Friday, January 26, 2007

On The Bush Library at SMU

My brother-in-law, former Dallas Morning News book critic Jerome Weeks, now writes a witty and thoughtful blog for the website artsjournal.com. In his latest posting,
http://www.artsjournal.com/bookdaddy/, he takes both the right-wing and the left-wing to task for the recent fracas at Southern Methodist University in Dallas over the possible placement of the George W. Bush Presidential Library there. Before I comment on this issue, let me include Jerome’s post:

“A quick update ...

... on the behemoth moving into my neighborhood: the Bush presidential library at SMU. Sorry if this is boring you. I won't keep going at it, I promise, and I'll get back to books.

But in tediously predictable fashion, the Dallas Morning News has been beating the drums for it (anything for development, anything for Republican development) and in equally predictable fashion, the campus liberals (teachers, students, Methodists) stupidly objected to it (the objections are stupid because they're being made on grounds that can only lose). Now, to complete all of this political theater, the Morning News has taken to beating up the liberal types just about every morning: what repressive elites they are, how they're closing off academic freedom, etc. In fact, the conservative think tank that will be built with the library sounds less like a research facility and more like a campaign office. Lee Cullum wrote an op-ed piece in the News, championing the library as just a new version of the respectable Hoover Institute (which, of course, ahem, she just happened to attend -- several times). Unfortunately for Lee, the NY Times ran a piece a few days before about how presidential libraries are pretty much propaganda machines these days. And the full irony here is: Lee and the News are defending an administration that has done everything in its power to close off historical research on presidential papers.

The fact is that I don't oppose the Bush library on political grounds. Let conservative donors waste a half-billion dollars trying to resuscitate his legacy; it'll save them from spending it on more effective programs against the rest of us. No, I oppose the library because I'm going to have to live near it.

But perhaps I shouldn't complain. The library could help my drive time. A curious fact: Highland Park (where SMU is) has loudly and successfully squashed any sensible attempt to widen Mockingbird Lane, the road that runs through HP. Mockingbird Lane would be a major, cross-town artery to Love Field, the city airport -- very convenient for the rest of Dallas -- if it weren't for the power of Highland Park's rich, white residents in preventing it from being expanded to accommodate the traffic.

Now those same residents are going to welcome what amounts to a sizable new museum and theme-park tourist attraction right on Mockingbird Lane. When people say "presidential library," they think of books, ivy-covered buildings, scholars and maybe a gift shop. Not any more, folks, they've grown gigantic. And a half-billion dollars should get the Bushes something like the Death Star of presidential libraries. I challenge the Dallas Morning News to run a sizable, aerial photo of the LBJ Library's parking lot in Austin. Maybe the paper could super-impose the entire LBJ facility and parking lot over a map of Highland Park. And LBJ, remember, was widely hated when he left office. Yet that library parking lot could accommodate a couple of 747s, it was built for so many visitors. If you want to check out my description, here's an aerial view of the LBJ complex and parking lot.

In the image, the LBJ Library is the white-ish rectangle near the center, the one with the helipad on top, alongside the long thin building that runs diagonally across the picture. The track fields on the right of the parking lot are recent additions, meaning they weren't a factor when that aircraft-carrier-size piece of tarmac was laid down.

That's what Highland Park is looking forward to: All that blacktop, and all those tourists coming to the Bush Library, trying to drive over from Love Field -- on Mockingbird Lane.

So you see, the citizens of Dallas could never get that street widened.

But I betcha the Bushes can.”

I beg to differ with Jerome on this issue. First of all, we had something like this happen on a much smaller scale where I work, at the University of Texas at Austin. They decided to name the new Molecular Biology Building after Jim Bob Moffett, owner of Freeport McMoRan, a company guilty of horrible human rights abuses and environmental damage in West Papua. The movement to prevent the naming of the building after Moffett was really student-led, I felt, and the faculty response was inadequate, and the building ended up bearing Moffett's name.

I don’t agree with Jerome that arguments made against placing the Bush library, or naming school buildings after wealthy benefactors who happen to use authoritarian regimes to terrorize labor movements in developing countries, are stupid. As Jerome points out, the administration of George W. Bush has done more than any presidency since Richard Nixon’s to close off access to public documents to historians, journalists and activists. Early in his administration W. acted to seal key records of his father’s presidency and the archives of the younger Bush’s term as Texas governor.

The plans for the Bush library seem to go well beyond the propaganda efforts of other presidential libraries. The library will include The Bush Institute, a partisan think-tank, where fellows would be appointed by a director reporting directly to the private Bush foundation, not to SMU or to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), a non-partisan agency charged with running the various presidential libraries.

Other presidential libraries, such as Jimmy Carter’s and the Hoover Institute at Stanford, support causes that are tied to the commemorated president’s ideology. Nothing new there. What is new with this library, however, is that while, for instance, the Hoover Institute promotes a general conservative worldview, the Bush Institute would have a much more narrow aim, rationalizing W.’s failed administration. This raises a legitimate question for colleges and universities like SMU. Should institutions of higher learning house a pseudo-scholarly think tank where the perspectives and conclusions are pre-determined and aims not at expanding knowledge but at rehabilitating the reputation of an incompetent leader?

Sometimes it is important simply to state a point, whether victory on the important issue at hand is immediate. Methodist ministers, historians, and other scholars had the options to put up or shut up. The protest marks a way for scholars and students to begin a conversation on Bush, on the power of the presidency, on Congress’ surrender of its war-making powers, and on how public monuments distort or fabricate history. This is not stupid or futile, but a necessary first step in truth telling.

The efforts by the SMU faculty bring to mind Martin Luther King Jr.’s bold denunciation of moral silence in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” In his letter, King said that white Christian ministers in the South acquiesced to segregation and racial violence by their quiet and inaction. Certainly the issues faced by King were not analogous to that before SMU in gravity or scope. Nevertheless, a lesson is to be learned from the late civil rights leader. The SMU faculty realized that silent acceptance of the library would have been interpreted to mean that the SMU education community concurred with the Bush administration, its policies, and its record of deception, distortion and secrecy.

While Jerome correctly states that the arguments forwarded by the library opponents are unlikely to stop the library from opening, the SMU community has, indeed, put up rather than shut up and they have scored one important advantage in the media war over the facility.

I am guessing that the Bushes, unaware of how Democratic Dallas has become in recent years, thought that they could open the library at a safely conservative, Republican-dominated campus and score easy propaganda points, especially with the aid of their eager mouthpiece, the Dallas Morning News. The SMU protestors have denied the Bushes another cheap moment of spin. For at least the foreseeable future, the adjective “controversial” will be permanently affixed to the Bush library in newspaper coverage, and a media that compulsively rolled over for Bush before Katrina will now be forced to summarize the objections of dissenters to the library opening. The actions of the SMU liberals guarantee, as was the case when the LBJ library opened in Austin, that the library opening will bring hordes of demonstrators. Rather than beginning the historical rehabilitation of Bush 43, the launching of his library and its so-called think tank will loudly re-amplify how divisive and ugly the Bush years have been.

And, of course, there is the slim chance that the SMU protestors might succeed. In 1981, Nixon tried to place his library at his law school alma mater Duke University and pressure from faculty members led the university to, by one vote, end negotiations with the ex-president. "It was obvious this was going to be a memorial to glorify the career of Richard Nixon rather than be a repository of his papers," said Lawrence Evans, a retired Duke physics professor. The Nixon library was exiled to Yorba Linda.

Other similar movements on college campuses succeeded against the similar long odds faced by SMU’s faculty. At places like Columbia University, Berkeley, and all points in between, dissenting faculty and students have stopped military recruiting on campuses, university investment in apartheid-era South Africa, and forced schools to distance themselves from criminal corporations like Dow Chemical. These efforts were not symbolic, empty moments of political correctness. The various boycotts against South Africa, for instance, played a critical role in hastening the end of apartheid.

A final point should be made. Should the Bush Library and its Bush Institute open at SMU, it will represent a pyrrhic victory for W. and his henchmen. First off all, most people rarely go to the libraries of presidents they don’t already like. The Bush library will be preaching to an already right-wing choir. Likewise, the books and papers churned out by the Institute are hardly likely to have any impact on the larger world of academia and will have circulation primarily among the semi-literates who think Ann Coulter is funny.

Also, presidential libraries really are windows into the honored subjects' personality. I developed a habit of visiting presidential libraries when I lived in California and found that each was more revealing of the subject matter than the ex-president probably wanted. The text in the Nixon library is as paranoid, defensive and rationalizing as Nixon was. My favorite places at the Nixon library are where the text on the wall points out that Bobby Kennedy authorized wiretaps too and that the foul language he used on the Watergate tapes included words frequently heard in newsrooms. Even dead, Nixon comes off as uncomfortable, suspicion, and tirelessly jealous of the Kennedys.

Similarly, the women guides at the Regan library reminded me of the original “Stepford Wives" movie, and at the Eisenhower library in Kansas, it is obvious that Ike was much more proud of his military career than his presidential tenure. The LBJ library tries to minimize Vietnam and bends over trying to please everyone. Regardless of what heavy-handed attempts presidents make to turn their libraries into a “do over” of their White House years, these facilities, in an unintentional way, actually capture the minds and personalities of these figures, neuroses and weaknesses included.

Based on this, one can count on the Bush library to be vapid in tone and reeking of the anti-intellectualism and hatred of dissent that have marked these past six years. With the exception of the Carter Library, which became a base from which that former president planned his campaigns to monitor elections across the globe, fight AIDS and build shelters for the homeless, I can’t think of a single presidential library that has successfully reshaped how scholars felt about particular presidents.

Bush wants his library to short-circuit the scholarly process, to attempt to cut off at the pass left-leaning academics intent on studying the years 2001-2009. By the nature of their profession, however, independent historians, political scientists and journalists will get the final word.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Jewish Struggle With Whiteness in Dallas: My Speech Before the Dallas Jewish Historical Society, January 28, 2007

Dallas’ racial politics were never a simple matter of black and white.

African Americans always occupied the city’s bottom social rung and upper class Anglos the top. Much of the racial “action,” however, has rested with numerous groups who find themselves between the white and black extremes. Jews, Italians and other groups immigrating to Dallas found their whiteness challenged, and therefore struggled for a share of the city’s immense riches. Racial classification held greater significance than some abstract notion of identity. To be classified as "non-white" in Dallas meant assignment to low-wage, low-prestige jobs with little opportunity for advancement.

At the opening of the last decade of segregation in the 1960s, for instance, non-whites in Dallas County annually earned about one-fourth the yearly wages of whites while non-white males suffered twice the unemployment rate of their peers and were far more likely to be imprisoned. Economic disparities along racial lines survived the dismantling of Jim Crow in the mid-twentieth century.

Dallas’ power structure always depended on divisiveness. Skin color split the city and winning acceptance as part of the white ruling caste always represented the surest means of social advancement. Such a system depended on the notion that the black and white "races" represent distinct entities with innate qualities. Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould and most of the scientific community has argued that race has no real scientific meaning. There is more genetic variation — deviations in skin pigment, hair texture, inherited disorders, etc. — within the arbitrary racial boxes used to divide humanity than between each category.

Since miscegenation has proved as certain in human history as death, war and taxes, and since the purity of each group is a fiction, the definitions of these supposedly distinct categories change each time a child is born. As sociologist Howard Winant points out, " [I]n the United States, hybridity is universal: most blacks have ‘white blood,’ and many millions of whites have ‘black blood.’ . . . colonial rule, enslavement, and migration have dubious merits, but they are all effective 'race mixers.'" Regardless of how arbitrarily these classifications are defined, however, placement in a racial category held real-life consequences.

"Becoming white meant gaining access to a whole set of public and private privileges that materially and permanently guaranteed basic subsistence needs and, therefore, survival," wrote Cheryl I. Harris in a 1993 essay in the Harvard Law Review. "Becoming white increased the possibility of controlling critical aspects of one’s life rather than being the object of others’ domination."

Material motives abounded for seeking inclusion within whiteness. If such racial lines had proved unmovable living conditions might have proven so desperate as to spark violent resistance by people of color. The definition of racial identities such as white, black, and brown, however, vary over time and by location. Millions of Mexican Americans, for instance, magically ceased to be white in 1930 by virtue of the U.S. Census Bureau, which in its population statistics, separated those of Hispanic descent from the white population and placed them in a separate "Mexican" category. Such legal definitions had little to do with the reality of racial categories and more to do with preventing the transfer of wealth from a white master class to a population of color through inheritance by mixed-race children.

In Dallas, the flexibility of such categories lent the idea of race special power. Pressure fell heavily on groups, such as Mexican Americans and Jews, perceived as not fitting neatly within either the “white” or “black” extremes, to conform to white ideals and to embrace anti-black racism as part of the price for entering the ruling class. The story of Jewish racial identity in Dallas has national and even international implications provides a window into how religion shapes whiteness in the United States.

Early on, Dallas Jews suffered from what one historian calls the “ambivalent image.” The "good Jews" of the Old Testament who brought the Ten Commandments to the world vied for prominence in the Christian imagination with the "bad Jews" who crucified Jesus and grubbed for money. Jews began arriving in Dallas in large numbers after the construction of a railway line in the early 1870s that led directly to the city. Jewish merchants like E.M. Kahn and Alexander and Philip Sanger joined that immigrant rush. In naming their civic organizations, such as the Dallas Hebrew Benevolent Association, Jewish immigrants freely used the term "Hebrew," to evoke memories of Old Testament heroes.

At Dallas' Temple Emanu-El, Reform Jews followed Southern Protestant patterns of religious practice, with services conducted in English and the term "minister" used interchangeably with "rabbi,” assimilation that bridged considerable distance between the two cultures. Dallas Jews were noted for their generosity to charity and their volunteerism. The most financially successful in the community were rewarded for their civic-mindedness by winning a broad level of acceptance. Although Jews constituted less than five percent of the city's population, five Jews, all from the merchant class, were elected aldermen between 1873 and 1905.

It didn't hurt the merchant Sanger family that brothers Issac, Lehman and Philip had served in the Confederate Army. Even as a sizeable influx of Northern immigrants into Dallas starting in the 1870s led to a contestation of the city’s regional identity, Jews claimed a shared Southern identity with still Confederate-sympathizing Gentile elites. The "good Jew" of Dallas — always loyal, generous, and supportive of the local leadership's policies and priorities — would be welcome as long as he conformed to stereotyped expectations. Jews were accepted, however, not as part of the Anglo-Saxon ruling bloc but only as closely related cousins of the Master Race. It took another former Confederate veteran, Cyrus Scofield, to bring his Jewish comrades-in-arms like the Sangers more completely into the white Dallas fold.

Scofield in the late 19th and early 20th century served as the pastor of First Congregational Church in Dallas. Scofield's persuasiveness, plus his friendship with wealthy members such as the Dealeys, whose son was an executive with the Dallas Morning News spurred the church's rapid growth. He grounded his theology in “pre-millennial dispensationalism” which emphasizes the prophetic nature of the Bible. Scofield preached that a literal Antichrist, an embodiment of evil, would one day serve as world dictator and attempt to defeat God's plan for salvation by completely annihilating the world’s Jews.

Before this happens, 144,000 surviving Jews will convert to Christianity. Jesus will return to destroy the Anti-Christ and save the Jewish people in a final battle of Armageddon before establishing a peaceful earthly reign lasting 1,000 years.
Earlier philo-Semites like Increase and Cotton Mather expressed admiration for Jews, but thought that only those who accepted that Jesus as the son of God would reach heaven. Scofield went much further. Scofield claimed that Jews held a unique compact with God and could achieve salvation without conversion, a revolutionary doctrine for a Christian fundamentalist. Scofield believed that Jews held a racial identity separate from Gentle Europeans. The evangelist described Jews as a "little nation which has ever had the strongest marks of race distinction and race peculiarity."

This segregation, he argued, resulted from a divinely inspired unique Jewish role in history. "Their history alone is told in Old Testament narrative and prophecy--other peoples being mentioned only as they touch the Jew," Scofield wrote.116 Jews acted as "a trouble to the Gentile, yet witnessing to them; cast out by them, but miraculously preserved."117 Anti-Semitism, to Scofield, was a sin and the prelude to divine retribution. "When [God] . . . comes back, it is first of all for their [Jews'] deliverance; then, for the judgment of the Gentiles according to their treatment of Israel," Scofield said. "I tell you, dear friends, it is a very serious thing to mistreat a Jew . . . Wherever a Jew goes he is a blessing or a curse, just according to the way he is received."

Scofield’s pre-millennial dispensationalism represented Dallas’ most successful cultural export. A religion scholar characterized the minister’s masterwork, The Scofield Reference Bible, which sold more than 10 million copies before a revision was released in 1967, as “perhaps the most important single document in all fundamentalist literature.” The revision sold another 2.5 million copies by 1990. A religion scholar characterized the Scofield Bible as "perhaps the most important single document in all fundamentalist literature." Middle-class Baptist and Presbyterian congregations became, as historian Paul Boyer puts it, "bastions of pre-millennialism."

In many fundamentalist Protestant congregations, ministers found themselves measured by a Scofield yardstick and found their careers threatened if they ventured too far from this new orthodoxy. The Dallas Theological Seminary became a center of dispensationalist teaching, with graduate Hal Lindsey writing the nonfiction best-seller of the 1970s, the Scofield-inspired The Late Great Planet Earth, which registered 28 million in sales by 1990. These remarkable sales paled compared to the immense success of the Left Behind series of novels written by Christian Right leader Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins starting in 1995, which by 2004 sold 60 million copies worldwide. According to a Newsweek poll released in November, 1999, “40 percent of American adults . . . believe that the world will one day end, as Revelation describes, in the Battle of Armageddon” and Scofield’s interpretation for how that apocalyptic narrative will unfold remains the dominant paradigm.

Scofield professed an admiration for Jews and their religion, but philo-Semitism represented only the friendlier flipside of anti-Semitism. In spite of his philo-Semitism, however, in Scofield's prophetic scenario, the future ultimately depended on the extinction of Judaism as a religion. Scofield taught that under the anti-Christ, only 144,000 Jews would survive a campaign of genocide and that the conversion of that remnant to Christianity would be the trigger for Christ’s return to Earth. Even after the Second Coming, the division between Christians and Jews remains through eternity. God's promise to Abraham in the Book of Genesis that his descendants, as numerous as the stars, would inherit Palestine, was interpreted by Scofield to be a literal, eternal divine pledge.

"Israel's distinction, glory and destiny, will always be earthly," Scofield wrote. After this dispensation, "there will of necessity be a division." At the end of Jesus’ millennial reign and the subsequent creation of a new Heaven and Earth, Christians go to Heaven, Scofield said. Jews rule the New Earth for eternity. Scofield attributed to Jews the central role in the human drama, but that assignment meant that Jews ultimately could not be part of the larger human family.

That sense of separateness has lead to what could at best be described as insensitivity towards Jews among Scofield’s later disciples. Hal Lindsey, for instance, in his book The Late Great Planet Earth, described the numerous chapter of Jewish suffering, including Nazi genocide, God taking his chosen people to the “woodshed” for s spanking for their disbelief. “Israel’s history of misery which has exactly fulfilled prophetic warnings should be a sign to the whole world — a sign which among other things should teach that God means what he says, and says what he means.” A logical implication of this argument makes God himself the author of the Holocaust, a belief that strongly suggests that the gas chambers of Auschwitz represented divine justice for e people who refuse to convert to Christianity.

Televangelist Jerry Falwell further illustrated the short distance between pre-millennial dispensationalism’s philo-Semitism and anti-Semitism when he opined in recent years that the prophesied anti-Christ was alive today and was most likely a Jewish male. In spite of Scofieldism’s chilling side, evangelicals embracing pre-millennial dispensationalism strongly influence American-Israeli politics today. So-called Christian Zaionists, fired by the millennial expectations of dispensationalism, strongly support right-wing Israeli politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu.

As author Jonathan Kirsch notes in his book A History of the End of the World, Orthodox Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s group, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews has raised about a quarter-billion dollars from about 400,000 Christian donors, mostly evangelicals, to fund various programs, including promotion of Jewish emigration to Israel. Similar fundraising efforts, which ultimately aim to provoke end-time events by assembling the Chosen People in the Promised Land, are carried on by other dispensationalists like San Antonio Pastor John Hagee and the Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, which allows evangelical, prophecy oriented churches to “adopt” Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
Leo Wieseltier, an editor for the New Republic, notes that cynicism and mutual exploitation marks the relationship between modern apocalyptic Christian preachers influenced by Cyrus Scofield and the Israeli right wing. “This is a grim comedy of mutual condescension,” he wrote. “The evangelical Christians condescend towards Jews by offering their support before they convert or kill them. And the conservative Jews condescend towards to Christians by accepting their support while believing that their eschatology is nonsense. This is a fine example of the political exploitation of religion.”

Scofieldism had other, less exotic effects on Dallas history in particular. Business elites saw Dallas’s late 19th century and early 20th century Jewish immigrants as a factor in the city’s economic development and Scofield’s philo-Semitism helped pave the way for these newcomers. Wealthy Jews became for Gentile elites a fantasy projection of elegance and worldliness, a group that could lift the town from its Dixie provincialism.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, The Dallas Herald and its successor, the Dallas Morning News obsessively covered weddings and soirees hosted by the Kahns and the Sangers, lavishing praise on the “beauty,” “brilliance” and “flashing wit” of these Jewish families. The Neiman-Marcus department store won praise, in part, for bringing New York-quality fashion to the plains. Confederate nostalgia became a deadweight as Dallas strove to become a global center of trade. By the 1930s, elites proudly bragged of Dallas’ “Southern” climate, “Northern” enterprise, “Eastern” sophistication and modishness and “Western” delight in newness and bigness for its own sake. Gentiles, drawing on ancient anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews as rootless, transnational wanderers, looked to men like Stanley Marcus as a model for the city’s new cosmopolitan image.
Anti-Semitism, however, still marked a considerable part of the Dallas upper class in the early twentieth century. Among the most prominent of Dallas’ anti-Semites was attorney Lewis Meriwether Dabney, a member of the city’s prominent Critics Club. Dabney urged Dallas leaders to restrict immigration and eliminate the right to vote to all but the most "qualified" white men.

Cities like Dallas, he complained, had filled with inferior whites, such as "mongrelized Asiatics, Greeks, Levantines, Southern Italians, and sweepings of the Balkans, of Poland and of Russia.” He worried that inferior whites had been tainted with a Socialist ideology "poisoning the rising generation with doctrines all right for Russian Jews but not to be tolerated by any free Anglo-Saxon soul." Dabney urged his Dallas audience in 1922 to end "promiscuous immigration" by Jews and other biologically retrograde groups.

Men like Dabney asserted that Jews represented a separate race, but most Dallasites could not surrender memories of the “good Jews” of the Old Testament or dismiss the fact that Christianity was rooted in Jewish origins. The Ku Klux Klan, which dominated Dallas politics in the 1920s, answered such reluctant anti-Semites by embracing British Israelism, an eccentric theology developed in England in the 19th century. British Israelism taught that white "Aryans" are the descendents of the so-called 10 "lost tribes of Israel" who disappeared from the Old Testament after their dispersal by the Assyrian Empire. Adherents of British Israelism believed that Jews, while descending from the Israelite tribe of Judah, became racially tainted by mixing with inferior Middle Eastern pagans. The ten lost tribes of Israel, meanwhile, had migrated to northern and central Europe and founded the most powerful modern empires, including Great Britain and the United States. Whites of Northern European descent, not Jews, were the chosen people of Bible, divinely granted racial superiority to subdue the planet. "[T]he Anglo Saxons are the ten tribes of Israel," The Texas 100 Per Cent American, the newspaper of the Dallas Klan, told its readers.

Unfortunately for the KKK, by the 1920s Jews represented a religious, not a racial, group to most Dallasites. Some rank-and-file members of the Klan rejected the leadership's British Israelism. “. . . I could see no reason for opposing the Jews as I have never been anti-religionist . . . I can't see telling anyone what religion they must believe in," a former Dallas Klansman recalled in the late 1940s.

Nevertheless, doubts concerning the racial identity of Jews persisted well into the twentieth century. In the 1930s, the Dallas health department listed “Hebrew” as a separate race, along with "Anglo-Saxon," "South European," "Mexican," "Negro" and "Asiatic" on its documents. Rabbi David Lefkowitz of Dallas’ Temple Emanu-El protested the practice. "The use of the word 'Hebrew,' . . . except as the designation of the original language of the Bible, is incorrect," Lefkowitz wrote. "The designation 'Jewish' is a proper one for religion . . . You are not, of course, seeking to determine the religion of those to whom you distribute the identification cards, otherwise you would put down Episcopalian, Baptist, Catholic, Methodists, etc. In this group, the word Jewish could well be included, but not in the former."

Lefkowitz’s attempt to have Jews classified as an ethnicity or religion but not as a separate race from Gentiles fell short. In the 1950s, the Dallas Independent School District created a course on the Old Testament which taught students that Japheth, the son of Noah, was the father of the European “races” while another of Noah’s sons, Shem, fathered Jews, inhabitants of the Far East and other Asians. In 1951, longtime professor and Southern Methodist University English department chair John Beaty made national headlines with his book, Iron Curtain Over America. Beaty denied the existence of the Holocaust, and claimed that most Jews were not descended from the Hebrews of the Bible but were the children of Khazars, a "belligerent tribe" of "mixed stock, with Mongol and Turkic affinities” that, while living between the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea, converted en masse to Judaism in the 8th or 9th century A.D. Beaty charged these pseudo-Jews with provoking both World War I and World War II, of leading the Russian Revolution and of taking over the Democratic Party in American for subversive purposes. Beaty’s book inspired only tepid opposition in Dallas.

Beaty’s vociferous anti-Semitism remained alien to most Gentiles, but while most did not view Jews as evil revolutionaries or racial inferiors, many in the city continued to see Jews as a people apart. In the 1950s and 1960s, Jews were excluded from several country clubs, the Dallas Junior League and several sororities and fraternities at SMU. Such upper-level segregation held no life-or-death consequences for Jews as formal and informal Jim Crow did for Latinos and blacks. Jews were not systematically denied a quality education. They were not paid substantially less for the same work and did not suffer sharply higher rates of dangerous diseases like tuberculosis or polio as did their black or Mexican American peers, and as a result the oppression suffered by Jews was less visible.

The pressure on Jews to achieve a white identity in Dallas created strains in the community’s relationship with African Americans. There were Jews who boldly spoke out against the city’s racism, such as Rabbi Levi Olan. Often, however, Jews were not as prominent in the city’s civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s as they were elsewhere. Many Jews found themselves in the unusual position of advocating an end to Jim Crow even as they ran some of the largest segregated department stores in the city. Caught betwixt and between, Jews found themselves not entirely trusted by white Gentiles or African Americans.

Some blacks echoed traditional Gentile anti-Semitism, but more often they saw Jews as simply part of an undifferentiated white majority. This perspective was summed up years later in August 1993 by John Wiley Price who met with a crowd of more than 70 at the North Dallas Jewish Community Center. "Most African-Americans don't know enough to be anti-Semitic," Price told the crowd. "We don't know the difference between Anglos and Jewish people."

What Price did not know was that the erasure of that difference between "Anglos" and "Jewish people" was the result of about a century of difficult and not entirely successful Jewish effort. Early Jewish immigrants in Dallas reinforced the city’s Southern identity at a time that construction faced serious challenge. Jews then eased the way for Dallas to become an “international city.” This contribution to regional identity, however, did not directly challenge the power of whiteness in the city. Full whiteness for Jews remained a slippery objective. While Cyrus Scofield had argued for the separateness of Jews after the millennium, Dallas’ Jewish community remained outsiders in this world. And separate would not mean equal.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Coventry Carol

No Christmas song could be as chilling, and few equal in beauty, the “Coventry Carol.” Dating back to the early 1500s, the lyrics shift the gravity of the Christmas story from the birth of the Christ child, and its promise of salvation, to a hideous act of butchery recounted in the Gospel of Matthew. King Herod, fearful that the prophesied birth of a “King of the Jews” meant the end of his own reign, ordered the slaughter of all the newborn males in Bethlehem. As the carol tells the story:

Herod the King, in his raging,

Charged he hath this day;

His men of might, in his own sight,

All children young, to slay.

That carol played time and again in my head this Christmas season, one at a time of war and the deaths of so many young soldiers who should be planning frat parties and putting together degree plans rather than lying in state as the guests of honor at a military funerals. “Coventry Carol” covers an essential reality not even hinted at by most of the iconic symbols of the holiday, that birth and death, triumph and tragedy are conjoined twins, so linked in the human experience that the central symbol of Taoism, the yin-yang, embraces life’s jarring dualities.

The “Coventry Carol” served as a personal theme song this season. This Christmas, my three-year-old son Dominic leaped with joy when he discovered that Santa had, as promised, come down the chimney, ate the cookies and drank the milk thoughtfully left on a table the night before and left my little boy the bicycle with training wheels and the slide whistle pleaded for in an earlier letter to the North Pole

This Christmas I also spent watching my mother bleed to death.

This fall, Marie Louise Phillips began feeling weak and started losing her balance. Her doctors in Dallas initially diagnosed her as suffering from anemia, but eventually traced her problems to bleeding from a tumor caused by esophageal cancer. She had a particularly nasty, aggressive cancer that spread rapidly to her liver and her lymph nodes, but my mom initially accepted her fate. She told me that although she would like to see more of her grandson Dominic’s life, that she had lived a long time and was ready to go.

Unfortunately, her oncologist was participating in a clinical trial for new chemotherapy drugs and was eager to line up patients for a funded study. As doctors often do, I think he saw my mother as a set of symptoms to conquer rather than a frail individual needing wise counsel and compassionate care.

Certainly chemotherapy can work wonders. My father-in-law was struck by mesothelioma earlier this year, and after radiation and chemotherapy went into full remission. (More about that later.) Bold medical experimentation should be embraced. But the medical culture in this country, sadly, can’t cope with the fact that all patients ultimately die. Doctors haven’t cured death, though they act like it sometimes. And doctors too often spread this delusion to their patients. I can’t say that I was there when the oncologist briefed my mother on the experimental drug combination he was testing, but she was, like all people facing death, vulnerable to the frail lifeline the medications seemed to offer.

Those medicines proved to be torture. Aimed at killing the fast-growing cancer cells ravaging her body, they also destroyed the rapidly reproducing cells that create the mucous membranes lining her digestive tract. She started hemorrhaging, a condition made apparent by a non-stop nose bleed that began two days after I arrived at the hospital and grew worse with each passing hour. She would wake up, clutching the blood-soaked Kleenex she held to her nose even as she slept, and turned to me with a look of bewilderment before finally collapsing back into a fitful sleep punctuated by gasps and choking sounds.

Most of the nurses and aides at the hospital displayed empathy and emotional generosity. But I ended up arguing all one night with an oncology nurse, trying to convince her that my mother needed a transfusion of platelets to staunch the bleeding as soon as possible. The nurse insisted that my mom’s platelet count, 20 percent of a healthy person’s level, was twice the lab value required to begin treatment. My mother, a frail woman, weighed barely over 90 pounds and had been unable to eat for a week because of the damage to her throat caused by the chemotherapy. Yet the nurse insisted that mom wasn’t bleeding that badly, even though her hospital bed resembled a crime scene.

I got the platelet transfusion done for mom after carrying on this debate with the nurse for 10 hours. I also got them to increase the pain medication. I took a break at one point and wandered into the oncology ward’s family room. The television there broadcast CNBC. The anchors teased a story about whether the American economy is ready to cope should a pandemic strike the country next year. I was in a ward filled with people dying of cancer and the TV news was scaring people about bird flu or some other such exotica.

I gathered the family for the end. A perfectly hellish Christmas soon would crash to its inevitable conclusion. Even as my mom went into the Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas for the last time, my mother-in-law checked into an Arlington hospital suffering with sciatica. My father-in-law, who had been left with only one functioning lung after rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, went to yet another hospital after his damaged lung filled with fluid. He spent Christmas week with a feeding tube crammed in his throat, scribbling questions on a writing pad like, “Am I going to die?” His health remains precarious and although his condition slowly improves, another infection could send him racing back to the ICU. Such is the nature of modern medical miracles.

Amid all this chaos, my brother-in-law David, a very talented carpenter, drove a nail into one finger with a nail gun. Always stoic, he pulled the nail out and kept working. He arrived at the oncology ward, along with my sister Marie, my second oldest nephew Jeremy and Jeremy’s new wife Stephanie. I looked at David’s thumb wound. “Well, at least it’s not raining,” I lamely joked as a steady downpour filled the Dallas streets outside.

My mother’s personality always violently swung from moments of sweetness and generosity to explosive venom. Psychologists had diagnosed her as suffering from “borderline personality disorder.” Here’s how the Merck Manual of Medical Information defines the condition:

“People with a borderline personality, most of whom are women, are unstable in their self-image, moods, behavior, and interpersonal relationships (which are often stormy and intense) . . . When people with a borderline personality feel cared for, they appear lonely . . . often needing help for depression . . . However, when they fear abandonment by a caring person, their mood shifts dramatically. They frequently show inappropriate and intense anger accompanied by extreme changes in their view of the world, themselves, and others — shifting from black to white, hated to loved, or vice versa, but never to neutral.”

I tend to regard many psychiatric diagnoses as social constructs built upon biased assumptions about gender, class and race, but this description of borderline personality disorder sadly fit my mother to a “T.” One moment my mother would be full of praise for you and pleading for you to tell her how she could help. She could go from that mood within seconds into frothing rants that you were horrible, immoral and quite probably the worst person in the world. When my mom went into these rages there were no boundaries. Once, when she got mad at my wife and I over some pretext, she called to scream at us at 3 in the morning.

One story illustrates what life with my mother was like. When Samantha became pregnant, mom decided that she needed a crib at her house for Dominic and asked for my bother-in-law David’s help in putting it together. David was dealing with the death of an in-law and told my mom that he would get to it soon but that he couldn’t tend to it right away. Sam, after all, would not be delivering for another six months. That didn’t matter. My mother began shrilly screaming at David that he and my sister Marie never appreciated her, even after all she did for them. She told them Marie and David that she never wanted to see them again. She refused to have anything to do with my sister for the next three-and-a-half years and my mom and Marie would not be in the same room again until the last days of my mom’s life.

I don’t write this to condemn my mother, but to note the major struggle she faced with mental illness. She was the sixth daughter born to a poor family during the Depression, her father an alcoholic and her mother a weak woman who let mom essentially be raised by my Aunt Rita, a verbally abusive older sister. My mother didn’t choose to suffer from borderline personality disorder any more than I have chosen to be diabetic. But it did make coping with my mother’s death harder because neither my sister nor I were allowed the luxury of mourning for a parent with unambiguous feelings of grief. The deep sadness we felt at her death mixed with generous proportions of rage and confusion.

The mourning process became even harder as well-meaning people who hadn’t lived with my mom kept telling us what a sweet person she was. Yes, she could be sweet, but she was often insanely harsh and, particularly in the case of my sister, was nicer to strangers and more distant relatives than she was with her own immediate family.

That’s what made my sister’s reaction to my mother’s passing all the more heroic. When Samantha called Marie to tell her that I needed her help, she traveled to the hospital without a moment’s hesitation, not knowing if my mother would be conscious and, if she were, if she would launch into another tirade. My mother spoke to Marie just once at the hospital. Arousing briefly from the painkillers, she looked at Marie with a vague sense of recognition and said, “You cut your hair,” as if they had seen each other three days rather three years ago. My mom then slipped back to sleep.

I think my sister shares with me an uncertainty over the existence of God and if such an entity exists, the nature of such a being. Even so, she forgave my mom’s harsh words and emotional withdrawal, acting with the type of love and charity that is supposed to be central to Christianity. My sister provided my mother with tender care and loyal advocacy in her last hours, even though she was never given the cliché “closure” pop psychologists babble about. My sister had to embrace someone who had rejected her without the benefit of reconciliation. It stood as the most courageous act I ever witnessed.

My mother essentially was unconscious by the time I got her transferred to hospice care at a nursing home across the street from the hospital. Marie, David, Samantha, Jeremy, Stephanie and Dominic all saw her the final night. My mom quietly stopped breathing at 2 a.m.

I had not planned to, but I ended up scribbling a few words to speak on her behalf the morning of her funeral service December 29. Here, only very slightly modified to clarify what I felt, is my eulogy for Marie L. Phillips, April 9, 1932—December 20, 2006:

“The end was very hard for my mother. There was a great deal of pain and suffering. I say this not to be melodramatic, but to illustrate something about her character. One of her last verbal exchanges came when we were transferring her from the hospital to hospice care. The paramedics arrived and they have a standard set of questions they ask before they load a patient on the ambulance: ‘What is your name?’ ‘What day is it?’ and ‘Who is the president?’ When the paramedic got to this last question, my mom looked at him and snapped, ‘Bush, that idiot.’

That moment captures my mother perfectly. She was combative, often extremely difficult. But even at her most painful moment she had a biting sense of humor and remained aware of the larger world around her. Mom always taught me that life was about more than paying bills and running errands. The news was always on in her house, supplemented with her non-stop commentary. She had an opinion about everything. I remember that one of my proudest moments was when I got her to vote for the first time, when she was 40, when I persuaded her to cast her first ballot for George McGovern in 1972. She had raised me to believe that we all shared a moral obligation to oppose Richard Nixon and through her I could. From that moment on, she was a political junkie.

Her passion for knowledge is all the more remarkable because she grew up in New Orleans in the 1930s and 1940s and received the terrible public education available in Deep South at that time. She often strained against the limits of that education. My mom had a unique way with the language. When she won a battle for my father to receive some wages owed him by the Post Office, she told me that dad was going to get ‘radioactive pay.’ Once, when she got impatient as we sat behind a slow-moving Garland garbage truck she fumed, ‘The city thinks they own the street.’ In spite of this, my mom taught herself how to balance a budget, negotiate home repairs and manage a household. She provided for us when my dad was serving in Korea and Vietnam. Our house was filled with books and she always encouraged us to study.

I see these traits still alive in myself and in my sister. I think often of my family history: my grandmother had to drop out of the fifth grade to work and I have a Ph.D. My sister didn’t have the chance to go to college and get a four-year degree. She had to raise two children at a young age. But my sister has never finished learning. She’s one of three named litigants who successfully sued the city of Crawford, vacation home of our president, over their oppressive anti-protest ordinance. Ask her and she can tell you anything you need to know about ‘fair trade’ coffee, or about labor conditions at sweat shops around the world, or about the war in Iraq. Like my mother, my sister has never stopped learning. My mother gave that to us. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote of the ‘will to power.’ Largely because of my mother, out family has been defined by the ‘will to knowledge.’

This morning, we were talking to my son Dominic about death. He abruptly told us, ‘I don’t want to go to heaven. I want to go to Europe.’ I honestly don’t know where my mother is at this moment. I have strained against the limits of my education. I think that all honest people admit that they don’t know what happens after death. I do know that thought can’t be pinpointed to any particular set of neurons. I know that there is something more to the collective than to the individual consciousness. I also know that my mother left two children who are successes and three grandchildren who are well on their way to being successes. And I do know that she is somewhere where her pain and responsibilities are over. And I hope wherever she is, it is as nice as Europe.”

Post-script:

We spent much the afternoon and the night following the memorial service (not a “life celebration” as some language vandals would have it) at my mother’s house. Friends and family gathered to wish us well. My sister-in-law Sara did a tireless and graceful job setting out a meal and drinks for the guests (Alice wanted to help but couldn’t because of her still painful sciatica.) We spent a large part of the evening answering Dominic’s questions about death. Mom had been cremated, as per her request and the ashes were placed in a box, which was buried next to my father’s casket. Dominic was somewhat puzzled by the proceedings

Dominic asked:
“Why was Gammy in the box?”
My wife Samantha, gamely fielding the questions, said something like this:
“Our bodies eventually become ashes and Gammy wanted it to happen sooner.”
Dominic asked:
“Where is heaven?”
My wife said:
“A lot of people think it is behind the clouds, but it can be everywhere: the trees, rivers, the rain . . .”
Dominic asked:
“Why did Gammy get sick?”
Samantha said,
“We don’t know. It just happened.”
Dominic asked:
“Did Gammy get sick because she fell?” [Feeling weak, my mom fell in a parking lot after Christmas shopping at a Target shortly before her final stint in the hospital. She got a black eye from the fall.]
Sam answered:
“No”
Dominic asked:
“Why do we bury people?”
Samantha said:
“Because our souls are not in our bodies and that is the custom. We like to have a place to say goodbye and remember the people who have gone to the angels, but her soul is all around us.”

Dominic’s questions continued for a while and I took leave. I stared at the TV set in the living room. All night, CNN broadcast a gruesome countdown to Saddam Hussein’s hanging, an event that finally took place after I got back to the bedroom and briefly slept with Sam and Dom. When I returned after a brief nap, a large crowd of Iraqi immigrants in Dearborn, Michigan, appeared on the screen and danced in the streets celebrating Saddam’s execution. I am numb, but not too numb to be repulsed by how ghoulish these celebrants and broadcast journalists are in contrast to my son’s innocent and loving inquiries about death.

We finally returned to our home in Bastrop. The night we return, December 30, vandals striking North Bastrop tore down our child’s chair swing in the front yard, our mail box, and some Christmas lights Samantha had carefully string along the top of our car port and planned to leave up until after New Year’s. We heard that now more than 3,000 American soldiers and Marines have died in Iraq. From the White House to the Kremlin, from Darfur to Baghdad, from Beijing, China, to Bastrop, Texas the terms of life on this planet have been dictated by the brutal, the greedy and the stupid.

My heart is heavy and edges towards despair as I greet the New Year. As I contemplate 2007, I can only humbly echo the beautiful words spoken by Bobby Kennedy during another dark night of the soul, on April 4, 1968, when the soon-to be-martyred Senator learned of Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder: “Let us dedicate ourselves to . . . tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Saddamy

The execution of Saddam Hussein this past week was cowardly not because the act was in and of itself unjust. If George W. Bush has been right about anything, he is correct that the former Iraqi dictator presided over a bloody and genocidal reign of terror. Hussein undoubtedly deserved his fate.

Hussein’s execution represents cowardice because it stands as the most ruthless cover-up yet by a White House set on deception and evasion. Previous war crimes trials, such as those held in Nuremberg, Germany after World War II, the various tribunals examining the mass murder ravaging Rwanda and Burundi in the 1990s, or the trial of Slobodan Milošević unfolding in The Hague until interrupted by the Serbian tyrant's sudden death last March, have not been simply about assessing the guilt of particular individuals, but about establishing an historical record.

The evidence amassed at Nuremberg represents the best refutation for ridiculous Holocaust deniers, from author David Irving to former Klansman and would-be politician David Duke to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Such cases produce archives that allow future historians, legal experts, and other scholars to examine and hopefully understand the complex phenomena of dictatorship, militarism and genocide.

The farcical Saddam Hussein trial, by contrast, was not about establishing an historical record. The deposed dictator was swiftly hanged for an ugly and relatively minor, though certainly evil and bloody, incident early in his presidency (the reprisal against the village of Dujail after a failed assassination attempt in 1982.) George W. Bush had no interest in historical truth. He used this trial as a pretext to quickly enact vengeance against a man who tried to engineer the assassination of his father, former President George H.W. Bush, in Kuwait in 1993. Bush 43 decidedly did not want trials to examine Hussein's other extensive crimes against the humanity, particularly those committed during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War.

Such a trial, conducted in a fair manner by an objective international court in The Hague would have cast a spotlight on the complicity of Ronald Reagan's administration in Hussein's war crimes against the Iranians. The court would have heard testimony on how American officials encouraged Hussein to invade his Shiite neighbor in order to destabilize the revolutionary regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini. The court would have heard how the United States provided Iraq with weapons of mass destruction, such as poison gas, and how the American military provided satellite photos that aided Hussein's generals in using those WMDs to butcher Iranian soldiers, who were often barely teenaged.

The court would have been treated to a parade of witnesses who would tell the world that the United States continued to give military and financial support to Saddam Hussein up to the eve of the Iraqi dictator's 1991 invasion of Kuwait, in spite of the CIA's thorough knowledge of Hussein's genocide against Kurds and human rights abuses against Iraqi Shiites and political dissenters.

These facts are widely known, but have not undergone the exhaustive documentation and testimony required in international war crimes trials. At a time when the administration faces investigations from a hostile Democratic Congress over cooked intelligence estimates of Iraqi WMDs, corruption by defense contractors that have grown rich from the Iraq war like Halliburton and KBR, and American human rights abuses in places like Abu Ghraib, Bush 43 has little stomach for a widely-publicized inquiry into the crimes of a past Republican administration, particularly one that included his father as vice president. Hanging Saddam was about shutting up him and his defense team, not about justice.

Americans should take no comfort from this event. In fact the hanging itself became further evidence of what a disaster this war has become.

Before Hussein dangled from a noose, a man taunted him by chanting ""Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada," a reference to the radical, anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the head of a political movement that has demanded American withdrawal from the country, and a man whose death squads have carried out deadly attacks against both American troops and minority Sunnis. Saddam's execution does not portend the end of totalitarianism in the region, or the dawn of free speech and religious liberty in the Middle East. It just represents more evidence that the anti-American regime in Iran has gained a powerful and oil-rich ally in the Shiite-dominated fragment of what used to be Iraq.

And sadly for this country, which this weekend lost its 3,000th soldier in a misbegotten children's crusade, the Shiite enemies of our enemy, the late Saddam Hussein, are most definitely not our friends.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.