Tuesday, December 5, 2017

the populist, progressive Ku Klux Klan

The original Ku Klux Klan, formed after the War of Rebellion to impose white supremacy in the defeated south, was significantly different from the organization that rose to great power in the 1920s. As historian Linda Gordon explains in her new book, the second Klan was strong in the north and west and broadened its appeal by aligning with other movements. The KKK targeted Catholics and Jews as well as blacks; it supported Prohibition and women's suffrage; it joined evangelical Christians in denouncing the theory of evolution; its rituals were similar to many other fraternal organizations that also mushroomed in the 1920s.In my homestate of Colorado, the Klan helped elect the governor and several congressmen, but was also seen as reformist and against the power elite.

The second Klan had political power. It claimed 26 governors and 62% of the members of Congress. Gordon thinks those numbers are exaggerated, but the group was viewed by politicians as powerful. None of the presidents from Wilson to Hoover ever condemned the organization. Its greatest legislative triumph was passage of the 1924 immigration law that barred Asians and largely restricted entry to people from northern and western Europe.

The Klan rose fast and fell fast. By the end of the 1920s several leaders had been discredited by highly publicized crimes, including rape, murder, and embezzlement. The membership plunged. In the south, of course, Jim Crow laws stayed on the books and were vigorously enforced.

Monday, November 27, 2017

the political context of foreign policy decisions

The founding premise of this site, and the evidence from much of my academic research over the years, is that domestic politics influences American foreign policy. And it's also true that international developments can in turn shape domestic politics.

I discovered the importance of understanding political context as I was writing my first research paper in college, a case study of how the Truman Administration responded to the Berlin blockade. A librarian helped me insert the microfilm rolls for the 1948 New York Times in the clunky reader. There on the front page for June 25 the lead story was not a story from Berlin, but one from Philadelphia, where the Republican National Convention had just nominated Thomas Dewey as its presidential candidate. That means, I realized, that every decision Truman made that day and following was shaped and colored by the 1948 election contest. No wonder he decided on a strong and firm response; no wonder he seized upon an airlift, despite predictions that it would be woefully insufficient.

You can write a paper just focusing on the foreign policy decisions and military planning. That's how today's Wikipedia account reads. But in fact the domestic political context was a powerful factor.

Recently I was reading an account of the 1940 election and the surprising nomination of Wendell Willkie by the GOP. Prior to the June 24 start of the convention in Philadelphia, Thomas Dewey and Robert Taft were the clear front runners, with Willkie, who had been a Democrat until the year before, a distant dark horse. There were 10 candidates on the first ballot.

Willkie won on the 6th ballot, partly because of favorite son concessions and thundering supporters in the gallery. But he also won because he was the only interventionist in the contest All of the others were hard or soft isolationists. And what happened on the very day the convention started? France surrendered to Germany an Compiegne. And what had happened on June 18, just after the fall of Paris? President Franklin Roosevelt named two senior Republican statesmen, Henry Stimson and Frank Knox, to the cabinet posts for the Army and Navy.

Hitler's triumph, France's collapse, and Britain's vulnerability were on everyone's mind. And Republicans knew that they needed someone who shared FDR's views on military strength if they were to beat him on domestic economic issues. In this case, the foreign developments shaped domestic politics.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

as time goes by

More nostalgia, for it's the 75th anniversary of the Thanksgiving weekend release of "Casablanca," a film for all people and all seasons. I saw it for the first time, the first of many in the same venue, at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, which had a Bogart festival during exam time. It was escapist; it was romantic; it was wonderful!  We all learned the lines, and looked for moments to drop them in casual conversation. And one year, when the much-repaired print failed to include Inspector Strasser's "Round up the usual suspects," we howled and complained enough that the management stopped the show until a proper print could be found.

I wonder whether younger people feel the same emotions, whether they hope Ingrid Bergman makes a different choice, whether they tear up when Madeleine LeBeau [who died only last year]
sings "La Marseillaise," whether they still laugh at Claude Raines' shock at discovering gambling at Rick's Cafe. Yes, the story was a bit silly and wartime propaganda was shoehorned into it. It's revealing, however, that most of the cast were emigres from the troubles of Europe.

The film drove me to be sure to visit modern Casablanca on my first visit to Africa. The city, of course, was nothing like the Warner Brothers lot, and never had been. But ti was still exciting to be there and to think of the allied invasion the same month as the movie's release.

I've read most of the insider stories about its filming. Can't get enough, but I know I must remember this.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

news junkie

When I was in junior high school, I decided I wanted to be a journalist. I was already a news junkie -- listening to Edward R. Murrow's evening radio news report and NBC's weekend hourly news as well as reading both Denver newspapers. I became friendly with the men in the INS office, who showed me how they wrote their reports on perforated tape, then fed it into the teletype machines. After holding each day's output for a month, they let me have the discarded rolls. I took them home and pretended to write up my own news scripts [125 wpm, a journalism text prescribed].

I thought of those yellow roles, the staccato typing, and the five bells signifying a bulletin when I read Mike Allen's comments on this anniversary of the Kennedy assassination [see item 10 here] and also the AP historical report here. The Pulitzer went to UPI's reporter, who held onto the pool phone. Here's a long version of the UPI roll.

Thanks to Google, which wouldn't exist for another 35 years, I see another account of how journalists covered the tragic events that day. Myself, I was driving my freshman debaters to a tournament at the University of Vermont in Burlington. I stopped at a New Hampshire state liquor store [prices were much cheaper there] and noticed the flag at half staff. Inside, people were talking about the shooting. That's how I found out. To this day, I'm always curious to learn why flags are at half staff when it's not a holiday.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

excused absence

I haven't been writing much here, have I? I still get up every morning, pour through the papers and online sites, and want to share news and ideas. But instead of  picking one point or theme, I send a bunch of links to students and former students, with limited commentary.

I still feel motivated to write about new books I've read, or lessons from history, or occasional political rants, here at Giddy Minds and Foreign Quarrels. But if you want to know more of what I find noteworthy each day, please follow me at the Google doc a student established for me, and named "Stevenson's army."  [But remember that I'm a civilian, and the only shots I've ever fired in anger were verbal ones.]

 To join the group "Stevenson's Army", send a blank email (no subject or text in the body) to stevensons-army+subscribe@googlegroups.com. You'll get an email confirming your join request. Click "Join This Group" and follow the instructions to join. Once you have joined, you can adjust your email delivery preferences (if you want every email or a digest of the emails).

Saturday, October 21, 2017

war and diplomacy

I have an extremely low regard for Secretary of State Tillerson and anger at his destructive activities at the State Department. But a stupid and dangerous statement he made last week is a sentiment shared by all too many people, including many military officers.

In a television interview, Tillerson said that “those diplomatic efforts [with North Korea] will continue until the first bomb drops.”

I hope not. If we do get into direct combat with North Korea, I trust that we will explore every possible diplomatic channel until we find ways of ending the conflict. Diplomacy is strong when backed by the threat of force, but diplomacy is also necessary to conclude the use of force.

I won't quote Clausewitz on war's intimate connection to political goals, nor will I drag up all the other similar quotes by various military figures over the year. Just remember that a nation cannot wisely end diplomacy once fighting starts.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Trump's Iran decision

As I predicted, the president chose a kind of middle path between withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and simply certifying Iranian compliance, as other signatories and several cabinet officials preferred. The decision is an excellent example of bureaucratic politics, where differing officials have to compromise.

President Trump had strongly criticized JCPOA as a candidate and was angry that he had to report to Congress every 90 days on Iranian compliance. He said he didn't want to do that, but the facts demanded certification. His advisors looked for a way to remove that uncomfortable action while still preserving the benefits of the limits on Iran. A new report argues that UN Amb, Haley played a key role in fashioning a strong case against the agreement.

Trump's announcement was a powerful indictment of Iran's behavior over the years, but a very weak list of complaints about Iranian noncompliance. Basically he argued that Iran was violating the "spirit" of the deal since he couldn't prove violations of the terms of the deal. He was adopting a policy of linkage, saying US policy would be based on the full range of Iranian behavior even if they complied with the nuclear aspects.

What he did, however, does not seem to be part of a strategy to get Iran to change its behavior or to agree to changes in the deal. By not certifying compliance, he triggered a 60-day window for Congress to snap back the sanctions lifted under JCPOA. But he did not ask Congress to lift those sanctions. Instead, he seems to favor congressional amendments to the law requiring reports [INARA, PL 114-17] that would enable him to certify Iran was not complying with these new and additional behaviors. Senators Corker and Cotton announced a bill like that. And he threatened to withdraw completely from the deal if Congress fails to pass such amendments.

In other words, Trump is demanding that Congress amend its own law instead of ordering his secretary of state [or others] to negotiate such changes with the signatories. How is that supposed to work?

By the way, the administration also announced sanctions against Iran's Revolutionary Guards but did not put that organization on the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations [FTO]. CRS and State Dept have explanations of the differences.

"Could be worse" is still not very reassuring.