Friday, March 14, 2014

Where is Joe Welch?


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While decluttering my house after the death of my dear wife, I found this photograph (yes, that is me), taken circa 1980. Whenever I show this photo, the immediate response is laughter. If I attempted to do this today, assuming I could get this close, the end result would probably be a bullet through my head. Back then, nobody cared. I am sure if I had jumped the fence, something would have happened. We, as a country, have gone overboard.

Consider what happened to the lady who either had a mental breakdown or simply panicked when she approached or tried to run her car into the grounds of the White House. She was shot down like a dog. It is not that she was simply shot but that she was shot so many times "they had difficulty identifying her because of the extent of her injuries"[1]. If you take the time to view some of the videos taken after the incident, you will see the officers involved carrying M-4s: the same weapon our troops use in Afghanistan. Lethal military-style force with overkill was used against an unarmed civilian who probably had a psychological disorder with a baby in a car. And nobody, at least in power, seems to care.

Our country has a long history of periods of overreaction against foreign threats: the Alien and Sedition Acts over fears of the French Revolution coming to the United States; the Know-Nothings in the 1850s after the revolution of 1848 in Europe associated with the influx of immigrants from Germany and Ireland; the Red Scare after 1919,  the Russian Revolution; the McCarthy era in the 1950s; and, I believe today, after 9/11.

On continuing the process described above, I discovered correspondence between my wife's grandfather and his relatives in Europe prior to and during World War II. The letters are written in Polish, Yiddish, and German. When I showed them to my 92-year-old father-in-law to find out who was who, he expressed interest and surprise, asking "where did I get them?", having never seen them. They had sat in his basement for 30-plus years in a box after the death of his mother. I have inherited them. In 1939 the return address on a series of them changed from Lodz, Poland to Warschau (German for Warsaw) with a Nazi stamp on them. Until 1941 the postmarks in Chicago are dated fairly contemporaneously, but after that date the letters were not received until 1946. This entire family perished.

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As an American, the most remarkable document is a letter dated September 26, 1938 from the American Consul in Warsaw, Poland regarding the immigration case of Miss Fryda Heller (my wife's maiden name is Galler; Galler, Geller, Heller are all the same name) wherein are described the hoops she would have had to jump through to emigrate to the United States pursuant to the Immigration Act of 1924. The United States had no comprehensive immigration policy until 1917, if I may overlook the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the "Gentleman's Agreement" of 1907 with Japan both of which had the obvious goal of keeping Asians out, when concerns about National Security during World War I aimed at preventing immigrants with potentially radical views, primarily Jews and Italians, from entering the country. The Immigration Act of 1921 set quotas based on the number of foreign-born citizens in the 1910 census. This was felt not to be restrictive enough and the Act of 1924 proportioned quotas on the origins of the entire American population based on the 1890 census. The intention was to encourage immigrants from the British Isles and Northern Europe while excluding those from Eastern and Southern Europe (Jews and Italians). Thus the 1938 quota for Poland was roughly 5000 and was generally never filled. This letter was a bureaucratic death sentence.

I have no animus towards the American Consul: he was carrying out the duly promulgated laws of the American Congress. But did carrying out his duties give him any qualms? Create any psychic stress? Did he have any regrets? I attempted to contact one of his descendants but received no answer to these questions.

Our periods of overreaction seem to be more protracted as the Republic ages. The Alien and Sedition Acts were very short-lived and led to an ignominious end to the Adams administration. The Know-Nothings were and have been an object of ridicule. The Red Scare effects were more long-lasting (vide supra). And the McCarthy era slowly petered out only in the early 1960s. The extreme fear which has characterized the present time has led to more than 12 years of limited liberty, more pervasive because of technology, with no end in sight. And again note that immigration policy is somehow intertwined. No establishment figure of probity has stood up and said we are out of control, or frankly crazy. The critics who have had some effect either demonstrate a profound hatred of the United States, are very strange individuals with delusions of grandeur, or are a combination of both (think Julian Assange and Edward Snowden), and thus, perhaps rightly, have been marginalized.

Where is Joe Welch?

At the climax of the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954 when Sen. McCarthy accused a junior associate of  Joe Welch, an old-time Boston lawyer, who was the lead counsel defending the Army, of being a communist, Mr. Welch replied, "Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyer's Guild... Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator; you've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?". That was the end of a demagogue's career. I strongly suggest anyone who is not seen this confrontation view it[2], or better yet watch the documentary Point of Order (1964)[3].

We live pusillanimous times.

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