A History of Intolerance

Ireland's Holocaust mural on the Ballymurphy R...

Ireland's Holocaust Mural, Image via Wikipedia

Christian Abraham Jacke was twenty six years old when he fled the chronic religious strife and warfare of his native land, his parents, siblings, and friends, boarded the Princess Augusta in Rotterdam, and sailed for the New World. Landing in the port of Philadelphia, in 1736, he found a less than inviting environment. Exemplifying this, a local editor later wrote an op ed in his newspaper in 1751. It read: “Why should Pennsylvania … become a Colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us, instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion?” The newspaper editor was Benjamin Franklin. President John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, which limited the ability of immigrants from France and Ireland to acquire full political rights.

Because of local hatred for people of his ethnicity, Jacke and many of his peers continued their migration, settling in northwestern Pennsylvania, where they farmed the land and raised their families. Leaving the security of the City of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, to forage into the unknown American wilderness in the early eighteenth century, was no small feat. People used to living in or near European population centres were forced to wander into an untamed region, resist the defenses of the local inhabitants, build homes entirely by hand, and from scratch, and farm virgin land, which never before felt the slice of a plow. They were offered little choice in the matter. ‘Philly’ did not want them.

Family tradition has it that Charlie Miller walked across Bataan with the Japanese. He survived World War II to settle in Montana, where he eventually passed away. Prior to World War II, he had been accepted for an appointment to the United States Military Academy, but, because of family pressure, remained at home in Cincinnati, studying law instead. This was not before he endured a lifetime of discrimination and prejudice, as had his parents, because of their ethnicity. They were Irish. Northern Kentucky saw the immigration of many Gaelic speaking Irish families in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Further back in history, these were the survivors of the Great Irish Famine. With or without farming skills, these people worked the land in their new found home. When they went into Cincinnati, looking for work, the Irishmen encountered the sign: ‘Irish need not apply!” Variations of this warning included the simple phrase, “No Irish!”

The Japanese experienced a similar and more brutal form of discrimination from the US Government, itself, during World War II. Families were rounded up and interred in prison camps, because they could not be trusted. Their property and personal possessions, their pets, their businesses were all forfeit. It was ignored that many of these people had fled Japan, to escape from the very totalitarian regime the US Government was now fighting against. Who can forget the valor with which the Nisei troops served in Europe, during that same war?

Americans forget that we are a nation of immigrants. We, who are not Latino, forget that our ancestors endured the same exclusionary behaviours now being endured by that group. Italians were portrayed for years, as being gangsters. Irish were a bunch of lazy drunks. The Germans spoke a funny language, had strange customs, and were not to be trusted. Poles were Catholic, and “you know how those people are….” Like President John F. Kennedy, they showed more allegiance to the Pope, in Rome, than to America, or so it was said. “Polacks will drink like fish, screw each other like mad, and shoplift all week, then go to confession on Friday, and it’s all forgiven!” was the common line of the White Anglo Saxon Protestant.

Discrimination and exclusion are not reserved for the immigrant. Had it not been for the Native American Code Talkers, one United States Marine Corps officer stated, Marines could never have taken Iwo Jima. Yet, it would be twenty tears before these brave men would be allowed to vote. This was only possible after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which certain politicians would repeal on the basis of its Constitutionality.

The established majority in America seems to feel it has license to exclude, and keep the newcomer and people of colour down, and it has been this way for centuries. Isn’t it time this dysfunctional and inhumane behaviour stopped?

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About Stefan Jacke

MagicRobert presented me with a vellum document, composed in an insane script. We were in a well secured vault in the Michener Library. His face exploded into a broad smile, as he saw me recognize the words, "That government governs best which governs least." It was a copy of "On Civil Disobedience" in the author's own hand. The experience called to mind a conversation Henry David Thoreau had with Ralph Waldo Emerson, as Thoreau sat in a jail cell, incarcerated for protesting the Mexican War. Emerson asked, "David, what are you doing in there?" Thoreau responded, "The point is, Ralph, what are you doing out there?" Once, long ago, I jumped off of big red trucks, lifted weights, and cleaned toilets for a living. Then I wrestled drunks, ran around in circles, and got splattered with blood and all manner of body fluids for a living. Now I enjoy the stillness of early morning in my rocking chair on the porch, with a hot cup of coffee, trying in vain to forget the past. Thank you, Robert!
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One Response to A History of Intolerance

  1. Thank you my friend very well said.

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