Five Irrational Fears That Led To Stupidity

Fear Mongering In The United StatesWith all of the irrational fear going on about a mosque (really a cultural center) going up at Ground Zero (really a couple of blocks away), I thought it was time to look at the other times in American history that we allowed for our fears to get the best of us.  Knee jerk reactions, proposed law changes, and mass hysteria only lead to stupid mistakes that add shame to our nation.  Our Constitution protects all of the citizens from unjust treatment.  By running on fear, we only hurt ourselves.  To illustrate this point, here are five times it has happened before.

myfivebest -1Salem Witch Trials
Technically, the United States still belonged to Britain at the time, but it was in Massachusetts.  Although it is known as the Salem Witch Trials, it was actually held Essex, Suffolk, and Middlesex counties of colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693.  The episode has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of religious extremism, false accusations, lapses in due process, and governmental intrusion on individual liberties.  Over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned, with even more accused but not formally pursued by the authorities. At least five more of the accused died in prison. All twenty-six who went to trial before this court were convicted. The four sessions of the Superior Court of Judicature in 1693, held in Salem Village, but also in Ipswich, Boston and Charlestown, produced only three convictions in the thirty-one witchcraft trials it conducted. The two courts convicted twenty-nine people of the capital felony of witchcraft. Nineteen of the accused, fourteen women and five men, were hanged. One man (Giles Corey) who refused to enter a plea was crushed to death under heavy stones in an attempt to force him to do so.  All of this was done because a couple of children (aged 9 and 11) and mass craziness took over.

myfivebest - 2General Order Number 11
Not familiar with General Order Number 11?  It’s because the United States wasn’t too happy with what happened.  In 1862, Major-General Ulysses S. Grant issued the expulsion of all Jews in his military district comprising areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. The order was issued as part of a campaign against a black market in Southern cotton, which Grant was convinced was being run “mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders“.  While there wasn’t any mass killing during this fear mongering order, it did force American citizens from their homes.  The news picked up on it immediately and supported Grant’s mandate spreading the fear even further.  Following protests from Jewish community leaders and an outcry by members of Congress and the press, it was revoked a few weeks later by order of President Abraham Lincoln. Grant later claimed it had been drafted by a subordinate and that he had signed it without reading.

myfivebest - 3Lynch Mobs In The Deep South
While most people probably think of this, today, as isolated incidents that happened from time to time, lynchings – or the death by hanging without due process or trial – happened quite a bit.  From 1882-1930, 2,803 Americans lost their lives to this form of vigilante justice.  Of course, these are only the documented cases of people hanging.  How many more lost their lives in undocumented hangings can only be speculated.  It probably isn’t surprising to note that the majority of these people were black, however, there are 300 incidents of whites being hung, as well.  Remember, this is after African-Americans had been given the rights of freedom within the United States.  The majority of these lynch mobs occurred in the deep South, where racial strife continued well into the 1960s.  The reasons for this murder?  Any sort of offense or perceived slight could escalate into a lynching.  This is a prime example of mob rules.

myfivebest - 4Japanese Internment Camps
When Japan attacked the United States on December 7, 1941, the entire country was up in arms.  In an eerie foreshadowing of what is going on right now in the United States with the Muslim scare, Japanese-Americans – or people of Asian descent (because it wasn’t differentiated at the time) were ordered to relocate – to give up their homes and businesses – and placed in “War Relocation Camps”.  This happened to approximately 110,000 American citizens!  The internment of Japanese Americans was applied unequally throughout the United States. Japanese Americans residing on the West Coast of the United States were all interned, whereas in Hawaii, where more than 150,000 Japanese Americans composed nearly a third of that territory’s population had about 1500 people put into the camps.  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt authorized the internment with Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which allowed local military commanders to designate “military areas”.  This entire, and ultimately embarrassing, event occurred for only one reason – the fear of the American people to others that looked differently from the majority.  Note: German-Americans and Italian-Americans – two other groups of people that the US was fighting overseas, had no forcible removal from their homes.

myfivebest - 5McCarthyism
This term represents the political action of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. The term specifically describes activities associated with the period in the United States known as the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1950s and characterized by heightened fears of communist influence on American institutions and espionage by Soviet agents. Originally coined to criticize the anti-communist pursuits of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, “McCarthyism” soon took on a broader meaning, describing the excesses of similar efforts. The term is also now used more generally to describe reckless, unsubstantiated accusations, as well as attacks on the character or patriotism of political adversaries.  McCarthyism effected thousands of American citizens.  Remember: By the Constitution, you can follow any political party you wish and you are protected by your choice of creed.  Under McCarthyism, if you were pulled aside and questioned as a Communist, your career was over.  People shunned you and you could be fired from your job, lose your home, and not be able to get bank loans or other help.  This entire action was done on fear and fear alone.  It was hate mongering that tossed out people’s liberties and caused them to lose their freedoms.

Why do we forget our historical past?  I understand that remembering embarrassing events isn’t a happy occurrence, but if we aren’t careful, it will happen again.  In recent days, there is already talk of “repealing” the fourteenth Amendment and trying to stop Muslims from building a community center in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan.  I am not proposing that this might show lack of tact by putting this facility up near the open wound of Ground Zero, but taking away a group’s rights or their freedom to practice their religion is against our Constitution.  We can’t change laws because we “feel” it isn’t right.  If the laws are wrong overall, we can amend them to fix future situations, but altering structure to suit the emotional and political needs of a few is wrong.