History News Network - Front Page History News Network - Front Page articles brought to you by History News Network. Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2 (http://framework.zend.com) https://w.historynewsnetwork.org/site/feed The Fall of Communism in TV’s The Weissensee Saga


Among the numerous TV offerings available for streaming is The Weissensee Saga, a first-rate 24-episode German production now available on MHZ. Like Thomas Mann’s German novel Buddenbrooks  (1901), it has all the qualities required of a good multi-generational saga. The TV episodes (each about 49 minutes) contain love and jealousy, good acting, suspenseful plotting, and picturesque and interesting settings. But they also offers viewers, especially those interested in history and communism, excellent insights into the final decade of East German communist rule, including its collapse in 1989-1990, and the reunification of Germany (1990). In that Communist parties collapsed throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union from 1989 to 1991, the saga depicted in East Germany provides valuable reflections on an even wider scale.

But first, many viewers who are not very knowledgeable about Eastern European history can benefit from knowing a few background facts. 

  • The East German and other communist governments in Eastern Europe came to power in the years following the end of World War II in Europe (mid-1945).
  • These governments owed their existence mainly to Soviet military might and support in the region, which came about as a result of USSR military victories in 1944-45.
  • The East German government was the last to assume power (in 1949) because prior to that year East Germany was ruled directly by the USSR. In 1945 the defeated Germany was divided into four zones ruled by the USA, the British, French, and USSR. Berlin, geographically within the Soviet sector, was also divided into four zones. In 1948-49, the USSR blocked railway, road, and canal access to the three western Berlin areas, but the western allies countered with the Berlin airlift to deliver supplies to their zones.
  •  In 1949, the three Western countries  combined their zones, setting up the Federal Republic of Germany, and the Soviets responded by establishing the German Democratic Republic in East Germany (GDR).
  • Soviet troops squashed uprisings in East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968.  
  • In 1955, West Germany joined NATO, and the USSR responded by establishing the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance between Russia and communist East European allies. 
  • In 1961 the GDR, with Soviet approval, constructed the Berlin Wall, dividing East and West Berlin, partly to prevent more East Berliners from pouring into West Berlin. Only in December 1972 did the two Germanys sign a treaty diplomatically recognizing each other.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev became the head of the Soviet communist party, and thus de facto leader of the USSR, in 1985 and soon thereafter initiated economic and cultural reform policies at home, accompanied by measures to end the Cold War with Western democracies.  
  • In 1989-1990 the USSR, now under Mikhail Gorbachev’s leadership, was no longer willing to use Soviet troops to put down opposition to East European communist governments. 
  • The GDR, under Erich Honeckerfrom 1971 to October 1989, resisted following Gorbachev’s example of initiating widespread domestic reforms. (In his Memoirs Gorbachev wrote that trying to convince Honecker to reform was like “speaking to a brick wall.”)


A leading expert on German-Russian relations, Angela Stent, has written that the GDR was “a state that never enjoyed popular legitimacy and whose most successful industry was spying, not only on West Germany, but on its own people.” This is a fitting introduction to The Weissensee Saga because the main family around which the series revolves, the Kupfers, contains two members of the Stasi, the German equivalent of the Soviet KGB, father Hans and oldest son Falk. Another prominent family, the Hausmanns, containing mother (famous singer-songwriter Dunja) and daughter (Julia), are victimized in different ways by the infamous Stasi. (An interesting coincidence is that from 1985 to 1990, when most of the TV saga is set, KGB agent Vladimir Putin was stationed in Dresden, East Germany, but the series does not mention him.)


What happens to the singer Dunja (played by the East German actress Katrin Sass) is typical. Like major cultural figures in other communist countries, she is forced to cooperate with communist authorities if she wishes to enjoy certain benefits, like traveling and performing in the West (West Germany in her case). The Stasi, including Falk Kupfer, employ various methods like bugging her apartment to make her more accommodating. These security police also employed torture and other means of “persuasion.” Actress Sass had her own personal experiences with the Stasi, no doubt aiding her in presenting her convincing Dunja portrait. Another major actor—Uwe Kockisch, who plays Hans—was once imprisoned for a year for trying to escape from East Germany.  

The experiences of Sass and other actors in the saga bring to life the words of historian Tony Judt:

The Communist regimes did not merely force their rule upon a reluctant citizenry; they encouraged people to collude in their own repression, by collaborating with the security agencies and reporting the activities and opinions of their colleagues, neighbours, acquaintances, friends and relations. . . . The consequence was that while the whole society thus fell under suspicion—who might not have worked for the police or the regime at some moment, even if only inadvertently?—by the same token it became hard to distinguish venal and even mercenary collaboration from simple cowardice or even the desire to protect one’s family. The price of a refusal to report to the Stasi might be your children’s future. The grey veil of moral ambiguity thus fell across many of the private choices of helpless individuals. 

Living in a nice house on a picturesque lake, the Kupfer family enjoys the privileges typical of the communist elite—father Hans has a high position in the Stasi and son Falk is an ambitious and rising force within it. The other son, Martin (East-German-born Florian Lukas), begins the series as a member of the regular police force, much less prestigious than the Stasi, but eventually quits, having soured on his duties, which included suppressing any activities disapproved of by the communist authorities. 

As social turbulence increases in East Germany in the late 1980s, partly due to the Gorbachev effect on Eastern European communist countries, members of the Kupfer family react differently. In one scene Hans approvingly watches Gorbachev on TV. Falk, both a careerist determined to get ahead and a defender of hard-line communist ways, is much less sympathetic to the Soviet leader’s reforming ways. Martin is the least political of the three. The disorienting effect on youth of the collapse of communist power in East Germany, coupled with German reunification, is also well illustrated through two of the youngest generation, Falk’s son Roman and Martin’s daughter Lisa. 

The three older Kupfer men all have their marital difficulties. Hans once had an affair with Dunja Hausmann, and his wife, Marlene (Ruth Reinecke), remains suspicious of her.  Falk’s wife, Vera (Anna Loos), grows increasingly unhappy with him and eventually leaves him and becomes a dissident against the dying communist regime. From the beginning, Martin is divorced from his wife and begins a romance with Julia Hausmann. All three Kupfer women play important roles in the saga, as do two other women who will later become involved with Falk and Martin.

The new woman in Falk’s life in later episodes is physiotherapist Petra Zeiler (Jördis Triebel), who earlier in her life was interrogated by the Stasi and imprisoned. Martin becomes involved with Katja Wiese (Lisa Wagner), a West German journalist. 

In the saga’s last dozen episodes, set in the crucial years 1989-90, East German relations with West Germans become increasingly important—the Berlin Wall is demolished in November 1989. For example, as the communist government collapses and with it the Stasi, Falk goes to work for a West German insurance company wishing to expand into eastern Germany, and is also blackmailed into providing information to the CIA. Martin’s furniture company, adversely affected by currency changes connected with German reunification, turns to a West German financier for advice. Martin’s former police partner, Peter Görlitz (an often humorous Stephan Grossmann), starts selling used cars.

As in other parts of the collapsing communist world of 1989-1991, financial reforms and what to do with all the state-owned assets becomes a crucial question, and Falk’s ex-wife, Vera, works for an agency dealing with privatizing some of these assets. Prior to this, she had become active as a dissident and later political candidate in 1990 elections. (She had also become involved with a Lutheran pastor, who falls into the hands of the Stasi and her ex-husband Falk.)  Attempting to retain East German communist assets are Falk’s mother, Marlene, and Hans’s former Stasi boss, the evil Günther Gaucke (Hansjürgen Hürrig).

The most impressive educational aspect of The Weissensee Saga is that it presents a realistic and convincing portrait of the differing lives and reactions of East German individuals in the final decade of the GDR’s existence. In that the experiences of East German politicians, officials, and other citizens were similar to that of individuals in other eastern European communist countries, including the USSR, we also gain insights into what mattered to them, for example, financial changes; more freedoms, including less government restraints; and personal transitioning from one economic-political-cultural system to another—like the East Germans, Russians such as Vladimir Putin had to make such a transition).  Along with MHZ’s even longer series, the World-War-II-72-episode A French Village, The Weissensee Saga  now springs to the top of my favorite TV fictional historical sagas. 

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172053 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172053 0
All the President’s Humility: What We Can Learn From Young George Washington


The Founding Father whom Americans revere as the incarnation of steady, selfless leadership – George Washington – was, in his early twenties, a remarkably self-centered young man.  This poses an interesting question:  Can today’s leaders – beginning at the top – make a similar transformation from self-centered to steady and selfless?  Or is it just too late?


After four years of immersing myself in George Washington’s life between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-six, what I find most surprising is not that he eventually grew to become a great leader.  Rather, it’s that he became a great leader despite where he started. As a young man this guy was a mess. 


Washington is certainly not the first young man to be selfish, egotistical, vain, thin-skinned, ungracious, whiney, petulant, and brazenly ambitious.  Most young men who feel underappreciated, however, don’t quit or threaten to quit their job at least seven times in the first few years.  Nor are most obsessed with their best friend’s wife.  Nor do most twenty-somethings inadvertently set off a global war.  What distinguishes George Washington’s youthful follies in the 1750s is that his relentless ambition happened to coincide with the many unsettled territorial claims to North America, creating a volatile mixture.  As it combusted, his youthful self-centeredness played out on a stage that quickly expanded from local, to regional, to international – with disastrous consequences.


From his mid-teens onward, Washington’s ambition shows.  It accelerates to a relentless upward clawing as he enters his twenties.  His father, Gus, had died when George was eleven, setting back George’s prospects for a secure future.  As a younger son in a fourth-generation family of middle-level Virginia tobacco planters, George, unlike his older half brothers, was not sent off to Britain to receive a polished boarding-school education, nor did he inherit enough land from Gus to support himself.  After his forceful and cantankerous mother, Mary Ball Washington, shot down his plan at age fourteen to go to sea, George, needing a way to make a living, polished up his father’s old surveying instruments, taught himself to operate them, and set himself up as a freelance surveyor.


By age eighteen, he’d earned enough money to start buying his own pieces of frontier land beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains.  By age twenty-one, still not rising fast enough in the Virginia aristocracy to sate his driving ambition, Washington took a part-time post in Virginia’s colonial military and volunteered for a dangerous winter mission.   He was to carry a message from Virginia’s British governor, Robert Dinwiddie, over the Appalachian Mountains and deep into the Ohio wilderness, delivering it to the commandant of a newly built French fort.  


The message said in essence, Stay out! All these lands belong to King George.        


This launched Washington on five years of harrowing adventures in the Ohio wilderness, its dangers further fueled by his heedless push to make a name and his almost utter lack of experience.  He came within an inch of dying on that first mission – pitched off a makeshift raft into an icy river then nearly freezing to death during the frigid night on a snowy island.  On his second mission into the wilds he rashly ambushed a French diplomatic party that was breakfasting in a wooded glen.  Not surprisingly, this triggered a massive retaliation by hundreds of French soldiers and Indian warriors, during which Washington’s outnumbered men perished in a pouring rain in blood-and-mud-filled trenches.  He had to surrender (although he refused to use that word) the claptrap fort he had thrown together, appropriately named Fort Necessity for the desperate circumstances he had created for himself and his troops.  This resulted in deep humiliation for the British Empire and its authorities in London, touching off tensions that exploded into the French and Indian War (and spread to Europe and around the globe as the Seven Years War).


Young Washington fervently wanted a British Royal Army officer’s commission – instead of his much less prestigious Virginia colonial commission – and he rode great distances to petition various aristocratic British generals to give him one. But he was a hayseed by their standards, an uneducated rube, and a military loser besides.  He was never granted a “king’s commission,” cementing his lasting resentment toward the British whom he felt treated him as second class.


He is mostly remembered today, of course, as the immortal embodiment of sound leadership. So how does one evolve from a festering mass of insecurities and perceived injustices to become a great leader? Not easily, and not all at once. It took Washington many years to metamorphose from self-centered, impetuous young man burning with ambition to gain personal “honor” into a steady, selfless, seemingly unflappable leader.


Yet one catches glimpses from his early twenties that hint at what he might become – transformative moments that show a young man beginning to extend his emotional and intellectual reach beyond himself.  There is a moment when he literally gets down off his high horse – the living embodiment of a Virginia gentleman’s status – and walks the muddy trail beside his men, freeing the animal to haul armaments over a steep mountain pass.  He shows an almost desperate sense of helplessness when Virginia frontier settlers, whose safety has been entrusted to his care, plead with him to save them from roving bands of Indians who scalp their loved ones and burn their homesteads, offering to give his life to save theirs if only it would help.  One senses in these moments his growing empathy for the plight of others.  As a young aide-de-camp to British General Braddock, he barely survives the wilderness ambush by Indian warriors and French soldiers of a large column of the general’s Redcoats.  Washington’s narrow escape from death was marked by the multiple bullet holes through his coat and hat.


“[T]he miraculous care of Providence,” he wrote his younger brother after the battle, “…protected me beyond all human expectation….” 


Implicit in this remark is that Providence may have chosen him for some greater role. Perhaps his destiny is not simply all about George Washington.


One sees steps toward a more mature style of leadership.  After he makes a series of heedless blunders in his rush to prove himself in his first engagements, Washington learns to listen carefully to intelligent and trusted advisors and weigh their words judiciously before making a decision. 


Young George Washington was not immune from his own era’s culture of voluble denial and dexterous shifting of blame, the same that besets us today.  He initially denied his mistakes or obfuscated his moments of failure.  The surrender of Fort Necessity comes to mind, when the twenty-two-year-old colonel’s less-than-complete public recounting of the bloody debacle reads as if his forces and the French simply agreed to stop fighting and walk away, rather than the reality of a slaughter leading to Washington’s forces’ surrender and signed documents to that effect.


As he grew older, he learned to cultivate his image and project a sense of dignity. Many commentators have remarked that he seemed to see himself as an actor on a stage.  He rarely revealed his deepest emotions, at least in public. But as he matured into leadership he clearly learned to accept his failures, take responsibility for them, and acknowledge his own human frailty, if sometimes only to himself and his beloved Martha.  When, at age forty-three, he was asked by the Continental Congress in June of 1775 to command the newly formed Continental Army against British forces, Washington responded, “…I this day declare, with utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I [am] honoured with.”


What leader would say that today?  Who has that kind of humility?  Maybe it’s simply too late for most of our current leadership.  Self-centeredness and driving ambition have always played a role among American politicians.  One wonders, however, if today those qualities are amplified in our leaders – even encouraged – by instant polling, social media accounts that precisely measure “popularity” by counting followers or hits, and a media environment that thrives on volatile, off-the-cuff political commentary.   Is it just too hard for our leaders to embrace humility in that churning vortex, to acknowledge their own weaknesses?


Or do the lessons of humility have to come from somewhere far deeper, a place where the penalties for arrogance land far more severely?  Amid all the noise among our leaders today – the posturing, the blaming, the denying – how powerful are the consequences of self-centeredness and ambition, how immediate, how graphic, how frightening?  


The young George Washington, by contrast, suffered horrendous consequences for his self-centeredness and driving ambition, such as seeing his dead comrades-in-arms sprawled in the bloody trenches of Fort Necessity.  While rain cascaded down and darkness fell, it was a sobering reality.


Much later in life, during his presidency and after, Washington worried about extreme partisanship literally tearing the young nation into pieces.  Maybe we as a nation nearly two-and-a-half centuries later have felt invulnerable in our unity – fearing no consequences for our sniping fractiousness – until suddenly we find that unity shattered into unfixable, razor-edged shards.  Washington did not take unity for granted, in the least.  As commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and then as president, he understood that the greatest task facing him was not to enhance his stature but to unify the troops, then the nation.  The battering he received in his early twenties in the Ohio wilderness helped him arrive at this realization.  He learned – in the hardest way – that it was not only about him.  It was about everyone.  He learned to settle his anger, open his ears, subsume his hefty ego to a greater good.


In Washington’s era, as today, much of the responsibility for leadership fell on the citizenry and their honesty with themselves.  They could see the man and judge him for what he was.  He learned to welcome that, instead of ducking from it.  Washington’s growing self-assurance allowed him to acknowledge his own weaknesses and imperfections and, as a result, maintain his dignity rather than assuming a reflexive position of bluster, muscle-flexing, and blame.  Those who looked to him for leadership recognized his humility as a sign of wisdom and strength.  They saw a leader who was sincerely trying to do his best for a struggling nation.  They rallied behind him.  When they did, his humility ultimately became a source of the citizenry’s wisdom and strength.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172009 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172009 0
Susan Sarandon Shines in Happy Talk


The musical South Pacific, the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein show about life in the Pacific during World War II, debuted in 1949 and was a huge hit. Now, all these years later, Lorraine has been cast as Bloody Mary in South Pacific in a production of the show at her small town’s Jewish Community Center. She sees herself as a glowing celebrity in yet another starring vehicle in her local theater group. She is, as she constantly says, loved by all. The musical comes to represent her life, and the life she wishes she lived.


Lorraine’s mother is dying and receives 24 hour care from a former Serbian caregiver with problems galore, Ljuba. Lorraine has been in a hollow marriage for years with her husband, Bill, who rarely speaks to her and is absorbed daily in a book about the Civil War. Lorraine bristles that Bill has turned into an old man because all old men in America find that they must read a book about the Civil War before they pass on. 


The travails of Lorraine are the material of Jesse Eisenberg’s very funny and very moving new play, Happy Talk, with a tremendous performance by Susan Sarandon as its star. The play opened Thursday at the Griffin Theater at the Pershing Square Signature Theater Complex on W. 42d Street, New York.


What do you get from a 1949 musical such as South Pacific? Everything, according to Lorraine. In the play, you continually hear the song Bali Hi, a song about hopes and dreams and a special place in a troubled world. That’s Lorraine’s world. She has built a self-centered, egomaniacal world for herself and refuses to recognize the odd and painful life in which she exists. She constantly goes back into the past, and to mythical Bali Hi, to try to re-discover herself, continually failing.


She never did have a good marriage and, of course, blames her husband, who can’t stand her. She and her mother never got along and for that she blames – mom. She never had friends and for that she blames all the people she says are her friends but will have nothing to do with her. As an example, after each rehearsal of the play all the actors go to a nearby bar to have a drink, but never ask Lorraine to join them.


Lorraine’s daughter, Jenny, whom she raised to be the same fantasy world chaser as her, arrives in mid-play and harangues her mother in long, hateful dialogues. Her chickens have not only come to roost, but to harass her.


She does have a wonderful relationship with Ljuba, the Serbian caregiver, who tells the audience a bit about the history of Serbia over the last few decades, Ljuba loves Lorraine, but for no apparent reason (you find out soon enough).


Ljuba has a time honored American historical problem involving immigration. She has been in the U.S. illegally for years and must find someone to marry her so she can stay. She’s willing to pay the going black market rate for arranged marriages, $30,000, and asks Lorraine to find her a hubby.


Lorraine recruits actor pal Ronny, who could be her lone friend, who agrees and is in it for the money and the money alone, even as he leads Ljuba to believe he likes her and that she could find happiness with him.


The road Ljuba and Ronny go down, urged on by the smiling and encouraging Lorraine is slippery slope and is the same road thousands of illegal immigrants have followed for a century in America. The marriage scam is an old one. The government permits many women, or men, from foreign lands to stay in America if they marry an American. Whole industries are involved in this. Men get off a plane and are married to a total stranger a few days later for a specified amount of money. Some women marry dozens of men, all at a fixed price.  It is a marriage mill that has been churning out legal couples who barely know each other for generations. When it starts in the play, numerous members of the audience nodded knowingly because the scam is so familiar to all.


The play is very, very funny and playwright Eisenberg takes the audience along on a comedic roller coaster with ups and downs and spins around dangerous curves. Then, later, there is a dramatic change in the story. His script is brilliant when it is funny and deep and provoking when it is dramatic.


Eisenberg’s work is smarty directed by Scott Elliot, who gets full use out of the music in South Pacific, particularly the song Bali Hi, using it as a backdrop to tell the story.


All of the actors do fine work. Ronny, the bubbling gay actor eager to collect his money, is played by the delightful Nicci Santos. Grumpy Bill, so enchanted by Lee, Grant and Gettysburg, is played well by Daniel Oreskes. Marin Ireland gives an enchanting and memorable performance as Ljuba.


The centerpiece of the show is Lorraine, played by Ms. Sarandon, The well-known screen actress (Bull Durham, Thelma and Louise, etc.), the star of so many movies, is just as comedic, and powerful, here on stage as she has been in any film. Her character takes both slow and sharp turns as the play progresses and Ms. Sarandon masters all of them. She is lovable and embraceable when she is funny and menacing when she is angry. She is hateful, and yet very vulnerable. She turns Lorraine into a memorable character, a pathetic middle-aged woman you will never forget. 


PRODUCTION: The play is produced by the New Group. Set Design: Derek McLane, Costumes: Clint Ramos, Lighting: Jeff Croiter, Sound: Rob Milburn and  Michael Bodeen. The play is directed By Scott Elliott. The show has an open-ended run.


Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172010 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172010 0
Remembering Jackie Kennedy for More than Her Fashion Sense


It’s been 25 years since the death of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. When we remember the former first lady, specific images often come to mind: the fashionable young woman in the pillbox hat sitting atop her bouffant hairdo at her husband’s inauguration, the first lady in her beautiful gowns hosting world leaders and artists, the shocked wife in the pink suit covered in her husband’s blood, the grieving widow in the black veil holding the hands of her two young children, or the New York socialite and book editor in her Hermès scarves and signature large black glasses trying to hide her famous face. It’s like she’s frozen in time, preserved in still photographs that focus on her beauty, grace, strength, and perseverance. 


But there was so much more to Jackie than a pretty face and fashion sense. She was a reluctant yet supportive political spouse who helped her husband charm foreign dignitaries. She was a history and art aficionado who turned the White House into a living museum. She was a loving mother to her children and ultimately became a role model for American women.


But she didn’t stop there. Jackie also helped shape the first lady institution. She was the first presidential wife to have an official press secretary charged with handling the media’s insatiable appetite for news about her and her children. She was one of the first to focus her advocacy on a specific area – supporting the arts – which she did by inviting famous performers to the White House and through her oversight of the White House restoration. That legacy lives on at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.


Her sophisticated fashion sense set a high bar for future first ladies. Some, like Michelle Obama and Melania Trump, have even emulated her style in their own fashion choices. She also provided a model for future first ladies on how to protect their children from the glaring media spotlight. First ladies including Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama all followed Jackie’s example as they tried to give their children a somewhat “normal” life in the White House. 


And most notably, she was the architect who meticulously crafted President John F. Kennedy’s lasting legacy.


Just one week after her husband’s assassination, and only days after his funeral, she arranged an interview with Life magazine reporter Theodore White, with a goal of preserving her husband’s memory. During the interview, Jackie recalled that JFK often played the title song to the popular Broadway musical Camelot just before going to bed, noting that his favorite line was, “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment that was Camelot.” She went on to say, “There will be great presidents again…. But there will never be another Camelot again.”


Since then, the Camelot myth has been inextricably linked with the Kennedys. They are remembered as American royalty who led the country with youthful optimism and a noble purpose during uncertain times. For better or for worse, Jackie cemented JFK’s image as the apex of American liberalism when she fought White’s editors to keep the Camelot reference in his article. Although this interview was one of the only times that she spoke on record about the events surrounding her husband’s death, it forever shaped the way she and her husband are remembered.  


Jackie was a reluctant celebrity. Shortly after her husband’s assassination, she told a reporter that she was going to “crawl into the deepest retirement there is.” For the most part, she tried to stay out of the public eye and avoid the media. She even attempted to keep her 1968 marriage to Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis private in spite of the media frenzy surrounding the couple. One of the few exceptions was utilizing her celebrity status in the mid-1970s to save New York’s Grand Central Station from demolition, leading the fundraising efforts to restore the historic landmark.


She remained the target of the tabloids and paparazzi throughout her life. And the public is still fascinated with her. She ranks as one of the most popular and well-remembered first ladies according to a 2018 YouGov poll. Thanks to movies like 2016’s Jackie and the countless books written about her, we know a bit more about the woman behind the image. But, even 25 years after her death, there is still so much we don’t know about this very private woman. And that’s probably the way she would like it.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171995 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171995 0
From 37 to 79: Age and Presidential Campaigns

A portion of the Democrats running for president. 


Age is rarely an issue in presidential elections. Most candidates are neither too young nor too old. The average age of the last ten presidents upon taking office was 57.   The 2020 election, however, bristles with age issues: Five candidates will be in their 70s on Election Day, four will be in their 40s and three will be in their 30s.   Donald Trump, at 70, was the oldest candidate to ever win the presidency. If re-elected, he’d leave office at 78, the oldest president ever to serve––beating Ronald Reagan by nearly eight months.   But Trump, now 72, is one of those people who isn’t measured by age. He even calls himself a “young, vibrant man.” While that may be something of a fudge, polls do show that Trump is perceived as strong and bold, traits rarely associated with geezers.   Among other septuagenarians running are three Democrats and a Republican. When the new president is elected, Bernie Sanders will be 79, Joe Biden will be 77, Elizabeth Warren will be 71 and Trump’s GOP challenger, William Weld, will be 75.   The political trap for older candidates is not age, in a narrow sense, but more widely, the appearance of generational disconnect. Are they in touch with the modern world? Do they understand the needs of younger generations? Little wonder that 50-year old Bill Clinton’s re-election slogan against 73-year-old Bob Dole was “A Bridge to the 21st Century.”    Seventy-two-year-old John McCain lost to 47-year-old Barack Obama in 2008 not so much because of his age, but because the country wanted change, and Obama’s youth perfectly embodied a  “Hope and Change” message.   When candidates are young, on the other hand, the issue becomes experience and maturity of judgment. Have they seen enough of the world to master national leadership?    Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest U.S. president. At 42, he moved up from the vice presidency when President William McKinley was assassinated. John F. Kennedy was the youngest to be elected, at 43. In one of history’s touching parallels, he replaced the nation’s oldest president at that time, Dwight Eisenhower, who was 70 when he left office.   Kennedy’s entire career symbolized generational renewal, particularly apt in the years after World War II when young veterans were climbing increasingly steep career ladders. Kennedy won his first race for Congress at 29, and campaigned on the slogan ”A New Generation Offers a Leader.” In his inaugural address, he emphasized that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans­­.”    Besides JFK and TR, America has had five other presidents in their 40s. The first three––Ulysses Grant, James Garfield and Grover Cleveland––were elected within a 16-year period, 1868-1884. The two most recent––Bill Clinton and Barack Obama––also won within 16 years, 1992-2008.   On the Democratic roster this year, five candidates are in their 40s and three are in their 30s. Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke will be 48 by Election Day. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and former mayor and HUD secretary Julian Castro will be 46, entrepreneur Andrew Yang will be 45 and U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton will be 42. U.S. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Eric Swalwell will be 39. The youngest candidate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, will be 38––although he’ll become 39 the day before the next president takes the oath.   To offer perspective: When Buttigieg was born, Biden had already served nine years in the U.S. Senate. When Sanders was born, Franklin Roosevelt was president.   America has never elected a president in his 30s, although Williams Jennings Bryan won the Democratic presidential nomination at the tender age of 36.    The world has seen old leaders full of wisdom––Winston Churchill was 80 when he retired as British Prime Minister––and young ones brimming with new ideas. Emmanuel Macron was elected President of France at 39.    Mark Twain once said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” As this campaign plays out, we’ll see about that.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172006 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172006 0
Civics 101: Instilling Constitutional Literacy in Tomorrow’s Strategic Leaders

National Defense University (NDU) Faculty walk out of Roosevelt Hall for the Graduation ceremony at

Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington D.C. DoD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann.



“You should try teaching political science in this town with a straight face.” That has been my longtime lament to anyone who engages me on the enduring turbulence, divisiveness, inertia, and dysfunction of politics and governance in Washington. Now, though, the situation has become so massively fraught that my standing lament assumes new saliency. When catastrophe, calamity, debacle, disaster, fiasco, and chaos are words that seem best to characterize the functioning of the federal government today, it makes my job especially daunting.


I’m a professor – at one of the U.S. military’s senior colleges. My students aren’t your average student nor even your average graduate student. They’re experienced government professionals – military officers at the rank of lieutenant colonel and colonel (or the Navy equivalent) and federal civil servants and Foreign Service Officers of comparable grade, each with 15-23 years of professional experience – who have been specially selected by their parent service or federal agency for a year-long graduate-level educational experience designed to groom them for future positions of executive authority and responsibility. 


The Constitutional Oath

As the price of their admission to public service, these individuals have all sworn an oath of allegiance to the Constitution, thereby assuming the obligation, willingly and without mental reservation, to support and defend it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That means, in my estimation, that they have agreed, uncoerced, to embrace, protect, and remain loyal to the precepts, prerogatives, institutional arrangements, and rights embodied in the Constitution, its amendments and, arguably to be sure, the Constitution’s underlying philosophical foundation, the Declaration of Independence


With regrettably few exceptions, though, most of these individuals haven’t given more than passing thought to the Constitution since they first took the oath. So, where there should be intimate familiarity and understanding, there is pronounced ignorance –civic illiteracy– that could signal danger ahead as these individuals advance to senior levels. On top of that, when the only role models they have at the highest levels of government discredit, sully, and even jeopardize the values the country claims to represent, civic consciousness, literacy, and competence assume overriding significance.


What, then, should the public expect such future senior leaders to learn? Let us note at the outset that these are public servants charged with serving the American public – professionals who, because of their specialized expertise and preparation, standards of conduct and performance, and presumed internal self-policing, are accorded a great deal of unquestioned discretionary license by the public they serve in return for competence, integrity, and accountability. For me, the message is clear: If the public is to be properly served, professional development at this level necessarily becomes an exercise in civic development.


As such, I would want these individuals, for starters, to address that most fundamental of questions: What is the very purpose of government they inhabit and operate? Is it merely to preserve property (a la John Locke), to facilitate the happiness of the people (a la John Adams), to provide justice (a la James Madison), or to ensure peace and security (a la Thomas Hobbes)? Is it, in the wise words of Abraham Lincoln, “to do for a community of People, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves – in their separate, and individual capacities”? Or is it, as America’s founders contended in the Declaration of Independence, to secure the natural rights (including, but not limited to, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) all humans (not just citizens) possess and deserve to enjoy simply by virtue of being human?


I would want them to ponder the other parts of that seminal second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, so that they are duly sensitized to the importance of government legitimacy being derived from the consent of the governed (popular sovereignty) and the associated right, indeed the duty, of the people (inside and outside government) to express dissent (possibly leading even to overthrow) in the face of abuse by those in power. And then there’s the part about all of us being created equal. Does that mean that even though we obviously aren’t equal in our attributes, talents, and abilities, we are equal in the sense that we have the same rights? Or, on the contrary, do we have only those rights granted to us by government?


I would want them to address the Constitution’s Preamble as not simply hortatory, aspirational literary frill, but as an imperative for action, America’s Security Credo, encapsulating as it does the full range of imperatives that define security for individuals and society beyond just providing for the common defense: national unity, justice, domestic tranquility, general well-being, and liberty.


I would want them to recognize the Constitution as the supreme law of the land, the ultimate statement of the rule of law (which we preach incessantly to others the world over) over the rule of men, an anchor to guide us especially in the face of populist demagoguery. “In questions of power,” Jefferson said, “let no more be heard of confidence in men, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”


I would want them to consider the ordering of the Constitution’s articles: why the legislative branch, as the people’s representatives, is listed first; the executive, as the president of all the people, second; and the judiciary, the protectors of the law, third; this, even though these are coequal, coordinate branches of government that necessarily – and desirably – share many powers. Is this just syntactic necessity or a reflection of more meaningful underlying purpose?


Diagnosing Congress

I would want these future senior leaders to scrutinize Article I’s treatment of Congress, starting with the basics: Is our republican form of government – representative democracy – actually the one we should want, for reasons including but also transcending the “efficiency” necessitated by our size and population? Aren’t the separation of powers and checks and balances designed to be intentionally inefficient? Is such inefficiency compatible with the strategic imperatives of unity – unity of purpose, unity of effort, unity of action – called for in the international affairs of state? Is representative democracy actually consistent with popular sovereignty – popular rule – especially when those who represent us have chosen to be a full-time political class? Is the implicit premise of republican government that the best of us govern the rest of us (notwithstanding ample evidence to the contrary)? If so, are the prescribed qualifications for office – age, citizenship, and residency alone – all that should be required, leaving the voters to make their own judgments about such things as competence, intelligence, integrity, trustworthiness, and public-mindedness?


I would want them to confront key questions about what we should expect from our representatives in Congress: Should the primary responsibility of congressional representatives be to their constituents or to the country? Should they make their own reasoned judgments in office or be essentially a mouthpiece for their constituents? Should they check and balance or rubber stamp and enable the president and the executive branch? Should they be loyal to Congress and its constitutionally prescribed mission or to their political party?


I would want them to pay close attention to the specific wording of the Article I powers conferred upon Congress – “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress” – at the same time they note Article II’s more expansive and vague wording for the President – “The executive power shall be vested in a President” – as well as the 10th Amendment’s provision that “the powers not delegated to the United States . . . are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” By the same token, I would want them to note the countervailing implied congressional powers suggested by Article I’s so-called elastic clause: “To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers. . . .”


I would want them to recognize that Article I gives Congress – not the executive – the power to “provide for the common defence,” and that “no money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.” As importantly is Congress’s role in exercising civilian control of the military (beyond that accorded the President in Article II as “commander in chief of the army and navy . . . and of the militia”): raising and supporting armies; providing and maintaining a navy; making rules for governing and regulating land and naval forces; providing for calling forth (mobilizing) the militia – and for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia when thus mobilized. Most importantly, almost certainly, is the power accorded Congress to declare war – which we don’t do anymore because it’s too hard (perhaps too provocative); which Congress has the power to do but isn’t obligated (nor, increasingly, even expected) to do; and which we avoid by calling wars something other than wars, using “authorizations for the use of military force” instead, relying increasingly on publicly deniable covert military operations, and falling back on the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which, rather than reasserting proper congressional prerogative, provided an excuse for congressional inaction on the use of force until after the fact.


Diagnosing the Presidency

I would want these future senior leaders, belonging as they do to the executive branch, to make exacting judgments about Article II’s treatment of the president and the presidency, not least the precise wording of Section 1: “The executive power . . . shall be vested in a President.” What does that really mean? Is he an executor who is expected to carry out the direction of Congress, or is he the presider – the issuer of direction? Are the President, the presidency, and the executive branch a unitary body (in the manner of a “unitary executive,” endowed with not only expressed powers but also a wide range of inherent powers); or should we expect and want internal checks and balances (State vs. Defense, Army vs. Navy)? Was Alexander Hamilton right in his famous Federalist #70 call for “energy in the executive,” a metaphorical unitary force to overcome the inertia of the popular representative mass that is Congress? On what basis, then, should we judge a President (and, by association, determine how binding his direction should be): by his accomplishments (domestic and/or international), by his behavior (public and/or private), by his attributes (charisma, character, vision, courage)? 


Of most salient immediate concern to this audience is the President’s designation as commander in chief, this being at the very heart of the hallowed democratic precept of civilian control. This raises numerous questions, especially in conjunction with the presidential oath of office, which swears him to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” – to the best of his ability. Is this license for the President to order the military to do anything he wants; and is the military obligated in turn to dutifully obey any order that isn’t demonstrably unlawful? Considering that the Constitution details how laws are to be passed and treaties ratified via shared powers, how legitimate are recurring presidential actions to circumvent both – through executive orders, signing statements, and international executive agreements? What, therefore, do we and should we expect the relationship between the executive and Congress to be: confrontational? competitive? cooperative? collaborative? collusive? Recall Justice Robert Jackson’s well-known concurring opinion in the 1952 Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer case: “While the Constitution diffuses power the better to secure liberty, it also contemplates that practice will integrate the dispersed powers into a workable government. . . .”


Don’t Forget the Judiciary

Lest the judiciary be overlooked in a fit of casual neglect, I would want these future strategic leaders to be sensitive to the judiciary’s crucial role: a formally independent, non-political arm of government, whose mission is to interpret and apply the law – not to make or enforce it. Apolitical judicial independence in the service of “equal justice under law” is the normative ideal, though the selection of judges and justices is driven in very large measure by political and ideological considerations. There are no prescribed qualifications for these lifetime, non-elected appointees, though virtually all are lawyers whose inclinations for judicial activism or judicial restraint reflect inner ideological and political leanings. 


Two issues specifically mentioned in Article III – impeachment and treason – and two whose provenance lies outside the Constitution – judicial review and judicial deference – warrant particular attention. With regard to impeachment, a recognizably political rather than legal act addressed more directly in Article II, the most pressing question is what constitute “high crimes and misdemeanors.” With regard to treason, defined in Article III as a wartime act, the question, in light of the world of hybrid, asymmetric conflict we now face, is what constitutes war. Judicial review, codified in the 1803 Marbury v. Madison case, raises questions about the extent to which, and under what circumstances, the judiciary should have the final say on the legality of executive and legislative actions. And then there is judicial deference, the Court’s selective, not always consistent practice of declining to take up certain types of cases (e.g., defense, foreign affairs, war powers) it considers to be the proper purview of the “political branches.” 


And, Finally, the Amendments

Yes, finally, I would want these individuals to address the amendments to the Constitution head on, precisely because that is principally where the rights they have sworn to uphold are most clearly enumerated. Indeed, there is much to be discussed with regard to the meaning and scope of gun rights and gun control, unreasonable search and seizure, due process and equal protection, double jeopardy and self-incrimination, speedy and public trial by jury, citizenship, and the protection of rights not otherwise specified in the Constitution. Perhaps most salient and most potentially controversial, though, are the rights enumerated in the First Amendment: religion (church-state separation, persecution, religiosity in public office), speech (dissent, hate speech, incitement, slander), press (secrecy, propaganda and disinformation, censorship, libel, leaks and whistleblowing, public accountability, informed citizenry), peaceable assembly and redress of grievances (civil society, protest movements and events, public awareness, access to public facilities).



If this sounds like Civics 101, it is – for good reason. It would be a massive mistake to conclude that uniformed military officers, federal civil servants, and Foreign Service Officers – professionals all – who aspire to future responsibilities as senior leaders, should be judged by standards no different than in the past: basically, technical expertise and operational know-how. Now, though, they are enroute to becoming tomorrow’s generals, admirals, and senior diplomats and federal executives. If they are to earn the continued trust and confidence of the public, they must fully expect to be judged anew by how much and how well they demonstrate understanding of and commitment to the higher-order ideals of the Constitution they have sworn to support and defend.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171997 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171997 0
History Does Not Bode Well for President Trump’s Peace Plan



President Donald Trump’s Peace Plan aimed at solving the conflict between the Palestinian Arabs and Israel appears to be doomed to failure, based on historical precedents. 


History has taught us that every attempt by the United States to settle the Arab Israeli conflict by advancing its own peace plan has failed.    


From the Alpha Plan in the mid-1950s, through the Rogers Plan in 1969, to the Reagan Plan of 1983, to the Clinton parameters in 2000 – none have succeeded in producing peace.


The Alpha Plan devised by the United States and Britain at the end of 1954 specifically called on Israel to make territorial concessions in the Negev, in southern Israel. In addition, Israel had to agree to a land corridor in the Negev so as to connect Jordan with Egypt. Last but not least, the Alpha Plan urged Israel to accept the inflow of Arab refugees into its sovereign territory. 


Israel stated that it could not accept the terms of the Alpha Plan. Egypt, for its part, refused to negotiate with Israel as it was unwilling to recognize it as a sovereign state. 


In 1969, the US Secretary of State William Rogers advanced a peace plan which called on Israel to withdraw to the boundaries existing prior to the Six Day War of June 1967, with minor territorial modifications. 


Although Israel made it clear it was ready to negotiate with its Arab neighbors and make peace with them, the conditions entailed in the Rogers Plan were unacceptable as they called for a withdrawal of Israel to the lines existing prior to the Six Day War, with only minor border changes. 


The Arab countries, for their part, rejected the Rogers Plan as it entailed Arab official recognition of Israel. 


The Reagan Plan of 1983 which was proposed by the United States in the wake of the First Lebanon War, called on Israel to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian autonomous entity to be linked to Jordan. President Ronald Reagan had discussed the terms of the plan in advance with some Arab allies, but not with Israel. Israel had been informed of the plan only hours before it was made public. 


Feeling betrayed by this treatment, Menachem Begin, Israel's prime minister, said to US ambassador Samuel Lewis that Israel was not a banana republic and would not consent to being treated as such. 


The Reagan Plan was also rejected by the leadership of the Palestinian Arabs, who thought it fell short of their minimum demands of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, including East Jerusalem, and the Right of Return of the Arab refugees to Israel. 


The Clinton Parameters, drawn up by President Bill Clinton in the wake of the failed Camp David Summit in the year 2000, called for the establishment of a Palestinian State on most of the West Bank and Gaza, leaving under Israeli sovereignty the main blocks of existing Israeli settlements. This failed to lead to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.


Although peace plans advanced by the United States have invariably failed, efforts at mediating have been more successful when no detailed proposals are laid out in advance. 


The United States successfully played the role of mediator in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's Shuttle Diplomacy led to three interim agreements, two between Israel and Egypt and one between Israel and Syria.  This diplomatic feat was achieved by third party mediation, which was not preceded by a US public announcement of the precise conditions the sides concerned were supposed to accept.


The same applies to President Jimmy Carter, who in September of 1978, at the Camp David Summit, played the role of mediator between Egypt and Israel. The Camp David framework agreement for peace, which laid the basis for the Egypt-Israel peace agreement, was a corollary of that diplomatic effort. Again, Carter did not present a blueprint for peace or specific terms for an agreement, but helped bring it about by actively mediating between the Egyptians and Israelis.


It must be stressed: not every effort at mediation has been successful; but every successful effort by the United States to achieve an agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors has been attained by mediation, without putting forward in advance either a peace plan or detailed terms for them to accept.


To be sure, the fate of the Trump Peace Plan might be different. We do not know yet what it contains. Also, history may be a general guide to the future, not necessarily a certain compass to it. However, if history is anything to go by, the chances of the Trump Peace Plan to succeed are slim. 

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171998 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171998 0
Into the Teeth of the Dragon’s Jaw in Vietnam


What’s worse: a wall of antiaircraft artillery fire and surface-to-air missiles, a relentless amount of enemy MiG planes on your tail, or the reality that the war being waged is unwinnable? How about a target that just can’t be taken down for the duration of an entire long conflict? Many young US airmen during the Vietnam War dealt with these harsh conditions for seven years as they carried out efforts to destroy the heavily defended and strategically important bridge called the Thanh Hoa, or “dragon’s jaw” in Vietnamese. The bridge was located in the Thanh Hoa Provide of North Vietnam and endured hundreds of attacks from the US Air Force and the US Navy before it finally gave way. The campaigns required intense perseverance, unguided and laser-guided missiles, and many sacrifices to eliminate it from the battlefield in 1972. Many American airmen were shot down, killed, or captured and taken to the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” POW camp. 


The bridge became a symbol of unbeatable spirit for North Vietnamese identity. US war planners fought hard and plotted for years to uproot it from the Song Ma river. Veterans of the Vietnam War who remember it shared their stories about dogfights, losses, desperate conditions, valor, and lessons learned in air combat. In an interview, best-selling author and Vietnam War veteran Stephen Coonts and military aviation historian Barrett Tillman spoke with us about their latest book which is available now for purchase, Dragon's Jaw: An Epic Story of Courage and Tenacity in Vietnam.



First, can you both talk about the courage and tenacity it took to take down the Thanh Hoa bridge?


Barrett: If you have time, Erik, I would refer you to a book I co-authored aboutmore than 30 years ago. It was called On Yankee Station: The Naval Air War Over Vietnam, and it was about one of the three best friends I ever had, Commander John Nichols, athree-tour F-8 Crusader pilot and we included a chapter in that on professionalism, and I know Steve will agree with this wholeheartedly. The motivation that kept that generation of American aircrews flying into literally the teeth of the Dragon throughout Southeast Asia was professionalism, and they had one another. Steve, do I remember correctly that the original title of Flight of the Intruder was For Each other. 


Stephen: That is correct. Barrett hit the nail right on the head. It should impress anyone who sits down with Dragon’s Jaw and reads about hundreds of young aviators, some of them reservists, but most of them regular Air Force or Navy. They kept going back again and again, not because it's Lyndon Johnson's war or anything else, it's because they're professionals, it's just what they do, and they owe it to each other. It's the old story: “If I don't go, somebody else will have to, so I'm going.”I think that's the essence of what military professionalism is all about. 


Barrett: One of the most impressive people I've ever known was ViceAdmiral Jim Stockdale, who got sidelined into politics after sevenyears in Hanoi as a prisoner of war and he is best known, unfortunately, as Ross Perot's running mate. But Jim was a consummate professional, an aviator and a philosopher at the same time. At a Tailhook Association banquet in 1988, he relayed that in 1965 or so (which was the year he got shot down and captured) then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara came out to Yankee station and was aboard the carrier Oriskany for a short time. He just flat out told the pilots and aircrew of Air Wing 16, "You are expected to take unlimited losses in pursuit of limited goals." And Jim let that sink in for a moment-- just a hush in the room. Then he said, "What you must remember: it's nothing limited about your efforts when you're over the target," and that speaks eloquently to the concept of professionalism.


Stephen: I certainly second that. We managed to put that vignette Barrett mentioned in the book and that was a powerful moment. 


If military brass on both sides of the Vietnam War were somehow still alive and got a chance to review this book thoroughly from a battle strategy standpoint, what do you think their reactions might be?


Stephen: The North Vietnamese did the very best they could with the assets they had.The American military certainly realized that. I don't think the American politicians truly understood [the advantage] that absolute dictatorship gave the North Vietnamese. From a military standpoint, the North Vietnamese were darn tough soldiers and they did the best they could with what they had, as did the Americans. There was mutual respect on both sides.


Military history tends to always be relevant and timeless, especially while the American public is both drawn to and repelled by a controversial presidential administration which is running multiple theaters of war. But why the Dragon’s Jaw bridge, and why now?


Stephen: Barrett and I were talking about this book about 5 years ago this month, that the Thanh Hoa bridge was the most notorious target in North Vietnam, it was almost indestructible, like the thing were made out of kryptonite. The weapons during the early stages of the war were absolutely inadequate to knock it down and American Airmen went against it for seven long years. About a dozen planes were shot down, people were killed, imprisoned and so on. Millions of dollars worth of airplanes, tens of millions of dollars worth of fuel and ordinance and all that were expended against that bridge. The story had never been told, and we thought, we ought to do this book while these people are still alive to talk about it. 


If we would have waited another 10 years and these guys that flew these missions in the 60s and early 70s either won't remember or they’re no longer capable of talking about it. We thought, we'd better get busy and do this, before life or other projectsget in the way. Finally, we said, “I don't care, we're going to do it.”Barrett agreed to do the research and I agree to write the book and that's basically what came down. Fortunately, Barrett is the premier military aviation historian alive today in America, so boy, you talk about aces up, we had a guy that knew everybody, knew the American military, and made a career out of writing about military aviation and he just dove right in.It gaveus a wealth of material; I had to sit down to try to write the English side of it and put the pronouns in the right places. This is why we did it now because we thought it was a story worth telling and we wanted to get it out here while the people who lived it were there to tell it to us. 


Barrett: That's a big part of it, believe me, because going in, Steve and I realized this was a rare opportunity to focus on a primary topic of the entire Vietnam War. We approached the bridge almost as if it's a character among the human participants,and we decided to treat the campaign which as Steve said was off and on for seven years as a microcosm of that crazy Asian War. It's all there: the tactics, the strategy, the politics, the courage, the losses, it all comes together over Thanh Hoa, which is about 70 or 80 miles south of Hanoi. It's well into North Vietnam and it's the belly of the beast that became such a focus for so many years for hundreds of American aircrew. 


What will hardcore historians find useful about this book -- from all walks of the discipline, from military history to even Southeast Asian studies and historical fiction?


Barrett: The major advantage for the readership you are addressing is the breadth of the material that we've assembled. Not only is this the first book about Thanh Hoa bridge, but it's also a top-to-bottom, left-to-right, in-and-out assessment from not just the American side-- we had about 70 contributors and they represent the US Air Force, the Navy, the Marine Corps, some civilian contractors, and also, we had some tremendous material out of Vietnam that as far as I can tell has never been accessed before. It took these fiveyears since Steve first called me back in April of 2014 to learn the lay of the land. If we had tried to complete the book and publish it any sooner, we would have lost an awful lot of that benefit. For instance, I had contacted our embassy in Vietnam and their embassy over here, asking about sources and contacts and never got a reply from either of them. It's not that I really expected it but in the meantime there's a very well-connected assembly of Southeast Asia researchers and scholars in this country and elsewhere. One of our main contributors is a lieutenant colonel in the Hungarian Air Force, so that assemblage made all the difference and if we were just to try to tell the story from the American viewpoint, honestly I think we would have less than half the story we're telling. 


Stephen: I would add that from a historian's standpoint, one of the major themes of the book is the development of precision weapons, or guided weapons. It went from World War II type dumb bombs (if you just point the airplane at the target and drop the bomb) to what are now precision-guided weapons. They were all born during that era and from American frustration with the Thanh Hoa bridge and its seeming invincibility. 


One of the problems with the Thanh Hoa bridge is to deliver a weapon you had to get into the heart of the anti-aircraft envelope to deliver the weapon and expose the plane and the pilot to death or capture, or whatever. The drive was not only for accurate weapons but weapons that could be launched from outside the antiaircraft envelope defending the target. All these themes came together during the Gulf War in 1991 and later on. From a historical standpoint, in this book you see the driving force, the driving feature that lead the military and Industry to develop smart stand-off weapons.


Did this book project help toopen up any new doors of research that might allow you to write a future book about Vietnam in a more detailed way than you have been able to access in the past?


Barrett: That's a very good question. I haven’t given any specific thought to another Vietnam book but as Steve lightly notes, now is the time to do that. I'll back up fortyyears to when the Naval Institute published my first book. It was the history of the Douglas dive bomber my father flew and at that time, it was basically thirty years after World War II. There were hundreds of thousands of living, breathing, remembering WWII veterans, but now we're beyond that same place in regard to Vietnam's. My Facebook tagline is "Do It Now" and if I get the opportunity to write another Vietnam book, undoubtedly it would be aviation-oriented, and as Steve notes, I have had two tactical missions in A-6s. I'd love to write about the definitive history of the Intruder so that might be another possibility. 


Stephen: It might be. [laughter]


Can you talk about some of the differences between the Johnson administration and the Nixon administration, and how each leader and their war planners used strategy, priorities, and made decisions that affected America’s approach in the Vietnam War and with China/Soviet Union relations?


Stephen: Well, wars don't get developed in a vacuum. It's the geopolitical milieu at the time that causes these conflicts to spark and sustain themselves.The Vietnam War was really launched in the heart of the Cold War by the Kennedy administration, which was scared to death of having a nuclear confrontation with Russia and, to a lesser extent, with China. 


President Kennedy was looking for a way to stand up to the spread of what they thought was world communism and that whole era is sort of hard for a millennial today to understand. They talked about how many square miles of the Earth's surface was going communist every year, as if this scourge was going to eat the whole Earth. People believed that. Politics is all about perception. The Johnson Administration inherited the Vietnam War and simply nobody had ever accused Lyndon Johnson of being an intellectual. He was just a log-rolling politician, an arm twister, and he never asked the basic questions about Vietnam: Was it International interest? What are the upsides and downsides? Should we be there? Is it worth the treasure we're committing?


Further, the problem was Johnson never bothered to figure out an exit strategy. He kept feeding men and arms into Vietnam, expanding the war, thinking he could leave at any time and that was never the case, it was total fantasy. When he finally realized he wasn't willing to apply the military pressure it would take to get a military victory, he was in too deep. 


Richard Nixon got elected, and Nixon, on the other hand, had more backbone and realized, I think, with Henry Kissinger's help, that the solution to this war, like all wars is it's got to be political. Nixon went and try to open up a relationship with China but what he found out was China wasn't going to war over Vietnam under any circumstances. The United States got the license to talk about the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and a better detente, a better relationship. All these things took the threat of nuclear war and allowed Nixon to get us the heck out of Vietnam in a way that the Johnson Administration had never been able to see how to do. 


It was a human tragedy; 58,000 Americans lost their lives in Vietnam. Over a million Vietnamese, and the Communists won. It was America's first war they actually lost, and maybe even the championship team needs to get its butt kicked occasionally, and we did. Maybe we learned something from that. We'll see. 


Barrett: Fairly early on in the book, a portion describes the reality in China and in Russia to a lesser extent versus the perception inside the beltway in DC. Anybody who is reasonably well-informed today would look back and wonder, how in the world did the Johnson Administration-- sometimes regime--what was happening in China to think that China was going to get involved on the ground in a major way like it had in Korea in 1950? Throughout the 60sand well into the 70s, Mao's China was in turmoil. They had the so-called Great Leap Forward which was a cultural topsy-turvy. They had massive starvation;we still don't know how many million trainees died of malnutrition. Additionally, Russia and China had both political and philosophical differences. I forget the name of the island but there was combat with casualties on both sides between China and Russia. At this remove, you have to look back in wonder: what were Johnson and McNamara and Rusk thinking because they had to know what was actually happening between Russia and China, but they seemed to ignore it. 


What was the most eye opening aspect of writing this book? For example, was it just how stubborn the bridge was, that it wouldn’t fall, or was it something more subtle which revealed itself as the project came together?


Stephen: Well, it was all of the above. The political stupidities, the military difficulty, knocking down a grossly overbuilt steel and concrete bridge with the weapons available in the teeth of fierce defenses. When it all came together, we thought it was a very powerful tale. We thought it was worth our time and effort and we gave it the best we could.


You’ve both conducted original interviews with many combat veterans and have made reference to insights and testimonies that veterans and politicians had given from the past. Do you use a combined effort in reaching out to the community of veterans or is the research stage also dependant on others’ assistance to consult with a network of witnesses who were there, who played a part in what happened at the Dragon’s Jaw? Secondly, what were those interviews like? Was it painful for the pilots to re-enact those life-or-death scenes?


Stephen: Obviously, Barrett is our expert. He talked to I would say 90 to 95% of the people who are quoted in the book. I talked to several but I also put out appeals to the A-6 Intruder Association, and I think Barrett did to the Tailhook Association that everybody who had ever bombed the Thanh Hoa bridge, we want to hear from you. Drop us an email, write us a letter, and we got a great many responses from that. Barrett did most of the interviews and he's an expert at that. He knows the technology, he knows the people, he knows what they're talking about. He's a historian; that's his thing. 


Barrett: Thank you, Steve. I'll just add briefly that coming from a naval preference in my work going back to the 60s and 70s, I knew quite a few people, people like Jim Stockdale and Wynn Foster, so many of the others who are quoted in the book but I was not so well-connected on the Air Force side. However, through the River Valley Fighter Pilots Association (they called themselves the River Rats) and a couple of other contacts, I started learning about some wonderful sources. They included the Air Force Phantom crew that didn't destroy the bridge in the main 1972 mission but they dislodged the span and that pilot had a cockpit recording. It's interesting, he asked me out of the blue during a phone conversation, "I still have this recording, would you like to have it?" and I thought, "oh my Lord, this is the Big Rock Candy Mountain," and it gives a sense of immediacy that just isn't possible otherwise. 


You'll see in one of the later chapters where the pilot and his backseater are exchanging comments because the mission was slowing, and fog and haze reduced visibility; one of my favorite lines in the book is, "Where are ya, bridge?" and "Oh! There it is, 11 o'clock right," so that type of immediacy would not have been possible if we hadn’t been able to talk to so many of the actual participants.


Stephen: Barrett listened to that particular cassette tape a million times and transcribed it. He got it all written down but I'm sure that the background noise, the calls, the counter measures and emotional voices of the crew, it must have put you right in the cockpit, Barrett, because you did a great job. 


Barrett: Well, thank you!


You wrote that, “It is not our purpose in this book to write a history of the Vietnam War but to illuminate Americans’ efforts to destroy and, to the extent we can, North Vietnamese efforts to defend just one bridge, the Dragon’s Jaw at Thanh Hoa.” The book is full of the first part of the book’s purpose. American efforts to destroy the bridge are clearly and painstakingly defined and explored in the book, down to the bullets, the cigars in the cockpits, casualty statistics, flight hours. 


How difficult was investigating the extent of how the North Vietnamese defended the bridge? What did this type of research entail? Were you both limited by language barriers or barriers to trustworthy information?


Barrett: Originally, other than the already published sources and existing literature, I was fortunate years ago, before I ever thought of writing the book, in meeting a guy named Gary Wayne Foster. He's a structural engineer who has worked all over the Far East and he had a particular interest in the bridge because he knew a Navy Phantom crew that have been shot down. They were captured whilst trying to bomb the bridge. Gary's interest in the bridge went beyond the historical aspect. He started looking at it from an engineering viewpoint, and he was so intrigued that he went up to Hanoi and tracked down the architect who is credited with designing the famous Dragon’s Jawbridge in 1964 that resisted all of the American ordnance.


Through a couple of almost casual comments made, I started looking elsewhere and filled in the blanks--essentially built a matrix of the North Vietnamese air defense network. I identified the 238th People's Anti-aircraft Artillery Regiment which was defending the bridge for most of that time. Things expanded into the surface-to-air missile category and I already knew a good deal about the MiG jet fighters that were involved in defending the bridge early on. It was essentially a building block process that not only provided information but personal accounts and as you see in the book, we have more than a few passages quoting either individual Vietnamese or official documents. To me, that was probably the most satisfying portion of the research, before I wrote a rough draft and Steve took that and ran with it. Having that kind of immediacy was more than I expected we might have going in and so it was almost as if this project was just waiting for Steve and I to discover it and once we started, it just blossomed. 


Barrett: We both had a good time writing it. Writers write, that's what they do and Barrett's a terrific historian and writer and I've been doing novels for most of my career. Putting it all together, writing about something so immediate and so powerful and that meant so much to our generation. I flew in A-6s in Vietnam for the last two cruises of the Enterprise during the war. I never bombed the bridge and I bombed everywhere else, and these are my guys, man. I know these guys, I lived with them, I went on liberty with them, and so it's not only their story, it's my story too and it was fun to tell it. 


Barrett: I'd like to add that Steve's skills as a novelist shine throughout because to me it's so much more than a campaign history, it's an immediacy, pounding, ‘you were there’ treatment that you almost expect Jake Grafton to roll down on the bridge at any moment. I know that's a big part of the strength and the appeal of Dragon's Jaw.


How was the experience joining forces to write about the Vietnam War -- a conflict that Stephen received a Distinguished Flying Cross in, respectively, and that Barrett is an expert in, and which carries strong political and foreign policy currents? Was it okay that perhaps your experiences and political beliefs didn’t align exactly? For example, one author is a Nixon and Kissinger supporter, while the other has a few reservations?


Stephen: I don't think at this point that our political views are very far apart on this war. The more you study the Vietnam War, you realize the tragedy from any angle: how many families lost sons and husbands and fathers and so on. It probably was a war that should have never been fought. The stupidities of the politicians -- I think Barrett and I are both joined at the hip. We both thought that the Johnson Administration was inept, incompetent, and really stupid.We thought the people that did the fighting actually did the best they could under very difficult circumstances. America just gave up because they were trying to do something that just couldn't be done which was defend a nation that wasn't a nation and to turn South Vietnam into a real nation state, and that was fantasy.


Barrett: Steve has very generously included me in two or three of his anthologies, including a couple of original fiction compilations, so we've been acquainted since before Flight of the Intruder when it was originally For Eachother, because we had the same publisher, Naval Institute Press in Annapolis. I remember commenting to the editor who had sent me the manuscript for my opinion and I said, "This is so good, if you don't publish it, I will!" and Steve and I have been, as he said, 'joined at the hip' ever since.


Stephen: It's been an amazing adventure along the years; it's really amazing that this is our first book together!


When Stephen was a guest on Oliver North’s radio show in May of 1998 (at the 20 min. mark), he got a call from a fellow tailhooker, Barrett, who asked him about a contradiction in the publishing business, where agents and publishers decided there was no longer a market for military-themed books. Stephen, your book, Flight of the Intruder, got rejected by publishers 34 times before it was published. What’s the state of military fiction today in comparison to back then?


Stephen: I didn't realize that was Barrett but military history well told does find an audience. Now it isn't going to be bestseller fiction, but if it's an important subject well worth writing then there'll always be a market for it, not just for the people who were there but the students of politics, students of our national identity, people who are worried about the future. If you wanted to learn about the future, read about the past.


How does military fiction today compare to back in the late 90s?


Stephen: Well, talking about military fiction, I think it's worse than it was because back then. When I was shopping the Flight of the Intruder around in the mid-80s, theytold me there's no market at all for Vietnam fiction. "Nobody wants to hear about a war we lost" and "we're not going to publish it," and they literally said, their corporate decision was, “we're not going to publish anything about Vietnam,” so times change. Military fiction, per say, is certainly not as big as it was when Tom Clancy and I were writing the so-called techno-thrillers, and those sort of died out as a genre of fiction. The big fiction today is still the same old stuff: sex, murder, whodunnits, the usual. 


Barrett: There is a cycle to what the publishing business receives as viable. I remember in about 1993-94, I was discussing the future of World War II history with two of my colleagues and they both had multiple, superb WWII books to their credit. All three of us had heard this emerging conventional wisdom that after the 50th anniversary of WWII in 1995, the market was going to drop off and none of us believed it, because we knew there was tons of material out there that still waited to be revealed and deserved to be told. 


Here we are 25 years laterand there’s still a market for a good WWII material, whether it's Rick Atkinson or Adam Makos or Christopher Shores in Britain. As long as the WWII generation continues breathing (and that's shifting) there will always be a market for it and I really believe the same for Vietnam, because that was the defining event of our generation and I just don't think it's going to dissipate anytime soon.


Stephen: The second generation, the children of WWII veterans are buying WWII histories now to see what their dad and their parents went through. It’s going to do that with Vietnam veterans.Their children are going to be interested in what their parents went through, a natural progression, but we're talking history, not fiction.Fiction and history are two different things.


Is it a good idea to keep track of oral history databases already out in the public domain as you interview pilots? 


Barrett: Oh, sure. Oral histories have only relatively recently become common references, even though they go back to at least the 1950s. Several years ago on one of the C-SPAN programs on the History channel, Rick Atkinson was asked about his research procedures. He said he almost never interviews WWII veterans-- he won the Pulitzer Prize for his World War II U.S. Army trilogy-- because of slipping memories, and that is a factor. Atkinson specifically mentioned the enormous depth and variety of oral histories are going to be increasingly important, because more often than not, those were conducted when the subjects were relatively young, frequently within 20 and sometimes 30 years of the events they are describing. There's a lot to be said for that. However, if Steve and I had accepted Atkinson's attitude at face value, saying, “no, we're not going to interview any of the veterans because it has been fifty years now, ”the book would not be anywhere as worthwhile and it certainly wouldn’t have asense of immediacy. I'm a firm believer that if a conscientious writer/historian looks for the best and most reliable people to interview, and you can determine that without much effort, individual interviews still have a major role to play in recording history. 


Are your collaborative efforts symbolic in some way of what you hope to achieve in both areas, or about how you want to bridge the gap to entertain readers and educate and engage the public?


Stephen: I personally think that the Dragon's Jaw is good, solid history. It's factually based and it's written as immediate as we could write it and we want to reach out and grab people by the shirts and say, "this is what the people that serve our country do, and they risk their lives and their future and their families to do whatever it is politicians ask for them to do.” I think that comes through. In fact, one of my friends was an F-8 pilot in Vietnam; he went on to become a chief of the naval operations and he looked at this book and he told me, "this just wasn't for the guys who were there, this is for all the guys in the future who are going to be asked to lay it on the line for the United States of America." When we did the dedication to all those American military Airmen, past, present, future, who have been or will be called upon the fight in the defense of freedom.


Is there any expectation that this will be translated into Vietnamese and released on the market there?


Stephen: The problem is, in the book, in some ways we burst a lot of North Vietnamese bubbles. For example, they grossly exaggerated claims about the shoot down rate for propaganda purposes and so when you read a North Vietnamese government-approved account, it's usually just BS. I can't imagine that the communist government in North Vietnam is going to want a book like this floating around that in effect points out all of the lies they've told through the years.


Barrett: On the other hand it wouldn't surprise me to see, say, Japanese and maybe even Chinese rights purchased for Dragon’s Jaw. 


Stephen: That's true!


Thank you both for your time and I look forward to the book’s release!

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172008 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172008 0
Presidential Moral Character and Teddy Roosevelt


It was Saturday morning, September 14, 1901, and President William McKinley was dead, eight days after being shot by a crazed assassin. Americans were aghast—this was the third murder of a president in thirty-six years. Everything had been going so well. The economy had rebounded from the 1893 Panic, our industry was the most productive in the world, technological innovation had made life easier, and America had just won a war, gaining a new global empire with unlimited commercial possibilities. 


Suddenly, the historically do-nothing office of vice-president was in the spotlight as its occupant was sworn in as the 26th president of the United States. In the cigar- and whiskey-reeking backrooms of big city political bosses, the august boardrooms of Wall Street moguls, and the genteel verandahs of Newport aristocrats, the nation’s elite was anxious about what kind of president Theodore Roosevelt would turn out to be. Many already had an idea and they didn’t like it. This was because by 1901, Roosevelt was anything but an enigma to America. Though he was only forty-two when he became president that Saturday, his moral character and intellectual ability were already widely known.


His moral character was illuminated from his first political office at age twenty-three in 1881, when he became the youngest person ever elected to the New York State Assembly. Roosevelt stood out from other politicians because of his fearless quest for honesty and efficiency in government. Over his next three terms in the statehouse, he took on powerful foes like financier Jay Gould, who had attempted to corrupt officials, and Judge Theodore Westbrook, who had a shady relationship with Gould. He not only believed, but showed, that honest government transcended party politics, working with Democratic Governor Grover Cleveland to pass a civil service reform bill. Within two years of his arrival, Roosevelt was chosen to be the Republican minority leader in the state assembly. These years in the gritty mechanics of legislative process provided him with solid experience in how government works, and how to craft arguments to advance his agenda. This knowledge helped greatly once he was president. It also gave him the impetus to fully use presidential power, as shown by the fact he issued more executive orders (over 1000) than any of his 25 predecessors. 


His intellect showed early on, as well. During his life, Roosevelt was of the most prodigious readers and writers in America. By age twenty-four he had written The Naval War of 1812, a book which was soon required reading for naval officers around the world. To this day, it is considered the definitive history of that naval war. Over his lifetime, Roosevelt wrote (no ghostwriters for him!) dozens of magazine articles, essays, thousands of letters, and no less than forty-five books. His topics were diverse: hunting, social responsibility, travel, history, biography, politics, living the strenuous life. Naturally, his literary work spread his name and ideas, but it had another benefit. It introduced him to many of the famous journalists and authors of the day, several of whom became lifelong friends who promoted his political programs. It was not by coincidence that Colonel Roosevelt had his own press entourage while trudging through the jungles of wartime Cuba in 1898.  


His impressive mental capacity was manifested in another way—he was an outstanding orator. He could converse in French and German, though with a pronounced American accent. Roosevelt’s experiences out west with cowboys, in the tenement slums of New York, and with soldiers in the army, people who were completely outside his social norm, taught him their language styles. It gave him confidence in public speaking with different cultures. It also gave him the ability to size up an audience’s pride, hopes, and fears, allowing him to personalize his message to them. Sometimes he even turned adversaries into advocates with his candid sincerity, as he did with German immigrants irate with his decision to enforce the no alcohol on Sunday laws as New York Police Commissioner in 1896. After speaking to them in German, he had them laughing with him. As recordings of his speeches show, Roosevelt’s voice was high pitched and not what we would consider stentorian, but his passion for the topic and audience emerged loud and clear. In short, he knew how to bond with the audience.


An obvious sign of Roosevelt’s remarkable self-discipline was his physical fitness, which greatly influenced his character. A sickly boy with severe asthma, as a teenager he transformed his frail body into that of an athlete. He became a devotee of daily practice in martial arts (Judo, boxing, and single-stickfighting). Roosevelt always seemed in motion. He never strolled—he strode. He didn’t walk up steps, he leaped two at a time. The tragic deaths of his father, and later his first wife and mother, and after that his brother, taught him perseverance through plunging into hard work, both physical and mental. His time with rough men in the Dakota Badlands, facing enemy fire in Cuba, and in rugged sports, gave him a determination which no one doubted. His clenched jaw and narrowed eyes could give pause to the fiercest opponent, either physical or political. And, of course, there was the other manifestation of his personality, a sense of gentle humor displayed in that famous ear-to-ear enameled grin, accompanied by a true belly-slapping laugh that was impossible to not join in. Often, it was directed at himself.


We mustn’t think Roosevelt perfect, however. His moral strength sometimes failed. One of the most prominent political causes which withered was his initial presidential support of black civil rights in the South in the face of increasingly oppressive Jim Crow laws and KKK violence. That faded as he dealt with the considerable southern political powerin Congress. An example is his early friendship for Booker T. Washington, inviting him to be the first African-American to dine at the White House only three weeks after being sworn-in as president. The backlash was immediate and vicious, and Mr. Washington never got another such invitation. During his second term in 1906, Roosevelt made the decision to rely on and support racist army officers’ evaluations and adjudication of a black regiment’s alleged rioting in Brownsville, Texas. A total of 167 soldiers were dishonorably discharged and humiliated, though later they were shown to be innocent. Many in the nation were disappointed by Roosevelt.


But when viewed overall, Roosevelt’s life was an extraordinary preparation for the presidency. For over twenty years, he devoted much of his life not to personal gain but to public service. By the time he became president, he’d worked in legislative and/or executive branches of municipal, state, and federal governments. He’d been in appointed positions like U.S. Civil Service Commissioner (under Republican and Democratic administrations) and New York Police Commissioner; and elected positions like assemblyman, governor, and vice-president. He’d won elections and lost them. He’d served in the military as assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy and as a volunteer colonel in the U.S. Army who endured combat. It was a remarkable resumé of service beyond oneself which has seldom been equaled by other presidents.


Among the upper-class in The Gilded Age, Theodore Roosevelt was an anomaly. Though he came from their class, he didn’t act like them. He didn’t want to change their lives. He wanted to change life for the rest of America, making citizens’ lives safer, fairer, and more hopeful. Roosevelt’s “Square Deal for Every Man” centered around consumer protection, corporate regulation, and conservation of America’s natural wonders. 


His life experiences and intellectual ability helped frame Roosevelt’s moral character and thus, his political goals. His considerable stamina and skills were used to achieve those goals. Battling the political bosses, corporate moguls, and social elitists, he made progress in surprisingly diverse areas: The Pure Food and Drug Act, Meat Inspection Act, and food safety programs. Protection of labor rights. Promotion of American commerce. Veterans benefits. Rural free postal delivery. Breaking up of commerce, finance, and utility monopolies. From 1902 to 1905 alone, 190 indictments against corrupt government officials. Regulation of railroad rates to ensure access for all. Stressing personal physical fitness and literacy. Support of child labor laws. Construction of the Panama Canal with affordable transit rates for all nations. Modernizing the U.S. Navy and Army. Protecting Latin America against European military attacks. Founding the U.S. Forest Service. Creating 4 game preserves, 5 national parks, 18 national monuments, 51 bird preserves, and 150 national forests.  


A century later, America seems to be searching for a leader with moral character, intellectual ability, proven sacrifice for the nation, personal bravery, and genuine sincerity—a new version of Theodore Roosevelt. Someone with whom you might disagree on policy, but still personally admire and trust. Someone who can laugh at themselves, and even get you to join in. Someone the world will respect for speaking softly while carrying that big stick.


I know that person is out there, because even though so much has changed over the last 110 years, this is still the America of Theodore Roosevelt.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172000 0
Anton Chekhov: Environmental Prophet for Our Planet

A still from the trailer for Netflix's Our Planet. 


As I was watching Netflix’s wonderful eight-part Our Planet series narrated by Sir David Attenborough, I often thought of Anton Chekhov. Like the series, he often displayed a deep love of nature in his hundreds of stories and plays. A doctor by training, he died 115 years ago, at a mere 44 years of age.


Our Planet documents the danger humanity poses to our oceans, sea creatures, and rivers. In Our Planet’s  Episode 6, “The High Seas,” Attenborough criticizes modern fishing practices and warns, that “if we continue to harvest the seas in this way, it's not just fisheries that will collapse. The whole ocean system could follow. One hundred million sharks are killed every year, just to make shark fin soup. Ninety percent of all large ocean hunters have disappeared.” In Episode 7, “Fresh Water,” we hear, “Today, Pacific salmon number less than one percent of the numbers they used to, and that's causing problems for many other animals.” “Until 30 years ago,” Attenborough notes, “rivers in this [eastern] part of Africa never ran dry. Now . . . during the dry season, the rivers shrink into isolated pools.” (All Our Planet quotes are taken from the film scripts.)



In Chekhov’s short story “Panpipes” (1887), an old shepherd in the Russian southern steppe region bemoans the diminishing animals, drying up rivers, and deforestation he sees all around. “What will it be like,” he asks, “if the whole world goes to wrack and ruin?” He mentions birds, cattle, bees, and fish and tells his listener, “If you don't believe me ask any old man. Every one of them'll tell you that fish ain't anything like what they used to be. Every year there's less and less fish in the sea, lakes and rivers.”


Regarding the rivers, the shepherd says, “Every year they get shallower and shallower, there's no longer those nice deep pools there used to be . . . . In my father's day that's where the Peschanka flowed, but now look where the devil's taken it! It keeps changing course and you see, it'll keep changing course till it dries up altogether. . . .  And what became of all them little streams? In this very wood there used to be a stream with so much water in it the peasants only had to dip their creels in it to catch pike, and wild duck used to winter there. But even at spring flood there's no decent water in it now.”


The old shepherd also states that the forests are “being cut down, they catch fire or dry up and there's no new growth. What does grow is felled right away. One day it comes up and the next it's chopped down and so it goes till there's nothing left.”


Our Planet devotes Episode 8 to the “Forests,” and we hear that “a third of Madagascar's forests have disappeared in the last 20 years, a result of the continued destruction of their forests by people. Since these pictures were recorded, this forest, and the unique life it once contained, have disappeared altogether. Only three percent of Madagascar's dry forest remains.” 


The effect of this disappearing forest and its life is suggested by other Attenborough comments such as, “There are at least 40 different kinds of lemurs, all unique to Madagascar and all endangered. Lemurs are crucial to the forest. Without them, some species of tree cannot survive.” In Episode 1, “One Planet,” we hear, “In the last 50 years, wildlife populations have, on average, declined by 60 percent.” In May 2019, a UN panel of experts concluded that up to one million animal and plant species are threatened by extinction, endangering ecosystems and eroding “the foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”


In Chekhov’s play Uncle Vania (1899), the writer’s views on deforestation are reflected in the views and words of Dr. Astrov.  In Act I, young Sonia introduces some of his ideas:  He “watches over the old woods and sets out new forests every year. . . . He says that forests are the ornaments of the earth, that they teach mankind to understand beauty and attune his mind to lofty sentiments. Forests temper a stern climate.” 


Astrov himself says: “You can burn peat [rather than wood] in your stoves and build your sheds of stone. Oh, I don't object, of course, to cutting wood from necessity, but why destroy the forests? The woods of Russia are trembling under the blows of the axe. Millions of trees have perished. The homes of the wild animals and birds have been desolated; the rivers are shrinking, and many beautiful landscapes are gone forever. And why? Because men are too lazy and stupid to stoop down and pick up their fuel from the ground.”


He then adds, “Who but a stupid barbarian could burn so much beauty in his stove and destroy that which he cannot make? Man is endowed with reason and the power to create, so that he may increase that which has been given him, but until now he has not created, but demolished. The forests are disappearing, the rivers are running dry, the wild life is exterminated, the climate is spoiled, and the earth becomes poorer and uglier every day. . . . When I pass village forests that I have preserved from the axe, or hear the rustling of the young trees set out with my own hands, I feel as if I had had some small share in improving the climate, and that if mankind is happy a thousand years from now I'll have been a little bit responsible for their happiness. When I plant a little birch tree and then see it budding into young green and swaying in the wind, my heart swells with pride.” (See here for more on deforestation and global warming.)


Sort of like we see at times in Our Planet, in Act III Astrov shows Elena a district map indicating the forests, vegetation, and animal and human life then existing and as it was fifty and twenty-five years earlier. He itemizes the environmental degradation and concludes: “It is, on the whole, the picture of a regular and slow decline which it will evidently only take about ten or fifteen more years to complete. You may perhaps object that it is the march of progress, that the old order must give place to the new. . . . So it destroys everything it can lay its hands on, without a thought for the morrow. And almost everything has gone, and nothing has been created to take its place.”


Astrov’s comment “the climate is spoiled” does not mean that Chekhov, who died in 1904, foresaw today’s climate-change crisis. As Attenborough suggests, it did not yet exist a century ago. In Episode 1, speaking of Antarctica and the Arctic, he states that “in just 70 years, things have changed at a frightening pace. The polar regions are warming faster than any other part of the planet.” Andin a new BBC production called Climate Change: The Facts, he states, “In the 20 years since I first started talking about the impact of climate change on our world, conditions have changed far faster than I ever imagined.” (He also notes that climate change is “our greatest threat in thousands of years.”) But if not yet able to foresee the full extent of today’s crisis, Chekhov at least was perspicacious enough to realize that deforestation would affect climate conditions. 



One final environmental problem that Our Planet and Chekhov both refer to is pollution. In Episode 6, “the High Seas, Attenborough tells us that “plastic pollution is a grave issue for our oceans.” In Episode 7, “Fresh Water,” he refers to polluted springs and the “badly polluted” rivers of Eastern Europe. Much of that latter pollution is due to factories and other producers of industrial waste.


In his long story, “In the Ravine”(1900), Chekhov writes of a village where “there was always a smell from the factory refuse and the acetic acid which was used in the finishing of the cotton print. The three cotton factories and the tanyard were not in the village itself, but a little way off. . . . The  tanyard often made the water in the little river stink; the refuse contaminated the meadows, the peasants' cattle suffered from Siberian plague, and orders were given that the factory should be closed. It was considered to be closed, but went on working in secret with the connivance of the local police officer and the district doctor, who was paid ten roubles a month by the owner.” 


Beyond the specific environmental concerns that unite Chekhov with Our Planet’s Attenborough, there lies a philosophy of nature. As one scholar has noted, to Chekhov “man and nature are one, they form a cosmic unity,” and “in his mature period Chekhov increasingly uses attitudes and behavior toward nature as a measure of the character and moral stature of individuals and groups.” (See my long essay “The Wisdom of Anton Chekhov” for the source of this and some other Chekhov quotes.)  


This Chekhovian approach to nature characterizes not only Attenborough, but also Pope Francis, who began his environmental encyclical of 2015 by stating that “our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.” Like that encyclical, the Our Planet website offers advice to deal with our environmental problems in a more enlightened way than has been done from Chekhov’s time to the present.  


Chekhov once stated that “in three or four hundred years all the earth will become a flourishing garden. And life will then be exceedingly light and comfortable.” Despite his environmental criticisms, he realized as Attenborough and Pope Francis do, that we must keep hope alive, for as one recent writer observes, “Pessimism would be an ethical catastrophe. It leads only to despair.” 

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172002 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172002 0
Why Do People Join Extremist Organizations?

St. Andrew's Church in Sri Lanka, one of hte targets of the Easter bombings.


It didn’t take long after the suicide bombings that hit Sri Lanka over Easter Sunday for an old question to resurface: What motivated the attackers?

Analysis of similar events in Europe, Africa, and Asia reaches contradictory conclusions. A paper on “Radicalisation and al-Shabaab recruitment in Somalia” found that people joined extremists organizations “for economic benefits.” In fact, the authors write, research from “Somalia showed that 27 percent of respondents joined al Shabab for economic reasons, 15 percent mentioned religious reasons, and 13 percent were forced to join.”   Meanwhile, a World Bank study based on leaked Islamic State records indicated no link between poverty or educational levels and radicalization. A joint study by Northwestern University and the Hebrew University concurred. “Poor economic conditions do not drive participation in ISIS,” the authors found. In fact, many of them came from wealthy countries with low inequality. Instead, the study concluded, “the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS is driven not by economic or political conditions but rather by ideology and the difficulty of assimilation into homogeneous Western countries.”   In Sri Lanka, too, the extremists weren’t poor people in search of economic improvement. Two were members of a very wealthy family that is involved in copper mining and spice trade. Their father founded Colombo-based Ishana Exports, which is largest exporter of spices from the island nation. Another of the bombers had studied in England and was a graduate student in Australia before returning to Sri Lanka. According to the Sri Lankan government, most of the attackers were similarly well-educated and had come from “middle-or upper middle-class” families.   Assimilation no factor in radicalization   Yet assimilation problems can’t fully explain the attacks either. Of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people, 70 percent are Buddhist, 13 percent Hindu, 10 percent Muslim, and 7 percent Christian. The groups have been living together at least 1,000 years, and religious schisms have only turned violent—with bad blood between Buddhists and Muslims, but not between Christians and Muslims.    To be sure, there are grievances. In Bangladesh, for example, professor Zia Rahman, chairman of the criminology department at Dhaka University, suspects that the rise of extremism resulted from a conflict in internal politics, especially the trial war criminals who opposed Bangladesh's independence. But Monirul Islam, counter-terrorism chief, says local militants are inspired by global militant activities.    Those are compounded by a sense that, around the world, Muslims face injustice. Many young people believe that the West has been suppressing Muslims for centuries: The current fighting in Syria, Iraq and Libya is against Muslims by Muslims, but there is a widespread perception that behind this mayhem is a Western conspiracy to weaken Islam.    Many people also believe that America, especially, works against Muslims because of Israel. No other issue riles up Muslims as much as Palestine. Pakistan's founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, warned President Truman in 1947 about this danger, and urged him not to divide Palestine. Muslims cannot fathom why Christians support Israel, since Jews do not honor Jesus, where as Muslims hold him in high regard as one of God’s prophets.    “A feeling of marginalization as a greater community of Islamic Ummah is encouraging even socially affluent people to get involved in ‘Jihad,' ”noted a study by the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies.   Meanwhile, a study conducted by Anneli Botha at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa found that 87 percent of the respondents cited religion as the reason they joined al Shabab. The extremists deploy the banner of religion to lure followers, as radical leftists once used communism. Religion promises the Muslim youth power and prosperity — as Marxism guaranteed freedom from exploitation. Islam offers another reward that makes it a uniquely potent force — heaven after death.   Islamic extremists resemble communists   Educated and wealthy youths join radical movements — be it Islam or communism — because of their desire to create an ideal world. Muslim youths become suicide bombers because they think they are doing their part to make this world a better place. They turn to Islam because there is no other progressive ideology available to them.   This dynamic is longstanding. After all, many communist leaders belonged to the upper class, too, and were highly educated. W. E. B. Du Bois, Ho Chi Minh, and Che Guevara are just a few examples. They were all driven by an understanding that society was leaving some people behind, an earnest desire to end social injustice, and the means to do something about it.   In Bangladesh, hammer and sickle graffiti was ubiquitous in the 1970s—painted by students in their teens and early 20s who fancied themselves romantic revolutionaries. They came from the upper echelon of society, but they thought of themselves as the saviors of their fellow hapless countrymen.    Right or wrong, many Islamic extremists hold similar views; they tend to believe they are on the right side of the equation. Muslims do not want to destroy the West, as the myth goes on in Europe and America, even through many of them consider it unfair and unjust. Yet, they refuse to be insulted by the West, and wish to be as wealthy as Americans, if not more. Above all, they want a seat at the table of equals. Until this happens, Islam and the West will remain mired in sporadic fights.   Accommodation—not confrontation—is the solution. Protestants and Catholics had to accommodate each other to end the Thirty Years' War, one of the most destructive conflicts in human history. ]]>
Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171999 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171999 0
Thomas Harriot and the lost North Carolina Algonquian Language



Thomas Harriot was the English contemporary and peer of Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler, although he’s unknown to most people. That’s because his busy and dramatic life meant that he never got around to publishing his mathematical and scientific work, which is a pity for history: his manuscripts show that he was one of the most brilliant forerunners of modern science and mathematics. In this UN International Year of Indigenous Languages, however, it is especially significant that he was also a pioneering linguist and ethnographer. 


He worked for Sir Walter Ralegh as an astronomer and navigational theorist – his first job was to train Ralegh’s sea captains and pilots so that they could make their way safely across the uncharted Atlantic to America. Then, in 1585-86, he spent a year in “Virginia” (today’s North Carolina), with Ralegh’s First Colony on Roanoke Island. 


His job in America included a remarkable innovation by Ralegh: that of a kind of diplomat. Harriot had already learned some of the local language – North Carolina Algonquian dialects – from two indigenous men, Manteo and Wanchese. They had spent six months living in Ralegh’s home after sailing to England with his initial reconnaissance fleet in late 1584. Harriot lived in Ralegh’s mansion, too, and had plenty of opportunity to exchange language lessons with the two Americans, who returned home with the First Colony fleet. 


Fortunately, Harriot had the right temperament for his diplomatic role – he was open, curious, and notably non-judgmental. He made friends with the people, and clearly enjoyed much about their way of life. We know this because he left a remarkable record, A brief and true report of the new found land of Virginia. It was the only work he published. 


Although Ralegh had commissioned this report in order to show the commercial benefits of a trading colony in America, Harriot’s personal empathy and interest in the people and their way of life shines through. He doesn’t just offer a detached list of plants, foods, and so on; he describes the way the people went about their agriculture, hunting, and fishing, noting their abundant crops and their clever ways of building fishing weirs. Their staple crop, corn – called pagatowr in their language – yielded “a very white and sweet flour [that] makes a very good bread”. The people also roasted or boiled the corn for use in stews, for which purpose they used earthenware pots. Harriot commented, “Their women know how to make [these] vessels […] so large and fine that our potters with their wheels can make no better.”


He listed many other native foods, giving details of the way they were cooked and how they tasted. He was quite at home with their Algonquian names, which he didn’t obliterate by using Anglicized terms instead. And he was impressed that amid all this abundant food the people ate moderately, while at the same time “making good cheer together”.


It’s these kinds of little details of daily life – of shared meals, festivals, making of canoes and pots, planting and hunting – that bring to life a thriving, fascinating, and relatively harmonious community. So much so that when A brief and true report was published in a deluxe illustrated edition in 1590, it became a best-seller, published in four languages. It’s a landmark in American ethnology – a remarkable record of a remarkable way of life, in which Harriot’s report is accompanied by his captions to engravings of John White’s illustrations. Harriot and White had worked together in America: White sketched the people as they went about their daily lives, while Harriot’s knowledge of the language enabled him to converse with the people themselves.



He had a gift for languages, both verbal and mathematical. He later acted as a Greek language consultant to his friend George Chapman while Chapman was making the first English translation of Homer’s Iliad, and he produced the first fully symbolic algebra. But the exotic Algonquian language opened up a whole new world of sounds and expressions.


Harriot was so inspired by these new sounds that he created the world’s first complete phonetic alphabet. Four centuries before today’s global telecommunications revolution, he envisaged a different kind of globalism: the sharing of languages via a phonetic system designed to represent all the possible sounds of human speech. To make his system truly universal, he expressed it in unique trans-cultural symbols. 


Once again, he didn’t publish his discovery, and the manuscript of his alphabet was lost for many centuries. Fortunately, he’d used Latin letters to represent Algonquian words in his report on Virginia, which includes one of the earliest written records of indigenous North American words.


Neither Harriot nor Ralegh foresaw the disastrous consequences that followed their initial attempts to found a trading base in America – the diseases, the greed, the racism and rapaciousness of many English setters and administrators. It is a tragic, heartbreaking story that began to unfold even in the First Colony. The way of life brought so vividly to light in the illustrated Brief and true report no longer exists, and the particular North Carolina dialects that Harriot knew have not survived.


In 2014, however, historian Scott Dawson turned to Harriot’s work (and that of John Lawson a century later) when he wrote a paper, “The Vocabulary of Croatoan Algonquian”, which was published in the Southern Quarterly. Dawson is a descendant of the Croatoan people of Hatteras Island, which was also Manteo’s homeland – it is not far from Roanoke Island, and it is the last known destination of the famous Lost Colony, which vanished in the year or so after its establishment in 1587. Dawson noted that “a substantial portion” of what we know today about the Croatoan communities and their language comes from Harriot. 


Dawson’s paper includes a list of 120 Croatoan words and phrases, which, together with Harriot’s notes and White’s illustrations, offer a precious link to his people’s past. It’s something to celebrate, although this Year of Indigenous Languages also reminds us of how much was needlessly lost. 

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172001 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172001 0
To Prevent Brain Drain, Kosovo Must Eradicate Corruption

The Academy of Sciences and Arts in Pristina.


On the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the end of Kosovo war, the country is facing a dramatic large-scale brain drain. Every day, young professionals wait in long lines in front of EU embassies to apply for visas to legally leave Kosovo in the search for job opportunities and more promising futures. While it may be argued that massive brain drain is a problem that some European and Western Balkans states are facing, Kosovo’s migration is becoming increasingly acute, especially because of the endemic corruption among the political elite, much of the business sector, and many private and government institutions. The massive emigration of nearly 100,000 people that occurred in 2013 alone is so alarming demanding that the Kosovo’s government tackle the problem head-on with the support of the US and the EU if Kosovo is to remain a viable country with a secure future. According to Balkan Insight, a 2016 report from the German Interior Ministry listed Kosovo and Albania as the top countries whose citizens requested asylum in 2015. Kosovars filed 37,095 requests. Only Albanians, with a total of 54,762 requests, filed more. “Unlike the previous migrations of Albanians from Kosovo over the last 50 years, this new wave is different in that these young people are leaving for good, never to return to the country ruled by the elites who stole their future”, says Ilir Deda, Member of Parliament of the Republic of Kosovo and Vice-President of the Liberal-Democratic centrist party Alternativa. According to him, this trend will continue until Kosovo matures and takes decisive political and practical steps by ending two decades of endemic corruption of its leaders and their parties. “Kosovo political elites are engaged in unchallenged nepotism, sleaze, misusing of public funds, and impunity that have aroused the feeling of weakness, lack of perspective, and depressed citizenry”, says Lulzim Peci, former Ambassador to Sweden and current Executive Director of the Kosovo Institute for Policy Research and Development. What is particularly worrisome is that the new emigrants are mostly professionals who lost hope and accuse their deeply corrupt government of showing complete indifference to their needs. They feel trapped, and leaving the country appears to them as being the only viable option. In Kosovo, where unemployment has reached an alarming 30%, the politicians are the richest class in the country. Many big businesses have greatly expanded thanks to politicians’ support — who received millions in return for “their efforts.” Although the EU has deployed a police and civilian mission in Kosovo (EULEX) to prosecute corruption, it has largely failed. In fact, corruption has only become worse under the mission’s watch. The current US Ambassador to Kosovo, Philip Kosnett, in the ‘Week Against Corruption’, said that government officials continue to accept bribes, interfere in the justice system, and employ their relatives in public institutions. The EU representative in Kosovo, Nataliya Apostolova, reminded Kosovo’s citizens that corruption is ruining their country’s image. The US and EU “pressure” to fight corruption and deal with the country’s socio-political and economic ailments have largely failed. The US and the EU must now change their approach because their strategic interest aligns with the Balkans’ and Kosovo’s strong desire to integrate with the EU and NATO. It is common knowledge in Pristina that the US has directly interfered in Kosovo’s domestic affairs with little or no opposition, because the US is seen as a reliable friend. In 2011, Kosovo’s parliament elected first female president, Atifete Jahjaga, who was proposed by the US. In 2015, under US pressure, the Kosovo Parliament passed a law to create the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, a court based in the Hague that has jurisdiction over Kosovo war crimes. Last December, Kosovo created an Army, defying Serbia and even NATO, but with the full support of the US. There are many steps the US and EU should take to assist Kosovo in revitalizing its economic sector, encourage social involvement, and push for political reform that would substantially reduce over time the numbers of the young who are leaving the country and precipitating the most disturbing brain drain. They can help Kosovo leave behind the doldrums in which it finds itself, and chart a new path that Kosovo’s government and institutions should fully embrace that would lead the country to a better and promising future. To send a clear signal to the entrenched corrupt Kosovar officials, US officials should regularly meet with trustworthy politicians and refuse to engage crooked officials in any social settings while preventing high-level businessmen from receiving EU and US visas. This will send an unambiguous message to the public that there is no international support for those self-serving officials who are undermining Kosovo’s future wellbeing. To nurture an independent juridical system, US and EU should expand training programs for young judges, lawyers and prosecutors and expose them to the ways the US and EU handle prosecution in dealing with corruption, and push for anti-corruption legislation. In addition, the US and EU should exert all necessary pressure on the government to reform the educational system, including technical training to provide new job opportunities and prepare a new generation to assume leadership positions. Since Kosovo wants to join the European Union, the EU is in a position to demand that the government begin a systematic process to clean up their acts by fully adhering to the EU’s requirement to qualify for membership and fully comply to the democratic principles, human rights, freedom of the press and untainted judiciary. Moreover, the US can help Kosovo to develop commercial opportunities by creating a better business climate for foreign investments while encouraging business interaction between western Balkan economies. A healthy economy allows employers to raise salaries – currently the lowest in the region – which can, at least in part, help to stem emigration of youth, especially young couples who can hardly make ends meet. Of particular importance, the US ought to insist that at least 20 percent of its financial aid to Kosovo is dedicated to participatory sustainable development projects. Communities can choose their own projects where the youth would be directly involved, develop a strong sense of belonging, feel needed, find meaning in their work and develop a vested interest in their projects and thus the motivation to stay. For these initiatives to work well, top officials must commit to protect human rights, end arbitrary incarceration and police brutality, prevent human trafficking, and protect free speech and free media outlets while undertaking social and political reforms to strengthen the democratic foundation. In the final analysis, however, every single official ought to remember that Kosovo has emerged from the ashes of many thousands of men and boys who were slaughtered by the Serbian military to prevent the rise of an independent and free Kosovo. They have a moral responsibility and a sacred duty to put the country’s national interest above their own and prevent brain drain, as the future of Kosovo rests on the vitality of its youth, in which every single Kosovar has a stake.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171996 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171996 0
The Coming of American Fascism, 1920–1940


Fascism is usually thought of as a quintessentially and almost exclusively European phenomenon, that began with Mussolini, culminated with Hitler, and was eradicated in World War II. The U.S., in particular, is thought to have been largely immune to it, given the absence of mass movements similar to Nazism or Italian Fascism. But a different narrative exists, or at least did in the 1930s, before it was buried under an avalanche of patriotic American propaganda and liberal historiography. According to this alternative understanding, the U.S. was falling victim to fascism as early as the 1920s—though of a different sort than the European variety. Long-forgotten Marxist journals such as The Communist, The New Masses, and Labor Notes (unrelated to the current publication of the same name), and newspapers like the Daily Worker and the Industrial Worker, analyzed with great insight the nature of this distinctive American fascism, until the struggle against the Nazis shifted their priorities to supporting a more liberal and “patriotic” Popular Front.


In hisnew book entitled The Coming of the American Behemoth: The Origins of Fascism in the United States, 1920–1940, Michael Joseph Roberto has resurrected the old Marxian conception. Aside from its interest as a work of history, Roberto’sbook is particularly timely, as the old structures of American fascism have deepened in the last generation and colonized much of the world. 


The essence of fascism


Roberto’s book reconstructs the arguments outlined in pioneering works of the 1930s and ’40s, such as Lewis Corey’s The Decline of American Capitalism, Mauritz Hallgren’s Seeds of Revolt, Robert Brady’s The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism and Business as a System of Power, Carmen Haider’s Do We Want Fascism?, and A. B. Magil and Henry Stevens’ The Peril of Fascism. These authors and others, whose insights were ignored by subsequent liberal scholarship, understood first,that fascism was not uniquely European and second, that it had already arrived in the United States. For example, Brady noted in 1938 that “business is going political as it never has before, and it has learned to funnel its funds and pressures through highly centralized, interest-conscious, informed and exceedingly well-manned, united front organizations.”


After World War II, liberal understanding of fascism focused on the German and Italian characteristics, notably their one-party nature, their reliance on readily identifiable paramilitary groups and their violent nationalist, racist, and anti-Semitic ideology. While it’s perfectly reasonable to consider such phenomena as one manifestation of fascism, the analysis tends toward superficiality insofar as it obscures the class roots and class functions of the regime. Roberto believes the Marxist approach, which looks beneath the surface, is more penetrating, resulting in a “dynamic definition of fascism as an inherent function of monopoly-capitalist production and relations whose telos was and remains the totalitarian rule of capitalist dictatorship.” Or as Carmen Haider said: American fascism was the “attempt to introduce a collective form of capitalism in the place of individualism.”


The Marxists were not alone in this view. As Brady notes, in the 1930s, “many persons strategically placed in American business confidentially argue that [fascism] is already here in both spirit and intent.” In a 1937 speech Harold Ickes, Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior, argued that “fascist-minded men” had “a common interest in seizing more power and greater riches for themselves, and ability and willingness to turn the concentrated wealth of America against the welfare of America. It is these men who, pretending that they would save us from dreadful communism, would superimpose upon America an equally dreadful fascism.” Roosevelt himself sounded the same note in a speech a year later when he said “I am greatly in favor of decentralization, and yet the tendency is, every time we have [a recession] in private industry, to concentrate it all the more in New York. Now that is, ultimately, fascism.”


The New Deal’s corporatism


Roberto tells the history of the American political economy in the 1920s and ’30s through this lens, exploring how the fascist structures of our own day were forged in the interwar years. Much of his book, in particular the long expositions of Marxian economics, will be familiar to readers versed in left-wing literature. He devotes a chapter to the ideologists of fascism, or business rule, in the conservative 1920s, notably Thomas Nixon Carver, Harvard professor of economics, and Charles Norman Fay, vice-president of the National Association of Manufacturers and author of Business in Politics. He also examines the role of Edward Bernays, father of public relations and believer in the necessity of “regimenting the public mind every bit as much as an army regiments the bodies of its soldiers.” 


However, by 1930 the Great Depression had exposed the fallacy of those who believed in the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the few. It turns out that when all the money goes to the top, the people on the bottom don’t have enough money to keep the economy growing. According to the leaders of business and politics, the answer to this problem was more fascism. Many of them pined for a Mussolini. Even liberal newspapers like the New York Times advocated “some sort of Council of State” that could rule by decree. In the end, the oligopolists only partially got their way, with the establishment of Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration (NRA) in 1933.


At the time, Marxists and socialists argued that the New Deal was simply a higher stage of fascism, Roberto concurs. “Conceived as a means to create common ground between government and industry,” he writes, “the NRA marked a decisive move toward state monopoly capitalism in the United States.” The real power was left in the hands of big business, which wrote hundreds of “codes” to regulate prices, wages, work hours, etc., all to restore profits and eliminate overproduction. The NRA was a move towards a planned, state capitalist economy, of which big business was the sole beneficiary. Small businesses suffered, workers were not really empowered, income was not redistributed, and the economy remained sluggish. But the profits of big business recovered. 


The early New Deal “bore strong resemblances,” Roberto notes, “to the corporatist state established in Italy in its approach to reconciling the antagonism between capital and labor. Both Mussolini and Roosevelt had made clear their commitment to maintain and strengthen capitalism in their respective nations. Roosevelt himself admired Mussolini: “I don’t mind telling you in confidence,” he wrote an American envoy in 1933, “that I am keeping in fairly close touch with the admirable Italian gentleman.”


Huey Long and Charles Coughlin


Roberto is on shakier ground when discussing the “small-fry fascisti” who populated America’s political landscape during the Depression. His argument that Huey Long and the “radio priest” Father Coughlin were reactionaries and fascists is particularly weak. Long was a famously populist, albeit dictatorial, governor of Louisiana in the early 1930s who later became a U.S. senator, from which perch he criticized the New Deal for its conservatism and proposed his own wildly popular “Share Our Wealth” program. Had he not been assassinated in 1935, he might have posed a serious challenge to Roosevelt’s reelection. Coughlin, on the other hand, was never a political leader, though his radio broadcasts made him a political force. He, too, criticized the New Deal for its conservatism.


My own research on U.S. politics during the Depression hasled me to conclude that, despite what some historians (including Roberto) have argued, Long and Coughlin were more left-wing than right-wing, at least until Coughlin in later years turned decisively toward anti-Semitism. Certainly, they were politically ambiguous. But it’s inarguable that their massive following was due to the far-left character of their rhetoric—as may be judged by the Principles Coughlin laid out for the National Union of Social Justice, the political organization he founded. He went so far as to condemn the economic system itself:  “Capitalism is doomed and not worth trying to save.” 


Roberto’s characterization of those who were attracted to Long and Coughlin is also wrong.


Amid the swirl of change, dislocation, and anxiety about the present and fears for the future, [the petty bourgeoisie] made up the great wave of political reaction during the mid-1930s… Not understanding how and why those above them were responsible for the crisis that threatened them, they blamed most of it on the enemies lurking below, the Negroes, Jews, Catholics, Mexicans, anarchists, socialists, and, of course, the communists—all enemies of True Americanism.


As I have argued elsewhere, there was no “great wave of political reaction” in the mid-1930s except among big business. The middle and lower classes were generally far to the left of Roosevelt—and pushed him to the left in 1935, with the so-called Second New Deal that partially repudiated the fascist tendencies of the first. Long and Coughlin themselves played an important part in this swing to the left, since Roosevelt’s popularity was waning in 1934 under the barrage of left-populist criticism. As a result, in 1935 he supported the Wagner Act, the Social Security Act (which was more conservative than most Americans wanted), and the establishment of the Works Progress Administration. In 1936 he ensured his overwhelming reelection by taking a page from Long’s book and denouncing “economic royalists” who were callous to the suffering of Americans. 


The truth, then, is that Long and Coughlin, together with the influential Communist Party and other leftist organizations, helped save the New Deal from becoming genuinely fascist, from devolving into the dictatorial rule of big business. The pressures towards fascism remained, as reactionary sectors of business began to have significant victories against the Second New Deal starting in the late 1930s. But the genuine power that organized labor had achieved by then kept the U.S. from sliding into all-out fascism (in the Marxist sense) in the following decades.


The struggle to come


As we confront a polarized and oligarchical political economy so redolent of the factors that precipitated the Depression, The Coming of the American Behemoth offers lessons for the present. All the debate about whether Donald Trump is fascist, or whether society is in danger of succumbing to fascism, can be seen, from one perspective, as missing the point. Fascism in the materialist senseis already hereand would be here even if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency.


The danger isn’t so much that “paramilitary formations of brown shirts or black shirts” will take over America. It’s that Americans will fail to overturn the class foundations of fascism that are at this moment racing to destroy life on Earth. Roberto is right to emphasize this deeper structural reality.


The American Behemoth rose in the 1920s and ’30s. In the twenty-first century, “the beast is at full strength.” The Coming of the American Behemoth can serve not only as a useful problematization of the liberal understanding of fascism but also as an effective primer on the historical background for activists committed to fighting the beast that threatens to destroy us all.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172004 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172004 0
What Trump Could Learn About Immigration from Teddy Roosevelt

An example of anti-Japanese sentiment.


Recently, Donald Trump virtually gutted the Department of Homeland Security with the forced resignation of DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielson and key deputies because they were ‘too soft’ on immigration. He then made a bad situation far worse by the de facto appointment of xenophobic Stephen Miller to take over immigration policy. 

Anti-immigrant sentiment has been at the forefront of Trump’s politics since he announced his run for president. At his campaign announcement in 2015, he labeled Mexicans as rapists. Once in power he has labeled immigration as a national crisis and has demanded a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. While he initially asserted Mexico would pay for such a wall, when Congress denied him funding for it he shut down the government for a record-breaking 35 days. Most recently, he threatened to shut down the U.S. –Mexico border but ultimately did not because of the loss in trade. 

President Trump could learn a valuable lesson from Theodore Roosevelt on immigration. At the turn of the 20th century, Asian immigrants were demonized by Americans. The Chinese laborers brought to the west to work on the construction of railroads fueled the hatred of Asians and the “Yellow Peril” that some thought threatened to take over America and destroy Western civilization. 

After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882  the focus turned to the relatively small number of Japanese coming to America.  It was particularly virulent in San Francisco where Mayor Eugene E. Schmitz formed the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League in 1905. Schmitz demanded the segregation of the tiny fraction of Japanese children in the public schools in order "to save white children from being affected by association with pupils of the Mongolian race." The Board of Education agreed and the children were forced to attend a segregated school. 

In much the same way Americans protested the treatment of Amanda Knox in the travesty of a murder trial, Japan interpreted the discrimination as an insult to its national pride. Japan had recently been fortified by military victory over Russia and the acceptance of Japan by Western nations as an emerging world power. A series of diplomatic notes passed between Japan and the United States, and tensions mounted. 

In order to diffuse and resolve the problem, Roosevelt brought the mayor and the school board to the White House and cajoled them to reverse the decision. He secured a promise that the segregation would be lifted if Japan restricted emigration. The Japanese government agreed and stopped issuing passports to the United States, although some were allowed to go to the Hawaii Territory. With the guarantee the school board relented. 

The resolution became known as the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 or in Japanese Nichibei Shinshi Kyoyaku. Without rancor or inflammatory rhetoric Roosevelt solved an immigration crisis. The agreement was not perfect. Some Japanese people granted entry into Hawaii could and often did make their way to the mainland.  An exception for family members, a practice now denounced by the current president as ‘chain migration’, still allowed some Japanese to come to the United States. Japanese nationals escaped the feared exclusion acts until the Immigration Act of 1924 which cut Asian immigration to near zero.  

Even if the current occupant knew this part of history he would not be able to learn from it. Intelligent foreign often requires the delicate touch of a scalpel rather than the pounding of a sledge hammer. But for the rest of us we can know from this history that it is possible to handle immigration policies sensibly and even compassionately. And there is hope that a better president will soon be repairing the damage. 

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172005 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/172005 0
What If Donald Trump Resigned? Two thirds of the American public (give or take a little) now believe that it is time for our President to stop being President. Trump should no longer have the power to take us to war on a whim or to ruin the careers of our leaders. 


There has been endless, somewhat idle  discussion of “Impeachment”  in Congress. It hasn’t proven, so far at least, to be the answer to our dilemma.  There has developed considerable agreement that a case for an Exodus needs to be made—and soon.  While that case can be made (by lawyers, by partisans, by the impatient, and by those who take our foreign affairs exceptionally seriously), there is a plain truth: we’re getting nowhere. 


Tempers have risen as the convoluted months have passed. Countless speeches have been made urging change—and not just in favor of immediate action.  There are among us political party members who pause, consider, maybe show some sadness, and dwell a bit drearily on the theme:  “Yes, I know he really has to go.  But we’re getting nowhere.”


I have slowly arrived at a point of view.  Oh, I’ve done what I can:  I’ve written three substantial articles that unreservedly  attack President Donald J. Trump’s performance in office.  It was a pleasure to write, then read, them—if frustrating.  To the extent there has been a reaction, it has been favorable enough, but mostly ineffective.  “Yes,” vast numbers say, “he does have to go.” 


If we agree pretty much on the need for Trump’s departure, the time is very much at hand to ask, essentially, What does he think about it?  What does he want, mid-term in the White House? Does he think there has  been enough roughhousing, yelling, defiance, repudiation of  important leaders at times and for reasons that are bound to be embarrassing?  Persecution, really rudeness, to the Press? Could it be that our peerless leader is agreeable to returning himself to a variety of estates and golf courses?


Thinking about his “situation” and the unpleasant circumstances that are slowly developing for us and for him, it does seem to this observer that a moment of crisis is approaching.  What, then, has become the Path I see to some kind of solution?


Since writing the initial draft of this article our good Nation has sent an aircraft carrier squadron to the Persian Gulf as an all too obvious threat to the Iranian government.  This aggressive action has been taken entirely on the initiative of the one who has other choices!  Military engagement is not the option that will bring him a true and lasting  sense of well being.  He need not suffer legal confrontations, speech and rebuttal, partisan challenges, and never ending indignities to family members (deserved or not).  As the days drag on it is so very apparent there is a tenable solution:


The Honorable leader of the executive branch of the United States should RESIGN at a very early opportunity. The President should not drag his feet until the Situation gets too hot to handle.


Yes, the owner of “the Trump estate,” that husband of a lovely lady, parent of stalwart children, and regular commuter to Mar-a-Lago and traveler to random places worldwide in government airplanes, should once and for all  take the terrible pressure off his mind and his health by JUST DEPARTING.


When President Richard Nixon finally decided the time had come, he wrote a one line notification of what he was doing.  It sufficed then.  But noticeably more than that is needed now. The President will want to offer his point of view to Posterity!  Believe it or not, we the Public will be receptive to thinking and weighing his final point of view.


 I have thought about it.  Here is a tentative draft resignation that I think might serve presidential needs and history as well:


“I am today resigning the position of President of the United States, effective at the time of transmitting this letter to the Congress.  The never ending turmoil surrounding daily and weekly events is beginning to be a considerable strain on my  well-being.  I fear that it will affect my physical condition before too long. 


“The position I have been occupying is one of never ending, constant responsibility. It has had its rewards, for me and members of my family. I feel I have served my Country well.


 “I could continue—waging the never ending political battles that so entrance those for whom such political activity is a lifetime activity.  But I am increasingly aware that Life has other rewards in store for me—provided I treat it with careful regard. 


“As I say goodbye, I trust that observers will weigh with proper regard the several aspects of my presidency—partisan or not—and arrive at a balanced verdict on my shortened career as President.


“I wish my successors well.  Overall,  I am quite certain that my impact on the Presidency of the United States has been positive.”


DONALD J. TRUMP                                   


The letter above, drafted clear across the Nation cautiously and respectfully (yet still a Draft),  is the best I can offer for consideration at this point in time. It should not bear my name.   “Draft Letter for consideration” is intended as a title and should suffice.


I am suggesting this avenue as a possible way—sometime in the near future--to bring an end to the several  crises into which  our beloved Country has gradually worked itself,  and to avoid any and all wars which may ominously be waiting out there!   Our Leader will write his own letter, of course—and by no means do I expect it will be more than a tiny bit  influenced by my ordinary citizen’s prose—if indeed that. (I have no illusions that my prose will be the words finally chosen!)


Do be of good faith, fellow citizens of whatever persuasion.  We must avoid additional unpleasantness—and far worse!  Keep calm on the domestic front, and by all means be patient.  Rise above partisanship.  Let’s meet our Leader halfway on the course I suggest which, if taken, may  just be the direction to improving the future of all Americans.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171992 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171992 0
Cassius Marcellus Clay and Muhammed Ali: What’s in a Name?


A new documentary on Muhammed Ali, What’s my name? is debuting on HBO, depicting the life and career of the man once known as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. 


What is in a name? 


To Ali his name meant everything. 


Said Ali: 


“Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me,” said a newly converted Ali when addressing the media


Ali was not joking. During a pre-fight interview between Ali and Ernie Terrell before their February 1967 fight at the Astrodome, Ali, as he was called by ABC’s Howard Cosell, regaled viewers with one of his patented poems to taunt Terrell, who responded by calling him Clay. Ali was not amused, questioning why he insisted on calling him Clay, portending that he was going to pay


“What’s my name?” yelled Ali in the eighth round, as he pounded Terrell with jab after jab breaking his eye socket, on the way to a 15-round decision, one of the more merciless beatings in boxing history to not end in a knockout. He had only one more fightin his career: he lost his boxing license for refusing to be drafted into the United States Army on religious grounds. 


When asked what his new Muslim name meant, the man heretofore known as Muhammed Ali responded “Worthy of praise, the most-high.”


Ali is more than an icon of sport. Ali’s life was emblematic of so many social identities: race, capitalism, war and peace, civil disobedience, freedom of religion; ostracization and redemption. He transcended sport; he was overtly political. Ali became a cultural touchstone and symbol of change, during a time when race and religion, then as now, was a defining paradigm of national discourse. Most importantly, he spoke his truth. 


But what about the name Cassius Marcellus Clay? Said a young Ali when interviewed before the Olympic trials: 


“I am Cassius Marcellus Clay VI; my great grandfather was a slave and was named after some great Kentuckian…Cassius Marcellus Clay is great name in Kentucky and really where he was from, I couldn't tell you. Now that obtained a little fame people want to know where I am from now, I am going to or have to look it up and see what it's all about now that I am getting a [few] interviews.”


The man for whom Ali was named, Cassius Marcellus Clay, also risked his livelihood and even his life to stand up for what he believed. 


Cassius Marcellus Clay turned his back on his own culture, put himself at the fore of social change and became one of the leading Southern Abolitionists of the 19th century. Like Ali, he was born in Kentucky and like Ali, it was American racial inequality and social unrest that changed Clay’s life and sent him on a course of political activism. Like Ali he was steadfast in his beliefs and had the force of personality to match.


He was a descendent of the famed Whig politician Henry Clay, who espoused antislavery ideas but owned slaves throughout his life. His father was the largest slaveholder in Kentucky, and it was in that milieu his conscience was first awakened to the evils of slavery. Abolitionism became the defining theme of Clay’s political career and life. 


As a Yale student with political connections he had the fortune to encounter many of the leading Northern Abolitionists, first meeting Daniel Webster and then William Lloyd Garrison whom he heard speak. Garrison’s rhetoric and unrelenting political action served as a catalyst to inspire the young Clay:  “the good seed which Garrison had watered, and which my own bitter experience had sown, aroused my whole soul.”


When he went back to Kentucky he continued to fight for the cause of abolition. Kentucky was at the epicenter of the debate over slavery and union. 


Clay was elected to congress for three terms as a Whig in 1836, but eventually followed in the footsteps of Garrison and started the True American abolitionist newspaper. The newspaper was repeatedly threatened and denounced by decree. Clay wrote in his 1885 memoir: 


My object was to use a State and National Constitutional right—the Freedom of the Press — to change our National and State laws, so as, by a legal majority, to abolish slavery. There was danger, of course, of mob-violence…and I determined to defend my rights by force, if need be. 


In the 1850’s he joined the newly formed Republican Party, though he didn’t always see eye-to-eye with them. He eventually aligned himself with Abraham Lincoln, with whom he shared many of the same views. Clay vigorously campaigned for Lincoln, rousing audiences with speeches and shouting down those who wanted to silence him. In one of the hotbeds of political unrest, on the precipice of Civil War, Clay stood for what he believed in, republicanism and the abolishment of slavery.


Clay, as one can tell by his memoirs, like Ali never one for humility, notes his name was bandied about for Vice-President and if he were present at the Republican Convention of 1860, he might have been chosen over Hannibal Hamlin of Maine. 


As it was, he was promised a position in what Doris Kearns Goodwin coined the “Team of Rivals,” but the cabinet was full.


Eventually, he was given the position as the Ambassador to the Empire of Russia, where he was instrumental in gaining recognition for the Union and preventing countries like Britain from recognizing the Confederacy for economic gain. Though, seldom spoke of, his contribution was essential to the war effort. 


Clay also advocated for Emancipation as an act of war as early as 1856. He writes that he urged Lincoln to write the Emancipation 1862. He did object, however, that the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to those areas annexed by the Union. Although he was in Russia and not there so see it, Clay received many a laudatory letter when Emancipation became a reality from men like Garrison and Wendell Phillips. 


For Ali, his stand against the Vietnam War nearly ended his sporting career, for Clay his political stance was a matter of life and death. While debating the merits of abolitionism – he opposed the annexation of Texas despite fighting in the Mexican War because of slavery – what began as a peaceful engagement became violent. Clay was shot by a mob planning to kill him. He had to defend his life with his knife, killing one of his assailants in self-defense. 


It is ironic that Ali who made his living as a pugilist, took a peaceful political stance, while his namesake who made his living as a political figure on the soapbox, almost had his life and career cut short by violence. Yet they share a common bond, each willing to risk ostracization for what they believed.


For Ali, that meant standing up for his religious beliefs, and for a time becoming something of a national pariah among many who didn’t understand his conversion or agree with his opposition to fight in the war. He had only one more fight in his career: he lost his boxing license for refusing to be drafted into the United States Army on religious grounds. Eventually Ali would be vindicated by the law of the land, a 8-0 Supreme Court vote overturning his conviction on the grounds of conscientious objection. He became one of the most beloved and  recognized men on earth and many see him as a symbol of greatness and national pride. Ali lit the torch  at the 1996 Olympic Games and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 


Like Ali, Clay would not be silenced.


Said Pulitzer’s New World: 


Cassius M. Clay won another victory for free speech, and struck a good blow in behalf of Republicanism…Mr. Clay had publicly announced, through both the papers issued at Richmond, that he intended to speak on this occasion, and the subject was much canvassed in the streets. The more violent portion of the Revolutionary Committee, we learn, were for silencing him.


Each felt a call to action that changed his life.Each eschewed public opinion and mounting vitriol to assert their ideals and stand for what they believed while using their gift of rhetoric to let people know just what they thought. Each man has markedly impacted what are some of the pervading narratives of American history -- race, social equality and national identity.


The two men, born Cassius Marcellus Clay, have a lot in common, showing that name, birth and background don’t necessarily dictate one’s impact, rather acculturation and moral courage that does. Both Ali and his namesake are connected with one moniker and while one man eschewed the name Cassius Clay, the abolitionist and the athlete are synonymous with courage and social change.   

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171955 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171955 0
Roundup Top 10! Roundup Top 10


It’s time to stop viewing pregnant women as threats to their babies

by Kathleen Crowther

How Georgia is continuing a centuries-long tradition, and why it must stop.


Why we can — and must — create a fairer system of traffic enforcement

by Sarah A. Seo

Its discretionary nature has left it ripe for abuse.



If judicial nominees don’t support ‘Brown v. Board,’ they don’t support the rule of law

by Sherrilyn Ifill

Few of us — no matter our race, color or creed — would recognize our democracy or legal system without the changes touched off by this momentous civil rights case.



How anti-immigrant policies thwart scientific discovery

by Violet Moller

By hindering international collaboration, the Trump administration has triggered a “brain drain.”



Why We Still Care About America’s Founders

by Rick Atkinson

Despite their flaws, their struggle continues to speak to the nation we want to become.



Rashida Tlaib Has Her History Wrong

by Benny Morris

The representative’s account of the Arab-Israeli conflict relies on origin myths about the birth of Israel.



A Whitewashed Monument to Women’s Suffrage

by Brent Staples

A sculpture that’s expected to be unveiled in Central Park next year ignores the important contributions of black women.



Redacting Democracy

by Karen J. Greenberg

What You Can’t See Can Hurt You



Men Invented ‘Likability.’ Guess Who Benefits.

by Claire Bond Potter

It was pushed by Madison Avenue and preached by self-help gurus. Then it entered politics.




Special Focus: Impeachment

What Democrats Can Learn About Impeachment From the Civil War

by Jamelle Bouie

Lesson One: Don’t let Trump take the initiative.


How the Mueller report could end the Trump presidency without impeachment

by Jasmin Bath

Democrats should run on a message from 1860: You need a president you can trust.



An Open Memo: Comparison of Clinton Impeachment, Nixon Impeachment and Trump Pre-Impeachment

by Sidney Blumenthal

The facts and history indicate that the Clinton case bears little if any relevance to the Trump one, while the Nixon case shows great similarity to Trump’s.



The Precedent for Impeachment: Nixon, Not Clinton

by Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer

"Blumenthal, who had a front row seat to the Clinton drama, understands that there are major differences between these two instances."


Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171994 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171994 0
The D-Day Warriors Who Led The Way to Victory in World War ll


From THE FIRST WAVE: The D-Day Warriors Who Led The Way to Victory in World War ll by Alex Kershaw, published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Alex Kershaw.


The clock in the war room at Southwick House showed 4 a.m. The nine men gathered in the twenty‐five‐by‐fifty‐foot former library, its walls lined with empty bookshelves, were anxiously sipping cups of coffee, their minds dwelling on the Allies’ most important decision of World War II. Outside in the darkness, a gale was blowing, angry rain lashing against the windows. “The weather was terrible,” recalled fifty‐three‐year‐old Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower. “Southwick House was shaking. Oh, it was really storming.” Given the atrocious conditions, would Eisenhower give the final go‐ahead or postpone? He had left it until now, the very last possible moment, to decide whether or not to launch the greatest invasion in history.

Seated before Eisenhower in upholstered chairs at a long table covered in a green cloth were the commanders of Overlord: the no‐nonsense Missourian, General Omar Bradley, commander of US ground forces; the British General Bernard Law Montgomery, commander of the 21st Army Group, casually attired in his trademark roll‐top sweater and corduroy slacks; Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, the naval commander who had orchestrated the “miracle of Dunkirk”—the evacuation of more than 300,000 troops from France in May 1940; the pipe‐smoking Air Chief Arthur Tedder, also British; Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh‐Mallory, whose blunt pessimism had caused Eisenhower considerable anguish; and Major General Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff.

A dour and tall Scotsman, forty‐three‐year‐old Group Captain James Stagg, Eisenhower’s chief meteorologist, entered the library and stood on the polished wood floor before Overlord’s commanders. He had briefed Eisenhower and his generals every twelve hours, predicting the storm that was now rattling the windows of the library, which had already led Eisenhower to postpone the invasion from June 5 to June 6. Then, to Eisenhower’s great relief, he had forecast that there would, as he had put it with a slight smile, “be rather fair conditions” beginning that afternoon and lasting for thirty‐six hours.

Once more, Stagg gave an update. The storm would indeed start to abate later that day.

Eisenhower got to his feet and began to pace back and forth, hands clasped behind him, chin resting on his chest, tension etched on his face.



What if Stagg was wrong? The consequences were beyond bearable. But to postpone again would mean that secrecy would be lost. Furthermore, the logistics of men and supplies, as well as the tides, dictated that another attempt could not be made for weeks, giving the Germans more time to prepare their already formidable coastal defenses.

Since January, when he had arrived in England to command Overlord, Eisenhower had been under crushing, ever greater strain. Now it had all boiled down to this decision. Eisenhower alone—not Roosevelt, not Churchill—had the authority to give the final command to go, to “enter the continent of Europe,” as his orders from on high had stated, and “undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.” He alone could pull the trigger.

Marshaling the greatest invasion in the history of war had been, at times, as terrifying as the very real prospect of failure. The last time there had been a successful cross‐Channel attack was 1066, almost a millennium ago. The scale of this operation had been almost too much to grasp. More than 700,000 separate items had formed the inventory of what was required to launch the assault. Dismissed by some British officers as merely a “coordinator, a good mixer,” the blue‐eyed Eisenhower, celebrated for his broad grin and easy charm, had nevertheless imposed his will, working eighteen‐ hour days, reviewing and tweaking plans to launch some seven thousand vessels, twelve thousand planes, and 160,000 troops to hostile shores.

Eisenhower had overseen vital changes to the Overlord plan. A third more troops had been added to the invasion forces, of whom fewer than 15 percent had actually experienced combat. Heeding General Montgomery’s concerns, Eisenhower had ensured that the front was broadened to almost sixty miles of coast, with a beach code‐named Utah added at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula, farthest to the west. It had been agreed, after Eisenhower had carefully managed the “bunch of prima donnas,” most of them British, who made up his high command—the men gathered now before him—that the attack by night should benefit from the rays of a late‐rising moon.

In addition, it was decided that the first wave of seaborne troops would land at low tide to avoid being ripped apart by beach obstacles. An elaborate campaign of counterintelligence and outright deception, Operation Fortitude, had hopefully kept the Germans guessing as to where and when the Allies would land, providing the critical element of surprise. Hopefully, Erwin Rommel, the field marshal in charge of German forces in Normandy, had not succeeded in fortifying the coast to the extent that he had demanded. Hopefully, the Allies’ greatest advantage—their overwhelming superiority in air power— would make all the difference. Hopefully.

Not even Eisenhower was confident of success. “We are not merely risking a tactical defeat,” he had recently confided to an old friend back in Washington. “We are putting the whole works on one number.” Among Eisenhower’s most senior generals, even now, at the eleventh hour, there was precious little optimism.

Still pacing, Eisenhower thrust his chin in the direction of Montgomery. He was all for going. So was Tedder. Leigh‐Mallory, ever cautious, thought the heavy cloud cover might prove disastrous.

Stagg left the library and its cloud of pipe and cigarette smoke. There was an intense silence; each man knew how immense this moment was in history. The stakes could not be higher. There was no plan B. Nazism and its attendant evils— barbarism, unprecedented genocide, the enslavement of tens of millions of Europeans—might yet prevail. The one man in the room whom Eisenhower genuinely liked, Omar Bradley, believed that Overlord was Hitler’s “greatest danger and his greatest opportunity. If the Overlord forces could be repulsed and trounced decisively on the beaches, Hitler knew it would be a very long time indeed before the Allies tried again—if ever.”

Six weeks before, V Corps commander General Leonard Gerow had written to Eisenhower outlining grave doubts, even though it was too late to do much to alter the overall Overlord plan. It was distressingly clear, after the 4th Division had lost an incredible 749 men—killed in a single practice exercise on April 28 on Slapton Sands—that the Royal Navy and American troops were not working well together. Apart from the appallingly chaotic practice landings—the woeful yet final dress rehearsals—the defensive obstacles sown all along the beaches in Normandy were especially concerning.

Eisenhower had chided Gerow for his skepticism. Gerow had shot back that he was not being “pessimistic” but simply “realistic.” And what of the ten missing officers from the disaster at Slapton Sands who had detailed knowledge of the D‐Day operations, the most important secret in modern history? They knew about “Hobart’s Funnies,” the assortment of tanks specially designed to cut through Rommel’s defenses—including flail tanks that cleared mines with chains, and DUKWs, the six‐wheeled amphibious trucks that would take Rangers to within yards of the steep Norman cliffs—and they knew exactly where and when the Allies were landing. Was it really credible to assume that the Germans had not been tipped off, that so many thousands of planes and ships had gone unseen? 

Even Winston Churchill, usually so ebullient and optimistic, was filled with misgivings, having cautioned Eisenhower to “take care that the waves do not become red with the blood of American and British youth.” The prime minister had recently told a senior Pentagon official, John J. McCloy, that it would have been best to have had “Turkey on our side, the Danube under threat as well as Norway cleaned up before we undertook [Overlord].” The British Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, chief of the Imperial General Staff, had fought in Normandy in 1940 before the British Expeditionary Force’s narrow escape at Dunkirk. Just a few hours earlier, he had written in his diary that he was “very uneasy about the whole operation. At the best it will fall so very, very far short of the expectation of the bulk of the people, namely all those who know nothing about its difficulties. At the worst it may well be the most ghastly disaster of the whole war!”

No wonder Eisenhower had complained of a constant ringing in his right ear. He was almost frantic with nervous exhaustion, but he dared not show it as he continued now to pace back and forth, lost in thought, listening to the crackle and hiss of logs burning in the fireplace. He could not betray his true feelings, his dread and anxiety.

The minute hand on the clock moved slowly, for as long as five minutes according to one account. Walter Bedell Smith recalled, “I never realized before the loneliness and isolation of a commander at a time when such a momentous decision has to be taken, with the full knowledge that failure or success rests on his judgment alone.”

Eisenhower finally stopped pacing and then looked calmly at his lieutenants.

“OK. We’ll go.”

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171945 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171945 0
‘What’s Up, Doc?’’ Bugs Bunny Takes on the New York Philharmonic, Carrots and All


That wascally wabbit, Bugs Bunny, the notorious carrot chomping, sarcastic cartoon rabbit who first leaped on to the nations’ movie screens in 1940 and has been the star of 800 cartoons, four movies and 21 television specials, is back again, this time as the star of a special concert, Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II, in which the New York Philharmonic, live, plays the music of a dozen full length cartoons from the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series, most starring Bugs, while the audience watches the cartoons themselves on a large movie screen. The production is at David Geffen Hall, the Philharmonic’s home, at Lincoln Center, New York. The show is this coming weekend as part of its national tour. 

The concert/show, co-sponsored by Warner Bros., under different names, created by conductor George Daugherty and David Ka Lik Wong, has been traveling through the United States for about 20 years and has been seen by 2.5 million Bugs enthusiasts. In addition to the show, patrons at Lincoln Center will get to meet a number of furry and colorful Looney Tunes characters who will be roaming through the lobby before the curtain. If Wile E. Coyote is there, watch out for him!

Among the cartoons to be screened will be Baton Bunny, Show Biz Bugs, Rhapsody Rabbit, Tom and Jerry at the Hollywood Bowl, The Rabbit of Seville, Rabid Rider, Coyote Falls, Robin Hood Daffy and What’s Opera, Doc?.

Conductor Daugherty was a Bugs fan as a kid, but it was not because of the rabbit’s zany onscreen antics. No, it was because the Bugs Bunny cartoons, and most in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Meodies cartoon factories work used the music of the great classical composers, such as Wagner, Rossini, Liszt and Donizetti. “I was a classical music fan as a boy and I reveled in listening to this great music used as the backdrop for these cartoons. I also appreciated the fact that millions of American kids were being introduced to classical music through Bugs Bunny,” he said.

The Bugs Bunny shows are like no other.

Fans at the Bugs concerts go wild. They cheer the good guys and jeer the bad guys. They applaud. They whoop. The juxtaposition of one of the world’s great orchestra’s playing the music of Richard Wagner as patrons of all ages shout and scream is both puzzling and wonderful.

“You go to a typical classic music concert and everybody is very quiet and respectful of the music. You go to a Bugs Bunny cartoon concert, though, and you lose all abandon. That’s what happens at these performances,” said conductor Daugherty with a big smile. “The same thing happened in the 1950s and it will happen forever.” 

He adds that most older people saw Bugs and Looney Tunes cartoons in a movie theater and kids on a small screen television set. “The chance to see the cartoons in a movie’ like setting, the Philharmonic concert hall, repeats that old feeling for adults and is all new for kids,” he said.

Daugherty and Wong started the production in 1990 and called it Bugs Bunny on Broadway. Since then the show, also called Bugs Bunny at the Symphony and Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II has been staged by more than 100 major orchestras, including the Boston Pops, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra. It has been shown at the Hollywood Bowl and Sydney Opera House. 

In 1990, of course. Bugs was a huge Hollywood star. He began his career as a character in the Merrie Melodies cartoon series, making his star debut in Wild Hare in 1940. He was an instant hit, along with dopey Elmer Fudd, wily Daffy Duck and others. His popularity soared during World War II, when millions flocked to movies and the cartoons, which served as an escape from wartime pressures. Bugs Bunny was turned into a flag waving patriotic character during the war, even appearing in a dress blue U.S. Marine uniform in one cartoon. His popularity grew after the war and he remained the number one cartoon character in America for years, chomping on carrots in movie theater all across the country.

The really big advantages of the Philharmonic Hall, Daugherty said, was the sound of the orchestra in the concert hall.

“Back in the 1940s and ‘50s, when these cartoons first came out, the sound equipment in places where the cartoons were made, and in movie theaters, was limited. At the Philharmonic at Lincoln Center, and other halls where we stage the concerts, the sound is beautiful. That’s why people go to these shows,” said Daugherty.

He is always amazed at the people he meets at his productions. “I meet very old and very young people and music lovers, and cartoon overs, from every walk of life,” he said. He once met a couple who met at a Bugs Bunny concert eight years earlier, fell in love and were married.

People are getting used to these type of movie/performance shows. The Philharmonic has staged a number of them. Among them were Fantasia andStar Wars. The Philharmonic will stage a movie/concert of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Psycho in September, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in December, and Singin’ in the Rain and Mary Poppins in May, 2020.The idea of a movie and a live orchestra is gaining ground in America – fast.

Surprisingly, the audience for the Bugs Bunny productions are neither kids or parents and kids – but individual adults. “I’d say 90% of our audience are adults without kids,” said Daugherty. “They are all coming back to see the cartoons they loved as children.”

And Bugs? The founder of the Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes production show thinks that the hyperactive gray and white rabbit, getting on a little over the years, would love it.

When I ended my interview with the conductor, I was tempted to assume my very best Bugs Bunny voice and ask him “What’s up, Doc?” I could not do that, though, because the New York Philharmonic is so distinguished...

Really? Wait until this weekend, when Bugs fans pour into the Geffen concert hall at Lincoln Center and roar for Bugs and his cartoon pals who starred with him in all those wonderful old Looney Tunes and Merrie Melody cartoon production houses. The roar will be louder than the traffic in Times Square.


PRODUCTION: The Lincoln Center Shows are Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.  

  That’s All, Folks !

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171954 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171954 0
Citizenship and the Census Steve Hochstadt is a professor of history emeritus at Illinois College, who blogs for HNN and LAProgressive, and writes about Jewish refugees in Shanghai.



Citizenship is becoming an ever bigger political issue. After some years of heated arguments about undocumented immigrants and whether they ought to be allowed to become citizens, a new front in the citizenship war has broken out over the census. The Trump administration wants to include the following question on the 2020 census form: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” Possible answers include: born in the US, born abroad of US parents, naturalized citizen, and “not a US citizen”. 


It certainly is useful to have accurate data on the citizenship status of our population. But political calculation lurks behind this question, based on the following chain of reasoning. In the midst of a Republican campaign against immigrants and immigration, a citizenship question might frighten immigrants, both legal and not, from responding to the census, thus lowering total population counts. The census results are used to apportion Congressional seats and Electoral College votes, including everyone counted, whether citizen, legal or unauthorized resident. Many federal spending programs distribute funds to states based on population. Places with large numbers of immigrants tend to be Democratic-leaning big cities, so there could be long-range political power implications if the count is skewed. Counting citizens and non-citizens connects to counting votes, the most important constitutional issue of our time.


The biggest impact could be in Democratic California, one of Trump’s most persistent adversaries: 27% of Californians are immigrants and 34% of adults are Latino. Studies have already shown that Latinos were undercounted in the 2010 census and non-Hispanic whites were overcounted, according to the Census Bureau itself. The amount of federal funds that California could lose if a citizenship question causes even larger undercounting could reach billions of dollars.


Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Steve Bannon (then a white House advisor), Kris Kobach (then Kansas Secretary of State), and others decided in early 2018 to put in the citizenship question, last asked in the 1950 census. Ross claimed the impetus came from a concern in the Department of Justice about protecting voting rights, but journalists uncovered an email trail proving he lied. The chief data scientist of the Census Bureau, John Abowd, opposed the addition of a citizenship question, which he said “is very costly” and “harms the quality of the census count”, and would result in “substantially less accurate citizenship status data than are available” from existing government records.


Nevertheless, Ross decided to include the question. Democratic attorneys general for 17 states, the District of Columbia, and many cities and counties have mounted a legal challenge in federal courts across the country. Judges in three federal courts in California, New York, and Maryland have already ruled that there should be no citizenship question. One judge described the argument by Commerce Secretary Ross as “an effort to concoct a rationale bearing no plausible relation to the real reason.” Another judge called the Republican case a “veritable smorgasbord of classic, clear-cut” violations of the Administrative Procedures Act, a 73-year-old law which makes the simple demands that decisions by federal agencies must be grounded in reality and make logical sense.


The Supreme Court has agreed to take the case on an expedited basis. So the census absorbs considerable political weight and becomes itself a constitutional issue, pitting Democrats and Republicans on the stage of the Supreme Court. A lawyer for the Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives will be one of the four attorneys arguing against the citizenship question. He will repeat the political power argument on which the local Democratic authorities based their case: they have standing to sue, because they would lose House seats and federal funds due to deliberately skewed results. 


The pure political weight of each seat on the Supreme Court has never been made so clear as in the past three years, where one seat in 2016 became the prize in a naked display of Republican Senatorial political power: we can do this, so we will. Now 5 Republican-appointed justices and 4 Democratic-appointed justices will decide the case. The decision will soon have consequences, when the 2020 Census results are used to allocate state and federal representation by Republican and Democratic legislatures for the next election, and even before that, to allocate federal dollars.


If you are interested in a fuller discussion of the significance of this case, go to the website of the National Constitution Center. It is rare to find a detailed, logical, clear and unbiased description of the facts on such a politically charged issue.


While technical legal issues determine who is a citizen, each party has been proclaiming their version of a good citizen. Republicans have been clear about their version of how a good citizen should act. Hate the free press, because they only tell lies. Physically attacking journalists is okay for a Republican citizen, and elected Republicans will defend your right to do that. The government elected by the citizens is evil, not a democratic institution, but one run by an unelected hidden “deep state”. Nothing is wrong with manipulating the tax system, because taxes are bad, the government wastes the money it collects, and the IRS is an ideological ally of the deep state, anyway. Citizens not only have the constitutional right to resist an oppressive government, but a good citizen treats our federal government as oppressive, and ought to resist it now, with the exception of everything the current President does.


It’s not necessary to be a violent white supremacist to be a good Republican citizen, but that’s not a disqualification. Disqualifications have to do with paperwork, with color, with where one was born, and with ideological viewpoints. Liberals are traitors to America, the worst kind of a citizen. People who believe in the right of a pregnant woman to control her own body are murderers, still citizens, but belonging in jail. Various other crimes of the mind disqualify Americans as good Republican citizens: advocating gun control, believing in climate change, and demanding that we protect the endangered environment.


Democrats need to tell Americans how we think about citizenship, not just the paperwork and the legalities, but the ethics and good behavior. I think a good American citizen:

1) Prizes the diversity of viewpoints that an ethnically and religiously diverse society produces;

2) Believes in the power of government to make people’s lives better;

3) Believes that government should act in the interests of all citizens, especially those who have the least resources;

4) Wants the government to protect the rights of minorities;

5) Believes that personal religion should be a free choice, but that the religious beliefs of no particular group should determine government policy.


If that is not a winning argument about what it means to be an American, then there will be no progress toward creating an equal and just democracy.


Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154211 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154211 0
George Orwell and Why the Time to Stop Trump is Now



As evidence of Hitler’s intentions crystalized in the 1930’s, many politicians who recognized the danger continued to vote against vital defense expenditures. George Orwell, reflecting on that and other cases of “ignoring facts which are obvious and unalterable,” concluded: “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”


Until Germany invaded Poland in 1939, there was room for wishful thinking regarding Hitler’s plans. Current defenders of the American Republic, by contrast, confront the “obvious and unalterable” fact that an assault has already been launched. The Mueller report puts in front of our noses Russia’s “sweeping and systematic,” interference in the 2016 election, its perception that “it would benefit from a Trump presidency,” its work “to secure that outcome,” and the Trump campaign’s expectation “that it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”


Everyone able and willing to distinguish facts from lies has witnessed Trump’s brazen cover-up of Russia’s attack. He has never named or denounced the aggressor, while depicting the investigators as traitors who used a hoax to attempt a coup.   


As November 3, 2020 approaches, Trump ignores calls to defend the elections and fails to confront Russia, inviting more cyber-sabotage on his behalf. What if he loses nonetheless? Consider a playscript whose author casts himself as defender of the nation against the “globalist elite” and their “deep state” henchmen. In Act I, he miraculously outwits their attempt to rig the 2016 election; in Act II he thwarts their attempted coup. Act III completes the plot, as the Democrats manage to fake a 2020 victory, only to face a resolute President who—having forewarned of a final deep state conspiracy to regain power—announces a state of emergency.


Better outcomes are possible, but inaction based on rosy predictions invites deepening danger. Time is passing, as it did in the weeks following President Obama’s discovery of Russia’s attack, and as it did while we waited for Mueller. Investigators continue to investigate what they already know. The Republican conscience does not stir. The Republican base is unmoved. The “investigation” of the investigators begins. The “coup plot” reverberates across cable news and Twitter. We watch—or don’t—an unfolding illustration of Orwell’s “plain, unmistakable facts being shirked by people who in another part of their minds are aware of those facts.”


Devoted to preserving human liberty, Orwell probed democracy’s vulnerabilities. In Animal Farm he depicted naïve disbelief in the face of step-by-step descents into despotism; in a 1940 review of Mein Kampf, he showed how ordinary people surrender freedom willingly; in 1984 he depicted how authoritarian control can be strengthened by technologies of mass communication and surveillance.


Orwell did not live to witness the liberal complacency that set in following defeat of the 20th century’s totalitarian movements. Nor could Orwell have imagined the new dangers posed by the cyberage. The treasonous implications of presidential indifference to Pearl Harbor or 9/11 would have been obvious to all.  Our “cyber-Pearl Harbor,” by contrast, inflicted grave damage invisibly and non-violently, enabling its perpetrator and chief beneficiary—Putin and Trump—to deny its occurrence. Demagogic big lies can now metastasize through the body politic with lightning speed.


We struggle to understand this latest rise of authoritarian nationalism, envisioning policies that will progressively drive such movements back to humanity’s dark margins. But first we must remove a particular enemy from his position as the most powerful man on earth.


When freedom’s heartland was last endangered, FDR did not await favorable opinion polls to affirm—against the original “America First” movement—that America must fight to defeat fascism. Nor did Winston Churchill, though long ignored, refrain from insisting that his country face the Nazi danger. Those leaders matched Hitler’s faith in the “triumph of the will” with an even fiercer will to defend the liberal democracies. 


Today, with America’s “bully pulpit” in the hands of a demagogue, defenders of our 230-year-old Constitution have to win for themselves the constant struggle to face what is in front of their noses. Aware citizens must stand up to insist that aiding and abetting a foreign attack, and depicting as traitors those who rise to “the common defense,” are high crimes that must be stopped and punished. Democratic leaders will not find their voice, nor Republicans awaken to the truth, until they sense the rising tide of mobilized American patriotism.


The test we face is to stop “shirking” in the face of “obvious and inalterable” facts, to focus fearlessly on the danger rather than allow a parade of doubts and distractions to displace what is “in front of one’s nose.” From 1776 to the fall of the Berlin Wall, believers in human freedom and democratic self-governance have known when to shrug off setbacks and summon their will. That time is now.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171951 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171951 0
Carolyn Forché: Bearing Witness to the Wounds of History

(Photo by Don Usner)



“You want to know what is revolutionary, Papu? To tell the truth. That is what you will do when you return to your country. From the beginning this has been your journey, your coming to consciousness.”

Carolyn Forché in What You Have Heard is True, quoting Leonel Gomez Vides (emphasis original)


From 1980 until 1992, more than 75,000 people died in the bloody civil war that raged in El Salvador. Most of the dead were civilians who died at the hands of government forces supported by the United States. The war also left 550,000 internally displaced people and 500,000 refugees who fled the country, as well as more than eight thousand civilians who were “disappeared” and never found. 

The 1980 assassination of beloved Archbishop (and now Saint) Oscar Romero—the voice of the poor—sparked the conflict, and the ensuing 12 years were marked by countless atrocities: the military’s complete destruction of villages and massacres of civilians such as the 1981 massacre at El Mozote that left more than 700 men, women and children dead; rampant kidnappings and gruesome torture; murders of labor leaders and workers; the rape and murder of four American churchwomen; and the 1989 massacre of Jesuits that led to international intervention.

Acclaimed poet, translator and human rights activist Carolyn Forché made seven extended trips to El Salvador in the two years preceding the outbreak of the war, from 1978 to 1980, during the violent “time of the death squads.” She traveled at the behest of her impassioned and brilliant guide and mentor, Leonel Gomez Vides, who desperately hoped to prevent a war in his home country. He also wanted a poet—not a journalist—to accompany him and the share with the American people the reality of life in a land of injustice, atrocity, and extreme poverty. He chose the already acclaimed poet Ms. Forché, then age 27, for this daunting task, and she eventually accepted the challenge despite Leonel’s enigmatic background.

In her powerful and lyrical new memoir What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance (Penguin Press), Ms. Forché recounts in vivid detail her experience in those two turbulent years in El Salvador. Unlike most memoirs, she tells this story in the voice of her younger poet self and conveys the surprise and wonder and shock she felt with each new experience. At the same time, she tells the story of Leonel who introduced her to political and military leaders, American officials, and the wealthy, as well as to workers, teachers, campesinos [peasant farmers], and religious leaders including Archbishop Romero. Leonel constantly reminds her to remember what she sees and to note details because she must tell the American people the unvarnished truth about the situation in El Salvador.

Ms. Forché spent 15 years writing her new memoir. She began the book in 2003 and referred to her notes. diaries as well as photographs, reminiscences of friends, and other contemporaneous documents from her years in El Salvador. She tossed away three early drafts and finished her memoir last year.

Ms. Forché vividly describes in her book what she saw and what she learned four decades ago in El Salvador, a nation on the brink of war. She learned about living in a state of constant tension and fear. She learned about extreme economic inequality and abject poverty. She learned about the beauty of the verdant countryside and the vibrant life in the cities and villages of El Salvador. She learned about brutal torture conducted by US-trained military officials. She learned about a network of safe houses for those who opposed the vicious military regime. She learned about the excruciating pain of prisoners who were locked in wooden boxes the size of washing machines. She learned to see in a new way thanks to the questions and insights shared by the elusive and brilliant Leonel. She learned about tranquility in the face of fear from a future saint, Archbishop Oscar Romero. She learned about the body dumps where the remains of the mutilated dead were scattered. One day, she learned “that a human head weighs about two and a half kilos.” And she learned much more.   

Ms. Forché’s memoir is especially timely as the current US president disregards the law of asylum and fixates on a wall to keep refugees from crossing our borders. She explores the foundations of today’s surge in refugees who flee persecution and violence in El Salvador and other Central American nations.

The title of her memoir, What You Have Heard is True, is from the opening line of perhaps her best-known poem, “The Colonel.”  In this work, she describes the cruel wall that surrounded the home of this Salvador army officer:

Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to 

scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his hands to lace.

She continues the poem with images from a 1978 dinner at the colonel’s home. The evening concluded when the colonel emptied from a grocery bag the gruesome trophies of many kills, “many human ears,” at the table where Ms. Forché sat. And he said, “As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves.”

This haunting poem encapsulates a moment in history. The image of the colonel’s ghastly wall resonates today. A wall to separate, to intimidate, to divide, to maim, to mutilate. This wall seems a metaphor for the brutality of the oppressive, US-backed Salvadoran government of 40 years ago, and it presages the persecution suffered by refugees who flee Central America today for safety while our president promotes his wall that, regardless of human rights law, will instill fear and despair as it discourages any hope of compassion or sanctuary.


“The Colonel” serves as a historical document, a record of what Ms. Forché observed first-hand as violence grew toward war in El Salvador. The poem also stands as an example of the “poetry of witness,” a term she coined to describe poetry that concerns social and historical experiences of extremity such as war, genocide, torture, imprisonment, political persecution, and exile.


Poetic works of witness preserve moments of atrocity and trauma and serve as reminders from history for generations to come. Ms. Forché wrote: “We are writing what in the future will be the irrevocable past.” A few examples of poets of witness—and history—include Federico Garcia Lorca, Claribel Alegria, Terrence des Pres, Anna Akhmatova, Bertolt Brecht, and Denise Levertov. Ms. Forché collected these writers and dozens of other poets from around the world in two widely-acclaimed anthologies that she edited: Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, and the Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500-2001.


Ms. Forché served until last year as the Director of the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice at Georgetown University. Her books of poetry include Gathering the Tribes, recipient of the Yale Younger Poets Award; The Country Between Us, the Lamont Selection of the Academy of American Poets; The Angel of History, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award; and Blue Hour, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has received numerous awards for her distinguished writing and teaching, including three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lannan Foundation Fellowship, as well as the Robert Creeley Award, the Denise Levertov Award, and James Laughlin Award for poetry. In 2004 she became a trustee of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, Canada’s premier poetry award. 


Ms. Forché also has been a devoted human rights activist since her return from El Salvador in 1980 when she began speaking out in virtually every American state about the crimes against humanity there and US involvement in the civil war. In the 1980’s, she also reported from Beirut for National Public Radio about the civil war in Lebanon, and she worked with human rights groups in South Africa. In 1998, was presented the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation Award for Peace and Culture in Stockholm for her work on behalf of human rights and the preservation of memory and culture.She continues to advocate for a more just and peaceful world. She lives in Maryland with her husband, photographer Harry Mattison.



Ms. Forché generously spoke recently by telephone about her new memoir and about issues of history, remembrance, and atrocity as well as on the plight of Central American refugees today.


Robin Lindley: Congratulations Ms. Forché on your moving new memoir, What You Have Heard is True. Before I get to the memoir, I wanted to ask first about the “poetry of witness,” a term that you coined about poems that respond to conditions of extremity and challenge the denial of history. I think that's important now as our current president ignores and distorts history for his political advantage. What is “poetry of witness” and how do you see its role in remembering the past?


Carolyn Forché: Many poets have written in the aftermath of extremity, having lived through wars as soldiers or civilians, and endured incarceration, exile, censorship, house arrest, banning orders and other forms of state-imposed repression.  As they passed through these experiences, their language also passed, and was marked by suffering and brutality. Poems written in the aftermath of these horrors might be read as “witness” to experience: personal, social, and historical. I began using this term to distinguish such works from the more polemical poems written in service to a political movement, which are sometimes attacked for being “political.”


Robin Lindley: It seems you were on the road to becoming a poet of witness even by 1977, before your El Salvador experience. You had written the award-winning book Gathering the Tribeswith now celebrated poems on history and relationships. In the summer of 1977, you stayed in Mallorca with Central American poet Claribel Alegría and translated her poetry of witness and you met other renowned writers such as World War I veteran Robert Graves.


Carolyn Forché: There were quite a few writers who visited Claribel in that house in Deia, and listening to them was the beginning of my education, not only in the political realities of Latin America at the time, but in Latin American literature as well. I also met Robert Graves and in fact we gave him his 83rd birthday party. 


Robin Lindley: So, by the time your memoir begins in the fall of 1977, you had been exposed to the poetry of witness and you had been honored for your own poetry.


Carolyn Forché: I was very young. My first book had won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, which is the wonderful thing to happen to a first book. It stressed me into a more prominent position in the world of literature than I might otherwise have been able to achieve, so it made me nervous, and it made me feel a little like retreating. I wanted to keep writing but I didn't want to be such a public person. I spent time after that traveling and backpacking. 


And I had my first teaching job, which was at San Diego State University, where I'd befriended Maya Flakoll, who was the daughter of Claribel Alegria. We decided together that we were going to translate Claribel’s poetry to English for the first time. She had been translated into other languages, but never into English. And that's what led us to spend summer in Mallorca in 1977. We worked on the translations together and we finished with a book called Flowers from the Volcanoand it was Claribel’s first book in English.


\During that summer I had heard mentioned a man named Leonel Gomez Vides who was Claribel’s cousin. He still lived in El Salvador and he was a rather mysterious person. No one seemed to know clearly who he was and what he was doing. He was known to be a champion motorcycle racer and also a world champion marksman. He had given some of his land to campesinos and he may have been working with the guerillas. Or he possibly worked with the CIA. Nobody knew. But he was apparently a brilliant person. Whenever I would ask a question about him, everyone would be very quiet. They didn't encourage my curiosity at all.


Robin Lindley: And in the fall of 1977, Leonel Gomez Vides showed up at your house in Southern California with his two young daughters. He was a stranger but you let him in and he stayed with you for a few days. Why did you to trust him enough to invite him into your home?


Carolyn Forché: When he was first at the door, I showed him photographs from the summer in Mallorca and I asked him to identify the people in the photographs who were Claribel, his cousin, and Maya. And he did, and then he immediately and very warmly began to talk about them and to reminisce about times with Claribel with a kind of love, and I realized that yes, he was a family member and he was very warm, very friendly. And he was very nice with his daughters. 


And so, it seemed to all right. I didn't ever question hosting them at that time. He was pretty intent on talking to me during those three days. All he did was talk and he drew illustrations of everything that he talked about. He had covered my dining room table with white paper and, by the time he was finished, there was a mural of El Salvador's history and in fact of the entire history of Central America. 


Robin Lindley: He was very concerned that a war like ours in Vietnam was imminent in El Salvador.


Carolyn Forché: Yes. He was building to a revelation that he suspected his country was on the verge of war and that this would begin in three to five years. And he was interested in having an American poet come to El Salvador and try to learn as much as possible about the situation so that when this war did begin, this poet could come back and talk to the American people about the situation, about what was giving rise to the war and all of that, because he believed that if the United States entered the war on the side of the military in any serious way, it would be very different kind of war. He was hoping to avoid that. 


He came to visit me as an American poet. And of course, I tried to dissuade him from imagining that a poet could accomplish the task he imagined, explaining to him that poets didn't have a great deal of exposure or credibility in the United States, and that we weren't consulted on matters of foreign policy. We were considered a subculture or a fringe element. He was surprised by that because, of course, in Latin America poetry is very important and taken very seriously, so he decided that one of my tasks was to change the role of poets in the United States, which I thought was very quixotic and probably more impossible than anything else he was asking me to do. 


I was touched by his faith in poetry and by his regard for it, and by his command and his knowledge of history going way back to before the European conquest. And he did go that far back. He was really intent on my understanding the situation with the deep historical roots. He didn't just start in 1970 or some other recent year. He went all the way back before European contact. 


At the end of those three days, he invited me to El Salvador and I still wasn't sure about his invitation. He said you're going to improve your Spanish and it'll be like a Peace Corps experience and I will open doors for you and show you the whole country and all of the different social groupings. He said he would introduce me to campesinos and to wealthy coffee planters and to the military. And he said, you'll get a full picture and then, when the war begins, you'll be in an excellent position to talk about it in your own country.


Robin Lindley: And you heeded Leonel’s call to come to El Salvador.


Carolyn Forché: At that time, I was having a hard time with my own poetry, which was one of the reasons I had started to translate Claribel Alegria. And I had just received the Guggenheim fellowship and I had no real plan because I didn't think I would get one. I had this fellowship and I had the opportunity and a door was opening and I knew it. And I knew that this offer doesn't come along very often. 


So, most of my friends disapproved of the idea on the grounds that I didn't know Leonel very well and, in their opinion, Central America was a dangerous place. El Salvador was at peace at the time, meaning not yet at war. Then one friend, at the very end, said I think you should do it. I think you want to do it and I think you should go. And that's all I needed; one person to approve and I landed in El Salvador and January 4th, 1978 for the first time.


Robin Lindley: Thank you for that context. As you write, Leonel went to great lengths to explain the traumatic history of El Salvador when he spoke with you at your home. He talked about the Spanish conquest and the atrocities against the Indians and the history of military rule and oppression. Did you have a sense of how violent the country was before you left for El Salvador?


Carolyn Forché: Yes. I knew there was a great deal of poverty and inequality and maldistribution of wealth. The gap between the rich and poor quite resembles our own country now. But at the time, we had a large middle class here, so it was shocking to me that two percent of the of the population could own 60 percent of the resources. 


And there is a violence to poverty as well. And there was a lack of willingness to reform, and a lack of willingness to do small things that led to the desperation of an armed struggle. There were peace marches and labor unions were organizing with people who were trying to get slightly better wages and slightly better conditions. And this was always refused and suppressed by armed force. All of the demonstrations were fired upon. 


Leonel also pointed out that El Salvador had one of the highest murder rates in the world at that time. Violence penetrated the society, so it was a dangerous place. I didn't realize how dangerous until I got there. 


The period when I was in El Salvador has been called “the time of the death squads.” It was the time before the war. There was no armed uprising yet, but there were organized paramilitary civilian and military death squads operating not only in the countryside but in the cities. By the time I was leaving in 1980, they were killing up to a thousand people a month in the capital city or disappearing them. Bodies were left everywhere or taken to body dumps, essentially dumping grounds for the dead.


They were killing anyone suspected of having anything to do with championing the rights of the poor or working on behalf of the poor in any way. So, teachers, priests, nuns, doctors, students, union organizers—all of these people—were subject to being suddenly pulled out of their houses or pulled off the street and never seen again. 


So, it was dangerous, but it wasn't yet war. And the history that Leonel shared with me prior to my trip was one of violence and land confiscation and of altering the living conditions for the indigenous people of Central America who had held land in common and previously developed very sophisticated methods of growing food. And then the lands were confiscated systematically, first for the cultivation of indigo and ultimately for coffee. 


When it was realized that the highlands were perfectly suited for growing excellent coffee, the violence was poverty, land confiscation, suppression, and rigidity. This is a lesson for us too in the United States. If you refuse small reforms and refuse an escalation in the minimum wage and refuse constantly to do anything at all to improve the lives of the poor, eventually you're going to have a big, big problem. This rigidity does not lead to anything good, and I'm seeing that rigidity now in our government. I've seen this before so I know what I'm looking at.


Robin Lindley: You have much to teach Americans. You became aware also that the United States was supporting an oppressive military government and funding the Salvadoran military and even training troops in skills such as torture.


Carolyn Forché: Yes. For a while aid had been cut off because the government had to be certified by the U.S. State Department as respecting human rights in order to receive economic and military aid.  This was the human rights policy that was put in place by President Carter. It was primarily designed for use against the former Soviet Union and its client states, but it wound up being applied to our allies who were very busy keeping order by violent means in their own countries.


In the case of El Salvador, the Salvadoran military was very confused and angry about this certification of human rights. Eventually El Salvador somehow was certified, even though it wasn't respecting human rights. It was said that the deaths were being caused by “unknown elements” who had nothing to do with the government, which wasn't true of course. So, the economic and military aid was restored and the first $5.5 million in military aid was allocated, which doesn't sound like much now, but it was at least symbolically significant then. That happened on the day after Monsignor Oscar Romero, the recently canonized St. Romero, was murdered on March 24, 1980. The U.S. Congress held hearings. I was present at those hearings. They voted to approve the military aid and the sending of 12 American advisors who they called “trainers” because they didn't want to echo the language of the American War in Vietnam at that time. The 12 soldiers were to go to El Salvador to advise with $5.5 million in military aid. And of course, that amount increased exponentially over the course of the ensuing 12-year civil war.


Robin Lindley: That vote for aid had to be a disappointment for you.        


Carolyn Forché: Yes. Congress supported the military. And we also trained the Salvadoran military on our own bases in our country and sent them back to El Salvador. But because the American public was not in favor of direct military intervention, the United States never sent our own soldiers to deploy in El Salvador and engage militarily in combat. That was largely because the American public turned against intervention. 


Instead, you had this vast movement in the United States of people who supported sanctuary for fleeing refugees. They were people from established organizations like Witness for Peace and the Sanctuary movement. There was a network of U.S. residents and citizens in solidarity with the Salvadoran people. This organizing was very effective. I think we would have gone into El Salvador militarily but for that movement, and also but for certain Democrats in the Congress at the time who were vigilant about the situation in El Salvador. Certain congressmen and senators were very knowledgeable about Central America and they kept much worse things from happening.


Robin Lindley: It’s an appalling history. That brings me back to your memoir and your initial impressions. In terms of history, it’s interesting where Leonel arranged for you to stay when you first arrived in El Salvador. What happened on your arrival?


Carolyn Forché: I should say first that, in this book, I take the reader on the journey that I took. In other words, the reader never knows more than I knew at the time. So it unfolds a bit like a mystery or maybe a thriller.


Robin Lindley: Yes. I think the memoir reads like a thriller.


Carolyn Forché: In the book, I start off the journey with the arrival at the airport [in El Salvador]. I didn't know anything about anything yet and I'm 27 years old. Leonel wasn't there to pick me up.  I looked around and thought, oh my gosh, what am I going to do? And then a Peace Corps volunteer came towards me and said Leonel had sent him to get me. He said, I'll take you to him. We're going to have dinner at the Benihana of Tokyo restaurant in San Salvador.


After that dinner, which had a lot of interesting people at it, Leonel took me to stay at a house that was occupied by the sister of a Catholic priest he knew. This house once belonged to General Martinez who was the dictator or so-called president of El Salvador during the 1930s, when he has presided over the 1932 massacre called the Matanza [“the killing”] of perhaps 30,000 to 80,000 people [mostly indigenous peasants], depending on your source. 


And so there I am, sleeping in the dictator’s bed my first night. That was Leonel’s way: start in the dictator’s house because we have been living under military dictatorship, and that dictatorship was unbroken for 50 years.


The military candidates always won the presidential elections. There was never a question about that. The ballot boxes were fixed. They called it “sugaring the ballots” so that if the military candidate wasn't winning in any particular region, they would just stuff the ballot box with favorable ballots.


The military always won and they always appointed their own ministers and those ministers were always their fellow officers and that's how things worked. The jobs of the military weren't particularly well paid. The job was to maintain order. Their other job in their own minds was corruption and trying to get as much money as possible while they held power. And some of that pocketing of money had to do with siphoning American aid money. 


That's why the military was so upset when the aid was cut off. It wasn’t because they were trying to benefit the people of El Salvador with this aid. It was because some of that aid was going into their own pockets and that's how they were becoming rich enough to retire comfortably in Miami or Houston after they left power. They didn't really have to worry too much about coups in El Salvador because every generation of officers would keep power for four years and then they would cede to the next generation. And this is how it worked in the military. And there was never any question that you had four years to steal money. So a cut in US aid was very threatening to the military. 


And so, I was at the seat of power when I arrived and slept at a dictator’s house then occupied by the sister of a priest. 


Robin Lindley: Leonel had a sense of irony. Your impressions on the poverty you saw are also instructive. You saw poverty in the cities and traveled out in the countryside and met campesinos.


Carolyn Forché: I had not been in an underdeveloped country, what they used to call “third-world” countries. There's no real name for a country that has not been industrialized. 

I was seeing this poverty for the first time, although poverty in industrialized countries such as our own is also very brutal and harsh. It just takes a different form in El Salvador. In the countryside, they didn't have running water and they didn't have potable water. They didn't have electricity in most of the villages. They were living in very primitive conditions. And they didn't have much to eat. They lived on beans and corn. That was it. If they had anything else, they sold it. It was a very meager diet.


The life expectancy at that time was 47 years and one out of every five children died before the age of five of curable diseases like measles. I saw malnourished children. Conditions were harsh and workdays long. There was no such thing as time off.


I was startled when I first got there, and saw the world much as a visitor or tourist would see it. I write about the women carrying large jugs on their heads. The jugs were very large. Some were two feet high and they were balancing them on their heads and they could turn their heads without spilling a drop. These urns contained water because people didn't live near drinkable water so they had to carry water to where they lived. These women walked so gracefully. At the beginning I saw them walking beautifully and it was just something that would be appreciated for its beauty by a tourist. Later, I discovered that those jugs were incredibly heavy and that those women suffered damage to their cervical spines from compression caused by carrying these jugs for so many years. And so, you start to see the world differently. 


Leonel taught me a new way of seeing the world—of looking and thinking. I'm hoping that, through reading the book, people will also have that experience. That education is what I tried to replicate in the memoir. I tried to, step by step, show the reader what happened, how I was shown a different reality.


It was a serious challenge to write in such a way. The book is really about Leonel.  I try to capture his incredible personality on the page, his humor and his brilliance. He was complex, and I was young and rebelling, pushing back and arguing with him, not accepting everything that he said and did. We grew as friends and we found ourselves in incredible situations.


Robin Lindley: Leonel was a master of the Socratic method. He posed questions and you had to supply the answers. You had to figure out new and often perilous situations yourself. 


Carolyn Forché: I would ask sometimes a simple question, and instead of answering me, he put me in a situation where I would find the answer myself. He always felt that experience was a better teacher. Some things just had to be personally felt and seen in order for learning to take place, in order for consciousness to change. He was interested in consciousness and the formation of it, and what makes us think and feel the way we do. Where do we get our ideas about the world and how are those ideas formed and what, if anything, challenges them?

 In the United States we tend to think that we don't really have any ideology. We're the default position. We are the normal way of things and our way of life is the right way. We don't have ideologies. We’re not communist. We're not this, we're not that. But actually, we do. We all do. Every human does. And one of the things that would be important for us is to begin examining that ideology a little more closely. Asking questions. Why do we think this is right? And why is that wrong? How did our attitudes about the world develop over time?


Take, for example, our faith in capitalism, I'd love to know how that developed. It's an economic system. We treat it almost as a god, as sacrosanct, and unchallenged, but it's just a particular economic system we've adopted. Leonel was very, very good at raising questions and showing you that things are a little more complex than you might think.


Robin Lindley: Your courage struck me. You were actually chased by death squads. The tension and the violence are so vivid in your book. There must have been many fearful times for you.


Carolyn Forché: Everyone in El Salvador at that time lived in fear and it was intense. It was very, very scary place, and so adrenaline was always high and people were always hypervigilant and on edge. One never could relax or be comfortable. If you're sleeping in your bed at night, at any moment, something could happen to you. So that doesn't feel safe.

I experienced what everyone else was experiencing. You couldn’t avoid it if you were there. That's what the life was for the people there and also for me. I was pursued by death squads because of the people I was with, and I was very, very lucky on those occasions. I tell those stories in the book. I talk about what happened and I tried to describe them as clearly and precisely as I could. 


I did witness one abduction, and I also describe it.  It's been quite a few years now, but it was years more before I lost the hypervigilance. It didn't calm down within me for quite a long time after I left El Salvador.


Robin Lindley: After the violence and horror you witnessed, it’s understandable if you had some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.


Carolyn Forché: I didn't think of it that way in terms of myself because I associated post-traumatic stress disorder with combat veterans. You had to have been a soldier to have that happen to you. Now, of course, I know that's not true at all. You can have post traumatic stress disorder from domestic violence. You can have it from all sorts of extreme experiences—anything that frightens you deeply, any blow to the psyche, any wound to the heart or the soul can cause [PTSD] to happen. 


I think everyone in El Salvador at that time who was awake and thinking probably suffered from post-traumatic stress for years. 


These young parents who are fleeing now are the children of the people that I was with then. And life, for Salvadorans, is even more dangerous now. We really should be bringing them into our cities and getting them settled and then somehow working inside El Salvador and Honduras to help protect people from extortion, rape, violence and murder.


Robin Lindley: The tension in El Salvador is palpable in your writing. Yet Leonel, in the course of your two years, took you into the nests of vipers, to the homes of right-wing military officials and politicians. And he also introduced you to guerillas, doctors, nuns, priests, campesinos, and his friend Archbishop Romero.


Carolyn Forché: He knew everyone. He cultivated friendships in all sectors. Of course, when he was young, he came to a military academy in the United States for a while. And he had friends who were in the military, and friends and relatives in the officer corps. He went to grade school with men who later were officers. So he knew everyone. And he was from a prominent family and they were coffee farmers. 


He had a very small coffee farm that didn't make very much money anymore, so he wasn't a rich man— but he knew the wealthy. And because he'd worked for so many years with campesinos, he knew the poor. He knew workers and labor organizers. He really did have these friendships in all these sectors and that's why he was able to bring me into the offices of the military, the homes of the wealthy, and the villages of the poor. It was because they knew him.


Robin Lindley: You described one of your meetings so vividly in your haunting poem, “The Colonel.” You actually met this military officer who was very angry and threatening. Was Leonel with you then?  


Carolyn Forché: That incident happened in 1978. It was fairly early on in my time in El Salvador in the period when the military was angry with the US government for imposing the requirement for human rights compliance to re-start any US aid. And so, when the colonel says, tell your people the equivalent of go to hell, the people he was referring to was the US government. He thought I could just go tell President Carter that. He was angry and probably a little bit inebriated. 


He was in possession of body parts taken as a bounty, as proof of kills, as was common in Vietnam. It has been common through the ages and in all parts of the world. He spilled some body parts in front of me and that was his answer to the State Department requirement to comply with human rights.  He thought I was from the US government, and no matter how much I denied that, he was convinced. So that was the origin of the poem. 


Leonel was with me and he had set up the meeting but he did not know that that's what was going to happen.


Robin Lindley: Was this the extremely brutal Colonel Chacon?


Carolyn Forché: I have not identified the colonel from the poem because of his family, and I never will. I met several colonels very much from that mold. I'm hoping that the memoir will illuminate the culture in which that colonel was formed and why the colonel was the way he was. 


Colonel Chacon was probably the worst of them at the time. I talk about what finally happens to him in the book. He was truly a butcher of human beings. And he was at the helm of a fairly large network across different countries of paramilitary killers who were working for hire. He was creating his own small army, some of whom were Cuban exiles. There were various people involved in it, and that little army that he was creating scared everybody. The US had no control over it. He was forming a shadow regime, an army of killers.


Robin Lindley: Your portrait of Chacon and his atrocities is chilling. Leonel told of his horrible torture, of cutting off fingers of those he interrogated or even disemboweling living victims. Wasn’t the right-wing politician Roberto d’Aubuisson also running death squads in El Salvador?


Carolyn Forché: D’Aubuisson was a colonel who was cashiered in the 1979 coup. Later, he became a civilian politician and was a member of the right-wing political party. There's ample evidence of his connections to death squads, but I don't know enough to speak about it. I will say that there's a lot of evidence that he was involved in the murder of Monsignor Romero and that he was a member of a network of death squads. He died of lung cancer at a fairly young age. His name became synonymous with death squads when I was there. When they referred to the death squads, they referred to d’Aubuisson. 


But most people wouldn't know who Colonel Chacon was. He wasn't a name on the street because he was operating internationally and clearly under the radar.


Robin Lindley: Did you meet Roberto d’Abuisson?


Carolyn Forché: I did not meet him. He was well off, living in the open, and he wasn't a shadowy figure. I saw him in public several times but never talked to him. 


Robin Lindley: Your writing about Leonel’s friend Archbishop Romero and his tireless advocacy for the poor is very moving. You met him several times. What was your impression of the Archbishop?


Carolyn Forché: Leonel was a good friend of Monsignor Romero and he was also a good friend of Madre Luz, who was the mother superior of the Carmelite Order of Nuns who ran the hospital where Monsignor Romero lived. He had a little house there. Leonel kept that place going for a long time. They were all close friends and Leonel would take me to meet there with Madre Luz at the convent. Leonel introduced me to Monsignor Romero. 


Monsignor Romero was very kind. He was a bit shy, very studious, and deeply thoughtful. He had studied in Rome. 


As things started to deteriorate and as the killing escalated, one of his close friends, Father Rutillo Grande, a Jesuit, was murdered. Monsignor Romero went to keep vigil with his body and then began to publicly denounce the military regime. He became the only institutional voice against the oppression in the country. He was a very visible public figure, and he saw himself as a shepherd, as a bishop of his people, as someone to stay with his people and keep watch with them and take care of them. Every Sunday he would say mass in the cathedral and his homily would be broadcast all over the country on radio.


The right hated Monsignor Romero. He was number one on the death squad hit lists, some of which were printed in the newspapers. Yet he stood up and he denounced the oppression every Sunday. And he read out the names of the dead. He was very compelling. He said yes to the call of that moment.


The last time I talked to him, he told me I had to leave the country the next day. I asked if he would leave the country. He said,” No, my place is with my people and your place with yours now.” That was difficult for me to accept, but Monsignor Romero knew what was coming. He knew his time was short. 


I also thought he was a saint long before the Vatican acknowledged his sainthood. There was a kind of tranquility about him, even though he felt fear. He talked about feeling fear like any other human being. But he gave his life for his people. He didn't abandon them. I have utmost regard and also love for him, and his loss was a grave one for humanity.

But now we have him among us in spirit.  The people of El Salvador venerated his sanctity long before the Vatican acknowledged it.


Robin Lindley: He told you that you should leave the country to be with your own people. I believe you left the next day and, a week later, he was assassinated.


Carolyn Forché: On March 16, 1980, he told me that it was important for me to leave. He was assassinated a week later, and I was back in the United States because he asked me to leave. I received a phone call from El Salvador and I was told he had been shot. At first, I didn't know if he was dead, but yes, he was.

And then I went to Washington DC to attend the hearings I mentioned with the House Subcommittee on Inter-American Relations. They were holding hearings on whether or not to support the Salvadoran government economically and militarily. It was the day after the assassination of Monsignor Romero. They couldn't delay the vote even a day. And they voted yes, to support the military.


Robin Lindley: What a harrowing time. I'm sure you would have been at the funeral for Archbishop Romero a few days after his assassination if you had stayed in El Salvador. More than one hundred thousand mourners gathered on the cathedral plaza. The funeral turned into bloodbath when right-wing attackers threw bombs and shot into the huge crowd. Dozens of people were killed or wounded.


Carolyn Forché: My husband [photographer Harry Mattison] was there and he took the photographs of the funeral that are now iconic. He has talked to me about it. It was a bloodbath. Just horrific. Interestingly, there was no head of state or other officials there. It was a poor people's funeral, and it was brutally attacked. 


I was not at the funeral but I would've been there if I had stayed was in El Salvador. There were a number of people killed. And there’s a really haunting image: there's a kind of plaza outside the cathedral and in the aftermath, after everyone had gone, there were shoes all over the plaza. People had literally run out of their own shoes to get away from the gunfire, and the shoes were strewn all over the plaza. I remember seeing that image. 


My husband was taking photographs as the people were struggling to get into the cathedral to escape the gunfire. Finally, he put his camera down and just started lifting people over the barricades to protect them.


Robin Lindley: Your husband was a hero, risking his life to save others. I noticed also that your son Sean is a documentary maker. It seems he takes after both mom and dad by combining his own form of witness and photography.


Carolyn Forché: You know the expression the apple doesn't fall far from the tree? In the case of Sean Mattison, our son, we joke that he didn’t fall far from the tree. He fell on the tree.


Robin Lindley: You must be very proud of Sean. 


Our present immigration and refugee issues are rooted in the history you detail of civil war and US intervention in Central America. After your two years with Leonel in El Salvador, you went to virtually every US state and used your voice to describe the oppressive military dictatorship and human rights abuses in El Salvador.


Carolyn Forché: Yes, When I came back, I went to 49 states, all except Hawaii, and talked in churches and synagogues and even in rotary clubs. I was invited to speak because of my book of poems about El Salvador,The Country Between Us. The poems became very well-known because of two newspaper columnists, Nicholas von Hoffman and Pete Hamill, who had written about the book in their syndicated columns. And as a result, my book was known more than a poetry book normally would be. 


And I’m glad you brought up the US intervention and the situation of the refugees at the  border because that's crucial right now. 


We did so much wrong in Central America, among them supporting military dictatorships that we knew were brutally oppressing the people. And we knew also that they were stealing from American economic and military aid and that they were also stealing loans that they had received through the Inter-American Development Bank and through other resources that were intended for hydroelectric plants and projects like that.


In El Salvador, we were dealing here with a corrupt government and we supported their suppression of an uprising and the deployment of military forces against them. There was a 12-year civil war with us on the side of the military. The military could not win that war because they did not have the popular support to win. It was fought to a draw and it was settled by peace negotiations that were in fact initially arranged by the man I write about, Leonel Gomez Vides. He visited me in the United States [during the war], and he was the one who arranged the first meetings to bring the war to an end. 


As part of the negotiated settlements, there were promises made about what was going to happen after the war, and those promises were broken. In the aftermath of the war, the judiciary was not functional. The society began to fall apart. Then extensive money laundering and narco-trafficking took over in El Salvador.  There was corruption at every level of society and that created a situation of extreme violence that exists even now. The violence is brutal. It's gruesome. It involves the extortion, rape, torture, killing, and mutilation. Ordinary people are being preyed upon and they see terrible things happen to neighbors and those they love.


 The refugees are lifting their children into their arms, taking a little bit with them in a little rucksack or something, and running north as fast as they can and with no resources. They don't care what the desert or the border have in store for them. They flee. When you're really afraid, anything you can imagine is better than what you're running away from.


 The people who are coming to our border are not migrants looking for some better job. They have no illusions about what awaits them. They are refugees fleeing violence that we in great part created with our support of corrupt, dictatorial regimes. 


We are the authors of the chaos that you're seeing now. And we have done nothing to abate it or mitigate it. What we have now are collapsed countries, failed states, not only El Salvador but in Honduras and Guatemala, and Nicaragua is now becoming a different kind of failed state because of Daniel Ortega's dictatorship. 


The whole of Central America is in turmoil and these people are running for their lives. When they get to our now militarized border, they are treated with extreme coldness and hostility. 

We have broken international law by detaining people who are seeking asylum. People used to present themselves at our border, ask for asylum, fill out paperwork, and then they were free to live and work in the United States while their asylum claims went through our court system, and that could take two or three years. If they were denied asylum, they could appeal and that would take a little more time. Now, we've criminalized them counter to international law. We're detaining them and separating their families. That separation was temporarily halted, but is about to resume under the orders of the Trump regime. 


And so, we have exacerbated the so-called crisis at our border by our unwillingness to offer needed hospitality and care and comfort to people who we endangered with our policies. It's a refusal of compassion, a refusal of empathy, and a refusal of common decency.


Robin Lindley: It seems many Americans do not understand the difference between refugees who are fleeing persecution and other types of migrants. 


Carolyn Forché: The media are not helping with that because they call them all migrants or immigrants. Well, no, they are not voluntarily emigrating to another country in order to get a job. We have to understand what refugees are and what they're fleeing, why they're terrified. They're refugees of war and its aftermath and they're asking for asylum. They have the right to ask for asylum and the right to have their claims considered. They have the right to request asylum inside our border and to be allowed to live freely while their claim is being considered.  

Robin Lindley: There seems to be little understanding of our obligation to protect refugees under domestic and international law. That's appalling today.


Carolyn Forché: Yes, I agree.


Robin Lindley: As you said, these Central American refugees are fleeing from brutal violence. I was just reading that El Salvador’s homicide rate is one of the highest in the world. I think there are a couple of dozen murders a day in San Salvador. 


Carolyn Forché: Yes, it is very dangerous now. It's more dangerous now in many ways than it was during the war. It’s beyond chaotic. A person will be asked for money. If they don't pay the money, they are brutally killed and their body parts strewn everywhere so that the next person asked for money will pay. It's horrible, and our policy at the border is making everything worse.


We're a nation of immigrants. We should be welcoming immigrants, especially those who are fleeing danger in their own countries. Most especially them. 


And we need people here. It's not true, as President Trump said, that America is full, like it's some kind of building with a certain number of hotel rooms. No, we're not a hotel, but a vast part of a vast continent, and we are not full. 


People who come here from Central America tend to work in the jobs that no one wants here. They work in agriculture doing stoop labor, like picking strawberries. They also work in the restaurant industry by washing the dishes and bussing the tables. They're all over American suburbs doing the landscaping, the housecleaning, and the babysitting. This is what they're doing.


I don't understand the aversion to these refugees, and I don't understand the lack of awareness about how much we need immigrants to come here and establish themselves and also keep this country a little younger demographically. We’re becoming an elderly nation. Why not let in the youth of other countries now?


The Administration talks about drugs, but most drugs are not carried by hand through ports of entry over our borders. Drugs are transported in containers, on ships entering our harbors. For some reason, it's all set up so that those containers never get opened or inspected. They come by air, they come by sea, and they come in large quantities. This is an international business that operates like any other corporation, so you're not going to find a lot of drugs on people coming across the border to seek asylum. That's not who's coming. You're going to find single mothers with little children in tow. These are families who are fleeing violence. They don't know what's ahead for them. They don't know what's going to happen to them, but anything is better than going home.


Robin Lindley: Thank you for those powerful words. You mentioned that Leonel was involved in the peace process that ended the civil war in El Salvador. What happened to him after you left El Salvador in 1980?


Carolyn Forché: He remained in El Salvador for a time, and then was granted asylum in the United States, where he worked tirelessly to influence U.S. policy and to gather the people who would eventually bring the war to an end.


Robin Lindley: Have you maintained contacts with people in El Salvador? 


Carolyn Forché: Yes, my friends are still there. Many have died, but I am in touch with those who are alive.


Robin Lindley: I appreciate your comments on your experiences in El Salvador for the two years with Leonel. Is there anything you’d like to add about how that experience changed you and your writing?


Carolyn Forché: I think my experience there changed my life, and therefore my writing.


Robin Lindley: What projects are you working on now?

Carolyn Forché: I’m finishing my fifth book of poetry, In The Lateness of the World, which will be published by Penguin Press in 2020.


Robin Lindley: What lessons to you hope readers take from your new memoir?


Carolyn Forché: I’m hoping readers will be moved by it.


Robin Lindley: Thank you very much for your thoughtfulness and generous comments Ms. Forché. I know that readers will appreciate your insights. And congratulations on your powerful new memoir.





Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171948 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171948 0
When War Was a Family Affair



There was a time before World War II when family members serving together aboard warships was judged a good thing. An older brother in uniform was a persuasive recruiting poster for his younger siblings, especially when the uniform came with a steady paycheck. During the gloom of the Great Depression, many a young man joined the United States Navy not out of patriotic pride or a desire to see the world, but to put food on his family’s table. One less mouth to feed and five or ten dollars sent home from a monthly pay of thirty-some dollars made a big difference.


Harvey Becker left the family farm in Kansas in 1938 when he was almost twenty-two. Younger brother Marvin enlisted a year later, and nineteen-year-old Wesley followed suit a year after that. Wesley dreamed of becoming an artist and had hoped his path would lead to Kansas State, but money was tight. All three Becker brothers requested service together aboard the battleship Arizona and became gunner’s mates assigned to Turret No. 2.


Brothers Gordon and Malcolm Shive shared a childhood playing in the sands of Laguna Beach, California, but times turned tough after their father’s early death and the arrival of a cantankerous stepfather. Gordon left home first and joined the Marines. He qualified for a slot in the prestigious Marine Detachment aboard the Arizona and rowed on its competitive whaleboat team. Younger brother Malcolm had a special interest in radios and took that talent into the Navy. By December 7, 1941, Malcolm was a radioman serving on the Arizona with his big brother.


The Free family connection aboard the battleship was a father-son affair. Thomas Augusta Free, known throughout his Navy career as “Gussie,” came to the Arizona looking for one last good ship to round out his twenty-year career as a machinist’s mate. It was icing on the cake that his eighteen-year-old son, William, was aboard as a new seaman. Gussie had been absent at sea for much of William’s childhood growing up in Texas and they both relished their time together. 


Wesley Heidt was the younger brother of Edward “Bud” Heidt. Wesley had just been promoted ahead of his older sibling and shipmate but Bud didn’t care. He was focused on his girlfriend, Donna. There was nothing official, but her mother surmised there might be an engagement ring coming Donna’s way for Christmas. Bud and Wesley’s own mother had been urging Wesley to write more often. “Don’t worry,” Wesley assured her when he did, “I am safer on this battleboat than I would be driving back and forth to work if I was home.”      


Of course, he wasn’t. On the morning of December 7, 1941, there were thirty-eight sets of brothers, including the three Becker lads, serving on the Arizona. Harvey Becker and a few other married men had liberty ashore with their wives. They were the lucky ones. When bombs began to fall a few minutes before 8:00 am, the destruction was horrific and almost instantaneous. Turret No. 2 was at the center of the destruction. Out of seventy-eight brothers, only fifteen survived the attack. Among the dead were Marvin and Wesley Becker and Gordon and Malcolm Shive and Bud Heidt. Gussie Free and his son also perished. 


Masten Ball of Iowa was one of those who survived. He was blown off the Arizona’s deck but somehow escaped the fiery waters largely unscathed. His younger brother, Bill, a promising baseball prospect, was never seen again. Back home in Iowa, the five Sullivan brothers, who were family friends, promptly enlisted to avenge Bill’s death. The Sullivans wanted to serve together and died board the cruiser Juneau when it sank off Guadalcanal with only a handful of survivors. The Shives’ younger brother Robert, not yet twelve, took it very personally and tried to enlist. His grieving mother didn’t try to stop him, knowing that kind but firm recruiters would.


After these tragedies, the US Navy never absolutely forbade such family service despite a perception among the general public to the contrary. There was no “Sullivan Law” and commanding officers did not separate brothers already serving together. Later in World War II, the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard permitted the transfer of “sons of war-depleted families” out of combat zones—essentially a sole survivor policy—unless they were engaged in nonhazardous duties. Transfers were not automatic, however, and applications had to be filed by the serviceman or his immediate family. Out of a sense of service, many never took advantage of these provisions.


None of this brought solace to those who had made the Navy a family affair and lost brothers on the same ship. For the Beckers, Shives, and so many others, service at sea during World War II really was a family affair. 



To read more about these families, check out Brothers Down here or here

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171947 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171947 0
Jane Manning James and African American Women in the Mormon Church


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS, or Mormon, Church) has long faced criticism for its treatment of its black members.  For over a century, men of African descent were not allowed to hold the LDS priesthood, even though that office was conferred on virtually all other male members of the church.  As a corollary, black men and women were not allowed to perform the temple ceremonies that Latter-day Saints considered crucial for reaching the highest degree of exaltation in the afterlife.  In June 1978, LDS Church leaders announced a revelation that ended these race-based restrictions.


Understandably, much of the discussion about race in the LDS Church centers on this history of exclusion and the ultimate reversal of the church’s discriminatory policies.  Yet despite its history of racial discrimination, African Americans have been members of the LDS Church since its beginning. How these Mormons navigated life in the church before the 1978 revelation is far more rarely discussed.  Jane Elizabeth Manning James, a free black woman who converted to Mormonism in the early 1840s, provides a little-known vantage point from which to tell a story of Mormonism that takes the church’s racial history into account. A relatively small number of African Americans joined the Latter-day Saints during James’s lifetime, and even fewer made the treks to Nauvoo, Illinois and to Utah’s Salt Lake Valley. Tracing Jane James’s story reveals some of the less-frequently trodden paths sometimes open to nineteenth-century African American women and men and reveals how African American Mormons constructed rich, satisfying religious lives despite the LDS Church’s discriminatory policies.


Jane Elizabeth Manning was born in Wilton, Connecticut in the early 1820s.  Her mother had grown up in slavery, but was emancipated before Jane was born. Her father died when she was a young girl, and Manning then went to work for a wealthy, elderly white couple in New Canaan, Connecticut, about six miles from her family’s home. She joined the New Canaan Congregational Church in 1841, but converted to Mormonism a short time later when she heard an LDS missionary preach, and she seems to have brought the rest of her family into the church as well.  


In 1843, the Manning family joined an interracial group of converts from southwest Connecticut and headed to Nauvoo, Illinois, where the church was then based.  Jane James later remembered that when they got to Buffalo, New York, the black members of the group were refused passage on the boat that was to take them to Cleveland.  Instead, they walked the seven hundred and twenty-eight miles to Nauvoo. When they got there, Jane Manning worked as a servant in the home of Joseph Smith, the religion’s founder; when he was killed in 1844, she went to work for Brigham Young, Smith’s successor.  She married Isaac James, another black convert, and they moved to Utah with the church. They were in one of the first companies to reach the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.  


Jane James lived in Salt Lake for the rest of her life.  She was active in the LDS church and spent a great deal of energy requesting permission to perform the temple ceremonies that she believed were necessary for her salvation and that of her family, but because she was black, her temple access was restricted.  She could be—and was—baptized for her dead family members, one of the three main rituals performed in temples.  But the other two rituals were closed to her: she was not allowed to receive her endowment—the LDS language for participating in the initiation ceremony that all Latter-day Saints are supposed to perform—and she was not allowed to carry out sealing rituals.  Latter-day Saints believe that temple sealings—marriages and adoptions—create family relationships that last for eternity.  According to LDS theology, without these ceremonies, James’s connections to her family members were severed when she died in 1908 and she was unable to reach the highest degree of glory in the afterlife. 


Because the temple was mostly unavailable to her and her family, James constructed her religious identity, at least in part, around direct encounters with the divine and through the sense that flowed from these encounters that God was on her side.  James had experiences like this throughout her life. Supernatural healings were one form in which Jane interacted with the divine.  For example, in 1896, James told a gathering of LDS women about healing herself. The secretary who reported on the meeting put it this way: “Sister Jane James bore a faithful testimony and said she had been terribly afflicted in her head, and she took her consecrated oil and anointed herself and she was healed.  Felt that that was faith, and praised the Lord for her blessings.”


James also received visions from the Holy Spirit.  The most dramatic episode was her experience of doing the Smith family’s laundry shortly after being hired as a domestic servant in Nauvoo. “Among the clothes I found brother Joseph’s Robes,” James recalled in her autobiography. “I looked at them and wondered, I had never seen any before, and I pondered over them and thought about them so earnestly that the spirit made manifest to me that they pertained to the new name that is given the saints that the world knows not of.  I didn’t know when I washed them or when I put them out to dry.”  The “new name” that James mentioned was a reference to the temple endowment ritual, suggesting that although temple ceremonies were supposed to be secret, she received information about them directly from God.


Perhaps the most frequent charismatic experience in James’s life was speaking in tongues, a practice that was very familiar to early Mormons.  James’s first recorded instance of speaking in tongues was shortly after her conversion.  In her autobiography, James recalled, “About three weeks after [baptism] while kneeling at prayer the Gift of Tongues came upon me, and frightened the whole family who were in the next room.”  For James, this experience confirmed her decision to join the LDS Church.  Apart from this first one, James’s recorded experiences of speaking in tongues occurred in social settings where their value in encouraging and comforting the Saints was clear.  


In seeking and valuing charismatic experiences like these, James was very similar to many members of the LDS Church she joined in the 1840s.  James’s encounters with the divine allowed her to fit in with other early Mormons and to construct a religious identity that affirmed the proposition that God interacted actively with humans in ways that echoed Joseph Smith’s own experiences.  But although she found validation for her religious experiences in the LDS Church, racism still constrained James’s religious life: what blackness meant, theologically, socially, and politically, was a moving target during James’s lifetime. Attending to Jane James’s religious experience in the LDS Church helps us see that questions of race vexed the institution and its members throughout the nineteenth century and beyond.    



For more on Jane Manning James and African Americans in the LDS Church, check out Dr. Newell's book:




Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171950 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171950 0
The Activist Origins of Mother's Day Murray Polner, who writes book reviews for HNN, is the author of “No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran” and “When Can We Come Home? A Debate on Amnesty for Exiles, Anti-War Prisoners and Others."



After the carnage of the Second World War the members of the now defunct Victory Chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers in St. Petersburg, Florida, knew better than most what it was to lose their sons, daughters, husbands and other near relatives in war. “We’d rather not talk about it,” one mother, whose son was killed in WWII, told the St. Petersburg Times fifteen years after the war ended. “It’s a terrible scar that never heals. We hope there will never be another war so no other mothers will have to go through this ordeal.” But thanks to our wars in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan –not to mention our proxy wars around the globe-- too many Moms (and Dads too) now have to mourn family members badly scarred or lost to wars dreamed up by the demagogic, ideological, and myopic. 


But every year brings our wonderful Mother’s Day. Few Americans know that Mother’s Day was initially suggested by two peace-minded mothers, Julia Ward Howe, a nineteenth century anti-slavery activist and suffragette who wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and Anna Reeves Jarvis, mother of eleven, who influenced Howe and once asked her fellow Appalachian townspeople, badly polarized by the carnage of the American Civil War, to remain neutral and help nurse the wounded on both sides.  


Howe had lived through the Civil War, which led her to ask a question that’s as relevant today as it was in her time: “Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters, to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the costs?” Mother’s Day, she insisted, “should be devoted to the advocacy of peace doctrines.” Howe soon moved beyond her unquestioned support for the Union armies and became a pacifist, opposed to all wars. “The sword of murder is not the balance of justice,” she memorably wrote. “Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicates possession.”


Though not a mother, my favorite female opponent of war and imperialism was  the undeservedly forgotten poet and feminist Katherine Lee Bates who wrote “America the Beautiful” as a poem in 1895, which is now virtually our second national anthem for all Americans, left, right and center.  The poem I love best is her “Glory,” in which an officer heading for the front says goodbye to his tearful mother.


       Again he raged in that lurid hell

       Where the country he loved had thrown him.

       “You are promoted!” shrieked a shell.

       His mother would not have known him.


More recently there was Lenore Breslauer, a mother of two, who helped found Another Mother for Peace during the Vietnam War and also helped coin their memorable slogan: “War is not healthy for children and other living beings.”  Years later I came to know three mothers named Carol (Adams, Miller and Cohen, plus my wife Louise) who formed Mothers and Others Against War to protest President Jimmy Carter’s absurd resurrection of draft registration. They stayed on to battle Ronald Reagan’s toxic proxy wars in Central America.


On this Mother’s Day we could use more anger and dissenting voices of many more women of all political stripes to protest the needless and cruel sacrifice of their sons, daughters, wives and husbands as cannon fodder, as Russian mothers did in protesting Moscow’s invasions of Afghanistan and Chechnya. In Argentina and Chile, mothers and grandmothers marched against U.S.-supported torturers and murderers during the late seventies and early eighties. And in this country, the anti-war movement has often been led by women who no longer believe “War is a glorious golden thing…invoking honor and Praise and Valor and Love of Country”—as a bitter, disillusioned and cynical Roland Leighton, a WWI British combat soldier, wrote to his fiancée, Vera Brittain, the great British anti-war writer.


Sadly, on Mother’s Day yesterday, today, and in the years ahead, peace and justice seems further away than ever. How many more war widows and grieving families do we need? Do we need yet another war memorial to the dead in Washington?  More bodies to fill our military cemeteries? More crippled and murdered soldiers and civilians so our weapons manufactuers's stock prices can rise? Do we really need to continue disseminating the myth –and lie-- that an idealistic America always fights for freedom and democracy? 


Vietnam, Korea, the Middle East, etc., more than one hundred thousand American men and women have been killed or grievously harmed in our endless wars, not to mention several million Asians and Middle Easterners, including Israelis and Palestinians. Do enough Americans care? They all had mothers.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154210 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154210 0
Mothers and Food Aid from World War One to Today



Before Mother’s Day in 1918 you might have heard this chant if you were walking in New York City: “Ten cents for a Belgian baby. Forget-me-nots for Belgian babies.” Volunteers were selling Forget-me-not flowers to raise funds for the Belgian Babies Fund. The Girl Scouts invaded the financial district, according to the New York Tribune, to get people to buy the flowers. Just by buying a Forget-me-not you were giving the best Mother’s Day gift: food to save the life of her baby.   

Little children were starving to death in Belgium because of World War One. Germany occupied Belgium and the fighting had caused food shortages. The fundraising for Belgian babies was nation-wide throughout 1918. The Cincinnati Enquirer urged sales of the flower writing, "It is appropriate and fitting that the fund for Belgian babies is to be swollen by the sale of forget-me-nots. That dainty little flower is perennial, conveying the thought that our loving remembrance of the waif's of Belgium will not be sporadic and uncertain, but, like the flower itself, recurrent and constant.” Every flower purchased was food for a hungry Belgian child.


In St. Louis, 12-year old Josephine Windy had a special reason for volunteering. She was born in Belgium. Josephine told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch “I want to volunteer my services to aid the Belgian babies. Two of my cousins live in Belgium and their parents have died since the war began. I have an uncle now fighting in France.” Josephine waited at the Mayor’s office to get his donation and kick off a day of fundraising in St. Louis to save more babies from malnutrition.  Donations from America rescued many from starvation in Belgium and Europe. A whole system of food aid, led by Herbert Hoover, was developed to fight the famine caused by World War One.   

We must remember the horror Belgian mothers felt, seeing their baby dying from malnutrition, still exists today. The scenes of despair have moved to other war-stricken nations like Yemen, South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, and Mali.  As you read this, the World Food Program, UNICEF, Save the Children, Mercy Corps, World Vision and other relief agencies are trying to get life-saving food to children.  In Yemen 85,000 kids have died of hunger and disease caused by the civil war there, according to Save the Children. There is a race against time to save millions of others from this fate.   

Tragically, funding is not able to keep pace with the massive hunger emergencies. We can and must do better. The Yemen hunger crisis is so large that 20 million people are food insecure in the impoverished country. That is about 70 percent of Yemen's population. 


In Yemen, Afghanistan or anywhere how can we expect peace to emerge if children are starving and malnourished? 

The Rhode Island non-profit Edesia has been producing a special food for infants in Yemen called Plumpy’Nut and Plumpy’Sup. This enriched peanut paste saves infants from deadly malnutrition. Edesia works around the clock to produce this food so it can be sent to relief agencies in Yemen, South Sudan, Sierra Leone and other desperate nations. 


A child’s treatment with Plumpy-Nut costs about 50 dollars. For that little amount you can save a life, just how people did when buying flowers for the Belgian Babies Fund. 

There are millions of mothers across the world right now desperate to save their children from malnutrition. On Mother’s Day, and every day, we should take action to help them. We should feed every hungry child in the world. Like the Forget-me-not flower, our feeding of starving children everywhere should be "recurrent and constant."


Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171949 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171949 0
The Remarkable History of the Union League Club

Edward Lamson Henry's Presentation of Colors, 1864, depicts the outfitting of two African-American regiments  at the Union League Club of New York's first clubhouse on 17th Street, facing Union Square.


Today, as we observe the dismay of Princeton students at their university’s legacy of slavery, and the Trump administration’s increasingly hostile attitude toward Mexico, it is important to recognize that there were moments in our history where both African-American freedom and Mexico’s independence were addressed in a positive way. Careful readers of history are familiar with Henry David Thoreau coupling the two issues in his essay Civil Disobedience, “This country must cease to hold slaves and wage war on Mexico.” But few remember the pivotal role played by a small social club in New York City at a pivotal moment in US history. 

The modest building on the corner of Park Avenue and 37th Street with the red brick and limestone façade houses an impressive library, dining and meeting rooms, a traditional bar, and a wide array of art and collectables. For many years, it was considered a gentlemen’s club with a unique group of movers and shakers in the city of New York, but women have been part of the scene since the Sixties. It is still exclusive, however, by member nomination and invitation only.

Founded in 1863 at the height of the Confederate advances against the North, its purpose was to unite a group of influential leaders in the community in support of President Lincoln and the Union. It consisted of businessmen, newspaper editors, brokers, and professionals who were committed “to resist to the uttermost every attempt against the territorial integrity of the Nation.”

Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect who designed Central Park in New York and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, was one of the founders. Some of the early members included J.P. Morgan, William Cullen Bryant, and Ulysses S. Grant. In addition to believing that a strong federal government was a necessity for a prosperous nation, they were abolitionists and felt that slavery could no longer be tolerated in America.

The club could not have been formed at a more critical time. A month before its founding, Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation and there was a widespread belief among immigrant workers that the newly-freed slaves would take away their jobs. Five months later, the infamous Draft Riots broke out in New York City and among the targets of the vandals were the Colored Children’s Orphanage and the newly-founded Union League Club.

The club members were steadfast, however. Undismayed by the attacks, they ran off the rioters, then got together to organize and fund a regiment of US Colored Troops. The  regiment joined the many white regiments that New York had already enlisted in the Union cause. These new soldiers would be professionally trained in tactics, weaponry, and marksmanship on Rikers Island. 

By February of 1864, the fully equipped and trained 20th regiment of the US Colored Troops marched south. Composed of free blacks, they were no rag-tag group of reluctant enlistees. They were a highly-motivated group of volunteers who heeded the call to make the emancipation of their brothers in the South a practical reality. Later, two more regiments were formed, the 26th and the 30th respectively. The regimental steward later became the first black physician in Athens, Ohio. Benjamin Randolph, the first black officer in the regiment, went on to serve with the Freeman’s Bureau and became a state senator.

But the story, as interesting as it is, doesn’t end there. After the Civil War was over, the US was faced with a situation that could no longer be ignored: French and Austrian troops occupied Mexico and an Austrian archduke called himself the Emperor of Mexico.The US had withheld active support for the exiled President of Mexico Benito Juárez during the Civil War for fear France might join the Confederacy and the US would be fighting a war on two fronts. 

When the Union Leaguers invited General Jo Hooker, hero of Antietam and Williamsburg, to accept a gold presentation sword in June of 1865, Mexican envoy Matías Romero persuaded him to speak of this crisis to the club. In his acceptance speech, reported in the newspaper of that day, General Hooker assured the members that, while the resources our country would likely deter any incursion on US soil, “we must take care, however, that a continent designed to vindicate the wisdom of republican institutions is not encroached upon.”

Despite the flourishes of 19th century prose, the message was clear to the businessman and potential supporters of the Mexican cause whom Romero hoped to convince. In the days that followed, members of the Union League Club would invest heavily in Mexican bonds and would find other practical ways to help that country rid the Americas of occupying European armies. By 1867, the young Romero would raise over $18 million, the Juárez army would triumph over the French and Austrians, and the Mexican Republic would be restored.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171952 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171952 0
George Mason: Lost Founder


America was woven together by three revered pieces of political paper: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. George Mason’s intellectual potency had a decisive role in shaping and producing all three documents, and leaves one with an inevitable conclusion: George Mason deserves careful and renewed focus. 


As War seemed inevitable in the Summer of 1776, Mason assumed a leadership role in the Virginia Convention as Fairfax County's delegate to Williamsburg. Five days after meeting in May 1776, the Virginia Convention formed a committee to draft a bill of rights and a new constitution. Mason was appointed to the Committee on his first day at the convention. It was in this Committee that Mason drafted his most famous writing and posit to American history: the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the antecedent to the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. In fact, Mason’s prolific words flowed first---before Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, or Washington’s and famously read:

That all men are created equally free and independent and have certain inherent natural rights among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty…and obtaining happiness and safety.


Mason’s draft was approved by the Convention on June 12, 1776, and quickly printed in The Virginia Gazette, reprinted in The Pennsylvania Gazette and in Williamsburg newspapers, nearly a full month before Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence. Mason’s Declaration of Rights was disseminated and reprinted all over America and beyond the seas. While Jefferson resided in Philadelphia, he had an obvious preoccupation with the ongoing events at the Virginia convention. Throughout late May and early June 1776,couriers moved back and forth between Williamsburg and Philadelphia, carrying drafts for the bill of rights to the convention. 


Mason had already completed his Declaration of Rights when John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee and Edmund Pendleton were all in Philadelphia struggling to compose the “original” Declaration of Independence. No doubt, they read Mason’s completed manuscript that was in the hands of Richard Henry Lee, and later saw it reprinted in the newspapers. Mason’s Declaration of Rights was personally handed to Jefferson in manuscript form by Lee, who had received it from his brother, T.L. Lee, in late May, 1776.  Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration, which has never been found, seemed extremely similar to Mason's Declaration of Rights. Both Franklin and Adams, who were on the committee with Jefferson in Philadelphia, later prepared a Bills of Rights for their respective states. Yet neither of them adopted Jefferson's version of the Declaration. The Pennsylvania's Bill of Rights of September 28, 1776 also used Mason’s language:

All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and inalienable rights, amongst which are, the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring and possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. 


Thus, the historical case can be made that George Mason should be fully credited with the original draft of what ultimately became the famed Declaration of Independence. One could argue that for the most part, Jefferson smoothed, edited, and pruned Mason’s language from the Virginia Declarations of Rights--written three weeks before Jefferson’s final product. Did Jefferson plagiarize Mason’s work? Absolutely not. Did he borrow heavily in constructing his own document to famous effect? Yes. Jefferson condensed and eloquently expressed Mason’s language, ultimately making the document his own while retaining its essential content. Both documents boldly proclaimed that all men were born free and that the duty of government was to protect their safety, liberty and happiness. Jefferson would later write in his autobiography that Mason’s “elocution was neither flowing nor smooth, but his language was strong, his manner most impressive, and strengthened by a dash of biting cynicism when provocation made it seasonable."


Mason’s Declaration of Rights combined a succinct statement of the republican principles that underlay the Revolution with a smattering of constitutional doctrine designed to protect individual civil liberties. The opening paragraphs throb with a richer emotion than any other public document Mason ever wrote. Mason’s second article confirmed that magistrates derived their powers from the people, and in a third article Mason asserted the people’s “indubitable, inalienable and indefeasible Right to reform, alter or abolish” any government that failed to provide “for the common Benefit and Security of the People, Nation, or Community.” Mason’s fourth article repudiated the notion of a hereditary aristocracy. “The Idea,” he wrote, “of a Man born a Magistrate, a Legislator, or a Judge is unnatural and absurd.”


History has consigned Mason to the second tier of historical significance. Quite simply, given the length and breadth of Mason’s political writings and influence, his name should be more recognizable in the public domain and in the same conversation with Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Although some have largely dismissed Mason as a man who simply refused to sign the Constitution (he was one of three men who refused), this is not a historically accurate portrayal of the man. He refused to sign the final document because he believed it sanctioned human slavery and omitted the rights of individuals. He outlined his refusal in “Objections,” written at the Convention and later read in every town and village: "There is no Declaration of Rights." He carried his struggle for a Federal Bill of Rights to the people and lived barely long enough to see his efforts crowned with Congressional victory, the monumental Bill of Rights.


While few Americans know Mason today, in his own time and place his contemporaries grasped at superlatives to describe the Virginian. Madison exuded that “Mason possessed the greatest talents for debate of any man I have ever seen or heard speak.”Patrick Henry pronounced him “the greatest statesmen I ever knew.” Jefferson complimented his mind as “great and powerful.” Philip Mazzei, the Florentine physician and world traveler, wrote, “he is not well enough known. He is one of those brave, rare—talented men who cause nature a great effort to produce.” The Italian ranked Mason as one of the intellectual giants: “[Mason] is one of those strong, very rare intellects, which are created only by a special effort of nature, like that of a…Machiavelli, a Galileo, a Newton…and so forth.”


Although George Mason lived and wrote almost 250 years ago, his ideas are especially relevant to present day America. Mason’s true importance in the 21st century is to be found in the cauldron of his ideas--the rights of the human spirit, life and liberty. His constitution-making shattered the old myth of divine right-vox populi, vox dei- and proved that mankind could handle their own affairs. Mason understood more than most that necessary powers must be given to a government, but the price of increased power was decreased liberty. Mason’s political works were a creation of a democratic genius of mind and heart. He was the instrument of expressing, in one brief document, the concentrated resolution of a nation: the causes, the motives, and the justification of individual liberty against tyranny. Mason speaks to us now, because he spoke so powerfully in his time. His life and writings were directed by the epic issues of the Revolution, similar issues that confront us today: individual rights, governmental power and warfare.


Thus, the historical case can be made for Mason's elevated public fame, placing him among the more famous of American Founders for both civil rights and freedom of religion. George Mason rightly deserves to be considered one of the fathers of our national government. 



Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171953 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171953 0
In Dalmatia, Distant Pasts Influence the Present


Danijel Dzino is a Lecturer in the Departments of Ancient History and International Studies (Croatian Studies) and a member of the Ancient Cultures Research Centreat Macquarie University. Danijel was born within the ancient borders of the Roman civitas Daesitiatum, in provincia Dalmatia. He received his PhD in Classics at the University of Adelaide. He was a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide until moving to Macquarie University to start work on his ARC postdoctoral grant. He is the author of three books, among them, Becoming Slav, Becoming Croat: Identity Transformations in Post-Roman Dalmatia(2010) and Illyricum and Roman Politics 229 BC - AD 68 (2010). 



What books are you reading now?


It is very difficult to find the time for reading. Do not get me wrong – I read all the time – but my reading consists of mining for useful information or interesting opinions which could be used in research, rather than reading the book from cover to cover. The last book I can remember that I read from cover to cover was Chris Wickham’s Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800.


What is your favorite history book?


There are a few. Your readers would probably be familiar with the Mémoires d'Hadrien by Marguerite Yourcenar. However, my favorite history books were, as far as I know, never translated from Croatian into English. That is Ivan Aralica’s The Morlak Trilogy (Travel Without Dream, Souls of the Slaves,The Builder of Inns) from the 1980s. These three books describe fictional individual destinies of the people living in the Early Modern frontier-zone between the Venetian Republic, Ottoman and Habsburg Empires in modern Dalmatia, Herzegovina and Bosnia. I also like pseudo-historical fantasy like Lord of the Rings or The Song of Ice and Fire.


Why did you choose history as your career?


I wanted to be botanist first, but later in life found a way to connect my obsession of Dalmatia, where I spent summer holidays as a kid and teenager, with my professional interests. Where I was born (Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina), the ancient past is usually well-hidden underground. The medieval past rarely makes an appearance in the places which are usually difficult to access, while the earliest period visible to the observer is the Ottoman era. However, in Dalmatia, ancient, medieval and the early modern past are inextricably intertwined, and visible on every corner. Walking through the Diocletian’s palace in Split, or the Old Town Zadar, for example, provides a unique experience of the past as an integrated multi-dimensional entity which still impacts the present in very particular ways. 


What qualities do you need to be a historian?


Patience, persistence, focus, and the capability to process huge amounts of information. The historian must be conservative and innovative at the same time by respecting the work of past scholars but also daring to see the things that predecessors were not able to see.


What is your most memorable or rewarding teaching experience?


The most rewarding experience was the development of my undergraduate unit Archaeology of Dalmatia, which dealt with the Dalmatian (in a sense of the Roman province) past and material record from the Iron Ages to High Medieval era. 


What are your hopes for history as a discipline?


My hope is that history preserves its dignity – as a university subject but also as a field of research. Modern Western universities in Anglophone countries connect everything with money. The imperative is to have more students and win more research grants. For that reason, it is necessary to keep the student numbers at any cost, simplify the curriculum, make the students happy and well-entertained, which in my opinion underestimates intellectual capabilities of younger generations and degrades the profession. Another of my hopes is that history as a field of research moves away from postmodern deconstruction of historical grand-narratives into the building of new historical narratives based on postmodern criticism. Postmodernism in history was necessary, but it played its role and now is the time for historians to move into something else.


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


Unfortunately, I do not have many collectible books – my real hobby is collecting postage stamps, which are sometimes indeed historical artifacts. This does not mean that I do not have plenty of scanned rare history books on my laptop, my favorite ones being those of Daniel Farlati’s monumental masterpiece Illyricum Sacrumfrom the 18thcentury, which I read quite often. I often buy small copies of Croatian medieval inscriptions, like the Tablet from Baška inscribed in the Glagolitic script, or the models of early medieval churches, such as my favorite building, St. Donatus from Zadar. 


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


There are many rewarding experiences in my career. The most rewarding is certainly research, including archaeological excavations of the Bribirska glavica site near Skradin in Croatia, where I participate as one of co-directors for last 6 years. This is a multi-period site with habitation stretching from ca. 1000 BC to the 18th century, extremely rich with research potential.


There are also a few frustrating things, especially increasing bureaucratization of academic jobs and the need of universities to regulate every minor thing related to research and teaching. There is even a whole new bureaucratic language to learn – we are not writing research publications anymore but ‘produce research outcomes’, the journals and books became ‘publication outlets’, etc. Administration at universities is multiplying like bacteria and an immense amount of administrative work is eating energy which could be used for researching and teaching. This creates a paradox that successful bureaucrats in academia, at least in the humanities, today could climb on the academic ladder much faster than successful lecturers or innovative and productive researchers. 


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


It changed quite a lot, actually, especially in the last ten years. Today, through digitalization we have an immense quantity of old and new literature and sources available in a matter of seconds. This provides unlimited opportunities for the researcher or student of history to get a much deeper understanding of the field of study and produce work much faster.


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


It is not technically history-related, but rather a historiography-related saying: Slavica non leguntur (“The Slavic languages are not read [world-wide]”), which symbolizes legitimized ignorance of local Slavophone historiographies by the Anglophone/Frankophone/Germanophone scholarship in the past but (unfortunately) also in the present.


What are you doing next?


I am currently working on manuscript of the book which is going to discuss making of the Middle Ages in Dalmatia – from Justinian’s reconquest in the 6th century, to the rule of the Croat duke Branimir in the late ninth century. 

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171946 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171946 0
Protesting with her Feet: The World’s Fastest Middle-Distance Woman versus Sports Governing Bodies



Last Friday, May 3rd, South African female middle distance runner Caster Semenya won the 800m at the Diamond League competition held in Doha, Qatar. Her thirtieth straight win in the 800m came only forty-eight hours after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) – a quasi-judicial body headquartered in Switzerland - rejected her appeal of unfair discrimination by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF). The IAAF had ruled that female runners with elevated testosterone levels be required to take blockers in order to compete in races between 400m and the mile. These new rules tookeffect this Wednesday, May 8th. While acknowledging that the ruling discriminated against female athletes with naturally elevated levels of the growth hormone, the CAS thought it necessary to ensure “fairness” and the creation of a level playing field so that females with normal testosterone levels would not be competitively disadvantaged.


Some senior athletic officials are gratified at this legal vindication of their position. IAAF president Lord Sebastian Coe - British former 1500m and 800m Olympic medalist whose unforgettable middle distance running contrasts with his soporific performance as Conservative parliamentarian - embraced the ruling. It was “straightforward,” he said, confirming the governing body’s traditional gender categorization between men and women athletes. In contrast, Semenya’s lawyer Patrick Bracher argued that the ruling was unfair because the law’s consequences remain unclear and the rule maker is also deciding on how the law plays out.  because it is being played out without knowing how it is going to play out and you cannot have the “same person” making the law being the same person implementing the law.


This controversy stretches back over a decade. In 2012, Dutee Chand – the daughter of weavers born in Odisha, India – triumphed in the 100m for under-eighteens. In 2014, she medaled at the Asian Junior Athletics Championships. Despite the success of this wonder teenager, she was dropped from the Indian team because of concern that possible hyperandrogenism flouted the rules of sports governing bodies against natural hormonal growth favoring female athletes over other female athletes. After appealing her case, the IAAF policy on natural hormonal growth among female athletes was suspended. After returning to the track, Chand made it to the women’s 100m finals at the 2016 Rio Olympic games, although she did not progress to the medal rounds.


Dutee Chand’s fellow athlete from the Global South has faced a similar arduous battle with sports governing bodies. Born in Ga-maserhlong, South Africa, in 1991, and educated at the University of Pretoria, Caster Semenya exploded on the world athletics scene at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin where she won the 800m while eighteen years old. Since then, she has gold medaled at the 2011 and 2017 World Championships, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, the 2015 African Games, and the 2018 Commonwealth Games. During a decade of remarkable track success, Semenya has been under investigation by the IAAF as well as the frequent target of hostile media commentary.


Much of this negativity stems from an ignorance of her physical condition known as hyperadrogenism. It is a physical condition in which the body produces increased levels of testosterone. This constant production can increase endurance as well as muscle mass. Some 5-10 percent of women are reputedly affected by natural hormonal growth. But the jury remains out on the impact of natural hormonal growth on improved athletic performance. It is not at all clear that Caster Semanya’s performance is the consequence of her hyperandrogenism. Her advantage could derive from other factors such as intense training, total commitment, and superior coaching rather than biological difference. It is these latter factors, for instance, that Duree Chand cites as explanations for her athletic prowess.


The argument for regulation is clear according to Lord Coe. But the issue is obviously more complex. The CAS ruling was by majority and not unanimous. Some members are clearly uncomfortable with the decision. Moreover, medical science remains unclear on the precise nature of the impact that raised levels of testosterone have on athletic performance. It is clear that steroids do enhance athletic performance. But supplements are very different from the natural process in which the body produces hormonal growth rather than transforms from external drug usage. 


Another argument in support of this ruling is that Semenya is a great athlete and that after taking the testosterone blocker she will have an opportunity to prove how great she is by continuing to be a world-class athlete. This argument, however, overlooks the vital point that she should not be obligated to modify her natural body since her condition is not drug-induced but natural. Indeed, it is not up to her to prove her doubters wrong, but rather for her doubters to arrive at a more sensible, fairer, and judicious way of treating her and other athletes with natural hormonal growth. It is the responsibility of the IAAF to draw on real science to distinguish between those who take performance-enhancing drugs and those whose physiologies produce hormonal growth naturally through no fault of their own. 


The CAS decision that she can compete but only if she lowers her growth hormone levels is also an attack on the middle-distance runner’s self-dignity as well as her human rights. Semenya has the right to earn a living at something she obviously excels at without being regulated by an official body that wants to deny her the right to earn her living and as well as be who she wants to be. The irony is that the IAAF wants to regulate the human body when sport is supposed to test the body’s natural abilities. Indeed, this gifted sporting woman has played by the rules up until this point only to be told that she can no longer do so. 


There is an important ethical component to this argument against the IAAF’s ruling and its upholding by CAS. The ruling is asking an athlete at the top of her game to no longer be at the top of her game. Caster Semanya has been tremendously successful for over a decade. She is earning a good living, is contented, and has a powerful impact on young girls and women around the world.


What this ruling does is to effectively deny her the right to earn her living as well as the right to pursue her happiness in what she loves to do. 


One English pundit claimed the ruling “protect[ed] the integrity of the sport.” The gatekeepers of the CAS share traditional notions of competition, fairness, sexual classifications, hormonal balances, and so forth that are now being challenged in a number of important ways. Science tells us that a small but important number of women retain enhanced levels of testosterone naturally. This challenges traditional hormonal definitions of male and female. Fairness remains an important ideal in the athletic arena, but so does the fight against discrimination against individuals. Semenya – much like Chand - is discriminated against in this ruling.


There are several preferable alternatives to this misguided ruling and the attitudes upon which it is based. First, growth hormone athletes should not be required to take drug-reducers in order to change their natural bodies. The May 8th ruling should be withdrawn immediately. Second, we should figure out the science first before we assume a direct correlation between natural hormonal growth (not drug enhancement) and improved performance. Third, we should start the rules at the beginning not the middle of world-class athletes’ careers. Fourth, diversify these regulatory bodies to reflect modern changes in sporting competition, physiology, gender, sexuality, and global origin. Finally, sports governing bodies should proclaim the abilities of Chand, Semanya, and other women athletes for their natural abilities rather than bewail and prosecute them for their natural advantages.


Caster Semenya is an inspiration to young female athletes around the world. She follows in the history-making footsteps of thousands who protested injustice: fugitive slaves who voted with their feet by escaping Southern US slavery; Civil Rights Catholic protesters who marched against Unionist persecution in Northern Ireland; and, fellow South Africans whose long walk to freedom overthrew racist apartheid. She should attract the attention and admiration of all of us who feel compelled to shout out whenever acts of discrimination are being legislated in the name of so-called fair play. Long live Caster’s protesting feet.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171921 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171921 0
The Loss of Republican Principle


In the mid 1970s, America faced an impeachment crisis under President Richard Nixon. A lawless President who had abused power and obstructed justice was creating a constitutional crisis that presented his party, the Republican Party, with a dilemma: how should they react?


In 1974, the Republican Party was led by three men: Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the 1964 GOP Presidential nominee; Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania; and House Minority Leader John Rhodes of Arizona. All three had been supportive of much of Richard Nixon’s domestic and international agenda and all three wanted to support their party and its principles. 


But when it became clear that Richard Nixon had abused power and obstructed justice, the three men consulted with their fellow Republicans in both houses of Congress and decided  Nixon had gone too far and was a threat to constitutional order and the rule of law. The tipping point for these three leaders was the move by the House Judiciary Committee on July 27, 1974 to adopt three articles of impeachment. Seven House Republicans joined the majority Democrats in charging Nixon with obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. This was three days after the Supreme Court, unanimously demanded that the President hand over the Watergate tapes demanded by Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski. The 8-0 vote included three Justices appointed by Nixon. In response, Nixon released the so-called “smoking gun” tapes days later on August 5.


At noon on August 7, Goldwater, Scott, and Rhodes went to the White House and informed the President that he had lost support among his own Republican colleagues. He would be unlikely to gain more than 15 Republican votes against conviction in an impeachment trial. It was time for him to resign and allow Vice President Gerald Ford to assume the Presidency. With the loss of the support of these leaders, especially Goldwater who Nixon always highly regarded for his strong principles and ethics, Nixon saw no way out other than to resign.


No one in their right mind would have thought that Nixon, with his combative personality, would ever think of resigning. Nonetheless, Nixon fully understood he had to do what was proper to do for the nation and for the institution of the Presidency. Nixon resigned and delivered his farewell speech on August 9, 1974. 


Now, 45 years later, some believe history is repeating itself. After nearly two years of investigation and the release of Robert Mueller’s redacted report, many believe Donald Trump has besmirched the office of the Presidency. Many worry Trump threatens the dignity, prestige, and respect that the American Presidency has commanded for over 230 years. Yet, unlike 45 years ago, Republicans as a party seem unwilling to abandon the President. 


Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the 2012 GOP Presidential nominee, made a strong public statement condemning the behavior and actions of Donald Trump, but he did not indicate any willingness to go beyond the statement.  He issued a sharp rebuke of Trump after the release of the Mueller Report, saying he was appalled by the “extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection” of people around the President and Trump himself. Romney was also alarmed by the extent of the Trump campaign’s willingness to accept help from Russia and called the scandal an abandonment of the goals of the Founding Fathers. However, he expressed relief that the evidence against Trump was not substantive enough to justify charges of obstruction of justice or any other crimes.


For his statement, he has been bitterly attacked by Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas Governor, 2012 Presidential candidate, and father of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Huckabee said he was sickened that Romney might have been President and reminded the public that Romney had once sought a cabinet appointment from Trump. 


Few others have reacted to Romney’s criticism of Trump or to the allegations of the Mueller Report. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky continues to support Trump and his agenda. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California is also unwilling to hold Trump accountable in any fashion. If anything, he is more subservient to Trump than former Republican leader and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in the first two years of the Trump Presidency. Sadly, Romney, McConnell, and McCarthy, in similar positions to Goldwater, Scott, and Rhodes in 1974, have prioritized their party over the public’s interest. 


In so doing, they are destroying the Republican Party’s historical tradition of great Congressional leadership in favor of their conservative agenda. Just as the earlier generation of Goldwater, Scott, and Rhodes are given tribute in American history, the new generation of Romney, McConnell, and McCarthy will be condemned in the long run of history.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171922 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171922 0
Senator Grassley says the New Deal "didn't work"; historians have other ideas The Political Uses of the Past Project collects statements by elected and appointed officials and sends a select few of those out to historians for comment. Additional checks and more about the effort can be found on the project's home page

Sen. Charles Grassley: "The New Deal in the 1930s didn't work. It didn't get us out of the Great Depression"

I would like to make a point about the so-called Green New Deal. It is very obvious it is a reference to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s. The implication is that what the New Deal did for the Depression should be a model for the environment. There is just one great big problem: The New Deal in the 1930s didn't work. It didn't get us out of the Great Depression. The Depression didn't end until we entered World War II. Just like the original, the Green New Deal sounds like really bold action, but it is really a jumble of half-cocked policies that will dampen economic growth and will hurt jobs.

—Sen. Charles Grassley, The Green New Deal, Senate Floor, March 5, 2019

Historians say...



Once the Democrats decided to reference FDR’s New Deal in their latest attempt to combat global warming, it was only a matter of time before their opponents resurfaced the charge that the wide-ranging response to the Great Depression didn’t work. As Robert S. McElvaine points out in The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941, the Great Depression has become akin to the Holy Grail among economists. The need to claim or disclaim the unprecedented set of policies that comprise the New Deal is similarly urgent among politicians for obvious reasons: If it worked, maybe we should think big about public programs. If it didn’t, maybe the government should stay far away from the economy.

Senator Grassley’s statement about the New Deal is stark and definitive. Quite simply, in his mind, it did not work. The historians who responded to our request for input disagreed strongly, as a glance at their ratings will show, but they were not hesitant to discuss how the New Deal occasionally fell short.

We received responses from six historians and ratings from four of them. Their full responses appear below the summary. We’ve also included below two additional comments from Senator Grassley regarding the New Deal in order to reveal more of his argument and his thinking.

Browse and download sources recommended by the historians below from our Zotero library, or try our in-browser library.

Steel Industry by Howard Cook, fresco, 1936, Pittsburgh US Post Office and Courthouse


There’s a history to this history. The New Deal has long been a battleground and the source of broad, ahistorical thinking. Robert McElvaine quotes Senator Mitch McConnell in 2009, who held forth on how he was “reading history” and learning that “for sure” the “big spending programs” of the 1930s “did not work.” Eric Rauchway details the history of the debate in “New Deal Denialism,” published in 2010. The idea that the New Deal was a failure is one of the most pervasive and persistent historical beliefs on the political right.

But instead of arguing directly from the data or focusing on particular failures, many critics of the New Deal very strangely pivot to the assertion that the depression ended because of the war, not because of FDR’s economic, monetary, and social policies. In other words, massive government spending didn’t end the depression; it was really, really, really massive government spending that did it. This is baffling in its self-defeating logic. Several historians who responded took this up. Read more...

Robert F. Himmelberg, Professor of History, Emeritus, Fordham University

Senator Grassley wants to deflate the proponents of the “Green New Deal” who take advantage of the popular idea that the New Deal was a bold and effective counter to a grave national emergency. Both are generalizing too much, for the New deal was neither a complete failure or a roaring success.

The Senator is correct in saying heavy unemployment lingered until the war came, but neglects to note that GNP had returned to the 1929 level by early 1937.  Read more...

Anya Jabour, Regents Professor History, University of Montana, author of Sophonisba Breckinridge: Championing Women's Activism in Modern America (University of Illinois Press, 2019)

The problem with Senator Grassley’s comment is that his view is short-sighted. While it is admittedly difficult to credit the New Deal with “ending” the Great Depression, it is equally undeniable that the policies implemented then, in particular those legislated by the Social Security Act of 1935 and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, profoundly reshaped the American economy and U.S. society by creating federally-funded programs to provide essential aid to the young, the elderly, and the disabled as well as by establishing groundbreaking workplace regulations, including a federal prohibition on child labor and a national minimum wage. Read more...

David M. Kennedy, Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History Emeritus, Stanford University

Rating: 1.6 Three thoughts:

1. The FDR administration managed to knock the unemployment rate down from 25% in 1932 to about 14% in 1936—a pretty impressive counter-punch to the greatest economic shock in modern history.

2. Counter-cyclical policy was poorly understood in the 1930s; the New Deal faced the task of inventing policy tools to cope with what history still regards as an unprecedentedly huge “Black Swan,” the sources and dynamics of which were and still are something of a mystery. Read more...

Robert S. McElvaine, Professor of History, Millsaps College, author or editor of five books on the era of the Great Depression and New Deal

Rating: 0.9

This ... is a gross misreading of history. What the fact that the Depression did not end until World War II shows is the exact opposite of what McConnell and Grassley argue: It proved that big spending does work, but FDR was unwilling to spend enough, until forced to do so by the war, to stimulate the economy sufficiently to end the Depression. It wasn’t that the policies of the New Deal didn’t work; it was that they were not taken far enough. New Deal policies did not dampen economic growth or hurt jobs. Trickle-down economics does that. Read more...

Kathryn Olmsted, University of California, Davis, author of Right Out of California: The 1930s and the Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism

Rating: 0.3 The economic growth rates during the New Deal were phenomenal: about 9 percent a year, with the one exception of 1937. The reason 1937 is an exception is that Roosevelt cut back on spending that year. In other words, the recession of 1937 proved that the New Deal policies worked, and the president quickly returned to them. It’s true that unemployment rates did not return to pre-Depression levels until the war. But that’s only because the economy had shrunk so much under President Hoover. Read more...

Eric Rauchway, Professor of History, University of California, Davis; author of Winter War: Hoover, Rosevelt, and the First Clash over the New Deal (Basic Books, 2018)

Rating: 0.1

This statement combines one near-truth (while there’s no official way of marking an end to the Depression, unemployment did not return to pre-1929 lows until the U.S. entered World War II) with a number of major untruths.

The New Deal did work; economic recovery was rapid and effective by the measures we ordinarily use. During Franklin Roosevelt’s first two terms in office (excluding the recession of 1937-1938) GDP growth averaged around 8 or 9 percent per year, rates that are (the economist Christina Romer says) “spectacular, even for an economy pulling out of a severe depression.”  Read more...




Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154208 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154208 0
Roundup Top 10!  


Why we need to address the demands of striking ride-hailing service drivers

by Mary Angelica Painter

History tells us that ignoring these grievances could lead to catastrophic consequences.


The St. Louis roots of 'Make America Great Again'

by Steven P. Miller and Warren Rosenblum

In pronouncing this version of Americanism, the Legion drew upon the worst of the nation’s wartime tendencies: rising xenophobia.



The key to lowering America’s high rates of maternal mortality

by Melissa Reynolds

Health-care providers have forgotten the central lesson of two millennia of gynecology.



Revise, revise, revise. That’s how history works

by Jeff Kolnick

Revisionism is not something to be feared or rejected, nor is it something to be celebrated or revered. It is what historians do, and we do it all the time.



How John and John Quincy Adams predicted the Age of Trump

by Carol Berkin

“The Problem of Democracy” offers a final warning to its readers who live in an era of “alternate truths” and blind devotion to charismatic leaders.



The Coming Generation War

by Niall Ferguson and Eyck Freymann

The Democrats are rapidly becoming the party of the young—and the consequences could be profound.



Sandra Bland Did Not Kill Herself

by Crystal A. deGregory

I did not watch the video. I do not need to. I know that Sandra Bland did not kill herself—a morally corrupt justice system did.



May Fourth, the Day That Changed China

by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom

Protests in 1919 propelled the country toward modernity. One hundred years later, the warlord spirit is back in Beijing.



MLK's prescription for healing hate was embracing 'agape'

by Eli Merritt

King spoke about the Greek concept of agape, or brotherly love and compassion, a social concept he defined as “understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all men.”



Hamburgers Have Been Conscripted Into the Fight Over the Green New Deal. The History of American Beef Shows Why

by Joshua Specht

Hamburgers are the newest front in the culture wars.



The myths behind the push to resurrect child labor

by Oenone Kubie

Why is there a significant push to resurrect child labor.



Preventing an Israeli-Iran War

by Alon Ben-Meir

The EU is in a unique position to prevent the outbreak of a war between Israel and Iran that could engulf the Middle East in a war that no one can win.


Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171944 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171944 0
How Chinese History Restarted 100 Years Ago



On Sunday, May 4, 1919, some 3,000 students assembled at Tiananmen Square in Beijing to protest the Versailles Treaty that ended World War I.  Most were from China’s premier institution of higher education, Peking University, but some 13 colleges were represented in all.  It was a sunny spring day, and students chanted slogans, held up banners written in English, French and Chinese (some were written in the students’ blood) and handed out fliers.  They marched to the legation quarters of the foreign ambassadors, where they were allowed to leave letters but not enter the district. A group of especially radial studentsmarched on to the house of the “traitor,” cabinet minister Cao Rulin, and burned it down.  (Cao escaped, but the Beijing regime’s ambassador to Japan was severely beaten.)


The students were angry that the victorious Allies would return territory first taken by Germany to Japan instead of China.  When China declared war on Germany in 1917, it sent 140,000 workers to Britain and France to keep the Allies’ factories open and supplies moving. Japan had declared war on Germany in 1914 and occupied the German concessions in Shandong. Cao Rulin was a logical target of the students’ ire, well known for his pro-Japanese activities.  The protestors of May 4 condemned their own government, which they learned had made secret agreements with the Japanese, and pleaded for sympathy from the international community.  Above all, they claimed to represent “educational circles” that would arouse China’s “industrial and commercial sectors” to take political action.


Though initially tolerant, the police ended the day by arresting dozens of students.  The arrests naturally provoked further demonstrations, and street demonstrations and class boycotts—already called the “May Fourth movement”—spread across China.  The whole summer was marked by furious student meetings, petition drives, and even boycotts of foreign goods.  By this time the students had won considerable support from professional associations, business groups, and workers.  Many merchants enthusiastically supported the anti-Japanese boycott; others were pressured to join.  Shanghai was virtually shut down in early June when 60,000 workers went on strike. The movement inspired the patriotism of Chinese communities abroad as well.  


China’s weak government, led by military men, had little legitimacy, and it sought to appease the students by firing the “three traitorous officials” whom the students had first targeted. In the end, China’s legation to Paris refused to sign the Versailles Treaty. The Allies, however, never seriously considered returning Shandong to China.  For them, the issue was a minor blip on the way to settling the Balkans, punishing Germany, establishing the League of Nations—and using Germany’s old territories across the Pacific to buy off the Japanese, whose request for a statement acknowledging the principle of racial equality they firmly refused.


In what sense did “May Fourth” restart Chinese history?  After all, the ideals that the students were preaching were hardly new.  Belief in democracy and science, hopes for human rights and national self-determination, and criticisms of the traditions of autocracy, patriarchy, and Confucianism had stirred educated youth (and some not so youthful) for a generation or more. Nor were street actions and boycotts new—American goods were the target of a boycott campaign in 1905 that was provoked by the anti-Chinese immigration laws and policies of the US.   


Nonetheless, it was the May Fourth movement that revived Chinese politics, which had been left moribund in the wake of the 1911 Revolution.  “Politics” in this sense refers to a public realm of discourse and action created by people coming together—this was precisely how the May Fourth students pictured themselves as opposed to the closed and stagnant world of China’s military-backed bureaucrats and assemblymen.  The May Fourth movement inspired political action and made it possible.  While the vast majority of the population in rural China barelyaffected, at least immediately, China’s rapidly growing cities buzzed with new associations, journals, and social experiments such as communal living and work-study programs.  A new sense of dedication and even self-sacrifice was palpable.  Out of this ferment grew the two great disciplined, militarized, and revolutionary political parties of the twentieth century: the Nationalist Party (Guomindang) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  


1919 marked a paradoxical moment, combining great hopes with enormous disillusion.  The first disillusion was the fact of the Great War itself.  Up until this point, several generations of Chinese had looked to the West as a model for China’s own reforms.  They combined a hatred of the foreign incursions against China since the Opium Wars of the 1840s with growing admiration of Western civilization. By the early years of the twentieth century, thousands of Chinese had studied in and traveled through America and Europe, as well as Japan, which seemed to offer a model of Western-style modernization close at hand.  But the “Europe War” that broke out in 1914 dragged on and on.  Chinese readers kept up with the latest developments in weaponry: machine guns, airplanes, submarines, and poison gas.  All this suggested that Western civilization was morally bankrupt.  Few politically aware Chinese at this point thought that China should support either side in a contest between nations that had forced the “unequal treaties” on China.


At the same time, China was descending into a downward spiral of political breakdown and violence.  In 1915 Japan issued its “Twenty-one Demands,” insisting on greater privileges just as the European powers were unable to counter it.  President Yuan Shikai tried to make himself emperor, at which point many of his military supporters slunk away.  Yuan died in the midst of the bruhaha that he had created, and regional military commanders disowned any fealty to Beijing.  There still remained a kind of rump central government, and the economy continued to function, a working class emerged, new schools proliferated, universities grew, and at least in the foreign concessions order was maintained.  But rural banditry flourished and the “warlord era” with its endlessly indefinite battles had dawned.


No wonder Chinese considered that the 1911 Revolution had failed.  Some said that the political failure stemmed from a deeper cultural backwardness: people debated if the Chinese people needed a long period of education and how much of the past should be discarded. Meanwhile, “politics” had come to refer to the machinations of small groups of officials and military men. Into this malaise came the stirring promises of Woodrow Wilson.  


For Chinese, the ideal of “democracy” was at least as important as Wilson’s talk of “national self-determination.”  To join the war against Germany became a righteous cause. And Chinese greeted the Allied victory of 1918 joyously.  They saw a victory of light over dark, of civilization over militarism, of cosmopolitanism and open-mindedness over nationalism and racism.  Some thought that the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and a coming Communist Revolution in Germany represented the logical culmination of popular democracy.  Such language was not propaganda but reflected a genuine sense that history had shifted.  Even more sober observers thought that the defeat of Germany at least represented a triumph of international law and a shot across the bow of imperialism.


Such hopes were not limited to China, and reflected a utopian moment partly rooted in the ever-wilder promises of President Wilson, and partly rooted in local conditions.  In China’s case, the old ways had been under challenge for a generation or more.  By 1919 the cosmology of Heaven and cosmic forces explicated in Confucian texts had clearly collapsed; the foundations of the emperorship had crumbled beyond repair; and many young people had concluded that their fathers’ power over their fates was intolerable.  Culture, society, and the political realm were all in enormous flux; morality had to be rethought.  This opened the way for the May Fourth generation to turn to ideals of intellectual freedom and individualism, a national vernacular and new literature, and democratic institutions to strengthen and unify the country.  


The impact of the racism and colonialism enshrined in the Versailles Treaty can thus be imagined.  The “West” could no longer serve as a model for China’s future development.  True, a few intellectuals kept their faith in moderate reform, but more turned in other directions.  The revival of Confucianism had appeal, but most of the younger generation turned toward more radical routes.  Looking at the student demonstrators of 1919, we can see a combination of heightened anti-imperialism and genuine cosmopolitanism.  From the vantage points of Beijing and Shanghai in particular, the world now offered new revolutionary hopes.  Politics had returned: an open, tumultuous politics of studies and the streets.  Students positioned themselves as devoted patriots, not seeking advantages for themselves but to simply strengthen China and awaken its mass of citizens.  At the same time, they were citizens of the world familiar with Dickens, Gogol, Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, Rabinadrath Tagore, and John Dewey, not to mention Arthur Conan Doyle and Alexandre Dumas. They believed in universal values—freedom, equality, justice, and socialism.  The meaning of the war, then, lay not in a vacuous Wilsonianism or the effect of the Versailles Treaty, but in the German and Russian Revolutions. With the Bolsheviks’ victory in Russia, Leninism offered an anti-colonial revolutionary alternative to Wilson’s empty promises.  The new Soviet Union offered to abandon the old Czarist claims on Chinese territory, and the re-formed Communist International prepared to send its missionaries and organizers to China. 


With allowances for Communist jargon, Mao Zedong was right when, in 1939 on May Fourth’s twentieth anniversary and in the midst of Japan’s invasion of China, he looked back from his isolated, precarious perch far to the northwest, to call the May Fourth movement “a new stage in China’s bourgeois-democratic revolution against imperialism and feudalism.”  Mao’s formula long shaped Chinese understandings of the origins of Chinese modernity.  Historians today do not accept Mao’s tendentious equation of May Fourth with Communism, but few historians would deny that May Fourth marked a new stage of some kind.  It did not end warlordism, nor did it provide new standards to judge legitimacy—democratic norms had been developing from turn of 2oth century.  Nor was May Fourth a watershed in Chinese history, if only because we can now see how it was embedded in a longer set of revolutions across the twentieth century.  But it was much more than a simple reaction against the racist imperialism embodied in the Versailles Treaty.  It was a culmination of intellectual, social, and institutional changes developing in China since the 1890s, and it led to a new politics.  If it did not magically create the CCP, it did reflect the new muscle of the working class as well as student power.  And it did define the new political norms that allowed China’s first Communists to find a foothold amid the flourishing utopianisms of the day.  


The present leader of China, Xi Jinping, described “May Fourth” as a student movement based on patriotism and revolutionary fervor in his celebratory speech on April 30.  He was not wrong, but he neglected the key slogan that became associated with May Fourth: “science and democracy.”  This meant a commitment to rational, secular thinking combined with a commitment to popular sovereignty and an open society.  To this ideal, the May Fourth movement added the energies of an aroused and angry nationalism—a nationalism that for some justified violence as it remained open to progressive currents from around the world and opposed to oppression in all its forms.  Much of “May Fourth spirit,” then, is seen by China’s current leaders as a threat to their authority.  This year, as China also marks the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, some Chinese will also mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement.  The political restart of May Fourth in 1919 is a direct ancestor to both these later events, and even today May Fourth still stands as a model of youth-led social movements.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171920 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171920 0
A Bloody Mary Bar and a Barroom Full of Fun  

I am a theater critic. In my 45 years of criticism, I have enjoyed the plays if Eugene O’Neill, William Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams, but none of them can match the enjoyment, the sheer fun, that I had last Saturday when I finally caught up with the most hilarious and raucous play in New York, Imbible: Day Drinking, a heady Off Broadway show  about the history of drinking at brunch now celebrating its second anniversary.

The musical, at the New World Stages theater complex at Eighth Avenue and W. 50th Street, New York, is the tuneful history of brunch, a time-honored American dining tradition that isn’t American at all. The story includes the history of the Bloody Mary, Irish Coffee. Champagne and the Bellini, brunch drinks, told in spirited, light hearted songs presented by a seasoned and a deliciously giddy cast -- Bobby Eddy, Nick Barakos, Devon Meddock, Emily Ott, Megan Callahan and Devyn White. They cavort from one end of the barroom to another. They sing, they dance, they tell jokes, they adopt foreign accents, they don one wild costume after another and through it all tell you everything there is to know about the brunch and its drinks, a history that is just fascinating, ice or no ice.

Their story goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks, the Turks of the Ottoman empire. Napoleon Bonaparte, tropical Caribbean islands and every bar in San Francisco (and there a lot of bars in San Francisco).

Imbible: Day Drinking is a serious (well…………..), nicely-structured musical that is organized, runs along in sharp dialogue, witty jokes, marvelous human caricatures and has as many sight gags as a Marx Brothers movie. There is never a moment without a good laugh. It is as much fun as finding the key to a good wine cellar late on a Saturday night. 

The play is produced in an actual bar, the Green Room, that services customers at the theater complex on Sundays. It is stocked with every bottle of liquor you could think of, and some you could not think of. The actual bar is the length of the room and faces a room full of several dozen tables. Each patron at the play is entitled to three drinks served in the show and all the pastries you can eat off trays on top of the bar (you’d better rush for these; they go fast).

The purpose of the writer, Anthony Caporale, also the co-director, is to tell the history of brunch and its drinks and he never tries to push the idea of excess drinking (a warning from me – if you must drink, drink moderately). You do not see drunks, men and women passed out or anyone asking for a cold one. It is a straight forward musical written to please, and it certainly does.

The brunch, a time - honored staple of American dining, was invented sometime in the 1890s by British hunters who chased terrified foxes with their hounds across the English countryside all morning. Done, with hours in the saddle behind them, they all sat down for a late breakfast around 10 or 11 a.m. They called it brunch and the name stuck. The brunch was quickly moved to America, where restaurants began to serve it, particularly on Sundays. You, me, everybody, goes to them.

The play starts with the history of the Bloody Mary and then, in chronological order, moves to Irish Coffee, Champagne and the Bellini. The show’s actors explain to you how to make them and invite you to come up to the bar and make your own Bloody Mary.

The actual story begins with a man sound asleep on the bar, wrapped in blankets, who arises at 9 a.m. big smile o his face, ready for his weekly Sunday brunch. The story, with humorous music and lyrics by Josh Ehrlich, flies through the barroom from there, with actors dressed as French Generals, Cave Women, doctors, bartenders and a slinking, seductive woman or two. They pop up and down behind the bar, dance through the audience and jump out from behind pillars, all with a big wink.

Everyone is aghast when an actor says that sparkling wine is the same thing as champagne and you get a very funny lesson on how the French invented Champagne, and Irish coffee, too, on the island of Martinique. The Americans took up coffee drinking after the fabled Boston Tea Party prior to the American revolution and made it famous (today, an actor says with great satisfaction, Americans drink 2.4 billion cups of coffee each day and the rate by New Yorkers is seven times that of the average American. New York is the city that never sleeps? That’s why).

There are some funny stories about the invention of drinks and the show winds up with the story of the Bellini, the smooth, peachy drink, that was invented by the Cipriani family and first served at the famous Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy.

The show ends with the ensemble singing the delightful Let’s Do Brunch, while everyone hoists their Bellinis high int the air. The play runs in conjunction with the theater groups other story, The Spirited History of Drinking.

You want to have a good time in the theater, learn a lot about the history of brunch and drinking and with a wonderful Irish Coffee, too? This is the place. Raise your glasses high!

PRODUCTION: Imbibe: Day Drinking, is directed by Anthony Caporale and Nicole DiMattei, Choreography is by Ms. DiMattei. Musical Director: Robbie Cowan. It has an open ended run.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171919 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171919 0
Run, Hide, Fight If You Must…Now What?


I’m on the faculty of the University of North Carolina Charlotte, a semi-retired historian teaching two courses that meet two days a week. It’s a doable schedule for an old guy.

Tuesday was my last day on campus for the Spring semester and it was supposed to be an uneventful day.  I wrapped-up one class in the morning and gave an exam in another during the late afternoon.  Then I headed home on the light rail.

At home, I made myself a martini and sat down on my balcony to enjoy the evening and anticipate the coming weeks of summer inactivity. That’s when my phone lit up with alerts. Emergency messages from the university told people still on campus to “run, hide and, as a last resort, fight.

One building away from where I gave that last exam, a student entered a classroom and began shooting.  He killed two and seriously wounded four more.  The unthinkable, the thing that always happens somewhere else, had happened here.

For the next several hours, I sat glued to the television, moving among various internet news sites and double checking Twitter for more information.  Students, faculty and staff still on campus were locked down.  The light rail train, which I had just taken home, was halted several stops away from campus.  My colleagues and students were hiding in darkened rooms, awaiting for the arrival of police to clear the campus, classroom by classroom.  Others were running for safety.

Media pictures depicted where I had walked just a few hours before.  I watched people being marched away from the scene, hands in the air.  Would I see my students?  Would I see my colleagues?

As is common during these horrible events, there were immediate calls for “thoughts and prayers”  but, as a Vietnam Era Marine and a former police officer, I have a very cynical view of such comments.  I understand the destructive power of firearms.

On the TV screen, I watched as the alleged shooter was taken into custody.  I waited for the names of the victims.  Were they students?  Were they my students?  Were they faculty or staff, people I knew?

I could not help but remember the people I have known who were victims of violent and senseless crimes such as this.  A former business colleague was killed by the Unabomber.  A high school girlfriend and her family were murdered because they opened the door to a stranger one evening.  Like many Americans, I am sickened by the never-ending slaughter that permeates our society and ask myself why are we unable to stop it.

As the evening wore on, I felt numb, as if the events of the day had not happened, as if they were somewhere far away, not part of my world. 

When it was reported that the shooter was a student, a history major, I immediately checked the rolls of my past courses, glad to discover that he had not been in one of my classes.  And, as each victim’s name was released, I checked again. 

None of the people directly involved were my students or colleagues, but in a university community of approximately 30,000 the odds were that I wouldn’t know them.  I understood, however, that we had all been touched in some way by this evil deed.

On social media, I began to see comments from colleagues. They expressed the full spectrum of emotion, from deep sadness to intense anger.  As for myself, I was confronted with the reality that, like so many times in the past, nothing will change.  This was not the first university shooting, and it, likely, will not be the last.

Trauma such as this changes the lives of everyone connected, even those of us who watched from a safe distance.  Perhaps, as the number of individuals touched by such violence grows, we will ultimately be able to build the necessary mass to challenge the special interests that fight all attempts at reasonable compromise and pretend that the only way to fight violence is with more violence.

Universities should be a safe haven, providing a transition from childhood to adulthood. Universities should not be blood soaked killing fields.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171892 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171892 0
James Byrd, Jr., John William King, and the History of American Lynching

A group of African Americans marching near the Capitol building in Washington DC, to protest against the lynching of four African Americans in Georgia.



In February, 1999, John William King – who was executed in Huntsville, Texas on April 24, 2019 –became the first white man in modern Texas history to be sentenced to death for killing a black person.  How that black person, James Byrd, Jr., died was no mystery. Three self-proclaimed white supremacists had drawn up a plan to start a race war while they were in prison. These men chained Byrd to the back of their pickup truck and dragged him for a mile and half until his head and right arm were torn from his body by a concrete culvert on Huff Creek Road in Jasper County.  


What proved to be a mystery in the aftermath of this gruesome event was what to call this particular crime.  Most mainstream reporters and columnists insisted that it was not a “lynching.”  Many would not accept that an event that clearly met Congress’ definition of lynching could happen at the end of the twentieth century.  The books published on what happened in Jasper, Texas between 2002 and 2004 called it “a hate crime,” “the dragging,”and “the murder,” but none would call it a lynching. Columnists in black newspapers and African American intellectuals who wrote for or were quoted in the mainstream press were nearly the only people to insist John William King’s death was indeed a lynching.  


The weekend James Byrd, Jr., was lynched was also the first anniversary of President Bill Clinton’s “dialogue on race.”  It appeared that this dialogue was scripted from the same debates that had roiled the nation a half-century earlier when white anti-lynching advocates had begun to yearn for “the end of lynching,” and regularly declared something to be “the last American lynching.”  It was more important, in 1940 and 1998, to deny the existence of a practice that shamed a nation than to face it.  


Thanks to several groundbreaking contemporary historians and organizations like the Equal Justice Initiative, we now have a fuller account of lynching in the United States – including its transformation over time and the extent to which it served and fueled nationalist, populist, racist, and nativist purposes.  What we perhaps equally need is an understanding of the historical role of the discourse of lynching and how it continues to shape America’s enduring “dialogue on race.”  


The discourse of lynching was produced by Southern newspaper editors, politicians, and mob leaders in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. It claimed that white vigilantes were as inevitably driven by principles of chivalry to lynch as African Americans were compulsively driven by their sexual lusts to rape. It was a discourse that represented a momentous shift from the rationale and justification for enslavement: those who had been happy-go-lucky Sambos in the plantation romance the South fed itself had now become ravening beasts in the new genre of what Jacquelyn Hall memorably called “a kind of folk pornography in the Bible Belt.”  It was a discourse African American intellectuals and organizations fought to dispel for the next half-century, including Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, Tuskegee, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.


Lynching discourse could be used and abused, then and since.  Dixiecrat Senators consistently used it to deny the passage of federal anti-lynching bills.  Some opportunistic African American public figures claimed to be victims of it metaphorically, as both Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and embattled Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick did.  


What is perhaps most noxious and subtle about that discourse is what it sometimes explicitly, and most often implicitly, claimed about African American women. Under enslavement, black women were routinely and regularly raped, even as slave codes insisted that this was legally and logically impossible.  In the postwar period, some slavery apologists claimed black women brought it on themselves. For instance, in her 1906 Lost Cause paean, Dixie After the War, Myra Lockett Avary claimed that the “heaviest part of the white racial burden” was “the African woman, of strong sexual instincts and devoid of sexual conscience, at the white man’s door, in the white man’s dwelling.”  In the postbellum lynching discourse, black women were cast as the source of black men’s sexual depravity: the witchery black enslaved women had used to drive white slave masters to rape them, black freedwomen were now applying to their black husbands, which insatiably drove them to rape white women.  The “average plantation negro does not consider rape to be a very heinous crime,” argued Philip A. Bruce, because he “is so accustomed to the wantonness of the women of his own race.”  This was a discourse that made victims into criminals, even as the ignored and denied crimes against the bodies and souls of women of African descent produced and reproduced the labor force that made America’s economy possible. The antebellum discourses that made them “unrapeable,” and the postbellum one that made them the ultimate source of danger to white women, continue to operate in insidious and hateful ways.


Many noted that the only charge of the over forty accusations of sexual harassment, assault, and rape Harvey Weinstein felt compelled to contest directly and specifically was that of the only African American woman accuser.  Any number of factors could explain this anomaly, one supposes, but those of us who believe that there is an enduring historical force in those discourses, practices, and values that a society adopts and transforms over time suspect that one such factor is thehistorical legacy of that discourse.  It has at different times represented black women as “unrapeable” and sexually available – at the white man’s door, in their dwelling, as Avary put it, and, apparently, on their casting couches.


It is that same discourse, in the end, that inspired John William King and his two accomplices to commit the lynching they did.  One of those accomplices, Shawn Berry, told Dan Rather in an interview prior to his trial, that King had proclaimed in the course of their crime, “That’s what they used to do when a black man got caught messing around with a white woman, in the old days.”  There was no white woman involved in James Byrd’s life, nor did King or his accomplices believe there to be.  They were inspired by a discourse that forced them to misperceive the reality they inhabited. That is what a hegemonic discourse, an ideology, an enduring historical narrative people tell themselves does. It makes us deny what we see. Maybe we should strive to see what some of us choose to deny, and what others of us--who were victimized by the practice, and continue to be victimized by the discourse--tell us is really there.


Maybe then we could see what the discrepancy between the number of white people on death row for the murder of black people and the number of black people on death row for the murder of whites can tell us (in the dismal way that only capital punishment statistics can) about whose lives do matter. 

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171900 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171900 0
A Tale of Two Suffragists: Hazel Hunkins and Maud Wood Park



Two suffragists arrived in Washington, D.C. in late 1916, one from Billings, Montana and the other from Boston. Born twenty years apart, they spent the next three years in the nation’s capital working for the same goal by radically different means.  If by chance their paths had crossed, they probably would have not have spoken to each other, so deeply did they identify with the strategies of their rival organizations.  But they were equally passionate about winning the vote. 


Hazel Hunkins was the younger of the pair.  Born in 1890 in Colorado but raised in Montana, she was a proud graduate of Vassar who was frustrated when she couldn’t pursue a career in chemistry. Temporarily living at home, she met a field organizer for the upstart National Woman’s Party (NWP), which Alice Paul had just founded to push for a federal suffrage amendment.  Hunkins became an instant convert to the feminist cause.  After crisscrossing the West as a paid organizer for the NWP, she moved to Washington to oversee its organizers in the field.   When Alice Paul sent out “Silent Sentinels” to picket the White House in January 1917, Hazel Hunkins was one of the most stalwart volunteers.  She was twenty-six years old.  


Maud Wood Park would never have done anything as radical as picketing the White House but her commitment to women’s suffrage was just as firm. An 1898 graduate of Radcliffe College, she was recruited to join the suffrage movement in college by Alice Stone Blackwell, the only child of Lucy Stone, whose 1855 refusal to take her husband’s name in marriage spawned the term “Lucy Stoners.” Temperamentally committed to working within the system, Park served on the executive board of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, and she helped found the Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government and the College Equal Suffrage League. In 1916 Carrie Chapman Catt recruited her to come to Washington to become the chief lobbyist of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the oldest and largest mainstream suffrage organization in the country.


The Congressional Committee that Maud Wood Park soon headed earned the nickname “Front Door Lobby” because, in the words of one journalist, they “never used backstairs methods.” She methodically kept tabs on the 96 senators and 435 members of the House of Representatives who held the fate of the Nineteenth Amendment in their hands. This lobbying lacked the glamour and excitement of marching in a suffrage parade or participating in an open-air meeting, but it was absolutely crucial to the ultimate success of the movement.  In January 1918, the House passed the so-called Susan B. Anthony Amendment but the Senate would not follow suit until June 4, 1919.  Neither victory would have happened without the deliberate and scrupulously non-partisan efforts of Maud Wood Park.



Hazel Hunkins chose a different path even if she was after the same goal: she turned to militant action to force Woodrow Wilson and other elected officials to support the federal amendment. Hunkins was arrested on at least three occasions, mainly on trumped up charges of disorderly conduct or obstructing traffic.  When she was imprisoned after protesting at Lafayette Square, across from the White House, Hunkins and her fellow suffragists immediately embarked on a hunger strike to highlight the terrible conditions at the local jail. Weakened not just by hunger but by contaminated water, the suffragists were released after five days.  Hunkins went home in an ambulance.  She was arrested one more time in January 1919 for burning Woodrow Wilson’s speeches in “watchfires for freedom” across from the White House. That was her last militant act. 


There was no love lost between the rival wings of the suffrage movement, but it is too simplistic to reduce the clash between the NWP and NAWSA to a generational dispute between brash youngsters committed to militancy and “old fogeys” dedicated to working within the system.  In the final decades of suffrage activism, younger women flocked to NAWSA, swelling its ranks with new recruits.  And even though the NWP styled itself as “the young are at the gates,”  one of the first pickets to be arrested was Lavinia Dock, who was almost sixty years old. Dock spent a total of forty-three days in jail for the cause.  


Despite their deep-seated differences over tactics and strategy, there were some surprising commonalities between the two groups.  The most striking was how both wings of the suffrage movement provided a welcoming space for a range of living and working arrangements that definitely fell outside the bounds of heteronormativity. At the height of her suffrage militancy, Hunkins began an affair with a married man whose wife refused to give him a divorce.  Undaunted, the couple moved to England in 1920, where they had four children before finally marrying in 1930.  Maud Wood Park married an architect while she was a student at Radcliffe, but she kept that marriage secret so as not to interfere with her studies. When she was widowed, she kept her second marriage secret as well, reasoning that her career would be taken more seriously if she wasn’t suspected of neglecting her husband.  The deeper we dig, the more examples we find of suffragists young and old leading far more unconventional lives than their somewhat dour public reputations might suggest.


Both Hazel Hunkins and Maud Wood Park enjoyed significant careers after the Nineteenth Amendment was passed.  Park served as the first president of the National League of Women Voters and later was instrumental in the establishment of the Woman’s Rights Collection at Radcliffe in the 1940s.  Hazel Hunkins-Hallinan (as she was now known) joined the Six Point Group, the leading British feminist organization, and served as its chair in the 1950s and 1960s.  After speaking at Alice Paul’s memorial service in 1977, she took part in a march in support of the Equal Rights Amendment organized by the National Organization for Women.  Once a feminist, always a feminist. 


Thousands of women took different paths and pursued multiple strategies to win the goal of securing the right to vote. Their individual acts of courage and persistence, their quiet determination and flashes of militancy put human faces on the collective drama of social change.  As we count down to the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, these personal stories remind us that the road to women’s full participation in public life has been a long and contested one, sometimes even pitting women against each other as they fought for the goal of equality.  The women’s suffrage movement was stronger because of this diversity of approaches.  The split may even have hastened its ultimate success.  


Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171894 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171894 0
Why the Middle East Studies Association Should Not Defend Omar Barghouti


Last month, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA)’s Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) published a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denouncing the U.S. refusal to admit Omar Barghouti, the founder of the Boycott Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The professional organization representing academics who specialize in the Middle East regularly finds fault with Israeli policies and politicians and whitewashes Palestinian terrorism. 

Amazingly, Barghouti lives in Israel, not in Gaza, Nablus, or Ramallah, as one might expect from a man who describes Israel as an apartheid state. He was refused entrance to the U.S. on April 10 when immigration officials prevented him from boarding a flight at Ben-Gurion airport. Barghouti was scheduled to speak at several American universities, be interviewed by journalist Peter Beinart and Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill, and attend his daughter’s wedding. 

In its CAF letter, MESA describes Barghouti’s denial of entry as “an act of political censorship” and a “politically motivated attack on the right of Americans to hear and engage with the full range of viewpoints on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” It quotes Amnesty International’s mischaracterization of Barghouti as a “human rights defender” and contends that the U.S. and Israel are engaged in a deliberate effort to undermine “the principles of academic freedom.” 

MESA portrays Barghouti as a dissident who has been unfairly treated simply “because the U.S. government does not like his political views.” But Barghouti is much more than an outspoken activist whose opinions conflict with U.S. policy. He presides over an intricate web of anti-Israel groups. They offer the illusion of legitimate political organizations and charities, but they provide cover for terrorist organizations.

Barghouti founded the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) in 2004. It spawned a franchise model of campus organizations collectively known as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. In 2007, Barghouti founded the BDS National Committee (BNC). Tablet magazine calls it “the main West Bank and Gaza-based cohort advocating for sanctions against Israel.” But there’s more to it than advocating sanctions. The BNC lists a number of supporting “Unions, Associations, Campaigns,” one of which is called the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine/Palestinian National and Islamic Forces (PNIF). The PNIF lists among its member organizations five Palestinian terrorist organizations: Hamas; the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP); the Popular Front-General Command (PLFP-GC); the Palestine Liberation Front; and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). This is the face that Omar Barghouti hides and MESA ignores.

In its spirited defense of Saint Omar, MESA fails to mention these salient facts. This is hardly a surprise. As I’ve argued before, MESA has a long history of omitting inconvenient truths in its defense of Palestinian academe. 

So, what would Omar Barghouti say on his MESA-approved speaking tour? If his recent appearances in academic settings are any indication, it would be a combination of conspiracy theories, anti-Semitic canards, and variations on “the right of return” rhetoric.

Barghouti is an accomplished trafficker in conspiracy theories. On February 24, 2015, he told a Portland State University audience that “The U.S. and Israel are benefitting a lot from this ISIS phenomenon,” and that the U.S. and Israel “created Taliban, they created al-Qaeda . . . so why not ISIS?”

Although he denies it, Barghouti’s anti-Semitism is indisputable. On January 11, 2014, he regaled an audience at Wayne State University by telling them that “Israel has a hold on Congress, has enormous influence on Congress...Congress is bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”   

The destruction of Israel is high on Barghouti’s wish list. The influx of 5 to 7 million Palestinian refugees will mean the end of Israel. As one of the authors of the “One State Declaration” (2007), he has long pined for a Palestinein which “Jews will by a minority.” He justifies this fantasy with jargon-filled hyperbole about Israeli “ethnic cleansing” and the Jewish colonization of Palestine. 

In Spain, a judge has admitted a criminal complaint against Barghouti lodged by the Madrid-based group ACOM which has called attention to Barghouti’s claims that “BDS demands would result in the destruction of Israel.”

MESA’s claim that the administration should not “ban people from entering the United States on ideological grounds” is a sham. If a similar media tour were scheduled for a “white nationalist” claiming that non-whites control Congress, urging the removal of non-whites from the U.S., and linking non-whites with terrorist groups, MESA would be singing a different tune. Yet MESA supports Barghouti who claims that Jews control Congress, advocates for the removal of Jews from Israel, and links the U.S. and Israel with the creation of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS. 

Omar Barghouti should not be let into the U.S., now or ever. A thorough investigation of his network of organizations should earn him a place on the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List. Shame on MESA for supporting his subterfuge under the guise of academic freedom.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171893 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171893 0
Denying Omar Barghouti Admittance to the U.S. Is a Free Speech Issue


A. J. Caschetta claims that the Middle East Studies Association “whitewashes terrorism,” citing a letter that its Committee on Academic Freedom recently sent to Secretary of State Pompeo protesting the Trump administration’s decision to deny Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian leader of the BDS movement, entry to the United States. This is just one of the baseless and tendentious assertions in his post, which repeatedly conflates criticism of Israel and of Zionism with anti-Semitism. It should come as no surprise that Mr. Caschetta is associated with the Campus Watch website which, as many HNN readers no doubt know, has since 2001 repeatedly defamed scholars of the Middle East as enemies of Israel, anti-Semitesand/or terrorist sympathizers because of their views on Israeli policies toward the Palestinians or on US policy in the region.

What is really at stake here? In fact, MESA has no official position regarding BDS. However, in keeping with the principles of academic freedom, MESA is committed to defending the right of faculty and students at this country’s institutions of higher education to speak, teach and advocate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as they see fit. This is a right that is currently under attack, not only by outfits like Campus Watch but also by state governments, members of Congress and administration officials who seem determined to suppress, or even criminalize, one particular political position – support for BDS – in academia and beyond. 

MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom also sees the denial of entry to Omar Barghouti as a free speech issue: we do not believe that it is acceptable for the U.S. government to ban people from entering the United States on ideological grounds, thereby preventing Americans from hearing views the government dislikes. That’s what we believe this case is about. Mr. Caschetta justifies the Trump administration’s action with respect to Mr. Barghouti by comparing him to an openly racist white nationalist who might legitimately be denied entry. This analogy is absurd: whether or not one agrees with the goals or strategy of the BDS movement, the methods it advocates are nonviolent and its core demand is that international human rights principles be applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

HNN readers should judge for themselves by viewing the lengthy and substantive conversation that journalist Peter Beinart (who is not a supporter of BDS) conducted with Omar Barghouti – by video link rather than in person as originally planned. That was the real point of MESA’s letter: Americans should be able to hear Mr. Barghouti’s views and decide for themselves what they think.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171895 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171895 0
Capitalism? Socialism? How about Just a Fair and Moral Economy?



In early 2019, Donald Trump warned against socialism: it “promises unity, but it delivers hatred and it delivers division. Socialism promises a better future, but it always returns to the darkest chapters of the past. That never fails. It always happens. Socialism is a sad and discredited ideology rooted in the total ignorance of history and human nature.” 


His campaign claimed that “Bernie Sanders has already won the debate in the Democrat primary, because every candidate is embracing his brand of socialism.” But in February and March 2019, numerous candidates such as Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and John Hickenlooper scrambled to answer whether they favored capitalism or socialism. If I were any of them, I would simply say, “I’m for a fair and moral economy, call it what you will. Politics is too full of labeling.”  My rationale for such a statement is that both capitalism and socialism have too much historical baggage. 


Socialism and socialist have long been scare words conservatives have hurled at opponents. Social Security? Socialist! Medicare? Socialist! In the 1960s when Medicare was being debated, the American Medical Association (AMA) had a leading actor speak out against it on a record entitled “Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine.”


Bernie Sanders might admit to being a “democratic socialist,” but his critics like to ignore the difference between this type of socialism, common in Europe, and the kind that existed in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or in modern Venezuela. In his State of the Union speech, President Trump claimed that Venezuelan “socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair,” and that “in the United States, we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence—not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”


But capitalism also has become increasingly distasteful to many Americans, especially younger ones, who associate it with too many negative connotations (see here and here).  Its past includes the exploitation of labor (including children), as Karl Marx and Charles Dickens portrayed; the U. S. Gilded Age and era of Robber Barons such as J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and railway tycoon Jay Gould;  and the refusal of governments to interfere in the “free market” to alleviate suffering in times such as the Irish famine of the late 1840s or the Great Depression—in 1932, President Hoover thought that “Federal aid would be a disservice to the unemployed.” 


There have also been the periodic depictions of greedy capitalists (e.g. , the 1987 film Wall Street, in which Michael Douglas’s character, Gordon Gekko, proclaims, “Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge—has marked the upward surge of mankind”); the rapacity of corporations such as Wells Fargo that created fake accounts and  Purdue Pharmacy that put money-making before health and sparked the opioid crisis; and the present incarnation of ugly capitalism, the author of the Art of the Deal and our current president, Donald Trump. 


One of the main problems with unrestrained capitalism is—as sociologist Daniel Bell in his The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism: 20th Anniversary Edition indicated—is that it has “no moral or transcendental ethic.” As conservative economist Milton Friedman wrote in 1970, “The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.” 


There was one period in U. S. history that attempted to provide the moral ethic that capitalism ignored—the Progressive Era (1890-1914). One historian characterized the progressive movement of the time as an attempt “to limit the socially destructive effects of morally unhindered capitalism, to extract from those [capitalist] markets the tasks they had demonstrably bungled, to counterbalance the markets’ atomizing social effects with a counter calculus of the public weal [well-being].” This movement did not attempt to overthrow or replace capitalism but to constrain and supplement it in order to insure that it served the public good. 


Although Progressivism succeeded in some ways, its forward momentum was stalled by World War I and 12-years of Republican presidents from early 1921 to early 1933.  The presidency of Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945) and his New Deal economic and social policies renewed the progressive effort. Despite ebbs and flows in the continued advancement of progressive economics after World War II, the U. S. State Department in 2001 still declared that though “the United States is often described as a ‘capitalist’ economy,” it “is perhaps better described as a ‘mixed’ economy, with government playing an important role along with private enterprise.


To further such a mixed economy Pulitzer Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, in his new book People, Power and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent, recommends “progressive capitalism.” In an interview, he explains that he believes in a market economy, but also in government regulation. And his term suggests that, like the progressives of the Progressive Era, he believes that our economy should recognize a “moral or transcendental ethic”—seeking the common good.  (Such a goal has also been recommended by Pope Francis, who has criticized modern-day capitalism as “unjust at its root.”) 


Stiglitz’s term “progressive capitalism,” however, still has one main drawback: It fails to avoid the trap he tried to avoid regarding socialism. No matter what adjective you put before a baggage-laden word (democratic before socialist or progressive before capitalism), the main word is still too emotionally tinged.


“A fair and moral economy,” however, is easy to defend while still having historical roots. “You’re against it? What do you want, an unfair and immoral economy?” In President Harry Truman’s 1949 State of the Union address he declared, “Every segment of our population and every individual has a right to expect from our Government a fair deal.” As part of such a deal he proposed universal health insurance. (“We must spare no effort to raise the general level of health in this country. In a nation as rich as ours, it is a shocking fact that tens of millions lack adequate medical care. We are short of doctors, hospitals, nurses. We must remedy these shortages. Moreover, we need—and we must have without further delay—a system of prepaid medical insurance which will enable every American to afford good medical care.”) A conservative coalition of Republicans and Southern Democrats, however, blocked such health insurance and many other aspects of Truman’s proposed Fair Deal. 


A “moral economy” also has worthwhile precedents. One of capitalism’s earliest heroes, Adam Smith, taught “Moral Philosophy” in Glasgow, and his The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) provided the groundwork for his later more famous The Wealth of Nations (1776). However right or wrong his ideas might be, one cannot claim that Smith was indifferent to a “moral economy.”


More recently, in 2016, Bernie Sanders gave a talk in Rome entitled “The Urgency of a Moral Economy: Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of Centesimus Annus.” In response, I devoted a substantial essay to the talk. Thus, only a brief recap of its main points are needed here.   


First, Sanders noted that the Catholic Church’s “social teachings, stretching back to the first modern encyclical about the industrial economy, Rerum Novarum in 1891, to Centesimus Annus, to Pope Francis’s inspiring [environmental] encyclical Laudato Si’. . . have grappled with the challenges of the market economy. There are few places in modern thought that rival the depth and insight of the Church’s moral teachings on the market economy.” Sanders also claimed that Pope Francis in his 2013 “apostolic exhortation” Evangelii Gaudium “stated plainly and powerfully that the role of wealth and resources in a moral economy must be that of servant, not master.”    


I ended my essay by writing that one of Sanders’s most important contributions might have been leading us to reexamine the question “How moral is our economy?” Now, three years later, some of the Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination, such as Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are suggesting that our present Trumpian economy, which favors the rich, furthers inequality, and despoils our environment, is unfair and immoral.   


In his new book, People, Power and Profits, and in other places, Joseph Stiglitz indicates that our present “economy is not only failing American citizens. It's failing the planet, and that means it's failing future generations.” But he not only damns the present Trumpian economic approach, but also suggests various more ethical solutions. All the present Democratic candidates need to do the same. They don’t have to answer whether or not they favor capitalism or socialism.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171899 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171899 0
Navassa Island: The U.S.’s 160-year Forgotten Tragedy

The Navassa Lighthouse


On December 8, 1859, to forestall a Haitian attempt to take possession of Navassa, a Caribbean island south of Cuba, U.S. Secretary of State Lewis Cass made a momentous decision. He officially recognized an American ship captain’s claim filed under the Guano Islands Act of 1856. 


The law allowed American citizens to claim and possess islands “not within the lawful jurisdiction of any other government” for the purpose of mining guano (accumulated excrement of seabirds, valuable as agricultural fertilizer). In such an instance, “said island, rock, or key may, at the discretion of the President of the United States, be considered as appertaining to the United States.”


In his 1956 book Advance Agents of American Destiny, diplomatic historian Roy F. Nichols noted,“In this humble fashion, the American nation took its first step into the path of imperialism; Navassa, a guano island, was the first noncontiguous territory to be announced formally as attached to the republic.” None have been under U.S. administration for a longer time.


Cass’s decision ignored the fact that for more than two centuries Haitian fishermen had landed at the island to harvest shellfish. It also ran counter to every Haitian constitution since 1801, which had declared Haiti’s sovereignty over all its coastal islands including Navassa. 


However, since the United States did not recognize the government of Haiti in 1859, these facts on the ground were considered of little consequence. Of greater importance was the perceived existential threat Haiti’s history of successful slave insurrection and emancipation while a French colony posed to American slave owners and their representatives in Washington.  


Haiti and U.S. Imperial Ambitions


While slaveholders worried that their slaves might revolt against them as the Saint-Domingue slaves had done in 1791, many American politicians and journalists advocated the conquest and annexation of all the Caribbean islands, especially Hispaniola, as the logicalway to extend American imperial power.


For example, in 1850 James Gordon Bennett, editor of the New York Herald, the largest and most popular daily newspaper in America, had advocated a plan “to annex Hayti, before Cuba.” He wrote that a war in pursuit of that aim “would be a source of fun and amusement, ending in something good for the reduction of the island to the laws of order and civilization. . . . St. Domingo will be a State in a year, if our cabinet will but authorize white volunteers to make slaves of every negro they can catch when they reach Hayti.”


The Haitian government countered such threats by maneuvering diplomatically among the European powers who risked seeing their hold over their own Caribbean colonies weakened and lost if they failed to thwart American plots against Haiti. But when a Haitian naval delegation attempted to take control of Navassa, President James Buchanan ordered the U.S. Navy to send a warship to Haiti to restore the American guano operation. Haiti’s commercial agent protested, but the State Department dismissed his letters.


An advisor to Haitian President Faustin Soulouque wrote to him candidly, “Even though the law is on our side in this affair, justice and the legitimacy of our cause will triumph only when certain barriers in the United States are broken down. Even after those fall, we should not believe their promises until they no longer attach economic importance to Navassa.” 


From 1857 to 1898, American companies based in Baltimore and New York mined and sold Navassa’s guano, employing black laborers supervised by white managers.


The 1889 Navassa Revolt and its Consequences


On September 14, 1889, African American workers at Navassa rose in revolt against their cruel white supervisors. By the time the battle ended, four whites lay dead. A fifth would die several days later. 


Removed to Baltimore, 43 insurgents were charged with crimes ranging from rioting to murder. Two African-American organizations — the Brotherhood of Liberty and the Order of Galilean Fishermen — hired a legal team of three black and three white lawyers to defend them.


Tried in U.S. Circuit Court, three defendants were convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. Others were convicted of lesser crimes — 14 of manslaughter and 23 of rioting — and sentenced to prison terms. Three were acquitted. The executions were stayed pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court styled Jones v. U.S.


In that proceeding Jones’s lawyers challenged the constitutionality of the Guano Act, the authority of the United States government over Navassa, and the jurisdiction of the American court. Among the issues was Haiti’s claim to the island. The high court rejected those arguments and affirmed the conviction.


In language that has freighted international relations ever since, the court declared on November 24, 1890:


. . . if the executive, in his correspondence with the government of Hayti, has denied the jurisdiction which it claimed over Navassa, the fact must be taken and acted on by this court as thus asserted and maintained; it is not material to inquire, nor is it the province of the court to determine, whether the executive be right or wrong; it is enough to know that in the exercise of his constitutional functions he has decided the question.


Supporters of the defendants mounted a petition campaign, urging President Benjamin Harrison to grant the insurgents executive clemency. Harrison responded favorably. Citing the inhumane conditions imposed on Navassa workers, he wrote, “They were American citizens, under contracts to perform labor, upon specified terms, within American territory, removed from any opportunity to appeal to any court, or public officer, for redress of any injury, or the enforcement of any civil right.” He commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment.  


Guano mining continued at Navassa for another eight years, “longer and more extensively than any other island, rock, or key that ever appertained to the United States,” according to Jimmy M. Skaggs, author of the 1994 book The Great Guano Rush.


Navassa Island in the TwentiethCentury


By the turn of the twentieth century, Americans had abandoned Navassato castaways, Haitian fishermen, and nature. However, a new purpose revived Navassa’s importance. Anticipating substantially increased maritime traffic after the Panama Canal opening in 1914, some naval authorities feared that in stormy weather Navassa would become a dangerous hazard to navigation. In 1913 Congress authorized construction of a lighthouse on the island. 

On January 17, 1916, shortly before construction began, President Woodrow Wilson codified the island’s status as a site for a lighthouse and reaffirmed its status as a possession “under the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States and out of the jurisdiction of any other government.”


After World War I the Navy established a radio station at Navassa. In 1929 the lighthouse was automated. During World War II, the Coast Guard stationed a reconnaissance unit and a rescue launch there to defend against German submarines.


Navassa and its “Appurtenance” Apparition after World War II


The end of the war restored Navassa to its Wilsonian status as a lighthouse reserve, periodically serviced by the Coast Guard and visited by Haitian trespassers who paid no heed to the American Guano Act. But the heritage of the Guano Act and the Jones v. U.S. Supreme Court precedent continued to cast a long shadow beyond that single small island.


Less than a month after Japan’s surrender President Harry S. Truman proclaimed that “the Government of the United States regards the natural resources of the subsoil sea bed of the continental shelf beneath the high seas but contiguous to the coasts of the United States as appertaining to the United States, subject to its jurisdiction and control.” 


As if to wring as much international mischief as possible from Truman’s proclamation, the April 1947 issue of Nation’s Business magazine published an article titled “A Legal Key to Davy Jones’ Locker” with the teaser subhead “A forgotten murder provides a background for our announced right to seek oil in the Gulf of Mexico.” Navassa as a metaphor for the unrestricted exercise of extraterritorial power had superseded the significance of the island itself.


Haitian Hopes Raised and Dashed


Nine years later, Rep. William L. Dawson (R-IL) introduced “A bill to disclaim any rights of the United States to the island of Navassa,” which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the House of Representatives. 

Although the bill stood no chance of being reported out, intellectuals in Haiti seized the opportunity to reprise their country’s claim to Navassa. The cultural journal Optique devoted 28 pages of the August 1956 issue to the subject. An unsigned introductory article reviewed the history of the dispute, summarized Haiti’s legal position, and cited American attitudes both pro and con. 


African Americans and advocates of a just and democratic foreign policy tended to sympathize with Haiti’s claim; the Eisenhower administration and career State Department diplomats ignored them. A monthly Coast Guard patrol continued to maintain the lighthouse. From time to time, beginning in 1956 and continuing to the present, U.S. amateur radio hobbyists have obtained permission to set up temporary broadcasting stations at Navassa.


Clandestine Attack on Cuba from Navassa Island

“Cuban Outbreak of Swine Fever Linked to CIA” headlined a January 9, 1977, article in Newsday, a Long Island, New York, daily paper. It began,


With at least the tacit backing of U.S. Central Intelligence Agency officials, operatives linked to anti-Castro terrorists introduced African swine fever virus into Cuba in 1971. Six weeks later an outbreak of the disease forced the slaughter of 500,000 pigs to prevent a nationwide animal epidemic.


A U.S. intelligence source told Newsday he was given the virus in a sealed, unmarked container at a U.S. Army base and CIA training ground in the Panama Canal Zone, with instructions to turn it over to the anti-Castro group. 


The 1971 outbreak, the first and only time the disease has hit the Western Hemisphere, was labeled the “most alarming event” of 1971 by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. . . .


Another man involved in the operation, a Cuban exile who asked not to be identified, said he was on the trawler where the virus was put aboard at a rendezvous point off Bocas del Toro, Panama. He said the trawler carried the virus to Navassa Island, a tiny, deserted, U.S.-owned island between Jamaica and Haiti. From there, after the trawler made a brief stopover, the container was taken to Cuba and given to other operatives on the southern coast near the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay in late March, according to the source on the trawler.


Six days later the CIA officially denied the story, which had been widely reprinted, but the Newsday reporters had cited so many corroborating sources, with such specific details, that the denial was not widely believed.


A previously unreported documentlends circumstantial support to the Newsday story — a 1986 typescript draft of an article by U.S. Coast Guard lighthouse historian Neil Hurley titled “Navassa Island Light, ‘Where Chickens Only Miraculously Survive the Attacks of Lizards’.”


When Hurley’s article appeared in the Winter 1988 issue of The Keeper’s Log, under the title “Navassa Lighthouse, ”these two sentences from his earlier draft were omitted: “In 1971, a U.S. Navy Research team visited the Island to look for animal diseases that could be transmitted to man. They found one bird carrying malaria.”


It might be a coincidence, but it seems remarkable that the Navy was investigating the possible presence of biological toxins at about the time that agents were reported to have brought dangerous microbes to Navassa for a biological attack on Cuba. 


What made the Newsday report credible was the fact that the only place in the Western Hemisphere where the virus was known to have been kept before the Cuban outbreak was the secret Plum Island laboratory off the eastern tip of Long Island. (Newsday reporters had been cultivating sources there since the paper’s sole visit in October 1971.)


The Newsday article made no mention of Plum Island, perhaps to protect its reporters’ sources, but other writers quickly made the connection. In his 2004 book about Plum Island, Lab 257, Michael Christopher Carroll wrote that although “no one will say on the record that the virus for the Cuban mission was prepared on Plum Island,” that was almost certainly its source. “Efforts to explain away the outbreak as a natural occurrence do not hold up to close examination.”


What Lies Ahead for Navassa Island?


Haiti has never relinquished its claim to Navassa, and its citizens have continued to flout U.S. authority. Following the example set by their North American peers, in the spring of 1981 members of the Radio Club d’Haiti were issued the call sign HH0N and flown to the island by helicopter.


Upon arrival they raised the Haitian flag and sang their national anthem. When an American military officer asked to see their authorization to land, they answered, “We need no permit to travel in our country.” The officer relented and welcomed the Haitians to camp. After a seven-day stay. they returned the way they had come.


Today the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Interior Department administers the island as a national wildlife refuge. News reports of a 1998 scientific expedition called Navassa “a unique preserve of Caribbean biodiversity” but paid scant attention to Haiti’s claim, or to the heartless history that awaits atonement. We can take the first step along that path by teaching it.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171898 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171898 0
Grover Cleveland Bergdoll and the Long Reach of World War I’s Jingoism



A few months before the start of World War II, a man identified as Bennet Nash boarded the German passenger liner Bremen in Hamburg. Somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, on the advice of his attorney, he tore up his passport and threw the pieces overboard. The document was a fake, the name borrowed from a star in the Big Dipper.


When the Bremen arrived in New York on the afternoon of May 25, 1939, a Coast Guard cutter met the vessel before it docked. A group of immigration officials came aboard and found “Nash” loitering in the smoking lounge. When asked for his identification, the man replied, “I have no passport. I am Mr. Bergdoll.”


Grover Cleveland Bergdoll, the most notorious American draft dodger of World War I, had finally come home.


Bergdoll’s case shows the surprising longevity of the jingorism that roiled the United States during the First World War. Following the U.S. entry into the war in 1917, the conflict had been framed as a noble endeavor to safeguard democracy and liberty. Those who disagreed with this rationale were roundly shouted down or denounced as traitorsandthe Sedition Act of 1918 crackeddown on dissenters. 


But two decades later, public opinion in the United States had veered strongly toward isolation. The rise of dictatorships overseas had undermined the rationale for the First World War; it seemed like the war had not made the world safe for democracy, but only paved the way for brutal regimes. Congress passed Neutrality Acts aimed at keeping the nation from becoming entangled in the same situations that had led the United States to declare war on the Central Powers in 1917.


But while these attitudes reflected a growing disdain for the motives behind World War I, few expressed sympathy for a man who had willfully avoided service in this conflict. Bergdoll’s sensational case remained in the headlines for roughly two decades, and veterans’ groups never ceased their demand that he be brought home to face justice.


Bergdoll’s fame, and later infamy, was initially confined to his hometown of Philadelphia. He was born into a wealthy brewing family, dabbled in auto racing, and became one of just 119 people to train at the Wright Brothers’ flying school in Ohio. He purchased a Model B aircraftand regularly usedit to perform aerial spectacles for adoring crowds. In 1912, he became the first person to fly from Philadelphia to Atlantic City.


While he earned praise for his aviation achievements, Bergdoll was frequently denounced for his behavior on the ground. He was once accused of assaulting a police officerand spent three months in jail in 1913 for causing a serious car accident. He briefly attended the University of Philadelphia, but was thrown out after publishing an offensive newspaper. His own brother tried unsuccessfully to have him declared insane in 1915.


This publicity, both good and bad, made Bergdoll a more recognizable figure in Philadelphia when he was charged with evading the World War I draft. Although he registered for conscription as required, he failed to show up for an appointment with his local draft board. In August 1918, he was automatically inducted into the military and then immediately declared a deserter. 



The case gained national attention after two sensational events in 1920. The first came on January 7, when Bergdoll was captured while visiting his home. Officers searching the stately mansion first had to pacify Bergdoll’s mother who was armed with a pistol and blackjack. They discovered Bergdoll hiding in a window seat and transported him to the Army’s disciplinary barracks on Governors Island in New York. At a subsequent court-martial, he was convicted of desertion and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.


Four months later, Bergdoll told his attorneys that he had buried a considerable amount of gold in Maryland while in hiding. He worried that someone else might stumble upon the treasure while he was incarcerated and wanted to recover it. His attorneys struck a deal with military officials where he would be temporarily released, under guard, for a trip to the site where the gold was purportedly hidden.


The expedition was so poorly managed that it would spark a congressional investigation. To keep him from looking too conspicuous, Bergdoll was not handcuffed and wore a uniform virtually identical to that of the two sergeants guarding him. The party also stopped at Bergdoll’s home in Philadelphia instead of proceeding directly to Maryland.


On May 21, Bergdoll gave his guards the slip and fled in one of his vehicles. The strange circumstances of the escape again launched Bergdoll into the spotlight. The public’s ire would only grow more intense when it was found that the fugitive had managed to make his way to Germany, taking up residence in a hotel owned by an uncle.


Since the Senate had not ratified the Versailles Treaty, the United States was still formally at war with Germany (a separate peace would be concluded in 1921). To many, especially veterans who recently fought German soldiers, Bergdoll’s offense was no longer simply a matter of cowardice; he was now denounced as a traitor to his country.


This rage was at its peak in the first few years after Bergdoll’s escape. On two occasions, in 1921 and 1923, American soldiers stationed in Europe tried unsuccessfully to kidnap the fugitive. During the inquiry into Bergdoll’s escape, one congressman became so incensed during questioning of one of Bergdoll’s brothers that he nearly drew a pistol on the witness. 


The American Legion and other veterans groups routinely demanded that the government do more to bring Grover back to the United States. Occasionally, sentiments against Bergdoll hit enough of a fever pitch that a group or official would demand that he change his name, or that he only be referred to as “G.C.,” to avoid disparaging the President for whom he was named. Bergdoll’s mother pointed out during her congressional testimony that President Grover Cleveland had paid a substitute to serve in his place during the Civil War, but it did little to dampen the outcryagainst the President’s namesake. The efforts had a certain resemblance to the more ridiculous campaigns to omit any references to Germany during World War I, such as renaming German measles “liberty measles.”


The outrage had faded considerably by the spring of 1939, when Bergdoll announced that he intended to return to the United States and surrender to military authorities. Some people even opined that his only crime was having the foresight to realize that World War I would not be a war to end wars. “Any coward can fall into a draft line and march off to a foreign slaughter,” two women wrote to the Milwaukee Journal in April. “Only a real hero can resist and fight against mob hysteria as did Bergdoll. Anyone can follow the wild mob but few have the grit and real patriotism to oppose the bloodthirsty mob.” 


But the harsher, jingoistic attitudes that swept the nation during the war had not died out entirely. In the House of Representatives, Forest A. Harness introduced legislation aimed to bar Bergdoll from entering the country. The Indiana Republican, who had served in the infantry and suffered combat wounds in World War I, introduced a bill establishing that any deserter who had fled to a foreign country to escape punishment should not be readmitted into the United States.


Bergdoll’s attorney, Harry Weinberger, thought the bill was doomed to failsince it was a bill of attainder and ex post facto law - both of which are forbidden under the Constitution. But the disdain for Bergdoll trumped this concern. To Weinberger’s alarm, the bill sailed through committee and passed unanimously in a vote before the full membership of the House.


The vote set up a dramatic confrontation between Harness and Weinberger in a Senate committee hearing as the Bremen neared New York. If Harness prevailed, his bill would be given priority and put to the vote in Senate; if it passed, a likely possibility, Bergdoll would be turned away at Ellis Island and sent back to Germany. 


The argument put forth by Harness was little more than invective against Bergdoll, suggesting that he was an unsavory specimen who shouldn’t be allowed to live in the United States. Claiming the fugitive had effectively committed treason, he suggested that Bergdoll only wanted to come home because Hitler’s regime was interfering with his lavish lifestyle. Harness even suggested that Bergdoll might have personally irritated the Fuhrer and that he was trying to escape punishment at the hands of Hitler’s goons. Relishing the fantasy, he declared, “As loathsome and revolting as are the Gestapo methods of Hitler, this might be an occasion where we could almost view them with tolerance.”


Weinberger framed the matter differently, saying the patriotic zeal of people like Harness was threatening the very democracy they purported to protect. He warned that the bill would set a dangerous precedent, especially in light of the fascist dictatorships in Europe, of allowing Congress to strip the rights of citizenship from anyone who happened to rankle the government. “The question of the passage of the Harness bill is greater than Bergdoll or any individual,” said Weinberger. “It goes to the fundamentals of American democracy and liberty. It is the first possible step to establish dictatorship by ex post facto laws and bills of attainder.”


Cooler heads prevailed, and the Senate committee opted not to fast-track the legislation. A second court-martial proceeding ordered Grover to serve the remainder of his original sentence plus three years for his escape, bringing the long saga of his case to a somewhat anticlimactic conclusion.


Bergdoll was hardly the only person who had avoided the World War I draft. He was just one of 337,649 men who had been declared guilty of the offense; about 161,000 of this group would never face punishment. Most draft evasion cases were resolved quietly, with little outcry from the public.


But none of these other offenders had attracted such widespread attention for their crimes. Bergdoll’s wealthy status opened him up to accusations that he had only managed to avoid justice because of his deep pockets. He gave varying reasons for his decision not to serve, limiting any sympathy he may have earned if he had provided a consistent reason for not joining the military. Further, he was frequently portrayed as being a waggish, boastful, and otherwise unpleasant person.


All of these factors combined to make Bergdoll’s case a lightning rod for lingering jingoism after World War I. Although it presented an extreme case, the Bergdoll saga demonstrates how the sentiments that had brought about “liberty measles” in 1917 were still alive and well more than two decades later.


Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171896 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171896 0
An Interview with Historian Michael Adas


Michael Adas is an American historian and currently the Abraham E. Voorhees Professor of History at Rutgers University. He specializes in the history of technology, the history of anticolonialism and in global history. 


Why did you choose history as your career?

Most of my reading as a boy was focused on history. So, despite being put off by the way it was taught in secondary school, I continued to read both fiction and non-fiction focused on historical events, particularly relating to the impact of warfare on historical development. Having been previously engaged with school plays and debate tournaments, when I entered college I intended to pursue a career in acting. Very mixed reviews of a number of minor roles I played in my freshman year, when pitted against several superb history classes soon led to the conviction that I should focus on the latter. Over time it became clear that my interests and skills were a good fit for a career as a college teacher and author.  

What was your favorite historic site trip? Why?

While on a global-spanning, government-sponsored trip in the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I spent several days in the splendid Japanese city of Kyoto. Though I later decided to focus my graduate studies on South Asia, where I spent two months of the trip, the visit to Kyoto and other early Japanese cities initiated a lifelong study of garden design and cultivation. I also developed a fondness for Chinese and Japanese architecture and culture more generally that has informed my teaching and especially my ongoing contributions to eight editions of the World Civilization textbook I have coauthored over nearly three decades with Peter Stearns and Stuart Schwartz. 

If you could have dinner with any three historians (dead or alive), who would you choose and why?


Assuming they are historians I have not worked with or met, hence on the basis of their writings, I would 
choose Barbara Tuchman, Carlo Cippola, and Christopher Clark.


What books are you reading now?

Lynn Olson, Last Hope Island

Dahr Jamail, The End of Ice

Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees

Russell Shorto, Amsterdam

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go


(As long as I can remember, I’ve read several books simultaneously)


What is your favorite history book?


Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels


What is your favorite library and bookstore when looking for history books?


Library: The Main Reading Room (now defunct, alas) formerly in the British Museum. Book Stores: A tie between Foyles in book heaven along Charing Cross Road in London and Blackwell’s in Oxford.


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


I am not that sort of collector. But over the years students have given me historical artifacts from World War 1 and the Vietnam War. I have several first editions of soldiers’ accounts, novels, poetry, and journalists’ memoirs on the global disaster that became known in retrospect, the First World War.   


Which history museums are your favorites? Why?


My wife Jane and I share a fascination with museums throughout Europe that focus on World War II. For other historical eras, excluding art museums with antiquities, I prefer the remains of, for examples, Roman villas in Morocco, trench memorials and buildings historically reconstructed in Belgium and northern France, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s remarkable structures in Tokyo and across North America.


Which historical time period is your favorite?


I am reluctant to limit this, but if compelled to do so I would opt for the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Predictably this is the period about which most of my writing (less so my teaching) has been focused.


What would be your advice for history majors looking to make history as a career?

Read widely, but selectively, in the history of culture areas and time periods that you think you’d like to teach and write about – and be open to changing your choices in this regard. Even before you enter a graduate program, give serious thought to the courses you’d like to teach and how you would approach them. When reading the works of prominent authors pay careful attention to the ways they organize their narrative, include analysis, and seek to make the events they cover come alive for the reader. Keep a running account of you impressions.


Who was your favorite history teacher?


A tie between Ernest Breisach, a historian of the Italian Renaissance, whose undergraduate courses impressed me with the challenges and pleasures of writing and teaching history, and John Smail, my advisor and mentor in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, where I focused on Southeast Asian and Global and Comparative history.


Why is it essential to save history and libraries?


The two are inextricably connected. They provide essential sources for gaining intelligent (but not necessarily correct) understandings of present events and broader developments, thereby making possible well-considered options for decisions that at the highest levels will shape the future of humanity and our planet. 


You’re a member of the American Historical Association, World History Association, and the Society for the History of Technology. What unique opportunities have these organizations provided?


These and other organizations have provided numerous opportunities for me to present papers on both books and articles recently published (and in some cases revisit those that have been out for years). Equally important, both the AHA and Shot in particular have provided venues that have enabled me to connect with and learn from authors who are working on issues related to my own (or my students) works in progress. These occasions have often proved particularly valuable in shaping my ongoing work. Depending on the sites chosen for a particular year, the conventions of these and other scholarly organizations have also made it possible to renew contacts with former graduate students who have gone on to teach in distant places, editors present and past, and fellow historians (as well as anthropologists, political scientists, and freelance authors) at other institutions.


Many historians worry about how to preserve digital history. In your experience, how can historians overcome this challenge and preserve the history of technology?


Digital archiving strikes me as a superb way to preserve a wide range of historical research and writing, including a growing corpus of informal oral contributions that would otherwise be lost. Both in terms of dissemination and development, digital technologies have become essential to the preservation of a wide range of historical events and historians’ responses that would otherwise be lost.


In 2018, you published Everyman in Vietnam A Soldier's Journey into the Quagmire. Why did you choose to write about the Vietnam War? 

During the decade when I was pursuing my undergraduate and graduate education, the build-up to and ultimately the full-scale U.S. military interventions in Vietnam escalated steadily. As my engagement in global history and international politics deepened, that ill-fated “crusade” proved to be the single most persistent and important historical process shaping my political and moral assumptions about the reasons for pursuing the teaching and writing of history. Nonetheless, I was frustrated at the time by the extremist and counter-productive nature of most of the local opportunities in Madison, Wisconsin for participation in protests against the war as well as my neophyte status that precluded publishing about the conflict.


In the decades that followed I managed to address the tragic history of that failed American “crusade” in my college teaching and some of my published works. But I was unable to find a way to bring together all of the forces and levels of conflict that came together in the war. That possibility finally emerged from an unexpected quarter: A seminar presentation by one of my undergraduate students, Joseph Gilch, about his uncle’s combat service and death in the conflict.  A remarkable trove of Jimmy Gilch’s letters to his parents and friends provided the means of connecting critical aspects of and lessons from the war that we as a society still need to absorb. These ranged from the ignorance of the people and history of Vietnam that prevailed among the leaders – both political and military – who made the decisions for the massive interventions that took the lives of Jimmy and so many other young Americans, and utterly devastated the people and land of Vietnam. The letters provided the basis for an inclusive, coauthored, and interpretive narrative of the conflict and its effects on both societies that I had sought to write for several decades. 


From your experience writing this book, how can America better help our veterans?


Since the book is focused on the war and a soldier whose ordeal we viewed as a prism for participants and engagements on all sides, there is only limited coverage of the aftermath of the conflict or the veterans who survived. But Joe and I have exchanged views on the war and subsequent conflicts with Veterans on radio broadcasts, and engaged in often-intense discussions with Vets during and after book talks. Joe also had early contacts with Vietnam Veterans in his uncle’s unit, and these figured in important ways in the combat portions of the book. Above all, we wrote the book to contribute to the literature on Vietnam and America’s subsequent “little wars.” We intended the book to add to a growing corpus of works in multiple fields that provide the basis for present and future, politically-engaged Americans to resist leaders who seek to send our armed forces to fight foreign wars that do not involve our vital interests and brutally distort the historical trajectories of the peoples and nations that become the targets of these interventions.


Are you working on any new books?


In addition to essays for edited collections and the eighth edition of the co-authored Global History textbook for Pearson, I am currently working on a book on “Misbegotten Wars and the Decline of Anglo-American Global Hegemony in the Long Twentieth Century” for the Harvard University Press. I am also researching contextual historical introductions for a volume of excerpts from key writings on the diverse causes and effects of climate change and the ways developed or proposed the far to ameliorate the ongoing and increasing threats they pose for human societies and the life of the planet as a whole.  


How can people who love history help save and preserve global history and history of technology? How can social media help? 


I don’t think that either global history or the history of technology is in danger of being lost or marginalized at this juncture, and I cannot imagine their demise in the foreseeable future. The venues for publishing and organizing conferences in both genres have increased significantly in recent decades. With issues, such as international migration, race and gender relations, and climate change receiving ever more attention world-wide, I think the prospects for both fields of inquiry andsocial activism are almost certain to grow significantly in the decades ahead. And given the responsiveness, especially in recent years, of my students at all levels and the teachers in NJ-NY I have been working with in recent years, I believe that the importance of advanced technologies and the essential linkages provided by international organizations will significantly increase the impact of work in both fields. In dealing with global climate change and other vital trans-continental challenges, it will become more and more imperative to fund and expand collaborative historical projects and enhance the ways in which scholarly and activist findings in these fields are made widely available and acted upon across cultures. 



Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171897 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171897 0
The Template for the Holocaust- Germany's African Genocide

German Schutztruppe in combat with the Herero in a painting by Richard Knötel.


“Within the German borders every Herero, with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot.” - General Lothar von Trotha, Commander of German Forces in South West Africa, 1905

Hundreds of emaciated prisoners look out helplessly. Many have died of disease or malnourishment, but their German masters drive them on each day to hard forced labor. As soon as they cannot work anymore, they are shot. Women and children are not exempt from this brutal system. A mother with a young baby falls in the stifling heat and both are beaten mercilessly by a guard. The baby cries, but the mother knows to stay silent.

In this camp, fewer than half the prisoners will survive. Even the commandant considers the rations “in no sense adequate.” With only a handful of uncooked rice to sustain them, these starving people fight for any scrap of food they can find. 

This scene comes not from 1940s Eastern Europe but South West Africa some thirty-five years earlier. The treatment of the Herero and Nama grimly foreshadows the treatment of the Jews of Europe. In the 20th Century’s first genocide, Imperial Germany’s campaign of annihilation provided precedents for the racial ideologies and exterminatory tactics of the Holocaust.  

A Colonial Problem

Germany, which had only unified in 1870, was a latecomer to the colonial game. Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of the German Empire,had little interest in costly colonial adventures, once declaring “my map of Africa lies in Europe.” Yet, with the rise of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Bismarck’s sober “Realpolitik” was replaced with the expansionist “Weltpolitik” (world politics),expressing Germany’s desire to become a global power. In 1897, Foreign Minister (and later Chancellor) Bernhard von Bulow eloquently captured the essence of “Weltpolitik” by demanding Germany’s “place in the sun.” To secure that place, Germany needed a colonial empire.

To Germany’s chagrin, the other European powers (especially Britain) already occupied the most valuable territories. To “catch-up,” Germany sought to rapidly develop the few colonies she possessed. In South West Africa (modern Namibia), the Reich promoted “Germanization” through the arrival of settlers, the conscription of native people, and the construction of railroads. Germany’s imperialist aspirations posed a mortal danger to South West Africa’s original inhabitants, who were systematically deprived of their possessions, their lands, and their civil rightsRelentless German encroachment led to growing tensions, which burst into open rebellion in 1904. 

Samuel Maherero, leader of the Herero people, wrote to the Nama chief Hendrik Witbooi advocating solidarity against the colonial oppressors. The Herero and Nama began attacking settlements and dealt the Germans a series of embarrassing reverses. The colonial governor requested reinforcements. In early June, Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha arrived with 14,000 troops to take command. 

Trotha had no intention of making peace with the Herero or Nama, as he explained, “my intimate knowledge of many central African nations has everywhere convinced me…that the Negro does not respect treaties but only brute force.” For Trotha, the aim was not pacification, not subjugation, but annihilation. Troth would advocate “unmitigated terrorism” and pledge to “destroy the rebellious tribes by shedding rivers of blood and money.” On the eve of WWII, Hitler would issue a similar pronouncement to the Wehrmacht: “Close your hearts to pity. Act brutally.”

Racial War

On August 11th, Trotha’s troops met a large Herero force commanded by Samuel Maherero at Waterberg plateau. While the Herero outnumbered the Germans, the Germans broke the Herero lines with heavy artillery and superior firepower. Then, the Germans drove their defeated adversaries into the Omaheke Desert along with their women and children. German pursuit turned into outright slaughter. A witness wrote “the Germans took no prisoners,” not even sparing “mothers holding babies at their breasts.” The soldiers murdered indiscriminately, killing the wounded, the unarmed, and the infirm. 

Many of the initial survivors of the massacre would die of starvation and dehydration in the coming weeks. Trotha commanded his troops to patrol all the watering holes and shoot any Herero trying to escape the desert. The Germans may have also poisoned local wells. In October 1904, Trotha issued his infamous “extermination order,” decreeing that “within the German borders every Herero, with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot.” No exception would be made for women and children. 

Trotha’s barbarism requires an understanding of Social Darwinism and the scientific racism that had gained currency in this period. Trotha and other nationalists considered the conflict a “racial war.” It was only natural for the superior German race to destroy their inferior foes. Trotha claimed that Germany could not prosecute a war “against non-humans” humanely. Considering the Herero a pestilence, he wrote: “I think it is better that the Herero nation perish rather than infect our troops.” The Herero were a threat not only to German settlers but to German blood.

Trotha’s pursuit of racial purity and “living space” for the Teutonic race were well understood by German nationalists. Germany had banned mixed-race marriages in South West Africa, considering them a form of “Rassenschande” or “racial defilement.” The legal disenfranchisement of non-Germans and the fixation on blood would find a chilling echo in the 1935 Nuremburg Laws

These racial laws were supported through the disreputable pseudoscience of Eugenics. Disturbingly, many German academics collaborated in developing the dangerous mythology of racial exceptionalism. Not only would scientific racism be used to justify Germany’s exterminatory policies, but, as will be seen, it would play ghoulish role in the genocide itself.

Final Destruction

After breaking the resistance, the Germans rounded up the surviving Herero and Nama into concentration camps. The prisoners were then used as slave labor to build railroads and dig mines. At the notorious Shark Island camp, inmates who had been worked to death were discarded into the shark-infested waters. Shark Island also housed a gruesome medical complex, where German doctors tortured prisoners by injecting them with dangerous chemicals and diseases. These doctors also performed lethal experimental operations without anesthetic. Conditions were so horrific that numerous inmates committed suicide

At Swakopmund, women were forced to boil heads of the deceased and strip the flesh so that the skulls could be sent to Germany for research. German universities received hundreds of skulls and other remainsfrom the victims of the genocide. These grisly artifacts were then used to demonstrate the allegedly subhuman characteristics of the Africans.

Despite international condemnation, the genocide continued until 1908. By then, the nearly 85,000 Herero had been reduced to 15,000 “starving refugees.” Almost half the 20,000 Nama had been killedThe Witbooi sub-tribe was reduced from 1600 in 1905 to just 38 in 1912. The survivors had lost everything, and many would suffer in destitution for years.

Forgotten Victims

Over one-hundred years later, the genocide has been largely forgotten in the Western consciousness. Shamefully, the race of the victims plays a role in our collective ignorance. Moral outrage can be selective, conditional, and racial. Contrast the international reaction to the events in South West Africa to the reaction to German atrocities in Belgium in 1914. Ironically, in the case of the Herero and Nama genocide, racism belittles the memory of its victims.


For decades, Germany possessed hundreds of remains of Herero and Nama people. Finally, in 2011, the German Medical History Museum began restoring some of these remains to Namibia. In 2004, the German government issued an apology for its grievous violation of human rights. In 2015, the German government acknowledged what a UN report had concluded thirty years earlier, that the destruction of the Herero and Nama was genocide. 


However, justice has proved elusive. Victim remains are still in museums around the world, including at the Museum of Natural History in New York. While the German government has apologized, it has ruled out the type of reparations for victim’s families that were provided to Holocaust victims. As small minorities within Namibia, the Herero and Nama are still grappling with the economic effects of the genocide. Their reduced numbers limit their political power, and without their lands, many struggle with cyclical poverty. In 2017, some Herero and Nama sued Germany, demanding financial restitution. Those lawsuits remain pending.


In the long history of racial violence, the Herero and Nama genocide represented a unique horror. For the first time in history, a modern, industrial nation sought the complete destruction of another people. Germany was guided by a vision of racial superiority, bolstered by pseudoscience and jingoism. Those same forces would form the bedrock of the brutal Nazi regime. 

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171868 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171868 0
Sidney Blumenthal on Abraham Lincoln and Why History Always Matters

To celebrate the History News Network's arrival at the George Washington University, HNN hosted "Why History Always Matters." As part of the event, HNN Editor Kyla Sommers interviewed Mr. Blumenthal on the importance of history and his 5-part biography of Abraham Lincoln.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171867 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171867 0
Roundup Top 10!  


In an era of rising anti-Semitism, should Jewish Americans tack left or right?

by Andrew Paul

What a 70-year-old riot says about solidarity.


Why the Labor Movement Has Failed—And How to Fix It

by Sarita Gupta, Stephen Lerner, and Joseph A. McCartin

The arc of the economic universe has bent badly toward injustice.



The Madness of Nuclear Deterrence

by Mikhail Gorbachev

The dangers have only become more acute in the decades since I tried to convince Thatcher.



Trump's regime is leading America in an insurrection

by Carol Anderson

Trump’s regime has ignited the base by conjuring up a vision of whiteness imperiled by ‘illegals’, ‘black identity extremists’ and Muslim terrorists.



How Franklin Graham betrayed his father’s legacy

by Nancy Beck Young

Instead of treating issues of sexuality with compassion, Graham has weaponized them.



The Other Notre-Dame Was Not Rebuilt

by Amy Wilentz

Perhaps France should help Haiti, its former colony, rebuild the cathedral lost in the 2010 earthquake.



The Poway shooter used an age old terrorist tactic. The media fell for it.

by Ibrahim Al-Marashi

The history behind terrorists’ favorite tactic and how we can fight it.



The centuries-long fight for reparations

by Ana Lucia Araujo

There is a long and old tradition of black men and women demanding restitution for the time they were enslaved.



Spring Stirrings and Misgivings

by Rebecca Gordon

Of Autocrats and Uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.



US declining interest in history presents risk to democracy

by Edward Luce

In an ever more algorithmic world, Americans increasingly believe humanities are irrelevant.



A Moral Stain on the Profession

by Daniel Bessner and Michael Brenes

As the humanities collapse, it’s time to name and shame the culprits.



Attack on the AHA Couldn’t Be More Wrong

by Joy Connolly

"As interim President of a large public graduate school, I believe passionately in providing education that empowers students to make the most of their lives, whether or not they pursue careers in the academy."

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171891 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171891 0
Most Americans Reject Trump’s “America First” Policy


As president, Donald Trump has leaned heavily upon what he has called an “America First” policy.  This nationalist approach involves walking away from cooperative agreements with other nations and relying, instead, upon a dominant role for the United States, undergirded by military might, in world affairs.

Nevertheless, as numerous recent opinion polls reveal, most Americans don’t support this policy.

The reaction of the American public to Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from key international agreements has been hostile.  According to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll conducted in early May 2018, shortly before Trump announced a pullout from the Iran nuclear agreement, 54 percent of respondents backed the agreement.  Only 29 percent favored a pullout.  In July 2018, when the Chicago Council on Global Affairs surveyed Americans about their reaction to Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate agreement, it found that 66 favored remaining within the Iran accord, while 68 percent favored remaining within the Paris accord―an increase of 6 percent in support for each of these agreements over the preceding year.

Most Americans also rejected Trump’s 2019 withdrawal of the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia.  A survey that February by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs reported that 54 percent of Americans opposed withdrawal from this nuclear arms control treaty and only 41 percent favored it.  Furthermore, when pollsters presented arguments for and against withdrawal from the treaty to Americans before asking for their opinion, 66 percent opposed withdrawal.

In addition, despite Trump’s sharp criticism of U.S. allies, most Americans expressed their support for a cooperative relationship with them.  The Chicago Council’s July 2018 survey found that 66 percent of Americans agreed that the United States should make decisions with its allies, even if it meant that the U.S. government would have to go along with a policy other than its own.  Only 32 percent disagreed.  Similarly, a March 2019 Pew Research poll found that 54 percent of American respondents wanted the U.S. government to take into account the interests of its allies, even if that meant compromising with them, while only 40 percent said the U.S. government should follow its national interests when its allies strongly disagreed.

Moreover, despite the Trump administration’s attacks upon the United Nations and other international human rights entities―including pulling out of the UN Human Rights Council, withdrawing from UNESCO, defunding UN relief efforts for Palestinians, and threatening to prosecute the judges of the International Criminal Court―public support for international institutions remained strong.  In July 2018, 64 percent of Americans surveyed told the Chicago Council’s pollsters that the United States should be more willing to make decisions within the framework of the UN, even if that meant going along with a policy other than its own.  This was the highest level of agreement on this question since 2004, when it was first asked.  In February 2019, 66 percent of U.S. respondents to a Gallup survey declared that the UN played “a necessary role in the world today.”

But what about expanding U.S. military power?  Given the Trump administration’s success at fostering a massive military buildup, isn’t there widespread enthusiasm about that?

On this point, too, the administration’s priorities are strikingly out of line with the views of most Americans.  A National Opinion Research Center (NORC) survey of U.S. public opinion, conducted from April through November 2018, found that only 27 percent of respondents thought that the U.S. government spent “too little” on the military, while 66 percent thought that it spent either “too much” or “about the right amount.”  By contrast, 77 percent said the government spent “too little” on education, 71 percent said it spent “too little” on assistance to the poor, and 70 percent said it spent “too little” on improving and protecting the nation’s health. 

In February 2019, shortly after Trump indicated he would seek another hefty spending increase in the U.S. military budget, bringing it to an unprecedented $750 billion, only 25 percent of American respondents to a Gallup poll stated that the U.S. government was spending too little on the military.  Another 73 percent said that the government was spending too much on it or about the right amount.

Moreover, when it comes to using U.S. military might, Americans seem considerably less hawkish than the Trump administration.  According to a July 2018 survey by the Eurasia Group Foundation, U.S. respondents―asked what should be done if “Iran gets back on track with its nuclear weapons program”―favored diplomatic responses over military responses by 80 percent to 12.5 percent.  That same month, as the Chicago Council noted, almost three times as many Americans believed that admiration for the United States (73 percent) was more important than fear of their country (26 percent) for achieving U.S. foreign policy goals. 

Unlike the president, who has boasted of U.S. weapons sales to other countries, particularly to Saudi Arabia, Americans are also rather uncomfortable about the U.S. role as the world’s pre-eminent arms dealer.  In November 2018, 58 percent of Americans surveyed told YouGov that they wanted the U.S. government to curtail or halt its arms sales to the Saudi Arabian government, while only 13 percent wanted to maintain or increase such sales.

Finally, an overwhelming majority of Americans continues to express its support for nuclear arms control and disarmament.  In the aftermath of Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the INF treaty and announcement of plans to build new nuclear weapons, 87 percent of respondents to a February 2019 poll by Chicago Council said they wanted the United States and Russia to come to an agreement to limit nuclear arms.

The real question is not whether most Americans disagree with Trump’s “America First” national security policy but, rather, what they are willing to do about it.


[This is a revised version of an article published by Foreign Policy in Focus on April 25, 2019.]

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171862 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171862 0
Showing the Data: The Political Uses of the Past Browser The Political Uses of the Past Project collects statements by federal elected and appointed officials, and has long had a goal of making the collection accessible. The table below is a first step.

Each row represents a statement that makes use of the past. The table can be filtered, searched, and sorted. Clicking on a row will show the entire statement in a box underneath the table. The table was originally going to stand alone, but I wanted to provide some sort of visual overview, and that led me to create the tag plot. This feature provides a window into the collection, and any subset of the collection that users create through searching and sorting. (more below…)

A wider version of the table can be viewed here.

The plot shows tags for all the statements in the filtered set. Larger type and a higher position reflects frequency (please note that the y axis is set to a log-10 scale to make the lower half of the plot easier to read). Color and left-right position show whether the tag appears more often with one party or another.

The x axis is based on a simple index. A value of -1 means the tag only appears in statements by Democrats (in the filtered set), and a value of 1 means the tag only appears with Republican statements. A value of zero means it’s an even split. Please note that I included both independents in Congress with the Democrats because they caucus with them (and this shortcut saved me many headaches).

To take an example, the following plot showed up on April 28, 2019 after filtering the statement tags on "voting" (on April 28, 2019). Most of the statements come from the debate on HR 1, the Democrats' We the People Act.

When Democrats make historical references while discussing voting, they referenced Lincoln, racism, slavery, and Martin Luther King Jr. Several Republican statements in this dataset reference an alleged historic primacy of states in the election process. Others referenced the Soviet Union. Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), for example, insisted that the We the People Act would "Stalinize" American elections. Both parties made reference to the founders in about equal measure.

The Political Uses of the Past Project is collecting these statements to discover patterns and develop insights into how views of the past shape policy. With this searchable table, anyone can do the same. But I had some other uses in mind as well.

  • Historians interested in correcting the record can search the data for statements in their area of expertise. This project is undertaking some fact-checking of these statements (examples here and here), but will never keep up with the volume.
  • Anyone writing on current policy or politics can use the statements to find quotes and ideas on how the past is shaping contemporary debates.
  • Teachers of history, civics, or political science can mine this list for inspiration or source material, or they can point their students to this browser for ideas or assignments.
  • Anyone who is tired of hearing how the study of history doesn’t matter can send those detractors here!

Of course we'd love to hear about any applications of this table or its data; plase contact the project here if you've found it useful (or if you notice any bugs). There is more information about the data and search tools on the browser's dedicated page, here. All suggestions and feedback welcome!

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154206 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154206 0
6 Presidents Who Never Lost an Election

Americans are used to seeing people who become president as winners. After all, they have defeated an opponent sometimes decisively, sometimes narrowly to reach the highest office in the land. 

However, few American presidents reach that point without experiencing electoral defeat at some point in their careers. In fact, of America’s 44 presidents, only six have won every election they have contested. 

Thirteen presidents lost the presidency or presidential nomination on the way to ultimate victory---Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush.  Eighteen presidents have lost the presidency after first winning the position (John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford Hayes, Chester Alan Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush).  Tyler, Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Hayes and Arthur were denied re-nomination by their party and any alternative possibility that they sought, while Van Buren, Fillmore, and Theodore Roosevelt lost third party bids. Grant was denied an opportunity to come back four years after his Presidency in his own Republican Party convention in 1880.

Two presidents (Lincoln and George H. W. Bush) lost Senate races on the way to the presidency, while Lyndon B. Johnson lost his first Senate race before winning his second race by the margin of 87 votes statewide in Texas.  Others have lost House of Representatives races or the state governorships or state legislative races or an even more local race, such as a school board. In the case of the two Roosevelts, Theodore Roosevelt lost the New York City mayoralty election in 1886 and Franklin D. Roosevelt lost the vice presidency in the 1920 presidential election. John F. Kennedy lost the open battle for the vice- presidential nomination at the 1956 Democratic National Convention.  And Calvin Coolidge lost a race for the Northampton, Massachusetts School Board in 1904.

Of the six successful presidents, three shared a common career path. George Washington, Zachary Taylor, and Dwight D. Eisenhower all had notable military careers, and never sought office other than the presidency. It is also worth noting that Washington and Eisenhower easily won re-election. Taylor on the other hand died shortly after taking office. 

Illness and death also cut short the careers of two other winning presidents. James A. Garfield, a “dark horse” nominee in 1880, never lost the House seat he first won in 1862. The Ohio State Legislature elected him to the Senate in 1880 but he never served since he also became the Republican presidential candidate that same year.  Sadly, he was assassinated shortly after taking office.

Woodrow Wilson’s electoral record was even thinner. Following a single two-year term as governor of New Jersey, he won the 1912 presidential election in a three-way contest with Republican candidate William Howard Taft and former president Theodore Roosevelt who was running on a third-party ticket. Although he was re-elected in 1916, Wilson’s second term was cut short by a paralytic stroke that left him totally unable to govern in the last seventeen months of his second term, with his wife conducting cabinet meetings and keeping Vice President Thomas Marshall in the dark on Wilson’s true health condition until the end of the term in 1921, the longest period of incapacity of any President.

Donald Trump is the outlier in the group. He is the only presidential candidate, other than Taylor, without previous electoral experience to run in a single election and win. Should he run and win again in 2020, he will have won every election he contested.   

So the road to the Presidency has seen its occupants broadly experience the agony of defeat, but also the later joy of victory and often a later repudiation that sobers their self-image. Defeat at some point is widely common.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171863 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171863 0
The Upstart Press Mogul Who Changed How We Understand the World


Americans are so busy arguing over who is more biased, Fox News or MSNBC, or whether President Trump will win or lose his fiery war with the nation’s press, that we forget the story of the bold, brazen audacious, in-your-face media mogul who changed our world and made us look at newspapers and television in an entirely different way – Australian upstart Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch, the son of an Australian newspaper editor, burst into the world at the age of 32, just after his father died. In 1952, he formed his own publishing company and began to gobble up newspapers in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Over the years, he assumed ownership of nearly 800 different media outlets, including television’s Fox News, the New York Post, the book publisher HarperCollins and the Wall Street Journal in America. His style of journalism was wildly different than that of most news outlets, although many soon followed in his footsteps. Murdoch’s view of the media world was loud, big and bodacious. Every story needed a BIG headline, lots of subheads, large photos, the racier the better, and stories of politicians, celebrities, sports figures and anybody and everybody in involved in a scandal. Sex scandals, of course, were the best. He excerpted numerous books, too, the sexier the better, such as the Sensuous Woman.

His rather incredible story, that crossed three continents and fills our homes today, is being told in a solid new musical, Ink, by James Graham, that just opened in New York at the Samuel Friedman Theater on W. 47th Street. It is, like its subject, loud, big and brawling. It is a deep, detailed and mesmerizing look at how the media operated from 1969 to the current day and a marvelous history lesson on the ever-changing role of the media in public life in the UK and in America. It is also a searing look at Murdoch, either loved or hated by Americans of all stripes.

I wanted to see Ink because for 23 years I was a reporter at the New York Daily News, the rival of Murdoch’s New York Post. We did battle with him, big headline vs. big headline and large photo vs. large photo, our movie stars against his movie stars, every day and I remember those fights well. I wanted a chance to get this behind-the-scenes look at the man with whom we jousted from sun up to sun down.

The play is a nice look at what makes media moguls like Murdoch tick. You must remember that nobody in the 1960s (there were similar sensational newspapers, such as the New York Graphic, but these were way back in the 1920s) that were as a bold, and wildly different, as Murdoch in those days. He had his product giveaway contests, celebrity interviews, scary crime stories, one after the other, and photos of girl after girl, wearing as little as possible.

His partner in the play, and in real life, was editor Larry Lamb, who was as outrageous as Murdoch. Lamb was determined to increase the circulation of the Sun, day by day, until it was the number one seller in all of the UK. And he did. The play is about Murdoch, but Lamb is its centerpiece. 

Murdoch’s New York Post, like all of his papers, featured lots of bombastic headlines. My favorite was that above the story of a woman murdered and decapitated, her body left in a strip club. The headline was HEADLESS BDY IN TOPLESS BAR.

The plot of the story is simple. Young Murdoch arrives in England with lots of money and buys the Sun, a struggling tabloid. He remakes it and turns it into a sensational, populist newspaper. He hires taskmaster editor Larry Lamb and they drive people as hard as they can to make the Sun unique. He is hooted and jeered, but never loses his way and becomes very successful

There are some great lines in the play. At one point, Lamb says the paper is getting ugly and Murdoch, glee in his voice, says that “ugly is an art form.”   Someone says to Murdoch that the Sun and Mirror are like David and Goliath. “We all know how that turned out,” Murdoch answers with a sneer

Ink is a delightful, if cheerleaderish, look at hard driving journalist who wants to conquer the media world, and does. It is great fun in many spots, full of energy and pounding songs, and a sobering look at the press, and its affect on the world, in others. It is driven by two mercurial and extremely gifted actors, Bertie Carvel as Murdoch and Jonny Lee Miller as Larry Lamb. Others fine performances, smoothly directed by Rupert Goold, are turned in by Colin McPhillamy as Sir Alick McKay and Rana Roy as Stephanie Rahn. The ensemble is full of talented performers.

There is a tremendous amount of media history in the play. You learn of the seismic shift of news coverage, and its style, brought about by Murdoch. You see how the media operates behind the scenes, including an eye opening look at exactly how the plates of each page are put together and, in the end, hammered tight into a collar. Nothing is spared to let you see how the newspaper media operated in the 1960s and ‘70s. 

On the negative side, the play is very long, nearly three hours. It drives its sensationalist and populist lesson home, but does it too often. It has a lot to do with England and little to do with the United States. It never explains how powerful Murdoch became. He owned television stations all over the world, and even above the world with Sky News Network, the satellite channel. He owned hundreds of newspapers, magazines and book publishing companies. He was close to numerous British prime ministers, a buddy of Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Cameron. He was married several times, had four sons as media mad as him. Murdoch was a bit like America’s William Randolph Hearst, a Citizen Kane of the world as Hearst was in that famous film. The play never gets into all of the animosity towards Murdoch over the years and all of his legal battles and disputes with government regulatory agencies, either.

Murdoch would love this play, though -INK TOPPLES ALL OTHER MEDIA !!! with a really big photo.

PRODUCTION:  Scenic design ad costumes: Bunny Christie, Lighting: Neil Austin, Music, Adam Cork, Projection Design: Jon Briscoll, Choreography: Lynn Page.  The play is directed by Robert Gold. It runs through June 23.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171864 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171864 0
Beware Anew the Military-Industrial Complex: Revisiting Eisenhower's Warning


“The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”

“What experience and history teaches us is that people and governments have 

never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.”

  – G.W.F. Hegel



The military-industrial complex, a term brought to life by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his 1961 farewell address to the nation, is widely acknowledged, quoted, and even embraced today.Yet, ironically, the ubiquity of this embrace hasn’t actually affected the outsized influence of that complex.


“In the councils of government,” Eisenhower warned, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex [‘military-industrial-congressional complex’ in the original text]. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” 


He had prefaced these words in the same address by observing: “The total influence [of the then-new conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry] – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.” 


If we were blessed with an ideal state of civil-military relations in this country, its distinguishing characteristics would include – in addition to a strategically effective military and strategically competent civilian overseers – what we might call a properly subordinated military-industrial complex. This complex would, accordingly, be subordinated to and supportive of national interests, aims, and responses. Quite the opposite has been the case, though, throughout the almost six decades since Eisenhower alerted the American people the centrality of military industries to civilian life. Today, it is a mammoth, strategically distorting, even strategically dysfunctional confluence of political, ideological and, yes, economic interests that warrants renewed attention, if not alarm. This is especially important as the military-industrial complex has been given new, unfettered life and license by the 2018 National Defense Strategy document, now in place, that has assumed the de facto position of representing America’s current strategic posture.


Roughly 13% of the U.S. federal budget now goes to private-sector contractors, 63% of those contracts beingfor defense. Some 51% of defense contracts are for products, 41% for services, the rest for R&D. Defense contracts represent 52% of overall defense spending. In FY 2018 alone, the Defense Department awarded over $358 billion in contracts. The top 10 defense contractors– Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, General Dynamics, United Technologies, L3 Technologies, Huntington Ingalls, Leidos, Booz Allen Hamilton – collectively receive some $167 billion a year in defense revenues. That amount exceeds the GDPs of more than 130 of the world’s countries. Lockheed’s defense revenues alone – $48 billion – exceeds the annual military expenditures of all but six countries; while numbers 2 and 3 – Raytheon and Northrop Grumman – each receive over $20 billion in defense revenues, thereby exceeding military expenditures of all but 13 countries. 


To be fair, economically speaking, overall defense expenditures represent 3.5% of U.S. GDP; the defense sector provides over 4 million jobs; and roughly 10% of the $2.2 trillion in U.S. factory output goes to arms production. These are not inconsequential considerations for the politically minded and politically motivated among us. At the same time, the United States claims the dubious honor of ranking first in the world in international arms transfers, commanding 36% of the global market. This also isn’t inconsequential for thestrategically minded among us who recognize the potentially destabilizing, arms-race-inducing effects of such transactions.


Because Eisenhower’s warning conveyed concern about the well-being of democracy, it is especially important to note thatthe defense sector of industry assiduously exercises its First Amendment rights through lobbying and campaign contributions: $128 million spent on the former, $30 million on the latter in the 2017-18 federal campaign cycle alone. Since 1990, the defense sector has accounted for nearly $200 million in campaign contributions – dwarfed, in comparison, by other sectors, but nonetheless more than mere “beanbag,” as they say.


Eisenhower’s April 1953 “Chance for Peace” speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, delivered almost immediately after he took office, is even more telling even than his 1961 farewell address. Also broadcast nationwide, it is worth quoting at some length for the examples it affords:


Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. 


This world in arms is not spending money alone.


It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.


The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.


It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. 


It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.


We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.


We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.


This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.  


This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.


Of course, that was then, when a destroyer cost something on the order of $6 million apiece, a bomber $2.4 million, a fighter jet $211,000. This is now, when an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer runs $1.2 billion (and a Zumwalt-class destroyer $4.5 billion), a B-21 stealth bomber $564 million, an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter $141 million. Thanks to the National Priorities Project, we can see what some selected tradeoffs akin to those Eisenhower offered might look like:


For the $19.95 billion we are paying for nuclear weapons and associated costs, we could create, for example, 359,099 infrastructure jobs for a year, or pay 246,838 elementary school teachers for a year.


For the $11.45 billion we are paying for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, we could provide, for example, 1.11 million military veterans VA medical care for a year, or 344,676 scholarships for university students for four years.


For the $1.51 billion we are paying for Predator and Reaper drones, we could provide, for example, 638,124 children or 424,963 adults low-income healthcare for a year.


These aren’t just incongruent apples-and-oranges tradeoffs; they are strategic tradeoffs. Those, most notably, who either produced or zealously support the NDS consider such tradeoffs anything but strategic, precisely because the types of domestic spending alternatives offered aren’t militarily relevant. 


The NDS is a retro, militaristic call for a self-reaffirming, self-serving, self-fulfilling New Cold War that implicitly bows to and embraces a dominant and domineering military-industrial complex.The NDS claims that (a) the world we face today is determined by Great Power competition, defined in predominantly military terms, in which “revisionist powers” China and Russia seek to unseat us; (b) our supremacy in every domain of warfare – air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace – is now contested and begs restoration; (c) peace (through strength) is achievable primarily, if not solely, by being prepared for war; and (d) the primary line of effort for carrying out this “strategy” is heightened lethality. 


The NDS would have us believe that the preferred vehicle for restoring America’s deserved primacy in all the aforementioned domains of warfare is the technological superiority provided by what is now labeled the “National Security Innovation Base.”  Such labeling seemingly implies that national security and defense are essentially synonymous, and that a future-oriented Innovation Base is somehow different (at least rhetorically) than a backward-looking Defense Industrial Base. Irony again intrudes here, by the way, since mobilization is implicitly given new life, but mobilization in the most parochial World War II, giant on-off switch terms. 


For the various parties that make up the military-industrial complex, the New Cold War ideology put forth in the NDS is a boon of inestimable consequence, an incestuously preserved warfighting profiteer’s dream. It is also a tacit guarantee that defense industry, not government of, by, and for the people, will continue to call shots most of us don’t even acknowledge it calls on strategic priorities and commitments, military doctrine, the perversely irreversible American Way of War, technology, force structure and disposition, and manpower requirements. And, lest we forget, there is the massive international traffic in conventional arms that ensures the perpetuation and expansion of the arms industry (to “keep the industrial base warm,” of course), even as it feeds provocation, escalation, and destabilization abroad.


Though it may seem hyperbolic, even alarmist, one is tempted to harken back to the post-World War I period, when soul-searchingly pejorative “merchants of death” rhetoric was in vogue. With irony again our guide for the moment, one of the most outspoken critics of war profiteering was Marine Major General Smedley Butler, a two-time Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who had spent his 34-year career in uniform dutifully fighting various colonial wars at the turn of the 20th century. His highly publicized 1935 speech/short book War is a Racket spoke bluntly in terms worth remembering today: 


War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.


Let us now, if we are to restore or establish strategic sanity in this post-post-Cold War era, revisit these words and those of President Eisenhower. We – the taxpayers, the citizenry, the source of citizen-soldiers, the repository of popular sovereignty – owe ourselves, our progeny, and our future nothing less.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171840 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171840 0
The Notre-Dame Fire and Digital Preservation


The Notre-Dame fire was a tragedy. Millions mourned the fire’s impact by sharing their memories, posting images of time spent there. Others expressed regret at never visiting or over walking past her every day, taking the Cathedral’s presence for granted. This fire reminds us that even the most iconic representations of our history and culture are fragile. Our treasures can be gone in an instant.


Decades ago, the only way to experience a treasure lost to time might be through the types of photos and writings being shared this week. Today, we are far more fortunate. Through the power of technology, we are able to preserve our heritage – books and manuscripts, artworks, performances, architectural structures and sites – in remarkable ways. Some might argue that there is no substitute for visiting an historic site like Notre-Dame in person, but if you have not tried a virtual reality visit to a historical site, you should. We now have the capability to capture these places digitally and to experience and study them in deep, meaningful ways.


Years ago I had the opportunity to work with a professor of photogrammetry at the University of Cape Town, Dr. Heinz Ruther. Ruther spent thirty years traveling throughout Africa and around the world to capture UNESCO sites in painstaking detail. My role was to help bring those materials online for others to use as part of a larger initiative led by the non-profit Aluka, to make content from and about Africa accessible for research. The result of Ruther’s work and our collaboration is the ability for researchers to now virtually visit and navigate through many World Heritage sites like Kilwa, Tanzania and Lalibela, Ethiopia. Historians and others studying these sites have now accessed these digital site replicas millions of times. Some may be using them to supplement research trips to the actual site, but most will never travel there. 


Technology is enabling access in ways unimaginable in the past, but it is also an essential tool in preservation. One does not have to dig very deep in the imagination to envisage situations where sites like these could be destroyed and these replicas become the only way to experience them. In fact, we worked with a consortium of private libraries, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Northwestern University to digitize Arabic manuscripts from Timbuktu, Mali. Years later, turmoil in the region brought the manuscripts, their whereabouts, and the comprehensiveness of the collection into question. While the outcome could have been far worse (many manuscripts survived), we were fortunate to have captured these manuscripts digitally to protect against their vanishing forever. This is not always, or even often, the case. 


Amidst the sadness surrounding the Notre-Dame fire, I learned that Notre-Dame was captured by Vassar College art historian Andrew Tallon using 3-D imagery. The late Professor Tallon’s images could be used to help in the Cathedral’s restoration. Good news for sure, but I hope that rather than relief we feel a sense of urgency. We have the technology in hand to preserve what is most precious to our past. Our challenge is to make this a priority. 

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171841 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171841 0
Racism’s Longue Durée: Why the Citizens’ Councils Matter Now


How does racism survive?  This is one of the questions taken up by Stephanie Rolph in her new book, Resisting Equality: The Citizens’ Council, 1954-1989.  Born in Mississippi, the Councils played a central role in massive resistance to Brown v. Board of Education, eschewing the terrorist tactics of the Ku Klux Klan for more subtle strategies aimed at thwarting black activism, including economic pressure and pseudo-scientific racist propaganda.  For many, the Councils embodied a type of “uptown” or “white-collar” Klan, a point underscored by Harper Lee when she made Atticus Finch a member in her novel Go Set a Watchman.  Of course, the Councils failed to stop the civil rights movement, leading historian Neil R. McMillen to describe them as “a poignant, perhaps even pitiable, symbol” of those few Americans “unwilling to pay more than lip service to the nation’s equalitarian ideals.”  

That was 1971.  

Today, racism seems to be on the rise – again.  And the Councils might explain why.  Building on McMillen’s landmark study, Rolph brings the group’s story forward, into the 1980s, and shows how the Councils went from a grassroots organization focused on racial intimidation to a much more specialized type of racist think tank, an organization that warehoused and distributed racialist views long after such views had been discredited by the federal government, the mainstream media, and the academy.  In this new guise, argues Rolph, the Councils began to occupy a strategic space in radical far right circles not just in the South, but across the United States and the world, including embattled white enclaves in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa.    

What ensues is a fascinating meditation on the survival of racial thinking, thanks in part to the Councils refusal to adapt their views.  While many white southerners muted their racial sentiments and assumed a more anodyne “sunbelt conservativism,” as Matthew Lassiter, Joseph Crespino, and Kevin Kruse have shown, the Councils remained defiantly racist, like a stubborn rock formation resistant to erosion, providing simplistic, race-based explanations for complex social problems like crime, joblessness, and urban disorder.  

Of course, historians like Tom Sugrue, Richard Rothstein, and James Forman, Jr. have all shown that urban disorder stemmed from a host of complex, intersecting forces, including southern migration, deindustrialization, white flight, red-lining, suburbanization, and aggressive law enforcement, but the Citizens’ Councils kept it simple.  As Rolph demonstrates, the Councils explained black poverty and joblessness as a simple factor of racial difference, “a predictable outcome of the actions of a race of people biologically incapable of self-regulation.” (p. 173)

For the uneducated and uninformed –  i.e. those who have not taken a seminar in urban history –  this was, and remains, an appealing idea, a unified theory of American society grounded in the perceptible, physical structures of that society, its crumbling cities, its pristine suburbs, it’s urban blight, it’s suburban bloom.  To borrow from Fernand Braudel, it is a way of thinking that survives over the long term, or “longue durée,” not because racists are inherently bad, but because it provides an easy explanation for complicated realities.   

And herein lies a stubborn irony.  Before the civil rights victories of the 1960s, African Americans could point to concrete examples of racial discrimination that were hard, even for racial conservatives like Harry Truman, to ignore.  Lynching in the South provided an example, as did segregated schools, segregated buses, segregated lunch counters, and a host of other explicitly racist institutions and policies.  Today, however, racial oppression is more subtle, less visible, and – ultimately – harder to discern, a topic for advanced seminars, a subject of advanced study.  

But what of those who don’t study?  For them, racism is a theory that fits in a tweet, a short explanation for the longue durée. 


To read more from Anders Walker, check out his most recent book:

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171836 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171836 0
Why FDR Wouldn't Condemn Hitler

This editorial cartoon by Jerry Doyle, published in the Philadelphia Record on April 22, 1939, contributed to the erroneous perception among some Americans that the people of Danzig were opposed to Hitler. In fact, election results in Danzig demonstrated overwhelming support for the Nazis.


“Danzig is a German city and wishes to belong to Germany!”

With that declaration eighty years ago this week, Adolf Hitler once again threw down the gauntlet to the international community. No other country had interfered when Nazi Germany illegally remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936, annexed Austria in 1938, and gobbled up Czechoslovakia in 1938-39. So now Hitler set his sights on his next target: the city-state of Danzig.

Situated strategically on the coast of northwestern Poland but inhabited overwhelmingly by ethnic Germans, Danzig had gone back and forth between German and Polish rule over the centuries. The Versailles Treaty after World War One established it as a “Free City” under the control of the League of Nations.

As Nazism rose in Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s, so too did it gain in popularity in Danzig. The city’s Nazi party went from winning one seat in the Danzig parliament in the elections of 1927 to twelve (out of 72) in 1930, then 38 in 1933, giving it a majority.

But Hitler did not act immediately. In the mid and late 1930s, the Nazis were still in the process of re-arming and testing the West’s responses to their actions. The failure of the international community to challenge Hitler over the Rhineland or Austria sent a clear message. That was followed by the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia, in the 1938 Munich Agreement. Then came Hitler’s announcement to the Reichstag on April 28, 1939, demanding the surrender of Danzig along with a land corridor leading to it. 

Reporters were keen to learn how President Franklin D. Roosevelt would respond to this latest, blatant challenge by the Nazi leader to the authority of the League of Nations. FDR, however, was not too keen to comment.

On April 29, the New York Times reported:  “Anticipating the nature of Herr Hitler’s address and the barrage of questions on his reaction to it that would have been inevitable under the circumstances, the President late yesterday had canceled his usual Friday press conference.”

The Times added that during President Roosevelt’s meeting with the prince and princess of Norway that day, a conversation was overheard in which the president was asked what he thought of Hitler’s Danzig threat. FDR reportedly responded, 

“How can any one have a reaction to a speech that lasts more than two hours?” And then: “Six o’clock in the morning is rather early, don’t you think?”

The next day, April 30, the president spoke at the opening of World’s Fair in New York City. In his first public remarks since the Hitler speech, FDR spoke vaguely of the need for “peace and good-will among all the nations of the world,” but made no mention of the Nazi leader or the fate of Danzig.

Finally, on May 2, the president held a regularly scheduled news conference, at which point there was no way avoid questions about his reaction to Hitler’s threat. Here’s how the exchange went:

Q: Have you seen the full text of the Hitler speech yet?

FDR: What?

Q: Hitler’s speech?

FDR: Only the one that came out in the papers. Probably the State Department is still translating it.

Q: It takes a while, I imagine.

FDR: Do you suppose that the text was handed to them, translated into English in Berlin?

Q: Yes, sir; one of the stories said it was handed to them in an English translation.

FDR: Was it?

Q: Official translation. The English translation was flown to London, I saw in one story.

FDR: Well, the State Department was doing its regular translating for what they had taken down on the verbal stuff. I don’t know how much he followed the text. As you know, sometimes I do not stick to the text.


President Roosevelt is best remembered for leading America towards military preparedness  and, later, in the war against Nazi Germany—yet he was remarkably reluctant to even verbally criticize Hitler in the 1930s.

Throughout the pre-war period, FDR strove to maintain cordial diplomatic and economic relations with Nazi Germany. He sent Secretary of Commerce Daniel Roper to speak at a German-American rally in New York City in 1933, where the featured speaker was the Nazi ambassador to Washington, and a large swastika flag was displayed on stage. The president allowed U.S. diplomats to attend the mass Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg in 1937, and his administration helped the Nazis evade the American Jewish community’s boycott of German goods in the 1930s by permitting the Nazis to deceptively label their goods with the city or province of origin, instead of “Made in Germany.”

Despite the intensifying anti-Jewish persecution in Germany in the 1930s, Roosevelt not only refused to criticize the Hitler government, but he personally removed critical references to Hitler from at least three planned speeches by Interior Secretary Harold Ickes in 1935 and 1938. Even Roosevelt’s criticism of the infamous Kristallnacht pogrom—a public statement which has often been cited as proof of the president’s willingness to denounce the Nazis—did not contain a single explicit mention of Hitler, Nazism, or the Jews.

Roosevelt said nothing about Hitler’s action in the Rhineland (1936); applauded the Munich agreement, which handed western Czechoslovakia to the Nazis (1938); and, eighty years ago this week, ducked reporters’ questions rather than utter a single critical word regarding Hitler’s threat to Danzig.

FDR was, of course, saddled with the burden of a largely isolationist public and Congress. He was understandably reluctant to be seen as doing anything that might seem to edge America close to war with Germany. Yet a president’s job is to lead, not to follow. A few words from the White House directly taking issue with Hitler’s aggressive actions and persecution of the Jews could have helped alert the public to the Nazi danger. 

Explaining President Roosevelt’s refusal to comment on Hitler’s remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936, the diplomatic correspondent of the Washington Evening Standard reported that the president “is determined not to take sides under any circumstances.” But there are circumstances when, even if it is unpopular, a president needs to publicly “take sides”—to take the side of good against the side of evil.

A stronger response from President Roosevelt over Danzig or the earlier crises also would have indicated to Hitler that there might be consequences for his actions—something that was particularly important in the early and mid 1930s, when the Nazi leader was still testing the waters. 

“It is not trade but empire that is Hitler’s goal,” a New York Times editorial acknowledged following the Danzig speech. “How far he will go and how fast he will go toward acquiring it will depend solely upon how much opposition is offered him.” 

FDR’s non-response to Danzig sent Hitler exactly the wrong message.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171833 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171833 0
Breaking the Grip of Militarism: The Story of Vieques


Vieques is a small Puerto Rican island with some 9,000 inhabitants.  Fringed by palm trees and lovely beaches, with the world’s brightest bioluminescent bay and wild horses roaming everywhere, it attracts substantial numbers of tourists.  But, for about six decades, Vieques served as a bombing range, military training site, and storage depot for the U.S. Navy, until its outraged residents, driven to distraction, rescued their homeland from the grip of militarism.

Like the main island of Puerto Rico, Vieques—located eight miles to the east―was ruled for centuries as a colony by Spain, until the Spanish-American War of 1898 turned Puerto Rico into an informal colony (a “nonsovereign territory”) of the United States.  In 1917, Puerto Ricans (including the Viequenses) became U.S. citizens, although they lacked the right to vote for their governor until 1947 and today continue to lack the right to representation in the U.S. Congress or to vote for the U.S. president.

During World War II, the U.S. government, anxious about the security of the Caribbean region and the Panama Canal, expropriated large portions of land in eastern Puerto Rico and on Vieques to build a mammoth Roosevelt Roads Naval Station.  This included about two-thirds of the land on Vieques.  As a result, thousands of Viequenses were evicted from their homes and deposited in razed sugar cane fields that the navy declared “resettlement tracts.”

The U.S. Navy takeover of Vieques accelerated in 1947, when it designated Roosevelt Roads as a naval training installation and storage depot and began utilizing the island for firing practice and amphibious landings by tens of thousands of sailors and marines.  Expanding its expropriation to three-quarters of Vieques, the navy used the western section for its ammunition storage and the eastern section for its bombing and war games, while sandwiching the native population into the small strip of land separating them.

Over the ensuing decades, the navy bombed Vieques from the air, land, and sea.  During the 1980s and 1990s, it unleashed an average of 1,464 tons of bombs every year on the island and conducted military training exercises averaging 180 days per year. In 1998 alone, the navy dropped 23,000 bombs on Vieques.  It also used the island for tests of biological weapons.

Naturally, for the Viequenses, this military domination created a nightmarish existence.  Driven from their homes and with their traditional economy in tatters, they experienced the horrors of nearby bombardment.  “When the wind came from the east, it brought smoke and piles of dust from their bombing ranges,” one resident recalled.  “They’d bomb every day, from 5 am until 6 pm.  It felt like a war zone.  You’d hear . . . eight or nine bombs, and your house would shudder. Everything on your walls, your picture frames, your decorations, mirrors, would fall on the floor and break,” and “your cement house would start cracking.”  In addition, with the release of toxic chemicals into the soil, water, and air, the population began to suffer from dramatically higher rates of cancer and other illnesses.

Eventually, the U.S. Navy determined the fate of the entire island, including the nautical routes, flight paths, aquifers, and zoning laws in the remaining civilian territory, where the residents lived under constant threat of eviction. In 1961, the navy actually drafted a secret plan to remove the entire civilian population from Vieques, with even the dead slated to be dug up from their graves.  But Puerto Rican Governor Luis Munoz Marin intervened, and U.S. President John F. Kennedy blocked the Navy from implementing the plan.

Long-simmering tensions between the Viequenses and the navy boiled over from 1978 to 1983. In the midst of heightened U.S. naval bombing and stepped up military maneuvers, a vigorous local resistance movement emerged, led by the island’s fishermen.  Activists engaged in picketing, demonstrations, and civil disobedience―most dramatically, by placing themselves directly in the line of missile fire, thereby disrupting military exercises.  As the treatment of the islanders became an international scandal, the U.S. Congress held hearings on the matter in 1980 and recommended that the navy leave Vieques.

But this first wave of popular protest, involving thousands of Viequenses and their supporters throughout Puerto Rico and the United States, failed to dislodge the navy from the island.  In the midst of the Cold War, the U.S. military clung tenaciously to its operations on Vieques.  Also, the prominence in the resistance campaign of Puerto Rican nationalists, with accompanying sectarianism, limited the movement’s appeal.

In the 1990s, however, a more broadly-based resistance movement took shape.  Begun in 1993 by the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, it accelerated in opposition to navy plans for the installation of an intrusive radar system and took off after April 19, 1999, when a U.S. navy pilot accidentally dropped two 500-pound bombs on an allegedly safe area, killing a Viequenses civilian.  “That shook the consciousness of the people of Vieques and Puerto Ricans at large like no other event,” recalled Robert Rabin, a key leader of the uprising. “Almost immediately we had unity across ideological, political, religious, and geographic boundaries.”

Rallying behind the demand of Peace for Vieques, this massive social upheaval drew heavily upon the Catholic and Protestant churches, as well as upon the labor movement, celebrities, women, university students, the elderly, and veteran activists.  Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans throughout Puerto Rico and the diaspora participated, with some 1,500 arrested for occupying the bombing range or for other acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.  When religious leaders called for a March for Peace in Vieques, some 150,000 protesters flooded the streets of San Juan in what was reportedly the largest demonstration in Puerto Rico’s history.

Facing this firestorm of protest, the U.S. government finally capitulated.  In 2003, the U.S. Navy not only halted the bombing, but shut down its Roosevelt Roads naval base and withdrew entirely from Vieques.

Despite this enormous victory for a people’s movement, Vieques continues to face severe challenges today.  These include unexploded ordnance and massive pollution from heavy metals and toxic chemicals that were released through the dropping of an estimated trillion tons of munitions, including depleted uranium, on the tiny island.  As a result, Vieques is now a major Superfund Site, with cancer and other disease rates substantially higher than in the rest of Puerto Rico. Also, with its traditional economy destroyed, the island suffers from widespread poverty.  

Nevertheless, the islanders, no longer hindered by military overlords, are grappling with these issues through imaginative reconstruction and development projects, including ecotourism.  Rabin, who served three jail terms (including one lasting six months) for his protest activities, now directs the Count Mirasol Fort―a facility that once served as a prison for unruly slaves and striking sugar cane workers, but now provides rooms for the Vieques Museum, community meetings and celebrations, historical archives, and Radio Vieques.

Of course, the successful struggle by the Viequenses to liberate their island from the burdens of militarism also provides a source of hope for people around the world.  This includes the people in the rest of the United States, who continue to pay a heavy economic and human price for their government’s extensive war preparations and endless wars.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171839 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171839 0
Bangladesh Prime Minister Hasina's War on Yunus and America Two popular myths have been swirling around the world as to why Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh declared war on Nobel prize winner Muhammad Yunus. Hasina ignored Moriarty's request and ousted Yunus in 2011 when she won a legal battle to kick out the micro-loan guru from the Grameen Bank.

First, Yunus conspired with the powerful military to exile the nation's top two politicians, while prepping himself to enter politics; second, Hasina felt jealous because Yunus won the Nobel prize that she believed she deserved for her role in ending a decades-old tribal insurgency.

In fact, neither one was the direct cause of the Hasina-Yunus duel. The Awami League, the political party led by Hasina, put Yunus in the dock long before he made public his political ambitions or won the Nobel.

Abdul Jalil, general secretary of the Awami League, publicly refused to accept Yunus as non-party interim government chief to supervise parliament polls a month before he received the prize and five months before he revealed his intention to get involved in politics.

Jalil's comments came a day after Yunus told a civil-society forum in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, that he would be pleased to be the chief adviser of the caretaker administration. Jalil not only dismissed the possibility, but also opposed the Grameen Bank founder's ideas to reform Bangladesh's governance.


Hasina Acted on India's Advice

Awami League's bellicose attitude toward Yunus partly resulted from information Hasina received from India. New Delhi and Washington were on the same page regarding Bangladesh on almost every issue, except for one: India opposed giving the theocratic Jamaat e-Islami party political space in Bangladesh. But the United States feared that Jamaat might turn highly radical if it was pushed underground. Delhi was also worried that Washington wanted Yunus to replace Hasina, a staunch Indian ally.

Rumors were rife in Dhaka in December 2006 that America wanted neither Hasina nor former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to win the election set for 2007. Mohan Kumar, joint secretary for Bangladesh at India's foreign office, told a U.S. diplomat in New Delhi that sources continued to report that the United States was positioning the 2006 Nobel prize winner to run in the election. He said Bangladeshi elite speculated that America "fixed" the award for the U.S.-trained economist.

According to Kumar, people in Dhaka suspected that the United States arranged for Yunus to win the prize to enhance his political credentials. Although Kumar did not subscribe to the allegations, still he wanted Washington to know that the rumors were alive in Dhaka. 

The United States and India had a common understanding on Bangladesh policy, but New Delhi was still concerned about Washington's "lack of conviction" regarding Jamaat's links to terror, Kumar said. He added that India "does not understand" American view that entry into the political mainstream would moderate Jamaat. Further, he observed, America was biased toward the anti-India Bangladesh Nationalist Party, headed by Zia, and Jamaat. He noted that "the Bangladeshis are very aware of it." 

Hasina perceived Yunus to be a Zia supporter, even though Yunus denied having any links with any political party. Her suspicion deepened in 2006 when she learned that Yunus had been nominated by the BNP to be an adviser of the interim government.


Yunus' U.S.-Link Irked Hasina

Hasina found Yunus' close link with America problematic, too. She told a cabinet meeting that Yunus was engaged in a conspiracy to undermine her government with help from his American friend, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Yunus faced Hasina's direct wrath after she returned to power for the second time in early 2009. He had long desired a change in the law that gave the government control over the appointment of the bank chairman. The immediate-past interim regime had amended the ordinance to transfer the power to the bank's board of directors. But the constitution required that parliament must approve the amendment.

He was clearly worried, because of her negative attitude toward him, that Hasina might oppose the parliamentary approval. So he sought assistance from her colleagues. Despite support from several cabinet members, the prime minister refused to ratify the change. Yunus, a naturalized American, then approached the United States for help.

On 10 May 2009, Yunus sought the U.S. ambassador's input on the best way to request Hasina to reconsider her refusal. The envoy pledged to arrange for the beleaguered banker a meeting with the prime minister and put in a good word to her for him. Yunus talked with Ambassador James F. Moriarty after a meeting with Clinton in Washington a month earlier when he discussed his problem with the prime minister. Hasina ignored Moriarty's request and ousted Yunus in 2011 when she won a legal battle to kick out the micro-loan guru from the Grameen Bank.


Yunus' Threat Angered Hasina

Hasina was further miffed by Yunus when he said that 8.3 million Grameen Bank members – who represented forty million Bengalis, or twenty-five percent of the nation's total population, according an estimate by Yunus – were not only citizens but also voters. This was a veiled threat that these voters could punch a mega hole in the Awami League's ballot box.

Her rage at Yunus stemmed also from the professor's public criticism of politicians as corrupt. Soon after winning the Nobel, Yunus said, “political leaders should give up revengeful politics and spiteful activities to offer a better political environment to the nation.” Yunus believed that the political system was hindering Bangladesh's progress. He offered an alternative agenda and announced his plan to start a political party, drawing a sharp public rebuke from Hasina.

The question, however, remained if Yunus wanted both Hasina and Zia out of politics, why didn't Zia go against the Nobel laureate? Zia instead urged Washington and London to protect Yunus from Hasina's fury. Zia's sympathy for Yunus cemented Hasina's impression that the micro-finance guru was in bed with Zia, politically speaking, and doomed the banker. Yunus' hobnobbing with the military and flirting with the idea of entering the messy world of Bengali politics were the last straw that broke the camel's back.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171837 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171837 0
Yet Another Assault on the Meaning of an Education


On Valentine’s Day the University of Tennessee at Martin offered students a little Valentine’s gift: a shortened path to a college degree and a law degree.  Known as the 3+3 Program, students majoring in Political Science or English can now opt for taking three years of undergraduate work, and, with an appropriate LSAT score, proceed directly to UT Knoxville’s Law School.  On completing three years of law school the student will then earn both hisor her BA or BS and Law Degree. Most attractive of all, the program covers tuition for the first year of law school, which can be very expensive, with the various scholarships and loans that would have covered the fourth year of undergraduate education.

I know that on the surface some of our students will find this program very appealing.  I know that as an undergraduate I would certainly have grabbed at such an opportunity.  Nevertheless, I want to suggest that this program is detrimental to our students, to our school, and to the very meaning of the word education.

My department, the Department of History and Philosophy, has begun to discuss whether we should offer this same option to our History and Philosophy majors.  I recently sent other faculty members in my department an email opposing our joining this program and asking that we, as a department, register our opposition to the program and appeal to English and Political Science to reconsider their participation in the program.  I said in my email that I was opposed to the program for three principal reasons.

“First and foremost, this program, which substitutes the first year of law school for the final year of a student’s undergraduate education, deprives our students of the strongest possible grounding we can give them in the liberal arts and humanities.  Our students will miss not only two semesters of what our department offers them – four upper division history or philosophy classes – but likely will miss two or three upper division classes in other branches of the liberal arts as well: English, Sociology, Political Science, Psychology, to name a few subject areas.  Substituting for six or seven upper division classes, then, classes which ground our students in an understanding of their society, and of how our society shapes all of us, students will take first year law classes:

“Semester 1: Civil Procedure I, Contracts I, Criminal Law, Legal Process I, Torts I “Semester 2: Civil Procedure II, Contracts II, Legal Process II, Property, Torts II

“… I hope that we can agree that these law school classes do not in any serious way allow students to better shape the values that will guide their lives, the very purpose of an education and the clear function of humanities classes.”

Let me emphasize this point here: the purpose of education is to help students understand themselves; help them understand their relation to the society and the universe in which they live; and help them choose the values and the principles by which they will live their lives.  We live today in tremendously dangerous times, times of the most rapid, frightening changes, times that demand that we understand what is going on around us – lest we be caught unaware and intellectually unarmed in the face of ongoing and potentially catastrophic wars and economic depressions.  Only a liberal arts education – a grounding in history and literature and psychology, to name some key areas of that education – allows us to understand something about the society in which we live, and something about ourselves, something that will allow us to act intelligently in the face of these contemporary events.  Absent this education, we are simply tools in the hands of the powerful, servants to be stampeded in this direction or that.

My email continued:  “Second, while I certainly believe that a university education should challenge all students, and ground them in a sense of their own humanity, those students who take up the law need even more grounding in the liberal arts than students pursuing other areas of study – if for no other reason than that lawyers, far more than other occupations, deal with power, and power demands an education in ethics and in the humanities.”

 “Finally, this 3+3 proposal is part of a larger trend in higher education, a trend that devalues the liberal arts and pushes students through career tracks as quickly as possible.  We do ourselves no favors by yielding to this trend. On the contrary, we set the precedent of practically declaring that our disciplines, and the humanities in general, are merely stepping stones to careers, rather than being essential components of responsible citizenship and the leading of meaningful lives.”

I know that a growing body of students on this campus hunger for a real education.  But real education, that education which allows us to discover ourselves, who we are, and where our potentialities and passions lie, that education can only be achieved if we demand it.  A small group of concerned students and faculty are building a “Campaign for the Humanities.”  Please contact me if you’d be interested in joining us at dbarber@utm.edu.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171835 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171835 0
Aram Goudsouzian: Study History, Then Make It


Aram Goudsouzian is the chair of the History Department at the University of Memphis and the editor of the “Sport and Society” series published by the University of Illinois Press. His books include Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against Fear (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014), King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution (University of California Press, 2010), Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon (University of North Carolina Press, 2004), and The Hurricane of 1938 (Commonwealth Editions, 2004). Aram’s latest book is The Men and the Moment: The Election of 1968 and the Rise of Partisan Politics in America (University of North Carolina Press, 2019). 


What books are you reading now?


I’m just now emerging from underneath a pile of books nominated for the annual award given by my university’s Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change. The award goes to a non-fiction book, published in the previous year, “that best furthers understanding of the American Civil Rights Movement and its legacy.” It is my turn as committee chair, which means that I sift the nominees down to five finalists – a job that is both enjoyable and excruciating. On one hand, I get to lean back and read lots of great new books. On the other hand, I feel wracked with guilt when eliminating some quality books by great historians.


Our five finalists, however, are terrific: Keisha Blain, Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (Pennsylvania); Mary Schmidt Campbell, An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden (Oxford); Elliott J. Gorn, Let the People See: The Story of Emmett Till (Oxford); Wil Haygood, Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, a Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of Healing (Knopf); and David Margolick, The Promise and the Dream: The Untold Story of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy (Rosetta).


What is your favorite history book?


No book had a more profound impact on me than Parting the Waters, the first volume in Taylor Branch’s “America in the King Years” trilogy. Spanning from the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the mid-1950s through the Birmingham Campaign of the early 1960s, it not only traces the rise of Martin Luther King, but also sheds light on various corners of American politics, from the Oval Office to the Mississippi Delta. It is a model for how to write narrative history. Crafted on an epic scale, it is nevertheless grounded in humanity.


Why did you choose history as your career?


When I graduated from college, I worked as a customer service representative for a mutual fund company. That job sounds about as soul-deadening as it is. But I had no idea what to do with my life. Once removed from academic life, however, I realized how much I loved the world of ideas and books. So I applied for graduate school. 


But history as a career? That always seemed like a longshot. I got rejected from so many graduate programs, both for my MA and Ph.D., and spent many futile years on the academic job market. I chose history for a career, but it wasn’t clear if history would choose me back! 


What qualities do you need to be a historian?


You can answer this question a hundred different ways. There are intellectual traits such as curiosity and logic, practical skills such as organizing and writing, and humane principles such as compassion and empathy. For me, though, nothing is more important than taking satisfaction in the process. I find it important to define small goals and then achieve them – whether that is learning a body of literature, plowing through another reel of microfilm, or churning out a few good pages. There’s no secret to writing books. It just takes time. Lots of time. One way or another, you have to embrace each hour.


Who was your favorite history teacher?


Mr. Walsh, who taught my U.S. history class in high school, was a huge man who somewhat resembled a walrus. The rumor was that he moonlighted as a bartender, which seemed really cool to a dorky teenager. And he had a gift for teaching. He would get so emotional when discussing historical events, and he continually forced us to think in more complex terms. For our assignments, he would give us photocopied excerpts from books by major scholars and have us write on big historiographical questions such as “New Deal: Evolution or Revolution?” Much later, I appreciated how he made us think like historians.  


What is your most memorable or rewarding teaching experience?


In the fall of 2017, I taught a course called “Memphis and the Movement,” which sought to provide a longer, more contextualized account of our city’s black freedom movement, especially since we were about to observe the 50th anniversary of the Memphis sanitation strike and Martin Luther King assassination. With students from both History and Journalism, it was a diverse bunch in terms of race, gender, age, and background. What a class! It was full of creative tension, with both intellectual analyses of our reading and passionate discussions about its meaning. Because it was our own city’s history, it was often raw and personal. We had many guest speakers, including historians and journalists with particular areas of expertise in Memphis history. For their final project, the students analyzed oral histories from the Memphis Search for Meaning Collection, an extraordinary resource in our own Special Collections.


Many of those students then took a Spring 2018 course in Journalism called “Reporting Social Justice,” interviewing the city’s activists from the past and present. Those interviews, in turn, lent the foundation for a documentary film directed by Journalism professors Roxane Coche and Joe Hayden, entitled Once More at the River: From MLK to BLM.  


What are your hopes for history as a discipline?


Survival. The larger forces in higher education – an emphasis on professional degrees, a financial dependence on the business community, state funding models that reward shortcuts to student graduation – are threatening to erode the central place of the humanities in the college experience. I have spent the past six years as department chair with model scholar-teachers for colleagues and a supportive dean. We have extraordinary advisers and a terrific in-house tutoring center. We do energetic community outreach and directly seek out history majors. For all these successes, though, we are battling to keep the humanities at the core of the college experience.


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


If there are two kinds of book owners, and one kind is the type that keeps the book in mint condition, then I am the other kind. I check off passages, write questions in them, and leave myself reminders. So I’m no book collector. I guess I’m more of a book abuser.


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


As much as I like teaching and love mentoring graduate students, the most personally rewarding aspect of my career has been writing books. The challenge is so appealing: telling a story, crafting a world around it, and rendering it in human terms. And now that I am firmly ensconced in middle age, I tend to associate each book with a distinct phase in my life; they take on layers of personal meaning in that way.


The most frustrating aspect has been serving as department chair. My term ends this year, however. Soon I can stop solving problems and start causing them!  


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


The historiography has certainly evolved in the fields that I write about, such as the civil rights movement, post-war U.S. politics, and sports history. Nothing has changed more, however, than the teaching of history. We have so many pedagogical tools now, both theoretical and practical, that help get our studentsdoinghistory, rather than just learning it.


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


I did, once, sort-of come up with a history slogan. About five years ago I yanked my car to the side of the road, because I’d just seen a billboard advertising the University of Memphis that said, “DON’T STUDY HISTORY. MAKE IT!” I went rather bananas. Soon I was writing rage-filled emails to every administrator in the university. Our very calm and reasonable university president called me to suggest an alternative. 


A few days later, the billboard read, “STUDY HISTORY. THEN MAKE IT!” Cheesy, I know, but better than the alternative.


What are you doing next?


I just finished a short book about the presidential election of 1968, called The Men and the Moment, that will be out in April. For my next project, I hope to write a big narrative history of American sports. I think it can be a way to tell a story that courses along the broad contours of the nation’s history, while grounded in the personal triumphs and struggles of a diverse set of characters. 

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171834 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171834 0
To His Followers, Trump is a Folk Hero Steve Hochstadt is a professor of history emeritus at Illinois College, who blogs for HNN and LAProgressive, and writes about Jewish refugees in Shanghai.



There is nothing new in trying to figure out Trump. His appeal and his personality have been the subject of countless analyses and speculations since long before he ran for President. Yet the mysteries continue. Why do people like him? Why does he act so badly?


Charles Blow of the New York Times produced a thoughtful explanation of Trump’s popular appeal a couple of weeks ago in an opinion column entitled “Trumpism Extols Its Folk Hero”. Blow believes that Trump has become a “folk hero”, that rare person who “fights the establishment, often in devious, destructive and even deadly ways,” while “those outside that establishment cheer as the folk hero brings the beast to its knees.” Because the folk hero engages in the risky David vs. Goliath struggle against the awesomely powerful “establishment”, his personal sins are forgiven: “his lying, corruption, sexism and grift not only do no damage, they add to his legend.”


Thus the persistent belief among Trump’s critics that exposing his manifest dishonesty will finally awaken his base to reality is mistaken. His ability to get away with every possible form of cheating is part of his appeal, because he is cheating the establishment, the elite, the “deep state”, the “them” that is not “us”.


For his fans, the Mueller report is only the latest example of this extraordinary success. Despite years of investigation, Trump skates. It’s not important whether he was exonerated or not. What matters is that he can claim he was exonerated and go on being President, no matter what the report says, no matter what he actually did.


Wikipedia provides a list of folk heros, every one a familiar name, including Johnny Appleseed, Daniel Boone, Geronimo and Sitting Bull, Nathan Hale and Paul Revere, all people who really were heroic. The key early elements of the Robin Hood folklore, developed hundreds of years ago, are that he fought against the government, personified in the Sheriff of Nottingham, and that he was a commoner, who gave his ill-gotten gains to the poor.


That is one way to become a folk hero, but not the only one. Neither politics nor morality determine whether someone can become a folk hero. Wikipedia also tells us that the “sole salient characteristic” of the folk hero is “the imprinting of his or her name, personality and deeds in the popular consciousness of a people.” It would be hard to find anyone who has done a better job of doing just that for decades than Trump.


Villainy unalloyed by any goodness has also propelled many people, almost all men, into the ranks of folk heroes, like Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, and Bonnie and Clyde. These criminals captured the popular imagination, not despite being bad, but because of it. They were great in their villainy, outlaws in both the legal and social sense, stealing other people’s money for their own benefit, but that does not detract from their appeal. 


Enough people love bad boys that they can achieve legendary status, or even more rarified, a TV series. The popularity of series with villains as heroes demonstrates the broad appeal of bad people. “Breaking Bad” attracted giant audiences and honored by Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed show of all time. 


Since he first came into the public eye, Trump has reveled in being the bad boy. He grabbed women at beauty contests and bragged about it. He delights in his own running racist commentary on people who are not white. He lies when he knows he’ll get caught, and then keeps repeating it. He celebrates himself in his chosen role as the bad guy. Meanness was at the heart of his role in “The Apprentice”, where his greatest moments were saying “You’re fired!”


One writer recently asked, “Why does Trump fall in love with bad men?” Trump says nicer things about the world’s most notorious political thugs than would be normal for speaking about the leaders of our closest allies. After meeting North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Trump told a rally ,“Then we fell in love, okay. No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters. And they’re great letters. We fell in love.” Trump met President Rodrigo Duterteof the Philippines in November. The White House said they had a “warm rapport” and a “very friendly conversation” on the phone. Trump said “We’ve had a great relationship.” Duterte sang the Philippine love ballad “Ikaw” to Trump at a gala dinner.


The prize goes to Trump’s open admiration for Vladimir Putin. During his campaign, Trump said he had met Putin and “he was nice”. Then said, “I never met Putin. I don’t know who Putin is. He said one nice thing about me. He said I’m a genius.” Putin never said that, but for Trump that made Putin “smart”. He claimed a “chemistry” with Putin. Here’s what Trump cares about: “He says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.”


Trump’s attraction to this international rogues’ gallery is personal and emotional. He wants the exclusive club of dictators, macho men, tough guys, to love him and to accept him as one of them. Donald Trump’s foreign policy is his attempt to become the leader of the bad boys of the world.


But at the heart of connection between bad boy folk hero Trump and his adulating base is a fundamental misunderstanding. Trump is not fighting the establishment. Trump is not using his powers to help his angry supporters. Trump is screwing them.


He attacks their health by eliminating rules which reduce corporate air and water pollution. He hasn’t stopped his repeated attempts to cut their health insurance by Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare. He is dismantling the bank and lending regulations overseen by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Nothing good will come to average Americans from the foreign members of Trump’s club. These are all assaults on the standard of living, present and future, of non-elite America.


The 2017 tax cuts are the best example of how Trump betrays his base. Poor and middle-income Americans got small tax cuts, but also inherit gigantic future deficits to pay for the enormous cuts in corporate and income taxes for the very wealthy.


Trump is good at what he does, but that is bad for everybody else, especially for those who cheer him on.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154205 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154205 0
Roundup Top 10!  

Why We Need a New Civil War Documentary

by Keri Leigh Merritt

The success and brilliance of the new PBS series on Reconstruction is a reminder of the missed opportunity facing the nation.


The public, not Robert Mueller, will determine Donald Trump’s fate

by Kathryn Cramer Brownell

Will Trump be Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton?



CNN Shows Zero Interest In Questioning Conventional Wisdom About Watergate

by Geoff Shepard

The producer assured me that CNN was committed to presenting a balanced view in its recent series on Richard Nixon, but she never even called back, and I think I know why.



Trump’s Taxes Are Fair Game. Just Ask Warren Harding.

by Stephen Mihm

The Teapot Dome corruption scandal resulted in a 1924 law that gives the House Ways and Means Committee authority to demand returns.



It’s time to return black women to the center of the history of women’s suffrage

by Susan Ware

Erased by white suffragists, black women’s work was vital to the fight for women’s rights.



If China wants to lead the global order, it will need more than the Belt and Road Initiative

by Gregory Mitrovich

The program falls well short of the world-changing Marshall Plan.



It’s time to get rid of reform schools

by Amber Armstrong

We need to seize the opportunity to rethink our juvenile justice system.



Why we need history majors to understand our future

by Knute Berger

Featuring Margaret O’Mara, a history professor at the University of Washington.



Resistance can't be tweeted: Social and political change is built on reading

by Jim Sleeper

What's the value of liberal education? Without intellectual exploration, we'll never make a better world.

Fri, 24 May 2019 13:07:07 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171832 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171832 0