President William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States, holds a number of distinctions: He was the last president to have been born a British subject. At the age of 68, he was the oldest man elected to the presidency until Reagan was elected in 1980. He delivered the longest inaugural address, which -at just shy of 9 000 words- took him two hours to deliver. He was also the first president to die in office, and his 32 days as president was the shortest term ever served.
His inauguration 1841 was held on a cold and wet March day. The poor weather coupled with the fact that 68-year-old Harrison refused to wear an overcoat whilst delivering his marathon address nor travel to the inauguration in a covered carriage were thought to be causal factors in the pneumonia which eventually killed him. Truthfully, Harrison didn’t get sick until 3 weeks after his inauguration. So while one certainly can’t rule out a link between his inauguration and his death, the correlation is probably not as obvious as people tend to mistakenly believe. So the whole long-winded speech, stupidly refusing t wear a coat thing, is not the Historical Douchebaggery to which I’m referring.
William Henry Harrison was kind of a douche because he completely misrepresented himself during his campaign. He had campaigned as a candidate of humble beginnings, touting he was born in a log cabin, and making repeated references to his “log cabin home.” In reality, Harrison was born in a 3 story, 22 bedroom brick mansion on Berkley Plantation – one of the oldest estates in Virginia. The Harrisons were one of Virginia’s most prominent political families. His father Benjamin Harrison V had been a delegate to the Continental Congress and a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, a member of the Virginia legislature, and the State Governor. His father-in law John Cleves Symmes, had also been a delegate to the Continental Congress, and a Justice in both the New Jersey and North West Territory Supreme Courts. His older brother had been a state legislator and a US congressman, and his cousin was also a Governor.
In sum, William Henry Harrison was no son of a lumber jack. He was the heir of a political dynasty, and the fact that he marketed himself as a home-spun, man of the people, makes him kind of a douche.
In the post-Vietnam era, America was experiencing an ambivalence about how they should conduct themselves on the global stage.
They had emerged from the Second World War with this sense of omnipotence; this confidence that America could achieve anything it set its mind to. It was this supreme confidence in American military strength, and perhaps more importantly, this confidence in the righteousness of America’s geo-political mission which had underpinned the rampant globalism of the Kennedy and Johnson era. Specifically, it had underpinned the war in Vietnam.
But Vietnam effectively revealed the limits of American globalism. It revealed that technological superiority did not necessarily determine foreign policy success. It also revealed that the American approach to foreign policy, was perhaps not as benevolent as people had previously believed that it was.
The trauma of the Vietnam experience made the American people deeply ambivalent about foreign policy.
On one hand they still saw themselves as a global superpower, and didn’t want to appear as a weakened nation. They wanted their leaders to be resolute and tough. But on the other hand they understood all too well the dangers of that toughness. They understood the dangers of American hubris, and the humiliation that accompanies defeat.
Jimmy Carter’s approach to foreign policy really typified the ambivalence of the post- Vietnam era. Insofar as it was an awkward and almost schizophrenic combination of toughness and restraint, and of idealism and pragmatism.
When Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency in 1981, he seemingly had none of the ambivalence or uncertainty that had plagued Carter. His certainty, his profound faith in American strength and American mission positioned him as a man who would shake America out of the “Vietnam Syndrome.”
Whenever I talk to students (or anyone, really) about Ronald Reagan, I can’t not talk about Rocky 4 and Rambo 2. Given I’ve already written about Rocky 4 and the Reagan Revolution in a previous post, I’ll just stick to Rambo 2.
First, let me start my saying that it’s a really dreadful film– like truly awful. But it’s also a really potent symbol of the American zeitgeist in the 1980s.
Sylvester Stallone plays John Rambo, a highly damaged Vietnam vet who in First Blood, the original film, comes into conflict with the police in a small town, and becomes totally unhinged. First Blood is actually more of a psychological thriller than an action movie. It’s not a great film, but it is a somewhat serious commentary on the psychological damage that the war inflicted upon those who fought it, and how poorly vets were treated when they returned. In contrast. First Blood Part 2 is just a full-on hypermasculine action fantasy.
In the film, Rambo is asked to return to Vietnam to liberate US POWs. Essentially being given an opportunity to fight the war over again, he asks “Do we get to win this time?” It ties into the idea which gained prominence during the 1980s, that the loss in Vietnam, was due to the incompetence of government bureaucrats and politicians, the inefficacy of American strategy, and the betrayal on the home front… not because there was something inherently wrong with the war itself. Reagan in fact, had called the war a “noble cause” and was super critical of those who employed a discourse of shame in terms of America’s involvement in the war in Vietnam. During his 1980 campaign he stated: “We dishonour the memory of 50,000 young Americans who died in that cause when we give way to feelings of guilt as if we were doing something shameful, and we have been shabby in our treatment of those who returned.”
Historian Michael Klare has defined the ‘Vietnam syndrome’ as “the American public’s disinclination to engage in further military interventions in internal Third World conflicts.” Since Vietnam, the foreign policy community, and legislators in particular, began to move away from this view that all upheaval in the third world was the result of some great communist conspiracy. However, Reagan and his advisors, rejected this idea that civil strife in parts of Latin America and elsewhere were due to indigenous issues such as economic instability, poverty and class oppression. Reagan blamed most Third World troubles on the Soviet Union and thought that revolutionaries took their orders from Moscow.
In 1985, the president put forth the Reagan Doctrine, declaring that the United States would openly support anti communist movements. They would fund and train anti-communist “freedom fighters” wherever they were battling Soviet-backed governments. Under this doctrine, the CIA funnelled aid to insurgents in Angola, Nicaragua, Ethiopia and Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan for instance, under the auspices of Operation Cyclone the US supplied arms, finance and training to the anti-Soviet freedom fighters, the Mujahedeen.
The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was effectively their Vietnam. They spent years trying in vain to bolster a friendly regime while facing a tenacious guerrilla insurgency that just wouldn’t quit. After a decade the Soviets gave up and went home. After years of civil war, the pro-Soviet regime fell and the Mujahedeen took over. Only by that point they were calling themselves the Taliban.
The Taliban turned Afghanistan into a repressive Islamist state, based on Sha’ria law. Life under the Taliban was especially difficult for women, who were prohibited from going to school, from working, from driving, and from leaving the house unless accompanied by a male relative.
Afghanistan under the Taliban also hosted training camps for jihadists including Al Qaeda, the terrorist network responsible for the attacks of September 11th 2001.
So in attempting to frustrate their present enemy, the US inadvertently facilitated the rise of an entity that would prove to be a future enemy.
Another one for the file marked The Unintended (but totally foreseeable) Consequences of US Intervention.
From David Futrelle, another insight into the impacted bowel of the internet that is the manosphere.
Originally posted on we hunted the mammoth:
On Monday, Anita Sarkeesian posted the latest installment of her Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games series on YouTube, a half-hour examination of the ways in which video game makers use sexualized violence against women as a cheap way to spice up their narratives and appeal to straight male gamers.
Her tone was measured, her analysis clear and logical and supported by dozens of clips from a wide assortment of games.
Late Tuesday night, this happened:
View original 924 more words
August 24, 1949 – North Atlantic Treaty goes into effect.
The North Atlantic Treaty was signed by its original 12 member states in April 1949, and came into force in August of the same year after being ratified by all signatories.
The nations of Western Europe were pretty concerned about the threat of Soviet expansion in the post-war years. The Soviets made no secret of their determination to develop a buffer zone of friendly states between themselves and Germany- and moreover, they felt pretty entitled to this “anti-fascist zone” given the tremendous sacrifice the nation had endured during the Second World War. Soviet willingness to create and maintain a bloc of friendly states on their western border was seen as somewhat threatening by the nations of Central and Western Europe.
The spectre of the Soviets’ nefarious intentions certainly wasn’t ameliorated by the Soviet-sponsored overthrow of the democratic government in Czechoslovakia in February 1948. Moreover, the Berlin Blockade (March, 1948 – May, 1949), in which the Soviet Union severely restricted access to the Allied sectors of Berlin, was a really bad PR move. Even though, critically speaking, the Soviet Union had some pretty good reasons to be pissed off at the Allies who had consistently (and fairly shamelessly) treated the Soviet Union like the red-headed stepchild. They had showed a complete disregard of the Soviet post-war position and contempt for Soviet concerns for strategic security: Churchill had basically called the Soviets out with his infamous “Iron Curtain speech,” the US had articulated a formal doctrine of “containing” the Soviet Union, and if all that wasn’t provocative enough, the Soviets were shamelessly marginalised in the Allied Control Council. Finally they said, “Screw you guys, I’m going home.” And they took their ball with them… which in this case was West Berlin… admittedly, not a perfect analogy…
Anyway, in hindsight, the Berlin Blockade was not the best strategic move, insofar as it actually made the Soviet Union look like total assholes, and gave the Western Allies (particularly the Americans) the chance to be the heroes who saved the besieged people of West Berlin via the Berlin Airlift. Moreover, it prompted the nations of Western Europe to align even closer with the United States, who were able to craft a fairly persuasive argument, that a strategic alliance with the United States was the only way to dissuade Soviet aggression.
The formation of NATO was an important shift in the trajectory of the Cold War. I would argue (and this is admittedly, a rather crude summation), that in many respects the establishment of a formal strategic alliance represented the militarisation of the Cold War- a hitherto rhetorical and philosophical conflict. When NATO members began pushing for the inclusion of West Germany into the alliance in the mid-1950s, the Soviets warned that this would be a bridge to far; it would be interpreted as a provocative act which would force them into formalising their own strategic defensive alliance. This is precisely what happened when West Germany joined NATO in May 1955. Less than two weeks later, the Soviet Union, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Albania and Bulgaria signed the Warsaw Pact. On the few occasions where Eastern Bloc countries endeavoured to extricate themselves from the yoke of Soviet-style communism, it was the threat of Warsaw Pact intervention (or actual intervention as was the case in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968), that brought them back into the fold.
The formation of NATO also represented a marked shift in the trajectory US foreign policy. For its entire history, US foreign policy was guided by an ethos of “independent isolationism”- economic interests and hegemonic ambitions in the American hemisphere had precluded pure isolationism, but the US had eschewed formal military alliances with Europe. Europe was viewed as this basket case of ancient rivalries- the flashpoint for two World Wars, into which the US had been reluctantly drawn. For the first time, the US was now yoking itself to Europe. This would have profound implications for the nature of American globalism in the post-war era.
Interestingly, while conceived as a defensive alliance that would deter or contest Soviet aggression against any of its member states, Article 5, the mutual self-defence clause of the North Atlantic Treaty was never invoked during the Cold War. In fact, the first decision to operationalise Article 5 was the AWAC air defence deployment Operation Eagle Assist, launched in response to the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001.
August 20, 1968 – Prague Spring crushed by Soviet-led invasion.
When Czechoslovakia was invaded by its Warsaw Pact allies it signified more than just the end of the nation’s quest for “socialism with a human face.” It also effectively represented the end of socialism as a viable and legitimate alternative to liberal capitalism. Moreover, it signified that any attempt to break free from the increasingly oppressive yoke of Soviet-style socialism, would not be tolerated by Moscow, thereby fundamentally eroding the idea that the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence was maintained by anything other than force or the threat thereof.
The Prague Spring had begun months earlier when reformer Alexander Dubček was elected to the head of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ), but its origins lay in the economic reforms of his predecessor, Antonin Novotný. The soviet model of industrialisation, had applied poorly to Czechoslovakia, which was one of the most developed economies in the Eastern Bloc. In response to an economic downturn in the early 1960s, Novotný in 1965 had launched a New Economic Model aimed at restructuring the economy. This period of economic liberalisation, had spurred calls for political liberalisation.
Dubček and the other reformist party members positioned their Action Programme as the next stage of Czechoslovakian socialism, rather than a repudiation of the post-war Soviet model. Dubček’s reforms were designed to help transform Czechoslovakia socialism into an economic and state model which “corresponds to the historical democratic traditions of Czechoslovakia.”
Fearing not just the loss of Czechoslovakian commodities and industrial resources, but also the precedent that may be set by the country’s flirtation with defiance, the Soviet Union rallied her allies and ended the rebellion.
August 6, 1965 – Lyndon B Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law.
“So wait, I thought that the south losing the civil war meant that African Americans were free and had the same legal rights and stuff, why did there need to be another law? I saw it in that Lincoln movie- there was that debate over some law and Tommy Lee said something about ‘equality before the law’ and he won, right? Actually I’m not totally sure because I think I fell asleep in a few parts- that was movie was really long. But anyway, why didn’t they just enforce that law instead of making new ones?”
Sometimes you receive a question from a student that feels like that moment in Raiders when the Nazis open the ark of the covenant. Full-on face-melting word deluge. Nonetheless, somewhere in that largely unintelligible word scatter shot, is a rather astute question that’s certainly worthy of being addressed.
The 13th Amendment, which effectively outlawed slavery in the United States was adopted on December 6, 1865 after passing through both houses of congress and being ratified by 2/3 of the states (as is required for all constitutional amendments). It was the first of the three so-called Reconstruction Amendments which were intended to guarantee freedom to former slaves and to establish and prevent discrimination in civil rights. In fact it was the 15th Amendment that specifically addressed voting rights, stating that:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
So the premise of the question is basically correct. There were substantial efforts in the decades following the Civil War to guarantee “equality before the law.” (Although Radical Republican congressman Thaddeus Stevens was played by Tommy Lee Jones in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, not Tommy Lee. That would have been a very different interpretation I’m sure.)
During the period of Reconstruction (1865-1877), the federal government effectively occupied the defeated confederate states, and the rights of freed slaves were protected by force. As you could imagine, Southerners didn’t take too kindly to radical Reconstruction, and as soon as federal troops were removed in 1877 the south began “normalising” race-relations. Ie. Putting Blacks “back in their place.” This is what underpinned the policy of segregation which was employed by many southern (and northern) states. Segregation, specifically the principle of “separate but equal” was upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1896 Plessy v Ferguson case, and deemed not to be in violation of the 14th Amendment. This decision would be reversed half a century later in 1954 with the Brown v Board of Education decision, which essentially said that separate could never be truly equal.
Similarly, states were able to work within the confines of the 15th Amendment to disenfranchise southern Blacks. Some of the tactics included literacy tests, poll taxes and in some cases outright intimidation or violence. The Voting Rights Act specifically outlawed jurisdictions from changing voting regulations in any way that may result in the discrimination of minority voters. Moreover, certain jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination had to seek special approval from the US attorney General before they could make any changes to the way they administered elections. There were also a number of northern districts that were subject to this special provision which was called “preclearance.” I use the past tense because the preclearance requirement was recently shot down by the US Supreme Court. The rationale was basically that the provision had been so successful in preventing the implementation of discriminatory election practices, that it was no longer required. In her scathing dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg characterised the “sad irony” of throwing out an effective piece of legislation, thusly:
Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.
One Giant Leap for the Cold War: National Security Archive collection sheds new light on the moonlanding
Forty five years ago, the Apollo 11 lunar module landed on the moon’s surface and Neil Armstrong ventured forth to flub the immortal words, “one small step for [a] man…”
John F. Kennedy had declared in 1961 that man would walk on the moon by the end of the decade. The American mission to land on the moon was highly publicised, just as the Soviets too lauded every development in terms of their own space program. The space race was a manifestation of Cold War rivalries, and was exploited by both powers for propaganda purposes.
But it was also really cool. Moreover, the the space race served as a catalyst for a technological revolution that formed the foundation of the information age we live in today.
But there were also some highly secret, and arguably more nefarious dimensions to the US and Soviet efforts to land on the moon. The National Security Archive has recently compiled a collection of declassified documents which give some starting insights into the deliberations among US policy makers and the National Security establishment concerning the potential militarisation of the moon.
There are a number of US Army and Airforce studies from 1951-1964 which review the possibility of using the moon as a military base for both surveillance and “Lunar Based Earth Bombardment System,” such as Project Horizon , and the LUNEX (lunar expedition) Plan
In June 1959, the DoD conducted a study on the implications of detonating a nuclear device on or in the vicinity of the moon.
A declassified report detailing the efforts of intelligence operatives to “borrow” a Soviet space capsule during an exhibition tour and return it before Soviet authorities were any of the wiser. This report actually reads like heist movie. You can tell the writer is very proud of himself.
There is also a number of intelligence assessments of the Soviet Luna program, including a 1963 CIA estimate of Soviet intentions with regards to a manned moon landing
The briefing book is edited by NSA senior fellow Jeffrey T. Richelson and features a useful bibliographical essay.
Those of you who are WordPress bloggers will be aware that the platform offers this cool option of having spam autoblocked. So not only do you not get bothered by spam in your email, it doesn’t even make it to your spam folder in dashboard. It’s a great feature for those of you who don’t like scrolling through, ticking and deleting hundreds of spam comments.
For shits and giggles, I one day decided to turn off the autoblock. I don’t get notified every time I receive spam, it just means that the spam gets stored in my spam folder for me to review rather than automatically deleted.
This is kind of meta, but I thought it may be fun to post a sampling of the most amusing spam comments I receive on this blog. I was amazed at how effusively my spammers sung my praises, although some of their lexical choices are questionable… Nonetheless, they think I’m a freaking rock star. So it’s time to give back to some of my grandiloquent spam fans.
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1998 – Former President George H.W Bush, discussing his rationale for not pushing for regime in Iraq following the Gulf War: “I firmly believed that we should not march into Baghdad… To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us, and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero. It would …[be] assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerrilla war. It could only plunge that part of the would into even greater instability and destroy the credibility we were working so hard to re-establish.”
December, 1992 – “The Gulf War was a limited-objective war. If it had not been, we would be ruling Baghdad today – at unpardonable expense in terms of money, lives lost and ruined regional relationships…. We should always be sceptical when so-called experts suggest that all a particular crisis calls for is a little surgical bombing of a limited attack. When the ‘surgery’ is over and the desired result is not obtained, a new set of experts then comes forwards with talk of just a little escalation – more bombs, more men and women, more force. History has not been kind to this approach to war-making. In fact this approach has been tragic-both for the men and women who are called upon to implement it and for the nation. ” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during George H.W. Bush’s presidency, later Secretary of State in George W. Bush’s administration, Colin Powell.
February 2002 - “The one point I would make is that I think in all the discussion of risks we have lost sight of some of the rewards of a reasonably friendly, reasonably pro-Western government in Iraq. It would really transform the Middle East. A friendly, free, and oil-producing Iraq would leave Iran isolated. I think Syria would be cowed. The Palestinians would, I think, be more willing to negotiate seriously with Israel after this evidence of American willingness to exert influence in the region. Saudi Arabia would have much less leverage, if only because of Iraqi oil production coming on line, with us and with Europe. Removing Saddam Hussein and his henchmen from power would be a genuine opportunity, I think, to transform the political landscape of the Middle East. The rewards would be very great, and I would also say the risks of failing to do this I think are very great.” William Kristol, neoconservative commentator.
November 14, 2002 - “The Gulf War in the 1990s lasted five days on the ground. I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks or five months. But it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.” – Secretary of Defence in George W. Bush’s administration, Donald Rumsfeld.
March 16, 2003 - “I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” – Vice President Dick Cheney
May 1, 2003 - “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” – President George W. Bush, aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln under a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished”
January 10, 2007 - “The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people — and it is unacceptable to me … Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.” – George W. Bush.
June 17, 2014 – “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many…. When Mr. Obama and his team came into office in 2009, al Qaeda in Iraq had been largely defeated…” Former Vice President Dick Cheney in an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal.
To coincide with American Independence Day, I thought I’d write a brief post on the upstarts who dared to challenge the authority of the British Empire. So who were the Founding Fathers?
One’s first impression is that they were a bunch of middle-aged white guys. While this is of course true, it’s also a tad reductive. The Founders actually represented a fairly broad spectrum of political beliefs and emerged from a reasonable cross-section of American colonial society.
Rather than a unified body committed to a common cause, the Continental Congress almost devolved into a rabble of bickering and bitching every time it assembled, there were points where the Constitutional Convention turned into a clusterfuck, and many had doubts that the colonies could ever form a viable union.
Nonetheless as deliberations over independence wore on, leaders began to emerge. These are the men that have been lionized as the nation’s Founding Fathers. Despite the mythic stature these men attained, I contend that many of them would have had considerable difficulty getting elected to any post higher than county school board in 2014, and none of them could withstand the scrutiny associated with a national presidential campaign. To begin making this point, I’ve outlined some of the reasons why the first three US presidents would never be elected today.
Unelectable because: Washington’s bad teeth and syphilis probably wouldn’t have aided his electoral prospects, but the main reason Washington wouldn’t win a national campaign is that he would be unable to tolerate the bullshit. The petty partisan squabbling would do General W’s head in. Washington was staunchly opposed to what he termed “factionalism”, ie. The modern political party system. He thought it would be corrosive and would undermine governance. Good call, George.
Unelectable because: Was willing to make principled, unpopular decisions. Plus he had no charisma. He was basically the John Kerry of the eighteenth century. A perfectly decent man from Massachusetts that didn’t realise the importance of populist pandering. Nonetheless he was elected America’s second President and perhaps surpsingly for a fairly dull man, was the subject of a pretty interesting (but very long) mini-series.
Unelectable because: Candidate Thomas Jefferson would have given Fox News an immutable hate boner. Jefferson had a long-term intimate relationship with Sally Hemings, his mix-raced slave resulting in his fathering some or all of her six recorded children. Jefferson was a francophile who, even in his day, was accused by his critics for being too close to the French. He was a big believer in public education and the founding of state universities, and was super distrustful of the banks, opposing borrowing & lending on the grounds that he believed it created long-term debt, monopolies, and encouraged dangerous speculation. Finally, his personal book collection became the founding endowment to the library of congress, so chances are he probably read a fair bit, which Republicans tend to dislike. So yeah, America’s third President would probably have trouble getting elected to state senate in his home state of Virginia, and would totes have been labelled a liberal socialist facist (or whatever strange pejorative word salad the Tea Party came up with).