I confess that it is incongruous for a peace theorist to recommend that people go to see a flag-waving war movie. The contradictions of this notwithstanding, I hope that people will go to see Red Tails, the movie about the Tuskegee Airmen produced by George Lucas and directed by Anthony Hemingway. I urge people to see the movie so that it will make money and thereby take away one Hollywood excuse for why it does not make more movies about African-American heroes and sheroes. If this movie makes money, perhaps it will be easier to get big-screen movies or television movies or mini-series made about people such as African-American diplomat Ralph Bunch or activist and educator Mary McLeod Bethune and others.

George Lucas spoke with Jon Stewart about the difficulty in getting Red Tails made. African-Americans are supporting the movie; however, this is an important movie for everyone to support.

First, I say and say again that war is the worst crime that humanity perpetuates against itself. Mahatma Gandhi was correct when he called war organized murder. Former French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin was also right when he said “war is always the sanction of failure.” When the first projectile flies, we see a failure of imagination, communication and diplomacy. Just peace theory hopes to make the principles of just peace accepted universal principles that will guide the moral thinking and political commitments of people across the globe.

When people ask me the wolf at the door question – what does the world do with people such as Hitler and regimes such as the National Socialists in Germany when they threaten the world’s security? – I say that peacemaking is a day to day work and that the logic of peace ought to make the logic of war unthinkable. We stop the wolf before he gets to the door. The world is not there yet.

As a peace theorist watching a war movie, I remember that the enemy Others -the bad guys in the movie – are human beings with families and friends who love them and who will grieve their deaths. If the enemy warriors survive and are psychologically and/or physically wounded, their families and friends will have the exact same burden of care that the families and friends of the warriors on our side of the battle will have.

When bombs fall from American bombers non-combatants are injured and killed. In most wars, non-combatants including women and children are victims of such tactics. So, the explosions we see on screen and cheer are in actual warfare human beings dying. And this is the tragedy of war. I look forward to the day when they give a war and nobody comes, when someone calls for holy war and people consider him/her insane. No such thing as holy war exists.

Still, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen is a story worth telling because it shows how African Americans have been willing to fight and to die for a country that regarded them not only as second-class citizens but as inferior human beings. The congenital deformity of America is the contradiction between a nation founded on the principles of the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness while its political economy was rooted and grounded in slavery. (See: “Birther Madness.”)

To justify this contradiction, white supremacy became a dominant ideology, and African Americans and others have been fighting against this falsehood from the founding of the nation until this very day.

African-American leaders have called on African Americans to fight in America’s wars with the hope that a willingness to help defend America would prove African-American patriotism. Such would prove that African Americans deserved equal rights and respect as citizens. Some, such as W.E. B. Du Bois, urging African Americans to fight in World War I, saw the need to fight against militarism and to fight for a higher cause. In July 1918, he wrote:

“This is the crisis of the world. For all the long years to come men will point to the year 1918 as the great Day of Decision, the day when the world decided whether it would submit to military despotism and an endless armed peace – if peace it could be called -or whether they would put down the menace of German militarism and inaugurate the United States of the World.”

Du Bois saw “that which the German power represents” as dangerous to “equality, freedom and democracy” for African Americans and “all darker races.” He wanted African Americans to fight for the sake of democracy.

“Let us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks shoulder to shoulder with our white fellow citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy.”

This is what we see in Red Tails. It is a different war, but African Americans were willing to fight with their fellow citizens for a transcendent cause. They were willing to close ranks, put the humiliations of a segregated military establishment aside, to forgo their own glory and to help the bomber planes reach their targets.

In the movie, the commander of the airmen – Col. A.J. Bullard, played by Terrance Howard – tells the warriors:

“We count our victories by the bombers we get to their targets, by the husbands we return to their wives, by the fathers we give back to their children.”

The Tuskegee Airmen earned the respect and the friendship of their European-American fellows. The African-American fighter pilots demonstrated intelligence, courage, skill, integrity and endurance when many people in America considered African Americans unintelligent, lacking the courage to fight or the endurance to complete the rigorous training to become pilots. In the movie we hear a Tuskegee Airman affirmation: “Nothing’s difficult; everything’s possible. Through adversity to the stars.”

The spirit of this affirmation has lived and thrived in the African-American community before the Tuskegee Airmen and since them. All my life, I have heard parents, aunts, uncles, teachers, mentors, pastors telling me and my peers that with God all things are possible, but we would have to work hard for what we wanted. We were taught that we would have to be twice as good to be considered equal in America. We were taught to strive for excellence and to carry ourselves with dignity because we represented an entire race of people. Many of us who are Christian were taught that our lives were not our own, that we were bought with a price and that price was the blood of Jesus. We were taught to be the hands and the feet of God to work to bring compassion and justice into the world person by person.

My generation taught our children to learn their purpose in the world, to identify their talents and to find a way to earn a living doing what they love to do, even if it means being independently entrepreneurial. We taught the same message: with God all things are possible, but you will have to work as if everything depends upon work and pray as if everything depends on prayer. We see the Hip-Hop generation not waiting for the blessing of big business upon its artistic aspirations; they are making their own cultural products, including movies. New technologies make this more possible now. (See: http://madamenoire.com/129405/will-black-cinema-survive-if-red-tails-fails-yes/).

When I saw Red Tails, it reminded me of the humiliations that our elders suffered, and it reminded me that every generation has to continue to fight stereotypes that seek to distort the history of a people, deny the dignity of a people and poison the body politic with ongoing racially charged rhetoric. It is a politics of distraction. We act out our racial biases and forget to look closely at the policy positions of the candidates that continue to favor the rich.

I am angry and disappointed with the rhetoric of the Republicans running for president. We hear talk about President Obama as “the food-stamp” president, that blacks want to take something from someone else rather than working, that President Obama does not “understand” America and wants to turn it into a European socialist nation.

All of these claims are ignorant and insulting. We live in a political economy that favors the top one percent of the one percent and the rhetoric of the Republican candidates wants to keep the rest of us fighting with each other over race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, labor rights, and the environment. South Carolina Republicans cheer an empty answer to a question about whether or not former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is showing little respect for people on food stamps, the majority of whom are European Americans. After speaking his half-truths and lies about President Obama, a woman voter congratulates Speaker Gingrich for putting Juan Williams, the African-American reporter who asked the question, in his place. IN HIS PLACE?

The woman did not ask Speaker Gingrich how his tax plan would affect her or what his proposal for universal health care is or to explain why right to work laws are not simply right to work without collective bargaining rights laws. If people are angry about the state of the economy, they ought to be angry about the policies that led to the current economic retraction that started long before President Obama took office.

Everyone of every race ought to reject such politics of distraction, and as Du Bois said in 1918 stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight for democracy and for liberty and justice, including social and economic justice, for all.

Please go to see Red Tails. Thanks.


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