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: tomthemick@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Progressive Fruits

“Death to America! Death to America!” shouted a million Iranians in the capital square. Every year they would gather to chant, and every year I would show film clips to my students. It was always instigated by Iran’s government in a country that calls itself “The Islamic Republic of Iran,” which, I’m sure, President Obama would insist has nothing to do with Islam as he negotiates with the ayatollahs.
My teaching ran directly counter to what was being taught in the vast majority of American public school classrooms. Most American students hear that Islam is a religion of peace. A majority of the world’s muslims are peaceful, most teachers claim. About the latter, they are correct. About the former? Fourteen hundred years of history gives lie to any assertion that Islam is a religion of peace. Yes, it was relatively peaceful between the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 to the Iranian revolution in 1979, but in virtually every other period since about 600 AD, Islam has been anything but.
But I was an anachronism. Those calling themselves Progressives have been in charge of education in America at all levels for almost two generations and the results are coming in. During the span of just two days I read about the following:
Students at the University of California at Irvine voted to ban the American flag in a portion of campus because they want to be “inclusive.” I figured: Oh well, that’s California — the left coast — the land of fruits and nuts — run yet again by Jerry “Governor Moonbeam” Brown. No big deal. Par for the course.
Then a dean at Cornell University was asked by an undercover conservative posing as a Moroccan student if he would welcome ISIS on campus. “Sure,” he said. Then he was asked if the “student” could invite “a freedom fighter [from ISIS] to come and do like a training camp for students.” And the response? “You would be allowed to do something like that. It’s just like bringing in a coach, to do a training, a sports trainer or something,” said the dean. Perhaps the dean doesn’t know that ISIS is at war with western civilization - which isn’t a required course anymore at Cornell, or at 86% of all other American universities either. Students at Cornell are instead required to take a course in a non-western culture.
Then Meredith Shiner, a reporter at Yahoo News, commented on Senator Ted Cruz’s announcement that he was running for president, by tweeting: “Bizarre [for you, Senator Cruz] to talk about how rights are God-made and not man-made in your speech announcing a POTUS bid? When Constitution was man-made?”
Hmm. Shiner graduated from Duke University, worked at Roll Call and Politico before Yahoo News, yet she’s a progressive who clearly doesn’t know much. She doesn’t know, for instance, that the concept of God-given rights isn’t in our Constitution. It comes from our Declaration of Independence, which was written shortly after the “shot heard ’round the world” was fired in Lexington, Massachusetts. But things have changed even there. After students at Lexington High School voted a theme of  “American Pride” for a school dance, their progressive school administrators cancelled it because it excluded other nationalities. “People consider America to be a melting pot, so the fact that it was even considered offensive is what people are a little surprised about,” said student Sneha Rao. I’m not surprised. That’s progressive education in action.
This was a little closer to home. I grew up less than twenty miles from Lexington. Yes, I know it’s in Massachusetts, sometimes referred to as “The People’s Republic of Massachusetts” and it’s a famously progressive state like California, but still. American pride is offensive? In America? What have we become?
Fryeburg Academy

Even closer to home, I read that a lacrosse coach at Fryeburg Academy was encouraged to resign because he posted a letter on his Facebook page. This guy coached some of my former students. The Conway Daily Sun reported: “The letter, written by ‘An American Citizen’ was about Obama’s speech given in Cairo in 2009 [in which he] said that Islam has long been a part of American history.” The letter goes on to criticize Islam, saying Muslims are still the largest traffickers in human slavery, which the US State Department reported in 2009. It claims Muslims were allied with Hitler in World War II, which they certainly were. Hitler’s Mein Kampf remains a best seller in Turkey and across the Middle East. In Arabic, it’s called “My Jihad.” My former students know all this.
The letter claims Muslims were either silent on or pleased with the September 11th attacks. That’s dismaying, but also absolutely true. For years I showed students video of Muslims dancing in the streets of East Jerusalem, which progressive mainstream media outlets quickly squashed. Visiting there in 2005, I was advised by my Palestinian guide not to leave the hotel by myself — because it wasn’t safe for Americans.
The Sun reported that although Coach Lees was to meet with top administrators about the letter, “athletic director Sue Thurston told him a decision to fire him had already been made,” so he resigned. Unless there was something more damning in “the letter” than the Sun reported, it looks like Fryeburg Academy officials should bone up on the history of Islam.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Don't Fight Without It

President Truman was right to demand unconditional surrender from Japan. After we destroyed their navy and were bombing them daily, they sought negotiations. Truman refused, and warned them he had a fearsome new weapon he would use against them if they didn’t surrender unconditionally. Teaching US History again to a group of ten high-school aged home schoolers, I’m showing them “Hiroshima.” It’s a wonderfully produced historical film depicting events, both in Japan and in the United States from FDR’s death in April, 1945 to the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August.

Unconditional surrender is what the United States should demand whenever we go to war with anyone. Soldiers we send to fight and die deserve nothing less. We do them a disservice if we send them without a clear sense that it’s absolutely right to declare war, and with the commitment to see that war through to a victorious end. Otherwise, we shouldn’t go to war at all.

We shouldn’t fight without a declaration by congress either. The last time that happened was 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor. We’ve fought in dozens of places and circumstances since - large and small, short and long - and how has it worked out? Korea is still divided; North Korea is still hostile, threatening the US with nuclear weapons they developed while we were “negotiating” with them. Vietnam is reunited, but under communist rule. That development went against the Truman Doctrine of containing communism rather than defeating it outright as General George Patton wanted to do after the Nazis surrendered in May, 1945. President Obama claimed to end the war in Iraq, but did he? Looks like it’s still raging, and we’re going back in.
We went into Afghanistan after the September 11th attacks to get Osama Bin Laden, who planned the attacks from there. Americans supported that effort wholeheartedly, but Bin Laden escaped across the border into Pakistan. President Bush decided not to pursue him there. Big mistake. Bush should have said to Pakistan: “Give him over or we’re coming in after him,” but he didn’t.
Instead, we continued the “war” in Afghanistan that was really nation-building. Could we realistically expect to build a democratic nation in a region ruled for millennia by tribal warlords? Could we expect to even hold Afghanistan after the British experience there? The Russian experience? Another big mistake. We were after Bin Laden and we took our eye off the ball. War is war. It’s what we do when negotiations fail. It’s brutal. People get killed and things get wrecked. Often, it’s innocent civilians who are killed. War is hell, as General Sherman observed and that’s no less true today than it was when he said it. That’s why we shouldn’t conduct it unless congress declares it. When we do go to war, we should go all-out until it’s over — and it’s only over when the other side gives up unconditionally. Absent that, it’s just going to flare up again like a smoldering ember.
We’re not capable of nation-building anywhere else but right here. Only the people who live in a place are capable of creating a nation there. That’s how ours was built. Have we forgotten that? I think we have. We should have searched out al Qaida and destroyed it — wherever it went to hide. If things got wrecked and people were killed? Well, that’s war. Don’t start if it you’re not willing to finish it. It’s not our obligation to clean up afterward either. It’s the job of the people who live there. They’ll be more careful of who they let in next time.
Teaching again, I’m reminded of how idealistic young people are. As we study each of America’s wars, I say: “Now that you understand what caused the war, how it was fought, and how it turned out, imagine you were an 18-year-old male when it started. Would you volunteer to fight?” The only way to decide is to ask themselves if they were willing to risk their lives in pursuit of whatever the goal was. If it was ill-defined, the answer was usually no. Defining the goal is the job of our elder statesmen and women. If they can’t do it in simple terms, it’s not worth dying for.
Surviving relatives should be able to say something more than “He was killed in WWII.” Rather, they can say: “He died to defeat Nazism.” Veterans can say: “I lost my leg fighting the Japanese who attacked us.” What can the last soldier maimed by an IED just before the scheduled Obama pullout from Afghanistan say? Our soldiers shouldn’t have to think more than a second about why they’re fighting, but today our president refuses to even mention our enemy by name.
Harry S. Truman was an ordinary American thrust by circumstances into a position where he had to make a momentous decision in only a few weeks: whether to use an awesome new weapon on our declared enemy — and thereby bring the most destructive war in history to an end, decisively, with no smoldering embers. Truman said he never lost a minute’s sleep after making it, and today, Japan is one of our closest allies.

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Monday, March 09, 2015

Two More Years. Will We Make It?

The private school where I started my career was boot camp for teachers. We got high school aged students from public school on the way to lockup or coming from lockup back to public school. Some were bigger than me. If I could carry out a lesson plan with them, I could do it anywhere. The first thing I learned was that no matter how good my lesson plan was, it wouldn’t work unless I had control of the classroom. If I couldn’t wield authority effectively, there were students ready to take over. When I felt control slipping, I had to be conscious of one important dynamic and ask myself: “Who is responding to whom?” It was my job to enforce the rules consistently. Never bluff, never yell. Warn once in an even tone, then lower the boom. If the hooligans I taught sensed weakness, they exploited it. I could lighten up only after earning their respect. There was no other way.
After that, I taught fourteen-year-olds in a regular, public school classroom, twenty or thirty at a time for decades. It was a breeze, but they, too, were masters at sizing up adults. Many probed to see how far they could push before feeling an uncomfortable consequence. Working as a mentor with teacher interns who were weak classroom managers, I’d emphasize that the he or she had to establish clear boundaries early and administer a consequence if any were crossed. “Don’t blink,” I’d say. There were students in every class who would sense weakness and push further and further until hell broke loose. Once a teacher-intern lost control, it was almost impossible to get it back. Someone else had to step in and restore order.
A teacher must be the leader in a classroom and the President of the United States must be the leader of the free world. The dynamics are similar. There will always be malignant actors ready to take advantage of a president they perceive as weak. Unless it was clear to students who the adult was in the room, nothing else mattered. Just as a good set of lesson plans weren’t going to work unless the teacher could handle a class. A thoughtful foreign policy won’t work either unless the president has earned respect. If our community organizer president tried to work with juvenile delinquents by “leading from behind” or with his latest policy of “strategic patience,” he wouldn’t last a week. They’d eat him up.
Our president has the US military behind him. I had the backing of the owner and director of our school, Dr. Ernest L. Herrman, who had been a running back at Kansas State. If I sent a student to his office and he closed the door, people nearby might hear sounds of bodies hitting walls after which the student would emerge with a different attitude. Students had to know I would send them for therapy with Dr. Herrman after only one warning — and drag them down to his office if I had to. If malignant actors in today’s world actually believed the president would use American military force, it wouldn’t likely be necessary to do so.
The trouble is, they don’t. They sensed weakness early on and have been exploiting it ever since. If a student crosses boundaries and the teacher responds with idle threats, the student will continue pushing until the trigger is pulled. A teacher must assess the situation early, warn only once, and do something when a boundary is crossed. Our president blustered about red lines, but backed down while sketchy strongmen all around the world were watching. His attempts at tough talk ever since are seen as so much bluff and bluster.
As Iran keeps building the nuclear weapons our president said were unacceptable, who is responding to whom? As Vladimir Putin takes over parts of the Ukraine and Europe wonders where he’ll go next, who is responding to whom? Where will the next red line be drawn and erased?
Some teacher interns didn’t have to be coached. They had a clear sense of right and wrong ingrained in their personhood. They knew instinctively when a behavior was purposely disruptive and were ready to handle it. My only assistance was to walk them through the administrative paperwork and parent notification procedures for whatever action they took. Other interns lacked a strong inner core. I sensed it, and knew students would too. When those interns had to take over alone for a few weeks, I knew they’d be eaten up. I’d have to hover nearby so I could take over periodically and restore order.
Nobody is hovering outside the White House and the community organizer has to pretend he’s leading for almost two more years. The only ones who seem weaker than him are Republican leaders in the House and Senate whose job it is to keep him in line. It’s not a good situation for the United States, or the rest of the free world either.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Left and Right

You could call it the “Wayne’s World” of politics. Every other Wednesday, I go to the Valley Vision studio in North Conway, New Hampshire and argue politics for an hour with a liberal named Gino. We call the show “Left and Right” but I keep suggesting we call it “Right and Wrong” instead. Gino doesn’t agree. Each episode runs over and over in different time slots for two weeks until we tape another. Only people who subscribe to the local Time Warner Cable franchise can watch it on channel three, and we have no idea how many tune in. I think my mother would, but she has a satellite dish.
Gino and I are both political junkies who keep up on issues of the day. Each of us keeps notes on whatever is happening to bring up on the show, but I have an advantage: I used to be a liberal and I remember how I thought back then when I was young and foolish. Gino, however, was never a conservative. It would be accurate to say that I’m a personification of the adage: “If you’re not a liberal when you’re twenty, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative when you’re forty, you have no brain.”
Churchill's biographers say they can't find the quote, but someone said it.

The left/right dichotomy has strongly influenced my life for decades. When I was teaching in the public schools, my history textbooks were slanted liberal. I provided balance by offering a conservative point of view to contrast the book’s perspective. Lately I’ve been teaching a group of ten home-schooled, high school-age students in Auburn with whom I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to try: using both a liberal text and a conservative text, and assigning them readings on a particular period in history from two perspectives. Each student has “A People’s History of the United States” by the late Howard Zinn - a closet communist. They also have “A Patriot’s History of the United States” by Schweikart and Allen. I’ve got students only once a week for two hours, and we cannot cover too much in one year, but it’s very instructive to compare and contrast the two points of view. Authors of both books claim to be unbiased, but neither Zinn nor Schweikart, nor Allen are of course. Neither am I, but I try to be. No one is really, but we should keep our minds open.
When I started teaching in 1975, I was pretty far to the left. After dropping out of college in 1972, I worked with liberals in John Kerry’s failed congressional campaign in the Massachusetts 5th district that year. I also worked with “community organizer” disciples of Saul Alinsky and Noam Chomsky in Lowell, Massachusetts. After all that I went back to school to become a teacher and began my long metamorphosis from left to right. When I first started publishing columns in 1989, I was still straddling the fence. By about 1993, however, I had become a full-fledged conservative.
Around that time, I began publishing regular weekly columns for local newspapers in which I expressed my opinions without reserve. Many readers on the left assumed I taught my history classes the same way I wrote my columns. At first, they wrote letters to the editor suggesting I was unfit to teach and these were published frequently. Several leftists went further by trying to influence principals, superintendents, school boards, and state teacher licensing agencies to discipline me, silence me, or pull my teaching certification. By the time I retired, I had amassed quite a paper trail documenting their efforts.
For the past three years, I’ve been working on and off writing a book about this, being careful to get it all down as it happened. Last month, I thought, “Okay, I’m done. It’s all down there in black and white.” I printed it off, made some copies, and asked friends to read it with the condition that they be ruthless in their feedback. Well, that feedback is trickling in and I’m thinking maybe I’m not all done. Looks like I need to expand it. Some suggest I add more on what caused me to move from left to right. Others said it reads too much like “just the facts, ma’am” written by a detective or a reporter, and I need to put in more about what it felt like as events unfolded.
Then there’s the business of book publishing. It’s not like publishing columns, except that both are changing rapidly. The more I look into it, the more I realize how much I still have to learn. It looks like I may have been premature when I announced on the “Left and Right” show that my book about moving from left to right was finished. It was hard enough to get down what happened. Now I’m going to have to write about my feelings? That’s not something I’m used to or very good at either, but it appears to be still another thing I have to learn.

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