WW II Victory and Brown v. Board: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

By James A. Kidney

Twenty-first century America is paying a price for leading Allies to victory in World War II and for the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision segregating the schools, proving the old adage that even the best deeds do not go unpunished.

Maybe raising questions about two of America’s most renowned events in the last century is not the best way to introduce a new web site – a blog, if you prefer to call it that – but the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers 70 years ago and the strong stand for racial justice decided 61 years ago reverberate in today’s headlines — not always in positive ways.

As we Watch the Circus of public events go by, adding our own sometimes sardonic, occasionally humorous, and often serious commentary on the parade, we are alarmed at how some of the great events in our history are misinterpreted, abused or ignored in what is so far a very unpromising beginning to the 21st Century.  And it is not just the right that causes this alarm.  Liberals also have their blind spots.

The Iran Deal and Forgotten Lessons of the World Wars

The front page of the dead tree Washington Post on September 3, 2015, illustrates lessons forgotten or unlearned from the two great events mentioned above.

The lead headline — “Obama secures Senate votes to Protect Iran deal” — reflects the great difficulty in moving the Iranian nuclear agreement past a GOP-dominated Congress that apparently will be satisfied with nothing less than “unconditional surrender” by Iran, unlikely as that goal might be.  The Republican mantra from 9/11 through today is, to steal from presidential-nominee-in-waiting (as of now) Donald Trump, Why

Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima, Feb. 23, 1945. (Joe Rosenthal, AP)

Can’t We Make America Great Again By Defeating All of Our Enemies Like We Did in WW II – unconditionally, with no compromises?  Instead we are stuck with Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan – records of failure, or at least highly compromised “victory”!  We need war and victory without question, just like we got in WW II.  Compromise with Iran be damned, and don’t bother me with the fine print.

Before you accuse this site of over-the-top analysis, what, besides nostalgia for the Second Great War by chicken hawks who never have seen combat themselves, leads these congressional Republicans and their presidential candidates to unanimously oppose the Iran deal?  Is it fear of backlash from American Jews?  Sorry, but polls have consistently shown that American Jews, who, like the rest of us, are Americans first and always, largely support the Iran deal.

Surely opposition to Anything Obama also contributes to the unified Republican position, but what about a total misunderstanding of World War II, the conflict which undoubtedly Made America Great in the 20th Century?  It seems that the Republicans recall the victory parades, but not the struggles.  Witness President George W. Bush telling Americans the way for us to prevail over Iraq was to go shopping.

It is true that U.S. participation in the two Great Wars of the last century was essential to Allied success.  But it was also obviously critical that those Allies depleted the energies and resources – human and physical – of the Central and Axis powers (as well as of themselves) before America’s late entry.  And those same Allies, exhausted and damaged as they were, continued to fight side-by-side with American forces in Europe until Germany’s unconditional surrender.

The one time in the last 100 years when the U.S. fought a war almost entirely on its own – in Vietnam – it failed.  Blame whom you will, it was not a victory.  (Please don’t bother us with reminders of Panama and Grenada – they inferentially prove my point.)

But now, citing American “exceptionalism” and yearning for renewed “greatness,” opponents of the Iran deal are promoting a go-it-alone strategy that not only insults our allies and Russia, but that, in the words of some politicians, threatens them.  Trump says he will make Britain, Russia and France go along with increasing sanctions if necessary.  Scott Walker and a couple of other candidates say they will repeal the deal their first day in office, thumbing our collective nose at the rest of the world (except Israel).  Even in Israel, there are substantial numbers who believe Prime Minister Netanyahu is wrong to oppose the deal.  The only place in which there is unanimous opposition is in the Republican Party, “Making America Great Again By Bullying.”

Republicans:  Please recall the real lessons of the Great Wars and Vietnam.  In unity there is strength; in isolation there is failure.

 Brown v. Board:  Weakened Public Education All Around   

OK, Liberals, your turn for a scolding, if only to prove that this site can spare no one from its criticism.

The other Post headline, just below the fold, was “Sliding SAT scores prompt an alarm over high schools.”  The story below explained a record decline in SAT scores since the testing metric was changed in 2005. The Post reporter proffered many possible reasons for the results:

It is difficult to pinpoint a reason for the decline in SAT scores, but educators cite a host of enduring challenges in the quest to lift high school achievement.  Among them are poverty, language barriers, low levels of parental education and social ills that plague many urban neighborhoods.

          To which we respond:  What did you expect, America?

          Brown v. Board started and ended most efforts at racial equality at our school doors. Brown and then nearly a full stop on Fourteenth Amendment racial equality not only doomed true integration, but also damaged education. It’s not Brown’s fault.  The real failure is that white Americans just don’t want to integrate their neighborhoods with poor people or with more than a handful of people of color.  Period.  End of story.Mother and daughter reading the news of Brown in front of the Supreme Court.

It is not an accident of history that the dominant event striking down legal segregation was directed at the place where adults spend little time – public schools.  The Supreme Court spent years nibbling at the edges of Plessy v. Ferguson, the nineteenth century decision holding that “separate but equal” was actually equal.  Before Brown, the Court struck down the all-white primary in Texas, segregation in state-run graduate and law schools, and in interstate transportation.  It also struck down as unconstitutional use of courts to enforce real estate covenants discriminating against sales of homes based on race or religion.  Only after laying that precedential groundwork did the Court attack segregation among the young in their schools.

After Brown, progress pretty much stopped, with the important exception of extending a right to integrated schooling to the north in certain limited circumstances, which resulted in years of neighborhood upheaval as a result of busing.  A challenge to the financial underpinning of separate-but-equal — the use of property taxes for school funding resulting in woefully unequal schooling in violation of the Constitution — was rejected by the Court in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez in 1973.  The Court didn’t dispute the premise that local property taxes result in widely different quality school districts.  It just concluded that education was not a fundamental right protected by the Constitution requiring strict scrutiny of cause, need, and impact.  Thereafter, race cases have generally fared poorly at the Court, with minor victories more than offset by major defeats.

The result: public schooling has had to bear nearly the entire burden of addressing racial inequality in this country.  No wonder public schools are failing to educate our children properly.  In poorer areas, they not only are assigned to educate children, but to discipline them, feed them, serve an in loco parentis function, and address learning disabilities, some of which are a result of irresponsible actions by the mother during pregnancy and others that are a result of very bad habits of the parents after birth.  Parental participation in schools is nearly nil in many areas.

Poor people live in crummy neighborhoods with a lot of nasty people peppered among the responsible and hard working.  The best parents have great difficulty because they are both absent at a couple of poorly paid jobs, after which they have little energy, time or money to find a decent grocery store and provide a healthy meal to their kids.  The social environment in which they try their best is hell.  It is surely true, as has been said for many years since Brown, real equality begins in hearts and minds.  Let’s also add “neighborhoods.”

Before Brown, there were good, strong all-black schools such as Dunbar and Eastern High Schools in Washington, D.C.  Even the rural segregated high school in Prince Edward County, Virginia, and the small city school in Topeka, Kansas, had strong, bright black students who encouraged the NAACP to include their systems among the five Brown defendants.  Most neighborhoods in all segments of the country were racially and economically segregated, but they were full of hard working Americans who felt a genuine responsibility to their communities and to each other.  As a result of Brown’s precedent for elimination of remaining Jim Crow laws, the Great Society’s social programs and the 1960s Civil Rights Acts, the best parents and students in these communities were able to move out to better, if often still segregated, neighborhoods.  What W.E.B. Dubois called “the talented tenth” essentially withdrew, leaving behind those either too beaten down or too broke to improve their lot.

Please don’t misunderstand.  We must take our history as it is.  Brown was a courageous decision for its day and helped to invigorate a nascent modern day civil rights movement.  No one of good will should regret Brown. What is regrettable is that the country never has moved much beyond satisfying itself that the public schools should bear the burden of improving racial progress.

Which brings us to our predictable Post headline, one of many over the years lamenting the poor quality of our public schools.

How has the Liberal Class that applauded Brown and its progeny addressed racial inequality? They have looked down their noses at the Southerners, Boston Southies and other lower middle class whites forced to send their kids to (temporarily) integrated schools. They have reacted by opposing public housing scattered equitably throughout, including wealthy white neighborhoods.  They have vigorously supported local property tax school funding while opposing efforts to equalize funding at a state level if it meant less funding for their own schools. If, for whatever reasons, the local public school performance was less than stellar, these liberal parents, for whom Harvard was expected for little Johnny, moved Johnny to a private school, preferably one with a handful of blacks meeting the school’s high standards.

It was perfectly OK for the powerless, blue and pink collar whites to be forced to send their kids on buses to integrate the schools.  And it’s perfectly ok to tut-tut poor inner school performance, wish those kids luck, and join the chorus against racist, incompetent or scared cops shooting unarmed black men.

But allow poor or lower middle class people of any color into their own neighborhoods?  Heaven forfend.

How else besides neighborhood economic and racial integration can we expect to truly integrate this society?  How else are we going to improve the overall performance of the public schools?

“But I’m not racially prejudiced,” says the Liberal You in heartfelt sincerity. “Our schools are integrated.  My daughter even has a black friend.  Fifteen percent of her school is minority. I pay my taxes for some social programs. Nothing more I can do.

“Hey neighbor, isn’t it great to see your house’s value growing?  Glad that real estate recession is over. Neighborhood is really getting fancy.”

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I grant that there is no factual connection between the two stories on page one of The Washington Post on September 3, 2015.  One story is about another possible war and how to avoid it.  The second is about our racial (and economic) inequality and wringing hands about it.  But both illustrate how we misread or ignore our history so that it satisfies our political and social prejudices.  Of course there are differences.  In the one case, the prejudice is in favor of dam-the-consequences aggression.  In the other, it is dam-the-consequences passivity.  It is frightening how many issues the country faces in which the answer seems to be “dam-the-consequences.”

 

 

 

 

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