History News Network - Front Page History News Network - Front Page articles brought to you by History News Network. Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2 (http://framework.zend.com) https://historynewsnetwork.org/site/feed Builders or Purgers? Presidents and Parties in American History

Rep. Liz Cheney found out that when it comes to the party leadership presidents exercise, Donald Trump prioritized loyalty (and other Republicans followed). 

 

 

 

While there is no constitutional or statutory authorization for a president to become the leader of a political party, history and common sense have led to a precedent by which the incumbent president is recognized by the party (an extra-constitutional, voluntary association), as the titular head of the party. Even before the new republic had clearly defined political parties, factions of like-minded politicians joined together to better move or lubricate the system of separate institutions and shared powers that the Founders created.

And while most of the Framers feared the rise of parties and factions – President George Washington devoted part of his farewell address to a warning of the “baleful effects of the spirit of party generally” – parties grew organically out of the interests and conflicts of the times, and were as inevitable as they were dangerous. “The spirit of faction,” as James Madison noted in Federalist No. 10, would inevitably emerge as an outgrowth of human nature. So how best to control the mischief of factions and the spirit of party? And how best to bring into sync the separated institutions of the Presidency and the Congress so that the business of government could be conducted?

The Framers deliberately made it difficult to move the system of checks and balances and presented the new government with more roadblocks than avenues to cooperate, and therefore, ways had to be found to join together what the Framers separated. The political party was one such extra-constitutional mechanism. The link between the Congress, located on Jenkins Hill, and the executive housed over a mile down the street on Pennsylvania Avenue, had to be joined if legislation was to be passed, so each institution needed a way to grease the wheels of government and join the separated institutions together. Early presidents such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson used the party; others such as John Adams were more often used by the party. It became clear in the early days of the republic, that parties were important levers of executive power. But these levers had to be made to work; the president had to invest time and capital into making the party a useful tool for leadership.

Today, political parties seem synonymous with democracies. Where there is democracy, where there are open, free, and fair elections, there are parties. Parties help organize the voters, develop coherent policy positions, offer alternatives, channel behavior into constructive avenues, develop organizational as well as financial resources, serve as labels or cues for voters, and help lubricate government action.

And yet, parties can be corrupting agents. They can organize to destroy as well as build. Some parties seek to dismantle democracies and replace them with one-party autocracies. Still others attempt to crush the opposition as a means of political takeover. Some try to put their thumbs on the scale in elections, and others use government resources to buy votes or unfairly influence elections.

PRESIDENTS AS PARTY LEADERS

Every new president is recognized as the leader of the party. Astute and creative presidents find ways to use the party to help them govern. Some presidents downplay their role as party leader only to find that when push comes to shove, they desperately need party support. Eschewing party leadership is really not an option. But different presidents find different ways to lead the party. Some take a very active role, telling the party organization (which in the U.S. is separate from the executive branch) who will serve as chair of the party, and dictating to the party organization what official party policy shall be. Some actively raise money for the party (money that is often not bound by the same financing laws as a president’s re-election committee, for example), and direct the party to give money to certain candidates for the House and Senate races. If, as former California legislative leader Jesse Unruh said, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics” then whoever has his hand on the money spigot holds vast power. Often a president will dangle money over an errant legislator in an effort to influence their vote on a key piece of legislation the president supports. Just as powerfully, a president may cut funding for a legislator who is too independent of president and party.

President can also do favors for legislators that can range from the mundane (getting a picture taken with a key donor) to the significant (directing that a new military base will be built in Congressman X’s district). Often, a visit to the legislator’s district is enough to persuade a legislator to vote with the president. Even a mention of a particular legislator in a key presidential address (the State of the Union speech is a plum mention) can work wonders. Thus, while many legislators have their own well-developed fundraising systems, and are not dependent on the president to raise money, there are other favors that presidents use to win votes.

 

PRESIDENTS AS PARTY BUILDERS

It is in a president’s interest to build the party. After all, the single most important factor contributing to presidential success in Congress is the number of members in each chamber of the president’s party. There is a clear correlation between presidential success in Congress and party control of the Congress. That is one of the reasons why presidents tend to do quite well in years one and two of a term, when their party usually commands a majority in Congress but years three and four are more barren of landmark legislation. President Obama had a record-breaking percentage of success in passing his legislation in his first two years in office when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, but when the Democrats got “shellacked” (as the President said after the 2010 mid-term election), his next two years – facing opposition control of the House – were nearly devoid of major legislative victories. This same pattern played out in President Trump’s single term in office. Presidents who have a majority of their party members in Congress win at a higher rate than when there is divided government. Thus there is a powerful incentive for president’s to build the party. Easier said than done.

Presidents often believe that their efforts at party building require too much time, energy and the spending of scarce political capital to get a significant payoff, so they jettison the role of party builder. But they do so at their own peril.  Democrats, as a generalization, spend less time at party building efforts than Republicans. President Obama, for example, did little to build the party, except when his name was on the ballot.

There is really only a limited amount a president can do to build up the party. Consistently sound politics can help, but only at the margins. Party preferences are fairly fixed, and it usually takes a “transformational realignment” to dramatically change party makeup. Often the result of exogenous factors such as the 1929 Great Depression, where the solid Republican nation became majority Democratic as support for the Republican party crumbled and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal drew voters to the Democratic party.  Dramatic events can lead to dramatic party shakeups. This New Deal realignment was fairly stable for forty years.

A realignment that was the result of non-exogenous forces can be seen in Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” where in the late 1960s, Nixon recognized that the Democrats had orchestrated a self-inflicted wound when they openly supported the Civil Rights Movement. President Lyndon Johnson fully realized that in supporting civil rights legislation he was championing a worthy cause but a political deal-breaker. Southern Senators – hoping to extend the life of the Solid Democratic South - went to the White House to plead with LBJ, warning him that if he continued with his whole-hearted support for civil rights legislation, it would doom the party in the South. Johnson openly acknowledged that what he was doing was political suicide for Democrats in the South, but nonetheless believed it was the right thing to do for the nation. Johnson’s commitment to racial justice was Nixon’s opening to exploit racism in the South, and over the next twenty years, the once solid Democratic South became the solidly Republican South. The racial divide in the United States led to a major party realignment.

 

PRESIDENTS AS PARTY PURGERS

If you can’t beat them, defeat them. If a legislator is too independent of party and not loyal to the incumbent and his legislative agenda, there is very little a president can do. Legislators often have their own base of support, and usually their own sources of financing campaigns.

Ambitious presidents, those who have grand legislative schemes or self-aggrandizing motives, may then search for other ways to gain compliance. One way is to purge the party of members who do not exhibit sufficient loyalty to president and party.

In 1918, Woodrow Wilson tried to defeat several Southern senators who voted against his declaration of war as well as Wilson’s efforts to implement war policy. Wilson was effective in several cases, in part because Wilson’s effort to persuade voters that support for the president and the country in times of war was so important that the selected legislators were weakening the war effort. Plus, Wilson appealed to southern voters as one southerner to another. This undermined efforts to claim “outside interference” and made it easier for southern Democrats to go against their local politicians. Wilson invested a good deal of political capital into his purge effort, and while he got some favorable results, the overall impact on presidential legislative success was marginal.

FDR tried to do this in the 1930s as well, and while Roosevelt was a gifted politician, he was unable to get rid of errant legislators and actually hurt himself with many party faithful who thought FDR was going too far and demanding too much. He devoted one of his Fireside Chats (June 24, 1938) to efforts to highlight the lack of support some Southern Democrats had been giving him, and he tried to remake the party candidate-by-candidate. But voters in the South liked it that their Senators were putting the brakes on FDR, and Roosevelt’s efforts failed miserably (see; Susan Dunn, THE PURGE, 2012).

Another effective effort at party purging can be seen in Donald Trump’s efforts to remake the Republican Party in his image. While Wilson and FDR had clear policy disagreements in mind as they tried to purge legislators who were voting against the president’s policies, Trump’s was an almost completely personal appeal.  Most presidents seek party support to pass legislation, Trump tried to realign the Republican Party to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. As president, Trump was obsessed with loyalty to himself personally, as Jonathan Karl makes clear in his 2021 book, BETRAYAL. Trump had few policy priorities, but craved personal devotion. A number of Republicans – with Liz Cheney being but the most prominent – bucked Trump, both during and after his presidency. Trump would have no part of it. He set out to punish disloyal Republicans and mete out revenge for slights and insults.

Trump’s key means for purging the party were 1) Tweet Blasts; and 2) “primarying” (or threatening to primary) those who were not devoted to Trump. Because Trump had a loyal base, mainstream Republicans lived in fear that in crossing Trump in even the smallest of ways, they would face a tweet storm from Trump blasting and insulting them. Also effective was Trump’s using his primary endorsement as a tool of control. Anyone who crossed Trump knew they were likely to face a well-financed rival in the Republican primary, and also face the wrath of angry members of the party whom Trump encouraged to back a rival. As long as Trump held sway over a significant portion of the party, with enough voters who would follow his directions and vote against an incumbent, Trump held the party in fear of crossing him. For Trump, the cult of personality was more important than the future of the party, and so all efforts were made to personalize the party and make loyalty to Trump the requirement.

Machiavelli, in THE PRINCE, asked if it was better for the Prince to be loved or feared. Better both, if possible, but if you had to choose one, it was better to be feared.  Within the Republican Party, Trump was loved by a portion of the party (his base) and feared by the mainstream members of the party. These factors proved to be powerful tools in the hands of Trump. This did not add to the overall support of the Republican Party, and probably hurt more that it helped in general elections and with voters who were moderates or independents, but that was not the point. Trump wanted loyalty – at any and all costs.

Trump’s hostile takeover of the party in 2016 was followed by a bold attempt to make the party an extension of Trump himself as he personalized politics to a degree rarely found in America. It is as yet unclear what the long-term consequences of personalizing the party will be, and what a post-Trump Republican party will look like, but what is clear is that Trump thoroughly remade the party in his image, and he did so in a relatively short period of time. But while he was successful in the 2022 mid-terms at primarying several errant legislators, the long-range effect of getting rid of moderate Republicans was that in several of the races in the general election, Trump-selected candidates proved too extreme for non-Republican voters, and the effort may have backfired on Trump.

 

CONCLUSION

All presidents have to navigate the complex world of party politics. Some employ an “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it” approach, but the more effective presidents approached party management with a clear strategic orientation. Both party-building and party-purging can be costly and risky. Blame-averse leaders tend to take a hands off approach; ambitious presidents sometimes roll the dice. Are the rewards worth the risks?

From the start, political parties played a significant role in the governing of America. And presidents have found that while the care and feeding of the party may be frustrating, time-consuming, and at times counter-productive, at their best parties can dramatically increase a president’s chances of success. All great presidents were in one way or another, masters of party politics. Over sixty years ago Clinton Rossiter summed up the importance of parties in governing a complex democracy, when he wrote in PARTY AND POLITICS IN AMERICA (1960):

            No America without democracy, no democracy without politics, no

            politics without parties, no parties without compromise and moderation.

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Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184063 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184063 0
Allan Lichtman on the State of Democracy, the Second Amendment, and More

 

 

Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.       Representative John Lewis, New York Times (2020).

 

Twice-impeached former Republican President Donald J. Trump, along with his devoted allies, again and again challenged the American democracy imagined by the framers of the Constitution and by those who through our history have revered the rule of law. He found weaknesses in our system of government, and even broke through some of the most significant safeguards for our democracy in stunning breaches including abuses of power that the framers could not have foreseen.

No other president has transgressed so many of our institutional norms. No other president has rejected the results of a free and fair election and then incited mob violence to end democracy. And Trump and his followers, including many in his complicit major political party, persist and remain a threat to the future of our democratic republic. At this writing, he has just become the focus of a federal investigation of possible violations of the Espionage Act and other laws on government documents.

In his sobering and deeply researched new book 13 Cracks: Repairing American Democracy after Trump (Rowman & Littlefield), renowned historian Professor Allan J. Lichtman recounts how Trump exploited the most vulnerable weaknesses of our democracy. As he details Trump’s many abuses, he also provides detailed historical context on challenges to democracy from other American leaders.

Professor Lichtman shares his profound concern for the fate of our democracy. In the introduction to 13 Cracks, he stresses the words of legendary civil rights champion Representative John Lewis who wrote that democracy is “not a state” but “an act,” an act that requires renewal with each American generation.

American democracy has always been fragile and now—after four years of Trump and his complicit party—it seems dangerously close to slipping away, Professor Lichtman contends. As he notes, the Economist’s highly regarded Democracy Index in 2020 ranked the US only twentieth-fifth of democratic nations and described our country as a “flawed democracy.”

And in this cautionary book, Professor Lichtman not only assesses the history and state of our democracy, but he also advances detailed proposals to shore up our institutions at this fraught time. His remedies to strengthen some of the current “loopholes” in our policies and laws consider problems from presidential overreach, nepotism, conflicts of interest, presidential lies, and lack of transparency, to voter suppression, presidential transitions, foreign interference in elections, and protecting election results.

In another equally powerful recent book, Repeal the Second Amendment: The Case for a Safer America (St. Martin’s Press), Professor Lichtman presents a carefully researched account of the history of American gun ownership and legal developments on the right to keep and bear arms. In addition, he chronicles the horrific human cost of gun violence in America now as more than 100 citizens die each day from gunshot wounds. And he focuses on the efforts of the gun lobby, particularly the National Rifle Association (NRA), along with gun makers and rightwing politicians, to oppose any reasonable provisions that would make Americans safer from gunshot trauma. He argues that meaningful legal measures to protect Americans from the scourge of epidemic gun violence will come only with repeal of the Second Amendment.  

Professor Lichtman may be most well-known for predicting the outcome of every presidential election since 1984 using the system he developed and described in his book The Keys to the White House. As a Distinguished Professor of History at American University, Professor Lichtman focuses on American political history and quantitative analysis and history. He has been a recipient of AU’s Scholar/Teacher of the year award.

In addition to the previously noted titles, some of his other acclaimed books include White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; FDR and the Jews (with Richard Breitman), winner of the National Jewish Book Award Prize in American Jewish History; and The Case for Impeachment. Professor Lichtman also has lectured in the US and internationally and has provided commentary for major US and foreign media networks as well as leading newspapers and magazines. And he has served as an expert witness in more than 100 civil rights and voting rights cases.

Professor Lichtman generously discussed questions about his work, our current political situation, his recent books, and more in a lively recent conversation by telephone.

Robin Lindley: Congratulations Professor Lichtman your recent work. It's an honor to talk with you today. Before getting to your books 13 Cracks and Repeal the Second Amendment, I’d like to hear about your sense of our political situation today. You’re renowned for your predictions of presidential elections since 1984 using the 13-key election prognostication process described in your book The Keys to the White House. Do you have a prediction yet for 2024?

Professor Allan Lichtman: It’s still a little bit early and I don't have a solid prediction, but I will tell you that, as always and just like it was in 2016, the conventional wisdom is all wrong. The conventional wisdom is saying, oh my God, Biden is unelectable. He should never run again. That couldn't be more wrong.

One of my keys to the White House is incumbency. So, if Biden doesn't run, Democrats lose the incumbent key. The second key is that there will be a huge internal party fight for the incumbent party if Biden doesn't run. So absent Biden, you're already down two keys before you even start. And it only takes six keys to count out the incumbent party.

What's so wrong with the punditry is that it's off the top of the head. It's not based on any grounded theory of how American presidential elections really work. It's just based on the whims of the moment.

Robin Lindley: Thanks for those insights. Do you have any thoughts on vice president for 2024?

Professor Allan Lichtman: None. It doesn't matter. There is no key for vice president.

And another thing I've said in commenting on current politics and the upcoming election is yes, we have inflation and that's sad because inflation affects everyone. But I also say several things about that. One, it's a worldwide problem and not something that's unique to the United States. Two, it's not caused by Biden. Presidents don't control the economy. Three, Republicans have no answer to inflation. So, my elevated view of the next election is you can vote for the Democrats and you may well have inflation, but you also have your democracy, or you can vote Republican and you still may well have inflation and you're going to lose your democracy.

Robin Lindley: Thank you. And congratulations on your new book 13 Cracks on tangible ways to clean up the political mess left by Trump. You advance programs and policies for saving or restoring democracy after the persistent election denial from the right and the violent insurrection on January 6, 2021. The January 6th Select Committee is making lots of news recently. What’s your sense of where the committee's going, what it's done so far, and what the justice department may do?

Professor Allan Lichtman: I think that, even though they don't have prosecutorial powers like Mueller did, the January 6th committee has made up for the multiple sins of the Mueller investigation and the Mueller Report.

I thought the Mueller investigation and report was one of the great disappointing moments in American history. He did an awful job of investigating. An in-person interview of Donald Trump was left out. A lot of other key witnesses were let off the hook. And he wrote a report that that reached no clear conclusions, and that William Barr could spin as he pleased.

The opposite is true of the January 6th committee. They've done amazing research. They have brought out all kinds of information that none of us, even those of us who follow things, knew about. And, as I often put it, they brought it down to where the goats can get it. They made it a comprehensible, clear, compelling presentation. And everybody says, oh, all the views are baked in. No one's going to move. That’s just another one of these off the top of a head, miserable punditry responses that unwise people give. Not drastically, but our politics are so closely divided that even a very small movement could make a difference.

And sometimes you get big movements. In Kansas who would ever have imagined even a month ago that 59 percent of the voters in a primary, which usually draws a Republican turnout in a Republican state, would vote against an abortion ban.

And so, I do think maybe the January 6th committee has not moved huge numbers of voters, but it has moved some, and that makes a huge difference. And they may well give Merrick Garland a basis for prosecuting. I don't just mean an evidentiary basis. I mean politically turning up heat on this guy so he gets off his duff and actually does something.

Robin Lindley: I appreciate your take on the Select Committee. In 13 Cracks, you share ideas on retaining and restoring our democracy. What do you think is most important for protecting elections and for preventing another attack on the Capitol or similar violence?

Professor Allan Lichtman: Number one, and currently they may be doing this, is rewriting of the Electoral Count Act to make it crystal clear. It’s impossible to read the in 1887 Act. So again, bring it down to where the goats can get it. It must be so clear that no one can do any of the things that Donald Trump wanted to do, such as have Mike Pence unilaterally change the election results, or submit fake electors from a legislature to overturn the verdict of the people.

In the same spirit, a new law should make it crystal clear that state legislatures are not unilateral powers that can just declare winners of elections. They have to follow their own laws and their own constitutions, and they have to be checked by courts. That's the American way. Legislative bodies were never granted total power over everything and yet the Supreme Court is taking up a case that could well yield that result.

Robin Lindley: Then how do you deal with an extremist majority on the Supreme Court? Do you have thoughts on proposals such as expanding the court or imposing term limits?

Professor Allan Lichtman: I’m not in favor of expanding the Court. I am in favor though of some way of term limiting justices.

And there are ways, by law, to restrict the ability of the courts to take away fundamental rights. Whatever you may think about abortion, the Dobbs decision is the only time in the history of the country going all the way back to the founding that the Court has taken away a constitutional right. That never happened before

Robin Lindley: It’s ironic that the Supreme Court struck down a New York state concealed weapons law in the Bruen case this year and shortly after decided in Dobbs to leave matters of abortion up to the states.

Professor Allan Lichtman: Yes. That's just remarkable hypocrisy. They want the women's reproductive decisions to be decided by the democratic process of the state, but the states can't try to protect their citizens with gun laws. Oh no. That's beyond the province of the states.

You really put your finger on a fundamental contradiction. Unfortunately, our politics today is result-driven and nothing is more indicative of that than the interpretation of the Second Amendment. As I point out in Repeal the Second Amendment, Clarence Thomas has said the framers made a clear decision to constitutionally protect the individual right to keep and bear arms. That is one of the most historically inaccurate statements I've ever heard from a serious leader in the United States. Not a single individual of the many thousands involved in drafting, adopting or ratifying the Second Amendment ever said it protected an individual right.to keep and bear arms. None of them. Not one.

With the Heller decision [finding an individual Second Amendment right], Scalia couldn't turn to any original contemporary evidence to support that decision. That's why distinguished conservatives like Judge Posner, maybe the most distinguished conservative jurist in the country, blasted Scalia. Posner said that Scalia did the same thing he accused liberals of doing by reading his own values and politics into the Constitution.

In the decision overturning Roe, Alito said the Court had to see if abortion rights are embedded within the tradition of the country. It won’t do that of course with the Second Amendment. But if you look at tradition, nothing is clearer than, of the state constitutions adopted just before the Second Amendment, only one establishes an individual right to keep and bear arms. All of the others, every single one of them, either is silent on arms or makes it clear that the right is tied to a militia and the common defense.

And finally, it doesn't cast a great light on the framers. Don’t forget that a lot of them were slaveholders, including James Madison, the author of the Second Amendment, and so were thousands of congressmen and state politicians who adopted or ratified the Amendment. Do you believe that, for one moment, slaveholders would have voted for an Amendment that gave Black people a right to keep and bear arms? Not for a second, but the reason they could swallow the Second Amendment was because it was tied to the militia. And guess who was banned from the militia? Black people. I think that is an irrefutable argument. I don't see how you could deny that.

Robin Lindley: You touch on history professor Carol Anderson's argument in her book on this troubling amendment, The Second. She traces the history of the Second Amendment, as you do, but with an emphasis on how it's been used since its inception to oppress black people. And then you also have the history of gun violence against Native Americans.

Professor Allan Lichtman: I don't disagree. That's not the thrust of my book, although I do touch on that. But no question, whites were keeping arms from Blacks. From the very beginning, who was armed in the state militias? The state slave patrols. So the whites got all the weapons and blacks were left out.

Robin Lindley: Yes. Legislation in several states prevented Black people from possessing guns. And state militias of white men would search the homes of Black people and, if guns were found, the militia would immediately confiscate them.

Professor Allan Lichtman: Right. And since there was no recognized right to bear arms individually, except for the militia, which Blacks couldn't join, there was nothing to stop state militias, which were often all-white slave patrols, from confiscating guns. And this reverberates, of course, into Reconstruction. Even when the slaves were free, they were not armed. They may have had few old shotguns or fowling pieces, but they were outgunned by the Ku Klux Klan and other white vigilante groups.

Robin Lindley: The title of your book, Repeal the Second Amendment, is quite provocative. Were you the target of harsh, angry pushback on the book?

Professor Allan Lichtman: No. And I was inspired by the late Justice John Paul Stevens who, by the way, was appointed by a Republican president. He wasn’t a crazy liberal. He wasn't at all. He was kind of a Justice Kennedy or a Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a swing vote. He wrote an op-ed piece advocating for repeal of the Second Amendment. And I saw that, and I said, Wow.

I have to tell you, a lot of my good liberal friends told me not to write the book and said, hey, you're playing right into the hands of the NRA that’s been claiming that the gun control movement really wants to get rid of the Second Amendment. And here's my response. I called it the book I had to write. For decades, gun control advocates have been saying we support the Second Amendment but, as we've seen, that plays right into the hands of the gun rights advocates and it provides no basis for building a real gun control movement, despite overwhelming public support for gun control.

And, at the time I wrote the book, it had been almost 30 years since there had been any national gun control legislation with the ban on semiautomatic weapons, and it even had been repealed. So ground was lost and, I argue, the game has to be changed. We cannot keep saying, we support the Second Amendment, particularly when the gun advocate interpretation of the Second Amendment is a hoax. I call it the greatest hoax in the history of the country.

I also made it very clear in my book that, until the 2008 Heller decision, the Second Amendment was never interpreted by the courts to establish an individual right to keep and bear arms. And, just because you repeal the Second Amendment doesn't mean you confiscate guns any more than when you don't have an amendment on automobiles means you confiscate automobiles. That's never been part of the history of the country. It just means you open the door to reasonable gun control like we've already had.

And Clarence Thomas and company have banned this gun permit law in New York State. So, there are six states with similar laws, and the death rate from firearms in those states was 6.6 per 100,000 compared to 16.3 per 100,000 for the remaining 44 states. In other words, the death rate is two and a half times, not two and a half percent, but two and a half times higher in the states without permit laws than it is in the states with permit laws. In other words, these measures work. And what's the harm of them if they're cutting down on deaths and injuries. This is another fundamental flaw of the NRA and gun advocate movement, which by the way, is heavily financed by the gun industry, which heavily advertises to young people and people wanting to be semi-soldiers and all of that.

Robin Lindley: Were you ever threatened because of your call to repeal the Second Amendment?

Professor Allan Lichtman: No, I'm kind of surprised. Maybe three were one or two bad reviews in Amazon, but I was expecting a torrent of scathing, one-star reviews. I didn't get that many maybe because my book is measured, and I mean that in a positive way. I don't mean it’s dumbed down, but it's not a polemic. It's a carefully reasoned historical and contemporary analysis. Everything I say is backed up by history and fact and figures, and not denouncing gun advocates. I'm certainly not even criticizing people who own guns by any stretch of the imagination.

But you have gun advocates in the gun industry, and what are they telling us? America should be the safest country in the world among other advanced democracies. Plus, we have the greatest access to guns. So, by their logic, we should not be compared to Guatemala, but compared to other democracies. We should be by far the safest country in the world. And of course, the opposite is true.

You look at the most comparable, G-Seven nations plus Australia, and you are 20 times, not 20 percent, but 20 times more likely to be murdered by a gun in the US than in these other countries that have gun controls. In Japan, which arguably has the tightest gun controls in the world and has about a third of our population, you measure gun murders in the single digits as opposed to more than 15,000 here in the US.

Robin Lindley: The statistics on gun deaths and injuries are heartbreaking. Since you've written the book, we've had this year a record number of mass murders with guns and some of the bloodiest incidents were with assault weapons that use devastating high-velocity ammunition and have become deadly weapon of choice. I just learned that, in the last ten years, gun manufacturers have made more than a billion dollars in profits just from selling assault weapons like the notorious AR-15.

Professor Allan Lichtman: So that's their big market now. In researching the book, one thing I looked at was gun magazines. And you can see over time how these magazines and the advertising has evolved from all guns are dangerous, but the guns were designed for target shooting or hunting, not mass killing, and now that’s migrated to and is almost entirely dominated by guns designed for nothing more than mass killing.

Robin Lindley: I wonder if banning high velocity ammunition, as opposed to the weapons, might be effective.

Professor Allan Lichtman: That would be fine. That would really help a lot. But there’s been a lot of proposals like that and it just hasn't happened. The ideal would be to ban both, but the gold standard is the state gun permit laws that confirm 6.6 gun deaths per thousand, including suicides, murders, and accidents, in states with permit laws versus 16.3 deaths per thousand in states without those laws. That is one of the most compelling statistics I've ever seen.

Robin Lindley: The argument that gun violence is a public health epidemic intrigues me. It seems very powerful and compelling that a right to bear arms must be balanced against the public interest in safety and health. And we see here that virtually unlimited access to guns endangers safety and health of citizens daily—and much more so than in other democracies. Shouldn’t public health be the paramount consideration?

Professor Allan Lichtman: Yes. As I have said, that balance is great. And no one's talking about confiscating people's guns. No one's talking about taking guns away when you go to the gun range and do target shooting or taking away your gun to hunt.

We're talking about reasonable laws that keep guns from getting into the wrong hands and reasonable laws that prevent the proliferation of firearms that have no purpose other than to kill people in the mass shootings.  And the injuries inflicted by these firearms are just horrific. I talk about that, and I share some medical testimony.

It's just barbaric that we allow this carnage, and what's the balance on the other side? What is the value of anyone having such a combat gun other than law enforcement or the military? None. You don't need an assault weapon to hunt. You don't need one to target shoot. You don't need to protect yourself with mass-killing weapons.

Robin Lindley: The purpose of those military-style weapons is to kill as many people as possible in a short time. These are combat weapons and their high-velocity bullets cause devastating injuries by shredding and bursting internal organs, shattering and splintering bones, and leaving cavernous wounds. Even survivors are left with horrific injuries and often lives of disability.

Professor Allan Lichtman:  Absolutely. And even those who are not directly injured suffer trauma too. Even if you're one of the kids who wasn't hit by a bullet, you’re traumatized for the rest of your life by being at Parkland or Sandy Hook, or even knowing kids who went to Parkland or Sandy Hook. Come on.

Robin Lindley: You have kids very worried about even attending school now.

Professor Allan Lichtman: Yes. Kids are afraid to go to school. Imagine that in the United States of America in the 21st century. And to what end?

Robin Lindley: Mental health seems a red herring in the gun debate. Other nations have mentally ill people yet function without daily mass shootings. And most of these mass murderers with assault weapons in the US don't have documented mental health problems before they shoot and kill lots of other people, including children in some cases.

Professor Allan Lichtman: A complete red herring. You will never, ever reduce gun violence by focusing on mental health. There are other great reasons to focus on mental health, and I'm all for it, but it's a red herring. It's a distraction. All these other countries have mental health issues comparable to the United States.

We are not a unique a country awash with mental health problems. But the difference is gun control, not mental health. Plus, the vast overwhelming majority of people with mental health problems, 99.9 percent, don't go out and shoot someone. There are a few extreme cases but, except in those most extreme cases, there's no predictive relationship between mental health and gun violence. And, most of the worst perpetrators of gun violence didn't have a history of mental health issues, like guy in Las Vegas who I think perpetrated the worst ever shooting massacre [leaving 58 dead and almost 500 with gunshot wounds] at a music concert, and he had no history of mental health problems. He was a perfectly decent stable citizen.

Robin Lindley: Yes. And gun advocates stress the need to arrest criminals, yet most of these gun-wielding mass killers were not criminals before their mass shooting incidents.

Professor Allan Lichtman: Yes. They're not criminals. That's right.

Robin Lindley:  Your book clarified for me the role of the NRA. You describe the “iron triangle” of the gun lobby, the gun industry, and politicians. I think people are confused about what the NRA is, and what the gun lobby is, and what the role of the gun producing industry is.

Professor Allan Lichtman: In his farewell address, President Eisenhower talked about the military-industrial complex as posing an enormous threat to America. And the military-industrial complex is marked by the iron triangle of the gun makers or the weapons makers of all kinds, and the military, and the politicians. The politicians benefit, of course, by having military contracts in their districts or states and by touting their support for the military.

I think I'm the first one to point out that there is also a firearms-industrial complex. It consists of course of the gun makers who, as you point out, enjoy enormous profits by selling these military weapons that have no purpose other than to kill people quickly and efficiently. And they are tied to the gun lobby. The NRA is not the only part of the lobby, which includes Gun Owners of America and others, but the NRA is the primary lobby and the other groups are normally tied by a commonality of interest. They're tied by their financial interest in that the gun makers are contributors to the gun lobby as represented by the NRA, which in turn enriches the gun makers.

I have a whole section in the book on how top NRA executives prosper while stepping on its ordinary employees. And then in turn, the NRA’s financial contributions have a tremendous influence on the politicians, particularly conservative Republican politicians who benefit from the support of the gun lobby and their members.

Robin Lindley: You trace the history and evolution of the NRA. It seems that the stranglehold of the NRA on the Republican Party goes back to the days of Nixon, more than a half-century ago, with the increasing extremism of the GOP and its Southern strategy that embraced racist tropes. And the NRA stranglehold has become increasingly strong.

Professor Allan Lichtman: Yes. Here's what's really going on, and again, no one else has discovered this. As I write in Repeal the Second Amendment, in 1955, the NRA’s constitutional expert wrote a memo to the NRA’s CEO saying that the Second Amendment was no help to stopping gun control. The consensus has always been that the Second Amendment is only tied to establishing a well-regulated militia. In 1975, the NRA handbook said the Second Amendment is not of much value in combating gun control.

Then, in 1977, you have what's called the “Revolt in Cincinnati.” A new militant leadership took over the NRA and it decided to gain power in what I call “the Great Second Amendment Hoax” by perpetrating the myth that the Second Amendment protects the individual right to keep and bear arms. And the NRA shared its propaganda through [screen actor] Charlton Heston—Moses.

For the first time ever, the NRA made the Second Amendment the fundamental base of their gun advocacy appeal. And then this appeal became tied to the Republican Party as a club to use against liberals. And the NRA doesn't just support gun rights. It supports the whole right-wing agenda by calling Democrats socialists and saying they're trying to take away your guns, and to take away your freedoms. So, the NRA became an essential player, not just in the gun rights movement, but in the whole conservative movement. And because it has all these local members all over the country, it's uniquely positioned to benefit Republicans in their districts and their states.

Robin Lindley: Thanks for that background, Professor Lichtman. The idea of repealing the Second Amendment sounds extremely complicated. And you have this stumbling block now of the Supreme Court’s Heller decision that recognized a private right to keep and bear arms. Is the idea of repealing the Second Amendment catching on at all?  

Professor Allan Lichtman: I think, after the recent gun permit decision, it is catching on a bit. The problem is, as I have said, a lot of those who believe in gun control are not willing to take the risk, even though they've been moving a stone for decades.  They think it's playing into the hands of the NRA, but I think saying we support the Second Amendment is playing into the hands of the NRA and Clarence Thomas.

And I'm not naive. I talk in my book about how incredibly difficult it is to pass a constitutional amendment. I understand that in order to repeal an element of the constitution, it takes two thirds of both houses of Congress and three quarters of the states so you'd have to have a lot of red states coming along. But the women’s suffrage movement took almost 80 years. The civil rights movement took about the same time to get rid of Jim Crow.

Even if things don't happen overnight, they're still worth pushing for. By changing the terms of the debate maybe, even if we don't get the repeal, we'll develop some real momentum in this country for change. My basic point is that I'm not claiming this is necessarily going to succeed, but I am claiming the game needs to be changed.

Robin Lindley: Would it be helpful to have a replacement amendment for the Second Amendment?

Professor Allan Lichtman: I'm not opposed to that if you could come up with one that Clarence Thomas or a future Clarence Thomas could not twist as the Court has twisted the current Second Amendment. I'm not opposed to that, but you must be careful.

Robin Lindley: Would you like to add any other comments about the Second Amendment?

Professor Allan Lichtman: Yes. Repealing the Second Amendment may seem like a daunting goal, but protecting the lives and safety of the American people makes it very much a worthwhile goal. And repeal of the Second Amendment does not mean the confiscation of guns. It simply means that we will stop courts and hopefully politicians from striking down laws that would make America a much safer place,

Forty thousand lives are lost every year to gun violence. The chances of being murdered by a gun today in America are 20 times higher than our closest peer nation. We are not the safest among our peers because we have the Second Amendment. We are the least safe. And that's the best argument possible for repeal.

Robin Lindley: Thanks very much Professor Lichtman for your thoughtful comments and insights on presidential politics, gun violence, and more. Congratulations on your recent books and your stellar career as a professor, author and scholar.

 

Robin Lindley is a Seattle-based attorney, writer and features editor for the History News Network (historynewsnetwork.org). His work also has appeared in Writer’s Chronicle, Bill Moyers.com, Re-Markings, Salon.com, Crosscut, Documentary, ABA Journal, Huffington Post, and more. Most of his legal work has been in public service. He served as a staff attorney with the US House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations and investigated the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His writing often focuses on the history of human rights, conflict, social justice, medicine, art, and culture. Robin’s email: robinlindley@gmail.com.  

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Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154638 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154638 0
A Holocaust Mystery: Ken Burns Gets Lost in a Bermuda Triangle

Delegates to the 1943 Bermuda Conference on Refugees

 

 

Scientists have long been puzzled by the frequent disappearance of ships in the Bermuda Triangle. In his new Holocaust documentary, filmmaker Ken Burns has managed to make the entire Bermuda Conference on Refugees vanish.    A rising tide of calls in the British parliament, media, and churches in early 1943 for the Allies to rescue Jews from the Nazi slaughter prodded the British Foreign Office and the U.S. State Department to plan an Anglo-American conference on what they termed the refugee problem.    The island of Bermuda was chosen for the gathering. Nahum Goldmann, cochairman of the World Jewish Congress, told colleagues that the remote setting was selected so that “it will take place practically in secret, without pressure of public opinion.”   Like the Evian Conference on Refugees five years earlier, Bermuda was conceived as a gesture rather than a serious attempt to rescue Jews from the raging Holocaust. Jewish Agency official Arthur Lourie said its aim was “quieting public opinion without undertaking anything effective.”   The Joint Emergency Committee of European Jewish Affairs, an umbrella for major U.S. Jewish organizations, requested permission to send representatives to the conference. The request was rejected. The Committee sent Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles a detailed list of proposals for rescue action. The proposals were ignored.   A group of seven Jewish congressmen met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to discuss the rescue issue in advance of the Bermuda gathering. “It was a very unsatisfactory interview,” Congressman Daniel Ellison (R-Maryland) reported afterwards. “[We] asked the President about refugees, the White Paper, etc. What he proposed to do about these things. [We] made a number of suggestions to him as to what [we] thought he ought to do and the answer to all of these suggestions was ‘No’.”    The Bermuda Conference opened on April 19, 1943. Both sides had agreed beforehand that there would be no emphasis on the plight of the Jews—even the name of the conference masked their identity—nor would they adopt any policies that would benefit Jews in particular.    The U.S. would not agree to the use of any trans-Atlantic ships to transport refugees, not even troop supply ships that were returning from Europe empty. And there would be no increase in the number of refugees admitted to the United States.    The British delegates refused to discuss Palestine as a possible haven, because of Arab opposition. They also rejected negotiating with the Nazis to release Jews, on the grounds that “many of the potential refugees are empty mouths for which Hitler has no use.” Their release “would be relieving Hitler of an obligation to take care of these useless people,” a senior British official asserted.    The delegates dismissed the idea of shipping food to starving Jews as a violation of the Allied blockade of Axis Europe, even though they previously made an exception for German-occupied Greece. Instead, the Bermuda conferees spent a large amount of time on very small-scale steps, mainly the evacuation of 5,000 Jewish refugees from Spain to the Libyan region of Cyrenaica.    After twelve days of basking in the Caribbean sun, the delegates adjourned without achieving anything of significance. The two governments kept the proceedings of the conference secret, which only generated further suspicion.    The failure of the Bermuda Conference provoked the first serious public criticism of U.S. refugee policy. A large advertisement in the New York Times, sponsored by the rescue advocates known as the Bergson Group,  was headlined “To 5,000,000 Jews in the Nazi Death-Trap, Bermuda was a Cruel Mockery.”    Congressman Emanuel Celler (D-New York) accused the delegates in Bermuda of engaging in “diplomatic tight-rope walking,” at a time when “thousands of Jews are being killed daily.” In a slap at Congressman Sol Boom (D-New York), who was a staunch defender of the administration’s refugee policy and a member of the U.S. delegation to Bermuda, Rep. Celler characterized the conference as “a bloomin’ fiasco.”    The editors of The New Republic charged that Bermuda revealed “the bitter truth” that the U.S. and Great Britain were unwilling to aid “these potential refugees from murder.…If the Anglo-Saxon nations continue on their present course, we shall have connived with Hitler in one of the most terrible episodes of history.”   Bermuda galvanized some mainstream Jewish leaders to speak out more forcefully. Dr. Israel Goldstein, president of the Synagogue Council of America (the umbrella for the major Jewish religious denominations) charged that “the victims are not being rescued because the democracies do not want them, and the job of the Bermuda conference apparently was not to rescue victims of Nazi terror but to rescue our State Department and the British Foreign Office from possible embarrassment.”    Even the chief British delegate to Bermuda, Richard Law, later acknowledged that Bermuda was a “façade for inaction.”   The Bermuda Conference was one of the era’s most vivid demonstrations of the Roosevelt administration’s abandonment of the Jews, as well as a pivotal moment in stimulating stronger American Jewish protests against the Holocaust.   How, then, could Ken Burns have omitted any mention of Bermuda from his six hour-long PBS series on “The U.S. and the Holocaust”? Was it because one of the themes of the series was to minimize President Roosevelt’s responsibility for America’s harsh refugee policy, and the Bermuda Conference conflicted with that narrative?     For now, this question remains a mystery. To date, no interviewer has asked Burns about this glaring omission, and he has not volunteered any comment. Is he hoping that, like ships disappearing in the Bermuda Triangle, his own Bermuda omission will vanish from public view before anyone notices? ]]>
Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184066 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184066 0
Dr. Karen L. Cox on Confederate Monuments With battles over Confederate monuments still brewing, I spoke to Dr. Karen L. Cox, a leading expert on the topic. Dr. Cox is the author of four books, including No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice.

Dr. Cox and I spoke about the enduring white supremacist purpose of Confederate monuments and why battles to remove them are nothing new. Surprisingly, Vanilla Ice also makes an appearance.

A condensed transcript is edited for clarity is below. Paying subscribers to Skipped History can access audio of the full conversation here

Ben: Dr. Cox, it’s a thrill to chat with you.

KLC: Well, I appreciate it. I'm happy to be with you.

Ben: Today I'd like to trace the history of Confederate monuments, and though perhaps a challenging subject to cover over 150 years, hopefully, it won't be a lost cause...

Speaking of which, let's start with the development of Lost Cause mythology. Who concocted it, and was it in any remote way truthful?

KLC: I can answer the last question first—no.

The Lost Cause is essentially a revisionist history of the Civil War, slavery, and Reconstruction.  It’s really an attempt to deal with Confederate defeat. White southerners thought when they entered the Civil War, they were going to kick Yankee butt and that it would be over very quickly. But, in fact, they were handily defeated, and it was hard for them to come to terms with that.

Edward Pollard, a journalist for the Richmond Examiner, helped them make sense of the South’s loss. In 1867, he published a book called The Lost Cause. It's well over 700 pages (and makes a fine doorstop). In the book, Pollard claims the South lost the war solely because Confederates were outnumbered. He also says the war had been fought over states’ rights, erasing the idea that slavery had ever been part of the war, let alone its central cause. He also praises Confederate generals and more or less paints the South as a superior civilization even though it’s been defeated. 

Ben: It's almost like if my soccer team lost, and afterward we were so upset about losing that somebody decided to write a 700-page book about why the other team scored more goals—when in reality, we were just really bad. 

KLC: Sure.

Ben: So Lost Cause mythology develops right after the Civil War. How does it become part of the US’ physical landscape?

KLC: Well, Confederate monuments appear on the landscape right away, mainly in cemeteries. That's where they stayed through the end of Reconstruction in 1877.

Then, when federal troops leave the region and, basically, former Confederates retake control of local governments, you begin to see monuments move outside of cemeteries as a backlash against the gains Black citizens made during Reconstruction.

Ben: In No Common Ground you also talk about the erection of monuments outside of courthouses. 

KLC: Right, so that’s the next phase: placing monuments on courthouse lawns. 

This new construction accompanies the rise of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the organization responsible for the vast majority of Confederate monuments that are built in the South. The Daughters formed in 1894, and they took off quickly as an organization. In this same time period that the UDC grows, from the 1890s through 1920, the vast majority of monuments were built.  

Most of them were adjacent to courthouses, a very purposeful way of signaling support for Jim Crow laws. It’s in that backdrop that monuments go up, both as physical, tangible manifestations of the Lost Cause and also as statements in front of courthouses about communities’ white supremacist priorities.

Ben:  Why does this construction slow down entering the 1920s?

KLC: Primarily because of World War I. Although organizations like the UDC continue to build monuments in the 30s, the pace slows from, I don’t know, maybe 400 a decade to 75 a decade. But yeah, obviously it continues. A new generation of “daughters” comes into the UDC, and they still build monuments, still seek out support for their projects from politicians. 

During the Civil Rights era, there was a slight uptick in monument building, in part because of the Civil War Centennial, a series of events from 1961 to 1965. At the same time that we saw the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965) pass, the commemoration of the Civil War was occurring, at least in the South, and white southerners were still perpetuating the same sorts of myths about the Confederacy and building monuments in the spirit of the Lost Cause. 

Ben: Could you talk a bit about the longstanding, maybe more overlooked tradition of opposition to Confederate monuments?

KLC: From very early on, there has been a critique of the Lost Cause and monuments, with Frederick Douglass being probably the first and most obvious example. He predicted, “monuments to the Lost Cause will prove monuments of folly.” W. E. B. Du Bois later toured the South and said a better inscription on the Confederate monuments he saw would be, "sacred to the memory of those who fought to Perpetuate Human Slavery.”

During the Jim Crow period, one place where I found many critiques was in the Chicago Defender, the nation's leading black newspaper. Columnists were very vocal about what they thought about these monuments; that they were erected to honor traitors to the US. One guy says something about the monuments teaching future generations of white children to hate “our race.”

So Black citizens always saw monuments as a problem in terms of race relations, and during the 60s you begin to see much more publicly visible protests against Confederate monuments. For example, during the Meredith March, or the March Against Fear, a major demonstration that included thousands of activists in 1966, marchers rallied in various cities in the Mississippi Delta. Usually, the place where they assembled was around a Confederate monument, because that would often be the center of town. And in a way, they were reclaiming these spaces in the name of democratic freedoms like voting.

In another of many examples, that same year, a civil rights and voting activist named Sammy Younge Jr. was murdered for trying to desegregate a whites-only bathroom in Tuskegee, Alabama. The man who killed him was acquitted, and in response, protestors defaced a nearby Confederate monument in the way that we’re more likely to associate with activism over the last few years. They painted “Black Power” across the monument.

Ben: Meanwhile, monument construction continues, right? Not at a rapid pace, but I know for example that the largest Confederate memorial was dedicated in the early 70s.

KLC: Yeah, that would be Stone Mountain in Georgia. It’s enormous. Spiro Agnew, vice president at the time, attended the dedication. You know Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore was the original sculptor of Stone Mountain.

Ben: Wow, I had no idea! Sounds like Gutzon should be on lists with Nickelback and Vanilla Ice for his artistic prowess. 

KLC: Ha! Maybe so.

Ben: Going back for a second, as more Black politicians were elected in the 70s and 80s, there was increasing resistance to monuments, is that right?

KLC: Yeah. So for most of the Civil Rights Movement, the symbol that most offended was the Confederate battle flag, which is often located on a flagpole adjacent to a Confederate monument. The first time I saw evidence of a suggestion to actually remove a monument was in Shreveport, Louisiana in the late 80s. You then begin to see this kind of push around the country with support from groups like the NAACP.

And yet, though Confederate monuments have long been on Black activists’ radars, monuments only really became part of the national discourse after the Charleston Church Massacre of 2015, when Dylan Roof murdered nine parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was obviously motivated by his interactions with neo-Confederate groups, and other kinds of white and racist groups, which lead to the Confederate battle flag coming off the grounds of the South Carolina Capital—and then to larger discussions about other Confederate symbols like monuments. Then, with the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville in 2017, and after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the conversations reach a fever pitch.

In total, since Charleston, over a hundred monuments have been removed. Over seven hundred remain. The truth is that Confederate monuments have always represented white supremacy and systemic racism, both of which are still pervasive.

Ben: We started the conversation in the 1860s and are talking about similar dynamics today. Still, you write that “with the removal of monuments since 2015, the Lost Cause’s days may be numbered. And with that, perhaps there is common ground.”

Do you still feel that way?

KLC: My feeling is that, if we’re on the same page about history, if we’re learning the same history together, then maybe there is potential for us to come together and for the Lost Cause’s days to be numbered.

The thing is, for 150 years white people have been invested in rewriting history because they see it as a tool of power. Whenever there’s been racial progress, they’ve talked about how to influence what children are learning in schools.

This is why we still hear Edward Pollard’s lies today. For generations, proponents of the Lost Cause have feared that if children grow up and learn the truth, they're likely to reject the current power structures. They don't want that happening.

Ben: Well, I think that also speaks to the importance of the kind of history that you bring to light. Thank you for all of your work and for being here today. It’s been a pleasure.

KLC: Well, thank you. It's been good to talk this out.

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Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154636 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154636 0
Dangerous Rhythms: Jazz and the Criminal Underworld

 

 

“Every civilization is known by its culture and jazz is America’s greatest contribution to the world – it is our ‘classical’ music.”  – Tony Bennett

Beethoven, Bach and Mozart, along with other great classical music composers, had patrons, usually wealthy princes who took great pride in displaying “their” musician and his works.

In the first years of the 20th century, jazz, music deeply rooted in the Black experience, grew in popularity among both Black and white audiences, despite the prevailing racism and segregation laws of the South. Black jazz musicians, who could be arrested by white police for almost any reason, found “patrons” of a different sort in New Orleans (and later in Chicago and Kansas City): local mobsters.

Before the 1920s, jazz was scorned as primitive “colored” music. Mobsters, often Italian, but sometimes Irish or Jewish, saw African Americans as outsiders like themselves and they controlled most of the clubs where fans came to hear the exciting new music – and also to partake in forbidden activities such as gambling, prostitution and illegal drugs.

In his latest book Dangerous Rhythms, author T. J. English details the “symbiotic” relationship between leading Black jazz musicians and local crime bosses including Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Mickey Cohen.

As English points out, “It is a quirk of history that around the same time that jazz was first taking shape, organized crime was also in its incubation stage...Many white people were as enthused by this new music as African Americans. The idea that jazz could cross over and become a viable source of commerce became a gleam in the eye of gangsters from sea to shining sea.”

Plantation Mentality

English notes that “From the beginning, the relationship was based on a kind of plantation mentality. The musician was an employee for hire, not unlike the waitresses, busboys and doormen.” Through corruption, payoffs to cops and politicians, the club owners guaranteed the safety of their employees. If there was a police raid, the musicians were quickly sprung from jail.

Louis Satchmo Armstrong, the most famous early jazz artist, recalled in his memoir, Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans (1954), that his first paying gig as a cornet player at age 16 in 1917 was in a saloon (really a front for gambling and prostitution) owned by a member of a local Sicilian mob family.

In New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, the music flourished in the clubs lining the streets of the Storyville neighborhood. Jazz music, along with gambling and prostitution flourished in Storyville until the U.S. Navy (worried about its sailors) stepped in 1917 and closed down the neighborhood, forcing the dispersal of the city’s jazz musicians to points north.

Many jazz musicians settled in Kansas City, another “open city” where corruption allowed widespread gambling, prostitution, bootlegging and all-night jazz clubs. Louis Armstrong wound up in Chicago where in 1924, he took a long-term gig at Joe Glaser’s Sunset Club, one of the dozen clubs in which Al Capone had an ownership stake. Capone valued the clubs for the cash they generated, but he also enjoyed jazz music and was a frequent visitor at the Sunset Club.

Louis Armstrong knew who Capone was and recalled later that he stood out in the crowd, “a nice little cute fat boy – young– like some professor who had just come out of college to teach.”

Most popular histories of jazz music skip over the importance of the mob’s patronage, although the connection was never a secret – memoirs from Mezz Mezzrow (published 1946) and Armstrong’s 1954 book describe it. 

English is one of the first authors to research this topic in-depth and chronicle the arc of the relationship throughout the 20th century. A journalist and screenwriter specializing in crime, his previous books include Havana Nocturne, Paddy Whacked and Where the Bodies Were Buried. His screenwriting credits include scripts for NYPD Blue and Homicide.

Are you hip?

English draws upon his knowledge of organized crime to detail the mobsters’ tribal loyalties and violent rivalries. He effectively conveys the dangerous, exciting world of the “black and tan” (i.e. integrated) nightclubs. We learn that the word jazz entered was originally spelled jass and entered the popular lexicon via an editorial in the June 17, 1917 New Orleans Times-Picayune which denounced the local music as “indecent” and an “atrocity in polite society” that should be suppressed. The expression “hip” entered the underworld jargon in the early days of Prohibition when a one musician might ask another “Are you hip?” to see if they were carrying a hip flask of illegal booze.

Dangerous Rhythms contains many fascinating anecdotes about the early jazz musicians including Sidney Bechet, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday. The book also details the operations of the major clubs, including the famous Birdland and the Copacabana in New York City, both controlled by mob-connected figures.

Birdland, located just off Times Square, opened in 1949 and was billed as the “Jazz Corner of the World.” Many seminal live recordings were made in the club, including performances by Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, George Shearing, Stan Getz, Lester Young, Sarah Vaughn and Count Basie.  

The symbiotic relationship between jazz performers and gangsters extended well into the 1950s and ‘60s and reached as far as the West Coast where mob-connected institutions such as Ciro’s on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles and the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas featured famous jazz performers.

According to English, the mob’s control over major nightclubs was finally ended in the 1980s, when “jazz declined as a significant percentage of the country’s entertainment dollar and the mob found other fish to fry.”

In addition, the mob’s organization suffered a devastating setback when federal prosecutors went after the leaders of the Five Families in New York.  Using the new RICO (Racketeer influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) laws, prosecutors in the 1984 “Commission Trial” were able to put away key leaders for long prison sentences.

Today, of course, jazz remains very popular, is shaped by a new generation of musicians and is played in prestigious venues from Lincoln Center to the Hollywood Bowl. English concludes that “as it turned out jazz did not need the mob to survive.”

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Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184065 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184065 0
The Roundup Top Ten for September 30, 2022

Just Wear Your Smile: The Gender Politics of Positive Psychology

by Micki McElya

Positive Psychology, a supposed science of producing happiness, is part of a multibillion-dollar publishing market. Unfortunately, it's helped enshrine patriarchal values into the popular practice of psychology. 

 

"As if I Wasn't There": Writing from a Child's Memory

by Martha Hodes

Writing her own memory of being held hostage by terrorists forced the author to put herself at the center of the story. 

 

 

Teaching Black Perspectives

by Julia W. Bernier

Since emancipation, the effort to control curriculum has been a key part of broad reactionary politics opposing greater freedom for Black people. Educators and activists have seen today's battles over teaching the history of racism before. 

 

 

Tucker Carlson and Ted Cruz are Wrong about the Weakness of "Woke" Militaries

by Phillips Payson O’Brien

It turns out that hypermasculinity, ruthlesness and reflexive brutality are liabilities in modern warfare. Ukraine is exhibit A. 

 

 

The Forgotten Violence of the US-Philippines Relationship

by Adrian De Leon

By declaring a relationship of "friends, partners, and allies" between the United States and the Philippines, and embracing the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., the United States concealed its violent conquest of the islands and its ongoing support for authoritarian rule there. 

 

 

Black Women's Activism Ties Reproductive Rights to Broader Goals of Freedom

by Kim Gallon

Black women's reproductive lives have always been complicated by institutional racism, sexism, and the balance of personal autonomy and racial solidarity. Black feminists have struggled to use the African American press as a space to force discussion of the issues. 

 

 

The Ostensibly Apolitical Nature of the Royals Explains Americans' Obsession

by Suzanne Schneider

The Royals appeal to an American fantasy of power without politics, in which civility and decorum conceal the process of determining a society's winners and losers. 

 

 

The Risks of Declaring the Pandemic Over

by Molly Nebiolo

As long as America has had pandemics, it has had leaders who sought political benefit by declaring them over, so Joe Biden is in good company. But moving on needs to include planning ahead. 

 

 

Rigged Elections: A Real New York Story

by Jim Sleeper

New York City's political history shows that brazen attempts to rig elections didn't emerge with Team Trump. 

 

 

"Misogynoir" Exemplified in the Degradation of Black Women Athletes

by Donald Earl Collins

The treatment of basketball star Brittney Griner by Russian authorities (and the indifference to her case by many Americans) shows that Black women athletes still have to navigate a world of racism and sexism that diminishes their achievements and their security. 

 

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Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184061 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184061 0
Does Marital Status Discrimination Hold the Key to Protecting Sexual Freedoms from SCOTUS?

Demonstrators celebrate the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) which guaranteed same-sex couples a right to marry. 

 

    

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which overturned the 1973 abortion rights ruling in Roe v. Wade, gestured in two directions on the question of whether the Court might similarly overturn past precedents in cases addressing sexual intimacy, contraception, and marriage. On the one hand, Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion argued that abortion, because it involves the destruction of human life, is exceptional, meaning that Dobbs would not necessarily be followed by decisions that limit the scope of the Court’s recognition of other constitutional rights. On the other hand, Alito suggested that Dobbs might very well have such implications. According to the originalist reasoning of the Dobbs majority, abortion rights were not generally recognized when the 14th Amendment, ratified in the 1860s, stipulated that state governments could not deprive people of their life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Alito also relied on language that the Court has used for decades when determining which liberties are protected by the 14th Amendment: according to these precedents, only rights “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” are protected. These parts of Alito’s opinion suggested that other recognized rights might very well be at risk.

 

In the aftermath of Dobbs, historians have strongly criticized Alito’s claims about the legal status of abortion in the 18th and 19th centuries. According to the clear scholarly consensus, pre-quickening abortions were legal in early U.S. history and only were criminalized in the mid-nineteenth century, beginning in the 1840s and increasingly during and after the 1860s. This is important not only because of what it says about traditional rights at the moment when the 14th Amendment was adopted but also because of what it says about traditional rights in the 1790s, when the 1st, 4th, 5th, and 9th Amendments, all of which were invoked in Roe, were ratified. In fact, Alito and the Dobbs majority basically sidestepped the 9th Amendment, even though that’s the one that recognizes rights not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution.

 

While many historians have criticized Alito’s claims about the legal status of abortion in early America, many legal commentators have warned that the Court may soon revisit its precedents on birth control, sexual privacy, and marriage. I do not want to discount this possibility, which I think is very real, but I would like to suggest a different way to think about this. As a cynic and pessimist, I do not generally avoid dire predictions about the future, but it is at least possible that several of the Court’s conservatives might be open to persuasion. After all, Chief Justice Roberts has broken with the Court’s conservatives in several important cases, and Justice Gorsuch voted in favor of LGBT rights in Bostock and Justice Kavanaugh did so in the recent Yeshiva University case. Moreover, while it is not likely that the current Court will revisit Dobbs any time soon, there will hopefully come a time when new appointments will allow for that possibility. When that happens, those of us who support sexual and reproductive justice should be ready with the best possible arguments.

 

My thinking about these issues grows out of the work I did for my 2010 book Sexual Injustice. That book looked at six major rulings from 1965 to 1973, juxtaposing five liberalizing decisions on birth control (Griswold and Eisenstadt), obscenity (Fanny Hill), interracial marriage (Loving), and abortion (Roe) with a profoundly conservative ruling on gay immigration (Boutilier). Challenging the notion that the Court of that era supported a broadly libertarian vision of sexual freedom, I argue instead that the justices developed a doctrine of heteronormative supremacy, extending special rights and privileges to heterosexual, marital, and reproductive forms of sexual expression but denying such protection to same-sex, nonmarital, and non-reproductive sex.

 

With respect to Griswold, for example, commentators today routinely describe the Court’s ruling as a foundational decision on sexual privacy, but the majority opinion in that case did not use those words or endorse that concept. Over and over again, the Griswold majority followed the lead of the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood lawyers, who strategically emphasized that Connecticut’s birth control law violated marital rights. As Justice William O. Douglas declared in the majority opinion, “We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights—older than our political parties, older than our school system. Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred.”

 

Two years after the Court invalidated birth control laws that interfered with the rights of married couples, the justices overturned state laws against interracial marriages. When they did so in Loving v. Virginia, there were two principal reasons. First, anti-miscegenation laws violated the right to marry, which the justices saw as a liberty protected by the 14th Amendment’s due process clause. Second, those laws violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, since they discriminated based on race. At this point, nothing the Court had said or done suggested that it was prepared to recognize sexual rights or reproductive rights for the unmarried, and in multiple cases the justices referenced, in dicta, the ongoing constitutionality of laws against adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and sodomy.

 

In the years that followed Loving, the Court was remade as President Richard Nixon replaced four liberal justices with appointees expected to be much more conservative. At this point, there was every reason to anticipate that the liberalization process seen in decisions such as Griswold and Loving would not continue. And yet it did. This brings me to the 1972 ruling in Eisenstadt v. Baird. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Eisenstadt, a decision far less well-known than Griswold, Loving, or Roe. Yet there are aspects of Eisenstadt that are worth revisiting when we contemplate the post-Dobbs landscape.

 

In 1967, William Baird was a controversial reproductive rights activist, long at odds with both the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, when he was invited by Boston University students to give a campus lecture. In advance of the event, the local chapter of Students for a Democratic Society rented a large hall and Baird provocatively announced that during his lecture he planned to break a Massachusetts state law banning the display or distribution of contraceptives for purposes of preventing conception, with an exception for health care professionals who provided birth control to married people. Approximately 2000 students attended the lecture, which concluded with Baird’s very public distribution of birth control to approximately twenty people. Wanting to be arrested so that he could challenge the state law in court, Baird called on the police in attendance to do just that, which they did.

 

After the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, they voted six to one in favor of Baird (there were just seven votes because two justices had resigned and not yet been replaced. Only Chief Justice Warren Burger dissented). Of the six who voted in favor of Baird, two (Justices Byron White and Harry Blackmun) did so because there was no clear evidence that the women given birth control were unmarried, meaning that the outcome was basically determined by Griswold. The majority of four, however, went well beyond this. The key passage in Justice William Brennan’s majority opinion, which was endorsed by Justices William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, and Potter Stewart, explained, “If under Griswold the distribution of contraceptives to married persons cannot be prohibited, a ban on distribution to unmarried persons would be equally impermissible. It is true that in Griswold the right of privacy in question inhered in the marital relationship. Yet the marital couple is not an independent entity with a mind and heart of its own, but an association of two individuals…. If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”

 

While this passage suggested that there were two reasons to strike down the Massachusetts law—equal protection and due process privacy rights—the majority opinion later placed emphasis on the former rather than the latter. In one passage, Brennan argued that the Court need not decide whether the law infringed on “fundamental freedoms under Griswold” because it “fails to satisfy even the more lenient equal protection standard.” In another, he declared that “we need not and do not…decide” whether the law could be upheld as a morality-based prohibition on contraception because “whatever the rights of the individual to access to contraceptives may be, the rights must be the same for the unmarried and the married.” These passages grounded the ruling in equality, rather than privacy, arguments. Further evidence for this can be found in the amount of attention the Court paid to the justifications offered by the state to legitimize its discriminatory treatment of the unmarried. In response to the state’s claims that such discrimination was rational and justified because of the state’s interest in promoting marital fidelity and discouraging nonmarital sex, Brennan pointed out that the law did not block married people from using birth control with people other than their spouses and the law also did not block the distribution of contraceptives to prevent the spread of disease. For the majority of four, the Massachusetts law thus failed the Court’s “rational basis” test in equal protection cases.

 

In short, the Eisenstadt decision held that married people had birth control rights and that unmarried people, at least with respect to birth control, could not be discriminated against on the basis of marital status when the discrimination had no rational justification. Eisenstadt becomes even more interesting to consider if we situate it not only in the line of reproductive rights decisions that began with Griswold and continued with Roe, but also in relation to decisions about the rights of the unmarried. Twelve days after the Court ruled in favor of Baird, it announced its decision in Stanley v. Illinois. Peter Stanley was an unmarried father who had lived on-and-off with his partner Joan and their three children for eighteen years. On Joan’s death, Peter automatically lost custody of his two younger children and was denied a parental fitness hearing because the state only guaranteed such hearings after the death of a custodial parent for mothers, divorced fathers, and married fathers. When the case reached the Supreme Court, five of seven justices ruled in favor of the due process reproductive rights of the father; four of seven also ruled in favor of his equal protection rights. While the Court did not make it clear whether Stanley had been denied equal rights based on sex or marital status, the strong implication was that four justices thought it was both. One year later, the Court ruled in favor of the reproductive rights of another unmarried person, Norma McCorvey, otherwise known as Jane Roe.

 

In subsequent decades, the Supreme Court developed a mixed record in cases about marital status discrimination. Today, many federal civil rights laws do not offer protection based on marital status discrimination; about half the states have such laws, but they generally apply only in specific domains, such as employment, housing, and credit. Indeed, in the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decisions, Windsor in 2013 and Obergefell in 2015, the justices emphasized (without criticism) that there were more than a thousand federal statutes that granted special rights and privileges to married people. Discrimination based on marital status remains constitutional and legal in many contexts. There nevertheless may be promising lines of argument about marital status discrimination that could advance sexual and reproductive rights in the years to come.

 

It is at this point that I want to return to the opening that Justice Alito’s Dobbs opinion provided when it distinguished between abortion rights, which the Court’s conservatives incorrectly claimed were not protected in early American history, and other rights that were recognized in the 1790s or 1860s. While I am no fan of the legal system’s privileging of marital relationships, it is likely that a majority of the current Supreme Court would acknowledge that the right to marry was generally recognized when the Bill of Rights and 14th Amendments were ratified; think about Justice Douglas’s claim that marital privacy rights were recognized before the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution. This potentially provides a way to distinguish between abortion rights and marital rights. In a future case that challenges Loving, Obergefell, and Windsor, the justices presumably would have to ask whether limitations on the right to marry can survive the heightened scrutiny that the Court typically applies in cases of race and sex discrimination. The majority may be willing to accept the right to marry by interracial and same-sex couples because of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, which has not been as constrained by originalist interpretations as the due process clause has been.

 

By the same logic, if married couples have sexual rights that are protected against interference by state and federal governments, perhaps one or two conservative justices will accept the validity of Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state sodomy laws, on equal protection grounds. If married people have rights to engage in consensual private sex, there may be no rational reason to deny such rights to unmarried people. In this way, the sexual and reproductive rights of unmarried people would not be recognized because they have these rights intrinsically, but rather because unmarried people cannot be discriminated against without rational justifications. In short, it may be more promising, as we face the post-Dobbs landscape, to pursue arguments about equal rights than to pursue arguments about sexual or reproductive rights. Similar points have long been made by progressive critics of Roe v. Wade, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wished that the 1973 Court had placed more emphasis on equal rights and sex discrimination rather than due process and reproductive freedom. In this respect, perhaps one of the weaker and more vulnerable parts of Alito’s majority opinion in Dobbs was his insistence that a “state’s regulation of abortion is not a sex-based classification and is thus not subject to the ‘heightened scrutiny’ that applies to such classifications.” We might now recognize, thanks to trans activism, that men can get pregnant, but the vast majority of people who seek abortions are women, and it is difficult to think of another realm of state law that has more obviously disparate impacts on women.

 

Looking beyond the legal domain, I think there might also be positive political possibilities for generating popular public support for laws that support the reproductive and sexual rights of the unmarried. Progressives clearly need to continue building public support for abortion rights and reproductive justice, but imagine the possibilities for political mobilization if we communicate more effectively than we have that the Roberts Court might permit the recriminalization of birth control, oral and anal sex, and nonmarital sex for straight people. Some conservatives might be happy with this, but other conservatives and many moderates, threatened with restrictions on their freedoms, might come around to support “liberty and justice for all.”

 

This is a revised version of a presentation delivered at “Rights and Wrongs: A Constitution Day Conference at San Francisco State University” on September 16, 2022.

 

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Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184005 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184005 0
Around the World, Censorship of Historians is Tied to Attacks on Democracy

Russia's Vladimir Putin and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro are two world leaders who have linked their own rule to revisionist histories of their nations' past dictatorships.

 

 

On 17 August 2022, the Network of Concerned Historians (NCH) published its twenty-eighth annual report. Set up in 1995, NCH documents news on the intersection of history and human rights, in particular the censorship of history and the persecution of its producers. Its focus ranges from issues related to the freedom of historical research and teaching to the right to remember. This year’s report covered 100 countries and documented, among others, the political murder of five history producers.

 

Of these history producers who were killed for political reasons, three were murdered during the unfolding of a military coup. In Myanmar, after the military deposed democratically elected State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, large-scale protests erupted across the country. In one of such protests, in February 2021, high school history and math teacher Tin Nwe Yee was hit by a tear gas cannister fired by security officials; she suffocated and died of a heart attack. Two months later, amidst violent resistance against the junta in Chin State, first-year history student Felix Than Muan Lian was shot dead by soldiers of the Tatmadaw (armed forces) on his way to work.

 

In Afghanistan, in August 2021, eleven days before the Taliban took control of Kabul, historian and poet Abdullah Atefi was taken out of his house in the Chora district, Uruzgan, allegedly by Taliban forces, tortured and shot on the street. Atefi was known for his writings on the history of Pashto literature and culture, and was a member of the Afghan branch of PEN International.

 

The other history producers’ deaths were caused by negligence of the regime. In Iran, in January 2022, film director and member of the Iranian Writer’s Association (IWA) Baktash Abtin died from complications relating to COVID-19, which could have been avoided had he received medical care earlier. He had contracted the disease in Evin Prison in Tehran, where he had been sent in 2019 on a five year prison sentence in relation to a book he had co-authored on the history of the IWA.

 

In China, also in January, the Uyghur writer and former editor at Kashgar Uyghur Press, Haji Mirzahid Kerim reportedly died in the hospital after he had “jumped and fell.” Despite a serious health condition, he had been sentenced to eleven years in prison for writing about Uyghur history and historians.

 

The political murder of history producers is only one, albeit the worst, type of history-related censorship. Throughout 2021 and 2022, examples of censorship and persecution ranged from political or politically-supported interference in the production of history textbooks and curricula—notably in India, Hungary, Hong Kong and currently unfolding in the Philippines—to restrictions on archival access, for example in France and Romania. The multi-headed monster that is history-related censorship reared its head in debates about racial justice initiatives in the United States; in politically motivated appointments in Brazil; in the liquidation of a historical organization in Russia; and in the persecution of individual history producers in India. Let us look a little closer at these four cases.

 

The number of so-called anti-Critical Race Theory (CRT) laws restricting the teaching of race and racism in United States history increased exponentially throughout 2021 and 2022. Research by PEN America found that 183 educational gag orders had been introduced between January 2021 and April 2022, with nineteen of them having become law in fifteen states. It further observed that the state level bills–almost exclusively brought forward by Republican party politicians–were vaguely drafted, leaving room for arbitrary interpretation, while often enabling direct punishment of teachers’ speech, including through a “private right of action” allowing parents and citizens to levy their own punishment. All this together made the laws likely to also cause self-censorship and thus lead to the effective banning of a wide swath of historical materials.

 

While in the US politicians attempted to censor historical teaching, and by extension future historical research, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro intervened personally. Known for his admiration of the military dictatorship that ruled the country between 1964 and 1985, he reportedly asked his Minister of Education Milton Ribeiro to interfere with the November 2021 Exame Nacional de Ensino Médio (a standardized examination given to more than 8 million secondary students), requesting the term “1964 military coup” to be changed into “Revolution.” On November 15, six days before the exam would take place, he announced that the exam would now start “looking more like the government” so that nobody would have to worry about “those absurd issues from the past.” Four days later, he nominated Ricardo Braga, the owner of a private security company, as the Director of the National Archive, despite him lacking expertise. The nomination provoked fears among many, including the National Forum of Associations of Archivists of Brazil, of a rewriting of the history of the dictatorship, and possibly a destruction of archival documents.

 

In Russia, matters were even worse. In November 2021, the Prosecutor General’s Office filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court seeking to liquidate Memorial and all of its regional and structural units. Memorial worked as an international human rights organization in Russia since its founding in 1988, uncovering crimes against humanity, especially those committed during Stalin’s reign (1928–1953). A thorn in the eye of President Vladimir Putin’s history policy of valorizing the Soviet Union and Stalin’s rule, Memorial had been forced to register as “foreign agent” in 2014 for receiving foreign funding, and had since been fined at least 21 times for a sum of more than 4.2 million rubles. On December 28, Memorial was liquidated by the Supreme Court. Its archives, including a database of three million victims and 42,000 collaborators of the Soviet secret police between 1935 and 1939, a library and a museum, were all under threat after the ruling.

 

In India, political persecution was mostly aimed at individual history producers. In May 2021, Gilbert Sebastian, an assistant professor in international relations at the Central University of Kerala, was suspended for describing the militant political organization Rashtriya Sqayamsevak Sangh (RSS), connected to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, as a “proto-Fascist organization” during a course on “Fascism and Nazism.” One year later, in May 2022, Waqas Farooq Kuttay, an assistant professor at Sharda University, was similarly suspended after students had complained about an “objectionable” question for a mid-term undergraduate paper, which asked students to discuss whether there were “any similarities between Fascism/Nazism and… Hindutva.” Following the suspension, the university said the question had “distorted the great national identity.” The links between the BJP, the RSS and an aggressive policy of Hinduization are clear, and so is the link with the 2002 mob violence targeting Muslims in Gujarat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat, was deemed responsible for the violence by human rights activist Teesta Setalvad. Whereas the National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court had strongly condemned the Gujarat government for its failure to deliver justice in the 2002 mob violence case, the Gujarat authorities repeatedly prosecuted Setalvad on false charges. In June 2022, for example, she was arrested in Mumbai on charges of criminal conspiracy and forgery. She was released on interim bail this September.

 

What these four cases, in their great diversity, show, is an attempt by those in power to limit historical research and teaching to those subjects and perspectives that in some capacity function as a foundational element of their legitimacy: be it Putin presenting himself as the harbinger of stability after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, while promising Russia’s return to power in a new world order, or the attempts of the Bharatiya Janata Party to push a view of India inspired on an aggressively excluding Hindutva ideology.

 

Similar processes were found at work in how the past was allowed to be remembered. Elsewhere, I argued that the governments of Rwanda, Russia, China and Sri Lanka channeled their legitimizing interpretations of the past into national commemorative practices. Similar examples took place in Vietnam, where human rights activists were put under house arrest on important commemoration days, such as April 30 (the end of the Vietnam War); in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Bosnian Serb authorities of Prijedor banned the annual White Armband Day commemoration (for the victims of ethnic cleansing during the 1992–1995 war) on the grounds of a “serious danger of violence” by two far-right Bosnian Serb nationalist groups, thereby strangely reversing its responsibilities; and in Israel, where in June 2022 the Knesset approved a provisional bill banning the display of “enemy flags,” including the Palestinian one, at state-funded institutions, after Palestinian flags had been waved on May 15 (known by Palestinians as Nakba Day to commemorate the 1948 Declaration of Independence of Israel and the accompanying displacement of Palestinians), in direct opposition to a September 2021 ruling by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court.

 

When analyzing the censorship of history, one is drawn to look at the backsliding of democracy in the world, as shown time and time again by democracy watchers such as Freedom House and the Economist Intelligence Unit, since 2005 as well. The pursuit of historical truth and the falsification of historical revisionism, depend on such freedoms that are foundational for democracy: freedom of expression, freedom of information and the right to truth. When democracy is under threat, historical research is among the first casualties. Both need our fullest support.

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Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184003 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184003 0
The History of DDT Shows Government Agencies Have Responsibility for Today's Skepticism about Science

 

 

BERKELEY ­– This year marks the 60th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which highlighted the negative effects of DDT and other pesticides on wildlife and helped spur the rise of the environmental movement. Unfortunately, the commemoration comes at a time when Americans are becoming more skeptical of scientific institutions. Looking at DDT’s story, it is clear that some of this doubt was sowed by corporate actors such as Phillip Morris in the 1990s. Still, our public health institutions must also repair the damage they have done to their reputations and rebuild trust with the American public. It is their responsibility to free themselves from the “economic poisons” that threaten to discredit their work.

 

In my book, How to Sell a Poison: The Rise, Fall and Toxic Return of DDT, I delve into the story of the toxic chemical. Back in the 1940s, when DDT was first developed, “economic poisons” were chemicals designed to kill pests that otherwise caused high-cost damage. In the broader sense, however, the term “economic poisons” can describe how the Invisible Hand often steers scientists, medical professionals and governments away from reasoning and toward profit. In America, this phenomenon intensified as a rising world superpower clamored for post-war profit at any cost. Today, our government institutions, and especially our scientific ones, have a duty to rebuild the public trust that this process eroded over the last half century.

 

In the late 1940s, Lester Petrie came face-to-face with these economic poisons. Petrie was head of the Georgia Division of Industrial Hygiene, responsible for investigating the problems posed by chemical encounters in workplaces. Yet ever since the war, his division’s work had become more complicated. Before, the job largely involved making sure that people working in factories didn’t come in contact with chemicals or equipment in ways that harmed them. Now he was hearing more and more about chemical poisonings in people’s homes and farms. Most of them were caused by what those in his line of work called “economic poisons,” newly developed synthetic chemicals that killed insects ranging from the annoying to the deadly. DDT was one of them.

 

Before long, Petrie had compiled a harrowing collection of poisoning cases. Most were crop-dusting pilots choked to death by their own cargo. One was a woman who died after eating blackberries grown nearby a sprayed cotton field. A group of small farmers wrote him to say DDT sprayed on neighboring farms was killing their bees and chicks and making them sick. People used to kill insects on crops, when necessary, using compounds that contained the well-known poisons arsenic and lead. It troubled Petrie that the economic poisons seemed as deadly as the older poisons, and that people clearly didn’t know.

 

Petrie himself, after all, had been sure DDT in particular was safe, because of reports and assurances from the U.S. government during the Second World War. Now he wondered whether he ought to create a warning for it, as he had just done for another economic poison, tetraethyl pyrophosphate or TEPP. He reached out to FDA pharmacology chief Arnold Lehman, who had so helpfully reviewed the TEPP warning he had drafted for farmers in his state. “A few days ago,” he wrote, “I noticed a news item in the paper cautioning against the spraying of barns with DDT. I would appreciate very much your sending me all of the new information you may have available concerning the toxicity of DDT.” This time, Lehman didn’t reply.

 

Instead, Petrie received a form letter from the FDA’s Division of State Cooperation. “I regret that we are unable to send you literature dealing in a detailed way with the toxicity of DDT,” it read. Enclosed was a list of articles on DDT poisoning published in medical journals, and an official statement issued by the FDA, PHS, USDA, Army, Navy, and Pan American Sanitary Bureau. Recent news had “misled and alarmed the public concerning the hazards of DDT,” the statement read. “DDT is a very valuable insecticide which has contributed materially to the general welfare of the world.” It was a “poison” like any other insecticide, but any harm it seemed to cause was a result of “errors” in its use.

 

Then Petrie got word of a young boy who died minutes after taking a swig from a bottle he found resting in the crotch of a tree. Petrie felt certain the bottle must have contained TEPP. He also knew that no one, not even the most advanced forensics lab in the state, had the means to identify it. He forwarded details of the case to the Toxicology Branch at the CDC. Then he wrote to the list of manufacturers his staff had compiled, asking them to add tracers to their products so state health officers like him could figure out which products were causing illnesses and deaths. He received one polite reply, from the medical director at Monsanto, which made parathion and DDT. The company would not be able to do this, he said, because it would cost too much.

 

Petrie had tried to raise the alarm on the new chemicals that were being produced at an unprecedented scale after the war—and that were now seeping inside every American household. Instead, he was met with skepticism from government officials and indifference from corporations, who knew it was dangerous but that warning the public would hurt their bottom line. His job, it became clear, was to protect production over public health.

 

The responsibility to disclose such dangers doesn’t just fall on scientists and government officials. Journalists who have knowledge that could save the public from deadly viruses or dangerous chemicals have a duty to shine light on those issues, too. The Los Angeles Times accomplished this with their groundbreaking story on dozens of barrels of DDT waste dumped into the Southern California Bight.

 

The response to that reporting was swift. California Senator Dianne Feinstein demanded that the EPA take action. Other lawmakers called hearings in the House of Representatives in Washington and the State Assembly in Sacramento. Foundations reached out with grant funds. Scientists convened meetings and conference panels. A team from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and NOAA pulled together an expedition in record time to go down to the seafloor and map the dump site in the spring of 2021. They didn’t see dozens of barrels; they saw more than 27,000. Recently released memos from the EPA’s investigation indicate that the actual amount of ocean-dumped DDT may be far, far higher.

 

It’s not too late for these institutions to repair the damage they have done. But it will take years of effort beginning at the grassroots level. It will mean scientists who consistently push back on industry, even when it is the unpopular, or in the short term, more costly decision. It will take brave policymakers and politicians willing to back up scientists, even when it is not politically convenient. It will mean journalists taking the time to build trust in Black and Hispanic communities, places where they have ignored their stories and their calls for environmental justice. These previous pollutants and pandemics are but a dress rehearsal for the growing climate crisis, a global emergency that will once again pit big business against sound science.

 

Scientific proof of environmental harm has only ever shifted policy when government and business interests have aligned. We must remember that there’s no greater shared interest than our very survival.

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Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184004 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184004 0
Anne Frank's Next Diary Entries

Women survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, April 17-18, 1945

 

 

When I was a teenager, I imagined that Anne Frank was at my mother’s 15th birthday party. After all, they were the same age and they were both in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

 

How did I arrive at such a phantastic conflation?

 

For one, who hadn’t heard about the gifted diarist? Expressing normal adolescent interests and concerns, Anne’s letters to imaginary friends helped her cope with the oppressive situation in “the Secret Annex.” I could picture the hiding place she described. I could appreciate her humor, wisdom, and powers of observation. Though Anne knew that terrible things were happening, “The Diary of a Young Girl” does not touch the horrors of the Holocaust. Her book is relatable. Hopeful. 

 

When I was a young teenager (about 13, the age my mother was during the war), my mother was restrained in what she shared with me. She worried that her experiences in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen would give me nightmares. She recalled and elaborated on her birthday party in a labor camp. The episode was relatable. Hopeful.

 

Eventually, after multiple conversations and into my college years, I learned the truth. Here is why Anne and my mother were never at the same place at the same time:

 

On August 4, 1944, SS-Oberscharfuehrer (Nazi squad leader) Karl Josef Silberbauer and Dutch police officers raided Prinsengracht 263, where Otto Frank ran his business. Searching behind the office’s bookcase, they found Anne and the seven others (Otto, Edith and Margot Frank; Herman, Augusta and Peter Van Pels; and Fritz Pfeffer) who had been hiding there for more than two years. They hauled the group to a detention center, a stop before Westerbork, the Dutch transit camp.

 

By this time, my mother had endured the harrowing journey from Sighet to Auschwitz. And the trauma of being separated from her parents and siblings on the ramp at Birkenau. For more than two months, she had struggled to survive in the shadows of the gas chambers and crematoria. Finally, providentially, she and her sister Elisabeth were sent to Christianstadt, a labor camp in Lower Silesia. In its neighboring munitions factory, she gouged holes in grenades, preparing them for pins. (She deliberately made the holes shallow, rendering the weapons useless.)

 

By October 8, the date of my mother’s birthday, Anne — having been deported with her family on the last train to leave Westerbork — had known the terror and depredations of Auschwitz-Birkenau for more than a month. A celebration of any sort would have been unthinkable. Meanwhile, in Christianstadt, my mother received gifts: slippers and a hat made of straw pulled from mattresses; flowers made of somehow-procured crepe paper. Had Anne been at my mother’s party, she would have had a slice of the cake decorated with a scene from Hansel and Gretel, made by women who worked in the SS officers’ kitchen, created at the risk of punishment for stealing scarce ingredients.

 

On November 1, 1944, Anne, her sister, Margot, and Augusta Van Pels were transferred from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen. It would be another four-and-a-half months before my mother encountered that hell.

 

With the advance of the Red Army in the winter of 1945, the Nazis hurried to evacuate concentration camps in the east. Bergen-Belsen, deep in northwest Germany, received the largest number of war-ravaged survivors. Without adequate shoes and clothing, with hardly anything to eat, they had suffered terribly on death marches and in overcrowded rail cars. Now they landed in a place without sanitation, clean water or habitable housing. A February transport brought typhus to the camp. Epidemics raged. Death was practically inescapable.

 

After witnessing the demise of Margot, Anne, emaciated and ill, also succumbed. No one knows the exact date, but it was likely within one or two weeks of my mother’s arrival in mid-March. More than 17,000 prisoners died that month. The dead lay in huge piles, or among the living in the huts.

 

By the time units of the British Second Army liberated Bergen-Belsen on April 15, half of the camp’s 60,000 inmates were recent arrivals. If not too far gone, they were able to withstand the final five days under Nazi rule, when no food or water was distributed. Those who were there longer had less of a chance. More than 13,000 died after the liberation. It took four weeks for the liberators to stem the tide of death.

 

My mother barely survived. On April 23 or 24 she was washed, disinfected, and placed in a makeshift hospital room with 12 beds. Every day for three weeks, 11 dead were removed and 11 nearly dead filled the empty beds.

 

Even when I had the crazy idea that my mother and Anne Frank knew each other, I was aware that they were very different girls from very different backgrounds. Despite her family’s move from Germany to the Netherlands in the wake of the Nazis’ rise to power, Anne enjoyed the trappings of a privileged childhood: family trips, expensive activities, material comforts. My mother came from a poor family in an isolated Carpathian Mountain town. The second of six children, she’d had big responsibilities — taking care of her younger siblings, tending to household chores and, by age 12, delivering orders for her grandmother’s poultry business. While Anne attended a Montessori School, my mother attended a provincial Romanian school. While Anne kept a diary, my mother kept a log of what customers owed. Beyond being Jewish (Anne’s family was secular; my mother’s, religious) the only thing they had in common was the developmental stage they were at when caught in Hitler’s murderous web.

 

Had Anne survived, she and my mother may have crossed paths. This was plausible; in hospitals and TB sanatoriums and, at one point, at an International School for teenage survivors, my mother was with girls who came from various socioeconomic groups. What they had in common was more significant than what they had experienced in their diverse prewar lives. Almost all were orphaned, sick and homeless. All had endured against all odds.

 

Had Anne survived, her mighty contribution to Holocaust literature would surely have taken a different tack. Readers would have had to be ready to learn the whole truth.

 

This essay was originally published on August 4 by Kveller, and is republished by permission. It may not be reproduced without permission. To receive a free subscription to Kveller, visit https://www.kveller.com/signup/.

 

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Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184006 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184006 0
Thinking and Teaching the Implications of Federalist #10 for Democracy

 

When I picked up my copy of Federalist #10 to begin writing this article, I was stunned by the subtitle: "The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection." Despite my 30 years of teaching this document, the emotions that welled up in me upon reading "Insurrection" were a shock. These are hard times. That the present shapes our understanding of the history we study was brought home to me with new force.

Knowing that Shays' Rebellion was a cause of the calling of, and the high attendance at, the Constitutional Convention and the prominence of the phrase "to insure Domestic Tranquility" in the preamble helps explain what the framers thought was at stake in 1787. I always spent 10 or 15 minutes parsing the meanings of the preamble, but even though I taught the Constitution more than 150 times over the years, I never felt the depth of those words as I do at this time. The insurrection by the followers of Donald Trump puts us in a situation James Madison would recognize. Donald Trump and his minions have been frightening us every day for years now. It is time to analyze the most famous of Madison's essays: Federalist #10. This essay is addressed to teachers.

This article is in two major parts: An analysis of Madison's Federalist #10 on his terms in the first section, which is a pared down student-led lesson, and a second section which builds on the first to critique #10. Usually historians and political scientists refer to the electoral college as the major anti-democratic feature of the Constitution, but in Federalist #10 Madison, as you will see, had fundamentally no respect for the will of the of the people. He baked this idea into his theory of the republic.

That final section takes on the chimerical idea of the (single) public good and Madison's outright rejection of “the people themselves” to protect the government from dangerous majorities. In 2022 the white supremacist Republican party has ditched democracy and gerrymandered Madison's constitutional structure. We are on the brink of a fascist takeover.These contradictions could not be compromised away in 1787 and cannot be smoothed over in 2022. “The Miracle in Philadelphia” nearly failed as a system on January 6, 2021. Democracy cannot be defended by depending on a group of men of “wisdom” to lead us to control “the mischiefs of faction.” Instead we need majority rule.

When I assigned Federalist #10 I asked the students to download and read the document. (1) They were required to choose two sentences from the beginning, three from the middle and two from the end of the document. As I have explained in detail in "The Tarzan Theory of Reading," on my Substack site, the students were to single out sentences with which they agreed or disagreed strongly or those that they thought were important and explain why. The students will lead the discussion with their questions, comments, and the sentences they choose which they will read out loud to the class. In addition I asked them to identify the sentence that was at the logical center of the argument. Federalist #10 has an elegant architecture.

When I began the class, I asked for questions or comments. Students often made comments on the definitions of faction or insurrection, which is now a term many students will encounter in the news. The definition of faction is "a majority or minority... opposed to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." The students will come up with the common term "special interest," but how can that be a majority? This is key problem with Federalist #10, since Madison's understanding of the term faction is not intuitive. The students may object that the Constitution describes a democracy: does not the majority rule? You should put that idea in a separate list on the board and leave it until the end of the discussion (we will discuss that separate list of ideas in depth in the Part II critique). An insurrection is an attempt at the violent overthrow of a government. The students know that Shays' Rebellion (1786 – 87) was an insurrection.

Majority faction is itself a contradiction that can be addressed by working through Madison's series of subtopics: the climate of disorder in the country, his diagnosis of factions the proposals to eliminate them, or to control them, and a critique of his solution. Although the discussion will jump around the document, as the students volunteer their sentences those subtopics will organize the notes as we go along.

Disorder in the Country

Shays' Rebellion was a major factor in Madison's concerns. The students will know that indebted farmers in western Massachusetts denounced unaffordable taxes and complained that they were losing their mortgages to foreclosure. Daniel Shays was a Revolutionary War captain who led his followers to attempt to close the courts to prevent the foreclosures. In addition, they demanded representation equal to the proportional per capita representation in the east close to Boston. After the rebellion was quashed, Shaysites were elected to the Massachusetts legislature. Another problem was that the rebellion was a protest against unfair taxation reminiscent of the protests in the 1760s and 70s. It reminded many leaders in Massachusetts of the lead-up to 1776 (similarly, some of the insurrectionists in 2022 used 1776 as a threatening slogan). This armed insurrection was a major cause of the convening of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, because the Articles Congress had no power to raise an army directly: the state had to defend itself along with any allies it could muster.

Madison describes how, in his view, the public good was being ignored. "The friend of popular governments" opposes the "violence of faction" which causes "instability, injustice and confusion." There are "overbearing" majorities that cause " governments" to be "too unstable" because they do not respect the "rights of the minority," and governments controlled by "specious (unsupportable) arguments" causing "mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished." He blames the "factious spirit that has tainted our public administrations."

Madison's Definition of Faction

"By faction I understand a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole who are united and actuated by some common impulse or passion or of interest adversed (sic) to the rights of other citizens or the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." If a student chooses this sentence, you have to be careful to explain each part of the definition. How do you explain this definition, I ask. Eventually the students come to realize that Madison expected that the people would support particular conclusions (how else could he call it a majority faction?). How could a leader find "the permanent and aggregate interests of the community," I ask. This should also go in the Critique section for discussion. The rest of Federalist #10 discusses how to eliminate factions or how to control them.

Eliminating Factions

This is the first of the methods to secure the government against the "mischief of faction." There are two methods to eliminate factions: destroying liberty or giving everyone the same opinions. The students will come to the conclusion that restricting liberty is not possible in a democratic government because we depend on freedom of thought and action to maintain democracy.

The second method, giving "everyone the same opinions," is also an impossible solution because "as long as man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed." How do you understand that, I ask. Here, students might note Madison’s identification of opinions based on "self-love," the diagnosis that "reason is connected to passion" and the observation that "Diversity in the faculties of man" were factors in the differences of political opinions.

The rights of property and the ownership of different kinds of property and the faculties to obtain those kinds of property all cause divisions. Faculty seems to be an ability, the students will conclude. So, Madison describes it thus: “(t)he latent (underlying) causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man." It soon becomes clear that Madison was not making an argument for the change in distribution or the control of production or property or goods in the US—Madison was not a Marxist! Instead, the students will conclude that Madison was attempting to find ways to manage the political effects of that inequality or those differences. But in whose interest did he want to manage those inequalities: was it  to be a country of the enslaved, the ordinary people, or did he favor his class of the southern gentry?

Controlling the Effects of Faction

"The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed and that relief is only to be sought in controlling its EFFECTS." In the ensuing discussion students will come to the conclusion that this sentence begins the second half of the argument. It is the sentence at the logical center of the argument. Here Madison turns to the idea of controlling the effects of factions instead of eliminating them and eventually introduces the republic as a solution.

"If the faction consists of less than a majority" voting, the "republican principle" is the remedy. There might be disagreements, but majority rule does offer a solution. Therefore, what to do about a majority faction is the most intractable problem. Someone is likely to pick the sentence: "To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a (majority) faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed." The ensuing discussion can conclude that it is a thesis sentence pointing to the chief point of the whole article.

The "existence of the same passion in the factional majority" must be prevented or "the majority must be rendered unable to concert. When people “concert” they work together. Madison is actually opposing the rule of the majority here. A pure (direct) democracy in which the citizens are the legislature "can admit of no cure" for "the mischiefs of faction" because "the common passion or interest will in almost every case be felt by a majority of the whole and there is nothing to check... an obnoxious individual" or group from influencing everyone.

In a republic as envisioned by Madison, however, “the representatives refine and enlarge the public views by passing through a medium of a chosen body of citizens whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country (my italics)." He added, “the public voice pronounced by the representatives of the people might be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves.” Here Madison added the idea of making the republic cover larger areas. He suggests that by ”e)xtend(ing) the sphere -- you take in a greater variety of parties and interests (and) you make it less possible they will concert... “ The conclusion of this part of the argument can lead to a choice of more famous and experienced statesmen who possess the “wisdom” referred to above, because the a large number of voters would be participating in a larger district, the chances if a more famous or experienced person (i.e. of wisdom) would be greater.

Finally, "The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular states, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other states." He uses religious sects, a rage for paper money, and abolition of debt as examples that are more likely to "taint a particular county or district than an entire State." These are some of Madison's most famous statements. The students will see that the purpose of representation and extending the area of the republic was to elect men of wisdom. The factions may cancel each other out or the men of wisdom will convince the other legislators to follow the "true ideas" of the public good because the ordinary people cannot end the controversy, Madison and his fellow leaders will decide for them.

Madison's essay seems clear as a the ringing of two groups of bells: There are two groups of opposing solutions:

Eliminating Factions or Controlling its Effects. Each has two methods of solution: He moves through the ideas with alacrity going from one solution to another. The logic is stunning and elegant, like a mathematical proof.

 

Part II: A Critique of Madison's Argument

Now we have to confront the sentences we have put aside or left without exploring thoroughly, in particular the idea of the majority faction:

"By faction I understand a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole who are united and actuated by some common impulse or passion or of interest adversed (sic) to the rights of other citizens or the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." Eventually, the students will conclude that a majority vote is not what Madison is seeking as a solution to the problem of the majority faction. Somehow the government must override the majority.

Another example of Madison's majority problem: The "public voice pronounced by the representatives of the people" might be more consonant "to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves." The students will determine that Madison is counterposing the representatives to "the people themselves." Representatives certainly do not have to vote by taking instructions from their constituents, but it is clear that Madison is trying to circumvent the majority. Why would a legitimate republic be so designed? When we discuss this idea the students reach the conclusion that he does not trust the people to make the right decisions. It is obvious from the sentences that are there for the choosing.

Another of Madison’s sentences expresses the same contradictory view: "To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a (majority) faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed." What, students may ask, is the “public good” other than the will of a majority? If you have not yet discussed "public good," it is an opportunity to discuss the major contradiction. When the students analyze this the discussion is not done until the students see that even though Madison seems to be discussing the solutions as benefitting all the people, instead he is claiming the right to decide for the majority which citizens will benefit.

Eventually the students reach the conclusion that everyone does not have the same interests in society or that the public good may change. So it is not clear how to reach the public good, or that the public good can be expressed as a singular rather than a series of public goods. Madison believed, however that the public good was not only attainable, but a key factor in overcoming the mischiefs of the majority faction. Do we really think that the Constitution has been a success for all the people as Madison designed it and the conventional wisdom in the US has always assumed?

Now we have entered a realm of ambiguity and contradiction. Madison's elegant proof, which seemed so clear, becomes murky, and most importantly, unreachable by the majority of ordinary men—or women!! How do you understand this "public good" now, I ask. The students will determine that not all people under the Constitution have the same interests as propertied white men: There are women and Black people and poor and rich. In 1787 these citizens were not formally part of the political community. The First Peoples "not taxed" were thus excluded by the clause on taxing and representation in Article I after the 3/5 clause. The Black underclass in the US has been living without the protection of the law for the vast majority of American History; much of the US seemed to only discover the true level of relentless and widespread violence against Black people on May 25, 2020—the day of George Floyd's murder. Madison had been fine with slavery and its terrible consequences. These actions were not a new development.

The interracial uprising that resulted was unique They were the largest multiracial demonstrations ever in the US .The violence against Blacks has been a dark undercurrent in the US since the ratification of the Constitution. What is the public good? Do you think now that Madison was protecting the whole people as he implied in paragraph after paragraph by calling his goal the public good?

Now we come to the final sentence in the statements we have put aside for critique. When Madison brought up the danger of Shays' Rebellion (see Disorder in the Country above), he blamed the eastern leaders of Massachusetts for the unequal taxation which caused the rebellion. The western farmers rebelled against the unfair taxatiion as they had in the 1760s and 70s. Madison commented: “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm," i.e. elected to office.

These men on whom Madison depended must convince the other representatives and the senators that they know the public good better than the people themselves. Are these people philosopher kings who see the reality in Plato's cave? Or are they advocating legislation based on the general will in the theory of Rousseau? The general will is discerned outside of debate, and expresses the "true will" of the people. This ability is a "faculty" of enlightened statesmen. It depends not on majority vote but on "the permanent aggregate interests of the community" or the"public good," determined by the men "whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country" in Madison's phrase.(2) These men of the "better sort" must convince other legislators to follow their lead. What in Madison's argument places these statesmen in power, I ask. The students eventually identify the layering that takes the decisions out of the hands of the direct voters who have elected men of deeper perception or who represent more conservative interests that protect the government from the "vexed," the poor or the enslaved, in other words, the factions born of ambition race, and class. These men can find the public good for the benefit of the permanent aggregate interests of their countrymen. But as I stated at the outset such a belief is a chimera.

How can we call the history of the US a long story of a developing public good for all the people when the 3/5 Compromise ruled the House of Representatives until 1818, when the large white population of the North overwhelmed the slaveholders' advantages, and up until the Civil War the small population states controlled the Senate with the help of the “dough-faced” northerners who voted with the South in the Senate and the House. These all acted together to repress democratic solutions to slavery and keep women, the poor and the First Peoples in literal and virtual shackles and chains.

When the slave power was overthrown and the Reconstruction Amendments were passed after the Civil War, there was a brief period from 1866 to 1877 when a fragile interracial democracy existed in the South, which for a time kept the Republican reformers in power. But then violent mobs attacked and killed Black Republican voters, overturned that hard won peace between the races, and Blacks lost suffrage in nearly the whole South. White supremacy ruled again until the Civil Rights Revolution capped by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 produced a second period of Black and minority participation.

Now we are in a different era in which our political life has also been commandeered by white supremacy in the form of Republican re-districting in the states so, despite the large populations in the Democratic-controlled states, the Democrats have only bare majorities in the House and only the tie-breaking vote of the vice president in a 50-50 Senate. Democratic senators represent 41.5 million more Americans than the Republicans. (3) These are problems quite different from Madison's majority factions. It is minority rule that the majority cannot use the "republican principle" to "cure." It is a deadlock caused by the filibuster and the small population states, which have controlled the Senate since they were born in the Great Compromise. Madison's "Machine that Would Go of Itself" has been rejiggered. (4) There is a fascist threat to democracy led by the followers of the former President. Madison's governmental structure has been under threat by these insurrectionists and the democratic traditions have been undermined to the breaking point. It is unclear whether democracy shall survive the next election, let alone the ones after.

The call in Federalist #10 for the protection of the public good and for the permanent and aggregate interests of the community was based on the will and experience of a minority Madison called the "enlightened statesmen," who protected slavery for the white majority. The white majority in the country is now disappearing and the movements to defend the "historical white republic" are threatening the lives of workers, women and all minorities. This is our problem now, and it is rooted in the ideal of the public good which Madison believed he and other enlightened statesmen could conjure up to protect the true interests of the “whole” community. He fought to maintain the rule of people like him. There was no working compromise between the interests of slavery vs freedom, or today between the evangelical radicals opposed to abortion and advocates of women's rights, or between the refusal of the rights of the poor to health care and advocates of medicare for all, or finally, the interests threatening the rights to clean air, water, food and jobs and the movement for a Green New Deal. The Electoral College and the unrepresentative Senate must not control our politics. We are at a crossroads.

The myth of the "divinely inspired" Constitution has sustained Madison's reputation of infallibility, but the flaws in his reasoning, as we have pointed out, have come to haunt us and brought us to the brink of losing our democracy. What, after all, is the public good if it does not represent a clear majority of the US population? As the students realized in their analysis there is no single or public good. We are a country of classes, races and genders. We should not be controlled by the rich white men or their MAGA insurrectionists. We are still being ruled by the magical thinking of former centuries, from ancient Greece to the early modern concepts of the virtue of the white landed aristocracy. All this is embodied the persons of senators from states with populations smaller than assembly districts in New York or the city of Washington DC. These modern day conservatives talk about the Constitution as a document describing a republic, not a democracy. They believe that the proper leaders of this republic are the whites: the real Americans. This idea brings us back to the earlier argument concerning the dangers of reaching for the single public good or the "permanent aggregate interests of the community." The chimera of the public good turns out to be a smokescreen for white supremacy—as it always was. No amount of leisure or learning can motivate the white supremacists to discern true interests of our country. They are in it for themselves.

Notes

(1) You can find Federalist #10 at:

https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed10.asp

(2) For example see passim

https://www.britannica.com/topic/general-will

or

https://www.britannica.com/topic/state-sovereign-political-entity

(3) https://www.minnpost.com/eric-black-ink/2021/02/u-s-senate-representation-is-deeply-undemocratic-and-cannot-be-changed/

(4) See The Machine that Would Go of Itself , a book about the Constitution by Michael Kammen published in 1986 which shows that the understanding of the Constitution is weak, but Americans believe it is inspired by God and unchangeable.

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Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184002 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184002 0
Ukraine Shows the Need to Break the Cycle of National Insecurity

 

 

There is no doubt that the Russian invasion of Ukraine constitutes a criminal act of aggression.  What lay behind this, however, is a complicated set of competing geopolitical ambitions and threat perceptions, and beyond these, a fundamental weakness in the United Nations mediation and collective security systems. 

 

Russian leaders from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin have viewed NATO’s gradual expansion to the east as a grave national security threat.  In 2008, President George W. Bush opened the door to Ukraine and Georgia for future NATO membership, thus bringing this Western military alliance to the doorstep of Russia.  While there has been much debate over whether NATO expansion constitutes a broken promise to the Soviet Union (and Russia), there is no doubt that Russian leaders have regarded it as an existential threat to their nation.      

 

The Russian response has been to support separatist movements in Georgia and Ukraine, annex the Crimea Peninsula, and, most recently, invade Ukraine.  U.S. leaders have deemed these actions gross overreactions, or perhaps indications of a desire on Putin’s part to remake Russia into an empire along the lines of the old Soviet Union.  Whatever the case, the invasion of Ukraine has been counterproductive for Russia, as NATO has been strengthened and expanded further. 

 

U.S. leaders have taken the position that NATO is of no threat to any nation, and thus they have been unwilling to compromise on Ukraine’s eventual membership.  Then, too, U.S. leaders generally regard U.S. global power as protective and benevolent, notwithstanding a long record of military interventions and covert operations in other nations.  No doubt, they would respond with alarm if Russia or China invited Mexico to join in a military alliance. 

 

Might the war in Ukraine have been avoided if the U.S. had relied on the UN rather than NATO to ensure security in the region? 

 

The UN Charter requires that parties in any dispute “shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice” (Article 33).  Should the latter fail, the charter provides for collective security measures in which member nations can collectively deter or repel would-be aggressors through joint diplomatic, economic, and military actions “for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security” (Article 43).

 

The UN has often failed to live up to its mandate to “end the scourge of war,” which has led many to dismiss the institution as irrelevant.  Yet, like all great changes and paradigm shifts, progress in establishing a global security system is incremental and may be centuries in the making.  Think of the establishment of democratic governments, human rights policies, and religious tolerance. 

 

In the late 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev attempted to revive this inclusive concept of security set forth in the UN Charter.  Speaking before the UN General Assembly on December 8, 1988, he declared, “The world community must learn to shape and direct the process in such a way as to preserve civilization, to make it safe for all and more pleasant for normal life.  It is a question of cooperation that could be more accurately called ‘co-creation’ and ‘co-development.’  The formula of development “at another’s expense” is becoming outdated.” 

 

Turning to the U.S., Gorbachev proposed that the U.S. and Soviet Union begin a “joint effort to put an end to an era of wars, confrontation and regional conflicts, to aggression against nature, to the terror of hunger and poverty as well as to political terrorism.  This is our common goal and we can only reach it together.”  Giving substance to these aspirations, he announced Soviet decisions to withdraw significant numbers of troops and tanks from Eastern European countries and to seek a UN-brokered ceasefire in Afghanistan.

 

It was a remarkable speech, especially as Americans had been conditioned to view the Soviet Union as the graveyard of idealism.  The editors of the New York Times had difficulty describing it:  “Breathtaking.  Risky.  Bold.  Naive.  Diversionary.  Heroic.  All fit.  So sweeping is his agenda that it will require weeks to sort out.  But whatever Mr. Gorbachev’s motives, his ideas merit – indeed, compel – the most serious response from President-elect Bush and other leaders.”

 

The incoming George H. W. Bush administration was hesitant to endorse Gorbachev’s idealistic reforms.  Indeed, the U.S. foreign policy establishment viewed Moscow’s retreat from great power domination as an opportunity to advance U.S. interests and establish the U.S. as the sole superpower in the world. 

 

Gorbachev remained undaunted.  Having taken up the challenge to reinvent the Soviet socialist system, he was equally determined to instigate humanistic reforms in the international arena.  To diffuse the Cold War in Europe, he proposed an end to both NATO and the Warsaw Pact.  Speaking in France in July 1989, he called for a cooperative “commonwealth of sovereign democratic states with a high level of equitable interdependence and easily accessible borders open to the exchange of products, technologies and ideas, and wide-ranging contacts among people.” 

 

Eastern European nations, in other words, would join Western European nations in creating a common European identity and culture, buttressed by open trade and travel.  Western European nations had already modeled this in forming the European Economic Community (1957) followed by the European Union (1993), enabling age-old national animosities to dissolve.      

 

In essence, Gorbachev was proposing a way out of great power competition, in line with the UN Charter, presuming that a friendly international neighborhood is the best security.  This is the vision that is needed today – a reimagining of the world order.  Beyond immediate crises, we need to work toward an inclusive and sustainable global security system.     

 

Moreover, continuation of the current system of big power competition and rival blocs bodes ill for the future.  The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has set its “doomsday clock” at 100 seconds to midnight, closer than it has ever been, based on nuclear and global warming threats, an indication of how close humanity is to “destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making.”  Moving toward mutual security and cooperation will set the clock back and allow humanity to move forward. 

 

 

 

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Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183961 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183961 0
The Roundup Top Ten for September 23, 2022

Once More, Railroad Workers are Taking the Lead for American Labor

by Nelson Lichtenstein

Railroad companies' profits hinge on inhumane scheduling practices—cutting the workforce to the bone and squeezing everything possible out of those who remain—that will soon be part of every industry if workers aren't able to fight back. 

 

Governors DeSantis and Abbott Borrow from the Jim Crow Playbook

by Greta de Jong

"Immigration scholars have noted how U.S. foreign policies contributed to the poverty and violence in Central and South America that migrants are fleeing. Yet rather than acknowledge this – along with assuming the moral responsibilities it entails – some GOP leaders denigrate and dehumanize refugees to win support from voters."

 

 

What Does it Mean for History that Gen Z Can't Read Cursive?

by Drew Gilpin Faust

Today's college students are the vanguard of a cursive-free world. It may not be so great for the study of history. 

 

 

Republicans Were Trumpy Long Before Trump

by Nicole Hemmer

Although he ran as an independent, Ross Perot's 1992 presidential campaign raised questions about how the Republican Party would position itself in the post cold-war world. That same year, Pat Buchanan started to provide answers. 

 

 

Biden's Taiwan Rhetoric Risks Antagonizing China For No Gain

by Stephen Wertheim

The United States' "One China" policy is ambivalent, awkward and dissatisfying. But it's served to prevent a destructive war for decades. Biden's recent comments threaten to destabilize the arrangement. 

 

 

"I'm Not Racist, I'm Just Mad Amazon is Destroying Tolkien's Middle Earth with Black Hobbits"

by Mary Rambaran-Olm

Viewer complaints that Amazon Prime has defiled the author's fantasy vision with "wokeness" ignore the historical diversity of the medieval society on which Tolkien based his works. 

 

 

A Short History of Fake History, and Why We Fight for the Truth

by Robert S. Mcelvanie

One of the most important parts of the civil rights struggle was an interracial effort to fight against a narrative of fake history that had been institutionalized in and out of the Jim Crow South—the white supremacist mythology of the "lost cause." That legacy should guide schools today. 

 

 

"The Woman King" Softens Truths of the Slave Trade

by Ana Lucia Araujo

The film has a delicate task: showing the involvement of the Kingdom of Dahomey in selling other Africans to European slave traders without feeding narratives that blame Africans for the slave trade. It largely sidesteps this history instead. 

 

 

We're Living in Ken Starr's America

by David Greenberg

With two proceedings against Donald Trump and Republicans promising one against Joe Biden if they retake the House, we live in an age where impeachment is a part of national politics. Ken Starr can take as much credit or blame as anyone. 

 

 

When the News of a Royal Death Arrived Slowly, it Changed American History

by Helena Yoo Roth

The void of power in the American colonies created by rumor of the death of King George II was critical to loosening the monarchy's claims to rule in North America. 

 

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Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184015 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/184015 0
What Casey Jones Tells Us about the Past and Present of America's Railroad Workers

Postcard image Sltaylor1954CC BY-SA 4.0

 

 

 

With a potential railroad strike in the news, Americans are learning quite a bit about the poor working conditions on the freight railroads that keep this country running. Railroad workers threatening to strike have complained about poor pay, dangerous working conditions, and punitive attendance policies. If Americans think about the stereotypical railroad engineer, perhaps Casey Jones comes to mind. Casey Jones, who crashes to his doom in a famous song from the Grateful Dead, a folk ballad, vaudeville hit, and countless parodies, has become the almost universal stand-in for a railroad worker in American culture. Yet despite a haze of mythology, there was a real Casey jones, and his work life tells us much about railroad work in the past and present.

 

As Casey Jones songs spread around the nation, engineers and their friends from across the country claimed to be the “real” Casey Jones, a fact that tells us just how universal his experience was. But most folklorists find John Luther Jones, an Illinois Central engineer who died in a 1900 train wreck near Vaughan, Mississippi, to be the most credible of these claims. While we do not know all that much about his life, we do know what it was like to be an engineer for the Illinois Central, and the story of the real Casey Jones reminds us that there is nothing new about the grievances of modern rail workers.

 

There has generally been a perception among labor historians that engineers were part of the aristocracy of labor and to be sure, they did enjoy a level of privilege far above most Gilded Age workers. Engineers were better paid than most railroad workers and held one of the best paid and valued positions (outside of management) in railroad companies. Casey Jones was a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, but this was one of America’s more conservative labor unions. Instead of pushing for large scale strike action or systemic change, the BLE organized skilled workers and mostly fought for incremental gains for engineers. This perception of engineers as aloof from labor struggles likely is what inspired IWW songsmith Joe Hill’s parody version of “Casey Jones (the Union Scab),” which imagines Casey Jones as a company toady.

 

Despite the advantages engineers had, within Casey Jones’s lifetime, from the 1860s to 1900, engineers on the Illinois Central experienced a stunning downfall in terms of their independence and control of the workplace. In the earlier days of railroading, engineers were assigned to a specific engine, but by the turn of the century most railroads were continuously running engines and switching up crews at points along the line. So Casey’s run from Memphis to Canton was just one segment of a longer journey from Chicago to New Orleans and companies essentially used engineers like interchangeable parts to plug into different runs as needed.

 

Casey and his fellow engineers were bound by a dizzying array of rules in a thick rulebook and discipline for violating these rules was arbitrary and often brutal – in 1897 one master mechanic with the IC estimated that a quarter of the engineers who worked under him in the previous three decades had been fired for disciplinary reasons. Engineers were once paid a stable monthly wage but the Illinois Central shifted this to a per mile rate in the 1870s. Perhaps this is why Casey, on his final day, agreed to take on a second run in a twenty-four hour period. As Sim Webb, his fireman, later related, they got into Memphis in the morning and barely had enough time for a full sleep before leaving again.

 

The late-nineteenth century also witnessed a reckless speed-up on the rails that mirrors today’s railroad companies’ push for efficiency and austerity. Companies pushed workers to run trains at faster and faster speeds, and with much fanfare they rolled out fast mail trains. A traffic manager or executive could create an aggressive new timetable for a route but it would be up to engineers to make this speed-up happen on the ground. Trying to make up time on the IC’s fast mail schedule was ultimately what killed Casey Jones, as he wrecked while pushing his train to higher and higher speeds and did not see a backed-up freight on his track until it was too late.

 

By the 1890s, train wrecks were surging in the United States, driven by new traffic demands, higher speeds, and the financial woes of railroads following the Panic of 1893. The carnage got so bad that an entire genre of American folk song emerged – the train wreck ballad. So we remember many of these fast trains not for their speed records, but for the grisly wrecks they caused, such as Casey’s and the “Wreck of the Old 97” that left engineer Steve Brady “scalded to death by the steam.” Yet even these ballads whitewash the horrors and turn what are systemic issues into personalized, man vs machine struggles, and in some cases even make a mockery of the dead engineers. The final line of the 1909 vaudeville version of Casey Jones’s ballad promises his grieving children that "they have another papa on the Salt Lake Line."

 

Just as COVID-19 has exposed deep inequalities in America and stirred new labor unrest in 2022, disease framed the work life of Casey Jones. Outbreaks of yellow fever, a terrifying mosquito borne ailment, raced up southern rail lines in the late nineteenth century, rendering engineers as nineteenth century “essential workers.” Engineers had to run trains into infected areas and confront both the threat of disease and the threat of violence from townspeople enforcing local quarantines at the barrel of a gun. In an 1878 outbreak, hundreds of railroad workers in the Mississippi Valley were sickened or killed while working through a devastating epidemic. During outbreaks, which periodically flared up in the summer months, many engineers refused to go out on runs and countless others left the company altogether. Casey Jones got his job with the Illinois Central due to fever-induced vacancies, and he ended up in quarantine in Yazoo City, Mississippi a year before he died.

 

Finally, Casey Jones reminds us that then and now, railroad labor can be a canary in the coal mine for the ills of the broader American working class. If anything, the railroad strikers of 2022 have echoed a building critique of corporate power in America that started in the aftermath of the Great Recession and Occupy movements and that has accelerated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Why, today’s strikers ask, can companies rake in massive profits for shareholders while preaching austerity for workers? This is a question that has broad relevance for the American working class, which is being squeezed by rising costs of living, low wages, and the continued struggles of laboring during a deadly pandemic. Only time will tell if 2022’s railroad labor unrest is a preview of broader labor insurgency, but already, the signs from a broad spectrum of the economy point to yes.

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Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183956 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183956 0
Director Lynn Novick on the New Holocaust Documentary

 

 

The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference.

--Elie Wiesel, Human Rights Activist, Author and Holocaust Survivor

 

The word holocaust derives from the ancient Greek for “burnt offering.” The term “the Holocaust” refers to Nazi Germany’s systematic, deliberate, state-sponsored campaign of dehumanization, terrorism, persecution and mass murder that resulted in the deaths of at least six million European Jews during the Nazi era (1933-1945). This horrific, genocidal Nazi initiative is also called “the Shoah,” Hebrew for “catastrophe.”  

The roots of the Holocaust ran deep in the centuries-long history of antisemitism in Europe, with a ferocious escalation of persecution of Jews under Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler during Third Reich that began with harassment and deprivation of rights of Jews leading to physical attacks and destruction of Jewish property, to isolated atrocities, to segregated ghettos, and then to mass murder on an industrial scale with the “Final Solution,” the Nazi plan to exterminate all European Jewry. By 1941, death camps for mass killing sprouted in Eastern Europe. By the end of the war in May 1945, the Nazis had exterminated two thirds of the Jews in Europe. 

In the United States, as one of the greatest humanitarian crises in history unfolded, Americans were confronted by the fate of the Jewish people in Europe. Jewish pleas for sanctuary in America to escape Nazi persecution and likely death tested American ideals. Debates raged throughout the prewar and war years about America’s responsibility to assist imperiled refugees as leaders balanced domestic needs during the Depression with military considerations, as well as popular sentiment influenced by pervasive antisemitism, racism, xenophobia, and racial “purification” based on the pseudoscience of eugenics. 

The popular understanding of the US response to the Holocaust combines a sense that Americans were unaware of the Nazi atrocities against Jews in Europe and the idea that Americans were simply unable to help while ignoring the anti-immigrant and isolationist sentiments of the time. 

The story is much more nuanced and complicated as reflected in a groundbreaking and moving new PBS six-hour documentary series The United States and the Holocaust, directed by the iconic filmmaking team of Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein. The series is set to debut on PBS on September 18. 

By carefully examining the period from the early twentieth century through the Second World War in the US and Europe, this series dispels competing myths about the American response to the Holocaust and explores the reality of that period.

As always with previous Burns-Novick film collaborations, the series draws on extensive and groundbreaking research to help viewers understand how American perceptions of the persecution of European Jews were shaped by circumstances in the United States including a severe economic crisis, fear of immigrants, deep-rooted antisemitism and racism, and popular isolationist tendencies. Among other materials, the series presents the fruits of an intensive exploration of the past and includes the commentary of expert historians and Holocaust survivors, as well as rare photographs and films, home movies and family photos and personal memorabilia, official records, newspaper and magazine articles, and popular cultural materials.

Lynn Novick, co-director of the series and a distinguished filmmaker in her own right, graciously responded to a series of questions on the creation of this revelatory and engaging documentary by Zoom. 

Ms. Novick is one of the most renowned documentary filmmakers and visual storytellers working in the US today. She has been honored with Emmy, Peabody, and Alfred I. DuPont Columbia Awards for her extraordinary work. She has served as co-director with Ken Burns for more than 25 years, and together they have created the most critically acclaimed documentary films that have aired on PBS including Hemingway (2021); The Vietnam War (2017); Prohibition (2011); The Tenth Inning (2010); The War (2007); Jazz (2001); Frank Lloyd Wright (1994); and Baseball (1994). Ms. Novick came to Florentine Films in 1989 to work on Burns’s landmark 1990 series, The Civil War, as associate producer for post-production.  Her 2019 series College Behind Bars on a unique education program in prisons was her debut project as solo director and the series was nominated for two Emmys. She previously served as researcher and associate producer for Bill Moyers on two PBS series: Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth and A World of Ideas with Bill Moyers.

             

Robin Lindley: It’s a pleasure to talk with you again Lynn. Thanks for your previous thoughtful conversations with me on your Vietnam War and Hemingway documentaries.  And now, congratulations to you and Ken Burns and Sarah Botstein and your crew on your new documentary masterpiece The United States and the Holocaust. For me, the series was extremely moving and illuminating, and I think it will surprise viewers as it addresses many preconceptions and flawed history about this period in the United States and in Germany. What was the inspiration for this documentary? 

Lynn Novick:  Ken and Sarah Botstein and Geoffrey Ward (author, historian and screenwriter) and I have all been interested in the Holocaust in different ways and for different reasons for years. We've touched on it in glancing ways in some other projects we've done, but we weren't especially focused on tackling it as its own distinct topic until 2015. That’s when we were approached by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, when they were planning an exhibition called “Americans and the Holocaust” for 2018. They asked if we thought it would be interesting to do a documentary that might come out around the same time as the exhibition. We said immediately, that is a terrific idea. But we added that we probably couldn’t get it done so quickly because of other projects we were all working on. 

We put the project in our pipeline and began to think about it and do the research and assemble the advisors and look for survivors to interview and all of that. But we didn't really dive into it full time for a few years. We didn't get it done in time for 2018, but the exhibition is still up. The museum did a beautiful job and we were able to benefit from their research and scholarship. We also did our own research into the topic and took it in some different directions. 

Robin Lindley: How did the project evolve from your original conception to the final series? I appreciate your deep dive into American history in particular. 

Lynn Novick: One of the big questions with a project like this is always where do you start?  Do we begin with Hitler coming to power or do we begin with the Kristallnacht or other events once the Nazis had taken over Germany? 

But, since we were focusing on the American response, it became clear pretty quickly that we would have to lay out for our audience what our policies were towards immigrants and refugees before this crisis happened. To get our arms around the context for the story, we decided we had to go back to the 19th century—to the ideals behind the Statue of Liberty and our values as a society. And then we looked at how we lived up to or did not live up to those values when push came to shove in the 1930s and 1940s. 

It was really a process of rewinding or pulling back the threads to get where we wanted to start, and then lining up the history of the Second World War; the history of America's involvement in the Second World War; and the history of the Holocaust itself. When it happened? How it happened? Where it happened? Who was victimized? Who were the perpetrators? All of these questions.

I'm not sure I could have fully explained these concerns before we began to work on this project and then simultaneously lay out what information Americans had about all of this, both at the highest levels of government and just among ordinary people reading the newspaper, going to the newsreels, or people who had family members in Europe and were hearing through informal networks about what was happening.

That was the ambitious scope of what we were trying to do. To do that, we heard from scholars and historians who have studied this period and know a lot more about it than we will ever hope to know. And we also had to make it real for ourselves and for our audience so we wanted to find people who actually could still bear witness to it, who had lived through it themselves. And these were people who would now be in their eighties, nineties, and were children at the time. 

All of those things were happening simultaneously for us. 

Robin Lindley: You cover an amazing range of history in six hours. I appreciate, as always, your meticulous and extensive research from film and photographic resources to archival material, to actual location visits, to the presentation of experts and witnesses. And you follow many story threads. How do you see your research process? 

Lynn Novick: First, I can't say enough about the beautiful script that Geoffrey Ward wrote for us. We must give him an enormous amount of credit for helping us establish the overall structure; in figuring out the chronologies and how these stories would intertwine; and writing about such difficult materials. He did so beautifully, and in an understated way. We're so grateful to Geoff for everything he has done for this film. 

The research is done throughout the project by many people. Geoff does his own research in terms of often reading published material, including secondary sources. He looks online for material as well. We have a team of producers that do the archival research, which is looking for the photographs, the footage, the documentary evidence, including letters, telegrams, and many newspapers in this case, to help tell the story. 

And then there's the research to find the people whose stories we're going to tell. We collect their first-person accounts and archival materials that they have so that their stories can also become real. 

So there's many different dimensions to the research and it goes on throughout the project. And we had several aces in the hole for this project. Some of the scholars who we worked with most closely also had worked on the [Holocaust Museum] exhibition and some are connected to the museum. They know this story better than many, and we could call them with questions. They could make suggestions and let us know of finding materials that we didn't know about and sharing that with us. I'll just give one example. It’s a small one, but it represents what you could multiply for every story in the film. 

As we put the series together, we sometimes recognize, for example, that we’re not finding ways to connect the dots between stories. Here, we had two stories with what's happening in Europe and what's happening in America. How do we bring them together besides just alternating between them? And one of the ways we wanted to do that was to find a family that came to the United States before 1924 and had made a life for themselves and had gone back to visit Poland or Ukraine or parts of the former Soviet Union with their movie cameras and had taken pictures or footage of the places where they were from the way you would when you are on vacation. And there's a small collection of this type of material and, we realized about halfway through editing, we really wanted to put in a scene about a story like that, but we didn't have one. 

We reached out to the Holocaust Museum and they had been collecting all manner of oral histories and archival records from different people. They showed us the story of the Bland family, and we were able to look at their home movies that the teenaged son filmed when they went back to the villages where the parents were from in Poland. And we had the oral history of the younger child who was there with his memories of that experience. And we built a scene from that. And that's just one example out of six hours, but you could multiply that across many moments in the film and it speaks to how open our process is. Sometimes we are looking for something and sometimes material just comes up, and it's a little bit of both. 

Robin Lindley: That’s fascinating background on the rigorous work that went into this series. Viewers will be amazed by much of this history. 

Lynn Novick: We were amazed by it.  

Robin Lindley: I appreciate the powerful storytelling and the many threads the series follows. You frame the series with the especially poignant story of Anne Frank's family. She’s perhaps the most well-known victim of the Holocaust for American viewers.

Lynn Novick: Thank you for asking about that story. When we were developing the project and set out to try to tell this story and to find ways for our audiences to understand how interconnected the stories were, some materials came to light, including some letters that Otto Frank, Anne Frank's father, had written to a friend in the US who was a well-connected New Yorker who he had known. Otto Frank begged him for help to try to get his family out of the Netherlands. They had already fled Germany for Amsterdam, and they were trying to get out of Amsterdam. We immediately seized on that as a powerful framing device because, as you say, Anne Frank is the most well-known representative of the Holocaust for most Americans, or certainly for many.

I know for myself, when I read her diary in school and even subsequently reread it before we were working on the project, I read it as a document of something that happened far away that had nothing to do with me except that, when I read it, I was a girl and she was a girl. I was very interested and moved by it and devastated by it, but I didn't think about it as anything to do with America at all. 

And so, we wanted to show from the beginning that America was part of the story, or that this story is part of us in ways that we don't fully understand, and that story showed one family of many people who tried to get here and were not able to. And why was that? If we find out that one of those people was Anne Frank and then realize she might still be here today if our policies had been different, we can then explain all the reasons why they weren't different. We’re not saying America is responsible for what happened to Anne Frank in any way, shape, or form, but we're trying to help our audience and ourselves see that these narratives are connected and that in America we have to look at ourselves in this story. 

Robin Lindley: The series provides context for her story that most people probably don't know much about. 

Lynn Novick: The film is six hours long and it could have been ten hours, but a lot of material that we had originally included ended up on the cutting room floor, including one of my favorite scenes. 

We couldn't fit it into the film, but we found out also that Anne Frank’s Montessori school teacher arranged for her and her sister to have pen pals in America. So, she and her sister exchanged letters with sisters in Burlington, Iowa—another connection with the US. We have a beautiful letter from Anne to her pen pal saying my name is Anne and I'm in this grade and I don't really speak English that well, and tell me about yourself. And I found Burlington on the map after I read this normal pen pal letter. It's very moving and it speaks to how much of this history we really don't know and how difficult it is to excavate, especially from the Holocaust, an act of erasure or an attempted erasure. And Anne’s diary is so powerful because she refuses to be erased. 

Robin Lindley: Thanks for sharing that moving moment in your research. You also worked with a panel of experts, mostly renowned American historians. 

Lynn Novick: We were grateful to have such a distinguished and brilliant and well- informed and thoughtful group of advisors who know the story of the Holocaust and also American history and how they connect. 

Some of our most treasured experiences on a project like this are the times when we sit down in person and share the film with our advisors before it's done. That gives us a chance to make adjustments after the screenings. We had only one meeting because of COVID. This project was unfortunately put together during the worst of the pandemic. 

We had our only in-person screening in the summer of 2021 when things opened up for a little moment. We were able to bring several of our advisors to New Hampshire to screen the film with us and they gave us their full attention, their depth of knowledge, and the nuances of language and image and the other choices that make the series so powerful. 

Rebecca Erbelding, for example, a young scholar at the Holocaust Museum, has an interesting story of how she got interested in this topic and involved in the scholarship. She wrote her dissertation on the War Refugee Board, which I had never heard before their exhibition went up. She worked with us, and she is a scrupulous historian who understands American history and the Holocaust with all the pitfalls and tropes and oversimplifications. And she was just unstinting in demanding that we get it right. She has been a huge help. 

We also have Peter Hayes, a preeminent scholar of the Holocaust, who has a beautiful way of explaining what happened very matter-of-factly and also pushing back on the idea that it was unthinkable. It was impossible. It was unimaginable. All those words, and he holds us to account to say this did happen. It could happen. It's not unthinkable. He was reframing the way that we think about this catastrophe. He's brilliant. 

We also appreciated having Nell Irvin Painter who is a retired history professor, and now an artist. She made time for us and gave us a great interview and helped us situate the entire conversation and the framing of the film within the context of the powerful undercurrent in America of white supremacy, racism, antisemitism, and xenophobia. How does this story fit into that history? And we're enormously grateful for her perspective. 

Robin Lindley: I was impressed that Professor Nell Painter was part of the series. She’s a legendary professor of American history specializing race relations. I interviewed her a couple of years ago on her history teaching and her “encore career” as an artist. Her inclusion in the series is evidence of the deep dive the film takes into our ugly history in the early 20th century with the discriminatory laws, racism, xenophobia, and eugenics—with US laws and policies that served as models for Hitler’s Third Reich. 

Lynn Novick: It's very ugly and deeply disturbing to work your way through that material, but it was part of our story. To tell this story without exploring all of that would be strange. And we were also fascinated and repelled by the interplay. 

We could have done more, but I think we gave our audience an understanding that eugenics was popular on both sides of the Atlantic. The Germans embraced it and we embraced it. And Nell has written about this as has Isabel Wilkerson and James Whitman. There was a cross-pollination of racist ideas between Germany and the United States and England and France and other parts of Western Europe. How mainstream those ideas became based on a pseudoscience is appalling. There was nothing scientific about eugenics whatsoever.

Robin Lindley: Yes. A professor I know asked, do you know the abbreviation for eugenics? It's BS, he said. 

Lynn Novick: Exactly. That's perfect. BS is exactly right. And yet we had all these very eminent Americans on the bandwagon hyping it. 

Robin Lindley: Yes. You note in the documentary that Rockefeller, Carnegie, and a lot of renowned academics embraced eugenics. The research in the United States and the United Kingdom, I believe, brought eugenics to the attention of Hitler and the Nazis, and they used it in their master race formulation. 

Lynn Novick: I believe so. And then we also have to account for the fact that again, and other scholars have explained this much better than I can, that when the Germans were trying to figure out how to structure their society so that Jews would be stripped of their citizenship and their rights and do it little by little and do it legally, they looked to us for how to do that. And we had set quite an example over many years. 

Robin Lindley: Exactly. And Hitler, in his hateful, 1924 screed Mein Kampf, applauded America’s restrictive and racist immigration laws as well as the Jim Crow segregation laws and other policies that made Black Americans second-class citizens including a ban of miscegenation. These American ideas were an inspiration for Nazi race laws which deprived Jewish people of all rights and embraced Aryan supremacy with a whole categorical scheme of Jewish ancestry and blood to determine who was truly German and who was not. And, according to several historians, the American laws were actually harsher in some ways than the Nazi edicts. 

Lynn Novick: Exactly. I knew that from visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington. They have artifacts that speak to those laws. And it wasn't news to me that there were Nazis looking to our laws as a model, and the degree to which they emulated us in that regard handicapped our ability to criticize them. They could throw it back in our face and say, you can't criticize us for oppressing a minority. You do the same thing. I'm talking about before the mass killings and the extermination of people, but right up to that moment, there wasn't that much we could say in response to their laws. 

Robin Lindley: The widespread American embrace of the racist principles of eugenics many surprise many viewers. I recall reading that families who were adjudged the most “Nordic”—the apex of the eugenics race hierarchy—would win ribbons at county fairs like animals or produce. And your series notes that 43 of 48 states had legalized the sterilization of defective or “feebleminded” people as well as some criminals. 

Lynn Novick: Yes. That’s really horrifying. And some of those laws were not really rescinded until very recently. 

I'm actually going to tackle that topic again because I'm working on another project on the history of crime and punishment in America. We're going to show that people who were under the control of the state in mental hospitals and prisons and other places of confinement, were subject to the idea that they should be prevented from reproducing and that idea was a very durable one. It was quite horrifying. They called these ugly ideas racial hygiene and racial purification and social engineering according to some construct of the pseudoscience of eugenics. This horrific engineering of humanity is basically racism, and it was not unique to Nazi Germany. 

Robin Lindley: And speaking of racism, how do you see American immigration laws in the early 20th century? You recount a backlash against immigration and refugees after World War I and the extremely restrictive Johnson-Reed Immigration Act in 1924. 

Lynn Novick: That's a critical piece of our story. To understand why it was so difficult for refugees under Hitler to enter the United States, we have to know that immigration laws changed dramatically in 1924. 

Before 1924, there had been other restrictions, specifically the Chinese Exclusion Act and some specific rules targeting people from Asia. But for the most part, until the early twenties, anyone could come here from anywhere without any real process. My ancestors all just got on a boat and came here. And if they hadn't, I wouldn't be here today because they were from the places where a lot of the killing took place when the Nazis overran Soviet Union. 

So why did we decide as a society to change our policy and make it very difficult for people to come here from certain parts of the world? There was a backlash that I didn't understand, and it had been building for quite a while. You had wave upon wave of millions of people coming to the United States from 1880 or so to 1920. I think 25 million people came here from Eastern Europe and Southern Europe. And the people who ran this country really felt that America was being destroyed—that something innately, inherently good about America was being eroded. And I would argue that the exact opposite was true, but that's how they saw it and they were determined to stop the wrong people from coming here. And it does tie into eugenics and a sense of racial hierarchy that they wanted to preserve. And they used this umbrella of science, of eugenics, but it wasn't scientific at all. It was just pure bigotry.

And sadly, the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act passed handily without a lot of resistance to it. The law set quotas for every country that were carefully apportioned according to the ideals that the people who wrote the law wanted America to represent. The Act permitted immigration of a lot of people from Northern Europe: Germany, England, and Scandinavia. That's the people that they thought should come here. Everybody else was restricted to little quotas. If you were from Poland, or if you were from Italy, or if you were from Eastern Europe, your chances of immigrating were very small.  

Robin Lindley: That’s another sad aspect of this story. And after the First World War, as your film shows, the white supremacist and anti-immigrant Ku Klux Klan held surprising political sway in many states in both the South and the North.  

Lynn Novick: Indeed. They had reinvented themselves as an anti-immigrant, anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic organization and were much more “mainstream” than they had been as a violent terrorist organization after the Civil War. In the 1920s, they called themselves “The Invisible Empire,” but there was nothing invisible about them. They marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC. And they strongly favored immigration restrictions, and they were hugely popular. Politicians had to reckon with that. 

Robin Lindley: And, by the 1930s, the US Department of State rigidly enforced the immigration quotas and restricted visas and thus severely limited immigration, especially from unfavored nations. And some upper-level officials in the State Department were openly antisemitic. What did you learn about the State Department?  

Lynn Novick: I knew a little bit about this particular character named Breckenridge Long [Assistant Secretary of State—responsible for refugee visas] who is certainly one of the villains of the story. He seemed to have no compassion for Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism, and he saw them all as a threat to the United States. To some degree, we could say that perhaps there was a fear that refugees coming here would become spies or other security risks. That was the argument, but Long seems to have been just unapologetically antisemitic, and he felt he was doing his patriotic duty to keep the wrong people out of his country and to use the power of his position to do so. And the people under him mostly went along with that. 

On the other hand, there was no great pressure being put upon Long from the White House or from Cordell Hull who was the Secretary of State. The Department went out of its way to enforce the immigration rules to the letter of the law and to delay and to not make things easy for refugees. 

And also, some of the worst offenses beyond those—which were pretty bad—was when the State Department basically suppressed reports of Hitler’s mass extermination of people in 1941 after the invasion of the Soviet Union. These credible reports never made their way beyond the Department. State Department officials in Washington wrote back to their offices in Switzerland, where someone in the Department had sent a sent a detailed report [on mass murder of Jews], and ordered, “please don't send us any more of these reports.” They had no interest. They didn't want this explosive information that could have been used perhaps to raise awareness of the crisis. And instead, they just concealed it. There's no good way to see that story. 

Robin Lindley: And the president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, knew of atrocities against Jews in Germany and beyond, but was reluctant to speak out on behalf of Jewish refugees, even though Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady, and Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, were arguing essentially that providing a haven for refugees was the purpose of America. 

Lynn Novick: FDR didn't leave behind a diary or audio tapes or much of a record of exactly how he felt about what he was doing or why he made the decisions he did or why he embraced or not the policies he embraced. We have to go with what he did and didn't do and try to infer what we can, and that's a risky business.  

We know that FDR was aware of the crisis. We know that people in the Jewish community in particular and Eleanor and others were pleading with him to do something. And we also know that he was a very astute politician who understood the American political scene better than most, and he was the leader of a deeply antisemitic country that was also xenophobic, as we have said. 

In the 1930s, we were coming out of the Depression and he was not a king. He didn't get to make all the rules. And, to get reelected, he had to bring the public along with him. He was trying to do a lot of different things to get the country out of the Depression, for one, and then move us toward a war footing, and to try to help England and France in particular defend themselves as he began to see the Nazi threat emerging, and then ultimately prepare the nation to fight a war.

And I think it reflects not on him, but on our whole nation. If FDR had said in a Fireside Chat, “I have it on good authority that the Jews of Europe are facing the threat of annihilation, and we know this is happening and Americans have to rally to do everything we can to save them,” I think that would have gone over like a lead balloon. He knew the country very well. He was walking a tightrope trying to move the country forward, but he also knew that if he got too far ahead of public opinion, he’d get nowhere. I'd like to think he could have done more or I wish he had done more, but I also think it's not fair to pin this failure on FDR alone by any means. 

Robin Lindley: There were also some heroes in American officialdom. The series mentions John Pehle who stood up to the State Department and became director of the War Refugee Board late in the war. Who was he?

Lynn Novick: Yes. John Pehle is one American who was not indifferent to the plight of Jews and refugees. He grew up in Omaha and his father was a German immigrant and his mother was the child of Swedish immigrants. He worked for the U.S. Treasury Department as the director of the Foreign Funds Control and, when Gerhart Riegner’s report about the mass murder of Jews came across his desk, he was prepared to do anything in his power to help.

However, as I previously mentioned, the State Department and Assistant Secretary Breckenridge Long, in particular, were deliberately obstructionist and not willing to send any aid abroad. Rather than stand by idly, Pehle worked with Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and others, to draft an executive order for President Roosevelt. The result of their efforts was the establishment of the War Refugee Board, which was signed into effect in January of 1944. Pehle acted as the first director of the board and it was estimated that the WRB saved tens of thousands of lives by providing materials and sending money. Pehle is an American hero who used his position of power to save individual lives and make a difference.

Robin Lindley: You mention the deep antisemitism in the United States at this time. What explains this attitude? Why did many Americans find Jewish people a threat? 

Lynn Novick: I'm not an expert on that topic. I think we have to see it in the context of a white supremacy and ideology. There was lots of prejudice and bigotry to go around. It was not only targeted towards Jews. There was racial hatred towards African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Italian Americans. There was dehumanizing language and othering of many groups.

I don't know that Jews were singled out as being more benighted, as more of a target of this hatred, than other groups, except to say that there was long history of antisemitism from the Catholic Church and, as we see today, from a part of Christian heritage. That's part of the story we have to deal with. And that was true here. 

But what was interesting to me was that antisemitism in America became a much more powerful force only after Jewish immigration increased. When you see large numbers of Eastern European Jews coming here in the 1890s and up to 1920, that antisemitism becomes much more powerful. And that's when you start to see quotas and restrictions, and the overt, explicit antisemitism became much more pervasive when there were more Jews here. 

And Henry Ford, an American icon with an enormous amount of social capital not to mention actual capital, was a big part of this. We cannot let him off the hook. I had heard of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and I knew it was as horrendous antisemitic hoax. I didn't appreciate the degree to which Henry Ford was involved in spreading this hoax. He printed this antisemitic filth in his newspapers and published it as a book and promoted it for years. And he had a lot of credibility. And we're seeing that today. You repeat a lie enough times and people start to believe it. 

So, what you have in our story on American antisemitism, on the one hand, was more of Jewish presence, and then you also had a credible, powerful person spreading hateful ideas. Maybe that shouldn't be surprising. 

Robin Lindley: And we are still faced with Big Lies, as effectively used by Goebbels and Hitler in Nazi Germany, and now employed here. I was surprised by the story from the series about Catholic gangs in the US who assaulted Jewish people and destroyed their property even as the persecution of Jews was happening in Germany.

Lynn Novick: Yes. Father Charles Coughlin is another powerful antisemitic person to pull into this because he incited Nazi-aligned and proto-fascist organizations of both Catholics and Protestants. And we have a tradition of vigilantism here that's often been directed at other people, specifically African Americans, but other groups as well. So, there's a context for that, that we can't ignore. It’s not happening in a vacuum, but it's certainly true that there were self-appointed vigilantes that went out to try to exact violence on Jewish people in America. It’s devastating. 

Robin Lindley: How aware were most Americans of the oppression of Jews in Germany in the 1930s before the war such as atrocities like the destruction of Jewish property and murders during Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” in 1938?

Lynn Novick: One of the many misunderstandings I had of this history before we worked on this film was that Americans didn't know much about what was happening in Europe. The Holocaust was carried out theoretically in secret. 

I incorrectly thought that the world discovered the atrocities only after the war, after the spring of 1945. But the Holocaust Museum exhibition belied that notion. And then we were able to benefit from that as well as from a book by historian Deborah Lipstadt—one of our advisors—who wrote Beyond Belief that showed that the coverage of Nazi oppression of Jews and persecution of Jews and other groups was quite significant. There was a lot of coverage in US newspapers, magazines, and on the radio. Reporters were there and they were telling the story of what they saw. It got harder and harder, but Kristallnacht made front-page headlines all around the country and the world. 

The presence of killing centers like Auschwitz was a different story. That news didn't come out simultaneous with the process of new killing happening, but it did eventually come out before the war ended.

So, the American public was well aware of what Hitler was saying and of everything the Nazis were carrying out in public, which was horrendous. Before the mass killings, there was a lot of coverage of the condition of Jews, and Americans were understandably very upset about it, but it didn't change American attitudes toward immigration. 

Robin Lindley: I think the fateful 1939 voyage of the Jewish refugees aboard the ship St. Louis encapsulates American attitudes then, just a few months before the war started. What did you learn about this tragic voyage? 

Lynn Novick: The story of the St. Louis was very well known at the time, and maybe less well known now, but certain generations of Americans who were alive during the war or soon after have heard of it. And there was a Hollywood movie called The Ship of the Damned. So, it got some attention. 

There are a lot of misconceptions about the voyage. It didn't come down to us exactly accurately so we really were grateful to be able to tell the story with the benefit of all of the historical records that we could put together. 

There was a steady stream of ships across the Atlantic bringing mostly German Jewish and other Jewish refugees to the Americas. You had to get a visa for US entry, and there was a whole legal process to get permission to come here or to Cuba or to some other place. But there were ships going across until the war began, and the St. Louis was one of them. There were 900 something people aboard and they had not been able to get visas to America because that was so difficult, but they had been able to buy visas to go to Cuba, which was a very close ally of the United States at that time—long before Fidel Castro took over. 

For those of us who maybe aren't so clear in Cuban history, Cuba then was almost a satellite country of the United States in some ways, and a lot of refugees thought that if they got to Cuba, they could wait there, and then eventually their visas would come through for the United States and then they could come to America. I know several people whose families did do that. In fact, the COO of PBS, Jonathan Barzilay, said that's what his mother did. So this is a common thread. I know some other families that went the Cuba route, and there were already thousands of Jewish refugees in Cuba at this time. 

But unfortunately for the people aboard the St. Louis, from the time they bought their visas to the time they got to Havana, Cuban policy changed and the government decided they didn't want to let them in. There were many complicated reasons for that, which I will not get into, but it was corruption and internal rivalry between different factions there and the Cuban leader Batista, who literally became dictator, was part of this. Regardless, the refugees were now stranded and the Cubans would not let them off the boat. So, you had this ship full of 900 people who didn’t want to go back to Germany and they had nowhere to go.

The media was in Havana harbor for several days trying to figure out the situation. They were telegraphing to people in the US and around the world, and it was quite an international crisis. And a lot of people who witnessed it then and who think about it now hold the United States to account. Why couldn't we just let them in? And of course, potentially we could have, but there was a process and there were other people who were waiting on lists, and these refugees would have jumped the line, and that would have created some problems in the process for admitting immigrants. I'm not saying it couldn't have been done, but they unsuccessfully appealed to President Roosevelt and the State Department. 

For the people on the ship, the situation was just excruciating. In the end, with a Jewish aid organization and some political connections, they were able to get other countries to agree to take them. They raised some money, about half a million dollars. But they had to go back across the Atlantic. They didn't go back to Germany, but ended up in Belgium, England, France, and other countries, and a good portion of them survived the war, but a third of them were killed by the Nazis, and that's a tragic story. 

Robin Lindley: Thanks for that account, Lynn. That’s another grim chapter in this horrific history. I haven't got to the mass murder of Jews and others in the Holocaust yet. I learned from my reading, if I may add, and from your series, that Hitler openly called for extermination of all Jews in Europe by 1941. The mass murder of Jews and others grew out of the Nazi T4 program in 1939 to euthanize “defective people,” the disabled and the criminal, or “life unworthy of life,” as the Nazis put it. That program was the precursor of the mass extermination at death camps during the Holocaust. 

Lynn Novick: Right. 

Robin Lindley: The mass exterminations of the Holocaust began in earnest after the German invasion of the USSR in 1941. SS Einsatzgruppen troops killed thousands of Jews people in mass shootings or in mobile gas chambers in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. And the death camps were operating by 1942 after the Wannsee Conference where Nazi leaders planned the “Final Solution.” And you recount that Rabbi Wise reported to FDR that the Nazis began using lethal Zyklon-B gas at places like Auschwitz to kill thousands of Jews and other prisoners.

And it may surprise many viewers that 4.5 million of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust were already dead by the autumn of 1943. 

Lynn Novick: I agree with everything you said. That was a very good summary. 

What I would say when we think about America's response is that we didn't have boots on the ground in Europe then. Once the mass killing started, it happened very quickly. And that industrial scale was quite chaotic, but it turned out horribly because it was not that difficult to kill a lot of people quickly if that's what you wanted to do and you were determined to do it. 

As this was happening, there wasn't much we could have done to prevent it or to stop it given our military situation on the ground. This killing was happening in parts of Europe that were quite far from anywhere American soldiers would ever get to. We never got deep into Germany really. 

The Germans did some killing in Germany and the horrible camps that were liberated there at the end of the war were really the remnants of the process. The massive killing happened in what we would call now killing centers and they were deep in Poland, in places that Americans never got to. For us, it was important to line up the timelines of what happened and when and where when in thinking about the American response.

The challenge here is that nobody knew what was going to happen. The war started in 1939 and America didn't get involved until 1941. Before 1939 would have been the time to encourage people to get out of the parts of Europe where Hitler was going to go. But that's all that can be said with the benefit of hindsight. 

Robin Lindley: Your series does not shrink from portraying the ghastly and horrific reality of the Holocaust. You present images of the mass killing centers and heartbreaking films of dead and sick and dying prisoners during the liberation of the death camps. 

Lynn Novick: That was important to us in terms of the visual representation of the story, and we could not show our viewers very much of what Americans had not yet seen. So, most Americans didn't see any images of what we think of as the Holocaust, until the spring of 1945. Auschwitz was liberated in the winter of 1945, and there were some brief mentions of that, but Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops.

The true horror was not clear to Americans until Buchenwald and Mauthausen and Bergen-Belsen and other camps were liberated and Western cameras were there. We held off on showing that material until the end of the film. When we're talking about the killing earlier in the film, we show some of the sites where it happened and the memorials there, which we filmed ourselves. 

I think seeing is believing and we are trying to get the point across that not just for Americans but probably for people around the world the mass killing was covered in the media in print and, little by little, the realities began to accrue on the scale of killing and the scale of persecution, but it wasn't until the images came out that people could understand it.

Robin Lindley: And it’s stunning that, even after the war, there were still severe restrictions on refugees to the United States when there were millions of Jews and others who were displaced in the ruins of Europe. 

Lynn Novick: For us, that's one of the saddest parts of the story in a way, because then the US couldn’t say that we didn't know. We couldn’t say that, if we had known, we would have been more welcoming, more generous, because at that point we did know what the people who had survived had been through, what they had lost, why they couldn't go home. They had lost their families. They had lost their possessions. They had lost their livelihoods. All they had left was just the fact that they were alive in many cases. And they had nowhere to go. 

And there weren't that many people left, frankly, who had survived and still Americans were not disposed to make any exceptions to the policy to let them in. Little by little we did let some in, but it was a battle that shouldn't have been, in my opinion. 

Robin Lindley: You share a much more nuanced story about the United States and the Holocaust than most of us have learned. I think viewers will be struck by the extensive research and the riveting story the series presents about how the United States responded to an international crisis brought on by a brutal dictatorship in Europe, and how the response was influenced by our own history. How do you see the resonance for the story today as we continue to struggle with racism and white supremacy, restrictive immigration laws, domestic terrorism, foreign policy challenges, and serious threats to democracy?

Lynn Novick: When we started working on the film or thinking about it, it was 2015, and Barack Obama was still president. Now, that feels like a lifetime ago, frankly, with everything that has happened since.

I wish the film were not so relevant to today. I really am deeply disturbed, and I know that Ken and Sarah are and everybody who we worked on the series is disturbed by what we see happening all around us, not just in the United States, but around the world. 

But if we speak about America, there will be surges of white supremacy, racism, antisemitism, hate speech, and bigotry. It has become mainstreamed and moved from some fringe corner of the far right to “mainstream media” and to the White House under the previous occupant. He and his allies continue to use the rhetoric of hate and dehumanization of immigrants with racist tropes and fear to attain the goals they have for the society. The breakdown of social norms, the breakdown of democratic norms, the breakdown of civil society, and the rise of propaganda and lies to serve them is truly frightening.  

This film is relevant in so many ways and we wish it weren't, but we're eager to share it with the public for all those reasons. We stopped editing the film last winter when we had to finish it to get it ready for broadcast, but more events have happened that could still be relevant, and there will be more things that happen next week. In other words, it's hard to put a pin in when we will have an ending to our film and we stand by that. But since we made the film, I feel there's still more. 

The story continues in ways that are very worrisome. We're grateful to share it and hope that it can contribute in some ways to at a deeper understanding of the fragility of our democracy and the vulnerability of the institutions that many of us take for granted and the hard work it takes for every generation to preserve them and not to take them for granted. 

Robin Lindley: I appreciate those heartfelt comments, and the timeliness of the film when our democracy is imperiled. And your expert, Professor Timothy Snyder, has written brilliantly about the fate of democracies and reality of fascism in history. 

Lynn Novick: Indeed. I was listening to another historian earlier who studies the rise of fascism and he pointed out that, in many cases, or maybe all cases, fascism has emerged in democracies. Countries that have fair elections and an open society and a free press also have stresses, dislocations, insecurities and tensions in the society. That's fertile ground for fascism to rise and to once it rises, then all bets are off. 

Robin Lindley: Your documentary represents an opportunity for viewers to reflect on the fate of our democracy and our checkered history as these threats again emerge.

Lynn Novick: It's been quite a journey for everyone to work on while this has been happening. It’s been very, very sobering.

Robin Lindley: I really appreciate you bearing with me and sharing the remarkable back story of your powerful new series, Lynn. Congratulations. 

Lynn Novick:  I was just going to say I always enjoy our conversations. I think you are so thoughtful and it's really great to be able to go in depth and explore some of the things that we have tried to explain in the film. Thank you for taking the time to watch it and to have this conversation. 

Robin Lindley: That’s very kind Lynn. It’s a gift for me to talk with you and other bright people who add so much to our understanding of the past and where we are now. Thank you for your brilliant contributions, Lynn, and especially for this revealing and powerful new documentary. I wish every American could view this illuminating and timely film on our history.

 

Robin Lindley is a Seattle-based attorney, writer, and features editor for the History News Network (historynewsnetwork.org). His work also has appeared in Writer's Chronicle, Bill Moyers.com, Re-Markings, Salon.com, Crosscut, Documentary, ABA Journal, Huffington Post, and more. Most of his legal work has been in public service including as a staff attorney in federal agencies and with the US House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations. His writing often focuses on the history of human rights, conflict, medicine, art, social justice, and culture. His email: robinlindley@gmail.com.

 

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El Caudillo: Colonialist Violence and the Rise of Francisco Franco

 

 

 

Francisco Franco Bahamonde was a naval officer’s son, who was unable to follow family tradition and go to sea. Instead, he joined the army as a fourteen-year-old military cadet. His high-pitched voice and skinny, short frame saw colleagues give him the nickname of Cerillita, or Little Matchstick (though when he plumped out later in life, they called him Paca la Culona, or Big-Arsed Fanny). Like almost everybody, they underestimated the iron will hidden by his unimpressive aspect. What he lacked in brains and imagination, Franco made up for in ambition and fearlessness. It was enough to make him the most important person in Spain’s bloody and repressive twentieth century.

As a young officer in Morocco, he displayed considerable physical courage time and time again. The consequences were war wounds, a lucky escape from death, rapid promotion and meteoric fame. He arrived in Spain’s narrow sliver of North Africa as a nineteen-year-old second lieutenant in 1912 and left as a thirty three-year-old general in 1926. ‘This is where the idea of rescuing Spain was born,’ Europe’s youngest general admitted later. ‘Without Africa I can barely explain who I am to myself.’

In 1920, when Spain created its own version of the French Legion, the Legión Española, with a battle-cry of ‘Long live death!’, he was an obvious choice to be one of its commanders. The Legion mostly recruited Spaniards and, indeed, came to be seen as the supreme expression of a chest-beating Spanish masculinity based on fearlessness, violence and disdain for weakness or ‘introversion’ of any kind. Its members were known as ‘The Bridegrooms of Death’.

The new Spain was born out of extreme notions of colonial pride, violence and martial vigour. It also reflected the small-minded Roman Catholicism of Franco himself, whose idea of religion was based on obedience rather than love. That did not stop him from stamping on Spanish coins that he was dictator ‘por la gracia de Dios’, ‘by God’s will’. In short, Franco was the perfect reactionary. He wanted a return to social cohesion based on fear and the obedience owed to church, landowners, police and those who sacrificed themselves for the fatherland, meaning the army. He was still relatively young – aged forty-three – as well as notoriously cold and difficult to read. ‘Only his eyes show life and cleverness,’ Alfonso XIII’s son and heir Juan de Borbón (who Franco never allowed to rule), said of him. ‘One is the master of what one does not say, and the slave of what one does,’ Franco himself observed, to explain why he spoke so little. He was a skilled exponent of retranca, a deliberate ambivalence that trips up other people and is reputed to be a mark of people from Galicia.

As a man accustomed to military violence, without empathy and incapable of understanding fear, he felt no compunction about using terror to impose a new, highly personal regime. This was, in some ways, an imitation of the absolutist monarchies of the past, but with a massive increase in violent repression and little of the Enlightenment thought that those regimes encouraged to bring innovation or progress. A sluggish conservatism and a heavy-handed love of ‘order’ stymied early attempts by even those close to him to bring Spain properly into the twentieth century. It did not help that he refused to see himself as a politician, since this was a profession that he despised. Nor was he keen on intellectuals who questioned the supposed virility of his regime.

Miguel de Unamuno had been appalled by anarchist atrocities early in the war and was prepared to give Franco a chance. Within months he discovered his mistake, as friends were detained or shot. In a famous public row with Franco’s former Foreign Legion commander General Millán Astray at Salamanca University late in October 1936, Unamuno denounced the ‘uncivil war’ and warned Franco that military victory alone did not confer moral authority, and that he must convencer, convince, rather than vencer, win. José Millán Astray allegedly shouted: ‘Death to intelligence!’ and Unamuno, once more, was sacked as rector and remained shut up in his house until his death ten weeks later. Another philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, warned that with Unamuno’s voice now permanently muted, ‘I fear that this country is entering a period of terrible silence.’ He was right.

 

Excerpted from España: A Brief History of Spain. Used with the permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury. Copyright © 2022 by Giles Tremlett.

 

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Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183957 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183957 0
Boris Johnson's Legacy? It's Complicated

Boris Johnson signs the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, January 24, 2020

 

 

As Boris Johnson makes his disheveled way out of No. 10 Downing St., it is reasonable to wonder what legacy this historically-minded prime minister leaves posterity.

 

It is easy to point to the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cost-of living crisis threatened by energy price rises and the looming prospect of inflation or, more positively, British efforts to support the Ukrainian struggle against Russian aggression. But does this list constitute a legacy, or does it simply enumerate the in-tray Johnson has bequeathed his successor, Liz Truss?

 

It is the incorporeal aspects of Johnson’s Downing St. tenure that offer a more durable legacy. One in particular stands out: the three-year long stress-test the Johnson administration performed on Britain’s uncodified constitution.

 

The British constitution is a complicated beast. It has no ur-text or guiding document. Instead, it draws on precedent, whether defined by law or by convention. As a result, Britain is reliant on what historian Peter Hennessey terms the “good chap" theory of government. This premise rests on the assumption that every incoming government will adhere to the conventions, norms and unspoken agreements that guided previous administrations.

 

But what happens when a new prime minister is, for lack of a better word, a cad?

 

Johnson began his premiership by suspending parliament for five weeks. This action, known as prorogation, bridges the few days between the end of one parliamentary session and the beginning of another. However, the length of the 2019 prorogation alarmed many. The Johnson administration claimed that it needed time to bring forward a new legislative agenda. MPs were skeptical and worried that Johnson was trying to limit scrutiny of Brexit-related legislation. The Supreme Court agreed, ruling prorogation illegal.

 

Hannah White, Acting Director of the Institute for Government, an influential non-partisan thinktank, argues that this attempt to delegitimate parliamentary scrutiny was the most consequential aspect of the Johnson administration. Since 2019, ministers have rushed through legislation, refused amendments and failed to give House of Commons committees sufficient time to evaluate the impact and constitutionality of bills moving through parliament. The result, as White explains, has been the continued strengthening of the executive and the concurrent weakening of parliamentary checks and balances provided by the constitution.

 

Traditional norms and behaviors failed to trouble the Johnson administration. Johnson’s view of his premiership as a personal mandate that expressed the “will of the people” does not accord with the reality that prime ministers are appointed, not elected. The former prime minister misled parliament on at least 27 occasions and remains under investigation for lying about parties held in Downing St. during lockdown. Johnson resigned following another episode of misdirection, this time regarding his knowledge of sexual assault allegations against a former Deputy Chief Whip.

 

So what’s the problem? Politicians lie. The British system held. Johnson did not try to avoid his fate by dissolving parliament and calling a general election. His own Conservative MPs forced him from power. Nor, once he lost power, did Johnson incite insurrection. Hordes of Johnson supporters restrained themselves from rampaging through the halls of parliament.

 

Nonetheless, the precedent set by Johnson is dangerous. His premiership did not just erode the “good chap” theory of government. It also stretched the boundaries of acceptable political behavior, meaning actions once considered beyond the pale are now potentially available to future prime ministers.

 

Brexit, the political project that brought Johnson to power in the first place, also contains a set of constitutional implications.

 

Whether one likes or dislikes Brexit—personally, I deplore it—withdrawal from the European Union did return to Britain a sense of constitutional symmetry. As Helen Thompson, a political scientist and former host of the Talking Politics podcast points out, the principle of parliamentary sovereignty anchors the British political system. Unfortunately, this ideal is incompatible with European Union membership, which prioritizes EU over national law. In effect, Brexit healed a constitutional rupture created when Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973.

 

But as one breach heals, another emerges. In his book How Britain Ends (2021) Gavin Esler, a former BBC political editor, argues that Brexit has hastened a fracturing of national unity and purpose. Many living in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which voted to remain in the EU by considerable margins, resent being forced out of Europe by an expression of English nationalism. In response, the Scottish government has demanded a second independence referendum. In Northern Ireland, tensions over Brexit have reawakened fears of terrorism. Even in England, Remain and Leave, political identities that emerged during the 2016 referendum, continue to have purchase.

 

It may be premature to talk about Johnson’s legacy though. In his final speech as prime minister, Johnson expressed his desire to follow the example of Cincinnatus, a Roman statesperson who was appointed dictator by the Senate in 458 BCE. Cincinnatus successfully fought off an invasion by the Aequi, a neighboring Italian people, before immediately retiring to his farm. Twenty years later, Cincinnatus performed a similar action, crushing a plebian revolt before retiring to his farm once again. What exactly is the former prime minister trying to tell us?

 

 

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Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183960 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183960 0
Another Documentarian's Perspective on "The U.S. and the Holocaust"

Jewish refugees from Germany aboard the St. Louis. Nearly all of the 907 passengers were denied entry first to Cuba and then to the United States and Canada in 1939. Returned to Europe, 254 would become victims of the Holocaust.

 

 

 

    As the producer and director of a PBS film on America’s response to the Holocaust some years ago, I was at first delighted to learn that Ken Burns has now likewise made a film for broadcast on PBS about how our country responded to the Nazi genocide. But some advance publicity for the broadcast raises questions as to whether his film will accurately portray key issues such as U.S. refugee policy and the failure to bomb Auschwitz.   My film, America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference, was first broadcast in 1994 as part of the PBS history series The American Experience. I have been most gratified that it has become a staple for American history and Holocaust education in many secondary schools around the country. Ensuring that young people learn about these difficult periods in our country’s history is essential to our future as a morally responsible nation.   When I set out to tell the complex and troubling story of our nation’s response to the Holocaust, I believed it would be most effective to chronicle those events through the experience of a single person.    I was fortunate to discover the moving story of Kurt Klein, a German Jew who immigrated to America in 1937 at age 17, and then spent several years struggling against a wall of Roosevelt administration obstacles that stood in the way of rescuing his parents from Nazi Germany. My film examined the profound social, political and economic factors that led the American government, along with much of American society, to turn its back on the plight of the Jews.   America and the Holocaust explored the decisions that President Roosevelt and his State Department made to block news about the growing genocide, as well as to keep Jewish immigration drastically below the legal limits that the existing quota system allowed.    That policy’s result: nearly 200,000 Jews, eligible for entry to America, such as Kurt Klein’s parents, were prevented from immigrating and were murdered in the Holocaust.        Not surprisingly, there were some viewers at the time whose fond memories of FDR—a fondness I have always shared—made it difficult for them to accept the president’s disturbing choices.   For filmmakers, one of the most important elements in the process of making a historical documentary is to have as our advisors historians who are experts in the subject material.   I was fortunate to have the late David S. Wyman as my main historical advisor. As the author of the definitive work in this field, The Abandonment of the Jews, Prof. Wyman was able to bring to our collaboration a comprehensive and nuanced appreciation of the historical issues and materials.   For The U.S. and the Holocaust, Ken has worked with writer Geoffrey Ward, his longtime collaborator. I hope they have examined the historical research published in the years since my film came out. And that they have made room in their expansive documentary for some of the uncomfortable truths about FDR, such as remarks about Jews behind closed doors. That information may help us better understand Roosevelt's decisions concerning Jewish refugees.   Inevitably, portions of The U.S. and the Holocaust will echo the social, political, economic story we told in 1994 about what America was like during the Roosevelt years and how that impacted the U.S. government’s response to events overseas. The racism, antisemitism, and isolationism of those years— found in both political camps—is by now a well-known story.   But what will merit special scrutiny in the new Ken Burns film is how he presents the key controversies:   Does he attempt to blame “American society” — as if the president was a helpless captive of public opinion?    Does he attempt to blame everything on the State Department -- as if that branch made its own foreign policy?    Does he make it seem as if the immigration quotas in themselves were the problem, instead of acknowledging how FDR’s policies kept the quotas vastly unfilled?   Does he convey the impression that bombing the railways leading to Auschwitz was too difficult to accomplish, when we know that U.S. planes bombed railroad lines throughout Europe—with multiple bombing raids on German oil factories in the vicinity of Auschwitz, some less than five miles from the gas chambers…?   Like many other Americans, I will be watching closely to see if The U.S. and the Holocaust honestly portrays these issues or fails to confront the difficult truths that need to be faced.

 

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Mon, 03 Oct 2022 06:46:24 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183959 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183959 0
Gil Coronado: The Padrino of National Hispanic Month

Gil Coronado, photographed during his service as the director of Selective Service during the Clinton administration. 

 

 

The role of staff, advisors, and bureaucrats in making laws in Washington, D.C. is often buried in the file cabinets of elected members of U.S. Congress and the Senate. These elected officials, uniquely privileged to introduce legislation, often benefit politically from their policy-making activities. Their political standing is linked to their ability tointroduce and pass legislation. When Colonel Gil Coronado was invited to attend a White House ceremony hosted by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 after the passage of Public Law 100-408, he entered a rare political space that few non-elected Latinos had ever occupied. This is an account of how a significant law came about through a persistent champion of Hispanic heritage.

Every year millions of Americans honor National Hispanic Month, September 15th–October 15th. Among other events, they celebrate the arrival of 86 Latino sailors in three small ships that landed more than five hundred years ago in the Americas. These sailors from Spain and Portugal braved unknown waters and maneuvered the ships guided by a Genoan navigator, Christopher Columbus, across the Atlantic and landed at one of the natural ports of the Caribbean Islands. Their landing marked a new era of exploration and colonization in the history of the world. For years Americans have celebrated Columbus Day in honor of the intrepid Italian navigator Columbus. Latinos who sailed with Columbus were also major contributors to the discovery of what has been described as a “New World.”

Latinos have long celebrated historical moments–such as the establishment of America’s earliest mainland community, Saint Augustine in Florida in 1565, more than fifty years before the landing of the Mayflower. Texas school children read about the amazing eight years of travels [1528-1536] of the Spaniard, Alvaro Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, who crisscrossed Texas with Estevan, a Spanish-African Moor. The history of Latinos in America is deep and of great significance.

National Hispanic Month is especially meaningful to showcase the rich diversity of more than 60 million Latinos, the largest ethnic minority in the United States. The celebrations reveal a range of different cultural traditions. There are distinctions among Latinos in their histories, immigration status, Spanish dialects, food, music, and religion.

A celebrant of National Hispanic Month in San Antonio. Photo by author.

 

The inspiration for the National Hispanic Month Celebration can be credited to a San Antonio Westside native, Colonel Gil Coronado [Ret.]. In 1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson first issued an annual proclamation designating the week including September 15 and 16 as National Heritage Week. Coronado thought differently– a week was insufficient to pay special tribute to the rich and enduring plethora of Hispanic traditions. Five American presidents from Johnson to Reagan participated in the early Hispanic Week celebrations before it became an extended month-long event. The story of Coronado’s “Padrino” or “Godfather” role in lobbying for the month-long celebration is noteworthy.

Coronado’s quest to add more weeks to National Hispanic Week began in 1985 when the U.S. Air Force assigned him to the Inter-American Defense Board [IADB] in Washington, D.C. The IADB provides the Organization of American States [OAS] with technical and educational advisory military services on issues related to military and defense matters in the Northern-Southern Hemispheres. In Latin America, the OAS is equivalent to NATO. While working with the OAS, Coronado participated in meetings with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus where he became friends with Los Angeles Congressman Estevan Torres, the Chair of the Caucus, and Elvira Castillo, Executive Director of the Caucus.

President Ronald Reagan credited his victory in 1980 to the increased voter participation of Latinos who joined the Republican Party in the late 1970s. Working with marketing guru Lionel Sosa, another San Antonio native, Republicans joined national vendors of food, beer, and household products to declare the 1980s “The Decade of the Hispanics.” The standard explanation describes this decade as a time when the growing Latino population came to national prominence.

 

The formation of Latina mariachi groups in the southwest is a recent update to this tradition. Photo by author. 

 

Toward the end of the 1980s, Coronado and members of the Hispanic Caucus debated whether the 80s signified a special Hispanic designation. The improvements over the decade in education, income, and home ownership, for example, were modest at best. Coronado offered that the seven-day celebration of National Hispanic Week was far from sufficient. Many Latinos thought that Hispanics’ annual celebration should model Black History Month, which was officially designated in 1970. Thus, the movement to designate National Hispanic Month began with Coronado and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

In 1988, Coronado, assisted by Elvira Castillo of the Hispanic Caucus, prepared the bill to amend National Hispanic Week to National Hispanic Month. California Congressman Estevan Torres asked Coronado to join him on the House floor to witness the co-sponsorship of 218 members of the U.S. Congress, a number sufficient to pass the bill unanimously. With the lead sponsorship of Utah Senator Orlin Hatch, the bill also passed the U.S. Senate with little fanfare. President Reagan signed the new law and invited Coronado to the Rose Garden for a special White House event. At the September 13, 1988 ceremony, Reagan recognized Colonel Coronado “as a stout defender of Hispanic Heritage and the United States of America.”

Coronado retired from the Selective Service in 2001 and returned to his hometown of San Antonio where he currently resides. He is active in the Rotary Club and proud of his alumni status of Lanier High School where he attended until dropping out in the 10th grade to join the Air Force. A traditional vocational high school, Lanier offered him a poor and limited choice between auto mechanics and body and fender repair classes. He wanted something better and decided to leave school during the first semester of the 10th grade.

After altering his birth certificate to make him older and eligible for military service, he showed up at the Air Force recruiting office–he was 15 years old. The recruiters asked him to return in six months when they tested him and gave him a physical. He passed both and they enrolled him in the United States Air Force. He had just turned 16. 

After Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Coronado shipped off to a Louisiana base where he excelled in typing classes. The typing classes led to work in signal and code communication. He also earned a spot on the base basketball team. In the mid-1960s, the Air Force deployed him to Southeast Asia where the United States military forces were engaged in the Vietnam War. When he returned to the states, he held a command position at Lackland Air Force Base. During his thirty-seven years of service in the U.S. Air Force, he was awarded a Legion of Merit, a Bronze Star Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, a Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, and a Distinguished Presidential Unit Citation.

Coronado’s most memorable assignments included Base Commander of the U.S. Air Force Base in Torrejon, Spain as well as serving as the director of Selective Service under President William Clinton. Coronado is proud of his military service and his opportunity to serve his country. He remarked to me that in the military he was “judged and evaluated due to ability, effectiveness, and proven results and not by a Zip Code." Schools were notorious for tracking working-class Latinos into vocational courses versus academic courses. This October Coronado’s San Antonio School District will honor him for his contribution to Hispanic heritage, a well-deserved honor for a high school dropout.

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How the Constitution Can Accommodate Divergent Values

 

 

The Declaration of Independence charged that King George III and parliament had “…subject[ed] us to [British laws] foreign to our constitution…” Yet in 1776 (when the Declaration was written) there was no written American constitution. Why did Jefferson write “our constitution”?

Jefferson was asserting that across the 13 British-American colonies there was a shared belief about how America should be governed.

Eleven years after the Declaration, the Constitutional Convention devised a system of federal and national government, which it set out in the Constitution. That system built on the shared constitutional beliefs and experience of Americans but also allowed for the diversity of other American beliefs and values.

The moral issue which most divided revolutionary America was not abortion: it was the institution of slavery. By the time of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Massachusetts had abolished slavery through its new Bill of Rights, and other New England States were moving towards abolition. Georgia and South Carolina were adamant that they would not join the Union if slavery or the slave trade were suppressed. Some Virginian slave owners at the Convention spoke against slavery, on moral grounds.

The original Constitution addressed slavery in three places: once when dealing with the allocation of votes and taxes; once when prohibiting a ban on the importation of slaves before 1808; and once when requiring all States to return slaves who had escaped from other States.

By 1776, the British-American political system included: a legislature in each colony, with a chamber elected by most white men who owned property; jury trials, and the application of the common law; low taxes; the limited exercise of British power in the colonies; and a belief that the colonies should be able to grow westward.

The Declaration was electrifying in its assertion of “certain unalienable rights; …among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. How did the Constitution give effect to these rights? 

Not by setting out personal rights. The original Constitution was focused on establishing the machinery of a new system of republican federal and national government. It was this system, rather than the express enumeration of individual rights, which would protect Americans’ liberty and protect them from tyranny.

Both at the Constitutional Convention and during the ratification debates many Americans wanted to follow the practice, which began with the English Bill of Rights of 1689 and was picked up in many of the State Constitutions, of setting out certain individual rights as paramount rights which American governments and law would have to respect. The American Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution almost immediately after ratification.

When founding the nation, American political leaders had to both leverage Americans’ shared political culture and beliefs, and allow for Americans’ differing moral beliefs and values.

In some ways, differing beliefs about the issue of abortion are even more politically difficult than about slavery. Defenders of slavery claimed that it was economically, not morally, necessary. Anti-slavery advocates believed that there was a moral imperative to abolish slavery.

With abortion, pro-lifers believe that abortion is immoral in many circumstances, while pro-choicers believe that it is immoral to prohibit abortion in many circumstances. The difference in perception of the moral issues intensifies the political division.

The possibility of the Supreme Court being activist in constitutional issues would have surprised the founding generation, who knew that differences in values across the 13 original States were a political reality, with slavery being the most obvious example.

Since the Second World War, internationally human rights treaties and constitutional protections have expanded immensely in scope. Some Americans see a role for the Supreme Court in responding to the changed human rights environment by finding rights which were not explicit in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. For originalists, the express enumeration of rights is a constraint on the Court’s ability to do this.

The question now is the extent to which differences should be resolved through State democratic processes or constrained by the Supreme Court finding individual rights as paramount rights.

The challenge of enabling a single federal/national government in a nation with differing (as well as many shared) convictions about moral issues has been with the nation since its founding.

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The Roundup Top Ten for September 16, 2022

Black Historians Know There Has Never Been Objectivity in Writing the Past

by Keisha N. Blain

"Black historians have long recognized the role of the present in shaping our narratives of the past. We have never had the luxury of writing about the past as though it were divorced from present concerns."

 

Barbara Ehrenreich Challenged Readers to Examine Themselves

by Gabriel Winant

The journalist and social theorist wrote to force her readers to examine their own positions in society's hierarchies, not to encourage cynicism of futility, but to encourage them to see change as a long haul. 

 

 

Today's Book Bans Might be Most Dangerous Yet

by Jonna Perrillo

Today's book banners have broadened their attention from communist themes in textbooks and are attacking young adult literature titles that students are choosing to read, a much more significant intrusion on freedom of thought. 

 

 

Historicizing the Legitimacy of LGBTQ History

by Marc Stein

The AHA's newsletters reveal a protracted and frequently bitter debate about the boundaries of the discipline as scholars in the early 1970s worked to establish gay and lesbian people and communities as subjects of study. 

 

 

On Climate, the British Monarchy Mortgaged the Planet's Future

by Priya Satia

The monarchy, as a cultural core of the British empire, papered over the separation and alienation among humans resulting from the conversion of the Earth to a set of exploitable commodities. 

 

 

The Historical Roots of "Florida Man"

by Julio Capó, Jr. and Tyler Gillespie

The internet meme "Florida Man" signals a caricature of the presumed recklessness and ignorance of the state's population. But these stories have a long history of justifying colonialism and profiteering in the Sunshine State, and stand in the way of progress today. 

 

 

Economism as a Red Scare Legacy

by Landon Storrs

An economic historian traces the rise of neoliberal political economy to the post-WWII Red Scare, when Keynesians were driven out of government service under suspicion of disloyalty. 

 

 

Mourn the Queen, Not the Empire

by Maya Jasanoff

As the head of the postwar British Commonwealth, the Queen symbolized the effort to put the brakes on the global wave of decolonization, including deadly and secret campaigns of state violence in Northern Ireland, Kenya, and elsewhere.

 

 

Black Mississippians Have Been Fighting a Water Crisis for Decades

by Thomas J. Ward Jr.

Black residents of the Mississippi Delta began organizing in 1970 for access to water and sewage services; their struggle continues today. 

 

 

Queen Not Innocent of Empire's Sins

by Howard W. French

"I bear no ill will toward her following her death. Her empire—and empires more generally—though is another matter."

 

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