Driven Out, by Jean Pfaelzer (Hardcover, 2007)|
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
Let me start out by praising this author. I normally
start a review by listing mistakes. As you read my kudos, you will see
why I made that exception for this book.
- Today, it is nearly unheard
of to write a nonfiction book and stay on topic. Nearly all allegedly
nonfiction authors contaminate their work with large doses of their personal political
opinions. Most of those opinions reveal a myopic understanding of
the topic on which the author is opinionating.
- Pfaelzer's editorial integrity is especially
noteworthy because this book is directly relevant to the hot
button political (non)issue of immigration, but the author doesn't
impose her political view.
- I enjoyed reading a book that breaks the
current trend of writing in Pidgin English. Whether such writing is done to
obfuscate or done out of ignorance, I don't know. Either way, this
common practice of saddling the text with confusing errors in grammar, composition, and
word choices is annoying. Pfaelzer is a
professor of English (and of East Asian History and of American
Studies), so perhaps she felt obligated to break from the herd on this
- If this book had errors of fact, I didn't
catch them. I'm not sure that this characteristic (free of errors of
fact) is normal, either.
What it's about
Driven Out addresses the atrocities committed against
Chinese people who were living and working on the American west coast
(mostly California) at a particular time. That time was the half-century or so between the
post-Civil War reconstruction era and the first part of the Twentieth
The same psychodrama plays out today as then, except today "we"
hate Mexicans instead of the Chinese. The hatred for (and fear of) the
Chinese was predicated on a zero sum game mentality and an ignorance of
economic realities. The time, energy, and money spent trying to
eradicate the "threat" of peaceful and productive Chinese-Americans
would have solved existing problems if applied to those problems rather
than diverted to such irrational purposes.
Bigotry is a delusion-inducing poison, so in that sense
we are reading a story that constantly repeats itself. The richness of
detail in Driven Out allows us to see the particular ways in which bigotry
played out in this particular time and place.
Pfaelzer took great pains to thoroughly research
events, sort through the facts, and reconstruct what happened. Her
method is one of first providing a macro view and then providing a
detailed accounting of the subsequent events. For example, she talks about the Eureka method
(named after the town of Eureka) in Chapter 4
and explains what it was about. Then, she goes into specific events that
occurred as part of putting the Eureka method into practice. Pfaelzer
shows the rationalizations that people used to justify their
Eureka was just one of many towns that embarked
on a vicious and insane program of forcing the Chinese to leave. In
Chapter 5, Pfaelzer uses the same approach to reveal the Tuckee method and
the atrocities committed there.
The violence to persons and property nearly always had
a veneer of legitimacy. Today, we are all familiar with how IRS
employees generally view taxpayers as subhuman scum who are "deserving of whatever they
get." This attitude allows those employees to justify all sorts of
abuses. This is
the kind of "thinking" that occupied the minds of public officials of
that era, as well. Rather than uphold the law, they used the power of their
position to engage in psychopathic cruelties to other human beings.
It's worth noting that Pfaelzer provided anecdotes
the difficulty of locating records and talked about how some records
A well-written, thoroughly researched, eye-opening
book. It's definitely a "must read."
Reviewer's Commentary: The Value of the History
Provided by Driven Out
Unless we learn from history, we repeat it. To learn
from history, we must first learn the history itself. An understanding of these
particular events would be instructive
for our times. Then, as today, the newspapers were instruments of
disinformation and more concerned with making the news than reporting
it. Back then, the "news" was that immigrants were the reason for job
loss. Does this sound familiar?
Today, our mainstream media misdirect attention away from solving the core problems
that are laying waste to our society. Back then, the misdirection had a similar effect
(preventing attention to the right things), but for a different set of
problems. In both eras, we see a few "boogeyman" non-issues
(e.g., immigration). While Congress continues to spend
inordinate amounts of time mishandling non-issuea, they ignore real
Any well-informed reader will not be surprised by the
legal maneuvering, dishonesty, and hypocrisy of
the people who held the reigns of power at that time, because this is
what we get from our lawmakers and bureaucrats today.
What may shock some readers is the extent of the brazen violence
rained down upon the Chinese, who were simply minding their own
business. For example, the book talks about an incident where people's
homes were set on fire and then those people were shot while trying
to escape the flames. Those who perpetrated this
evil were not prosecuted. One was even appointed later to a high
position in law enforcement. History repeated itself in 1993 in
Waco, TX, and those killers are free today.
Driven Out provides the reader with insight into a series of shameful
events in US history. The inhuman actions were abetted by corrupt government employees,
spineless judges, and
apathetic elected officials. The behavior spanned across
multiple generations for reasons that defy logic. And yet, history
repeats itself. The horrific story that unfolds on these pages holds
many parallels to events in our own times--also abetted by corrupt
government employees, spineless judges, and
apathetic elected officials.