The Paris Attacks

The Paris attacks confirm that all Western civilization must act to repel the various threats to itself that radical terror poses.  I agree with Pope Francis’s perception that such global violence, deliberately targeting ordinary people and intending to undermine the peace and order of civil society, represents a third world war.  The values of toleration, openness, freedom, and mutual respect are the real targets of such bitter and retrograde attacks.

It is easy to imagine an end to ISIL, but more difficult to imagine assuaging the resentment and hatred of Western values that fuels all such violent extremist movements.  Such hatred is never-ending, and, given the accelerating pace of modernity and the West’s pervasive influence in far-flung lands, destined only to multiply.  Modernism and the universal creed of human rights pose a grave threat to tribal thinking and to some forms of religion and religious authority, outraging those who look to such certainties as a source of personal power and identity.

The doctrines of religious toleration and universal human rights, born out of the Enlightenment hundreds of years ago, remain radical, a centuries-old legacy that continues to transform human culture and behavior.  These values belong to no one country but are being embraced by growing numbers of peoples and societies around the globe, partly because they promise liberation from the narrow tribalism and sectarianism that has been a principal source of violence throughout human history.

Live and let live.  Viva la différence!  These mottoes are the very hallmark of a tolerant and inclusive culture that (it’s no accident) enjoys the blessings of peace and order while guaranteeing its members safety under the rule of law.  All that is under attack now.

The perpetrators of the Paris attacks wish to turn back the clock, to return all of us to a dark age where ruthlessness and rage would provide the sole organizing logic of human life.  Strangely, though, the battle is already up with them: their weapons and tactics betray their pathetic dependence on the West and on its cultural hegemony.  Their craven reliance on Western publicity and social media and their inability to live modestly and peacefully demonstrate the contradictions of their movement.  Their notion of godliness is one that the truly godly eschew.

The Era of the Dynamite Girl

Aftermath of bombing at the Chicago Federal Courthouse, 1918 (Courtesy of the National Archives via Flickr Commons)

The years after the end of WWI were turbulent ones in the United States.  A slump came with peace, as wartime demand for American agricultural and industrial output weakened, diminishing American opportunities.  The Russian Revolution of 1917, and the radical political ferment that contributed to it, had a profound effect on political activism in the States, as workers and intellectuals explored whether communist or socialist doctrines could be used to revolutionize a capitalist system that was generating unacceptably high levels of inequality and suffering.  The anarchist sentiment that had triggered the outbreak of WWI had never vanished, and it combined with other domestic conditions, including historically high rates of immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, to make the years before 1920 ones of conflict and unease.

The threat of domestic violence, and the fear of such threats, was felt in many parts of the country.  These were the years of the Palmer Raids and the Red Scare, as well as a deadly race riot in Chicago and the dubious prosecution and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in New England.

In Chicago, the year 1918 got underway with the arrest of a nineteen-year-old Italian-born radical named Gabriella Antolini, who was found carrying a satchel full of dynamite (36 pounds) along with a loaded pistol through Union Station.  The press immediately dubbed her ‘the Dynamite Girl.’  A professed follower of anarchist Luigi Galeani, Antolini served eighteen months in prison.  She was a sympathizer of the IWW, the radical labor union headed by Big Bill Haywood and headquartered in the city.  That summer, Chicago tried to stay steady amid a series of bombings and attempted bombings, typically connected with labor disputes, and some seemingly involving IWW members, known as Wobblies.

On September 4, 1918, a bomb exploded in the north lobby of Chicago’s Federal Building, killing four people.  According to later accounts, a man in a tan raincoat had been seen pacing around the building around 3:00pm with a cigar box with a string dangling from one side of it under his arm.  He was seen to drop the cigar box and kick it under a radiator near the Adams Street entrance before hurrying away.  According to Sean Deveney, writing on his website The Original Curse, the explosion was so powerful that it ripped open the Federal Building and threw from their seats employees at work inside the neighboring Marquette and Edison Buildings.  The buildings’ windows were shattered, shards of glass raining onto the streets.  Although many suspected a connection to the recently concluded trial and conviction of some 100 IWW officials, the perpetrator of the crime was never found.

Image: The wreckage of Chicago’s Federal Building, 1918, from this source.

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