History News Network - Front Page History News Network - Front Page articles brought to you by History News Network. Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2 (http://framework.zend.com) https://lyris.hnn.us/site/feed Big Alex McKenzie and the Last Great Fraud of the Gilded Age

 

 

 

Gold! With the discovery of this treasure in bountiful quantities, the Alaska gold rush of 1900 became the maddest dash of its kind since the 49ers swarmed California a half century earlier. The gold fields of Cape Nome, jutting out into the Bering Sea, could be reached by steamer from Seattle in two weeks, icebergs permitting. Most tantalizing of all, Cape Nome’s gold could be easily found in the ruby-colored beach sands that stretched for many miles along the coast. “Few men become rich by slow economy,” a railroad flier proclaimed. “Fortunes are made by men of nerve and decision who take advantage of opportunities…WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?”

 

But the idea that “few men become rich by slow economy” was not limited in its appeal to the honest toiler with shovel in sweaty palm. The titans of this time—the ‘Robber Barons’ of industry and finance—also cast a posessive eye on the gold bounty. 

 

 The lure of Alaska’s riches gave rise to a brazen plot involving the outright capture of a federal district court in Alaska— the takeover of nearly all the mechanisms of law and law enforcement in Cape Nome. The mastermind was Alexander McKenzie—Big Alex as his friends from the Dakotas called him. McKenzie, a former frontier sheriff, was a political boss—a mogul in the Republican Party, a maker of U.S. Senators, a man with tight connections to the Executive Mansion, as the White House was then called, and to the nation’s most powerful business magnates.

 

Naturally, McKenzie planned to give his friends a cut of his venture. This was, after all, the time in American life known as the Gilded Age, and the bosses operated like lords of the realm, dispensing and receiving favors as a matter of course. 

 

Nowadays, America is in the midst of what might be called a New Gilded Age. The era is marked, as was the original gilded age, by a “rigged game” (to borrow the phrase of Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts), a system of crony capitalism and crony politics. Most recently, the new coronavirus has exposed the entrenched inequities of today, with Senators selling stock to try to ‘front-run’ the crisis, big-wigs snagging tests ahead of ordinary folks, and physicians hoarding anti-virus medicines so they can write prescriptions for themselves and family members.

 

Human nature, no doubt, is often selfish. A gilded age, though, is distinguished by a kind of concentrated venality, as the craving for private gain at the expense of the public interest and trust emboldens grabs for power that become almost impossible to thwart.

 

Almost impossible—but not, history shows, entirely so.

 

McKenzie, possibly through the payment of bribes to members of the Senate, got his Alaska judge. He made off for Cape Nome and had the judge appoint him legal custodian of lucrative gold properties. With this position secured, the plan was to use the court to pry the mines away from their rightful owners and deposit the assets in a shell company controlled by McKenzie. The company would then issue stock on Wall Street, with Big Alex unloading his shares (and those he kept in a secret trust for his buddies) on unsuspecting buyers in the public.

 

It nearly worked. But the scheme, ultimately, was foiled by indignant miners, a muckraking press, and righteous judges on a federal appeals court in San Francisco. The judges grasped what McKenzie was up to, and when the boss defied their order to stop his plundering of the gold, they sent U.S. marshals to Cape Nome to arrest him. He was convicted of contempt of court and sentenced to jail time in Oakland. Resourceful as ever, he concocted a story about how he was near death from an incurable ailment. His friend, President William McKinley, intervened and freed him from captivity. But while Big Alex lived for decades afterward, he never made it back to Alaska.

 

McKenzie’s plot to corner Alaska’s gold proved to be the last great swindle of the original gilded age, as this seamy chapter in our national life gave way to what become known as the Progressive Era. America enacted the Seventeenth Amendment to provide for the direct popular election of Senators, so that bosses like Big Alex could no longer use their control of state legislatures to send pet choices to Washington.

 

Such reforms, of course, always fall short of perfection. Still, America seldom proves as malign or feckless as critics portray the country. A gilded age, whether of the nineteenth century or of the twenty-first, dies not out of exhaustion, but because the people rise up and will its demise.

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176190 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176190 0
Liberal Reform Threatens to Expand the Police Power--Just as it did in the Past

Photo Marc Cooper 2015, CC0

 

Calls to defund the police have grown in recent weeks following the nationwide outpouring of protest in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin. As the demands for the defunding of the police suggest, the goal of activists is not limited solely to removing or prosecuting so-called “bad apple” officers. Instead, they are centered on systemic changes to the very nature of policing in American society. 

 

Although pressure for defunding the police - and dismantling the police in the case of Minneapolis - has gained momentum, Democrats do not wholly support such measures. Most notably, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has explicitly opposed proposals to defund the police. Not only does Biden oppose moves to address systemic problems of American policing, but has proposed expanding police funding. “I do not support defunding police,” Biden wrote in USA Today. “The better answer is to give police departments the resources they need to implement meaningful reforms, and to condition other federal dollars on completing those reforms.” Stating that he has “long been a firm believer in the power of community policing,” Biden has suggested providing police with an additional $300 million to “to reinvigorate community policing in our country,” alongside a host of procedural reforms including national use of force standard, increased use of body cameras, and diversifying police departments,  

 

Yet Biden’s “real reforms” are part of a long history of liberal responses to police violence that further embed the police power into the liberal state. In the process, this liberal law-and-order, as I call it in my book Policing Los Angeles, led to the expansion of police power and contributed to the reliance on the police to contain the very fallout of social and economic inequality that activists are now rising up against. 

 

Liberal law-and-order was a hallmark of the twenty-year mayoral administration of Tom Bradley in Los Angeles, the city’s first African American mayor. Bradley, a 21-year veteran of the LAPD left the force in 1961 to enter a career in politics, becoming a city councilman in 1963. Bradley’s career as a councilman was marked by strong criticism of the LAPD. After the 1965 Watts uprising, Bradley called for reforms to address problems of racism within the department and for greater civilian oversight. Yet, instead of reducing the police power, during Bradley’s mayoral administration the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) become more militarized, more powerful, and more present in the daily life of the city’s residents of color. This led to the largest moment of urban unrest in American history in 1992.

 

Notwithstanding LAPD Chief William Parker’s opposition to the limited reforms spurred by the McCone Commissioninvestigation of the 1965 Watts riots, Bradley continued to work toward reshaping the relationship between the police and residents of color. Most notably, Bradley was a strong proponent of police-community relations programs. While intended to enhance understanding between residents and the police, such reforms brought police into close contact with youth of color in particular and extended police authority into new arenas, such as support for the police to work with youth in music clubs and recreation programs.

 

When Bradley first ran for mayor in 1969, he extended the liberal approach by promising to pursue reforms intended to ensure the police treated residents fairly while, at the same time, making clear that the police would have the power and resources needed to keep the city safe. While he lost the 1969 election to the race-baiting Sam Yorty, Bradley ran again - and won - in 1973 where he campaigned on an even more explicit liberal law-and-order platform. “The insane political division which somehow makes it ‘conservative’ to be against crime and ‘liberal’ to be for civil liberties,” Bradley told the Los Angeles Bar, “has to start coming apart.”

 

While in office, Bradley sought to increase oversight of the department by appointing new members to the Board of Police Commissioners, limit extravagant spending by the police, and promote community-relations programs. Tying federal funding from the LEAA to procedural reforms was one means by which Bradley hoped to exert greater control. Using the newly-created Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice Planning (MOCJP), Bradley streamlined criminal justice grant-proposals and required the LAPD to submit proposals for state and federal law enforcement funding to the MOCJP - something similar to what Biden has proposed by linking federal money to lukewarm reforms. 

 

Bradley also engaged in all-too-familiar procedural reforms, such as changing the LAPD’s use of force policies and adding human relations training - the precursor to today’s implicit bias training - for officers. Such liberal law-and-order responses to police killings, however, undermined demands for greater police accountability and external oversight of the department and reinforced the department’s authority to set its own limits. 

 

These procedural reforms and mayoral oversight not only failed to rein in the LAPD but extended its authority for at least two reasons. 

 

First, police budgets derived overwhelmingly from local sources to which federal funding was at best supplemental. Bradley, for instance, fulfilled a campaign promise to ensure a well-funded police department (while also opposing some of the LAPD’s most egregious requests, such as for jets and submarines). In 1972, for example, the LAPD’s total operating cost (including pensions) was $198.5 million, which accounted for 35.5 percent of the city’s budget. By 1982, the department’s total operating cost increased to $525 million, or 34.9 percent of the city budget.

 

Second, reforms meant to increase understanding between the police and community did not alter the structure of police power in the city. For instance, Bradley cooperated with LAPD Chief Ed Davis to promote community-oriented policing, known as TEAM policing. However, TEAM policing did nothing to shift power from the police to the community. One study conducted in the early 1970s found, “responsiveness to citizen demands is being sacrificed to the objective of crime control.” Efforts to wed the police to communities, in other words, enhanced police power. The TEAM policing model, the same study found, was “an attempt at formal cooptation—participation without control.” Such findings continue to plague contemporary community relations programs as well. 

 

In short, Bradley’s vision of liberal law-and-order sought to remake the relationship between politicians and the police while leaving the relationship between the police and the people they policed largely intact. 

 

But the problem was not only one of liberal political support for the police. The police positioned themselves as an independent political entity within the liberal state. Under Chiefs of Police Ed Davis and Daryl Gates, the LAPD successfully resisted systemic changes that would have reduced their ability to discipline officers and capitalized on crises - that they in part produced - to expand their authority on the streets. 

 

During Bradley’s first term, fears of juvenile crime led to demands from the police for new capacity to deal with the crisis. In response, Bradley pledged to crack down on youth crime and to release the police to address school safety concerns. Strengthening the juvenile justice system, however, wed the police deeper into institutions where they had not been before. While some funding was used to develop gang prevention and intervention programs, the LAPD also cooperated with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to arrest truants around inner-city schools of color. In addition, the LAPD developed a program to track “at-risk” kids deemed either criminal or potential criminals known as the Data Disposition Coordination Project (DDCP). While the DDCP was short-lived, the LAPD extended the capacity to police “at-risk” kids with the establishment of its notorious anti-gang units, Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums, or CRASH. 

 

At no point did liberals - locally and nationally - rely more on the police to contain those dispossessed by social and economic inequality than during the 1980s war on drugs and gangs. Echoing the claims of Daryl Gates, Bradley often referred to kids as “thugs” and promised to root out gang and drug violence using whatever means necessary. Bradley and Gates - although often at odds - cooperated in this campaign by centralizing all elements of the city’s antidrug and antigang programs in ways that enabled the LAPD to marshal “resources anytime, anywhere and on any scale to effectively wage battle against street drug peddlers and gangs narcotics traffickers.” Massive gang sweeps and militarized drug raids - many carried out by CRASH units and SWAT teams - added to the LAPD’s martial capacity and exacerbated tensions between communities of color and the police. 

 

When the video of the beating of Rodney King shocked the nation in 1991, Gates responded with an all-too-common claim. Gates denied that the beating reflected a systemic problem in the department, concluding, “This [incident] is an aberration.” Such “bad apples” defenses, which Biden has used, reinforced the connection between the police and the liberal state. Promising to treat systemic problems with more training, community policing, or procedural reform, liberal law-and-order had created the conditions for explosion of protest following the acquittal of the officers involved in the King beating.

 

While the 1992 Los Angeles rebellion led to some structural reforms, most notably limiting the tenure of the chief of police, the LAPD continued to maintain its pride of place in the city’s political power structure. Commitments to community policing and a consent decree leading to federal oversight did not fundamentally change the deep intersection between policing and the liberal state. Community policing, in particular, had not solved the fundamental power imbalance between police and residents. As the People’s Budget LA has shown, the LAPD continues to receive 54 percent of the city’s general fund. 

 

Across the country the police also got more - more authority and resources under the guise of liberal reform. Through the 1990s, the federal government, at the behest of Bill Clinton and then-senator Biden, pushed through funding for more 100,000 more police officers as part of the 1994 crime bill. Other funding went to expand community policing, training, and efforts to diversify police departments.

 

These liberal law-and-order reforms did not reduce police power nor racist policing in Los Angeles and across the country. But they certainly expanded the power and authority of the police. Procedural reforms, such as those promoted by Biden, did not work in the past and will not work now. The history of liberal law-and-order reveals that procedural reforms implemented on top of a structure of policing that has been empowered to protect property and control “disorder” are not only doomed to fail but will produce the conditions for more protest and resistance. 

 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176193 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176193 0
In the “Bramble” of Central Park, a Showdown Over Nature and Race

 

 

On a precious piece of the national landscape loaded with history, the birder and the dog walker faced off at twenty paces or so. With hands on their trusty pieces—one recording the scene to provide witness, one calling out for police back up—the two Coopers found themselves acting out a script that was centuries in the making. Their flashpoint lights up the story of how nature and race have been constructed in America, giving privileged access to some while turning others into eternal trespassers. 

 

The ground of their meeting was literally constructed: to meet the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted, in the 1850s workers hauled in 2.5 million cubic yards of stone and earth, adding in another 40,000 cubic yards of manure and compost before planting 270,000 trees and shrubs. To make way for what became Central Park, African Americans living in Seneca Village were unceremoniously evicted, and their gardens buried—as Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar document in The Park and the People. For Olmsted, these people, their homes, and their relationship to nature didn’t matter: he wanted to a create a Romantic countryside in the city, to provide solace, rejuvenation and spiritual cleansing to an urbanizing America through accessible retreats to “pure” nature. Though Olmsted earlier had publicized the horrors of slavery in the South, his Park was built on removal of African Americans whom he did not explicitly welcome back to his re-creation. Instead, it was generally represented as a place of natural healing and social mixing for white people only. 

 

In parallel with the removal of African Americans in Seneca Village, Native Americans were forcibly removed from their homelands to construct National Parks at Yellowstone, Yosemite and Mount Rainier (to name a few). Promoters portrayed these places as pristine, untouched by people and therefore virgin wilderness, and patted themselves on the back for setting these places aside as spiritual playgrounds for Americans who were getting out of touch with nature. The people who had been in touch with nature in these places—for thousands of years—were expelled to make way for the fantasyland. As scholar Dina Gilio-Whitaker, a citizen of the Colville Confederated Tribes, points out, “When environmentalists laud ‘America’s best idea’ and reiterate narratives about pristine national park environments, they are participating in the erasure of Indigenous peoples, thus replicating colonial patterns of white supremacy and settler privilege.” 

First emptied, national and urban nature parks alike were recreated as ersatz Edens and white spaces. Theodore Roosevelt thought wilderness parks would be great places for white males—softening in urban America—to restore and reinvigorate their manliness. Many environmentalists in the early 20th century were eugenicists like Madison Grant—author of virulently racist tract The Passing of the Great Race (1916) and a patron of the American Museum of Natural History, where the colonialist statue of fellow traveler Roosevelt was just slated for removal.  Out of one side of his mouth Grant could decry the destruction of California redwood trees and out of the other declare that “the laws of nature require the obliteration of the unfit.” As Alexandra Stern explains in Eugenic Nation, for him “Saving the Redwoods meant more than just protecting a tree: it was a metaphor for preventing race suicide and defending the survival of white America.” Nature interpretation programs at National Parks were pioneered by Charles Goethe, a Sacramento eugenicist who would later be read and admired by Nazis. Later environmentalists—such as white nationalist Garret Hardin who wrote the influential essay “The Tragedy of the Commons”—blamed environmental destruction on the needs of a growing population, especially of people of color.  By contrast, many environmentalists, employing a circular logic of self-gratification, portrayed whites as the chosen people who could save themselves and become saviors themselves by revering and protecting nature. America’s environmentalism has a legacy of exclusion that is more a feature than a bug. 

Protecting “nature” has never been just about nature in America; it has also been a story about people, and deep-seated prejudice has colored the portrayal. America’s “good nature” was affiliated with cleanliness and whiteness, and contrasted with “bad nature”—dirtiness, a quality associated with the city, and also, relentlessly and malevolently in media of all sorts from the antebellum period to the present, with African Americans. The pure spaces of “good nature” have generally placed people of color in permanent exile, classifying them as defilers of the constructed nature’s purity or simply excluding them from pretty pictures of it.  As Carolyn Finney found in Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, the media have helped construct a “white wilderness.” A review of a ten-year period (1992-2001) of Outside Magazine showed that of 4602 images that included people only 103 were of African Americans; almost all of them were of black males running or playing basketball in an urban setting. 

 

African Americans, who had first been enslaved to wring profit from nature for the benefit of others, were in effect cut off from America’s celebrated landscapes. African Americans who connect with nature are often regarded as interlopers who are out of place. To enter “nature” was to cross a boundary of imagination, no less real than Jim Crow lines. As with all such boundary crossers, they have been perceived as agents of danger because they upset established and enforced order.

 

African Americans know from experience just how enforced that order is, often by the police working hand in glove with white civilian enablers and lookouts.  “Barbeque Beckys” are vigilant in every park and at every turn, ready to call in innocuous behavior framed as dangerous because it is being done by Black people. They create a powerful and pervasive force field, which keeps African Americans from being able to ramble freely in the streets or in the parks. To move about without harassment, Black people routinely, as Garnett Cadogan discloses in his essay “Walking while Black,” perform innocence and reassurance, acting out a “pantomime...to avoid the choreography of criminality.” Even so, like other people of color in America, he finds that he cannot wholly avoid having his movement arrested and his body taken into custody.

 

Pervasive racist representations have primed white people to look on black people outside with fear. D.W. Griffith’s “landmark” film Birth of a Nation (1915) pictured a lustful white man in blackface pursuing a white woman through the woods and up a mountain: rather than be defiled, she hurls herself off the cliff. This was cinematic ground zero for the trumped up fear that black men—anywhere, but especially in woods or brambles—are a threat to the “purity” of white women and nature alike. The film’s weaponized fear detonates again and again. It set off the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan and countless hate crimes and lynchings, which to this day, as LaToya Brackett powerfully reminds us, have been turned and turned again into terroristic spectacle and entertainment.

 

Christian Cooper explained that Amy Cooper, when she called the cops on “an African American man threatening my life,” in effect “pulled the pin on the race grenade and tried to lob it at me....to tap into a deep, deep dark vein of racism...that runs through this country and has for centuries.” She didn’t have to reach far for the weapon, for the memory of the white woman jogger who had been raped in 1989 in another wooded area of Central Park lies near the surface. Five African American and Latino youths were blamed, framed and locked up. Despite their official exoneration 13 years after the fact, the pull of the racist imagery is so powerful that the highest elected official in our land, refusing to accept their innocence, still sees them as inherently guilty for having taken a walk in the Park while a white woman ran. 

 

Since being called out for their legacy and continued practices of exclusion, environmental organizations and publications have worked to make amends—including various chapters of the Audubon Society. Still, as J. Drew Lanham has noted, African American birders are still few and far between. In his list of “9 Rules for the Black Birdwatcher,” rule number 1 is “Be prepared to be confused with the other black birder. Yes, there are only two of you at the bird festival....Yes, you will be called by his name at least half a dozen times by supposedly observant people who can distinguish gull molts in a blizzard.” After Ahmaud Arbery was killed for the crime of running while Black, Lanham added additional “revelations” to the list: “Roadrunners don’t get gunned down for jogging through neighborhoods, do they?” and “Hooded warblers are lucky. They can wear hoodies and no one asks questions or feels threatened. Vigilante ’Mericans don’t mobilize to make citizen’s arrest if they loiter in a strange shrub for too long.”

 

At great personal peril because of the structures that would deny him unfettered access to the environment, Christian Cooper has also ignored the “keep out of nature” signs to pursue his deep love of birds in Central Park’s Ramble. When his sister Melody at first referred to this place as “the Bramble” in her viral tweet, she evoked a deeper history of African Americans claiming American nature as their own rightful ground. In African American folklore, trickster Br’er Rabbit, when caught by Br’er Fox’s tar baby trap, has to think fast, using reverse psychology on the creature who would be his master: he pleads, “whatever you do, Br’er Fox, do not put me in the briar patch, the bramble. It’s the worst place for me.” So Br’er Fox throws him in, and Br’er Rabbit scrambles free. Until white Americans like Amy Cooper stop putting out tar baby traps, and recognize that everyone has a right to the Ramble, this nation will not be free of the racism inscribed in its cherished landscapes. 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176191 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176191 0
Newest Born of Nations: European Nationalism and the Confederate States of America

 

 

The Confederacy has exploded into the news once again, as protestors seeking justice for African-Americans topple Confederate statues and municipalities follow their lead in pledging to remove more.  These events have again been greeted by claims that the Confederacy was unrelated to slavery and therefore to contemporary problems of racism.  At the heart of this conflict is the question of what the Confederacy represented then and represents now. Historians who point to primary sources such as the Ordinances of Secession and Alexander Stephens’s “Cornerstone Speech” agree, along with Black Lives Matter protestors and much of the public, that slavery inspired secession and defined the Confederacy, though other Americans remain committed to a Lost Cause re-interpretation of the war that posited states’ rights, not slavery, inspired the Confederacy.

            

My new book, Newest Born of Nations:  European Nationalist Movements and the Making of the Confederacy, answers this critical question through an international perspective.  In Newest Born of Nations, I argue that white southerners in the Civil War era looked to contemporary European nationalist movements, such as the Revolutions of 1848 and Italian Risorgimento, observing aspiring nations as they sought independence and self-government from empires and monarchies.  White southerners used their analysis of these nationalist movements to compare the South to aspiring nations abroad, a process that allowed them to refine their vision of an ideal nation; to conceive of the South as a potential nation, distinct from the North and separate from the United States; and to justify secession and the creation of the Confederacy.  White southerners’ international perspectives on nationalism thus played a critical role in shaping and defining southern nationalism.

 

With these arguments, Newest Born of Nations corroborates the scholarly consensus that slavery fueled secession and defined the Confederacy.  White southerners developed multiple international perspectives that positioned the Confederacy differently relative to aspiring nations in Europe, but all of which used international comparisons to defend a desired vision of southern nationhood. In what I call the liberal secessionist international perspective, secessionists and Confederates claimed that secession and the creation of the Confederacy were legitimate because the southern nation followed in the footsteps of European nations in seeking liberal ideals such as self-government, national self-determination, and even republicanism.  These secessionists drew comparisons between the South and aspiring European nations, claiming that the white South was oppressed by abolitionism just as aspiring nations such as Ireland and Italy were oppressed by tyrannical empires such as Great Britain and Austria.  The Richmond Daily Dispatch, published by James A. Cowardin, was a leading proponent of this view.  Upon the election of Abraham Lincoln of the anti-slavery Republican Party, for example, the Dispatch wrote “This day the South comes under a dominion which has been forced upon her by the North; this day she begins a servitude as involuntary as that of Italy to Austria; this day inaugurates a foreign rule as distinct and complete as if we had been conquered by European bayonets, and annexed to the throne of some continental despot.” To these secessionists, any political victories by abolitionists would deny pro-slavery whites their self-government, just as tyrannical regimes abroad denied European nationalists their self-government.  

 

Fundamentally, then, these white southerners argued that they had a right to protect slavery, and that any threat to that supposed right to slavery constituted tyranny akin to that of a European empire.  Of course, the existence of slavery actually violated principles of self-government, and the desire to protect slavery similarly opposed rather than upheld the liberal values of self-government or republicanism.  Nonetheless, the liberal international perspective used international comparisons to claim that white southerners’ desire to protect slavery fit within the bounds of emerging nationalism in the mid-nineteenth century, and that the Confederacy was as legitimate as other new nations seeking independence.

 

The conservative secessionist international perspective was even more upfront in centering slavery at the heart of the Confederacy.  In the conservative international perspective, secessionists argued that secession and the Confederacy were legitimate because the Confederacy purified nationalism of what these secessionists claimed were destructive excesses of liberalism in aspiring nations in Europe.  Recognizing that most nationalist movements in Europe had failed, secessionists using the conservative international perspective claimed that these movements had failed because they sought not just national independence, but also greater social equality – a value obviously at odds with enslavement of human beings.  The Confederacy, they asserted, would stand as a corrective to this excess liberalism, and would use its conservatism, social hierarchy, and slavery to purify nationalism of the liberal impulses that had supposedly doomed it abroad.  Leonidas W. Spratt, editor of the Charleston Mercury, made this view clear in January of 1861, when he declared “if you shall elect slavery, avow it and affirm it . . . assert its right . . . to extension and to political recognition among the nations of the earth. If . . . you shall own slavery as the source of your authority . . . the work will be accomplished” and, further, “your Republic will not require the pruning process of another revolution; but poised upon its institutions, will move on to a career of greatness and of glory unapproached by any other nation in the world.”  To these Confederates, slavery was not just the defining element of the Confederacy; it was the legitimizing element that ensured the Confederacy would be the strongest nation the world had yet seen, with the purest implementation of nationalism.

 

Secessionists and Confederates thus used international perspectives as a convenient way to translate their concerns about protecting slavery into the international language of rights and nationalism.  The mid-nineteenth century Atlantic World was rife with questions about nationhood, citizenship, rights, and governance, and to secessionists, the Confederacy was simply the latest in a long line of aspiring nations seeking admission to the international family of nations.  Ultimately, contemporaries in the United States and in Europe largely rejected the Confederacy, both as a nation and as an equal to aspiring nations in Europe. In an intellectual and political atmosphere of growing abolitionism, a majority of Americans and Europeans recognized that a slavery-based nation did not echo the values of nationalism exhibited elsewhere.  Nonetheless, Confederates used international perspectives to defend slavery, and to try to legitimize their slavery-based nation.

 

Newest Born of Nations enhances our understanding of the Confederacy and the Civil War by reframing the American Civil War as part of the larger nineteenth century age of revolutions and nationalism.  Far from an exclusively domestic conflict, the Civil War had profound implications for the evolving nineteenth-century Atlantic World ideas of freedom, rights, citizenship, and nationalism.  Confederate nationalism developed in and through this international context.  Critically, Newest Born of Nations reveals that, despite the contradiction between slavery and the liberal ideals that resonated throughout the mid-nineteenth century Atlantic World, white southerners attempted to claim slavery as legitimate foundation for a self-governing republic.  Slavery was at the heart of the project of building an independent southern nation, and developing and deploying international perspectives was a key way that Confederates sought support and legitimacy for a nation built on slavery.

 

This internationalization of the making of the Confederacy reveals the development of southern nationalism to be a complicated, complex process, one fundamentally tied into the intellectual trends of the era, even as it opposed the growing trend of abolitionism and equality.  By placing secession, the Confederacy, and the American Civil War within this transnational context, Newest Born of Nations expands and complicates our understanding of the Confederacy, the Civil War, the age of nationalism and revolutions, and the nineteenth-century Atlantic World. 

 

 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176194 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176194 0
“A Very Different Story”: Marian Sims and Reconstruction

 

 

Last week, director and screenwriter John Ridley wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times arguing that HBO should remove Gone with the Wind from its new HBO Max streaming service. The movie, he said, “glorifies the antebellum south,” “ignores the horrors of slavery, … perpetuates some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color,” and legitimates the Confederacy, which was based on “the ‘right’ to own, sell and buy human beings.”

The 1939 MGM movie was, of course, based on Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel of the same name. As offensive as most will find the movie’s images of African Americans, the book was considerably worse. Historian Nina Silber wrote in the Washington Post that “Mitchell’s best-selling book offered a classic ‘Lost Cause’ tale of crushed but resilient white Southerners, devoted black slaves and evil-minded Yankees. It traded heavily in racist descriptions and plot lines, from the ‘black apes’ committing ‘outrages on women’ to Mitchell’s reference to the character Mammy, her face ‘puckered in the sad bewilderment of an old ape.’ Ku Kluxers are the book’s heroes, helping restore order in the wake of racial chaos.”

The problem for Ridley and Silber (and many others—folks have been piling on Gone with the Wind lately) isn’t just that the movie and book had racist images; it’s that those images have been widely accepted as the truth. When people think of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, they often see them through the perspective of Gone with the Wind. Historians face a seemingly unending battle to convince people that that’s not the way it was.

But it didn’t have to be that way. Another book written at about the same time by another Georgia-born woman presented a very different view of the war and Reconstruction.

Marian McCamy was born in Dalton, Georgia, in 1899 (a year before Mitchell was born in Atlanta). She graduated from Agnes Scott College, taught history and French at Dalton High School, married lawyer Frank Sims, and moved to Charlotte, where she started writing, publishing stories in national magazines and seven novels, all reviewed in the pages of the New York Times.    

Most of her fiction was set in contemporary times, but Beyond Surrender (1942), her one foray into historical fiction, set her at odds with Margaret Mitchell’s view of the past.

The novel begins late in June 1865, as war-weary Denis Warden arrives home to Brook Haven, the family plantation in South Carolina. He has to deal with salvaging both Brook Haven and his personal life, all in the historical context of the days of Reconstruction.

The title can be read in two ways: as the story of a relationship after one surrenders, physically or emotionally, to another; and as a story set after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865. Sims intended both meanings. The publisher (Lippincott, in Philadelphia) also understood the book’s dual nature. One ad describes the main characters:

Denis Warden was forced to concede the South had been defeated at war—but war could never alter the rights and privileges to which he had been born. No! Not even if he had to go out and fight all over again.

Dolly [Helms, daughter of the merchant with whom Denis had to deal] knew about such rights and privileges only through hearsay, but she wanted them just as fiercely as Denis. And she could offer him the thing his body needed most.

Sharon [Long] should have married Denis. Theirs was a common background, a common tradition. And the war had given her a realistic approach to life which would have been a stabilizing influence on him.

Sara Warden [Denis’s mother] was a woman of acumen and intelligence—two things a lady was not supposed to have. It was she who kept Brook Haven from ruin during the four long years of war. Without her, Denis would have been irretrievably lost.

John Jernigan [a lawyer], who was to love Sara all his life, had not gone to war because he was a cripple. He knew how and why the war was lost—and how the peace might be lost as well. Had the South numbered more of his kind, Reconstruction might have been a very different story.

It looks like a soap opera! But look again at the description of lawyer John Jernigan. Drama rather than historical context drove Beyond Surrender, but in this work of historical fiction, the fiction does, of course, play out in a historical setting, and the setting was quite different from Mitchell’s story. Rather than writing about the alleged ignorance and intellectual apathy of the freedmen, Sims wrote that “Hordes of eager Negroes [were] trooping into the crude new temples of learning. . . ; there was pathos in the universal craving for ‘book learnin’’ as a key that would unlock all the mysteries and benefits of a new universe.” Luke, a former Brook Haven slave, showed a surprising intelligence and willingness to work after the war. The occupying U.S. troops were not monstrous oppressors; instead, they “have been pretty fair to both sides. Some of the commanding officers are brutes and fools, but a lot of ’em are decent.” The freedmen were “victims of circumstance—poor devils.” When asked if he would give black men the right to vote, John said “yes. And if I was all powerful I’d try to educate ’em a little and give it to the best ones anyhow, even without being forced to do it.”

The reviewer in the New York Times said that Beyond Surrender was “extraordinarily fair-minded.” A former northern abolitionist who moved South “is respected for his sincerity.” And perhaps most amazing, especially compared to that other book published a half dozen years earlier, “the continued devotion of Luke, the black foreman, is shown to be not a remnant of servility but, like his determination to have a farm of his own, the preferred responsibility of a free man.”

Sims was not an academic historian—much of her background reading was from Francis Butler Simkins and Robert H. Woody, South Carolina during Reconstruction [1932], one of the earliest revisionist works by white historians—but she knew that her book showed a new perspective. Shortly after the novel was published, she was invited to address the Women’s Club of Columbia, South Carolina. “I expected the study to be drudgery,” she said of the research that supported the book, “and perhaps it would have been if I had found only what I expected to find. Since I didn’t, it proved to be a fascinating voyage of discovery, a sort of paper-chase after truth, through the jungles of legend…. I believe that Reconstruction is the most generally misunderstood and misinterpreted era in American history…. I began research with a belief which is held by a vast majority of Southerners: that the war was … a picnic compared to Reconstruction, and that the North was directly responsible for all our suffering.”

In the novel, Denis, with his adherence to the older view of the war and Reconstruction, reminds us of Margaret Mitchell’s perspective, while John stands in for a new revisionist approach. As the book comes to an end with the aftermath of the contested presidential election of 1876, John and Denis talk about the freedmen’s future. “I was thinking,” John says, “of education and a decent chance to be decent, useful citizens.” Denis remains unconvinced. “You’ve done a big job in the face of big obstacles,” John tells him, “and I’m proud of you. I’m just trying to show you some things you wouldn’t be apt to see for yourself.”

Beyond Surrender was not nearly as popular as Gone with the Wind. But it reminds us today of a history that might have been. As the publisher said about John, “Had the South numbered more of his kind, Reconstruction might have been a very different story.”

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176189 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176189 0
Those We Abuse, We Loathe

 

 

 

I grew up white along the Mississippi River Delta in southeast Arkansas, one of the most racist regions of the country and site of the Elaine Race Massacre, arguably the most significant racial attack against African-Americans in our country’s history. I was reminded as I recently watched renewed grief combusting on the streets of most of our large American cities of the truism I learned early in my life: those we whites abuse, we in turn then loathe.

 

How can we whites not acknowledge the cause of the black anger and frustration in response to the cavalier manner in which the lives of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd were taken? Who could not say that whites hardly showed any regard at all in the executions of these three African Americans? Indeed, we too often witness the face of indifference as black lives are casually taken away.

 

We now hear the call, the habitual drumbeat, once more for racial healing, but it is simply not possible to have a credible discourse on the subject of racial healing in the absence of a full admission that black lives are routinely, if not normally, treated as largely trivial by an important segment of American officialdom, including the police. How else can we account for the recurrence of white violence without consequences? 

 

So, how do we move from whites inflicting abuse to the dismissal by whites of African-American lives? Implicit in the historical ability of whites to abuse blacks with impunity has been the related evil of seeing black lives as inferior. The various reminders of abuse one practices can be mortifying and agonizing, and can foster deep hatred, both for one’s own self as perpetrator but also toward the object or target. In the extreme, abusers can desire and seek the complete elimination of the object of one’s abuse in the belief that the strong urge behind the abuse will also simply disappear with the absence of the object or victim. Yet, this process rarely squelches the motive. The associated illusion that loathing only exists because the object deserves demonstrable hatred has led to violent outbursts reflected through lynchings and brutalizations, such as the mutilation and murder of Emmett Till, if not more recent deaths of numerous African-Americans. 

 

And yet, many whites recognize at some level that such hatefulness exists within white identity rather than being provoked by the Other. They knew they could never save themselves from damaged heritage, that legacy of prejudicial tradition and violence derived from American white racism, perpetrated against African-Americans, and passed on and repeated from generation to generation. The traditions, the customs, the evil reflected in history against African-Americans were too ingrained and too intertwined with who those American whites were for them to cleanse themselves.  

 

Over the seven decades of my life facing racial division and white subjugation of black people, I have witnessed time and again that whites have little capacity to cleanse themselves, as the continuous harm caused by whites against blacks, whether by abuse, loathing, or customary impulse, built up so much scar tissue over the years and generations that it became impossible for the perpetrators to penetrate into their own hidden humanity through those layers of tragedy whites had imposed.  

 

And thus, white abuse and loathing had to persist to degradation in the value of African-American lives. I cannot be convinced that American whites, for generations, didn’t comprehend the evil nature of African-American subjugation, but they could not help themselves from following the well-worn path--clearly marked without ambiguity--which grandfathers and grandmothers, mothers and fathers also followed, so that encroachments on the past and departure from traditions simply became a form of heresy. Over multiple generations, while ancestors realized the evil nature of racial oppression, the availability of free or cheap labor and the allure of maintaining white supremacy as a way of life were much too appealing to oppose. 

 

So, let us proceed to endorse racial healing. It is only prudent and necessary to do so as a nation. However, at the same time, let us recognize that such an effort will be futile from the outset in the absence of an initial step that leads to an admission by this country that black lives have been systemically valued less than white lives by not only governmental institutions but the public at large. Only on a foundation of a realistic acknowledgment of the past and current status for black lives in this country can we expect that such adverse behavior, as we continue to experience, will not be repeated again and again and that black lives can be viewed by all Americans as equal in value to white lives.  

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176192 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176192 0
Pawns of History: The Poetics of Russian Revolutionary Politics

A meeting of Chernoe Znamia members 1906 in Minsk.

 

I don’t know about the others, but I was in awe of the tenacity, durability, and fearlessness of human thought, especially that thought within which—or rather, beneath which—there loomed something larger than thought, something primeval and incomprehensible, something that made it impossible for men not to act in a certain way, not to experience the urge for action so powerful that even death, were it to stand in its way, would appear powerless.

Those were the words by which Aleksander Arosev recalled a secret meeting he attended as a teenager alongside his best friend, the broad-shouldered yet soft-spoken Vyacheslav Skriabin, and several other prodigious students from their high school in the Russian countryside. Under the weak, white light of a kerosene lamp, they read and discussed illegal socialist literature. If the tsarist police were to discover them, they would most likely receive a one-way ticket to the icy outskirts of Siberia, where years of forced labor awaited. 

But the boys were not afraid of such a fate. Protected by their idols, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, whose portraits watched over them from along the walls, they studied on in their attempt to understand the world so that one day they might shape it in their image. Though Arosev had always felt it in his bones, hardly could he have believed that in only a few years’ time both his wildest dreams and greatest nightmares would become reality: that in 1938 he would meet his death at the hands of a comrade he was yet to meet, while his friend Skriabin—who had only just adopted the nickname ‘Molotov’—would serve as the commissar of a nation they were yet to create. 

In his book, Three Whys of the Russian Revolution, the conservative historian Richard Pipes questions the historical inevitability of ‘Red October,’ the Bolshevik usurpation of the Provisional Government, by reminding us that, according to Marx, the world’s first communist uprising could not possibly have taken place in a country as archaic as Russia, but only in an industrially advanced society like England or Germany, where the capitalist system had, by gradually eroding the cultural differences between different groups of workers, created a unified, class-conscious proletariat. 

Valid though his point may be, by dismissing the insurrection as a fundamentally trivial event, Pipes turns somewhat of a blind eye to the elements of Russian culture that made such an event possible in the first place. Indeed, while its inevitability remains up for debate, there is sufficient reason to believe the ‘proletarian’ coup could not have occurred anywhere except in Russia—a nation which, during the final decades of the tsarist regime, had been transformed into an ideal breeding ground for radical activism.  

There was but one place a person in nineteenth century Russia could take his or her ideas, and that place was not parliament—there was none up until the creation of the Duma in 1905—but the printing press. Consequently, Russian literature became deeply infused with social and political thought. After the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, followed by the government’s laissez-faire attitude when it came to integrating them into the state, many authors took it upon themselves to figure out how people should live together and organize their society.  

The ones that saw no wrong made it past the censors with ease, while those who opposed the establishment were persecuted and penalized; Fyodor Dostoevsky was imprisoned for his involvement in a clandestine literary group, and Leo Tolstoy excommunicated from the Orthodox Church for writing Resurrection. But no matter how hard the government tried to silence its critics, their work still found many admirers, the most passionate of which belonged to a small, though steadily growing class of ‘professional’ revolutionaries. These were the people who would eventually become known as the Communists, and if we are to understand the trajectory Russia followed on their behalf, the stories that influenced them might be as good a place to start as any.  

Given how intertwined literature and legislation were in the Russian Empire, it should come as no surprise that Arosev was far from the only revolutionary figure who cultivated an emotional attachment to the books he read. The Bolshevik Sergei Mitskevich, for example, described how his “eyes were opened,” upon reading a socio-ideological novel by Ivan Turgenev titled The Virgin Soil, and how it inspired him to read religiously in hope of discovering “the key to the understanding of reality.”

Similarly, Lenin biographer Robert Service points out how little ‘Volodya’ was quick to develop intimate imaginary relationships with his favorite writers, particularly the influential revolutionary author Nikolai Chernishevsky, and was said to have described himself, if only in closed company, as being “in love” with Marx. The significance of this attachment was twofold. Firstly, it turned the writings of socialist thinkers into a kind of gospel presumed to provide an all-encompassing and irrefutable worldview. Secondly, it elevated the revolutionaries, the persecuted disciples of this repressed truth, to the status of prophets.

In its infancy, this kind of self-glorification tended to manifest itself in harmless, even pitiable forms. The Polish-born Bolshevik Feliks Kon, for instance, once likened himself to a “young knight determined to wake up a sleeping princess,” while the Russian Bolshevik Alexander Voronsky looked back on himself and his young comrades as “overconfident and full of peremptory fervor,” as they argued over “the commune, the land strips, and the relationship between the hero and the crowd.”

But once these imaginative children had grown into adults—adults with a high degree of political power at their disposal, no less—their elevated self-perception came to carry potentially severe consequences for their fellow countrymen. Most importantly, it led Lenin to proclaim that their revolution could not possibly succeed without the leadership of a so-called “revolutionary vanguard,” a paramilitary group consisting of trained revolutionaries who, by virtue of their profession, walked “along a precipitous and difficult path, holding each other firmly by the hand.” 

Opponents of the Soviets and their doctrines often suggest that the members of this vanguard drew on socialism’s humanitarian appeal in order to mask their selfish lust for power, because they knew very well that the only way in which men like them—born outside the aristocracy—could ever attain it was through revolution. While certainly in line with our age-old understanding of human nature, a closer inspection of the revolutionaries’ private writings renders this, too, difficult to believe. 

Indeed, to those same opponents, it may come as a shock to learn that many revolutionaries habitually doubted themselves and, as a result, took great pains to ensure they acted in the name of truth and truth alone. For example, in order to decide their political allegiance, Arosev and his companion, Vyacheslav, once debated each other on behalf of the Bolsheviks and their political rivals, the Socialist Revolutionaries, under the promise they both side with the winner. 

Likewise, the Left Communist Valerian Osinsky, weary of passing trends within the academic world, studied for months on end trying “very hard to give the Decembrists a non-Marxist explanation,” and did not join Lenin’s movement until he had officially failed to find it. Osinsky’s trials and tribulations constitute just one reason why the Russian historian Yuri Slezkine, in his 2017 study House of Government, calls the revolutionaries “preachers,” which he did, not to imply a strong connection between the ideas of Christianity and those of Marxism, but because the revolutionaries followed their ideology to a religious extent.

And yet, the revolutionary’s commitment to his cause did not, ultimately, consist of rationality alone. There was something larger, something “primeval,” as Arosev said, at play. For their involvement in covert organizations, many young Marxists found themselves, at one point in their life, exiled to a tiny village in northern Siberia. Buried year-round beneath the snow and isolated from the rest of civilization, they were accompanied only by a few of their close friends and a handful of books. Reading from dawn till dusk, or dusk till dawn—it was hard to tell out on the tundra—they willfully lost their ability to tell fiction from reality. 

In these barren conditions, plagued by depression, the Russian Bolshevik Yakov Sverdlov doubled down on a maxim he had formulated in his adolescence: “I put books to the test of life, and life to the test of books.” At the same time, Feliks Kon began dreaming vividly of the day when “the world of slavery and untruth would sink into the abyss, and the bright sun of liberty would shine over the earth.” Aside from noting the poetic energy with which Kon writes about his political aspirations, just consider, for a moment, how similar his own dream sounds to that of Vera Pavlovna, the selfless heroine of Chernishevsky’s feverishly popular socialist novel, What is to be Done?:

“The day breaks in a splendor of joy that is all of nature filing the soul with light, warmth, fragrance, song, love and tenderness.”

And so, at the core of the revolutionary movement, we finally find not only an unwavering determination to regard art and reality as one and the same, but also an unflinching devotion to the insurmountable task of materializing the beauty, peace and harmony that can so easily exist on a page, yet so seldom shows itself in life. 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176130 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176130 0
Will George Floyd’s Murder Be Trump’s Undoing?

 

 

 

Police brutality did not start with Derek Chauvin, and it probably will not end with him either. Give a man a gun, and the temptation to abuse his power is always there.

 

In the 1960s, my mother was the principal of a vocational high school in mid-town Manhattan. An obviously deranged homeless man wielding a screwdriver entered the school’s gym, and began shouting obscenities at the students. The man happened to be black. The school called the police, and a white motorcycle cop was first on the scene. Without any warning or conversation, the cop shot the man dead in front of 100 students. The cop’s defense, backed by the police union, which got him lawyered up, was that he felt threatened by the screwdriver. The NYPD disciplined the cop. He got a slap on the wrist, something like forfeiting eight vacation days.

 

The shot that killed the vagrant was hardly heard around the world. There were no cries of “black lives matter” in those days. It was the Viet Nam era. No one called for defunding or demilitarizing the police, as they do now. There were no demonstrations. Only the sobering realization that human life is cheap and expendable.

 

Indeed, it wasn’t until 1993, that New York after decades of false starts, instituted a Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent oversight agency to review cases of police brutality and recommend appropriate discipline. 

 

This time it is different. Much has happened since the 1960s, but the racial divide that existed from the founding of the country is still too much with us. 

 

Earlier in our history, we had presidents who sought to bring us together and heal wounds “with malice toward none, and charity for all.” Lincoln presciently understood the hypocrisy of slavery and its stain on American values. In the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1854, he argued: 

I hate it [slavery] because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world-enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites-causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men among ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty... and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.

 

We took another swing at it in the 1960s when we all thought that the Civil Rights movement would bring change. In March 1965, President Lyndon Johnson went before a joint session of Congress, and embraced the cause of the protesters, pleading for the “dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.” Johnson movingly spoke of American values: “Our mission is at once the oldest and most basic of this country: to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man.” He declared that the effort of American negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life” “must be our cause too…[I]t’s not just Negroes, but really it’s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome!”

 

Today, we see massive protests around the world. The murder of George Floyd on a Minneapolis street has captured the global conscience. Thousands of protestors in Asia, Europe and Australia across six continents joined the protestors in New York, Los Angeles Washington and Philadelphia to decry racism and injustice.

 

The stakes have never been higher for the United States. As did Lincoln a century and a half ago, Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass argues in an important Foreign Affairs piece that

 

Unless the United States is able to come together to address its persistent societal and political divides, global prospects for democracy may weaken, while friends and allies of the United States may rethink their decision to place their security in American hands, and competitors may dispense with some or all of their traditional caution.”

 

We wonder why the flames of protest engaged today’s sensibility, and not before. Nobody marched on six continents in 2014 after Eric Garner was filmed being garroted by officers on Staten Island—indeed, hardly anyone marched in New York, either. 

 

The protests will eventually end, and it is unknown at this point what reforms will come of them. But have we really learned anything from the tragic murder of George Floyd? The Senate, 65 years after the lynching of Emmett Till, dithers over a bill that defines lynching on the basis of race a federal hate crime. Since Floyd’s death, prosecutors in Buffalo, New York announced felony assault charges against two cops who, without any provocation, shoved a 75-year-old protester to the ground. The elderly man remains in a serious condition in hospital after hitting his head in the fall. Fifty-seven of the officers’ colleagues resigned in solidarity, and Trump defends the police spouting a far- fetched conspiracy theory. Solidarity with what? Criminal conduct?

 

The times present a unique political and historical opportunity for the President of the United States to embrace the cause of his countrymen and try to heal the wounds. Rather than speak from his “bully pulpit” in which he, like Lincoln and Johnson, identifies with the protesters, we have a rogue president in office. Trump threatens to unleash vicious dogs on those who breach his security perimeter; repeats the trope of the Nixon era that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts;” uses tear gas and rubber bullets to make an unprovoked attack on American citizens exercising their constitutional right of lawful assembly, so he can have a photo-op in front of a church he rarely, if ever, attends; invokes the Insurrection Act to threaten using the United States Army against citizens exercising their constitutional right of free assembly, while one of his favorite senators, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a combat veteran, issues the clarion call to “send in the troops;” and states that proposed legislation removing a “qualified immunity” for police officers is a non-starter. The doctrine of qualified immunityshields police officers, from civil liability for conduct on the job unless they violate "clearly established" constitutional rights.

 

Undeniably, we have a president spewing nonsense in a political climate of “truth decay.” He continues to add to the tally of 18,000 lies the Washington Post totes up he has uttered since attaining the nation’s highest office. 

 

I am a lawyer, not a metallurgist, but it is remarkable that throughout his dark career, nothing seems to stick our Teflon president. But, as his approval ratings continue to descend in the polls, Americans are increasingly disgusted with this “great divider.” Perhaps now with the murder of George Floyd, the American people have come to realize that he is more sinning than sinned against. 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176196 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176196 0
In This Election Year We Historians Need to Insist on Truth-telling

 

 

In May 2020, historian Jill Lepore began a new podcast seeking to answer the question "Who killed truth?" In her These Truths: A History of the United States (2019), she writes that “the work of the historian” includes being “the teller of truth.” And indeed what other task can be more important for us? Are we not society’s experts on telling the truth about the past? And, as H. Stuart Hughes once argued, that includes the recent past. “Tell the truth” should be as central to our mission, as “First, do no harm” is to doctors and nurses. 

 

Truth is especially important in this year of a crucial presidential election. Competing versions of the truth are already battling each other. And President Trump’s actions and inactions regarding the coronavirus pandemic and post-George-Floyd murder are the main battlegrounds. 

 

In a New York Times op-ed of 13 June, conservative columnist Peter Wehner, a frequent critic of Trump, wrote that even before becoming president Trump’s goal “was to annihilate the distinction between truth and falsity . . . to overwhelm people with misinformation and disinformation.” 

 

Politicians are not especially known for truth telling. As Hannah Arendt wrote in 1967, “No one has ever doubted that truth and politics are on rather bad terms with each other.” But Trump has brought disrespect for truth to a whole new level, one that easily has surpassed that of any previous president. Early in 2018 his fellow Republican, outgoing senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake stated

 

2017 was a year which saw the truth—objective, empirical, evidence-based truth—more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine “alternative facts” into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods. It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. “The enemy of the people,” was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.

 

Later in 2018, Michiko Kakutani’s The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump wrote of the“monumentally serious consequences of his [Trump’s] assault on truth.” At the beginning of June 2020, Donald Trump and His Assault on Truth: The President's Falsehoods, Misleading Claims and Flat-Out Lies, by several members of The Washington Post Fact Checker team, appeared on bookshelves. It declared, “Donald Trump, the most mendacious president in U.S. history . . . . [is] not known for one big lie—just a constant stream of exaggerated, invented, boastful, purposely outrageous, spiteful, inconsistent, dubious and false claims.” 

The book also insisted that Trump’s “pace of deception has quickened exponentially. He averaged about six [false or misleading] claims a day in 2017, nearly 16 a day in 2018 and more than 22 a day in 2019.” In 2020 the number continued to rise, reaching 19,128 by late May. Furthermore, Trump has reduced the capacity of many government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to act based on science-based truths rather than political bias.

 

But rather than analyzing all Trump’s falsehoods and weakening of factual-based government operations, let’s just concentrate on his responses to our ongoing pandemic and the continuing protests following the 25-May-knee-on-the-neck killing of George Floyd. Following an examination of Trumpian truth-tramplings regarding those two 2020 events, we shall look further at the historian’s role in insisting on truth-telling. 

On 13 April 2020 Trump exploited the daily White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing to play a four-minute video featuring TV clips and text which praised his coronavirus responses. On that same day, the Republican National Committee (RNC) began running ads in over a dozen battleground states praising Trump's coronavirus leadership. The main theme of both the four-minute video and the ads was summed up by a few quotes from one of the ads. “Our nation in crisis, but through the uncertainty and fear, our president is a steady hand. Bold action. Strong leadership. Uniting America,” and “From the beginning, President Trump was decisive. Stopping travel from foreign nations, gathering our best and brightest, slowing the spread of COVID-19. President Trump will relaunch our economy and fight for the American worker. Helping a nation in need delivering unprecedented bipartisan relief.” 

About the 13-April video CNN proclaimed, “TRUMP USES TASK FORCE BRIEFING TO TRY AND REWRITE HISTORY ON CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE.” Two of the networks reporters, Erin Burnett and John King, indicated some of the ways the video presented a false narrative. And CNN’s Jim Acosta declared that it looked like it was made in China or North Korea.

Thus, it appears that competing views of Trump’s coronavirus response, competing histories of it, are going to bombard citizens all the way up to the November presidential election. The same is likely to occur regarding the Trumpian response to protests stemming from the killing of George Floyd. Can voters’ get this history right? Can they distinguish between truthful history and fake history? The outcomes of the November Presidential and Congressional elections are likely to hinge on this capability.

Pew poll released May 28 does not provide great hope. Only 33 percent of Democrats and independents leaning that way and 23 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents felt “highly confident in their ability to check the accuracy of COVID-19 news and information.”

Regarding Trump’s coronavirus responses, The Atlantic’s “All the President’s Lies About the Coronavirus” (27 May, 2020) and its promise of updating as needed provides a good overview. So too does Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett’s up-to-date “Timeline of Trump’s Coronavirus Responses,” which includes such Trump gems as “We have it totally under control. . . . It’s going to be just fine” (22 January); “CDC and my Administration are doing a GREAT job of handling Coronavirus” (25 February); and “When we have a lot of cases, I don't look at that as a bad thing, I look at that as, in a certain respect, as being a good thing, . . . Because it means our testing is much better. I view it as a badge of honor, really, it's a badge of honor” (19 May, the day after U.S coronavirus deaths passed 90,000). 

The most notable presidential response to the protests after George Floyd’s death was Trump’s short walk from the White House to St. John’s Church, where he 

arranged a photo op of him holding up a Bible. To get to the church Trump used militarized security forces, rubber bullets, and tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters. After such tactics were criticized in the press, the Trump campaign claimed the press distorted the Trump response. 

In general Trump and his administration have attempted to link the protests to radical leftists, including a loose group of anti-fascist activists known as antifa. Trump’s most outrageous claim was that a 75-year-old man knocked to the ground by Buffalo police and hospitalized “could be an ANTIFA provocateur.” Yet, as the New York Times indicated “Federal Arrests Show No Sign That Antifa Plotted Protests”

Of course, Trump and his supporters often damn media that are critical of him by calling them “fake news.” But this frequent and careless labeling, even against such conservative publications as the Wall Street Journal, is hardly credible. As historians, we often emphasize that in seeking truth we should rely on reliable sources. Can anyone seriously claim that Trump is such a source?

In a post on HNN last month, Christine Adams and Nina Kushner wrote that “to hold Trump and the GOP accountable . . . will require a shared understanding of what constitutes truth. . . . This idea of truth based on reason and evidence is what supports almost all research from life-saving medical breakthroughs (such as the coronavirus vaccine we are nervously awaiting) to the development of the iPhone.  But it is not the monopoly of research. Rational evidence-based inquiry is the hallmark of journalism, the work of intelligence agencies, and even the legal system, however imperfectly.” Yet, the two historians realized, “it is exactly this understanding of the truth that is at risk.”

Historians stress on truth telling goes way back. A half century ago, for example, David Hackett Fischer emphasized it in his book Historians’ Fallacies (1970): “Every true statement must be thrice true. It must be true to its evidence, true to itself, and true to other historical truths with which it is colligated. Moreover, a historian must not merely tell truths, but demonstrate their truthfulness as well.”

Fischer’s book remains valuable because he reminds us of all the errors we as historians can, and have, made; and he is absolutely correct in emphasizing the centrality of truth telling to our profession. Seeking truth about past events must always remain our lodestar.

What former President Obama said in a July 2018 speech in South Africa is even more true today than it was two years ago. Still early in the Trump administration, Obama stated that “too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up. . . . We see it in state-sponsored propaganda. . . . We see it in the promotion of anti-intellectualism and the rejection of science from leaders who find critical thinking and data somehow politically inconvenient.” 

Although Obama did not mention Trump, it was easy to discern that the former president believed his successor was encouraging truth trampling. And, unfortunately, Trump’s Republican Party was descending into the lying pit along with him. Donald Trump and His Assault on Truth cites a 2007 Associated Press–Yahoo poll which “found that 71 percent of Republicans said it was ‘extremely important’ for presidential candidates to be honest,” but in a 2018 Washington Post poll only 49 percent thought it was important, “22 points lower than in the poll a decade earlier.”

The party that once prided itself on emphasizing virtues such as honesty (see, e.g. William Bennett’s 1993 Book of Virtues) was apparently now having second thoughts about a value Bennett thought “was of pervasive human importance.” But Obama told his South African audience that “the denial of facts runs counter to democracy, it could be its undoing, which is why we must zealously protect independent media; and we have to guard against the tendency for social media to become purely a platform for spectacle, outrage, or disinformation; and we have to insist that our schools teach critical thinking to our young people.” In the spirit of that speech, where four times he repeated the phrase “history shows,” we can also add that historians need to continue insisting on the importance of truth-telling. 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176187 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176187 0
Has Trump’s Popularity Reached a Tipping Point? Joe McCarthy's Fall May Give Clues

 

 

For more than three years, criticism of Donald Trump’s flawed presidency has been intense, yet his base of public support has remained solid. Commentators in the national media wonder, however, if Trump is beginning to lose his political grip. They point to public concern about his administration’s inadequate response to the pandemic, surging unemployment, and scathing criticism from generals and prominent officials who served in the White House. Opinion polls indicate some slippage in the president’s approval numbers. Might this be a tipping point, journalists ask? Could the President lose in November?

Much can happen between now and November 3. In the past Trump has pulled out of difficulty on numerous occasions, including the final weeks of the 2016 presidential election. But there are some intriguing similarities between Trump’s situation and that of Joseph McCarthy. Senator McCarthy seemed invincible at the beginning of 1954. In a matter of months, he fell from grace. Do Donald Trump’s recent difficulties suggest he, too, may experience a loss of public support? Trump’s situation resembles McCarthy’s in some ways, but there are also notable differences.

Joseph McCarthy, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, rose to prominence in early 1950 by stoking fears about communism. His speech at an event for Republican women attracted considerable media attention. McCarthy claimed misleadingly that he had a list of 205 names of disloyal officials that were “still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.” Journalists and politicians identified McCarthy’s lies and misrepresentations, but the senator managed to keep them off-balance. McCarthy often announced new charges about communist influence in America, diverting attention from controversies related to his previous assertions.

When a conservative Democratic senator, Millard Tydings, headed an investigation of claims about communist influence, McCarthy attacked him. McCarthy’s staff promoted a doctored photo that falsely associated Tydings with an American communist leader, and McCarthy aided Tydings political opponent. Millard Tydings had been a popular lawmaker before McCarthy targeted him. Tydings suffered a huge election defeat in 1950. His experience demonstrated the perils of resistance to McCarthy. 

During a four-year period, Joseph McCarthy wielded extraordinary power. Like President Trump, he bullied and threated opponents. Many of McCarthy’s fellow Republicans were troubled by his behavior, but they kept quiet. They understood that McCarthy’s aggressive tactics boosted the GOP’s political fortunes. Republicans also recognized the electoral power of McCarthy’s loyal followers.

Joseph McCarthy achieved broad public support largely because communism seemed to be expanding globally. In the years after World War II, the “Cold War” began. The Soviet Union tightened its grip on Eastern Europe, Mao Zedong’s communist revolution took control of mainland China, the Russians developed nuclear weapons, revelations indicated spies gave secrets to the Russians, and the Korean War dragged on without a settlement. “Reds” seemed to be making substantial gains. Americans wanted tough leaders who would stand up against communist aggression. McCarthy acted like the man of the hour.

In early 1954 Joe McCarthy’s popularity ratings were strong. A poll in January reported that 50% of Americans queried approved of him and only 29% disapproved. By late 1950, however, polls revealed a striking loss of support. 35% judged McCarthy favorably in the November 1954 survey, 46% unfavorably. 

What caused the senator’s fast decline? McCarthy overreached, especially when he attacked the U.S. Army. Newscaster Edward R. Murrow’s television program delivered a scathing indictment of McCarthy’s tactics, and the Army-McCarthy hearings, also broadcast on national television, revealed McCarthy’s lies and abuses. Changing conditions also weakened the senator. Dwight D. Eisenhower, a war hero and popular Republican president, restored public confidence. Cold War tensions eased. The Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, died in 1953, and a few months later fighting in the Korean War stopped. McCarthy’s tactic of stoking fear of communism lost much of its appeal in the changing political environment.

Similarities regarding Donald Trump’s situation are intriguing. President Trump has also attempted to frighten the public with scary claims about dangerous conspiracies and threats from radicals. Trump pounced on Republicans and former administration officials that criticized him publicly. His fierce attacks showed he intends to smash anyone who betrays him. Also, as in the case of Joe McCarthy, new developments have stirred discontent with Trump’s leadership. Presently, Americans are anxious about the pandemic and the economy. They worry, too, about angry clashes over politics, culture, and race. American society appears dangerously divided. 

Trump’s critics, long frustrated by his hold on power, wonder if these changes indicate a tipping point has been reached. Is Trump in serious political trouble, they ask?

The president’s standing has been damaged because of recent events and his bungling leadership, but his influence may not decline as rapidly as McCarthy’s did in 1954. Trump might hold on and win the 2020 election. He is President of the United States, not a senator, like McCarthy. Trump controls the bully pulpit. He receives free media coverage daily and numerous opportunities to promote his candidacy. Furthermore, Republicans in federal, state, and local governments are well positioned to create obstacles to Democratic voters in the 2020 elections. Vladimir Putin’s agents are also expected to use social media to influence American opinion prior to the election.

Still, the history of McCarthy’s rise and fall is suggestive. It reveals that sometimes political power can be more fleeting than pundits realize. New developments beyond a leaders’ control as well as the individual’s controversial actions can swiftly weaken public support. When a politician’s difficulties receive elevated attention in the national media, critics escalate their attacks. Others, long discontented, feel emboldened by the new signs of resistance. They pile on. Momentum for change builds rapidly.

Has Trump’s influence reached a tipping point? Or will his appeal with many voters, benefited by incumbency in 2020, produce another election victory? It is too early to tell. But the record of Joseph McCarthy’s decline in 1954 shows that power can diminish swiftly when changing societal conditions and flawed leadership create a perfect political storm. 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176198 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176198 0
Vannevar Bush: Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Indispensable Expert

Vannevar Bush with President Harry Truman, 1948

 

Present-day contempt for scientific expertise takes us back, some eight decades ago, to the Second World War.

Enter Vannevar Bush, president of the Carnegie Foundation, who gained a welcomed audience with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The recipient of a joint doctorate in engineering from Harvard and MIT, Bush’s bona fides were exhaustive:  professor of electrical engineering at MIT, and later dean of engineering and eventually vice-president.  Bush is credited with developing the analog computer, among  numerous other milestones that prepared the path for our present-day digital age. 

Bush proposed to President Roosevelt the harnessing of national defense requirements to nation’s scientific expertise, intending to draw from university research centers as well as private enterprise.  The immediate result was President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8807 in June of 1941, authorizing formation of the Office of Scientific Research and Development.   Instantly the president designated Bush as the executive officer of OSRD, with ready access to the White House.

Simultaneously Bush, again at the request of the president, served on a top-secret committee focused on the development of the atomic bomb.  In so doing he routinely interacted with General George C. Marshall (Army Chief of Staff), James Conant (president of Harvard University), and J. Robert Oppenheimer  (director of the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, where much of the classified research and development occurred.)          

Bush filled the ranks of OSRD with the nation’s foremost scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and physicians in common cause.  He also engaged large numbers of experts drawn from private-sector enterprises such as Bell Labs, RCA, and Sperry Gyroscope, to name only a handful.

OSRD was purposefully civilian-controlled because of the inter-service rivalries, often internecine, that plagued defense research during the First World War.  Ultimately OSRD would expend $500 billion (equal to $7.2 trillion in 2020).  Key achievements included guided missiles, proximity fuzes, radar, and the battle-field ready walkie-talkie.  OSRD’s medical committee also exercised a catalytic role in developing, producing  and distributing penicillin – a painstaking process -- which would greatly diminish battlefield fatalities in the D-Day invasion.

One further aspect regarding Vannevar Bush merits airing.  During the 1930s he disdained President Roosevelt’s New Deal domestic legislation, regarding it as encroaching on private enterprise (his partisan affiliation, if any, remains unclear). This prompted him to advise the president, in course of devising OSRD, that the agency should disband once the war concluded.  That would occur in 1947.  

Notably, given the exigencies of global conflict, President Roosevelt's trust in Bush was not unique. He appointed two prominent Republicans to his wartime cabinet.  Henry L. Stimson previously had served as Secretary of War to President William Howard Taft as well as Secretary of State to President Herbert Hoover.  Frank Knox became Secretary of the Navy.  Not only was Knox the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 1936 but he also composed a steady stream of editorials for his newspaper vilifying President Roosevelt’s domestic legislation.  Add to this, the president designated Wendell Willkie, his Republican opponent in the election of 1940, to serve as his ambassador-without-portfolio to promote the Allied cause during the course of the war.  As well, the president cultivated Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg, a Republican from Michigan, who would abandon his longstanding isolationist sensibilities to endorse an American role in establishing the United Nations.

Composing the foreword to OSRD’s official administrative history, published in 1948, Vannevar Bush cited what he regarded as its summative achievement:  “New lessons in  understanding and evaluation had to be learned by both the military and by the scientific community.”  

The postwar legacy of Vannevar Bush would culminate in 1950, when President Harry S Truman signed legislation authorizing formation of the National Science Foundation.  Bush believed the new agency –drawing upon the wartime role of OSRD  – would advance nation’s scientific and technological research.  In all of this he looked askance, in the era of the of Cold War, at the out-sized influence of the nation’s uniformed services in devising national science policy.    

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176129 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176129 0
Roundup Top Ten for June 26, 2020

The Confederacy Was an Antidemocratic, Centralized State

by Stephanie McCurry

Whatever way you look at it, it is impossible to turn this history and its leading figures into a part of American heritage. 

 

What Kind of Society Values Property Over Black Lives?

by Robin D.G. Kelley

"Let me offer a more productive question instead: What is the effect of obsessing over looting?"

 

 

How 1970s U.S. Immigration Policy Put Mexican Migrants at the Center of a System of Mass Expulsion

by Adam Goodman

"90% of the people pushed out of the country during the 20th century were Mexicans deported via a coercive, fast-track administrative process euphemistically referred to as 'voluntary departure,'" writes Adam Goodman.

 

 

Monuments to a Complicated Past

by Sean Wilentz

Unless we can outgrow the conception of history as a simplistic battle between darkness and light, we will be the captives of arrogant self-delusions and false innocence.

 

 

Donald Trump’s Message is Falling Flat Because it is Outdated

by A. K. Sandoval-Strausz

Our cities and suburbs look and feel very different than they did in the depths of the urban crisis in the late 1960s. That’s one reason Trump’s attempt to revive the law-and-order playbook of that era has fallen flat.

 

 

How to Stop the Cuts

by Sara Matthiesen

Historians and other faculty who want to protect their disciplines and their colleagues from budget cuts need to develop maps of power and how it operates in a university.

 

 

Police Say Deaths of Black People by Hanging are Suicides. Many Black People aren’t so Sure.

by Stacey Patton

Black people's suspicions that a number of recent hanging deaths were murders rather than suicides echoes a long history of concealing violence against black people by ruling it suicide. 

 

 

The Black Women Who Launched the Original Anti-Racist Reading List

by Ashley Dennis

Black women librarians have been important leaders in promoting books and publishing standards that encourage readers to recognize human dignity and reject racist stereotypes in children's literature.

 

 

Cancel the Fall College Football Season

by Victoria L. Jackson

For too long, instead of facilitating the intellectual advancement and economic empowerment of young Black men, college sports have helped make American universities another institution perpetuating the undervaluing of Black lives.

 

 

Martin Luther King’s Giant Triplets of Injustice

by Andrew Bacevich

Without addressing the fundamental evils of economic inequality and militarism American society will continue to fail to realize the promise of racial equality, as Martin Luther King warned in his 1967 speech at Riverside Church. 

 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176178 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176178 0
Ghosts of Neshoba: Why Trump Can't Dog Whistle His Way Back to the White House

Photo Robfergusonjr, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Editor's Note: This essay accurately quotes a Mississippi politician's speech in 1963, which includes a racial slur.

 

Last week we learned that someone with a deep knowledge of a certain kind of history seems to be advising Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. The campaign announced that Trump’s first post-COVID-19-lockdown campaign rally would take place on June 19, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Immediately, commentators observed that Tulsa was the site of American history’s most harrowing racial pogrom in 1921, and that June 19 was Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the day slaves in Texas learned they were free. The campaign decided to move the rally to the next day instead.

 

It was easy, perhaps, to imagine all this was a one-off coincidence, “snowflake” liberals manufacturing outrage out of thin air—until the announcement that Trump’s acceptance speech was to take place in Jacksonville, Florida, on August 27. It was soon pointed out that black people in Jacksonville know that date as “Ax Handle Saturday,” when participants in a 1960 NAACP demonstration were chased through downtown streets for beatings. Next, the campaign tweeted a frightening message about Trump World’s latest boogeyman, ANTIFA—illustrated with the same upside-down red triangle the Nazis forced socialists to wear.

 

“This campaign is nothing but a dog whistle,” a friend emailed me, referring to the phrase used to describe the longstanding right-wing practice of signifying solidarity with racists by sending signals on coded frequencies that non-racist voters won’t recognize. The comparison most frequently drawn is to the first major speech of Ronald Reagan’s presidential general election campaign, on August 2, 1980, at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi. 

 

There, in the 1950s and ‘60s, politicians competed to outdo each other with nasty imprecations at civil rights organizations like the NAACP—an acronym a politician named Paul Johnson said—in his successful 1963 run for governor—stood for “Niggers, Apes, Alligators, Coons, and Possums.” In 1964, the fair opened as planned on August 8, even though six days earlier the bodies of voting rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner were discovered buried in an earthen dam a few miles away, assassinated by the Ku Klux Klan with the assistance of Sheriff Lawrence Rainey.

 

And yet Reagan raised the curtain of his campaign there with a speech in which he affirmed his support for “states rights,” the signature code phrase of Southern racist politicians going all the way back to John C. Calhoun. Three months later, he swept all the Southern states save Georgia against Peachtree State native son Jimmy Carter. 

 

In years since, conventional wisdom hardened: dog-whistles work. No wonder, forty years later, Team Trump is eager to sound them again.

 

But my work suggests a contrary lesson: it’s likely that this speech hurt Reagan more than it helped him. In 1964 Barry Goldwater, after voting against the landmark 1964 civil rights act, got 87 percent of Mississippi’s vote. In 1976 Gerald Ford, who first supported, then voted against civil rights legislation, and whose Republican Party by 1976 was widely understood as anti-civil rights, lost Mississippi by only two points. But in 1980 Ronald Reagan, who had opposed all the civil rights bills of the 1960s, barely won Mississippi, improving on Ford’s performance there by only one percentage point.

 

Why? Return to that hot August day in Mississippi. Listen to the speech, which is available on YouTube. Of the scores I’ve listened to, this is perhaps the most diffident Reagan performance I’ve heard. He took less than ten minutes, an unusually large portion comprised of stories and jokes which went over much better than his most famous line, which he rushed and muffled, as if he was nervous—far from the sort of demagogic bray you’d expect reading accounts of the event.

 

According to unpublished research by historian Marcus Witcher of the University of Central Arkansas, the infamous words were added at the last-minute by the private suggestion of Reagan’s host, Congressman Trent Lott. That makes sense because, in fact, the phrase contradicted the campaign’s central messaging strategy. 

 

Documents I’ve studied reveal a campaign veritably obsessed with fighting the perception that Reagan’s conservative, anti-government politics camouflaged prejudice. A 1978 memo from Reagan advisor Peter Hannaford to Edwin Meese, for example, concerning “SUBJECT: ‘gay issues, revisited,’” observed “a very thin line to tread between getting the support of fundamentalists, on the one hand, and people who need to know how strongly RR is opposed to bigotry, on the other. The latter, in my opinion, are much more potent politically and in terms of swaying the opinions of others.”

 

That spirit carried forward through 1980. Reagan pollster Richard Wirthlin devised a strategy for Reagan to appear as often as possible before black audiences. “We weren’t expecting to pick up any black votes in New York,” an advisor later noted. “We just wanted to show moderates and liberals that Reagan wasn’t anti-black.”

 

The same message even held for white Mississippians. 1980 was well into the ascendancy of what historians like Matt Lassiter call “colorblind conservatism”: advocating policies that disparately impact African Americans, without appearing to do so. 

 

Indeed, one of this story’s strange ironies is that the campaign was originally planned to open before the Urban League—a venerable national civil rights organization. A scheduling problem resulted in the Neshoba speech coming first.

 

It’s not that the campaign did not seek to appeal to bigots; one 1979 Wirthlin memo said the most promising potential seam of Reagan voters were Democrats scoring highest on “authoritarianism—and a low score on egalitarianism.” And it wasn’t only Ronald Reagan’s general election campaign that opened in a racist epicenter. His nomination campaign did as well, in South Boston, site of vicious violence against integrating black students only five years earlier. Beside him on the podium was a politician named Albert “Dapper” O’Neil, an anti-integration leader famous for never going anywhere without a gun, and for his adamant support for South Africa’s apartheid government.

 

Next Reagan traveled to Cicero, the Chicago suburb so inhospitable to black people that Martin Luther King once gave up on a plan to march there for open housing after the Cook County sheriff told him it was “awfully close to a suicidal act.” Reagan’s briefing materials instructed him that that a top issue of voter concern there was a “recent HEW [Department of Health, Education and Welfare] decision to force a busing program on the city of Chicago and surrounding suburbs.”

 

He delivered his standard speech in Cicero and “Southie,” mentioning nothing about busing, just government overreach in the abstract. The campaign was skillfully treading that “thin line” described by Hannaford. Had he also delivered his standard speech in Neshoba nine months later, he would have done so again. Instead, he stepped over the line, taking Trent Lott’s advice—and his endorsement of “states rights” turned the dog whistle into a train whistle. 

 

His diffident delivery suggests Reagan understood how risky this was. If so, his suspicions were correct. It was the immediate conclusion of voices across the political spectrum that this was a terrible blunder.  

 

Carter joined seven southern governors in demanding an apology—skillfully playing to Southern political tropes by portraying Reagan as an unwelcome carpetbagger. Andrew Young penned a moving essay for the Washington Post about stopping in Neshoba County during Martin Luther King’s 1966 March Against Fear. King described the lynching in his speech, concluding, “The murderers of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner are no doubt within range of my voice.’  A voice rang out: ‘Yeah, damn right. We’re right behind you.”

 

The Reagan campaign had begun on its back foot—not least in Mississippi. Witcher unearthed a report on the ground from a party worker there: “Three weeks ago Reagan had a landslide victory in Mississippi. Today it is a tossup.” The state Republican chairman listed the campaign’s liabilities—writing “states’ rights flap” at the top. At Reagan headquarters, the fallout was so great that the campaign brought in a ringer from a major Washington lobbying shop to handle press relations.

 

And, just the opposite of Donald Trump of late, the campaign doubled down in its outreach efforts toward liberal constituencies. This was something Ronald Reagan was rather skilled at. After the candidate met with National Organization for Women president Eleanor Smeal to affirm that he supported feminist goals, she emerged to tell the New York Times that Reagan was “finally waking up to the fact that this issue is a lot hotter than he realized,” repeating campaign talking points that he had supported fourteen civil rights bills as governor.

 

Meanwhile, black surrogates hymned Reagan’s praises: “for too long the Democratic Party has taken black people for granted and lied to them about Republicans.” 

 

These efforts were so successful that, astonishingly, in the middle of October, none other than Ralph Abernathy stepped up to the pulpit of an African American church in Detroit, identified himself as “the man in whose arms Martin Luther King died,” and said, “I have been praying and I have been studying and today I have had an opportunity to come to a decision after a private meeting with Governor Reagan. And after we discussed certain issues, I am thoroughly convinced. . . . I endorse the candidacy of Ronald Reagan as the next president of the United States!”

 

And, of course, all the while, Reagan passionately plumped for policies that his voters full well understood would disadvantage African Americans. Thomas and Mary Byrne Edsall would later find that Carter received 93 percent of the vote of those who most enthusiastically supported efforts to improve conditions for black Americans. Reagan got 71 percent of the vote of those who most strongly opposed them. 

 

Ronald Reagan had the skill to recover from a lapse in discipline when it came to treading the fine line of race. Compare that to the current Republican aspirants. Juneteenth? “Ax Handle Saturday”? Nazi symbols? Shithole countries, Mexico sending their rapists? Memo to Donald J. Trump: you’re no Ronald Reagan. Dog whistling takes skill, and your racism is far too blatant to walk that fine line.

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176063 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176063 0
The Great Upheaval of 1877 Sheds Light on Today’s Protests

 

 

One hundred and forty-three years ago the nation was shaken by a nationwide series of strikes almost amounting to a mass rebellion. Though there are clear and obvious differences between the issues, modes of collective action, and the participants of that upheaval and the multiracial protests of African-Americans, other people of color, and their white allies that have occurred over the past two weeks, the similarities are real enough to offer some perspective on present circumstances.

 

The issue that started the 1877 affair was not police brutality and institutional racism but economic inequality. The year 1877 was the low point of the 1873-1878 depression, which brought wage cuts of 10 to 30 percent, driving many workers and their families to the point of desperation. The strikes began when railroad workers in Martinsburg, West Virginia walked off the job following a 10 percent cut on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The strike spread west and soon engulfed transportation centers and major industrial cities including Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Chicago.  

 

But, like the rallies and marches against the murder of George Floyd, what started out as a protest quickly escalated beyond the control of those who sought to lead it. It devolved into heterogeneous crowds with their own dynamics, sometimes resulting in violent clashes with authorities and property damage.   

 

In Pittsburgh, after it became clear that the Pittsburgh police and militia sympathized with the local crowds, authorities called in the militia from Philadelphia, sparking outrage and violence. After the outsiders fired on the protesters causing twenty deaths, a diverse crowd tried to burn down the round house into which the militia had fled and then burned and looted the rail yards.  

 

In Chicago the railroad strike quickly escalated into a general strike for a 20 percent wage increase and the eight-hour day.  Mobile crowds of various occupations (or no occupation at all) traversed the industrial districts calling out employees to strike. To most of the press, they were lawless mobs--“ragamuffins, vagrants, and saloon bummers.” But a more accurate description was that they were “roaming committees of strikers” often joined by passersby and teenage boys out for adventure.  The press’s conflation of protesters expressing  serious social grievances with these hangers-on encouraged much of the public to dismiss the whole affair as a “riot.”

 

After the first day, male crowd members were joined by working class women with their dresses tucked up, sometimes carrying stockings filled with stones to use as weapons. When they were confronted by police and militia the results were bloody and tragic.  Despite the brutality of the police in the present protests, the forces of order in 1877 were far more merciless in suppressing the strikes and disorder. In Chicago, at least thirty working people lay dead after four days of clashes with police.  In New York, where those in authority acted on advice akin to Donald Trump’s call to “dominate” protesters, there were no strikes after police brutally attacked and dispersed a mass meeting on the first day of the strike.

 

Who were these crowd participants of 1877?  Though few African-Americans lived in northern industrial areas, in places where significant numbers of black people lived, notably Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Louisville, they participated in the upheaval with alacrity.  But the largest portion of strikers in the industrial cities were white immigrants, mostly Irish, German, Bohemian (Czech), and Scandinavian.  These men and women were at the bottom of the class and status orders of the new industrial society then taking shape in the urban North.  They were acutely conscious of themselves as a group set apart from respectable society, “looked down upon and despised” as one young striker put it.   

 

The anger they displayed at the police and militia closely parallels that of today’s protesters. In Chicago, Irish crowd members called the police “peelers,” a term of derision imported from Ireland, where the constabulary of Sir Robert Peel had enforced British dictates on the colonized Irish.  While police brutality was not an issue raised by the strikes, it did become a major issue afterward. In Chicago, a new mayor was elected in 1879 having explicitly promised to limit the use of the police to suppress strikes and break up the gatherings of Socialists. In New York, where the police were staunchly backed by leading businessmen then in control of city government, they ran rampant over the labor movement, making their brutality a major issue in the labor party’s Henry George campaign of 1886. In 1890, the unions of the city’s construction workers charged that the city’s police force “as a body is dishonest, brutal, even criminal.”

 

There is much we can learn from recalling the 1877 strikes. Throughout American history, white immigrant and native-born working people as well as black people have found it necessary to mount unorganized, spontaneous nationwide protests and have faced off against the police in angry, sometimes bloody encounters. During these episodes, the news media has seized on instances of rioting and opportunistic looting to dismiss the substantive demands of protesters. 

 

And then as well as now, indiscriminate police violence in dealing with protests has elevated the issue of police accountability into a major political issue.

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176018 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176018 0
Witness Against the Beast

 

 

Donald Trump, June 1st, 2020.  Washington DC.  A large, powerful, white man, brandishing a bible like a billy club, in aggressive repudiation of all those who demand he acknowledge the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, and the endemic racism of contemporary America to which Floyd’s death and the deaths of countless others stands witness.  The image is unforgettable.  What does it mean for America’s evangelical Christians, to whom it is directed?

“I thought, look at my president!  He’s establishing the Lord’s kingdom in the world,” says Benjamin Horbowy, 37, of Tallahassee, Florida, in response to Trump’s June 1st photo-op.  “I believe this is a president who wears the full armor of God” (Guardian 3 June 2020).

I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of Mr. Horbowy’s beliefs.  Still, I ask him and those like him to examine their convictions very carefully.  Why?

There is another bible on display just a few blocks from the spot on which Trump stood, in the National Museum of African American History and Culture; a bible, unlike Trump’s, that is open not closed, worn and torn through long use, not pristine; a bible fragile with age, and sweat, and suffering.  It is Nat Turner’s bible.  Like Trump’s bible, it too stands for the power of evangelical Christianity, but it marshals that Christianity in defiance of profane white dominion rather than in defense of it.

Nat Turner was a Virginia slave who, in August 1831, led a bloody uprising that resulted in the deaths of 55 white and 44 black people.  Aside from the rebellion that bears his name, Nat Turner is best known for being unknowable, “the most famous, least-known person in American history.”  But this is not entirely true.  We know more of Turner than of virtually any other African American slave of his time, thanks to the remarkable Confessions of Nat Turner, a pamphlet composed by a local Virginia attorney, Thomas Ruffin Gray.  Gray based his pamphlet on an extended conversation he had with Turner in the days prior to Turner’s trial (for conspiring to rebel and making insurrection) and his inevitable execution, “hanged by the neck.” 

Fifty years ago, at the height of the civil rights movement, William Styron published a fictional account of Turner and his rebellion that drew in part on Gray’s Confessions.  Styron wanted to make the man and his motives comprehensible.  But Styron had no real desire to understand Turner on any terms but his own.  The historical Turner, Styron believed, was “a religious maniac,” and this was a figure with whom he wished to have nothing to do.  Historians, too, have secularized Turner.  Eugene Genovese, the late historian of slavery, thought Turner deserved “an honored place in our history” because he had “led a slave revolt under extremely difficult conditions.”  But the same Genovese derided Turner as a madman, a religious fanatic, “who had no idea of where he was leading his men or what they would do when they got there.”

Through the scribbles of his “confessor,” Turner left us an invaluable account of himself – deeply Christian, deeply evangelical, moved to act by an extraordinary faith that drove his apocalyptic thinking all the way from the squalor of his life as a slave in Southampton County to Christ’s Crucifixion, and onward, to the Second Coming and the Last Judgment. 

This Turner, who spoke plainly about himself, without disguise, has been turned into a shrouded mystery because we refuse to pay attention to what he actually said.  But once we penetrate the fog of misdescription and incomprehension we find that Nat Turner’s defiance of the profane and degenerate regime of Southampton County slaveholders was rooted in the deep marrow of his evangelical religious ideation.  That deep marrow gave him the strength to endure, the knowledge to understand, and the weapons with which to fight.  It gave him the power to witness against the beast, to reveal in prophecy, and to seek redemption – for all.  

200 years on, America’s white evangelicals find themselves allied with the successor of that profane slaveholder regime against which Turner fought – a successor regime of race hatred and white supremacy.  Like it or not, they are in alliance with the beast.  For the sake of their own souls, they would do well to reconsider.

 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176071 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176071 0
After Those Cruel Wars Were Over: Lessons from Two Economic Recoveries

 

 

As the U.S. unemployment rate hovers around the awful level of 15 percent, it is tempting to see the current crisis as a second coming of the Great Depression. But this analogy may go too far, to the extent that it leads people to believe that unemployment will still be high and production low for many years to come; that because 2020 is like 1930, 2029 will be like 1939. If widely accepted, this narrative projecting a Great Depression of the 2020s may itself inhibit recovery, by discouraging spending and investment. 

A more optimistic and useful set of analogies, we believe, is provided by the experiences of the United States after the World Wars. In the latter half of 1918, the U.S. economy suffered two severe shocks. First there was the end of the Great War, which meant the demobilization of the armed forces and the termination of the production of munitions. And then, as we all now know, the U.S. was hit by the Spanish flu pandemic. An economic contraction began around August 1918, even before the end of the war and the start of the deadlier second wave of the flu.  But it ended and an expansion began in March of 1919, making the postwar recession one of the shortest since the Civil War. Then, in 1920, there was another sharp contraction, made worse by the Federal Reserve’s decision to adopt a tight money policy to squeeze out the ongoing inflation, a legacy of wartime monetary policies. But by mid-1921, the U.S. economy was growing again, and, despite some weaknesses and short downturns, enjoyed close to a decade of solid growth. The story was similar at the end of World War II. A contraction began in early 1945, even before VE Day, but it ended before the end of the year. Once again the economy began to expand after a relatively brief contraction. 

These are not isolated examples. Throughout history, nations and communities have demonstrated remarkably resilience, in the wake of disasters, including those that caused extreme dislocation and mass death.  For example, Germany and Japan both made astonishing recoveries in the 1950s, despite the enormous destruction and loss of life they had suffered during World War II.  Remarkable post-crisis rebounds were also common in earlier eras.  Indeed, in the mid-nineteenth century, the great economist and philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote that “… what has so often excited wonder, the great rapidity with which countries recover from a state of devastation; the disappearance, in a short time, of all traces of the mischiefs done by earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and the ravages of war. An enemy lays waste a country by fire and sword, and destroys or carries away nearly all the moveable wealth existing in it: all the inhabitants are ruined, and yet in a few years after, everything is much as it was before." 

The reason, as Mill explained, was that much of the durable capital, and the “skill and knowledge of the people”—what we would now call the human capital—survived, so they could be set to work again after these crises. And the same will be true for us. Automobile companies will still know how to make automobiles, hairdressers and barbers will still know how to give haircuts, kindergarten teachers will still know how to educate young people, and surgeons and nurses will still know how to do hip replacements.  Moreover, pent-up demand will help speed recovery. People will continue to want automobiles, haircuts, and … many other things.

Although history suggests the likelihood of a relatively rapid recovery, this doesn’t mean, of course, that there is nothing that government can do to promote this. For example, during World War II, Congress acted to correct the previous neglect of war veterans, by enacting the G.I. Bill.  That legislation provided unemployment benefits, which, thanks to the brevity of the postwar recession, were used less than expected. But veterans did take great advantage of the G.I. Bill’s education benefits. They helped many veterans whose education had been disrupted by the war, and, moreover, provided additional investments in human capital, above and beyond those available before the war. Today, with millions of our young women and men having their educations disrupted by the pandemic, governments can aid recovery and longer-run prosperity, by making new investments in education and human capital.  These might be beneficially combined with additional investments in infrastructure, including those focused on environmental sustainability, which would further enhance the future prospects of our young people.

Another lesson from the world wars is that even though we have to spend enormous sums on crash industrial programs to overcome the crisis, we don’t need to turn a blind eye to corruption and profiteering. During World War I, special excess-profits taxes were imposed to deal with these problems, but they were too little and too late to prevent widespread public discontent with profiteering.  This was remembered by Congress and the leaders of the World War II mobilization, who created a strict regime of high income taxes, windfall profits taxes, price and profit controls, and audits and investigations, to minimize malfeasance and boost public morale.  Today, we may not require such a heavy hand of regulation as the one that prevailed during World War II, but there is plenty of room for Congress to do more to investigate and remedy current problems with profiteering, corruption, mismanagement, and inequality.  So far, the Trump Administration has resisted sharing information about billions of dollars’ worth of emergency loans and other pandemic-related public outlays. To boost transparency and public trust, Congress may need to do more to support a new version of something like the Truman Committee, which provided useful public oversight of the military-industrial mobilization for World War II.

Of course, it is possible that this crisis will prove to be harder to overcome than we expect. Vaccine programs may run into unforeseen difficulties; U.S. and world leaders may fail to make good policy choices; and pandemic disease may prove to be so unmanageable as to suppress employment and investment for many years to come. We don’t dismiss entirely this dangerous possibility of a Great Depression of the 2020s, but we suggest that history offers considerable hope that it can be avoided. Human ingenuity and resilience, if adequately supported by competent governance, should allow us to overcome this crisis in months, instead of many years. We should embrace a cautious optimism, while demanding that our leaders take steps to promote, rather than inhibit, recovery and long-run prosperity. 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176017 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176017 0
Misremembering the Fall of France 80 Years Later (Part 2) part one of this article is here

 

Calais, June 1940. Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1971-042-08 / CC BY-SA 3.0 de

 

Any review of the military events of 1940 inevitably leads to some appraisal of the pre‑war condition. If resistance were actually intense, in will and in weapon, what might this suggest about a people said to have been so gutted by the experience of the First World War that all they wanted to do was enrich and amuse themselves? How does it square with contemporary reports that, contrary to the musing of latter‑day prophets, they went to war in September 1939 with confidence and determination? The American ambassador reckoned the nation's "self control and quiet courage" to be "far beyond the usual standard of the human race." Foreign journalists were struck by the fact that there were almost no incidents of reservists failing to report for duty. Janet Flanner judged the nation's morale "excellent" for being "intelligent, not emotional." If there was no enthusiasm for war, neither was there panic, nor presentiment of disaster ‑ which is why, when it came, one instant autopsy followed another in desperate bids to discover, after the fact, what had been missed before.

 

Had French intelligence overlooked the build-up of German arms under Hitler, or misunderstood how they would be used? No, it had monitored German rearmament since the 1920s, and was clear on the principles of what came to be called blitzkrieg. Had it misunderstood Hitler's intentions, or allowed successive French administrations to become complacent about the nation's security? No again. The warnings were legion and accelerating since 1936.

 

Had those administrations failed in their post‑Depression responsibilities by refusing to invest in the most modern instruments of war or in the industrial infrastructure needed to produce them? Again, the answer is no. Between January 1937 and September 1939, the French tank force had leaped from 162 machines to more than 2,200. The numbers of 25‑mm anti‑tank guns had risen from 1,800 to more than 2,600, while the arsenal of 75‑mm anti‑aircraft guns had tripled to nearly 400. In September 1938 with a monthly production of only 39 modern planes, the air command said war would mean its annihilation within a fortnight. By September 1939 monthly production was 285. By May 1940, French production of modern combat aircraft had surpassed 600, only a whisker away from German production; and it is in those production figures that one finds an explanation for why the French air force actually doubled in size between the onset of war and the armistice ‑ this despite the loss of 2,000 planes during the six‑week campaign.

Was there then something inherently flawed in the character of the country's leaders, or something missing in their inner constitutions that made them ill‑suited for war‑time leadership? Not unless being decorated war veterans from 1914‑18 ‑ as more than two‑thirds of the French cabinet were ‑ somehow disqualified them for war‑time office. Edouard Daladier, Prime Minister between April 1938 and March 1940, was one such. As an article in the Free Press of 2 September 1939 reported, Daladier had already seen "about as much front‑line fighting... as any man could." His commander‑in‑chief, General Maurice Gamelin, also received high marks from the same paper. Correspondent Harold Moore told the paper's readers that Gamelin, another veteran of the First World War, had assembled what was reputed to be "the finest army in Europe."

 

How then to reconcile all that made France's defeat unlikely and unpredicted, with her undeniable collapse? At the outset it might be worth remarking that this defeat was not singular, as the Poles, the Danes, the Norwegians, the Dutch, the Belgians, even the English survivors from Dunkirk, would attest. As for the French themselves, the military and civilian leadership, there were certainly errors of judgment.

 

Some of them were long‑term and abiding. They underestimated the speed with which armored vehicles could negotiate the hilly, forested terrain of the Ardennes, an underestimation that left them content to install only light fortifications across that sector, and to deploy behind those defences only reserve infantry divisions of mainly middle‑aged troops. Those miscalculations, in turn, were magnified by the related strategy of rapidly advancing the mobile left flank into Belgium at the first sign of a German assault, a plan which ensured that some of their best forces ‑ including one of their three light mechanized divisions ‑ were moving away from France in one direction just before seven panzer divisions started moving toward France in the opposite direction.

 

Significant, too, was the fact that their rearmament program was slower than what the future proved was necessary, partly because the country had emerged later from the world economic Depression than most great powers, and partly because that bitter experience had inspired a commandment for fiscal prudence. Moreover, and contrary to the notion that the French were technologically backward, their acute appreciation of the speed of technological change actually encouraged delaying mass production of the most modern weapons ‑ tanks and fighter planes especially ‑ until a crisis seemed imminent and their deployment more likely to determine the war's outcome.

 

Related in various ways to all of the foregoing was the signal failure in May 1940 to comprehend quickly enough the lightning pace of the early campaign. Having for too long concentrated on maximizing the armor and armaments on their own tanks ‑ at the expense of speed and fuel range ‑ the French high command could not adjust in a matter of weeks to the distances that enemy armour could traverse, its course paved in advance by the destructive intrusions of the German assault bombers. Calculations of the enemy's capacity for reaching its targets with adequate fuel and infantry support were consistently out by hours, a half‑day, even a day. And related to this, in turn, was the interwar air command's too‑prolonged fascination with strategic bombers, and the attendant playing down of fighter aircraft and of the on‑field impact of dive bombers. They were not ignorant of any of these instruments of modern warfare. They knew, but blinded by the certainty that they were right, they had not understood.

 

The German victory remains a victory, and the French loss, a loss. But what has happened over the past 80 years, particularly over the past 30, has amounted to a slow and meticulous reappraisal of what actually happened in May‑June 1940. Gone are the days of titles such as The Unfought Battle (1968). Today, current scholarship is in the process of dismantling the allegations that have so long supplied the comic with his bag of satirical jibes at France and the French. Slowly, the image of 100,000 Frenchmen with hands in the air is being replaced by the image of 100,000 hospital beds, and half as many gravestones.

 

AFTERWORD:

Much has been written on this stunning, and surprising, defeat, some of it resolutely focused on the ground and air operations, some of it using those operations only as prelude to much deeper explorations of why the Third Republic collapsed practically overnight. In the ten year interim between 70th and 80th anniversary of the Fall, a significant number of works have appeared, many of which are interpretively consistent with what I have argued. All acknowledge the French fought valiantly in 1940. All acknowledge the staying power of the “Surrender Monkeys,” the enduring myths of gutless France, the temptation to avert eyes from the national humiliation. But all acknowledge the six week bloodbath, the casualties inflicted, as well as the casualties sustained. On both sides. 

That would be true of Philip Nord’s France 1940: Defending the Republic (2015), of Hugh Schofield’s article “The WW2 soldiers France has forgotten” (2015); and of Richard Carswell’s The Fall of France in the Second World War (2019). True also of Charles de Laubier’s article “Les soldat morts pour la France en 1940 méritent une commémoration” (2015), Jean-Dominique Merchet’s textual reproduction of a 2015 address by Chef de Bataillon Huiban, entitled “Il est temps to réhabiliter le soldat de 1940,” and Dominique Lormier’s La bataille de France au jour le jour (2010), a successor to his Comme des lions Mai-juin 1940: Le Sacrifice héroique de l’armée française. (2005) And finally, we are about to have Rémi Dalisson’s Les soldats de 1940. Une génération sacrifiée (2020)

 

 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175955 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175955 0
Viral Consequences

Photo Marti Johnson, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

 

People from all cultures, in every walk of life, rely on stability. As much as possible, we form patterns and habits that are oriented towards keeping things the same. Regularity is an integral element of survival.

 

Dramatic change holds inherent risks, and refraining from acting impulsively is usually a good instinct. When we take the time to consider our options and make sober decisions, we are ensuring that our actions are made with gravitas.

 

This tendency also means that we sometimes hold on to self-destructive habits or tolerate inequitable situations, individually and collectively. We also can see a new problem arising, or a long-standing issue, but do not take action because it requires leaving behind a comfortable routine.

 

Often it takes converging events to demand change or justice. As we consider the future, the coronavirus pandemic and the response to the murder of George Floyd present critical issues related to each other.

 

We have had to rely on government honesty, support and protection through the first part of this year because of a virus. Decisions for our well-being have been made for us, and we have sacrificed freedoms at the insistence of our leaders. Then, right before our eyes, we witnessed a horrendous crime, reminding us graphically how law enforcement continues to abuse Black Americans. These same policemen were enforcing curfews for our safety, in the name of government, for months before this murder. 

 

In the wake of this crime, we have seen how some police officers have openly used violent and inappropriate tactics in the name of quelling disorder. Clearly, abusive policemen are in a minority, but events continue to prove the actions of many are supported by a system of social control that has failed to solve problems and is structured to suppress dissent.  This continues because there are political leaders who see peaceful protest as chaotic and criminal, only because it is a challenge to their preferred ordering of society. 

 

The demonstrated self-interested behavior of the administration in response to recent events has certainly made us aware of which leaders are committed to acting in the public interest—the whole public—and those who aren’t. 

 

The blatant partisanship of some political leaders, and its effect, is exposed on a daily basis. For example, President Trump reveals he has no interest in working on the social issues that still plague the United States, and arguably he has reinforced them. And his response to the pandemic shows his preference for economic stability and his own political survival over the need to face medical realities.

 

The Trump administration had also cut funding for pandemic preparedness and discounted the impact of the coronavirus as it began. 

 

Delay in tackling difficult issues or acknowledging danger, whether from lack of initiative, greed or prejudice, is outrageous and unforgivable for a leader holding the public trust. 

 

The president’s decision to stop U.S. funding of the World Health Organization has nothing to do with its effectiveness, and all to do with his personal gripes and frustrations. And without facts or foundation, Trump continues to minimize the risks of prematurely ending the precautions we have taken to slow the spread of the virus. 

 

Trump represents a number of world leaders who focus on power and profit at all costs. They reveal their narrow self-interests and blindness to the common needs of our human family.

 

The current lack of qualified leadership should awaken us to another looming threat on the horizon. As with the unpreparedness for pandemics, and blindness to the violence, bias and repression that faces Black Americans, there is also little concern for the coming global crisis of an order that will have an unprecedented effect on everyone. 

 

The violence repressing protesters is only a small preview of what we’ll get if and when our society faces famine and drought, refugee migration, another pandemic and/or economic dislocation from an unprecedented climate crisis. Even though the United Nations has presented the undeniable connection between health, social justice, and ecological destruction, most governments, including ours, remain oblivious to this three-pronged threat.

 

Environmental degradation is no secret; it has been consistently predicted and described by a vast number of scientists who have been observing the planet’s condition over many decades.

 

Yet the pattern of ignoring key social issues and environmental crisis until they become explosive and intractable, goes on. 

 

Even as the virus continues to rage, President Trump attempts to reverse sound policies that emanated from research connecting pollution to serious disease. He has revealed himself to be inept and dangerous in handling every challenge of his administration, and along with a team of climate change deniers, he is allowing continuing degradation of the planet. 

 

A critical juncture has arrived.

 

If global warming and atmospheric pollution are not confronted immediately, they will not recede until the planet is unrecognizable. If we wait much longer, belated disaster plans or trillions of dollars will have zero effect in combatting future violent storms, severe droughts, and rising oceans. 

 

If gargantuan funding relief can be found in response to a pandemic, it is also possible to secure a world superfund to reverse global warming. That must happen very soon.

 

However, financing is secondary to the attitude change necessary to provoke the industrial and social transformations that will stop the continuing destruction of the Earth’s ecological foundations. 

 

As the current health threat recedes, even with our new perspective on contagious disease, there will be a natural temptation for us to fall back into a false sense of security and return to comforting patterns. There are many people who are still at risk of dying as the virus still spreads.

 

And as the initial response to the killing of George Floyd subsides, even if there are changes to laws and attitudes that support the struggle of Black Americans, the battle is yet to be won against racists; their political interests will resist anything that represents significant reversals. 

 

However, without question, if the environmental policies and economics of the most powerful governments in the world remain unchanged, we will continue to virtually ignore the imminent danger, allowing the destruction of the planet’s ecosystem.

 

With this in mind, the heavy-handed police response to protesters presents a dire warning. Much of the planet’s political leadership, in league with its economic elite, will seek to maintain the economic status quo at any cost, and without concern for human degradation and suffering by any cause. Repressing all protest is a high priority. 

 

In the wake of the pandemic, the suppression of peaceful protest of routinized police violence against Black Americans, is an early symptom of the “new normal.” It is an intolerable syndrome that requires recognition and a powerful antidote.

 

Monarchies, theocracies, and dictatorships have initiated horrific events and wars in the distant and recent past. Yet the growing presence of an elite global oligarchy, integrated within democracies, determined to thwart ecological revitalization, is the most dangerous situation the planet has ever faced.  

 

And the greatest fear of the powerful forces unwilling to embrace the necessary environmental changes is huge uncontrollable public protests.

 

Over the course of history, in seeking basic needs and a peaceful life, humans have demonstrated flexibility and incredible ingenuity, particularly in times of crisis. It usually involves innovative thinking, and often, revolutionary adaptation.

 

Yet returning to the comforting stability of daily routines is possible only with a global awakening to the destructive spiral that has begun, There is a need to immediately modify our relationship to the Earth, and as importantly, to each other, or the consequences will be dire.

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176016 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176016 0
The Twisted History of Domestic Military Intervention

"The Battle of the Viaduct," 1877 Railroad Strike, Chicago.

 

 

In his controversial “Send in the Troops” New York Times op-ed, Senator Tom Cotton (Republican-Arkansas) misquoted the Constitution of the United States. New York Times editors, who are under fire for running the essay, either failed to fact-check the article or ignored errors. The Times now admits that the opinion piece “did not meet our standards,” but that does not explain why it was published. Cotton received both a bachelor’s and law degree at Harvard University where his undergraduate major was government, which raises questions about the quality of the education he received at the Ivy League institution. 

 

According to Cotton’s essay, the federal government has a constitutional duty to the states to “protect each of them from domestic violence.” He placed the phrase in quotes. However, what Article 4 Section 4 of the Constitution actually says is that “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.” The federal government only has the constitutional authority to intervene in response to “domestic Violence” when requested by state governments. At a time when Americans are questioning the nation’s racist heritage, it is worth noting that Article 4 Section 2 is the passage that required the return of freedom-seekers who escaped enslavement to the persons who claimed to own them.

 

In his op-ed essay, Cotton defended Donald Trump’s assertion that under the Insurrection Act of 1807 the President had the unilateral right to dispatch federal troops to states and cities to quell domestic unrest. Cotton claimed “This venerable law, nearly as old as our republic itself, doesn’t amount to ‘martial law’ or the end of democracy, as some excitable critics, ignorant of both the law and our history, have comically suggested . . . Nor does it violate the Posse Comitatus Act, which constrains the military’s role in law enforcement but expressly excepts (sic) statutes such as the Insurrection Act.”

 

The use of federal troops in a law enforcement role has a twisted and often anti-working class and racist history. The Militia Act of 1792, the forerunner of the Insurrection Act of 1807, was written to advance genocidal policies against Native American nations. It authorized the deployment of federal troops to defeat native resistance to displacement by European American settlers moving into the Northwest Territory. After a series of American defeats by a confederation of native forces including the Miami, Lenape, Huron, and Shawnee, who were protecting their homelands, President Washington ordered the formation of a special federal army unit. Under command of General Anthony Wayne, federal troops defeated the confederated tribes at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. In the Treaty of Greenville, they were forced to abandon most of what would become the state of Ohio. I still remember reading about Wayne’s “heroic exploits” as a second-grader in the 1950s in Anthony Wayne, Daring Boy, part of the Childhood of Famous Americans series.

 

The Militia Act was next used in 1794 against white frontier farmers in western Pennsylvania. Washington, urged on by Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, dispatched federal troops to quell protests against a whiskey excise tax that favored large producers and discriminated against them. A 12,000 member federal force was sent to Western Pennsylvania to confront a rebel army that proved to be largely fictitious. A small group of farmers were arrested and sent to Philadelphia for trial on charges of treason. Two were convicted and an apparently embarrassed Washington pardoned them both. This was only the first instance in United States history that federal troops were used to throttle working-class protest.

 

The Insurrection Act of 1807 expanded Presidential authority to deploy federal troops to suppress domestic unrest. “[I]n all cases of insurrection, or obstruction to the laws, either of the United States, or of any individual state or territory, where it is lawful for the President of the United States to call forth the militia for the purpose of suppressing such insurrection, or of causing the laws to be duly executed, it shall be lawful for him to employ, for the same purposes, such part of the land or naval force of the United States, as shall be judged necessary, having first observed all the pre-requisites of the law in that respect.” The primary prerequisite for ordering federal troops into action was issuing a warning.

 

The 1807 law probably was a response by the Jefferson administration to fear of a revolt led by former Vice-President Aaron Burr in newly acquired western territories. Jefferson endorsed the legislation after Secretary of State James Madison argued that under existing law, “It does not appear that regular Troops can be employed, under any legal provision agst. Insurrections but only agst. expeditions having foreign Countries for the object.” Jefferson never used the new Presidential authority against Burr, but did invoke it in 1808 to block smuggling from Canada on Lake Champlain in upstate New York.

 

In the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson invoked the 1807 law twice. In 1831, at the request of the Governor of Virginia, federal troops were used to help suppress the Nat Turner slave rebellion. In 1834, Jackson used the law with an invitation from the governor of Maryland to break a strike by Irish immigrant workers on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The law and federal troops were later used repeatedly to defeat workers striking for the right to organize unions, fairer pay, and safer conditions. In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes sent federal troops into Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Martinsburg, West Virginia to break the Great Railroad Strike. In a Presidential proclamation Hayes issued the required warning and announced that the request for federal assistance had come from the governor of West Virginia.

 

In 1894, President Grover Cleveland used the Insurrection Act to break the Pullman Strike and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson used it against striking Colorado coal miners. In all three cases federal intervention was requested by the states and powerful business interests. Cleveland also sent federal troop into the Wyoming Territory in 1885 at the request of mining companies when workers affiliated with the Knights of Labor attacked Chinese contract laborers. In 1946, President Harry Truman used federal troops to break a strike by railway workers and in 1952, during the Korean War, he threatened to use his authority as Commander-in-Chief to seize, open, and operate U.S. steel mills when workers went out on strike.

 

Herbert Hoover notoriously used the Insurrection Act in 1932 to order federal troops to disperse World War I veteranswho gathered in Washington DC during the Great Depression to demand a promised federal bonus for their wartime efforts. President Lyndon Johnson (1967) and President Richard Nixon (1971) also used the act to prevent First Amendment guaranteed political protests in Washington DC, in both cases against the war in Vietnam. Franklin Roosevelt (1943), Johnson (1967-1968), and President George H.W. Bush (1992) used the act to police urban ghettos that exploded in violence in response to systemic racism and police abuse.

 

The Insurrection Act has been modified and reapproved by Congress a number of times. An 1861 revision authorized President Abraham Lincoln to use state militias and the United States armed forces to prevent Southern secession.  

 

“Whenever the President considers that unlawful obstructions, combinations, or assemblages, or rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any State by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, he may call into Federal service such of the militia of any State, and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to enforce those laws or to suppress the rebellion” (July 29, 1861).

 

During the debate over the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, Congress rejected limits on federal authority that would prevent intervention to protect the rights of freedmen. President Ulysses Grant used the Insurrection Act three times. In October 1871 to combat Ku Klux Klan activity in South Carolina, in September 1872, to intervene in the Louisiana gubernatorial election, and in May 1874 to suppress armed battles between political factions following a disputed election.

 

However as Southern states were “rehabilitated” and white rule reestablished in the former Confederacy, white Americans increasingly opposed federal military intervention in domestic affairs without specific state authorization. As part of the Compromise of 1877 President Hayes, who had no compulsion about using the Insurrection Act against workers, signed the1879 Posse Comitatus Act, restricting Presidential use of the Insurrection Act to protect freedmen in the South.

 

“From and after the passage of this act it shall not be lawful to employ any part of the Army of the United States, as a posse comitatus, or otherwise, for the purpose of executing the laws, except in such cases and under such circumstances as such employment of said force may be expressly authorized by the Constitution or by act of Congress; and no money appropriated by this act shall be used to pay any of the expenses incurred in the employment of any troops in violation of this section and any person willfully violating the provisions of this section shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction thereof shall be punished by fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars or imprisonment not exceeding two years or by both such fine and imprisonment.” - Sec. 15 of chapter 263, of the Acts of the 2nd session of the 45th Congress

 

It is important to note that since World War II, two Presidents, one a Republican and one a Democrat, used the Insurrection Act without prior state requests to defend African American civil rights under the 14th amendment. President Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops into Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 to protect African American students integrating the local high school. President John F. Kennedy used federal troops to protect civil rights activists in Mississippi and Alabama. 

 

If Donald Trump used the Eisenhower-Kennedy precedent, federal troops would be protecting peaceful and constitutionally protected marchers protesting against racism in the United States and police abuse and riots. Unfortunately, that is not about to happen.

 

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Peace is Temporary Without Trustworthy Leaders: Lessons from the Philadelphia Mutiny

 

 

We often look to history for guidance on the present, and we frequently call on the Founding Fathers for inspiration. But as we approach the June 21 anniversary of the Philadelphia Mutiny of 1783—when soldiers marched on the city, surrounded the Pennsylvania State House (today’s Independence Hall), and threatened Congress at the points of their bayonets—the lessons for our own time are only troubling. 

Because unlike the people of Revolutionary-era America, we have no equivalent to George Washington, a figure all sides could trust for leadership.

The Philadelphia Mutiny originated in a longstanding injustice: throughout the war, the army was seldom paid. By the early summer of 1783, an armistice was declared and only the final version of a treaty was needed to make it official—but the men in uniform still awaited payment. Even when the men began heading home in early June, thousands departed with empty pockets.

But not everyone. Some lucky Marylanders, for example, had been paid before mustering out, and as they marched south from their cantonment in New York they shared the news with the Pennsylvania troops they passed.

Infuriated by the unequal treatment, some 80 to 100 men left their posts in Lancaster and struck out for the City of Brotherly Love, where they joined more troops stationed in the city, also not happy about getting no money for their service.

Rumors swirled that the men would loot the Bank of North America, and Congress implored Pennsylvania to deploy the militia. But state leaders demurred. People thronged the streets to cheer the mutineers, suggesting the militia might not turn out as ordered.

On June 21, the soldiers surrounded the state house. Inside, Congress gathered in the same first floor room where they had adopted the Declaration of Independence. But instead of producing a grand statement of American ideals, they wrangled with the Pennsylvania government, meeting upstairs, about how to make the mob go away.

That night, Congress sent a plea for George Washington, encamped in New York’s Hudson Valley, to send reinforcements. Then, the delegates voted to flee the city and reconvene across the river in Princeton.

Washington was incensed when he heard about the mutiny. “I cannot sufficiently express my surprise and indignation,” he wrote, “at the arrogance, the folly and the wickedness of the Mutineers.” Washington dispatched 1,500 troops who dispersed the malcontents and arrested the ringleaders. 

On the eve of the Revolution’s final Fourth of July, Congress lay prostrate in New Jersey, a sign that independence almost failed before it was fully achieved.

The story of the Philadelphia Mutiny offers scant comfort for us today. A show of force restored order, but that worked because the mutineers were armed soldiers committing a capital crime by going outside their commanders’ orders. They weren’t civilians protesting, as witnessed in the wake of the George Floyd’s killing.

Once the mutiny was put down, peaceful demobilization was achieved largely thanks to Washington’s presence as a leader trusted by many soldiers and civilians alike. 

Renowned for his virtue, Washington was scrupulously deferential to civilian command of the army. He acknowledged the military’s proper place with large gestures, such as returning his commission as commander in chief to Congress once the peace with Britain was official. 

Yet, he was also master of the small, telling detail. Whenever he appeared before Congress, for example, he stood while the delegates sat and he called the body’s leader “Mr. President” or “your Excellency,” titles Washington himself would later enjoy.

At the same time, Washington advocated tirelessly for his men. He urged Congress and the states to provide more supplies. He remonstrated with politicians to deliver pay. He warned everyone not to overburden the army’s patience.

In an environment of intense mutual suspicion—soldiers accused civilians of stingy ingratitude while civilians saw the army as a threat to their liberty—Washington’s trustworthiness bound the two sides together.

And that’s where we have a major problem. We have no similar figure to rally around. Instead, we get division and confrontation and encouragement to continue fighting our political enemies.

Until we find leaders capable of building trust, people’s discontent, even if extinguished for the moment, will only smolder until bursting out again.

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176074 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176074 0
Walter Mondale's Campaign Did Accomplish Something (Ask Joe Biden's Future Running Mate)

 

Vice President Joe Biden’s promise to choose a woman as his running mate was historic.  Never before had a major presidential candidate so defined his search.  Some suggest Biden should choose an African-American or Hispanic woman, an even more historic commitment. In any event, Biden’s running mate will be the first woman vice-presidential candidate with a strong chance of election.   She will be the product not simply of Biden’s decision but of a process that began 36 years ago when former Vice President Walter F. Mondale opened the presidential ticket to women and other previously-excluded minorities.  

When Mondale announced his selection of Rep. Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate on July 12, 1984, it marked the first time anyone other than a man was a major party national candidate in a general election.  Mondale’s decision was a milestone in giving women access to leadership roles.  But as Ferraro’s acceptance speech a week later recognized, Mondale’s decision had broader significance.  She began her remarks: “My name is Geraldine Ferraro.  I stand before you to proclaim tonight: America is the land where dreams can come true for all of us.”

Ferraro’s opening thought implicitly recognized that Mondale’s pioneering action was not simply selecting a woman running mate but in conducting the first diverse selection process in American history.  Mondale chose Ferraro from a pool that included members of demographic groups traditionally excluded from national politics--women, African Americans, a Hispanic American, and a Jewish American among others.  Against considerable resistance, Mondale built a diverse pool of qualified options even though few from those groups then or had recently held the positions from which vice-presidential candidates usually came—senators, high executive officials, governors or members of the House of Representatives.

Presidential politics had been exclusively for white Christian male politicians.   John F. Kennedy overcame anti-Catholic bias in 1960 to become the first Catholic elected to national office.  From 1964 to 1980, the “diversity question” was whether a ticket should include a Catholic, as the unsuccessful 1964 Republican (William Miller) and 1968 and 1972 Democratic (Edmund Muskie, Thomas F. Eagleton and Sargent Shriver) tickets did.  Sen. Margaret Chase Smith in 1964 and Reps. Shirley Chisholm and Patsy Mink in 1972 ran largely symbolic campaigns for their party’s presidential nomination.  Sen. George McGovern contacted his friend, Sen. Abe Ribicoff, a Jew, about possibly being his running mate, but Ribicoff, like many others, found that prospect unappealing.  Ambassador to the United Kingdom Anne Armstrong was among four finalists before President Gerald R. Ford chose Sen. Bob Dole as his 1976 running mate, but Ford thought the risk of choosing a woman was too great.  Rev. Jesse Jackson won primaries in Washington, D.C. and three southern states and attracted about 18% of the votes in 1984, but never had a chance at the nomination.  

Eligibility for the general election ticket seemed limited to white male Christians in 1984 because that demographic essentially monopolized the positions from which vice-presidential candidates were chosen.  Every first-time running mate on a major party ticket in the 20th century had previously been a senator, governor, or member of the House or held high national executive office (with the sole exception of newspaper publisher Frank Knox in 1936).  Yet in 1984 there were only two women in the Senate, both Republicans, no blacks or Hispanics, and two Asian-Americans from Hawaii.  The only Democratic woman governor was Kentucky’s just-elected Martha Layne Collins.  Few women (Patricia Roberts Harris, Shirley Hufstedler, Juanita Kreps) or black people (Harris, Andrew Young, Donald McHenry) had recently served in Cabinet-level positions in Democratic administrations, and only the controversial Young had held high electoral office.  Only 13 Democratic women and 21 African-Americans served in the House.  Most of the seven Jewish senators were Republicans.

Mondale’s vice-presidential search included women, African-American, Hispanic, and Jewish public officials and some white males.  In addition to Ferraro, a three-term member of the House of Representatives and chair of the Democratic Convention’s platform committee supported by House Speaker Tip O’Neill, Mondale interviewed San Francisco Mayor Diane Feinstein, Collins, Mayors Tom Bradley (Los Angeles), Henry Cisneros (San Antonio), and Wilson Goode (Pittsburgh) and Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. Mondale’s main competitor, Sen. Gary Hart, was also considered, as was Gov. Michael Dukakis.  Other likely contenders, such as Sen. Dale Bumpers and Gov. Mario Cuomo, eliminated themselves.

Mondale was criticized because the women and minorities he interviewed lacked the credentials traditionally associated with national candidates.  None of the women or minorities were senators or former Cabinet members and only Collins was a governor and Ferraro a member of the House.  But Mondale understood the fallacy of imposing conventional criteria since societal bias had denied such groups those opportunities.  Mondale thought some on his list had national talent.  Feinstein later became a senator from California and has been elected six times.  Bradley had narrowly lost for governor of California in 1982; he had led in the polls, but apparently many who told pollsters they would support him apparently changed their minds in the voting booth (the phenomenon of white voters’ support for minority candidates in polls dramatically exceeding their actual vote has been termed the “Bradley Effect—ed.). Cisneros later served in Bill Clinton’s Cabinet.  Dukakis and Bentsen were the 1988 Democratic ticket.

And there was Ferraro.  Polls indicated that Ferraro’s selection initially made the election competitive before a concerted Republican attack, largely directed at her husband’s business activities, tarnished her image.  Ferraro ran a credible campaign and held her own during the vice-presidential debate.

Mondale’s selection process heralded a new opening of American politics to previously disqualified constituencies.  Jackson was the runner up in the 1988 Democratic presidential primaries.  During the next quarter century, members of those groups occasionally were considered for the second spot (Elizabeth Dole, 1988; Colin Powell, 1992; Christine Todd Whitman and Jeanne Shaheen, 2000), sometimes perfunctorily, until Joe Lieberman (2000) and Sarah Palin (2008) were unsuccessful running mates.

In 2008, the competition between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination involved two figures who dominated Democratic presidential politics from 2008-2016.  Talented women and minorities served in the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations.  Three of the four Supreme Court appointments Clinton and Obama made elevated women, one being the first Hispanic appointed to that tribunal.  From 1997 to 2013, four of the five secretaries of state were women or minorities.  

By 2020, 26 women (17 Democratic) served in the Senate and 9 (6 Democrats) as state governors.  Nearly one-quarter of the House of Representatives are women.  Nine of the 100 senators are African Americans, Asian Americans, or Hispanic Americans.  Six women qualified for presidential debates in 2020 as did members of racial minorities.  Biden’s potential selectees include two former rivals for the presidential nomination, Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, and their Senate colleagues Tammy Baldwin, Tammy Duckworth, and Maggie Hassan, Governors Michelle Lujan Grisham, Gina Raimondo, and Gretchen Whitmer, Representative Val Demings, former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, among others.

If Biden’s running mate is successful, she will be the first woman elected to national office after 116 men won those positions in the first 58 elections.  That would be a historic moment, the first time the election to the second office would have produced news more significant than the presidential result.  Yet it will be only the latest chapter in the journey that began in 1984 when Mondale opened his vice-presidential process to persons from such traditionally excluded groups and chose Ferraro as his running mate.

copyright Joel K. Goldstein, 2020

Editor's note: this article was submitted and accepted for publication before Senator Amy Klobuchar's decision to withdraw from consideration. It has been updated to reflect this development.

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176069 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176069 0
Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods: How Bad is It?

 

 

“Awful” is not the most thoughtful way to begin a film review. But why mince words? The film’s “bloods” are four black Americans who have returned to Viet Nam to recover the remains of a fifth, their buddy Norman. If you took the storylines of Frances Ford Coppola’s 1979 Apocalypse Now out of Bloods – yes, they even go upriver to strains of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries! – there is little originality left for filmmaker Spike Lee to claim; even its subplot of the four’s search for a buried chest of gold bars is plagiarized from 1999’s forgettable Gulf War adventure Three Kings. 

Bloods trots out every caricature of Viet Nam War figures that you can imagine, beginning with American veterans of the war. The image of traumatized veterans was a Hollywood staple even before PTSD was canonized in the 1980 DSM. The utility of the victim-veteran as a metaphor for the America victimized by the war made it political and filmic catnip from Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” years to Donald Trump’s campaign to “Make America Great Again.” You might think Spike Lee could leave it alone but no: when fireworks are thrown outside a bar in Ho Chi Minh City, all five “hit the deck.” Later, one of them randomly claims “we all have PTSD,” while still later another says, “We’re all broken.” 

But Viet Nam veterans were not all broken. Most returned quietly to their workplaces and schools like veterans of any other generation. Many others, politicized and empowered by their wartime experience, joined the antiwar movement. One of those, Chuck Searcy, returned to Viet Nam and founded Project Renew devoted to finding and defusing unexploded ordinance left behind by the American military in Quang Tri Province. Searcy is white. Maybe Lee has his bloods connecting with Searcy and redefining their mission—instead of searching for buried treasure, they search for buried landmines? Guess again.

Lee’s troop meets up with a group of backpackers in-country to do Project Renew-type work. The group’s leader is a whiter-than-white twenty-something woman, a scion of wealth reaped from what had been French Indochina—a riff from the 2001 Apocalypse Now Redux—who is irresistible to a son of one of the bloods who has (somehow, inexplicably) arrived in the jungle from Morehouse College. 

Bloods’ racial clichés are the film’s strongest through line. The bloods come across as foulmouthed and uninformed about the war as they probably were when they were sent to fight it; the veteran-father of the Morehouse College man is an absent presence in his son’s life; and with the exception of Otis, who takes time in Ho Chi Minh City to find the daughter he fathered back in the day, the bloods are as disdainful of the Vietnamese as many GIs were at the time. And the Vietnamese characters fit stereotypes too: some paramilitary guys looking like the hapless losers seen in most American movies (check); the one woman, a wartime prostitute (check). 

This awful movie is also dangerous. With one blood wearing a MAGA hat, the loss of the war is attributed to home-front betrayal—upon return, we were called “baby killers,” says one of the four. Republicans have been on a half-century campaign to avenge the treachery of the anti-war left, as they see it, and now is not the time to give credence to Trumpian revanchism as a promising course for Black Americans—or anyone.        

The one good reason for seeing Da 5 Bloods is to credential your advice to others that they don’t. 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176072 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176072 0
Dear Vice President Biden: Bring Achievers Back to the White House

 

 

Dear Vice President Biden:

Congratulations on your successful campaign and your impending nomination.  The next few months, of course, will be arduous and you will confront endless personal attacks.  But the most difficult challenge will be planning on how to restore and revitalize a tragically hobbled nation.  

The situation before this year began was already dire:  the growing racism and anger permeating the country; unprecedented cruelty against immigrants and those seeking a better life for themselves and their families; crushing economic and health inequities; a debased civil discourse; smashed foreign alliances; and an unprecedented assault on the rule of law.  Events of the past few weeks further exacerbated a grim situation.

We are confronted with the greatest single challenge since at least the Great Depression.  Hundreds and even thousands are dying each day of a disease which was unknown months ago.  The heartbreak for the dying and their bereaved families is palpable.  Added to this is an economy wracked by soaring unemployment and even a scarcity of goods.  And now a shocking police war against peaceful protest is accompanied by violent acts by emboldened racist extremists.

A great leader demonstrates empathy and provides inspiration.  That will be needed as we grapple with the ongoing pandemic and, hopefully, a post-coronavirus world.  Few current political figures have shown as much decency as you, and your ability to relate to everyday Americans will be valuable as you and we move forward.

This health crisis has revealed the devastating result of a continued denigration of competence, expertise, and public service.  There is a vacuum of trained, experienced people to lead the executive branch, from the White House through the departments and agencies.

I spent several years researching one dinner, the unique event that President and Mrs. Kennedy held to honor forty-nine Nobel Prize winners at the White House in 1962.  Joining them at the dinner were even more great American scientists, writers, and scholars. This unique gathering celebrated the apogee of American accomplishment, and it came at a time of crisis, the height of the Cold War.

Those present that night had made enormous contributions to the United States and the world across the spectrum of human endeavor:  medicine, chemistry, physics, literature, and peace.  They selflessly developed medicines and technologies which literally transformed our society.  Some differed with the president, even stridently so.  Several of these distinguished leaders were immigrants fleeing tyranny in their native countries.

President Kennedy understood the importance of symbolism and the value of highlighting the achievements of these individuals.  In his remarks that night he underscored how they would prove to be an inspiration to young people throughout the hemisphere who would someday take their place at the forefront of knowledge and discovery.

We need to return to that spirit, and I hope that you will not only bring the greatest minds back into the government—especially those imbued with integrity—but also make scientists and thinkers welcome once again at the White House.

One other thought involving an earlier president who came to the office during a national crisis.  I also have been studying Franklin Roosevelt’s somewhat obscure speech at tiny Oglethorpe University six weeks before he was nominated for the first time in 1932.  FDR called for an expansion of the national government to meet the emergency; for a planned, national approach to move forward; and, most especially, to undertake “bold, persistent experimentation.”

He also said that day, “It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another.  But above all, try something.”  That speech set the strategy for the New Deal and for Roosevelt’s program for the 1930s.

If you take office in January 2021 you will be facing unprecedented difficulties and headwinds. But I hope that you will follow President Kennedy’s example and honor and encourage experience in searching for a renewed common effort to rebuild the country.  I also hope that you will emulate FDR’s simple yet profound example to be nimble, aggressive, and pragmatic.

This is all is a tall task, but you can be the right person at a hinge point of history.  One final request, and more critical in recent days than ever before: “Bring us together.”

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Roundup Top Ten for June 19, 2020

The GOP Missed Its Chance To Embrace Martin Luther King Jr.

by Tim Galsworthy

Invoking a sanitized and selective memory of Dr. King enables politicians and voters to trumpet order and exhibit faux outrage at disorder, rather than face up to endemic racial inequalities.

 

The History of the “Riot” Report

by Jill Lepore

How government commissions became alibis for inaction.

 

 

The End of Black Politics

by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

The 1960s generation of Black protest demanded a stronger presence in local government. The current protest movement recognizes that presence isn't enough; leaders must advance an agenda that serves their least advantaged constituents. 

 

 

Bail Funds are Having a Moment in 2020

by Melanie Newport

Activists have supported protestors by contributing to bail funds, but it's time to follow through on the longstanding call of social movement leaders to abolish cash bail as a symbol and symptom of unequal justice.

 

 

After World War II, Most ‘Ordinary Nazis’ Returned to Lives of Obscurity. The World Must Recover Their Stories Before It’s Too Late

by Daniel Lee

The act of recovering perpetrators’ voices sheds light on consent and conformity under the swastika, enabling us to ask new questions about responsibility, blame and manipulation.

 

 

A Statue Was Toppled. Can We Finally Talk About the British Empire?

by Gurminder K. Bhambra

Protesters who dumped Edward Colston's statue into Bristol harbor have forced a long-overdue discussion of how the British Empire conquered and governed in the past and set the stage for racial divisions in contemporary Britain. 

 

 

A Silver Lining for the Golden Arches in Black America

by Marcia Chatelain

McDonald’s has profited handily from its Black customers, while its presence in Black communities has led to a vexing set of circumstances for Black wealth and health.

 

 

A Short History of Black Women and Police Violence

by Keisha N. Blain

Despite, or perhaps because of, their own vulnerability to state-sanctioned violence, black women have been key voices in the struggle to end it.

 

 

The Disgrace of Donald Trump

by Sean Wilentz

Trump wants to copy Richard Nixon's "law and order" appeals, but may end up echoing Herber Hoover's violent crushing of the Bonus March movement. 

 

 

Appalachian Hillsides as Black Ecologies: Housing, Memory, and The Sanctified Hill Disaster of 1972

by Jillean McCommons

The Sanctified Hill disaster exposed the vulnerability of Black people to climate events due to a combination of placement and neglect.

 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176062 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/176062 0
Tear Down that Statue, Mr. Macron!  

 

 

On Sunday, June 7, 2020, in the city of Bristol, British protesters toppled and then dragged into the river a statue of Edward Colston, a notorious 17th-century trafficker of Africans. Like the assembled crowd in Bristol, many bystanders on Twitter erupted with cheer when video surfaced of the heavy structure being rolled into the waterway that leads out to the Atlantic Ocean, which also serves as a tomb for the millions of Africans who died during the Middle Passage. “These are the waters the ships of the Royal Africa Company Edward Colston created sailed from on their way to Africa to purchase captives who were enslaved in the Americas,” Laurent Dubois pointed out.

These are the waters the ships of the Royal Africa Company Edward Colston created sailed from on their way to Africa to purchase captives who were enslaved in the Americas. For context: https://t.co/NkyBFufP44 https://t.co/UEZU4z1kgk

— Laurent Dubois (@Soccerpolitics) June 7, 2020

 

 

Right afterward, several other prominent academic tweeters speculated about which other British statues might similarly be deposed. “Cecil Rhodes and Oliver Cromwell should be next to fall,” said Ana Lucia Araujo.

Edward Colston has gone. Cecil Rhodes and Oliver Cromwell should be next to fall #slaveryarchive https://t.co/ZxkznVRB2T

— Ana Lucia Araujo, PhD (@analuciaraujo_) June 8, 2020

 

 

And statues of Columbus across the United States are now falling left and right, too.

 

These developments have left some Tweeters wondering if any statues in France might be deserving of disposal.

I wonder if there is still any equivalent in Nantes or Bordeaux for literal slave traders.@profmarylewis or @ParisNoire may know? https://t.co/3esb4fr7iS

— Alain Gasquet (@AlainGasquet) June 7, 2020

 

 

While the names of enslavers and traffickers whose plaques line the streets of French cities like Nantes and Brest were brought forth as appropriate candidates for removal — along with a statue perched at Invalides of the colonialist Gallieni who infamously exiled the Queen of Madgascar  — no one has yet discussed the statue of Thomas Jefferson that sits on the Passarelle Léopold Sédar Senghor (formerly, the Pont de Solférino) in the 7th arrondissement of Paris.

 

Most French people are well aware that Thomas Jefferson served as ambassador to France for the newly formed United States of America from 1784 to 1789. Thanks to the movie Jefferson in Paris many Americans probably know this, too. Also well known, but usually only whispered in tentative asides, is that not only was Mr. Jefferson a notorious enslaver in his own right — having personally enslaved more than 600 people over the course of his lifetime — but he has been accused of raping teenage Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman he forcibly took to France with him and with whom he later formed an extensive family.

 

Here in the United States we have over a half dozen statues of Thomas Jefferson. While these monuments are meant to highlight an ideal history of Jefferson as one of the United States’s “Founding Fathers,” they also remind those of us unwilling to forget that our country’s third president, the architect of the Declaration of Independence, was also an enslaver and by many accounts also a rapist. Because he founded the University of Virginia, the monument to him in my city of Charlottesville, is one we must live with. The question is how? Perhaps, UVA might think about placing a statue of Hemings beside that of Jefferson. 

 

But there is no reason why France—already troubled by its own long history of slavery and empire—should lionize the man who wrote in the US Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then turned around and declared in Notes on the State of Virginia, “never yet could I find that a Black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration.” In fact, Jefferson can only be considered marginal to French history. During his time spent in France, he mostly carved out trade agreements, secured rights for consular officials, and cavorted about with his friend the Marquis de Lafayette. No, Jefferson does not belong in today’s global and multicultural Paris.

 

Instead, I propose four figures from French history whose statues could more appropriately replace Jefferson’s, which having been a gift from the Florence Gould Foundation, was only erected in 2006.

 

1. Toussaint Louverture (1743–1803) — A bust to the fallen Haitian revolutionary hero, who was deported from Saint-Domingue in 1802 and left to die in a prison in the Jura Mountains by Napoleon, exists in Brest and there is a square named after him in the city of Ivry-sur-Seine just outside of the 13th arrondissement of Paris. However, neither of these small gestures, or the commemorative plaque at the Fort de Joux, are adequate to capture the fact that Toussaint, as a French general, led the defeat of the Spanish and British invading armies in Saint-Domingue. He also created the 1801 constitution for the colony, which declared its inhabitants would remain forever “free and French.” Louverture was willing to die to prevent slavery from returning to French shores. Had he lived, he might have been able to stop France from successfully reinstating slavery in Guadeloupe and Martinique and continuing for 46 more years the institution that France only belatedly acknowledged in 1848 was a “crime against humanity.”

 

2. Louis Delgrès (1766–1802) — This Guadeloupean freedom-fighter, also an officer in the French revolutionary army, similarly, fought to prevent reinstatement of slavery in the French colony of Guadeloupe. At the end of May 1802 — after Napoleon signed a decree allowing the restoration of slavery in the French empire — Delgrès, along with 400 formerly enslaved people, occupied a fort in Saint-Charles to prevent the French from acquiring the ammunition housed there. Afterwards, they fled to a nearby plantation and blew it up rather than surrender, effectively committing mass suicide in the process. Though the opposition led by Delgrès did not succeed, memorializing his attempt would remind us that bringing back the shameful institution of slavery was a choice made by French leaders, with the support of the majority of French people in France. Common sense dictates that France should celebrate people like Delgrès who tried to stop it, not those like Napoleon who perpetuated it.

 

3. Paulette Nardal (1896–1985) — The first black woman to study at the Sorbonne, the Martinican born Nardal collaborated with famous Harlem-Renaissance era writers like Aimé Césaire and Claude McKay. Though she never became as well known as either of them, she spearheaded the inclusion of Black women in the anticolonial movement with her Négritude Salon and helped found the influential journal La Revue du monde noir. The journal, which was read around the world, not only provided a platform for US American Blacks like McKay, Langston Hughes, and Alain Locke to decry racism in a France not used to recognizing its existence, but offered a medium for the future president of Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor, to argue for decolonization. In April 1976, when she was almost eighty years old, Nardal was awarded one of France’s highest honors, the Croix de Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur for her contributions to French history and culture. Film-makers Mame-Fatou Niang and Amandine Gay have worked hard to bring to light a damning culture of racism against Black women in France. Honoring Nardal places these contemporary struggles in a longer history of Black French female resistance

 

4. Assia Djebar (1936–2015) — who died of cancer only five years ago, was the first Muslim North African woman to be inducted for life into the Académie Française, the most prestigious intellectual society in France. Born in Algeria, she later attended the École Normale Supérieure in Sèvres. Djebar authored more than a dozen novels, among them L’Amour, la fantasia, which won her the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Djebar was an ardent defender of women’s rights, and she remained unafraid to expose the repression of women in the Muslim world while simultaneously speaking out against anti-Arab sentiment in France. In a country where Arabs are plainly and openly marginalized, recognizing Djebar with a statue would be one symbolic step in a larger matrix of reforms that French president Emmanuel Macron must consider if he wishes to prevent the kind of deadly police violence that led to the death of two teenagers in the Paris suburbs in 2005, sparking weeks of protests, but no jail time for the officers involved.

 

It is a famous cliché that in the US, the people are afraid of the government, whereas in France, the government is afraid of the people.

 

It is true that the French have a long history of resisting the domination of their own government, at least since 1789. Article 2 of the Declaration of Rights of Man declared as “natural and imprescriptible,” “liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.” But, as in most countries with a history of slavery and colonialism, popular French movements also have a deep and long-held tradition of suppressing the voices and eliding the rights of people of color.

 

Honoring the four figures described above would place les français/es de couleur — as well as the Haitian Revolution, slave revolts, Négritude, and North African resistance— at the center of ongoing struggles to ensure that France lives up to its own ideals of liberté, égalité, fraternité, and let us add, sororité.

 

In a song titled, “Still Sane,” the New Zealand singer known as Lorde opines, “Only bad people get to see their likeness set in stone.” This does not have to be true though. Louverture, Delgrès, Nardal, and Djebar have had far more of a positive influence on French culture than Jefferson. And memorializing them is wholly representative of the French spirit of vive la résistance.

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175963 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175963 0
The SS Officer's Armchair

Cover image courtesy Hachette Books. Germans salute occupied Prague Castle, March 16, 1939.

 

 

In 2011 an upholsterer in Amsterdam found a bundle of swastika-covered documents inside the cushion of an armchair he was repairing. The papers all belonged to Dr. Robert Griesinger, a lawyer from Stuttgart who had been an SS member working for the Reich in Nazi-Occupied Prague. Jana, the armchair’s Czech owner, did not recognise Griesinger. She had purchased the chair while a student in Prague in the 1960s, and it was one of the few objects she brought with her to the Netherlands in the 1980s, when she obtained permission for her family to leave Communist Czechoslovakia. As a professional historian of the Second World War, I was asked to investigate. I immediately set out to uncover more about this Dr. Griesinger, who was not mentioned in any books on occupied Prague or anywhere online. Did he survive the war? And, of course, how did his most precious documents end up hidden inside a chair, hundreds of miles from Prague and Stuttgart? The very ordinariness of this man who, like thousands of ordinary Nazis had vanished from the historical record, made him all the more intriguing to me. I wanted to see whether following the trajectory of an anonymous man could reveal anything new about life under the Third Reich. 

 

My search for Griesinger was to last five years. It would lead me German provincial towns where he had studied and worked and to archives and libraries across Europe and America. I discovered early on that Griesinger was not as German as I had thought and that his father, born in New Orleans, came from a family that owned enslaved people in Louisiana. I later managed to track down his daughters, and even read his mother’s diary. Through the lens of a single object, I was able shed new light on a period of history we think we know so well, exposing how ordinary Nazis such as Griesinger were active participants in Nazi terror and how choices made at the time reverberate into present-day Germany, especially among Griesinger’s descendents and the rest of the generation of children born during the Nazi period. But I also discovered that Griesinger is entangled in my own family’s history of the war. Growing up Jewish in 1980s London, I had often heard that some of my grandmother’s relatives in Ukraine were not heard from again after the Second World War. Despite my professional interest in the Holocaust, I never thought to learn more about them or their fate: I did not even know their names. 

 

Everything changed when I discovered Griesinger was involved in the attack on Ukraine in June 1941, when Hitler surprised the world by invading his former ally, the Soviet Union. I suddenly became more interested in my family’s history when I uncovered from military sources details of the terror Griesinger’s division unleashed on the civilian population – including Jews – only days after entering Ukraine. For decades after the war much of the German public believed, and were so encouraged by some historians, that front-line infantry divisions such as Griesinger’s generally behaved well in Ukraine as they fought heroically against the Red Army; in this view only the Einsatzgruppen and Sonderkommando, the specialist police and security battalions, were responsible for mass shootings. 

 

This was not the case. As Griesinger’s division sped east towards Kiev, some soldiers took part in the execution of Jews. My pursuit of Griesinger prompted me to ask questions about my own family, just as I had been quizzing Griesinger’s daughters about theirs. I visited my grandmother at her London home to find out about Stavyshche, the small shtetl in which Israel Pougatch, her father, was born. In 1907, Israel’s father Tsudik, relocated his young family from Ukraine to settle in the East End of London. Tsudik left behind his parents and three younger siblings: a sister, Rayza, and two brothers, Zelman and Moishe. My grandmother remembered seeing the letters that went back and forth between Tsudik and his siblings. She knew that Rayza, Zelman and Moishe did not emigrate west. They remained in Ukraine on the eve of the war and were never heard from again.

 

The more I uncovered about Griesinger, the more I wanted to learn about my own family. With new knowledge of the Pougatch family, I took out a large map of Ukraine and placed it on my dining-room table. Using coloured drawing pins, I began to plot the route that the 25th Motorised Infantry Division took to Kiev in July 1941, putting in pins to mark the towns along the way: Rivne, Novohrad-Volynskyi, Zhytomyr. Fortunately, Stavyshche, in the district of Tarashcha, was so far to the south of Kiev it seemed unlikely Griesinger would have passed through it. But I was mistaken, for his army unit unexpectedly veered south and ended up in Tarashcha in late July 1941. For a fleeting moment Griesinger experienced the same sights and sounds that for centuries had provided rhythm and familiarity to my ancestors’ everyday lives. In the days that followed Tarashcha’s occupation by Griesinger’s unit, professional killing squads were brought in to murder the district’s entire Jewish population. After two years on Griesinger’s trail, I felt discomfort for the first time. Following his trajectory had brought our histories together: in a chilling coincidence, it led me to the destruction of my ancestral shtetl and the extermination of its inhabitants by Nazi bullets or those of their Ukrainian accomplices.

 

After the Red Army liberated Kiev in November 1943, it did not take long for news to trickle into London about the massacres that took place in Ukraine two years earlier. Since Tsudik Pougatch’s siblings and their families were never heard from again, their violent fate seemed certain. Tsudik was left with little doubt over what became of them. He was so certain of the fate of Rayza, Zelman and Moishe Pougatch that he did not try to find out whether they survived. A search on the International Tracing System (ITS), reveals that neither Tsudik, nor anyone else, ever launched an investigation to look for his lost relatives. Had he done so, he might have discovered a shocking revelation.

 

Tsudik Pougatch went to his grave in 1960 mistakenly thinking his family had been murdered. After learning their names, I researched what became of Rayza, Zelman and Moishe Pougatch, during the Second World War, eventually finding them in records at Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial site and research center on the Holocaust. Griesinger’s eyes did not meet those of my relatives as he made his way across Ukraine in the summer of 1941. The Pougatch family was spared the devastation that Griesinger’s associates inflicted on the community of Stavyshche. The most detailed information at Yad Vashem concerned Zelman Pougatch, which revealed that the sixty-year-old weaver survived the Holocaust thanks to his son-in-law, Boris Skuratovsky.  In response to the German invasion, the USSR evacuated its industrial resources thousands of miles east. 283 industries were evacuated from Ukraine, including staff, machinery and equipment. Factory workers such as Boris were allowed to take with them not only their spouses and children, but also, their parents and, even, their parents-in-law. Along with some sixteen million Soviet citizens who fled or were evacuated east into Russia and Central Asia, the Pougatch and Skuratovsky families were evacuated to Zelenodolsk, an industrial town on the great Volga river in Tatarstan, five hundred miles east of Moscow. Zelman owed his life to his son-in-law.

 

After months desperately trying to find out what became of Zelman Pougatch after his evacuation to Zelenodolsk, I eventually discovered a 2016 Yahrzeit notice placed in the newsletter of a synagogue in Ventura, California [Every year, Jews remember deceased relatives by lighting a candle on their Yahrzeit, the anniversary of their death]. The notice was placed by his grandson, Boris Skuratovsky’s son. Not only did Zelman Pougatch’s family survive the Holocaust by bullets in Ukraine, but they also managed to survive the evacuations to the east. At some point after the war they must have moved to America.

 

Everything was moving so fast. Only a short time earlier, I believed I was looking for the final resting place of my relatives who had vanished during the Second World War without trace. Now all of a sudden, I had the name of one of their descendants living in California. It did not take long for me to contact them and within a few months I was sitting in a kitchen in San Francisco with Vera, the grandchild who knew Zelman best. Vera was in her early seventies and worked as a bookkeeper at the same company for the past thirty-five years. She was one of 125,000 Soviet Jews who settled in the United States during the 1970, when, in the spirit of détente, Soviet authorities increased emigration quotas.

 

Vera’s knowledge of her grandfather and his siblings put closure on a family mystery that had seemed unsolvable. She told me that Zelman returned to Kiev at the end of the war and died in the 1960s. Reyza, Zelman and Tsudik’s sister, also returned after the great evacuation to the east. Instead of settling in Kiev, Reyza went back to the district of Tarascha, the land of our ancestors, the place where she, Tsudik, Zelman, and the other Pougatch children were born. Reyza set up her postwar life in a portion of western Ukraine that contained only a handful of Jews. Having lost her husband in the war, she wanted time to take stock of her life. As a Yiddish speaker, with only rudimentary Russian, she was able to isolate herself further from the local community. When she died in 1962, Reyza, as the final guardian of Pougatch family lore in Tarascha, took with her the last remaining memories of an important chapter of our family history on the eve of the Holocaust.

 

After we had spoken for an hour, Vera insisted I stay for dinner. Vera made a toast for the occasion. Not since Tsudik left Ukraine for London in the first decade of the twentieth century had our two branches of the Pougatch family sat around a table together. Just as she was about to take a sip from her glass, she turned to me and said, “You know, if it wasn’t for a Nazi, we would never have met.” She was right.

 

 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175964 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175964 0
John F. Kennedy Did What Donald Trump Only Wishes He Could Do

 

 

President Donald Trump has repeatedly wished that he could revoke the broadcast licenses of news organizations that air criticisms of his administration. This forced the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to announce that the FCC would not do so (even if it had the power to). It is easy to dismiss Trump’s tweets as yet another case of the necessity of taking the President seriously but not literally, to use journalist Salena Zito’s memorable phrase.

            

However, not all that long ago U.S. residents did have the power to censor those who broadcast criticisms of their administrations. In the early 1960s President John F. Kennedy used a set of FCC rules known as the Fairness Doctrine to mute conservative radio broadcasters. It was the most successful act of government censorship of the past half century that almost nobody has ever heard of.

 

To understand why Kennedy launched his censorship campaign, it is helpful to imagine yourself in the shoes of an ordinary American consumer in 1962. If you had gone shopping at a retail store that fall, you might have found small cards--bearing slogans like, “Always Buy Your Communist Products at Super Giant”--scattered all over the displays, perhaps inserted in toothpaste packaging or even nestled in the pockets of each item of clothing on the sales floor. They were the remains of a “card party,” a boycott action organized by conservative, suburban housewives from all across America. In a display of what historian Michelle Nickerson has called “housewife populism,” these mothers and wives--and they invariably signed their protest letters with the honorific ‘Mrs.’--believed that they had an obligation to protect both the domestic and national homes from corruption.

            

The corrupting influences in this case were imported goods from Communist-dominated Eastern Europe, a wave of Yugoslavian wicker baskets, Hungarian folding chairs, and Polish hams. Late in 1961, President John F. Kennedy had initiated a new trade policy with these countries in hopes of peeling them away from the Soviet sphere of influence. But conservatives believed that Kennedy’s free trade policy actually advanced Communist interests. 

            

The backlash against Kennedy’s Eastern European trade policy began with a Miami chiropractor who started a small boycott organization with a large name, “The Committee to Warn of the Arrival of Communist Merchandise on the Local Business Scene.” And it might have remained a minor, regional protest notable only for its clunky acronym (TCTWOTAOMOTLBS), but in the summer of ‘62 a loose network of Right-wing radio broadcasters picked up the story of the boycott and amplified it.

 

Nothing quite like what I call the “Radio Right” had ever previously existed in terms of scale and scope. By the early 1960s, a dozen conservative broadcasters aired on at least a hundred radio stations nationwide. The largest of them, the Rev. Carl McIntire, based out of Collingswood, NJ, reached an estimated weekly listening audience of twenty million people (for sake of comparison, that is as many as would listen to Rush Limbaugh nearly half a century later). The Radio Right acted as a megaphone for the boycott, resulting in local chapters of the organization popping up in 260 towns across all lower 48 states by the fall of 1962. 

 

The card party protests and letter-writing campaigns convinced the largest retailers in the country to pull the offending products. Consider the example of Mrs. Estrellita Capo of St. Augustine, Florida, who had sent a letter of complaint to A&P’s corporate headquarters. Deluged by similar letters, A&P ordered its reluctant local store manager to go to Mrs. Capo’s house to apologize in person. As she later confided to her favorite broadcaster, “I can’t tell you how happy it made me feel.” If you want to create an army of activist foot soldiers, giving them that kind of sense of empowerment is a good first step. 

 

The boycott’s success was a black eye for the Kennedy administration. Congress revoked Most Favored Nation trade status for several of the countries that the President had extended it to. Kennedy would not forget the sting of that rebuke. During the summer of 1963, he asked his aide Myer Feldman to draw up a memorandum outlining threats to his re-election hopes; at the top of the list were conservative broadcasters, because of their ability to energize anti-administration grassroots activism. Feldman worried that the Radio Right had empowered “local right-wing organizations scattered around the country that harass local school, local librarians, and local government bodies,” specifically naming the “card party movement” as an example of this “formidable force in American life today.” 

 

President Kennedy and Myer Feldman were also caught on an Oval Office recorder discussing their plans to combat the Radio Right. However, the ultimate origin of the plan was a document produced two years earlier by the administration’s labor union allies. At the request of the administration Walter and Victor Reuther, heads of the United Auto Workers, produced a strategy for defanging conservative radio. Their plan, nicknamed the “Reuther Memorandum,” had two key prongs, the first of which was to stem the flow of donations to broadcasters through targeted Internal Revenue Service audits. Even temporarily removing broadcasters’ tax exempt status would hurt their ability to raise the money they needed to purchase airtime. 

 

Second, the Reuthers recommended using the Federal Communications Commission to pressure radio station owners. The FCC had a set of rules known as the “Fairness Doctrine,” which had been created a few years previously to encourage station owners to air multiple points of view on any given issue of public importance, including on current events and political questions. If a station aired a conservative broadcaster’s attack on, say, Kennedy’s proposed Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in the summer of 1963, then proponents of the treaty could demand free response time. Doing so would create a burden on station owners, who might be reluctant to air conservative programming at all in the future. 

 

You can find the full story of how the Kennedy administration implemented the Reuther Memorandum’s recommendations in my book, but suffice it to say here that the counter-Radio Right campaign was an astonishing success. The administration went on to create a series of front organizations to launder cash from allied interest groups and to create the facade of public support for silencing Right-wing radio. They leveraged the threat of lodging Fairness Doctrine complaints against recalcitrant radio stations into free airtime for pro-administration voices. And even after Kennedy’s assassination, the effort continued under the auspices of the Democratic National Committee, the US Senate Commerce Committee, and, later, the National Council of Churches.

 

By the late 1960s, radio stations had begun dropping conservative programming en masse. For example, Carl McIntire’s radio show had aired on at least 475 stations in 1964 but was reduced to 183 stations by 1967. It would not be until after the Carter administration relaxed enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine in the late-1970s (followed by its formal repeal under the Reagan administration) that the Radio Right would re-emerge as a significant force in national politics. 

 

President Trump’s expressed desire to revoke broadcast licenses of his critics is an echo of Kennedy’s use of the Fairness Doctrine. But unlike Kennedy (and later Nixon), Trump cannot simply compel broadcast news outlets to treat him in a manner he deems “fair” under threat of adverse regulatory scrutiny. Then again, the Trump administration has expressed an interest in creating a new commission dedicated to combating algorithmic discrimination against conservatives on social media. It may be a new media form, but it’s an old media problem. Rules to promote “fairness” or prevent “discrimination” can all too easily turn into tools for gaining partisan advantage at the expense of free speech, a free press, and a functioning democracy.

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175960 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175960 0
Hungarian-American Relations in 1849 and Today: Why We Need Another Lajos Kossuth

 

 

Lately, commentators have warned that conservative regimes in the United States and Hungary are using the upheavals of the coronavirus pandemic as additional leverage to increase their authoritarian hold on government. The two countries may seem an odd political couple. But a largely forgotten historical drama, involving a Hungarian who asked America to help him establish democracy on the eve of our Civil War, reminds us it is not so. The American visit of Lajos Kossuth and its consequences offer a stark contrast with the new, darkening chapter in Hungarian-American relations.

Kossuth was a Hungarian lawyer who emerged as a leader of the Hungarian rebellion in 1849 against the crusty Habsburg Empire. Kossuth and supporters presumed to declare Hungary an independent republic. War erupted, pitting the polyglot ethnic groups of Central and Eastern Europe against one another. The Hungarians held their own until Russia, ever eager to squelch thoughts of democracy, came to the Austrians’ aid. Kossuth escaped, gaining asylum in Ottoman Turkey before boarding a steamship, the U.S.S. Mississippi, which brought him to New York City. There he received the equivalent of a tickertape parade before launching a six-month speaking tour of the United States. Kossuth however failed to secure his grand prize, U.S. intervention in Europe. He left frustrated, and spent the rest of his life in exile.

But in his day the American people embraced him, offering banquets, parades, money, and, from several state arsenals, arms. The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson hailed him at Concord Bridge. Several towns and counties across the country renamed themselves for the Magyar, and Secretary of State Daniel Webster so vociferously endorsed Kossuth that Austria effectively severed relations with the United States for nearly a year. Abraham Lincoln paid tribute by co-authoring a citizens’ resolution declaring that all people had the right of revolution and self-determination.

Kossuth, hailed as Webster’s equal in public speaking – he claimed he had learned English reading the Bible and Shakespeare- brought audiences to tears in his stirring words about democracy’s prospects on both sides of the Atlantic in that pregnant age. “Liberty is a principle; its community is its security; exclusiveness is its doom.” “The cause of freedom is identified with the destinies of humanity, and in whatever part of the world it gains ground by and by, it will be a common gain to all those who desire it.” And, “the spirit of our age is Democracy. All for the people and all by the people. Nothing about the people without the people.” Yes, that last one sounds familiar, because Lincoln as president rephrased it as “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” at Gettysburg in 1863.

Lincoln and the new Republican Party took Kossuth’s warning seriously that unchecked authoritarianism in his country could echo in the American West, where, by the 1850s, the presence or absence of slavery would determine the fate of the republic. The Kansas territory saw warfare rage between antislavery “jayhawkers” and proslavery “border ruffians” over its status; incidents of U.S. military troops firing on antislavery Kansans dramatized how the federal government under presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan appeared complicit. Congressman Galusha Grow, for one, warned, “With the shout of law and order you arrest and put in chains order-loving citizens…for peaceably petitioning the Government for a redress of grievances….Law and order is the excuse of despotism, the world over…. It was to preserve law and order that…the dungeon and the rack silenced the voice of patriotism in Hungary.” Poland, Grow added, had seen “its streets red with the best blood of its citizens,” not before, but after a Russian general had suppressed a popular uprising, and delivered to the Czar the notorious report, “Order reigns in Warsaw.”  Now a proslavery governor of Kansas designed to “send a like dispatch to his superior, ‘Order reigns in Kansas’.” Kossuth’s impact helped to expose the American heartland’s creeping resemblance to recent European battlegrounds.

The Civil War, when it came, represented antislavery Americans’ impulse not to allow the crushing of democracy in Europe to become a prediction of its fate in the United States. On Independence Day 1861, Lincoln declared that on “the fate of these United States” hung the balance of “the whole family of man.” Critics of subsequent American foreign policy have called Lincoln’s 1862 assertion that the divided country was the world’s “last best hope” arrogant. But the Union’s extinction of the Slave Power’s counterrevolution was the ultimate American answer to Lajos Kossuth’s appeal a decade earlier. And it saved the country.

Today the United States and Hungary may seem even more different than they were when the foreigner Kossuth alerted Americans to the illusions of their exceptionalism. Yet in both places, the press is being attacked, voters disenfranchised, and immigrants scapegoated. That American versions of these conditions are less obvious, or merely analogous, doesn’t mean “it can’t happen here.”

Who will be our Kossuth?

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175958 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175958 0
Respectability and Remembrance: The Continued Condemnation of Black Resistance

 

 

The killing of George Floyd spurred protests in cities across America that have been met with heavy police resistance, and there is no end in sight to the unrest. Amid continuing violence against African Americans at the hands of police and the devastating toll that covid-19 is taking on black communities, the protests have swelled.

 

In contrast to the relatively relaxed police response to the armed, largely white anti-lockdown protests just a few weeks ago, police reaction to these large, generally peaceful protests has been highly militarized, a dynamic that has led to confrontations and injuries and fueled further unrest, rage and destruction.

 

As this violence unfolds, many communities remain sympathetic with the protestors, contributing en masse to bail funds for those arrested, while others, including the president, have condemned the protestors as violent, and a third grouprecognizes the righteousness of the protestors' cause but rejects arson, looting and violence: this group sees the violence has distracting from the Black Lives Matter cause

 

Condemnation of black violent resistance, and of black radicalism, is not a new phenomenon, nor is the dismissal of black people’s claim for justice if their uprisings or activism do not fit a particular script of nonviolence. This condemnation is further illustrated by popular memory of the civil rights and Black Power movements, which valorizes nonviolence while dismissing, and often simplifying the histories of, groups that supported armed resistance. This problem is rooted in popular narratives of the civil rights movement which dramatically oversimplify what took place. These popular narratives lionize the non-violent protests led by Martin Luther King Jr., while ignoring the limits and failures of this approach that left many demands of the movement for racial equality unaddressed — including police violence. When viewed more broadly, the current protests are a continuation of this struggle for racial justice. 

 

And while King is remembered as the pre-eminent champion of non-violence, popular memory has forgotten that he recognized the limits of a nonviolent civil rights movement, saying that riots were the “language of the unheard,”illustrating the need for more radical resistance when peaceful protests do not suffice.  

 

In fact, the civil rights movement included much debate among activists who grappled over tactics. Stokely Carmichael, later known as Kwame Ture, became frustrated with nonviolence when, despite securing legal rights, black people continued to face police violence, poverty, and incarceration. Nonviolent protest, which had helped achieve voting rights, legal access to public accommodations, and the end of Jim Crow, had proved unsuccessful in solving these problems. 

 

That fueled the rise of Black Power activism, which appealed to African Americans who felt voiceless, especially the economically and politically disadvantaged. And yet, while often remembered, in the words of historian Peniel Joseph, as the civil rights movement’s evil and “ruthless twin,” Black Power did critical work to highlight white supremacy and anti-democratic practices against black people, while also bettering the condition of disadvantaged African Americans. 

 

And yes, the Black Panthers, maybe the most famous Black Power organization, carried weapons, but they also organized free breakfast programs for poor, black children and carried out tests for sickle cell anemia, a blood disorder that almost exclusively affects black people in the United States. The Panthers saw such programs as crucial in serving oppressed communities and providing equal opportunity. 

 

But these efforts have been forgotten because the images of the Panthers remaining in popular memory show them armed, reinforcing white fears of violence. But this ignores that such armed resistance was actually far more about self defense than aggression — something that has been forgotten because, while a number of large-scale episodes of police violence and vigilantism against protestors and activists — Birmingham, Selma, the murders of civil rights activists in Philadelphia, Miss. — are enduring, the day-to-day violence, including police violence, against African Americans, North and South, has been forgotten. 

 

At times, armed self-defense was the only thing that prevented violence against African Americas. One of the most well-known radical activist groups, The Deacons for Defense and Justice, an armed wing of the civil rights movement that existed from 1965 to 1969, openly carried weapons to deter white-on-black violence in Jonesboro, Louisiana. These efforts led to a massive decrease of white attacks on black homes and on civil rights workers. Armed resistance was not only necessary but successful, despite criticisms from whites and moderates. Furthermore, uprisings in Watts in 1965 and across the country in 1968 illustrated the need for more radical resistance.  The events of 1965 in Los Angeles are commonly known as the “Watts riots,” consistent with the pattern of using language to contrast insurgent protest as antagonistic to nonviolent protest and therefore, illegitimate. Yet, a nationwide series of riots in 1968 arguably led to the passage of a second major civil rights law, the Fair Housing Act to address the failure of the 1964 legislation to ameliorate urban segregation. 

 

Public memory has continued to deemphasize this radical tradition. While there are at least 40 statues of King across the United States there are fewer than five of Malcolm X, and none of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was shot and killed in his home by the FBI and Chicago police officers. In fact, Hampton’s home was removed from an Illinois African American heritage guide after being deemed too controversial by the Illinois Tourism Bureau.

 

Major African American history museums, including the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, portray the Black Power era as one of chaos. This section of the museum is disorganized, difficult to navigate, and accompanied by loud music, signifying a rupture with the preceding narrative. Simply put, Black Power is remembered for not falling in line with a history of respectable nonviolent protest.  

 

Violence has long been a part of civil rights protest going back to the days of abolition because white supremacy is rooted in violence and perpetuated overwhelmingly by law enforcement and white vigilantes with tacit support of legal authorities. This is on display today in the excessive force that has been continuously used against black citizens by police and which resulted in George Floyd’s death. Countless videos of unarmed, peaceful protestors or journalists being pepper sprayed, shot with rubber bullets or, driven into by a police SUV have been shared on television and social media since the protests began.

 

But actually addressing the full depth of racism and white supremacy in America requires understanding the limits of the non-violent civil rights movements, and the necessity of armed self-defense for African Americans against the violence perpetrated or instigated by whites — including the police — throughout American history.

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175965 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175965 0
The Vexations of History In An Age of Police Violence: A Ventura County California Perspective

Oxnard, CA Police Department, June 4, 2020

 

 

 

Oxnard Police Department officers cut short the lives of Meagan Hockaday (d. 3/28/15), Alfonso Limon (d. 10/13/12), Michael Mahoney (d. 8/14/12), Robert Ramirez (d. 6/23/12), and Juan Zavala (d. 6/28/2014).

 

Consequently, any City of Oxnard official who empathetically condemns the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police must also memorialize their deaths. Especially Robert Ramirez, who like Floyd and Eric Garner in New York, could not breathe. The medical examiner of Ventura County determined his death a police homicide from prone restraint asphyxia—choking.

 

Only then can we, as a community, have an authentic conversation on police violence elsewhere.

 

Meanwhile, we ought to recognize the ways in which the legacies of historical systems of white supremacy continue today in the disproportionate mass incarceration of people of color due to racist and sexist institutions of education, the administration of justice, health care, housing, and employment. This fact is easily proven by noticing who dominates such leadership posts as well as enjoys such privileged life chances.

 

Academics such as Rodolfo F. Acuña, Michele Alexander, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Ronald Takaki, and others have long written on the historical echoes and rhymes of slavery, the genocide of Native American peoples, and the wars of conquest over the territories of Mexico. In fact, as Henry David Thoreau argued in Civil Disobedience (1849), these are the original sins of our nation, for which recent trespasses have demonstrated we have yet to atone. 

 

Instead a societal amnesia, if not a denial, persist.

 

As we denounce the ruthless killing of not only George Floyd but also Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, the people of Ventura County must also reckon with the past before any reconciliation can be pursued.

 

For instance, in July of 1971 residents of Oxnard’s La Colonia neighborhood revolted against the Oxnard Police Department. For two consecutive Sunday nights, Chicano youth confronted the police with epithets, rocks, bottles, and sniper fire. In the process, buildings were set ablaze. It got so bad that law enforcement back up was called in from neighboring cities.

 

The next year, Chicano youth of Santa Paula similarly resisted police abuse in and out of the downtown district for at least three consecutive Sunday nights. Young men and women also cursed the police, exchanged gunfire, and shattered the windows of schools and businesses. To quell the insurrection and maintain the peace over the next month, Santa Paula Police Chief Ray Tull depended on reinforcements from the California Highway Patrol, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, and the police departments of Oxnard, Ojai, Port Hueneme, and Ventura.

 

In both instances, Oxnard and Santa Paula city officials proclaimed ignorance of the root causes of the rebellions. Instead, they deflected responsibility and blamed the actions on outsiders. The righteous indignation of Chicano youth and their elders, however, would not be silenced. 

 

The newspapers of the Oxnard Press-Courier and the Santa Paula Daily Chronicle reported on the courageous demonstrations of Chicano youth in front of police department buildings, their statements, and face-to-face conversations with the city councils and police chiefs. Their indictments encompassed incessant police harassment in the form of gruff contacts, provocations, and brutality. They also pointed to racism in schools as well as restricted recreation and job opportunities.

 

Although positive change resulted from the protest movements and dialogues of the 1960s and 1970s, a continuity of oppression continues in stark racial disparities in COVID-19 infections and deaths, access to health care, academic achievement, and lives sacrificed to the prison industrial complex.

 

In Oxnard, this past Saturday’s protest of George Floyd’s killing drew hundreds of people from all walks of life. Speakers linked racist policing tactics elsewhere to policing here. Resident Stephanie Turner, for example, decried the Oxnard police for the regular racial profiling of her Black sons. And an African American father spoke to how his wife feared for his life whenever he drove the community's streets.

 

As an educator and lifelong resident of Ventura County, I have heeded the testimonies of young people stopped and detained by police on bogus traffic infractions. One account detailed how a police officer yelled “stop resisting” as he beat a compliant detainee.

 

I, myself, as a fifty-year-old man, experienced a police contact that opened with the cavalier lie of an officer. Before this episode ended, I found myself surrounded by four cops.

 

In driving through Ventura County, I’ve witnessed detained motorists, usually adult men of color, sitting on the curb of streets, with their heads downcast in humiliation, as a coven of police with terminator-style sunglasses jocularly passes the time.

 

Quotidian experiences such as these are the tinder that fuels a visceral antipathy toward law enforcement. 

 

A significant solution to ending police misconduct is for elected officials to stop fearing law enforcement unions who will brand them as soft on crime for publicly raising legitimate concerns. For example, when I criticized the City of Oxnard’s adoption of its constitutionally flawed civil gang injunction, council members confided with me their reservations with this tool.

 

But these elected officials dared not doing so in council chambers to avoid being targeted in their reelection campaigns by the Oxnard Peace Officers Association as anti-police or, worse, pro-gang.

 

But if more elected officials took stances that condemned misconduct on the part of law enforcement no matter the political fallout, such as in the case of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, city by city people of color will live their lives with a diminished fear for just being. Then a reconciliation can begin.

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175956 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175956 0
Misremembering the Fall of France 80 Years Later (Part 1)

Bundesarchiv, Bild 121-0412 / CC BY-SA 3.0 de

 

Eighty years ago this May and June, northern France was overrun by a combined air and land assault the Germans called blitzkrieg. Two things are known with certainty by those who can remember, and those who have learned – even if imperfectly. As one earnest undergraduate put it: ‘The Germans took the bypass around France’s Marginal Line’ as part of their strategy of ‘Blintz Krieg.’ Well, the idea is there.

The first certainty is that the armed forces of the Third French Republic were defeated in six weeks. The second is that the defeat led to the immediate collapse of the Republic and the advent of Marshal Philippe Pétain’s Vichy government, a short lived (1940-44) but murderous regime that collaborated with the Nazis and deported thousands of Jews for slaughter. Neither the suddenness of defeat nor its consequences are in doubt.

But because the collapse was so sudden and unexpected, and the consequences so vile, a body of dubious ‘knowledge’ has arisen and endured. It is that which has so colored popular impressions of pre-war, wartime, even contemporary France. Simply recall the famous and worn jests: "How many Frenchmen does it take to guard Paris? Nobody knows, it’s never been tried." Or "Raise your right hand if you like the French. Raise both hands if you are French."  Or "What do you call 100,000 Frenchmen with their hands up? The Army."

 

 Many readers will be familiar with the post-1940 exploits of courageous partisan units defying the German Occupation and operating under the generic expression "French Resistance." But most will not recall reports such as those in Winnipeg Free Press articles of 10 May and 15 June 1940, articles which attributed to the fighting "a ferocity which defies imagination," and which described allied resistance as worthy of "inexpressible admiration." Few now know that there were some 100,000 French soldiers who did not surrender. Somewhere between 55,000 and 85,000 actually died in that six-week campaign, with another 120,000 wounded. Fewer still will know that anywhere between 27,000 and 45,000 German soldiers died during those six weeks, and that over 100,000 of them were wounded. To which one might wish to add their 6,600 dead airmen. Even minimally, therefore, over 300,000 French and German combatants were killed or wounded in May-June 1940. So much for the popular notion that the French army folded like a warm croissant.  

 

Why, then, has ignorance bred faith? Partly because neither of the post‑1945 Republics, the Fourth and Fifth, could see any advantage in rehabilitating a predecessor linked directly to military defeat and indirectly to collaboration with the Nazis. Best leave their predecessor in ignominy. Partly because in their scramble to blame someone else for the disaster, former decision‑makers of the Third, both civilian and military, ensured that the stain would be widespread. Partly because it seemed obvious that a great defeat had to have great causes, ones that surpassed the battlefield and implicated the entire nation. It is this third that explains why so many observers were quick, if only after the fact, to pick up the scent of moral rot: a society which, allegedly since the 1920s, had surrendered to the pursuit of pleasure and self‑indulgence long before it would surrender to the Germans.

 

This, to be sure, is caricature, its sharp profile in need of sanding down with fact. That student was right to say the heavy fortifications of the Maginot Line were outflanked, not broken, despite the best efforts of Luftwaffe bombers whose post‑victory crews were mortified to see the ineffectiveness of their ordinance. Those crews had sustained heavy casualties at the hands of allied ‑ principally French ‑ fighter planes and anti‑aircraft artillery: more than 500 German bombers destroyed by 25 June, or 30 per cent of the machines operational on 10 May when the offensive in the west began. Their comrades on the ground were equally tested, particularly between late May and the armistice of 24 June when French resistance on the Somme, Aisne, Moselle, Seine and Loire intensified. To be sure, the killing was not equal; the French, again by low estimates, lost approximately 60,000 dead, the Germans over 30,000 ‑ including among the latter those who died under the 450 allied bombing sorties launched in that single week between 28 May and 4 June. The wounding, by contrast, was roughly equal, the French with 120,000, the Germans with about 111,000. Shouldn't knowledge of a combined casualty rate of over 300,000 men in six weeks, over 6000 per day, finally lift the fog that still lingers over the French surrender?

 

But if the resistance was more intense than is often supposed, with what did they fight? The Maginot Line, it is commonly believed, was a white elephant, tribute to a static notion of warfare that was demolished by a war of movement. The French, many still believe, had no tanks, no aircraft, and few if any modern weapons. But the Line, built in part to economize on defenders' lives after the terrible bloodbath of the First World War, was designed from the start to serve as a hinge for a mobile plunge further north, across the border and deep into Belgium to confront a German offensive from that direction. Though French planners seriously overrated the natural defensive potential of the Ardennes Forest ‑ where the German breakthrough of 12‑15 May actually occurred ‑ the Line was inspired by the natural desire to avert another war on French soil by employing mobile forces, rather than by rejecting them. Indeed, it was only two days after the motorized infantry and artillery of General Giraud's 7th army had begun its rapid advance north‑eastward into Belgium to confront the offensive prong represented by the 30 divisions of General von Bock's Army Group B, that the 44 divisions of the second German prong under General von Rundstedt ‑ including 7 armored divisions ‑ were unleashed southwesterly through the Ardennes.

 

Though French planners had once been behind the curve when it came to envisaging light and heavy armored units acting independently of the infantry, they had made extraordinary gains in production and assembly in 1939‑40. They had even achieved a slight numerical superiority over the Germans by the outset of the campaign, and had begun to produce models more heavily armored and armed ‑‑ though slower and harder on fuel ‑‑ than most of the machines in the vaunted Panzer divisions. While the celebrated Panzer III tank was 20 tons by weight, including 30 mm armor and a 37mm cannon, the Somua S35 had 56 mm of protective armor and a 47mm cannon, and the Char B was a 32‑ton leviathan with 60 mm of armor and a 75mm cannon.

 

Even in the air, the French record was far from abysmal. Against a significantly superior Luftwaffe that outnumbered them two to one, French fighters flew more than 300 sorties a day in the first week of June alone, and inflicted a 30 per cent rate of destruction against the Ju‑87 dive‑bombers and the Messerschmitt fighters. So despite Germany's unequivocal victory, the skies were not empty, casualties on land and in the air were heavy, and almost all of the laying down of arms came after, not before, the armistice.

 

editor's note: an earlier version of this article misstated the count of casualties in May and June, 1940. The total of 300,000 refers to French and Germans killed or wounded. 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175954 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175954 0
Where Was Such Solidarity Two Weeks Ago?

 

 

Don’t get me wrong. It is encouraging to see people – not just black people – but people from varying ethnic and gender identities, various demographic and geographic profiles alike, walking hand in hand in solidarity in response to the senseless death of George Floyd, the latest unarmed black person killed at the hands of law enforcement. 

 

To be blunt, I am encouraged, but not entranced. Undoubtedly, the uprisings and sustained protests seen in the streets suggest that we have reached a telling point in our relatively nascent American history. Yet, time will tell whether we actually have reached a tipping point. 

 

My current concern is the potential nature of performative solidarity whereby it seems as if corporate actors and organizations are rushing to the internet to publicly post their statements of support. Supposedly private internal memos from CEOs and public posts by emotional Tik Tokkers are going “viral” alike. Magically, many of my white colleagues and students have suddenly reached out to me to “see how I’m doing.”

 

OK.

 

But where was all of this understanding and enlightenment about the intractability, intransigence and institutional nature of systemic white supremacy two weeks ago?

 

Again, may God bless the freedom fighters working arduously, volunteering their time and energy to ensure that marginalized voices of truth are heard. But when it comes to my relationship with a majority-white dominated corporate America, color me a bit skeptical. As a historian, I can only state confidently that the truth will be revealed in time on what the year 2020 truly means for us.

 

For, as I look back upon our brief history in hindsight with the benefit of 20/20 vision, I can see the cycle we have seen repeated is public unrest, followed by a calming period, followed by attempts to revise public rhetoric and policy. Both activists and antagonists will fatigue as the system continues to moves forward fundamentally unchanged, as most changes will be superficial and cosmetic. 

 

My skepticism comes from my understanding of racism as quite malleable in nature, insofar it traditionally alters and adapts to the “new” societal changes put in response to the prior racist regime. After all, what was more revolutionary than ending the racist Era of Enslavement in 1865?  In retrospect, we now know that hell had only begun; the foundation and rise of the Ku Klux Klan, continued economic bondage through sharecropping and domestic labor, the creation of black codes and criminalization of blackness, virulent racist narratives in the wake of a failed reconstruction, along with unchecked vigilantism and lynching made life for “free” black people flat out miserable.

 

Then, fast forwarding nearly a century later to 1964, many heralded President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act as a high water mark of race relations, especially with the game-changing Title VII which allowed, for the first time ever, possible monetary penalties for racial discrimination on the job. Yet today not only do we have data demonstrating that Keisha and Jamal have a harder time receiving callbacks on the exact same resume profile as Karen and John, but we see on television public responses to police violence and unrest that are eerily similar to those that followed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1968 assassination. Meaning, the undergirding issues, tensions and narratives about the systemic disregard of black humanity from “way back when” are still present, and are not restricted to the past.

 

Finally, there was likely no period of American history imbued with more hope than 2008, when America elected its first United States President of African American descent. Yet, I was horrified over Oscar Grant's killing in 2009. I was mortified over Trayvon Martin's, Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell’s killings in 2012. I was traumatized over Michael Brown's, Tamir Rice's and John Crawford’s killings in 2014. I was petrified over Freddie Gray’s and Sandra Bland’s deaths in 2015. Get the pattern? We cannot overlook that all these unarmed black lives were lost and #BlackLivesMatter started on Barack Obama’s watch. This observation is not intended to castigate Obama, but rather to illuminate that the larger system does not magically change overnight after changing the race of one man in one (albeit, high-profile) position. 

 

Hence, I wonder aloud about statements like those by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and others acknowledging that Colin Kaepernick actually had a point in peacefully protesting police brutality – and wasn't disrespecting the flag nor the military. Did recent events cause a revelation, or had the conditioned maintenance of systemic white supremacy simply not allowed corporate actors to publicly acknowledge what they, and we, already knew? Namely, that we still have some work to do. And this work must necessarily involve and invoke fundamental, systemic change if we wish to avoid the cliché of “history repeating itself.”

 

In the interim, I remain encouraged, but not entranced.

 

 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175959 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175959 0
One Small View of a Big Picture

Pasadena, Maryland, June 6.  

It's not an activity that comes naturally or comfortably to me, but when I learned that there was a black lives matter protest in Pasadena, Maryland, on the first Saturday in June, I could not avoid the thought that the more old white guys who showed up, the better. So, dutifully but not enthusiastically, I decided I had no choice but to go. Pasadena is southeast of Baltimore city. We've lived there for 29 years. It's a pretty representative red area, though embedded in a blue state; basically suburban, mostly what I would call modestly comfortable neighborhoods with some more affluent pockets. The local population is well over 80% white, and votes pretty strongly Republican (I haven't found percentages but I know that in 2016 our district went for Trump by a pretty hefty majority). Yesterday's demonstration was on the grounds of Northeast High School, where the student body has a bit higher minority percentage than the community as whole but is still predominantly white. So was the crowd at the protest, which I would guess was not far off the same 80% mark as the community itself. My most heartening moment happened right after I got there, well before starting time, while crowd just beginning to gather. When I walked across the driveway from the parking area, I saw another old white guy sitting at a picnic table across from the parking lot wearing a red baseball cap with the name 101st Airborne stitched over the brim (the cap also sported a 5th Special Forces pin, though I didn't recognize that until later) and a black t-shirt saying "in memory of 58,479 brothers and sisters who never returned from the Vietnam War." He was talking to another guy sitting across from him, and I overheard him mention he had owned a fuel-oil and HVAC business until he sold a few years ago. That background and his age and apparent veteran status did not put him in the expected demographic category for this event. Indeed, when I first saw him I fleetingly wondered if he might be there to counter-protest, though nothing in his appearance or manner suggested any such thing. Eventually he looked over at me, nodded and said hello, and we struck up a conversation. In our talk I learned that he is now 75, was born in Germany and adopted and brought to the U.S. by an American soldier (this would have been fairly soon after WWII). He told me he was motivated to join the army as a way to "repay" his stepfather and this country, ended up doing an 18-month tour with a Special Forces unit in Vietnam, and later started the business I had heard him speak about. When I asked him what had brought him to this protest, his answer could have come just about verbatim from Gen. Jim Mattis's recent anti-Trump commentary, which I expect most readers of this essay will have read. Exactly like Mattis, the first thing this guy said to my question was to recall that when he joined the service he took an oath to protect the U.S. Constitution, and that's what he was here to do all these years later. I didn't pursue that enough to get clear exactly which constitutional rights he was thinking about, racial justice issues or the right to peaceful protest, or whether he was motivated by a more general commitment covering both of those. I may take a stab at that question if I have any further contact (I have his name and a phone no. so that is a possibility). Whatever the answer, though, it gave me a better feeling about my country and community to find a guy like that in this setting at this time, and I told him so. Another encouraging moment, still while folks were arriving at the gathering place, was when I noticed another white guy, this one young, maybe in his mid-20s, holding up a large hand-lettered sign that said "Black Lives Matter More Than White Feelings." Underneath that slogan, in smaller letters, another line, as I remember in lower-case letters, said: "check your privileges." During the afternoon I sensed that a lot of the white folks in that crowd, many carrying signs with similar sentiments, apparently were doing just that, thinking about and acknowledging their privileges, though whether they were newly aware or just new to speaking about it to others, I have no way to know. I asked the guy if the slogan was his, but he said he had copied it from a t-shirt. He told me he works as a landscaper at Fort Meade, an army base (and headquarters of the National Security Agency) that's not in Pasadena but a few miles west. He wasn't the only demonstrator to have come over from Meade; as I gathered, a fairly large contingent had come from there to join the protest. The demonstration itself began with a rally on the large park-like lawn south of the high school stadium. At the start I thought there were maybe 400 to 500 people there, spread out, as the organizers repeatedly exhorted, to maintain virus-related social distancing. By the time they began moving off the lawn to start a mile-long march circumnavigating the school campus, the crowd looked closer to a thousand, to my eye. Whatever the exact number, it struck me as a pretty remarkable turnout of mostly white people at a civil rights-related event in this mainly white, conservative area. Quite a few in the crowd were teenagers. I can't verify this and don't know what might explain it, but my eyeball estimate was that among the teenagers there were a lot more girls than boys. A noticeable feature at the rally was a strenuous pitch by both organizers and the county police exhorting cops and demonstrators NOT to be antagonists but to accept and welcome each other. The county police chief, speaking at the organizers' invitation, told the crowd, "We're not here to stifle what you do, we're here to protect you while you do it." Various organizers, in their speeches, specifically and repeatedly urged the demonstrators not to bait or provoke the police. Consistent with that message, the police presence was fairly sizable but not overwhelming, and commanders had obviously taken pains to deploy it in the most unprovocative and unthreatening way possible. Officers wore regular uniforms, no helmets or military-style gear. Instead of large, intimidating soldier-like formations, they stood casually in groups of six or eight, irregularly and fairly widely spaced around the perimeter of the rally and along the parade route. Only a few police vehicles were parked on or near the streets where the march took place. On Fort Smallwood road, the main thoroughfare that goes past the school, a few officers rode quite carefully on bicycles alongside the line of marchers, gently keeping them from spreading out too far into the traffic lanes. The bicycle cops, like those standing along the route, spoke courteously and pleasantly to the demonstrators, sometimes waving or giving approving nods. After we turned the corner onto Duvall Highway -- not actually a highway but an ordinary suburban street -- I saw a woman in civilian clothes, possibly a cop or a cop's wife, standing along the street holding a sign that said "Good cops support you." That easygoing civility was reciprocated by the protesters, with no exceptions that I saw. Up and down the column plenty of them were chanting slogans generically denouncing police racism and brutality, but no one I saw directed those chants or aimed any criticism or anger at the officers on the scene. None of the news coverage I've seen reported any such incident, either. One other note to add on this subject: I didn't count the cops I saw, probably was up in the dozens. I wouldn't swear to this but looking back, the number of black cops I remember seeing was... one. Along the route, a fair number of passing cars -- I would say a substantial minority, though not a majority -- slowed as they drove by while drivers honked their horns and passengers rolled down their windows to wave and cheer at the column of marchers. I suppose the ratio of cheers from folks driving past might have been higher after a winning football game. But there were more salutes than I would have guessed in this community. I saw no hostile gestures myself, though I did see news reports later describing one or two folks who shouted Donald Trump's name from their cars as they went past. Walking past those groups of cops, it occurred to me that at this particular moment many police officers must be feeling like victims of negative stereotyping. Across the country, cops who have done nothing wrong and feel they are honestly protecting the public are being judged not by their own character and conduct, but are being tarred with the same brush as the brutal racists and criminals in their tribe. I had not thought of it in exactly these terms before, but looking at the police along the protest route it occurred to me that that is an exact equivalent of the common experience of African Americans, especially young men, who live every day with the fact that the larger society and those looking straight at them personally -- such as cops -- don't see them as who they are, but only as stereotypes drawn from the worst elements of their community. Just as cops are being seen by large numbers of civilians these days. I tried that thought out on a couple of the county officers along the protest route, wondering if any of them might agree or had already made the same comparison. I didn't find any takers, though one sergeant said to me, a little ruefully, "yeah, I get stereotyped. I get stereotyped every day." Obviously there is no way to know where history is going when you're watching it happen. Before that Saturday I would not have guessed that this many white people in this community would be activated in this way by these events. Seeing them there was encouraging, and not in a small way. I wouldn't have guessed that the national white reaction would be as widespread and strong as it's been, either, and that's encouraging too. Presumably we will be getting a better idea in the coming months whether this is the beginning of a true historic sea-change or a strong but passing storm. We can't know the answer to that, but we can know -- and I feel I do know at least a little more clearly than I did before -- what the change may look like, and what we can hope for.  

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175949 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175949 0
It's Time for White Parents to Have The Talk with their Children

Richard Wright, 1939. Photo Carl van Vechten

 

 

Let me explain for the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with the term.  The Talk is the conversation that many African American parents have with their own children – especially their teenage sons—as they come of age.  The goal is to prepare them for encounters with the police, mainly out of a fear that such interactions could prove deadly.  The Talk doesn’t eliminate the possibility of suffering indignities or dangers at the hands of the police – but it does (they hope) increase the odds of surviving them.  Even then, a stop by police can turn deadly, as the family of George Floyd knows all too well.  These confrontations, however, are not just limited to the police.  They can occur with any white person who feels sufficiently empowered by white privilege to challenge a black person thought to be out of place (or out of line), as the viral video of Central Park birder Christian Cooper’s encounter with the white owner of an off-leash dog demonstrates.

 

The Talk isn’t something black children hear only once.  African American parents sometimes repeat it again and again.  And their children may revisit it throughout their adult lives.  Ron Thomas, a faculty member in his sixties at Morehouse College admits that he still periodically has The Talk with himself: “Be pleasant.  Follow instructions.  Move slowly. Keep your hands visible at all times.  Get permission from the officer before you do anything.”

 

African American parents have been having The Talk with their children for more than four centuries.  In slavery times, it imparted information on how to behave in the presence of masters, overseers, slave patrols, and other authority figures.  During the era of Jim Crow, it conveyed necessary knowledge about how to conform to both the segregation laws and the expectations of racial etiquette whenever whites – including white women – were around.  In recent decades, it has generally prepared young black people for encounters with the police.

 

To illustrate the historical incarnation of The Talk during segregation times, I often introduce my classes to the opening vignette in Richard Wright’s powerful autobiographical essay on “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow.”  Wright observed: “My first lesson in how to live as a Negro came when I was quite small.”  He and his mother lived near the railroad tracks in a small Arkansas town.  With his black playmates, he once engaged in a cinder battle with white boys from the other side of the tracks.  In the midst of this adolescent warfare, Wright was hit by a broken milk bottle behind one ear, which opened a deep gash and prompted profuse bleeding.  A neighbor rushed him to a doctor, who inserted three stitches to close the wound.  When his mother returned home from her job as a domestic for a local white family, the young Wright expected comfort and sympathy.  Instead, she beat him on the hips with a barrel stave, taking time occasionally to “impart gems of Jim Crow wisdom” – mainly how to remain deferent around all whites, especially authority figures.  She closed this harsh lesson by telling him that he “ought to be thankful to God as long as [he] lived that they didn’t kill” him.  In her own rough way, Wright’s mother was having The Talk.

 

The Talk is an essential part of African American parenting.  The failure of whites to engage the subject of race with their own children makes this unavoidable.  Chicago journalist Amy Sullivan recently wrote: “I can’t help thinking a big reason so many parents of color need to have The Talk with their children is because so many white parents won’t have a talk with our own.”  A 2019 survey of six thousand parents by the University of Chicago and the Sesame Workshop found this to be the case.  While nearly two-thirds of black parents talk to their children often or occasionally about race, only a quarter of white parents do so.  A 2007 study of white parents demonstrated that they exhibited great discomfort in talking about race with their offspring and generally avoided the subject.  As a result, many white children accept current racial inequalities as normal or fail to think about them at all.

 

Many white parents see race as an extraordinary topic and claim that they wait for the exact right moment to discuss race with their children, instead of integrating it into the normal flow of dialogue.  Again, Sullivan suggests that “if parents stopped waiting for the perfect time to have a conversation about race . . . or privilege, they might recognize that there are organic opportunities that arise nearly every day – unless we shut them down.”

 

For me, the need for white parents to have The Talk with their children is more than a moral or a professional one.  It is also intensely personal.  I have two mixed-race grandchildren.  Times like these cause me concern about what they will face in the future and how their white parents (or I) will prepare them for those encounters.  When Crystal Fleming, the author of How to Be Less Stupid about Race, visited our campus last year, my wife sought her advice about this subject.  Fleming responded that “if you’re talking with them about race, that’s half the battle.”

 

How might American race relations change if white parents began to have The Talk with their children?

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175957 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175957 0
Let Them Eat Weapons: Trump’s Bizarre Arms Race

 

 

In late May of this year, President Donald Trump’s special envoy for arms control bragged before a Washington think tank that the U.S. government was prepared to outspend Russia and China to win a new nuclear arms race.  “The president has made clear that we have a tried and true practice here,” he remarked.  “We know how to win these races and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion.”

This comment was not out of line for a Trump administration official.  Indeed, back in December 2016, shortly after his election, Trump himself proclaimed that the United States would “greatly strengthen and expand” the U.S. government’s nuclear weapons program, adding provocatively:  “Let it be an arms race.  We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”  In a fresh challenge to Russia and China, delivered in October 2018, Trump again extolled his decision to win the nuclear arms race, explaining: “We have more money than anybody else, by far.”

And, in fact, the Trump administration has followed through on its promise to pour American tax dollars into the arms race through a vast expansion of the U.S. military budget.  In 2019 alone (the last year for which worldwide spending figures are available), federal spending on the U.S. military soared to $732 billion.  (Other military analysts, who included military-related spending, put the figure at $1.25 trillion.)  As a result, the United States, with about 4 percent of the world’s population, accounted for 38 percent of world military spending.  Although it’s certainly true that other nations engaged in military buildups as well, China accounted for only 14 percent of global military spending that year, while Russia accounted for only 3 percent.  Indeed, the United States spent more on its military than the next 10 countries combined.

The vast military superiority enjoyed by the United States, however, was not nearly enough for the Trump administration.  In February 2020, the administration introduced a 2021 fiscal year budget proposal that would devote 55 percent of the federal government’s $1.3 trillion discretionary spending to the military.  By 2030, the military proportion of the federal budget would rise to 62 percent. 

Today, about four months later, this top priority for military spending might strike many Americans as bizarre.  After all, a disease pandemic continues to plague the nation (with over 110,000 deaths thus far), a large portion of the economy has collapsed, unemployment has reached the catastrophic levels of the Great Depression, and American cities are torn by strife.  Wouldn’t this be an appropriate time to focus America’s financial resources on public healthcare, educational opportunity, decent housing, and a major jobs program―or, in the words of the U.S. constitution, to “promote the general welfare”?  But Republican officials argue that these and other public assistance measures are “too expensive.”

What are not “too expensive” are the administration’s big ticket weapons programs, which, even by military standards, are of dubious value.  Not surprisingly, Trump continued pouring money into purchasing Lockheed Martin’s F-35 combat aircraft, which, though an operational disaster, had cost U.S. taxpayers $1.4 trillion by 2017.  Another pet project, quickly embraced by Trump, was the newest and costliest U.S. aircraft carrier, delivered with fanfare to the Navy in late May 2017 for $13 billion.  Its only problem was that it had difficulty launching planes from its deck and facilitating their landing.  Yet another very expensive military project is U.S. missile defense.  Originally derided as “Star Wars” when Ronald Reagan began promoting it in the 1980s, it has become an obsession with Republicans, who have managed to secure more than $250 billion in U.S. government funding for it thus far.  Nevertheless, it continues to fail most of its tests against intercontinental ballistic missiles, despite the fact that these tests are heavily scripted.

One of the most cutting-edged of the U.S. government’s current military weapons projects is the hypersonic missile.  Capable of travelling five times faster than the speed of sound (3,800 mph), hypersonic missiles with nuclear warheads are immensely appealing to the military establishments of Russia, China, and the United States.  In this case, too, however, there is a serious problem:  Given the missile’s incredible speed, it produces immense heat while traveling through the atmosphere, thus diverting or destroying it before it reaches its target.  Even so, this weapons project should produce yet another bonanza for Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest arms manufacturer, which has already received $3.5 billion for preliminary work on it.

Of course, the Trump administration has not forgotten about an array of its high tech weapons that do work.  America’s 5,800 nuclear weapons, capable of being launched from land, sea, and air, provide staggering firepower―more than enough to destroy most life on earth.  The current nuclear arsenal, however, is viewed as insufficient by the Trump administration, which is engaged in a vast “modernization” program to rebuild the entire nuclear weapons complex, including new production facilities, warheads, bombs, and delivery systems.  The price tag for this enormous nuclear buildup, which will occur over the next three decades, has been estimated as at least $1.5 trillion.

Against a backdrop of economic and social collapse, plus potential global destruction, the obvious thing to do is to pull out of this immensely costly and bizarre arms race and, instead, foster arms control and disarmament agreements with other nations.  But Trump seems determined to cast off whatever progress in this direction his predecessors have made, scrapping the INF Treaty, withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement, terminating the New START Treaty, and scuttling the Open Skies Treaty.  For a variety of reasons—rewarding giant corporationsgetting reelected, and dominating the world―Trump remains fixated on “winning” the arms race.

When it comes to increasingly desperate Americans, their lives and livelihoods spiraling downward, his message seems to be:  Let them eat weapons!

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175961 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175961 0
Israel and the Palestinians: Architects of Their Own Destruction

 

 

 

As Israel celebrates the 72nd anniversary of its independence, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to simmer as neither side seems to have learned anything from their seven decades-old conflict, and dramatic changes on the ground are readily dismissed. Charges and counter-charges continue unabated as if everything was frozen in time. Israelis and Palestinians remain intensely distrustful of one another and blame the other for the lingering impasse. They now face a fateful crossroad and must reassess their positions. Israel must accept that the Palestinians are not a perpetual mortal enemy and that an agreement can be reached which guarantees its national security. The Palestinians must abandon some of their old and tired demands, which have proven to be fatal to all previous peace negotiations. The Israeli right-wing political parties, led by Likud with Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm, have been indoctrinating the Israelis through fear mongering with considerable success. They maintain that a Palestinian state in the West Bank will inevitably fall under control of Hamas and pose an existential threat to Israel. This argument, which has seeped into many Israelis’ consciousness, especially since the second Intifada began in 2000, is completely meritless. Any peace agreement between the two sides must be based on stringent security arrangements that leave no room for errors and no recourse for the Palestinians. To invoke Israel’s experience with Hamas as a justification for its refusal to allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank is contrived and disingenuous at best. Israel, under ardent right-wing prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, brought about the rise of Hamas in 1987 by supporting its early leaders both financially and politically, because they were ideologically opposed to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Avner Cohen, a former Israeli religious affairs official who worked in Gaza at the time, stated in 2009 that “Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation.” Israel’s strategy, especially during the last 25 years under right-wing governments, was to divide and conquer by splitting the Palestinians into two camps to counter-balance and weaken then-Chairman Yasser Arafat’s hand and prevent the Palestinians from uniting into a single body politic. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to withdraw Israeli forces almost overnight from Gaza in 2005 without any security arrangements with the Palestinian Authority (PA) to ensure long-term security was fatal. As a general, he knew full well that Hamas had greater military capability and was far more deeply entrenched in the Strip than the PA’s security forces. Sharon’s objectives were to deepen the PA-Hamas rift and to rid Israel of the responsibility to provide jobs, healthcare, and economic development to a densely populated Palestinian area that has no strategic importance to Israel. What made matters worse was Israel’s refusal to accept the results of the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, which gave Hamas a clear victory over the PLO. Israel then imprisoned 33 of Hamas’s newly elected parliamentarians, accusing them of belonging to a terrorist organization. Finally, Israel did nothing to stop the fighting between Hamas and the PA which ended up, unsurprisingly, with the defeat of the PA, which sealed Gaza’s fate under Hamas in 2007. The breakout of the Second Intifada (known by Palestinians as the Al-Aqsa Intifada) from 2000 through 2005 was a turning point for the Israelis as well as the Palestinians. The 117 terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Israelis (approximately 260 of whom were soldiers) were convincing enough evidence for many Israelis that the Palestinians are a mortal enemy, particularly under the permanent two-state goals of the 1993 Oslo Accords. However, Israel ignored the fact that the Palestinians in the West Bank also learned a bitter lesson. With over 3,000 casualties (1,500 of whom were not combatants), they did not forget that the second Intifada invited massive Israeli retaliations that destroyed much of the infrastructure, housing, and public institutions built since 1993. To suggest however that Israel is the sole culprit behind the lasting Israeli-Palestinian conflict is wrong and disregards the Palestinians’ continuing violent hostilities against Israel, as well as their repeated missed opportunities to reach a peace agreement. The Palestinians rejected the 1947 UN partition plan, turned down Israel’s offer to exchange most of the territories captured in the 1967 war for peace, refused to join in the 1977 Israeli-Egyptian peace talks, scuttled the nearly-completed peace agreement at Camp David in 2000 over the right of return, and in 2009 failed to seize the opportunity to make peace over disagreements on the extent of the land swap. What made matter worse is the Palestinians’, especially Hamas’s, refusal to recognize Israel and its continuing threats against its very existence while purchasing and manufacturing weapons, especially rockets, to give a tangible meaning to their threats. None of this however, suggests that if and when a Palestinian state is established in the West Bank it will become, as many Israelis say, another Hamastan. The precipitous Israeli withdrawal from Gaza without any security arrangements and Israel’s subsequent treatment of Hamas are what has galvanized the rise of Hamas as a force and a significant player. Thus, only a fool would advocate that Israel should withdraw from the West Bank without the most comprehensive security arrangements that address Israel’s real or perceived security requirements. Whether the Palestinians like it or not, if they want a state of their own, they must realize that their demands from decades ago are no longer applicable or feasible and concede on a number of key sensitive issues. The Palestinians must accept that the right of return of Palestinian refugees be based on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative that called for a “just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.” From my firsthand knowledge, this was understood by its framers to mean compensation and/or resettlement. They must also accept that much of Israel’s presence in the West Bank is permanent, as Israel will not under any circumstances relinquish all the settlements, especially the three blocks along the 1967 borders (although this can be resolved through land swaps, as was agreed upon in previous peace talks). Finally, the Palestinians have to agree that Israel will, at minimum, jointly administer East Jerusalem because of the Jews’ irrevocable historic and religious affinity to the holy city, and because of the interdispersement of Jews and Arabs in East Jerusalem and its surrounding neighborhoods. Israel, on the other hand, must agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state, and to that end it should not annex any more Palestinian land. Approximately 80,000 Israeli settlers residing in a score of small settlements scattered throughout the West Bank must be relocated to allow for a contiguous land mass for the Palestinian state. Israel must also agree to negotiate with Hamas based on mutual recognition to reach a peace agreement jointly with or independently from the PA. Hamas’ leadership knows that Israel is a formidable military power, and no matter how many rockets they accumulate they will be defeated soundly should they ever pose a real danger to Israel. Israel, however, also knows that Hamas in Gaza is there to stay, with frequent violent flare-ups and the terrible cost that Israel must bear to maintain security. Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy stated that “Hamas can be crushed…[but] the price of crushing Hamas is a price that Israel would prefer not to pay.” Their choice is clear: maintain the status quo with the Israeli blockade in place from which the Palestinians in Gaza suffer the most, or reach a peace agreement that will free Israel from the heavy burden and Hamas’ continuing threats that unsettle many Israelis. The complete lack of trust between the PA, Hamas, and Israel, and the existence of radicals in all three camps who still want to have it all, makes it imperative to establish a mutually agreed upon security apparatus that addresses Israel’s security in the West Bank in particular. This is indeed a prerequisite to any peace agreement, which the PA must agree to if they want an independent state of their own. This includes extensive joint patrolling of the Jordan Valley to prevent infiltration of weapons and radicals from Jordan who oppose any agreement with Israel regardless of its nature, sharing intelligence to avert terrorist attacks, and establishing joint economic development projects. These and other joint programs may over time foster trust which has been conspicuously lacking, by creating ongoing shared interest in a collaborative and mutually gainful relationship. Regardless of the violence and regional instability that may ensue, the new Israeli government is planning to embark on further annexation of Palestinian land by the beginning of July—while Trump is still in office and Israel can count on his support. For Trump, such a move by Israel, which is a central part of Trump’s “deal of the century,” will further enhance his political standing in the eyes of American evangelicals, whose support he must have if he stands any chance of winning the next election. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have no real backers. Much of the international community, including their traditional supporters, the Arab states and the EU, are preoccupied with major domestic and regional issues. They are paying little or no attention to the Palestinian problem, and absent a major power which can exert real pressure, Israel will not change its plans as long as the US continues to lend its full support. If Israel proceeds with its plans of annexation and the Palestinians continue to hold onto their dead-end position, the result is all but certain. Continuing and escalating violent conflict will rob the Palestinians of a state of their own for the foreseeable future, which will exact a heavy toll on Israel while making it a pariah state that lives by the gun. Time is of the essence; both sides must carefully reevaluate their positions before it is too late.

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175962 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175962 0
Baby Boomers: Incapable of Greatness  

 

Several years back – about twenty, by my count – I expressed my views in a local newspaper about the manifest failings of my Baby Boomer generation. What I considered then to be revealed truth is now truer than ever.

 

When was the last time you stopped to ponder who’s been running the country for the past two-plus decades – and, moreover, what it all means? If the Trump presidency, especially in the face of crisis and tragedy, has done nothing else, it has pied us in the face. Failure, thy name is Boomer; Boomer, thy name is Failure. We have now truly reached the zenith – make that the nadir – of our achievements. We are suffering from the worst of the worst my generation has to offer this country in the way of “leadership.” 

      

In virtually every walk of American life – government and politics, to be sure, but also business, religion, education, science, and the arts – we Baby Boomers have been in charge, and it’s been an ugly picture. I’m not only not proud of being a Boomer, I’m embarrassed, even ashamed. I could name names, but I don’t need to. Just look around: at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the domestic heartland more generally, or internationally. And If you think you want to call my hand by offering up counter-examples (a Bill Gates, maybe, or an Oprah Winfrey, or a Michael Jordan?), I’m willing to bet your examples are either popular celebrities or, more likely, anonymous “little people” whose consistent good deeds on behalf of the rest of us little people are known only to us. 

 

What distinguishes our generation’s so-called “leaders” is that they owe their standing, such as it is, to nothing more than having occupied positions of leadership, not to actually leading. These individuals, and many more like them, aren’t the brightest or best, nor the most virtuous or competent, among us. Generally, quite the opposite. But they have clearly been the most ambitious; as such, they define who we are and how history will remember (or forget) us.

 

Whatever we Boomers may have been or done in our individual capacities, on the big matters that legacies are made of we have been outclassed, out of our depth, unable to offer the strategic leadership that would leave something of value to posterity. Most importantly, we have shown ourselves singularly incapable of greatness.

 

Maybe there’s something to former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw’s claim that the World War II generation of our parents was “the greatest generation any society has ever produced.” We’ll overlook the fact that they bequeathed us the Cold War, nuclear weapons, and McCarthyism. What defined that generation (and supported the claim to greatness), Brokaw has noted, was sacrifice, selflessness, modesty and, most of all, signal achievement.

 

By contrast, Boomers have, for the most part, never had to make significant sacrifices. We didn’t live through crippling depression, and we didn’t have to wage a grand, glorious, unifying war against regnant evil. Ours was a pointless, prolonged, desultory (and did I say pointless) war that divided the few who served from the many who didn’t and left a permanent scar on the psyche of a generation.

 

Boomers are anything but selfless and modest. In the main, we are totally selfish – self-absorbed, self-indulgent, self-serving. Our most visible members are unrepentantly shameless self-promoters, intent on being someone rather than doing something. Given the choice between mingling with celebrities and bettering the human condition, we’ll take the former every time.

 

During our coming of age, when inexperience and unworldliness should have made us the most modest, we were the most impatient and intolerant. We had all the answers, even if we didn’t understand the questions.

 

Hypercritical then, we are hypocritical now. Those who refused to serve when it was our turn are now among the most strident, hawkish flag wavers around. And most of those who were vehemently anti-establishment then have now sold out to (or bought into) “the system.”

 

Most notably, there’s the matter of achievement. Remember the famous lines from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night? “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.” Given the improbability of being born great and the random infrequency of great events, true greatness is almost all about achievement.

 

So, have we Boomers achieved anything worthy of the ages? The answer, plain and simple, is no. We’ve been too busy getting ahead. Greatness requires vision, courage, and boldness, none of which we have to offer. We’re reformed malcontents turned myopic creatures of convention, perpetuators and exploiters of the status quo, technocrats posing as statesmen. Opportunism is our motive force, rhetoric our métier.

 

From us you’ve not gotten, and won’t get, sweeping new ideas, institutions, or initiatives that can live in perpetuity and inspire future generations. We still don’t have a clue how to get beyond the Cold War, achieve comprehensive health care, reform education, end racism, or rid politics of the corrupting influences of money and incompetence. Surely you don’t expect us then to live up to the rhetoric of our youth and eliminate poverty, injustice, or war, craft an enduring post-millennial ideology, or create futuristic global institutions. What’s in it for us?

 

There’s a verse of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s that is especially relevant here:

 

                                                                Lives of great men all remind us

                                                                We can make our lives sublime,

                                                                And departing, leave behind us,

                                                                Footprints on the sand of time.

 

How regrettable that my generation, oblivious to what it takes to achieve sublimity, seems destined to leave no imprint on the sand of time. One only hopes we have set the bar of achievement so low that succeeding generations will clear it with ease – for the country’s good.

 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175950 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175950 0
What if Trump Refuses to Leave?

 

General James Mattis put it best, observing he had never seen a president order troops to violate constitutional rights until Donald Trump gave the order to brutalize peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square.

But we have never had a fascist in the White House before, and so we need to do some very hard thinking. Donald Trump is a dangerous authoritarian who is testing how far he can go in the use of armed force for his own political ends.

And a show of force may determine the fate of our democracy a few months from now. If Trump loses the election, we should not expect a peaceful transition in accordance with American traditions. We know what we will get from Donald Trump: a tantrum, followed by defiance. He will call the election a “hoax” and then proceed to put the nation through a crisis that will make the past three years look mild by comparison. 

He has talked already of delaying the election and dropped dark hints about how far his powers may extend in a “national emergency.”

He is not . . . normal.

So we should brace ourselves for much more than a delayed or contested election. We need to imagine an end-game without any precedent and figure out now what to do if this scenario becomes a reality next year.

Specifically:

What if Trump just refuses to vacate the White House if Biden legitimately wins?  Who would have the power and authority to remove him using physical force?  Have you ever thought about that?  Has anyone?

It turns out that Joe Biden has been thinking about it, and he just announced that the military will “escort” the defeated incumbent from the White House if it proves to be necessary. Presumably, Biden himself would give the order.

The Constitution stipulates that votes from the Electoral College will be counted by the members of Congress in joint session with the “President of the Senate,” i.e., the vice president of the United States, presiding. Current custom is to have the vice president announce the result of the Electoral College vote.

When adminstrations change (and especially in cases where a president is not re-elected), there are laws on the books that control the transition — laws that have been crafted by successive Congresses. Contingency planning for a possible transition is occurring right now in key government agencies, pursuant to the law.

A Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC) plans and conducts the Inauguration itself as the transition planning moves into high gear between Election Day and Inauguration Day. 

Given what we know of Donald Trump, it is easy to imagine him freezing the process by executive order. A blizzard of tweets about the “hoax” would go out to his followers — ugly, defiant, and hallucinatory, for his mental state is quite tenuous, as mental health professionals have been warning since 2016.

There is no use pretending that any of this couldn’t happen. Remember the way he responded to that question back in 2016 — the question he was asked before Election Day — as to whether or not he would respect the results of the election. His answer was yes — if he won.

He didn’t seem to be joking.

So we need to prepare for this scenario, but in doing so we need to think about specifics: how would the scenario play out between November and January?  And the answer is: chaotically, because Trump’s mental process is chaotic. From the outset, he has made things up at random as he goes along — pouncing on random opportunities for chaos, which he goes on to shape as he pleases as the basis for aggrandizing more power.

He may very well be pondering this overall scenario now, but if this crisis comes to pass, he will conduct himself as he always does: he will test to see how far he can go and how much he can get away with. And this means that the situation could become very dangerous as Inauguration Day approaches. Having given himself no line of retreat, he could have a melt-down that goes beyond anything we have seen: his mental state could plunge over the edge.

Remember how just a few weeks ago he proclaimed he had the “absolute” power to command the nation’s governors as well as the “absolute” power to adjourn both houses of Congress?   Remember how he used the pretext of  “national emergency” to send troops to the border and begin the construction of the border wall in defiance of Congress?  And he got away with it.

And now he threatens to send troops to “dominate” the streets of our cities against the wishes of mayors and governors. Never mind that he quickly backed down, for in a corner he will never back down.

So what would happen if Trump becomes completely deranged and orders troops to seal off the White House if Biden wins the election?   We can take quick comfort in the thought that whoever is serving as defense secretary would see that such orders are not carried out, but . . . who knows?

Even if things never get that far, Inauguration Day would present a very sorry spectacle. Trump would boycott the proceedings and proclaim that he is still president. Perhaps armed members of his “base” would come to town to create a bit of mayhem.

Joe Biden’s solution to the problem would be simple and direct, but another solution could be used if anything goes wrong.

Back in 1973, the Senate Watergate Committee had served some subpoenas on Richard Nixon — the first time in American history for that to happen. The subpoenas were delivered by U.S. Capitol Police to the building next to the White House known in those days as the “Old Executive Office Building,” and White House staffers received them.

One subpoena required the testimony of White House aides and Nixon flatly refused to comply, citing “executive privilege.”  Senator Sam Ervin, the chair of the committee, threatened to send the Senate sergeant-at-arms to the White House, arrest the aides in question, bring them to the bar of the Senate for trial, and compel testimony.

Nixon complied.

So on Inauguration Day, after Biden takes the oath of office, an armed force of U.S. Capitol police could be sent up Pennsylvania Avenue. Backed by the authority of Congress — which has, in addition to the clear constitutional duty to announce the results of the Electoral College vote, the additional power under law to take charge of presidential transitions — these officers would be confronted by officers of the Uniformed Division of the Secret Service at the gates of the White House. 

What would happen then: an armed stand-off?  Probably not, since a new president would have taken the oath and most members of the Secret Service would in all probability keep their wits about them and be sensible — or so we can hope.

Regardless, by any means necessary, the Capitol police would gain entry the White House, apprehend Trump, and then remove him, with a modicum of digity if possible, in a straitjacket if necessary.

The point must be made yet again: in the case of Donald Trump, we are not dealing with a normal individual. 

Mental health professionals warned about this before the 2016 election. After the election, as Trump’s bizarre behavior began to warp the operations of our government, people wondered for a while if the procedure laid down by the 25th amendment to the Constitution — which provides for the removal of a president who is incapacitated — might be used for the sake of our country. But of course that didn’t happen.

Then there came the attempt to remove him through impeachment. Thanks to Mitch McConnell, yet another opportunity to rid this country of the danger was thrown away.

Make no mistake: Donald Trump is very probably delusional. He may believe in every one of his lies. “Hoax” is what he calls every fact he doesn’t like, and we have seen this again and again. And way down deep he may believe it. Through an act of strange alchemy, a spell that he casts, he may talk himself into believing it.

This is dangerous. For the sake of our country, Republican leaders should have long since confronted a terrifying fact: a mentally unbalanced chief executive could start a nuclear war if he succumbs to dementia.

And these Republican leaders have consistently refused — with a smirk, they have refused.

If Trump is re-elected, we must brace ourselves to go right on thinking the unthinkable. We will live in dystopian America, where all bets are off for the duration and our normal way of life will be challenged as never before.

The reign of Nero will then begin in earnest.

What will happen if Trump gives some unconstitutional orders to the military, but this time with power to back them up?   Who will stop him?  Mitch McConnell?  What will happen to commanders and troops who refuse to carry out unconstitutional orders? Court martial and imprisonment?

These are not idle fears, for Trump’s mental illness leads him straight to sociopathological behavior: he  has the mind of a criminal. His contempt for the law has been all too clear, and his behavior will go beyond contempt.

What begins for Donald Trump as evasion of law becomes perversion of the law over time — he seeks to warp the very concept of law as he approaches the brink of megalomania — so that  his every word becomes law.

At the moment he is busily purging inspectors-general, so the law cannot impinge upon his actions or those of his henchmen.

He is part of a movement — global, and launched years ago by Vladimir Putin — to exalt the full exercise of power by the powerful, to hammer home the principle that those in possession of power should do whatever they want, seize whatever they want, hurt whomever they want, and carry on in any way they want as a matter of right.

Trump cannot be convicted of crimes — not yet — he cannot be arrested — not yet — and his power may very well continue.

It is time to do worst-case thinking in this very dark year as we ponder the state of our democracy, while we have it.

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175948 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175948 0
Roundup Top Ten for June 12, 2020

Using MLK to Quell Outrage Distorts His Legacy

by Jeanne Theoharis

King has much to say about our contemporary moment, about the persistence of police abuse and the power of disruption, which may account, at least partly, for why this aspect of his politics is considerably less recognized.

 

Richmond’s Confederate Monuments Were Used to Sell a Segregated Neighborhood

by Kevin M. Levin

The Confederate monuments dedicated throughout the South from 1880 to 1930 helped do the work of justifying segregation and relegating African Americans to second-class status. Monument Avenue was unique in this regard as part of a speculative real estate development (for whites only, naturally).

 

 

How the US Government Sold the Peace Corps to the American Public

by Wendy Melillo

Given the growing counterculture movement in the early 1960s, the government feared that few young Americans would be motivated to join the Peace Corps by a message that they’d be volunteering to help to fight communism. 

 

 

A ‘Good’ Protester is Just a ‘Bad’ Protester in the Misty Rearview Mirror

by David S. Meyer

The comparison drawn between "good" and "bad" forms of protest usually draws on oversimplified historical comparisons and is often intended to justify ignoring the substantive problems animating protests. 

 

 

Don't Worry about "Rewriting History": It's Literally What We Historians Do

by Charlotte Lydia Riley

People have always reinterpreted and re-evaluated the past. Every time a statue comes down, we learn a little more.

 

 

George Floyd’s Death Is a Failure of Generations of Leadership

by Elizabeth Hinton

To begin to dismantle the socioeconomic conditions that led to Mr. Floyd’s premature death, we can look to the principles of community representation and grass-roots empowerment that steered the early development of Johnson’s domestic program.

 

 

Changing Hearts and Minds Won’t Stop Police Violence

by Matthew Delmont

White Americans have embraced approaches to fighting racism that involve individual attitudes and interpersonal courtesy while ignoring calls to substantively redistribute power and resources and accept true equality of citizenship.

 

 

What the U.S. Can Learn from the History of Northern Ireland

by Andrew Sanders

British soldiers deployed to Northern Ireland in 1969 in an operation intended to be a temporary action to quell sectarian violence and inflammatory mob and police attacks on Catholic civil rights advocates. They remained until 2007, a lesson that American politicians should heed. 

 

 

#Ladygraham Went Viral — And Not Just Because Of Lindsey Graham’s Politics

by Thomas Balcerski

Behind the gossip about Graham and others lay the remnants of a stubbornly pernicious idea: the presumption of heterosexuality for those in positions of power. 

 

 

Black Lives Matter Now Represents America’s Best Ambassadors

by Vivien Chang

Although America's official commitment to equality and justice has been uneven, its social movements for freedom have represented the best of the nation to the world. 

 

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Fri, 03 Jul 2020 11:11:18 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175945 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175945 0