By Herman Silochan
One hundred and fifty years ago last week, January 1st to be exact, at the height of the U.S. Civil War, Abraham Lincoln declared the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the opposing Confederate States. That was not an act of Congress, but a prerogative of his presidential powers of a nation at war. A wily lawyer as he was, he knew as Commander-in-Chief he could do just that – against the enemy.
Actually, it was an economic move, not a moral crusade. Thus, those slave holding states which remained in the Union were exempt; their freedom will come in two years’ time when Congress would ratify it, abolishing slavery throughout the entire re-unified republic.
The well-timed movie “Lincoln” now playing in cinemas is the impetus for this week’s commentary. Actor Daniel Day-Lewis has done justice to the persona of Lincoln and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, the president’s wife, a complex headstrong woman. The action dwells on the final days of Lincoln, the Civil War in progress, the horrible scenes of the aftermath of battles, and importantly the subterfuge, bribery, threats, cajoling to get the final bill to pass. Excellent political drama, thanks to the collaborative research between producer/director Steven Spielberg and historians.
You might want to bear in mind also that Spielberg is a friend and supporter of Obama, and this movie could presage more of the coming bruising battles between the President and the Republican Party. A close observer of today’s Congress will find not much has changed in the last century and a half.
Looking at the movie, one cannot but help see through the prism of today’s White House glass windows, today’s actions of the present incumbent, Barrack Obama, a man whose half ancestry is pure east-African. The American Republic has come a long tortuous way, accepting modern day realities, and a long road to this white painted historic edifice on Pennsylvania Avenue: built with slave labour, maintained by slaves, and to this day serviced in part by the descendants of slaves.
I cannot agree more with Time Magazine in naming Obama as its Person of the Year, a full watershed not only in U.S. politics, but a solid influence on new perceptions as to how we see world human progress.
It would do us well to remember that no development takes place in isolation, that there have been countless campaigns over the centuries on the rights of the individual, and even including among Lincoln’s contemporaries.
The British Emancipation Act which came into force in August 1834 was a major point given the enormity and importance of their empire. The pressure was on for other states to abolish forced servitude. Brazil, after murderous internecine conflicts among estates and political parties, ended slavery only in 1888. Think of it, some of our grand-parents would have known these ex-slaves. Racial denigration is only part of the scourge; rapacious economic, religious and sexual exploitation is integral to slavery.
A new war on an evolved type of slavery, subtle and not-so-subtle sexual and economic is now underway.
The statistics on global sexual slavery is so overwhelming, that to give you figures is meaningless. Suffice to say that a loose impersonal international network of militias, pimps, brothel owners, factory owners and corrupt police forces contribute to this modern holocaust. A strong word – holocaust – given the obscene murders of World War II, nevertheless the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of children, girls and boys, since 1945, all will add up to millions in a century. There is the breaking up of the former Soviet Union and the ensuing lawlessness in Eastern Europe, the exportation of women from South America and all of Asia, the hardly reported mass rapes and forced servitude in Central Africa, all have been the main contributors. Then there is the promise of a well-to-do life in North America and Europe that lures the unsuspecting.
What is to be done? I will maintain that the main pivotal action should come from Washington, from the present president, because he still has a strong moral platform, and massive international respect; shall we say – it’s now a long tortuous road from the White House? A modern day Lincoln?