Dr. Tom: Lessons from history…

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I never liked studying history in school, which, at the time, seemed to be confined to memorizing dates and names and places. I think schools do better than that now and so do I, having developed more of an appreciation of the past and how it affects us now.

Two books I have read recently pointed that out. The first is “Deadly Times. The 1910 Bombing of the Los Angeles Times and America’s Forgotten Decade of Terror” by Lew Irwin. It is interesting that many of my friends had never heard of the event at the center of the story: a time bomb set in 1910 in an alley next to the LA Times building, killing at least 20 and severely damaging the building. It is a piece of Southern California history that has faded from our collective memory, but, as the author notes, it contains the important lesson that violence is rarely productive. Our most important victories, throughout history, have been brought about by “the slow march of rational men.”

Open warfare was pretty much the state of affairs between capital and labor in 1910. Unions were active across the country and adamantly, often violently, opposed to manufacturers who refused to allow their workers to unionize.

Ortie McManigal spent a long time setting bombs at non-union construction sites, but managed to avoid killing anyone. At the time, his methods proved to have some affect, with many construction companies signing union contracts after bombings.

His protégé, JB McNamara, bombed the Times without help, under the orders of his brother, JJ, secretary-treasurer of the Iron Workers Union. Other union officials were involved; 35 were later convicted of various crimes, in numerous trials from Indiana to the West Coast.

Los Angeles seemed like a natural place to carry out a big attack on capitalists, as it was as staunch an anti-union town as existed at the time, while San Francisco was just the opposite, controlled by unions.

The owner of the Times, General Harrison Otis, and the Merchants and Manufacturers Association of Los Angeles, ran a successful campaign to keep unions out of Southern California. Even so, there was considerable public sympathy for the bomber, JB, who was caught after diligent detective and forensic work.

Public sympathy for unions, as opposed to the rich, ran high and the bombing brothers became celebrities until it became obvious that they were guilty. Even Clarence Darrow could not save them; a plea bargain avoided the death penalty for JB and got a limited sentence for JJ. Not that Darrow didn’t make the effort, as he was tried twice for jury tampering and acquitted only after long and fiery closing remarks.

It was a crazy time; I guess they all are when we look close enough. It makes an interesting story, full of famous names, subterfuge, violence, courtroom drama and unanswered questions. The cause for unionization wouldn’t recover from the negative publicity for 30 years.

It was reported recently that members of the newsroom at the Los Angeles Times, very unhappy with the newest owner of the paper, were considering joining a union, a move adamantly opposed by the owner. Not sure how it will turn out but hopefully, bombs will not be part of the negotiations.

Dr. Kluzak, an Idyllwild resident, is board certified in Anatomic Pathology, Obstetrics and Gynecology. He also is a freelance photographer for the Town Crier.

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