Sunday, October 05, 2008

If Germany Won World War II

What would have happened if Germany Won World War II?

Here are a couple of views on the ever intriguing question:

The book describes how the war was lost by the Allies and how the world looks in the year 2000. Using authoritative sources (footnoted) the book outlines the war aims of the Nazi leadership as if they were realized. The following is an excerpt: "With the collapse of the Soviet Union, America stood alone. Germany began construction of bomber bases in Iceland, the Azores, and the Canary Islands (Shirer, 879). Although Germany did not have aircraft capable of reaching the American coast in 1942, plans for new super weapons, to include long range bombers and submarine launched missiles, were initiated...'.In a kind of delirium the Fuehrer pictured for himself and for us the destruction of New York in a hurricane of fire. He described the skyscrapers being turned into gigantic burning torches, collapsing upon one another, the glow of the exploding city illuminating the dark sky.' (Speer,87)."

Also check out this intriguing video:



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Saturday, October 04, 2008

For Cause & Comrades: Book Review

James M. McPherson, For Cause & Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War,
New York: Oxford University Press, 1997


McPherson asks the very basic question: Why did Union and Confederate soldiers fight? And, “Why did so many of them fight like bulldogs?” McPherson’s central argument is that in the Civil War, there was a close and ongoing relationship between group cohesion and peer pressure that were powerful factors in combat motivation and of concepts of duty, honor, and patriotism that prompted soldiers to enlist in the first place. Soldiers fought for both comrades (primary group cohesion) and cause.

McPherson argues that these were very self aware armies, “They needed no indoctrination lectures to explain what they were fighting for…” McPherson argues that convictions of duty, honor, patriotism, and ideology functioned as the principal sustaining motivations…while impulses of courage, self-respect, and group cohesion were the main sources of combat motivation.

McPherson acknowledges that his argument runs counter to those of some other historians of the Civil War. Bell Irvin Wiley, for example, concludes that, “American soldiers of the 1860s appear to have been about as little concerned with ideological issues as were those of the 1940s” (Page, 91). Gerald Linderman indicates that battle made Civil War soldiers skeptical of notions of ideology, duty and honor. (Page,168).

Is McPherson’s argument convincing? It is clear that he is trying to understand the mind of the Civil War soldier, but as he states, “How does an historian discover and analyze the thoughts and feelings of three million people?” McPherson rejects the use of memoirs, letters written for publication, regimental histories, and wartime diaries “improved” for publication. These sources suffer from having been “written for publication”. McPherson relies for evidence on the personal letters written by soldiers during the war to family members, sweethearts, and friends, and the unrevised diaries that some of them kept during their service. These letters and diaries were “…more candid and far closer to the immediacy of experience than anything the soldiers wrote for publication then or later.” This is the most appealing aspect of how McPherson constructs his case, and is a fruitful way of analyzing what at least some soldiers were thinking.

A problem arises, however, when McPherson uses this methodology in conjunction with a flawed sample and then generalizes too broadly from the sample.
McPherson’s sample consists of 1,076 soldiers: 647 Union and 429 Confederate. With respect to age, marital status, geographical distribution, and branch of service, the sample is fairly representative. In other respects it is not. Illiterate soldiers, 10-12 % of all white soldiers on both sides are not represented. Black Union soldiers are not represented adequately, some 1 % in the sample vs. 9 % of the Union army. Foreign born soldiers are substantially underrepresented: 9 % in the sample compared to 24 % of all Union soldiers. Thus, some thirty five per cent of the Union Army is under-represented in the sample.

There are similar problems with the sample regarding the Confederate army. Two thirds of the sample were slave owners vs. one third of all Confederate soldiers in the army who owned slaves. Officers are over-represented in both armies. The bias in the sample is toward native-born soldiers from the middle and upper classes who enlisted early in the war. The sample is skewed toward the ideologically literate and motivated. Logically, one might expect highly motivated ideological partisans to be the very people who would be the first to take up arms and the last to put them down in an ideological struggle (especially a civil war). Is it surprising then that McPherson finds, “For the fighting soldiers who enlisted in 1861 and 1862 the values of duty and honor remained a crucial component of their sustaining motivation to the end.”?

McPherson frankly acknowledges the flaws in the sample, but characterizes these biases as “blessings in disguise”, explaining that, his purpose is to explain the motives of the Civil War soldiers for fighting. “I am less interested in the motives of skulkers who did their best to avoid combat. My samples are skewed toward those who did the real fighting”. (Page ix) This is not a convincing argument if one is trying to generalize about the motivations of the generic “Civil War soldier.” Are we to assume that the thirty five percent of the Union army not represented in the sample did no fighting at all, or that their presence was unnecessary to the final victory? McPherson has brilliantly identified why a sub-set of Civil War soldiers fought and fought “like bulldogs”, but he overstates his argument based on the evidence presented.



 The 1865 Fall of Richmond in Pictures

Captured in pictures. The last death agonies of the Confederacy.


Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Civil War

A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in the Civil War. The book covers courtship, marriage, birth control and pregnancy, divorce, slavery and the impact of the war on social customs.




In 1860, disgruntled secessionists in the deep North rebel against the central government and plunge America into Civil War. Will the Kingdom survive? The land will run red with blood before peace comes again.



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Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Confederate Economy

King cotton. Speculation in real estate and slaves. The failure of technology.



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Confederate Finance and Economics

Confederate banks and banking. Confederate money. Taxation. Inflation. Forging. Blockade runners. Partisan Ranger Act.



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Treasure Hunting: The Lost Confederate Treasury

The fall of Richmond. What happened to the Confederate treasury? Where is it now?





Treasure Legends of the Civil War


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White by Law: Book Review

In White By Law, Haney Lopez argues that race is a socially mediated idea which has never been primarily based on physical characteristics. In America, the concept of race developed as an intellectual construct used to distinguish social values and beliefs distinct from those of the dominant Anglo-Saxon majority (and subsequently the “white” European majority) (Haney Lopez, 56). For example, a federal district court in 1921 barred Asian naturalization under the rationale that, “The yellow or bronze racial color is the hallmark of Oriental despotism”. Thus Asians were not fit for republican self-government and were to be denied citizenship.

Haney Lopez uses fifty one court decisions rendered on immigration cases during the period 1878-1952 (the “pre-requisite decisions”) to demonstrate that the concept of “whiteness” was created through a process of legal exclusion. The application of law, both in terms of its coercive and ideological arms, constructed the racial superstructure of America. For example, the very act of excluding Asians from America influenced reproductive choices for those who were included in the American polity.

During the period 1878-1952, the courts determined “whiteness”, sometimes inconsistently, on the basis of four rationales: (1) common knowledge, (2) scientific evidence, (3) Congressional intent, and (4) legal precedence. The decisions coming out of the “pre-requisite cases” appear to the contemporary reader to be both illogical and, in many cases, unjust. The record does however support the view of Oliver Wendell Holmes that “the life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed and unconscious, even the prejudices which the judges share with their fellow-men, have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed ” (Haney Lopez, 95). Thus, in Haney Lopez’s analysis the law emerges as a conservative coercive and ideological institution adjudicating in favor of a white racist status quo.

The law by its very nature is a conservative force acting to protect the long term interests of the status quo. The question then becomes: Who rules? Haney Lopez suggests that the primary concern of the status quo is to preserve racial hierarchy. Racial domination is the motive for legal decisions. An economic interpretation of the same set of facts reveals a different emphasis. In a Marxist interpretation, class (or the economic) is more real, more fundamental and more important than race. Racism is a low hanging branch of a tree that is rooted in class relations (Wages of Whiteness by David Roediger 7-8). Haney Lopez cannot see beyond racism when Chester Rowell expresses the businessman’s viewpoint of 1909 that “…we find the Chinese fitting much better than the Japanese into the status which the white American prefers them both to occupy – that of biped domestic animals in the white man’s service. The Chinese coolie is the ideal industrial machine, the perfect human ox.” ( Haney Lopez, 62). An economic interpretation of this statement would suggest that it is in the nature of capitalism to objectify people, to turn the worker wherever possible into “the perfect human ox”, and that in the absence of countervailing force will do just that. Immigrants were politically weak and could thus be exploited, let in, restricted, and kicked out as required by the economic elite. It is only shifting power relationships that change laws.




A brief look at the background of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the relation of race and class in the American labor movement.


Guarding the Golden Door by Roger Daniels: Review

In Guarding the Golden Door Daniels presents an overview of the development immigration policy in the United States from the founding of the Republic through 2003. America has had a love/hate relationship with its immigrant population, on the one hand reveling in the nation’s immigrant past while, on the other, rejecting the immigrant present (Daniels, 6).

Opposition to immigration has successively centered on exclusion because of religion (e.g. the Irish and German and Catholic menace which gave rise to Protestant nativism in the 1840’s), race (e.g. Chinese exclusion act of 1882) and ethnicity (e.g. Immigration Act of 1924 setting quotas on the basis of national origin). (Daniels, 11).

Underlying these differences are more subtle arguments: (1)Because of religion, race or ethnicity these groups are too “other”, and therefore cannot be assimilated into American culture. The un-assimilated presence of these groups, so the argument runs, will corrupt American values; (2) Immigrant groups, because of innate inferiority or prior cultural disposition, are not capable of self-government and are therefore a danger to our political institutions;(3) An influx of immigrants will result in loss of jobs for native Americans, and will bring about a lower standard of living.

American immigration policy has manifested both liberal and pragmatic impulses, but has predominantly been driven by pragmatic considerations. The founding fathers recognized the need for immigration to provide cheap labor in the building of the new nation. (The introduction of slavery into the South was largely the result of inadequate immigration during colonial times. The lack of sufficient indentured white servants to work plantations resulted in the forced “immigration” of Africans beginning in the late 1600’s). Chinese immigration was encouraged during the period of the building of the trans-continental railroad, when cheap labor was needed, but anti-Chinese agitation increased after the driving of the “golden Spike” in 1869 (Daniel’s, 12). Interestingly, it was Senator Charles Sumner, the great abolitionist, who was the champion of a liberal immigration policy towards the Chinese, calling for a color-blind naturalization statute (Daniels, 119). Sumner recognized that the same liberal impulses that animated abolitionists before the Civil War should be applied to immigration policy. The passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 represents the triumph of the economic interests which did not want to create unintended social consequences (i.e. the growth of a large unassimilated racial minority) once its economic goals had been realized.

Other examples of the primacy of the economic motive are seen in Immigration Act of 1924, wherein quotas were not extended to most Western Hemisphere nations because many Southwestern and Western legislators insisted their regions needed Mexican laborers (Daniels, 52), in the exemption of Filipinos from immigration restrictions into Hawaii if the Secretary of the Interior thought the importation of more Filipino laborers was advisable (Daniels, 72), and in the push to bring temporary Mexican workers into the U.S. during World War II because, as Herbert Hoover wrote at the time, “…we need every bit of this labor we can get and need it badly.”

U.S. immigration policy underwent a change after World War II. Prior to World War II, America had a tradition of isolationism. After World War II America became a world power. Ideas of Nordic superiority were rejected (Daniels, 116). After having defeated the Nazi ideology of racial superiority the United States could hardly embrace such an ideology as it entered into a global contest for “hearts and minds” with the Soviet Union. Henceforth, foreign policy would take primacy in matters of immigration and America would increasingly embrace multi-culturalism as a national ideal. Economic pragmatism with regard to immigration policy gave way to geo-political pragmatism with regard to immigration policy.




A brief look at the background of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the relation of race and class in the American labor movement.


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Monday, August 25, 2008

Immigrants, Movies, and Labor Discipline

The values of nineteenth century America were largely white Anglo-Saxon values that stressed Protestant self-reliance and Victorian respectability. Men worked and subdued the frontier (both literally and figuratively), while the woman’s domain was religion (moral uplift) and the home. Education, self-cultivation and upward mobility were the hallmarks of Anglo Saxon values. The central theme of this value system was Progress (expressed in terms of material progress) versus primitivism.

According to Larry May in his book Screening Out the Past, immigrants presented a disorganizing element into American society because they brought with them other (less restrictive) value systems. In the view of the white Anglo-Saxon majority, immigrants needed to be Americanized in order to, “make no trouble for the right minded” (May, 15). The workplace was one area in which the immigrant must be bent to (industrial) discipline. The other area was leisure. The middle class wanted to control immigrant leisure, and as Roy Rosenzweig points out in Eight Hours for What We Will leisure became a battleground between groups with different value systems.

For immigrants, amusements constituted an important counterweight to the rigors of industrial discipline. Movies were particularly appealing to multi-lingual immigrants. Because movies were silent, they were universally available as an outlet for romance and adventure and formed the ground pattern of social life for the young (May, 38). The movies provided immigrants with a form of acculturation into American life (Mayne,33). Although the middle class frowned on the low themes of the earliest movies, in general movies were much less of a threat to industrial discipline than were other amusements such as drinking in saloons. Immigrants carved out leisure (and especially movies) as a public space apart from work where they could indulge hopes, dreams and aspirations. In embracing the culture of the movies ( and its concomitant consumerism) so enthusiastically, the immigrant movie go-er accelerated the breakdown of old ethnic norms and the development of a more homogeneous society based on mass culture and consumerism. Consumerism offered the image of a homogenous population pursuing the same goals of living well and accumulating goods. The emergence of consumerism served to mask the transformation of the immigrant from person to commodity and tempered resistance to labor discipline (Mayne,34).

The development of the movie industry itself was a tremendous social safety valve. The movie industry, in which immigrants were heavily represented, demonstrated that success could be had without a long laborious submission to the Anglo Saxon value system (May, 196). Success was democratized in the persona of the movie star who by talent and imagination could become an overnight success (May, 233).

In Eight Hours for What We Will, Roy Rosenzweig talks about alternative ethnic worker cultures as opposed to oppositional cultures. Rather than directly challenging the economic elite, the alternative culture passively resists. Initially immigrants found strength to passively resist industrial discipline within the traditions and norms of their ethnic communities, to paraphrase Rosenzweig’s book, “they found a different way to live and wished to be left alone with it” (Rozenzweig, 64). Mass culture appears to have taken the place of the immigrant neighborhood. The modern American citizen passively resists labor discipline by immersing in consumerism and the products of mass culture. Meaning is found in conspicuous consumption.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pirate Treasure - Legends of Pirate Gold







Legends of Pirate Gold

The story of the romantic, glorious, and bloody age of pirates, and of the treasures they left behind. This book will make that seashore vacation a new adventure! Information on over 100 legends. Detailed descriptions of areas where treasures are thought to be buried. Most of the sites are in the U.S., although some of the famous "treasure islands" are included.

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Treasure Legends of the Civil War


Civil War treasures in sixteen states. The book recounts with lively detail the history of the Civil War and sprinkles the narrative well with tales of buried treasure in sixteen states. History buffs should enjoy the book as well adventure seekers. The book covers not only the central territories that saw action during the Civil War but the far western states, the war at sea, and the mints and mines of Alabama, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.

Amazon link to: Treasure Legends of the Civil War

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Escaping the Delta - Book Review

The sub-title of Elijah Wald’s book is "Robert Johnson and the invention of the blues". Wald suggests that it is the audience that gives meaning to music, and that to understand music as a cultural artifact, you must understand what broader purpose the music serves for a specific audience. The blues meant something entirely different to its original black audience than to white aficionados of the 1960s, 1970s, and thereafter who reshaped blues to meet their own tastes.

The blues originated in the black community with “songs improvised to match a life of hard labor and constant troubles” . Vaudevillian “Ma Rainey” opened up a new future for the blues by taking songs from the field to the stage. Mamie Smith started a blues craze when she recorded “Crazy Blues” in 1920. A host of female singers dominated the blues being performed throughout the 1920s. Blues was seen as an entertaining pop style, not a vehicle for transmitting black culture. Blacks were not nostalgic for the past. Wald points out, for its original black audiences , “Blues was the music of the present and future, not the oppressive plantation past” (Wald, 80). The performance of blues was dominated by big name female stars, and the market as long as the audiences were predominantly black, according to record executive Marshall Chess, was a “women’s market”.

Wald’s central thesis is that the observer gives meaning to what is being observed. The observer provides the meta-narrative. The career of Robert Johnson exemplifies the thesis. Johnson was a talented musician who produced a small body of work and died dramatically at an early age. In his lifetime, Johnson vied for popularity and was an example of someone holding his own “with the pop stars up north, rather than being stuck forever playing in run down country shacks” (Wald, 127). Johnson was all but forgotten until crowned “King of the Delta” in the 1960s by white middle class blues aficionados embracing the vision of a romanticized black culture of the past which reflected an “otherness” in opposition to white middle class norms. In the years between Johnson’s death in 1938 and his recognition as “King of the Delta”, blues music had been redefined. It was first redefined by Alan Lomax and John Hammond, as decisive musical opinion makers for a small bubble of New York liberal society which embraced the blues as a badge of otherness. Blues had left the realm of its original black audience. Obscurity had become a virtue. “The more records an artist had sold in 1928, the less he or she was valued in 1958” (Wald, 241).

The second re-definition came with the British musical invasion of the 1960s. “Slashing guitar and wailing harmonica” spoke to English musicians, who re-educated Americans on the meaning of the blues. White audiences were now seeking emotional release, raw, direct passion found lacking in white styles (Wald, 257). Johnson’s persona, as much as his music, propelled his rise to blues icon. As a person, he was seen as mysterious, dangerous and otherworldly…with the added benefit of having died young before his full potential could be realized. Johnson exemplified “the lifestyle that white listeners (associated) with the music: a homeless wanderer, alone in the world, haunted by demons, destroyed by violence” (Wald, 263). The blues image for white, predominantly male audiences, was that of hard bitten machismo. Paradoxically, while his white fans drank straight whiskey to get in the blues mood, an authentic master performer of the blues, Muddy Waters, drank only French champagne (Wald, 258).

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Romancing the Folk by Benjamin Filene: Review

In Romancing the Folk, Benjamin Filene traces the development of the folk music movement since 1900. His primary focus is the cultural “middlemen”, who discovered folk musicians and promoted them as exemplars of America’s musical roots. These individuals made judgments about what constituted America’s true musical traditions, helped shape what “mainstream” audiences recognized as authentic, and inevitably, transformed the music that the folk performers offered. (Filene, 5)

What is fascinating about these cultural brokers is how their endeavors reflect one of the ongoing themes in American history, the dichotomy between the vision of man in society versus the vision of the noble savage, the individual in a simpler more natural time. The earliest folklorists were bent on cataloging and preserving original songs. These early catalogers saw the propagation of folk culture as a means of knitting society back together and restoring it to a simpler era. John and Alan Lomax went farther, recording the sounds of authentic performers and introducing authentic performers to the public.

Industrial development in America increasingly diminished the autonomy of the individual in favor of the demands of industrial discipline. Technology forced the worker into what the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) called, “a common servitude of all workers to the machines which they tend”. Disillusioned with bourgeois culture’s corrupt materialism and constraining standards of propriety folklorists depicted roots musicians as the embodiments of an anti-modern ethos. The appeal of folk performers to the public was their non-middleclass “otherness”. In his public persona Huddie Ledbetter (aka “Lead Belly”), an ex-convict singer John and Alan Lomax brought to public attention, was cast as an archetypal ancestor, pre-modern, emotive, non-commercial. The “outsider” was the persona expected of the folk performer, even though many of the performers themselves, including “Lead Belly” and “Muddy Waters” ( McKinley Morganfield) were both willing and anxious to adapt their music to be more commercially viable.

During the great national crises of the Depression and the Second World War, the folk music movement was officially embraced by the government as a method of enhancing national pride and cohesion. Folk songs were identified with Americanism. The ruling elite used a cultural tool to energize crowds to identify with the prevailing ideology of the elite. After the war, the official embrace of folk music faded and folk music resumed its role as an activity of “otherness”.

One of the primary forces in the folk movement in the post-war years was Pete Seeger. Pete Seeger and his followers, constituted an early wave of the 1960s counterculture, pushing against the empty homogeneity of bourgeois life. Interestingly the two most influential figures in the folk movement, Seeger and Bob Dylan were not, in fact, of the working class. Seeger was the son of privilege, the product of elite eastern prep schools, and Harvard. Dylan (Robert Zimmerman)was the product of a conventional middle class family from Minnesota. Both donned working class clothes and developed an ersatz working class lifestyle, despite background and income, rejecting even bathing and hygiene in a quest for “authenticity”.

In many ways both Seeger, Dylan, and the folk movement can be seen as part of the tradition of the nineteenth century utopianism, hankering after a simpler and nobler American community.

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