publish these letters or not to publish them if they find them inconsistent with their standards. That’s not censorship either; that’s simply responsible judgment.
So, what drives these red states to pass legislation requiring social media companies to run whatever is offered up by politicians and their political campaigns? None of these major social media platforms will play politics by refusing to run or, in the jargon of the age, deplatform one political Party’s campaign compared to another Party’s campaign as long as neither Party violates the platform’s rules of use.
Deplatforming isn’t new. It has, since 2018, been invoked by social-media platforms as a last resort, generally following breathtaking abuse by irresponsible actors like Alex Jones and his obscene InfoWars campaigns. The reader might recall that Jones called the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting massacre that took the lives of 20 children a hoax, and he reveled in the Pizzagate nonsense alleging that a child sex abuse ring connected to high-ranking democrats was operating in the basement of a popular pizzeria in Washington, D.C. It would have been laughable, except that it resulted in gunfire at the restaurant.
That’s when social media platforms began taking real responsibility for policing content to which they gave voice. Apple kicked Jones and his affiliated podcasts from iTunes, and soon Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, Mailchimp, Stitcher, and Pinterest showed him the door. Few, if any, in the political class complained. In fact, they mostly nodded approvingly. Good riddance, they thought.
But then something they never thought could happen happened. Another obscenity, this one political, erupted on January 6th, 2021. Most participants in the political class were shaken by the events of that day. They watched, just like everyone else, the attack on the Capitol and our democracy. They saw what we all saw. The seditious exhortations at Washington’s ellipse just south of the White House were led by an outgoing President (who was determined not to be outgoing). The carnage that followed shocked the nation and the rest of the world.
Twitter was the first to deplatform the former President for inciting the day of horrors. Almost immediately after that, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube said enough is enough and deplatformed him as well. Suddenly, social media platforms, exercising their right to deplatform anyone who traffics in dangerous content in violation of their rules of use, had deplatformed the leader of a political party, indeed, an outgoing President of the United States who was simply determined not to be an outgoing President.
Few, if any, Republicans or Democrats had previously voiced concern with the deplatforming of notorious agitators like Alex Jones, whose outrages picked at the wounds of the people, especially those who have been traumatized by the severe misfortunes that fate so frequently visits upon so many, so often. But now, responsible social media platforms had deplatformed, for grievous just cause, the very public personality at the very center of America’s body politic.
And so, those of the political Party he still leads and controls have taken note, especially those who still curry his favor or are determined to avoid his disfavor. Their reaction has been to try to eliminate the use of deplatforming as a responsible mechanism for reducing, if not eliminating, the abuses to which some politicians might stoop.
Some politicians want to eliminate the ability of social media platforms to deplatform abusers. I’ll wager that our very conservative Supreme Court will not allow politicians to take that safeguard away.No! Social-Media Content Moderation Isn’t Censorship.
U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, this week, debunked social media censorship myth.
Of course, the majority conservative US Supreme Court might disagree, but we’ll wager that common sense will prevail, even with three Trump-appointed conservatives in the majority. Having been banned from Twitter, Trump has made content moderation a hot-button issue among many on the right and the left. Who is Twitter to ban a former President simply because he cheered on and then stood by and watched as those who stormed the Capitol on January 6th attempted to overthrow an election, they reason?
It’s been a bar-room free-for-all with the Trump corner and others, including Elon Musk, inferring that social media companies shouldn’t moderate or exclude anyone who has anything to say or write on their platforms. It is unAmerican censorship, they say. Nonsense!
What it is, is responsible stewardship of powerful social media platforms. After the attempted insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th which left a half dozen people dead, Twitter announced, “After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” Good for Twitter!
Those on the far right and many on the far left believe that no speech should be restricted on social media. They scream “censorship!” Nothing should be restricted in the marketplace of ideas, they say. Just check your common sense at the door when you enter their dystopian Orwellian world of “free speech.” Indeed, George Orwell must be looking down, his mouth agape. They would actually buy the absurdity of Big Brother’s speech as free speech in the 21st century; he must be thinking.
All speech is free speech on social media and shouldn’t be subject to content moderation, they reason. That, of course, would be tantamount to believing that the vile NAZI rantings of Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer would be protected speech on today’s social media platforms. Readers with relevant 20th-century historical memory might recall that Streicher was tried, convicted, and, ultimately, sentenced to death at Nuremberg as an accessory to mass murder.
Content moderation is a huge responsibility. Social media platforms shouldn’t simply exclude postings that express opinions or provide information with which they don’t agree. Many in the media business are reluctant to run explosive or controversial news that is released in the days or weeks just before an election. It’s a dicey judgment call that can be quite controversial as it was when many outlets declined to run the Hunter Biden computer story that broke in the New York Post three weeks before the 2020 election.
Because content moderation can be subject to abuse, it is good that the courts are being called upon to determine what latitude social media companies have to host or refuse to host certain content. Well, it seems they, quite appropriately, have quite a bit of latitude. The 11th circuit has determined that to say they have no latitude to moderate content is to restrict social media’s first amendment right not to provide an echo chamber for speech that they consider inappropriate or dangerous. The 11th circuit seems to be saying that while you can’t stop social media from publishing or rebroadcasting any content, you can’t force them to publish or rebroadcast content they deem questionable either. Good for the 11th circuit.
This brouhaha stems from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which precludes providers and users from being held liable—legally responsible—for information provided by a third party. Courts have generally ruled that Section 230 protects social media from a wide variety of lawsuits and preempts laws that would make providers and users liable for content others post. However, Section 230 does not preclude social media companies such as Twitter or Facebook from making sensible judgments about what content is beyond the pale of responsible communication. This is a crucial point that the anything-goes crowd either doesn’t understand or chooses to ignore.
The “Good Samaritan” provision of Section 230 gives social-media platforms the freedom, if not the obligation, to restrict “objectionable” content posted by third parties. The decision not to run material that a platform considers objectionable isn’t censorship as prohibited by our Constitution. The Good Samaritan provision of Section 230 simply recognizes that social media platforms are free to use good judgment. They can say “No!” to garbage or anything they deem inappropriate, even though they can’t be sued for publishing or rebroadcasting it.
That Twitter dared to permanently suspend former President Trump for his role in the January 6th day of horrors has enraged many on the far right and on the far left and an assortment of misguided would-be exemplars of free speech, including Elon Musk. They are simply wrong. Section 230 recognizes both the freedom for social media to republish or rebroadcast irresponsible or questionable postings, as well as the freedom to determine that what they consider to be junk or otherwise questionable doesn’t have a place on their site.
Those who scream censorship need to understand that yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, which is proscribed by law, is simply an analogy. Under the Good Samaritan Provision of Section 230, social media is perfectly free to say “No!” or “Enough!” to what they consider to be questionable, or inciteful postings.
It’s not bad censorship. It’s good stewardship.The 2nd Amendment: The Great American Anachronism.
Merriam Webster: Anachronism— “a person or a thing chronologically out of place, especially one from a former age that is incongruous in the present.”
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Okay, I’m a Second Amendment guy. I believe the uninfringeable right to bear arms was brilliant, appropriate, and necessary when the Constitution was adopted 231 years ago. Without the Second Amendment, the US Constitution would have never been adopted, nor should it have been. Among our founding generation, there were both strong Federalists and strong anti-Federalists. Patrick Henry, James Winthrop, and George Mason were strong anti-federalists. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison were among the leading Federalists. Without the Second Amendment, the anti-federalists would have prevailed. Without the Second Amendment, there would be no United States of America.
Two hundred and thirty-one years ago, the founders who gathered in Philadelphia to write our Constitution were all wary of the dangers of a standing army. They all knew that standing armies in Europe, from time immemorial, were used by ruling monarchies to repress their people. Nations (think monarchies) that maintained standing armies used them primarily to keep their people in check. The founders all embraced the idea of a citizenries’ right to bear arms and their right to establish militias as a bulwark against a standing federal army that might repress them.
Understand this: our founders understood that the people, because they could keep and bear arms and organize into local or state militias, could protect our new nation against a potentially tyrannical federal government emboldened with a standing army. The nation’s founders, all of them, embraced the idea that an armed citizenry could, if necessary, keep in check the new federal government they were creating. After all, any citizen with his single-shot musket was, potentially, as formidable a warrior as any federal soldier with his single-shot musket.
Looking askance at a standing army made sense nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago. According to the first United States census conducted in 1790, there were just under 680,000 families or households in the new country. Almost every household owned a musket, so the country was well-armed and well-protected should the newly formed American republic go rogue. That was extraordinarily significant because the new republic, at the time of the constitutional convention in 1791, only had a standing army of about 800 men and probably not too many more muskets. The armed households of the country far outnumbered the armed army of the new United States of America.
But that was then, and this is now.
Every one of our nation’s founders embraced the idea of the second Amendment as essential at the time. However, all of them would turn over in their graves if they knew the utter folly the twenty-seven words of the Second Amendment have since visited upon the nation’s ability to fight gun carnage in America. And let us not be insulted with the inane refrain that guns don’t kill—people do. No demented individual ever mowed down a classroom, a church, a synagogue, a mosque, or a supermarket with a club or a knife.
So far, there have been 198 mass shootings this year (defined as three people shot, excluding the shooter), and the year is only 19 weeks old. What, one might ask, would the founders say if they understood the extent to which their Second Amendment had so crippled the nation’s ability to deal with domestic, home-grown gun carnage? Carnage in which the victims were invariably citizens of the very country they worked so hard to establish?
Over 500 Americans have been killed over the past decade in mass shootings, including the ten killed in Buffalo, New York, last week, the 11 killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, the 60 killed on the Las Vegas strip in 2017, the 49 lives lost at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, and the nine killed at the AME Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina in 2015. The founders never anticipated that their 2nd Amendment would turn so many Americans into clay pigeons at which deranged or simply malcontented fellow Americans would shoot.
We have a Second Amendment to protect us from a renegade standing army that has never existed in America. At the same time, the nation and its many communities are left bereft of any effective means to control or regulate and, yes, “infringe” upon the acquisition of all manner of handguns, long guns, and semi-automatic machine guns in America. While polls show that respect for our armed forces has diminished in recent years (largely because of the fruitless twenty-year deployment in Afghanistan and the mayhem that accompanied our final withdrawal from Kabul), our military is still, by far, the most admired and respected component of our federal government, especially when compared to our Congress.
One need not wonder what the founder’s appraisal of our standing armed services would be today, given the concern they all had about the dangers of a standing army 231 years ago. Civilian control of our standing military has never been questioned or challenged in the history of the United States. When American civilian Presidents or their civilian Secretaries of Defense (or Secretaries of War) have seen the need to fire some of our most popular Generals, the Generals have complied and immediately retired. Since our founding 246 years ago, eight high-ranking Generals or Admirals have been fired by their civilian Commanders in Chief, and they have immediately retired without protest or question. President Abraham Lincoln fired Generals John C. Fremont and George B. McClellan. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt fired Admirals James O. Richardson and Husband E Kimmel. President Harry Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur. Admiral William Fallon was fired by President George W. Bush and Generals Stanley McChrystal and David McKiernan were fired by President Barack Obama.
Today, the very notion that we need an armed citizenry to protect us from our men and women in uniform is as preposterous as it is unrealistic. The firearms available to the general public are rightfully available for self-protection and hunting or, perhaps, for target practice. Still, those weapons would be of no value against the weapons available to the United States military. However, too many of the 300+ million guns in private hands have proven remarkably effective in over 20,000-gun murders committed in the United States last year.
The right to own a gun in America is not, and should not, be an issue. However, the fact that that right cannot be “infringed” or effectively regulated or controlled is a great American anachronism for which we pay a terrible price every year.That Pesky 9th Amendment: The Common-Sense Amendment.
I really love the 9th Amendment to our Constitution. I love it because of its simplicity. “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
It is so nebulously simple as to be relied upon by the courts rarely, but so indispensable simply because it reminds us that we do not solely depend upon what is written or given by man to define what it means to be free. The 9th Amendment is in our Bill of Rights for a reason. While it is rarely cited in judicial opinions, it is a pillar of the American experiment. It says to government authority, stay out of my private and personal life as long as my private and personal life does not impinge upon the rights of other citizens. It says stay out of my private and personal space as long as I have not disturbed or interfered with other citizens. It sort of says don’t tread on me.
I think of the 9th Amendment as the common-sense amendment. One needn’t be a lawyer to grasp its meaning. The founders knew they couldn’t think of every right to which the citizens of our new country were entitled or those to which we should be entitled as the new nation would grow and evolve. They knew there were a host of private and personal matters (rights) that should not be the government’s to divine or bestow.
Civil libertarians tend to like that thinking. Many lawyers do not. Lawyers generally like things spelled out in black and white, and that’s perfectly understandable. It’s certainly the bedrock of contract law. As the old legal quip goes, “An oral contract is worth the paper it’s printed on.” On the other hand, it is repugnant to contemplate the absence of a perfectly reasonable or logical right, such as the right to privacy, simply because no one knew how to define it or, perhaps, because a particular right wasn’t contemplated or considered 245 years ago. Besides, while few people would disagree that there should be a reasonable right to privacy, many might disagree on what is reasonably private.
We have James Madison, perhaps the most brilliant and thoughtful of our founders, to thank for the 9th Amendment. While Madison studied some law, he was never a serious or practicing lawyer. Instead, he was simply a serious and practicing thinker. His passion was the study of language. He devoted most of his studies to Greek and Latin and continued to study Hebrew and philosophy after graduation from the College of New Jersey (today Princeton).
Along with a few others like Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Franklin, and John Jay, he was an essential personality without whom it is hard even to imagine America. But it was Madison who understood the need for the nebulous 9th Amendment. Nebulous because it specified so little while recognizing so much.
The 9th Amendment didn’t come into prominence until it was cited by Justice Arthur Goldberg in the landmark 1965 case, Griswold vs. the State of Connecticut. That landmark case affirmed that married couples have the right to use birth control, a right now granted to all adults. Yes, the sale of birth control products was illegal in some states until the Supreme Court acknowledged that using birth control is a personal matter, a private matter. Today the courts recognize, because of the 9th Amendment, that the use of birth control products is a private, personal decision and, essentially, none of the government’s business.
The 9th Amendment was written (as were all of the first ten amendments) for those of us who are not lawyers so that the language is as plain and straightforward as possible. The wording of the 9th Amendment is so simple and devoid of esoteric language that lawyers often twist themselves into knots trying to divine what the drafters had in mind when they drafted the simple eloquent 9th Amendment to the Constitution. How could such a simple, declarative sentence that requires no mastery of the law to understand possibly be so important? The founders were telling us that some rights, very personal rights, needn’t be spelled out in our Constitution and that it would be impossible to identify all of them anyway. So, in drafting the 9th Amendment, James Madison made the founders’ intention simple and straightforward.
In other words, some rights simply speak to the privacy and personal lives of the people and do not, and should not, require the government’s permission. What incredibly progressive thinking for its time. Who had ever heard of a ruling government granting such common-sense rights to its subjects? Of course, that’s the point. Americans were not “subjects” in the old-world sense. They were “citizens” in the new-world sense. And our founders were determined to make these new American citizens a class by themselves in the time and the place known as the United States of America.
And later, when drafting the 14th Amendment, Congressman John A. Bingham of Ohio, the primary author of the first section of the 14th Amendment, was also quite unambiguous. “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
It is this 14th Amendment, the due process amendment, upon which the courts have relied to establish the right to privacy that all citizens (persons born or naturalized in the United States) enjoy. Some legal authorities argue that the simple 9th Amendment would have been a better basis today for acknowledging the right to privacy because it is eloquently simple, uncomplicated, and rests upon a foundation of common sense. They make a strong point. It speaks to what Justice Louis Brandeis called “the right to be left alone.”
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito argues in his draft opinion overturning Roe versus Wade that when Roe was codified in 1973, based on the 14th Amendment, no long-standing tradition recognized the right to abortion in the United States. For the right to terminate an early pregnancy to be protected by the 14th Amendment, Alito argues that “that right must be deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition,” and the specific right to abortion is not. And Alito is right.
However, the Alito draft opinion on Roe raises the question of how much privacy is too much privacy. As a matter of personal privacy, the justification for terminating a pregnancy before fetal viability would have been reasonably accommodated by the 9th Amendment, which recognizes that some rights (personal and private rights) just shouldn’t require a state government’s approval.
According to Alito and the four other concurring Republican justices, a woman’s personal decision to terminate even a microscopic fertilized egg cell, a zygote, even one that is diseased, or the result of rape or incest, may be too much privacy to bear.Roe versus Wade Reversal: Trump’s Legacy
The Alito drafted Supreme Court decision to reverse Roe vs. Wade, assuming it becomes final, will be what defines Trump’s enduring legacy to America. Donald Trump will have left his imprint on America and American history for decades, perhaps for generations to come. Some of Trump’s policies will endure, just as some have been, and will be, jettisoned or tempered. Many people will cheer the reversal of Roe. Many more will not.
Assuming Chief Justice John Roberts, who gives great weight to established legal precedent stood with the minority, the remaining bloc of five Republican Justices who voted to negate a half-century of judicial precedent regarding a woman’s now limited agency over her own body is, overwhelmingly, Donald Trump’s creation. That is, three of the five deciding justices were appointed by former President Trump. When the Alito draft ruling becomes final, Donald Trump’s enduring historical legacy will have been defined. Many Americans are delighted. Many are appalled. Going forward, state legislatures will determine what decisions a woman can and cannot make concerning her own body when it comes to reproduction. The Alito-drafted decision represents Donald Trump’s most significant enduring influence on the nation.
Administration policies may or may not endure and, therefore, may or may not constitute a President’s historical legacy. One administration can, and often does, reverse a prior administration’s policies, just as one congress can and often does reverse another congress’s legislative action. Supreme Court decisions, however, are far less subject to administrative or congressional tinkering. They are often foundational, more like unyielding and impervious cement rather than the crazy glue that often characterizes many executive branch or congressional initiatives.
Much of Trump’s influence has been wrong-headed and quite negative, and I have addressed that reality in numerous columns to the chagrin of some of my readers. Other Trump initiatives have been quite positive, and I have recognized that in these columns to the chagrin of other readers. The Abraham Accords, Criminal Justice Reform, and moving the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, where it belongs, were correct and long overdue. Incentivizing the repatriation to the United States of corporate earnings held abroad was also the right thing to do. So was committing to the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. This weekly column agreed with Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear accord because the deal provided a 10-to-12-year glide path to Iranian nuclear arms development. These Trump actions were policy initiatives that, except for US withdrawal from Afghanistan, may or may not be embraced by future administrations. Future administrations, however, can do little about Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution of the United States.
I have read the entire Alito draft opinion. It is well written, and while I am not a lawyer, I believe the Alito draft makes a strong argument supporting a questionable judgment. In chapter and verse, Alito cites precedent in English law with respect to prohibiting abortion dating back to the early 17th century. By contrast, he hammers home that there was no judgment by our high court allowing abortion in the United States until Roe in 1973. Long standing tradition and practice carries a lot of weight with the court.
Thus, we might also look to laws in the United States well into the 19th century that codified a man’s right to enforce domestic discipline by caning his wife as long as the cane or whip or stick was no wider than the ruling judge’s thumb. That was the rule of thumb in Mississippi until 1824. In fact, it wasn’t until well into the 20th century that wife-beating was illegal in all states in America. And true, as Justice Alito would argue, such abuse is criminal in every state because every state legislature has made wife-beating illegal. That it took state legislatures well over a century to make wife beating illegal in America is not a testament to anything other than the tortured path justice often treads.
Abortion, a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy is, of course, a serious matter. It is also a highly personal matter. To determine that the decision to terminate a pregnancy isn’t a personal matter but rather a matter for state legislatures to decide raises many issues regarding what is and what is not the public’s business. To argue that politicians in state legislatures determine whether women who have been raped and impregnated by their rapists may or may not terminate a pregnancy, or children who have been impregnated by their father or brother may or may not be required to carry the pregnancy to term, or whether or not a pregnancy that in-utero diagnosis determines is, or will be, seriously or fatally impaired must be carried to term, catapults highly personal private matters, into gravely intrusive public matters.
Politicians can cavalierly declare, as they have, that there will be no exceptions for rape or incest or congenital anomalies and, thereby, wash their hands of any extenuating circumstances, no matter the agony with which families are then left to contend. To many anti-abortion activists, the word zygote or fetus doesn’t exist. Every fertilized egg cell, every fetus, microscopic or the size of a pinhead or a grain of rice, is simply an unborn child. A microscopic, fertilized egg cell determined to be seriously and even fatally impaired has become the purview of the state legislature and not the family or the pregnant woman. Pregnant women and their spouses are mere bystanders when this issue becomes a political circus.
The Alito draft also calls into question the entire science of in vitro fertilization. In vitro fertilization enables couples genetically at risk for producing a pregnancy that could end in a tragic outcome to screen out (discard) before implantation in the uterus a single-cell zygote at high risk for severe disease. Thus, allowing an otherwise healthy fertilized zygote to be implanted and, thereby, to progress to full pregnancy.
The ninth amendment to the United States Constitution is straight forward. “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” The Alito draft casts in concrete that a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy even in the case of rape or incest or nearly all of the most tragic congenital anomalies is not one of those unenumerated rights. No, those decisions Alito and four other justices consign to the various individual state legislatures.
It is the Alito opinion and the Trump legacy.Putin Plays Nuclear Chicken in Ukraine
Russia and the United States have faced off in high-stakes games of nuclear chicken before, but this time it’s different, and it’s perilous.
Understand this: Putin has staked his future and his place in history on his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. And, yes, it is an unprovoked invasion. Russia is aggressively pursuing large-scale, violent combat against Ukraine, and, indirectly, he is fighting the United States and other NATO and non-NATO countries that are helping to defend Ukraine. Contrary to Russian propaganda, echoed by some in our own country, there aren’t enough right-wing nationalists, let alone Nazis, in the Ukrainian parliament to seat a friendly game of poker or even two-handed gin rummy, for that matter. Far-right, ultra-nationalists have gotten clobbered in Ukrainian elections, and Ukraine’s popularly elected president is a Ukrainian Jew whose family suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazis in World War II. And for a country that Putin says is really Russia and populated by Russians, Ukraine is fighting valiantly to prove he is wrong. They are Ukrainians who want no part of Putin’s Russia.
Ominously, Putin’s war is going very poorly for Russia. His army has been stopped cold in its assault on Kyiv. His ground troops appear undisciplined, poorly trained, unmotivated, and ineptly led. He fires artillery shells and missiles and drops bombs indiscriminately, targeting civilian structures, including apartment buildings, schools, theaters, and hospitals. He is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Ukrainian men, women, and children. Latest reports from the new eastern front suggest that Putin’s ground forces are becoming bogged down, meaning his artillery and aerial bombardments will grow even more ferocious. Putin’s forces do much better attacking civilians than engaging Ukrainian defenders.
The toll of Russian war dead, estimated at 15,000 after two months of fighting, is catastrophic. Equally bad for Putin, his decision to go to war, has resulted in the most remarkable NATO resolve since its founding. Putin has also become the greatest recruiter for NATO membership in over seventy years. Even historically non-aligned Sweden and Finland are now considering joining NATO, a prospect, according to recent polls, strongly supported by the people of both countries.
From the Russian point of view, American involvement is largely responsible for the 15,000 Russian war dead and an untold number of Russians wounded. While Americans are not facing Russians on the field of battle, American munitions are. American and European economic sanctions are biting hard, and all of Europe is now focused on viable alternatives to Russian fossil fuels. The war, thus far, is an unmitigated disaster for Putin, the result of a colossal miscalculation.
Vladimir Putin’s world view is either that Russia must be respected or that Russia must be feared. Respect for Russia doesn’t seem to be in the cards for the foreseeable future. So, fear is the card Putin is playing. Neither Western Europe nor the United States need worry about an actual invasion by Russia any time soon. What, then, is there to fear?
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned on Russian TV that the risks of nuclear weapons being introduced into the war “are considerable…the danger is serious, real, and we must not underestimate it,” he warned. Putin, quite publicly, has placed his nuclear forces on heightened alert, and he has also, quite publicly, warned that direct interference by the United States or NATO would bring “lightning-fast” retaliation. He warned that those who interfere “will face consequences you have never seen.” His boasts and threats are severe and must be taken seriously. They are intemperate and have a hint of desperation. Putin warns that he “has all the tools (weapons) that no one else can boast of having. We won’t boast about it; we’ll use them if needed,” he boasted angrily.
“Think long and hard about the degree of assistance you are prepared to give Ukraine,” he seems to be telling the United States and other NATO countries. In other words, Vladimir Putin has carefully and very deliberately placed the nuclear card on the table. According to the Institute for The Study of War, Russia and the United States possess about 93% of the world’s nuclear arsenal, with Russia having a slightly larger nuclear cupboard. So, Putin has enormous capability to go nuclear. But would he?
Putin would almost certainly not choose to duke it out with the United States. It would be suicidal, a short fight with nuclear return mail from the United States quite likely arriving in Russia before Putin’s nuclear package arrived at its address in our country. A more realistic concern is that Putin would use a low-yield, so-called tactical nuclear weapon to drive home just how determined he is to bring Ukraine to heel. He has a sizeable inventory of such weapons. He might target some physical structures without causing enormous loss of life to demonstrate his rigid determination to reintegrate all or much of Ukraine back into the Russian Federation.
Such limited nuclear warfare would dramatically change the post-World War II calculus that assumes nuclear weapons will not be introduced into a military confrontation. This calculus has held firm for nearly eighty years. Putin might believe the West’s determination to stand by Ukraine would weaken considerably once Washington absorbed the reality that a nuclear weapon had been used in combat for the first time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nuclear munitions would be on the table and have to be factored into every country’s contingency planning. The certainty of a new nuclear arms race would inform many countries’ defense planning and budgeting. Ominously, if Putin succeeded in introducing such a tactical nuclear weapon to make a point, the continued use of tactical nuclear weapons and, perhaps, an occasional strategic nuclear weapon, could follow. The world would find itself in a very dark and dangerous place.
Putin might offer to limit his objectives in Ukraine by agreeing to end the fighting by pocketing what he now, arguably, controls. That would be the border region from Belarus along the strip bordering Russia and on to the Donbas to the southeast, then south down to the Sea of Azov, and west along the coast to Crimea and on to the city of Odesa along the northern coast of the Black Sea.
That would leave Ukraine with most of its landmass minus the natural-resource-rich Donbas and Ukraine’s entire coastline and seaports. What would remain of Ukraine would be a fragment of its prior self; landlocked, poor, and with cities of post-war rubble. No one will agree to such a resolution. Bowing to blackmail, especially nuclear blackmail, would resolve nothing. We can assume that Ukraine and the nations that are sympathetic to Ukraine would scoff at such a demand by Putin. Putin may believe that such a move would fracture the remarkably united front the West has assembled in support of Ukraine—probably another poor assumption by Putin.
Russia has played chicken with the United States and the West before. The 1961 Berlin crisis represented a stand-off in which the United States mobilized for war, called up the reserves (including my old air force reserve unit), and raised its nuclear alert level. A year later, America and Russia faced off in a high-seas game of nuclear chicken during the Cuban missile crisis. A dozen years later, we raised our nuclear alert level again during the October 1973 war between Israel, Egypt, and Syria. The United States supported Israel against Egypt and Syria, which were Russian client states fighting with Russian arms.
The big difference, of course, is that neither the United States nor Russia was directly engaged in actual combat during any of those crises. This time it is different. Russia is engaged and doing poorly in a violent war. Given the relentless attacks Russia has mounted against civilian targets and the remarkable defense the Ukrainian armed forces are mounting in defense of their country, Putin has limited options if he hopes to prevail. He has warned the world that a nuclear response is one of the options he is prepared to use. The United States and NATO must be unequivocal, either publicly or privately, that the introduction of nuclear weapons, large or small, by Russia into this conflict will end very badly for Russia and, therefore, for Vladimir Putin.
Putin has, in no uncertain terms, warned us. We dare not blink.Putin to Ukraine: “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.”
No, he didn’t pilfer those exact lyrics from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, but action speaks louder than words.
Vladimir Putin, channeling Britain’s disastrous King George III in “Hamilton,” is determined to convince the people of Ukraine that they belong to him, and he’s quite willing to kill as many Ukrainian men women, and children as necessary, to demonstrate that they are all simply recalcitrant Russians. Problem is, they’re not, and they don’t want to be, and they are willing to fight and die for their freedom rather than to become Vladimir’s vassals.
Ukraine has its own history, its own people, and its own language. It is both a sad history and a history rich in a determined quest for freedom. The fact that its history has, over the last thousand years, intersected with Russia’s history, as well as the history of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and with that of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire does not mean that Ukraine is not entitled to pursue its own destiny. The map of Europe has gone through a continuing transformation ever since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 which introduced the sovereignty of European nation-states. A little more than a century-and-a-half later, in 1815, the Treaty of Vienna further altered the map of Europe as did the Versailles Treaty following World War I in 1919, and to a lesser extent so did the Treaty of Trianon in 1920 which formally ended the Great War. And between 1920 and 2020 the map changed even more.
The nations of which Ukraine was once a constituent part, the Russian Empire and, in most of the 20th century, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, simply do not exist anymore. All fifteen of the former republics that once comprised the former Soviet Union are independent nations now. Most of them, including Ukraine, are zealously free and want little, or nothing, to do with Putin’s Russia. In fact, most of the old Warsaw Pact nations are now members of NATO, which simply attests to their identification with the West and their determination not to ever be subjugated to Russia again.
Of all the nations in the world, only Putin’s Russia and a couple of crony Russian allies declare that Ukraine has no right to exist as an independent nation. Indeed, Russia recognized Ukrainian independence when the Soviet Union collapsed and, in 1994, Russia formally agreed to recognize and respect Ukraine as an independent nation. In fact, Ukraine relinquished its considerable nuclear arsenal in return for Russia, as well as the United States and Great Britain, recognizing its independence. This is no small matter.
The so-called Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances was negotiated and executed to provide assurances to Ukraine that none of the signatories would use military or economic coercion against Ukraine. In return, Ukraine relinquished its nuclear arsenal. That 1994 protocol raises serious questions about the value of an agreement with Russia, and sadly, somewhat about the value of the word of the United States and Great Britain as well. Russia, with the help of the United States and Great Britain, finessed away Ukraine’s defensive trump card, and now, less than three decades later, Ukraine is fighting for its life.
Putin showed his hand last July when he published an outrageous revanchist manifesto with the self-serving title, “The Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” It is a declaration of war, disguised as a historical treatise; a thinly disguised excuse to attack a neighboring country that, like many other Slavic countries today, was once part of the large peasant, serf-enslaved population comprising the old Russian Empire and, after 1917, the Soviet Union.
Ukrainians graduated from serfdom to impoverished peasantry in 1861, about the same time as slaves were emancipated in the United States. Ukrainians long for freedom, which is why Russian rulers constantly tried to outlaw the use of the Ukrainian language. Contrary to what Putin would have the world believe, the people of Ukraine suffered greatly in the Russian Empire and monstrously under the Soviet Union. In fact, Joseph Stalin, whose cruelty Vladimir Putin enthusiastically emulates, did engage in a calculated genocide against Ukraine when, in the early 1930s, the Soviets engaged in what today would truly and correctly be recognized as genocide. Stalin deliberately starved millions of Ukrainians to death through the confiscation of the Ukrainian peasants’ grain and nearly all of their livestock. It is estimated that approximately 7 million Ukrainians died during Stalin’s deliberate and deadly assault on Ukrainian men women and children. The Ukrainians haven’t forgotten this dark period of the Russian savaging of their people. They even have a name for it, “the Holodomor,” roughly translated to “extermination by hunger.” So much for Putin’s insulting fiction of the “Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.”
One wonders whether there is anyone in the Russian professional military class who isn’t disgusted by what their leader is ordering them to do to innocent and helpless civilians to demonstrate the fiction of his “Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” Russia has acquitted itself very poorly in combat against the vastly outnumbered and out-equipped Ukrainian defenders. So they have trained their guns and missiles and cluster bombs and thermobaric weapons, (which the Russian military gleefully refers to as “heavy flamethrowers”) on the women and children, and the elderly men of Ukraine.
You’ll be back like before
I will fight the fight and win the war
For your love, for your praise
And I’ll love you ’til my dying days
When you’re gone, I’ll go mad
So don’t throw away this thing we had
‘Cause when push comes to shove
I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.
Da-da-da, dat-da, dat, da-da-da, da-ya-da
Da-da, dat, dat, da-ya-da
Da-da-da, dat-da, dat, da-da-da, da-ya-da
Many journalists and world leaders, including President Biden, have labeled Putin’s war against Ukraine as Genocide. But is it?
Putin can be guilty of, and have to answer for, the intentional and indiscriminate mass-targeting (killing) of civilians, which is a war crime, without being guilty of genocide, which is, essentially, the targeting of a specific, generally ethnic, political or national group, for extinction or permanent exile. In theory, were Putin to be tried for the war crimes he is committing and be found guilty, the penalty would be just as severe as being found guilty of genocide. So, distinguishing between lethal war crimes and genocide becomes a matter of historical condemnation. The victims are, tragically, just as dead in either case.
Russian atrocities against civilians are a war crime, but the offense may not necessarily be genocide. Debating, at this stage of the conflict, whether Vladimir Putin, the wannabe Czar of Russia, is guilty of genocide (a crime of historical definition and specificity) demeans the tragedy to which the Ukrainian victims are being subjected. They are being targeted and killed to destroy the Ukrainian will to fight (an incredibly historic miscalculation). The magnitude of the crime the Ukrainian People are suffering isn’t diminished because the crime may or may not, ultimately, comport with the technical definition of genocide.
The noun, genocide, is a composite of the Greek “genos” or clan, and the Latin “cide,” or literally, “to kill.” It was first catapulted onto the pages of history in 1944. That’s when a Jewish lawyer in Poland, Raphael Lemkin, coined the term to describe the deliberate, calculated and unrelenting targeting of Jews and other distinct ethnic groups for extinction by the Nazis. Genocide is why the Nazi war against the Jews became widely known as the Holocaust.
Now there is a case to be made for calling Putin’s war against Ukraine “genocide,” and it is found in his own treatise, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” in which he denies there ever has been a separate Ukrainian nation or a distinct Ukrainian people. Ukrainians, he contends, are ethnic Russians, so Ukraine is guilty of occupying Russian lands. This is somewhat reminiscent of Hitler’s justification for grabbing the Sudetenland prior to the Second World War. However, the belated Ukraine-is-Russia argument Putin is making is irrelevant given the nuclear accords signed by the Russian Federation and the nation of Ukraine thirty years ago, to which the United States and Britain are also signatories. That train left the station thirty years ago. Russia did, in fact, specifically recognize and agree to respect Ukrainian political independence.
Whether Russia has committed genocide is relevant and will be discussed for many years. “We have to call this what it is,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said when Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion and conquest of Ukraine. “Russia’s criminal actions against Ukraine show signs of genocide,” he said, which is true. He wisely called for the International Criminal Court in The Hague to send war-crimes investigators as a first step.
Genocide is a relatively new word, but the crime it describes is probably as old as man’s propensity to organize into communities. The term simply refers to an organized effort to exterminate other communities. Fighting a savage and deadly war in which many people die may be despicable, but not necessarily genocide. Fighting savagely to cause a People to surrender or compromise is not necessarily genocide either. However, fighting savagely for the specific purpose of driving a People to extinction is genocide.
Genocide is the manifestation of carefully conceived plans to eliminate a defined group of people from existence, generally because of their specific ethnicity or political or religious beliefs. It is not a by-product of war, although, historically, it has been the very purpose of many wars. Genocide far transcends the reckless targeting of civilians, which tragically is often a handmaiden to war. What Vladimir Putin is inflicting upon the Ukrainian people is no less tragic and no less awful, regardless of whether it comports with the well-established and specific 20th-century recognition of the term genocide. When a conflict is a genocide, the decision by the attacked entity to surrender to the attacking entity does not end the conflict. Surrender may merely initiate the commencement of, pardon the term, a final solution.
There are many notorious 20th century examples of genocide, such as China’s so-called Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution (1949 to 1976), which resulted in millions of deaths. It is estimated that twenty million Russians were killed by Joseph Stalin’s direct orders to exterminate the Kulaks, a social class of wealthy farmers. In 1994 Rwanda marauders from the majority Hutu community murdered an estimated 800,000 members of the minority Tutsi community. And then there is Adolf Hitler’s genocide which led to the death of around 17 million Jews, homosexuals, Romanian gypsies, and other minority groups the führer considered undesirable.
While the term “genocide” is relatively new, the crime is ancient.
Scholars agree that the Roman destruction of Carthage in 146 BC comports with the definition of genocide as enshrined by the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention; “the intentional destruction in whole or in part of a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” It is said that Marcus Porcius Cato, soldier and Senator of Rome, ended every speech in the Roman Senate with, “Carthage Must be Destroyed.” And indeed, Carthage was destroyed. According to Ben Kiernan’s “The First Genocide: Carthage,” Roman legions razed the city and dispersed into slavery 55,000 survivors, including 25,000 women.
Between 1209 and 1229, the Roman Church massacred the Catholic sect known as the Cathars in the historic Albigensian Crusade, which devastated a wide swath of the south of France. Some maintain that the war against the Cathars wasn’t genocide because both sides were Catholic. Nonetheless, it was a war of absolute annihilation over religious belief.
And the annihilating brutality described in the book of Joshua seems to come pretty close to comporting with the modern definition of genocide, as does the commandment we read in the Book of Numbers for the Israelites to exterminate the Midianites or the violence directed against the Canaanites.
The evidence is mounting day by day of Russian war crimes in Ukraine. These crimes may or may not ultimately be adjudicated to be genocide. Whether the purpose is to cause Ukraine to sue for peace or to cause the extinction of the Ukrainian people will determine whether Russia is guilty of genocide.