Challenging the Myth of Slavery


Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

This new book by Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told:  Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, looks really interesting.  The above link is to The New York Times article on the book.  This is a book that challenges many of the myths that our country has told itself about slavery.

The Concise Untold History of the United States


I read the Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick book The Untold History of the United States.  They have now released a companion book, that is shorter and more closely follows the TV series.  It is called The Concise Untold History of the United States.  The difference between the two books as Oliver Stone explained on his Facebook page:

“Concise Untold History” was released last week. At 306 pages, it faithfully renders the text of the 12-hour series. The original 618-page edition, with 90 pages of footnotes, is really closer to a primer that substantiates the details presented in the film. 

I am particularly passionate over this ‘Concise History,’ and find it poetic in keeping with the spirit of the series. It’s a light-weight paperback that can easily be carried around.  

I was really impressed with the first book.  I was a History Major and eventually graduated with a degree in American Studies.  I have seen at least some of the information that Stone and Kuznick wrote about corroborated in other sources.  I  don’t normally like to recommend a book I haven’t read, but if you are at all interested in what they have to say, but feel a little daunted in a 600 plus page book, this seems like a good place to start.  From what I saw of it the series was excellent as well.  After reading the first book and seeing about half of the series, I feel pretty safe saying this would be a very interesting read.

Manifest Destiny and Lebensraum

I have been reading a little about World War II lately.  I have always been fascinated by World War II.  It was a time when the world teetered on the brink of insanity.  In many parts of the world civilizations were turned upside down.  If you read a lot about the Nazis it is really amazing how they were able to pervert every aspect of society for their own ideological political gains.  They were able to turn things that were normally good, like motherhood, and corrupt them towards their own ends.

I have a question and I don’t mean to be controversial.  I am not asking this to purposely get some right wingers’ heads to explode.  First I came across the following passage from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee in an old blog I wrote:

“The rich and beautiful valleys of Wyoming are destined for the occupancy and the sustenance of the Anglo-Saxon race.  The wealth that for untold ages has lain hidden beneath the snow-capped summits of our mountains has been placed there by Providence to reward the brave spirits whose lot it is to compose the advance-guard of civilization.  The Indians must stand aside or be overwhelmed by the ever advancing and ever increasing tide of emigration.  The destiny of the aborigines is written in characters not to be mistaken.  The same inscrutable Arbiter that decreed the downfall of Rome has pronounced the doom of extinction upon the red men of America.”

That was said by The Big Horn Association in 1870.  That was said about Manifest Destiny.

A very simple explanation of Manifest Destiny is:  In the 19th century, Manifest Destiny was the widely held belief in the United States that American settlers were destined to expand throughout the continent.

Hitler wanted what was called Lebensraum or “living space” for his Reich.  A very simple definition of Lebsenraum:  The territory that a state or nation believes is needed for its natural development, especially associated with Nazi Germany.

So my question is, especially considering the fate of many of the Indians and the Jews, what is different about Manifest Destiny and Lebensraum?

I am asking that as a rhetorical question to get you thinking.  I know that in some ways there were many differences you could bring up.  The industrial murder of the Holocaust was very different from the Indian Wars, as cruel as the Indian Wars were in many ways.  There are many cultural and political differences that you could bring up as well.  The degradation of values was nowhere as complete in even the worst of times in America as they were in Nazi Germany, not for a second.

But in school we are brought up, or at least I was, to think of Manifest Destiny in a mostly positive light.  But we wiped out many people in order to acquire this “living space”.  I’m not trying to say that everything America does is bad or “blame America first”.  For instance, in World War II we were on the right side of history.  But I do think there are many myths and stories that we don’t question.  I posed this particular question to make you think.  If we can understand the distortions of the past, we have a better chance at unraveling the distortions of the present.

The Storm Of War

I just posted a link to an article in The New York Times about how climate change has been deemed a threat by our military.  Is it possible that our military might be right and that our civilian leaders, especially the right wing, who are tripping over themselves to deny climate change, could actually be wrong?  Could our leaders put our country, and the world, at great peril by not listening to the military?  Has anything like this ever happened before?

Strangely enough I just started a book called The Storm of War.  It is written by esteemed historian Andrew Roberts.  It has gotten great reviews not only because of the quality of Roberts writing, but also because of his excellent scholarly work doing research for this book.  One of the conclusions that Roberts comes to is that Hitler might have had a chance of winning World War II if only he had listened to the military.  Hitler was fighting a political war that was based as much on ideology as it was anything else.  His military leaders urged him not to start a second front against Russia.  However, Hitler was determined to have Lebensraum, or “living space”, for his Reich.  He also dedicated many needed resources towards The Final Solution that could have been used towards military aims.

Now don’t go getting your panties in a bunch.  I’m not comparing anyone to Hitler directly.  What I am saying is that when we deny cold hard facts for ideological reasons, we run the risk of defeating ourselves.

The Past In Color


Black and White Photos In Color

The above link is to a bunch of historically black and white photos that have been colorized.  Some of them are better done than others.  However, many of them are quite compelling as they make the past appear to be less distant.  The suffering of those looking for work in the above picture is made all the more absurd by the brightly colored sign.  They also look like what they are, people that are struggling during hard economic times, very much like ours, instead of people caught up in the problems of another era.

The below picture of women in New York in 1900 is made much less alien to our modern world than the same picture would be in black and white.  All of a sudden the past becomes a place I can imagine myself in, that is not too different from our world.


Tip of the hat to my friend Chris Saunders

The Foggy Morality of War

I have been traveling a lot lately and have been ridiculously busy, as well as dealing with some personal things.  Because of this I don’t feel that I have been able to come to any strong opinion if we are taking the right course of action against ISIS.  I feel like the only way you can get a bead with what is going on in the world anymore is to read a host of different opinions and try as best you can to parse the truth out of them piece by piece.  (And don’t watch the TV news ever!)

However, I have had some random thoughts and questions that do speak ill of our times.  I thought I would share them:

1.  What does it mean when we have been at war so long that the fact we are bombing another country doesn’t seem all that odd?  Like I should either be morally outraged or cautiously supportive, but I can’t seem to feel any strong emotion one way or the other.  Is this how peace in our time truly dies?  Little by little, year after year, until we just except the horrible state of things?

2.  What does it say that when we go to war I no longer trust the reasons that we are being given?  I like Obama overall, at least a million times more than his opposition, but I can’t help but feel that any president from either side is at least going to be partly influenced by our ever growing military industrial complex.  The Bush Administration’s bogus Iraq War did a great deal to damage the credibility of our leaders.  However, if you read American history from the end of World War II on, we don’t exactly have a great track record.

3.  Would a group like ISIS even be an issue had we stayed out of the Middle East?  Is our involvement now going to bring a group even worse than ISIS in the future?

Look I am under no illusions that the world would be better off without ISIS.  However, knowing that, how that fact is dealt with is where things start to become murky.  Obama may very well be taking the best approach that he can given the circumstances that he is facing.  I don’t feel that I have read enough to know what to think about our current military approach.  But it does trouble me that we have reached a place, where due to the events of recent years, that the morality of our country at war appears more foggy than ever.

Cultural Apocalypse

In reading Hampton Sides’s excellent In the Kingdom of Ice I came upon the story, only a side story in the book, of the Yupiks, a native population in Alaska.  They were destroyed when the white man came along and killed their food source and supplied them with alcohol.   In their case it was the walrus and not the buffalo. 

It was the Arctic version of a story well known to Americans, the story of the buffalo and the Indians of the Great Plains.  Here, as there, the wholesale slaughter of a people’s staple prey had led, in a few short years, to ruinous dislocations, terrible dependencies – and a cultural apocalypse.  

I have read a good deal of history books.  I was a History Major and eventually an American Studies Major.  Yet, this slaughter is something I have never heard of.  It took place as late as the 1880’s,  hardly ancient history.  That is less than 150 years, the span of two human lives. 

When we, as a people, go into a region, such as we have in Iraq, do we really know the history of what went on there?  There is so much we don’t know about our own history.  There is so much that we don’t know period.  How do we make informed political decisions, especially when human life hangs in the balance?