Years ago the Presidio, a military fortress in San Francisco built by the Spanish, liberated by Mexico, and later seized by the United States, ceased being a military base and became part of the National Park System.
Ceremonies marking the transfer of the Presidio from military to civilian control were held at a spot that had once been the home of General John Joseph Pershing. In 1915, the general’s home was destroyed in a terrible fire that claimed the lives of his wife and three daughters. Despite Pershing’s military reputation for bold action, he was unable to save his family from that blaze. Why? He was in Mexico at the time fighting Pancho Villa.
Pancho Villa is a legendary figure in both North American and Mexican folklore. The images of the man differ dramatically depending upon which side of the border one lives. In the United States, most people are taught at an early age that Pancho Villa was a bandit. In Mexico, he is a hero — an ally of Emiliano Zapata who attempted to liberate land from the wealthy and return it to those who worked it.
Like generations of revolutionaries to follow, Pancho Villa’s radical attempt to solve the greatest historical dilemma facing Latin America — the question of ownership of the land — drew the ire of the North American ruling class. Pancho Villa would eventually meet the same fate as most Latin American leaders who dared stand up to the colossus to the north: He was assassinated.
The Presidio, with its Spanish and Mexican roots, came under civilian control during an era when immigrant workers (and workers in general) are consistently blamed for the economic crisis of capitalism.
It is fitting that such a historic ceremony would occur at the very spot where a fire ravaged the personal life of Pershing, just as the general had ravaged Mexico. History is full of vindictive twists and turns, where innocent people suffer for crimes committed by men with power.
Mexico’s history is an example of such twists and turns: it is a history of revolutions followed by long, bloody counter revolutions, always supported directly or indirectly by powerful rich men to the north.
General John “Black Jack” Pershing was certainly not the first, nor the last, North American general to intervene in Latin America. In fact, since the proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine, every time a nation south of the border has attempted to solve its own problems in a manner that did not meet the approval of major US banks and corporations, military advisers have been sent, arms have been appropriated, sanctions have been imposed, coup d’etats have been engineered, and troops have been dispatched. As a result, nothing much has changed in Latin America since 1825 — the date of the first US intervention there.
After seizing the Southwest from Mexico by force, the United States later sent troops to Mexico to fight against Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. They also sent Marines into Nicaragua to fight patriotic forces led by Augusto Sandino. In Nicaragua alone, the United States intervened militarily over a dozen times since the early 1900’s.
The U.S. government supported an oligarchy in 1932 when it butchered 34,000 people in El Salvador, one of them with the name Farabundo Marti.
Under the cloak of the CIA, the U.S. overthrew governments in Guatemala and Chile; it intervened militarily in Cuba on several occasions and has continued hostilities against that nation to this day. Panama has been controlled by the United States since its creation as a nation-state; the Dominican Republic was invaded, Haiti was invaded, Grenada was invaded — and on and on the list goes. Yet the corporate-owned media and right wing politicians have tried to convince North Americans that immigrants from Latin America are the cause of this nation’s woes!
The rich and powerful have done all they can to blame immigrant workers from Latin America for everything from the most recent economic crisis to the decline of family values in United States. The rich have also blamed North American workers for corporations moving overseas and corporate downsizing. One might say it is a natural instinct for the wealthy to point the finger of blame at the working class, or one sector of it, for each and every social and economic problem that faces the United States. But there is a method to their madness …
While big corporations — especially oil companies — are making record profits, working people of all nationalities are forced to struggle from paycheck to paycheck, not knowing if they will have a job from week to week, not knowing if they will have medical benefits, the house payment, or the rent. More and more working Americans are pushed to work harder for less, squeezed and threatened and exploited until they can barely function as human beings, many on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Because of such pressures, more and more working people are ready to lash out at those who they perceive as being the cause of their misery. Such natural instincts are deliberately misdirected by demagogues like Lou Dobbs, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh, who have made a career out of blaming workers — including African Americans, Latinos and immigrants — for lost jobs, high taxes, lower wages, and declining social services. Most queer of all is the fact that these shrill charlatans, paid directly out of the pockets of the big corporations, also claim to speak for working people!
But who IS to blame for these conditions? Certainly not the giant corporations and those who own and control them! Why, it would be most unfair to blame such individuals for the brutal War in Iraq and Afghanistan and the damage it has done, the decrease in tax revenue due to tax cuts for the rich, or the layoff of workers due to corporate “downsizing,” “re-structuring,” and “re-engineering.” Why, that would be re-diculous! No, the billionaire ruling class and their sycophants would have the nation believe immigrant workers, welfare moms and unions are to blame for cuts in jobs, wages, and benefits, though it is the big corporations who make such cuts and benefit from them.
The endless barrage of right wing radio talk show hosts, combined with other polished demagogues posing as television reporters has transformed the media into a never-ending misinfomercial for the right-wing lunatic fringe and other neo-fascists.
Americans are told again and again that undocumented workers come to the United States to get welfare AND to take American jobs; that immigrants come here to take advantage of free medical care — which most are forbidden to receive though, like all working people, they pay more than their fair share of taxes. Americans are assaulted by endless bullshit propaganda insisting that immigrants are lazy, while the very same demented talk show hosts complain immigrants create an “eyesore” when standing on street corners looking for work seven days a week. We are told too many “illegals” drop out of school and join gangs (taking jobs from Americans) and are assured the solution is to prevent kids without papers from attending school at all! We are warned that immigrants are changing the character of our nation, turning great American cities like Los Angeles, San Antonio, San Diego, Boca Raton and San Francisco into “Third World” nations.
Who is it that would blame immigrants for the woes of the nation? The very same people who have plunged the nation into debt giving themselves and other rich people massive tax cuts, using taxpayer bailouts to insure their bonuses…. Those who are howling and pointing fingers at immigrants are the very same “folks” who blame black people for crime, poor people for high taxes, homosexuals for “moral decay,” and unions and workers for companies moving overseas. They are the very same “patriots” who brought us the war in Vietnam, declared null-and-void our Bill of Rights, turned a blind eye to the causes of global warming, while sacrificing thousands of our young men and women and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis and Afghans in wars fought over fossil fuels and profits for the U.S. ruling class.
You might wonder: How could anyone possibly get away with such crimes? They get away with it because they enjoy tremendous power and influence: They literally own the media. How else could the billionaires who control the government systematically dismantle social services, starve our schools and universities, bankrupt small businessmen and the family farmer, pollute our environment, and yet have the ability to convince many otherwise rational people that the Mad Tea Party and Republiklan are the true defenders of truth, justice and the American way?
In past generations, these same demagogues blamed the Irish, Italians, Russians, Germans, Poles, Okies, Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos for economic downturns. In past generations, Jews and Catholics were attacked and accused of undermining “traditional” American values. And from this nation’s birth to the present, African Americans have been blamed for practically every social problem that faces the nation: They have been enslaved, tormented, tortured, segregated, incarcerated and executed. Yet to this day, the right wing would have us believe that somehow black people are to blame for their own problems as well as those which face everyone else in this nation.
These are dangerous men who blame poor and working people for the problems of the nation — men who would usher in fascism if necessary to protect their interests — the interests of the big corporations and big banks owned and controlled by the rich…
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AND SO IT WAS just a few years ago that festivities were held to celebrate the transfer of the Presidio from military to civilian control. General John Joseph Pershing, one of North America’s most venerated imperialist agents, was the guest of honor at the event, though he was long since dead. The ghosts of the general’s wife and children were there trying desperately to get the attention of those who had come to witness the historic occasion, trying desperately to warn them of the dangers of racism and imperialism. But no one could hear them: their pleas were drowned out by the amplified voices of military men and politicians.
The ghost of General John “Black Jack” Pershing stood back at a distance while the ceremony commenced — out of respect for the dead — out of respect for his wife, his daughters, and the millions of Mexicans who suffered because of his intervention in their country. In life, perhaps the general did not consider what impact his actions had on people — human beings not fundamentally different than his wife and two young daughters. In death, if there is an afterlife and if there is any justice there, then the general has felt firsthand the agony of those whose lives he destroyed.
Perhaps Pershing has learned that pain knows no borders and that all people suffer alike.
No one knows what fate awaits people when they die. But the next time you visit the Presidio, come in the evening when the sounds of the city have settled and the night is still. Come to the Presidio and listen as the wind whirls overhead and combs the pines. In the distance you may hear the sea as it pounds the shore, or a foghorn guiding ships into the arms of the Bay. And if you close your eyes tight and listen carefully, you will hear much more: In the distance and in the dark, you will hear General John “Black Jack” Pershing as he howls in the night, warning those blinded by hate and intolerance that what goes around comes around.