Mark Curtis's blog

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- December 7, 2014

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(Providence, Rhode Island) – Today is the 73rd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought the United State into World War II. It remains one of the most profound days in U.S. history, with implications and lessons to this very day. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“By the Numbers” – The unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2,403 Americans, most of them military members. The single-event death toll was not surpassed on American soil until the September 11th attacks in 2001. Two U.S. battleships and 188 aircraft were completely destroyed. Seventeen other ships were severely damaged, and nearly 1,200 people were injured. By comparison, only 64 Japanese were killed; they lost only 29 aircraft; and four small submarines were destroyed. It was a very, very one-sided fight, but the tide would later turn dramatically mostly due to an undying American spirit.

“The Unsung Heroes” – With all the racial tension and hostility in the United States these days, it’s important to mention one of the first heroes of World War II. On December 7, 1941, Messman Third Class Doris “Dorie” Miller was cleaning up after serving breakfast on a ship in Pearl Harbor. Being kitchen help was about as high as an African-American service member might hope for in those days. As the attack on Pearl Harbor began, officers aboard the USS West Virginia, ordered Miller to grab a 50-caliber anti-aircraft gun, and he started firing at Japanese planes. He also carried his mortally wounded captain to safety, and then helped save the lives of numerous wounded sailors on deck. He was the first black sailor awarded the Navy Cross in World War II (the military’s third highest honor), pinned on him by legendary Admiral Chester Nimitz (photo above). Sadly, Miller would die in combat two years later.

“Rosie the Riveter” – The sudden onset of World War II sent many of the nation’s adult men to the fronts in Europe and the South Pacific. That meant that people were needed to fill factory jobs, shipyard openings, and assembly lines that produced weapons and equipment for the war effort. The task fell on American women. Female employment in the workforce nearly doubled – from 12 to 20 million – according to the Encyclopedia of American Economic History. In fact, the need was so severe that black women were recruited to work side by side with white women in many of the first integrated work places. The phrase “We can do it!” became a rallying cry in the female workforce.

“WPA” – As I mentioned a few weeks ago in my column about Presidential Executive Orders, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) became a prominent U.S. government employer from the Great Depression deep into World War II. From 1935 to 1943, it created eight million public works jobs, but they weren’t meaningless “make-work” jobs. The WPA built over 40,000 new buildings, many of them schools, libraries and recreation centers. It paved thousands of miles of roads and highways, installed water mains, and built firehouses. It constructed the backbone of American infrastructure, much of which is still in use today. It was finally disbanded in 1943 because so many workers were needed instead for war-related jobs.

“The Greatest Generation” – It was, in fact, the generation that saved this country, not only from the Great Depression but from World War II. My dad was among them. On December 7, 1941, he was a senior at Campion Jesuit High School in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. He would never formally finish high school, nor would he ever earn an undergraduate college degree. Because his dad was a doctor and my dad was planning to become one, too, he was sent directly to Marquette University for one year of undergraduate study and then year-round medical school. By age 22, he was a doctor and off to the Navy. It was that kind of dedication and sacrifice by tens of millions of Americans that won the war. Many families have similar stories.

“Why All of This Matters?” – The resolve to win World War II was not limited to a single sector of the population. Victory required every corner of a diverse and divergent nation to pitch together and make it happen. It took men and women – white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, etc. - to put aside their differences and work toward the collective good. The phrase “thinking outside the box” is a cliché these days, but that’s exactly what you had back in the 1940s, when someone suggested that most of the warships be built by women stateside. And that’s what you had when Japanese-Americans in internment camps were asked to help break Japanese enemy codes, which they did gladly for the very nation that now incarcerated them. This is the kind of collective “from-the- ground-up” leadership we need to solve many of today’s problems in the United States. We can - and should - do it to honor those who walked before us!

What are your thoughts about Pearl Harbor and what it means to our nation today? Let us know by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2014, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: U.S. Navy Archives

“The Sunday Political Brunch” – November 30, 2014

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(Providence, Rhode Island) – I want to talk about Ferguson, Missouri, this week. No, I don’t want to rehash the Grand Jury decision. I’ll leave the pros and cons of that to others. What I do want to look at are the protests that followed. They got me to thinking about the history of protests in this country over many decades, and why some protests succeed, while other fail. Let’s “brunch” on that this week!

“Boston Tea Party” – This may be the classic, defining American protest. It was simple in its message; easy to understand; evoked public sentiment and sympathy; and was colorfully carried out. A group of colonists - some dressed up as Native Americans - boarded British ships in Boston Harbor and dumped all the tea overboard. They were mad that Parliament was taxing their tea, but not providing any representation for colonists back home in England. It was a major stepping stone to the Revolutionary War, which the colonists won! Grade: Success.

“Montgomery Bus Boycott” – After a black woman named Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in 1955, civil rights advocates staged a 13-month boycott of the local bus company. It was effective because it was peaceful, it elicited public sympathy across the nation, it brought economic hardship on the bus company and the city, and it led to a successful court fight. It worked because the protest created leverage with sympathy, as well as economic and legal consequences. Grade: Success.

“Selma Bridge” – Among the most iconic protests of the 1960s Civil Rights movement were the three voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965 (photo above). In the first march, demonstrators were attacked on the Pettus Bridge by police with nightsticks and tear gas. In the second march, a white minister from Boston – sympathetic to black marchers – was severely beaten and died days later. On the third march, demonstrators were protected by U.S. Troops and National Guardsmen, and succeeded in reaching Montgomery. Media coverage of the initial brutality reached across the nation. Unlike many of today’s protests, these were successful because the protesters were the victims and not the aggressors. Images on national TV of marchers being beaten and gassed only created more sympathy for their cause. Grade: Success.

“Civil Rights 1960s” – The main reason the Civil Rights movement succeeded in the 1960s was because a minority of people was able to convince the majority of society to change. That’s not an easy task. And for all the consternation we hear about the separation of church and state, it is critical to note that the Civil Rights Era of the 1950s and 60s was largely a church-based movement. I would go so far as to say that without the churches that helped spearhead the effort, it would have failed. The other place where it succeeded was in the courtroom. Lawyers, such as NAACP counsel Thurgood Marshall, won 29 of 32 key U.S. Supreme Court cases. The cause succeeded because it carried moral, legal, and Constitutional clout. The arguments were made out of compassion and legality, not anger. Grade: Success.

“Afghanistan & Iraq” – It’s almost hard to recall, but there were protests after the launch of both the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Despite the fact that Afghanistan openly harbored members of Al-Qaeda (which had launched the 9/11 attacks) there are people in this country who are simply anti-war, for any war. There were more protests against the Iraq War, simply because its formal role in worldwide terrorism was less established than Afghanistan’s. Still, these were cases of the U.S. defending itself, or preempting itself from further attack. It’s hard to successfully protest when your own nation is the victim. Grade: Fail.

“Anti-Globalization & Occupy”” – In the early part of this century, there were protests against “globalization” at world trade conferences, including a huge riot at one conference in Seattle. Then came the “Occupy” movement, including such offshoots as Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Providence. They were largely public relations disasters. Why? For one reason, they rallied against and - in some cases - vandalized such global villains at McDonalds and Starbucks. The problem was that many people like global companies, including the aforementioned. The bigger problem, though, was that these protests had little focus and no real agenda. Here in Providence, people camped out in a city park for months on end, including through a brutal winter. But most people – then and now – have no idea what their objective was. To succeed, you much have a message! Grade: Fail.

“Ferguson & Nation” – As a practical matter, local violent protests do little to endear a cause to people. It’s not as if the Grand Jury will reconvene and suddenly change its mind. Destroying local businesses of shopkeepers, who had nothing to do with the incident or the Grand Jury's decision and who - in fact - may be sympathetic to the cause, tends to backfire since innocent people are harmed. Nationwide protests – like the one in Providence where dozens of people walked out and blocked I-95 - don’t do much good either. That’s because they generate more anger at the protesters than sympathy for their goals. It becomes counterproductive. Grade: Incomplete.

“Why all this Matters? – Protests are not just about displays of displeasure or anger; they are also about persuasion and the desire to make change. Anger is an emotion; it is not a political philosophy or a public-policy road map. Unless protest anger is channeled in a way that a) changes people’s minds about the issue and b) leads to policy making where substantive public change occurs, then it is simply an exercise in venting and is not constructive. My prediction about the Ferguson protests – both here and across the nation – is that they will lead to little meaningful change other than causing police departments to buy more video cameras for their patrol cars and officers.

What do you think about protests? Why do some succeed while others fall flat? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2014, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.

Photo courtesy: U.S. Department of Justice

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