Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lost in Translation

William McKinley, Jr. (January 29, 1843 – September 14, 1901) was the 25th President of the United States (1897–1901), and the last veteran of the American Civil War to be elected to that office. He was the last President of the 19th century and the first of the 20th.

By the 1880s, McKinley was a national Republican leader; his signature issue was high tariffs on imports as a formula for prosperity, as typified by his McKinley Tariff of 1890. As the Republican candidate in the 1896 presidential election, against Democrat William Jennings Bryan, he upheld the gold standard, and promoted pluralism among ethnic groups. His campaign, designed by Mark Hanna, introduced new advertising-style campaign techniques that revolutionized campaign practices and beat back the crusading of his arch-rival, William Jennings Bryan. The 1896 election is often considered a realigning election that marked the beginning of the Progressive Era.

McKinley presided over a return to prosperity after the Panic of 1893, and made gold the base of the currency. He demanded that Spain end its atrocities in Cuba, which were outraging public opinion; Spain resisted the interference and the Spanish-American War became inevitable in 1898. The war was fast and easy, as the weak Spanish fleets were sunk and both Cuba and the Philippines were captured in 90 days. As a result of the 1898 Treaty of Paris, the former Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines were annexed by the United States as unincorporated territories, and Cuba was subjected to United States occupation. Although support for the war itself was widespread, the Democrats and anti-imperialists vehemently opposed the annexation of the Philippines, fearing a loss of republican values. McKinley also annexed the independent Republic of Hawaii in 1898, with all its residents becoming full American citizens. McKinley was reelected in the 1900 presidential election following another intense campaign against Bryan, which focused on foreign policy and the return of prosperity. McKinley was assassinated by anarchist Leon Czolgosz, in 1901, and succeeded by his Vice President Theodore Roosevelt.

Leon Frank Czolgosz (May 5, 1873[1] – October 29, 1901) was the assassin of U.S. President William McKinley. In the last few years of his life, he claimed to have been heavily influenced by anarchists such as Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman.

Czolgosz was born in Alpena, Michigan in 1873, one of eight children of Polish Catholic immigrants from Prussia. He left his family farm in Warrensville, Ohio, at the age of ten to work at the American Steel and Wire Company with two of his brothers. After the workers of his factory went on strike, he and his brothers were fired. Czolgosz then returned to the family farm in Warrensville. At the age of sixteen, he was sent to work in a glass factory in Natrona, Pennsylvania for two years.

In 1898, after witnessing a series of similar strikes (many ending in violence and police brutality), Czolgosz again returned home. He became a recluse and spent much of his time alone reading Socialist and anarchist newspapers. Already frustrated by years of economic depression that began with the Panic of 1893, and by the lack of progress toward more humane working conditions, American workers, including Czolgosz, wondered why some of the vast wealth of the industrial boom wasn't trickling down to them. Millionaires like railroad king Cornelius Vanderbilt, oil baron John D. Rockefeller, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and banker J.P. Morgan had accumulated unprecedented private wealth and were known to spend more on an evening's entertainment than a coal miner or tradesman could earn in a lifetime. Such ostentatious displays bred discontent. Rubbing salt in the wound, the industrialists routinely relied on the government to help squelch worker uprisings. Employee unions had progressively become a more dominant force in American life during the last quarter of the nineteenth century as they sought to improve working conditions. Strikers had clashed violently with police and the military in Chicago's Haymarket Riot in 1886 and again in the Pullman strike eight years later, leaving scores of people dead in the streets. In 1892, Pinkerton detectives in Homestead, Pennsylvania, suppressed a steel strike and protected scab laborers. The government had sided with management against workers in each instance.

Czolgosz was impressed after hearing a speech by the political radical Emma Goldman, whom he met for the first time during one of her lectures in Cleveland in 1901. After the lecture Czolgosz approached the speakers' platform and asked for reading recommendations. A few days later he visited her home in Chicago and introduced himself as Nieman, but Goldman was on her way to the train station. He only had enough time to explain to her about his disappointment in Cleveland's socialists, and for Goldman to introduce him to her anarchist friends who were at the train station. She later wrote a piece in defense of Czolgosz.

Czolgosz believed there was a great injustice in American society, an inequality which allowed the wealthy to enrich themselves by exploiting the poor. He concluded that the reason for this was the structure of government itself. Then he learned of a European crime which changed his life: On July 29, 1900, King Umberto I of Italy had been shot dead by anarchist Gaetano Bresci. Bresci told the press that he had decided to take matters into his own hands for the sake of the common man.

The assassination of President McKinley shocked and galvanized the American anarchist movement, and Czolgosz is thought to have consciously imitated Bresci. His last words were "I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people – the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime."

Definition of anarchism, written by Kropotkin for the 1905 Encyclopedia Britannica: "the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government- harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of civilized being."

All This Means Nothing, the monuments we erect, the heroes we create, ALL are nothing more than a mere distraction to mask the degradation of our everyday lives by the rules we have created in order to give life order. In giving life order and government, we strip ourselves of freedom, we suppress our basic human desire to live with passion and by instinct, in essence, to thrive. Government has always been in support of big business and capital gain and our conventional market-driven world has placed dollar signs at the center of what most people are trying to attain in semblance of happiness. The common man has become nothing more than a consumer for industrialists to make a profit. So what are these gods we worship, these idols we create, these statues we erect, these religions we follow, this government we support? Does it really have our best interest at heart? What is our best interest in this modern world? Is what we have really what we need? What will our legacy be?

And for the record, I am not siding with Czolgosz. Violence is never the answer, though I am sympathetic toward his perspective. Instead of fighting with weapons, why not use words, symbols, art and language to express our views and try and bring about the change in people's hearts that is so desperately needed. 

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