Wednesday, August 24, 2011
The world used to really suck
Reading this book you get to hear about a case right near 1900 where a black man was accused of murder when a white man shot at him and missed and the black man shot back with much greater aim. The case is interesting because the black man was acquitted (self defence, obviously) and this was the first time in American history that a black person accused of killing a white person was not found guilty and executed. You also get to hear about strikers who were demanding the end of such practices as forbidding conversation during the 14 hour work day, requiring mandatory church attendance and paying employees in company scrip which could only be spent at the company store. The normal government response to this was to call in the military and have soldiers open fire on the strikers to get them back to work. The stories of the unbelievable cruelty and savagery of the government towards the people least able to defend themselves are endless and it is clear that the government was simply a tool of the rich to subjugate the poor.
I have generally had fairly little respect for unions throughout my life but reading through the details of their beginnings and the conditions they were created to fight against has really given me a lot of perspective on the matter. I also begin to see a very reasonable source for the common American sentiment that the government is evil and is simply out to get you - that was absolutely the unvarnished truth for several centuries though currently the waters are more muddied. The people of the US could quite reasonably conclude that the government is simply a tool of the rich to keep the poor in line by law when possible, by violence when necessary and that culture is still around today. The US government today is pretty dysfunctional still of course, you just have to consider their system of measurements, their military spending or their medical system to see that, but certainly it is hugely better than the early days in the 1700s and 1800s.
So if you want to understand the history of the US much better than most history classes would be able to achieve or gain some perspective on how great the world is today then this is a great book. It sure is a miserable collection of stories of tremendous human suffering at the behest of other humans though.... too bad that is the truth of the matter.
Picture from Wikipedia.