Breaking News! President Biden Reveals That Emmett Till Is Dead
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Patriotic Americans don’t like to think about it, but the Army scraped the bottom of the barrel pretty hard in recruiting during World War II. For example, from Wikipedia’s entry on Louis Till:

Their first and only child, Emmett Louis Till, was born on July 25, 1941. Mamie left her husband soon after learning that he had been unfaithful. Louis, enraged, choked her to unconsciousness, to which she responded by throwing scalding water at him. Eventually Mamie obtained a restraining order against him. After he repeatedly violated this order, a judge forced Till to choose between enlistment in the Army and imprisonment. Choosing the former, he enlisted in 1943.

Not surprisingly, civilian women in combat zones tended to pay the price of the U.S. Army’s low standards for recruits.

I’ve tried to find the name of the Italian woman Louis Till murdered on the principle of “Say her name,” but it doesn’t appear to be of much interest to the English-speaking press.

War crimes by American servicemen against civilian women remain an issue for American foreign policy in 2022, while lynching has vanished into the past, but nobody is much interested in this:

The brief surge in interest in Louis Till around 2016 is due to a semi-fictional book by black novelist John Edgar Wideman in 2016 called Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File that argues that Louis Till must have been framed. After all, more blacks than whites per capita were convicted of raping European women during WWII, and, obviously, that couldn’t possibly mean that blacks tended to be guiltier.

Granted, there are good reasons why “military justice” and “military intelligence” are considered canonical examples of oxymorons. But Wideman is frank about his being biased. From an NPR interview with him over his book:

On his own son, who has a parole hearing coming up — as a teenager he was convicted of the 1986 murder of a fellow 16-year-old

Prisons are awful, awful places. And believe it or not, to make public an inmate’s good luck actually puts them in jeopardy — in jeopardy of the jealousy of other prisoners, the guards — he becomes a target. Let me at the same time say: He is closer to release this moment than he has been in over 30 years. And that is that is all good news.

On how father-son relationships play into his writing

I think I’ve been dealing with the same ideas for an awful long time. I had a vexed relationship with my father mainly because he and my mother didn’t get along all the time. And he had the same kinds of complicated forces in his life that Louis Till had. My search for the past is a subject of my novels and my fiction and continues to be. And so this book about Louis Till and Emmett Till is a natural continuation of all that research into who I am, where I come from, what it all means.


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