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The Haystack as a Living Symbol

Snow on the Haystack Monument, captured by Orion Howard via Flickr

Snow on the Haystack Monument, captured by Orion Howard via Flickr

For most Ephs, the Haystack Monument carries nothing more than historic and aesthetic significance.  And it is those things: it serves as a picturesque stop on a snowy campus snowshoe tour and a reminder that Williams College attained national significance far before U.S. News began publishing college rankings, before Mark Hopkins became a renowned educator, even before Henry David Thoreau visited Greylock.  But how many appreciate the Haystack Meeting and the Haystack Monument as a live religious symbol, an inspiration to millions of faithful Christians nationwide?

That’s the Haystack Monument as understood by Ronnie Floyd, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest denomination of Protestant Christians in the United States (approximate membership: 16 million).  Floyd recently drew on the example of Samuel Mills & co. in a powerful address laying out his vision:

We must remember that it really all goes back to the Haystack Prayer Meeting. After praying, these five young men sang a hymn together. It was then that Samuel Mills said loudly over the rain and the wind, “We can do this, if we will!” That moment changed those men forever. Many historians would tell you that all mission organizations trace their history back to the Haystack Prayer Meeting in some way. Yes, these men turned the world upside down. And it all began in a prayer meeting under a haystack.

At the place where this meeting occurred, a monument stands today commemorating this historic God moment. At the top of that monument is the phrase, “THE FIELD IS THE WORLD.” Underneath those words is the following statement: “The Birthplace of American Foreign Missions. 1806.” It all happened from a prayer meeting.

This reminds me of the words written in Acts 4:31: “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness.” Prayer, the power of God, evangelism, and missions all go together. We need to get ourselves back under the haystack!

Over the rain, wind, lightning, and claps of thunder when Samuel Mills declared to the other four young men, “We can do this, if we will!” he saw something before anyone else saw it. He saw that THE FIELD IS THE WORLD.

For Floyd, the Haystack is not just a matter of historical interest, as he actively draws on the example as he makes a call to the faithful to:

1. AWAKEN AMERICA

Before the awakenings and great movements of God in the past, many times God’s people have prayed as long as a decade or more before God moved mightily among the people. Therefore, I call upon us to return to the haystack!

We need to stop being so content doing ministry without moments under the haystack. We must return to the haystack, calling out to God extraordinarily, experiencing Him supernaturally, and exploding with a robust vision and commitment to advance the Gospel exponentially everywhere…

2. REACH THE WORLD

Sometimes we conduct ourselves like a bunch of theological Universalists who believe it will all work out okay for everyone. We must begin to believe in lostness again.

People need the Gospel of Jesus Christ beginning in our own villages, towns, and cities. Our pastors need to be injected with a vision and strategy to reach their own villages, towns, and cities.

According to missiologists, we live in a nation where three out of four people do not have a personal relationship with Christ. We live in a world with 7.275 billion people. Of these 7.275 billion people, just over 3 billion of these people are unreached. There is an additional 1.25 billion of these people who are engaged nominally. If we even come close to understanding the spiritual condition of our world and the need for the Gospel, we are facing a daunting challenge.

This is why we need to return to the haystack and come out from underneath it with a renewed belief and commitment to the power of God. Without His power, the task is overwhelming. Without His power, our insufficiency is exposed to the world.

It is time we emerge from underneath the haystack again and with the vision: THE FIELD IS THE WORLD. It is time we emerge from the haystack again with convictional, God-inspired leadership that declares as Samuel Mills did in 1806: “We can do this, if we will!”

With God’s power, we can reach America’s villages, towns, and cities. With God’s power, we can reach the world, penetrating the darkness of lostness globally. The field is the world… We can do this, if we will!

Even — or perhaps especially — for those of us who rarely look at this Williams icon through a religious lens, Floyd’s reliance on the legendary encounter among Ephs and God is enlightening. Read the whole thing.

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Williams & The Civil War: The Wrong Side, Part 4

One of a series of posts, as explained in “Williams & the Civil War: The Wrong Side – Introduction“:

At long last, 150 years after the Union prevailed “with a brave army, and a just cause” in the American Civil War, one of the most visible remaining markers of that conflict is on everyone’s lips and coming down…

Williams College, and most Ephs, reflect on the Civil War through a Union lens — correctly so, from both a moral and historical perspective… [s]o let’s use this occasion to learn more from and about Ephs on the subject of the Civil War and especially on the other side: the Confederacy.

James Garfield, Class of 1856, is necessarily a lodestar in any understanding of the Civil War from an Eph perspective. Not only because Garfield remains the only Eph to attain the White House. Rather, as an abolitionist and politician even before secession, he foresaw the war, fought in the war, and helped lead the re-United States in recover from the war. His insight and experience explains to us, as it did to his contemporaries, the nature of that conflict.

One of Garfield’s most thorough discussions of the Civil War came in a speech to the House of Representatives on February 1, 1866, just six months after the surrender of the final Confederate general (Interesting historical note: that surrender was by Cherokee chief Degataga, English name Stand Watie, leader of the Cherokee Mounted Rifle Regiment, and the only Native American general on either side in the Civil War).

James A. Garfield, on “Restoration of the Rebel States”:

The Rebellion had its origin in two causes; first, the political theory of State Sovereignty, and second, the historical accident of American slavery. The doctrine of State Sovereignty, or State Rights as it has been more mildly designated, was first publicly announced in the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, but was more fully elaborated and enforced by Calhoun in 1830 and 1833. Since that time it has been acknowledged as a fundamental principle in the creed of the Democratic party, and has been affirmed and reaffirmed in some form in nearly all its State and national platforms for the last thirty years.

That doctrine, as stated by Calhoun in 1833, is in substance this: “The Constitution of the United States is a compact to which the people of each State acceded as a separate and sovereign community; therefore it has an equal right to judge for itself as well of the infraction as of the mode and measure of redress.”

The same party identified itself with the interests of American slavery, and, lifting from it the great weight of odium which the fathers of the republic had laid upon it, became its champion and advocate. When the party of freedom had awakened the conscience of the nation, and had gained such strength as to show the Democracy that slavery was forever checked in its progress, and that its ultimate extinction by legislative authority was foredoomed, the Democratic leaders of the South joined in a mad conspiracy to save and perpetuate slavery by destroying the Union.

In the name of State Sovereignty they declared that secession was a constitutional right, and they resolved to enforce it by arms. They declared that, as the Constitution to which each State in its sovereign capacity acceded created no common judge to which a matter of difference could be referred, each State might also in its sovereign capacity secede from the compact, might dissolve the Union, might annihilate the republic. The Democracy of eleven slave States undertook the work. As far as possible, they severed every tie that bound them to the Union.

They withdrew their representatives from every department of the Federal government; they seized all the Federal property within the limits of their States; they abolished all the Federal courts and every other vestige of Federal authority within their reach; they changed all their State constitutions, transferring their allegiance to a government of their own creation, styled the “Confederate States of America”; they assumed sovereign power, and, gathering up every possible element of force, assailed the Union…

Garfield’s remarks on the causes of the Civil War were the mere introduction to his powerful assault on then-President Andrew Johnson, who had quickly revealed himself to be openly hostile to federal action to establish civil rights and a free society in the post-war South. For example, Johnson insisted that voting rights (for freed slaves and others) should be a matter determined by each state individually. He quickly provided amnesty for most southerners, except the wealthiest propertyholders. And he encouraged Congress to seat among its ranks former Confederate leaders, include former second-in-command Alexander Stephens. Garfield was one of the leading voices of outrage:

The Democratic party is composed of all who conspired to destroy the republic, and of all those who fought to make treason triumphant. It broke ten thousand oaths, and to its perjury added murder, starvation, and assassination.

It declared through its mouthpieces in Ohio, in 1861, that if the Union men of Ohio should ever attempt to enter a Southern State to suppress the Rebellion by arms, they must first pass over the dead bodies of two hundred thousand Ohio Democrats.

In the mid-fury of the struggle it declared the war a failure, and demanded a cessation of hostilities. In the Democratic party is enrolled every man who led a Rebel army or voluntarily carried a Rebel musket; every man who resisted the draft, who called the Union soldiers “Lincoln’s hirelings,” “negro worshippers,” or any other vile name. Booth, Wirz, Harold, and Payne were Democrats. Every Rebel guerilla and jayhawker, every man who ran to Canada to avoid the draft, every bounty-jumper, every deserter, every cowardly sneak that ran from danger and disgraced his flag, every man who loves slavery and hates liberty, every man who helped massacre loyal negroes at Fort Pillow, or loyal whites at New Orleans, every Knight of the Golden Circle, every incendiary who helped burn Northern steamboats and Northern hotels, and every villain, of whatever name or crime, who loves power more than justice, slavery more than freedom, is a Democrat and an indorser of Andrew Johnson.

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Williams & the Civil War: The Wrong Side, Part 3

One of a series of posts, as explained in “Williams & the Civil War: The Wrong Side – Introduction“:

At long last, 150 years after the Union prevailed “with a brave army, and a just cause” in the American Civil War, one of the most visible remaining markers of that conflict is on everyone’s lips and coming down…

Williams College, and most Ephs, reflect on the Civil War through a Union lens — correctly so, from both a moral and historical perspective… [s]o let’s use this occasion to learn more from and about Ephs on the subject of the Civil War and especially on the other side: the Confederacy.

Of course, there was no more important contemporaneous Eph observer of the Confederacy than James A. Garfield of the Class of 1856. Everyone associated with Williams College today knows about Garfield’s tragically brief presidency, but too few are educated in Garfield’s road to the White House and the importance of his Civil War and Reconstruction rhetoric and record in getting him there. Garfield’s short stint at Williams (he entered with advanced standing in September of 1854) helped fire his abolitionist passions. A state senator (the youngest) in his home state of Ohio at the time of secession, he used his legislative position to “declare[] it to be his unalterable determination to oppose the institution of slavery, or any compromise with it. It was a heinous national sin, and he would not condescend to negotiate with it.” As he wrote in a contemporaneous letter:

Peaceable dissolution is utterly impossible. Indeed I cannot say that I would wish it possible. To make the concessions demanded by the South would be hypocritical and sinful; they would neither be obeyed nor respected. I am inclined to believe that the sin of slavery is one of which it may be said that without the shedding of blood there is no remission.

Garfield had no doubt what the Civil War was about, and he was soon in command of regiment of Ohioans, who he led into an early battle to subdue the Big Sandy Valley, an area of Kentucky occupied by Southern troops, with support from many sympathetic locals. After military success, Garfield had his first opportunity to directly address those who had rebelled in support of slavery:

Citizens of Sandy Valley:

I have come among you to restore the honor of the Union, and to bring back the old banner which you once loved, but which, by the machinations of evil men, and by mutual misunderstanding, has been dishonored, among you. To those who are in arms against the Federal Government, I offer only the alternative of battle or unconditional surrender. But to those who have taken no part in this war, who are in no way aiding or abetting the enemies of this Union—even to those who hold sentiments averse to the Union, but will give no aid or comfort to its enemies—I offer the full protection of the government, both in their persons and property.

“Let those who have been seduced away from the love of their country to follow after, and aid the destroyers of our peace, lay down their arms, return to their homes, bear true allegiance to the Federal Government, and they shall also enjoy like protection.

After several campaigns and his ascendance to a generalship, Garfield returned to politics as a United States Representative from Ohio. His first speech in Congress carried forward the theme that, along with slavery, the philosophies, symbols, and other poisons of rebellion must be purged to make the nation whole again:

The war was announced by proclamation, and it must end by proclamation. We can hold the insurgent States in military
subjection half a century — if need be, until they are purged of their poison and stand up clean before the country.

They must come back with clean hands, if they come at all. I hope to see in all those States the men who fought and
suffered for the truth, tilling the fields on which they pitched their tents. I hope to see them, like old Kasper of
Blenheim, on the summer evenings, with their children upon their knees, and pointing out the spot where brave men fell and marble commemorates it…

Let no weak sentiments of misplaced sympathy deter us from inaugurating a measure which will cleanse our nation
and make it the fit home of freedom and a glorious manhood. Let us not despise the severe wisdom of our Revolutionary fathers, when they served their generation in a similar way. Let the republic drive from its soil the traitors that have conspired against its life, as God and His angels drove Satan and his host from Heaven. He was not too merciful to be just, and to hurl down in chains and everlasting darkness the ‘traitor angel’ who ‘first broke peace in Heaven,’ and rebeled against Him.

Speech in the House of Representatives, January 28, 1864.

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Williams & the Civil War: The Wrong Side, Part Two

One of a series of posts, as explained in “Williams & the Civil War: The Wrong Side – Introduction“:

At long last, 150 years after the Union prevailed “with a brave army, and a just cause” in the American Civil War, one of the most visible remaining markers of that conflict is on everyone’s lips and coming down…

Williams College, and most Ephs, reflect on the Civil War through a Union lens — correctly so, from both a moral and historical perspective… [s]o let’s use this occasion to learn more from and about Ephs on the subject of the Civil War and especially on the other side: the Confederacy.

Williams College produced three Ephs who ascended to the rank of General for the United States during the Civil War. James Garfield became President of the United States. But Williams also produced high-ranking officers who fought for the Confederacy. Two brothers, Joseph Lovell, Jr., and William F.S. Lovell, may be the most interesting of these men.

William and Joseph Lovell were two of the sons of Joseph Lovell, the 8th Surgeon General of the United States Army, and the first with the “Surgeon General” title:

Lovell was appointed Surgeon General to date from April 18, 1818, with Hospital Surgeons Tobias Watkins and James C. Bronaugh, assistants, one for each of the two divisions of the army. Apothecary General Le Barron was retained in his old position. Though only in his thirtieth year, his services in the hospitals on the northern frontier during the war and his appreciation of the needs of the service as evidenced by his reports made Lovell the logical choice for head of the service. Thus was established for the first time a permanent medical department organization. For the first time a career medical officer was made chief of the service. All of the former chiefs had been appointed to meet the emergency of war, real or expected, with an organization to serve the forces in the field. Again, for the first time was bestowed upon the service chief the title of surgeon general, which has survived to the present day.

Serving in the post for 18 years, Lovell founded its library, which today is the National Library of Medicine.

Son Joseph, Jr., entered Williams in 1840, where he spent only his freshman year. He moved on to Yale, graduating in 1844, then became a lawyer in New York State.

William entered Williams in 1845. He too lasted only one year at Williams, and soon thereafter entered the United States Navy as a midshipman, graduating from the Naval Academy in 1855.

In the 1850s, the brothers’ gazes turned south, towards Natchez, Mississippi. Through a third brother, Mansfield, a West Point graduate and the Streets Commissioner in New York City, the Lovells’ lives became entwined with that of General John Quitman, two-time governor of Mississippi. As a second lieutenant in the Mexican-American War, Mansfield served as an adjutant to Quitman, and they became close. This eventually brought Joseph, Jr. and William together with the Lovell family, and when General Quitman died in 1858, Joseph and William F.S. Lovell married two of his daughters. William resigned his commission in the Navy, and the brothers became cotton plantation-holders as partners.

Monmouth Plantation, Natchez, Mississippi - onetime home of Gen. John Quitman

Monmouth Plantation, Natchez, Mississippi – onetime home of Gen. John Quitman

Not surprisingly, when the Civil War broke out, both brothers entered Confederate service — as did Mansfield, who was named the Confederate general in command of New Orleans. Joseph, Jr. joined his staff as a General. William F.S. Lovell became a lower-ranking officer in the Confederate Army, where he rose from Captain of Artillery to Lieutenant Colonel of Ordnance, and ultimately to Assistant Inspector-General.

As an ordnance colonel, William put his naval training to use, taking command of a 200-foot sidewheel river liner, the William H. Webb, and two smaller vessels, and fought them in naval action on the Red River. William was later captured at the battle of Vicksburg, paroled, and then dispatched by the Confederacy on a mission to England, where he remained from 1864 until the end of the war.

The Lovell brothers were not forgotten to Eph history. They merited a footnote in it, or, more precisely, in. Leverett Wilson Spring’s “A History of Williams College,” which notes that “eight non-graduates entered the Confederate army.” And they appear in the Catalogue of Non-Graduates. But otherwise, they have been forgotten. And perhaps that is as it should be, except as an instructional to heed David’s advice: “Marry an Eph.” If the Williams of the 1840s had been coed, and the Lovell brothers had done so, maybe they wouldn’t have ended up on the wrong side of the Civil War.

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Williams & the Civil War: The Wrong Side, Part One

One of a series of posts, as explained in “Williams & the Civl War: The Wrong Side – Introduction“:

At long last, 150 years after the Union prevailed “with a brave army, and a just cause” in the American Civil War, one of the most visible remaining markers of that conflict is on everyone’s lips and coming down…

Williams College, and most Ephs, reflect on the Civil War through a Union lens — correctly so, from both a moral and historical perspective… [s]o let’s use this occasion to learn more from and about Ephs on the subject of the Civil War and especially on the other side: the Confederacy.

When it was published, EphBlog took note of William Lowndes Yancey and the Coming of the Civil War, Eric Walther’s biography of Yancey, the first published since 1892.

Yancey entered Williams College as a member of the class of 1830, but did not graduate. As a lawyer and a congressman, Yancey was a powerful orator for the cause of rebellion and secession. His

“sweet” and “musical” voice was one of the secessionists’ greatest tools. One auditor said of Yancey’s speeches that they were “seasoned with the salt of argument, the vinegar of sarcasm, the pepper of wit, and the genuine champagne of eloquence.”

As a Confederate senator, he took a leading role in the legislative debates of the Confederacy, and eventually became known as a potential rival to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. And when he died of a kidney infection in 1863, shortly after the Union triumphs at Gettysburg and Vicksburg turned the tide towards the United States’s ultimate victory, the New York Herald reveled in the death of the “arch plotter of this terrible Southern rebellion,” and Harper’s Weekly editorialized that he was “the most virulent, but not one of the most able of the traitors who have conspired for the ruin of our country.”

At the time of EphBlog’s prior coverage, the EphBlog budget didn’t support buying a copy of his biography, and so we were left wondering:

Does anyone know if Yancey’s time at Williams is described in any detail? He was apparently a member of the class of 1833, but only stayed at Williams one year and never graduated… If there were a lot of material on Williams in this book, I (and other EphBlog readers) might buy a copy.

We need wonder no longer — it is! And it’s not quite a story of a one-year dropout whose principal experience was being in disciplinary hot water, as suggested by the post and by Guy Creese ’75, drawing on Professor Fred Rudolph’s work.

Based on research in the Williamsiana collection and other primary sources, Walther reveals that Yancey survived multiple disciplinary episodes, was readmitted following an expulsion, and left Williams after completing his studies in the spring of 1833, just six weeks shy of graduation.

Yancey's law office in Montgomery, Alabama.  "Yancey Law Office 02" by Spyder_Monkey - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Yancey’s law office in Montgomery, Alabama. “Yancey Law Office 02” by Spyder_MonkeyOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

As Walther recounts, Yancey’s road to Williams began with his stepfather, the Reverend Nathan Sydney Smith Beman, a one-year attendee (in 1803) of young Williams College, who soon withdrew in favor of Middlebury, where he financed his education with “odd jobs.”

Beman directed Yancey’s education, first in Chittenango, New York, then in Troy, then at the Brick Academy in Bennington, and ultimately, at the Lenox Academy, which led to Yancey’s arrival at Williams. As Walther explains, his tour of schools likely stemmed not from financial difficulties, but:

from William’s already troublesome personality. His aunt Louisa Cunningham once warned his brother, Ben, “Don’t you be led away by William’s wild notions, who could never rest satisfied in one place 2 months at a time.”

So it is hardly surprising that Yancey lasted less than a year at Williams. As Walther notes, however, a short stay in college in 1830 meant a lot more than it would today:

[I]n an era when even the shortest attendance in a college was exceptional, it promised to expand and to challenge his mind, to allow him to mix with other young men of great ambition and a sense of self-importance… [so] in the fall of 1830, Yancey entered Williams College

On its surface, Williamstown, in northwestern Massachusetts, a village of slightly more than 2,000 people where pigs and cows roamed the streets, offered little to excite new students… [but] the College [] enjoyed vigor and growth after some lean years in the 1810s and the students Yancey encountered exhibited seriousness and energy… [d]uring Yancey’s first year, the legendary professor Mark Hopkins began his career there.

President Griffin had a direct and powerful influence on young Yancey, but never proved a satisfactory mentor or father figure. In fact, Griffin was a close friend of Reverend Beman’s and a prominent evangelist in his own right. Religious intensity ran high… and included several revivals in Williamstown led by Beman at Griffin’s invitation. Williams, like most colleges at the time — even state-sponsored ones — mandated morning and evening prayer services. The campus also had two temperance societies and was home to the Williams Anti-Slavery Society, among the first antislavery organizations in the state. And Professor Griffin himself — like Beman — combined religion and anti-slavery.

Walther clearly suggests that Yancey’s political shaping was in part a rebellion against this alliance of stepfather and college president. And it began to play out while Yancey was at Williams.

His interest in public speaking drew him to Williams’s Philotechnian Society, a group that met for debate and oratory on philosophical, religious, and political issues of the day [where] he had an immediate impact on his peers… the society’s secretary commented on the unusual spirit of [his] first meeting… Regular classroom work proved too passive and its rules ridiculous. For Yancey, oratory quickly seemed the way to attention, camaraderie, distinction, even power and triumph…

A milestone occurred for Yancey in the fall of 1832 when the Philologicians sponsored a debate on the question “Would the Election of General Jackson tend to Destroy the Union?” Yancey argued the negative, likely in part because of his stepfather’s opposite views. Although Yancey lost this campus debate, his efforts captured the attention of local Democrats, [who] asked him to stump for Ebenezer Emmons, a Williams College professor and candidate for the state legislature… Emmons won [and] the experience proved exhilarating for Yancey.

Yancey also worked as an editor on the Adelphi, a biweekly newspaper in which, in contrast to his future role as a secessionist, Yancey laid out strong nationalist views:

As the dispute grew over tariffs and sovereignty between President Jackson and South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun, [Yancey] clearly favored a strong nationalist position [as did] his most vehement political editorial, [which] also concerned the relationship between state and federal powers. In 1828, Governor George M. Troup began a survey of Creek Indian lands in Georgia for redistribution to whites… The administration of John Quincy Adams had objected that the matter lay under federal, not state, jurisdiction. Troup threatened armed confrontation, citing state sovereignty, and when [in 1832 the redistribution proceeded], Yancey bristled at this defiance of federal authority and power. “It will be the duty of the Marshal of the United States for that district to summon to his aid a posse comitatus, and of the President of the United States… to place the Army and militia of the United States at the service of civil authority,” the young editor demanded.

What of Yancey’s failure to graduate? Walther has little light to shed:

The final year Yancey spent at Williams began auspiciously but ended prematurely and a bit mysteriously. Named Senior Orator by his class and First Orator by the Adelphic Union, Yancey had obviously established himself as the leading student speaker… He finished his coursework six weeks prior to commencement and qualified for a degree, but did not stay to take it and never returned for it. This was not terribly unusual… the sixty-two colleges in the United States in 1832 produced only 670 graduates. Contemporaries drew very different explanations for Yancey’s failure to graduate. His uncle [] blamed it on Beman. Beman’s biographer claimed that family financial burdens [led to Yancey’s withdrawal]… Another explanation had credibility mostly because of Yancey’s character and conduct later in life. Years later, after he began to gain a national reputation for violence, two newspapers [in Boston and Troy] ran a story asserting that Yancey’s premature departure from college resulted from disciplinary action.

But Walther discounts this last story — involving the tossing of a pickle barrel into a church window — because it resembles too closely the 1831 incident (for which Yancey was disciplined) for tossing a cask of water into a Methodist church meeting.

Walther’s discussion of Yancey’s time at Williams concludes by stating that “[a]fter his return south, Yancey extolled both the College and the town as superior to Harvard and Yale” (just as is true today), and assessing Beman as a greater influence on Yancey’s views and oration than that of Rev. Griffin.

Walther’s account repeatedly returns to the power of Yancey’s oratory and how it propelled him to leadership in the secessionist movement, and ultimately, the United States into a Civil War. From the Adelphic Union of Yancey’s day to the Debate Union of today, public speaking has long been recognized as an instrumental part of the liberal-arts experience, but the silver tongue of a persuasive leader can be a double-edged sword.

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Williams & the Civil War: The Wrong Side – A Series Introduction

The 35-star American flag, following entry of West Virginia into the Union in 1863

The 35-star American flag, following entry of West Virginia into the Union in 1863

At long last, 150 years after the Union prevailed “with a brave army, and a just cause” in the American Civil War, one of the most visible remaining markers of that conflict is on everyone’s lips and coming down.

Williams College, and most Ephs, reflect on the Civil War through a Union lens — correctly so, from both a moral and historical perspective. As Leverett Wilson Spring described, “[t]here was no hesitation or uncertainty in the response of Williams men to the calls of patriotism” during the Civil War, and 317 Ephs (from the classes of 1825 to 1870) fought for the Union. 3 of these Ephs reached the rank of General for the U.S. Army. And these brave men, living and dead, were and are honored by the Civil War Monument in front of Griffin Hall.

But that doesn’t mean that Ephs have nothing to say about the rebellious Confederacy. EphBlog has previously noted William Lowndes Yancey, a one-year member of the Class of 1833, who became a leading secessionist, and he was not alone. In the early 20th century, distinguished historian and Williams faculty fixture Theodore Clarke Smith authored the excellent “Parties and Slavery, 1850-1859″ as part of the 27-volume “The American Nation: A History,” assembled by Harvard Professor Albert Bushnell Hart, “The Grand Old Man” of American History as a discipline. More recently, led by Charles Dew ’58, the Ephraim Williams Professor of History, students and faculty in the Purple Valley have contributed greatly in their research to our knowledge of the South before, during, and after the Civil War.

So let’s use this occasion to learn more from and about Ephs on the subject of the Civil War and especially on the other side: the Confederacy. To forget the Confederacy is to forget an important part of our history as Americans, at the cost of misunderstanding our country today. As William Bennett ’65 has explained:

In the period right after the Civil War, the historian Shelby Foote reminds us, Americans ceased to speak of their country in the plural (“the United States are . . . “) and began to speak of it in the singular (“the United States is . . . “). The reason was plain: Like no other event in our history, the Civil War had brought home to every American the cost of irreconcilable division; from then on, we would speak of ourselves, and think of ourselves, as one. Curiously enough, however, it was in those same years that homegrown anti-American sentiments also began to manifest themselves with force and articulateness.

But there is nothing “curious” about this. The Civil War was fought not only to abolish slavery, but to keep the Union together. That is, to keep as Americans, not only the soon-to-be freed slaves, but their former captors. This assuredly shapes our present relationship with our country.

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Satullo ’75 on the “City of Brotherly Love”

 The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia is an interesting project to produce an online/offline pairing of resources chronicling the many facets of one of America’s oldest cities. Through “lively and informed essays, original maps, and new research on topics of current interest,” the project’s goal is to “create a legacy of understanding for generations to come.”

Chris Satullo ’75, the former editorial page editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer and now a key figure at public broadcaster WHYY, is the latest contributor to this project, weighing in with an interesting essay on the city’s name as “a long duel between destiny and irony”:

We can’t know all the thoughts that coursed through William Penn’s mind when he chose Philadelphia as the name for his new city, tucked onto the peninsula between the Delaware River and the Schuylkill.

What we do know is that he chose boldly, aiming for the vault of heaven, daring irony to strike.

Brotherly love does not imply the absence of conflict. Have you ever seen young brothers together? Their bond, strong as cement though it might be, gets expressed often as not through competing, jousting, gibes and dares… [and] [l]ike the nation that chose this city (and not by accident) as the spot to declare, then define, itself, Philadelphia has struggled to define brother. Who is inside the circle, who not?

If you’ve lived in Philadelphia or visited the city and pondered the name “Philadelphia,” read the whole thing.

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Nothing and everything

If you stand for nothing and everything, eventually you’ll end up with nothing. Allied Air Power leads in Libya.

The time has come, in short, for the Arab regimes to demonstrate regionally and internationally the will and courage to act demonstrated by many of their own citizens domestically. Otherwise, they run the risk, in what is supposed to be a transforming Middle East, that when the last Libyan rebel lies bleeding in the desert, the boot of a pro-Gaddafi thug upon his neck, his last gasp will be: “Where are the Arabs?”

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Military Power and US Democracy

Originally published in El Pais, 7/18/10

American culture is saturated with military imagery, language, memory and fantasy. The American version of militarism did not originate in the two World Wars or the Cold War, but at the origins of the Republic. Many of the men who led the armed revolt against Great Britain had served her in the war against France that preceded the revolution. The revolt was an incident, if a very large one, in the European conquest of the continent—which required permanent warfare. The new republic made it clear that its army would rule the continent, and its navy was from the beginning charged with a global mission. North American history joins economic and social development with the systematic growth of the most modern military capacities—from our first ship, the USS Constitution (still, symbolically, in active service) to the newest drones. The armed forces were continuously recruited from a changing society, and altered their ethnic, racial and social composition as the nation grew. What also increased was war’s centrality in national myth and political reality. Read more

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An Historian in History, continued

Part II of a remembrance of Tony Judt by Norman Birnbaum ’46. Part I is here.

To that discussion, Professor Judt contributed quite apart from his books and role in the projects and programs of his university, by joining colleagues in editing volumes on some of the central themes of contemporary historiography: language and identity politics, post-war retribution in Europe amongst these. He has also been a prominent, one could almost say omnipresent contributor to those symposium collections which  frequently mark the advance (and just as frequently and just as instructively, the puzzlement) of contemporary thought before problems like the Mideast crisis and Zionism, the past, present and future of the left, the new dimensions of European consciousness and European reality.  Professor Judt worked in these settings with scholars in the humanities, social scientists from the more systematic disciplines (or those like the study of politics and sociology which thought of themselves in this way, sometimes  with entirely too much self-aggrandisement.) His own method might be termed weighted narrative, weighted with a great deal of knowledge, and shaped in the last analysis by the open acknowledgement that historical judgements are just that, judgements which require the moral engagement of the scholar.

In  the book that followed Past Imperfect, his study of three French figures,  the political commentator and scholar Raymond Aron, the Socialist leader and major political figure, Leon Blum, and the essayist and novelist Albert Camus, these three disparate spirits are connected by their own assumption of  responsibility for judgements which often contravened the reigning assumptions of their contemporaries, not least of their allies and friends., That is why, presumably, Professor Judt entitled the book, The Burden of Responsibility. Interestingly, the sub-title did not list the protagonists alphabetically, but put Blum first, followed with the novelist and gave Aron (a fellow scholar) the third place. Blum’s break with the constrictions and dogmas of the pre-war Socialist party, his steadfastness in the face of the implacable hatred of the French right, his courage at the Vichy show trial of  leaders of the Third Republic, made him in Judt’s view unique amongst French politicians. Camus impressed his chronicler for his insistence on the sense of place, rootedness, as an end of politics and not as an unreflective and often exclusionary assumption. Aron (Professor Judt had he written the book later might have included Francois Furet) earned his place not only for the range and specificity of his historical knowledge, but for his sense of historical limits, his capacity to imagine the dilemmas of politicians acting in real time and not the imaginary universe of the Parisian scholastics of the left. Read more

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An Historian in History: In Memory of Tony Judt

Originally delivered as the prize oration for Prof. Judt’s Remarque Prize award in 2007 from the city of Osnabrueck.

Tony Judt was born in London in 1948, on the edge of the legendary East End. It was the place described by Dickens in his portrayals of the misery of the nineteenth century proletariat. Later it was the London equivalent of New York’s lower east side or Berlin’s Scheunenviertel or the Parisian area around the Rue de Rosieres: the eastern European ghetto transplanted to the west as the Ashkenazim sought lives free of economic misery, social persecution and civic disenfranchisement. Dr. Judt’s father came indeed from the Ukraine and arrived in the UK after a passage through Belgium.

When Dr. Judt was growing up, Britain was marked by three things. One was its post-imperial exhaustion, its obvious loss of power and wealth. There was even a discernible tone not of sorrow but of resentment—at the Americans, at the continental Europeans who were recovering so visibly from economic distress, at a world which regarded the British lion as somewhat mangy and toothless,. and in no case a frightening or impressive creature. Per contra, another development was for a great majority positive: the extension and institutionalization of the prewar elements of a welfare state, achieved by Labour in its two post-war governments., That was Britain’s considerable contribution to the development of the European social model. It included a considerable broadening of the basis of access to higher education, and so made possible a British version of the carriere ouvert aux talents. Dr. Judt himself attended a good local grammar school, in German terms an ordinary Gymnasium, and then won a place at the very pinnacle of the British university system, not only as an undergraduate at Cambridge but at King’s College, jewel in the Cantabridgian academic crown. The third aspect of the national setting of Dr. Judt’s youth was Britain’s early choice of the American alliance over a European vocation—until in the sixties it occurred to successive governments that, with whatever regrets, they had to take geography into account and that the British isles were in fact situated not where Iceland can still be found but some few kilometers from France. Still, it is accurate to say that des[pite this insight, Britain stumbled hesitantly into its membership of what was then the Common Market rather than marching resolutely into it. Resolution was reserved for the President of France, who did not want an American satellite state in his Europe and so for a time blocked British entry.

That sketches the general canvas, but on this Dr. Judt applied some more personal touches. He was, early, a Zionist and visited Israel in the late sixties and after the 1967 war to work on a Kibbutz. This was the period in which the social democratic aspects of the Israel political persona were more salient than they are today, when Israel could still be depicted as an experiment in democracy, when the many conflicts within Israel were rather less visible than they are now (between secular pluralism and dogmatic orthodoxy, between democracy and ethnicity, between pervasive militarization and the development of a civil society) Dr. Judt’s later pessimism about Israel’s future (shared by no small number of Israelis and many reflective Diaspora Jews) is not, then, a matter of remoteness from the Jewish state but is connected to first hand experience of it. Read more

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Postscript to “The Economic Crisis”

This article was written in July and this postscript early in September. The apparent decline in the President’s political strength and that of the Democrats continues. I say “apparent” because the impression rests on fluctuating opinion polling data, and the shallow reporting of journalists without independence of judgement or an historical culture. Half the electorate still thinks well of the President, but the Congress and the political parties (as we approach November elections) have the approval of fewer than half the citizenry. Since electoral participation in the absence of a Presidential contest is usually low (forty percent would be high), presumably only the most motivated will cast their ballots for the entire House of Representatives, a third of the Senate, and some critical governorships.

It is the consensus view that the most motivated voters are now those disappointed with, or angrily opposed to, the President. Voter alienation extends to the conventional, sometimes described as “moderate,” Republicans as well. A number of prominent candidates for the Senate or Governorships, some of the Congressional candidates as well, seek radical reductions in the scope of government, even the abolition of Medicare or privatization of Social Security, an end to the Federal role in education, and an intensification of our endemic cultural wars. They propose to eliminate or reduce the power of the courts and government to protect the rights of women and homosexuals, to allow prayer and religious instruction in public schools, to allow local communities to ban the teaching of a critical, progressive and secular view of American history. The Republican Senatorial candidate in Missouri has expressed  opposition to the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which inter alia ended slavery. The group which now controls a large part of the Republican Party is explicitly xenophobic and seeks to deport the illegal immigrants (perhaps eleven million by now.) It rounds off its program by calling for severe restrictions on medical and scientific research.

The Republican right joins the other Republicans in proposing as a remedy for unemployment lower taxes and of course, lower government spending (the military budget usually excepted). That at least a third of the nation subscribes, sometimes viscerally and in any event without a sense of complexity or the burdens of doubt, to the entire complex of views I have described is certain. That another third, or close to it, has opposite views, adheres to what remains of the New Deal tradition of social reform and reliance on government, is equally certain. Why has this third of the nation and its beliefs  sunk below the political horizon, and why does it exercise so little influence on the President, the more so as it constitutes his core electorate and that of many of his closest allies in the House and Senate? Read more

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The Economic Crisis

US Progressivism And The Obama Presidency

One project of contemporary historians serves our understanding of both past and present rather well—an examination of the content and uses of memory in modern societies. Were a distinguished scholar like Pierre Nora to attempt an American version of his very substantial work on France, Les Lieux de Memoire, he would have to deal with several major difficulties. As time moves on, historical memories in the United States are increasingly fragmented. They are strongest where local, or the property of specific groups seeking to legitimize claims to attention, reparation, reward.  They are weakest, or in any event most contested, when they portray our common past. One of the more disconcerting experiences  of many university teachers in the social sciences  is to learn that large numbers of students do not have very clear notions of what grand-parents or great-grandparents or antecedent generations experienced.. Their ignorance or lack of clarity is especially pronounced when they are beneficiaries of upward mobility over several generations—as if their families’ struggles against deprivation, poverty or limited income and wealth were embarrasments  or encumbrances, to be kept at a distance..

Moreover, some segments of the secondary school sector excepted, there is a considerable discrepancy between what our academic historians publish and what finds its way into school texts. To some degree, this is the result of ideological policing by vigilantes. One major consequence of this entire complex of causes is acute discontinuity in political memory.. In particular, the groups once bearers of an inter-generational progressive consciousness float, increasingly, in historical space: they lack the intellectual means to locate themselves in American society as it has changed over recent generations. They are prey, therefore, to the serial deformations and untruths propagated systematically by the antagonists of the progressive tradition—and lack the inner  resources to draw upon the alternative world views which are still available in our nation, but which often are stored or confined in places difficult of access.     .

I designate as progressivism the US equivalent of European social democracy. I do so for historical reasons. The term emerged at the beginning of the last century to express the self identification of leaders, movements, thinkers who sought to substitute for the brutality of American industrial capitalism a considerable amount of regulation, and the provision of public goods. Progressivism drew upon Social Catholicism and Social Protestantism, upon large borrowings from European socialist ideas, brought to the US by immigrants, upon American traditions of social reform going back to the Abolitionist movement, upon even older residues of American politics having to do with local self-governance and extreme distrust of economic and political elites. The term progressive reminds us of the self-identification of the United States as a vanguard nation, engaged in the unfinished task of enlarging the autonomy of its citizens. Progressivism joined in a coalition, not without its internal contradictions, Christians and secularists, farmers and workers, older Americans and newer immigrants, often led by what the historian Richard Hofstadter termed “men of the Word,” the educated, distrustful of the culture and power of money.

The political history of the twentieth century, and indeed of the first decade of the present one, is the story of the life, and at times near death, of these ideas and their transformation under Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Projects as diverse as the first Roosevelt’s  New Nationalism, Wilson’s New Freedom, the second Roosevelt’s New Deal, Truman’s Fair Deal, Kennedy’s New Frontier, and Johnson’s  Great Society drew upon progressivism for moral continuity. Carter’s and Clinton’s Democratic Presidencies are understandable as  compromises with the considerable resistance the tradition of progressive reform engendered—especially when its beneficiaries had acquired, thanks to the reforms, the sense of having become shareholders in the established order. Read more

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Manhattan, the mosque, the star and the cross

Originally published in El Pais (20 August 2010)

Moments of calm in my native city, New York, are rare. The police had to separate opposing groups of demonstrators at the site of the planned construction of an Islamic community center, to be named the Cordoba center. It is two long blocks away from the World Trade Center, but for enraged defenders of the sacredness of the memory of the attack of 11 September 2001, two miles would be too near. The matter is hardly of primary importance to most citizens, beset as they are with unemployment and the threat of it—but an American majority declares that it wishes the center elsewhere. That may well mean, nowhere. Now the CIA has discovered a threat from Al Queda in the Yemen, requiring yet another enlargement of the war against Islam in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia. The bitter controversy on the Islamic Center in New York is reinforced by our national capacity to find enemies everywhere. (When will an itinerant American call attention to the dangers implicit in the cuisine at El Caballo Rojo in Cordoba?.)

The degredation of our national intellectual standards continues. The latest issue of the august journal, Foreign Affairs, gives space to two writers hostile to Islam whose common trait is their ignorance of it. There is method to their madness: we are experiencing a determined campaign by a segment of our imperial elite for war on Iran. Europeans may be bewildered. Have they not been told (by official and unofficial voices for the US) that we are a model of multi-culturalism, of the integration of diverse streams of immigration into a national consensus?

Actually, it is only since 1964 that Afro-Americans could exercise in the south rights to vote nominally theirs for a century. Until a strenuous legal campaign by American Jewry after 1945 (aided by guilt over our informal Nuernberg laws) Jews were often denied the rights to buy property in many places,employment, and university places. US citizens of Japanese ancestry were put into concentration camps in 1942 and the courts refused them legal redress. Women obtained the vote in 1919, but the southern states (clearly anxious lest the loss of male supremacy undermine white supremacy) did their best to block the process. A series of Chinese Exclusion Acts barred citizenship for Chinese immigrants from 1882 until 1943.

The earliest American film classic, Birth Of A Nation (1915) celebrated the resistance to the granting of civil rights to former slaves by the south—by the hooded figures of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan with time nationalized itself, and in 1925 had three million members spread across the country—with the capacity to elect Congressmen, Senators, Governors. It was virulently anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic as well as against rights for Afro-Americans. When the reformist Governor of New York, Al Smith, son of Irish immigrants, ran for President in 1928 he was humiliatingly defeated. John Kennedy remains our only Roman Catholic President—and presented himself not as a Catholic but as a Harvard patrician and war hero.

The nineteenth and early twentieth century immigration of millions of Irish, Italian, Slavic Catholics, of Orthodox Armenians and Greeks, met bitter prejudice and sometimes violence. It took considerable time before the immigrants and their descendants united in defense of their rights to economic opportunity and civic equality—in the trade union movement and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Those persecuted often responded not with solidarity with other disfavoured groups but with anger at those even more scorned than themselves. Troops from the victorious northern army at Gettysburg had to come to New York in 1863 to stop rioting by the impoverished Irish immigrants against blacks. Those who have seen the TV series, the Sopranos, are aware that US citizens of Italian descent are not invariably depicted as spiritual descendants of Dante. For whatever reason, xenophobic contemporary campaigns against immigrants are sometimes led by Americans of Italian descent.

The most morally brutal figures in US politics, former Governor Palin and former Speaker of the House Gingrich, are amongst those loudly denouncing the project for the Islamic center in Manhattan. Palin may actually believe what she says, Gingrich is totally cynical. To these can be added any number of supporters of Israel, for whom any conflict with Islam is useful. Then there is the old Iraq war party grouped around Cheney. The Fundamentalist Protestants for whom any crusade against others is theologically justified are part of this miserable procession. An intelligent segment of our imperial elite protests that one cannot win support from Islamic populations in their homelands when treating the Islamic immigrants to the US with contempt. The argument would be effective, if our Darwinian culture did not privilege the deepest strains of hatred in our national psyche.

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Do you have the old map?

I’m looking for a Baxter-era map of Williams. The current campus map has the pesky addition of the north and south academic buildings, plus the switching of Paresky for Baxter. It doesn’t matter to me whether the map has the new theater or not. Does anyone have one? I will post the fruits of my labors on EphBlog after I am done with my project.

Thanks,
Diana

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Casino in Gettysburg?

The thing I love most about Williams Alums is their willingness to discuss almost anything connected to our general nerdiness. Now that I’ve left the purple bubble, it’s harder to find someone to casually chat up the recession with, discuss the new Civil War book I’m reading (A Republic of Suffering by Drew Faust), or argue about a casino that’s proposed to be built in Gettysburg, PA.

If it wasn’t obvious at this point, I was a political-science major at Williams and I spent my senior fall/winter study writing an independent thesis on Lincoln. Needless to say, I’m a huge American History nerd. I just read about this casino tonight, and immediately shot out a few links to friends and family.

While I think all Americans agree that new sources of jobs are desperately needed, I’m not sure a quick buck is worth defiling the grounds around Gettysburg. The ghost tours already annoy me, but one of my favorite things about this country is our desire and drive to preserve our national history. From the Lincoln-Herndon law offices in Springfield, to Antietam, to Mount Vernon– we are free to enjoy our national treasurers. (And literally free, too, I don’t recall paying to enter Lincoln’s home in Springfield.)

If you agree (or disagree!) feel free to make your thoughts known here and tell other Williams Alums (or those of similar nerdiness standing) about the issue.

(I attempted to google “pro-casino gettysburg” but couldn’t find a centralized website for that perspective)

Ok, extremely geeky first post… accomplished.

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Your next home base in the Purple Valley?

Photo by Flickr user girl_named_fred

Do you recognize these accommodations? For decades, the Wigwam Cottages and associated gift shop have sat astride Route 2, high above its famous Hairpin Turn and featuring a terrific view of North Adams, Williamstown, Pine Cobble, and the Taconics. Although most Williams students and alumni have probably driven past dozens of times, I’d wager few have ever been inside the gift shop, let alone one of the cottages. (Although I have).

For the last couple of years, however, the Wigwam has been closed. But good news is on the horizon: the site has been bought and will be refurbished — by Berkshire business mogul Nancy Fitzpatrick, owner of Stockbridge’s luxurious Red Lion Inn and MassMOCA’s Porches Inn.

On Monday, a blog post at the Porches announced:

Phew! No more keeping it a secret! We have a fun new project to share with you all – The Wigwam Cabins, located along the Mohawk Trail in North Adams, just 5 miles from Porches. These 1930s gems are ours to lovingly restore, and we can’t WAIT to get going on it!

The Transcript has more details:

Read more

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“Live-Blogging” Game 5 of the 1976 ALCS. Yankees v. Royals

I really wasn’t going to do another one of these.

Simply really. The last one got a lot of positive feedback and, frankly, in a lot of ways, I’ve moved away from baseball (and most other professional sports) to soccer and college athletics, so why not quit while I was ahead? But the death of George Steinbrenner has made me want to “live blog” this particular game: Game 5 of the 1976 American League Championship Series between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees, October 14, 1976. For George, this was his first real triumph as Yankees owner: the first time the Yankees had been to post season in twelve years. For me, it was a watershed game. This was the first Royals team I followed avidly, and the amount of civic pride in their accomplishment was just insane. This particular game started my life lessons that, no matter how much a nine year old wants to believe, sometimes his heroes don’t win. And so, off we go to a chilly October night in the Bronx….

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Victory Day (Moscow; Medvedev)

Quick take-away from President Medvedev’s remarks:

“What is important: our moral responsibility before future generations.”

“Our western partners are pretty good at making movies. That doesn’t mean they tell the truth.”

Q: “Why do the defeated, live in better conditions that the victors?”
“During the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet Union achieved the most important goal, it defeated a very strong enemy, it destroyed it, and created the conditions for Europe’s free development. It paid a huge price for that, at the same time helping all the people of greater Europe.”
“After that, the Soviet Union took its own path. I do not believe that the economic system and the political system that we had after the war, were appropriate for regular development. hence the difference in living standards and the ways people feel.”
“Yes it hurts, and all of us have had these feelings, especially when we went abroad for the first time.”
“We were aware of the price we paid for Europe’s freedom, for Europe’s well-being, for Europe’s material abundance, but we did not have a definitive answer as to why what we had was different.”

“Had the Soviet Union been more competitive and more modern, everything could have been different, and we could have avoided those traumatic events of the late 1980s, which led to its disintegration.”

(I’ll stop there and go to look for Chancellor Merkel’s comments and/or reactions).

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The Battle of Wanat

Greg Jaffe ’91 has won a Gerald R. Ford Prize in Journalism for his reporting on the Battle of Wanat.

Read Jaffe’s excellent reporting on this battle:

‘Almost a Lost Cause’

‘They Feel Like Outsiders and They Don’t Want to Be’

Not ‘Just Another Casualty’

(thanks to esoskin for the link)

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History Through Film

Some time ago I mentioned a couple of classes that I am teaching that drew interest from some readers here at Ephblog. One of these classes is “American History Since 1945 Through Film,” which I am offering in our truncated Maymester term. Generally speaking I know Maymester (and summer classes generally) can be of limited utility, especially for history classes where reading and writing is so central. But when I have taught Maymester classes rather than adapt one of my regular courses, I have designed classes specific to the format — four hours of class four days a week for three weeks.

A history through film class fits especially well into this format. My plan is going to be to lecture for a half hour to an hour at the beginning of each class to provide the historical context. Then we will watch the film. Then after a quick break we will discuss the film within its historical context, trying to draw out both the historical questions being raised as well considering the film on its own terms as a movie. Here is a snapshot of what the class will look like: Read more

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Why Not Give Them Hell?

(to be published Tribune, UK) April 2010

The decline in American industry has been compensated, in a way, by the rise in the export of services. Surely, one of the most egregious of these has been the vending of electoral counsel by our political consultants. Along with its bastard sibling, lobbying, in Washington and the state capitals, political consultancy is a recession-proof source of income, if not always of status. Consultancy often approximates the dignity and cultural weight usually attached to piano playing in brothels . In the current British campaign, I gather that the parties are using native talents—such as they are.

One person (not a professional consultant but with a certain experience of electoral politics) who could have helped Gordon Brown and our Labour comrades is, alas, long dead. His name is Harry Truman, he was a New Deal Senator from Missouri, a strong ally of the labor movement, Franklin Roosevelt’s Vice-President from January to April of 1945, and then President. When he sought election on his own account, in 1948, he was regarded as defeated before he started. Read more

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Historical Limits

Dear Chancellor, (Published (German and English) Handelsblatt, 12 April 2010)

When you visit, I hope we may be spared the usual pieties about the values which unite us, assurances that we stand together against named and nameless enemies, pledges of cooperation in matters economic and environmental. Certainly, America’s Jewish leaders, shocked by Obama’s even handedness in the Holy Land, will expect you to treat Israel as if it were a state of the Federal Republic. As a friend, perhaps you could ask them to rethink their increasingly primitive ethnocentrism. Indeed, you could exchange the dreary rituals of Transatlantic friendship for its substance. Do us the honor of supposing that we are adult enough to tolerate difference.

Your Presidential host, despite achieving health care legislation which might bring the US into the middle of the twentieth century, confronts a divided nation. The hatred and violence welling up from the bottom reflects not the country you imagined from the other side of the Wall, but a society which, politically, cannot master its social conflicts. We can hardly unite with the Europeans in defense of freedom when we do not agree on what it means. There is something absurd, even spectral, in the platitudes of the Transatlantic experts who people the research centers in Berlin, Brussels and Washington.— they seem to be circling the earth in a spaceship.

We urgently need to begin an exit from empire. Read more

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End of an era

David Kaiser writes about the retirement of John Paul Stevens:

The retirement of John Paul Stevens marks the passing of the last truly influential member of the GI generation from our national life. There are still four GIs in the Senate (Robert Byrd, Frank Lautenberg, Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka), but none is playing a very prominent role in events. His retirement also reminds us of the passing of two important and related elements in American life: the centrist, responsible Republican Party, which has been dying since the day on which he was appointed to the Supreme Court by Gerald Ford, and the much-lamented, much-misunderstood consensus era of American politics of which it was a part.

Continue reading

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The President’s Struggle To Take Command

The conflict between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu is in fact a struggle by the President to take command of his own government. The egregious Israel Prime Minister, the cynical Israel political class are not his primary antagonists. These are in the US, where parts of the foreign policy apparatus, the Congress, the media believe or claim to believe that the interests of the US and Israel are identical The President has now sided with the diplomats, military commanders, foreign policy thinkers who for decades have sought, at risk to their careers, a Mideast policy which takes Palestinian rights seriously.as a precondition of an alternative US role in the region and the Muslim world.

The antagonists confronting the President are by no means exclusively or primarily Jewish. The President knows of the deep divisions within American Jewry .Many liberal and secular (and younger) American Jews reject the unthinking attachment to Israel of the leaders of most American Jewish organizations. The President’s Jewish supporters identify themselves with the US . They are quite aware of the paradox of contemporary Zionism. So far from serving as a spiritual home and potential refuge for the Diaspora, Israel is dependent upon the Diaspora for political support—and many of its own citizens, with dual passports, are already part of the Diaspora. .

What has made the Israel lobby so strong in the US is its connection with major themes of American history. A Calvinist reading of Exodus as anticipation of the white conquest of North America made honorary Yankees of the Israelis. American guilt over inactivity during the Holocaust has been sedulously exploited by Israel. The Jewish state has been, since the nineteen sixties, a Cold War ally and asset of American power. The campaign against “terror,” with all of its deformations and historical distortions, has reinforced Israel intransigence. The President has his own, different, reading of modern history. The speech in Cairo and now the conflict over East Jerusalem suggest that he will not renounce it.

Few in Europe will have heard of an “American Coalition Against a Nuclear Iran,” a well funded lobbying group. Its directors include the President of the Conference of Major American Jewish organizations, and the former CIA Director James Woolsey (a loud proponent of the fraudulent allegation of an alliance between Baathist Iraq and Al Quaida) and a miscellany of Democrats and Republicans living by such wits as they possess..It is reminiscent of “The Committee on the Present Danger” –a coalition of Democrats and Republicans who responded to the defeat in Viet Nam by demanding confrontation with the Soviet Union. The Committee’s domestic antagonists were not only the Viet Nam peace party but Kissinger, Nixon and Ford, who after all, had evacuated Saigon and then pursued arms control with the USSR. The Committee, included partisans of Israel who demanded that any agreements with the USSR be conditional upon the Soviet Union allowing Jewish emigration. The Committee did not seriously intend this: the USSR could not stand the loss of intellectual capital entailed in Jewish emigration, which would also have destroyed its alliances with the Arab nations. The actual situation of the Soviet Union and the well being of its citizens was of no interest to the Committee.

Similarly, the directors of the “American Coalition Against A Nuclear Iran” have no concern with or knowledge of Iran or its people. They seek immediate confrontation as part of a permanent American mobilization. The Iran question solved, one can easily imagine them applying the same rhetoric to China a decade hence. Here, the interests of Israel and those who have ideological and material interests in unrelenting increase in American power coincide.

The President relies on veterans of our long series of imperial misadventures: Secretary Gates, National Security Advisor General Jones, and Senior military commander Admiral Mullen. Unlike the desktop belligerents of the opinion pages, Jones and Mullen know war at first hand. They can also count. Adding up our many wars since 1945, the two the US has has won were against Granada and Panama. One understands their resistance to attacking Iran. Our imperial managers are clear: their primary task is to prevent new disasters.

The President’s demands on Israel are also, then, a response to the Israel attempt to involve the US in war against Iran. In fact, Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had made the threat from Iran the central theme of the Prime Minister’s visit. The President’s obduracy in putting first things first took them by surprise. AIPAC did obtain the signature of not quite three hundred of the 435 members of Congress to a letter stating that since US and Israel were so close, public discussion of differences was highly inadvisable. Seldom can members of a parliamentary body have so summarily renounced their rights.

A week after the confrontation, both the NY Times ands the Post in their Sunday editions were silent about it—but offered their readers familiar matter on Iran. The Times published a series of surmises on the Iranian nuclear project, with a ration of speculation to fact of about twenty to one. Its Washington bureau chief recapitulated a trivial Brookings Institution war game of an Israel attack on Iran, extensively reported months ago. The Post published a column by William Kristol in which he urged war on Iran, recycling every cliche of the past half century. General Petraeus’ warning on the dangers to the US national interest of total alignment with Israel was not mentioned. True, the politically agile general had telephoned the Israel chief of staff to say that his report was “taken out of context”—-but in context, it is unequivocal.

The Israel elite, meanwhile, is in a state of shock at the thought that Obama may actually mean what he says. The American Jewish leadership is no less stunned, and seems unable to grasp that the fictions that it has long purveyed are now matters of debate. The President would be helped by a strong European contribution to the debate. More than a half million Israelis are flying to Europe this week for Passover holidays. Much would be gained were they to return with the impression that more civilized standards are required of Israel. Whatever he says, even so ordinary a figure as Netanyahu knows that since his White House visit, nothing will be the same.

This article was also published in today’s El Pais

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Prof. K. Scott Wong on Immigration and Citizenship, Chinese Exclusion / Japanese Internment

You can register for phone conferences with Professor Wong on these topics here:

http://alumni.williams.edu/ilog

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Salute and respect

David Kaiser makes the case for repealing DADT in response to this editorial by Gen. McPeak.

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Intelligence?

The Obama government is being severely criticised for its failure to prevent the young Nigerian of the Christmas Day attack from flying to the United States. Some critics assume that the Kingdom of the Netherlands recently joined the American Federal union as the fifty first state, and that Amsterdam airport like Boston or Chicago is under direct control of our government. Their ethnocentrism is telling. The anger at the lapse reflects a persistent American belief: if we are not invulnerable to the misfortunes that beset other nations, we should be.

The performance of the Bush administration before 11 September of 2001 was miserable. A judge denied the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s request to listen to the telephone of one of the later 11 September attackers, on grounds that the FBI kept asking for wire tap warrants in cases it could not sustain. President Bush himself instructed his National Security Advisor, Dr. Rice, that he had heard enough of Al Quaeda’s threats and wished to hear no more.

The American combination of arrogant complacency and administrative ineptitude has historical precedents. Read more

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Is There An Imperial Exit?

(this article by Prof. Norman Birnbaum ’46 was originally published in El Pais, 28 February 2010)

We know, thanks to biographers and historians (and novelists) how the United States constructed its modern empire. Now that its costs are so high, however, and the nation increasingly divided again on how to deal with the world, we Americans know neither how to keep it or withdraw from it.

After continental conquest and continuous warfare, our modern imperial epoch began in 1898, at Spain’s cost. US participation in the war of 1914-18 (like the war with Spain) provoked domestic opposition. German and Irish immigrants were instinctively dubious, agrarian populists and urban socialists were ideologically so. Still, war intensified the assimilation of the millions of Europeans who had arrived before and after the turn of the century. Wilson, the son of a Calvinist pastor, depicted the US as a new Israel—chosen to write history anew, and most Americans assented.

The US emerged from the First World War as global banker and manufacturer. The nation plunged into consumer capitalism, and Armstrong, Chaplin and Hemingway carried our culture nearly everywhere. The isolationists between the wars were not a coherent bloc. Some were motivated by ethnic resentment of the Anglo-Saxon elite, others by politial suspicion of the ruling class, others were ancestors of the later unilateralists. Unimpeded by much public attention, three very internationalist Secretaries of State from the older elite, Hughes, Kellog, Stimson, extended American power by enlisting finance and industry in the task. The military prepared assiduously for the next Great War. Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 began his Presidency as a cautious internationalist.When he succeeded in bringing the nation into war in 1941, he drew upon the banks, law firms and universities to command the new warfare state. The public, remote from the conduct of foreign policy, agreed that war was necessary to defend the economic and social substance of the nation. Read more

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The Prisoner in the White House

At my request, Norman Birnbaum ’46 will be sharing some of his articles with EphBlog. Here is the first. – DK


After a year in office, the President seems—rather like most of his predecessors—a prisoner in the White House. The New York Times, not conspicuous for its irony, has just written that, other matters permitting, he hopes to do something about unemployment.

Failure to reverse it would indeed make his re-election very difficult in 2012, and is likely to result in large Republican gains in the Congressional elections of November 2010 when the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate will be at stake. The victory in the special election to choose a successor to the late Senator Edward Kennedy in Massachusetts (held exactly one year after the President’s assumption of office) of an unknown and not visibly gifted local politician who campaigned as exponent of the ordinary people’s virtues against the vices of the political elite, shocked the Democrats—who became aware of the danger too late to avert it. The President’s approval ratings in the public opinion polls are not worse than that of many of his predecessors at this period of the Presidency (at the end of January, half the public thought he was performing to their satisfaction) –but the contrast with the large expectations he evoked earlier, the returned confidence of the Republicans and demoralization and pronounced division amongst the Democrats, is very striking.

The relationship between domestic and foreign policy in American Presidencies follows no very standard pattern. In general, a President whose standing in domestic matters is high is freer to maneuver in foreign affairs. That is not always the case, and Lyndon Johnson, a very successful and major domestic reformer, knew that the Vietnam War was unwinnable but did not act on his insight because he feared being attacked as weak. Yet in 1964 he had won a very convincing victory against his opponent, Senator Goldwater (whom he charged with planning to do what Johnson promptly did in 1965, expand the war in Vietnam.) Nixon, per contra, entered the White House in 1969 with a reputation for unmitigated bellicosity, and proceeded to open relations with the People’s Republic of China (refused by the US, absurdly, since the Communists’ assumption of power two decades earlier), engaged in serious negotiations with the Soviet Union, and in effect abandoned our south Vietnamese client state to its fate. As the last President Bush became increasingly mired in what struck an American majority as an interminable and for many, unnecessary, war in Iraq he found that despite his re-election in 2004, he had no majority for his domestic priorities, permanent and structural rather than incidental reductions in expenditure for the American welfare state.

The Obama Presidential majority of November 2008 clearly sought a new beginning in our politics, but how many of the President’s voters shared his complex and differentiated foreign policy perspective is not at all clear. He took his election as a mandate to announce policies which would have been inconceivable under Bush and unimaginable had McCain won: reconciliation with the Islamic world, new beginning of cooperation with China and Russia, an end to hegemonic bullying in the western hemisphere, an invitation to the European Union to propose its own initiatives in world politics (of which it proved incapable), US cooperation in serious measures to control environmental destruction, a new US initiative to bring Israel and the Palestinians to a settlement, and negotiations with Iran on its nuclear project. Read more

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