History News Network - Front Page History News Network - Front Page articles brought to you by History News Network. Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2 (http://framework.zend.com) https://ww.hnn.us/site/feed Kurdish Stalingrad: The Origins of the US-YPG Battle Synergy

 

Back in September 2014, an invasion by ISIS and subsequent months of battle reduced the Syrian city of Kobane – once thriving with bustling markets where civilians would gather to buy vegetables and exchange gossip – to a desolate wasteland. For months thereafter the empty, bomb-blackened streets, lined with the wreckage of pockmarked buildings and burned-out cars, served as a poignant reminder of the heavy toll the Kurds of Kobane had paid in their resistance to the jihadi invaders. But little by little the city came back to life as many of Kobane’s proud residents returned home, cleaned the streets, reopened shops, and did all they could to prompt a return to normalcy. By January 2017, from the ruins of Kobane emerged a new falafel shop with a curious name – Trump Restaurant. 

 

A Syrian Kurd named Walid Shekhi decided to open Trump Restaurant in central Kobane because he wanted to show his appreciation for the United States’ role in rescuing his cherished hometown from ISIS’s barbaric atavism. It did not matter to Mr. Shekhi that Kobane was liberated under the Obama administration’s watch; Trump had already been elected by the time he opened the restaurant, and he had no interest in the United States’ domestic political landscape. “We Kurds love the United States, so we love Donald Trump,” he said. “That’s why I named my restaurant after him.”

 

Mr. Shehki’s love for the United States is neither anomalous nor insignificant, as the story of the liberation of his hometown also happens to be the origin story of the American-Kurdish battle synergy that ultimately deprived the ISIS terrorists of their territorial caliphate in Syria. Kobane quickly became a symbol of Kurdish resistance and, after liberating the embattle city from the jihadists’ tyrannical grip in early 2015, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) would serve as the tip of the spear in America’s war on ISIS – carrying out crucial ground operations with the help of US-provided weapons, ammunition replenishments, training and logistical support, as well as coordinated airstrikes. 

 

That is, until Trump’s abrupt announcement earlier this month of an ill-planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria which paved the way for a Turkish cross-border military operation targeting Kurdish-controlled areas. NATO ally Turkey, which makes no distinction between the YPG and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – a terrorist organization which has waged an on-again, off-again insurgency against the Turkish state since the 1980s– now threatens the very existence of the Kurds as it continues its widely condemned incursion across its southern border into Kurdish territory. 

 

The Kurdish YPG fighters were left to confront the second largest military in NATO without US support. As Kurdish civilians flee to safety from places like Kobane and YPG fighters launch a futile attempt to repel the better resourced and militarily superior Turkish forces, the desperate Kurds appear to be striking a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin that will provide them much-needed protection. Russian troops have already begun occupying abandoned American outposts and, as of October 18, images emerged of Assad-backed forces arriving in the Kobane area, triumphantly holding up images of Assad and replacing Kurdish flags with Syrian flags.

 

After so much success fighting alongside the United States, not to mention vital intelligence obtained on how Americans overtly and covertly conduct unconventional warfare, it is unfortunate to see the Kurds left with no choice but to turn toward America’s geopolitical adversaries for help. 

 

Trump never misses an opportunity to take credit for defeating ISIS – which, of course, is not actually defeated – recently claiming: “We were the ones that took care of [ISIS], specifically me because I’m the one that gave the order.” Such grandiose claims obfuscate the reality that it was the Kurds on the ground doing the majority of fighting and dying against ISIS. The American president would be wise to familiarize himself with the recent history that led to the small falafel shop in central Kobane that bears his name.

 

The Story of Kobane

 

In the fall of 2014, after conquering one third of Iraq and Syria with astonishing ease, ISIS set its sights on the inconspicuous border town of Kobane. The city’s conquest would have important strategic implications, as ISIS would gain control of a large uninterrupted section of the Turkish border, allowing the terrorists to expand supply routes and open the floodgates to thousands of fanatic militants. But Kobane’s defenders, a brave contingent of outnumbered, outgunned Kurdish fighters from the YPG refused to cower in fear. As al-Baghdadi’s genocidal terrorist army surged toward them, YPG spokesman Polat Can explained their willingness to die for Kobane: “We will resist to our last drop of blood together… If necessary we will repeat the Stalingrad resistance.” 

 

But as the Kurds fortified their positions and dug in to defend their hometown, ISIS’s strategic and tactical military prowess began to show. ISIS fighters systematically surrounded the city and methodically probed the outer lines of the besieged defenders from the west in the town of Jarabulus, the south near Sarrin, and the east near Tal Abyad – rapidly advancing on all three fronts and tightening the proverbial noose around the neck of Kobane. Tragically, the Kurds, whose national motto is “no friends but the mountains,” felt they had found themselves isolated and abandoned by an uncaring world.

 

Support came in late September, however, when the US-led coalition responded to the Kurds’ pleas for assistance and began launching merciless precision strikes on ISIS targets that had been identified on the ground by US-trained Kurdish air controllers. While the airstrikes slowed ISIS’s crushing offensive, the jihadi militants adjusted by setting infrastructure aflame to obscure the American air armada’s vision with towers of black smoke. ISIS then managed to press forward and it was not long until the infamous Black Banner was planted on a building in southern Kobane, marking the terrorists’ official penetration of the border town. Kurdish forces then declared the city a military area; all civilians were asked to leave immediately. Those who stayed prepared for a fight to the death. 

 

Once in the city composed of slim, meandering streets and winding alleys, ISIS’s reliance on brute force and heavy weaponry such as tanks proved to be more of a burden than an advantage. Equipped with an intimate familiarity of the terrain in Kobane, the YPG soldiers moved like ghosts as they bedeviled their fanatical foes with creative defense tactics such as ambushes and traps. But the waves of ISIS fighters never stopped coming, and the Kurds were soon low in weapons and ammunition. Impressed by their extraordinary resilience, the US military decided to intensify its support and airdropped much-needed weapons, ammunition, and medical supplies to the Kurds. American support breathed new life into the Kurds who were suddenly ready fight on with even greater speed and intensity.

 

By late October, as US air power cleared their way by engulfing ISIS positions in a storm of explosive rain, approximately 150 Iraqi peshmerga troops crossed the Turkish border into Syria to help their ethnic brothers and sisters liberate Kobane. Also at this time, YPG forces were further boosted by an influx of as many as 200 battle-hardened Syrian Arab rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), an amalgamation of Arab Sunni rebel groups who, at this time, were known more for their opposition to the Assad regime. With the United States continuing its vital air support, the American-Kurdish-Arab troika conducted relentless joint operations against ISIS until the jihadi invaders had no choice but to retreat. The Kurds spent the next couple of months recapturing building after building, street after street, and village after village. 

 

By January 2015, ISIS officially acknowledged for the first time since the group rose to power that it had been defeated. In a video released by the pro-ISIS Aamaq News Agency, ISIS fighters cited US-coalition airstrikes as the primary reason for the defeat and downplayed the role of the Kurds, whom they referred to as “rats.” As the Kurds picked through the rubble of Kobane and assessed the damage incurred in battle, they reveled in their victory. “It is great to have beaten Daesh,” explained a Kurdish fighter from the YPG, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. “But it would not have been possible without America and the peshmerga.”

 

Remember Kobane

 

The liberation of Kobane vividly illustrates not only the Kurds’ ability to repel ISIS, but also the remarkable synergy between the United States and the YPG.  This special relationship was ultimately what crumbled the ISIS caliphate and has since been vital in ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS. The YPG has been working directly with U.S Special Operations forces in mop-up operations in northeastern Syria – gathering intelligence, tracking ISIS movements, disrupting its networks, and targeting its leadership as the jihadists revert to underground insurgency mode. 

 

The Kurds have served reliably for five years as America’s primary boots-on-the-ground ally in Syria when it comes to the bloody battle against ISIS, having lost approximately 11,000 lives in the process. They simply deserve better than abandonment in the face of a Turkish threat. 

One thing is for sure: everyone at Trump Restaurant in Kobane will be counting on the American leader to reverse course and continue his support. It would really be a shame to see the name of the falafel shop changed to Putin Restaurant or, even worse, destroyed entirely by Turkish-backed invaders. 

 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173347 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173347 0
A Democratic GUT-Check: A Grand Unifying Theory of Democratic Victories

 

Democrats are justifiably nervous about the 2020 election. A strong economy and stubbornly loyal Republican base render an otherwise vulnerable incumbent into a perilous opponent. A brawling counter-puncher, Donald Trump’s political spirit animal might very well be the wily and oddly vicious raccoon. When cornered raccoons attack their predator’s eyes. Once their prey is blinded, they penetrate the chest wall, collapse the lungs, and infiltrate the abdomen cavity.  Septic peritonitis and massive organ failure ensue, followed by death. Politically trapped on infinite occasions, Trump has veritably raccooned our institutions, norms, and the body politic. Our national septic shock proves the adage of The Wire’s Omar Little, “[When] you come at the King, you best not miss.”

 

America simply cannot afford a second Trump term. Democrats, however, get one shot at nominating a candidate capable of assembling a coalition and driving turnout sufficient to defeat the president and drive a nail into the Trumpist coffin. Happily, a spate of polls reveal that Democratic primary voters prize electability more than issue agreement. Pragmatic and hungry to defeat Trump, Democrats should understand “electability” in its fullest historical sense. The preceding century of Democratic presidential politicking reveals that “electability” is not milquetoast, split the difference centrism. Historically, Democrats win when they adhere to a grand unifying theory (GUT). According to this principle, Democrats win when they nominate a political cipher and a cultural chameleon who possesses a preternatural charisma that can appeal to and energize a diverse set of voters.

 

The political party of the underdog and ethnic, racial, and social minorities has always lacked the cultural cohesion that the Republican’s possess. Consequently, successful Democratic nominees have been ideologically vague, comfortable in a variety of cultural settings, and exceptionally charismatic. In the first three quarters of the twentieth century, the party’s primary fault line lay between its rural, white Protestant and ethnically diverse urban wings. Unable to close that divide, rural America’s champion, William Jennings Bryan, lost three presidential races, 1896, 1900, & 1908. Poised for a fourth bite at the apple in 1912, party bosses intervened and accidentally discovered a template for the future in Woodrow Wilson. 

 

A mere two years into the first political office of his entire life, Wilson entered the presidential fray. Previous to this, both parties had almost always tapped party elders or retired generals as their presidential nominee. Possessing neither, Wilson did enjoy the unique biography and blank slate necessary to unify a fractious party. Virginia-born, he was Southern and agrarian enough to satisfy rural voters. His stint as governor of New Jersey meant he was not a typical Solid South politico. Finally, his newfound Progressivism put him in accord with the educated middle class and erstwhile populists. A master political orator, Wilson’s charisma helped bind a diverse coalition to him. A political Rorschach test, rural and urban Democrats, Progressives, and old-time Populists saw what they wanted in Wilson. Facing a divided GOP in a fractured four-way race, Wilson took 435 out of 531 electoral votes in a landslide victory.

 

A generation hence, Wilson’s precarious coalition had come apart. In three consecutive presidential races, 1920-1928, Democrats had earned more than forty-percent of the vote just once. Convalescing from polio, Franklin Roosevelt had avoided the foul taint and culture wars of the Democrat’s wilderness years. A compromise candidate, Roosevelt’s rural, upstate New York background, and adopted Warms Springs, Georgia home made him palatable to Southerners and rural voters. Likewise, his Northern upbringing and Progressive leadership in New York rendered him acceptable to urban Democrats. Campaigning on an ill-defined New Deal platform, FDR avoided unnecessary offense to party constituencies and took White House in 1932. His uncanny charm and gift for building an intimate connection with voters via his radio Fireside Chats resulted in the New Deal coalition. Comprised of white Southerners, farmers, the urban North, African Americans, and liberal intellectuals, the coalition endured for half a century; the GUT, nevertheless, remained necessary to maintain this ungainly assemblage.

 

In the decades following FDR, Harry Truman and LBJ were the sole exemptions to the GUT. In these cases, the exceptions prove the rule. Assuming the presidency upon the deaths of FDR and JFK, Truman and Johnson each won election in their own right. Rural Democrats who lacked public charisma and saddled with long records on national issues, the duo earned the ire of pieces and parts of the coalition’s diverse constituencies. Their unpopularity caused both to refuse a run for a second full-term and the election of GOP successors.

 

The Truman & Johnson example reveal just how much postwar Democrats struggled to keep their diverse coalition together. Understanding this, party leaders looked to the 1960 election with concern. With LBJ too Southern, Hubert Humphrey too liberal, Adlai Stevenson too much the loser and all saddled with long records, Democrats searched for a political Goldilocks. Equipped with an ambiguous ideology, few legislative accomplishments, and charisma to burn, JFK fit the cipher (and GUT) bill. Sixteen years later, the social issues of race, crime, and the culture wars had split the party yet again. It was left to a Bob Dylan-quoting, Sunday School-teaching, nuclear-engineer-cum-peanut-farmer to bridge these divides. With feet, big toes, and a pinky in every nook and cranny of the Roosevelt coalition, the obscure one-term governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter, would be the final Democrat to bring New York and Mississippi into the same column.

 

With the Roosevelt coalition undone, Democrats were left with the so-called McGovern coalition. Amultiracial, multiethnic, cross-class assemblage of African Americans, Latinos, women, college students, professionals, and economically populist working-class whites, this assemblage of misfit toys presented familiar challenges. A product of the rural South and the Ivy League, Bill Clinton’s gubernatorial service helped him avoid the sticky wicket of controversial national issues. Whip smart, elite educated, and charismatic his wonky explications on policy, done in a Southern drawl, and moderate stance on social issues enabled him to speak to a multiplicity of audiences.

 

Like Clinton, Barack Obama also inhabited and felt at home in a variety of cultural worlds. The product of a Kansas-born mother and Kenyan father who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, he instinctively knew how to speak to diverse audiences. Moreover, his thin national resume meant he avoided the political crevasses that crisscross his party. Equipped with charm and electrifying rhetorical gifts, Obama literally embodies the GUT. Indeed, the GUT is the lone connecting thread that connects a white supremacist, Woodrow Wilson, to Barack Obama, and most every Democratic president of the twentieth century. As the GUT reveals “electability” lies not so much in centrist policy as it does in coalescing and energizing a diverse, majority coalition. 

 

To be sure, successful Democratic nominees have proffered mainstream, center-left policy proposals. Maximalist policy proposals and ideological rigidity do not unite diverse coalitions. But a Democratic GUT-check reveals that “electability” is not simply a checklist of centrist policy proposals. For those searching for the most viable Democratic challenger, history shows that the candidate with a thin national resume, charisma, and an aptitude for navigating a variety of cultural contexts possesses the resume for victory.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173350 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173350 0
Melania Trump Just Restarted a 100-Year-Old Political Controversy: The White House Tennis Court

 

On Tuesday October 8, with impeachment speculation swirling and increasingly disturbing reports coming out of Syria, First Lady Melania Trump broke through the noise to share some good news: Ground was being broken for the construction of a new tennis pavilion at the White House.    

 

The 1,200 square foot pavilion, we learned, will replace a small, lattice-covered bathroom structure currently on the site.  The White House tennis court itself, in its current location for the last 40 years and retrofitted most recently with a basketball hoop and court lines for Barack Obama, will remain mostly untouched.

 

“It is my hope that this private space will function as a place to gather and spend leisure time for First Families,” the First Lady said in a statement.  She also clarified that this “Legacy Project” would be funded entirely with private donations.  Like the First Ladies that preceded her, Melania intended to leave the White House a better place than she found it.     

 

Not surprisingly, the announcement caused the Twittersphere to lose its collective mind.  

 

@TonyPosnanski’s tweet captured the general mood of those that responded to @FLOTUS.  

 

“Thousands of our allies are being attacked because we abandoned them because of your husband, your husband is attacking the Constitution, and your husband is bullying Americans, but congrats on the new tennis court. Seriously, [explitive] you.  You are an embarrassment.”  

 

The response to the announcement became as much as story as the project itself.  “Melania Trump Trolled Over Her ‘Legacy Piece’: Does the White House Need an Entire Tennis Court Pavilion?” Newsweek asked.  

 

If the Trump White House is looking for advice on how to handle the blowback—It’s just a tennis pavilion; We just wanted to make the White House grounds a bit more beautiful—perhaps it should look back to the administration of Theodore Roosevelt.  After all, it was TR who brought tennis to the White House grounds in the first place.   

 

Shortly after ascending to the Presidency following the assassination of William McKinley in 1901, Roosevelt requested funds from Congress to overhaul the White House.  The executive mansion needed the attention; problems varied from exposed wiring (fire hazard) to cramped office space.  

 

As part of the renovation, the landscaping crew—working under Edith Roosevelt’s watchful eye—installed the first White House tennis court.  They placed it immediately adjacent to the President’s executive office, on the spot where the Oval Office sits today.  

 

As the court neared completion, both the Washington Post and New York Times picked up on the story.  The “President’s Children to Have a Model Playground Adjoining his Office,” the Post reported.  

 

Not everyone approved. Roosevelt’s critics seized upon the White House new tennis court as a sign that the President was out of touch with the average American.  One Tennessee newspaper, for example, suggested that the nation could hardly afford to keep Roosevelt in the White House.  “The White House has been enlarged at an expense of $500,000,” the paper wrote, “a $2,500 tennis-court has been built for his children, and the living expenses have been about triple.”  The paper called for an end to “this carnival of graft and extravagance.” 

 

A debate about the court ensued.  Roosevelt’s steadiest literary supporter, Outlook, argued in defense of the tennis court.  “Is the President Extravagant?”  No.  “It is true that there is a tennis-court on the White House grounds, but it cost less than … the greenhouses under the previous administrations.”  

 

The editors of Outlook put forth an early form of life-balance counseling.  “We think there can be no serious objection on the part of any decent American to the President playing tennis with his children, and it is impossible for them to play tennis except on the White House grounds.”  The Republicans liked the Outlook article so much, they entered it into the Congressional record. 

 

Puck, a devilishly satirical publication, questioned what exactly would transpire on the White House tennis court.  “The mutter of conspiracy is heard,” Puck editorialized.  Perhaps the White House tennis court simply provided cover for other activities.  “Who questions the happy outcome of conference or confab, the parties of which have previously lobbed and smashed, volleyed and served together on a common level the smooth delightful level of the White House tennis court?”     

 

For Roosevelt, however, the White House Tennis Court eventually went from being a political liability to an asset.  

 

Stories of Roosevelt’s long, sweaty matches—sometimes against unprepared foreign dignitaries—came to bolster his reputation as a purveyor of “The Strenuous Life.”  The group of 30 or so regulars at the court became known as Roosevelt’s “Tennis Cabinet.”  

 

The fact that Roosevelt went public at times about his struggle to keep his weight under control, and thus felt compelled to fit tennis (or boxing or hiking) into his schedule, also resonated in a nation struggling with the realities of urbanization and industrialization.  

 

While Melania declared her tennis pavilion a gift to future White House inhabitants, it seems likely that TR’s tennis court came about as a spousal nudge from Edith.  Edith was concerned about her husband’s growing waistline.  Life in the White House, Roosevelt admitted as the tennis court was being finished, “has been very conducive to me getting fat.”  Edith certainly noticed.  Once complete, the court, just steps from the President’s desk, served as a reminder to TR to get out and exercise.   

 

Effort trumped expertise on the TR’s White House tennis court.  “My impression is that father didn’t play a great game, but played very hard,” Roosevelt’s always-candid daughter Alice explained.  Or as another observer put it: “He played tennis vigorously on the White House courts, though he never became very expert, there being no danger at any time of the President’s entering the National Tennis Tournament at Newport.”

 

As Roosevelt’s administration neared its end, the narrative regarding the White House tennis court took on an exuberantly positive tone.  No journalist portrayed Roosevelt as a tennis snob playing on his own taxpayer-provided court; rather the press fought amongst itself to see who could best capture the image of a President of the United States valiantly competing on the court even though he had a country to run.  The President finds time for exercise, the thinking went, thus so should you.  

 

After Roosevelt left the White House, William H. Taft took over and oversaw the bulldozing of TR’s court in order to make room for further West Wing improvements.  Taft cared little about the change; he preferred golf to tennis anyhow.  Landscape architects configured a new court into the south lawn area of the grounds. The court was moved several times before taking its current position.  In 1989, President George H.W. Bush signed off on improvements to the tennis court, which until Obama retrofitted it for basketball, made the court what it is today.  

 

The Tennis Court snagged other victims along the way.  It was on the tennis court, so the story has long gone, that Calvin Coolidge Jr. got a blister, that then got infected, which then led to the teenager’s death from blood poisoning in 1924.   

 

For Jimmy Carter, the White House tennis court became a symbol of a weak, distracted, micro-managing President.  Late in his term, a White House insider wrote a tell-all accusing Carter of personally managing all requests to use the tennis court.  Carter denied the story, but it stuck.  

 

At a press conference on April 30, 1979, after talking about energy conservation, and the Soviet threat, and strategic arms limitations, Carter tried to put the tennis court issue to bed: 

 

“The White House tennis court: I have never personally monitored who used or did not use the White House tennis court. I have let my secretary, Susan Clough, receive requests from members of the White House staff who wanted to use the tennis court at certain times, so that more than one person would not want to use the same tennis court simultaneously, unless they were either on opposite sides of the net or engaged in a doubles contest.”

 

Needless to say, the non-denial denial did nothing to help Carter’s image.  

 

The lesson in all of this?  Beware of the White House tennis court.  Or more directly: Presidents, be wary of associating with country club sports during times of political crisis.  

 

As Theodore Roosevelt explained it: “I myself play tennis, but the game is a little more familiar; besides you never saw a photograph of me playing tennis.”

 

Perhaps just for someone like President Donald Trump, Roosevelt expounded even further.  “I am careful about that,” Roosevelt said of publicity regarding his connections to sports.  “Photographs on horseback, yes; tennis, no.  And golf is fatal.”    

 

 

 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173344 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173344 0
To Stop The Rise of Nationalism, We Must Remember High-Tech’s Role in Supporting Past and Present Nationalistic Agendas

 

As the 74th UN General Assembly winds down, many commentators are discussing the world-wide rise of nationalism fueled by strongmen leading countries like China, Brazil, India, Turkey, the Philippines, and the United States. Often absent is a discussion of high-tech’s role in supporting nationalistic agendas. Since the dawn of the digital age, nationalism has relied on digital technology.

 

Nationalism turns on a simple question: Who does, and who does not, belong within a nation? Those who belong have the luxury of safety and security. Those who do not have the burden of barred entry or targeted removal. In the early 1900s, punched card technology was created to count populations to determine who was in a nation, then quickly extended to determine who actually belonged.

 

In 1928, the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Springs Harbor, New York, under director Charles Davenport, embarked on a study to identify mixed-race individuals on the island of Jamaica for forced sterilization or other population control means. Eugenics, a pseudo-science pursuing a mythically “pure” stock of human beings, sought to cull individuals who did not conform to their Nordic ideal from humanity through measures ranging from forced sterilization to death. Eugenicists loathed mixed-race individuals as pollutants of the human gene pool.

 

The Jamaica Study required massive amounts of data to be collected, processed and reported.  IBM, newly formed by Thomas J. Watson, had just what Davenport needed. IBM engineers worked with the ERO to design a punch card format for collecting the information on racial characteristics. They also worked out the details of adjusting sorters, tabulators, and printers to provide the ERO with the output required. Eugenicists worldwide celebrated the Jamaica Study’s success thanks to the support of IBM.(1) 

A few years after the Jamaica Study, using remarkably similar punched card formats, Watson offered IBM’s technology to the Third Reich, automating major aspects of Hitler’s war machine — including Luftwaffe bombing runs, train schedules for carrying Jews to camps, and the measures by which Jews were apprehended and exterminated. (2) 

In recognition of IBM’s extraordinary service, Hitler created a medal decorated with swastikas, awarded to Watson in 1937. Although Watson returned the medal upon America’s entrance into the war, IBM’s support of Hitler’s regime never ended. (IBM has neither acknowledged its role in the Holocaust nor disputed historical accounts of it.)

After Nazi Germany’s defeat, IBM turned to South Africa, where for decades the company provided computer technology to help classify and segregate South Africa’s population, producing the passbooks and the database storage designs for the separation and brutal subjugation of black South Africans. (3) 

 

Later, in the aftermath of 9/11, the New York City Police Department created a massive closed-circuit television surveillance center with feeds from thousands of cameras placed around the city. IBM secretly used NYPD camera footage of thousands of unknowing New Yorkers to refine its facial recognition software to search for and identify people by “hair color, facial hair and skin tone." (4)

 

But IBM is no longer alone. Major high-tech firms are now engaged in support of nationalism often under the guise of public safety and national security. Facial recognition has supplanted punched cards and passbooks as the technology of choice for determining who does and who does not belong within a nation.

 

In September 2019, Never Again Action, a Jewish peace group, marched from a Holocaust memorial in Boston to Amazon headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, demanding Amazon cease supplying facial recognition technology for use at US borders, and citing IBM’s involvement in the Holocaust. 

 

Technology like Facebook and Twitter can now identify and virtually remove individuals and groups from a nation as the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) demonstrated in 2016. (5) The Pew Research Center reported that black voter turnout declined sharply in the 2016 presidential election for the first time in twenty years. More troubling, voter turnout increased among millennials with the exception of black millennials, targeted by IRA, whose turnout actually decreased by nearly 6 percent.(6) Strongmen understand that social media is the new means of media manipulation and population control, which they use effectively and aggressively in support of their nationalistic agendas.

 

Digital technology slips under the radar of public awareness. When companies that profited from Hitler’s regime were hauled before US Courts and international tribunals, IBM escaped detection or prosecution. It is fairly easy to understand how Ford’s vehicles might assist Germany’s war effort, much less so a company making punch cards and equipment to read them. Those who do understand have a responsibility to raise our voices against technology in support of nationalism, or risk a coming dystopian future.

 

 

********

 

(1) Edwin Black, War Against the Weak. (Washington, DC: Dialog Press, 2012), 292.

(2) See Edwin Black, IBM and the Holocaust. (Washington, DC: Dialog Press, 2001).

(3) See, for example, Michael Kwet, “Apartheid in the Shadows: The USA, IBM and South Africa’s Digital Police State,” CounterPunch, May 3, 2017 and Balintulo v. Ford Motors Co., IBM, General Motors Corp, No. 14–4104 (2nd Cir. July 27, 2015).

(4) George Joseph and Kenneth Lipp, “IBM Used NYPD Surveillance Footage to Develop Technology That Lets Police Search by Skin Color,” The Intercept, September 6, 2018, https://theintercept .com/2018/09/06/nypd-surveillance-camera-skin-tone-search/.

(5) United States of America v. Internet Research Agency, et. al. (Washington, DC: Department of Justice, February 16, 2018), 18, para. 46.

(6) Jens Manuel Krogstad and Mark Hugo Lopez, “Black Voter Turnout Fell in 2016, Even as a Record Number of Americans Cast Ballots,” Pew Research Center, May 12, 2017, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/12/black-voter-turnout-fell-in-2016-even-as-a-record-number-of-americans-cast-ballots.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173354 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173354 0
A History of Influencing Presidential Children to Change Policy

 

Over the past couple of years, the press has frequently reported on the children of influential U.S. politicians and officials. Much of this has gone far beyond popular curiosities surrounding the education of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s daughters or how current U.S. President Donald Trump has relied heavily on his daughter Ivanka Trump to represent his interests abroad.

 

Rather, recent concerns surround how foreign, generally corrupt, governments have attempted to influence U.S. politics using connections to these children. During the 2016 presidential campaign, individuals connected to Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia met in Trump Tower with Trump’s son Donald Trump, Jr., and son-in-law Jared Kushner. The seeming cover-up of the meeting by Trump’s associates and the president himself led to further allegations of corruption as part of Robert Mueller’s investigation into foreign influence in the 2016 presidential election. Now, the president and his allies, most notably his personal lawyer and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, have alleged that former Vice President Joe Biden once intervened in Ukrainian politics to terminate an investigation into a corrupt energy company which had hired Biden’s son, Hunter.

 

Despite Americans’ boasts to have a government immune from external intervention, the truth is that other entities have always attempted to intervene in U.S. politics for their own benefit. Foreign regimes and multinational corporations have repeatedly hired former congressional officials, public relations firms, and more in the hopes of navigating an ever-increasing federal bureaucracy and gaining financial benefits from a country with global reach and interests.

 

In fact, one of the most adept at manipulating U.S. politics to his advantage was Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. From the 1930s until his assassination in 1961, Trujillo owed much of his power to his knowledge of the ins-and-outs of the U.S. government. After encouraging the massacre of thousands of Haitians in 1937 that dovetailed with escalating international fears regarding the rise of fascism, the Caribbean despot coordinated a massive campaign to restore his image in the United States, including recruiting Jewish refugees to contrast his reign with that of Adolf Hitler, lessening criticism of his domestic politics by comparing his prejudice against Haitians to anti-black racism in the United States, and more best described by Eric Paul Roorda.

 

Less well known, though, is how Trujillo targeted U.S. officials’ children in the late 1940s in hopes of securing favorable treatment. After the Second World War, the State Department led by Assistant Secretary of State for American Affairs Spruille Braden sought to distance the U.S. government from the dictator. When the U.S. government in 1948 selected as its new ambassador to the Dominican Republic Ralph Ackerman, Trujillo immediately hoped to avoid the past years’ frustrations and ingratiate himself to the new official. To do this, his ambassador in Washington Luis Thomen set his sights upon Ackerman’s son.

 

In a letter to Trujillo in July 1948, Thomen explained that the son happened to be an engineer working in Peru for Bolton & Lucas, a firm whose history with the Dominican regime included securing favorable contracts and munitions purchases. During an earlier conversation, Ackerman had mentioned that his son hoped to secure a job closer to home, hopefully in the United States. Here, Thomen saw a diplomatic opportunity. “Perhaps later,” Thomen wrote his jefeback in the Caribbean, “you could offer an opportunity in our country to this young engineer.” What Ackerman likely understood as a simple exchange of pleasantries that would be nothing more than customary in the first meetings between foreign officials was quickly seized upon by Thomen as a possible means to influence the new U.S. ambassador and shape U.S. foreign policy, even without any specifically outlined quid pro quo.

 

Even more illuminating was how Trujillo hoped to manipulate Michigan Republican and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Arthur Vandenberg in the late 1940s. A man with one of the most powerful positions in Congress, Vandenberg was notable for his adherence to policy and integrity. Because of this, Trujillo’s officials had never been able to gain any undue influence over the congressman. Consequently, the despot hoped to find an alternative route.

 

To do this, Trujillo put on his payroll doctor William Morgan. Generally, Morgan served the dictator as both an official and unofficial lobbyist. The doctor attended prominent diplomatic functions and appeared at golf tournaments hosted by one of Trujillo’s law firms featuring U.S. congresspersons, all designed to portray the despot as a reliable U.S. ally. And as Vandenberg’s personal friend and physician, Morgan became Trujillo’s hopeful connection to capture the senator’s support. It was the doctor who also targeted Vandenberg’s only son.

 

In July 1948, at the same time that Thomen suggested employing a U.S. ambassador’s child, Morgan reached out to Trujillo about a similar venture. The doctor happened to have an “intimate friend” who had spent his “last fifteen years” involved in his father’s “electoral campaigns.” Now, the man was rather “tired” of U.S. politics and interested in heading to the Dominican Republic to try his hand in business. The man, not surprisingly, happened to be Arthur Vandenberg, junior.

 

There is currently no evidence that Trujillo’s officials succeeded in realizing these plots. After all, Ackerman was never implicated in any corruption, and Vandenberg passed away in 1951 without any claims of impropriety.

 

Still, such maneuvers by this Caribbean dictator, or any corrupt regime since, do reveal how other governments conduct their politics and understand U.S. foreign relations. Trujillo and his officials hoped to circumvent outlined procedures and policies by going after the children of U.S. ambassadors and congresspersons. As the United States continues to expand its presence throughout the world and finds itself confronting such regimes whether in Russia or Ukraine, the nation will keep finding corrupt entities desperate to manipulate U.S. politics to their advantage with influential individuals’ children caught in the middle.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173345 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173345 0
The Greatest Danger in the Kurdish Crisis

The greatest danger in the Kurdish crisis is not in the tremendous loss of life, as tragic and shameful as that may be. In a volatile region of the world that is part and parcel of an on-going tragedy.  It isn’t in the fact that Kurds are repeatedly being used by one neighboring country against another as a convenient self-sustaining guerrilla force. The world community has been numbed to that. It is not in the U.S. betrayal of their cause either. That has been done seven times before. The greatest tragedy in the Kurdish crisis is in Turkey’s attempt to literally break up an otherwise contiguous Kurdistan straddling Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria into Bantustans à la Israel and South Africa.

 

If the heavy-handedness of the Turkish military is any indication, Erdogan seems to be bent on the ethnic cleansing and relocation of Kurds in northern Syria and resettling their lands along the Turkish border with Arab Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey.

 

In this clash of cultures, the encroachment on Kurdish lands in northern Syria through an Arabization of the settlements amounts to an outright ethnic cleansing. If left unchecked, it will most likely be repeated on the Iraqi side of the Turkey-Iraq border in due course.

 

In the larger scheme of things, the Iranian Kurds will be left at the mercy of Persian chauvinism and Kurds in Turkey will be conveniently rebranded as ‘mountain Turks,’ eliminating any chance for the 35 to 40 million Kurds to ever have a nation-state of their own as the ground would’ve literally shifted.

 

There was hope in the early years of the Erdogan administration that the Turkish government could show a human face towards the Kurds. When Fethullah Gülen’s grassroots Hizmet movement energized the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP) or the Justice and Development Party to a victory, Hizmet’s advocacy of the principles of inclusivity without coercion became the cornerstone of Erdogan’s administration. Restrictions on Kurdish cultural expressions that have been imposed since the times of Atatürk were lax. But since the fall out between Hizmet and AKP in 2013, not only have the humanistic aspects of the AKP administration been replaced by a more dogmatic attitude in matters of religion, but Erdogan’s liberal stance towards the Kurds has also turned into an authoritarian one.

 

With Turkey’s economic slowdown and the increasing challenge from the Kemalist center-left evidenced by their recent victory in Istanbul’s mayoral election, Erdogan’s incursion into Syria is as much a diversion tactic as it is a grandstanding to Turkish nationalism. Erdogan probably believes that the crushing of the Kurds will also take the wind from the sails of Kemalists super-nationalists.

 

Erdogan’s calculated risk may pay off in terms of Turkish politics, but in terms of the politics of the Muslim world, his popularity sinks very low— considerably low. Erdogan who once stood out as the last beacon of hope for progressive Muslims who witnessed Islam’s compatibility with modernity, progressive democracy, and economic development is no longer so. Erdogan’s policies now seem to be inline more with those of the Chinese ethnic cleansing and cultural indoctrination of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, Modi’s Indian incursion into Kashmir, Netanyahu’s aggressive Jewish settlement in Palestine, Putin’s suppressive incursion into Chechnya, and a number of other right-wing nationalist / fascist rulers who have occupied the world political stage as of late. Even in military terms, Turkey’s bloody incursions into the land of Syrian Kurds approximate those of the Saudis in Yemen.  

 

Retracting the earlier ‘green light’ statement by the White House followed by threats of economic sanctions against Turkey brings to mind the baiting of Saddam who was lured into invading his southern neighbor Kuwait in 1990. As intriguing as that analogy sounds, this scenario may not play out quite the same for the following reasons:

  • Weapon sales to Turkey would be too lucrative for the arms dealers to ignore. They would most likely find enough loopholes in the economic sanctions to get around it. The Kurds don’t tilt the scales for any Western power in this regard.
  • Domestically, with the Gülen movement out of the equation, Erdogan has no choice but to dress his religious dogmatism in a nationalist mantle.
  • Most importantly, Erdogan’s trump card is Turkey’s military prowess as a NATO member that makes Turkey invulnerable, invincible, and indispensable.
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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173349 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173349 0
Can a 1960s-like Counterculture Emerge?

 

In the 1960s, if you opposed racism or American killing in Vietnam, there was a counterculture to support you. Music, films, TV, clothing, hairstyles, social thinking, speech—a whole web of interrelated phenomena existed to help you oppose the dominant culture, “the system,” or the “establishment.”

 

Today we have just as much reason to protest as did the 1960’s dissidents. The Trump presidency, our climate crisis, and our senseless gun violence are alone enough to fuel a whole counterculture of outrage. But where are our balladeers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, our concerts like Woodstock, our plays and films like Hair and The Graduate?

 

We are social creatures, and most of us are followers rather than leaders. Like fish in water, we need a sustaining element to surround us. We need a counterculture, or an opposing culture or way of life, to embolden our emotions and imaginations. 

 

The counterculture of the 1960s was not perfect. It had its unthinking followers, its biases, its over-generalizations—like “Don’t Trust Anyone over 30”—yet it provided a strong alternative to the dominant consumer culture. Why did it disappear and where today is any new counterculture?

 

Mainly, that of the 1960s died because it lacked deep and sustaining roots. It was fueled by college students, civil rights activities, and opposition to the war in Vietnam. But students graduated and were absorbed into the “system,” into the tentacles of corporate America, where countercultural values and “hippie” styles were unwelcome. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) was killed in 1968, depriving the civil rights cause of its most powerful leader. (That year also produced the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the election of Richard Nixon.) Finally, American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam and the military draft ended in the early 1970s.  

 

What followed in the 1970s and 1980s was the disappearance of the 1960s counterculture and the absorption of many of its former adherents into the “system.” In his Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (2000), conservative columnist David Brooks wrote: “We’re by now all familiar with modern-day executives who have moved from S.D.S. [a radical student organization that flourished in the 1960s] to C.E.O. . . . Indeed, sometimes you get the impression the Free Speech Movement [begun 1964 at the University of California, Berkeley] produced more corporate executives than Harvard Business School.” 

 

In his The Culture of Narcissim (1978) historian Christopher Lasch identified a new type of culture that had arisen. It stressed self-awareness. But, unlike the counterculture of the 1960s, it did not oppose the capitalist consumer culture of its day, but rather meshed with it, goading “the masses into an unappeasable appetite not only for goods but for new experiences and personal fulfillment.”

 

Many of the former youth protesters of the 1960s participated in this “mass consumption,” as the growing consumer culture sold mass entertainment in new formats (including for music, films, and books) to young adults. 

 

The last quarter century have brought little relief from our culture of consumption and narcissism. One of the period’s most notable changes has been the expansion of the Internet and social media. In her highly acclaimed These Truths: A History of the United States, historian Jill Lepore stated that “blogging, posting, and tweeting, artifacts of a new culture of narcissism,” became commonplace. 

 

Although some have argued that the Internet has promoted a greater sense of community, Lepore is far from alone in emphasizing its encouragement of narcissism. In 2017, for example Newsweek stressed it in a piece entitled “Is Rampant Narcissism Undermining American Democracy?” Moreover, the previous year Americans chose for their president perhaps the most narcissistic and materialistic man to ever hold the office—Donald Trump.

 

Many Americans, however, oppose Trump. What prevents the emergence among them of a new counterculture to oppose him and the crass materialism he represents? 

 

For one thing, the college students of today are vastly different than those of the 1960s, and so too is higher education. It is much more expensive; more students incur large debts to pay for it; and a much lower percentage of students major in the humanities. Meanwhile, our consumer culture continues to prompt aspirations to earn a “good salary,” and there are scant ways of doing so outside of our dominant corporate culture. We need money not only for food, cars, and houses, but also for things many younger people want like computers, Internet services, cell phones, and an increasing variety of leisure activities. 

 

Moreover, stimulants like the 1960s civil rights struggles and opposition to the Vietnam War (and the draft) are gone. They can no longer galvanize young people. Yet, there remains one great hope, one phenomenon that could help a new counterculture burst forth—our present environmental crisis. Regardless of 2020 political results, this new birth could occur. 

 

Such a counterculture could develop out of seeds planted by individuals like the German/English economist and environmentalist E. F. Schumacher and Kentucky writer Wendell Berry, plus two more recent seed-planters, 350.org founder Bill McKibben and Pope Francis. Moreover, now in 2019 there are signs that such seeds are beginning to sprout. 

 

Schumacher was a hero to many of those influenced by the original protest movement of the 1960s. Indeed one of them, Theodore Roszak, who wrote The Making of a Counter Culture (1969), also authored the Introduction to Schumacher’s popular 1973 work Small Is Beautiful.  

 

In it and other works of the 1970s, Schumacher criticized modern industrial societies for “incessantly stimulating greed, envy, and avarice,” for preparing people to become “efficient servants, machines, ‘systems,’ and bureaucracies,” and for driving the world toward an environmental crisis. Instead of focusing education on career preparation in such societies, he believed it should help us answer questions like “What is our purpose in life?” and “What are our ethical obligations?” 

 

Four years after Schumacher’s death in 1977, Wendell Berry gave the first Annual E. F. Schumacher lecture. In it he praised Schumacher’s adherence to spiritual values. In 1983, in his essay “Two Economies,” Berry quoted Schumacher’s belief expressed in  “Buddhist Economics” that the aim of such an economics should be “to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption.” In his 2012 Jefferson LectureBerry suggested that our corporate capitalist consumer culture remained dominant and heavily implicated in our present climate crisis.

 

The 2009 Schumacher lecture was delivered by Bill McKibben, one of the USA’s “most important environmental activists.” That same year, along with Berry, he  protested at a coal-fired power plant near Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. The previous December, the two men had sent out a letter noting the global-warming danger of continuing reliance on coal—the “only hope of getting our atmosphere back to a safe levels . . . lies in stopping the use of coal to generate electricity.” In September 2019, McKibben’s 350.org co-organized a massive global climate strike involving 4 million people in 163 countries.  

 

In 2015, McKibben lavishly praised Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical and ended his essay writing, “This marks the first time that a person of great authority in our global culture has fully recognized the scale and depth of our crisis, and the consequent necessary rethinking of what it means to be human.”

 

In the encyclical itself, the pope stated, “the problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis,” and there is an “urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution.” And like other critics of modern narcissism, he bemoaned “today’s self-centred culture of instant gratification,” and of “extreme consumerism.”

 

Thus, Schumacher, Berry, McKibben, and Pope Francis all share the essential view that today’s consumer culture needs to be replaced by one featuring, in the pope’s words, a “spirituality [that] can motivate us to a more passionate concern for the protection of our world.”

 

The cultural critic Raymond Williams once wrote that “a culture, while it is being lived, is always in part unknown, in part unrealized.” Hence, we may not yet realize that the four individuals mentioned above have been seed-sowers for an emerging new countercultural movement. But there are some promising signs.

 

Regarding music, one recent article notes: “2019 has been a year of youth climate strikes and record-setting heatwaves, and—probably not coincidentally—it’s also the year that pop music stars started speaking about climate change en masse. . . . Now we’re seeing actual, quality pop music talking about the climate crisis from artists like Billie Eilish, Lana Del Rey, and (he claims) Lil Nas X.”  

 

In film, Paul Schrader’s First Reformed (2017) was a first rate exploration of the effects of climate change on an environmental activist and his minister (Ethan Hawke). 

 

Literature has produced more numerous examples of climate concern. Berry, author of novels, poems, and essays, has long written about the health of the earth and planet, and in recent decades about climate change (see, e.g., here and here). It is difficult to think of any other major American cultural figure who for so long has championed the type of values needed for a countercultural challenge to today’s consumer culture.  

 

In 2000, prolific fiction writer T. C. Boyle’s A Friend of the Earth depicts the world in 2025-26: “Global warming. I remember the time when people debated not only the fact of it but the consequence. . . . [Now] it’s like leaving your car in the parking lot in the sun all day with the windows rolled up and then climbing in and discovering they’ve been sealed shut—and the doors too. . . . That’s how it is.”

 

In 2018, Amazon published a collection of seven climate-fiction (cli-fi) storiesby major writers. The series was entitled “Warmer.” In 2019, Amitav Ghosh came out with his new novel Gun Island, the plot of which centers on global warming and its foolish denial. In September 2019 another well-known novelist, Jonathan Franzen, wrote about the coming of a “climate apocalypse.” 

 

Among poets, already in 1985 Carl Dennis wrote the amazingly perceptive “The Greenhouse Effect.” More recently, the influential Poetry Foundation has gathered together “environmental poetry [that] explores the complicated connections between people and nature, often written by poets who . . . are serving as witnesses to climate change while bringing attention to important environmental issues and advocating for preservation and conservation.” The Foundation collection also includes essays on ecopoetry, an important new trend dealing with climate change and other environmental topics. 

 

In the early 1960s, Bob Dylan (Nobel Prize for Poetry winner in 2016) composed and sang “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” It began: 

 

Come gather 'round, people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters Around you have grown . . . .  

In light of the rising sea levels produced by global warming, the lines remain relevant  today. So too do his words

 

Come senators, congressmen Please heed the call Don't stand in the doorway Don't block up the hall.

 

A new counterculture could help lessen such blockage. As Schumacher, Berry, McKibben, and Pope Francis have all indicated it can embrace many traditional values while still being progressive and forward looking. But, as Francis, indicates it must reject our unsustainable “throwaway” consumer culture.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173352 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173352 0
American Historian Claire Arcenas on John Locke, Teaching, and More

 

Claire Rydell Arcenas is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Montana. An American historian, Claire’s interests include transatlantic intellectual, cultural, and political exchange between the late seventeenth and the mid-twentieth centuries. Her latest book is Locke in America (under contract with the University of Chicago Press). She received her PhD in history from Stanford University.

 

 

What books are you reading now?

 

I’m at a point in my own writing where narrative inspiration is particularly important, so I’m looking for good stories and good storytelling. I recently finished Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe and Circe by Madeline Miller. The two books are very different in terms of genre and topic, but they’re both excellent and have great audio editions, which is important for me—especially in the summer!—as I love to listen while I walk to work. 

 

Next up on my shelf is Emily Wilson’s translation of Homer’s The Odyssey, but I think I’ll read this one on paper. It’s been many years since I’ve read The Odyssey, and I want to pay attention to her translation choices. 

 

I’ve also been enjoying works of history written by scholars outside formal history departments. Right now, I am particularly excited to read (Princeton English professor) Sarah Rivett’s latest book, Unscripted America: Indigenous Languages and the Origins of a Literary Nation, which was published in 2017.

 

What is your favorite history book?

 

Favorite is a hard label to assign! One of the most impactful things I read early on was Herodotus’ Histories because it got me thinking about history as a process of inquiry. As an American historian, I don’t spend as much time in the world of Herodotus as I did when I was studying Classics in school, but I still remind my students that asking good questions is one of the most important tasks of the historian. 

 

Why did you choose history as your career?

 

The fall of my senior year in college was when I realized that I wasn’t ready to leave the past behind, so instead of applying to law schools, I applied to history PhD programs. After this first step, it really wasn’t until I started teaching that I knew this was the career for me. If there’s one thing more enjoyable than learning about the past, it’s sharing that knowledge, as well as my enthusiasm and excitement about it, with others! 

 

What qualities do you need to be a historian?

 

Curiosity because there is so much to learn; humility because there is so much that’s difficult to understand; and perseverance because, like most things worth doing, the work of a historian is rarely easy. 

 

Who was your favorite history teacher?

 

The fact that this is such a difficult question to answer makes me very fortunate! Wonderful teachers have shaped my personal and professional trajectory throughout my life. My parents encouraged me to think imaginatively with frequent visits to the Arnhem Openluchtmuseum (a kind of living history museum in the Netherlands); my American Studies teachers Mr. Strahn and Mr. Thompson brought humor to my high school history classroom with their spirited re-enactments of debates from the Revolutionary era; in college, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen showed me the power of a well-timed question in a seminar on Ralph Waldo Emerson and Friedrich Nietzsche; and in graduate school, I listened in awe as Caroline Winterer and Richard White modelled lecturing at its very finest.

 

What is your most memorable or rewarding teaching experience?

 

Most memorable would have to be the day a student in one of my seminars brought his mother to class with him. She didn’t understand why he was studying history and he figured experiencing one of our class discussions was the best way to show her! 

 

But, truth be told, the most rewarding teaching experiences tend to be the small, mundane ones: when a student at risk of failing comes to my office hours and we make a plan for getting her back on track; or when a sea of hands goes up in a big lecture hall, with students eager to ask a question, even in front of a hundred of their peers. Moments like these are the ones I cherish most.

 

What are your hopes for history as a discipline?

 

In a few words: continued relevance, both inside and outside colleges and universities. 

 

Do you own any rare history or collectible books? Do you collect artifacts related to history?

 

In another life, I think could have been a botanist, so I collect early modern botanical sketches and engravings. My collection is small, but (hopefully!) growing.

 

What have you found most rewarding and most frustrating about your career? 

 

Working with my incredible students at the University of Montana has been by far the most rewarding part of my career so far. The most frustrating has been the sheer amount of both luck and persistence that it takes to get an academic job like the one I’m fortunate to have. Each time, however, that a student lingers after class to confess that he used to find history dull or boring but is now eager for reading recommendations or suggestions for other history classes he can take makes it all worth it. 

 

How has the study of history changed in the course of your career?

 

It’s only been three years since I finished graduate school, so I’ll keep my focus on the area of history I know best. Within my field of intellectual history, historians (myself included) are increasingly emphasizing the ways in which the more recent past (especially concerns of the mid-twentieth century) shapes not only what we know about the more distant past (for example, the eighteenth century) but also what kinds of questions we ask about it. 

 

My own work on the changing influence of the English philosopher John Locke in America, for example, emphasizes that so much of what we think we know about Locke in American thought and culture before the twentieth century has to do with the kinds of questions historians and political scientists were asking in the 1950s and 1960s, rather than what interested Americans in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. My goal is to remove many of the assumptions we have about the timelessness of Locke’s multi-century impact.

 

What is your favorite history-related saying? Have you come up with your own?

 

I haven’t yet come up with any of my own, but at the beginning of the semester I like asking my students to reflect on L.P. Hartley’s famous line: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Throughout the term, we continue contemplating how the past’s distance—and nearness—informs how we do history.

 

What are you doing next?

 

This year, I’m on a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, so I am finishing my book about John Locke in America from a desk at the Library of Congress. I have a feeling Locke would have liked the main reading room here!

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173356 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173356 0
Modi's 'two nations' theory roils India

 

By pursuing a populist ultra-nationalist agenda, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has unwittingly validated the much-maligned “two-nation” theory that formed the rationale behind dividing British India to create Pakistan as a Muslim homeland.

 

His policy pits Hindus against Muslims, an unfortunate schism that all of his predecessors fought against. Seven decades after the blood-soaked partition, hyper-nationalist Modi won a landslide re-election victory in May, donning saffron-colored grab of Hindu gurus and polluting India with anti-Muslim venom.

 

His crown is made of two emotion-filled explosive elements: Kashmir and migration. Both share a common thread of bias against Muslims and have roots in the century-old vision of notorious Hindutva, or Hinduness, outlined in the 1920s by V. D. Savarkar, a convicted-violent-revolutionary-turned-ultra-nationalist. Savarkar, a British-trained lawyer and avowed atheist, espoused misguided ideas to deal with India's minorities, mimicking Adolf Hitler's racist solution to Germany's Jewish question and Spain's Inquisition to purge Muslims. 

 

Since his re-election, Modi's administration has aggressively moved on both Kashmir and the alleged illegal migration from Bangladesh, which is India's most friendly neighbor. In early August, keeping local leaders in detention and deploying nearly a million security personnel in Kashmir, it abolished a decades-old law that granted Kashmiris special rights — their own flag, own laws and land rights.

 

Meanwhile, India's Home Minister Amit Shah, who heads Modi's hard-core nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or the BJP, and is widely expected to succeed him as prime minister, is pressing ahead with his agenda to deport fictitious 40 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants. 

 

Clash over Muslim migrants

 

This idea has provoked a sharp backlash from Bangladesh. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan has dismissed the BJP assertion, noting Bangladesh's economy is at par with India's, so no one from his country's stays illegally in India. Still the matter turned acrimonious enough during Shah-Khan talks in Delhi in August to prevent them from issuing a customary joint statement.

 

India, nevertheless, seems determined to push ahead its agenda. It has started a campaign to round up Muslims unless they can prove they have lived in India since before 1971 when Bangladesh was born. They will be put in concentration camps, which ironically the migrants themselves are building now. 

 

Of India's 1.3 billion people, 14 percent are Muslim. Modi's party does not target migrant Bangladeshi Hindus. But it seeks to deport Muslims, showing its anti-Islam bias. In fact, India has already deported Rohingya Muslim refugees to Burma and detained hundreds of them. Modi faced global criticism for the Muslim massacre in 2002 in his home state of Gujarat. He ruled Gujarat for 13 years before becoming prime minister in 2014. 

 

What is most disturbing in Modi's policy is its anti-minority agenda. It is this very posture of the professedly secular Indian National Congress party and its paramount leaders — Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Ballavbhai Patel — that propelled British India's Muslims to demand a separate homeland. They shivered in fear that the Hindus would perpetually control the Muslims in a united India once the British left, unless there were safeguards enshrined in the constitution. Congress balked at granting special rights, and Britain created Pakistan in 1947. But problems surfaced soon afterward with semi-autonomous princely states, including Kashmir.

 

The picturesque Himalayan region encompasses roughly 135,000 square miles, almost Germany's size, with about 18 million people. India controls 85,000 square miles, Pakistan 33,000 and China 17,000. Both Pakistan and India claim the entire area as their own.

 

In 1948, after a Indo-Pak fight, India raised Kashmir in the UN Security Council, which called for a referendum on the territory's status. It asked Pakistan to withdraw troops and India to cut military presence to a minimum. A ceasefire came into force, but Pakistan refused to pull out. Kashmir has remained partitioned ever since.

 

Until Hindutva swept Modi to power, India assuaged minorities by pursuing a policy that emphasized national unity. In contrast, Modi began his onslaught by killing a centuries-old Muslim marriage law. Even the Mughals and the British left Indian personal law untouched. Modi voided the Muslim law, but kept similar laws for other minorities intact.

 

With the Reconquista Hindutva fanning up the anti-Islam flame and the Modi government taking anti-Muslim steps, any expectation that the Kashmiris — being excited by the prospect India's economic largesse — would someday vote to be part of Hindustan has been dashed farther.

 

What's behind Hindutva politics?

 

To boost his re-election bid, Modi fired-up his anti-Muslim rhetoric and took the crusade to India's northeastern state of Assam, plagued by a half-century-long hate-based politics. The politics that originated with a demand to drive out non-Assamese quickly turned into anti-Bangladeshi outcry at the BJP instigation. Modi has vowed to rid the state of all the alleged Bangladeshi migrants.

 

Following his re-election, the National Register of Citizens, which verifies citizenship, after several flawed counts, has classified nearly two million long-term residents as non-citizens or stateless. Most of them are at the bottom of the economic ladder. India will detain them in concentration camps, much like Nazi Germany treated the Jews.

 

Unfortunately for the Hindutva Nazis, the citizenship count has become a boomerang. Of the two million designated non-citizens, 1.2 million unexpectedly turned out to be Hindu. Modi's followers are now crying foul, demanding a recount. The BJP had expected to find four million migrants in Assam, most of them were to be Muslim.

 

Assam's neighbor West Bengal, which shares a common language and a rich culture with Bangladesh, is gearing up to play political hotball against the BJP. Modi's group wants to replicate the citizenship drill in West Bengal, but Chief Minister Mamata Banarjee's leftist party has vowed to fight it. State BJP chief Dilip Ghosh, who is seeking to deport the alleged migrants, remains adamant, because the migration rhetoric is the magic wand for his party to win vote.

Muslims foresee BJP game

 

Ironically, while Ghosh wishes to expel them to an unnamed country — presumably Bangladesh — Modi is urging Hindus to flock to Muslim-majority Kashmir, which barred non-Kashmiris from owning land until Delhi scrapped its autonomy in August.

 

The BJP prescription to push more Hindus into Kashmir is intended to change the demographic balance in the restive territory of 12 million people. Some politicians have even asked young Hindu men to marry beautiful Kashmiri Muslim girls and settle down in this picturesque land at the Himalayan foothills. 

 

Modi's arbitrary action is the mother of all these repugnant ideas. This is exactly the kind of capriciousness on the part of the overwhelming Hindu majority that British India's Muslim leaders feared most.

 

One of those leaders, Liaquat Ali Khan, the right-hand man of Pakistan's founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, articulated this concern while talking with George Merrell, then America's highest-ranking diplomat in India, on 27 December 1946. Liaquat believed that Congress was “determined to seize power without regard for Muslim rights.”

 

Seventy-three years later, Modi's Hindutva agenda, which calls for a Muslim-free India, has proven Liaquat right. By scraping Kashmir's status, the prime minister has taken a highly risky step toward making the misguided dream of the right-wing Hindu extremists come true and shaken up secular India.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173346 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173346 0
Can Studying Human Evolution Help Us Understand Impeachment?

 

Whatever you think about the potential – likely? – impeachment of Donald Trump (and I’m all for it), this development converges intriguingly with The Goodness Paradox, a fascinating 2018 book by anthropologist Richard Wrangham. In it, Wrangham makes the paradoxical suggestion that socially orchestrated murder - something very much like the modern death penalty - may have acted in our prehistoric past to make us less violent than we would otherwise be, at least within our own groups. Let me explain.

 

Impeachment and removal from office is hardly murder, and, although right-wing trolls will doubtless interpret this essay as me recommending the murder of Donald Trump, that is most assuredly NOT what I am saying. I am interested, however, in the parallels between eliminating a dangerous group member “with extreme prejudice” in our evolutionary past – as Wrangham hypothesizes – and removing a dangerous group leader via a recognized and legitimated political process; i.e., impeachment.

 

Compared to many other species, human beings are, by and large, notably nonviolent and unaggressive. Thus, non-relatives and even total strangers typically crowd together on city streets, in a bus, train, airplane, movie theater or lecture hall, with almost no violence or aggression. And yet, people have historically been quite fierce, at least on occasion, toward members of a different group. 

 

Wrangham proposes that our early ancestors, not unlike many nomadic, non-technological societies today,  were prone to enforcing rules of civil conduct within their group. Unable to call 911 or to employ an independent judiciary and police, they would likely have relied on internal mechanisms for keeping within-group tranquility. In current traditional societies, a trouble-making jerk who consistently disrupts their community will typically face efforts to enforce the accepted social rules, by personal warnings, ridicule, or, if necessary, ostracism. But if these gentler attempts are unavailing and especially if the problem individual is dangerously violent and thus a threat to the group’s well-being, capital punishment will frequently be agreed upon. There are few data as to how often this form of extra-juridical justice is meted out in contemporary traditional societies and even less evidence speaking to its frequency and impact in human evolution. Nonetheless, the intriguing possibility exists that as a result of such lethal events, Homo sapiens may have actually become less violent, for two reasons. Number one: by removing those especially predisposed to dangerously lethal behavior, the human genome came to harbor fewer of their predisposing genes, making the rest of us less prone to mayhem. 

 

Number two: through most of our evolutionary history, the average group size was almost certainly small, so individuals knew each other and were also acutely aware of what befell those who conspicuously got out of line. Once such enforcement – lethally administered if need be - became established as cultural tradition, biological selection as well as social pressures and enlightened self-interest would have favored conformity to expected norms. In sum, the idea is that threats to society may have led to informal but effective policing of serious misbehavior, either by lethally eliminating perpetrators or by law-abiding group members suppressing whatever inner demons might remain within themselves. Perhaps we therefore owe our comparatively benevolent dispositions to a long history of group-enforced capital punishment. 

 

This hypothesis could be interpreted as an endorsement of the death penalty in modern life, but it needn’t be. It is likely that our binocular eyesight and the three-dimensional, stereoscopic vision it affords is attributable to our history as forest-dwelling primates, but that doesn’t mean we should start climbing trees and leaping from branch to branch. And the fact that our ancestors may well have scavenged the majority of their animal protein doesn’t suggest that we should all begin consuming road kill. Executing malefactors might, might, have made us what we are today, for better and worse. But that doesn’t mean that we should keep doing it.

 

On the other hand, what we should do – and what the US Constitution explicitly sets out rules for doing – is to remove (nonviolently, to be sure!) trouble-making leaders whose behavior is deleterious to the group. By doing so we probably will not usher in a new millennium, and maybe not even restore the harm to American democracy, society, ideals, the environment, and so forth that a certain trouble-making leader has already done, nor are we likely to engage in the kind of self-domestication that in our evolutionary past might have made us less murderously violent … but it certainly won’t do any harm. 

 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173353 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173353 0
Jimmy Carter's Presidency Contrasts Sharply with Trump's Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

 

 

October 2019 has been a good month for the Carter family On October 1, former President Jimmy Carter celebrated his 95th birthday and has lived longer than any other previous president. On October 17th, Carter and Rosalynn Carter surpassed George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush and now hold the record for the longest Presidential marriage (73 years and counting). His Vice President, Walter Mondale, will turn 92 in January 2020, making Carter and Mondale the longest surviving Presidential-Vice Presidential team in American history.

 

This month was also another milestone: Donald Trump reached his 1000th day in office on the same day that the Carters celebrated the longest Presidential marriage. As we celebrate president Carter’s legacy this month, it’s valuable to compare the 39th and 45th Presidents.

 

Carter was elected with a majority of the popular vote, while Trump lost the popular vote by 2.85 million, the worst popular vote loss for a winning President in American history.

 

Carter has the longest marriage in Presidential history. Trump has been married three times and divorced twice. Trump has a record of extramarital affairs, while the worst statement that can be made about Carter’s marriage was his awkward statement in an interview with Playboy in 1976. He said he had “lust in his heart”.

 

Carter’s devout faith was a cornerstone of his presidency and his humanitarianism in the years following his presidency. Carter regularly leads services at his Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia.

 

Meanwhile, Trump’s pandering to the religious right is well-documented and he claimed in an interview with CNN on July 18, 2015 that he has no need to pray or confess his sins since he believes he has never sinned. Trump’s charitable work through the Trump Foundation is under investigation for misuse of funds. 

 

Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize for diplomacy, promotion of peace, and human rights advocacy.Trump has alienated our allies, undermined American diplomacy, and has ignored human rights concerns as he creates allies out of dictators. 

 

Carter had strong relations with Latin America. He negotiated the Panama Canal Treaty which restored control of the Canal to Panama in 2000.  He also promoted human rights and held Chile, El Salvador, and Nicaragua accountable for their violations of such rights by suspending military and economic aid.  Meanwhile, Trump has insulted people from Latin America (particularly those from Mexico and Central America), and received condemnation from their leaders. He embraced the rightwing government of Brazil.

 

Carter achieved a major breakthrough in the Middle East with the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. On the other hand, Trump’s close association with Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his curtailment of American participation in the Iran Nuclear Agreement destabilized the region. Now,Trump has now abandoned the Kurds in Syria leading to immediate bloodshed.  

 

Carter diplomatically recognized the People’s Republic of China and worked to strengthen trade between the two nations.Trump’s trade war with China has led to ever-increasing tariffs that harm economic and diplomatic ties.

 

According to environmental experts, Carter was the third best president for the environment, behind only Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. In a 2012 survey reported in the NY Times, experts ranked Carter as the best one-term Presidentfor the environment, praising his development and use of alternative energy sources, including wind and solar. Carter tried to move away from oil, coal, and natural gas.

 

Meanwhile, Trump has the worst record on the environment in American history, surpassing Ronald Reagan. Trump has encouraged the oil, coal, and natural gas industries and describes global warmingas a “hoax.” 

 

Carter promoted the creation of the Health and Human Services Department, Education Department, and the Energy Departments, while Trump has undermined all three Cabinet agencies and their missions.

 

Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter have built housing for the poor through Habitat For Humanity for the past 25 years. Trump is a real estate developer who built resorts and hotels for the rich and powerful. 

 

Finally, Carter has become more respected and honored as time as passed, while each year brings more details of Donald Trump’s corruption and lack of moral character. 

 

Carter will always be considered a better president by historians and political scientists. By the American public, Carter will always be considered a better man. 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154269 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154269 0
The History Briefing on Indigenous Peoples Day: Why Fewer Places Celebrate Columbus Day On October 11th, 2019, President Trump issued a Presidential Proclamation saying that the second Monday of October would be nationally celebrated as Columbus Day. President Trump reaffirmed his stance on Columbus Day on October 16th during a reception celebrating Italian heritage with Italian President, Sergio Mattarella. Trump said, “As long as I have anything to say about this — and I hope that’s gonna be a long time — it will always be Columbus Day." 

 

President Trump acknowledges Columbus Day because he, like many others, believe that Christopher Columbus changed history through his courageous journey across the Atlantic. His ‘drive for discovery’ exemplified what it means to be American. Trump also considers Columbus Day as time to commemorate Italian Americans because Columbus was an Italian citizen. 

 

However, politicians, historians, and activists remind us that Columbus' legacy might not be worth celebrating. Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas decimated Native Americans. The District of Columbia Council has recognized those effects and ordered an emergency bill changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in the District of Columbia. DC is not the first to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day – 14 other states celebrated Native Americans on October 14th. The reasoning is based on history. 

 

First, Columbus did not discover the Americas as millions of people already lived on the continent. Second, Columbus never set foot in what is today known as United States. He first landed in the Caribbean. Upon landing on an unknown Caribbean island, Columbus ordered six natives to be enslaved. Eventually, Colubmus enslaved thousands of Taino people and sent them to the Spanish island of Hispaniola.  

 

In response to the D.C. Council's act, The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) applauded governing bodyl for recognizing Indigenous Peoples' Day rather than Columbus Day. The CEO of the NCAI Kevin Allis said, “This change allows the opportunity to bring more awareness to the unique, rich history of this land that is inextricably tied to the first peoples of this country and predates the voyage of Christopher Columbus”.

 

Similarly, Elizabeth Warren, tweeted her support for Indigenous history: “The story of America’s mistreatment of indigenous peoples is long and painful. And yet, Native communities have proven resilient. We owe them our respect—and we must honor our government's commitments and promises to them. #IndigenousPeoplesDay”.

 

As Dr. Sarah Shear noted in an article for Smithsonian Magazine, American students are much more likely to learn Trump's account of history than Elizabeth Warren's. Often they learn a "Euro-American narrative that reinstitutes the marginalization of Indigenous cultures and knowledge. Indigenous Peoples are left in the shadows of Euro-America’s destiny, while the cooperation and conflict model provide justification for the eventual termination of Indigenous Peoples from the American landscape and historical narrative. Finally, a tone of detachment, especially with long lists of legal and political terms, dismisses the humanity of Indigenous cultures and experiences in the United States."

As Trump's statement this past week revealed, despite the increasing deamnds since the 1990s to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s day, the public narrative of the holiday is still contested.

 

 

 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173348 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173348 0
An Act of Betrayal and Infamy

 

Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Syria may well be remembered as one of the most egregious and inhuman disasters that he has ever taken since he came to power. For a President of the United States to make such a critical decision with so many implications, simply based on a conversation with Turkish President Erdogan, not only shows his shortsightedness and total lack of strategic approach, but his inability to appreciate how that will adversely affect our friends and please our foes. We are already witnessing the unfolding disaster, and there are no words to explain how and by what logic the President of the United States in particular can take such critical steps, knowing how disastrous the repercussions of his actions would be. We are already witnessing the humanitarian disaster that has been inflicted on the Kurdish community in Syria. They are the very same Kurds who have fought courageously and valiantly against ISIS and suffered thousands of casualties, demonstrating their commitment to fight to the end, at which they have largely succeeded. The last thing that any Kurdish fighter could imagine is for the United States to betray them, having demonstrated their loyalty at a terrible cost with horrifying losses. It is true, of course, the Kurds have not merely fought to support the US or other allies’ efforts in the war against ISIS, but also for their own self-defense, protecting their land and people. And now, they are fleeing by the thousands – nearly 65,000 have already fled, and aid groups expect as many as 450,000 to flee. More than 300 have already been killed by the vicious and ruthless Turkish military under the fanatic and zealous orders of Erdogan. Interestingly, while Republicans have thus far accepted and even embraced Trump’s follies on scores of domestic and international issues, they have not done or said hardly anything against his repeated egregious actions, lies, misstatements, and self-indulgence. This time, they finally raised their voices and condemned the precipitous withdrawal from Syria. They understood how dire the regional consequences will be in particular for America’s allies throughout the Middle East. No single ally in the region and elsewhere will be able to trust the United States under Trump to do anything on their behalf, let alone take any critical steps that might be needed to protect their national security. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of Trump’s fervent backers, stated “The president has abandoned the people who helped us destroy ISIS, chaos is unfolding, and when I hear the president — ‘We’re getting out of Syria’ — my statement to you is this is worse than what Obama did [in withdrawing from Iraq].” The Middle Eastern countries who have direct or indirect interest and concern about what’s happening in Syria, especially Saudi Arabia and Israel, certainly feel abandoned. They know firsthand that the result of the American withdrawal from Syria will have serious national security implications for them, as it would affect their long-term geostrategic calculus in a region with continuing upheaval. Netanyahu has expressed Israel’s concern over the situation, stating “Israel strongly condemns the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish areas in Syria and warns against the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds by Turkey and its proxies. Israel is prepared to extend humanitarian assistance to the gallant Kurdish people.” Erdogan’s office lashed out, with communications director Fahrettin Altun replying, “Empty words of a disgraced politician looking at many years in prison on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges.” The reaction of the European community, and scores of other countries throughout the world, has been one of disbelief. French President Emmanuel Macron, taking stock of the situation, warned “Turkey is putting millions of people at humanitarian risk. In doing so, Turkey will be responsible in front of the international community for helping Daesh (so-called Islamic State) building a Caliphate.” For Trump to take this kind of action that directly impacts the European interests in the region, without any consultation, amounts to betraying our closest European allies. Trump never understood that because of Europe’s proximity to the region, it will be affected directly and indirectly by the regional turmoil. For that reason, they have fought side-by-side the United States in the Middle East and Central Asia, even though at times they disagreed with American strategy. They made these sacrifices and commitments to preserve the alliance with the United States, and the integrity of NATO. Needless to say, the countries that benefit the most from this ill-fated decision by Trump are Turkey itself, Russia, and Iran. Turkey’s invasion of Syria will simply not end by defeating the Kurds; Erdogan will ensure that Turkey remains permanently in Syria, as this was all along part of his sinister strategic ambition. Iran will further entrench itself in Syria, and regardless of what Israel will do or say, there will be no prospect of Iran leaving, knowing the United States will not only refrain from using any military force to oust Iran, but it will no longer have much say about the future of Syria itself. Moreover, there is no other power that could compel Tehran to abandon its strategic interest in Syria under almost any circumstances, which terrifies the Israelis. Russia, who has been entrenched in Syria for five decades, has worked closely with Iran and Turkey. It should be noted that Putin, Erdogan, and Rouhani have met several times in the last 18 months and developed their own scheme about Syria’s future. It is quite clear that Putin and Rouhani certainly supported Erdogan’s invasion, which explains why neither Russia nor Iran have said one word about Turkey’s gross transgression. It is no secret that Trump’s decision was also largely motivated by his financial interest in Turkey, which goes back many years to 2012, with the opening of Trump Towers in Istanbul. To think though, that the President of the United States would sell America’s interests and abandon its allies for the sake of personal financial gain is not merely outrageous but criminal. To me, this amounts to nothing less than treason.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173316 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173316 0
The Internet at 50: Four Steps in Transforming the Digital World

 

Fifty years ago, computers at UCLA and the Stanford Research Institute were linked in an experiment that later would be described as the birth of the internet. Yet, as explained by Harlan Lebo, author of 100 Days: How Four Events in 1969 Shaped America (AmazonBarnes & Noble), key advances would be vital to transform that infant technology into the dominant communication technology we use today.

 

 

“I don’t feel like a father of anything. It’s not how I think of myself. Every now and again, I think, ‘you know what? I invented the search engine.” 

 

                                     – Alan Emtage, developer of “Archie,” the first search engine

 

 

The internet may have been “born” in October 1969, but it then percolated for years as complex, near-impenetrable masses of data stored in computers around the world. The information was accessible only to scientists and government agencies who knew precisely how and where to look.  Online technology would evolve for more than two decades before it would become practical for everyone to use. Four key developments in particular would make that transformation possible. 

 

 

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In March 1983, Paul Mockapetris, a computer engineer at the University of Southern California, proposed a new system for managing online content that would eliminate the confusion in how digital information is identified.

 

Mockapetris proposed a structure that labeled information using what he called a Domain Name System, or DNS.  The name for each domain (soon to be known as websites) would be followed by an “extension” that described the type of organization: for instance, private companies were identified with “.com” (such as nytimes.com for The New York Times), or “.gov” for government organizations (nasa.gov), or “.edu” for schools (harvard.edu). 

 

Many extensions would be created in the next three decades – some of them abbreviations (such as .net,” “.cc,” or “.co,”) and others full words (everything from “.gold” to “.attorney” to “.party.”) – and continue to be developed.

 

By using domain names, identifying a website became much clearer and vastly simplified how the internet could be understood and accessed. The first domain name for a company – symbolics.com – was established in March 1985; the site still exists today.

 

Like many other internet innovators, Mockapetris chose to develop his system without charge; he earned nothing from a development that would affect every one of the billions of websites worldwide. Later, Mockapetris would joke about his decision. 

 

"A friend of mine said I was smart enough to invent the DNS,” he said, “but not smart enough to own it.”

 

 

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In the hallway of Building 1 on the French-Swiss border where Tim Berners-Lee worked at the European Organization for Nuclear Research – better known as CERN – the plaque on the wall begins with large black engraved letters: “Where the Web was Born.” 

 

In 1991, Berners-Lee was at CERN as a software consultant, and he felt stymied by the limited abilities of computers to share information.  

 

“I found it frustrating that in those days, there was different information on different computers, but you had to log on to different computers to get at it,” Berners-Lee recalled. “Also, sometimes you had to learn a different program on each computer.”

 

"Can't we convert every information system,” Berners-Lee proposed, “so that it looks like part of some imaginary information system which everyone can read?" 

 

From that frustration grew Berners-Lee’s interest in developing a method that would standardize how information could be shared by computers online.

 

In March 1989, Berners-Lee collaborated with Robert Cailliau on a project that merged a recipe of earlier developments into a to create a new way for users to access information online. 

“Most of the technology involved in the web, like hypertext, had been designed already,” Berners-Lee said. “I just had to put them together. It was... going to a higher level of abstraction.”

What Berners-Lee described as “a higher level of abstraction” was an inspired innovation that would transform how information could be stored and accessed online. Berners-Lee, working with Cailliau, had invented the World Wide Web. 

 

Cailliau named their innovation during discussions in the CERN cafeteria. 

 

“Tim and I (tried) to find a catching name for the system,” Cailliau recalled. “I was determined that the name should not be taken from Greek mythology. Tim proposed "World Wide Web." I liked this very much, except that it is difficult to pronounce in French.” 

 

By May 1991, CERN released the software for the World Wide Web.  Berners-Lee created the first-ever “website” at CERN. Unveiled in August 1991, the website, in plain text with no formatting or design, provides basic information about the World Wide Web project (A duplicate of the original website is still posted here). The World Wide Web was opened to everyone.

In April 1993, CERN took the step that assured the thriving of the World Wide Web and released the software into the public domain. 

 

Recalled Berners-Lee: “CERN's decision to make the Web foundations and protocols available…royalty free, and without additional impediments, was crucial to the Web's existence. Without this commitment, the enormous individual and corporate investment in Web technology simply would never have happened, and we wouldn't have the Web today."

 

 

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Before the work of Berners-Lee and Cailliau on the World Wide Web transformed the internet into a functional global system for all to use, progress was already underway on a development that would convert the access of information online into a simple, productive experience – for general users, perhaps the single most important step in the transformation of the internet into a powerful, near-instant source of information and access.

 

Even with the addition of domain names, the internet was still hard to explore and difficult to sort through. In the late 1980s, when the totalnumber of websites was less than one million – let alone the billions of addresses that exist today – finding information without knowing a specific address was nearly impossible, akin to going to the Library of Congress and trying to find a specific sentence just by paging through the books. 

 

Before there was any hope of the internet becoming a practical tool, users – especially the general public – needed devices that would help.

 

In retrospect, the solution was so important that today it is impossible to imagine the internet without it. But computer networks existed for almost 20 years before anyone developed a practical method to quickly identify information and its location anywhere. What was needed was a tool that would cut through the jungle and find the treasure; it would be called a search engine.

Alan Emtage would later state with pride that he was the first person from Barbados, and also the first from the Caribbean, to be elected to the Internet Hall of Fame – an honor he received in 2017. Emtage choose a frostier climate for his college education, heading north to McGill University in Montreal, to study computer science. While training for his graduate degree in 1989, Emtage created a collection of software that he called “resource discovery tools” – services that the average user could employ to routinely connect to computers around the world, and automatically download listings of files available to the public.

 

“It happened organically,” Emtage would say of his work, “I didn’t have to ford rivers or climb mountains.” 

 

These tools, which Emtage called “Archie” (short for “Archive”) would combine to serve as the world’s first internet search engine, pioneering many of the techniques still used by search engines today (for an example of the original Archie page, go here). 

 

Emtage was yet another internet innovator who deliberately chose to not patent his discovery – a decision that would have earned him millions as other search engines were developed that contained his fundamental processes.

 

“I’m not a billionaire; that’s OK with me,” Emtage told an audience when he was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2017. “We thought about [licensing] it long and hard, to do so would strangle the baby in the crib – it would restrict the ability of people to use what we had learned and expand on it.

 

“The internet as we know it today would not exist were it not for the fact that a lot of the organizations and individuals allowed the fruit of their work to be used for free.”

 

Emtage is also a rare technology groundbreaker who routinely declines recognition as being a “father” of the internet (although he graciously passes along credit to Archie for being “the great-great grandfather of Google and all of those other search engines”).

 

“I don’t feel like a father of anything,” Emtage told a reporter in 2013. “It’s not how I think of myself. Every now and again, I think, ‘you know what? I invented the search engine.’”

 

Archie was a useful first step toward practical searching online. However, it was a rudimentary program and, for general-interest internet users, unwieldy to use.

 

Many more tools for accessing the internet would follow – Infoseek, Aliweb, and WebCrawler were among many names that came and went. But one tool in particular for accessing the internet that debuted in 1993 would outshine most others, primarily because of what it represented for both the form and function of how users would go online.

 

 

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For the 20-year-old Marc Andreessen in 1991, the internet seemed like a giant opportunity waiting to happen.

 

“The whole internet phenomenon had been gaining momentum for the past decade,” said Andreessen years later, “but it was still very much limited to a small audience of people. It wasn't friendly enough for people who wanted to do interesting things.”

 

Andreessen, while still an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and programmer Eric Bina, found a way to help millions do those interesting things. Andreessen and Bina developed a web browser that was both useful and engaging: released for a variety of computers in late 1993, they called their software Mosaic.

 

Where other browsers were bland and required multiple steps by users, Mosaic was alive with opportunity – a pleasant user-friendly screen, icons for choices, and – a particularly handy new innovation – bookmarks that would store the address of a chosen website for later use.

 

In other works, recalled Andreessen, “it was appealing to non-geeks.”

 

Mosaic cut to the core of what users wanted when they went online: software that was practical, but also appealing and intuitive.

 

Mosaic was the jump-start that the internet needed to capture the public’s interest – by mid-1994, more than 50,000 users a month were downloading the browser – and Mosaic is remembered as one of the prime catalysts for igniting the internet. 

 

“Mosaic,” wrote Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols of ZDNet on the browser’s 25th birthday, “changed everything.”

 

Andreessen, at 22, would soon join entrepreneur and computer scientist James Clark in Silicon Valley, creating the company that (after haggling with the University of Illinois over the term “Mosaic”) became known as Netscape. 

 

Netscape would dominate as a web browser; four months after the company released Mosaic Netscape 0.9, it accounted for 75 percent of all browsers. 

 

In the mid-1990s, Andreessen would be portrayed as one of the young darlings in the emergence of Silicon Valley – an unconventional, anything-goes, financial adventurer; when he appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in February 1996, Andreessen, in jeans and with bare feet, sat in an ornate chair next to the headline, “The Golden Geeks.” 

 

Netscape would be acquired in March 1999 for $4.2 billion, making Andreessen one of the world’s richest computer scientists – four months before his 27th birthday.

 

 

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The creation of the World Wide Web, domain names, search engines, and web browsers – four essential milestones in the evolution of the internet from a technical tool into a functional, practical, appealing device that could be used by everyone. The transformation had begun; digital communication would never be the same.

 

 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173315 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173315 0
Roundup Top 10!  

Why We Must Impeach

by Sean Wilentz

The president’s abuse of power has surpassed any we’ve seen in our history — and Congress must act.

 

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day should mean honoring migrants’ rights

by Liz Ellis

People must have a human right to migrate and to move across borders that historically crossed them.

 

 

How Italians Became ‘White’

by Brent Staples

Italians who had come to the country as “free white persons” were often marked as black because they accepted “black” jobs in the Louisiana sugar fields or because they chose to live among African-Americans.

 

 

The Case for Populism

by Maria Schmidt

As citizens of a free country in the heartland of Europe, we have served as gatekeepers between East and West for a thousand years. We hope to do so for a thousand more.

 

 

Climate protests have roots that go deep into the rich history of British social change

by Lucy Robinson

Extinction Rebellion draws on a radical lineage that brings together a range of beliefs and ages.

 

 

The 19th amendment was a crucial achievement. But it wasn’t enough to liberate women.

by Holly Jackson

It’s time to fight for the original and unfulfilled goals of the women’s movement.

 

 

The Greening of the New Deal

by Steve Fraser

The Great Depression and the Climate Crisis, New Deals Then and Now.

 

 

Smithsonian Museums Are Supposed to Tell the American Story. So Where's the One Dedicated to Latinos?

by Julissa Arce

The harm of not being treated as valuable members of this country can be seen in the rise of anti-Latino hate crimes, as well as in the higher rate of depression among Latino youth than their white peers.

 

 

Americans have spent 230 years trying to rein in presidential misconduct

by James M. Banner Jr.

While freighted with danger, impeachment is the only instrument offered by the Constitution to bring an administration otherwise out of direct reach of the law to book.

 

 

The Lesson History Teaches Is Tragic

by Robert Zaretsky

The idea that we can avoid the mistakes of the past is misguided.

 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173343 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173343 0
Breaking Down Republican Lawmakers' Defenses of Trump

 

Donald Trump has a defense. There is a case to be made that the discussions he initiated with people in Ukraine should not lead to impeachment. Let’s imagine that defense. Maybe there is another phone call, shortly after July 25, where Trump tells Zelensky that there is no link between our relationship to Ukraine and their investigating Biden. Maybe there is evidence that what looks plainly like efforts coerce Ukraine’s gas system for personal gain by Trump’s envoys to Ukraine didn’t happen that way.

 

Maybe one could argue that Trump didn’t mean what he said to Zelensky. That would hard, though, given that he also said it to the Australian Prime Minister and to all of China. Or better, that he was completely ignorant of this law, because of his only distant contact with the rules of his office. Trump has demonstrated ignorance of many important aspects of his job, but to call this an honest mistake requires one to ignore everything that happened afterward. Maybe there were conversations in the White House about how to correct this mistake. We don’t know of any.

 

Right now that case is entirely theoretical, because the evidence we already have does point to impeachment. Many important people in the White House were appalled by the whole process around the fateful phone call, which seem to contain clear evidence of a crime. We know the major task of numerous White House officials was to hide evidence of the contents of this call.

 

Such plausible and implausible defenses are possible. It is striking that no Republicans are making them.

 

The Washington Post has usefully published statements from every Republican Senator who would say anything. Zero support the impeachment inquiry. Perhaps the best clue to Republican thinking about Trump is that none of them are offering any evidence, any argument, any reason. Instead, we hear two versions of the same non-defense, that there is no evidence of anything like a crime.

 

The first version is that what Trump said on the phone with Zelensky was fine, or as Trump says, “perfect”. Sen. Thom Tillis from North Carolina: “The transcript debunks the Democrats’ false claims against President @realDonaldTrump and demonstrates that their call to impeach him is a total farce.” Sen. John Cornyn from Texas: “We have the transcript of the call which doesn’t live up to the complaintant’s fevered accusations.”

 

Another version of this defense is that it was unfortunate that Trump said what he said, but not very serious. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota: “I’m not a fan of the way in many cases the president goes about this and I would prefer he would not raise an issue like that with a foreign leader.” Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio: “He should not have brought up the Joe Biden issue, but again, there was no quid pro quo and I think the Democrats’ rush to impeachment is totally unwarranted.” This qualifies as courage among Republicans.

 

Usually this line is combined with attacks on Democrats and the media for even considering the issue. Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma: “I think they’ve been looking for a way to impeach the president for years. I think they’re upset with him politically.” Sen. Todd Young of Indiana: “One thing is clear, the far-left has been desperate to get rid of President Trump since day one.” Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas: “Democrats have long sought to weaken the president, appease their base and further divide the country through impeachment. This latest action demonstrates their willingness to blindly follow this obsession regardless of the facts.”

 

The most radical formulation attacks the whistleblower personally. Trump leads this “defense”. He said, “I think a whistleblower should be protected, if the whistleblower is legitimate.” He labelled the “so-called whistleblower” part of a “political hack job.” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said the whistleblower's identity should be revealed.

 

A second version was displayed by Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa. When a CNN reporter asked her whether it’s appropriate for a president to solicit campaign assistance from a foreign power, she responded, “We’ll have to wait. We don’t have the facts in front of us. And what we see pushed out through the media, we don’t know what is accurate at this point.” A questioner at a meeting in her home state said, “When are you guys going to say, “Enough”? You stand there in silence.” She responded helpfully, “Whistle-blowers should be protected. Corruption wherever it is should be ferreted out.”

 

This “we don’t know yet” version says that what we do know about the call and Trump’s other actions is not enough. Sen. Tim Scott from South Carolina: “He’s not really a whistleblower, so it’s really more hearsay.” Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho: “I will wait for further information regarding the facts of this matter and refrain from speculating.” Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado: “I joined my Senate colleagues in unanimously supporting the release of the whistleblower report, and I support the Senate Intelligence Committee’s on-going bipartisan review to gather all of the facts. Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry to appease the far-left isn’t something the majority of Americans support and will sharply divide the country.” But Gardner’s wrong: a majority of Americans do now support the inquiry. A poll from a week ago found 55% supported an impeachment inquiry.

 

Only a very few Republican Senators have taken the evidence we all have seen seriously. Mitt Romney of Utah appears to be leading those who are most anxious: “It remains troubling in the extreme. It’s deeply troubling.” Susan Collins of Maine remains true to her pretense at independence: “I thought the president made a big mistake by asking China to get involved in investigating a political opponent. It’s completely inappropriate.” What about Ukraine? 

 

Republicans have been running away from evidence about Donald Trump since 2016. Evidence about his business dealings, evidence about his lying, evidence about his sexual attacks on many unwilling women, evidence about the climate, evidence from the Mueller probe. They and Trump together are trying to achieve a new normal, in which evidence doesn’t matter at all, only what side you are on.

 

The last time a Republican was impeached for trying to tamper with a presidential election and then covering it up, that strategy didn’t work.

 

Before anyone can make a good judgment about breaking rules, we have to know the rules. Does a certain behavior fall outside of the law? It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the rules. Ignorance of the law is no defense, says the Bible, Greek philosophers, and Roman law. Republicans are following a different motto: “I’ll tell you what is legal and what is not legal later, when I find out more about what Trump did.”

 

That’s not leadership. That’s not responsibility. That’s not supporting the Constitution. That’s corruption.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154266 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154266 0
Love in Post World War II Paris

 

Jerry Mulligan was an American GI artist who elected to live in Paris when World War II ended and the City of Lights was free of Nazi occupation. The talented painter produced work after work in his studio but his career alongside the Champs Elysee was going nowhere. Then he meets a songwriter, Adam Hochberg. They are searching for love and then the gorgeous dancer Lise Dassin arrives like the sun rising over the Seine River on a warm Paris morning.

 

Shortly afterward, Jerry meets Milo Davenport, a good-looking, rich American art patron who has a deep desire for his paintings and a deeper desire for him. Romance is in the air.

 

Well, yes and no. The story of Jerry and his two women, set to scrumptious music by George and Ira Gershwin, is the heart of the play An American in Paris, with book by Criag Lucas, that just opened at the Westchester Broadway Theater, in Elmsford, New York. It is an enthralling, eye pleasing and tune popping  show featuring several really talented singers and dancers. It gives the audience a wonderful look at the art scene in Paris and a history of post war Paris that was artistically rich but economically wobbly.

 

Everybody remembers the An American in Paris movie, that starred the brilliant singer and dancer, Gene Kelly. It premiered in 1951 and is shown on television frequently (I saw it again two weeks ago). It is a story that has many twists and turns and leaves you with the feeling that all is lost between Jerry and Lise, the love of his life.

 

But wait…..this is a Hollywood musical…

 

I saw An American in Paris on Broadway four years ago. It was a wonderful show. I wanted to see it again, in upstate New York, because the musical is being produced in a very different theater, one with the audience on three sides of the stage, and I wondered how they could stage such a Broadway-perfect musical there. Well, they have.

 

It is surprisingly good, a musical ice cream sundae, with all the toppings. The director of the show,  Richard Stafford, added two small stages  at the sides of the main stage to serve as platforms for vignettes. The play starts on one, with songwriter Hochberg serving as the initial narrator of the story. Later Jerry, on one side stage, falls in love with Lise, on the other, when they meet in a Paris street crowd. It houses other scenes too. Stafford also really spreads out the show as the performers play to all three sides of the audience.

 

The story is simple, yet complex, as all historical tales seem to be. Jerry tries his best to win the heart of ballet fledgling Lise, but cannot. That’s because she has a deep, dark secret, still lingering from the war. He gives up after many efforts to charm her. Milo Davenport, bound and determined to win Jerry’s heart, does everything she can for him and appears to be well on her way down the aisle. But…

 

Audiences  in upstate New York, like audiences everywhere, revel in the gorgeous music of An American in Paris, that includes memorable songs such as  I’ve Got Rhythm, The Man I Love and ‘S Wonderful.  In addition to the music, the play has marvelous choreography, supervised by Stafford as well. The famous seventeen minute long ballet at the end of the play, something Gene Kelly insisted on, ends the show. One complaining member of the audience said that the show “has too much dancing.” Yes, and Muhammad Ali’s fights had too much boxing.

 

There is a lot of history in the play. Milo continually criticizes Parisians who collaborated with the Nazis during the five years of occupation. There is history about the good people of Paris, and France, who hid Jews in their homes and about the resistance fighters that battled the Germans from the shadows. You learn much about the old café days of the 1920s in Paris and the troubled efforts to revive them in 1945.

 

Director Stafford gets superb performances from  Deanna Doyle as dancer Lise,  Tommaso Antico as songwriter Hochberg,  Jonathan Young as Henri Baurel,  and Lauren Sprague as Milo Davenport. The star of the show, though, is the spirited and gifted Brandon Haagenson as Jerry Mulligan. Like Gene Kelly, he dominates the story from start to finish. Haagenson, like Kelly, is a good dancer, actor and singer. He plays the role as his own, though and does not emulate Kelly.

 

An American in Paris is a complicated story of a man who loves a woman. You cheer for lovable Jerry, fear for Milo and Lise and their futures and, most of all, swoon in your chair listening  to Gershwin’s showstopper ‘S Wonderful.

 

After Jerry, LIse and Milo sing and dance their way through the story, you say to yourself, well, Paris will never be the same.

 

Oh, yes it will. Thank God for that.

 

PRODUCTION  The musical is produced by Bill Stutler, Bob Funking and USA TISO. Scenic Design:  Steve Loftus, Costumes:  Keith Nielsen, Lighting: Andrew Gmoser,  Sound: Mark Zuckerman The show is directed and choreographed by Richard Stafford. Joseph Cullinane is the associate choreographer. The show runs through November 24.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173313 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173313 0
Over the Rainbow to Oz Once Again with Judy

 

The Wizard of Oz, that 1939 classic movie, remains one of America’s most popular films and its star, teen Judy Garland, one of our most beloved actresses. What happened to Judy before the movie that launched her career at age 15, though? Was it a typical Hollywood success story? Something different? Mystery?

 

Now the story is being told in a bright, cheerful new musical, Chasing Rainbows, the Road to Oz, that opened last week at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey.

 

The charming show stars Ruby Rakos as Dorothy (Judy’s real name was Frances Gumm), who is nothing short of sensational as Judy, who danced through Oz with the Lion, the Tin Man and Scarecrow. Rakos is not only a delightful actress, but has a knock out, hold on to your hat voice. She’s loud and proud and when she sings she wakes up people in Canada.

 

Chasing Rainbows is Judy’s story from the age of ten or so to the making of the marvelous movie. She is the daughter of a very pushy and greedy stage mother, Ethel Gumm. Like many moms of the era, Ethel travels around on the vaudeville theater circuit with her kids and husband Frank. Wanting more, she settles in Hollywood and shoves the kids into the movies. She leaves Frank, a rock solid, Judy loving dad, back home as she settles in her new home in Hollywood. The girls miss Dad, he misses them and they eventually hook up.

 

Frances Gumm changes her name to Judy Garland, as so many performers changed their names in those days and goes to MGM. Nobody there likes the teenager. From studio head L.B. Mayer on down, they all think she is ugly, too heavy, sings too loud and does not fit in with all the other young actresses whom Mayer considers his stars. Judy calls them all “dolls.” She perseveres and is befriended by Mayer’s secretary, Kay Koverman, who continually pushes for roles.

 

She does not get them. Everybody else becomes famous and Judy winds up as just a singer on a studio radio show with a tiny audience.

 

A lot transpires. Her parents drop off (long story there), others in the studio grab roles she wanted, such as little Shirley Temple, and Judy is distraught. Even sort-of boyfriend Mickey Rooney, with whom she will later make many movies with, can’t get her out of her funk.

 

All of a sudden, here comes The Wizard of Oz, a picture that Mayer produced only because he wanted to top Walt Disney’ Snow White. Judy lands the role of Dorothy and gets to sing her signature song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, that became an American classic (a lot of people at the studio hated the song and originally cut it from the movie, but it was restored).

 

Her history gets battered a bit. There was a lot of tension during the Wizard. Actors came and went, as did a handful of directors. The theme was changed several times, the promotional campaign was solidified and then scrubbed. It’s hard to get through all of this in a play, but the director of Chasing Rainbows, Denis Jones, does it rather smoothly.

 

The show ends with the premier of the movie and you do not learn anything of Judy’s rather tragic adult life, and that’s good. This is a feel-good show about Judy and Oz in 1939 and should end with the actors off to see the Wizard. The move about Judy’s last years, Judy, is playing two blocks from the theater where I saw the play. How ironic is that?

 

The musical is a good one, but has its problems. First, it is way too long, nearly three hours. That’s a lot of time on the yellow brick road. The first act is nearly one and a half hours and director Jones could ax five or six songs from it. All of those songs sound the same and carry the same theme. They could go without hurting the storyline and trim the time nicely.

 

The whole first act is too cluttered with family business and at times you get Judy confused with other members of her family. Mom’s marriage is given little time on stage and that’s too bad. The pace of act one is a bit slow. Act two is just masterful, though. It is the story of the making of the movie and Judy’s growth as an actress, along with her relationship with Rooney. Most of the best songs are in it and the choreography, also by Jones, is delectable.

 

Johns gets a bravura performance from Rakos as Judy. She is electric. He also gets fine performances from Max Von Essen as dad Frank Gumm, Lesli Margherita as mom Ethel, Michael Wartellas a bouncy Mickey Rooney (who was charged, OMG, with being a bad kisser, a charge that got a laugh since Rooney was married eight times), Karen Mason as Kay Koverman. Stephen De Rosa is wonderful as the crusty, grumpy Louis B. Mayer, the movie mogul who struts about the stage and makes history with his emotions and feelings about stars and scripts.

Chasing Rainbows, although a bit long and overly tuneful, is a fine look at Hollywood history and the life of one of its great stars.

 

PRODUCTION: The play is produced by the Paper Mill Playhouse. Sets: Alexander Dodge, Costumes: Linda Cho, Lighting: Japhy Weideman, Sound: Matt Kraus The show is directed and choreographed by Denis Jones. It runs through October 27.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173314 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173314 0
Should We Care About Presidential Age? Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

 

In 2020, America may decide to elect the oldest first term President in its history. Three Democratic candidates will be older than Donald Trump was on Inauguration Day in 2017 and Ronald Reagan was on Inauguration Day in 1981.

 

As I’ve written before, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont will be 79 years and 4 months old by Inauguration Day in 2021 and former Vice President Joe Biden will be 78 years and two months old.  Sanders would be older for his first term than Donald Trump would be at the end of a second term, and Joe Biden would be just three months younger at the beginning of his first term than Trump would be at the end of a second.

 

Age seems even more important after Sanders suffered a heart attack earlier this month. Sanders also had stents put in his heart. In his debate performances and campaign trail appearances, Biden has also showed signs of aging. His mental acuity has seemed off at times and his ideas seem to hearken back to the past rather than the future.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would be 71 years and 5 months at inauguration, making her the third potential President who would be older than Donald Trump was in January 2017 by a full year. Warren would be in her late 70s by the end of a second term in the Oval Office. 

 

Historically, few world leaders have served in their 80s. Most famously, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was 81 years old when he left office in 1955 and he suffered two strokes before he resigned. West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was 87 when he left office in 1963.  Only Adenauer was older than Sanders or Biden would be at the end of a second term in the Presidency in January 2029.

 

Of course, there have been Kings and Emperors who were in office beyond the age of 80.  Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain is 93.  Japanese Emperor Akihito was 85 when he retired earlier this year. Several Popes have reached their 80s in office, including Pope John Paul II who died at age 84; Pope Benedict XVI, who retired at age 85; and the present Pope Francis is 82. But none of these leaders have or had the stress level and burdens of office of an American President.  

 

Ronald Reagan seemed to be declining mentally in his second term.  Many believe Trump has mental issues that may be related to age. One has to be concerned that Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden reaching their 80s early in their first term might be dangerous in theory for the nation. Since Warren would be in her mid-70s at the end of the first term, one has to be similarly concerned.

 

So the issue of age cannot be ignored and it is clear that if Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, or Elizabeth Warren are nominated and elected President in 2020, it is essential to have a much younger, more vibrant and energetic Vice Presidential running mate ready to take the helm in any emergency situation that might arise.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154267 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154267 0
What the Lincoln-Douglas Debates Can Teach Presidential Contenders

 

Political insults and conspiracy theories are nothing new in American history. One election in particular set a standard for nasty charges and countercharges. In the 1858 Illinois senatorial contest, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas hurled insults and half-truths that sound eerily like today’s rhetoric.

 

Today people remember the debates because of Abraham Lincoln, but in 1858 Stephen Douglas was the one constituents came to see. Lincoln began his campaign by following Douglas around the state and challenging him to debate, taking advantage of the crowds who came to see the incumbent. Douglas had little to gain by appearing on the same stage with Lincoln but refusing to debate would have seemed cowardly.

 

The State of Illinois was open and changing rapidly from its frontier beginnings. Census figures show the population more than doubled between 1850 and 1860. Illinois was divided along sectional lines that mirrored the same highly charged atmospheres in the northern, border, and southern states. The northern part of Illinois identified with the antislavery views in New England. Its southern counties had been settled by people from the South who supported the institution of slavery. In the middle counties many people had come from the Border States, hoping to get away from economic competition with wealthy plantation owners. They came to make a better life butdid not view slavery as wrong.

 

Lincoln and Douglas appeared together on seven debate stages and wrangled for a total of 21 hours. Two Chicago newspapers, The Chicago Press & Tribune and Chicago Times published transcripts of the debates within days. Newspapers and public figures across the country felt Lincoln’s and Douglas’s campaign rhetoric predicted what would happen in other political contests around the nation. Lincoln and Douglas did not differ on the economy, infrastructure or other issues concerning voters. Whether slavery could be extended to western territories was the issue that separated the candidates.

 

Their extended discussion helped harden positions on all sides. In the summer of 1858, for example, South Carolina Representative Milledge L. Bonham lamented the loss of Kansas as a slave state and called for one remedy—secession. In October Republican Senator William Henry Seward predicted drastic consequences and an “irrepressible conflict.” Seward went farther than Lincoln, who attacked the institution of slavery when Seward attacked slaveholders as well.

 

Lincoln ultimately lost his bid to become the senator from Illinois, but his performance during the debates raised his national profile. The campaign speecheswere published and became a best-selling book. With continued support from The Chicago Tribune, Lincoln becamethe Republican nominee for president in 1860. A president opposed to an expansion of slavery alarmed southern leaders and the prospect of civil war increased. People moved away from the orderly discussion Lincoln and Douglas had toward violent sectional conflict.

 

In 1994 C-SPAN revived the impact of these debates by producing 22 reenactment events, and Dr. John Splaine wrote a companion book, in which he summarized the candidates’ tactics. Dr. Splaine’s observations can also be applied to modern politicians. Many of the 1858 tactics continue to be heard on the campaign trail. For example:

 

1. Repeat the message many times to create an impression of truth. (Stephen Douglas made arepeated, false claim that Lincoln failed to support troops during the Mexican War.)

 

2. Put the opponent on the defensive (Douglas reminded voters that Lincoln had only served one term as a U.S. Congressman and lacked the experience necessary to become a senator.)

 

3. Throw your opponent’s words back with a new slant (Douglas said Lincoln’s House-Divided speech would cause a war and destroy the South, while Lincoln claimed Douglas was part of a conspiracy to spread slavery across the nation.)

 

4. Turn the tables (Both candidates pushed the other to answer pointed questions.)

 

5. Connect with the audience on a personal level (Lincoln told one crowd he was raised a little east of the town “I am part of this people.”)

 

6. Appeal to the audience’s goodwill.  Atthe sixth debate in Quincy, Lincoln said, “I am not…trying to prove that we [Republicans] are right and they [Democrats] are wrong." Douglas responded, “My friends…Let us…unite as one people throughout the land.

 

7. Ignore it—if you can (Neither candidate refuted allegations when he could get away with remaining silent. Douglas made a virtue of his silence and emphasized how difficult it is to make moral judgments apply in public affairs. He stuck to the opinion the states possessed the only right to act on the issue of slavery but did not defend the institution and tried to remain above the fray. “Let us leave each other alone.”)

 

8. Incite the crowd (Both men insulted his opponent and got the crowd to yell such things as, “hit him again!”)

 

9. Use sarcasm skillfully (The debate texts are dotted with audience interruptions of laughter, cheers, and applause. In one instance, Douglas said Lincoln had been a simple shopkeeper, serving hard liquor, when Douglas had already advanced to teaching school. Lincoln responded that Douglas was one of his best customers.)

 

10. Create fear (Both candidates claimed if the policies of the other were adopted the nation’s worst fears would be realized—trampling on the rights of states, continuing slavery, or causing a war.)

 

The Lincoln-Douglas debates became pivotal moments in national politics, and their lessons are vital today when such tactics are being inflicted upon voters. Douglas used methods that continue to dominate—pageantry, cleverness, wealth, and backing from a political machine.

 

However, there are important differences between then and now. During the 1858 debates both Lincoln and Douglas wanted to avoid dividing the country. Although Lincoln lost the election, he won the future by articulating moral arguments. He continually reminded citizens that the Union was worth saving only when it lives up to the promise of the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln helped people escape the narrow focus of their attention. And both candidates respected the democratic process. They asked voters to sort through mounds of partisan propaganda, forego personal concerns for the sake of one major overriding issue, demand integrity from both sides, and do whatever necessary to understand the issues.

 

 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173289 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173289 0
The Founders’ Furious Impeachment Debate--and Benjamin Franklin’s Modest Proposal

 

The current clash in Congress over whether to impeach the President has extended to more than two centuries the bitter political partisanship that marked eleven previous presidential impeachment inquiries and the 1787 debate in Philadelphia over how to impeach the President.

 

With windows of  Pennsylvania’s State House (now Constitution Hall) sealed to ensure secrecy of the proceedings, the patience of sweltering delegates wore thin as July approached August. In rapid-fire succession, Massachusetts merchant Elbridge Gerry moved that the chief executive “be removable on impeachment and conviction for malpractice or neglect of duty.”* 

 

New York’s Gouverneur Morris scoffed at Gerry’s proposal and moved to strike it. But Virginia’s George Mason riposted, “No point is of more importance than that of the right of impeachment. Shall any man be above Justice…who can commit the most extensive injustice?”

 

As fruitless back-and-forth exchanges turned into a chorus of catcalls, all eyes turned to the venerable Benjamin Franklin for help: 

“What was the practice before in cases where the chief magistrate rendered himself obnoxious?” asked the aging sage rhetorically. With his spectacles balanced precariously near the tip of his nose, he feigned careful thought, then answered his own question: 

Why, recourse was had to assassination in which he was not only deprived of his life but of the opportunity of vindicating his character. It would be the best way therefore to provide in the Constitution for the regular punishment of the Executive where his misconduct should deserve it, and for his honorable acquittal when he should be unjustly accused.

 

As collective laughter filled the hall, tension eased, and Virginia’s diminutive James Madison, a planter’s son, joined the debate:

It is indispensable that some provision be made for defending the community against incapacity, negligence, or perfidy of the chief magistrate. The limitation of the period of his service is not a sufficient security. He might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers.

 

South Carolina planter Charles Cotesworth Pinckney drawled that he could not see “or understand the need for any sort of impeachments.” The power to impeach would allow the legislature to hold “as a rod over the executive and by that means destroy his independence.”

 

Gerry shot up from his seat, barking that impeachments were essential. “A good magistrate will not fear them. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them,” He pleaded with Congress not to adopt “the maxim that the chief magistrate could do no wrong.” 

 

Virginia Governor Edmund Randolph agreed, calling impeachments “a favorite principle with me. Guilt, whenever found, ought to be punished. The executive will have great opportunities of abusing his power, particularly in time of war, when military force and in some respect the public money will be in his hands.”

 

New York’s Gouverneur Morris stood to say that arguments in favor of impeachment had convinced him “of the necessity of impeachments. 

Our executive may be bribed by a greater interest to betray his trust, and no one would say that we ought to expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first magistrate in foreign pay without being able to guard against it by displacing it…. The executive ought to be impeachable for treachery; corrupting his electors, and incapacity. He should be punished not as a man but as an officer and punished only by degradation from his office. 

Morris climaxed his argument with a stirring assertion: “This Magistrate is not the king! The people are the king!”

 

On the question of ”Shall the Executive be removable on impeachment,” six states voted "ay"--Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. South Carolina and Georgia voted "no."

 

But the debate over impeachment had yet to resolve the question of what suspected crimes would be grounds for impeachment and who would try the accused executive. Members of the Convention reached a consensus, defining treason as “levying war against the United States or any of them; and in adhering to the enemies of the United States or any of them,” with at least two witnesses needed to convict. The definition of bribery seemed self-evident and was left without an explicit definition.

 

“Why,” George Mason interrupted, “is the [impeachment] provision restrained to treason and bribery?” Receiving no satisfactory answer, Mason answered his own question by moving to “extend the power of impeachments…to add maladministration.”

 

After Gouverneur Morris suggested that “election every four years will prevent maladministration,” Mason proposed ”high crimes and misdemeanors” instead. Eight states voted for the addition; New Jersey and Pennsylvania voted no. 

 

It was not until September 12 that the Convention approved a final draft of the Constitution, including Section 4 of Article II: “The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” With that, the Convention sent the Constitution to the states for ratification by ratification conventions in each state. 

 

In the months that followed, eight states ratified, leaving only one more needed to establish a new nation. On June 2, 1788, the Virginia ratification convention came to order. Two days later, the legendary Patrick Henry, Virginia’s first governor, roared his objections: “As this government stands, I despise and abhor it. If your American chief be a man of ambition and abilities, how easy is it for him to render himself absolute! 

My great objection to this government is that it does not leave us the means of…waging war against tyrants. The army is in his hands.... the president…can prescribe the terms on which he shall reign master…and what have you to oppose this force? What will then become of you and your rights? 

 

Virginia’s Edmond Pendleton, the 67-year-old planter who chaired the convention, insisted that the proposed Constitution provided ample means to prevent tyranny: “We will assemble in convention” he explained, “recall our delegated powers, and punish those servants who have perverted powers...to their own emolument.” 

 

Henry stared at the old man in disbelief: “O, Sir!” he replied softly. “We should have fine times indeed, if, to punish tyrants, it were only sufficient to assemble the people. Did you ever read of any revolution in any nation, brought about by the punishment of those in power, inflicted by those who had no power at all?” 

 

Virginia’s convention ignored Henry’s objections, however, and voted to ratify the Constitution, but it left unanswered Henry’s question. After 230 years, the question still awaits an answer from Congress. 

 

*All quotations in this article at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia are from The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787,Edited by Max Farrand(New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 4 vols., 1966), II:63-70 (Friday, July 20, 1787) and Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Reported by James Madison(New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co., 1987), 331-336. The Patrick Henry and Edmund Pendleton quotations are from William Wirt Henry, Patrick Henry: Life, Correspondence and Speeches(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891, 3 vols), 2:381-382. 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173296 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173296 0
Rethinking Polygamy: An Interview with Sarah M.S. Pearsall

 

Sarah M. S. Pearsall teaches the history of early America and the Atlantic world at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of the prizewinning Atlantic Families: Lives and Letters in the Eighteenth Century. She lives in Cambridge.

Her latest book is Polygamy: An Early American History (Yale, Press, 2019). Dr. Pearsall answered some questions and elaborated on why marriage is a "building block of societies and empires." 

 

KS: What is the stereotype of polygamy you’re working to correct? 

SP: When Americans think of polygamy, they tend to imagine one of two forms.  One is a harem with scantily-clad women dancing for a tyrannical sultan figure. This is the version they tend to see as an erotic and exotic one.  The other, decidedly less erotic and very much home-grown, is of wives in Little-House-on-the-Prairie pastel dresses and French braids, set against Western mountains, trailing after a husband/leader who seems to have mesmerized his flock into polygamy and a number of other problematic activities.  The first of these images is very old indeed, dating back at least to the sixteenth century.  The other is more recent, stemming initially from polygamy associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons and now with so-called “fundamentalist” offshoots of it (not part of the mainstream LDS Church).  Neither stereotype captures the richness of the many forms which plural marriages have taken.  Both also emphasize the submissiveness and passivity of the wives in ways that are misleading. 

 

KS: In the introduction, you write: "Polygamy controversies place us amid major events in early America because such clashes were about the organization and governance not just of house- holds but of societies, nations, and empires.” This is a very compelling passage. I wonder if you can elaborate a little – how was the structure of marriage such a powerful building block of societies and empires? 

PS: Marriage does so much. To marry or not is a major decision. Whether you are married or not, you know this. Yet, perhaps for that very reason, people often do not think much about it as a structuring system; it feels timeless, underpinning the world as we know it. It brings states, religious authorities, communities, and families into the most intimate of realms, legitimizing children and ordering and transmitting property and inheritance. Sex and reproduction without marriage can be, and often have been, deemed illegitimate, a problem for individuals and society.  With marriage, sex becomes a blessed act, a means of family continuation, and a way of putting new souls into the world to serve dynastic, religious, and political functions.  Marriage also carries responsibilities and privileges, shaping gender, race, and rank.  Who can marry whom, and how their roles are defined within the marriage, are powerfully foundational in any society.  Nations and churches impose their views about which sex and families are legitimate, recognized, and clean, and which are not—or they try to do so anyway.  They do not always succeed.  Contesting changes in marriage forms has often been a way of expressing anxieties about larger social and cultural and religious changes, as seen most recently in same-sex controversies.  These debates have also shown how central the nation-state has become to the regulation of relationships, but that rise was not inevitable.  It was the product of centuries of contests over marriage.  We tend to take certain forms of it as natural.  Until recently, in the western world, that form was one man plus one woman.  Although things are changing, what I call “the infrastructure of monogamy” remains remarkably foundational in American society.  I became interested in those who saw lifelong indissoluble monogamy as the strange novelty in their world, as well as the investments colonial and national powers had in ensuring that their monogamous version of marriage was the only acceptable one. 

 

KS: You deliberately preserve the agency of women in polygamous marriages, writing “Defiant defenses of plural marriage are worth taking seriously, even when—indeed, especially when—they puzzle us so much.” How did you approach taking the beliefs women in plural marriages seriously while also interrogating the patriarchal aspects of not just plural marriages but marriage writ large? 

SP: I followed the women, especially the plural wives, themselves.  Sometimes they surprised me by doing things like defending polygamy.  In trying to figure out why they might have done so, I realized that I gained a new way of understanding their lives and worlds.  Too often people have not listened to the unexpected testimony of these wives.  It’s discomfiting, the idea that this “backwards” form of marriage might have served their needs sometimes.  In addition, the lack of first-person accounts by most of them makes it fatally easy to ignore their perspectives.  Most of the sources we have for these women were left by those keen to stamp out their marriages (missionaries and secular authorities) or by the men who benefitted most obviously from the system themselves.  This situation meant I had to “read against the grain.”  The women themselves lived in these marriages, and they knew firsthand how oppressive they could be.  Yet these women also made lives for themselves and their children, responding to the challenges of change, colonialism, and nation-building in creative and innovative ways.  Increasingly, women across a range of cultures were better able to express their sentiments in lasting ways.  Some of them condemned only polygamy, but some also questioned marriage itself and the ways that it shaped gender relations.  Polygamy for them was not a problematic outlier against a great system of monogamy which is how many male thinkers on polygamy framed it, especially in the age of Enlightenment. For at least some women, polygamy represented merely an extreme version of the inequalities they rightly identified in the monogamous Christian marriages of their day.  

 

KS: Your work is cross-cultural, discussing the differences between how different communities approached polygamy while also emphasizing that this was a broader phenomenon. Why was it so important to you to take a cross-cultural approach? 

SP: “Monogamic marriage,” one political theorist asserted in an American magazine in 1855, was “one of the elementary distinctions…between European and Asiatic humanity,” the very foundation “of our liberty, of our literature, of our aspirations, of our religious convictions” as well as “one of the pre-existing conditions of our existence as civilized white men.”  Race, ethnicity, religion, and culture, as well as gender, have been vital to the history of marriage; this is a big, intersectional story, involving many different kinds of people.  Polygamy has been a code for inferiority, one connected with these variables.  Certain kinds of marriage defined certain kinds of people.  Polygamy claims helped to make modern understandings of race, culture, and religion, in ways which continue to underpin American commitment to “monogamic marriage.”  Yet polygamy has had defenders across all cultures, even among Christian ministers at points.  This is intriguing.  Moreover, examining polygamy reveals a great deal about the role of gender and sexuality in major transitions of colonialism, slavery, and the rise of the nation-state.  I hope that this book helps people to ponder what is “natural” in marriage as well as what “early America” looks like. It was not all pilgrims and planters. It had many faces, languages, and cultures. To investigate how individuals navigated disputes over households helps to illuminate the richness and diversity of early America, with women’s perspectives central.  

 

KS: Finally, how can this book help us understand and think about the state of modern marriage and challenges to it from the increasing popularity of polyamory to the increasing age of first marriages? 

SP: I did not write this book to argue that polygamy should be legalized; I wrote it to show how fundamental marriage, gender, and sexuality have been to larger processes of change and continuity, in ways not always fully appreciated.  Popular perspectives on gender and sexuality have shifted considerably in the last few decades.  It is therefore hardly surprising that marriage, too, has been undergoing alterations.  Polyamory seems an obvious offshoot.  Working on this book, and talking to many people about polygamy, it came to strike me as increasingly strange that people accepted “the infrastructure of monogamy” so unthinkingly.  I hope this book will prompt further reflection on these issues.  To me, it’s good if people think about how best to define marriage, and what its wider meanings are for themselves and their society. Yet, with all the modesty of a historian who mostly thinks about the past, not the future, I might suggest a couple of cautions.  Patriarchal privilege tends to bob to the surface in most systems of marriage; it’s easy to see how polyamory might go down that route.  Second, as queer people learned to their cost and plenty of others over the centuries have, too, living in a family unrecognized by the state, not having privileges of health insurance and next of kin status and inheritance, is a challenging way to live.  We might not all love state authority here (as people divorcing sometimes find), but we should recognize it for what it is: a force that shapes all of our lives, whether we are married or not.  Marriage and its varieties connect individuals with that power, as I have tried to demonstrate in this book.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173295 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173295 0
The Original War on Terror

 

Nunzio Pernicone and Fraser M. Ottanelli, Assassins against the Old Order: Italian Anarchist Violence in Fin de Siècle Europe (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2018), 219 pgs)

 

After an anarchist and former steel worker named Leon Czolgosz assassinated President William McKinley in September 1901, McKinley's successor, Theodore Roosevelt, in his first message to Congress, offered his own characterization of “the anarchist.” It ought to sound familiar to us today.

 

“For the anarchist himself, whether he preaches or practices his doctrines, we need not have one particle more concern than for any ordinary murderer. He is not the victim of social or political injustice. There are no wrongs to remedy in his case.”

 

Roosevelt’s message echoes in the denunciations of Islamic terrorism that have filled the last several decades; it amounts to a denial that any larger context is needed to explain an act of political violence. “No man or body of men preaching anarchistic doctrines,” Roosevelt declared, “should be allowed at large any more than if preaching the murder of some specified private individual. Anarchistic speeches, writings, and meetings are essentially seditious and treasonable.”

 

Any speech that could be labeled anarchist, even if its content was peaceful, was therefore an incitement to violence and a crime. Further, it could be used to justify giving government greater powers and resources to surveille, interdict, and punish any political competitor. As “enemies of the State” have continued to appear over the last century-plus, the State has continued to accumulate new powers and capabilities: to emerge stronger from every attempt to challenge its authority. 

 

The assassination of McKinley, and Roosevelt’s thunderous response, came at the tail end of the spasm of politically motivated killings, or attentats, that’s covered in Assassins against the Old Order (University of Illinois Press), an excellent new study by Nunzio Pernicone and Fraser M. Ottanelli. Pernicone, the great historian of Italian and Italian-American anarchism, died in 2013; Ottanelli, the author of several works on Italian migration and the U.S. Left, completed his work. Their book attempts to restore the larger political context to late-19th century anarchist violence, much of it perpetrated by Italians, by surveying the history and then focusing on six sensational cases. Along the way, they tell an engrossing if tragic story of human suffering, oppression, rage, and revenge.

 

Their conclusion turns the table on Roosevelt’s: “Anarchist violence was essentially retaliatory violence precipitated by government repression.” In fact, they show, the origins of anarchist violence weren’t even in anarchism itself, but in the tactical doctrines of the Risorgimento, the nationalist struggle for Italian unification that, ironically, had earlier captured the imagination of liberals in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere.

 

“Propaganda of the deed,” the notion that individual acts of violence, including the assassination of tyrants and reactionary politicians was necessary to spark a revolutionary outbreak, was articulated by Carlo Pisacane, a companion of Mazzini, the father of the Risorgimento; Pisacane died trying to launch an insurrection in the Kingdom of Naples in 1857. His landing in the kingdom was celebrated in a poem by Luigi Mercantini that was translated into English by Longfellow; the date of his abortive rising is marked every year by a three-day festival in the Campanian town of Sapri.

 

Pisacane's death was the end point of a period when Italian nationalists carried out a string of attentats, including the stabbing of one of Pope Pius IX's ministers (1848), the fatal stabbing of Duke Carlo III of Parma (1854), and an attempt on the life of King Fernandino II of Naples (1856).  

 

How did assassination then enter the toolkit of Italian anarchists? In the decades following Italian unification in 1870, “anarchism appealed to Mazzinian democrats disillusioned with the outcome of the Risorgimento, who increasingly conceived of their struggle in terms of social revolution,” Pernicone and Ottanelli write. If the attentat could serve the cause of national liberation, it could serve the new social struggle as well. Italian anarchists “established a direct linkage that was never broken between anarchism and the legacy of violence embedded in the revolutionary traditions of the Risorgimento.”

 

The early decades of Italian unification are often portrayed as a period of gradual political liberalization and economic expansion, but Pernicone and Ottanelli set the record straight. These years were punctuated by severe depressions, with relief for big landowners but no social safety net to alleviate the suffering in the countryside or the cities; worker unrest and uprisings; and government by a tightly restricted political class desperate to dampen the popularity of the socialist and anarchist movements.

 

Italy, in other words, was a highly combustible place that gave leftists plenty of reason to lash out and very little opportunity to express themselves in a mainstream-permissible manner. Assassinations were far from the only way that impoverished people, rural and urban, expressed their unhappiness. From their point of view, the most important events of the period were an attempted general strike in Rome in 1891 (“as a precautionary measure, the police deported 8,000 unemployed workers back to their hometowns”) and a series of rebellions that extended from Tuscany into Sicily; the unrest in the latter ended only when the government declared a state of siege and sent 40,000 troops to occupy the island.

 

But as in Mazzini’s time, political killings appealed to people, many of whom were marginal to the anarchist movement itself, as a way to focus the outrage of the masses on the figures at the top of the social, economic, and political order and thereby encourage wider uprisings.

 

Six of these sensational acts form the core of Pernicone and Ottanelli’s story:

  • The attempted assassination of Italian Prime Minister Francesco Crispi by a 25-year-old unemployed carpenter, Paolo Lega (1894);
  • The fatal stabbing of French President Sadi Carnot eight days later by Sante Geronimo Caserio, a baker and anarchist propagandist;
  • The attempted killing of Italy’s King Umberto I by Pietro Acciarito, an unemployed blacksmith, in 1897;
  • The assassination of Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Cánovas the same year by Michele Angiolillo, an ex-officer cadet and the only one of the group who wasn’t working-class in origin; 
  • The assassination of Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1898 by Luigi Lucheni, a desperately poor laborer, ex-soldier, and ex-manservant; and finally,
  • The murder of King Umberto in 1900 by Gaetano Bresci, a weaver who had become an anarchist while living in Paterson, New Jersey before returning to Italy.

 

“Anarchists were but an expression of a long-established tradition of tyrannicide in Italian history,” Pernicone and Ottanelli conclude, tapping into a popular image of the giustiziere: one who kills a despot for the common good. Almost by definition, a giustiziere is a lone actor who performs the deed out of a sense of duty. The authors stress that none of the six cases “conform to the contemporary definitions of terrorism, with its emphasis on the slaughter of innocents.”

 

But that didn’t stop the authorities from attempting over and over, in the trials of the assassins, to prove that each one was part of a larger plot. In particular, they were determined to implicate Errico Malatesta, Italy’s most famous anarchist, who in fact had always stressed insurrection over assassination as the path to a new society. The vendetta against Malatesta reached a bizarre height in 1901, when the Interior Ministry suspected that he had formed a plot with ex-Queen Maria Sofia of Naples, known for her implacable hatred of the House of Savoy, to liberate Bresci and possibly assassinate the new king, Vittorio Emanuele III.

 

The authorities were utterly ruthless in their efforts to indict the entire anarchist movement of these crimes, despite the fact that Italian anarchism was beginning a long decline and the mainstream Socialists were gathering strength; Pernicone and Ottanelli suggest that the government knew this and that its real objective was to discredit the Socialists and justify a crackdown on opposition politicians and press. The preferred instrument was domicilio coatto: imprisonment or exile to one of a string of squalid islands off the coast; anarchists got so used to the latter treatment that they came to refer to these penal colonies, mordantly, as the “health islands.”

 

To get them there, or to the scaffold, the government wouldgo to any length. In Caserio’s trial, the French judge tried again and again to get him to admit he was “the agent of an anarchist plot.” Each time, the defendant replied, “No, I am alone.” 

 

Prosecutors hatched a ruse to convince Acciarito that he had a son living with the prisoner’s mother and that his refusal to cooperate, implicating other anarchists in the attempted murder of Umberto, was condemning them to poverty. When the truth came out, Acciarito dramatically denounced the prosecutors in court, provoking outrage in the press. He was nevertheless sentenced to solitary confinement, after which he was consigned to an asylum for the criminally insane until his death almost 40 years later.

 

Bresci’s assassination of Umberto was of course the greatest of the attentats; in its effort to prove a plot originating in the U.S., the Italian government pressured Washington, now presided over by that avowed enemy of anarchism, Theodore Roosevelt, to launch a massive investigation that eventually involved the Secret Service, the Justice Department, the Post Office, and the U.S. Marshals Service. “Not a trace of a plot [was] discovered by federal agents,” Pernicone and Ottanelli note. Bresci was confined to a fortress prison on the island of Elba, where he was found hanged in his cell, likely in a staged suicide.

 

From the beginning, there were two facets to governments’ response to anarchist violence. On one hand, as embodied in Roosevelt’s speech, they wanted the public to regard political assassinations as not political at all, but the acts of depraved, bestial individuals; on the other, they asked the courts to tie the murderers together in a vast political conspiracy. These two approaches were not really consistent with one another, but they served the purpose of demonizing anarchists both as individuals and as a movement. 

 

One prominent figure, the historian Guglielmo Ferrero, argued for something different. Why not establish “an effective police force to keep tabs on extremists and [extend] greater political liberty to the anarchists, which would encourage them to channel their ideas and frustrations into nonviolent avenues of expression”? But there was as much chance of the government adopting such policies “as of Mt. Etna ceasing its eruptions,” the authors conclude.

 

The end of the comparatively short period of anarchist attentats coincideed with the rise of the parliamentary Socialists and an organized labor movement in Italy, and probably had more to do with these developments than with the government’s brutal crackdown. But it forms part of the dynamic noted at the beginning of this review, and that continues to this day: the exploitation of acts of political violence to strengthen the hand of the State. The brutal San Stefano prison, where Bresci may have been murdered, has its analogy in Guantanamo; Italy’s string of island penal colonies in the CIA’s global chain of hidden prison and torture facilities; and the repressive “exceptional laws” that the Crispi government passed in the wake of the attempt on the prime minister’s life in the passage of the Homeland Security Act following the 9/11 attacks in the U.S.

 

As in that earlier period, proving that the perpetrators are part of a larger conspiracy beyond sharing a common ideology, has mostly proven difficult. Once again, the State has the option of addressing the root causes of political violence, or lashing back with new methods of repression. Again, it has chosen the latter.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173294 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173294 0
The Moral Compass of America’s Most Distinguished Soldier and Statesman

 

Although he was a career Army officer and “the architect of victory” in World War II, George Marshall’s name today is best known for an act of peace: the launching of a massive European aide program in 1948. The success of the Marshall Plan (which cost more than $100 billion in today’s dollars) earned him the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize.   

 

In his new biography, George Marshall, Defender of the Republic, David L. Roll provides a revealing portrait of the man who served prominently in World War I and guided U.S. strategy in World War II and the early stages of the Cold War. 

 

David Roll, an attorney and author of two other books on World War II leaders, The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler and Louis Johnson and the Arming of America, has meticulously researched archives across the U.S. and in the U.K. Roll significantly expands on the three previous biographies of Marshall and in a few cases, contradicts some of their conclusions. For example, he debunks the myth that Marshall had a “feud” with General Douglas MacArthur.

 

Roll’s biography is in some ways a nostalgic look at a time of American greatness and a reminder of how effective our tradition of civilian oversight of the military can be when it is run by mature leaders who subordinate their own interests to those of the American republic. Without stating it directly, the book offers a startling contrast to the present, when a narcissistic president routinely dismisses senior military advisors who dare to disagree with him. 

 

Marshall was appointed Army Chief of Staff by President Roosevelt on September 1, 1939, the same day Hitler invaded Poland. As a top planner for General Pershing in World War I, Marshall was horrified by the drastic cuts his beloved Army endured in the postwar years. He was initially suspicious of Roosevelt, whom he viewed as a cunning politician, unwilling to take on the unpopular (and expensive) effort of building up the U.S. military. 

 

In May 1940, with Hitler poised to conquer France, Congress cut $10 million from a desperately needed military appropriation. Marshall quickly went to the White House and bluntly told Roosevelt, “You’ve got do something and you’ve got to do it now.” 

 

Roosevelt often recoiled from specific demands, and some of the President’s aides were shocked by Army chief’s boldness. But Roosevelt respected Marshall’s candor and immediately committed to a major increase in military spending. 

 

In 1942, a dark year of many Allied defeats, Roosevelt came under repeated pressure from Winston Churchill to withdraw the beleaguered U.S. Army forces in the Pacific and send them to the European theater. Marshall resisted, insisting America must be able to fight on two fronts. FDR supported him and MacArthur’s forces were built up and soon claimed a series of victories. 

 

In late 1943, when it became time to appoint the supreme commander of the long planned Allied invasion of Europe, Roosevelt hesitated. Churchill and Joseph Stalin, who worked with Marshall and valued his experience, suggested naming him to the job. Although Marshall wanted the high-profile position, Roll finds he refused to put himself forward.  Roosevelt wavered, at first telling aides that we would name Marshall because “he is entitled to establish his place in history as a great general.” 

 

In the end, he chose Dwight Eisenhower, who had led the led the successful invasion of North Africa. Roosevelt explained his final decision by saying he couldn’t sleep at night if Marshall was not in Washington.  Marshall was deeply disappointed but never complained and immediately gave his full support to Eisenhower, a man whom he had earlier promoted from a low-level job. 

 

After the Allied victory over Germany, American troops were rapidly withdrawn from Europe. In 1946-7, as Stalin tightened his grip on his eastern European conquests, the western European nations, still suffering from wartime destruction, experienced high unemployment and food shortages. Marshall, now serving as President Truman’s Secretary of State, realized that the U.S. would have to launch a massive aid program for them to resist Communism. 

 

He asked key aides, including Charles Bohlen and George Kennan, to draft a plan for him to present to Truman and the Congress. He outlined the plan in a famous speech delivered at Harvard on June 5, 1947. It was immediately supported by leaders in Great Britain and France. Aides to President Harry Truman, recognizing its potential political dividends, wanted to label it the Truman Plan. However, Truman wisely noted that both houses of Congress were controlled by Republicans; if any major spending proposal named after him was sent up, it would soon die.  

 

He told his political advisor Clark Clifford, “I’ve decided to give the whole thing to General Marshall.”

 

Truman said that if it was named the Marshall Plan, even “the worst” Republicans in Congress would have to vote for it. 

 

Although Marshall is today remembered across the globe for his leadership and self-sacrifice, Roll notes that in 1950-51, when he served as Secretary of Defense, his reputation came under serious attack by Senator Joseph McCarthy. The Wisconsin Republican accused him of being part of a “great conspiracy” which was responsible for the victory of Communists in China. He also claimed Marshall was a defeatist who could have quickly ended the Korean War, but instead managed an unnecessary “slaughter” of American boys.  

 

The harassment by McCarthy and others on the Republican far right convinced Marshall that after a lifetime of service, it was time to retire. He resigned from Truman’s cabinet in 1951, aged 71.  He then lived a quiet life on his rural Virginia estate, riding horses and gardening. He died in 1959 after series of debilitating strokes.  

 

Roll concludes his biography by quoting a proverb, “if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

 

With that as a yardstick, we can see how Marshall’s honesty and modesty were a key to his success, and how our current national leadership is so sorely lacking in those essential qualities.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173290 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173290 0
International Resistance in World War 2 Europe

 

While national histories of wartime resistance are plentiful, the European dimension of the shadow army has rarely been taken into account. Doing so makes it possible to write a comparative history that considers resistance as a global phenomenon, minimizing national frames and underlining the interrelations between groups, institutions and organizations of the countries concerned. 

 

The Resistance in Western Europe (Columbia UP, 2019)  aims to do exactly that for World War II resistance activities in Occupied Western Europe. Drawing on the materials from  the National Archives (Kew, UK) andthe National Archives and Records Administration (College Park, MD), it explains how the Anglo-Americans attempted, between 1940 and 1945, to support the underground forces in Western Europe. Until 1943, The US, however, played a limited part. Their secret services, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was young (it had been created in June 1942) and they mainly relied upon British expertise. They were not popular, as the anti New Dealers suspected them to reinforce the State and to give Roosevelt dangerous powers. The burden, to sum up, was mainly carried on by London. 

 

Six Western European countries--Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, France and Italy—were chosen. They were very different. Norway had a regular government in exile while Italy, for example, fought on the Axis side. But in all these six countries, the Anglo-Americans tried to strengthen the Resistance movements, hoping, in the Italian case, that they could overthrow Mussolini. I hence argue that almost as soon as the war began the British considered internal resistance in the occupied countries of Western Europe an essential part of their strategy. 

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill knew that his nation’s ground forces, gutted in 1940, would not return to the old continent any time soon. The British Navy and the Air Force could play a role, but only in the medium term.That left the resistance which he hoped would yield promising dividends. 

 

To structure and root the army of the shadows, the British relied on had three means of action which historians of the period often discuss separately: propaganda; the efforts of their own secret services to help the resisters; and recognition from the governments in exile. In fact, they worked in tandem. Propaganda, for example, encouraged people to rise up, special services armed and directed the crowds; while support from an exiled power helped legitimize the revolt – and vice versa. The Danish resistance, for example, suffered for a long time from the implicit support given by the Foreign Office to Christian IX. For if Denmark supported the Nazi war effort, particularly through its agriculture, the King never fell into the shameless collaboration of the Vichy regime.

 

Convinced that the oppressed peoples would soon revolt on their own, the British believed the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a Secret Service devoted to Action (and not to collect intelligence) could just stoke the flame. They reckoned without the Nazis who quickly and violently squelched any sign of rebellion. Following two failed rebellions in 1941, the Dutch opposition to the Nazis’ anti-Semitic policy and the French miners’ strike, the British adopted a more modest strategy for the general populace of work slowdowns and the avoidance fraternization with the enemy. At the same time, they encouraged those in resistance units to act which they did before and after D-Day in 1944. The British General Staffs, however, refused a widespread uprising which would end in a bloodbath. 

 

Even as they encouraged resistance abroad, Allied proponents of resistance faced resistance from their own people. In the US and the UK, the military hierarchy did not believe in subversive warfare. Airmen preferred strategic bombardment rather than allotting aircraft to drop containers of ammunitions and radio operators. Governments in exile were sometimes uncooperative: either they jealously guarded their sovereignty, as CharlesDe Gaulle did, or they refused, as the Belgians did, to let SOE engage insabotage which could lead to severe reprisals. Relations between the British and the Americans were also complicated. The Americans began to suspect the British to act in an unfiredly way from 1943 onwards. In the French case, they, for example, claimed to help the Resistance but said nothing about the American help. This attitude could endanger the American-French relations after the war, a datum which lead the American staff to increase their own dorrping of weapons in 1944. 

 

These obstacles, however, were gradually eliminated. By 1943, the resistance was playinga role in military operations. In Italy, Partisans fixed six German divisions in the North. In Belgium, the resistance, supported by the British London, helped 30,000-50,000 draft dodgers to escape compulsory labor. In France, the resistance hindered the transport of reinforcements to Normandy after D-Day.

 

Despite their successes, the resistance had many failures. In France, for example, de Gaulle had supported thepowerful maquis, hoping the French couldfree some parts of their territory without Allied assistance. But the resistance-only battles of Vercors, Mont-Mouchet, and Saint-Marcel ended in bloodbaths.The success of the Paris uprising was largely due to French and American regular troops.  

 

As the war neared its end, the Anglo-Americans feared the secret armies they had supported---and in some cases had created---would create political disorder. The Communists could launch a revolution; resistance groups could oppose governments in exile or a civil war would break out between resisters and collaborators.None of these fears became reality. In fact, Stalin was not anxious to launch a revolution in Western Europe. He therefore encouraged the Communists to play the game of national unity. According to him, victory on Germany prevailed. And many resisters, even if they were reluctant toward the Old Parties were not ready to begin a civil war to impose violently their dreams. While they made mistakes by maintaining traditional but discredited powers such asor King Victor Emmanuel in Italy, the Allies bridged the gap between resistance groups and their governments.In Italy, for example, the Allied signed in December 1944 an agreement with the resisters who were still under the German yoke. Their representatives, the Comititato di Liberazione Nazionale Alta Italia (CNLAI) would recognizethe Roman Government; but the Government in exchange was considered as the legal representative of the Government in the North. The Italian Government agreed with this formula and signed an agreement with the CNLA on 26 December 1944.

 

Clearly the Anglo-American support for resistance in Western Europe wasessential to the Allies’ victory. Yet this contribution has been forgotten or discussed in a piecemeal fashion. "Memories were short and the French would very soon forget what had been done for them and might be more inclined to remember things that had not been done,” sadly noted the British Embassy in Parisin June 1945. They were perfectly right. But history has now to prevail on memory. 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173293 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173293 0
RetroReport is Building a Living Library of Modern News Events

 

RETRO REPORT on PBS, a new one-hour magazine format series hosted by journalist Celeste Headlee and artist Masud Olufani and featuring New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz, airs on Monday and Tuesdays this October (check local listings) on PBS, pbs.org and the PBS App. Presented by Georgia Public Broadcasting and produced by Retro Report, a non-profit organization whose mission is to arm the public with a complete picture of today’s most important stories, the series offers viewers a fresh perspective on current headlines, revealing their unknown — and often surprising — connections to the past. The series continues Mondays and Tuesday nights, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET through Tuesday, October 29. 

 

Kyra Darnton is the executive producer of Retro Report. She came to Retro Report from CBS News, 60 Minutes, where she produced stories covering everything from the Mexican drug war to counterfeit prescription drugs to the cover up in the death of US Ranger Pat Tillman. Her investigative reporting and storytelling has won multiple awards, including, most recently, a 2012 Peabody Award for a piece exposing fraud in cancer clinical trials. Kyra has worked in broadcast journalism for 20 years.

 

HNN editor Kyla Sommers interviewed Kyra over the phone about the unique aspects of television and the value of history in the news today. The interview has been edited for clarity.

 

KS: What inspired you to create the show? 

 

KD: RetroReport is a six year old nonprofit news organization whose mission is to bring context to the current news and headlines. We help people understand that we’ve been here before and that there are lessons from history that can be applied today. So that’s been our philosophy since we launched. We mostly focused on short form videos because we really felt that they were the perfect length to be digestable but also substantive enough. One or two minute social video media didn’t feel like it would in-depth enough.

 

We spend six months, sometimes more, reporting and we have a staff of about 22 people who dig into original documents when they’re available—maybe not your kind of historical docuemnts because it’s mostly modern news events. We try to track down all the people who were first-hand witnesses and interview as many as much as we can and then craft them into a compelling narrative. We have a staff of reporters and then also documentary style film editors that help us tell the story using original archival footage, interview footage, and other things that we’ll gather using a contemporary lens.

 

We’ve been doing this for six years but the idea around the PBS show was really could we come up with a magazine style format where we have 4 different topics and each one covers something that is relevant to today but looks back through the lens of history to help you understand things better. One example is understanding our addiction to social media by looking at the work of B.F. Skinner and variable reward theory. The show gives you enough context to understand the nature of addiction as you’re refreshing your Twitter feed. So we’re picking simple stories and simple narratives and the twists and turns to different topics and putting it together into a show. Each episode features four different topics and then there’s a short humorous end piece which humorist Andy Borowitz writes and narrates. Andy's segment is similar in that it’s over archival footage and discusses things that happened in the past. It’s like a funny version of RetroReport. 

 

KS: So is each episode centered on a theme or is it disparate topics? 

 

KD: It’s different toipcs. It coud be a story on immigration, a story on sexual harassment, a story on artificial intelligence, and recycling. We are trying to find themes that are relevant to today and then find a narrative that connects the past to the present. We thought a lot about the mix and tried to make sure that the topics feel like they go together and are complementary but you also don’t want to have four really depressing stories. You’re trying to mix it so they’re not all going to be tragic history because it’d be really painful. 

 

KS: How did you select the topics when you were initially planning? Were there certain things that were especially important for you to cover or was it most important to appeal to a broad audience with a mix of sociological, technological, and political topics? 

 

KD: I was focused on thinking about what is most relevant to today because that’s what I think makes the show different. We really try to be clear about how something in the past is still impacting us and relevant today. There were a variety of topics we wanted to do but we tried to pick the things that people are thinking about and care about and that feel relevant to our lives.

 

I always tell the story that when we first started we were obsessed with Mad Cow Dieses because it had happened and had a huge impact in the past and we were all so worried about what would happen. The story was about the passage of time but we couldn’t come up with what made it relevant. When you’re spending this much time and energy looking back at soemthing I thnk we really want to be clear and sure that we could forward our understanding of something for today. Which as an aside is what I love about what you do too—it’s ingratined in your work –which is helping people understand and gain perspective from historians who study and cover the past which I think is essential. 

 

KS: Thank you! I know that the show focuses on history—using a lot of history—but it’s also very interdisciplinary. I’m curious how you interact with different disiplines and the different ways  that different scholars approach topics to weave it together into one story or narrative. 

 

KD Well, it’s for a general audience. I think depending on the topic our reporters will speak to as many people as possible while they’re reporting but it’s often not very in depth in the scholarship in the way that I historian might. We foucus much more on revisiting the events that happened and trying to understand what they mean. 

 

There’s often a level of media criticsm in our stories, either overtly or under the surface. When you go back and revisit a news event, you find that often the story was originally reported in a kind of frenzy. Science and the media don’t always understand an event the same way and that difference can take a while to play out.

 

So, one of my favoreite examples of this is nuclear winter. It was a theory that the impact of a nuclear war would have these huge climatic effects and that really became part of the dialogue during the Cold War. What happened next is really interesting to me and I won’t give it away but we look back at the science and ask, what does the passage of time tell us about these theories? Sometimes obviously you have historians or scientists with different news and we try as best we can to explain both sides. The passage of time can really help us understand an event in a much more clear way than the frenzy of the immediate news.

 

The hardest part of these stories is actually trying to distill history in a couple of sentences or a couple of moments. We have a very robust fact-checking process and we’ll sometimes spend five hours debating how to phrase one line because we know that what we’re doing is taking this huge body of research and summarizing it. But, again, because it’s for a general audience it’s often making helping to make the connection between present and past. 

 

KS: I always tell my students that sometimes writing a paragraph can be one of the hardest thigns to do. You think writing a 25 page paper would be harder but condesning a 25 page paper into a paragraph is a very tricky type of writing. 

 

KD: You totally get it, that’s exactly right. And that is the problem of telelvision too-- it's a medium that really distills things in a short form. But I think television is the way so many people interact with the world so it’s really important. And there’s also the power of seeing, using this archival footage to see things that you remember or misremember or that you never experienced and to get to see them now. I think that’s part of the value too. We think of these stories as building a living library of modern news events. I should mention that we update them as things change over time. The ultimate goal of the project is to have this really robust digital living library of modern news events for future historians to use and interact with. 

 

KS: Wow. That’s powerful. You’ve touched on this a bit, but for myself editing the History News Network and for a lot of other historians, we’re so focused on the written word and there’s often pretty unlimited space for how long a book can be. It’s definitely not the hard cut-off of an episode of telelvision. With television, did that alter the topics that you selected and change the preparation process? 

 

KD: It doesn’t at all because it takes what we were already doing: distilling these really complicated topics and helping people connect to them. I hope it goes without saying, but if not I’ll say it: I don’t think a ten minute video can replace an amazing work of scholarship or even often a long in-depth journal article or historical paper. But what I do think is that it can help people really connect to history and get why it’s important. It can actually be a sort of gateway drug to learn more about these topics. So if you don’t know anyting about the Cold War and you hear about it during a story on nuclear winter in connection to climate change and geoengineering today, I think it expands your perception and your world view and makes you want to learn more. I think what we’re often doing is introducing the fundamental notion and then the hope is that people will seek out more content and scholarship on these toipcs. 

 

KS: Absolutely. You discussed reviewing old news footage and realizing how the coverage of topics has changed over time and that there's often an initial journalistic frenzy. After putting together a season of this show, what is the biggest lessons you’ve taken away for journalistic best practices in reporting on new events and it holding up over time? 

 

KD: It’s such a good question and it’s such an important question. There are so many lessons but the biggest one is to embrace the passage of time and not be so quick to feel like you have to know what everything means right away. I think there is so much in the reporting process and how we get our news today that is broken. People see a headline on Twitter and think they understand an issue and that’s really a problem. I think it's important to bake the context in and helping your readers or viewers understand not just what the latest headline is but also the context for how we got here and the bigger historical picture. It helps you understand where we are and also can provide a level of calm in this frenzied age. You just realize that we’ve been here before in many ways and I think it’s more important than ever to really understand that. 

 

KS: That's so true. These past few weeks especially, it feels like if you go away from Twitter for a few hours and then come back, it feels like everything has shifted and it takes 30 minutes to catch up. 

 

KD: I think that way of expecting people to interact with the news, to constantly be reading everything and know everything, I thnk it causes people to turn off and be less informed and less engaged. So I hope that the value of brining context through these hopefully compelling stories is to get people to think a little differently about the world. I hope we get them to think, what is the history and how did we get here? What am I missing, how can I step back and take a breath? I think that’s one of the most important things that we could do. And in general I think historians are doing a great job—historians on Twitter even are helping people add context to where we are. I think that’s more important now than it has been previously.

 

KS; Well, thank you so much and I look forward to watching RetroReport which airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 9 ET on PBS.  

 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173297 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173297 0
Author Christian Di Spigna Is On a Mission to Honor a Revolutionary War Hero

 

“I’m going to get right into it because there’s so much to tell!”  Christian Di Spigna is a man on a mission.  Most public speakers start with pleasantries.  They thank sponsors, greet friends in the audience, ease into substance.  Not this one!

 

Di Spigna, a Colonial Williamsburg-based expert on the American Revolution’s prehistory, spent twenty years unearthing Dr. Joseph Warren’s full story since Warren, whom British troops killed and mutilated in 1775’s Bunker Hill battle a year before the Declaration of Independence, “had never gotten his due.”  Speaking 244 years later at the Brooklyn Historical Society, Di Spigna who’s written a book, delivers.

 

“Here was a man who did so much and has become largely forgotten,” he asserts from the stage.  “The Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s epic midnight ride, and the Battle of Bunker Hill loom large as monumental incidents that launched the country’s birth, discussed in countless history books.  But most of those books fail to mention the role of Dr. Joseph Warren, the revolutionary pillar of that watershed epoch.  I tried to revive his story and present an accurate portrayal of his life and death as best I could.”  

 

Di Spigna’s Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Lost Hero, published last year, succeeds.

 

“Before George Washington, before Thomas Jefferson, even before Alexander Hamilton, there was Joseph Warren,” the Wall Street Journal declares.  “A British commander once called him ‘the greatest incendiary in all America.’”  Christian Di Spigna has produced a gripping biography.”

 

Pulitzer Prize-winning historians Eric Foner and Joseph J. Ellis endorse it, respectively, as “an important contribution” to “bring Warren to life again as the prominent partner of Samuel Adams in leading American resistance to British imperialism in the decade before the first shots were fired.”

 

Sixty-one artifact and image slides frame the author’s lecture.  Facts and style features so struck me that evening that I went two nights later to Manhattan’s historic Fraunces Tavern Museum – where Washington bade farewell to his generals -- to witness  Di Spigna’s performance once more. 

 

Warren was an eloquent, persuasive polemicist. Enlightenment ideals of “social contracts” and “natural rights” infuse Warren’s 1774 Suffolk Resolves”  two years before Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence applied them.

 

“That the late acts of the British parliament for blocking up the harbor of Boston, for altering the established form of government in this colony (Massachusetts), and for screening the most flagitious violators of the laws of the province from a legal trial, are gross infractions of those rights to which we are justly entitled by the laws of nature, the British constitution, and the charter of the province,” one of its nine grievances, foreshadows Jefferson’s format. 

 

That “delegates of every town and district in the county of Suffolk” chose Warren to produce a report that would place them in peril proves that peers accorded the highest regard to this erstwhile physician. The document’s likeness to Richard Henry Lee’s 1766 Leedstown Resolves in Virginia suggests the chronological and geographical range of Warren’s political antenna stretched far beyond the Bay Colony.

 

Warren was a compelling speaker in substance and style.  His 1772 Boston Massacre Oration based constitutional law in the Roman Republic’s “Twelve Tables” and the Enlightenment’s ideals, precedents for the “Glorious Revolution” that in 1645 granted rights to all British subjects.  His five-page legal brief weighs whether parliamentary and royal decrees have preserved or violated those rights in America.  Colonial resistance to British “imperialism” is, he finds, imperative.

 

Rome “degenerated into tyrants and oppressors, her senators forgetful of their dignity, and seduced by base corruption, betrayed their country, her soldiers, regardless of their relation to the community, and urged only by hopes of plunder and rapine, unfeelingly committed the most flagrant enormities; and hired to the trade of death, with relentless fury they perpetrated the most cruel murders…Thus the empress of the world lost her dominions abroad…became an object of derision and a monument of this eternal truth, that public happiness depends on a virtuous and unshaken attachment to a free constitution.” British rule, having broken this compact, will ruin us, Warren warns.

 

Close your eyes, open your ears, pretend to hear” the roar of a Boston crowd that the Stamp Act, Quartering Act and Boston Massacre have already aroused.  Our path is clear, Warren cries out: rebellion!

 

“May our land be a land of liberty, the seat of virtue, the asylum of the oppressed, a name and a praise in the whole earth, until the last shock of time shall bury the empires of the world in one common undistinguished ruin!”  Boston citizens, whom precedent guides and rhetoric persuades, will heed his command.

 

Yet Warren, more than mere orator, orchestrated revolutionary acts through the Sons of Liberty and Committee on Safety, as Di Spigna makes clear.

 

“Dr. Warren coordinated a massive intelligence network to stay abreast of British troop movements.  He sent Paul Revere with the Suffolk Resolvesto the First Continental Congress and assigned him to make that famous midnight ride.  John Adams wrote in his diary that General Warren kept hassling me about going to the political meetings, but I didn’t want to get involved.”

 

Di Spigna distills twenty years’ research into a minute speech plus discussion. Facts fall like rain from his lips as he barrels along; clock’s ticking!  He sheds light on launching his quest when I ask.

 

“I found ‘Stories of General Warren’ in a bookstore when my wife and I missed a ferry to Block Island on vacation.  I didn’t know him at all then but reading other books about the American Revolution taught me to question what I’d already learned through the years.”

 

Vowing to tell Warren’s full story, Di Spigna, whom Eric Foner encouraged, went all out.

 

“When you start writing about something you have to go to the places and get a feel for it, experience it, see what these people actually saw,” he explained.  I scribbled that in my notebook; days later I still “heard” him say that, so I sent him my question: why, in this case, was that necessary; hadn’t centuries of commerce and industry irreparably altered the scene?

 

“It can be challenging to reimagine landscapes and history that has shifted and changed over the years,” he answered, “but there are vestiges of the colonial era in Boston.  Maps, prints, drawings, and certain photographs can help piece together the ancient landscape.”  Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, “as close as we can get to strolling through an eighteenth-century town,” he added, enhanced memories of what he saw and felt in Boston.

 

Fragments of diaries and medical ledgers the author sought and bought at auctions and displayed in slides filled out the jigsaw puzzle his research completes.  

 

Founding Martyr: The Life of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Lost Hero, honors its subject and tireless author.  His presentation earned standing ovations – and moved me -- both times.  

 

Mission accomplished!

 

                                                                    

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173292 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173292 0
Trump and A History of Presidential Anti-Semitism

 

In August, Donald Trump tweeted that Jewish Americans who vote for a Democrat are guilty of ignorance or “great disloyalty: “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” Many commentators wrote that this assertion echoed the anti-Semitic trope that Jewish Americans have “dual loyalty” to Israel. 

 

Donald Trump is certainly not the first president tainted by anti-Semitic feelings, but as is often the case with Trump, he goes further in a manner and direction distinctively different from his predecessors. 

 

The first president, George Washington, made a good-will visit to Newport, Rhode Island, home of the Touro Synagogue, in August 1790. The legislatures of the neighboring states of Connecticut and Massachusetts were debating whether to ratify the amendments later known as the Bill of Rights that included freedom of religion. Washington, an adept politician, hoped that a visit to Rhode Island emphasizing religious freedom would turn the tide in favor of the passage of the Bill of Rights in the neighboring states.

 

Three days later, Washington wrote a letter to the Touro Synagogue in which he said, “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.” 

 

Successive U.S. presidents and leaders generally followed Washington’s acceptance of Jewish religious freedom and Constitutional rights. For example, during the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant issued an order expelling Jews from his district encompassing parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi because of suspicions that they were operating a black market in Southern cotton. Abraham Lincoln rescinded the order eighteen days later.

 

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, increasing Jewish immigration created an increase in anti-Semitism, ultimately contributing to the passage of the National Origins Act of 1924. This law restricted immigration to two percent of each nationality residing in the U.S. in 1890. The law severely limited future Jewish immigration since few Jews had arrived by that year. Despite this harmful policy, Coolidge, the president who signed the Origins Act into law, praised the American Jewish community. In May 1925, at the laying of the cornerstone of a new Jewish center in Washington D.C., Coolidge delivered a speech praising the influence of Jewish culture on America. One of his successors, Franklin Roosevelt, would have a greater opportunity to confront issues of anti-Semitism at home and on the world stage.

 

Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR)’s relationship with Jews has sparked intense controversy. Many of FDR’s most prominent friends and associates were Jews. Henry Morgenthau, Felix Frankfurter, and Bernard Baruch were just a few of FDR’s closest and strongest Jewish supporters. FDR was twice re-elected with ninety percent of the Jewish vote as most Jews believed in his New Deal policies. 

 

However, as a member of Harvard’s governing board, FDR went along with the quota to restrict the number of Jewish students at the university in the early 1920s. In the years leading up to World War II, anti-Semitism was rampant in Germany. At home, anti-Semitism rose in America as workers feared competition from immigrants for jobs. In response, FDR limited immigration. Under the National Origins Act, 26,000 German Jews could immigrate annually during the years leading to World War II. But the quota was only a quarter filled because FDR’s administration placed impediments to block Jewish immigration. Vice President Henry Wallace wrote in his diary that FDR spoke to Churchill in 1943 about the desirability of spreading the Jewish population thin in the post-war world.

 

 FDR eventually led America in the destruction of Nazi Germany and the liberation of the concentration camps. In 1945 FDR secretly met with the Saudi King to persuade him to accept 10,000 Jewsin Palestine. The book FDR and the Jews by Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman is a scholarly study of this complicated history.

 

FDR’s successor, Harry Truman made anti-Semitic comments in private, but in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, he was supportive of Jewish interests and especially supported a Jewish state in the Middle East. Truman defied his most prominent cabinet members including Secretary of State George Marshall to recognize the State of Israel in 1948. According to Michael Benson’s 1997 book Harry S Truman and the Founding of Israel, while Truman was interested in the Jewish vote at home, he was primarily motivated by humanitarianism. 

 

Like Truman, Richard Nixon supported Israel publicly but he could be critical of American Jews in private. Despite the fact that several Jews including Henry Kissinger were prominent members of his administration, Nixon made anti-Semitic remarks privately on the White House tapes. For example, Nixon complained that Jews were “all over government”. But, Nixon approved Operation Nickel Grass, a massive airlift of fighter planes and missiles that enabled Israel to repel the attacks and invade part of Egypt during the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

 

Like some of his predecessors, Donald Trump has made anti-Semitic comments. The former president of Trump Hotel and Casino recalls Trumps saying that he wants “short guys that wear yarmulkes” counting his money. This is no different from previous presidents who made critical remarks about Jews and privately promoted negative stereotypes. However, in public, Trump has departed from his predecessors with statements that reinforce anti-Semitism. While trying to court Jewish voters, he reinforced the view of anti-Semites that American Jews have a  primary allegiance to Israel. As with so many Trump blunders, he is apparently ignorant of the history and nature of anti-Semitism in America. That further serves to make Trump a president who dangerously expands hatred.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173291 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173291 0
The United States is Not a Healthy Democracy: An Interview with Richard C. Lyons

 

RICHARD C. LYONS is the award-winning author behind “The DNA of Democracy,” Volume 1 of the “Shadows of the Acropolis” series releasing on April 15, 2019. His first book, “But By Chance of War” (2012) won a Nautilus Book Award and a Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award. His education took him through the University of North Texas and a graduate career at Southern Methodist University. Lyons has been an avid admirer of the written word, which led him to literary pursuits as a poet, essayist and screenwriter. Professionally, Lyons has been involved in printing, publishing, stage and television production throughout his professional career. For more, visit https://www.lylea.com/

 

“The DNA of Democracy” is an interesting title - what does it mean?

In viewing democracy through history, several cornerstones become apparent to its foundations, such as heroes who devote their lives to freedom, such as the will to found government for the good of all, not just some. Such as legal foundations as evident in constitutions going back to Athens and as modern as our own.

 

How and why did you choose the subject of democracy for your book? And what was your research process like?

I chose the subject because I have noticed what a fragile, temporal thing democracy can be. It is assumed we live in an eternal form of government, we do not, nor did the people of the Roman Republic. Several things are necessary for the health of democracy and they can be measured. As to the research, I found parallels or rhyming natures between the tyrannies of every era researched. Therefore, just as democracy has a DNA, tyrannies have a DNA as well.

 

Why is it so imperative for Americans to educate themselves on the history and processes of democracy, especially now?

We know as individuals we are in good health if our temperature is 98.6 degrees, if our heart rate is between 60 and 80 beats per minute at rest and if our chemistry exists within certain ranges. The same can be said about telling readings as to the balances in a democracy. It is necessary to know if as individuals we are physically healthy, just as it is necessary to know if the government that governs us as a people is healthy!  

What are the greatest misconceptions about democracy and the democratic process? 

The greatest misconception is that all governance is at the federal level and resides in the executive branch of government. That was not how our government was founded. “The DNA of Democracy” goes into depth, at a very readable level, to relate how the power of the individual in our democracy is the key to our democracy’s health.

 

Democracy has been a work in progress for centuries – will it ever stop evolving?

Government does evolve: it has a tendency to gather and concentrate power, hence the United States was conceived as a government with counter poise and balance between competitive branches. Volume 2 of the series, “Shadows of the Acropolis,” will go into depth on the critical subject of how dangerous our system can be, if it goes out of balance. “The DNA of Democracy” concerns itself first with how difficult the foundation of democracy is to achieve and the definition of what democracy  is.

 

What are the differences and similarities between democracy and tyranny? And why is it important to make specific distinctions? 

Because, just as one knows that a temperature of 101 degrees indicates ill health, by understanding what defines good health in democracy, defines what ill health would looks like and we can see examples every day…as either the virtuous expressions of a healthy democracy or the shadowy effects of  an aspiring tyranny.

 

Have you personally visited any of the countries you wrote about in your book?

Yes, though there are not many mentioned in the book. Democracy is not widespread either historically or geographically, even though a lot of countries call themselves democracies. When you read this book you will be able to know if they are – why they are – or why they are not. It is a handy self-help guide on one of the most important topics to humanity, how humanity is governed, or better, how humanity can govern itself.

 

Your book explores the history of democracy in countries around the world at different times in history – which culture or time period fascinates you the most?

Simple answer, they all do. Our story is endlessly fascinating from the circumstances of the times and places to the sometimes grotesque, sometimes beautiful characters who lived in those places, at those times.  

 

“The DNA of Democracy” is the first book in a series – what will the next installment explore?

Volume 1 defines democracy throughout history showing its necessary elements. Volume 2 will explore what human tendencies and natural tendencies endanger those necessary elements, such as individual participation and representation, judicial independence and political balance.

 

What historically are the telltale signs of a healthy democracy?

A.  A balanced, mixed constitution of executive latitude of diplomacy, truly representative legislative assemblies and an independent judiciary.

B. Equality before and the equal application of laws which arise solely out of the legislative branch with the consent and enforcement of the executive and judicial branches.

C.  The maintaining of power nearest the local level where it is applied. 

D. A hands off policy regarding competing associations of faiths, charities, businesses.

E. Free expression, private ownership and individual rights.

 

Would you consider the United States, right now, to be an example of a healthy democracy?

Democracy is a form of government that is always in motion, hence the competing branches the constitution provides.  But our democracy has been in motion in the past 50 years. Power that was once local or given to the states, is being assumed to the federal level.  At the federal level power is aggregating away from the people’s representative assemblies of house and senate and into the executive branches myriad agencies and into the judicial branch.  The constitution foresaw this will of every branch wanting to assume the powers of the others – it is happening both in the assumption of power in Washington DC and in the accumulation of power outside the reach of the governed at the federal level.  Diagnosis: Not healthy.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173288 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173288 0
The History Briefing On This Week's Impeachment Updates: How Historians Helped Us Understand the News Editors note: This is part of a series called The History Briefing. Contributors, primarily HNN internships, historically contextualize the week's top headlines by summarizing how different historians have added their unique perspective to enhance news coverage. 

 

Ever since Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump on September 24th, the news has been dominated by impeachment updates. This week, the Trump administration voiced its unwillingness to cooperate with the inquiry and GOP support for impeachment grew. Historians weighed in on the current state of the impeachment inquiry across many publications this week. Here are some highlights.

 

J.M. Opal, the chair of the department of history and classical studies at McGill University, wrote an op ed for The Washington Post’s Made By History Section examining the impeachment of William Blount, a senator from North Carolina, in 1797. Opal believes William Blount was similar to Trump because he was “a man who tried to erase the line — blurry as it may be — between public service and private interest." Blount was born to a wealthy family, had a real estate background, and was impeached on misdemeanors regarding foreign relations. As Opal reminds us, no U.S. president has actually been removed from office following impeachment but Blount provides an example of a Senator who was removed for similar offenses. Opal emphasizes the importance of taking the impeachment inquiry seriously because our founding leaders did so. 

 

Josh Chafetz, a professor of law at Cornell University, historically contextualized the different paths the House can take. To Chafetz, the Trump Administration’s lack of cooperation warrants a “hardball” response from the House. Chafetz argues that the Bush and Obama administrations “raised significantly more plausible objections to congressional subpoenas,” yet the courts backed up the House and forced the administration to disclose subpoenaed information. Since the courts tend to back up the Houses' power, Chafetz recommends that the House use its powers to arrest Rudy Giuliani and others who refuse to testify. The judicial branch can overrule Congress if it finds the person arrested was not in contempt of Congress, as happened in 1916. Although Congress has not arrested anyone since 1935, Chafetz explains a bold historical precedent that Congress could use as it continues its impeachment inquiry.  

 

Journalists use history to strengthen stories and contextualize events, often by doing research or interviewing historians. Marisa Iati, a reporter for The Washington Post’s Retropolis section, used both tactics to critically analyze a statement from Rudy Giuliani this week. Giuliani compared impeachment to the Salem witch trials, tweeting that the late 17th century trials did not use anonymous testimony. Guiliani was firing back as Congressional leaders said the whistleblower coudl provide annonymous testimony in the impeachment inquiry. Iati’s research on the Salem witch trials suggested much of Guiliani's statement was wrong. Iati describes what a witch trial looked like in the 17th century to emphasize the extremism of comparing the current invesetigation to the Salem witch trials. She writes, “Politicians and commentators of all ideologies have been known to refer to the Salem witch trials to argue that a member of their preferred party is getting a raw deal in an investigation.” The Benghazi incident that wedged its way into Hillary Clinton’s election coverage was often referred to as a “witch hunt,” Iati points out. The article was strengthened by the insights of Salem State University history professor Emerson W. Baker, who Iati interviewed for the piece. Historians help contextualize headlines for the public not just through penning their own arguments; agreeing to be interviewed also plays a key role in understanding the history of a particular event.

 

Frank O. Bowman, III contributed an article to Just Security that criticizes the White House’s letter refusing to cooperate in the impeachment proceeding released Tuesday. Bowman is a law professor at the University of Missouri and the author of a recent book, High Crimes & Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump. He calls the announcement a “public relations exercise” that is filled with “errors and mischaracterizations,” and characterizes the actions of the administration similar to those of the Andrew Johnson administration. He emphasizes that the administration’s refusal to cooperate must be addressed appropriately by the House of Representatives' leadership. The House of Representatives has the constitutional authority to move forward with impeachment, as did Congress during the Johnson presidency, Bowman argues. Bowman’s historical background deems him a critical voice to inform the public about the week’s top story.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173281 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173281 0
The History Briefing on Pregnancy Discrimination: What Historians Had to Say About This Week’s News Editors note: This is part of a series called The History Briefing. Contributors, primarily HNN internships, historically contextualize the week's top headlines by summarizing how different historians have added their unique perspective to enhance news coverage. 

 

United States Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren made headlines this week over a story she has told on the campaign trail. In the early 1970s, Warren was fired from a teaching job because she was pregnant. While she was initially offered an extension of her job for the next year, after she was visibly pregnant, the job went to someone else. This account was originally questioned by a writer for Jacobin magazine, was then picked up by right-wing websites, and eventually was covered in the national news. Not only has Warren’s story sparked a conversation among the media and women who experienced similar discrimination, but it also inspired many historians to add clarity and context to pregnancy discrimination. 

 

Historian and writer Joshua Zeitz Tweeted his input earlier this week. He explains that “to believe Warren is lying, one need be blind to the history of discrimination in 'pink collar' professions…” In the remainder of his Tweets, Zeitz describes the New Jersey state laws that prohibited the expulsion of pregnant teachers which were put in place a few years after Elizabeth Warren left her teaching job. While many pregnant teachers in the late 1960s, or even early 70s, faced less workplace discrimination in comparision to other professions, the fact that laws had to be enacted to legally bar pregnancy discrimination against teachers shows it was rampant.

 

History professor and Huffington Post contributor David M. Perry added nuance the historical analysis of pregnancy discrimination via Twitter. Perry tweeted: 

 

Actual news: Over 60 women have now accused Donald Trump of sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape.

 

NYT A1: We're launching a week by week coverage of Elizabeth Warren's pregnancy as it happened all those years ago, probably

 

Satirical in nature, Perry’s joke has a serious message about the treatment of women in not only the workplace, but also in the media. The rampant sexual harassment and assault women experience is a minor story while questioning the veracity of a woman's experience of discrimination is headline news. While Perry's tweet is short, it helps us question the media's narrative and how it is rooted in historical sexism. 

 

Historians and journalists have discussed the issue of pregnancy discrimination long before it made headlines this week. In Lily Rothman's article “The Complicated History Behind the Fight for Pregnant Women’s Equality,” Rothman chronicles the history of discrimination that soon-to-be mothers have faced in the workplace and emphasizes that pregnancy discrimintion is still a big problem today. In 2014, for example, the Supreme Court heard the case of Penny Young who sued UPS because she was given unpaid leave for not being able to complete the laborious tasks required for her job while pregnant due to a recommendation from her doctor. As Rothman explains, the case hinged on the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.

 

Nancy Woloch, a professor of History at Barnard College, previously wrote a piece for HNN on paid maternity leave. Woloch's article outlines the evolution of legal protections for people working while pregnant. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevented "employment discrimination on the basis of sex”. The Medical Leave Act of 1993 ensured that pregnant women can take time off work without fear of retribution from the company. 

 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173282 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173282 0
Saudi Arabia's Pearl Harbor

Stone Age Brain is the blog of Rick Shenkman, the founding editor of the History News Network. His newest book is Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (Basic Books, January 2016). 

This is a blog post about Iran.  Which is why I want to talk about Pearl Harbor.  Let me explain.

In 2003, on a visit to Tokyo, I went to the Japanese War Museum.  It was a visit I've never forgotten.  The reason is the museum exhibit on Pearl Harbor, which I wrote about for HNN.

In the American telling, Pearl Harbor is the story of an imperial power attacking the United States out of the blue and for no good reason.  It's a story of treachery and connivance.  It's also a simple story of good guys and bad guys with the bad guys in the end getting their comeuppance.

This is not the story told in the museum.  Most importantly, their story doesn't begin with Pearl Harbor.  It begins with an earlier decision by the US to cut off the supply of oil to Japan, a decision that strangled the Japanese economy.  Pressed back on their heals the Japanese had little choice but to attack the US in retribution.  Hence, Pearl Harbor.

What is missing from the Japanese story was the reason the US under FDR stopped oil shipments to Japan.  It was because Japan was rampaging through Asia like a wild bully, as happened in Nanking, where 20,000 women were raped and 300,000 killed.  

I have not been back to the museum since my 2003 visit. But here's the lesson I learned that day that's never left me.  If you push a country to the brink of bankruptcy, said country is bound to feel strongly it is in the right to retaliate, whatever the reasons were for your action in the first place.  Some six decades after the end of the war the people who put together that war exhibit were still of the opinion that the stoppage of oil was a legitimate casus belli.  

So why bring this up now?  

Iran today is acting in a way not too dissimilar from Japan.  The message Iran was sending a few weeks ago when it blew up a good part of one of Saudi Arabia's major oil refineries was that there's a limit to the amount of pain the Persian country is willing to take.  For a year it had waited patiently for relief from the sanctions the US was imposing but their patience had worn thin.  The US kept increasing the sanctions, crippling the Iranian economy.  Enough!

The Trump administration had its reasons for withdrawing from the nuclear agreement Barack Obama had cut with the Iranians.  But from the Iranian point of view what mattered was the pain their people felt from the sanctions.  At some point the Iranian regime was bound to react to that pain.  A few weeks ago it did.  And as Thomas Friedman points out in his New York Times column this week that single attack is now reshaping Middle East politics (and not for the good, I'd add).

On this blog I talk a lot about biases.  So I would be remiss if I didn't note that an obvious bias was at work in both Japan and Iran.  To preserve themselves regimes will dream up any excuse they can manufacture to justify the actions they take to survive.  The excuse need not be credible to outsiders.  It is for domestic consumption. Owing to a natural desire to justify their own country's behavior, people will readily accept said rationalization.  This is human nature.

When the Trump administration cavalierly withdrew from the nuclear agreement with Iran they were playing with fire. A Pearl Harbor response was almost inevitable.  When it came no one should have been taken by surprise.

I would guess that former National Security advisor John Bolton and President Donald Trump have never visited the Japanese War Museum.  Too bad.  There's plenty to be learned from a war exhibit, even one that's as badly biased as the one I saw back in 2003. (And apparently little has changed since then.  According to news stories the museum still presents a warped right-wing view of the events that led to war.)

 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154264 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154264 0
The History Briefing on Whistleblowers: How Historians Covered Breaking News

 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump last week. The impeachment came on the heels of a whistleblower complaint released to Congress and the Inspector General. The fallout from the complaint has created a media frenzy. Historians have helped us understand the historical context of whistleblowers. 

 

Jennifer Lawerence, an Assistant Professor at Indiana University, wrote about the price whistleblowers pay for their risky actions. She noted multiple members of the intelligence community who have come forward as whistleblowers and faced retaliation such as Wiliam Binney, J Kirke Wiebe, Thomas Drake, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning (all but Manning worked for the National Security Agency). These whistleblowers had to endure raids by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, confiscated property, prosecution, and even imprisonment. Lawerence added that whistleblowers from the intelligence community have historically lacked protections, specifically citing the ineffectiveness of the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Act of 1998, which still stands today. Her nuanced approach to history helps clarify the treatment whistleblowers had to face and exposes an ignored component of whistleblowing.  

 

Christoper Klein, a writer who specializes in history, wrote an excellent piece discussing when American whistleblowers first got protection from the government. Klein explained that the first protections originated in 1777 and were intended to benefit the ten sailors and marines who reported improper behavior by the Continental Navy’s most powerful man: Commander Esek Hopkins. When the soldiers reported Hopkins to Congress, they were imprisoned on Hopkins behalf. As a result, Congress passed a resolution to encourage the revelation of improper conduct. The cash-strapped legislative body also covered the sailors’ legal fees to ensure they had “adequate legal representation.” Klein underlined the significance of whistleblowers from the earliest points in American history. This particular piece can be used to compare how the government acted years ago to how the government is acting now. 

 

Olivia Waxman, a writer for Time’s history section, created her own historical review of whistleblowers throughout history. Waxman detailed how the principle of whistleblowing dates back to medieval England and ancient Roman law. In early Britain, people who witnessed a transgression could report it to the king’s representatives for a chance at a bounty. She continued on to describe the False Claims Act of 1863 (also known as Lincoln’s Law), which punished contractors who sold shoddy goods to the Union Army during the Civil War. These laws aimed to protect against fraudulent activity. Waxman discussed some famous whistleblowers in American history including A. Ernest Fitzgerald (who testified that Lockhead Martin was overcharging the government billions of dollars), Frank Serpico (who exposed corruption in the New York Police Department), and Daniel Ellsberg (who leaked the Pentagon Papers which described the government's mismanaging of the Vietnam War). Waxman's piece helps us understand the significant impact whistleblowers have had on American history and beyond. 

 

Tom Mueller, a journalist and author of a forthcoming book about whistleblowing, also wrote an article about the history of whistleblowing for Politico Magazine. Mueller focused on the history of retaliations against “government truth-tellers.” One of the major cases he reviewed was the case against Thomas Drake of the National Security Agency. Mueller explained that as a result of Drake’s whistleblowing, he was indicted on ten criminal counts under various laws including the Espionage Act. Drake was threatened with thirty-five years of prison after the Federal Bureau of Investigation found what they deemed “highly classified” documents in his house. However, the Department of Justice’s case against Drake was so feeble that it collapsed on the eve of the trial. Mueller also explained how the Espionage Act is “regularly employed” to prosecute those who disclose national security information. He went on to explain that the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama aggressively used the Espionage Act to prosecute government employees who shared classified information. The Obama administration charged eight individuals in this process, more than any other president. Mueller’s incorporation of history helped to substantiate his growing fear: losing anonymity is almost guaranteed to bring professional and personal pain. 

 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173222 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173222 0
Roundup Top 10!  

The difference between Nixon and Trump is Fox News

by Nicole Hemmer

Fox News shields President Trump. But his love for their conspiracies might bring him down.

 

Impeachment is the latest chapter in the battle between democracy and white supremacy

by Carol Anderson

The connections aren’t as obvious, but America’s front lines remain the same as they’ve always been.

 

 

The NBA's cowardice on China

by Jonathan Zimmerman

"The NBA just threw Hong Kong under the bus, purely for the sake of the almighty dollar. And if that’s not outrageous, I don’t know what is."

 

 

What’s happening to Giuliani now was happening to him long before 9/11

by Jim Sleeper

Giuliani’s mind and career tell us as much as the impeachment inquiries are likely to do about why Trump’s presidency is so perverse.

 

 

The Supreme Court must extend the Civil Rights Act’s protections to LGBTQ employees

by Katherine Turk

It shouldn’t be legal to fire somebody for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

 

'God Is Not Going to Put It in Your Lap.' What Made Fannie Lou Hamer’s Message on Civil Rights So Radical—And So Enduring

by Keisha N. Blain

Hamer’s bold message to “get up and try to do something” was one that all Americans committed to change needed to hear

 

 

The Deep State Conspiracy Is About to Go Into Overdrive

by Ronald Radosh

The American right has advanced nutty conspiracy theories for decades. But the one we’re about to see play out will make Joe McCarthy look like an amateur.

 

 

Why America Needs Whistle-Blowers

by Allison Stanger

In accusing the intelligence community whistle-blower of partisanship and treason, President Trump has redefined whistle-blowing to serve his private interests rather than the rule of law. In the American tradition, whistle-blowers expose illegal or unconstitutional acts that the powerful want to keep secret.

 

 

How the Vaping Industry Is Using a Defensive Tactic Pioneered Decades Ago by Big Tobacco

by Sarah Milov

Sarah Milov, author of The Cigarette: A Political History, argues "the most dangerous aspect of vaping might not be what it does to the body, but rather what it does to the body politic."

 

 

Israel’s Fractured Democracy And Its Repercussions

by Alon Ben-Meir

A look at Israeli history and its latest headlines.

 

 

 

 

 

Abraham Lincoln, Washington Nationals fan

by Sidney Blumenthal

The long history of baseball in D.C. after the Nationals clenchend a National League Conference Series appearance.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173283 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173283 0
The Impeachment Inquiry Reveals Trump's Narcissism and Republican's Compliance Steve Hochstadt is a professor of history emeritus at Illinois College, who blogs for HNN and LAProgressive, and writes about Jewish refugees in Shanghai.

 

 

It’s useless to try not to talk about impeachment. It’s nearly impossible to avoid bringing it up. Running away from impeachment conversations doesn’t mean the conversation in your head will stop. So I’ll join in.

 

First, the national conversation is about Trump, and that’s not an accident. For a while, we heard and thought and talked about the Democratic candidates for President. They all talked about Trump, but that was only a small part of their message. Trump demands to be the lead in every news report, and now he is and will be for weeks, if not all the way to November 2020. He didn’t impeach himself just to top the news, but it’s a welcome outcome for him.

 

The impeachment inquiry came about because Trump cannot distinguish between his own personal interests and the interests of the US. He never had a job where he had to think about anything but his own welfare. As a businessman, he was a constant public disservice, forcing people to sue him because he discriminated against black renters, stiffed the construction workers who built his buildings, and cheated the students who enrolled in “Trump University”. His narcissistic personality makes it difficult for him to think about anything but himself in any situation. So it made sense for him to subordinate American foreign policy towards Ukraine, Australia, and China to his worries about his electoral chances against Joe Biden.

 

His thinking is dominated by certain fixed ideas, which reason, evidence, and argument cannot budge. He enlisted the Vice President, the Secretary of State and the Attorney General in his pursuit of a Ukraine conspiracy theory, which hardly anyone has heard of outside of radical right media, because it has no substance. Thomas Bossert, Trump’s first homeland security adviser, told him it was nonsense, but no person or group of persons can talk him out of these obsessions. Long after it was definitively proven that Obama was born in Hawaii, Trump continued to say he believed in his own lies.

 

The obsessions are about his exaggerated beliefs in his success and refusal to believe in any failure. He can’t stand the fact that he lost the popular vote to Clinton by 3 million votes. So he embraces one explanation after another, not based on anything more than his wishful thinking – first millions of undocumented people illegally voted for Clinton, now Ukraine plus the “deep state” secretly helped Clinton’s campaign and tried to pretend that Russia was helping Trump.

 

His political opinions are not convictions but malleable positions, depending on his interests and the moment. He has no fundamental beliefs except himself. That is evident from his changing positions on abortionDemocrats, and gay rights. Who jumps to the opposite side on every major issue of political culture?

 

He has no empathy or respect for people outside of his family. His family might be able to impress him with reasoned criticism, but they don’t because they are like him, putting self before any principle. More than any other group of people, their future is tied to his success or failure.

 

The American President presents the dangerous combination of absolute confidence that he is always right and always knows best, and a brain filled with nonsensical ideas. He commits impeachable offenses every day.

 

I don’t think that impeachment will get Trump out of the White House. There are not 20 Republican Senators who have the courage and patriotism to enforce the national interest when it might mean they lose an election. They share Trump’s ranking of their own political fortunes over any constitutional duty.

 

I think what matters is whether some Republicans in the House vote to impeach and some Republicans in the Senate vote to convict. In recent days, the first Republican dissenters have spoken out, led by Mitt Romney. Thus far, Senators Romney, Ben Sasse, and Susan Collins have openly criticized Trump. Republicans Will Hurd from Texas, Fred Upton of Michigan, and Mark Amodei of Nevada in the House have expressed support for investigating Trump, but are still wary of impeachment. Democratic Congressman Brendan Boyle says that “two dozen” of his Republican colleagues in the House are deeply concerned about Trump’s impeachable actions, although few have said anything. The defections from Trump worship may bring out others. This is history, and what each Republican politician does or doesn’t do, says or doesn’t say, will define their legacies.

 

Unless more Republicans than the few so far show that they believe that he is a menace to our country, the impeachment inquiry will have little effect on the 2020 election. And that is the vote that matters.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154263 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154263 0
A Brooding, Psychotic New Joker Joins the Batman Legend

 

In the first few minutes of Joker, the new Batman movie, Arthur French, who later become the clownish Joker, is beaten up by a gang of rowdy teenagers. French is working as a low paid clown, in costume and mask, when they assault him. He goes home to his shoddy apartment, walking up all the floors because, as always, his elevator is broken, and joins his psychotic mother, with whom he lives in poverty. The forty-ish French drifts into different moods, happy and sad, ecstatic and brooding. French takes seven brands of pills each day to calm himself down. He cannot resist cackling all the time, a disturbing laugh that sends shivers down your spine. Then, a la Bernie Goetz, he gets angry at three rich  Wall Street types who harass him on the subway, whips out his revolver and kills them.

 

The public, that hates the rich, takes his side and people start to parade around the streets of Gotham City in clown masks.

 

French likes the attention paid to a killer. His moods deepen and, to save society, he starts to murder people. He shoots those he loves and those he does not love, a lot of them. There is blood all over Gotham City as he slinks away from his murders, cackling all the way home.

 

This newJoker is a dark, psychological mess, a man who, like the previous jokers in the Batman lore, has no feelings and no remorse. Gotham is scared. You will be scared.

 

Joker, that opened on Friday, is a brilliant, mesmerizing film, a deep and tantalizing look at a disturbed man and how sociological problems throughout his life brought him to his terrible state. Joaquin Phoenix, as the Joker is a sure fire Oscar nominee. He has lost a lot of weight for the role and his body quivers as frenetically as his head in many scenes. He shakes, he squirms, he squeals, he stretches, he clinches. He is just magnificent. He gives the Batman legend a new and dangerous focus in making a  character for the ages.

 

Joker has problems, though.  The beginning of the movie is very, very slow before it gets going with a roar with Joker’s first murder. The films moves on in spurts. It is electric for a few minutes, then dull and sluggish, then electric, then dull and sluggish. The film broods as the Joker does and gets a bit boring before Joker revs it up with more blood and gore.

 

In addition to Phoenix, there are fine performances by Robert de Niro as a famous talk show host and Frances Conroy as French’s sickly mom.

 

The film’s  message is controversial. It suggests that poverty and perpetual problems of life in the city will cause the working class to rise up and riot, murdering lots of people along the way. I don’t know about that.

 

Batman fans will love Joker, but they will cringe and shudder, too. This Joker is not like the other famed Jokers of history. Writer/director Todd Phillips has created a new man here and he is different. Oh, is he ever different.

 

There is no adult Batman, Joker’s arch rival, in this film, but it neatly ties in the early days of the Batman legend and introduces Bruce Wayne as a boy and gives you a nice look at posh  Wayne Manor.

     

The Joker is one of the oldest villains in comic book history. He first appeared in the debut issue of Batman in April, 1940. He was, and is, a psychopath who has no feelings for other people and no sense of remorse for crimes he has committed or people he has killed.  The Joker has no sense of right or wrong. He also senses no fear at all and believes he is invincible.    

 

Actor Heath Ledger described the Joker as “a psychopathetic, mass murdering schizophrenic clown who has no empathy for people.”

 

After two decades as a zany and colorful comic book villain, the Joker broke new ground as a frequent enemy of Batman and Robin in the goofy 1966 television series (BAM ! POW !)  Batman, which is in reruns on several national television stations today (I see it on MeTV in the New York metro area). The joker in that series was played with enormous skill by famed actor Cesar Romero, who giggled and laughed across Gotham along with the Riddler, Penguin and other larger than life, quirky bad guys.

 

Romero’s Joker remained iconic until that sensational portrayal by Jack Nicholson as the Joker in the 1989 Batman movie. It was considered by many to be Nicholson’s finest performance. His Joker was eclipsed by the very disturbed and very scary portrayal of the villain by young Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight in 2008. Ledger showed Joker as a psychotic master of anarchy and criminality.

 

The Joker moved to higher ground with Nicholson’s portrayal because it set him up as an important character, as important as Batman himself, and gave him real style. In The Dark Knight, Ledger’s joker did the same in a different way, taking a little of the spotlight off the Caped Crusader.

 

Many critics say that the character of the Joker has evolved from comic book icon to Romero to Nicholson to Ledger to Phoenix. Not so. Each character is distinctly unique because these celebrated actors chose to make him so. They are all different “jokers” and they are going wild on their own.

 

Nicholson’s Joker was a common mobster until he fell into a deep vat of chemicals and became disfigured with a pasty white face and permanent evil grin. Ledger’s Joker just bounded out of nowhere with his stringy green hair, faded makeup and mangled face. Phoenix’s joker is a misery of inner and outer conflict with a loud, cackling laugh.

 

Nicholson’s joker stole the show in Batman with his witticisms and snappy remarks (“Wait ‘til they get a load of me!”).

 

Ledger’s joker had some snap rejoinders, too, such as asking a man he is threatening, “Why so serious?”

 

Romero had gaudy pranks. Nicholson used sight gags that were deadly and his head was often thrown back on his shoulders. Romero leaped about the set, Nicholson pranced, Ledger slinked.

 

Romero’s Gotham City was more comic book than the metropolis of the other jokers. Nicholson’s Gotham, inhabited by a sulking Batman, was dark and evil. Ledger’s was dangerous and Phoenix’ is simply terrifying. 

 

All in all, these are guys you do NOT want to invite to your dinner party or your little girls’s birthday bash.

 

In 2008, sadly, the joker legend broke new and tragic ground. Just before the 2008 debut of The Dark Knight, Ledger died of a prescription drug overdose. His sudden death shocked the country (he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar that year, posthumously). It also forced people to see The Joker character in a new and sad way.

 

In 2012, the Joker made tragic news again when another Batman movie debuted, The Dark Knight Rises. It was screened at a theater in Aurora, Colorado. On January 22, a gunman, James Holmes, walked into the theater and began a shooting spree which left 12 dead and 70 wounded. Holmes, with his wild, scraggly red hair, was said by many theater patrons to remind them of the Joker. It was rumored, falsely, that Holmes was actually a fan of The Joker. The evil character became attached to the shooter in the minds of many.

 

That Batman movie became international news and a national tragedy. Warner Bros. scrubbed several openings and delayed many more. Even so, the movie earned a billion dollars world wide. The Joker will not be shown at the Aurora theater where those movie patrons were murdered.

 

Just recently, dozens of relatives of those killed or wounded in the mass shooting in Aurora signed a letter that asked Warner Bros. to donate a percentage of its revenue for Joker to charities of Aurora gun victims. 

 

Over the last few months Joker, that won the Venice Film Festival best movie award, has been the center of a firestorm over move violence. Many people are claiming that the violence of the new Joker might spur mentally ill people to go to yet another movie theater and murder people or wander into a city street, or park, and slay people. A website covering that has been monitored by police around the country. A theater in California received a threat and scrubbed several screenings of the film last weekend. The Los Angeles police have gone on high alert around movie theaters showing the Joker over violence fears.

 

At the quiet suburban theater where I saw Joker, signs were posted on entrance doors banning masks, costumes, bulky clothing and knapsacks.

 

To me, this is media hysteria. Phoenix, tormented by interviewer suggestions of violence, last week finally confronted the issue and, wisely, said that a disturbed person does not need to see Joker, or any other movie, to go out and commit violence. The film does not trigger it; they do themselves. How many thousands of violent movies have we all seen over the last 100 years? How many of them spurred people to commit murder? A handful, maybe less. As police note, better safe than sorry.

 

What do we do next, though, cancel all the cop shows on TV?

 

Let’s let the Joker bound about Gotham City in his clown face. We’ll enjoy his story and leave the rest up to the psychiatrists, hospitals and police.

 

.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173263 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173263 0
A Chilling Play Grapples With How We Are All Connected to Slavery

 

When you sit down in the Golden Theatre, W. 45th Street, in New York, you see yourself in the huge set of mirrors on the stage along with the reflection of a huge white slave plantation manor house. You are not sure what it means, but when Slave Play begins you know quickly that you are in for a night not just of looking at a drama about slavery and its aftermath, but a good long look into yourself. And it is a searing, powerful look, too.

 

Jeremy O. Harris’ Slave Play, that opened Sunday, is gripping, phenomenal, just sensational and a new and shaky bridge between the races, men and women and people in history.

 

The play starts with three vignettes from life on a Richmond, Virginia plantation in the pre-Civil War days. They are poignant and, at times wildy funny (one is about a woman slave master who sexually assaults her young, handsome male slave with a dildo but let’s not go there). The vignettes turn out to be role-playing scenes for mixed race couples at a contemporary group sex therapy session conducted by two know-it-all women psychiatrists (from Yale, from Yale, from Yale, they keep reminding you). The sex therapy session tries to help the couples understand the roles that race play in their sexual and emotional relationships.

 

The two psychiatrists, who really have no idea what they are doing, toss about theories that you never heard of and words that nobody understands in an effort to prove to their participants how smart they are. After a while, it is apparent that while the participants do not understand any of this, they all have a pretty good idea of the problems that confront them - but not the solutions.

 

Couple number one involves a black gay man, Gary, and his white partner Dustin. Oops, he is not white. He is, but he keeps telling the audience he is not (“Are you off white?” his black partner says).

 

The “white” partner, an actor, goes into a tirade about race and race and sex and race and emotion and then wails that because he has to live in out of the way East Harlem, he never makes it to auditions on time. That is the boundary in his intellect – at first. The second couple is tall, gorgeous, laid- back black man with an apparently older, ordinary looking white wife. They have racial troubles in their marriage but do not understand much about it, until they delve into how they got together – as a black man, white woman tryst in front of her ex-husband for racial kicks.

 

Couple number three is a white middle-aged man who is British. He was the first white man, and first Brit, that she slept with. They wound up getting married, but three years ago it was clear that something was missing.

 

Although the theme of the play is serious, and there is much heavy drama, the play is howlingly funny. The barbs and zingers never miss. My favorite moment was when one of the intellectual psychiatrists finishes a long-winded academic analysis of black and white relationships. One female participant yells out, “I just read that in the New Yorker.” It brought down the house.

 

By the middle of the play, much of the laughter dies off and Slave Play turns into a riveting, gut wrenching story about three mixed race couples who are mixed up. They do not understand what role race plays in their relationship, and don’t get it as men and women, either. Here is where playwright Harris skewers them, and everybody in America.  He says that the troubles of slavery so long ago did not fade with the Thirteenth Amendment, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the protest marches in the street or the election of President Obama. They are still here for many people. It is tough for couples to shake off the shackles of slavery’s legacy and move on. The play tickles the funny bone and then, later, as it races towards its conclusion, it chokes us, literally chokes us, with its power.

     

The play rambles a lot about love and marriage, but it rambles a lot about the nation, too, and how we react to slavery today. How do you react if you’re black? If you’re white? Man? Woman? Can you shake off American history?

 

Was there anything wrong with all those tens of thousands of mulatto Americans who were the result of white master/slave girl relationships, mostly by force? Oh, yes. Have the two races overcome that now, in 2019? Has America? Oh no.

 

The director, Robert O’Hara, does a fine job of blending in the slave days of the play with the contemporary therapy session and in keeping the individuality of the participants in the session and the two kooky psychiatrists, too. He lets all the tortured stories unfold, without letting one gain prominence over the others.

 

O’Hara gets fine work from an ensemble cast of remarkably skilled actors who make slavery days in America come to life and make the modern day lives of mixed-race couples scalding, too. They are Ato Blankson Wood as Gary, James Cusati –Moyer as his not so white partner, Dustin, Sullivan Jones as Phillip, Joaquina Kalukango as Kaneisha, Chalia La Tour as Tea, Irene Sofia Lucio as Patricia, Annie McNamara as Alan and Paul Alexander Nolan as Jim.

 

Harris’ work is one more play in the long line of artistic works that have explored race in America. Does he have the final answer to those racial problems? Not all of them. But he does tell a haunting, intriguing and troubling story. You’ll talk about it for weeks.

 

This is theatrical dynamite, a play that comes along once in a generation. You will laugh, clench your fists in anger, widen your eyes, grip the arms of your seat, inhale deeply and exhale even more deeply. It is savage. It is gripping. It is a triumphant and scary look at the heart of America.

   

PRODUCTION: The play is produced by Mark Shacket, the New York Theatre Workshop, others. Scenic Design: Clint Ramos, Costumes: Dede Ayite, Sound: Lindsay Jones, Lighting: Jiyoun Chang, the play is directed by Robert O’Hara.  It has an open-ended run.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173262 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173262 0
How Ideologues and Partisans Seized the Court: From Nixon to Trump

 

After Brown v. Board and its subsequent supporting decisions in the 1950s, and Roe v. Wade in 1973, Republicans concluded that they needed to curb—or seize—the power of the Court. The easiest way to do that would be to have as many Republican presidents in the White House as possible, as each could potentially nominate new conservative justices to the Court. 

 

In 1968, Richard Nixon stole the presidential election, scuttling President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks and setting up four GOP appointments to the Supreme Court. In that, he set a precedent for every Republican president since: do whatever it takes to win an election, even if that means committing treason or attacking the very core of American democracy, voting, in order to control who’s on the Supreme and other federal courts. 

 

In the spring and summer of 1968, President Johnson was trying to work out a tentative peace deal between North and South Vietnam. There was one final meeting to be held in October of that year in Paris before the peace deal would be announced. 

 

The Vietnam War had made LBJ so unpopular that senior members of his own party sat him down and told him that he couldn’t successfully run for reelection. Vice President Hubert Humphrey would run instead. 

 

Humphrey was a Midwestern New Deal Democrat. He’d served three terms in the Minnesota State Senate and two terms representing Minnesota in the US Senate; prior to that, he’d been a political science professor, served as mayor of Minneapolis, worked in FDR’s Works Progress Administration, and founded the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party (which is still a major force in Minnesota politics). After JFK’s assassination, LBJ became president, and he picked Humphrey as his VP; together they won in a landslide in 1964. 

 

But by 1968, Vietnam had turned public opinion against both men, and Humphrey needed the war behind him to beat Nixon in November’s election. LBJ was on the job. 

 

But Nixon found out that Johnson had an October surprise planned—the Vietnam peace deal. If LBJ pulled it off, and particularly if he gave a lot of the credit to his vice president, Humphrey would almost certainly become the next president of the United States.

 

Nixon sabotaged Johnson’s peace plan. 

 

Americans didn’t learn about this until 50 years after LBJ’s death when the LBJ Presidential Library released hundreds of tape recordings of Johnson’s presidential phone calls. Among them was a series of calls between Johnson and various people discussing, explicitly, Nixon’s efforts to sabotage the Vietnam peace plan. 

 

Everett Dirksen, with his grave demeanor and deep, gravelly voice, was the most well-respected and powerful Republican in the Senate at the time. He’d already been the Senate minority leader for a decade when LBJ called him about Nixon’s plot. Here’s a partial transcript: 

 

President Johnson: [S]ome of [Nixon’s] folks, including some of the old China Lobby, are going to the [South] Vietnamese embassy and saying, “Please notify the President [of South Vietnam] that if he’ll hold out till November the 2nd they could get a better deal.” 

Senator Dirksen: Uh-huh.

President Johnson: Now, I’m reading their hand, Everett. I don’t want to get this in the campaign. 

Senator Dirksen: That’s right. 

President Johnson: And they oughtn’t to be doing this. This is treason. 

Senator Dirksen: I know. . . . Wherever they are, I’ll try to get a hold of them tonight.

 

Dirksen was unsuccessful in stopping Nixon, and Nixon even had the gall to call LBJ and deny that he was doing what he was doing. The tapes make for grim listening. 

 

While there are many ways our republic would probably be different today had Nixon not committed treason to get elected in 1968, the most consequential has been the Supreme Court. 

 

Nixon got four conservative appointments: Warren E. Burger, William Rehnquist, Harry Blackmun, and, most consequentially, Lewis Powell. Nixon’s vice president, Gerald Ford, appointed a fifth conservative justice, John Paul Stevens, after Nixon resigned in 1974. 

 

Without Nixon, Lewis Powell may never have been on the Court. Powell’s enduring Court legacy will be how he helped big money take over our government as the guiding force behind the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo and First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti cases. Followed by Citizens United in 2010, they essentially handed our elections over to the highest bidders. 

 

Reprinted from The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America with the permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Copyright © 2019 by Thom Hartmann. 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173174 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173174 0
Evil in the Delta: Elaine, Arkansas, 1919

An Inflammatory headline in The Gazette (Arkansas), October 3, 1919

 

 

One hundred years ago, in the “Red Summer” of 1919, rampaging whites killed hundreds and perhaps thousands of African Americans in pogroms and race riots. One of the most murderous events occurred in the Mississippi Delta in and around Elaine, Arkansas. Late on the night of September 30, at a church located at a country cross-roads called Hoop Spur, about 100 African Americans met to organize the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America. On the eve of cotton harvest, small farmers, tenants, and sharecroppers demanded higher prices for their cotton from local white elites or pledged to go around them entirely by taking their cotton to market somewhere else. Pure greed set the landed gentry against them. White authorities claimed black unionists were organizing an “insurrection” and mass killing of white people, rather than getting an equitable price for their crops.  Their unionization drove the planters wild. What happened next should live in infamy.  

Blacks far outnumbered whites in Phillips County, but whites had most of the guns. A carload of whites approached the meeting and exchanged fire with black people guarding the church. One white man was killed and another wounded, possibly by stray bullets from their own side.  Hundreds of white vigilantes, dozens of law enforcement officials, and most deadly of all, 500 U.S. soldiers mobilized from nearby Camp Pike by the Arkansas governor, led hellish assaults for the next four days. According to proud accounts by those who did it, mobs went from house to house killing black occupants. Troops marched through forests where people hid and used machine guns to mow them down. One modest estimate counted 100 to 237 dead, but others thought hundreds more black bodies clogged the rivers and were covered over in the woods. 

 

Why did this happen? The Elaine Massacre highlighted racial holocausts sweeping the United States in the wake of World War I. In 1919, the United States was in the grip of a racist, anti-labor, anti-communist fervor. The Russian Revolution, the Seattle General Strike, and union unrest set off media and government campaigns against the left, unions, immigrants, Latinos and African Americans. Red Summer weaponized white workers and white ethnics to attack blacks encroaching on neighborhoods and jobs. Employers brought in blacks to break strikes and played off workers against each other. Red Summer helped kill a national strike of 350,000 Steel Workers, destroy interracial packinghouse worker organizing in Chicago, and undermine unions everywhere. 

 

The white heat of racial massacre followed in Elaine based on the South’s legacy of slavery and institutional violence against black people. A white landowning class in the Arkansas Delta had made millions from slave labor and, with support by whites from other social classes, crushed black freedom after the Civil War through lynching, disfranchisement and segregation. In 1919, the price of cotton had shot sky high, and white landlords, merchants, and cotton factors stood to gain a windfall profit if they could keep the black workers who planted, tended, and harvested the cotton from getting a fair price for their crops. 

 

The context was also national. During and after the Red Summer, black soldiers who had returned from World War I had weapons and knew how to use them. “New Negro” racial uplift and organizing blossomed. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Universal Negro Improvement Association led by Black nationalist Marcus Garvey both had branches in Arkansas. The black press, particularly the Chicago Defender, connected black resistance movements, as a million or more African Americans left the South for industrial jobs elsewhere, sometimes joined unions, and fought fiercely against racism. Black advancement and resistance threated the Jim Crow system, North and South.

 

The mass shootings in Elaine highlighted the ferocity and cruelty of racism and revealed the perversion of the criminal justice system. White authorities indicted no white murderers but undertook mass arrests of blacks, held nearly 300 of them in a jail in Helena designed to hold forty-eight, and used torture and beatings to elicit “confessions.” A Phillips County grand jury indicted 122 black people. In two separate trials, all-white juries took only minutes to convict twelve union members and sentence them to die in the electric chair.  The orgy of violence in 1919 helped a rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan as a mass movement and its political takeover in parts of the lower Midwest and the South. Racial violence didn’t stop. In 1921, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, whites raped, murdered, looted, shot and bombed from the air to destroy the thriving black community of Greenwood. Hundreds died as whites burned the business district and some 200 homes to the ground.  

 

Elaine helped to open the floodgates of violence, but left a few kernels of hope and seeds of organizing for the future. Black writer and organizer Ida B. Wells-Barnett, black Arkansas attorney Scipio Jones, and the NAACP saved the Elaine Twelve from the electric chair. By 1925, they were all released from prison (and spirited quickly out of the state), and their case before the U.S. Supreme Court (Moore V. Dempsey, 1923) strengthened the court’s interpretation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to correct state criminal trials that blatantly ignored the rights of defendants.   The ghosts of Elaine unionists also reached out to the next generation when the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union organized in the Arkansas Delta again in the 1930s. Racial terrorism and cotton mechanization destroyed the STFU too, but civil rights organizers in the 1960s chose to remember that blacks and whites in Ku Klux Klan country for a time successfully organized this bi-racial union. 

 

Today, unfortunately, there is no closure on racism. When the Elaine Legacy Center remembered the town’s martyrs by planting a tree last August, someone cut the tree down. In a town of 500 or so people, about forty percent of them African Americans, median household income hovers between $16,000 and $19,000, and some forty percent live in poverty. Racial terror (and later, farm mechanization) undercut the fortunes of generations of black farmers and workers. 

 

It remains extremely important that we remember signal events in our history, but also how we remember them.  The great sociologist W.E.B. DuBois later explained that racial separation and violence drove a stake through the heart of nascent labor movement in the South, destroying the potential of union incomes for white as well as black workers.  Elaine was a turning point, but it was only one of many. 

 

We need to remember the past in order to do something about its legacies. There should be federal and state investigations to clarify what happened in Elaine so that the next generation does not continue to believe the myths created by those who carried out the murders, to consider ways to repair the economic and social damage, and to fight anew against white supremacy and terrorism. The evil of the “red summer” of 1919 still haunts the land. Evil’s still on the loose, and you’ve got to take a side.  

 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173231 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173231 0
Why Are Americans So Confused About the Meaning of “Democratic Socialism”?

 

The meaning of democratic socialism―a mixture of political and economic democracy―should be no mystery to Americans.  After all, socialist programs have been adopted in most other democratic nations.  And, in fact, Americans appear happy enough with a wide range of democratic socialist institutions in the United States, including public schools, public parks, minimum wage laws, Social Security, public radio, unemployment insurance, public universities, Medicare, public libraries, the U.S. postal service, public roads, and high taxes on the wealthy.

 

Even so, large numbers of Americans seem remarkably confused about democratic socialism. This April, at a CNN town hall in New Hampshire, an attendee complained to Senator Bernie Sanders, a leading proponent of democratic socialism, that her father’s family left the Soviet Union, “fleeing from some of the very socialist policies that you seem eager to implement in this country.” Sanders responded:  “Is it your assumption that I supported or believe in authoritarian communism that existed in the Soviet Union?  I don’t.  I never have, and I opposed it.”  He added: “What democratic socialism means to me is we expand Medicare, we provide educational opportunity to all Americans, we rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.”

 

But, despite Sanders’ personal popularity and the popularity of the programs he advocates, large numbers of Americans―especially from older generations―remain uneasy about “socialism.”  Not surprisingly, Donald Trump and other rightwing Republicans have seized on this to brand the Democrats as the party of socialist dictatorship.

 

Why does socialism―even something as innocuously labeled as democratic socialism―have this stigma?

 

Originally, “socialism” was a vague term, encompassing a variety of different approaches to securing greater economic equality.  These included Christian socialism, utopian socialism, Marxian socialism, syndicalism, evolutionary socialism, and revolutionary socialism.  For a time, Socialist parties in many countries, including the Socialist Party of America, housed these differing tendencies.

 

But the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution led to a lasting division in the world socialist movement. The Bolsheviks, grim survivors of Russia’s centuries-old Czarist tyranny and vigorous proponents of socialist revolution, regarded the democratic, parliamentary path followed by the Socialist parties of other countries with scorn.  Consequently, renaming themselves Communists, they established Communist parties in other lands and called upon true revolutionaries to join them.  Many did so.  As a result, the world socialist movement became divided between Socialist parties (championing multi-party elections and civil liberties) and rival Communist parties (championing revolution followed by a Communist Party dictatorship).  

 

Despite the clear difference between Socialist parties (promoting democratic socialism, often termed social democracy) and Communist parties (promoting the authoritarian Soviet model and Soviet interests), plus the bitter hostility that often existed between them, many Americans associated one with the other.

 

This confusion was enhanced, in subsequent decades, by the tendency of Communists to cling to the term “socialist.”  As “socialism” had positive connotations for many people around the world, Communist leaders frequently argued that Socialists weren’t “socialist” at all, and that Communists were the only true “socialists.”  Communist-led nations alone, they claimed, represented “real socialism.”

 

Actually, Communist and Socialist parties didn’t have much in common.  The Soviet government and later unelected Communist regimes―much like fascist and other rightwing governments―became notorious as brutal tyrannies that instituted mass imprisonment, torture, and murder.  In reaction, many Communists grew disillusioned, quit their parties, or sought to reform them, while popular uprisings toppled Communist dictatorships. By contrast, Socialist parties won elections repeatedly and governed numerous nations where, less dramatically, they enacted democratic socialist programs. Nowhere did these programs lead to the destruction of political democracy.

 

Meanwhile, the Socialist Party of America gradually disintegrated.  One reason for its decline was government repression during World War I and the postwar “Red Scare.” Another was that, in the 1930s, the Democratic Party adopted some of its platform (including a massive jobs program, Social Security, a wealth tax, union rights for workers, and minimum wage legislation) and absorbed most of its constituency. Rather than acknowledge the socialist roots of these popular policies, President Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats chose to talk of a New Deal for “the common man.”  This sleight of hand boosted the Democrats and further undermined the dwindling Socialist Party.

 

In response, conservatives―especially big business, its wealthy owners, and their political defenders―acted as if a Red revolution had arrived.  Assailing Social Security, Republican Congressman Daniel Reed predicted that “the lash of the dictator will be felt.”  In January 1936, at a gala dinner sponsored by the American Liberty League, a group of wealthy business and conservative leaders, Al Smith―the former New York Governor who had turned sharply against the Roosevelt administration―addressed the gathering and a national radio audience.  Charging that New Dealers had enacted “the Socialist platform,” he asserted that “there can be only one capital, Washington or Moscow. There can be only one atmosphere of government, the clear, pure, fresh air of free America, or the foul breath of communistic Russia.”

 

During America’s Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union, conservatives frequently employed this line of attack.  “If Medicare passes into law, the consequences will be dire beyond imagining,” Ronald Reagan warned a radio audience in the early 1960s.  “You and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”  Against this backdrop, most Democrats kept their distance from the word “socialism,” while much of the public simply wrote it off as meaning tanks in Moscow’s Red Square.

 

More recently, of course, the disappearance of the Soviet Union and most other Communist nations, rising economic inequality, the attractive model of Scandinavian social democracy, and Bernie Sanders’ Americanization of “socialism” have enhanced the popularity of “socialism”―in its democratic socialist form―in the United States.

 

It’s probably premature to predict that most Americans will finally recognize the democratic socialist nature of many programs they admire.  But that’s certainly a possibility.   

 

 

 

    

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173229 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173229 0
The New McCarthyism?

 

I suppose we should all be happy that “McCarthyism” has become such a widely used accusation that it appears in almost every news cycle, and that there is now a consensus that it is a “bad thing.”  

 

Unfortunately, the term has become almost entirely evacuated of its historical and political meaning. Exhibit A: Republican Senator Mitch McConnell accused critics of “McCarthyism” for pointing out that McConnell blocking investigations into Russian election meddling benefited President Vladimir Putin.Even worse, President Trump accusedactress Debra Messing of McCarthyism and in the same tweet calledfor Messing, an outspoken liberal whom he considers a political enemy, to be “thrown off television.” 

 

Historians need to set the record straight.  Let’s start by defining the term on the basis of the actual history. Historians and non-historians alike use the term “McCarthyism” to refer to a broadly applied mid-twentieth century red scare, named after the junior Senator from Wisconsin, Joe McCarthy, who stole the anticommunist limelight at its later stages in February 1950.   The anticommunist repression McCarthy fronted had been going onsince at least 1947, and some historians argue, myself included, it began in the late 1930s.  

 

With or without McCarthy at its head, McCarthyism was practiced very deliberately and narrowly. It used the investigative and police powers of the state to target communists and socialists (and a few liberals), exclude them from governing institutions, and banish them from most other parts of American political culture.  

 

At its height in the 1950s and early 1960s, McCarthyism most effectively purged government agencies, schools and universities, film and television production, theater, publishing, and journalism.  It ruined the careers of thousands of teachers, actors, writers, and civil servants. It was a constitutional nightmare that violated the right to free speech and assembly, the right of association, the right of due process, the protection against unwarranted surveillance, and the protection against self-incrimination.

 

Even more important: It closed off a whole tradition of political activism and speech from the American body politic.  Until the 1970s, for example, American teachers still had to sign loyalty oaths denying communist affiliation in order to get jobs in American schools.  Even today, left-wing teachers must be guarded about their political views and affiliations. 

 

Thus, McCarthyism is a unique political phenomenon that had far-reaching and damaging consequences. Fundamentally, McCarthyism was the exclusion and persecution directed by the state– by investigative agencies like the FBI and specially empowered Senate and House committees -- against the American left. These are big and ugly shoes to fill.  Any claim to being the victim of a “new McCarthyism” would require the repetition of key aspects of this historical tradition.

 

Liberal actress Debra Messing has not filled those big and ugly shoes.  Not by a long shot.  When she asked for the list of attendees at a Hollywood fundraiser for President Trump’s 2020 campaign, she may have violated her own liberal principles.  When she and Eric McCormick, her former co-star on the Will and Grace TV show, suggested they didn’t want to work with Trump supporters in future productions, they may have let their political views get in the way of their artistic better judgment.

 

But they didn’t practice McCarthyism. President Trump’s call for Messing to be “thrown off television” for what she and McCormick wrote is more what real McCarthyism looks like:  a powerful political leader trying to get employers to fire people for saying something he doesn’t like and considers a threat.

 

Whoopie Goldberg, another of Messing critics, astutely noted that holding actors accountable for their political views bears some likeness to the Hollywood blacklist, which forced hundreds of communists, socialists, liberals and otherwise merely decent people out of their jobs in the film industry. But Goldberg is exaggerating when she says, “the last time people did this (referring to Messing’s remarks), people ended up killing themselves.” Yes, blacklisted artists and actors did commit suicide.  But the blacklist was not a particular actor saying they didn’t want to work with others because they found their politics offensive.  The real Hollywood blacklist was an act of political repression directed by the state against left-wing Hollywood artists.

 

Let’s recall how the blacklist actually started and worked:  In 1942 the FBI, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, began an investigation into communist influence in Hollywood.  An extreme conservative in charge of the most powerful police agency in American history, Hoover believed that films exercised an undue influence on the political views and values of the American public, and that communists and other freethinkers were at fault.

 

As historian John Sbardellati recounted in his recent study of the FBI’s Hollywood probe, Hoover encouraged the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), a sub-committee established in the 1930s to investigate a wide range of subversive organizations, to undertake an investigation of Hollywood communism in 1947 when the House and all of its committees were taken over by Republicans after their triumph in the 1946 elections.  HUAC Republicans gladly used the high public profiles of their Hollywood targets, which included popular actors like John Garfield and Paul Robeson, to jump-start the following year’s presidential campaign against President Harry Truman and the legacy of the New Deal.

 

What quickly unfolded was a series of hearings and investigations in which Hollywood personalities were called before Congress to attest to their loyalty and to deny membership in the Communist Party of the United States.  Not all the people who were persecuted by HUAC were communists, but many of them belonged to the party at some point in their careers, including blacklisted writers and directors like Albert Maltz, Dalton Trumbo and John Howard Lawson.  

 

HUAC and the FBI forced Hollywood producers to create a blacklist of suspected communists, disloyal liberals and socialists, and generally uncooperative witnesses before HUAC and other committees.  Some conservative movie studio heads like Louis Mayer gladly complied.  Others did so out of fear that a broader and more punitive form of censorship would be imposed on them from Washington if they did not.  Until the early 1960s, Hollywood studios refused to hire anyone on that blacklist or distribute films on which they worked.

 

While the blacklist may appear to Whoopie Goldberg to have started as a matter of personal choice like Messing’s and McCormick’s, and while right-wing Republican Mitch McConnell may protest the “new McCarthyism” when Democrats call him “Moscow Mitch,” McCarthyism isn’t just someone acting prejudicially on the basis of their political views.  however ill conceived those choices may be.   Nor is it the stifling of free speech on college campuses by “political correctness,” however damaging that might be to robust intellectual and political discussion.

 

McCarthyism was and is a long-standing practice of using the investigative and police powers of national and state governments to exclude the left from American political life.  It attacks the left, demonizing communists and socialists, and building public hysteria to close down liberal programs in order to gain conservative advantage.  

 

That historical tradition, sadly, has not ended – witness concerted Republican efforts to “put socialism on trial” as Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow declared it, and “convict it.”  That is the real McCarthyism threatening American democracy at this moment.  However misconceived Debra Messing’s publicly announced prejudices, there is no comparison.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173228 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173228 0
Holly Jackson on the History Lessons of American Radicals

 

Holly Jackson is an associate professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Her writing on U.S. cultural history has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, as well as a number of scholarly venues. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

 

Dr. Jackson discussed her latest book, American Radicals: How Nineteenth-Century Protest Shaped the Nation, with the History News Network. American Radicals will be released October 8th. 

 

Why was this a peak moment of protest in American history? 

 

American Radicals focuses on the period from around 1820 through the end of Reconstruction in 1877, and I’ve tried to show that social justice movements did not simply respond to the volatile political conditions of this time, but played an important role in shaping them. In the antebellum period, the federal government brokered a string of compromises over slavery, aiming to preserve the union between the sections. A critical mass of ordinary Americans taking active measures in opposition to slavery, and this certainly included enslaved people themselves, helped to push the country to its ultimate reckoning with this issue in the Civil War and also intervened in the period of social re-engineering that followed. This was a golden age for multi-issue activists who wanted to interrogate and overturn not only slavery, but also other longstanding forms of oppression that many Americans considered natural, even divinely ordained, including women’s subordination in marriage, prisons, economic inequality, and so on. There were also two major depressions in this period that catalyzed people to think about critically about capitalism and consider alternatives. 

 

What were the tactics/methods of the first American protest movements?

 

Protest took many forms, ranging from lifestyle choices like veganism and consumer boycotts to strikes and demonstrates, up to attempted coups d’état. Thousands of Americans lived in alternative communities at some point during this period in order to separate their daily lives from a mainstream culture they found objectionable. One subset of abolitionists called the Come-Outers sometimes crashed church services. Free Lovers risked jail time for cohabiting with their partners, or else staged protest weddings. The figures I focus on were particularly invested in the power of the written word to make social change; they published pamphlets and novels and manifestoes, edited radical newspapers and magazines.

 

What can we learn from the abolitionists and women’s rights activists? How did they work together successfully? What were the limits? 

 

These two movements were richly intertwined and mutually sustaining before the Civil War, which is not to say that activists always worked together across issues in perfect harmony. The strain of activism usually associated with William Lloyd Garrison was controversial even within the abolitionist movement, not only for its anti-government stance, but for its advocacy of women’s equality and public leadership. When a separate women’s rights movement emerged, the personnel was largely drawn from the antislavery community. Frederick Douglass was not only present at the Seneca Falls convention, he convinced the assembly to pursue the goal of women’s suffrage even though most of the women present thought it was too radical. 

These collaborations were severely tested after the war. Some women’s rights leaders felt sidelined by the push for black male suffrage. Frances Harper and others advocated for what we would now call an intersectional approach, mindful of multiple social hierarchies at once, but Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony turned to racist fear-mongering in their arguments for women’s suffrage.

 

There are a number of other crucial relationships between the social movements of this period that are not as well known. For example, Stanton credited the utopian socialist Charles Fourier with the dawning of her feminist consciousness. The labor movement and Free Love each overlapped significantly with both antislavery and women’s rights.

 

What opposition did this era of activists face? 

 

They were regarded by most of their countrymen as dangerous troublemakers and faced virulent opposition from many directions. Mainstream newspapers went far beyond lampooning their countercultural quirks to actively fomenting violence against them. Antislavery activists were assaulted, even murdered. Mobs set fire to their lecture venues. Laws were passed to curtail their right to free speech, including gag rules in the antebellum period and anti-obscenity legislation later in the century aimed at those circulating information about birth control. The book describes two instances in which American presidents deployed military force to crush civilian protests: the first was in Boston in 1854, where 50,000 people had turned out to demand the release of Anthony Burns, a self-emancipated refugee from Virginia, and the second was in Pennsylvania in 1877, when railway workers carried out a massive strike that spread across the country; soldiers killed around a hundred civilians. Americans have always had an ambivalent relationship to protest, despite our revolutionary origins

 

What does this era tell us about the discrepancy between the ideals and the reality of the United States?

 

Even though these activists were plugged into international networks and were deeply critical of nationalism, they framed their social justice work specifically as a struggle for American values. Across movements, they called for a “second revolution” that would complete the first, so that the everyday lives of all Americans might finally reflect the ideals of equality and freedom that had never been realized. The Declaration of Independence was a key text for many who wanted to reclaim its power as a radical manifesto and hold Americans to account for their own professed beliefs. It was quoted and reworked extensively by African American activists like James Forten and David Walker, and later by John Brown, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Free Lovers like Marx Lazarus. 

 

What do you want readers to take away from this book about the lessons for today? 

 

I hope American Radicals makes it clear that social justice protest has been a defining force in American history. As we grapple with the deep roots and long aftermath of colonialism, slavery, capitalist exploitation, it’s important to know that there was always profound opposition to those forces as well. This period saw the rise of modern social justice movements that transformed American society, though their work is far from complete. People who care about these issues today should understand themselves as part of a long tradition. 

 

In 1854, Henry David Thoreau said he was plagued by a “sense of having suffered a vast and indefinite loss,” and he realized “that what I had lost was a country.” Then, as now, Americans were outraged about family separation, sexual assaults on women, an economic 1% exerting outsize control on the government, the devaluation of black lives. Americans have felt this sense of personal grief and outraged patriotism before, and it has fired some of the finest moments in our history.

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173225 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173225 0
Why Can’t Trump Admit Mistakes? It’s an Old Strategy Explained by Hitler

 

President Trump never admits a mistake.

 

Even when the mistake is blatantly obvious, Trump still refuses to fess up. He goes to absurd lengths to attempt to falsely explain it away.

 

A typical example is the recent clamor over Trump’s obvious mistake of warning the nation that the state of Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian and was at risk of suffering severe damage. The National Weather Service immediately issued a correction saying that Alabama, in fact, was not in the path of the hurricane and thus was not at risk of suffering any damage.

 

But Trump could not admit he was wrong. Instead, Trump continued to insist that he was right.

 

In a surreal displayfrom the Oval Office of the White House, Trump displayed to the nation a map of the path of the hurricane that obviously had been doctored with a Sharpie pen to extend the hurricane’s path to inaccurately include the state of Alabama.

 

Why can’t Trump simply admit that he made a mistake? Why does Trump feel the need to go to such great lengths to insist  he was not wrong?

 

In his 1924 book, “Mein Kampf,” Hitler describedhis strategy for how his then-neophyte Nazi party could seize power through the use of propaganda and psychological manipulation.

 

According to Hitler's demented worldview, a leader must “fill people with blind faith” that he and his party doctrine are absolutely and unquestionably correct. The leader must create an army of “intellectually less capable men” who are instilled with “rigid discipline and fanatical faith” for the cause, and each follower must be “taught to stake his life for it without reservation.”

 

To keep the flock obedient, the leader and the party must always appear to be absolutely correct. The party’s pronouncements must be “unshakable,” “dogmatic,” “creedlike,” and always seem like a “granite principle.”

 

Objective truth and reality are disregarded. It is far more important to cling to what was said initially in order to maintain the impression of always being right, even if the original pronouncement was flatly wrong. As Hitler states, “[I]t is less harmful to retain a formulation, even if it should not entirely correspond to reality, than by improving it” to correct the error.

 

The problem with correcting errors is that this leads to “evil consequences.” Once the faithful realize that the doctrine from on high is not always unquestionably correct, then people may begin to question it. This can lead to “discussion,” “squabbles,” “uncertainty,” and “doubt.”

 

Questioning authority, of course, is abhorrent to authoritarian rule. Hitler warnedthat the party must avoid “all actions that splinter and create uncertainty.”

 

Hitler considered the Catholic Church as a model of this principle. Even though the doctrine of the Churchconflicted with proven science, the Church was “nonetheless unwilling to sacrifice so much as one little syllable of its dogmas.”

 

The lesson is that when the leader or the party is questioned, the response must be to fight. Fight everything. Concede nothing. Maintain a unified front. Project total power and absolute certainty.

 

The purpose of Hitler’s approach wasto condition the people to mindlessly follow the leader regardless of the leader’s policies or conduct. Democracy, however, is exactly the opposite. In a democracy, the people continuously assess the leader, and if the performance is unsatisfactory, the people can elect a new leader.

 

Trump, however, is following Hitler’s approach.

 

Trump is seeking to maintain his army of supporters based upon “blind faith” in Trump himself rather than upon reason. Trump has sold himself to his followers asa highly successful, incredibly wealthy, “very stable genius.”

 

So what happens when Trump makes an idiotic mistake? Deny it. Fight like mad. Maintain the unified front. The truth does not matter one bit.

 

Admitting a mistake could very well lead to evil consequences. Once the Trump faithful realize that Trump does indeed make foolish mistakes, they might very well begin to question the legitimacy of the overall Trump mystique.

 

This could lead to discussion, squabbles, uncertainty, and doubt. Maybe Trump is not a genius after all. Maybe Trump is not even very smart. In fact, maybe Trump is an outright fool.

 

And why in the world would anyone re-elect a fool?

 

No wonder Trump goes to such extraordinary lengths to never admit a mistake.

 

One little crack in the façade could cause the entire edifice to crumble.

 

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Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173224 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173224 0
Incognegro: How Law Enforcement Spies on Black Radical Groups

In the center of the photo - Herb Callender (front, dark suit, Black male) and Ray Wood (sunglasses, bow tie, white suit, Black male)

 

Attorney General Barr recently gave a speech to the country's largest law-enforcement organization in which he criticized "social justice reformers" and contended there must be "zero tolerance for resisting police". A few days earlier the Young Turks broke the story that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) listed  "Black Identity Extremists" (BIE) as a top priority in its fight against terrorism. The FBI considered BIE a higher priority than Al Qaeda and White Supremacists. According to the FBI documents they acquired, a program codenamed “IRON FIST” planned to use undercover agents to counter these BIE. 

 

The news reminded some of the FBI's Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of the 1960's and 70's that targeted Black activism. It is important to understand how government agencies, in particular law enforcement, work to obstruct Black people from organizing. The history of COINTELPRO illuminates why so many Black radical and grassroots organizations were previously destroyed and why it remains so difficult to organize today. 

 

 COINTELPRO was created to maintain "the existing social and political order". It sought to "prevent the long range growth of militant Black organizations, prevent such groups from gaining respectability". In practice, this amounted to political repression and flagrant violations of first amendment rights to speech, to peacefully assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances. 

 

COINTELPRO often worked in conjunction with and received information from local law enforcement "red squads" such as the Bureau of Special Services (BOSS), a special division of the New York City Police department (NYPD). Also known as the Bureau of Special Services and Investigations, its job was to monitor and surveil political radicals.These divisions often relied on informants and undercover agents. Ray Wood, a.k.a. Ray Woodall, was one such informant who, as a police officer for BOSS, infiltrated the Bronx chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in the early 1960s.  Some historians like Ward Churchill and Susan Brownmiller have written about Woodbut new information providesa clearer picture of how undercover agents contributed to COINTELPRO.

 

One of the most significant organizations of the Civil Rights movement, CORE was the first of the non-violent direct action groups. It pioneered many of the tactics and techniques that have come to characterize the movement. Bronx CORE was one of the most militant chapters and was best known for its 1963 demonstrations against employment discrimination at White Castle restaurants. At the height of the campaign, more than 1,000 counter protesters carrying Nazi and Confederate flags and symbols faced off against roughly two dozen CORE demonstrators. 

 

During this same period, Wood infiltrated Bronx CORE, successfully gained its members trust, and became the chair of its housing committee. Wood was a delegate for Bronx CORE to CORE’s 1964 national convention, giving him the opportunity to meet CORE leaders from all over the country. Locally, Wood was a well-known figure and even dated women from other CORE chapters. 

 

While secretly a police officer, Wood often was involved in campaigns that publicly challenged the police. Wood worked closely with Bronx CORE’s chairman Herb Callendar who launched a campaign against police brutality after the White Castle demonstrations. The NYPD commissioner criticized the campaign and characterized Callendar, along with Malcolm X and rent strike leader Jesse Grey, as the "three most irresponsible Civil Rights leaders in the city".

 

In 1964, Callendar, Wood and another Bronx CORE member carried out the chapter's most audacious action to date: a "citizen's arrest" of the Mayor of New York City (NYC). All three CORE members were themselves arrested but Callendar received an especially harsh punishment and wasplaced in the psychiatric wing of Bellevue Hospital. Callendar would later tell CORE's national director James Farmer that the idea to arrest the mayor came from Wood.(1) 

 

Wood suggested illegal acts to radical groups in the hope the organizations would act on his suggestions and provide police the ability to arrest Black radicals. For example, Wood likely planted the idea to blow up the Statue of Liberty. In 1965, Wood was outed as an agent when a story appeared in the New York Times about his role in instigating a 1965 plot by another radical group, the Black Liberation Front (BLF), to blow up the Statue of Liberty.(2) This was a plan previously suggested to members of East River CORE. Even though he was not a member, Wood went out of his way to attend East River CORE meetings be involved and helpful. As he got to know members, he suggested they get involved in more militant actions likethe Statue of Liberty plan and robbing liquor stores to raise funds for East River CORE. Such actions would have done enormous damage to the reputation and public support of the entire national organization as CORE stressed non-violent action. Unbeknownst to the chapter, Wood was spying on members and eventually reported chapter head Blyden Jackson as a possible member of the Communist Party to the House of UnAmerican Activities Committee.

 

Further, Wood’s connection to East River CORE, combined with documented connections between members of the BLF and CORE in NYC, suggests Wood used CORE as a stepping-stone into other Black radical circles. Other historians, for example, have discussed how he infiltrated the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) in Queens and testified at the Panther 21 trial in the late 1960’s.(3) 

 

By the 1970’s, Wood’s name had faded into obscurity. Historian Garrett Felber’s 2015 Guardian article about Wood reignitedinterest in him. Felber argued Wood mighthave been the mysterious second man arrested at the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm X was assassinated. As part of the  research team for Manning Marable'sbiography of Malcolm X, A Life Reinvented, Felber found notes from Yuri Kochiyama, a member of CORE and the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) who witnessed the assassination. In OAAU meeting notes, Kochiyama, wrote that "Ray Woods" was "seen running out of (the) Audubon, was one of two picked up by police". 

 

As Felber himself admits, the timing of Wood’s outingin the press (New York Times February 17, 1965) and the date of Malcolm X's assassination (February 21, 1965) means it is possible word already spread among activists about Wood's true identity. While this makes it more unlikely he would have been at the Audubon, it does not mean this theory should be completely discounted. His interactions with RAM and the Black Panthers in the late 1960’s suggests other Black activists in the NYC area may not have known he was an undercover police officer.

 

Regardless of if he was at the Audubon, Wood and other undercover agents like him had a detrimental impact on organizations like CORE. Wood was not just spying on CORE but was on a mission to "misdirect, disrupt, discredit and neutralize" CORE's leadership. He was acting as a provocateur. What resulted from these operations were not just literal assassinations such as the police murder of the Black Panther's Fred Hampton in Chicago, but character assassinations as in the case of CORE's Callendar and Blyden. Such operations demonized Black leaders in the public eye and thereby de-legitimized both the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. 

 

While BOSS maintains its job was not to facilitate, instigate or provoke the committing of illegal actions, as time goes on, mounting evidence suggests that is exactly what such agencies were doing. What remains to be determined is if Wood's activities were unusual or the standard for BOSS and COINTELPRO.

 

Today, many of the activities of intelligence programs like COINTELPRO have been deemed illegal after the Church Committee hearings and the Handschu agreement. Nevertheless, recent programs like IRON FIST provide a warning thatthe FBI’s mission is unchanged.  

 

In 2017, historian Robin Spencer wrote that the FBI’s labeling of current activists as 'Black Identity Extremists' was the latest version of COINTELPRO. While BIE's are described as individuals who "use force or violence in violation of criminal law in response to perceived racism and injustice in American society", they are also more vaguely defined as those interested in "establishing a separate black homeland or autonomous black social institutions, communities or governing organizations within the USA". This broad definition could potentially include rappers such as Jay-Z, Black Christian church groups, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

  

The Black Life Matters movement has characterized itself through non-violent direct action. The Guardian, however, ran another story in 2017 detailing how law enforcement used social media to keep BLM activists under surveillance and infiltrate their groups. These techniques fuel distrust within groups andmake it much harder to organize. Creating such an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia was the goal of programs like COINTELPRO and agents like Ray Wood.

 

This distrust also affects scholars as it complicates efforts to research the history of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Some older activists of the 1960's and 1970's can be distrustful and refuse to be interviewed because of the history of journalists and scholars who have acted as agents. This frustrates efforts to learn about what effect these programs ultimately had on organizations such as CORE. 

 

The history of COINTELPRO is essential to understand both for historians and current activists. There is still a great need to understand what happened to the activists and movement during this time period. We still do not understand the breadth of such programs and the damage done.  

 

Currently, we cannot learn more because many of the program’s records are still classified. Releasing the records of these domestic spy programs could give scholars the tools needed to decipher this important time period in the Black Freedom Movement and give us a better understanding of how the legacy of these programs affect such activists today.

 

 

 Footnotes

  • Farmer, James. Lay Bare the Heart, page 263. TCU Press. 1985
  • “4 Held in Plot to Blast Statue of Liberty, Liberty Bell and Washington Monument”. Homer Bigart, New York Times. Feb 17, 1965
  •  Grady-Willis, Winston. “The Black Panther Party: State Repression and Political Prisoners”, The Black Panther Party (Reconsidered).1998. Baltimore: Black Classic Press.; Zimroth, Peter L. Perversions of Justice—The Prosecution and Acquittal of the Panther 21, Pg 48. New York, Viking Press, 1974
  • ]]>
    Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173226 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173226 0
    On Weather and History

     

    Fox’s Jesse Waters dismissedclimate change in a not-so-nuanced manner: “It gets hot. It gets cold.”

     

    Yet weather matters, and it matters even to historians. I offer an illustration.

     

    I have for many years been perplexed by the somberness of Jefferson’s thinking beginning with the spring of 1816 and continuing throughout the winter of the following year. Consider what I write in Thomas Jefferson: Uncovering His Unique Philosophical Vision:

     

    In a letter to Abigail Adams dated January 11, 1817, Jefferson is uncharacteristically chapfallen. “Nothing proves more than this that the being who resides over the world is essentially benevolent, stealing from us, one by one, the faculties of enjoyment, searing our sensibilities, leading us, like the horse in his mill, round and round the same beaten path.” With each turn, the senses become satiated and fatigued by “leaden iteration” and the wish to live wanes. With the turn of a new year, Jefferson, it seems, has begun his crepuscular years. He waxes Stoical: “Perhaps however one of the elements of future felicity is to be a constant and unimpassioned view of what is passing here. … Mercier has given us a vision of the year 2440, but prophecy is one thing, history another. On the whole however, perhaps it is wise and well to be contented with the good things which the master of the feast places before us, and to be thankful for what we have, rather than thoughtful about what we have not.” Resignation seems an irregular, uncustomary sentiment for Jefferson—at least in his letters. Nine months earlier, he had told John Adams a story singularly different and seemingly anti-stoical. “My temperament is sanguine. I steer my bark with Hope in the head, leaving Fear astern. … The perfection of the moral character is, not in a Stoical apathy, so hypocritically vaunted, and so untruly too, because impossible, but in a just equilibrium of all the passions.”

     

    Why is there such a quick antipodal shift in perspective? The reason, I suspect—and here I am being slightly tongue-in-cheek—is because of a philosophical hangover of sorts.

     

    Doubtless prompted by global and local events—America survived a Federalist threat of secession in 1814, and the War of 1812 for all intents and purposes ended with a remarkable victory in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815—the year 1816 was an especially philosophical year for Jefferson. His letters reflect a large amount of somber contemplation on contentious issues—foremost among them is the issue of republican government. In no other year does he reflect on the nature of republican government with such optimism and verve in letters. He is essaying to decipher the nature of true republicanism.

     

    The problem was this: Jefferson, a relatively serious person, was especially serious in 1816—so much so that I groped for an explanation. I solaced myself with the notion of a “philosophical hangover”—a strange choice of metaphor given that Jefferson was not much of a tippler—and that was tantamount to saying that I had no answer. Jefferson’s serious turn and his concentrated effort on finding a perfect definition of republicanism in 1816 has always been a bugbear.

     

    I found a possible answer while reading on the history of Lynchburg, Virginia. One of the earliest “biographers,” W. Asbury Christian, wrote of a gross weatheranomaly in the summer of 1816.

     

    The … year, 1816, was a year of great dearth. The beginning was promising, but the ending was gloomy. It was known by many as the “year without a summer.” April was a month of storms, and in May vegetation that had budded was frozen. There was frost and snow in June; in July and August ice formed in exposed places, and September and October seemed to have taken the place of December. In consequence of this the crops all failed, and hard times followed.

     

    The anomalous weather was not just endemic to Lynchburg. It was a global phenomenon. The Northern hemisphere suffered in numerous places snow in June and frost in July and August. The weather was cold and rainy, and there was to be an ever-present thick, dusty fog. The coldness and lack of sunshine caused massive crop failures over the globe. Food, thus, became scarce, and those who did successful grow food had to worry about theft. Even travel by horse became more expensive, as oats, the primary food for horses, too climbed in price.

     

    There was across the globe a general panic. Many thought it was Armageddon, but the summer-less year was the result of a volcanic eruption. On April 5, 1815, Mount Tambora began to rumble and erupted over a four-month period. The ash and aerosols from the eruption blotted out the sun the following year. The average global temperature dropped three degrees Celsius. During that bleak summer, Mary Shelly wrote Frankensteinand Lord Byron wrote Darkness.

     

    Byron’s poem begins:

     

    I had a dream, which was not all a dream.

    The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars

    Did wander darkling in the eternal space,

    Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth

    Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;

    Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,

    And men forgot their passions in the dread

    Of this their desolation; and all hearts

    Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light.

     

    Byron’s poem ends:

     

    The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still, 

    And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths;

    Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,

    And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d

    They slept on the abyss without a surge—

    The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,

    The moon, their mistress, had expir’d before;

    The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,

    And the clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need

    Of aid from them—She was the Universe.

     

    And so, Thomas Jefferson too had a Byronic turn of mind in 1816. During that time, he turned to tackling one of the most vexing philosophical problems with which he had to grapple—expiscation of the nature of republicanism—and he did so in lengthy, somber letters to friends such as P.S. Dupont de Nemours (Apr. 24), John Taylor (May 28), and Samuel Kercheval (July 12). Examination of those letters reveals, first, maturation of his thoughts on republicanism, consistent with his earlier, inchoate views on the subject in works such as Summary View of the Rights of British American (1774), Declaration of Independence (1776), and his First Inaugural Address (1801), and second, a consistent political philosophy that is both rich and textured.

    This episode shows plainly what serious historical scholars already know. Historical perplexities are often solved unexpectedly, inadvertently. It is often the case that one perplexity is solvedwhile one is examining another perplexity.

     

    Moreover, it illustrates plainly the complexity of a historian’s job. It is not just a matter of studying persons or events within a particular era and culture, one must, as one particular Hippocratic physician—the author of the medical treatise Airs, Waters, and Places—stated millennia ago, breath their air, drink their water, and live in their places. Weather is not just something that happens while other things are happening. Weather often significantly affects history.

     

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    Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173223 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173223 0
    Revolutionary Inspiration for Moral Choices in Trump's America

     

    The current struggle for the political soul of America turns on the stories we tell ourselves about our own history.  President Trump has spun a tale of contagious fear, inviting attacks on our imagined enemies.  When we have allowed ourselves to be governed by fear in the past, it has legitimized assaults on Catholics, race riots, and mass incarcerations.  

     

    But Americans worried about physical safety and uncertain about their political future have been known to exercise remarkable constraint in a poisonous political environment.  This was the case most notably in the early days of the American Revolution.  It’s not that violence had no attraction for the revolutionaries.  Anxiety generated plenty of anger and hate.  But they did not surrender to their worst instincts.  They upheld the rule of law and decided that patriotism could best be expressed by preserving the fundamental principles of habeas corpus and due process.

     

    During the fall of 1776 revolutionaries in the state of New York faced an existential crisis.  British forces threatened communities on the Hudson River from two directions: the recently conquered New York City in the south and the far north.  Members of an emergency revolutionary committee decided they had to do something to control the large numbers of people in the Hudson Valley who either claimed neutrality or actively supported the British.  

     

    The danger was extreme.  Violence stalked every farmstead.  The state legislature had given committees charged with enforcing allegiance to the cause extraordinary power “to defeat the barbarous machinations of their domestic, as well as external enemies.”  The committees were authorized to do whatever they deemed “necessary for suppressing insurrections; to apprehend, secure or remove such persons whom they shall judge dangerous to the safety of the State.”

     

    In New York, the revolutionary committees gathered the names of suspects—some genuine British agents, others farmers who worried that open political commitment to the American cause would expose them to retaliation and a few Quakers.  Authorities compiled lists of “notoriously disaffected persons,” while the revolutionaries urged “every virtuous citizen” to help expose their dangerous neighbors. 

     

    The campaign sparked many arrests—so many, in fact, that the local jails were soon filled to capacity.  Desperate to secure the region from possible enemies and eager to focus their attentions on the British, the committees decided to send some two hundred suspects to Exeter, New Hampshire.  The revolutionary government of New Hampshire agreed to take the prisoners, and even though these men had not been formally processed—there were no records of why the names of specific individuals appeared on the New York lists—they were dispatched on a journey to what was in fact an internment camp.  The plan exposed the prisoners to attack.  “We were told that the people of Exeter would deal with us according to our deserts,” one man noted, “by close confinement, if not by hanging.”  

     

    Some two hundred New Yorkers were forced to walk to New Hampshire.  Those thought to be most dangerous were housed in a jail, while others had to find their own lodging in nearby villages.  The Quakers were allowed to live with any Quaker families who would agree to take them in.  

     

    New Hampshire authorities resolved that “none of the Prisoners sent into this State from the State of New York have leave to write or send Letters to any person or persons whatever or wherever with the same being inspected.”  The suspects were prohibited from having political conversations with local residents. They could not use “words or arguments to people they may converse with tending to hurt the Interests of the States of America, or in opposition to the present contest with Great Britain.”

     

    These rules failed utterly to silence the prisoners most of whom thought they had been incarcerated for no clear reason.  When they asked local committee members to justify their arrest, the New Hampshire authorities weakly explained that they had no answers. No one in New York had submitted the proper documentation.   

     

    In conversations in kitchens and on village streets, the prisoners complained that they had been denied the basic legal rights that every American took for granted.  They had not received due process.  No one in New York had bothered with habeas corpus, a right assumed by all British subjects that protected them from unlawful arrest.  The people of New Hampshire listened to these complaints.  

     

     “Great uneasiness prevails among them & their clamors of being sent here without an examination at home,” a revolutionary committee in New Hampshire reported, “and conscious of their innocence which they assert, has had considerable influence among the People in these parts in their behalf.”  New Hampshire authorities begged New York for help. “We wish an Impartial Enquiry might be made into their characters,” they wrote, “and if any appear innocent who was taken up and sent from their homes in Confusion and unavoidable hurry that you was involved in at that time, that an order may be sent for their discharge.”

     

    Sensing that they had found a sympathetic audience, the prisoners did what so many other prisoners have done in similar situations. They submitted petitions for their immediate release.  Soon the New Hampshire legislature received a flood of petitions.  Again, the Exeter authorities urged the New York committee to provide instructions: “We earnestly desire some further direction relative to them, and if you think fit for them to be longer detained that you would send some particular charge of their crimes.”  

     

    By March 1777 the entire internment camp had collapsed.  The military crisis in the Hudson Valley seemed less pressing, and New York ordered the return of the remaining prisoners. Many had already escaped.  Most seem to have been reabsorbed into society. The great fear that had disrupted the lives of so many people was soon no more than a minor footnote in the history of American independence.

     

    For us, the point is not that desperate authorities in New York ignored the rule of law when they succumbed to fear, always a corrosive force in civil society.  They were not alone in doing so.  Other revolutionaries allowed fear to justify violence against Native Americans and African American slaves.  But these events should not cause us to loose sight of another story, one of restraint and compassion.  

     

    Ordinary men and women of Exeter made moral choices. Under extremely trying circumstances these citizens listened sympathetically to their political prisoners who appealed for justice when the success of the revolution hung in the balance. They established a standard for patriotic behavior that is as relevant today as it was in 1776.  To do less—to turn our backs on caged children or remain silent when confronted by attacks on minorities—represents a denial of our own revolutionary heritage.

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    Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173227 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173227 0
    The Middle East: Must We Fight Forever?

     

    As the United Nations General Assembly approached adjournment without a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, world leaders left New York wondering if and how President Donald Trump will respond to Iran’s alleged missile-and-drone attack on Saudi-Arabian oil facilities earlier this month.

     

    Mr. Trump has already announced plans to add 1,000 more troops to the 20,000 American troops already on the Arabian peninsula and the more than 35,000 deployed across the Arab world. With his latest deployment, Mr. Trump will have increased America’s military presence in Arab states by 37.5% since his Inauguration Day pledge to reduce American involvement there. 

     

    Incredibly, expansion of America’s military involvement in the Arab states comes nearly 235 years since the prescient John Adams tried stifling Thomas Jefferson’s ambitions for war against Arab pirate fleets in the Mediterranean Sea.  “We ought not to fight them at all,” Adams warned, “unless we determine to fight them forever.” 

     

    Elected President in 1800, Jefferson ignored Adams’s warning and embarked on the first of two Barbary Wars with Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya (then called Tripoli). Until America’s War of Independence, the British navy had protected American cargo ships against piracy, but U.S. independence left her ships fair game. America cargo ship losses soared above 10 percent, with untold thousands of American seamen captured, often tortured, and sold into slavery.

     

    When Congress refused to go to war, Jefferson ignored lawmakers and the Constitution by ordering the Navy to the Mediterranean. By the time congress discovered Jefferson’s usurpation of power, the fleet had sailed too far to recall. When American warships entered the Mediterranean in the spring of 1801, Tripoli (now Libya) humiliated the American Navy by capturing the spanking new frigate Philadelphia, then the pride of America’s “new navy.”

     

    After an outraged American public forced Congress to strengthen the American fleet, American Commodore Edward Preble raided Tripoli harbor, destroyed the Philadelphiaand opened the way for Captain Stephen Decatur to attack and destroy much of  Tripoli’s port. In June 1806, Tripoli’s ruler sued for peace, and the United States established a naval presence in the Mediterranean that has continued almost without interruption to this day.

     

    One brief interruption came after President James Madison declared war on Britain in 1812. With American and British navies too busy fighting on the Atlantic to guard cargo ships in the Mediterranean, the Arab states resumed predations on foreign merchant vessels. By 1815, however, America had recovered from the war with Britain, and President James Madison ordered Commodore Stephen Decatur to sail into Algiers harbor and destroy the Arab fleet. In 1816, the Barbary states sued for peace and ended piracy on the Mediterranean.

     

    In 1823, President James Monroe adopted a new foreign policy to protect the merchant fleet by expanding American military might beyond its borders to protect foreign trade. In a seldom recognized extension of his famed Monroe doctrine, the President not only declared the American continent’s shores closed to foreign incursions, he extended government protection to American cargo ships on the high seas by ordering expansion of the Navy and its global deployment to protect American ships at sea.

     

    Assured of improved ship safety around the globe, President Andrew Jackson signed a trade agreement in 1833 with Muscat and Oman, on the southeastern rim of the Arabian Peninsula—America’s first significant commercial penetration of the Middle East. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln expanded American foreign commerce farther into the Arab world, signing a Treaty of Commerce and Navigation with the vast Ottoman Empire and opening American trade in present-day Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria.

    Then, in 1908, the discovery of oil in Persia—present-day Iran—changed the world.

     

    After World War I had showcased the importance oil would play in modern transportation, the British, Dutch,  French, and American oil companies rushed to find and claim Middle East oil fields—most of them along the rim of the Arabian peninsula. But World War II changed Middle East boundaries into a patch-quilt of independent, often feuding Arab states, whose governments seized ownership of oil fields, granting only exploitation rights to the foreign oil companies that had originally owned the properties. 

     

    The creation of the independent Jewish state of Israel and Soviet Union efforts to gain influence in the region turned the Middle East into a perennial war zone. 

     

     

    To ensure the flow of Middle East oil to America, President George H.W. Bush sent 200,000 American troops into Kuwait in 1991 and expelled an Iraqi army from oil-rich Kuwait. In 2003, President George W. Bush sent 170,000 mostly American troops into Iraq to dislodge President Saddam Hussein and restore access to Iraqi oil fields by American and western oil companies. Although Saddam died in 2006, more than 5,000 American troops remain in Iraq.

     

     

    And after fundamentalist Muslim terrorists based in Afghanistan attacked New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the American government sent an army of more than 140,000 troops to Afghanistan to crush an insurgency linked to the terrorists. By 2017, Washington had claimed enough victories there to reduce its troop strength in Afghanistan to about 8,500.

     

     

    Since then, the Trump Administration has rebuilt American troop strength by 50 percent and will raise the total to more than 15,000 by the end of this year. Meanwhile, American troops remain in Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrein, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, and Egypt. 

     

     

    Given America’s new-found self-sufficiency in almost all essential natural resources, the motives for continued American military involvement in the Middle East have become less clear.  

    Indeed, decades of dependency on Middle East oil ended two years ago with the development of advanced fracking techniques for recovering shale oil in America and the discovery of vast new oil reserves in the Permian Basin of southwest Texas and New Mexico.

     

    The United States military now has nearly 200,000 service personnel deployed at about 700 bases in 177 countries at a cost of at least $100 billion annually. Nearly 70,000 American troops are in Asia and the Pacific, more than 60,000 are in Europe, at least 35,000 are in Arab states, and 100,000 others are scattered across Africa and South and Central America—an indeterminate number of them on ill-defined missions. 

     

    For the Arab world, the pervasive American military presence represents a cultural and religious as well as military affront. As long as enough Arabs adhere to the law of jihad that enjoins them to kill nonbelievers in their lands, there would seem to be little hope that American fighting in  Arab states can end.  

     

    Almost 235 years have elapsed since John Adams warned against America’s first military involvement in the Arab world. The United States today seems well on the way to fulfilling Adams’s prophecy that we will have to “fight them forever.”

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    Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173230 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173230 0
    The Nazi Census and a Quiet Hero

     

    In 1940, Germany invaded and captured France. Step-by-step, the  Nazi occupiers began implementing a new state. There, as in other countries, the Nazis established a census to identify and locate Jews. Once identified, the Nazi occupiers planned to arrest French Jewsand send them to their deaths in concentration camps. The Nazis were stymied in France by insufficient numbers of trained people to key punch and process a huge number of computer punch cards. 

     

    René Carmille, director of the National Statistical Service (SNS), stepped in and negotiated for SNS to control and process Nazi census data on Jews. Carmille, a member of the French Intelligence Service and the Marco Polo cell of the French Resistance, then sabotaged the Nazi census. Lists of names and addresses of Jews could not be printed for round ups.  Carmille saved the lives of thousands of Jews. His story is told in A Quiet Hero.

                

    In the occupied countries of Europe, the Nazi census was a critically important step in identifying Jews as unwanted residents. Once the census was successfully processed, the Nazis printed files of names and addresses of Jews. What remained was to send the Gestapo to those street addresses, round up Jews and ship them to concentration camps. There most of them would be murdered. This was done with great efficiency following the census of Jews in Holland: seventy-three percent of Holland’s Jews were murdered.

     

    France proved to be more troublesome. The Nazi census in France asked if the respondent was a Jew. The question itself failed to respect France’s long history of rigorous separation of church and state. Further complicating matters, France, unlike Holland, was home to a diverse mix of ethnic groups and religious beliefs. 

     

    Responses to the census’ religion question were then processed. However, the Nazis failed to plan and implement an adequate system for transferring paper-and-pencil census data to computer key punch cards. As a result, Nazi data processing capacities in France were overwhelmed.

     

    General René Carmille, former controller general of the French Army and director of the Vichy government’s National Statistical Service (SNS), learned of the challenge faced by the Nazis in processing census data. Carmille contacted Xavier Vallat, Vichy’s Commissioner General for Jewish Questions and proposed that SNS process the Nazi census of Jews in France. Vallat accepted. In the newly emerging era of computers, Carmille sabotaged the Nazi census and became the world’s first ethical hacker.

     

    The US constitution mandates a count of “the whole Number of free Persons” every ten years. Each census is the basis for the apportionment of membership in the US House of Representatives and allocation of billions of federal dollars to states. 

     

    A citizenship question was asked for the first time in 1890, when foreign-born persons in the US reached 14.8% of the population. By 1950 the number of foreign-born Americans fell below 5% and the question was dropped.

     

    In 1942, up to 120,000 Japanese American citizens were defined as threats to the country and relocated to internment—concentration—camps. President Franklin Roosevelt established the camps under an Executive Order, one of the 20th century’s worst violations of American civil rights.Japanese American citizens were singled out after the US Census Bureau, in violation of existing laws, handed over their names and addresses to the Secret Service. 

     

    In 1960, a new short-form census, without a citizenship question, was sent to most American households; the long-form with a citizenship question was mailed to 1 in 6 American households. The long form became the American Community Survey, sent annually, from 1970 through 2000.

     

    As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump estimated the number of illegal immigrants in the USA at 30 to 34 million, about ten percent of the population, vs. government estimates of 11-12 million, about five percent. Candidate Trump proposed rolling back constitutional birthright citizenship for US-born children of undocumented immigrants and possible mass deportation of all undocumented immigrants. Following his election, he continued to call for increased border security, including construction of a Mexican border wall. He has repeatedly proposed a temporary ban on immigrants from Middle Eastern, principally Muslim, countries entering the United States.

     

    Later, President Trump, after repeated references to the dangers presented by the so-called invasion of the United States by Muslim immigrants, both documented and undocumented, directed administration officials to include a citizenship question in the 2020 US Census: Is this person a citizen of the United States?

     

    Even though US law prevents the Census Bureau from disclosure of individual citizen’s census information, answers to the question could be used to identify illegal immigrants and then take steps to deport them. Documented immigrants feared unwarranted harassment, even persecution. Undocumented immigrants feared that if their names and addresses became public, deportation would be made easier. Better to remain invisible.

     

    President Trump issued executive orders increasing the number of immigrants considered a priority for deportation. A June 24, 2018, New York Times article quoted President Trump’s tweet, “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judge or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.” The addition of the proposed 2020 citizenship question, “Are you a citizen?” was a means to that end.

     

    After proposing the new census question, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross stated the question would be important for more effective enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. He testified before Congress that the Justice Department had initiated the request. 

     

    In a 2018 deposition, former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights John Gore, who in March 2018 drafted the memo requesting the addition of the citizenship question, agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union—the citizenship question was not necessary to enforce voting rights. Further, Gore stated, Secretary Ross approached the Justice Department requesting the addition of the citizenship question, not the other way around as Ross falsely claimed.

     

    Answers to the question would have identified persons President Trump labeled “invaders,” principally Muslims. Action could then be taken without judges or court cases. Harvard constitutional law professor Lawrence Tribe challenged Trump’s sweeping dismissal of due process. “The due process requirements of the 5th and 14th Amendments apply to all persons including those in the US unlawfully.”

     

    The American Civil Liberties Union and other public interest organizations challenged the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 census, citing research that found the question would double the number of non-citizens who opt out, not complete the census, from 5.1 to 11.9 percent. The challenges asserted that this would result in fewer representatives from congressional districts with concentrations of undocumented immigrants, principally African American, Latino, and Muslim minorities, primarily Democratic districts. For Republicans, a positive outcome.    

     

    In 2019, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Trump Administration failed to demonstrate constitutionally sound logic for inclusion of the citizenship question in the 2020 census. The court concluded that the question would serve mainly partisan, anti-minority political goals.

             

    In 1930s and ‘40s Germany, a demagogue amassed political power and step by step implemented the new Nazi state, beginning with the use of the Nazi census to identify and remove minorities, principally Jews.

     

    In 1942 in Nazi-occupied France, in the absence of institutional safeguards to liberty, Gen. René Carmille, a member of the French Resistance, gained control of the Nazi census data. He then sabotaged it. Names and addresses could not be produced for round ups. Twenty-five percent of French Jews were murdered (vs. seventy-five percent in Holland). Carmille, a quiet hero, saved the lives of thousands of Jews—at the cost of his own life.   

     

    In a United States of the future, might a demagogue adopt Nazi policies toward minorities and, citing the precedent set by President Roosevelt, direct a step by step reform of American treatment of minorities? Most likely it would begin with a census to identify minorities and then follow with violations of their constitutional rights? In such a future, will we have quiet heroes to defend our constitutional freedoms?

     

    An unsettling truth grows out of the study of the past—history repeats itself.

     

     

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    Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173232 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173232 0
    The Challenge of the Democratic Primary Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency:  From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015). A paperback edition is now available.

     

    The Democratic Party has a major challenge ahead of the 2020 general election. They need to find a Presidential nominee who can defeat Donald Trump by overcoming his strong base  and the likelihood of Russian interference, which he has explicitly stated he would welcome.  Their objective is further complicated  by the efforts of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to constrain accessible voting for all Americans. 

     

    Many Democrats wonder which candidate would be the most electable.  Would a white man in his late 70s,  such as Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont or former Vice President Joe Biden, be electable? Would a younger candidate--such as Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Senator Kamala Harris of California, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, or South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg—appeal more to the average American voter?

     

    The latter five would each make history if they were elected president. They would be, respectively, the first white woman, the first mixed race woman, the second African American man, the first Latino man, and the first gay man elected to the presidency.  Some Democrats worry that such a “first” would face great  prejudice and discrimination, especially against  Donald Trump and his solid political base.  Trump’s faithful followers are comprised of folks who are seemingly opposed to the concepts of a woman, a person of color, or a gay person being the next occupant of the Oval Office.

     

    What about Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from Massachusetts, who would be the third oldest potential nominee within the Democratic Party? If elected, Warren would be older than Donald Trump was in 2017 upon her inauguration. A woman who has sparked some controversy with her political platform and cultural heritage, Warren poses a unique challenge in gaining the Democratic nomination and election victory in the present American political climate.

     

    Many would think that fresh and younger nominees such as Klobuchar, Harris, Booker, Castro or Buttigieg could be the better alternatives. But would they be able to overcome the barriers to election, or would one of the older white men (Sanders or Biden) have a better chance of besting Donald Trump in the 2020 election? This is not a minor matter, as for many Americans, the idea of Donald Trump having a second term would be insufferable and a threat to the stability and integrity of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

     

    To be clear, there is no room for error in this matter.  Trying to determine a tenable strategy for 2020 is a crucial project that requires creativity and decisiveness. This weighs heavy on the minds of many who see Trump as a threat to the survival of the nation and in what is considered as the greatest Constitutional crisis since the Civil War.

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    Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154262 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154262 0
    What Abraham Lincoln Got Right About Addiction

     

    When he wasa 33-year-old Illinois state representative in 1842, Abraham Lincoln was invited by a local chapter of the Springfield Washingtonian Temperance Society to address them on the occasion of the 110th birthday of the first president of the United States. Despite being invited to address the Washingtonians, Lincoln had no problem with his liquor. Child of the Kentucky and Illinois frontiers that he was, Lincoln was of course familiar with beer and cider, whiskey and bourbon, but he was asked to speak to the group as an interested outsider. The future president would tell the Washingtonians that “In my judgement… such of us who have never fallen victims have been spared more by the absence of appetite than from any mental or moral superiority over those who have.” It’s worth remembering the largely-forgotten Washingtonians this September, recognized by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as National Recovery Month. Established to promote the “benefits of prevention, treatment, and recovery for mental and substance use disorders,” National Recovery Month exists to acknowledge the “message that recovery in all of its forms is possible… treatment is effective and people can and do recover.” In parsing Lincoln’s remarks to the Washingtonians, there are important historical reminders of what recovery can look like. 

     

    As a nineteenth-century American, Lincoln would have understood how liquor was seemingly omnipresent in both personal and professional life, contributingto the massive public health crisis of rampant alcoholism. Historian Daniel Okrent explains in Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition that in the “early days of the Republic drinking was as intimately woven into the social fabric as family or church.” Okrent writes that by “1830 American adults were guzzling, per capita, a staggering seven gallons of pure alcohol a year,” which in modern terms are the “equivalent of 1.7 bottles of standard 80-proof liquor per person, per week – nearly 90 bottles a year for every adult in the nation.” Despite that environment, like most people (both then and now) Lincoln had no physical dependence on alcohol himself, no addiction to the substance, no inability to temper his own drinking. But unlike many people (both then and now) Lincoln didn’t attribute his lack of that malady to a particular moral fortitude. Instead, like the current medical consensus, Lincoln believed addiction is a disease rather than a lack of will on the part of the sufferer. 

     

    The Washingtonians were a remarkable group within the larger temperance movement, for they were not founded by any particular religious denomination looking to convert unregenerate drunks, but rather by alcoholics themselves who were seeking moral support and solution. Acknowledging the public health crisis of alcoholismand the lives and families liquor had ruined,  Lincoln extoled the Washingtonian understanding that such an affliction was a disease rather than simple moral failing. “On this point,” Lincoln said, “the Washingtonians greatly excel the temperance advocates of former times…. They know [alcoholics] are not demons.” The future president argued that alcoholics should be treated as anyone would approach “the heirs of consumption and other hereditary diseases.” The belief that addicts were “utterly incorrigible” was a dangerous and deadly fallacy that Lincoln argued must be abandoned. Just as George Washington fought a war against tyranny, the Washingtonians would struggle against their own bondage in addiction. 

     

    For centuries “dipsomania” had been understood as either something to be laughed at or as a freely chosen sin, but in a nineteenth-century United States where alcoholism resulted in infirmity, abuse, and early death, there was an increasing sense that addicts were not people in need of castigation or conversion, but rather treatment. For the six reformed alcoholics who ironically founded the Washingtonians in the back of a Baltimore barroom in 1840, the addiction to liquor was something that people needed liberation from, not something that merited their denunciation or criminalization. In that regard, writes historian Christopher M. Finan in Drunks: The Story of Alcoholism and the Birth of Recovery, the Washingtonians are a chapter in one of the “great liberation movements” of American politics and history. 

     

    As such, the Washingtonians were inheritors of early movements such as the Native American chief Handsome Lake’s sobriety movement known as the Longhouse Religion that was founded in 1798, up to the establishment of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 by a failed stockbroker and former drinker named Bill W. and his compatriot, an alcoholic surgeon with several failed attempts at quitting who is remembered fondly as Dr. Bob. Central to the perspective and methodology of AA was a belief that it was through the group sharing of experience that alcoholics would best be able to alter their behavior, and in writings like Alcoholics Anonymous (normally referred to as the “Big Book”) and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill W. and other authors enumerated the flexible, decentralized principles by which alcoholics could move towards recovery. As an organization, AA unknowingly took up the mantle of the Washingtonians, affirming that alcoholics and addicts were best served not by chastisement or imprisonment, that as Lincoln told his listeners it is not “just to assail, condemn, or despise them.” 

     

    The recovery movement encompasses not just the Washingtonians and AA, but also a plethora of organizations that, for all of their different philosophies and methods, are united in the conviction that whether because of genetic predisposition, personal trauma, or acculturation, physical and psychological dependence on both drink and drugs is not a failure of will, but rather an affliction that deserves treatment. Twelve Step organizations like AA and Narcotics Anonymous use the template developed by Bill W. and Dr. Bob, and they are joined by more secular approaches such as SMART Recovery, LifeRing Secular Recovery, Rational Recovery, and the non-abstinence-based Moderation Management. Despite the success of such groups, and their radical role in personal emancipation for millions of Americans, there is still stigma around addiction that results in death. Finan writes that for too long “Many people blame the drunks” (and the drug addicts), and that even after the emergence of the contemporary recovery movement, for “many drunks [who] want to stop drinking, the major institutions of American life [have] refused to help them.”  

     

    If recovery today has one advantage over the Washingtonians, it’s that the former has largely rejected disastrous prohibitionist policies against both drink and drugs or takes no official line on the issue. Even with initially understandable aims, prohibition has served only to ever make the drunk and the drug addict illegal, a punishment of people rather than a banning of substances. Without reducing Temperance to its most objectionable stereotypes, and acknowledging that it’s aims were often estimable if not utopian, it must be admitted that the “War on Drugs” which started with the Nixon administration comes from a very different ideological underpinning and has resulted in the unjust imprisonment of countless people. What has made such calamitous polices possible (beyond theirclearly racist nature) is the fundamental misunderstanding thatmost people still have regarding addiction. As Finan wrote,  the “drunk’s responsibility for abusing alcohol was still being debated at the dawn of the twenty-first century.” Debating something that is medically settled has led to undue stigma against addicts, and has contributed to the current addiction crisis. 

     

    Last year over 70,000 Americans died as part of the opioid epidemic, a human catastrophe that has lowered the national life expectancy for the first time in our history. As horrific as the opioid epidemic has been, drinking related death are still more numerous, with over 88,000 people dying from alcohol overdose, injuries that resulted from drinking, alcohol withdrawal, or alcohol-related diseases. Worse, there has actually been a 35 percent increase in alcohol-related deaths over the past decade, as reported by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Perhaps this is in part a strange contemporary paradox: drinking is socially acceptable, if not encouraged, but there is a profound stigma around self-identifying as a recovering alcoholic.The Washingtonians understood that what’s so often offered is castigation, when what’s needed is charity; that what’s assumed to be conviviality, can sometimes be a crisis. 

     

    What the Washingtonians understood was that addiction is a form of imprisonment, and recovery can be a type of liberation, or as Lincoln told the assembled “we shall find a stronger bondage broken… a greater tyrant deposed. In it, more of want supplied, more disease healed, more sorrow assuaged.” There’s much that can be said about the Washingtonians, and the recovery movement which came after them. No doubt observations can be made that are historiographical, sociological, and epidemiological. But if there is one lesson imparted that’s the most important to the individual sufferer it’s this – history demonstrates that recovery is possible, and that it’s worth it.  

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    Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173180 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173180 0
    My Life with Books The New Press just brought out Jim Loewen’s public history book, Lies Across America, completely revised and with a new chapter, “Public History After Charlottesville.” 

    Recently, Shelf Awareness, an interesting website new to me, interviewed me, mostly about books that have had an impact on my thinking. The conversation was intelligent (at least on their part), and they published it today, https://www.shelf-awareness.com/issue.html?issue=3588#m45942.

     

    Since I seem to have moved to the memoir phase of life, I was happy to participate, and I offer the result to you below. Slightly altered, to become an essay, I think it works well. 

     

    What’s on your nightstand now? 

    For years I have been reading a fine dystopian fictional "history of the future," the well-known Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. It's traveled with me to Egypt, the Azores, the Bahamas, all the countries on the Rhine (yes, I took that cruise), Iceland, and at least 20 states! My problem is, when I read in bed, I fall asleep immediately. That's not Mitchell's fault.

     

    Favorite book when you were a child:

    I must admit, it was the Dr. Dolittle series. Although I have not looked at them since attaining adulthood, I'm sure they were racist, even colonialist, since a white doctor knew just what to do with and for the animals and people in Africa. That I didn't think about such things probably made their impact all the more insidious, but still, I devoured the books.

     

    Your top five authors:

    Mark Twain. He's the only humorist from so many generations ago who is still consistently funny when reread today. And he can be deep, too.

    William Faulkner. Yes, I went through my Faulkner period, and though I haven't reread him in years, I'm still happy to remember many passages, both for his values and his prose style.

    Walt Whitman. As Stephen Vincent Benét put it, in "Ode to Walt Whitman," "You're still the giant lode we quarry/ For gold, fools' gold, and all the earthy metals,/ The matchless mine."

    Vine Deloria. Being Native American, his worldview is different, but he makes it accessible to all.

    Edna St. Vincent Millay. Perhaps my mom's favorite poet, she became one of mine too, especially her sonnets that sing of love and lament its loss.

     

    Did you ever fake reading a book?

    Yes, György Lukács, History and Class Consciousness. In grad school at Harvard in 1966, I took Barrington Moore's famously difficult course in social theory. Moore taught by the Socratic method, and when he queried you, you'd best be prepared. The time came to study Lukács, but his book was translated into English only in 1971. We were to read chapter 1 of Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein in German. Supposedly I knew German, having taken two years in high school and two in college and then having scored 720 on the SAT German test. Actually, I knew better. I spent the next afternoon trying to read Lukács. After five hours, I had translated a page and a half. Doing the math, I realized that the whole chapter would take me another 70 hours! I had four other courses! So, when the seminar reassembled a week later, I hunkered down behind the guy in front of me, avoided eye contact with Moore, and thus avoided making a fool of myself about a book I'd not read.

    Even after the translation came out, I never read the book. Ironically, reading aboutit while preparing this answer, I now realize I probably would have enjoyed it and learned from it. Sigh.

     

    Book you're an evangelist for:

    The only historical novel I recommend without reservation: Okla Hannali by R.A. Lafferty. Even though by a white author, I credit it as a Choctaw history of the 19th century, in the form of a biography of a fictional Choctaw leader who was born in Mississippi around 1801 and died in Oklahoma in 1900. I realize such a statement creates all sorts of problems for me--expropriation of Native knowledge, white arrogance, etc. My only defense is the work itself. I have no idea how Lafferty, otherwise known for science fiction, learned so much about Choctaws (and white folks), but every time I have checked out any fact inOkla Hannali, no matter how small, Lafferty got it right. And what a read! Only a little over 200 pages long, but an epic, nevertheless.

     

     

    Book you should have hidden from your children:

    Thomas Berger's Regiment of Women. I read it when it came out (1973) and enjoyed it. It seemed to me to be a pioneering feminist book and funny as hell. Then my son read it, followed by my daughter. Conversation with them reminded me that the book also contained seriously awry sex scenes that perhaps should not be read by kids age 13 and 11, especially when their mother sought to use any excuse to deny me contact with them. Luckily no complications ensued, either legal or psychological, so far as I know.

     

    Book that changed your life:

    Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee, photos by Walker Evans. Agee's nakedly emotional prose helped me feel what sociologists helped me understand: most poor people are not to be blamed for their poverty. As Agee put it, in the voice of his white sharecropper subjects: "How were we trapped?"

     

    Favorite line from a book:

    As I confront the end of my own life: "Come, lovely and soothing death, Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving..." in "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," from Leaves of Grassby Walt Whitman.

     

    Five books you'll never part with:

    Leaves of Grass Millay, Collected Poems Okla Hannali Let Us Now Praise Famous Men Louis Untermeyer, ed., Modern American Poetry; Mid-Century Edition. This collection contains many poems that have meant a lot to me, from Whitman and Dickinson down to Langston Hughes and Kenneth Patchen.

     

    Book you most want to read again for the first time:

    T-Model Tommy and other books from my childhood. Not Dolittle, though.

     

    Book that played a crucial role in resolving a family disagreement:

    Thorstein Veblen's classic The Theory of the Leisure Class. The occasion was a serious conversation my Dad initiated during my sophomore year of college. He was upset that I had changed my major from chemistry to sociology. He confronted me with a challenge: "Just name me one person who ever graduated from Carleton College and made a name for himself in sociology." I was about to reply, "Just name me one person who graduated from Carleton and made a name in anything," but I knew he would come up with some Mayo Clinic doctor who was arguably well-known. Suddenly it came to me: in its 99 years, Carleton College had produced just one truly well-known person, famous for his book, The Theory of the Leisure Class. "Thorstein Veblen," I crowed triumphantly. He was silent.

    Let me add, The Theory of the Leisure Class deserves its fame. It is as relevant today as when it came out in 1899. It explains how we model our behavior and our standards of success--even of morality--on the class next above us in social structure, all the way up to "the wealthy leisure class," his name for what we call the 1%. One chapter, "Devout Observances," also contains a new and even hilarious sociology of religion. If you aren't motivated to go read Lies Across America to understand how Americans misconceive the social world (a grievous mistake!), then can I persuade you to read Veblen?

     

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    Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154261 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154261 0
    We Don’t Know What We Are Doing Steve Hochstadt is a professor of history emeritus at Illinois College, who blogs for HNN and LAProgressive, and writes about Jewish refugees in Shanghai.

     

    We don’t know what we are doing about poverty. The Great Society programs reduced the poverty rate during the 1960s from 22% to 12%, but since 1970, rates of poverty in the US have remained between 10% and 15%. The proportion of children living in poverty is higher, perhaps as high as 21%. The poverty rate in the US is higher than nearly all other highly developed countries, and about twice as high as most countries in western Europe. The wide variety of federal and state programs for the poor have simply managed to maintain poverty rates at the same level for 50 years. Our policy-makers, Democrat and Republican, have been tinkering around the edges of poverty, but have not found a set of policies which can make an impact. Raising the minimum wage significantly, say to $15 an hour, would slightly reduce poverty, but not eliminate it.

     

    We don’t know what we are doing about homelessness. Since the great recession of 2008, homelessness has dropped slightly in the US from about 650,000 to 550,000 in 2016, as poverty levels, the main cause of homelessness, fell. Since 2016, homelessness has again risen.

     

    We don’t know what we are doing about the invasion of our lives by the internet. Misinformation and disinformation, transferred to us instantaneously and constantly, pollute our brains. Young people are not only addicted to their phones, for too many their ambitions are entirely tied up in hopes of becoming “influencers” in virtual space. Impenetrable corporations demand to know our private information, and then collect, exploit and sell it.

     

    We don’t know what we are doing about climate change. Scientific experts warn us about how much damage we have already done to the environment by lifestyles that few people are willing to change. Rising temperatures in the earth’s oceans have already caused irreparable damage to aquatic life and to the human lives that depend on it. No nation has put into place policies that are sufficient to eliminate further warming. No scientific warning has been able to move enough people to demand the changes that are necessary. Nearly half of Americans continue to vote for a party which officially denies that climate change is a problem.

     

    We don’t know what we are doing about the corruption of our society and our politics by money. This is nothing new. Despite centuries of agonizing about how to prevent those with money from amassing the power to suck up more money through illegitimate means, in democratic and authoritarian societies, we are no closer to a solution.

     

    We don’t know what we are doing about the widening social chasms, the hollowing out of the middle, the growing anger, not just at the system or “the man”, but at each other.

     

    We don’t know what we are doing about the linkage among all these problems. For the millennia that humans have walked the earth, it didn’t matter if we didn’t know what we were doing. The carefully balanced global natural systems that supported an incredible variety of life were impervious to the local activities of bands of humans. But now, with nearly 8 billion people digging up the earth, consuming everything we can get our hands on, spewing waste in every direction, and accelerating the speeds of these processes every day, we have thrown the earth out of balance. As our world apparently hurtles toward ecological, political, and social disaster, we have created problems for which there are no solutions in sight.

     

    Now is the tipping point. And we don’t know what we are doing.

     

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    Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154260 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154260 0
    In The Great Society, We Get a Marvelous, If Painful, Look at LBJ and the War that Won’t Go Away Hey, hey, LBJ

    How many kids did you kill today!

     

    That was one of many protest chants used against President Lyndon B. Johnson and his war in Vietnam, a tragic conflict that resulted in the deaths of some 58,000 American soldiers, plus some 200,000 South Vietnamese troops dead, and was the first war that America lost. It created a nationwide wrath against LBJ and his government and television news programs were filled for years with coverage of huge and loud protest marches against the war, especially after the 1968 Tet Offensive. The scalding story of the war, and Johnson’s heralded Great Society, is being told in a brilliant new play by Robert Schenkkan, The Great Society, that opened last night at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, at New York’s Lincoln Center.

     

    I tried to think of ways to explain the war and its awful legacy, but the best way to describe it is to quote a man I heard at the intermission of the play. “All of the good things Johnson did with his great society, all of his programs. were wrecked by Vietnam., and it wrecked the American people and tore the country apart,” he muttered angrily.

     

    That it did. The war began in the early 1960s and did not end until a peace agreement was reached in 1975. Johnson’ advisers, military and political, led by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, argued that the loss of Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese would mean the loss of all Southeast Asia to communism. Johnson sent in a few thousand advisors, then 30,000 combat troops, then more and more and more and left office with nearly 300,000 American fighting in Vietnam. He bombed the hell out of North Vietnam, thinking that would force the North, and the tens of thousands of Vietcong in Southeast Asia, to quit the war. They did not and the bombing, that killed so many women and children, merely spurred the North on to fight harder. The U.S. military became angry at the North Vietnamese resistance, and so did LBJ. He was stubborn, political, short sighted and relied too much on his advisors, but, as Schenkkan points out in the drama, he made all of those final decisions and it washis fault. All of it- every single explosion, every destroyed village.  and every single cemetery grave – on both sides.

     

    A key point in the Vietnam story, as Schenkkan notes, is that the tragedy of Vietnam unfolded just as Johnson’s tremendous Great Society package of programs, and Civil Rights advances, was taking place. He had a great ally in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a number of Senators, such as Everett Dirksen, and Congressmen. Johnson did not understand that success in those domestic programs did not translate to success in Southeast Asia but he kept trying to make it so - to no avail.

     

    This powerful play is a painful reminder of history lost, of all those brave Americans who fought so gallantly for their country in that war, and came home battered and defeated.

     

    One nice addition to the play is its “scorecard” program insert. On it, the theater lists all of the historical characters in the show, the actors who play him/her and a brief explanation of their role in the story. It makes the drama easier to follow. Without it, all of these people might wind up as just so much historical clutter.

         

    The director, Bill Rauch, does a superb job of putting enormous amounts of drama on to a small stage surrounded on three side by the audiences He has slow motion police violence against marchers, protestors beaten up, chanters all over the place, short lines of actors that he deftly turns into long lines of marchers in a few seconds. He utilizes hundreds of videos and huge photos that play out against a backstage wall. Rauch gives the show a vivid historical-as-it-happened look and feel.

     

    Cox gets much support from a splendid, strong corps of skilled actors.

     

    Brian Cox IS Lyndon Johnson. I thought that Bryan Cranston had mastered LBJ n the previous play about the 36th President, All the Way, but here Cox is just as good. He showcases that big Texas drawl and schmoozes as magnificently as he threatens. He gives long speeches full of platitudes and then, when that does not work, reminds Senators that they might lose military bases in the next round of cuts (that does the trick, Johnson argues). He persuades. He cajoles. He is warm and cuddly and cold and ruthless. He has aa big, open arm embrace for all and a terrifying “I’ll kill you” hug for others. He trades bills votes and programs masterfully. If you can’t find a good documentary on LBJ and want to see what he was really like, see this play. Cox is a wonder.

     

    Other fine performances are turned in by Grantham Coleman as Martin Luther King Jr., who shows you the real Martin Lither King Jr., a wise religious man who also knows how to plot and scheme and can go for the jugular with the best of them,  Marc Kudisch as a dim witted, spiteful Mayor Daley of Chicago,  Bryce Pinkham as a forceful Bobby Kennedy, whom LBJ hates with a passion. There is Gordon Clapp as a hateful and oafish J . Edgar hoover, who comes off (rightfully so) as the villain of the era. There is  Marchant Davis as the activist Stokely Carmichael, who turns Dr. King’s peaceful marches violent and makes King shudder.  David Garrison is George  Wallace, a truly evil figure who later mellows.  Ty Jones is effective as Ralph Abernathy, King’s chief lieutenant, Matthew Rauch is the brilliant Robert McNamara, the leader of the hawks in the LBJ administration. 

     

    There is a magnificent scene at the end of the play that sums it all up. LBJ, near tears in his wife’s arms, laments that everything that went so well for his Presidency turned to ashes over Vietnam and admits to her that he does not understand how it went wrong and certainly does not understand how to fix it. He complains that everybody from Republicans to the press has turned against him, and sees no way out except not to run for re-election. The shaken LBJ at the end is just as effective as the garrulous, arm twisting, aggressive LBJ at the beginning.

     

    Then, as we know Richard Nixon became President and Vietnam still dragged on for several more years until it ended.

     

    Just as big a tragedy that there was no salute for all those Vietnam vets who came home, no big thank you parade for what you did and tried to do at such a high price. That was a shame. There have been many “than you” tributes and movies and documentaries over the years, and we hope that made up for the disgraceful shunning they received from their country in the 1970s.

     

    Looking back on Vietnam, you ask “How did this mess all happen?” This play tells you, and does so amid the several crises that beset the nation in those years and all of the political storms.  It is history brought back for those over 50, chillingly, and a history lesson on how not to run a country for those under 50. Either way, it is splendid drama and sizzling history.

     

    PRODUCTION: The play is produced by Jeffrey Richards, Louise L. Gund, Rebecca Gold, Jayne Baron Sherman, others. Scenic Design: David Korins, Costumes: Linda Cho, Lighting: David Weiner, Music: Paul James Prendergast, Sound: Paul James Prendergast, Marc Salzberg. The play is directed by Bill Rauch.

     

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    Mon, 21 Oct 2019 09:08:08 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173221 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/173221 0