Terry McLaughlin: A nation of mobs and factions or of honor, respect, justice, liberty and law?
In “1984”, George Orwell warned of a dystopia in which records of the past would be destroyed or falsified, cultural monuments would be pulled down, and “Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
We may be seeing more than a whiff of that right now as a debate over policing and race has degenerated into lawlessness and mob rule, and we watch in horror as monuments to the likes of George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, Frances Scott Key, Junipero Serra, Miquel de Cervantes, and Andrew Jackson are being vandalized and torn down in cities across the country.
And the mobs have not been discriminating, as they have targeted Founding Fathers, Confederate generals, Union generals, abolitionists, black Civil War units, and even a Holocaust victims’ memorial in Santa Rosa just this past week. The mayor of Seattle said that the violent occupation of part of her city (which has since resulted in at least four shootings and one death) could be like “the summer of love.” She would likely feel comfortable calling the Normandy invasion a pleasant day at the beach.
This destructive and lawless behavior — the vandalism, looting, illegal occupation of private and public properties, arson, injury and death — does not reflect a demonstration of grief or solidarity for the unwarranted death of George Floyd. This is now an attempt to purge what some have deemed to be the historical and cultural sins of our past, if not part of our very DNA. We should heed President Eisenhower’s words during a commencement speech at Dartmouth in 1952, when, without notes or a teleprompter, he wisely advised the graduates “Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed.”
Taylor Caldwell was one of those great writers who never attempted to conceal the faults of people or nations. One of the most prolific and widely read authors of the 20th century, she published more than 40 novels, many of which became New York Times bestsellers. Among the common themes her books possess are self-reliance, individualism, man’s struggle for justice, the government’s encroachment on personal freedoms, and the conflict between man’s desire for wealth and power and his need for love and family. In 1959, several years after Eisenhower gave that sage advice, Caldwell published an historical novel set in Rome during the time of Christ, called “Dear and Glorious Physician,” which contemplates the fall of a great empire.
In it she wrote: “The shining city, the mistress of the world, became a sewer of corruption, treason, greed, plotting, pleasure and decay, a stench of foulness from which wafted the fevers and madness and disease which were polluting the farthest reaches of the Empire!”
“And the Roman mobs of many races! Even Julius Caesar had feared them, with reason, and had cowered before them, and had flattered them and placated them. Where once there had lived a sober and thrifty citizenry, proud of their founding fathers, jealous of their Republic, finding their full expression of being in work and family and their gods, and in their quiet homes and the shadows of their trees, there now lived a … rapacious rabble, quick to acclaim, quick to murder, quick to quarrel and as senselessly quick to approve … loathing work and preferring to beg, and everlastingly calling upon the State to support them, fawning on the vile politicians who catered to them and threatening the few honest men who opposed them for the good of Rome, and even for their own good; endlessly demanding bread and circuses … worshipping the newest racer or actor, or discus thrower as if he were the greatest of men; devouring, in their idleness, the crushing taxes imposed on worthier men for their support … the accursed mobs, fit masters and slaves of their patrons, their politicians, the gatherers of their votes!”
“No wonder there were now so few sound artisans, merchants, workers, and builders in Rome. The monstrous government sucked in the fruit of their labors in the form of taxes for an idle and screaming and devouring State-supported rabble. What mattered it to … the man on the street that he had destroyed the heroic splendor of Rome, had defamed its gods, and had thrown dung on the statues of the fathers? Could he not, now, by howling and by marking on walls at night, get his bowl refilled with more beans and more soup and more bread? … It is the mob who finally decides when virtue shall die.”
In a book published more than 60 years ago, describing an era more than 2,000 years in our past, can any parallels be found with those whom today wish to erase our American history and culture, defile and “throw dung on the statues of our fathers,” and “mark the walls at night?”
We owe it to ourselves to at least give sober and serious thought to that question, as we all know what happened to the once great and thriving Roman Empire. History has shown us time and time again that mob justice is unlikely to ever produce any kind of post-racial paradise, but rather a disintegration of freedom in which we will become a nation of mobs and factions, rather than a nation of honor, respect, justice, liberty and law.
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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