Monday, September 20, 2010

War Always Leads to Irrational, Overreacting Prejudice

Reading Peter Beinart's "The Icarus Syndrome," a passage leaps out to me as perhaps having some modern relevance. It's about the public reaction to German-Americans during World War I:
Cincinnati outlawed the sale of pretzels; Iowa's governor made publicly speaking German a crime. When a Wyoming man was overheard saying "Hoch der kaiser" ("Up with the kiser"), a group of townspeople hanged him, cut him down while still alive, and made him kneel and kiss the American flag. In April 1918, a St. Louis mob abducted a young German-American, stripped him, dragged him through the streets, and then lynched him, while a crowd of five hundred cheered. At trial, the defense attorney called the murder patriotic, and it took a jury twenty-five minutes to acquit.
Luckily, the United States seems to be more or less in a post-lynching phase of its history. But we're appalled today at the last century's irrational prejudice. I suspect our descendants will look at us -- our debates about mosque locations the the intrinsic ability of Muslims to be good Americans -- and have similar feelings.

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