Bill Moyers has written a piece for Salon in which he makes the claim that American history shows our country to be no better than ISIS. He mentions the Jordanian pilot who was burned alive by ISIS and then spends most of his column describing the lynching by fire of an 18-year-old black man named Jesse Washington, who was accused of murdering a white woman in 1916. He ends his piece by making a moral equivalence between ISIS and the “barbarians” in America’s history.
Salon – Yes, it was hard to get back to sleep the night we heard the news of the Jordanian pilot’s horrendous end. ISIS be damned! I thought. But with the next breath I could only think that our own barbarians did not have to wait at any gate. They were insiders. Home grown. Godly. Our neighbors, friends and kin. People like us.
People like us. Is he serious?
Perhaps Mr. Moyers can draw no distinction between the lynch mobs of American history and the Islamic butchers of today but that does not mean there isn’t one. The lynch mobs of our past are certainly blots on American decency but the chief thing to note here is that it is our past, not our present. I know of no one who yearns for the lynching days or thinks that lynchings were honorable acts that rank with such notable historical events as freeing the slaves and the end of segregation. Certainly there have been people in America’s past who were capable of evil, just as there are today. That mob lynchings were not uncommon speaks not to the moral equivalence between ISIS and Americans, but to the overall decency of Americans who put an end to the lynch mobs and the influence of hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White Camelia. It took years of effort but the lynch mobs of American history are just that – history.
One of the major differences between America’s ‘barbaric’ era and ISIS is that throughout the lynching era there were countless Americans who made valiant efforts to end the lynchings. Can Moyers point to even one person in ISIS who has publicly opposed their butchery? There was always resistance from Democrats, but that did not stop Republicans from working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (bet you didn’t know that!) to put forth anti-lynching legislation, only to have it defeated by Democrats.
The Real Lynching Party – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People organized support from white and black Americans and ran a national campaign to get a federal anti-lynching law passed. In 1920 the Republican Party promised at its national convention to support an anti-lynching law. Rep. Leonidas Dyer, a Missouri Republican, sponsored an anti-lynching bill in 1921 and it was passed in the US House of Representatives in January 1922. A Senate filibuster by Southern white Democrats defeated the bill in December 1922. With the NAACP’s help, Rep. Dyer spoke across the country in support of his bill in 1923, but the Southern Democrats filibustered it again.
From 1882 to 1968 nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress and three passed the House. Seven presidents between 1880 and 1952 petitioned Congress to pass a federal anti-lynching law. No bill was approved by the Senate because of the strong opposition from the Southern Democrats.
In 1934 Senators Robert Wagner and Edward Costigan drafted the Wagner-Costigan bill to require local authorities to protect prisoners from lynch mobs. Like Dyer’s bill, it made lynching a Federal crime. Virtually all Southern Democrat senators blocked the Wagner-Costigan bill by using a filibuster to prevent a vote on the bill.
In truth, there is no comparison between the lynch mobs of America’s past and the butchery of ISIS. If the Jordanian pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh, had not been burned to death Moyers would have never thought to draw the comparison at all. Lynch mobs were somewhat spontaneous by nature and had their focus on a few persons at most while ISIS is a terrorist organization bent on taking over countries, butchering all infidels and imposing Sharia law on the conquered. Aside from the pilot’s horrific death by fire, how is there a similarity?
Moyers also chooses to focus on the evil minority in America’s past. No country has ever been without its evil citizens and America is certainly no exception. But like other countries, America has also had our exceptional people and great statesman who advanced the rights and freedom of not only their fellow Americans, but of other people in countries all over the world. Our Founders sacrificed their fortunes, in some cases their families and risked their lives to bring liberty and freedom from tyranny to their fellow Americans. Our history is filled with countless men and women who did great things for their fellow citizens. Abraham Lincoln led the country through the Civil War, resulting in an end to slavery. Susan B. Anthony had a prominent role in the anti-slavery movement and later worked for women’s suffrage. Dwight Eisenhower led the Allied forces in Europe and freed the continent from the Nazis. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was a civil rights leader whose nonviolent efforts to end racial segregation and discrimination culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ronald Reagan worked with Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II to bring an end to Soviet communism in Eastern Europe, bringing liberation to millions.
There are countless other examples of great Americans throughout our history who did great things for Americans and for mankind. My question to Mr. Moyers is to please point out to me even one person in ISIS who has done anything comparable. Is there even one woman in ISIS who has been a leader for change? The only ‘prominent’ woman in ISIS I have read about was one who tried to be a suicide bomber but failed and was just recently hanged in Jordan. Where is ISIS’s Harriet Tubman?
Moyers shows his own disdain for American exceptionalism when he has the temerity to compare America’s past to ISIS. Focusing on a small minority of people who did commit some awful crimes in the past may make it easier for him and perhaps other leftists to give the ISIS butchers a pass and excuse their barbarity. But in reality all he is doing is highlighting the contempt he has for his own country and showing himself to be an ISIS apologist.