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Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/181169 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/181169 0
The Dangerous Trend of Imperial Nostalgia – It's not Just Russia

Soviet poster c. 1935. Accompanied by slogan "The Whole World Will be Ours" 



Although great empires rank among the most powerful engines of world history, they are also among the most dangerous, especially as they brood over their decline.

The Russian empire provides a striking illustration of this phenomenon.  Traditionally referred to as the “prison of nations,” Russia, in its Czarist and Soviet phases, controlled a vast Eurasian land mass of subject peoples.  But the implosion of the empire in 1991 left Russian leaders adrift, uncertain whether to steer their nation toward a more modest role in the world or to revive what they considered their country’s past imperial glory.  Ultimately, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, they decided on the latter, employing Russian military power to attack neighboring Georgia, win a civil war in Syria, annex Crimea, and instigate a separatist revolt in Ukraine’s Donbas region.  This February, Putin launched a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, with horrendous consequences.

Along the way, imperial nostalgia has pervaded Putin’s thinking.  As early as 2005, he told the Russian parliament that the collapse of the Soviet empire was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” and “a genuine tragedy” for “the Russian people.”  In July 2021, he published a long historical article (“On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”) contending that there had never been a Ukraine independent of Russia.  During a televised address on February 21, 2022, in which he recognized the two secessionist Donbas regions, Putin again invoked the past, claiming that Ukraine was “historically Russian land.”

This lament for a lost imperium, shared by many Russian leaders, not only showed little regard for people trapped under the yoke of empire, but for their actual history.  A Ukrainian nation, with its own language and culture, had existed for many centuries, had been ruled by a variety of nations during that period, and, in 1991, had held a referendum in which 92 percent of the electorate voted for independence from the Soviet Union.  Nor did it seem to trouble Putin that, in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, the Russian government had formally pledged to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

Disconsolate Russian officials have their counterparts in Britain.  In the aftermath of World War II, as decolonization gathered momentum throughout the far-flung British Empire, the guardians of the Old Order worked to suppress independence struggles and bitterly lamented the decline of imperial grandeur.  In 1956, Prime Minister Anthony Eden, angered by the policies of Egypt’s revolutionary leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, launched a British invasion, along with France and Israel, to retake control of the Suez Canal.  Blocked in their reassertion of imperial power by the Soviet and U.S. governments, British officials were deeply humiliated and, thereafter, largely settled for a junior partnership with the United States in global operations.  Even so, the fact that Britannia no longer ruled the waves continued to sting.  In 2002, Boris Johnson―currently Britain’s prime minister―wrote contemptuously that Africa “may be a blot, but it is not a blot upon our conscience.  The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more.”

The French government, too, grew increasingly dismayed in the postwar era as the Algerians revolted, the Vietnamese routed France’s armed forces, and the French Empire disintegrated.  Desperate to fend off imperial collapse, French officials proposed retaining their colonial relationships through a French Union.  In 1958, when the people of Guinea voted, instead, for independence, the embittered French government turned to sabotaging the ungrateful new nation by destroying government records, flooding the country with fake banknotes, diverting shipments of food and medicine, and even removing the lightbulbs from government buildings. 

Meanwhile, French military officers, convinced that their own government would fail to subdue the Algerian rebels, seized power, toppled the Fourth Republic, and stepped up France’s counterinsurgency war.  In 1961, when General Charles de Gaulle, installed in office thanks to the coup, negotiated a peace agreement, French military leaders, horrified, again revolted.  Although de Gaulle proved able to outmaneuver them, many disgruntled French military veterans and staunch imperialists flocked to a new, far-right political party.  Its descendent, the National Rally, is led by Marine Le Pen, who recently received 42 percent of the vote for the French presidency.

Though the United States, originally a thin string of colonies on the Atlantic coast, is less often regarded as an imperial nation, the reality is that, through wars and treaties, it dramatically expanded across the North American continent and beyond.  By the end of World War II, it was one of the largest nations on earth, as well as the richest and most powerful.  Even so, as other countries recovered from the conflict and began to assert themselves, fears arose among Americans that they were “losing” nations around the world to Communists, revolutionaries, and nationalists. This anxiety about declining control of global affairs inspired U.S. military intervention in numerous lands, including Vietnam, where, as Lyndon Johnson remarked, the United States could not allow itself to be defeated by a “raggedy-ass, little fourth-rate country.” Although Donald Trump is best-known for promising to “Make America Great Again,” this backward-looking incantation was also employed by earlier presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, to rally Americans behind reviving the nation’s Golden Age.

China’s leaders―especially Xi Jinping―have reached deeper into the past to locate its era of imperial glory.  Shortly after taking power in 2012 as Communist Party Secretary, Xi lauded his nation’s five thousand years of history and its “indelible contribution” to world civilization.  Condemning China’s more recent years of humiliation at the hands of the colonial powers, he vowed “to achieve the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”  Xi amplified on this theme in 2018, when, in a speech to the 13th National People’s Congress, he declared that “we are resolved to fight the bloody battle against our enemies . . . to take our place in the world.”  Listing China’s historic achievements, he again promised “the great restoration of the Chinese nation.”  In the 38-minute speech, in fact, he used the word “great” 35 times.  And Xi has managed to turn China into a major power, surpassed only by the United States in economic and military strength.  He has also developed a much more assertive foreign policy, dubbed “wolf warrior diplomacy,” as well as a dangerous military confrontation with the United States and other nations in Asia.

Imperial nostalgia is rife in other lands, as well, among them Turkey, India, Hungary, Austria, and Israel, where it helps foster delusions of grandeur and the aggressive programs that accompany them.

The ubiquity and perils of this nostalgia highlight the need to create an international security system to replace today’s international anarchy.  Fortunately, the United Nations presents a useful starting point for an international order no longer plagued by imperialism or other forms of international aggression.  Although the nations of the world have given the world organization the responsibility to protect international security, they have failed to provide it with the power to do so.  Therefore, as we cope with a planet riven by international conflict and war, let us consider how dreams of imperial grandeur might be discarded and how a strengthened United Nations might be used to fashion a more secure and cooperative world.   

Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183146 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183146 0
Confronting the Erasure of Native Americans in Early American Towns and Cities


Travel through any New England town and you will immediately see the historical references on the landscape. The ‘last’ Indian who lived in this space; the ‘first’ settler (invariably an Englishman) who lived nearby. The ‘last’ Indian wigwam or longhouse or village; the ‘first’ (settler) house or town or trading post. You will see the ‘first’ church, and the ‘first’ road. And, of course, there are the “lasts.” The “last” Indian who lived in the town; the “last” Indian village or fishing weir or midden. The town that I sit in as I write this, Concord, Massachusetts, and surrounding towns have all done this with multiple monuments to the firsts and lasts of settler-colonial replacement. As historian Jean O’Brien (Ojibwe) has argued, “firsting” and “lasting” is an American national tradition – a form of colonial erasure of the people(s) who previously occupied, lived, and made cultures and institutions on the land. In some cases, you will see ‘Indianized’ aspects to this erasure. Occasionally you do see artifacts of previous occupation: Indian names that mark certain features on the landscape; or, Indian names that mark townships. But this only serves to reinforce the settler colonial erasure more completely – these are simply remainders of a long ago, and, we are to understand, no longer relevant ancient past.

In many larger cities (especially in the Northeast but elsewhere as well) the erasure of Indian presence or even existence is often more complete. Indians were not part of urban space, this history and naming tells us. Indians lived in “wild” places or rural places or small places; they lived in the places between the built landscapes that colonial settlers created in establishing civilization in the New World such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Albany, or Montreal. But, as Colin Calloway has long pointed out, this was always simply a colonial lie agreed upon. It was never a colonial reality. In his new book, ‘The Chiefs Now In This City’: Indians and the Urban Frontier in Early America, Calloway tackles this lie directly and provides a wealth of detail, narrative, and remembrance of the American Indian peoples who moved through, stayed, visited, and populated the cities of colonial and early national America. His central goal, he argues in his introduction, is to provide a “means [for] exploring plural understandings of the past” (14). As Calloway points out: “Many historians have pored over the writings of colonial travelers for deeper understandings of Native American society and culture, yet few have looked to Native American travelers for alternative understandings of early American society and culture. An extensive literature examines the imperial gaze, but Indigenous eyes are as important as imperial eyes in understanding contact.” (14)


Calloway organizes the book topically to examine the Indian relationship to colonial cities. In some ways each chapter can stand alone in looking at an aspect of the indigenous relationship to urbanism (something very useful for the classroom use of the text). He notes at the outset, for example, that towns and cities were never unknown spaces to indigenous peoples. They had already lived and created large townships and cities long before European invasion in places as varied as the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) town of Hochelaga, near modern Montreal (which had at least 3000 inhabitants); or in the Wichita (Quivira) town of Etzanoa, near the junction of the Arkansas and Walnut rivers in modern day state of Kansas (which had up to 20,000 residents). These towns were places centrally organized around kinship and community – they were important for what they represented for a people rather than simply as large places of commerce. But the main part of Calloway’s analysis is of the port cities along the Atlantic coast built by settler colonial societies. These were, as he argues, “late additions to the urban landscape of North America, and many of them were established at locations where Indian communities had previously existed, sometimes on their very ruins” (25). Each chapter is organized thematically around topics such as what was seen upon arrival in town, the interactions with other Indian peoples while in settler-colonial cities, the risks of visiting settler-colonial cities (especially from disease and violence but also from alcohol consumption), or the performances they witnessed or engaged in while visiting.


The most interesting subject for investigating the imperial gaze is Calloway’s discussions of American Indian views of imperial society. Officials thought that bringing Indian peoples into settler-colonial cities would impress indigenous visitors, and awe them into seeing the wonderful accomplishments of advanced civilization. Native American visitors did often point out the extensive commerce that seemed to be the main purpose of urban spaces – indicating with astonishment the numbers of ships, goods, and shops that populated cities up and down the Atlantic coast. Since Indian cities were primarily spaces of community building and culture making, the emphasis on economic practices attracted much of their notice. Commerce was not the centerpiece of indigenous community life. The emphasis on commerce and the hope of inspiring awe were, in essence, bold attempts to establish settler-colonial superiority. But for most Indian peoples it was a wasted effort. Although American Indians often enjoyed their time in the settler-colonial cities of 17th and 18th century North America, they also saw urban filth, poverty, and frequent injustice that shocked them. Indeed, it helped to establish a deepening Native American critique of how settler colonial society functioned and the purposes that organized the functions of settler-colonial communities. Most often, Indian viewers and visitors pointed out the hypocrisy of settler-colonial pretensions to superiority. For example, the Seneca leader Red Jacket – who frequently spent diplomatic time in colonial New York’s urban spaces – said to a Quaker missionary that “the white people, who have a good book called the Bible among them, that tells them the mind of the Great Spirit…are so bad, and do so many wicked things…” (154).


The only problem with Calloway’s work is that we simply want to know more. This work focuses upon the late colonial and early national period. In the long term, Calloway has provided a guide to how to think about American Indian peoples and their connection to urban space in the 19th century and beyond. Searching for works on urban America and Native American life reveals only a few large-scale works but they are certainly increasing; after all, the vast majority – more than 70 percent – of American Indian peoples live in cities today. Much of this recent historical work focuses upon the assimilation and termination periods – particularly after the federal Urban Relocation Program instituted during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. Novels and memoirs have also captured this experience from the mid-20th century to the early 21st century. We should regard this as a reclaiming of indigenous spaces – a return of Indian lives and voices and experiences to the center of thinking about urban America. For instance, in the Cheyenne-Arapaho writer Tommy Orange’s award winning, There, There: A Novel, he centers the experience of late 20th and 21st century indigenous Americans as “present-tense people, modern and relevant” in the cities of the American West (the book focuses on Oakland).

Calloway has done a major service for scholars and teachers of Native America – and even more for United States history in general – to broaden our outlook to the ways that American Indian peoples interacted with and shaped American urbanism dating well back into the settler-colonial invasion. Let us hope that indigenous urbanity is better understood as part of the US past, the US present, and the US future.

Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183147 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183147 0
How Will History Remember Xi?



President Xi Jinping is flexing China’s muscles again. Recently, his government worked out an agreement with the Solomon Islands that will allow construction of a base for Chinese warships and troops. This arrangement could upset the balance of power in a vital shipping region of the South Pacific. The pact appears to represent yet another impressive achievement of China’s dynamic leader. In just a decade as president, Xi Jinping seems to have improved his country’s reputation as an economic and military juggernaut.

High-fives for Xi’s successes are premature, however. A broad view of modern Chinese history suggests it is too early to call Xi’s leadership a smashing success. Xi maintains a top-down, autocratic regime. The long-run consequences of Xi’s management are not yet clear.

President Xi has been managing the third major Chinese revolution in less than eighty years. Mao Zedong inaugurated the first significant transformation when his armies defeated the nationalists in 1949 and established a pervasive communist government. Deng Xiaoping inaugurated the second revolution in the late 1970s when he loosened the government’s dominance over people’s affairs. Deng allowed capitalist enterprise to function inside the communist political structure. Now Xi Jinping is creating a third revolution by reviving elements of autocracy. Xi’s approach is not as radical as Mao’s, but it has the potential to undermine China’s progress.

Mao Zedong’s dictates produced enormous upheavals and extreme suffering in China. Mao called for a “Great Leap Forward” in the late 1950s and early 1960s that forced extreme dislocations. The collectivization of farming crushed private activity and led to major declines in food production. Local officials feared reporting disappointing information that challenged Chairman Mao’s exaggerated claims about crop surpluses. Radical shifts in agriculture contributed to the death of perhaps 15 to 45 million people in one of the worst famines of modern history.

A notable example of risks from badly informed top-down decision-making occurred when Mao’s regime called for the elimination of sparrows because the birds ate grain crops. Millions of sparrows died from a mass slaughter that caused a severe ecological imbalance. Sparrows ate bugs, not just grain. The Mao regime’s decision led to a surging population of locusts and other insects. Eventually, China had to import thousands of sparrows from the Soviet Union to correct the costly mistake.

A second revolution began in the late 1970s when Deng Xiaoping changed the direction of Chinese society. He encouraged individual responsibility in economic decision-making and skilled management in commerce and industry. Deng moved China toward fast-paced capitalist development within the communist governmental system. His regime allowed peasant farmers to make individual decisions and keep profits from their work. The government also permitted rewards for individual initiative in manufacturing. China began to improve global relations as well. Trade and cultural exchanges flourished. Foreign investments poured into the country. From the 1980s to 2010, millions of Chinese escaped poverty. They achieved middle-class stature, and some became wealthy. China’s communist government in those years remained authoritarian, but mildly so.

Governmental actions promoted by Deng and China leaders that followed him were sometimes controversial. The one-child family program brought demographic problems in later years, and the massacre of protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989 was tragic. Still, the country’s overall progress was impressive.

Xi Jinping brought strong authoritarianism to the society when he ascended to power in the early 2010s. His government imposed tight controls. It ordered crackdowns on big tech, aiming to rein in competing sources of influence. Pressures against entrepreneur Jack Ma sent a clear signal to other ambitious individuals. Ma was the richest man in China thanks to his innovative companies, Alibaba and The Ant Group. Xi’s government moved swiftly to degrade and divide Ma’s Internet empire.

Repression became much more prevalent under President Xi. The communist party was intolerant of democratic organizations and independent-minded political activities. It backed Xi’s plans to remain in power for decades. Media independence largely disappeared. Public communications were tightly controlled.

China’s handling of the novel coronavirus revealed serious flaws in the hierarchical political system. Demands for conformity and compliance suppressed speech. In late 2019 and early 2020 the virus spread rapidly in Wuhan, but local authorities were afraid to report details. Government officials kept a lid on information that might harm the economy. Precious time passed for dealing with an emerging health crisis. The virus spread quickly in China and across the globe.

Xi’s government remained closed-minded and nationalistic, too, when developing vaccines. It insisted on using formulas created in China, even though scientific studies showed China’s vaccines gave significantly less effective protection than mRNA vaccines developed in the West. 

Recently China’s government stumbled when dealing with a large outbreak of COVID. Officials imposed lengthy and stringent lockdowns, especially in Shanghai, a hub for technology and manufacturing. Draconian measures closed assembly lines, snarled ports, and left truck drivers stranded. Some leaders of global corporations sought more reliable suppliers by shifting operations to other Asian countries.

The COVID lockdowns produced extraordinary hardship for Chinese families. In many instances, health workers responsible for quarantining infected people appeared at apartments and homes to take children away from their parents. Some youngsters remained separated for a month or more, and some families could not leave their residences to purchase food.

It is too early to judge the consequences of Xi Jinping’s decade of leadership. In the future, historians may conclude that Xi effectively launched a revolution, or they might say Xi’s assertion of one-man, authoritarian rule stymied innovation, squelched dissent, promoted fearful conformity, and undermined economic growth.

Xi’s shift away from Deng Xiaoping’s strategy of keeping a low profile and encouraging friendly international relations could produce long-term troubles for China. In recent years China has accentuated “wolf-warrior diplomacy.” Xi and other officials appear suspicious, resentful, and strident in international relations. Xi’s alliance with Vladimir Putin, announced shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, may soil China’s global image and damage opportunities for expanded trade. An aggressive foreign policy could lead to military conflicts. Reckless leaders have sometimes taken their countries into needless wars. 

Xi Jinping has been clamping down on reforms that liberated China from stultifying authoritarian rule. In the long run, Xi’s approach to leadership may create more problems than progress.

Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183144 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183144 0
Thoughts From the Zoo

Deforestation in the Amazon



While visiting Indiana, I went to the Indianapolis Zoo with my 2- and 4-year-old grandchildren. There was a lot of excitement about cheetahs wrestling with each other, orangutans swinging from ropes, and dolphins performing athletic tricks. But I found the visit depressing.


As a kid, my parents took us to the Bronx Zoo, at that time a world-class zoo. Since then, zoos have transformed themselves from exotic animal incarceration facilities to thoughtful educational institutions, replacing cages with landscapes, building environments which mimic natural settings, and rescuing instead of capturing wild animals. The headline on the Bronx Zoo’s website says “Saving Wildlife and Wild Places”. Still, I can’t get over seeing eagles confined to enclosures barely large enough for one beat of their wings, observing fellow primates behind glass with nothing to do, and clapping for dolphins as a circus act.


I have not forced myself toward a firm position on animal rights, but I no longer get a thrill from the human ability to put wild and wonderful creatures on display for our viewing pleasure.


The educational messaging of the Indianapolis Zoo was the most depressing aspect of my visit. Over and over again, at many, perhaps most stations with carefully worded signs, we were told in plain language about the predictable results of our murderous heedlessness toward other life forms. Humans kill large, complex animals just for “fun”. Rich men pay enormous sums to fly to faraway places, so they can sneak up on unsuspecting animals and shoot them. I find that impulse sickening.


But big game trophy hunters are not the main problem for the world’s wildlife. Elephants and rhinos are regularly hunted for their tusks and horns, which some people believe have magical curative powers. Extinction is on its way.


Even more destructive are the normal human processes of making land “useful”, cutting down rain forests to create farms and grazing land. Signs all over the Indianapolis Zoo repeated the warning that animal habitats are being transformed into human habitats, driving the Earth’s living diversity toward irreversible extinction.


Human heedlessness, or better selfishness, is demonstrated every day by the unnecessary pollution of the atmosphere and the oceans. These vast reservoirs of life-giving resources have been human garbage dumps from the earliest societies until the most “advanced”. Now that our “civilization” has developed more technologically sophisticated methods to promote human convenience, now that humans have multiplied beyond sustainability, we are not only killing the world’s animals, but are hurtling toward mass suicide.


Humans have the unique capacity to rationalize the mass killing even of our own species. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is merely the latest instance among countless human wars against ourselves, never about survival, always about human hatred for other humans, justified by the most elaborate systems of “moral” or “religious” belief. “Useful” always means useful for us, regardless of earthly consequences.


I am not trying to be cute with quotation marks. The words I have modified in that way are tendentious, although I have taken a long time to recognize that fact. Moralities can rationalize mass murder with abstract syllogisms. Religions whose texts condemn killing in plain language find ways to bless murderous enterprises on a grand scale. Other ways of thinking are possible.


The uniquely human creation over the past few centuries of a detailed understanding of the world we inhabit appears to be no match for much older stories that humans have made up about how our inherent superiority allows us total control over all forms of life and death. The messages the Earth is sending us are no less clear than the printed signs at the Indianapolis Zoo about what “human impact” means for all life forms.


As the plastic pollution of our oceans threatens us on land, as the modern great extinction picks up speed, as the weather predictably endangers life and property, the biggest adherents of divine human right are barely discomfited by the clash of reality with belief. The zoo should remind us that humans have the power over life and death for everything on Earth. Thus far our species has not been pro-life.


Steve Hochstadt


April 6, 2022


Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154601 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154601 0
Reigniting a Nuclear Arms Race is the Wrong Take-Home from Ukraine

Conceptual Rendering of USAF LGM-35A "Sentinel" ICBM



When it comes to the Ukraine War, no one has a crystal ball. With Putin rattling his rockets and the world worried about his next step, the most important take-home message from this disastrous affair — however it ends — should be that nuclear weapons must go.

And yet, beyond death and destruction, another outcome is very likely and potentially tragic; namely, a renewed call for more and “better” nuclear weapons.

The claim is already being made that if Ukraine hadn’t given up its nuclear weapons in the mid-1990s, Putin would not have attacked that country. Nukes, we are told, would have deterred him, and so, we should cast our lot — even more than at present — with nuclear weapons so as to deter would-be aggressors.

History argues otherwise, namely, that nuclear weapons do not prevent wars. During and after the Cold War, each side engaged in much conventional warfare and military arm-twisting: the Soviets, for example, in Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968), and Afghanistan (1979–1988); the Russians in Chechnya (1996–2009), Georgia (2008), Ukraine (2014-present), as well as in Syria (2015-present). The United States in Korea (1950–1953), Vietnam (1962–1974), Beirut (1982), Grenada (1983), Panama (1989), the first Gulf War (1990–1991), in the former Yugoslavia (1999), Afghanistan (2001–2021), and Iraq (2003–2016), to mention just some of the more prominent cases.

Nor did the threat presumably posed by the US nuclear arsenal deter aggressive maneuvers by the Soviet Union when it was not yet a nuclear power. In 1948, the US had a nuclear monopoly, which didn’t inhibit Stalin from initiating the Berlin Blockade, one of the USSR’s most provocative Cold War actions. In fact, the Soviets were most aggressive vis-à-vis the US between 1945 and 1949, when only the US had nuclear weapons. It was during that time that Stalin, in violation of the promises he had made to Roosevelt and Churchill during their Yalta summit, consolidated Soviet control over its Eastern European satellites.


Moreover, the alleged deterrent effect of nuclear weapons did not even prevent actual attacks by non-nuclear opponents upon nuclear-armed states or their avowed strategic interests. In 1950, China was 14 years from developing its own nuclear weapons, whereas the US had dozens, perhaps hundreds of atomic bombs. US military and civilian officials judged, moreover, that China’s military was exhausted by decades of civil war and would not dare intervene against the world’s sole nuclear superpower. They were spectacularly wrong. As the Korean War’s tide shifted against the North, Mao’s China felt threatened that General MacArthur’s forces wouldn’t stop at the Yalu River and might invade China in an attempt to overthrow its new, communist government.


To the surprise and consternation of US leadership, the American nuclear arsenal did not deter China from sending more than 300,000 soldiers southward, resulting in the stalemate on the Korean peninsula that divides it to this day, and that has produced one of the world’s most dangerous unresolved standoffs. In 1956, nuclear-armed Great Britain warned non-nuclear Egypt to refrain from nationalizing the Suez Canal, to no avail. The UK, France, and Israel ended up invading the Sinai in an unsuccessful effort to achieve their goal. A decade later, Israel had obtained its own nuclear weapons, which didn’t keep armies from non-nuclear Egypt, Syria, and Jordan from attacking it in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Argentina invaded the British-held Falkland Islands in 1982, even though the UK had nuclear weapons and the attacker did not.


Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 1991, that non-nuclear country was not deterred from lobbing 39 Scud missiles at nuclear Israel, which did not retaliate, although it could have demolished Baghdad. It is hard to imagine how doing so would have benefitted anyone; the fact that Israel had this capacity did not stay Saddam’s hand, perhaps because he realized that Israel would have had more to lose than to gain by “making good” on its implied deterrent threat. Moreover, nuclear weapons obviously did not deter the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on New York and Washington, DC, just as the nuclear arsenals of the UK and France have not prevented repeated terrorist attacks on those countries.


The pattern of nuclear non-deterrence is historically established and geographically widespread, along with the frequent failure of nuclear-armed militaries to get their way, even against non-nuclear countries. Nuclear-armed France couldn’t prevail over the Algerian National Liberation Front. The US nuclear arsenal didn’t inhibit North Korea from seizing an American intelligence-gathering vessel, the USS Pueblo, in 1968. Even today, this boat remains in North Korean hands. Its nuclear arsenal didn’t enable China to get Vietnam to end its invasion of Cambodia in 1979; a conventional invasion did. Nor did US nuclear weapons stop Iranian Revolutionary Guards from capturing US diplomats and holding them as hostages from 1979 until 1981, just as fear of American nuclear weapons didn’t prevent Iraq from invading Kuwait in 1990.


Moreover, the historical record is clear that when a nuclear state is losing in an armed struggle against a non-nuclear one, being armed with what was once called “the winning weapon” doesn’t contribute to winning. The US unequivocally lost in Vietnam, but accepted this defeat rather than flailing about with its atomic and hydrogen bombs. Ditto for the USSR and then the US in Afghanistan, outcomes that were not reversed by the superpowers’ ability to incinerate Kabul.


By the end of the 20th century both India and Pakistan had nuclear weapons, which might have inhibited each side – thus far – from using them. But it certainly hasn’t made their confrontations less dangerous, nor, it seems likely, any less frequent. In 1999, Pakistan snuck military units – disguised as Kashmiri militants - into the high-altitude region known as Kargil, on the Indian side of the Line of Control that separates India and Pakistan in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir. The Pakistanis apparently thought that its nuclear arsenal would force India to accept the move as a fait accompli. Pakistan had tested its first nuclear weapons in 1998, and it seems likely that its military was emboldened by this addition to its arsenal, expecting that the threat of going nuclear would inhibit an Indian response. If so, it didn’t work. India responded by mobilizing 200,000 troops, initiating an air campaign (not answered by Pakistan), and preparing a naval blockade of Karachi.


Pakistan’s next step was to begin issuing nuclear threats. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced “If there is a war, or if the present confrontation continues on the borders, it will bring so much devastation, the damage of which will never be repaired.” This did no good whatever, and by mid-June, Indian forces had retaken all of the key positions in Kargil. India’s nuclear arsenal had not deterred the Pakistanis from their military adventuring, just as Pakistan’s didn’t prevent India from retaking its lost territory.  

There is very little reason to think that nuclear weapons would have made Ukraine safe, or that they would benefit other countries, not to mention the world. Nonetheless, ostensibly because of the Ukraine War (or, more likely, using it as an excuse), the US Air Force now intends a three-fold increase in spending on a new ICBM — labelled “Sentinel” — from $1.1 billion to $3.6 billion. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry has described the proposed Sentinel as “one of the most dangerous weapons in the world,” because like all ICBMs, it would be easily targeted by an adversary and would leave a president only a few minutes to decide whether to launch a retaliatory strike, greatly increasing the risk of Armageddon based on a false alarm. The Ukraine War has also stimulated $5 billion on a new bomber (labelled “Raider”), which itself carries a planned total of $20 billion by fiscal 2027.


There are doubtless more ill-advised take-home messages yet to emerge from the Ukraine War. So, starting now, let’s disabuse ourselves of the illusion that this terrible war makes a case in favor of nuclear weapons, when the reality is precisely otherwise.

Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183145 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183145 0
The Roundup Top Ten for May 6, 2022

Leaked Opinion Shows Not Just the End of Roe, but Conservatives' Delight in It

by Mary Ziegler

The court's right-wing majority is clearly emboldened by the belief that the Republican Party and the conservative legal movement have its back. 


The Reconstruction Amendments and the Basis of American Abortion Rights

by Peggy Cooper Davis

When the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were debated, concerns about the protection of both public rights of citizenship and private, intimate rights of individuals were front and center. There is, notwithstanding Samuel Alito's opinion, a long tradition of constitutional respect for privacy.



Abortion Isn't in the Constituiton? Neither are Women

by Jill Lepore

"Women are indeed missing from the Constitution. That’s a problem to remedy, not a precedent to honor."



Palm Oil is Colonialism's Continuing Nightmare

by Max Haiven

The extraction and trade in palm oil in west Africa has been at the center of two centuries of exploitation and violence, which stands to get worse as the Ukraine war threatens the world supply of competing sunflower oil. 



Is Historic Preservation Ruining American Cities?

by Jacob Anbinder

Historic preservation laws often have a loose relationship to the actual historic significance of buildings, and an even looser relationship to the interests of cities in meeting their residents' social needs. 



Affluent White Parents Don't Understand the "Public" in Public Schools

by Diana D'Amico Pawlewicz

Are parents' rights movements aimed at ensuring quality education, or at destroying the potential of public schools to support both learning and a democratic culture across lines of race and class? 



The Democratic Potential of China's Grassroots Intellectuals

by Sebastian Veg

Chinese intellectuals working outside the protection of state-controlled universites have a perilous existence, but carry on the struggle against the regime's efforts to impose orthodoxy on the nation's history. 



Race and Religion Have Always Helped Determine Who Gets Refuge in the US

by Laura E. Alexander, Jane Hong, Karen Hooge Michalka and Luis E. Romero

While Ukrainians fleeing war are deserving of aid from the United States, the treatment of both Haitian and Syrian refugees shows that the asylum process is far from equitable. 



How Josephine Baker Challenged Racism in Las Vegas

by Claytee White

Josephine Baker's brief stand in 1952 didn't forever break the color line in the city's casinos and clubs, but it did help Black Las Vegans push for enduring change. 



The Laundry Workers' Uprising and the Fight for Democratic Unionism

by Jenny Carson

African American and Black Caribbean immigrant women were key organizers of New York laundry workers who pushed for a union movement that rejected divisions of occupation, race and nationality in favor of workplace democracy. 


Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183143 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183143 0
High Crimes and Lingering Consequences: How Land Sale Contracts Looted Black Wealth and Gutted Chicago Communities

Chicago artist and activist Tonika Lewis Johnson with a sign installed to mark a house lost to a Black couple after a predatory contract sale.




In Chicago, there’s a lot of talk about crime that happens on the city’s South and West sides. There’s less talk about crime that happened to the South and West sides. One such injustice is the predatory practice of land sale contracts, common in Chicago’s Black communities in the 1950s and ’60s. A contemporary Chicago artist is shining a spotlight on this acutely detrimental form of housing predation, the effects of which linger today.


But first, let’s look backward. The little-known history of land sale contracts—also called contracts for deed, home installment contracts or home contract sales—stretches back to the postwar period. After World War II, a housing boom spread across America and with it came the creation of a vast middle class. Many white Americans—aided by low down payment, low-interest home loans guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration, along with benefits from the 1944 GI Bill—were able to buy property and reap the economic benefits of home ownership which resulted in generational wealth. The number of families that owned their homes climbed from 44% in 1934 to 63% in 1972.


Meanwhile, Black Americans were largely excluded from homebuying due to discriminatory practices like redlining, which were federal government-endorsed policies in which banks withheld loans from prospective buyers in Black or mixed-race neighborhoods. Then along came land sale contracts, a purported pathway to homeownership for African Americans with few other options.


Contract sellers bought houses, often from white families attempting to flee racially changing neighborhoods, then marked up the prices of the homes and sold them to Black buyers on contract. The buyers would pull together hefty down payments, followed by monthly payments at higher-than-average interest rates. Contract buyers also were responsible for covering the cost of all home maintenance. Despite making payments, buyers did not build equity in their homes—and importantly, contract sellers kept the titles until the last contract payment was made. If a buyer missed even one payment, the seller could evict them and the buyer lost the money they invested in the home, without recourse to recover it.


Making the case for reparations in a 2014 article in The Atlantic, author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates described contract buying as “a predatory agreement that combined all the responsibilities of homeownership with all the disadvantages of renting—while offering the benefits of neither.” Indeed, scores of contract buyers got an exceptionally raw deal and were ultimately left with nothing to show for it.


A 2019 study from Duke University explored the quantitative impact of land sale contracts on Black homebuyers in Chicago in the 1950s and ’60s. The findings of the study were grim. Contract sellers marked up home prices by 84%, on average. A speculator would buy a home for $12,000, and days or weeks later, sell it to a Black homebuyer on contract for $22,000. Compared with what they would have paid if they had bought the home at a fair price with a conventional mortgage, Black contract buyers spent an average of $587 more (in April 2019 dollars) each month.


Between 75% and 90% of homes sold to Chicago’s Black families in the ’50s and ’60s were on contract, and the amount of expropriated Black wealth is staggering: between $3.2 billion and $4 billion were stolen in the two decades studied, according to Duke University estimates. Due to holes in surviving data—there were no requirements that land sale contracts be publicly recorded—researchers say those estimates are conservative.


“What happened during this crucial era, that of the making of America’s mass white middle class during the long postwar economic boom, was a systematic, legally sanctioned plunder of black wealth,” the Duke researchers wrote.


The billions in taken funds directly contributed to America’s racial wealth gap. Rather than earning equity and passing down assets to future generations, Black contract buyers often lost their homes and savings and landed in debt; meanwhile, their money lined the pockets of contract sellers. As Rutgers University historian Beryl Satter wrote in “Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America,” a book about the land sale contract system, “While contract sellers became millionaires, their harsh terms and inflated prices destroyed whole communities.”


It’s important to note that speculators gained access to the necessary capital to buy and then resell homes on contract from investor groups including Chicago doctors, dentists, lawyers and politicians, the Duke study found. In other words, the well-off got wealthier at Black buyers’ expense. Land sale contracts came to an end in the late ’60s with the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, nationality or sex.


Through a public art project titled “Inequity For Sale,” sponsored by the National Public Housing Museum and its Artist as Instigator residency program, artist Tonika Lewis Johnson illuminated the history of this theft, showing  that abandoned homes, vacant lots and population loss present in some Chicago neighborhoods today are directly tied to land sale contracts, redlining and other forms of discrimination. The museum’s program is designed to shine a light on historic and social justice issues using artful intervention to illustrate history that otherwise might have remained unnoticed.


Lewis Johnson erected five-foot-high, black-and-yellow concrete and metal land markers in front of two land sale contract homes in Englewood, a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, one at 6823 S. Aberdeen St. and the other at 7250 S. Green St. Passersby can’t help but notice the bright yellow circular signs. In capital letters, the marker on Green Street reads: This home at 7250 S. Green was legally stolen from Black resident John Garner on December 28, 1962 in a widespread land sale contract scam. This crime was never brought to justice. Reparations are due.


The back of the land marker explains the concept of land sale contracts, including their ruthlessness and present-day effects. The exhibit launched in February 2022, during Black History Month, in collaboration with the National Public Housing Museum, which named Lewis Johnson its 2021 Artist as Instigator.


More land markers will be added in front of additional properties in late spring; there’s also a planned walking tour of Englewood’s land sale contract homes using an interactive phone app.

The Duke University study documented more than 100 homes in Englewood sold using land sale contracts, many of which are still standing.


“Many of these once-beautiful homes are now dilapidated or abandoned, visible proof of the sordid legacy of land sale contracts,” said Lewis Johnson, who also co-hosts a three-part podcast series supported by the National Public Housing Museum based on the project. “Having people walk through Englewood and see these properties allows them to interact with the destructive nature of Chicago’s history of redlining and segregation.”


Pushback on the new exhibit has already arrived—as it so often does when ugly history is publicly aired. The owner of the Aberdeen Street property, who doesn’t live in the city, removed the land marker. The home is vacant, with boarded-up windows, but the owner said he plans to renovate it in the future. 


Lewis Johnson plans to campaign for a collection of land sale contract homes to become an official city landmark. She also hopes to purchase one of the stolen homes and transform it into a community art center. Moreover, she intends to place a land marker in front of a present-day business, such as a bank, that directly profited from land sale contracts.


“My goal with this project is to map the evidence of historic legalized theft in Greater Englewood,” Lewis Johnson said, “and engage the public in action-oriented conversations that ultimately bring this unresolved crime to justice.”

Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183089 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183089 0
Leaked Draft of SCOTUS Abortion Decision Rejects Roe, Tees Up Obergefell, Griswold, Lawrence

Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/181169 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/181169 0
When Will the French Dam Against the Far Right Crack?  



On Sunday, President Emmanuel Macron won re-election in the French presidential election, defeating far-right leader Marine Le Pen by an impressive margin of 58 to 42 percent. Despite this victory, French politics are once again in disarray and the nation is deeply divided.


In the final stretch of the electoral campaign, President Macron and many political leaders had called on French citizens to rebuild a barrage républicain (republican dam) against the surging waters of the far-right movement in France. On Sunday, a majority of French voters responded by voting for Macron in order to block the far right and the republican dam seemed to hold.  


Yet, even in defeat, Le Pen and her Rassemblement National (National Rally) party claimed a historic “shining victory” by scoring the highest number of votes for a far-right party in any modern election in France. Indeed, the presidential elections have demonstrated the French far-right’s growing power within French political culture and its potential to win elections in the near future. Is the republican dam now fundamentally weakened?


Two weeks previously, Macron and Le Pen emerged as the two leading candidates in the first-round election. President Macron and his La République en Marche (Republic on the Move) party led with 27.85 percent, followed by Le Pen of Rassemblement National with 23.15 percent. The leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélanchon, leader of La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), narrowly ended up in third place with an impressive 21.95 percent.


The two main political parties that were dominant for decades were both crushed. The center-right Les Républicains (Republicans), led by Valérie Pécresse, failed to win five percent of the vote, while Anne Hidalgo’s center-left Socialistes (Socialists) could only muster a miserable 1.75 percent. Meanwhile, an array of green and communist parties each garnered less than five percent of the vote.


In their concession speeches, most of defeated candidates called explicitly for their supporters to vote to re-elect President Macron in order to protect against a far-right takeover of the French state. Yannick Jadot, leader of Europe-Ecologie-Les Verts (Europe-Ecology-Greens), appealed for French citizens “to build a barrage (dam) against the extreme right by casting a vote for Emmanuel Macron on 24 April.”


Building a dam against the floodwaters of fascism has become more and more challenging since the term barrage was first deployed in April 2002, after the far-right Front National (National Front) party scored a shocking victory over the Socialists in the first round of the presidential election. That year, it was Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who defeated the Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin in a “thunderclap” that stunned the entire nation and allowed him to face the incumbent President Jacques Chirac, leader of the center-right Rassemblement pour la Républic (Rally for the Republic) party, in the second round. Jean-Marie Le Pen was an ultra-nationalist leader, Holocaust denier, and overt racist who had been accused of torturing Algerian revolutionaries during the Algerian War. The threat of a total victory by the Le Pen’s Front National clearly frightened many French citizens.


The defensive posture and emergency nature of the response to the far-right threat was clear in the use of the term barrage, which can refer to a dam to hold back floodwaters, a defensive fortification to resist enemy forces, or a police barricade to control crowds. The imagery of the barrage in French political culture can also relate to a cordon sanitaire, a military blockade against the spread of epidemic disease. French voters mounted a defensive barrage républicain (republican dam) against the elder Le Pen in the second round in 2002, re-electing Jacques Chirac in a landslide victory of 82.21 percent to 17.79 percent.


In 2017, French politicians and analysts again called for citizens to rebuild the dam against fascism in the second-round election, when Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen somewhat expectedly ended up in a runoff. As in 2002, the republican dam held firm against the far-right in 2017, and Macron scored a landslide victory—becoming the youngest president in French history.


Twenty years after the first republican dam was built in 2002, President Emmanuel Macron and the challenger Marine Le Pen campaigned furiously in preparation for a single presidential debate and a second-round runoff election on 24 April 2022, in what was billed as a rematch of the 2017 runoff between Macron and Le Pen.


Yet, the 2022 second round election was not a simple repeat of 2017, since the French political landscape has been utterly transformed over the past five years. Marine Le Pen rebranded her party in 2018, changing its name from the National Front to the National Rally. Le Pen has worked hard to tone down her party’s extremist rhetoric and reinforce its patriotic image, despite retaining its far-right ultra-nationalist program. Meanwhile, the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) movement emerged in response to President Macron’s reform initiatives and Jean-Luc Mélanchon’s left-wing France Unbowed party has consolidated.  


Most spectacularly, the rise of Éric Zemmour has galvanized far-right political supporters across France. Éric Zemmour is a journalist, political pundit, author, and media personality who has gained a large following through his radio and television appearances. He has hosted his own talk radio show, Z comme Zemmour, and has written a number of books on French politics and culture—notably Mélancolie française (2010), Le Suicide français (2014), and Destin français (2018).


Zemmour founded the new Reconquête (Reconquest) party in 2021 and launched a presidential bid, garnering an impressive 15 percent of potential voters in some early polling. His political rallies have been controversial, attracting diverse groups of far-right militants. Zemmour’s racist, Islamophobic, and anti-immigrant messages have relied on ultra-nationalist and neo-imperial historical narratives rooted in crusading culture. Zemmour argues that France is in “decline” or preparing to commit “suicide” by departing from its nationalist and imperialist past. French society, he warns, is in danger of being overwhelmed by Islamic law and French people are menaced with “replacement” by Arab and African immigrants. Zemmour envisions himself as a leader on the model of Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles de Gaulle, and he aims to restore the France nation through ideological purification and racial expulsion.


Far-right parties such as Zemmour’s Reconquête frequently rely on gross distortions of the past to construct alternative histories that rely on racist, xenophobic, ultra-nationalist narratives of their nation’s history. Zemmour has helped to provoke French “Culture Wars” that are being waged by politicians, pundits, and media personalities on television news programs, talk radio shows, and social media platforms, as well as in cultural and educational institutions. A group of French historians recently responded to Zemmour’s politicized vision of French and European history with a new publication, Zemmour contre l’histoire, critiquing Zemmour’s “falsifications and political manipulations of the past.”


As the first round of French Presidential Election approached, Zemmour slipped in the polls, but his ultra-nationalist and anti-immigrant program continues to resonate powerfully in French political culture. A number of Marine Le Pen’s supporters seem to have been Zemmour followers who voted tactically to bolster Le Pen and ensure that a far-right candidate reached the second round.


In his concession speech after the first-round election, Éric Zemmour seemed almost giddy at his fourth-place finish, with 7.07 percent of the overall vote. He enthusiastically called for his Reconquest supporters to vote for Marine Le Pen in the second round, and the crowd erupted with applause. Many of Reconquest members have already declared their support for the remaining far-right candidate. Marine Le Pen has welcomed the Reconquest supporters and has invited all French citizens who did not vote for Macron in the first round to join her National Rally.


One of the biggest questions in the second-round election was whether or not the millions of enthusiastic left-wing France Unbowed supporters would turn out to vote in the second round. During his election-night speech, Jean-Luc Mélanchon thundered three times that he and his followers would “not give a single vote to Madame Le Pen.” However, Mélanchon refused to call explicitly on his supporters to vote for Macron, and many of them still seemed undecided and some reportedly planned to vote for Le Pen as a protest vote. In addition, an astonishing twenty-five percent of French eligible voters did not vote at all in the first-round election.


As the second-round election day approached, politicians and concerned observers from across the political spectrum once again pleaded with French citizens to rebuild the dam against the far-right. Yet, Éric Zemmour’s extreme positions and militant rhetoric seem to have succeeded in making Marine Le Pen’s version of far-right politics appear “softer” and more acceptable to a broad section of the French citizens.


Meanwhile, over the past several years, the very language of dam-building has been appropriated and repurposed. The Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests)—and many news reporters—have appropriated the language of barrages to refer to their barricades and roadblocks deployed against President Macron.


Over a year ago, well before the start of the presidential campaign, political analysts on France Culture were already questioning whether a dam could really hold back a resurgent Marine Le Pen. Many French politicians and political observers recognize that deep cracks have appeared in the republican dam.


After landing a place in the second-round election, Marine Le Pen began using the language of barrages herself, openly calling for French citizens to “build a dam against the return of Emmanuel Macron” at an April 14 campaign rally in Avignon. Perhaps some French voters cast ballots for Le Pen in the second round as a protest vote against Macron, but there are many signs that most of the voters embrace many aspects of the National Rally’s political program. Marine Le Pen seems to have succeeded in sanitizing the image of the National Rally and normalizing far-right political positions. The French far-right has become a real force in French political culture.


The republican dam has held for now, but the French far-right is stronger than ever, and the French legislative elections are approaching in June. Enthusiastic far-right supporters are already discussing plans for the next presidential election in 2027. Reconstructing a republican dam against the French far-right may be much more difficult in future elections.



Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183070 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183070 0
A Century After the First Insulin Injection, It's Time to Make Sure It's Affordable  


On March 31st of this year, the House passed The Affordable Insulin Now Act by a margin of 232-193. The bill, which is now being reviewed by the Senate and which would take effect in 2023, seeks to cap the monthly cost of insulin at $35 for the more than 10 million Americans with diabetes who rely on the medication (that is almost one third of all people with diabetes). What better time to look at how this important drug came to be in the first place?


Just over 100 years ago on January 11, 1922, a 14-year-old boy named Leonard Thompson was given an injection of insulin at Toronto General Hospital.  He had been diagnosed the previous year with type 1 diabetes.  Prior to the advent of insulin therapy, people with type 1 diabetes lived for a few months and the only treatment available to them was a diet that excluded carbohydrates. It was more akin to a starvation diet.


The first injection contained too many impurities and failed.  Leonard developed an abscess at the injection site and the extract given to him did not lower his blood glucose.  Twelve days later he received a 2nd injection—a more purified extract of insulin—and there was a dramatic reduction in his blood glucose level.  He continued to receive insulin injections and lived for an unprecedented 13 more years before succumbing to a lung infection. 


Today, millions of individuals worldwide with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes receive insulin injections, which are truly lifesaving.  Diabetes, however, is not a new disease.    It has afflicted humans for thousands of years.  A disease resembling diabetes was described by the Egyptians as far back as 1550 BC.    Sushruta (600–500 BC), a phyisician in India, wrote about a disease he termed “Madhumeha” which translates to the sweetness of urine.  The physicians in ancient times would often diagnose diabetes by noting that an individual’s urine attracted ants. They also commented on the extreme thirst and occasional foul breath in people afflicted with this condition.  This was likely due to the presence of ketones in the blood and breath because of a deficiency of insulin and inability to metabolize carbohydrates.


Greek physicians coined the term “diabetes” in 250 BC. The term emanates from the Greek word meaning “siphon,” as people with the disease appeared to pass urine like a siphon.

In 1675 AD, a British doctor Thomas Willis coined the term “diabetes mellitus,” the latter a Latin term meaning sweet like honey. It took almost a century and a half for the chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul in Paris to prove that the sweetness was due to glucose.   In 1848, a German chemist, Hermann von Fehling, developed a method for quantifying the amount of glucose in the urine.


Claude Bernard (1813–1878) was a prolific scientist and physiologist, reportedly referred to by the legendary Louis Pasteur as “physiology itself.” He performed an experiment in which he tied off the pancreatic ducts of dogs and noted that this led to atrophy of the gland. This set the stage for future studies.  In 1889, Oskar Minkowski and Joseph von Mering were the first two investigators to discover that removal of the pancreas in dogs led to excessive urination and that the urine contained large amounts of glucose.  Minkowski pursued additional experiments in which he implanted a small portion of the removed pancreas underneath the dog’s skin and observed that doing this prevented high blood glucose levels in the dog.  When the implant was removed or once it had spontaneously degenerated, the diabetes returned. This was proof that the pancreas was key to regulating blood glucose.


In 1921, Frederick Banting, an orthopedic surgeon, approached John MacLeod, a Professor of Physiology at the University of Toronto, requesting laboratory space to do some novel experiments in a small number of dogs.  He requested an assistant to perform these experiments over an 8-week period in the summer.  Macleod sent Banting two of his

students who had just graduated from the physiology and biochemistry course at the University of Toronto – Charles Best and E. Clark Noble. Banting desired to have only one assistant, so Best and Noble flipped a coin to see who would start first in the lab.  Best won the toss and with great enthusiasm joined Banting.  According to some accounts, Noble went on a vacation to Europe.  So did Macleod, who left for Scotland.


Beginning the experiments in May 1921, Banting and Best removed pancreatic tissue from dogs, ground it up in a mortar and injected it as an extract into dogs whose pancreases had

been removed to render them diabetic. Although the initial results were not promising, by the end of July they observed success - injection of the pancreatic extract into one of the dogs lowered the blood glucose and the dog’s condition improved!  Repeat experiments yielded similar results and they presented their groundbreaking findings in the fall of 1921. 


In late 1921, a biochemist named James Collip joined the team at Macleod’s laboratory, and they continued to work on the production of a pure pancreatic extract for administration to humans.  All of the above culminated in the historic experiment on Leonard Thompson.


Banting and MacLeod received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1923. Banting was incensed that Best was not a fellow awardee and shared his monetary winnings with him. Macleod subsequently shared his prize money with Collip.


On January 23, 1923, Banting, Best and Collip were awarded the American patents for insulin.  Banting refused to put his name on the patent as he felt it was unethical for a physician to profit from a discovery that would save lives.  He said “Insulin does not belong to me, it belongs to the world.”  Best and Collip promptly sold the patent to the University of Toronto for a mere $1.00.


So many advances have been made in the development and production of insulin during the past century – the manufacturing of human insulin using recombinant DNA technology, and modifications of human insulin to affect how rapidly or slowly it exerts it effects (to more closely mimic normal insulin physiology) to name a few.  How wonderful it would be to honor the legacy of Banting, Best, and Collip by ensuring that insulin really does “belong to the world” and that everyone who requires this life saving treatment can afford it.

Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183087 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183087 0
Democracy's Enemies are Abroad, but Also at Home

As Vladimir Putin wrested Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, I wrote here on HNN and in The Washington Monthly that although peace-loving liberal democrats must arm themselves and fight sometimes, the Crimea seizure was not such a time and that more serious threats to liberal democracy were coming from much closer to home. The 2008 financial meltdown and the accelerating pace of public massacres in American public and private spaces were only two instances of the implosion of a civic-republican culture without which a liberal democracy lies open to demagoguery, thuggery, and grand theft.

Some Americans live only to fight threats from abroad, distant from our internal crises; they beat drums for war against external enemies: armchair warriors such as Leon Wieseltier and Robert Kagan line up with Kagan’s brother Frederick, a professor at West Point, and with other would-be combatants --“Second Amendment People” or uniformed militarists craving what they envision as a clear, decisive defeat of democracy’s enemies. 

In 2014, I dismissed that view out of hand. I doubted even deeply researched, sober warnings from the historian Timothy Snyder that Putin’s Russia is a fascist dictatorship intent on shutting down a lot more than the independence of Ukraine and other former Soviet “republics.”

But while the drumbeaters have been relentless, and sometimes a bit over the top, there are times to acknowledge that, just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, neo-conservative publicists and historians fixated on Eastern Europe’s Bloodlands, as one of Synder’s books calls them, are right at certain moments. 

So, what time is it right now? And whose clock is telling it reliably?

Barely a year before 9/11, Robert Kagan’s father Donald, a Yale historian of ancient empires and wars, and Robert’s younger brother Frederick, the West Point professor, published While America Sleeps: Self-Delusion, Military Weakness, and the Threat to Peace Today, warning that "the collapse of an international system… will bring attacks on the American homeland" and that "the United States must begin to gird itself for the next round of conflict."

Typical of neoconservative drumbeating though this was – critics dismissed it as just another neoconservative reenactment of Winston Churchill’s wise but ignored warning against appeasing Hitler in 1938 at Munich-- 9/11 reinforced the Kagans’ dark summons. Two of the Kagans and Wieseltier and dozens of other would-be warriors signed a public letter to President Bush from the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, urging that "even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack… the eradication of terrorism… must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein." They even championed our 20-year occupation of Afghanistan as a good and necessary fight.

History has discredited such responseswhich were sometimes as gratuitously destructive, corrupt, and ineffective as Russian incursions in Afghanistan and Syria and now in Ukraine. Yet like Pearl Harbor, 9/11 did vindicate the drumbeaters’ conviction that there are times when humanists must join with power-wielders and even with war profiteers to crush enemies who are willing to die for their convictions and rage. Are we willing to die for anything worth defending against them? At certain times, it’s a compelling challenge.

But, even now, it's the wrong question if willingness to die and kill overwhelms sounder strategic judgments. Our punitive, supposedly corrective wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, like Russia’s in the latter, ended up posing a different challenge, one that the Vietnam War had shown us: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Vietnam combat veteran John Kerry asked the U.S. Senate in 1971, as the war still raged. 

Proud though I am of my father’s service in World War II, when even stopped clocks were right about the fascist threat, I became a Conscientious Objector during the Vietnam War and would have gone to prison or Canada had the first option been denied. That war, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, needn't and shouldn't have been fought. 

Is Ukraine different? Would risking a war between Russia and the West unleash a Gotterdammerung even more devastating than the Great War of 1914 and the Second World War, which ended partly because Americans alone possessed and used a nuclear weapon?

In 2014, I considered that the historian Snyder might be more right than wrong to insist that Ukraine was pivotal to the West’s prospects. It's clearer now than it was then that Putin is indeed determined to do more than restore Russia’s sphere of influence. His invasion of Ukraine is even worse than our grabbing Texas from Mexico in 1846 or Puerto Rico from the Spanish Empire in 1898. The philosopher Jason Stanley argues that Russia's intentions are genocidal, in that they truly mean to erase Ukrainian peoplehood, culture, and language. Putin and Xi mean to replace the whole post-World War II order. 

But here comes the hard part for Americans, who have been the progenitors and managers of that postwar order. Our neoliberal, global capitalist order is now a wrecking ball whose casino-like financing and degrading consumerism are fomenting climate crisis, deepening inequalities, forced migrations, cultural implosions, and rampant fraud and violence. Absent a pretty dramatic reconfiguration, our "order" is no longer legitimate or sustainable on terms that any of us can continue to live in. 

One certainly needn’t idealize Ukraine (as I warned against doing here at HNN during the first week of Putin's invasion) to recognize that this is one of those times when the stopped clocks are right, if only because our own hypocrisies and cruelties have weakened our own immune system against threats from beyond. 

The historian Snyder’s most recent argument that Putin's intentions are as intolerable as his brutality is profound but intensively linguistic and somewhat arcane. Perhaps this three-minute video of Putin entering the Kremlin is worth a thousand such words of warning. A society that seeds and suborns the postures and faces of Putin’s guards and elite nomenklatura, packed like sheep on either side of his swagger, is a failing, kleptocratic state running on oil, militarism, imperialism, cybertheft, and pure fascism. It will have to be defeated sooner or later – not only by Ukrainians, because his fascism is viral in killing truth and public trust wherever it enters our rapidly globalizing lives.

I don’t know if the deeply flawed West can defeat this danger through a mix of sanctions and deft military strategies. World War II was ended and “won” only because Americans had the most terrible weapon and used it. This time, it's Putin who’s threatening to use such weaponry. Even if he doesn’t, the West will have to sacrifice a lot for a long time to stop him. It will have to face down – as France has just done, barely, and without effectively correcting its own neoliberal turn -- the fascism that has been metastasizing not only in its own right wing but also in America's Republican Party. 

We have a two-front “war” to fight, not only against fascism from abroad but also against domestic drumbeaters and stopped clocks that have given our own sins too much cover and have made our challenges seem only one-sided. 

Our predicament bears some analogy to that of 1939, when the Bushes, Lamonts, and other Americans were still doing business with Hitler and Mussolini instead of recognizing that they would have to be stopped. Putin must be defeated, and Xi contained, even though our own centuries-old financial and corporatist world order generated their resentments and resistance, and even if defeating them makes Western plutocrats and their duped mobs fatter and happier. A similarly tragic reality confronted Americans at the onset of World War II, which elevated propagandists for plutocracy like Henry Luce and imperialists like Churchill even as it crushed Hitler and the other Axis powers. 

"Humankind cannot bear very much reality," T.S. Eliot observed, and it’s hard indeed for most of us to face these two incompatible truths at once:

"They" are truly evil in humanist, liberal-democratic terms, yet "we" are corrupt and brutal enough to have generated some the evils they embody; and: "We" have no choice now but to stand up against what our own flawed system helped to create, because these enemies would destroy us even more quickly and brutally than we’re already doing by disrupting and dissolving our own civic-cultural and institutional lives.  

Staunch, unremitting opposition to Putin's fascism and Xi's totalitarian state capitalism is part of Eliot’s “very much reality” that we'll have to bear, at the sacrifice of our own moral conceits and material comforts. 

Financial Times columnist Chris Giles writes that “the quickest and cheapest way to reduce dependence on Russia is simply to use less gas. if ever there was a win-win outcome for the energy trouble of our time, this is it. Lowering the temperature of our buildings in winter, from 20C to 18C across Europe would reduce energy use by between 20 and 25 percent.” Giles calls for emergency appeals plus price incentives that would make it more expensive to connect to gas and electricity grids but would offer double discounts to current users for every unit of energy they conserve compared to last year.

I favor challenging and reconfiguring the very corporate-capitalist system within which such measures could be taken, by nationalizing or otherwise severely constraining American oil companies that now pursue their shareholders’ profits uber alles. At the risk of flirting with “state capitalism” – as the New Deal and the World War II regimen certainly did – we have no choice but to defeat and/or contain what Putin and Xi, his likely overlord, intend for all of us.

Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183086 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183086 0
Ukraine Evokes Past "Eve of Destruction"

Bombardment near Kharkiv, March 1, 2022



A folk-rock song from long ago has been haunting me for weeks. In 1965, Barry McGuire scored a number 1 hit with the chilling “Eve of Destruction.” As the Vietnam War escalated and the civil rights movement devolved into violence, McGuire’s apocalyptic record shot up the pop charts. The musical broadside blasted American politics, militarism, racism, and hypocrisy, as well as violence worldwide. “Even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’,” lamented the raspy-voiced McGuire. “If the button is pushed, there's no running away. There'll be no one to save with the world in a grave.”       


The ominous song became part of a generation’s collective memory. Fifty-seven years later, we once again find ourselves on the eve of destruction. While the Ukraine War and Russian atrocities escalate, nuclear war clouds gather on the horizon. Still, there is a glimmer of hope that peace will break out. Putin’s “special military operation” has not turned out as planned. Rather than achieving a quick victory and glory for Mother Russia, the invading forces wound up in a quagmire.  


Putin has only a few options left, all bad. He could unleash more troops, tanks, planes, and rockets, but at best that would result in a Pyrrhic victory. The rising body counts of Russian soldiers and the horrendous attacks on civilians are damaging Russia’s image at home and abroad. Every day brings new humiliations and evidence of war crimes. The invaders look brutal yet inept. Their weapons and equipment appear inferior, while strategic thinking and supplies are lacking. The Russian army – once feared – is now being mocked by their Ukrainian foes and the world in general.              


If the Russian war machine continues to misfire, Putin and his generals might be tempted to use chemical or even nuclear bombs to end the war quickly and decisively. But, the use of such horrific weapons would be an act of self-destruction. Very likely, Putin, his regime, and perhaps Russia itself would pay the ultimate price.   


Escalating or even just continuing the Ukraine War would be futile. Ukrainians are determined to fight back, while the United States and its allies are united in their determination to stop Russian aggression.             


As casualties mount and economic sanctions pound the Russian economy, cracks are beginning to appear in Russia’s support for the war. Growing evidence suggests the Russian people are reeling from less access to western banking, technology, and consumer goods, including the products and services provided by global companies such as General Electric and Apple, not to mention McDonalds and Victoria’s Secret.      


News that the war is not going well is now sinking in, causing Russians to speak out in unexpected ways. Anti-war protests continue to pop up. Academics and pundits have voiced anti-war sentiments on State-controlled media. Oligarchs have begun questioning the wisdom of Putin’s war. Even the Russian military is having second thoughts as the death count for generals and officers continues to rise and the morale of conscripts on the Ukrainian front plummets. Making matters worse, the flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet just sunk due to Ukrainian missiles or Russian incompetence. Either way makes Russia look bad. With the situation worsening, unnamed Kremlin officials confided to Bloomberg News that Putin’s invasion was a “catastrophic” mistake that could hurt Russia’s economic and military strength for years.


Russia’s best if not only option is to end the war as soon as possible. From all indications, Putin is looking for a way out. Several weeks ago, Russia informed Kyiv it would halt all military actions if Ukraine agrees to remain neutral in the future, acknowledges Crimea as Russian territory, and recognizes Donetsk and Lugansk as independent states. When Ukrainian negotiators balked, Putin declared the talks had reached a “dead end.” But a few days later, he did an abrupt about face and sent new proposals to the Ukrainians. Although Russia’s terms are still harsh, they are a far cry from Putin’s original goals of completely “de-militarizing” and de-Nazifying” Ukraine. Significantly, the Russian leader is no longer talking about toppling Zelenskyy’s government or controlling all of Ukraine. Even Russia’s current escalation in the Donbas region suggests that Putin is desperate for any victory that would allow him to negotiate a peace with honor.   


Obviously, Putin cannot be trusted, as evidenced by his constant lies and brutal attacks on civilians. Still, diplomacy is the best way out of this mess. Hopefully, Ukrainian leaders will not overreach at the negotiating table. They will see the wisdom of allowing Putin an exit ramp if it means they can negotiate a settlement that will save their people, most of their country, and possibly the entire world.            


Meanwhile, Russian and Ukrainian forces are positioning themselves for a new round of fighting in Eastern Ukraine. The whole world is watching, hoping that a negotiated end to the crisis will keep nuclear hounds from hell at bay. This is a no-win situation. No matter how this war ends, it won’t make amends for war crimes or bring back all the innocent people who have died. Nor will it result in world peace or even restore the imperfect political order that had been in place since 1945.             


But, ending the war in Ukraine will avoid World War III. Ukrainians, Russians, Americans, and everyone else worldwide should grab that “consolation prize” while they still can. All those who insist on all-out victory, regime change, war crimes convictions, no-fly zones, or other forms of escalation should heed Barry McGuire’s message from 1965: “This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'…and you tell me over and over and over again my friend, ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.”            



Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183069 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183069 0
1968: A Year of Dashed Hopes

Mourners of Martin Luther King, Jr., near the White House, April 1968. Photo National Archives



In a previous HNN article, I dealt with 1962 starting as a year of trial for the Kennedy administration and, after the settlement of the Cuban Missile in late October, ending as one of hope. Conversely, 1968 began as a year of hope, but ended--both in the USA and abroad--on a much gloomier note.


As in 1962, my own path mirrored and reflected the larger trend. There was a saying in the mid and late 1960s: “Don't trust anyone over 30.” The countercultural movement of the decade was primarily a youth movement, one that flourished on many college campuses. I was teaching on such a campus, Wheeling College, later transformed into Wheeling Jesuit University. I turned 30 in the spring of 1968, but throughout that year--the most significant of the late 1960s--I and my wife Nancy remained sympathetic to the movement.


Most of the college’s students were from white, middle-class Catholic families--we had no Black students until a small faculty group of us in late 1968 established two scholarships for them (the president of the college was the Jesuit priest Frank Haig, brother of Al Haig, later White House chief of staff under Presidents Nixon and Ford  and still later Secretary of State under President Reagan). Although the Wheeling students were hardly from a socio-economic background inclined to radicalism, they reflected the late 1960s zeitgeist. Movies like The Graduate (1967) and music like that of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and the Hair soundtrack album (from the 1968 Broadway play later made into a film) were popular with them. I remember going to a local coffee house and hearing one of the students strum his guitar and sing Pete Seeger’s 1967 anti-war song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” Many of the female students wore mini-skirts. I recall at least one male student asking me if I thought he should have his longish hair cut before he had a job interview and another expressing his anxiety about the draft once he lost his student deferment status by graduating--in 1968 almost 300,000 young men were drafted and almost 15,000 servicemen died that year in Vietnam.


That spring two of the men I most admired in U. S. public life were assassinated. They were both critics of the Vietnam War, which since the North Vietnamese launching of the Tet Offensive at the end of January had been increasingly criticized here in the USA. First the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot on April 4, and then Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Robert F. Kennedy on June 6 (the exact date, twenty-four years earlier, of D-Day). Noteworthy, for admirers of RFK, it was he who lifted our spirits somewhat just hours after MLK was shot in Memphis. In a speech in Indianapolis the senator said that King had

dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort. . . . For those of you who are black . . . you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization--black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.


RFK was right about King being against violence, and exactly one year before he was shot down on that balcony in Memphis, he spoke at Riverside Church in New York

some of the most compassionate and empathetic words ever uttered about the sufferings endured by the Vietnamese people as a result of U. S. bombs and other violence. 


He spoke of the Vietnamese, languishing “under our bombs. . . .


Primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. . . . They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers. . . .


We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. . . . We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men.


Although many of the young college students opposed the war in Vietnam partly because of their own fears of some day dying there, King realized it was disproportionately the Black and poor of the U.S. who were being sent to Vietnam.


Despite King’s stress on non-violence, his assassination triggered riots in over 100 American cities. In Wheeling, however, we took a different approach. Some of us in town, including Nancy and I, formed an interracial human rights council called WE (standing for “We Exist.”)  On a warm summer evening in August of that year I was one of the speakers at a downtown WE rally, which the combined local newspaper (The Intelligencer /Wheeling News-Register) described as a “Negro ‘Solidarity’ Rally,” sponsored by a “Negro civic group.” I spoke about white fears about violence and “Black Power”:

As a nation we are not against violence . . . .Our country was born in violence; violence is being perpetrated today in Vietnam . . . [but] I’m more sympathetic to the non-violence of a true Christian like Martin Luther King than I am to anyone who off-handedly dismisses the killing of an innocent whether . . .white, black, or yellow.


My earlier HNN essay on 1962 mentioned my previous interest in racial justice, but in 1968 I had just finished a Ph.D dissertation that also touched on that topic. Only it occurred not in the USA, not in the 20th century, and not against African Americans, but in the 19th century, in the Russian Empire, and primarily against Jews.  It was titled “Vladimir Soloviev and the Russophiles.” Vladimir was the son of Russia’s leading 19th-century historian, Sergei Soloviev, author of the 29-volume History of Russia from the Earliest Times. Son Vladimir was Russia’s preeminent philosopher, an early ecumenical thinker, and the best poet of his generation. My dissertation focused on his polemics with Russian nationalists over topics such as Russian nationalism, antisemitism, and conservative ideology. A friend of Vladimir was a certain Rabbi Gets, who, shortly after the philosopher’s death in 1900 stated, “In general one can unmistakably maintain that since the death of [German writer and philosopher] Lessing [1781], there has not been a Christian literary and learned figure who could exercise such an honorable fascination and who could enjoy such wide popularity and such sincere love among the Jews as Vl. S. Soloviev.”


In Soloviev’s critique I saw parallels with my own less notable opposition to racism and conservative nationalism, and throughout 1968 in speeches and as a panel participant I attempted to battle against racism and nationalism. In the spring at a meeting of the West Virginia Historical Association, I proposed (and it was adopted unanimously) that the association urge our U. S. senators and representatives to support “civil rights” legislation. And then, following my WE speech in August, in September and October, I spoke on a panel addressing the topic “The Race Against Racism,” and gave a talk on “The Jews in Russia,” both appearances at Wheeling’s Jewish Woodsdale Temple.


Following RFK’s death in early June, right after he had won the California Democratic Primary, I supported Sen. Eugene McCarthy, whom many of my friends had backed since he announced his presidential candidacy in late 1967. But things did not go well for him. Despite President Johnson’s announcement at the end of March that he would not seek another term as president, McCarthy was defeated at the Democratic National Convention in August by Johnson’s vice-president, Hubert Humphrey. 


Outside of the convention itself, in Chicago where it was held, Mayor Richard Daley unleashed a few thousand police officers in riot gear, who utilized their clubs to disperse anti-war and other protesters (for a recent depiction of some of the protest leaders see the film The Trial of the Chicago 7). The mayor was not following  Bob Dylan’s advice to politicians in “The Times They Are A-Changin’”:


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


There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’.


The whole scene in Chicago that August revealed just how split Democrats were. One of the results of that rift was the November election of Republican Richard Nixon, who won 32 states (George Wallace, running as a third-party candidate, carried five states, all in the south). 

And it was not just the Democratic Party that was divided. The rebellious spirit that affected so many students on U. S. college campuses also displayed itself in numerous other countries, especially in Europe, where students, and sometimes others,  protested for various reasons. In May, French student-worker demonstrations almost toppled Charles de Gaulle’s decade-long government and produced what one journalist called “a watershed in French life, a holy moment of liberation for many,” but for others “anarchy and moral relativism, a destruction of social and patriotic values.” 

As one who taught Russian history, I was especially concerned with the USSR’s reaction to a Czechoslovakian reform movement led by Communist Party head Alexander Dubček. In mid-1968 he aimed to create “socialism with a human face.”  But, like Putin today, Soviet leader Brezhnev exaggerated Western leaders’ influence over the government of a neighboring country not sufficiently pliable to his wishes. He was also mindful of Czechoslovakia’s crucial strategic position, forming a corridor between the USSR’s Ukrainian republic and West Germany. In mid-July, he and some other leaders of Eastern European communist governments sent a letter to Czechoslovakia’s communist leaders. It stated that “it is our deep conviction that the offensive of the reactionary forces, backed by imperialism . . . threatens to push your country off the road of socialism and thus jeopardizes the interests of the entire socialist system. . . . We cannot agree to have hostile forces push your country from the road of socialism.”


In late August more than a half-million troops from the USSR and other Eastern European communist countries invaded Czechoslovakia. But, unlike the Ukrainians today, the Czechoslovakians offered only passive resistance. By the end of 1968, with foreign troops still on their soil, the reform movement in Czechoslovakia had been extinguished.


To depress progressives even more, the final month of the year ended with still one additional setback--the mysterious death on 10 December in Thailand of the 53-year-old Catholic monk and writer Thomas Merton. Along with Dorothy Day, whose newspaper, The Catholic Worker, published some of his essays, he was a leading Catholic critic of the Vietnam War. Earlier, in March, his “The Vietnam War: An Overwhelming Tragedy” had appeared in her paper. (It, along with his “The Hot Summer of Sixty-Seven” and many other essays dealing with war and racism, were later collected together in his The Passion for Peace: The Social Essays.)


In my earlier HNN essay on 1962, I indicated how as an idealistic young Catholic I was very hopeful by the end of that year with John Kennedy as president and the reforming John XXIII as pope.  But by the end of 1968, both men had been dead for five years. Our new president, replacing President Johnson, was going to be Richard Nixon, and the then pope was the more conservative Paul VI. Moreover, MLK, RFK, and Merton were also dead. The anti-war, anti-racism, pro-reform hopes that I shared with others had suffered serious blows, and a certain youthful idealism--and at times naivete--had drained from me.


What was needed then--and in succeeding decades as political defeats, deaths, and other setbacks continued to erode our optimistic ideals--was to keep hope and courage alive. As usual, my wife Nancy helped keep me positive. By the end of the year, she was seven months pregnant, and we were looking forward to our second child. And as a historian I could always look to the past for encouragement. For example, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the dark days of June 1941, when Nazi forces still threatened Britain, spoke to the House of Commons: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’” More recently demonstrating great fortitude in opposing Vladimir Putin and Russian forces, it has been Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the Ukrainian people. As psychologist and futurist Thomas Lombardo has stressed, we want to confront life, with all of its difficult challenges, with hope and courage, not fear and doubt.


Editor's Note: The first part of this two-part essay, on the hopefulness of 1962, can be read here

Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183090 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183090 0
Recent Violence Shows the Need to Teach More Asian American History

Photo Dorothea Lange, March 1942. Despite proclaiming his loyalty, the Japanese-American owner of this store in Oakland was interned by the US government.



The focus of Critical Race Theory has been on the treatment of people of African ancestry as the United States has been pressed to come to terms with its racist past and lingering racism today. It also should include the long history of anti-Asian violence and discrimination in this country. Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May is a time for teachers and students to highlight the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans on the history, culture, and achievements of the United States.


Ex-President Donald Trump exacerbated anti-Asian hostility in this country with specious statements blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic and the calling it the  “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu”. The Republican Party has tried to divide potential Democratic voters by arguing that affirmative action programs and school reforms addressing past discrimination against African Americans and Latinos are in effect anti-Asian.


Recent deadly attacks on Asian Americans, in San Francisco and New York City, and the mass shooting in Atlanta where six women were murdered, have been committed by very disturbed people who were agitated by a climate that allows anti-Asian stereotypes to go largely unchallenged. An article in the journal Education Week calls on schools to play a larger role in combatting the stereotypes and anti-Asian racism by making Asian immigrants and their experience more prominent in the United States history curriculum. This would be an important corrective.


On the 2020 federal census, people who identified as Asian or of Asian ancestry made up approximately 6% of the U.S. population, or almost 20 million people. The Asian American population grew by 35.5% between 2010 and 2020. Another 4 million Americans identified as mixed ancestry with a partial Asian heritage. The three largest groups were Chinese (about 5.4 million people), South Asians from India (4.6 million), and Filipinos (4.2 million). Chinese are the second largest immigrant group in the country. In 2019, California had the largest Asian American population, about of 6.7 million people followed by New York (1.9 million), Texas (1.6 million), and New Jersey (958,000).


The first large influx of people from Asia into territories that would become the United States occurred during the California gold rush starting in 1849. Chinese contract workers were brought to the United States to take low paying, dangerous jobs in mining and railroad construction. Most were male and planned to return home after earning enough money buy land and start a family. In 1850, the Chinese population of the United States was only 3,227 people. It increased to 35,000 in 1860, a little over 60,000 in 1870, and just over 100,000 in 1880 when anti-Asian laws blocked new Chinese arrivals. In1857, Harper’s Weekly reported, “The immigration of Chinese into California has attracted the attention of Congress. It appears that the Chinese immigrants, on settling there, persist in maintaining their allegiance to China; and under these circumstances the Senate voted a resolution, December 19, making inquiry into the propriety of discouraging such emigration.”


From the 1850s through the 1870s the California state government systematically discriminated against Chinese. Among other actions, it required special licenses for Chinese-owned businesses and Chinese were not permitted to testify in court against a white person. In 1875, Congress passed and President Grant signed the Page Act, the first federal immigration law. It prohibited immigrants considered “undesirable,” including any individual from Asia who was coming to America to be a contract laborer, any Asian woman who would engage in prostitution, and all people considered to be convicts in their own country. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act suspending the immigration of Chinese laborers for a period of 10 years. It was the first law in American history to place broad restrictions on immigration and the first law to ban a specific ethnic group. The law remained in effect until 1943.


Japanese Americans are a small immigrant group that has had a major role in United States history. In 1870, there were only 55 Japanese in the United States, not counting Hawaii, which was not yet an American colony. In 1900, there were still only 24,000 Japanese in the continental United States, but Japanese were the largest ethnic group in Hawaii. By 1960, when Hawaii was admitted as a state, there were 464,000 Japanese in the United States. In 2019, under 1.5 million Americans claimed partial or full Japanese ancestry, less than 1/2 of a percent of the US population. The largest Japanese American communities are in California and Hawaii.


In Hawaii, Japanese immigrants labored on sugar and pineapple plantations where they were subject to harsh rules and exploitation by armed European American overseers. On the plantation, Japanese workers had 3- to 5-year binding contracts and were jailed if they tried to leave. Those who eventually migrated to the mainland were subject to discriminatory laws and practices. California passed a law in 1913 banning Japanese from purchasing land.


Under the notorious Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907 between United States and Japan, Japanese officials stopped issuing passports for new laborers. Federal legislation in 1924 completely banned any immigration from Japan.


The situation worsened with Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and U.S. involvement in World War II. Dr. Seuss posted racist caricatures of Japanese and Japanese Americans as part of wartime propaganda, and Executive Order 9066 eliminated all civil rights for Japanese immigrants and their families living on the West Coast. An estimated 120,000 people were branded as security risks and forced to abandon homes and businesses and relocate to concentration camps, mostly in inhospitable areas of the Rocky Mountains. This action was taken despite the fact that there was not a single case of espionage ever established against Japanese Americans and immigrants living in the United States, and over two-thirds of those forced into concentration camps were American-born citizens. The fenced in camps were located in harsh terrain and patrolled by armed guards. Ironically, Japanese Americans in Hawaii were not imprisoned because they were needed to rebuild areas destroyed by the attacks. Young Japanese American men were permitted to leave the concentration camps if they enlisted in the U.S. military. Japanese American soldiers served in a segregated unit, the 442nd, stationed in Italy and France. It was the most decorated American combat unit during World War II.


In 1944, in Korematsu vs. United States, the Supreme Court ruled by 6-3 that the detention of Japanese Americans was a “military necessity” and not based on race. In a dissent, Justice Robert Jackson called the exclusion order “the legalization of racism” and a violation of the 14th amendment. Fred Korematsu, who challenged the evacuation order and forced internment, was “convicted of an act not commonly thought a crime. It consists merely of being present in the state whereof he is a citizen, near the place where he was born, and where all his life he has lived." In 1983, a federal judge overturned Korematsu’s conviction and in 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act compensating more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in the World War II concentration camps.


Since 1965, the United States has large immigrant populations from Korea, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Each group has its own history in the United States, however all have faced stereotypes and discrimination and been stereotyped. South Asian Americans, often identified as Moslems even when they are not, were targeted after the 9/11/2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York. A case involving an immigrant from India in the 1920s, United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, established that people from the Indian sub-continent could not become naturalized citizens of the United States because they were not a “white person” in the sense intended in the Naturalization Act of 1790.


One of the most important constitutional decisions about citizenship was a Supreme Court ruling in the case of the United States vs. Wong Kim Ark was a Chinese American born in San Francisco, California in 1873. His parents were Chinese immigrants who returned to China about 1890. In 1894, Wong Kim Ark traveled to China to visit them and was not allowed to reenter to the United States because officials at the arrival center claimed he was not a citizen. In 1898, the Supreme Court in a 6-2 decision ruled that he was a citizen of the United States because he was born in this country.


Despite decades of prejudice, Asian Americans have major contributions to life in the United States. They include Vice-President Kamala Harris whose mother was an immigrant from India, Eric S. Yuan, the CEO of Zoom, Steven Chen, co-founder of YouTube, Nobel Prize winning scientists Chen Ning Yang and T. D. Lee, physicist Chien-Shiung Wu who worked on the Manhattan Project developing the atomic bomb, U.S. Senators Daniel Inouye (Dem-HI) and Tammy Duckworth (Dem-Ill), film director Ang Lee, astronaut Kalpana Chawla, architect I. M. Pei, authors Maxine Hong Kingston, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Amy Tan, athletes Tiger Woods, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Michelle Kwan, musician Yo-Yo Ma, and actors Sandra Oh, Lucy Liu, Haing Somnang Ngor, George Takei (Mr. Sulu), and Bruce Lee.


Resources for Teachers on Asian American History

Anti-Asian Violence Resources https://anti-asianviolenceresources.carrd.co/

Asian American Education Project https://asianamericanedu.org/

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month https://asianpacificheritage.gov/for-teachers/

Center of East Asian Studies https://ceas.uchicago.edu/content/external-resources-educators

Facing History and Ourselves https://facingtoday.facinghistory.org/11-resources-for-teaching-about-aapi-experiences

International Examiner. Honoring, Remembering, and Sharing Kim Ark and his fight for justice, https://iexaminer.org/honoring-remembering-and-sharing-the-life-of-kim-ark-and-his-fight-for-justice/

Learning for Justice https://www.learningforjustice.org/magazine/after-atlanta-teaching-about-asian-american-identity-and-history

PBS https://ny.pbslearningmedia.org/collection/asian-americans-pbs/

Zinn Education Project https://www.zinnedproject.org/materials/teaching-about-asian-pacific-americans/

Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183088 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183088 0
The Roundup Top Ten for April 29, 2022

Earth Day is a Chance to Win the Messaging War Against Polluters

by Laura J. Martin

Climate protectors are at war with the fossil fuels industry in the arena of public opinion, and they're losing. It's time to stop allowing Earth Day statements of corporate concern to substitute for real change. 


Why Isn't Joetha Collier Known as a Victim of Racism in Mississippi?

by Keisha N. Blain

A young woman's murder by white men in 1971, on the day she graduated from a newly integrated high school, doesn't fit easily into a narrative framework established by Emmett Till's killing – of martyrdom leading to change for the better.



Harvard President and Dean: Slavery Shaped the University

by Lawrence S. Bacow and Tomiko Brown-Nagin

Harvard's financial, infrastructural and intellectual legacies are unavoidably entangled with slavery. A new report is meant to signal the university's efforts at reckoning and reconciliation. 



What Makes a Conservative Christian College?

by Andrea L. Turpin

What does it mean when a self-identified "Conservative Christian" college determines that it has violated its own mission by teaching Critical Race Theory? Is the violation religious or political in nature? 



Journalists and Academics: Stop Fighting!

by Maggie Doherty

How can academics and journalists better understand the relationship between their two camps? 



Once More in Ukraine, Dehumanization Precursor to Mass Murder

by Anne Applebaum

Suppressing knowledge of the horrors of starvation inflicted on Ukrainians in the 1930s is a key to Russia's ability to use similar dehumanizing rhetoric to justify attacks on civilians today. 



The Unbearable Whiteness of Ken Burns

by Timothy Messer-Kruse

In the context of today's battles over teaching the history of racism in America, the new Franklin documentary unfortunately uses its subject to spin a narrative of national self-correction that ignores historians' attention to conflict and struggle. 



"Under the Banner" Improves, but Doesn't Sanitize, Book's Reductive History of LDS

by Benjamin E. Park

The new series raises questions about America's homegrown faith, and shakes off some of the source book's post-9/11 concerns with extremism and religious violence to show the complexity among different tendencies and branches of the faith. 



The Dark Money Behind KBJ Attacks Is Coming for Public Schools

by Alyssa Bowen

"Dark Money" organizations allow a small group of elite families to use their wealth to control the content of education around the country. 



The Decline of Tenure is the Greatest Threat to Higher Education

by Marc Stein

While states like Texas threaten tenure politically, in California the instititution is under attack by austerity and attrition; either way, higher education itself is threatened by the abandonment of employment security. 


Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183085 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183085 0
The Issue of Visibility in Latino Art

Chicano mural in El Paso, Texas. Note the tears flowing into the Rio Grande River. Image included in the “Painted Walls of the Barrio” exhibit.  Photo: Ricardo Romo, 1983.



For border artists,  many of whom incorporate imagery related to immigration, there has never been a more urgent time for artistic expression than now.   El Paso has been one of the busiest immigration centers on the 2,000-mile international border as thousands of refugees arrive daily at this West Texas border station.   Many border artists see the turmoil and complexities of immigration policy close up. El Paso’s active muralist community was featured in an excellent article by Diana Spechler, “Art Without Borders,” in the New York Times on April 11.

Spechler made a strong case for communities like El Paso to support the work of its muralists, writing that ”we need a mode of connection beyond ‘reaching across the aisle’... We need art that shakes us and we need  lots of it--not just in major cities, but also in rural America, in suburbs.”  Spechler’s conclusions are especially worth considering as she makes a call for “art as commentary--not the safe, sterile kind--art to counteract deception, art that reminds us that even when things seem beyond fixing, they are not beyond describing.”

I commend Spechler’s call for more public art --art that makes one think,  art that offers critical commentary through its imagery.  Nearly forty years ago I led a documentary team to El Paso, Houston, San Antonio, and other Texas communities that had established a mural tradition to capture the prominent Latino murals.  Our mission resulted in an art presentation at the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio titled:  “Painted Walls of the Barrio.”   The visual presentation had a twenty-year run at the Institute where thousands of school children were treated to a 30-minute show in the  Institute’s expansive  rotunda showing images simultaneously on four large walls. The murals had many historical and social themes that always elicited questions from the visiting school children.  

Chicano mural in Houston Texas. Artist: Leo Tanguma. Mural image detail included in the “Painted Walls of the Barrio” exhibit.  Photo: Ricardo Romo, 1983.


Public art has many champions, and I have been one for many years. But in this essay, I offer another art option: Recognizing that our tax-supported museums have only marginally collected Latino art, I propose that major museums in Texas, which include those in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and El Paso reassess their collection’s holdings by Black, Latino, and Asian artists.  This can be done with the assistance of their in-house curatorial staff, but may also require the appointment of special community artists and art scholars to discuss and assess the diversity of the museum collections and make recommendations on how to remedy any shortcomings.   

President Joe Biden’s support for the arts is generous in the stimulus package which according to GrantNews, allocated $15 billion for arts grants.  Most artists rely on exhibitions or art shows to display and sell their art.  With the pandemic, nearly all museums and art galleries across the nation shuttered their doors. Artists were left to employ virtual shows to exhibit their works.  Artists I spoke with  did not see much advantage in virtual shows.  Overall, sales were dramatically down,  and most artists had to rely on other types of work to survive financially.  While the stimulus funding will help nonprofits with trained staff and those who know how to apply for grants, artists worry that the self-employed artists who have depended on art galleries and art show sales will see less help initially.

Houston Texas mural. Restoration of Leo Tanguma’s mural completed by Gonzo. Photo: Ricardo Romo, 2019.


The definition of Latino art is broad and can include art from Mexico, Central America, and Latin America as well as U.S.-born Latinos.  Some museums collected the works of Latino artists early on.  Marion K. McNay, who later established her beautiful home as an art museum in San Antonio, for example, collected a  stunning painting of a young girl by Diego Rivera in the early 1920s. Several university museums,  the University of California-Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the University of Texas-Austin art museums acquired the works of David Alfaro Siqueiros.   The Boston Museum purchased a painting by Spanish-Mexican artist Jose Arpa in 1899. The sale of that painting, which was in a San Antonio exhibition that same year,  convinced Arpa to move from Mexico City to San Antonio the following year. 

Before World War II, there were relatively few American-born Latino artists known to the general public and museums. San Antonio resident and landscape artist Porfirio Salinas became the exception in the late 1940s when the newly elected Texas Senator Lyndon B. Johnson acquired several of his bluebonnet paintings and hung them at his Junction, Texas ranch and in his U.S. Senate office. Later when Johnson won the presidency in 1964, his fondness for Salinas’  wildflowers and landscapes was such that nearly all the paintings in the Oval Office were by Salinas.

Porfirio Salinas. “The Alamo.” Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Fort Sam Houston Museum, San Antonio,Tx. Photo by Ricardo Romo


The Witte Museum in San Antonio, founded in 1926, was one of the first museums in America to exhibit and acquire works by Mexicans and American Latinos. Mexican art first came to Texas in September of 1927 when the San Antonio Art League brought 200 paintings from Mexico City for an exhibit at the Witte Museum.  Witte curator Amy Fulkerson’s research on Witte exhibits found references in the local papers of  “200 original paintings” lost in train transport to San Antonio.  The paintings were found safe, although we know little about the incident. That same year,  Marion K. McNay loaned her “Delfina Flores” painting of a young Mexican child by Diego Rivera to the Art League.

Diego Rivera, Delfina Flores, 1927. Oil on canvas, 32 ¼ x 26 in. Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Bequest of Marion Koogler McNay  © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, México, D.F./ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


It has been  90 years since Texans first demonstrated  an interest in Mexican art.   In recent decades that interest has grown.  As the larger cities of the state become increasingly  Latino,  more will be expected from publicly supported museums. The moment is ripe for bringing Latino art to public spaces and public museums. The number of talented Latino artists has multiplied over the past two decades, and the opportunity to make their work visible is now.

Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183037 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183037 0
"Two-Spirit" Visibility and the Year Activists Rewrote History

Pictured at right is We'wha (1849-1896), of the Zuni nation. Popularly known at the time as "The Zuni Man-Woman," We'wha might today be described with the modern term "Two-Spirits"



March 31 marked the International Transgender Day of Visibility. Founded in 2009 by Rachel Crandall, a transgender activist from Michigan, this annual event has filled the silences in our nation’s history with stories of transgender accomplishments, struggles, and love. Crandall wanted to draw the public’s attention to the richness and complexity of the people represented by the “T” in LGBTQ life. In 2021, as state lawmakers across the country began drafting anti-transgender bills, president Biden rewarded Crandall’s efforts with a White House proclamation to “honor and celebrate the achievements and resiliency of transgender individuals and communities.”


In 2022, International Transgender Day of Visibility coincided with efforts to pass anti-transgender legislation at the state level, and rising violence against trans people – particularly trans people of color. Faced with such bigotry, it has never been more important to celebrate Crandall’s activism and the efforts of transgender people to raise their visibility throughout the United States. Refusing to remain silent, transgender people continue to play a major role in reshaping modern American history. That work builds on the dedication and persistence of previous generations of transgender people. In fact, transgender visibility was once a routine facet of healthy, nurturing communities that pre-dated European colonialism in North America.


During the summer of 1990, a small group of Native Americans wanted to reclaim that history. Roughly 100 people – gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender – gathered at campgrounds just north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, on August 1. This was only the third time they’d met for what they dubbed their “spiritual gathering.” The first two events, held in Minneapolis and at a campground in northern Wisconsin, laid the foundations for an annual event that attracted people from New York to California, Ontario to British Columbia. By the time participants packed up their Winnipeg campsite and headed home on August 5, none could have anticipated the ripple effects that the third gathering would have on the course of North American history.


At Winnipeg, a new term was born: Two-Spirit. An umbrella term, Two-Spirit is an English translation of the North Algonquin niizh manitoag. For centuries, Algonquin-speaking communities in Canada and the United States had referred to people embodying both feminine and masculine spirits as niizh manitoag. The English translation – Two-Spirit – replaced offensive colonial terms such as “berdache” and “transvestite,” and added depth to labels like “gay,” “lesbian,” or “trans” that didn’t capture the totality of a Native person’s spiritual identity. Two-Spirit provided that language. More verb than noun, Two-Spirit identities aren’t static, marginal, or locked in the past. They’re modern, innovative, and part of living traditions that millions of Native people continue to renew every day.


History is made up of moments like those at Winnipeg in 1990. These moments help us to make sense of things that happened, and are happening, to us and our loved ones. But history’s more than that – it’s more than a list of dates, names, and events. History’s also something we do. The Two-Spirit participants at the Winnipeg gathering highlight how history’s an active process that Native people were determined to rewrite. No longer would they allow the silences of colonial archives to strip them of their humanity or permit historians to mischaracterize their history and culture. At Winnipeg, Two-Spirit people were doing history on their terms. In agreeing to embrace the term Two-Spirit, the Winnipeg delegates became the authors of a transformative history. Just how significant was this historical moment?


In a word, it was transformative. Prior to the Winnipeg gathering, Two-Spirit people had labels placed on them by non-indigenous people. “Berdache,” the most commonly used label, pleased no one in Indian Country. It derived its origins from the Arabic word “Bardaj,” meaning a “kept boy” or “slave.” Like other popular labels – “hermaphrodite;” “transvestite;” “sodomite” – European colonizers used “berdache” as a slur; it defined Two-Spirit people as deviant, sinful, and worthy only of ridicule, marginalization, and in some cases, violent death.


Violence has many forms, and the participants at the Winnipeg gathering knew that they and their ancestors had spent centuries navigating physical and psychological violence. Public celebrations of American nationalism compounded the hurt. Holidays commemorating the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and until recently, “Columbus Day” became ritualized features of the American calendar. For many Native people, these commemorative events felt like cruel exercises in emotional abuse. They also perpetuated historical mythologies that celebrated colonizers (white men, mostly) and silenced Native people (and made Two-Spirit people invisible).


At Winnipeg in 1990, Two-Spirit people flipped the historical script. In fact, they started writing their own scripts. At that time, historians continued to remain shamefully silent about Two-Spirit histories. Those who did write about Two-Spirit people in the 1990s followed a familiar narrative, portraying Two-Spirits as marginal or deviant figures in Native American history.

Two-Spirit people had had enough. Tired of historical misrepresentation, they’d write their own histories. Richard La Fortune (Anguksuar) made a major contribution to these efforts. La Fortune’s personal papers are now preserved in the Archives and Special Collections Library at the University of Minnesota. On the eve of the Winnipeg gathering, though, La Fortune had a message for the world: “We are everywhere.” La Fortune, a Two-Spirit Yupik man, captured the spirit that people brought with them to the Winnipeg gathering when he celebrated how “we’re reappearing with all of our own memories and traditions, our focus on culture and spirituality, sobriety, and political goals.”

La Fortune’s soaring prose matched the pride participants at the Winnipeg gathering felt during the warm August days in 1990. In the months after the gathering, Two-Spirit people reflected on their experiences. They expressed feelings of love, pride, and solidarity. Above all, they wrote of the joy they felt at taking control of their own historical narratives. History, and historians, would no longer mischaracterize or silence them. As one Two-Spirit delegate recalled in Two Eagles, a Native American newspaper, the Winnipeg “gathering was more a ceremony than just a gathering and sharing. All that was seen, all that was said, all that was shared, all that was done was ceremonial. We are a people whose time has come.”


In the years since the Winnipeg gathering, the term Two-Spirit has gained growing levels of acceptance across North America. Two-Spirit has become a staple of scholarly, educational, and journalistic writing. LGBTQ politics has also expanded to include “2S” people, and healthcare providers have recognized the importance of being attentive to the needs of Two-Spirit people. This visibility is a direct result of Two-Spirit people doing history. In the three decades since the Winnipeg gathering, Two-Spirit people haven’t let history happen to them; they’ve actively authored new historical chapters, and in the process, have changed how all Americans perceive them. It’s not necessary to wait for the next International Transgender Day of Visibility to join La Fortune and celebrate that Two-Spirit people “are everywhere.”

Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183036 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183036 0
Tate Reeves's Stealth Announcement of Confederate History Month



It is already half-way through April and you may have missed the news that Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves has declared this month Confederate Heritage Month.  He did not make a public announcement of this proclamation, as he did his ringing declaration denouncing genocide – you know, the kind that happens in places like Darfur.  The Confederate Heritage endorsement must have been signed in the dark of night at an undisclosed location in invisible ink.  But the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which were behind the original declaration, put it on their website, where the alert Mississippi Free Press picked it up.  Gov. Reeves was not eager to comment on the issue, though he claimed in a statement to that he was merely following precedent.  Also, he allowed, he signed the proclamation “because he believes we can all learn from our history.” 

Not if Gov. Reeves can help it.  In what has been a busy month for the Mississippi governor, he also signed a bill outlawing the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools, which, he claimed, “only aims to humiliate and indoctrinate.”  I believe he is referring to white people here.  None of this is surprising but it’s a mistake to dismiss it as business as usual.

Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154597 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154597 0
Understanding How Counterfactuals Shape Putin's Worldview and Historical Rhetoric



Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has weaponized history to justify Russia’s “special military operation.”  He has drawn historical analogies to World War II and claimed he is preventing Ukrainian “Nazis” from committing “genocide” against vulnerable Russians.  He has used historical revisionism to whitewash the Soviet Union’s 20th century mistreatment of Ukraine.  And he has practiced outright historical denial by rejecting the reality of Ukrainian nationhood.     

Various commentators have tried to explain Putin’s tendentious approach to history by situating it within his broader historical worldview.   They have argued that Putin is a skilled “manipulator of history” who is obsessed with a range of historical concerns, including the desire to arrest Russia’s imperial decline, foster its national revival, restore unity, and avenge instances of historical “betrayal.”

An important -- but thus far overlooked -- component of Putin’s historical worldview is his use of counterfactuals.   Although often rejected as too speculative to be used in serious historical inquiry, counterfactuals offer profound insights into human psychology.  As social science research has shown, speculating about the past channels a range of human emotions -- especially regret and relief.  When people regret the course of history, they often create fantasies in which it turns out better.  When people feel relief about how history actually turned out, they produce nightmares depicting how it might have been worse.

Doing a deep dive into Putin’s speeches, writings, and interviews over the past two decades reveal notable patterns of counterfactual thinking.  These patterns, in turn, are key components of his historical orientation.  Putin has regularly used nightmare counterfactuals to express regret about the course of 20th century Russian history.  He has floated fantasies in which Russia avoids its 20th century tragedies.  And he has used “what ifs” to justify his invasion of Ukraine as necessary for helping Russia preempt future calamity.

Like many before him, Putin has adopted an inconsistent position on speculating about the past.  On the one hand, he has routinely touted the merit of historical objectivity, noting in his well-known National Interest essay of 2020, that “it is crucial to rely exclusively on archival documents” and avoid any “politicized speculations” when studying the past. He has also often invoked the famous Russian saying, “history does not know the subjunctive mood” -- as he did in a speech delivered in 2016 to the National Historical Assembly in Moscow.  In very same breath, however – in fact, in the very next sentence of his speech -- Putin observed that “there is a place for…speculation” in historiography, adding “all aspects are of interest…both what happened and what could have happened.”  

To illustrate this point, Putin used his 2016 speech to address one of his preferred counterfactual scenarios: the nightmare of the Soviet Union losing World War II to Nazi Germany.  Pointing ominously to what “Hitler had planned to do with the Russian people had he won,” Putin noted that they “would have ended up – far away in Siberia, essentially doomed to extinction.”  Putin expanded on this point in a 2021 speech to schoolchildren in Vladivostock, noting: “if the Nazis had won the war…there would have been no future for [the Russian people] whatsoever, because…[while] those who could work [were]…to be used as workforce, those who were not…were…to be relocated beyond the Urals…and some of them…killed in gas chambers.”

By using close call counterfactuals to explore this nightmare, Putin expressed relief for the actual course of history and valorized Russia’s contribution to it.  As he explained, the possibility of a Nazi victory threw into sharp relief how the world would have been different “if we had not achieved what we did,” adding that the Soviet “victory over Nazism is probably one of the most outstanding and significant events of the 20th century.”

Putin also used counterfactuals to justify Joseph Stalin’s leadership of the USSR against the Nazis.  In defending the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact of August 23, 1939, Putin explained how the Soviets’ conquest of eastern Poland helped the USSR survive the Nazi invasion of June 22, 1941.  Noting that “the old Soviet-Polish border ran only within a few tens of kilometers of Minsk,” Putin declared that “the USSR would [have] faced seriously increased risks” without the added buffer zone, adding in 2019, that “the onslaught of the Nazis would have been much more painful for the USSR…had it been launched even closer to the political, economic and military-industrial centers of the Soviet Union.”

Putin also lamented missed opportunities involving Soviet history.  When asked the counterfactual question in 2018 what occurrence he would have most like to have prevented, Putin responded “the disintegration of the Soviet Union.”  In his 2021 Vladivostock speech, Putin went even further by fantasizing about how much better Russian history would have been had “Russian statehood [not] disintegrated twice during the 20th century [in 1917 and 1991],” citing the claim of “specialists…that we should have had a population nearing 500 million people [today, instead of merely] 146 million.”  This missing growth, he suggested, was a regrettable byproduct of Russia’s 20th century “tragedies.”  

Given these regrets about the past, Putin has predictably used “what ifs” to justify his invasions of Ukraine.  Here, Putin has used predictive counterfactuals, speculating about how events might have unfolded in the future had he not undertaken immediate action in the present.  In a speech justifying his invasion of Crimea in 2014, for example, he cited the intolerable possibility of Ukraine joining NATO, declaring that the presence of “NATO’s navy…in [the port of Sebastopol]…would [have] create[d]…a perfectly real threat to the whole of southern Russia.” To justify his invasion of 2022, he outlandishly claimed that “the Nazi regime in Kyiv could have got its hands on weapons of mass destruction, and its target, of course, would have been Russia.” Floating nightmares of how the future would have turned out in the absence of Russian aggression serves to justify it.

Putin is hardly the first national leader to use counterfactuals to justify his political reign.  The western historical record is full of figures who behaved similarly: Stalin, Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte, Frederick the Great – the list goes all the way back to Antiquity.  The full story of how reimagining the past reflects attitudes about the present remains to be written.  But the sooner we recognize how counterfactuals can shed light on how history is instrumentalized, the better we will be able to respond to contemporary challenges.

Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183038 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183038 0
Footage in NYC's Archives Sheds Important Light on the Northern Civil Rights Movement and Police Efforts to Undermine It

Brooklyn CORE member Paul Heinegg (center, with papers) pictured at a 1965 CORE demonstration at Police Headquarters in Manhattan, protesting police brutality and demanding the establishment of a civilian complaint review board. His wife Rita Heinegg, also a CORE activist, stands directly behind him. Still from digitized film reel, New York City Municipal Archives.



The New York County District Attorney (D.A.) and the Bureau of Special Services (BOSSI), a specialized New York City Police Department (NYPD) unit, may be to blame for two Black men connected to Malcolm X being incarcerated on false charges. Walter Bowe and Khaleel Sayyed were convicted for being part of a conspiracy to blow up the Statue of Liberty in 1965. According to the recent memoir The Ray Wood Story: Confessions of a Black NYPD Cop in the Assassination of Malcolm X, both men, who had been members of Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), were arrested to facilitate his assassination a week afterwards. While the responsibility for Malcolm’s assassination remains a contested topic, the story points to the bigger issue of the involvement of BOSSI in infiltration, surveillance, and undermining of many social justice organizations in the city.

In previous articles I discussed evidence that supports claims these men were falsely accused, and how the idea for bombing the Statue of Liberty came from BOSSI agent Ray Wood. Two members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which Wood first infiltrated, have stated he also tried to convince them to commit similar acts of violence months before he infiltrated Bowe and Sayyed’s activist group in December 1964. New evidence names two additional CORE members who tried to testify in court that Wood suggested they blow up the Statue of Liberty in July 1964. Even though their testimony would have supported Bowe and Sayyed’s claims of entrapment, the testimony of these CORE members was challenged by the D.A.’s office and not allowed to be heard at trial by the judge.

Why is this new evidence important? It helps to further exonerate Bowe and Sayyed while revealing inconsistencies in Wood’s controversial memoir. It also helps continue to expose the extraordinary lengths BOSSI went to in order to neutralize CORE and the willingness of courts and prosecutors to conceal it. These efforts are further revealed by surveillance films taken by BOSSI, many of which are exhibited on the New York City (NYC) Archives’  website. This film footage is significant because it adds to and illustrates the drama of the Ray Wood and CORE story while also serving as an excellent visual representation of CORE at its zenith. The films depict why CORE was considered such a threat to the authorities, especially on the issue of police brutality.

One highlight of the collection is a May 1964 film clip where Ray Wood can be seen talking to the head of the East River CORE chapter, Blyden Jackson. In that same clip, Wood can be seen walking directly behind East River CORE member Stu Wechsler on a picket line. It was Wechsler who told how Wood suggested East River CORE members should stick up liquor stores and commit other types of robberies in order to raise funds for CORE. Wood also testified against Jackson in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee for allegedly being a communist. The footage is important because it confirms Wood did indeed have significant contact with the members of East River CORE.

A bespectacled Rafael Martinez can be seen in a March 1964 clip as a member of Bronx CORE being arrested with chapter chairman Herb Callender for protesting against police brutality at police headquarters. It was Callender’s 1964 campaign against police brutality that led to Wood being assigned to infiltrate Bronx CORE, an infiltration which would set Callender up for arrest later that year. Martinez appears in several clips where the camera is focused on him specifically. Martinez was the first CORE member I found that stated Wood suggested to him they should blow up the Statue of Liberty in mid-1964. The film footage is important then because it shows BOSSI knew of Martinez, thus adding legitimacy to his claim. It raises the question whether Martinez was targeted by Wood because of his protests against police brutality.

Callender and others, including Brooklyn CORE member Paul Heinegg, can be seen in an additional film clip being arrested again for protesting against police brutality at city hall three weeks later. Several shots in the beginning of the clip isolate Heinegg in the frame. He has stated Brooklyn CORE was also infiltrated by an undercover police officer known as Phil Plant. Heinegg was arrested again a month later by Plant for participating in the World’s Fair Stall-In, a demonstration in which CORE chapters planned on stalling traffic around the city to protest employment discrimination at the 1964 World’s Fair. This is significant because it shows that NYPD did not just infiltrate Bronx CORE but Brooklyn CORE as well, the chapter credited with coming up with the idea for the Stall-In. As with Martinez, the footage shows BOSSI was also aware of Heinegg and again raises the question if Heinegg was targeted because of his activism regarding police brutality.

There are even film clips of Ray Wood posing as an activist after he was pulled out of CORE by BOSSI to infiltrate the Black Liberation Front (BLF), the activist group Bowe and Sayyed belonged to. Together, the BOSSI collection of surveillance films helps tell the story of Wood and CORE, from the events leading up to his being assigned to CORE, to his interactions with CORE members, to his actions as an undercover agent that ultimately led to the arrests of BLF activists on false charges. 

These film clips support my previous argument that Wood’s assignment was a response to CORE’s increasing militancy, as exemplified by its Stall-In and campaign against police brutality. While the Stall-In received more publicity, there are more clips of CORE protesting against police brutality on the Archives’ website, including one featuring Brooklyn CORE head and future congressman Major Owens leading a demonstration in front of police headquarters. Such protests speak to CORE as leaders in the fight against police brutality well before groups like the Black Panthers, an issue not much discussed by movement historians.

This increased militancy came at a time when members were pushing the limits of non-violent direct action in ways CORE’s founders never imagined. CORE’s innovations and militancy propelled the movement forward as part of its efforts to increase democracy. The actions of BOSSI on the other hand speak to efforts by the authorities then as now to subvert democracy.

The footage helps clarify the story and suggests Wood’s actions were not random but part of a coordinated effort in which BOSSI  targeted specific members of CORE. This raises the question, given the amount of surveillance being done, why was Ray Wood suddenly taken out of CORE and reassigned to the BLF? The BLF in comparison would not have been seen as problematic as CORE, a national organization with thousands of members engaged in protests all over the country for years. The BLF was a local group, barely a few months old, that rarely did actions and had no more than two or three dozen members.

This film footage is also significant in that it is a window on the civil rights movement in NYC, in which CORE had been the tip of the spear. The footage supports arguments as to how the movement also happened in the north and helps debunk the narrative of the movement  as something exclusive to the south. 

In a strange way, BOSSI did CORE a favor in that it documented and preserved its rich history for future generations. The footage illustrates exactly what CORE contributed to the movement, specifically its innovativeness in creating tactics and techniques that have come to characterize the movement as we know it: the “jail no bail” tactic, “going limp” when arrested, physically blocking and climbing all over construction equipment and other variations of the “sit-in”. CORE’s ability to dramatize the issue can especially be seen in one cinematic 1964 film clip of members chaining themselves to the pillars of the United States Court House while holding signs that spell out “FREEDOM NOW”.

One of the most obvious reasons CORE would have been considered such a threat was because of how it successfully influenced masses of people from all walks of life to join the movement such as Yuri Kochiyama and Herman Ferguson. BOSSI by coincidence captured shots of Kochiyama and Ferguson long before they joined the OAAU and witnessed the events of Malcolm X’s assassination. These clips which show their first arrests as part of the civil rights movement speak to the significance of CORE as inspiration. In teaching such people how to organize, CORE trained a whole generation of activists who went on to affect the larger Black freedom movement in ways that had far reaching consequences.

Several demonstrations are shown where the majority of CORE members protesting were White, the ancestors of today’s “anti-racists”. Most of these White members were Jewish such as Mickey Schwerner of the Downtown CORE chapter. Shots of him protesting against discrimination in employment and police brutality show Schwerner was heavily involved in activism well before he was murdered in Mississippi by Ku Klux Klansmen aided by the local police. The shots are especially poignant given the current trend of voter suppression and efforts to disenfranchise Black voters by the Republicans who have for all intents and purposes become the legislative branch of the white supremacist movement. These actions dishonor the sacrifices of CORE members Schwerner, Andy Goodman and James Chaney which resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

For all the action that took place at these protests, the footage also reveals days where there were no physical clashes with the police and racist white mobs, only a small number of demonstrators with no crowd to witness them, protests where there were no television cameras or photographers from the press, just a few random police officers assigned to monitor the event. Such footage takes away from the mythology of the movement, revealing instead the loneliness of the long distance activist, but speaking to the level of commitment by members of CORE.

If anything this footage is a reminder of the need to do more work on CORE. Given BOSSI’s extraordinary effort to neutralize CORE and the fact that BOSSI was a satellite for the counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), it also raises another question: did law enforcement and the intelligence agencies finally succeed in neutralizing CORE by using its national director Roy Innis? For years, Innis was rumored to be an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency. It was under his tenure that CORE partnered with the Republican Party and conservative forces often against the same civil rights activity CORE once championed. Under Innis, CORE was disrupted, misdirected and discredited, all stated goals of COINTELPRO.

Ultimately, this story speaks to the larger issues of government efforts to destroy the Black freedom movement as well as the use of illegal surveillance and entrapment. The same tactics that Wood used to entrap and set up CORE and the BLF would be used repeatedly over the years up to today’s Black Life Matters movement. In order to gain justice for the victims and prevent such abuses of power from ever happening again, all such surveillance footage and the FBI files not just on Ray Wood, Malcolm X and CORE but all the groups involved in this story should be released. This would help us finally learn the full extent of these programs and the effect they had on the Black freedom movement and other social justice initiatives.

* My thanks to Ayo Magwood for research assistance.

Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183039 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183039 0
Why I Can't Wave a Ukrainian Flag – A Dissenting Teach-In on Russia's Invasion

US Senator John McCain speaks to a pro-EU crowd in Kyiv, December 2013. 



This past March, three colleagues at Central Washington University convened a teach-in to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine (they convened another one in April, which I didn’t attend and so won’t talk about). The presenters—all experts in the fields of Russian history and culture—gave bravura expositions exploring Russian nationalism, empire building, war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. To my mind, however, something was missing:  dissent.

Though effective in its aims—to teach history and generate support (including money) for Ukraine—this particular teach-in differed profoundly from civil disobedience campaigns of the Vietnam era. Those who participated in the original anti-war teach-ins of the 1960s stood the risk of being ridiculed, bombed, spied on by FBI agents, and excoriated by community authorities and administrators. The CWU presenters, by contrast, buttressed rather than challenged a dominant narrative, given that 70% of Americans already view Russia as a threat. If the presenters are critical of hawkish U.S. foreign policy and the decades-long expansion of the military-industrial complex, not to mention the role of the U.S. in heightening tensions in Ukraine, they didn’t say so.

I find this particularly troubling at a time when 45% of Americans—and 81% of Republicans—view President Biden’s actions viz. Ukraine as too cautious; 46% support a U.S.-imposed no-fly zone even when told it would risk nuclear war; and Congressional Democrats (Democrats!) seek to add billions more to the already record military budget that the administration requests.

I’m no expert on the history of Russia or Ukraine, but I am an avid consumer of news and I know quite a bit about U.S. history, including the history of U.S. wars and public opinion. In the spirit of scholarly debate—and with respect and admiration for the presenters—I take it upon myself to offer a dissenting view.

Had I been among the presenters, I would have asserted that the overwhelming American support for Ukrainians in their fight against Russia—though not without justice—resembles earlier moments of American solidarity with European nations fighting authoritarianism, particularly 1917, when the U.S., reacting to German attacks and atrocities (but ignorant of British atrocities) joined the Entente Powers in what President Wilson called “a war for democracy.” Though the U.S. helped defeat autocratic Germany, the war spawned persecutions, authoritarianism, and jingoism at home (not least among Democrats, particularly intellectuals) and—due to the terms of the Versailles Treaty—fueled the rise of Adolf Hitler.

In that 1917 moment, like this one, a bellicose press—with assistance from a bellicose government—shut down dissent and marginalized dissenters. Randolph Bourne’s justly famous essay condemning war fever seems every bit as apropos as it was in 1917.

I do not doubt that Putin (rather like Germany’s Kaiser) is a would-be imperialist who holds nostalgia for the Soviet Union and/or “Greater Russia,” and would like to recreate one or both, albeit without communism. The probability of that happening, however, seems exceedingly low. Even before Russia invaded Ukraine, Putin had said that those who wish to recreate the Soviet Union “have no brain” and that his conventional military can in no way match that of NATO. More to the point, recreating the Soviet Union or Greater Russia would be enormously expensive and almost certainly impossible, no matter the outcome in Ukraine (part of why the Soviet Union dissolved was because the empire was more encumbrance than asset).

My own take is that the Western media’s anti-Putin, pro-Ukraine, pro-NATO barrage has blinded both Americans and Europeans (especially the British, those hoary players of the “Great Game”) to the fact that Putin, though capable of great brutality, is a rational actor. He is as likely to consolidate power due to the West’s fervent response as to lose it. By making a diplomatic solution almost impossible (politicians need public support for any offer to lift sanctions as part of a peace package), the West’s fervency might well protract the killing for years and destabilize Eastern Europe.

Let me start my more detailed discussion by talking about NATO expansion. One of the teach-in presenters acknowledged that the U.S. and its European allies may have made a mistake by expanding NATO into nations that comprised the old Soviet Union but added that “woulda/couldas” of past policymaking are beside the point. I disagree passionately. Revisiting “woulda/couldas” is probably the only thing that can bring peace, at least any time in the near future.

I have no particular expertise in foreign policy, but I defer to those who do (or did before their decease): George Kennan, the doyen of American Cold War policy; Paul Nitze, Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan; Paul Warnke, director of the Arms Control Association and SALT II negotiator; Richard Pipes, noted historian of the Soviet Union; Gary Hart, former Colorado Senator and co‑chair of the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century; Jack Matlock, President Reagan’s ambassador to the Soviet Union; Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under Richard Nixon; William Perry, Secretary of Defense to Bill Clinton; and Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense under George Bush and Barack Obama. All of them—and many others—feared that NATO expansion into the former Soviet Union would lead to a renewed Cold War, if not a hot one.

Kennan’s words are particularly apropos. The NATO expanders, he argued, had “little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are.” He went on to say, “I think it is the beginning of a new cold war … I think it is a tragic mistake.”

In their zeal to punch Vladimir Putin, modern Democrats and their preferred media voices are quick to dismiss or diminish the assertion that the U.S. played a significant role in provoking the war (this isn’t the Democratic Party of the 1970s or even the early 2000s; it’s a party dedicated, or at least inured, to regime change policies, not just for Russia, but also Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Bolivia, and others to be announced). But yes, alas, the U.S. and NATO did much to provoke the war, and not just by expanding NATO. The U.S. also provoked the war with its own election meddling in Eastern Europe, especially in Ukraine, a meddling that was magnitudes—light years—greater than whatever Russia did or did not do in our 2016 election.

Something I have not seen reported in any mainstream venue is that as late as 2008, fully 50% of Ukrainians opposed NATO membership versus 24.3% who supported it. Another 2008 poll showed even greater opposition (56% against joining NATO versus 15% for). In a 2010 Gallup poll, 40% of Ukrainians viewed NATO as more threat than protector (just 17% said the opposite). What those poll numbers suggest is that the current situation resulted not from timeless Ukrainian fears of Russian aggression, but from blundering, arrogant neo-conservative Western foreign policy, along with equally blundering and over-aggressive Russian and Ukrainian policies since 2008.

Policy blunders, to be sure, weren’t the only mover of opinion. Both the U.S. and EU offered powerful economic incentives. Quite simply, the EU and US are vastly wealthier than Russia and can offer enormous loans, bailouts, and investment capital. The fact that Russia has been Ukraine’s main export partner, however, equalizes the equation to a degree.

If free market economics alone are driving Ukraine’s movement toward the West, Russia should stand out of the way. The West, however, has not let the invisible hand do all the work. It also deploys another, more visible—more problematic—hand: the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), an agency created under President Reagan to perform tasks once under the purview of the CIA, including “fostering … political parties, trade unions, free markets and business organizations.” As idealistic and non-controversial as those goals sound, NED has a long history of promoting regime change; one observer calls it the National Endowment (for Meddling) in Democracy. In Ukraine, NED has poured tens of millions of dollars into building a pro-Western constituency. NED’s European cousin, the European Endowment for the Democracy, has done the same on a smaller scale. They are assisted by the West’s lavishly funded NGO complex, which (like NED) extended its reach across Eastern Europe. Total U.S. investment in Ukrainian “good governance” and “other goals,” averred former Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland (now Undersecretary of State), amounted to $5 billion between 1991 and 2013.

Let’s step back a moment and imagine that Russia was an economic juggernaut able to spend $5 billion to turn Mexico into a close ally and modernize its army. Imagine, moreover, that Russia proposed to station troops—along with anti-ballistic missiles—in Mexico after bringing it into a defensive alliance (which is what NATO has done in nations formerly allied with Russia). Imagine, moreover, that Mexico was receptive to Russia’s money—and welcomed its meddling—because it was poor and because some of its citizens, but not a majority, had lingering fears of U.S. hostility. Keep in mind that the U.S. has invaded Mexico twice, though not recently. That is precisely what the United States and its NATO allies have done in Ukraine.

One can certainly reply that Western meddling is necessary to counter Russian meddling. Russia clearly supports Ukrainian parties and leaders that favor its interests. No doubt it has brought tremendous pressure to bear on Ukrainian governments. I reiterate, however, that, as late as 2010, Ukrainians didn’t want to join NATO. It was the West that had to lobby Ukrainians to gain support.

The NED/NGO complex is obviously not the only reason that Ukrainians have increasingly favored entering NATO and the EU. There is also the matter of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for the breakaway states in the Donbas (including sending a small number of troops), which occurred in reaction to Ukraine’s Maidan revolution in 2014. The effect of Russia’s decision was to strengthen Ukrainian nationalism and support for NATO, partly due to Russia’s straightforward aggression, and partly because the withdrawal of Crimea and the Donbas greatly diminished Ukraine’s pro-Russian electorate.[1]

Given that Russia’s actions in Crimea and Donbas created a predictable Ukrainian backlash, why did Russia take them? What we mostly hear from the cable press—whether Fox, MSNBC, or CNN—is that Putin’s Russia is an imperialist, hateful, lying nation guided by the idea that might makes right. The Maidan revolution and its aftermath, however, is complex and ambiguous.

To understand that revolution—or coup, by some accounts—we have to go back to 2008, when George W. Bush, along with NATO, declared that Ukraine and Georgia would both become NATO members. Russia—which had been warning against NATO expansion even before the first wave in 1999—threatened war if that happened. From the Russian point of view, NATO wasn’t an innocent, defensive alliance, but an aggressive, pro-Western alliance seeking to encircle them, isolate them economically, and, ultimately, strangle them militarily. In his speech justifying the Ukraine invasion, Putin discussed the threat of NATO encirclement in his first substantive paragraph and mentioned NATO nine more times. It is certainly possible that Putin invoked the NATO threat in an effort to disguise ulterior motives (e.g., recreating the Soviet Union), but to make that assumption is to overlook longstanding Russian fears.

The fact that NATO placed a “defensive” shield of anti-ballistic missiles in former Warsaw Pact nations—ostensibly to shoot down nuclear weapons launched by Iran—was particularly anathema to Russia. From the Russian point of view, the West sought to give itself impunity to launch a nuclear attack without Russia being able to retaliate (since its missiles would be shot down). This would give the West so-called “first-strike capability.” The fact that the U.S. proceeded to withdraw from one arms-control treaty after another—ABM, the INF, the Open Skies Treaty—only intensified Russian fears (to be fair, the U.S. and NATO have accused Russians of any number of treaty violations; this is not simply a “West is malicious” scenario, nor is it simply a “Russia is malicious” scenario).

The latter two treaty withdrawals, incidentally, were decisions by Putin’s ostensible best friend, Donald Trump, who was also the first president to send “lethal aid” (mostly meaning Javelin anti-tank missiles) to Ukraine, thus overturning Obama’s decision not to do so for fear of worsening tensions and arming neo-Nazi “thugs.” Trump, too—contrary to popular perceptions—ramped up economic sanctions beyond Congressional mandates, causing Putin to believe that the West was waging economic war. Whether those sanctions were justified is a question I’ll put aside for now; what is likely, however, is that they did more harm than good.

We can argue about whether Russian leaders are/were irrational to think that the West is out to get them, but it’s unquestionably true that’s what many of them thought and continue to think. Those fears led Russia to develop hypersonic nuclear-tipped missiles that the West thus far cannot defend against. They also led Russia to attack Georgia in 2008 in a five-day war initiated by Georgia’s illegal attempt to reclaim a breakaway region called South Ossetia. This is a war that Russia’s detractors cite as evidence that Putin is ruthless and seeks to recreate the Soviet Union. The actuality was a great deal more complex, and did not end with Russia annexing Georgia (though it continues to pose a military threat to Georgia).

Nor will Russia annex Ukraine, despite what we hear in the media. Its troops aren’t positioned to capture the whole of Ukraine, much less occupy it. The objective seems to be to destroy Ukraine’s military capabilities and to carve off a part of eastern Ukraine in order to attach Crimea to Russia by land and to better defend the Donbas. One would never know this from watching CNN, but, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials, Russian forces—despite inflicting enormous carnage—have been deliberately restrained in order to give room for diplomacy. The other objective seems to be precisely what Putin has stated: to ensure that Ukraine does not become a member of NATO. Nor am I willing to entirely discredit Putin’s statement that he seeks to “de-Nazify” Ukraine (more on that later), given the Azov Battalion’s role in attacks on the Donbas.

Still, as my colleagues insist, this is Putin’s war. He made an illegal decision to invade a sovereign nation. He and his supporters deserve whatever they get. Yes, but no, that’s not the whole story.

Even in the early 2000s, the NED/NGO complex had gone to work to turn Ukraine into a pro-Western nation. After NATO’s decision in 2008 to encourage Ukraine’s admission (I say “encourage admission” because, to reiterate, Ukrainians themselves opposed it), the fight for Ukrainian hearts and minds became more fraught, with pro-Western forces competing against Russophones to elect a favorable government. This was an inherently destabilizing situation.

A turning point came in 2010, when Ukraine elected Viktor Yanukovych as president. Though considered pro-Russian, he strongly favored integrating Ukraine’s economy with the European Union, partly by negotiating an EU economic bailout package. In 2013, however, he turned down the EU’s offer because it required austerity measures that would shred Ukraine’s social safety net and, arguably, because it contained strict anti-corruption requirements (Ukraine is awash in corruption). When Russia offered its own bailout deal sans austerity and anti-corruption measures and with guaranteed access to cheap natural gas, Yanukovych accepted, triggering his right-wing opponents to accuse him of making secret concessions (presumably involving control of Ukraine’s gas pipelines).

What often got lost in coverage of the ensuing protests was that Yanukovych’s Russia deal protected industrial jobs in Ukraine’s eastern “Rust Belt” that might well disappear under the EU package. Nor did Western coverage give much attention to Russia’s fears that cheap EU imports would undermine its fragile economy. Not surprisingly, the strongly pro-free enterprise NED/NGO complex went to work to undermine Yanukovych by working closely with the leaders of the Maidan revolution.

The U.S. and its NED/NGO apparatus did not create the Maidan phenomenon, to be sure, but did steer it to their own ends. Multiple U.S. officials—including Democratic Senator Chris Murphy and Republican John McCain—met with members of the far-right Svoboda party to affirm their support for Maidan. The equivalent would be Russian leaders meeting directly with, say, January 6 insurrectionaries. The staunchly neoconservative Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, moreover, called Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine to instruct him about which Ukrainians the U.S. wanted in President Yanukovych’s ministry and which ones the U.S. wanted excluded. Nuland in particular recommended Arseniy Yatsenyuk (“Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience,” she says in the leaked audio of the call). After Maidan forces forced Yanukovych to flee the country (even after he had called new elections), Yatsenyuk became president. In a space of five months, Yatsenyuk nixed the Russia bailout deal, resuscitated the EU package (including austerity), and resigned.

Did Maidan amount to a U.S.-endorsed coup? Was Nuland promoting Yatsenyuk for the role of president? We’re told that the idea that the U.S. supported a coup in Ukraine is Russian disinformation, but are we sure? What precisely did Geoffrey Pyatt mean by “[we need] somebody with an international personality to come out here and help to midwife this thing.” Did Pyatt require a high-profile Western leader to visit Ukraine merely to endorse a ministerial shuffle? Or was the U.S. playing a bigger game? At the very least, the U.S. was meddling in Ukraine’s politics to impose its will.

In supporting the Maidan project, the U.S. found a ready ally not just in the professorial accountant, Yatsenyuk, but also in Ukraine’s energetic far-right, which provided shock troops—militants—in the protests in Kyiv and elsewhere. After those protests succeeded, the new government repealed a law allowing Russian as an official language in Eastern Ukraine, outlawed left-wing political parties (due to their sympathy with Russia) and outright banned and/or greatly curtailed books imported from Russia. Right-wing thugs meanwhile attacked left-wing political gatherings and drove them underground while the Ukrainian government looked the other way. NED’s president, Carl Gershwin (protégé to neo-con Jeanne Kirkpatrick of the Reagan administration) openly boasted that Maidan was a first step toward ousting Putin. This sort of statement fell short of optimal diplomacy, but was, and is, ubiquitous among Washington’s foreign policy establishment (aka, “the Blob”).

Shortly after Maidan—and the violence and repression that followed—the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Eastern Ukraine passed referendums demanding (depending on how one translates) either to be fully independent or at least autonomous (the latter would be akin to creating Ukrainian federalism akin to that of the United States). There is little question that the referendums were replete with irregularities and coercion and lacked legitimacy under Ukrainian law. It’s equally clear that much of the Donbas population—with equal justification—believed the Maidan government to be illegal (Yanukovych, after all, had prevailed in a fair election) and were infuriated by the Maidan government’s attacks on separatists.

The U.S., meanwhile, poured $2.5 billion into Ukraine’s military seeking to modernize it, partly so it could recapture the breakaway states. The CIA began training Ukrainians to fight in the Donbas in 2015. Though it performed poorly in the early days, the Ukrainian army, along with right-wing paramilitary forces (there were 102,000 of them as of 2020), soon began inflicting agonies. In the war that followed, some 14,000 died between 2014 and 2022. According to the U.N., 81% of civilian casualties were in rebel-held areas between 2018 and 2021, a time when cease-fire agreements supposedly existed in accordance with Minsk protocols. To be sure, civilian casualties had diminished steeply from 2014-15, but cease-fire violations were numerous, and it was Ukrainian attackers who were mostly in violation.

An aside here on Ukrainian neo-Nazis who played roles in both the Maidan revolution and the fighting in the Donbas: There’s a concerted effort afoot to paint them as selfless patriots who either never were genuine Nazis, or who have given up their ideology, or who represent but a tiny sliver of Ukraine’s population. Examine reporting on those same right-wing zealots from before the Russian invasion and you’ll find a different picture.

In 2020, Tim Lister of the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center had this to say: “In recent years, some Americans and Europeans drawn to various brands of far-right nationalism have looked to Ukraine as their field of dreams: a country with a well-established, trained, and equipped far-right militia—the Azov Regiment—that has been actively engaged in the conflict against Russian-backed separatists in Donbas. Most of these ‘foreign fighters’ appear to travel as individuals and at their own expense, according to the author’s review of many cases, but there is a broader relationship between the Ukrainian far-right, and especially its political flagship the National Corps, and a variety of far-right groups and individuals in the United States and Europe.”

Though the U.S. theoretically bars arms shipments to Ukraine’s right-wing militias, there is no way to know precisely where the massive influx of arms will go (just as there was no way to stop U.S. arms shipments from flowing to Al Nusra in Syria or Al Qaeda in Afghanistan). You can find more now passé and impolitic warnings about Ukraine’s Nazis here, here, here, here, and here. Also, here, here, here, and here. And here, too. And here, here, here, and here. And here and here and here. The U.S. policy of flooding Ukraine with arms, in short, might well strengthen (and embolden) far-right constituencies throughout Eastern Europe, and possibly Western Europe.

To end the fighting, Ukraine, Russia, the Donbas states, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) hammered out the Minsk I and Minsk II accords in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Both created a path for the breakaway regions to gain autonomous status. The Ukrainian right, however—which continued to pour fighters into the Donbas—refused to honor the terms and the Ukrainian government did little to restrain them. Though President Zelensky demanded that right-wing militias leave the Donbas as a preliminary to making peace with Russia, he was met with adamant refusal as well as threats on his life. Since then, he has decided to work with the far-right. Ethnic Russians in the Donbas also violated the accords. Both sides, according to the U.N., abducted and tortured opponents, though the most gratuitous crime was committed by pro-Maidan forces that in 2014 set fire to a trade union building in Odessa, killing over 40 anti-Maidan protestors.

So, why did Putin and Russia wait to attack Ukraine until 2022, fully eight years after Russia annexed Crimea and the Donbas declared independence? Putin claims—not without evidence—that Ukraine was planning an offensive to reclaim Crimea and the Donbas. How did he know? Partly because President Zelensky had announced his intention to do so in 2021. Then—in summer 2022, presumably—Ukraine would join NATO as a full member. Zelensky announced that, too, in a tweet he later deleted (Zelensky, incidentally, asked the U.S. to say once and for all whether Ukraine would be allowed into NATO. He was told that no, probably not, but for appearances sake the answer was yes. Some observers suggest that the U.S., by leaving the door open, was deliberately luring Putin into war.) Once Ukraine joined NATO, Russia would have faced an Article 5 war against NATO to defend either the Donbas or its annexed territory in Crimea. Article 5 is the article in NATO’s charter stipulating that a war against one member is a war against all, and that all will defend the one. Russia had zero prospect of winning such a war short of using nuclear weapons.

That alone, however, did not precipitate immediate attack. Putin massed forces on Ukraine’s border in the hope of forcing Ukraine and the West to agree to Ukraine’s neutrality (that is, a guarantee that Ukraine would not join NATO). He was also reacting to Ukraine’s violation of the Minsk accords, including an increase in shelling and the use of weaponized drones. President Zelensky’s stated willingness to pursue nuclear weapons undoubtedly figured in Putin’s thinking, too.

According to CIA sources, Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine was made at the last minute, after his diplomatic overtures (which included direct talks with European leaders) failed. In other words, contrary to endless assertions in our media, the attack on Ukraine was not a long-planned decision meant to recreate the Soviet Union.

If Putin was correct—if Ukraine intended to recapture Crimea and the Donbas, then promptly sign on with NATO—his decision to invade was a preemptive strategy. That is not to say he lacked peaceful options. He could have recognized the Donbas states and stationed troops in them without embarking on a wholesale invasion. Alternately, he could have continued to seek support for the Minsk protocols, especially given that the Donbas holds limited economic and strategic importance to Russia and is an enormous drain on the Russian treasury. It is harder, however, to imagine Putin surrendering Russia’s strategically important Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol (Crimea), which Ukraine would hand over to NATO. An apt analogy would be Cuba handing over the American base at Guantanamo to Russia. The U.S. would never allow it.

Whatever his options, he declared a war. No doubt you have noticed, given that the U.S. media spent more time covering the Ukraine war in the last month than it spent in any previous month on any war in the past 31 years, including Iraq. Either a certain news-obsessed demographic of Americans is utterly fixated on the war, or the media really really wants Americans to care about it. Or both.

That observation becomes more interesting when one considers that, according to a Rasmussen poll, support for direct U.S. involvement correlates with income. The wealthier you are, the more likely you are to support U.S. involvement (at least in the hypothetical situation that the war escalates beyond Ukraine). Wealth tracks with whiteness and educational attainment, which, in turn, tracks with the mainstream media’s main clientele: prosperous white Americans who grew up during the Cold War. Mind you, the mainstream media’s coverage isn’t falsified; it’s simply credulous. It routinely reports faulty and/or speculative intelligence that the U.S. puts out for PR and strategic purposes, not to mention self-serving Ukrainian assertions that lack independent verification. That’s not to say that mainstream coverage is always wrong; it’s mostly just frenetic and fulsome. But don’t even think about calling it propaganda.

I find the situation frightening and deplorable. Frightening because any direct involvement by U.S. forces could escalate into nuclear war, starting with Russia’s use of tactical nuclear weapons (which it has in abundance) to stop troop flows and arms shipments. Deplorable because the U.S. (and British) media have stoked an inferno of self-righteous rage, all in support of a country that has little strategic significance to the United States (or Britain).

Yes, I pity Ukrainians, who are being slaughtered by Russia’s war machine. I hope the Ukrainians win without a prolonged bloodbath. But no, I do not believe that Ukraine’s defeat would lead Russia to attack NATO or recreate the Soviet Union. As the scholar John Mearsheimer has noted, those are fables that Western policy elites tell themselves to deny their own culpability. Nor do I think that guaranteeing that Ukraine will remain neutral, rather than join NATO, will encourage China to think “aha, we can attack Taiwan and the U.S. will stay out of it!” Such stories—that diplomacy will make the U.S. “look weak”—are endlessly recycled in every single conflict we enter, which is partly why we stayed in Vietnam and Afghanistan long after any conceivable progress was achievable.

And if we’re going to care about Ukraine, maybe we should also start caring about Yemen, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have died miserable deaths due to Saudi Arabia’s attack on a sovereign nation, or about Syria, where our own occupying forces and proxies have displaced 7.1 million people and perpetuated a war that has cost more than 600,000 lives and untold misery (not least due to crippling Western sanctions that starve and impoverish millions), or about our own war crimes in Iraq, where our invasion led directly to the violent deaths of between 184,382 and 207,168 civilians (and hundreds of thousands more indirectly), or Libya, where NATO’s regime change operation turned the most prosperous country in Africa into a fratricidal warlord state with open slave markets.

Our press gives us wall-to-wall images of suffering in Ukraine, including images of bombed-out buildings and murdered civilians that attest to “genocide.” If one wants to see equally convincing attestations to genocide, take a look at images of Fallujah, Iraq, where the U.S. and allied forces used white phosphorous and cluster bombs (and buried corpses, including some tied and shot, in mass graves) and destroyed 36,000 homes, 60 schools, and 65 mosques. Or, look at Mosul, Iraq, after the U.S. leveled it, with a nary a mention of civilian corpses. Or, Raqqa, Syria.

Russia isn’t the only nation that commits wartime atrocities.

Which brings us to the question: why does the West hate Putin so much? I have zero doubt that Putin is an autocrat who can be ruthless (as witnessed by the 1999 bombing of Grozny, which the West ambivalently condemned). Nor do I doubt that Russia, like the U.S., but on a smaller scale, meddles in other countries’ elections for strategic purposes (though what Russia did in our 2016 election has been grossly overstated and misrepresented). I am inclined to think, too, though evidence isn’t iron-clad, Putin has approved the assassinations of turncoat spies and journalists. All that is likely true. And yet the U.S. supports ally nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that are far more authoritarian than Putin’s Russia. Nor is Ukraine itself innocent of human rights abuses, including torture, murder, and political repression. What, then, makes us hate Putin so much?

The answer is threefold. First, Russia’s 2015 intervention in Syria on behalf of its longtime ally, Bashir Assad, ramped up tensions to new heights. The U.S.—which was spending a billion dollars a year to arm supposedly “moderate rebels” rightly condemned Assad and Russia for war crimes but had little or no interest in atrocities by their own proxies. Because the press focused on Syrian/Russian atrocities, moreover, the American public gained little understanding of Russian motives (namely, to protect their longtime military base in Syria and to prevent a Daesh-type government from replacing Assad).

Then—on the heels of Russian entry into the Syrian conflict—came the Russiagate furor, which was repeatedly distorted and exaggerated by venues like MSNBC, CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, for whom Russiagate was a financial windfall. Amid the blizzard of hyperbolic punditry, 67% of Democrats came to believe that Russia had actually changed vote totals in the 2016 presidential election. The impeachment sagas of 2018 and 2020 more firmly linked Russiagate to the cause of Ukrainians whom Trump stood accused of endangering. The U.S. must arm Ukrainians in their fight against Russia, intoned impeachment lawyer Pamela Karlin, so that “we don't have to fight them here” (even as the Minsk Accords, in theory, remained in effect). Any number of Congressional Democrats joined her chorus of Red Dawn-style hyperbole.

Republicans, meanwhile—despite their anger over the false Russiagate charges—never really abandoned their Cold War mentality. After Russia invaded Ukraine, they were more than happy to resurrect Mitt Romney’s 2012 contention that Russia remained our country’s greatest nemesis. It wasn’t, but the ubiquity of Russophobia among foreign policy elites made his statement self-fulfilling. Lindsay Graham and John McCain—long the GOP’s and most eager and strident hawks—personally advanced Romney’s Cold War narrative by visiting Ukraine in 2017, where they promised to help Ukrainian troops prosecute their war against separatists. When Russia launched its invasion, the GOP finally had its 1980s foreign policy back.

What all this leads up to is simply this: if Americans who fly Ukrainian flags actually want to help Ukrainians, they would be well advised to support diplomatic negotiations rather than limitless flows of weaponry. It is highly unlikely that Putin will withdraw without a negotiated settlement that would include a promise that Ukraine will not join NATO, as well as some guarantee that the Ukraine will recognize Crimea as part of Russia and grant autonomy to the Donbas. What Russia might provide, in return, would be war reparations (couched as “economic aid”) and recognition of Kosovo. Using Ukrainian proxies to fight for regime change in Russia may seem emotionally satisfying but doesn’t offer a path to peace.



[1] My three esteemed colleagues who gave the teach-ins note that Russia has pursued a policy of settler colonialism in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine more broadly since the 1700s. This is, of course, true, and deeply unjust (particularly but not solely to Tatars, who were essentially indigenous to the region, and who were persecuted by the Soviet Union). That said, would it be just—as Ukrainian rightists suggest—to kick out Russians who have made homes in Ukraine or Crimea because they came at the behest of the state? Would it be right to kick out white Americans from North America—and the countless immigrants who continue to pour into the U.S.—given that they are settler colonials?


Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183040 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183040 0
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Previewing Tulsa's New Bob Dylan Center

by Douglas Brinkley

"The center—a high-tech vessel holding the man’s oeuvre and an overview of the man—will be the spiritual home of Dylan, a relentless performer who is forever on the road."


Wed, 18 May 2022 23:00:25 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183034 https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183034 0