Why Only Old Military Men?


In 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York, a group of several dozen white women, their husbands, and Frederick Douglass gathered to discuss the feminist “Declaration of Sentiments.” The meeting was led by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, rights advocates who had met while barred from speaking at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840. Of the twelve resolutions debated at the meeting, only one was not approved unanimously: the demand for women’s suffrage.

This demand became law only in 1920, with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment — thanks in no small part to the lifelong efforts of Stanton’s protégé, Susan B. Anthony. At her trial in 1873, charged with voting while female, Anthony declared: “it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic -republican government — the ballot.”


What Martin Luther King, Jr. was to civil disobedience, James Baldwin was to American letters. Black and gay in times of taboo and turmoil, Baldwin wrote novels, plays, and essays with unwavering moral courage. One of his subjects was a Mr. Malcolm Little. When Little, a petty criminal, emerged from prison in 1952, he had become Malcolm X — a member of the Nation of Islam, scrubbed of the name slaveholders had forced on his ancestors. A formidable orator, he spoke trenchantly against King’s nonviolent civil-rights movement,

calling instead for the defence of African Americans’ rights “by any means necessary.” Having renounced the Nation and its racial separatism, Malcolm X was murdered in 1965 by Nation members. Out of his legacy grew the Black Power movement. On the podium at the 1968 Olympics, athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raised a gloved fist during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in solidarity with the movement. The gesture endures as a symbol of protest.


Before Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, or Chelsea Manning, there was Daniel Ellsberg. In 1971 Ellsberg, then a military analyst, leaked a top-secret 7,000-page report on the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. Known as the Pentagon Papers, the report undermined the line toed in public by presidents from Truman to Nixon. Ellsberg was indicted under the Espionage Act, though all charges against him were dismissed once damning evidence of government malfeasance came forth. He has expressed support for Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, and Snowden, who in 2013 exposed the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance program. Though Ellsberg lives without fear of reprisal, Snowden and Assange do not. The former has been granted asylum in Russia, while the latter is currently an inmate of Belmarsh Prison, London. Both are wanted for leaking classified information.

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