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This is Korea

[ 13 ] September 2, 2014 |

Now that I finished my 2nd book manuscript in 3 months, I have time for a vacation. About 50 minutes in fact before I get to the 4000 things that must be done yesterday. So I spent it watching John Ford’s 1951 film This is Korea. This is the Korean War version of the World War II documentaries the military commissioned from leading film directions. While I don’t know if it quite matches the artistic glory of John Huston’s The Battle of San Pietro, This is Korea is probably the best war documentary Ford made.

Ford pushed this project hard, convincing the government to allow him to make it. And he had to put together the editing, narration, voice work, sound, and concept. But the real heroes here are the war photographers, filming this absolutely jaw-dropping footage. I can’t easily find a number of U.S. military photographers who died in the war, but no doubt the number was significantly above zero, especially given that these guys were right on the front lines. Amazing.

Now, Ford does slightly simplify Korean history for American audiences. The film starts with him painting a Korea at rustic peace before the evil commies arrived. I mean, sure, there’s those 40 years of brutal Japanese occupation, but hey, let’s not let history get in the way of a pat narrative. And Ford never was too much into subtle imagery or messaging in his feature films, never mind a documentary made to get Americans on the home front to sacrifice for the cause–give blood or send care packages at the very least. But he was pretty bloody convincing to me in doing that. His soldiers’ lives are brutal. Terribly cold weather, dug in enemies, hills, a lack of clear progress. Throughout it all, the soldiers are brave. Not heroic. But just regular guys doing a job and doing it well and dying at it.

Well worth a viewing.

AHA on Salaita

[ 34 ] September 2, 2014 |

The American Historical Association writes a strongly worded letter to the University of Illinois in protest of firing Stephen Salaita:

If allowed to stand, your administration’s punitive treatment of Steven Salaita will chill the intellectual atmosphere at the University of Illinois. Even tenured professors will fear for their job security, persuaded that their institution lacks respect for the principles of academic freedom. The unhappy consequences for the untenured will be even more pronounced. A regimen of defensive self-censorship will settle like a cloud over faculty lectures and classroom discussions. Faculty will be inclined to seek positions elsewhere. This, surely, is not the future you wish for your historically great institution.

While we have thus far dwelt at length on the justification that you gave ex post facto for the rescinding of Professor Salaita’s offer, we find the procedural irregularities entailed in that decision equally troubling. On this score, too, the facts of the case have emerged more clearly since August 1. The recruitment of Professor Salaita was carried out with scrupulous care and adherence to prescribed procedure. The American Indian Studies Program chose him as their preferred candidate after a national search; every subsequent level of the University administration below the Chancellor endorsed that choice. His scholarship passed muster with your trusted colleagues. Especially important, in light of your remarks of August 22, he has a record of teaching successfully at Virginia Tech, and by all indications, students of every stripe felt welcome in his classroom. Finally, your University provided him with a standard written job offer of the type that routinely guarantees appointments at Illinois. By depriving him of that appointment, you do him a personal injustice. You also disrupt your own system of internal university governance, sowing distrust by ignoring its counsel. And, at the national and international levels, you risk saddling your institution with a reputation for arbitrary administrative practices. Certainly the American Historical Association would have concerns about our members applying for positions at Illinois.

Until Everybody Was French

[ 73 ] September 1, 2014 |

We all know Kevin Williamson is a horrible human being and there’s really no good reason to link to his trolling of liberals. And so normally I wouldn’t mention his anti-Labor Day screed. Except that he said one of the quiet parts loud:

The Canadian typographical workers had been demanding a 58-hour work week and the repeal of anti-union laws. Parliament obliged, and of course the unions’ immediate response was to press for a 54-hour work week, and then a still shorter one, and so on, until everybody was French. The French 35-hour work week is the current object of envy among our naïve Europhiles, and it has been an object of curiosity among economists: Contrary to their indolent reputation, French workers are, on paper, among the world’s most productive, outperforming U.S. workers on a GDP-per-work-hour basis. There are many possible explanations for that, the most likely of which is lying. It is probable that French people work more hours than they claim and Americans less, with work spilling over the borders of those official 35-hour French weeks and Internet-fueled leisure time infiltrating American weeks.

First, I love his random assumptions that the French must work harder than Americans because derp.

Second, Canada is the bete noire! Even the readers of NRO are going to struggle to see Canada as a hell hole. It’s too close.

Third, how dare American workers copy their communist Canadian brethren and refuse to work a 58-hour week!

Dude, I don’t think you are supposed to openly lament this. That’s supposed to stay in the inner sanctum, where you and the plutocrats slit the necks of live goats and let the blood drip in your mouths. Talking about returning to Gilded Age working conditions comes between courses of the goat blood.

…This was actually his Labor Day rant from last year, but it makes no difference.

Labor History on Labor Day

[ 12 ] September 1, 2014 |

I don’t have time for a major post on Labor Day, as I have just completed the manuscript draft of my logging book and am exhausted. But I do have 116 This Day in Labor History posts, helpfully archived, for your perusal. That ought to serve your Labor Day needs.

The Cats of World War I

[ 26 ] August 31, 2014 |

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There were lots of cats hanging around soldiers during World War I. They were cute. That is all.

Viewing the Great Depression

[ 16 ] August 31, 2014 |

Between 1935 and 1945, photographers employed by the Farm Security Administration documented the nation and its people as it suffered through and emerged from the Great Depression. 170,000 images remain. Yale University has now placed them online for your exploration and you can even explore by county, which is incredibly awesome. Have fun!!

More here.

Running in Cemeteries

[ 56 ] August 31, 2014 |

I find cemeteries pretty fascinating places for a number of reasons. First, I have a bit of a weird hobby of visiting the graves of random famous people from American history that interest me in some way. You can only imagine how much my wife loves random stops at cemeteries. I am going to start a series one of these days about the various people who I have visited in the ground. Sometimes they are horrible people like Henry Clay Frick. Other times, well, just random famous people. Like just the other day, I visited the grave of former Wilderness Society head Howard Zahniser, which I actually have reason to blog about in more detail in a couple of days. Why did I visit the grave of Howard Zahniser? Isn’t the better question why haven’t you visited the grave of Howard Zahniser?

Anyway, that’s just part of my interest in cemeteries. Because cemeteries are also public green spaces, albeit of an odd kind. In many towns, they are the nicest parks around. When I am with my wife, who teaches at a university in a very small town a couple of states over from Rhode Island, I run in the cemetery. Other people use them too–walking the dog, taking the babies on a stroll, etc. And of course for mourning and remembrance. Anyway, maybe it’s because I’m a historian and one more interested in the lives of everyday people than the famous, but when I run through the cemetery, I keep thinking, “Who are these people.” I was running the other day and passed the grave of a man named Jose Garcia, who died in 2000. How did this man, who I assume (rightly or wrongly) came from Mexico or maybe Puerto Rico, end up in this 99% white and very politically and racially conservative town (evidently the official town color is camo based upon the dress of the citizenry)? What was it like for him? What is his story? How did he end up there? What are the stories of everyone else? What was life like here in the 1950s? In the 1890s? Through the hard times and the good times?

I suppose there are some who think people shouldn’t run through cemeteries, and certainly if there’s any, uh, activity going on, I turn around. But I think that by at least thinking about these people and wondering about them, it’s honoring them in a certain way. Some of them were no doubt horrible human beings who committed heinous crimes, treated their families like garbage, and were unloved. Others were great people who made the lives around them better. Who knows. But I’d like to think that when I’m dead and buried in the ground, that someone might run past my marker and think, who was that guy? Kind of gives a person something to die for.

The Worst Person in the World

[ 129 ] August 30, 2014 |

Victor Davis Hanson, for comparing the IDF to William Tecumseh Sherman and the people of Gaza to the Confederate slaveholding class.

That’ll Show Those Dastardly Unions!

[ 85 ] August 30, 2014 |

Today in idiots:

Just when it seemed the right wing couldn’t get any more divorced from reality around here, a local conservative group has launched a protest against what it sees as a pernicious cultural touchstone.

Labor Day.

Yes, bittersweet old Labor Day — the first Monday in September, the holiday that’s been around for generations and is known to most non-ideologically blinkered Americans as an end-of-summer free day honoring all the hard work you put in the rest of the year.

But to the Freedom Foundation, a business-backed Olympia think tank, the day is evidence of the power of unions, which to them equals the decline of America. Rather than stoop to taking a union-backed day off, they plan to fight the power by … working all day Monday instead!

“I can’t think of a problem in society that can’t be traced in some way back to the abuses of organized labor, so it would be hypocritical of us to take a day off on its behalf,” said Freedom Foundation CEO Tom McCabe, in announcing the “work-in.”

That’ll show those unions who control everything around here. Let’s all go into the offices and the factories and work like dogs instead of barbecuing or watching parades! Who’s with me?

Of course, if McCabe followed this principle to its logical end, he’d have to work every Saturday, too. Year round.

If the Freedom Foundation is truly committed to this idea, might I recommend 19th century working conditions and wages as well?

Cushing and Gettysburg

[ 176 ] August 30, 2014 |

President Obama is granting Lt. Alonzo Cushing, who played a critical role in repelling Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, the Medal of Honor. It’s pretty amazing he didn’t already have it since had Pickett taken the hill, it’s possible at least the war would have ended differently. Personally, I tend to not believe the world changes that much with an individual event, but I’ll grant the possibility. Certainly defeating the Confederates at Gettysburg did kill their chance of moving the war into the North and forcing a peace, something that would have kept millions of people in slavery for who knows how long. Decades at a minimum. Possibly until the present, who can tell.

Speaking of such things, I happened to visit Gettysburg last week. I had a great time. It was super cool to visit the key spots of the battle, try to imagine all the dead on the huge field that the location of Pickett’s Charge, below Little Round Top, and around the battlefield. Much credit goes to the National Park Service for not only emphasizing slavery as the core reason of the war but for enforcing that interpretation. What do I mean by that? For a very long time, the main attraction at the Gettysburg Visitor Center was the cyclorama of Pickett’s Charge. A cyclorama was a Gilded Age entertainment that tried to bring a scene to life through a 360-degree painting. These were a huge hit in France and were imported to the U.S. A cyclorama painter was hired to do one of Pickett’s Charge and people love it. It was a huge reason why people went to the site. You can still see it today and it’s OK. It’s cool as a Gilded Age relic. As something of value outside of that, it’s pretty silly, what with the sound and light show that goes along with it.

In recent years, the NPS built a very nice new visitor’s center. Now in order to see the cyclorama, you have to sit through the 15 minute film intrepreting the battle for you. Morgan Freeman narrates the video and it says in no uncertain terms that slavery was the cause of the war, which is great. I’m sure there’s a lot of people who hate that (one of the first people I saw there was a guy wearing a Stonewall Jackson t-shirt, which in my world is like wearing a Himmler t-shirt), but it was very well done, really expressing the complexity of the situation too. I also discovered that I find discussion of military maneuvers so incredibly boring that even Morgan Freeman can’t make me care. Anyway, the exhibits in the Visitor Center are good throughout, combining the old guns that are crack for American white men who like to wear camo as casual wear with real historical interpretation.

Of course the monuments are among the most interesting parts of the experience. They are all interesting relics expressing martial values at a time when the Civil War generation was beginning to pass away (turn of the century Americans had their own Greatest Generation crisis of masculinity). They were also part of the reconciliation taking place between the North and South during the period that erased the black experience from the war and helped underwrite Jim Crow and segregation. At Gettysburg, the memorials generally went up earlier, in the 1880s, so that meant that the Confederate monuments were put up later and are in one general area, more or less the Confederate lines as they embarked on Pickett’s Charge. But they are there. As you can imagine I find the Confederate monuments irritating. However, I have a foolproof way to deal with that problem. I mock the monuments on Twitter. A couple of examples:

Unfortunately autocorrect on my phone knocked the “i” out of that one.

My wife said that I was having entirely too much fun doing this. But it beat muttering curses toward the Confederacy under my breath. And I did not get accosted by a neoconfederate, so that was something.

There may however be an addendum to this post. I seem to have a mission to be the last Civil War death. While at Shiloh about 15 years ago, I came within a few inches of stepping on a copperhead slithering past the marker I was walking up to. Talk about jumping back! This time, I cut my hand messing around in my car trunk at the battlefield site. If there’s any justice in the world, the gangrene is setting in right about now.

Erasing Labor

[ 47 ] August 29, 2014 |

A minor detail in this article on the history of Tabasco sauce, but one that is telling about how, when we are talking about “innovators,” we forget who actually does the work:

Accounts differ as to when exactly McIlhenny acquired the seeds for those Capsicum frutescens peppers. But in the years after the war, he began using them to make pepper sauce, a popular Louisiana condiment. His method was a laborious one that involved crushing the peppers with a potato masher and mixing them with rock salt from the island’s own salt mines, then aging the mash twice, adding vinegar in between. After straining the resulting mixture through a series of sieves, he decanted it into castoff cologne bottles.

He began making the pepper sauce? He crushed the peppers? He decanted it into castoff cologne bottles?

Or was it African-Americans doing all of this, probably ex-slaves working for quite low wages and in poor working conditions? The article is titled “Who Made That Tabasco Sauce?” It was workers who made that sauce, even if it was McIlhenny who thought of it, if he even did that.

But when we are talking about the rich, they are deified and thus any mention, not to mention asking questions about, the labor used to make these products is irrelevant. All the credit goes to the supposed innovator.

America

[ 23 ] August 29, 2014 |

The following poem is by S.M. Hill, a Swedish immigrant to Oregon, circa 1916. I take it from here.

America

They boast a great deal about equality,
they loudly proclaim you are free.
Without answering I’d rather swallow my annoyance
and not pay attention to our slavery.
Here, gold measures human worth
here, everything is right as long as it succeeds,
here, food is given the highest value,
weak ones are crushed by the iron heel.

We are not tormented by aristocrats,
we don’t sigh under a king!
Nonsense! Here we are ruled by rascals,
the power of the multi-millionaires is oppressive.
Politics is merely a system of plundering,
the penniless become downtrodden
and honesty seems to have left us,
and those who steal gain honor and power.

No, my friend, you won’t find paradise here,
here, too, there’s a difference between rich and poor.
You change your name and receive the prize,
and praise yourself so heartily.
Yes, the race of Adam lives here, too
and sin rules here as well.
The beautiful land that your eyes saw,
lies far away and high above the sky!

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