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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Why We Don't Fight

At Thanksgiving, NTodd's Pa's Ma gave me a couple of pictures to scan in for posterity.  Here's one:

The mustachioed dude in the center is Abram, my great-grandfather; his wife Sonie is directly behind him; front-right is my NTodd's Pa's Pa, Boris, born in 1914; the hefty Slavic lady at great-grandmother's side is 'Tyotya' (тетя, Russian for 'aunt').

My main charge is to not only scan in the photo, but to photoshop Tyotya out of it because she apparently was wicked mean to NTodd's Pa's Ma back in the day. 

Gram told me long ago that when my dad was an infant, the Uke Bitch told her to bathe him in cold water.  In January.  In Jersey.  "To make him strong."  Of course, none of Tyotya's children lived beyond infancy in the old country.

Anyhoo, Abram and Sonie left Kiev back in 1913 and arrived from Bremen, Germany at Ellis Island on January 16th.  According to the manifest, he was 21 and she was 22:

It's interesting to peruse the list of passengers on their ship:

Name Gender Age Married Ethnicity Place of Residence
0001. Eder, Carl M 24y S Austria, German Vocklabruck, Austria
0002. Ogrodintzky, Chonon M 33y M Russia, Hebrew P. Wizna, Russia
0003. Pritzky, Abram M 21y M Russia, Hebrew Kiew, Russia
0004. Pritzky, Sonie F 22y M Russia, Hebrew Kiew, Russia
0005. Kaufmanowitz, Schwul M 23y S Russia, Hebrew Lodz, Russia
0006. Abramowitz, Chaim M 40y M Russia, Hebrew Kischinew, Russia
0007. Wolpert, Louis M 38y M Russia, Hebrew Polhawa, Russia
0008. Wolpert, Fanny F 32y M Russia, Hebrew Polhawa, Russia
0009. Wolpert, Sara F 7y S Russia, Hebrew Polhawa, Russia
0010. Klimczak, Jan M 26y M Russia, Polish Lodz, Russia
0011. Misselonis, Antanas M 32y S Russia, Lithuanian Poluny, Russia

Look at all the damned Hebes!  I wonder if there was anything that made them all want to leave the Motherland and come to America on the Main:

Built by Blohm & Voss Shipbuilders, Hamburg, Germany, 1900. 10,067 gross tons; 520 (bp) feet long; 58 feet wide. Steam quadruple expansion engines, twin screw.  Service speed 14.5 knots.  3,451 passengers (369 first class, 217 second class, 2,865 third class). One funnel and four masts. Built for North German Lloyd, German flag, in 1900 and named Main. Bremerhaven-New York service. Laid up at Antwerp 1914-18 owing to World War I. Sunk in NY at dock fire in 1900, but refloated. Scrapped in 1925.

Well, you probably don't really need a lesson in my family's history, but along with my Quaker birthright it does inform my worldview to a large extent:

Between the tsarist pogroms, Stalin's atrocities, and the SS, my family members who did not have the foresight to leave Russia in 1913 were eliminated. And you know what? I still wouldn't have supported a US invasion of the Soviet Union to stop the genocide any more than I support our war to topple the Iraqi who tried to emulate Stalin.

Neither benevolent invaders nor homegrown violence can truly liberate people.  A Force More Powerful:

[C]alls to arms leave little time for thought. Unlike Gandhi and later leaders of nonviolent campaigns, the twentieth century's avatars of violence never developed a systematic understanding of how their chosen sanctions - firefights, bombing, street battles or terror - were supposed to replace old forms of authority with new opportunities for freedom. Instead, they wove a vague but seductive mythology around the putative power of violence: After violent insurrection was credited as having succeeded in a few prominent cases, it could be advertised as necessary to overthrow any offensive ruler. Once violence was seen as imperative, its destructive costs could be ignored.

Because violence became so widely accepted as a medication for injustice or tyranny, there was no incentive to consider less damaging but also less sensational alternatives for taking power, however effective they had been in the past. The work of nonviolent movements in the twentieth century led to independence for India, equal rights for African Americans and South Africans, democracy in Poland, and the removal of dictators in the Philippines, Chile and a litany of other countries. In each of the conflicts that produced those results, a relationship existed between the means of struggle and the political outcome. But never in the postwar period did a military insurrection or violent coup extend freedom to the people in whose name power was taken.

Power eluded entirely the grasp of many violent movements, and while the mythology of violence often obscured those failures in the world media, they were not overlooked by many popular movements that turned instead to nonviolent sanctions. The collapse of earlier violent uprisings convinced Solidarity to swear off extreme measures in Poland, and the futility of street fighting in South African townships persuaded the United Democratic Front and other activists to use boycotts and strikes to attack apartheid. Armed raids against the white regime may have made more news, but nonviolent action by black civilians made history.

History is ultimately a harsh judge of those who insist on substituting violence by a few for participation by all. The Bolshevik model always had given primacy to a revolutionary vanguard: The people were vital as an emblem of the cause, and once victory was in hand, they could loot the palaces of the old regime. But they were not to be the agent of change, and their empowerment was not its result.

It is not a myth that violence can alter events. It is a myth that it gives power to the people.

A lesson we're re-learning--or re-ignoring--once again in Iraq, as are the Iraqis upon whom we've unleashed terrible violence. 

I talk a lot about staying and fighting for what we believe in, but it's pretty easy for me to say given my comfortable circumstances.  Most times the immediate issues of survival are a bit more important than any noble philosophy, so I can totally understand why my family fled almost a century ago, and why many Iraqis--particularly professionals and intellectuals--do today1.


1 - A sad, ongoing theme: here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

December 2, 2006 in Why We Fight | Permalink


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My paternal great-grandfather was named Boris.

It was the fashion at the time.

Posted by: watertiger | Dec 2, 2006 5:43:02 PM

Isn't it fascinating to find where your ancestors signed and imagine them getting off the boat and starting a new life.

I'm sure they would have been proud of you, except when you say certain words which I will not repeat here. ;)

Love ya kid.

Posted by: ql in ny | Dec 2, 2006 5:51:46 PM

great post: loved it and all the links.


Posted by: emale_n7 | Dec 2, 2006 7:46:49 PM

On my mother's side, my grandparents came from Poland and Sicily.... my mother was born in New Jersey....

Those are the facts. The emotional tide is stronger and seperated my mother from her parents a long, long time ago.

On my father's side, the family married into North Carolina Quakers in the earl 1800's. By 1850, they'd moved to southwest Missouri. In order to fight for the Union, two brothers left their family, religion (becoming Methodists), and the state to join the Kansas cavalry.

...so many details to track down.

Posted by: Darryl Pearce | Dec 2, 2006 8:13:32 PM

That's a gorgeous photo. "Tyotya" is such a lovely looking word. Too bad that particular one happened to be Ursula the She Witch of child-rearing.

I don't know why but I pictured that blurry photo of the punkz play-fighting superimposed over the heads of those solemn (for the camera) people. (I've been in Photoshop too long today!)

Posted by: Lesley | Dec 2, 2006 8:25:55 PM

Thanks for the link, I think I may have found my dad's Pa's info. But what's weird is, the same person arrived from Bohemia (same age, sex, destination, person (friend) that paid for ticket) twice in 8 days!?! I am going to check or in our case 'czech' w/my dad on when g'pa came over. G'pa is long gone, and died before I was born, so I have to go second hand on the info. I might have found my great-g'father on my mom's Pa's side, too.
Don't be too hard on Tyotya's advice - many children died young back then. After a couple passing, she may have been more removed from bonding w/them. Then again, she might have been a less-subtle Munchausen by Proxy case...? Who knows. Great photo, though! I love the fashion history of old pics.

Posted by: Elspeth R | Dec 3, 2006 12:22:51 AM

Am I the only one who only sees half the pic? Boo.

My ancestaors came in through Philly in 1835, before the big wave of micks. Family story was that the two brothers arrived with a nickel in their pocket and immediately went to a bar (or, as my grandma charmingly phrased it, "a beer garden").

I also have a family pic like this, from 1880, with the rocking chair I have in my living room now front and center.

Posted by: NYMary | Dec 3, 2006 8:24:39 AM

Excellent post.

Reminds me of many discussions I have had with wingnuts in which the question must be asked:

What would it take to get YOU to put on the C4 vest? Would the promise of heavenly privilege do it? Maybe watching your property stolen, your wife raped and your children murdered?


Posted by: CK Dexter Haven | Dec 4, 2006 9:20:14 AM

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