Those who…challenge the orthodoxy of belief, who question the reigning political passions, who refuse to sacrifice their integrity to serve the cult of power, are pushed to the margins. They are denounced by the very people who, years later, will often claim these moral battles as their own. It is only the outcasts and the rebels who keep truth and intellectual inquiry alive. They alone name the crimes of the state…give a voice to the victims of oppression… ask the difficult questions. … They expose the powerful, along with their liberal apologists, for what they are. –Chris Hedges (TruthDig )
A few days after I posted an article called “Six Ways Our Supreme Court Has Defiled Our Constitution" among the mostly favorable e-responses, I was pleased to find one from a writer/painter whom I didn’t know, from one of our Western states. Janis Schmidt and I exchanged a few e-mails, discovered that we had similar views on politics and the arts.
If the reader will imagine the space between e-mails—hours or days—as a kind of time-lapse photography, the spontaneity of our ensuing “conversation” will emerge.
GC: Before I made contact with you, I was thinking about writing an article about why I will boycott Spielberg's BS extravaganza on Lincoln. (A little like my "Argo Apostasy" piece condemning Ben Afleck’s “Argo” BS. …)
JS: Just read it! I love your idea to occupy the media! Time for writers to stop being slugs and wimps, and step up to the plate like Masters and Mencken! Pulling the mask off Lincoln is definitely going to be worked into my novel. My god! I just discovered Edgar Lee Masters’ exposure of Lincoln, 1931, Lincoln the Man, for which he was almost crucified!
GC: I like Masters very much! Spoon River Anthology is one of my favorite books of poetry. I didn't know he had written a book about Lincoln. …
JS: I just read thru a list of some of the things done to Southerners by Union soldiers: Sherman's march to Atlanta and burning the city! Butler in New Orleans, giving his men PERMISSION to RAPE the women! All of this Lincoln must have known about. My god! How could the American public be so ignorant of this?
GC: The American public was, is, and will continue to be ignorant about most things! Someone said people get the government they deserve! As long as people prefer their myths to reality, we’ll have repressive governments!
JS: H.L. Mencken wrote: “The American people, North and South, went into the war as citizens of their respective states, they came out as subjects. ... And what they thus lost they have never got back.”
GC: Mencken is also a favorite of mine. I hadn't heard the above before. … Building on your interest in the real Lincoln—and mine—would you like to try a joint article?
JS: Yes! I think we could work very well off each other. Northerner and Southerner.
GC: I’m not a Southerner! I was born and raised in New York City, and have lived and traveled in 30 countries and 40 states. I just happen to have lived in Georgia and Florida for about half of my life! I consider myself an Earth-man!
JS: Most of all, we are true artists/writers--which means we were born with an insatiable love of the truth, and our lives, if we examine them, have been a search for Truth. I would love to work in "When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloomed" (I never did like Walt Whitman; I found him tedious)… and "O Captain, My Captain"
GC: We would disagree on Whitman's "Lilacs," (and a little on "O Captain"). Whitman was a great poet... but, alas, no great shakes as a political thinker. (They rarely come together!) We could "talk" more about that in the article.
I think a dialogic style is not used enuf (or at all?) in contemporary writing. … There's lots of potential in the format. And the Internet opens the possibilities exponentially!
BTW, Janis, who the hell are you?
JS: I spent most of my life perfecting my art as a painter. After my son, Damon was killed by a self-styled Rambo, my life was changed forever.
I moved to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and inadvertently got involved with the Anna Mae murder trial then in progress. I discovered that the two men charged with her murder were being framed, and I wrote about it for the local paper. I began writing to save lives. The newspaper was closed down. For my efforts, I was evicted, arrested, jailed, and banned. I lost everything because I told the truth. I moved to North Dakota where I am writing my story in the form of a novel.
A day later…
JS: I have searched for the better part of today looking for an answer to Civil War questions and find none. Did Congress ever declare war against the South? If not, how could it legally conscript its soldiers?
GC: The issue of Congress's role is almost moot. Once all those Southern states seceded, the Northern warmongers could do whatever they wanted. Still, I'd like to know if there was a formal declaration of war. …About some of your other questions. … As I recall, at first it was an all-volunteer army! Later, they started drafting all the new Irish immigrants--desperate for work. (I mean, they and their parents had escaped from the Potato Famine and British imperialism and they find themselves smack-dab in the War Between the States! At any rate, the draft was then, as it is now, a pernicious, despicable system. The better-off could pay a fine and someone else would get drafted in their place! Nowadays, we don’t have a draft—we just have an Endless Recession and the poor and the lower middle class can join the army… or sling hamburgers (if they can find work!) or sell drugs (and risk joining the prison-work complex!).
JS: I’m wondering, how it all developed. I mean, slavery had been a divisive issue from the beginning, from the Constitution. … How did it go from wrangling to war?
GC: I think the real explanation is that the North decided that a war at that time would be better than a war later on! Lincoln provoked the attack on Ft. Sumter by "re-supplying" that near-empty fort; then the war-cry was "preserve the Union." But, really, it was about how to control the new Western territories—recently conquered from Mexico! I think that’s the part that has been lost on most Americans! If we hadn’t had our imperialist Mexican-American War (1846-1848), and stolen half of Mexico!—our Western states—there wouldn’t have been a Civil War! Of course, once gold was discovered in California (1849), settlement of our Western territories, expropriation of “Indian” lands, genocide against the “Indians” and our own Civil War to determine how the West would be “won”—all that was in the cards.
JS: Why do you say, “the North decided that a war at that time would be better than later?”
GC: I think it’s the basic dynamic of European imperialism and Great Power politics! Left to their own devices, the Confederacy would have continued the colonization of Mexico and moved on into the Caribbean. (They might have challenged Britain’s “interests” there, or collaborated with Britain!) At any rate, two significant empires would have developed in North America. In 1861, the North had the decided advantage. A decade or two later… who knows?
JS: Why were Lincoln's generals so reluctant to attack the South?
GC: I believe Lee was #1 in his class at West Point. Northern generals were no match for the Confederacy's--Lee, Stonewall Jackson, et al. McClellan understood this and he procrastinated, tried to unseat Lincoln in the '64 election and would have made peace with the South had he succeeded. The North eventually won by brute force--they had the money, guns, population, railroads, etc.
JS: Why was Lincoln so quick to commit to war??
GC: He was a politician. He followed the party line.
JS: I get so interested in the history, I sometimes spend a whole day on it! I don't think any war has been lied about as much as the Civil War!
GC: Last nite, I was re-reading about the Thirty Years' War that devastated Europe in the 17th Century—another kind of Civil War!. … All wars are lied about! Sometimes, if enough time passes, we begin to get some truth about them. ... Often--only more distortions!
JS: I'm really learning a lot about history I never knew. Like Hamilton and the Federalists had a lot to do with how we’ve evolved into this behemoth, centralized State! Andrew Jackson, too! Pretty hard to believe the “Founding Fathers” created this nightmare, and that it was Lincoln that perfected it. The looming question is: If this was just about slavery, why didn't the U.S. just free the slaves and compensate the owners over a time period like all the rest of the civilized countries did? The only answer, it wasn't about slavery! It was about money, control, colonization, and EMPIRE!
GC: Jefferson used to be a great hero of mine. But, the more I read about him, the less I liked him. And, oddly, I came to admire one of TJ's enemies--Hamilton! (Point of interest: Hamilton hated slavery, which he observed close-up, growing up in the West Indies; TJ, of course, was one of the richest slave-holding land barons in the South. …(I believe Washington was actually number 1!). So, the fact is, we get a very convoluted idea of our history. We have to dig deep to get the real picture. … I'm glad you are doing so! I need to do more! We all do!
The Civil War had almost nothing to do with freeing the slaves out of the goodness of our hearts! Can anyone really imagine that white men—many being newly arrived immigrants—are going to kill, and be killed by, other white men for the sake of freeing black men, women and children?
Now, sure.. there were the Abolitionists and Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Brown, etc. … They whipped up public sentiment. But… the money men—the imperialists on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, are the ones who would finance and direct the War!
This weekend, I'll try to research the mass-hanging of reservation "Indians" that Lincoln authorized--which I wrote you about before, and which was the first thing that really turned me off to the guy!
JS: I’ve uncovered a lot of good info now! There’s a book called The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, written by Thomas DiLorenzo. DiLorenzo calls Lincoln “The Great Economic Centralizer,” and credits him for:
launching a military invasion without the consent of Congress; suspending habeas corpus; imprisoning thousands of Northern citizens without trial for merely opposing his policies; censoring all telegraph communication and imprisoning dozens of opposition newspaper publishers; nationalizing the railroads; using Federal troops to interfere with elections; confiscating firearms; and deporting an opposition member of Congress, after he opposed Lincoln’s income tax proposal during a Democratic Party rally in Ohio. . . . In addition to abandoning the Constitution, the Lincoln administration established another ominous precedent by deciding to abandon international law and the accepted moral code of civilized societies and wage war on civilians.
In this latter regard, DiLorenzo reminds the reader of the scorched earth policies of Sheridan, Grant, and William Tecumseh Sherman, not only in the War Between the States but in the post-war eradication of the Plains Indians in acts of mass murder designed to pave the way for the government’s transcontinental railroads; the exploitative policies of Lincoln’s successors in the Reconstructionist South of 1865-77; and the subsequent imperialistic policies abroad of McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and their successors in the furtherance of American Empire. In each case, The Real Lincoln makes a compelling case that in an epochal sense, it all began with the methods and motives of America’s 16th President.
That’s just from the book jacket!
GC: You’re quite the researcher!
The way I see it: As a writer, I’m interested in details. … Details make a story, a poem, a musical composition come alive. Art is in the particulars. … What I like about history… you follow a fact… you try tracing it back to its source… and it takes you up a tributary of more facts, more information… and that leads to the Great River—a Mississippi, an Amazon, a Nile… and you keep going, you keep exploring… and you get to Source. Some Truth bubbling out of the Earth… and you stand in that place with new understanding, a sense of awe.
Lincoln was a boyhood hero of mine! I read bios about him, idolized him. … But, by my 20s, I was reading Black authors like W.E.B. DuBois, LeRoi Jones (Baraka), James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Lorraine Hansbury. And I read Dee Brown and others on the Tribal Peoples (the “American Indian”). And there was a lot of cognitive dissonance. If Lincoln was the Great Emancipator, why were Blacks still living in misery and servitude and racism 100 yrs after the War? If the Civil War had been fought to liberate Blacks… why, during and after that war, did the US go about its brutal business of slaughtering “redskins”?
When I read about Lincoln authorizing the biggest mass execution in US history—well, that put the final nail in the coffin of my affections for him—in spite of Walt Whitman, in spite of Carl Sandburg and all the wonderful sentiments about the great martyr.
Recently, I dug up this info on a website called, UnitedNativeAmerica.com, which I send you under the “Fair Use” doctrine:
“What brought about the hanging of 38 Sioux Indians in Minnesota, December 26, 1862, was the failure ‘again’ of the US Government to honor its treaties with Indian Nations. Indians were not given the money or food set forth to them for signing a treaty to turn over more than a million acres of their land and be forced to live on a reservation.
“Indian agents keep the treaty money and food that was to go to the Indians, the food was sold to White settlers, food that was given the Indians was spoiled and not fit for a dog. ….Indian hunting parties went off the reservation... looking for food… one hunting group took eggs from a White settler’s land and the rest is history.
“Authorities in Minnesota asked… Lincoln to order the immediate execution of all 303 Indian males found guilty. Lincoln was concerned with how this would play with the Europeans, whom he was afraid were about to enter the war on the side of the South. He offered the following compromise to the politicians of Minnesota: They would pare the list of those to be [executed] down to 39. In return, Lincoln promised to kill or remove every Indian from the state and provide Minnesota with 2 million dollars in federal funds. Remember, he only owed the Sioux 1.4 million for the land.
“So, on December 26, 1862, the Great Emancipator ordered the largest mass execution in American History, where the guilt of those to be executed was entirely in doubt. Regardless of how Lincoln defenders seek to play this, it was nothing more than murder to obtain the land of the Santee Sioux and to appease his political cronies in Minnesota.”
JS: I have studied and written an article on Sitting Bull which I posted to my website. I lived with relatives of Sitting Bull!
GC: I just checked out your website. I think it’s incredible! … and your story needs to be told and more people should be aware of it. Do you think we’ve done enough to de-mythologize Lincoln?
JS: Maybe for now, we have. …
GC: I just wish people would use the “power of the purse” to boycott crapola like Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” Afleck’s “Argo,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” etc. It’s absurd to pay money and get infected with lies. … It’s absurd to pay for the kind of junk we get on cable TV, too!
JS: There’s so much more we need to talk about! Walt Whitman helped mythologize Lincoln. We need to talk about Lincoln as a Railroad lawyer! The Homestead Act! The Morrill Act, the 14th Amendment. All of these and more were elements of the Civil War and all figure into this horrible Empire we’ve become!
GC: We can’t cover it all in one article! Maybe another. … I would ask one thing, though, for finalizing this piece. Can you re-produce some info from your blog here?
Can you tell us a little more about who you are? Maybe provide a link to your painting? I think that would be instructive. I think it ends properly--in your voice, with your story. The implicit question from the beginning is, HOW does one occupy the media? I think the answer is two-fold: We boycott and expose the lies, refuse to take part in the perpetuation of the insidious myths of the Infotainment Industry; and, WE BECOME the media--our message, our lives, become the focus of attention!
A day later. …
JS: HOME FOR ARTISTS, INDIANS, AND OTHER SOCIAL OUTCASTS
As an artist living among the Oglala on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, I stubled across the nightmare, Kafkaesque world that Native Americans have been thrust into.
After my son, Damon, was killed by a self-styled Rambo, my life was changed forever. Just seventeen, Damon was lured to have a rink with some older kids. They got into a political argument over “freedom fighters” in Central America. Damon said that America had no right to kill Indians for their land and Ollie North was no hero. That’s when the self-styled Rambo stabbed my son to death. This all happened in a small town near Minot, North Dakota, close to where I was born and raised. I lived close to a reservation, but I never knew any Indians. I believe I was drawn to live with the Indians in ways I do not have the words to tell you. After nine years of living in… Denver…, I moved to the Pine Ridge, and have made it my home for the past 15 years.
Everyone goes to Pine Ridge, to Wounded Knee. Tourists come from all over the world. … Everyone is looking for the “real” Indian. Like my friend, the late, great Tony Black Feather, said: “Where are the real Indians? … You’ll find them in the back alleys of Pine Ridge, and staggering in the streets of White Clay.” The Indian is largely invisible to Americans because if they became something more than the Hollywood Indian, Americans would be forced to confront their abiding racism.
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Sitting Bull warned his warriors and people not to strip the white soldiers after the battle with Custer. He warned if they took the white man’s possessions, the people would lust after white-man things, lose their culture, lose their identity… their way of life—become weak and helpless.
Sitting Bull knew what was truly valuable. Do you know what is truly valuable? Does the government know what is valuable? Do our schools teach what is valuable? What can you do to survive? You, like the government, have to get rid of what is artificial in your life! Then start to truly live! First of all, you have to answer the question, What do you need to survive? Can you list those things for me?
Gary Corseri and Janis Schmidt
Janis Schmidt is a writer and painter who lives in North Dakota.
Gary Corseri has posted/published his work at hundreds of websites and publications worldwide. His books include novels and poetry collections. His dramas have been produced on Atlanta-PBS and elsewhere, and he has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library and Museum.