Friday, January 30, 2015

The First Attempt on the Life of a President

I've studied a lot of American history in my life.

I've always been something of an amateur historian. I even minored in history in graduate school.

And it pains me to see the state of knowledge of history in this country. As someone who has done some teaching in his life, I can assure you that the shocking stories of what young people do not know are absolutely true. I've seen enough instances of it that it doesn't surprise me anymore — which may be the worst part for me. I am not repulsed by the knowledge of just how many young Americans have no idea who the first president was or what the significance of the year 1776 was. Not anymore.

But I can forgive those who do know some things about American history for not knowing that the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 was not the first attempt to assassinate a president. Lincoln was the first president to be assassinated, but he was not the first to be the target of an assassination attempt.

That was Andrew Jackson on this day in 1835.

Jackson, who was 67 at the time, was leaving a congressional funeral when an out–of–work painter approached him and tried to shoot him. The gun misfired, and Jackson hit his attacker several times with his cane. The would–be assassin pulled out a second gun and tried to shoot the president with it, but that gun also misfired.

The president's aides pulled the president and the assailant apart. Jackson, it is said, was angry but unhurt.

Jackson believed the attacker had been hired by his political opponents, who were fighting with him over the president's attempt to break up the Bank of the United States. Jackson's vice president, Martin Van Buren, began carrying two pistols with him on Capitol Hill.

No connection between the assailant and Jackson's political enemies was ever established.

It was later determined that the odds of both guns misfiring during an assassination attempt were one in 125,000.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Auschwitz and Lessons For Today

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

George Santayana (1863–1952)

This week, we observed the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz at the end of World War II. The day of the liberation by Russian troops — Jan. 27, 1945 — is commemorated annually as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

It is an appropriate time and Auschwitz an appropriate place to mark this anniversary. It has a unique significance, being the site of the first executions in what was to have been the Nazis' "final solution."

It was before my time so I have no firsthand knowledge, but I guess this was the first time that most people in the Allied countries realized what had been happening in the camps. If so, it probably came as quite a shock to some folks. Must have been hard to imagine how one group of people could be so hostile — so savage — in its treatment of another group. Sadly, it really isn't hard to imagine. Man has always been capable of great cruelty. Read your history.

I guess no one will ever know the actual figures, but the widely accepted casualty number is 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. It is further estimated that one in six Jews who died in the Holocaust died at Auschwitz. Could there be a more appropriate day or place to remember what happened?

Well, remembering is the problem for some Auschwitz survivors. If you happen to meet an Auschwitz survivor today, he or she likely was a teenager — or younger — when the camp was liberated. You can still find a few who were in their 20s when the camp was liberated, and there may be a few who were 30 or so, but they would have to be 100 or older by now.

Before long, they will all be gone. No one who lived through it will be alive to tell the tale, making it all the easier for those who deny the Holocaust to press their case.

Those Auschwitz survivors fear that the past will be forgotten, opening the door for it to happen again. It is only natural, I suppose, for them to fear renewed persecution of the Jews — it's been going on for centuries — but those who love freedom should be concerned as well.

For if one group is persecuted, none are safe. If rights are denied to some, they can be denied to all.

That is why America must remain vigilant.

The modern enemies of freedom do not wear the uniform of a country and are therefore harder to see when they are in our midst "hiding in plain sight." But they are there. Of that, you may be sure.

And they will not be defeated until we face facts and call them what they are. This isn't a religious war. But every extremist group has at least one characteristic that its members have in common with each other. In this case, it happens to be devotion to an extreme religious doctrine. For America to preserve its way of life, it will have to confront the enemies of freedom

There is always an extreme characteristic. No more searching for euphemisms that hide the truth.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

An Attack on Freedom

When I woke up this morning, I switched on my TV to get caught up on the news and was greeted by a reminder of something we should never again allow ourselves to forget.

It was the early reports of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly newspaper, in Paris that left 12 dead (so far) and nearly as many injured.

I won't go into details about Charlie Hebdo because those already have been reported by every journalist in the free world today.

Folks who are familiar with my blogs know that I am a journalist, a veteran of daily newspapers; this kind of thing cuts to the very core of things in which I believe — like freedom of the press and freedom of speech, both of which are threats to those who would impose a totalitarian system on others, as the terrorists seek to do. Satire is especially threatening to them because satirists hold nothing sacred and religious extremists hold nearly everything sacred — except for free speech.

What happened in Paris today was nothing less than an attack on freedom. It was an attack on every newsroom in the free world — and, as such, it was an attack on free speech.

The pillars of freedom.

It wasn't an attack on French newsrooms — or France — alone.

From what I have read and heard, the plot probably was carried out from a region near Paris that is primarily occupied by Muslims. If that is true, it is also probably true that the terrorists have allies in that area, like–minded individuals who helped them prepare for what was clearly a coordinated attack. How long were the ones who carried out the plot hiding in plain sight? How long will those who helped them hide in plain sight, perhaps to help carry out another such plot in the future?

Do you think this can't happen here? That the ocean that separates us also protects us? That is what they thought before World Wars I and II.

What proportion of the population in your city is Muslim? Most are probably peaceful, but a few may be radicals, keeping it hidden from view. I used to cover the police beat, and one thing I noticed was that, inevitably, when someone was convicted of a violent crime, the people who knew him when he was growing up would say, "He was always such a good boy." It was always a surprise to them that he would do something like that.

In spite of what the administration wants everyone to believe, we are still at war with supporters of radical Islam. We may have stopped, but they never will, and that's a problem for this president. It really shouldn't be, but it is.

Somewhere along the way, Barack Obama got the idea that a president has the power to live in a world of his choosing. Obama wants a world where those who are entrusted with protecting Americans cannot be given certain kinds of information about suspects because that amounts to profiling.

That's nonsense. Presidents cannot choose the circumstances in which they serve, only how they respond to those circumstances. It is their duty to protect their people from whatever threatens them — be it disease or violence.

Failure to protect a president's people is negligence, yet Barack Obama is hesitant to confront the threat of radical Islam. He would probably prefer that the more rational elements of Islam would crack down on these extremists. His problem: How do you persuade the moderates to take action?

It is appropriate that the 40th anniversary of "The Godfather Part II" came along a couple of weeks ago because it offers some instruction here.

I direct your attention to the scene early in the movie in which Fredo's wife was drunk and making a scene, and Michael sent one of his henchmen to Fredo to tell him "Take care of this or I have to."

I know that not all Muslims are radicals, that only a small percentage fit that description. I know that the teachings of Islam are peaceful, but all religions have their extremists, the ones who have twisted the teachings of their faith.

The president of the United States, in spite of his personal feelings, must tell the cooler heads in the Islamic world that they have to take care of this — or we will have to.

Because this is the kind of thing that will spread if it is not checked. If it can happen in Paris, France, in the middle of a work week, what is to keep it from happening in Washington, D.C., or New York or Los Angeles — or Wichita, Kansas?