The recent assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto—who prior to her death had been heralded as a champion of democracy and moderation—compelled me to examine the phenomenon that George Bernard Shaw once termed “the extreme form of censorship.”
I subsequently learned that those who stand for justice, peace, tolerance and positive social change are disproportionately the victims of assassination, while those who profit from extremism, injustice, war, intolerance and the corrupt status quo usually live long and prosperous lives.
1.) Frank Little, (died at age thirty-eight). Early American labor leader, who was once sentenced to thirty days in prison for reading the Declaration of Independence on a street corner. On August 1, 1917, after organizing and leading a strike of copper miners, he was abducted by several men, viciously tortured and lynched in Butte, Montana. Although Little’s union activities clearly made him a target for assassination, many believe his vociferous opposition to America’s entry into World War I ultimately sealed his fate.
Little’s funeral was attended by thousands of people. But even though law enforcement authorities condemned his assassination, and promised to bring those responsible to justice, the murderers were never caught. Instead the federal government used the infamous Espionage and Sedition Acts, the notorious Palmer Raids—orchestrated by future FBI director J. Edgar Hoover—and anti-labor vigilantes to destroy the union that Little represented.
2.) Harry Moore (died at age forty-six) and his wife Harriette (died at age forty-nine). Known as the first martyrs of the modern-day civil rights movement, the Moores were assassinated on Christmas Day, 1951 when a bomb was placed beneath their bedroom floor. Harry Moore died instantly, while Harriette Moore suffered for nine days before succumbing to internal injuries caused by the blast. As was the case with Frank Little, and indeed with most lynchings in the United States, the perpetrators were never brought to justice.
3.) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (died at age thirty-nine). American civil rights leader who fought for racial equality and integration. Like Frank Little, King’s assassination occurred when he expanded his mission beyond racial issues, and began speaking out against economic injustice (“What good does it do to sit at the counter when you cannot afford a hamburger?”), and war, particularly the war against Vietnam. At the time of his assassination on April 4, 1968, King was supporting African-American sanitation workers, who were on strike in Memphis, Tennessee.
4.) Robert Kennedy (died at age forty-two). It has been argued that the 1963 assassination of his brother John, coupled with the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., made Robert Kennedy more aware of the economic obstacles and injustices facing racial minorities and the poor in America. He was one of the few presidential candidates to reach out to Native-Americans, and was visibly distressed by the poverty he witnessed while visiting the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.
It has also been argued that the violence which took the lives of his brother and Dr. King crystallized his opposition to the war in Vietnam. His speech lauding the nonviolent philosophy of Dr. King in Indianapolis, Indiana, in the wake of the latter’s assassination, was credited with preventing the violence that had erupted in several other American cities. Many believe that, had he been elected to the presidency, he would have ended America’s involvement in Vietnam. Tragically, he was assassinated roughly two months after Dr. King. Even more tragically, his death paved the way for Richard Nixon, one of the most corrupt politicians in American history, to gain the presidency.
5.) Richard Oakes (died at age thirty-one). This Native-American activist from the Mohawk Tribe sought to bring attention to the injustices being perpetrated against America’s Native people by leading an occupation of Alcatraz Island, arguing that ownership of the island had reverted to the Native people by treaty after the federal prison on the island was closed in 1963. Although the occupation lasted from 1969 to 1971, Oakes left the island in 1970 after his thirteen-year-old stepdaughter fell to her death on the dilapidated prison stairs. Sadly he was victimized by the very type of injustice he spent his life campaigning against, when he was shot and killed in September of 1972. The white man accused of killing him was charged with involuntary manslaughter—an all too familiar scenario when a white person kills a Native-American—and subsequently acquitted.
6.) John Lennon (died at age forty). After gaining fame from playing traditional “rock-and-roll” songs with THE BEATLES, Lennon decided to compose and perform more politically conscious music. His performance at a 1971 concert designed to draw attention to the draconian prison sentence given to activist John Sinclair for possessing two “joints” of marijuana resulted in Lennon being targeted by the Nixon administration. The Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the UnitedStates Constitution, ratified on July 1st, 1971, had lowered the voting age to eighteen, and Nixon feared that Lennon’s impact on young voters would hurt his reelection chances; therefore he ordered federal authorities to institute deportation proceedings against Lennon. Although Lennon won the deportation battle, his stay in America was tragically ended in December of 1980, when he was assassinated outside of his apartment building in New York City.
7.) Anwar El-Sadat (died at age sixty-two). A victim of the turmoil in the Middle East, Egyptian President Anwar El-Sadat’s efforts to bring peace to this troubled region made him the first Arab leader to officially visit Israel, which subsequently resulted in the Camp David Peace Agreement. Unfortunately Sadat’s efforts to promote peace subsequently led to his assassination on October 6, 1981.
8.) Ruth First (died at age fifty-seven). An outspoken opponent of the apartheid system in South Africa, First was assassinated in Mozambique on August 17, 1982 when agents of the South African Bureau of State Security mailed a letter bomb to the university where she was teaching.
9.) Chico Mendes (died at age forty-four). Worked as a “rubber-tapper” in Brazil, and fought to keep the rainforests, where he earned his livelihood, from being destroyed by ranchers. On December 22, 1988 Mendes was murdered because of his environmental activism. Today, with global warning an international concern, and the disappearing rainforests being cited as a culprit in this warming, Mendes’ crusade has become more relevant than ever.
10.) Yitzhak Rabin (died at age seventy-three). The fifth Prime Minister of Israel and the oldest individual on this list, Rabin would have lived even longer had he not chosen to sign the Oslo Accords in an effort to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. His laudable efforts resulted in his assassination on November 4th, 1995.
Of the above, three—Dr. King, Rabin and Sadat—were recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. Mendes also became an indirect recipient of this prize in 2007, when the Nobel Committee acknowledged the problem of global warming by awarding the Peace Prize to former Vice-President Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In addition, Lennon’s songs Imagine and Give Peace a Chance are universally recognized as anthems for peace, tolerance and social justice.
To be continued...
David R. Hoffman,
Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru