Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Persistent Myth That the Branch Davidians Were All White

The website ran an article a couple of days ago about Gov. Rick Perry's bold approach to tackling economic policy by recalling a heinous racial incident in Waco, Texas, nearly 100 years ago in which a mob lynched an African-American who had been accused of murder.  Rick Perry’s unorthodox economic opportunity speech went there.  Perry's point was not just that things have gotten a lot better since then. Let Perry say it in his own words:

"I’m proud to live in a country that has an African-American President. But President Obama cannot be proud of the fact that the prevalence of black poverty has actually increased under his leadership. We cannot dismiss the historical legacy of slavery, nor its role in causing the problem of black poverty. And because slavery and segregation were sanctioned by government, there is a role for government policy in addressing their lasting effects. But the specific policies, advanced by the President and his allies on the left, amount to little more than throwing money at the problem and walking away."*

The comments on the article about Perry's speech--as comments so often do on any website--range widely if not wildly around and away from the topic. The tenth comment free associates to another "atrocity at Waco... just two decades ago," recalling the April 19, 1993, deaths of 76 members of the Branch Davidian religious sect near Waco:

"My recollection is that those victims were white, including women and children, and it was perpetrated by our government, not just a mindless mob."

Since I was unable to get logged on to that site (they had me register, promised to send me a password, but never sent me one), I was not able to dispel the fellow's misconception directly; so, I will have to try to deal with it here.

It is a persistent myth held by both defenders and detractors of the Branch Davidians that they were all white; yet, among the dead on the day their compound caught fire and burned to the ground--following a 51-day siege by the federal government (first the BATF and then the FBI)--there were several black women and children, as well as at least six Hispanic women and children and a Filipino couple (He was an America citizen but she was still a citizen of the Philippines). A number of the victims were foreign nationals, including not only the Filipina and an Israeli citizen, but some of the black women and children, who were British.

Anyone who closely followed the events as they unfolded back in early 1993 perhaps remembers D. Wayne Martin, the 40-year-old African-American Davidian who was one of the three members of the group who talked to FBI negotiators on the phone throughout the siege. Martin perished, along with his wife and children, on April 19.

In the years since the Waco Seige, I have had occasion to reflect on how convenient it was and continues to be for the Clinton administration in particular and the Democrats in general that most African-Americans, to this day, have never realized that black women and children were among the dead of Waco. It would seem that black lives--or, more to the point, black deaths--only matter when they are politically useful to the Democratic Party.

*I would go further and say that, in recent years, the Democratic Party has done nothing but tell African-Americans that nothing has really changed in the past century as a way of masking their dismal failure to lift the African-American community out of poverty. President Obama seems not so much unable to come up with strategies other than "throwing money and walking away" but actually enamored of strategies and policies that fan the flames of discontent among the poor while ensuring that these same people become even more disgruntled when their rising expectations in the Obama era are met with disappointment and deepening poverty. So sure is Obama that he will not be blamed for these policies--that somebody else will be blamed for them--that he welcomes the dissolution of the welfare state under the weight of his programs. His answer to the failure of his government programs will, of course, be more government programs. It remains to be seen whether this deceit will actually work, but the credulity of the victims of Obama's con game, so far, is no cause for hope that the blame will ever be put squarely where it belongs.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Pet Peeves: Historical Movies

I love movies and I love history, so you might think I would love movies set in the historical past (as if there might be another kind of past; once it is past it is history to somebody).

The problem, of course, is historical accuracy, or, more precisely, the frequent lack of it.

Historical inaccuracy does not always peeve me. Sometimes it actually amuses me. A case in point is Randall Wallace's well-researched dramatization, "Braveheart," about the career of William Wallace and his royal contemporaries, Edward I (called Longshanks) and his Prince Junior, Edward II. I say that Wallace (the screenwriter, not the character played by Mel Gibson) researched well not because the movie is an historically accurate presentation of actual events--it isn't--but, rather, because Wallace so clearly had to know what the actual history was in order to do what he did, which was to embroider a collection of true historical incidents taken out of context and stuck in a previous generation where they serve his dramatic purpose. Consider, for example, the scene in which Edward Longshanks, played by the late Patrick McGoohan, unceremoniously defenestrates his son's gay lover, Gaveston. That Edward II may have had a gay lover who was murdered is an historically plausible claim. Wallace obviously knew this, but he also must have known that the murder took place years after the death of Edward I. The historical perpetrators were acting on behalf of several barons who, like the old king, were jealous of Gaveston, but Wallace is right that it works so much better if Edward I does it himself.

Then there are the multiple problems posed by the character of Princess Isabella. If she had been married to the Prince of Wales, then she and not Diana would have been the first Princess of Wales. In historical fact, Isabella did not marry Edward II until after he became king. She was never Princess of Wales, though she was Queen Isabella. Which brings us to the problem of her age. When William Wallace was alive, Isabella was only five-years-old--and living in France. She only came to England years after Wallace was executed (William, not Randall).

So she did not bear Wallace's child after all? No, but consider the historical facts: King Edward II may have been gay, though this is controversial, and if he had no interest in doing his royal duty in producing an heir, then how to explain Isabella's four children? She may have decided that somebody else had to do it. If the father could not have been a Scotsman who had been executed years before, the most likely suspect seems to have been a Welsh nobleman named Roger Mortimer. Mortimer and Isabella eventually made their relationship obvious. The question was whether it had been going on all along. Several noblemen later hanged Mortimer. (Killing intimates of the royals seems almost to have been a sport.) While the real father of Edward III might have been a Welshman, Randall Wallace took the liberty of making him a rebellious Scot. Seems more dramatic, and makes me admire the screenwriter's art in moving pieces around on his chess board in order to make up his own story.

BTW, William Wallace's backstory in the movie, involving the murder of his father, the rape and murder of his wife, and his escape to the continent where, like Mel Gibson, he learned Latin, is not a rearrangement of historical facts; rather it is entirely made up. The truth is that, in the words, I believe, of British historian H.R. Trevor-Roper, Wallace appeared on the stage of history as if out of nowhere; nothing whatsoever is known about his origins.

Contrast this with the more recent but less memorable movie "Defiance." Having read the book (well, one of several of the books that formed the basis of the movie), I was looking forward to a cinematic retelling of the true story of the Bielsky brothers, East European Jewish partisans who not only hectored the Nazi occupation with their hit-and-run guerrilla tactics but also collected a community of Jewish refugees in spite of the fact that supporting so many small children and elderly people was a hardship for guerrillas who would have been better off not dragging around the dead weight of so many "useless" civilians.

By camping in an extensive forest, the brothers kept their charges safe from the Germans for a long time, but eventually the Germans sent not only foot soldiers but tanks to sweep the forest and flush out anybody hiding therein. So the Bielsky brothers led their people on an arduous trek through a huge swamp in the middle of which was an island of dry land. The movie almost succeeds in portraying how arduous this must have been--and how dangerous, since it was so likely that someone would have collapsed and died or been drowned in quicksand. It was a miracle that everyone made it to the island, exhausted but alive.

In the movie, having reached the sanctuary of the island, the Bielskys are almost immediately confronted by their worst nightmare. A Panzer tank attacks them. Heroically, but in a scene too much like similar ones in too many other war pictures, the brothers, through teamwork and a couple of well-placed hand grenades, subdue the steel behemoth, after which the filmmakers apparently thought that they had their crowd-pleasing ending, so they rolled the credits.

The bother, of course, is that the reason that the Bielsky brothers took the risk of leading old people and small children through a treacherous swamp was precisely because they knew that it was impossible for tanks to follow them through such an extensive mire. Where in blazes did the tank they encountered on the island come from? Was it dropped by parachute from a cargo plane? (Not something that was technically feasible until after World War II.) No. This ending made a pointless mockery out of the desperate heroism of the trek through the swamp. Thumbs down on this travesty of a picture.

Speaking of World War II, "Patton" seems to be the favorite movie of many conservatives, but I, for one, have come to despise it. The script by Francis Ford Coppola is based, in part, on Gen. Omar Bradley's memoir. Now, my father met Omar Bradley and liked him. Most people who met him apparently did, but one of the conceits of "Patton" is that Bradley and Patton were friends, which they were not at all.

The movie's deep flaw is that it pretends to take an unbiased view, based on Bradley's skewed view of Patton. Whatever Patton's many shortcomings, he was a strategic and tactical genius who probably could have shortened World War II's European conflict by six months if he had been given the top field position that was, instead, given to Bradley. Bradley loved his men, but he loved them too much. His fear of endangering them was paradoxically what put them in danger. His affection did not prevent them from being slaughtered in Field Marshall Montgomery's ill-conceived Market Garden Campaign, for example, a campaign which Bradley approved while Patton recognized it as a bad idea in a trice. Yet this movie persists in showing Patton through Bradley's biased eyes.

So, historically inaccurate movies either burn me or amuse me. Can't think of any examples of films that do both, probably because if one scene--especially the ending--bothers me, I am not going to be amused by the rest of the movie.