Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Historical Blindness



Flag-waving demonstrators filled the streets around our Jerusalem hotel. Sound trucks played lively Jewish music while young men sang and danced with their arms interlocked as they moved along the parade route. Our tour bus was returning from Bethlehem in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank and the driver had to let us off a block away because streets were sealed off by soldiers and police. We walked through young Israelis celebrating the 40th anniversary of their stunning victory over invading Arab countries in 1967’s Six Day War. Men with braids growing out of their temples and wearing black hats nodded approvingly as they watched. Groups of Israeli border guards, police, and soldiers with M16s stood and watched at strategic locations on the streets, sidewalks and on surrounding rooftops.

The celebrating young Israelis were passionately patriotic and unlike anything I’d ever seen among young Americans back home. The contrast between that parade and what I had just left in Bethlehem less than five miles down the road was striking. While our bus had been inching toward the Israeli military checkpoint as we were leaving the Palestinian Authority-controlled area, I examined graffiti on the Palestinian side of the thirty-foot-tall security wall. I saw huge images which had to have been made using ladders. Raindrops from a passing thundershower blurred my view through the bus window, but I could see a huge pair of glaring eyes flanked on both sides by a keffiyeh of the pattern Yassir Arafat always wore. Next to that was a huge brown lion slaughtering a white dove. I couldn’t read the accompanying Arabic script but symbolism was unmistakable and malignant. It justified the wall. Our hotel was on the border between East and West Jerusalem and had been an Israeli bunker during the 1948 and 1967 wars. A line of soldiers with M16s faced Arab East Jerusalem as if they expected an attack, especially given that the 1967 victory being celebrated was a humiliation for Arabs.

As I stood on the sidewalk watching the parade, I thought it was a likely venue for a Palestinian Muslim suicide bomber. The dramatic graffiti I’d just seen proclaimed the hatred epidemic in young Palestinian men. I knew they were raised from childhood to blame their miserable circumstances on Israel and, increasingly, on the United States. I remembered watching film of Palestinians celebrating in the streets of the West Bank on September 11th before that film was pulled by the networks.

I also knew there were far too many Americans who see the situation as the Palestinians do, and there were others who asked themselves, “Why do they hate us?” Liberals in the United States and Europe strongly suspect the root cause of Muslim fanaticism is US and Israeli “oppression.” Not only have liberals and their leftist allies forgotten September 11th, but some like Rosie O’Donnell believe the US government itself was behind the attacks that day. I’ve been writing them off as moonbats or misguided isolationists who feel safe with oceans on either side of them. They actually believe the US can just pull out of the Middle East as we did from Vietnam and the fighting will just stop. Their numbers are growing, however, and their votes elected a Democrat majority in the US Congress last year. This de facto alliance with Palestinian fanatics is depressing.

But alas, I was even more dismayed to discover that many Israelis also blame their country for Palestinian fanaticism. These Israelis are the opposite of the ones I saw demonstrating in front of my hotel and they support the inept Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. An embarrassing photograph of Olmert’s Defense Minister attempting to look through binoculars with the lens caps still on was published in February. Several times he pretended to look through the lens caps at Israel military exercises in the Golan Heights, then turned his head and nodded to others behind him as if he were actually seeing something. This obvious blindness is symbolic of how Israeli liberals see their own history.

Israel has existed less than sixty years but it’s suffered large-scale attacks four times by Arab countries surrounding it like Syria, Egypt, and Jordan in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. Between those wars, it has endured almost constant terrorist attacks in the form of rockets, suicide bombings and kidnappings. Twice, Israel took the Sinai from Egypt and gave it back. Egypt’s part was to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, but is rocketed every day from there. Despite all this, there are just as many naive liberals in Israel, percentage-wise, as there are in the United States. Though Israel has fought off invasions and terrorist attacks constantly in its short, 59-year history, though Israel has several times given back land it conquered from Arab countries in exchange for peace that never came, there is still a sizable block of voters there who seem prepared to do it again. Prime Minister Olmert is ready to discuss giving the Golan Heights back to Syria.

Prospects for peace in Israel are remote. Another war is likely this summer. If there will continue to even be an Israel is dependent on what group prevails - Prime Minister Olmert’s liberal moonbats or those demonstrators I saw in Jerusalem last month.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Whitewashed Textbooks Alter American History

How baby boomers remember the sixties often determines how they view the world today. If they’re nostalgic over the fortieth anniversary of the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco’s Haight/Ashbury district and believe that changes in American culture resulting from the sixties have been largely positive, they probably consider themselves liberal and vote Democrat. If they have a generally negative view of those changes, they probably consider themselves conservative and vote Republican. When teaching the sixties in my 20th-century US History course, I’ve often started with this observation.

In a word-association exercise, I asked students to say the first thing to come into their minds when I said: “The Sixties.” The usual answer was, “hippies.” I then instructed them to look up hippies in the index of their textbooks and they would discover that the word wasn’t there. The closest thing to what most people understand “hippies” to have been was a passage about the “counterculture” that went as follows:
Many young Americans became involved in the counterculture movement. Like the Beat Generation of the 1950s, members of the counterculture rejected traditional customs and ideas. Young people protested against the lifestyle of their parents by trying to be different. They developed their own lifestyle. They liked to wear torn, faded jeans and simple work clothes. Women wore miniskirts. Men often wore beards and let their hair grow long. Many listened to new forms of rock music. Some experimented with illegal drugs. Members of the counterculture adopted new attitudes and values. They criticized competition and the drive for personal success. They questioned some aspects of traditional family life.

Talk about soft-soaping history. The passage was so vague it was hard to know where to start critical analysis. First I asked students if they thought the textbook’s authors were describing hippies. They did. Then I asked them to read the passage over again and make a judgment about whether it was a positive depiction of hippies, a negative depiction, or a neutral one.

Most thought it was negative or neutral - negative because it said hippies used drugs. I pointed out that the passage actually read: “Some experimented with illegal drugs,” and I asked them how many times a person who “experimented” with drugs would actually take them. Almost invariably they answered, “Once or twice.”

Then I asked them if they thought their textbook’s authors were trying to give students the impression that only a few hippies used drugs, and then only once or twice.

At this, most students paused, thought about the question, and then suggested that most hippies used a lot of drugs quite frequently over a long period. I told them their assessment would agree with what I remembered having grown up at that time, and that most other people my age would also agree. I suggested that the textbook’s authors were purposely playing down hippie or “counterculture” drug use by claiming that “Some experimented with illegal drugs” when in fact, counterculture drug use was widespread, that it destroyed countless lives, and it has gotten so bad in the forty years since that all of us personally know people who are ruining their lives with illegal drugs today.

I could have taught for a month critically analyzing the rest of that passage on sixties “counterculture” but there wasn’t time. For instance: “[The counterculture] criticized competition and the drive for personal success.” Why? [The counterculture] questioned some aspects of traditional family life.” Talk about understatement. What aspects? Why? How have American families fared under counterculture influence? “They developed their own lifestyle.” What lifestyle? How has that lifestyle played out over the last forty years? Has it been good or bad? Why?

Sure, a lot of the music was good, but what about all the rest?

Our textbook, Prentice Hall’s The American Nation 2002 is exceedingly dull - just like every other US History text available for sale when I had to purchase a new set five years ago. It tries so hard to be inoffensive and has such a strong liberal bias that it can take heroic, tragic, appalling and inspiring stories from our nation’s past and make them boring. The only good thing about the book is that my teaching can sometimes appear interesting in contrast. It makes a great foil.

The textbook industry is very lucrative. Dull but very expensive history texts are specially tailored to an overwhelmingly liberal corps of teachers who think the sixties were wonderful. Teachers’ unions are the Democratic Party’s biggest constituency. This teacher an anomaly and an anachronism, but I’ll be back next year.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What Is Wrong With President Carter?

Our most foolish ex-president just said it was "criminal" that the United States supports Fatah over Hamas, since Hamas is so efficient. Doesn't seem to matter to Carter that Hamas is dedicated to, in their own words: "killing every last Jew in Israel," or that it throws hand grenades at fleeing refugees, or that it throws teenagers off tall buildings who are bound and gagged. While I like it when a liberal icon makes a fool of himself and I would normally recommend giving him more rope, this is just too embarrassing. Someone please make him shut up.

See more here:
http://www.captainsquartersblog.com/mt/archives/010287.php

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Racist Card

Having been called a racist, a bigot or a homophobe more times than I can count, such accusations have no sting. Long ago I recognized them for what they were: ad hominem attacks by those who had run out of logical arguments. They’re still used often - most recently by President Bush against his own political base who oppose his illegal alien amnesty plan. Instead of quelling opposition however, Bush’s accusations inflamed it. What looked like a sure thing after Democrats won control of Congress is going down to defeat. Pundits are shocked. What’s going on?

Ordinary people are getting smarter as the mainstream media loses its power. That’s what’s going on. The New York Times doesn’t define political debate exclusively anymore. For decades, CBS, NBC and ABC followed the Times and broadcast the same stories the paper had on its front page and gave them the same spin. Now Pinch Sulzberger, owner of the Times and The Boston Globe, is losing circulation so fast he said he isn’t sure there will even be a New York Times in five years. What happened? Two things: the internet and talk radio, but especially the internet.

It used to be that if the Times ignored a story, so did the major networks and so did the weekly newsmagazines. The story died. People figured that if they didn’t see it on TV, it didn’t happen. Now however, The Drudge Report will publish an internet link and tens of millions of grassroots Americans will know about it within hours. Talk radio hosts keep a close watch on Drudge and they broadcast what he posts to millions more as they drive home from work. People exchange linked stories via email with relatives and friends after dinner. Now, the mainstream media may ignore a story but Americans still know about it.

And that’s not all. If the Times and their MSM cohorts deign to cover a story they consider distasteful and put a negative spin on it, they may find themselves objects of ridicule by millions of ordinary Americans the very same day. If you don’t believe it, ask Dan Rather. This is quite a comeuppance for our media elitists who for decades considered themselves sole arbiters of what people should know. They didn’t realize how insular they’d become attending the same cloistered universities and cocktail parties as our political elite. They didn’t comprehend how far out of touch with ordinary Americans they were.

To them, illegal aliens were not a drain on expensive social services or a tax burden. They were those nice housekeepers and gardeners for their McMansions. They were nice nannies for their children and nurse’s aides for their aging parent(s) whom they employed at low wages and without benefits. They felt all tolerant and multicultural and diversity-celebrating as they waved goodbye and drove to the office in their Volvos tut-tutting about the racist bigots who want to deport their nice “undocumented immigrants” and build a fence on the Mexican border.

They didn’t socialize with people who own small businesses trying to compete with outfits who keep an illegal alien workforce off the books and underbid them for roofing jobs and building contracts while had to pay minimum wages, social security taxes, workmen’s compensation and liability insurance. They didn’t socialize with tradesmen whose wages plummet because illegals work for less than half of what they were getting. They didn’t sit for hours in the emergency room listening to their kid moan as they wait for an X-ray on his arm while legions of illegals go ahead of them, knowing all the while that they’re paying astronomical health insurance premiums because illegals don’t pay anything. The elite didn’t send their kids to public schools mobbed with illegals who required expensive special services at $15-20,000 per kid per year. They didn’t stand in line behind them at supermarket checkout lines to realize they’re paying not only for their own groceries, but for the illegal’s groceries as well.

The elite don’t go to barbecues with cops who routinely stopped illegal drivers with no licenses, no registrations, no insurance and with stolen plates and be forced to let them go when federal immigration officials say they’re too busy to pick them up. They haven’t suffered property damage when illegal aliens ran into them with their uninsured junkers, then ran away. They didn’t seethe with anger viewing emails from relatives with pictures showing hundreds of thousands of illegals with Mexican flags on streets of American cities demanding their “rights.”

Ordinary Americans do this stuff every day. They know it’s not racist or bigoted to resent invaders who cut in line and expect a free ride in their own home towns. Our elites played the “racist card” thinking it was still a trump, but it isn’t anymore. Grassroots Americans have their own media. Times have changed.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Constant State of War

On our second day in Israel, Palestinian terrorists rocketed an Israeli town called Sderot near the Gaza Strip less than forty miles from our hotel. Israeli planes hit Hamas locations in retaliation. We were advised to call and assure families of our safety because it was all over the news back home. I got online and read a frantic email from our daughter, Sarah, asking if we were all right. We called to reassure her that we weren’t in danger.

But were we? Israel is in a constant state of war. When my wife visited in May of 2000, she called me from Galilee. The NBC Nightly News was reporting rocket attacks into Israel from southern Lebanon and I asked her if she could hear anything. She said she could hear explosions in the distance, but she wasn’t afraid. “We’re fine,” she said. “Don’t worry.”

Returning to my classroom after the trip, a student asked me if anyone ever pointed a gun at me. “Yes,” I said, “but not in Israel. That happened in Massachusetts.” Danger is a relative thing. In any given place natives learn where to go and where to avoid, but I was in strange territory. That night, I heard what sounded like gunshots outside the hotel. Two of the guys I sat with at breakfast the next morning told me they heard it too. One suggested it might have been firecrackers. The other, a former US Marine, said emphatically that it wasn’t fireworks.

I felt safe in Jewish areas but anxious in Palestinian sections. Traveling around the country by bus, I looked out the window constantly because I didn’t want to miss anything. The contrast between Jewish areas and Palestinian areas was stark. In the Oslo Accords in 1993, Israel agreed to turn over most of the West Bank which it took from Jordan after that country, together with Syria and Egypt, were about to invade Israel in 1967. Palestinians in turn, agreed to recognize Israel’s right to exist and stop their terrorism. Israel began turning over territory (Bethlehem, Jericho, Hebron, etc.) but Palestinian terrorism didn’t stop. It increased. So Israel began building walls around the areas already given to the Palestinian Authority.

Street scenes on the Palestinian side of any checkpoint we passed were markedly different than on the Israeli side. I saw groups of men loitering. Very few did I ever see working. Young, middle-aged and old men sat around and stared as we went by. I never saw women hanging around as the men did. Wearing head coverings, they were usually walking purposefully, in pairs or with children in hand. They had a destination and wasted no time getting there.

Passing through areas still controlled by Israel, we went through Jewish sections and Palestinian sections. I didn’t need to see minarets to realize we had passed out of the former into the latter. I’d see trash, graffiti, abandoned buildings and idle men. It didn’t take a sociologist to figure out that Israel functions well, while “Palestine” functions somewhere between feebly and not at all. We went into a lot of Palestinian areas of Jerusalem, the West Bank, as well as central and northern Israel, because that’s where most Christian shrines are, and I saw the same things. Palestinian towns like Nazareth in northern Israel seemed somewhat better, maybe because they’d been under Israeli control since 1948, whereas those in the West Bank and Jerusalem were taken in 1967.

For our last few days we stayed in an Arab-owned hotel in a Palestinian neighborhood on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem from the east. It was a beautiful view, but we were advised to watch out for pickpockets and take cabs to the old city rather than walk the streets. Nearly every time we were getting on or off the bus we were besieged by peddlers or panhandlers. Boys pulled at the pen in my breast pocket and put an arm on my shoulder. I had to push them away with one hand while keeping my other hand on my wallet.

Fighting in the Gaza Strip had started between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas. Both are terrorist “organizations.” In the midst of fighting each other, Hamas fired rockets into Israel. Why? For the same reason Saddam fired scuds at Tel Aviv during the Gulf War. Killing Jews is the cheapest way to score points in the eyes of other Arabs as if Jews were responsible for their miserable conditions. Hitler did the same thing. He knew it was simpler to blame Germany’s problems on Jews than look in the mirror for the real cause. It’s no coincidence that Hitler’s book, “Mein Kampf” (My Battle) does well in its Arabic translation “Jihad.” It’s banned in Germany now, but it’s a top-ten seller in the Middle East.

Israel and the United States have the same enemy: Islamofascism. The sooner we Americans realize that, the better. Reading about Islamofascist terror plots to shoot up Fort Dix and blow up JFK the past few weeks, I wondered if what I was seeing in Israel was a glimpse of our own future.

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