We are three divisive years after the shameful and violent January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol that transpired on live TV.
As the title indicates, this essay considers a very important historic event that occurred 80 years earlier on the Sixth of January in 1941; and is presented here as something that better reflects America’s values and world view than the anathema that occurred in 2021. I decided to tackle this subject because I am very troubled about recent campaign rhetoric and challenges to America’s principles of democracy. These are the issues that keep me up at night.
One candidate has toyed with the idea of becoming “dictator for a day,” and he has also spoken of vengeance and retribution. That same individual has been removed from the ballots in some states because his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol violated Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bans those who “engage in insurrection” from holding office.
Further, in December, 2022, while continuing to push the utterly false claim that he lost the 2020 election due to widespread voter fraud, he proposed that “termination of all rules, even those found in the Constitution” was merited.”
I believe the assault on the Capitol was instigated by the same losing candidate to interfere with the certification of electoral votes from the 2020 presidential election.
Four people died that day: a female rioter who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer; two of heart conditions; and another from amphetamine intoxication. More than 100 members of law enforcement were injured. The next day, Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died after suffering two strokes, having been physically attacked and pepper-sprayed during the riot.
Incredibly, Congressman Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) later referred to the Jan. 6 attack as a “normal tourist visit;” conveniently ignoring the violence, loss of life, and that the Capitol had been ransacked and vandalized by a mob who wanted to hang Mike Pence to “Stop the Steal” on behalf of an unworthy politician.
Note that for the first time in its history, the United States of America did not have a peaceful transition of power.
Former President Donald Trump defended the rioters’ chants of “Hang Mike Pence,” saying it was understandable because they were angry the election hadn’t been overturned.
Extraordinarily, the Republican National Committee said Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn his 2020 election defeat and the deadly attack on the US Capitol were “legitimate political discourse.”
However, actions do have consequences. By December 2022, at least 964 people had been arrested and charged with crimes, making it the U.S. Justice Department’s largest criminal investigation in history. The Department of Justice’s Washington D.C. office said in its latest update that 623 people had received sentences, though not all had been handed periods of incarceration; while around 657 individuals had pleaded guilty to federal charges, “Many of whom faced or will face incarceration at sentencing.”
According to NBC News, one candidate promised at a town hall hosted by CNN at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire that if he is elected, he will pardon a “large portion” of the people convicted of federal offenses for their participation in the attack on the Capitol. I can’t say for every single one, because a couple of them, probably they got out of control.” A candidate has used “Hitleresque” and neo-Nazi descriptions of undocumented immigrants.
In addition, there has been evidence of gerrymandering in several states, i.e., redrawing Congressional, state legislative, or other political boundaries to favor a political party or candidate for elected office. For example, the Republicans, who control the state legislature in North Carolina, have crafted a map that could help them flip at least three seats.
In Michigan, a three-judge panel ruled that the boundaries of 13 Detroit-area seats for the Michigan legislature must be redrawn, after determining that the map was illegally influenced by race. Nearly 80 percent of Detroit residents are Black, but the Black voting-age population in the Detroit-area districts ranges from 35 to 45 percent; one is 19%. The Michigan legislature is currently controlled by the Democratic Party.
Last January, the “Republican-crafted” redistricting plan in Alabama was found to be in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act by a Federal court. The court ruled that the plan disadvantaged Black voters by diluting their voting power. The state’s Republican-lead legislature refused to follow a Federal Court order to re-draw the electoral map.
Note that by law, states with more than one representative must redistrict after each decennial census to account for population shifts within the state, or shifts among the states (i.e. to add or remove congressional districts.) In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Federal courts have no power to police partisan gerrymandering and it is up to Congress and state legislative bodies to find ways to restrict excessive partisanship.
Even beyond the above, the GOP-led House of Representatives has been in chaos and virtually dysfunctional. As a result, Congress in 2023 passed the fewest laws in decades; and as it heads into its second session, is on track to be one of the least productive in modern history.
On the flip side, the Senate passed a provision in the annual defense bill on July 19, 2023 that would make it more difficult for a U.S. President to withdraw from NATO—clearly a precautionary measure against Donald Trump’s conceivable return to the White House.
And now let’s turn to my Father’s January Sixth back in 1941. But we will begin by going back even further.
The Political Climate After World War I (WW1)
The Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles, which marked the end of WW1, against the recommendation of President Woodrow Wilson; because it required the United States to join the League of Nations. The United States then returned to its former non-interventionist and isolationist policies, ending its war-related European commitments. Foreign affairs and international relations became much less important than economic survival as the United States struggled through the Great Depression.
Congress passed a series of Neutrality Acts in 1935, 1936, 1937, and 1939 in response to the growing threats of war in Europe and the Pacific; and they sought to ensure that the United States would not become entangled again in foreign conflicts.
After Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1,1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) avoided the Neutrality restrictions by convincing Congress to permit the Government to sell military supplies to France and Britain on a “cash-and-carry basis,” i.e., they would pay cash for American-made supplies and then transport them on their own ships.
However, by 1940, much of Europe had fallen to the Nazis and the Battle of Britain air war was underway. Britain was fighting Germany on land, at sea, and in the air.
The “Four Freedoms”:
In his January 6,1941 State of the Union Address to Congress, FDR presented his reasons for American involvement in the war in Europe and outlined the country’s war aims. He made the case for continued aid to Great Britain and greater production from war industries at home to produce armaments for the democracies of Europe.
He asserted that the United States was fighting for the universal freedoms that all people deserved. He called for Congressional approval of the “Lend-Lease” program that he had proposed a month earlier at a press conference. Under “Lend-Lease,” the United States would continue to supply the British and their allies in the fight against Nazi Germany with ammunition, airplanes, tanks, food, and raw materials under an agreement that eliminated the requirements of the “cash-and-carry” exchange.
“Lend-Lease” was enacted by Congress on March 11, 1941, and it allowed the United States to lend or lease war supplies to any nation free of charge, and on the basis that such help was essential for the defense of the United States.
FDR articulated his ideological aims for the war, and appealed to Americans’ most profound beliefs about freedom. He presented the post-war social and political goals he hoped to foster both for Americans and for the people of the world. He described four essential human freedoms upon which he believed the post-war world should be founded. These were freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. He called for a worldwide reduction of armaments to ensure that no nation will be able to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor anywhere in the world.
On Jan. 26, 1942, the first elements of the United States Army arrived in Belfast and by year’s end, more than 300,000 American service personnel had passed through as the first contingent of the nearly two million who served in Europe.
The Battle of the Bulge:
My father was part of the first 300,00 and remained in Europe to fight in the Battle of the Bulge in the brutal winter that stretched from mid-December,1944 through late-January,1945. which was the last major German offensive on the Western Front; and the largest and bloodiest battle of WW2. The Battle lasted nearly six weeks amid heavy snow, blizzards, and freezing rain, and record-breaking low temperatures.
The Allies suffered some 75,000 casualties and Germany lost 120,000 men and stores of matériel. The German losses were catastrophic and, as a result, they forfeited any chance of maintaining a prolonged resistance to a resumed Allied offensive.
Author’s Comments: My father never really spoke of his experiences. However, he wholeheartedly embraced Tom Brokaw’s book, “The Greatest Generation,” in which the author described those Americans, who grew up during the Great Depression and fought in WW2, or whose labor on the Homefront helped win it. He used the term in recognition of what he called “a generation of towering achievement and modest demeanor.” In closing, “May God bless America and may God protect our troops.”
Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.
About the Author: Tom Gotowka is a resident of Old Lyme, whose entire adult career has been in healthcare. He will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK. A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.
Sources — A View: My Father’s January Sixth
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