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Published: Fri, 20 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2017 06:43:07 -0400


Not Even Lincoln Is Spared the Wrath of the Statue Topplers

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 17:00:00 -0400

It began with Confederate monuments, but it was only a matter of time before the history of everyone ever commemorated in America was in dispute. Even Abraham Lincoln. The statue of the 16th president and liberator of slaves at the top of Bascom Hill is one of the most beloved sites on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Graduating students and their families wait in line for hours in the spring to have their pictures taken in Lincoln's lap. Wunk Sheek, an indigenous student group, does not share this sentiment. The group has charged that a statue of Lincoln has no place on campus. "Everyone thinks of Lincoln as the great, you know, freer of slaves, but let's be real: He owned slaves, and as natives, we want people to know that he ordered the execution of native men," Misha Johnson, co-president of fiscal relations for Wunk Sheek told the Daily Cardinal, one of the student newspapers. "Just to have him here at the top of Bascom is just really belittling." It is wrong to say Lincoln ever owned slaves, but he was president during the Dakota War of 1862 and he did authorize the execution on December 26, 1862 of 38 Dakota men out of more than 300 convicted of war crimes in military tribunals. According to College Fix, university administration has said it has no intention of moving Lincoln anywhere. But the school is planning on putting up a handful of signs around campus to "interpret the 12,000 year history" of those who inhabited the land upon which the university was built. Madison's Lincoln has been under siege for a while now. Two years ago, during the height of Black Lives Matter protests, a group, "About Race UW," proposed removing the statue, but the idea never gained traction. Since then the Lincoln statue has been subjected to graffiti decrying all white people as racist and draped in a black tarp after the 2016 election. The UW student government this past Spring approved a resolution to educate the community about Lincoln's oppression of Native Americans, a resolution the administration never took up. Pressure to address racism and white supremacy after the terrible events at Charlottesville, where Neo-Nazis marched in the streets and one counter protester was killed, likely prompted UW Madison students and administrators to renew efforts to address the campus' history, including the Lincoln statue. Week Shunk insists the focus not be turned from Lincoln's part in the Dakota War punishment. The history, like all history, is more complicated than it has been portrayed by the activists. Between 400 and 800 U.S. citizens, 77 U.S. soldiers and more than 150 Dakota Native Americans died, although definitive numbers are hard to find. "Anxious to not act with so much clemency as to encourage another outbreak on the one hand, nor with so much severity as to be real cruelty on the other, I caused a careful examination of the records of trials to be made," Lincoln reportedly told the U.S. Senate after reviewing each trial of the over 300 Dakota men accused of war crimes. The causes leading up to a terrible and bloody war, the treatment of Native Americans after the war, and the fairness of the military tribunals are all valid parts of a larger historical discussion. Portraying Lincoln as a white supremacist who signed off on the execution of Native Americans distorts the discussion. Demanding the Lincoln statue be removed is demanding the discussion be silenced. Answering the demands of activists without any certainty that the complexities and nuances of history will be included reflects a troubling trend. Whether Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, or Lincoln, people need to be exposed to and learn to navigate the complexity of their shared history. Not enough history is required of students. Revising how history is taught in schools and universities is a possible solution to the complex question. Perhaps teachers could incorporate more first person accounts from a broader spectrum of voices to paint a more accurate picture of the past. Moving away from textbook learning could be the first step toward engagin[...]

Delaware's Odd, Beautiful, Contentious, Private Utopia

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 06:00:00 -0400

They held a town pageant in Arden, Delaware, on September 5, 1910: a medieval procession with performers dressed as knights, troubadours, pages, and squires. One Ardenite, an anarchist shoemaker named George Brown, played a beggar. This annoyed some of the other players, because no such role had actually been written. But Brown decided to add it to the program anyway, so he dressed in rags, caked himself with mud, and invaded the proceedings, taunting the other characters and demanding alms from the audience. Many "onlookers needed assurance," The Single Tax Review reported, that Brown "was only 'part of the show.'" This was a pattern: Brown liked to talk, and not everyone liked to listen to him. According to the novelist Upton Sinclair, who lived at the time in a little Arden house that his neighbors had dubbed the Jungalow, Brown insisted on "discussing sex questions" at the Arden Economic Club. When the club asked him to cut it out, Brown declared his free-speech right to continue and kept talking until he'd broken up the meeting. He broke up the next meeting too, and finally, Sinclair wrote, "declared it his intention to break up all future meetings." At this point some of the locals wanted to have him arrested for disturbing the peace. But that required outside help, because the town of Arden did not have a police force. In fact, the town of Arden didn't have a government at all. Not, at least, in the usual sense of the word. I should back up and explain a few things. Arden's origins go back to the Delaware Invasion of 1895 and '96, when the Single Tax movement tried to take over the state. The Single Taxers were followers of Henry George, a 19th century economist who argued that government should be financed solely by a tax on land values. No income tax, no sales tax, no tax on the improvements to a property—just one tax on land. The campaigners crisscrossed the state in armbands, knapsacks, and Union Army uniforms, delivering streetcorner speeches and singing Single Tax songs ("Get the landlords off your backs/With our little Single Tax/And there's lots of fun ahead for Delaware!"). More than a few got tossed in jail for their efforts. The invasion was a flop. A disaster, really. Not only did their gubernatorial candidate get only 2.4 percent of the vote, but within a year the movement's foes would insert a provision into the state constitution that made a George-style tax impossible. Unable to achieve their ideas at the ballot box, a group of Georgists decided to take another approach. In 1900 they acquired some farmland outside Wilmington, created what amounted to a community land trust, leased out plots to anyone who wanted to move in, levied rents based on the value of the unimproved land, and used the rent money to pay for public goods. In other words, they set up a private town and enacted the Single Tax program contractually. And with that double experiment in communalism and privatization, Arden was born. I just called Arden a "town," but for its first few years it was essentially a summer resort. (Or a summer camp—many of the part-time residents slept in tents.) But by the end of the decade, particularly after the founders made some tweaks to the lease agreement in 1908, a year-round community had formed. It was a largely lower-middle-class crowd, with a high number of artists and craftsmen; it attracted not just Georgists but other sorts of nonconformists, from socialists to vegetarians. And anarchists, like our sexually explicit friend George Brown, who kept a cottage there with his common-law wife. The Ardenfolk had institutions—the trustees who set the rents had a certain degree of power, and there were regular town meetings too—but they weren't a municipality and they didn't have any police. So in July 1911, aggravated by the shoemaker's antics, a group left the town limits, found the appropriate authorities, and swore out a warrant for Brown's arrest. Not everyone in the colony liked this idea. "They did not want any 'laws or lawing in Arden,'" The New York Times [...]

Mr. Smith Goes to Court

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 13:45:00 -0400

America's oldest ongoing civil case began in 1951, when the military sued thousands of Southern California landowners to establish Camp Pendleton's control of their water rights. The move sparked a lot of outrage at the time. The Los Angeles Times, which in those days tended toward a curmudgeonly conservatism, crusaded against it; Reader's Digest joined in too; The Saturday Evening Post ran a story on the subject headlined "The Government's Big Grab." That piece opened with some of the most egregious elements of the tale, like the church that had used just $4.70 worth of water in a month and was nonetheless being told it could be cut off. Then the authors laid out what they saw as the stakes of the story: "if the Federal Government can, by sovereign authority, take California water, then it might, by the same reasoning and authority, take anything anywhere." By the end of the '50s a lot of the smaller landholders had been dropped from the case, and in 1963 a judge ruled largely, though not entirely, against the feds. Since then the saga has seemed less like an apocalyptic fight for freedom and more like an endless stretch of legal trench warfare, as different litigants dispute the precise boundaries of their rights. "This western water rights case will likely outlive us all," The San Diego Union-Tribune concluded last year. But our interest here is in the early days of the conflict, and in one particular property owner who got drawn into the fray. Among the landholders sued by the feds was Frank Capra, the director behind such films as It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Meet John Doe. The Chamber of Commerce and The Los Angeles Times asked Capra to make a movie about the issue, and so he helmed a short documentary called The Fallbrook Story, released in 1952. He kept his name off it, and I can't say I blame him—on an artistic level it may well be the worst thing he ever made. Capra's biographer Joseph McBride wrote that it feels "like a crude parody of a Frank Capra film"; I think McBride is wrong about many things, but not about that. But while The Fallbrook Story is too clumsy to be good art and too romanticized to be solid journalism, it still comes down on the right side of the dispute. And it is, at the very least, a fascinating footnote in the filmmaker's career. Watch it here: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Since this battle pit citizens against the national security state in the feverish early years of the Cold War—and during the Korean hot war at that—you might wonder whether any of the people battling the feds were redbaited. In fact, the era's most infamous redbaiter seems to have sided with the landholders. That San Diego Union-Tribune piece points out that the "Navy's participation in the lawsuit was even investigated by a Senate subcommittee helmed by Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, known for his reckless Cold War accusations, on grounds that there was a previous order prohibiting the use of Navy funds to prosecute the case." McCarthy, of course, was not a guy who let his fear of communism keep him from picking fights with the military, a fact that eventually led to his doom. (For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For other installments featuring Frank Capra, go here and here.)[...]

The Great James Buchanan Conspiracy

Sun, 01 Oct 2017 12:00:00 -0400

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, by Nancy MacLean, Viking, 334 pages, $28 The board of education in Brown v. Board of Education—the 1954 Supreme Court decision that desegregated American public schools—was located in Topeka, Kansas, a city that was overwhelmingly white. Brown overturned a policy set by a majority, and it was right to do so: School segregation is just as wrong when it is imposed democratically as it is when it is imposed by suppressing the black vote. So the strangest thing about Democracy in Chains—a book that contains many, many strange claims—may be how its author, the Duke historian Nancy MacLean, treats Brown. On one hand, she believes that those who want to bind majorities with preset constitutional rules are up to something sinister. Her chief villain on this score is James Buchanan, an economist and political philosopher who argued that government actors ought to be subject to built-in structural constraints. On the other hand, MacLean clearly thinks Brown was correctly decided. Indeed, she accuses Buchanan of working to undermine the ruling. MacLean seems not to notice Brown is itself an example of the phenomenon MacLean is denouncing: a Constitution being used to overrule a democratic outcome in the name of protecting a minority. It's an awkward start for a baroque conspiracy story, and it signals what a mess the book will be. The historian has little to no evidence for her history. She invents some when necessary, and will at times just make assertions to suit her narrative, mustering neither real nor phony evidence to back them up. Many of her factual and interpretive errors have already been covered elsewhere, in venues ranging from Vox to The Washington Post. Rather than get lost in the weeds of covering every false statement or misleadingly gerrymandered quotation in this book, I want to focus here on the core claims that it gets wrong: MacLean fundamentally misunderstands Buchanan's intellectual project, treating his theories about politics as an apologia for the wealthy and powerful. This gives short shrift to a serious body of thought, and it fails to see that his arguments can indict the wealthy as much as anyone else. She tries to tie Buchanan's work to the segregationist order in the South, even implying that his ideas arose from a desire to preserve it. She essentially invents links along the way. She paints Buchanan as an important influence on Augusto Pinochet's repressive dictatorship in Chile. Not only does her evidence fail to support this, but she misses an important piece of counterevidence: a 1981 speech, delivered in Chile, in which Buchanan condemned dictatorial rule. And finally, though Buchanan was neither an orthodox libertarian nor a central influence on the libertarian movement, she puts him at the heart of a Charles Koch–driven conspiracy to impose a radical libertarian agenda on the United States. In the process, she manages to misread both Buchanan and Koch in telling ways. Public Choice, Private Greed? Buchanan won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for his role in founding the "public choice" school of economics. This school's key idea, to quote the Nobel committee, was to seek "explanations for political behavior that resemble those used to analyze behavior on markets." The result was a body of work in which politicians and bureaucrats, no less than entrepreneurs and investors, often "act out of self-interest," driven not just by a vision of the common good but by a desire for votes or bigger budgets. MacLean, by contrast, treats public choice as little more than an effort to question the good-heartedness of public servants. Its conclusions, she insists, have "no true research—no facts—to support them" and are rooted in "projecting unseemly motives onto strangers about whom they knew nothing." She takes it for granted that when public choice economists complain that special-interest groups profit from government, they're aimin[...]

Brickbat: History Lesson

Tue, 26 Sep 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) In Louisiana, the Orleans Parish School Board has rescinded the permission it gave to a private group to repair and refurbish a World War I monument that sits on school property. Officials have refused to say why they will not allow the monument, first erected in 1919, to be refurbished, but it is included in a list of monuments that Take Em Down NOLA, the group that spearheaded the removal of Confederate statues, wants removed. The group objects because the names of black World War I veterans are listed separately from those of white veterans.

George Washington's 'Founding War of Conquest'

Sun, 24 Sep 2017 06:00:00 -0400

Autumn of the Black Snake: The Creation of the U.S. Army and the Invasion that Opened the West, by William Hogeland, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 448 pages, $28 The Battle of Little Big Horn may loom larger in popular consciousness, but it is the fray now known as St. Clair's Defeat that marks Native Americans' single largest victory over U.S. forces. In 1791, in what today is Ohio, a pan-tribal force under the direction of Shawnee, Miami, and Delaware leaders served notice to the fledgling American republic that continued incursion into Native lands would come at a dear price. In this case, that price was at least half the soldiers on the U.S. side killed—some sources suggest the number dead was far larger—and nearly 20 percent more badly wounded. News of the rout caused President George Washington temporarily to lose his legendary cool. (More than one source reportedly heard from Washington's personal secretary, Tobias Lear, how the president raged about General Arthur St. Clair: "To suffer that army to be cut to pieces, hacked, butchered, tomahawked—by a surprise! The very thing I guarded him against! Oh God, oh God, he's worse than a murderer!") Once Washington simmered down, he embarked on a path that would define both his administration and his country: the creation of a standing national army and the pursuit of a war to secure the West for U.S. expansion. In Autumn of the Black Snake, the independent historian William Hogeland tells the story of that war. His aim, he writes, is to fill in a "vacancy in American memory when it comes to what is perhaps the longest-lasting legacy of George Washington's career, and to the political, moral, and existential burden his career, and its national indispensability, will forever carry." The result is an imperfect but nevertheless compelling work of history. Hogeland rescues some colorful key players from obscurity and restores them to the main narrative of the early American republic. The Black Snake himself is a case in point. Anthony Wayne began as a Pennsylvania boy enthralled with all things military and became a war hero during the Revolution, rising to the rank of major general. But "after 1776," Hogeland writes, "Wayne never really went home." Returning to civilian life in his late 30s, he proved unfit to manage anything competently: not marriage, not fatherhood, not property, not politics. Wayne was estranged from his family, barely one step ahead of his creditors, freshly relieved of his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives (after a House committee found fraud in his election), and in a downward spiral when Washington unexpectedly placed him in command of the country's new standing army, the Legion of the United States. In that position, Wayne turned his obsessive focus toward preparing, supplying, and supporting his troops. He built forts, he instituted the first basic training for U.S. soldiers, and his tireless emphasis on discipline and preparedness earned him the nickname Mad Anthony from his men. His "preternatural vigilance"—the man could not be surprised and seemed never to sleep—also earned Wayne the title Black Snake from his enemies in the pan-tribal Western Confederacy. Wayne ultimately vindicated Washington's trust and accomplished what the president wanted, breaking the back of Native resistance at the August 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers, and securing both Native and British retreat from the Northwest Territory in the Treaty of Greenville a year later. And he did it all while his second in command both actively undermined him and served as a spy for Spain. Hogeland also devotes attention to the impressive leaders of "the only confederation that had a chance of obstructing the westward expansion of the United States and came close to damaging the American project in its fragile infancy." One was the charismatic and flamboyant Blue Jacket, who dreamed of reuniting his fellow Shawnees in their ancient homela[...]

Emperor Joshua Norton I: The Movie

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 13:01:00 -0400

(image) While Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were leading a war between the American north and south, a rival emperor was conducting a much more peaceful reign out west. 158 years ago this week, on September 17, 1859, Joshua Norton of San Francisco proclaimed himself emperor of the United States. Once a prosperous rice trader, now living on the edge of vagrancy, he issued his own currency, which local businesses often honored; he wrote royal proclamations, which local newspapers printed; legend has it he once managed to stop an anti-Chinese riot by standing in front of the mob and reciting the Lord's Prayer. He allegedly inspired a character in Huckleberry Finn—the phony dauphin who travels with Huck and Jim for a spell—but he didn't need Mark Twain to be remembered; he generated plenty of memorable stories on his own.

A few of those tales appear in The Story of Norton I: Emperor of the United States, a short film made by Columbia Pictures in 1936. Let me warn you up front: This is a clumsily made movie with stilted acting and, in one scene, one of the most cringeworthy blackface performances you'll ever see. But there are moments when the acting is so far removed from natural behavior that it stops seeming bad and starts to feel like some strange David Lynch experiment. And surely there's something inspirational in the film's final line: "He was insane, but—strange as it seems—honesty and sympathy won him an empire of voluntary subjects."

Needless to say, that's a rather romanticized assessment. Emperor Norton I lived in poverty—plenty of businesses did not accept his scrip—and he had to withstand more than his share of mockery and cruelty. But he was loved too, and he managed to reign for two decades through sheer power of personality. I cannot think of a better American statesman, with the possible exception of President-in-Exile Dick Gregory.

Here is the film:

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For some background on the motion picture, check out this post from the folks at the Emperor's Bridge Campaign, a commendable effort to name the San Francisco Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton.

(Past editions of the Friday A/V Club can be found here.)

Brickbat: Never Mind

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Cumberland County, North Carolina, schools superintendent Tim Kinlaw has apologized for canceling a school environmental program that used the Marquis de Lafayette, for whom Fayetteville is named, for its mascot. Kinlaw says he canceled the program because some members of the community complained that Lafayette was a slave owner. He says he has since learned that Lafayette was actually an abolitionist who bought slaves only to free them.

The Vietnam War Punctures Any Remaining Myths About the Conflict

Sat, 16 Sep 2017 11:00:00 -0400

The Vietnam War. PBS. Sunday, September 17, 8 p.m. Lt. Everett Alvarez was shot down near Ha Long Bay in North Vietnam in August 1964, flying a bombing raid in retaliation for an encounter between U.S. destroyers and North Vietnamese gunboats so confusing that it may not even have occurred. Alvarez, only the second American pilot shot down over North Vietnam, was quickly taken to military interrogators. They, confusingly, began asking questions in Vietnamese; Alvarez, a third-generation American, confoundingly answered in Spanish. ("Don't ask me why," he shrugs. "It seemed like a good idea at the time.") But when the interrogation switched to English, it was no less bewildering. Alvarez refused to disclose anything but his name, rank and serial number, adding to his captors that he was not required to say anything more under the protections of the Geneva Convention. "What does the Geneva Convention have to do with this?" the North Vietnamese replied. "Our countries have not declared war on one another." Alvarez gaped. "You know what?" he thought to himself. "They're right." That anecdote, related by Alvarez, illustrates the best part of Ken Burns' massive 10-part, 18-hour documentary The Vietnam War, which starts airing on PBS Sunday: Firsthand accounts of how the men and women on the ground negotiated their way through a cockeyed, contradictory war that made little sense to either side. In their account of a conflict that nearly tore America in two and continues to reverberate through politics and foreign policies around the world to this very day, there are a lot of things Burns and his co-producer/director Lynn Novick do very well: They trace the war back to its origins, long before the first American soldier set foot in Indochina. They introduce multiple Vietnamese points of view. They deconstruct political flim-flammery in both countries and place it in—mostly—a coherent chronology. They resist many of the easy myths about the war that the Baby Boomer chattering classes have established as God's received truth. But for all the documentary's merits, it does its best work in ferreting out the bite-size experiences of the grunts, not just the ones in uniform but the CIA officers, junior diplomats, peasant farmer and family members back home—the people didn't make policy but were whipsawed by it. Their stories are poignant, confusing, heartbreaking, maddening, blackly funny, or cryptic, often all at once. Sometimes they even seem like extensions of popular fiction. Which came first: a Marine's stark memory of a march in which an old Vietnamese man, certain Charles de Gaulle's army had returned to rid him of Viet Cong harassment, emerged from a hut to shout, "Vive la France"? Or the French planter haunting the jungle near the Cambodian border in Apocalypse Now like a vengeful ghost, warning Martin Sheen that the Americans are fighting for ''the biggest nothing in history"? The old man lost in time is not the only character in The Vietnam War who might have stepped out of Apocalypse Now. With disarming candor, one former American officer recounts blundering into an ambush that killed several of his men and left the rest of them pinned down. He murmured a plea to God: If you need any more guys from my platoon, take me, don't take any more of my men. "As soon as I said it, I freaked myself out," the officer remembers. "I said, 'Holy shit, can I take that prayer back?' " There is archival footage of senior South Vietnamese officers sitting on stage behind Robert McNamara, the whiz-kid American defense secretary, as he shouts in Vietnamese, several times, a popular Saigon slogan of the day, "Vietnam, a thousand years!" Except McNamara is speaking in the wrong intonations and saying, "The little duckie wants to lie down!" Another South Vietnamese officer, without rancor, orders his American advisor not to [...]

Government Almost Killed the Cocktail

Tue, 12 Sep 2017 06:00:00 -0400

The classic "old fashioned" is the simplest of cocktails—sugar, bitters, and whiskey, stirred over ice, then served on the rocks with a citrus rind—and also, possibly, the best. Thanks to the federal government, we almost lost it forever. Different bartenders may take slightly varying approaches to the drink, but when executed well, the effect is the same: The recipe turns merely tolerable whiskey into something nuanced and delicious, adding complexity and character while smoothing over harsh edges. With good whiskey, it's a showcase for subtleties and strengths, taking a quality foundation and transforming it into something truly sublime. It is a perfectly proportioned balance of bitter, sweet, and strong—a spotlight and a stage on which liquor is the star. Among its virtues is that it can easily be made at home. I use a rich, brown Demerara syrup, two different brands of aromatic bitters, and a spicy, oaky bourbon like Buffalo Trace or Eagle Rare. After a day of staring at a computer screen, the process of measuring, pouring, and then stirring—with a long spoon, the bowl turned inward so as to circulate the ice but not agitate it—is calming, forcing focus on what's to come. Making an old fashioned is, in a way, as enjoyable as drinking it. It was, and is, the ideal cocktail. It is also the ideal of a cocktail. "There are a lot of people who view the old fashioned as not exactly a drink, but as an idea, kind of a blueprint," says Robert Simonson, a writer whose 2014 book Old Fashioned: The Story of the World's First Classic Cocktail traces its history and origins. The old fashioned is the original cocktail. Throughout much of the 19th century, the word cocktail referred exclusively to early versions of the drink. It's the insight on which the entire canon of cocktails, from the Manhattan to the martini to the Sazerac to the daiquiri, is built. Embedded within its recipe are the specs for nearly every famous cocktail that followed: a careful balance of flavors, designed to showcase the most appealing qualities of its spirit base interacting with other ingredients. In the years before 1920, the drink, which had evolved from an earlier iceless form beginning in the mid-1800s, would have looked more or less like the one described above, with aromatic bitters and perhaps a single cherry. When prepared by a serious bartender at a serious bar, the drinks were consistent and precise, with proportions carefully tweaked and measured. Often, they were accompanied by a tiny silver spoon. But during the next 14 years, the cocktail underwent a radical transformation. The spoon disappeared. A splash of carbonated water was added to the top, or the bottom, or both. The fruit garnish took over the drink, with handfuls of candied cherries stuffed into the glass and giant slices of orange pounded into the sugar, creating a juicy, sweet, busy concoction more like a whiskey-soaked fruit salad than a classic cocktail. The carefully measured proportions became careless pours. Instead of a precision-crafted spirit feature, the drink had become a muddled mess—a sloppy and indifferent concoction designed to disguise whiskey rather than show it off. And for the most part, that was the way it stayed for decades, with few American drinkers knowing what they had lost. What happened between 1920 and 1934? Prohibition. With a few exceptions, the federal government banned the sale, production, and shipment of alcohol. Bars were closed. Distilleries were shut down. What drinking remained went underground. When Americans came to their senses, passing the 21st Amendment and repealing the nationwide booze ban, drinkers bellied up to bars and asked for one of the few cocktails they remembered: an old fashioned. What they got would have been unrecognizable 20 years prior. "When you get to 1934," says Simo[...]

A Century of Ghastly Communist Sadism

Mon, 11 Sep 2017 08:50:00 -0400

"Let there be floods of blood," declared Krasnaia gazeta, the official newspaper of the Red Army in 1918. From the enemies of the revolution, there should be "more blood, as much as possible." A few months before, the Bolsheviks had seized power from the provisional government that had been installed in the final days of Russia's Romanov dynasty. The revolution ushered in what would become a century of ghastly sadism. The world will mark the 100th anniversary of that revolution this November 7. Yet while the Soviet Union is no more and communism has been discredited in most eyes for many years, it is hard even now to grasp the sheer scale of agony imposed by the brutal ideology of collectivism. Few now dare question the degree of human misery that communism inflicted. Yet there were many, during its height, who fell victim to what Solzhenitsyn called "the desire not to know." They either refused to acknowledge the facts staring them in the face, or actively tried to cover them over with lies. Walter Duranty, the New York Times reporter who won a Pulitzer for denying the truth of Soviet famine, might be the most famous. (The Times eventually conceded that Duranty's coverage was disgraceful, but the Pulitzer board has never revoked the award.) Yet there were legions of others, a few of whom continue to insist even today that communism really was not so bad. For some time, debate also roiled over whether Joseph Stalin's summary executions, liquidations, forced labor camps, and endless other crimes against the Russian people were a departure from the so-called ideals of the revolution, or their all-but-inevitable result. The opening of Soviet archives put that debate to rest: Russian communism was a regime of terror from the very beginning. In 1918 Iakov Peters, deputy to Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the secret police, declared that "anyone daring to agitate against the Soviet government will immediately be arrested and placed in a concentration camp." The enemies of the working class, he promised, would be met with "mass terror." For sanction, Peters had the word of none other than Lenin himself. "Hang (hang without fail, so the people see) no fewer than one hundred known kulaks, rich men, bloodsuckers," Lenin ordered in 1918. "Publish their names. Take from them all the grain. Designate hostages. Do it in such a way so that for hundreds of versts around people will see, tremble, know, shout: They are strangling, strangling to death the bloodsucker kulaks." (The term "kulak" referred to peasants well-off enough to hire workers.) "It is necessary secretly—and urgently—to prepare the terror," he ordered shortly thereafter. Over the next several months the secret police of the Cheka carried out mass executions in a campaign that would become known as the Red Terror. In "Red Victory," W. Bruce Lincoln writes that one early estimate claimed the Cheka shot "more than eight thousand people in the twenty provinces of Central Russia before the end of July 1919, but by all accounts that figure was a gross understimate." It was also just the beginning. In 1997, a French publisher published "The Black Book of communism," which tried to place a definitive figure on the number of people who died by communism's hand: 65 million in China, 20 million in the Soviet Union, 2 million in Cambodia, 2 million in North Korea, and so on—more than 90 million lives, all told. Many of them died by famine. But the famines were man-made disasters: the result of expropriation, forced collectivization, and other policies. In 2013, Yang Jisheng told The Guardian about the effects of the Great Famine in China, which killed tens of millions between 1958 and 1961: "People died in the family and they didn't bury the person because they could still collect their food rations; they kept th[...]

Brickbat: Who Is Buried in Grant's Tomb?

Thu, 31 Aug 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered a review of all the city's monuments to get rid of symbols of hate. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito says the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle could be a target for removal as could the tomb of President Ulysses Grant. De Blasio says every monument in the city will be reviewed.

CNN Looks Back at Elian Gonzalez Saga

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Elian. CNN. Thursday, August 24, 10 p.m. The night after Thanksgiving of 2016, the phone in my vacation hotel room in Orlando rang. The death of Fidel Castro had just been announced, and the obituary that I'd been regularly updating for 15 years for the Miami Herald had finally rolled out onto the internet. It caught the eye of a CNN producer, who had tracked me down to ask if I would agree to be interviewed on the air about the reaction of Cuban-Americans. So far, the dismayed producer said, all the talking heads CNN had been able to round up were saying Miami Cubans would be ecstatically celebrating Castro's departure, and they were hoping for a little balance. You know, a few words about the nostalgic and the bittersweet. "I'll be happy to go on the air," I told the producer. "But I'm afraid I'm going to say the same thing. Cubans don't come to Miami because they have mixed feelings about him—they come because they hate him. As far as they're concerned, he's a communist who robbed them, bullied them, jailed them, maybe executed some of their relatives. If anybody's crying in Miami tonight, it's because he didn't die 50 years earlier." The producer was clearly disappointed. I went on the air for a few minutes, but when I was finished, he pointedly didn't thank me. Though I've long ago given up trying to understand why so many American journalists don't recognize Castro for the tyrant he was, this conversation still left me puzzled. How could anybody imagine that there would be even the slightest sympathy for Castro in Miami? Didn't they remember the tale of Elian Gonzalez? I hope that producer is watching when his network airs the documentary Elian this week. It offers, in painful detail, the whole saga of 5-year-old Elian's 1999 voyage from Cuba to Miami on a boat that broke up and sank somewhere in the Florida Straits. His mother managed to get Elian into an inner tube before slipping beneath the waves with 10 others. The inner tube drifted to Miami, where Elian became the center of an epic tug of war with Havana that ended with federal agents kicking in the door of the home where he was staying, and snatching him at gunpoint so he could be shipped back to Havana. The Elian story triggered much journalism that ranged from uncomprehending to obscene. Be my guest at choosing which label Eleanor Clift, then of Newsweek, should get for cheerleading the Clinton administration's decision to send Elian back to Cuba, where "he doesn't have to worry about going to school and being shot at, where drugs are not a big problem, where he has access to free medical care and where the literacy rate I believe is higher than this country's." (And no, she didn't send her own kids there.) This documentary, however, is from an entirely different mold. Put together by Irish filmmakers Trevor Birney and Ross McDonnell, it gets a big boost from the presence of writer-director Tim Golden. As a former Miami Herald reporter who shared in two Pulitzer Prizes for his Latin American coverage, Golden is properly wary both of the myth that Miami's Cuban community is nothing more than a collection of deranged fascists and its counterpart, that Fidel Castro was a misunderstood social democrat. (Full disclosure: Though both Golden and I have worked as Miami Herald foreign correspondents, it was at widely different times.) The result is a film that picks its way carefully down the middle of the road, seeking to illuminate rather than vituperate, and does an excellent job, both at relating facts and providing context. Elian includes interviews with figures from virtually every chapter of this story, including the boy himself, and all viewpoints get a fair exposure. No doubt people on both sides will point to things that were left[...]

In Defense of Lenin Statues and Canyon of Heroes Plaques

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 12:50:00 -0400

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has called for the removal of the Vladimir Lenin statue in the neighborhood of Fremont. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched a 90-day review of "all symbols of hate on city property"; his eyes seem to have settled on a plaque commemorating Philippe Pétain, the Nazi-aligned leader of Vichy France. Both moves come in the wake of a national discussion on Confederate statues, and both moves miss the mark completely. Statues for Confederate generals frequently went up during periods of heightened racial tension. They were sometimes meant specifically to intimidate local black populations, and they often had that effect whether that was the intent or not. If a Lenin statue was put up in, say, a neighborhood where Eastern Europeans were starting to move, it could represent something else. But it wasn't. The plaque mentioning Philippe Pétain is found at the Canyon of Heroes, a section of Lower Broadway ithat has been the site of more than 200 ticker-tape parades since the late 19th century. Pétain received a parade there in 1931 as a French military hero; he had been named a Marshall of France, a military distinction given to generals for exceptional achievements. This was about a decade before he collaborated with the Nazis. Removing it would represent precisely what the opponents of taking down Confederate monuments say they're afraid of: erasing history. The man really did receive that parade, and the plaque establishes that event. Taking down Seattle's Lenin statue would make even less sense. It's a statue that had already been taken down—in 1989, in Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution. It was found in a scrap heap by an American English teacher living abroad, who convinced the authorities to sell it to him and who then spent tens of thousands of dollars to ship it to the U.S. He wanted to use it to promote a restaurant he planned to open. The statue was placed in a retail area in Fremont in 1995, and it has officially been on sale ever since. (It can be yours for $250,000.) It is essentially a surreal joke. It has become a tourist attraction, not for communist sympathizers but for people who enjoy seeing weird things; it is now a symbol of the character of the neighborhood, whose motto is Latin for "the freedom to be peculiar." State Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), whose family came from Poland in the 1920s, has defended the Lenin statue. "Unlike the Confederacy statues throughout our nation built to formally honor those in that battle of ideas, this statue is distinctly not showcased in Fremont to celebrate the murderous, painful regime," Carlyle wrote on his blog. "The statue was, simply, installed with artistic intent to show that our very ability to install political art is the triumph of democracy over tyranny." He continued: "Art can be offensive and painful, but it can also bring us alive with curiosity, wonder, knowledge. Installing a political statue of a man and regime that would never allow installation of political statues of opponents is a symbolic representation of the victory of democracy and freedom over oppression. And of the role of art itself." It is also private property standing on private land, so Seattle's mayor shouldn't have any say about whether it stays or goes. What is he, some kind of communist? Correction: A previous version of this article implied the Pétain plaque went up before World War 2. Plaques noting the ticker-tape parades in the Canyon of Heroes were installed in 2003. Sorry for the error.[...]

What to Do With Your Embarrassing Confederate Statue

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 14:00:00 -0400

So you've got an old Confederate statue you need to toss out. Don't worry, many cities in America are going through the same spring cleaning you are. The relevant question is: what do you do with a marble effigy of an old bearded racist once you've knocked it off its pedestal? The main argument against removing these statues hinges on historical preservation, that we shouldn't dynamite historical artifacts whenever the Left gets tetchy. I agree with that in principle: If Michael Moore starts wandering around a Calvin Coolidge statue with a hacksaw, I'll be the first to restrain him. Most of these statues, however, are not memorials to the dead erected by their mourning relatives. They are tributes erected at the height of the Jim Crow era, basically big bronze and concrete middle fingers racists erected to protest integration. And if there's one thing I really hate, it's passive aggressive statuary. That's why I've provided these elegant solutions for all of the Confederate detritus you've got lying around. Discuss them with your mayor next time you run into him at a Rotary Club breakfast or key party. Turn the Statue into Darth Vader Eastern Europe is littered with statues of dead socialists. Lenin is the lawn gnome of Eastern Europe. Commie strongmen are less in vogue since the Soviet Union petered out, however, leaving people with a glut of memorials to murderous psychopaths who murdered millions of people, or alternately, to disastrous technocrats who murdered millions of people inadvertantly. Ukranian artist Alexander Milov came up with the brilliant solution for all of the Lenin clutter: turn them into statues of Darth Vader. I've never visited Columbia, South Carolina but I'm fairly confident tourism would spike if only the city retrofitted its surplus of Confederate ephemera into Sith lords. There could be copyright issues, but that's an easy fix. If Disney protests, simply turn your statue of Stonewall Jackson into a velociraptor riding a Tyrannosaurus-rex. Stonewall Jacksons's horse probably wasn't racist, so there may be no need alter it. But if you're already making one dinosaur, why not splurge and do two? A velociraptor riding a T-Rex makes an awesome cover for your tourism brochure. Another nifty option is to weld boxy metal parts to your Jefferson Davis statue to make it look like a clunky 1950's robot. Be sure to add a plaque that says, "Erected in Eternal Memory to the Robot Uprising of 2046." Three hundred years from now won't that be a great practical joke. Oh, and did I mention installing lasers in Ol' Jeff's eyes? Build a Monument Over It People are preoccupied with the celebration of institutional racism these monuments represent. But has anyone stopped to consider that Confederate statues celebrate losers? We don't celebrate losers in the USA. That sends a bad message to the kids. We look up to winners. Consider building an eighty-foot statue of Ulysses S. Grant triumphantly stepping on your now-dwarfed Stonewall Jackson statue. Voila, you've now got a Union monument. Also makes a phenominal roadside attraction. Donate It to a Third World Country You know how Third World countries wind up with all the t-shirts from Superbowl teams that lost? Well here's an idea: donate your statue to one of those countries. Do your research beforehand because many of them have their own peculiar reasons for disliking confederates. Dump it in the Ocean You might be tempted to round up all of the Confederate statues and put them in one place, say, somewhere like Fallen Monument Park in Moscow. The problem is your park is going to be swarming with bigots and their tiki torches. That's a fire hazard. Your park should be under water, maybe s[...]