The 2002 Battle for Martinsville

(Editor"s note: Steve Hammer is on vacation this week. The following is a column originally published Nov. 14, 2001. Hammer will return in two weeks.)

The Hoosier State, to me, is a wonderful mix of cultures and people. We"re a haven for hillbillies, escapees from bigger cities and immigrants from every part of the world. We"ve got farmers, artists, hippies, punk rockers and rednecks. A substantial and influential percentage of the state is African-American. I love this city and this state beyond words. I treasure Indiana and would defend it with my life.

Except for Martinsville. It"s a living museum of the Klan mentality which once ruled our state. We all pretty much get along with each other everywhere else.

Ancient hatreds are at the root of the events of 9/11. Al-Qaeda thought it was avenging centuries of religious oppression when it destroyed the Twin Towers.

But there are ancient hatreds at play in Indiana as well as the Middle East, although we don"t think about them very much, if at all.

Hatred is hatred, whether it comes from overseas or here at home. Our history has its less than glorious moments, and acknowledging them is one small step toward a greater global healing that will have to take place for our survival as a species.

I"ve been doing some thinking about this war. It was brought to us. We didn"t ask for it. Perhaps the best way to win it is to look at wars past.

War is not a stranger to Indiana, despite our peaceful-looking landscape. There are so many beautiful parks and rural areas in Indiana. The next time you"re driving through them, think about the land your molecules are occupying at that time.

Ask yourself about the millions of people who have lived there over the past three centuries, and how many of them died or were killed by someone else in order to preserve control of the land.

We don"t often ponder the fact that we live in a state where blood has been shed many, many times in our history. The suffering of war and the frenzy of battle has already occurred here, and its history ripples through time and affects us today.

For a state whose name means "land of Indians," why are there no large enclaves of Native Americans? Where are the reservation lands?

Although technically admitted to the Union as a slave-free state, slavery was an established part of many white Indiana settlers" lives. The Indiana where Lincoln spent part of his life was a land of traders, veterans of the wars against Indians and many people sympathetic if not actually supportive of the South.

Understanding between whites and blacks has taken longer than a century after the Civil War to occur, even if you assume it has. And a true understanding amongst all people who live here is as elusive as anywhere else in the world.

What, you may well ask, does this have to do with America"s New War?

I passionately believe we as a people need to understand the nature of these ancient hatreds all over the world in order to ease and reverse them. There"s nowhere better to start than here, the great state of Indiana.

Take Martinsville. In a minute, I"m going to advocate doing just that - invading and recapturing the city with military troops. But let me give you some background first.

Martinsville exists as a town where time has stood still for 150 years. Whenever movie producers or writers want to understand life in America during the segregated 1950s and before, they trek to Martinsville.

Most Hoosiers understand it and treat Martinsville accordingly. You stop for gas there. You grab a bite at McDonald"s there. You don"t enter town or stay for very long if you do.

Many years ago, I covered a public meeting in Martinsville as a stringer for The Star, around the start of the IU basketball season. Before the meeting started, several public officials were joking with their friends about how the IU team had "darker ni**ers" than in years past.

"Pretty soon, there"ll be nothing but ni**ers there," someone else said.

Someone poked me at that point. "You gonna write about that in The Star, boy?"

"No sir," I said. "I"m here for the meeting."

Imagine a photonegative image of Mayberry, USA, where Sheriff Andy is a tyrant, Barney Fife not only carries ammo but opens fire whenever he feels like it. Floyd the Barber carries a shiv. Aunt Bea wields a vicious rolling pin against "culleds" and others. Opie serves as a lookout for suspicious strangers. Goober is a snitch for the cops, telling them about troublemakers in the community.

That"s pretty much Martinsville.

If ever a United States city called out to be invaded and occupied by military forces, Martinsville is it.

National Guard forces could take out the command-and-control centers of the city very quickly. Many government officials would surrender within a few hours of invasion.

I predict that soldiers could liberate Martinsville in less than a day. After the courthouse falls, support crews could place statues of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy on its lawn.

Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as Janet Reno, the Black Panthers, NOW and gay and lesbian leaders could come to town to rewrite the city"s laws and appoint a local government.

Troops would only be deployed to Martinsville for as long as it took to overthrow the existing regime and to serve as a peacekeeping force. Casualties would be zero or close to zero.

An entire chunk of our state could be reclaimed for the rest of us.

I can tell you that the area around Martinsville is beautiful. Once the invasion is over, all of our citizens can discover and enjoy this wonderful land.

By doing so, one more pocket of hatred would be removed from the world, and the other war we"re engaged in would be one step closer to completion.


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