Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why Wasn't There a Worker's Revolution in the United States after 1880?

Marx and Engels never quite figured out why the United States didn't have a serious worker revolt, but they suspected that the United States' lack of a feudal experience and early adoption of political democracy for large sections of society prevented the development of class consciousness. Think about it: although colonial America maintained property requirements for voting, they were low enough that all free, white males could aspire to political participation even before independence. By the 1820s, Jacksonian democratic ideals essentially enfranchised free white men across the country. That meant that despite the rhetoric of the pre-Revolutionary years that England sought to turn colonists into political slaves, most white Americans had no experience of being downtrodden without some hope of social and economic mobility.

Others also argued against the development of class-based politics in the United States. As early as 1867, E. L. Godkin argued that workers were not the same in America as they were in Europe where laborers were members of an order in society that was arrayed in conflict with higher economic classes. Eric Foner argued that In the United States, workers simply wanted better wages or working conditions. The social line between capital and labor was faintly drawn, so that successful laborers could hope to become employers themselves.

David Montgomery argues that while American workers had intense conflicts with employers, they didn't wrap those conflicts in class consciousness. Even when a revolutionary ideology did appear, it focused on control of the work place rather than political change. Despite this, in the first fifteen years of the 20th century, Americans elected more socialists than the English did. So despite the distance between worker objectives and politicos, socialists were successful in elections. One significant issue was that American capitalism simply worked better for workers, who had better wages, housing, and diet than their European counterparts. Americans also enjoyed more social and geographic mobility, which meant they could go West and fame if they grew weary of factory work and city life. This extension of Turner's frontier thesis rendered socialism mostly irrelevant in American politics.

Another thesis, proposed by Louis Hartz, argued that American life was inherently hostile to revolutionary ideologies. harts claimed that Americans never had to fight a revolution simply in order to gain political equality - they took it for granted because it had existed before the American revolution. In effect, the United States had only retained the bourgeois portion of the European social order, not the aristocratic, religious, or peasant portions. That simple fact meant that Americans simply had no need for radical revolutionary further because we were already equal in the eyes of the law - if you ignored the status of African Americans and women, that is. Aileen Kraditor extended Hartz's theses to include recent immigrants. She argued that even immigrants felt no great need for political change. In part this was because they created their own ethnic enclaves that allowed so much self-sufficiency that they had no real need for radical political change. Radicals trying to organize immigrant communities were most often seen as misfits who had rejected their own cultures.

Access to voting was the key to preventing radical revolutions in the United States after 1880, accordion got Selig Perlman and Alan Dawley. The mere act of being able to go to the polls and cast a ballot kept class consciousness from becoming a significant political issue. Perlman contends that unlike the situation in England, Americans gained the right to vote before their Industrial Revolution, meaning that they never had the conception of being anything other than full citizens. Taking a different tack on the issue, Dawley argued that not only did the franchise give workers a vested interest in the existing social order, but that political parties were quite adept at absorbing worker demands in their party platforms, as evidenced by the Democrats co-option of Populist Party agenda items in the 1890s and some Republican acceptance of Progressive political goals under Theodore Roosevelt and Taft.

The nature of workers organizations during the 1880s also worked against revolutionary change. In 1878 the Knights of Labor emerged as an group that tried to organize workers regardless of skill, gender, ethnicity, race, or ideology. Twenty percent of their membership were women, and 95,000 were African American. The Knights advocated worker democracy that included public ownership of railroads, an income tax, equal pay for women, and the abolition of child labor. They preferred boycotts and negotiation, but were most famous for the 1885 strike against the railroads. Samuel Gompers' new American Federation of Labor competed with the Knights for members, but focused on skilled workers, and using strikes as a tool to gain better working conditions.

The groups came together to advocate for the eight-hour work day as part of a nationwide strike on May 1, 1886, with the leaders of both the Knights of Labor and the AFL in Chicago. When strikers and scabs fought on May 3rd outside the McCormick Reaper works, the real trouble began. A rally of angry radicals was scheduled for May4th, but drew only 3,000 people. As the crowd dwindled, a bomb was thrown, leading Chicago police to shoot into the crowd. News of what became called the "Haymarket Riot" repulsed the nation, turning it against unions, workers, anarchists, and strikes. The eight-hour day movement died, the Knights of Labor collapsed, and the AFL focused on incremental economic improvements for its skilled workers.

The lack of a revolution in the 1930s is perhaps easier to explain. A significant factor was the splintering of the American socialist and communist parties after World War I. American socialists did not support World War I, unlike European socialists, which cost it many native-born workers and intellectuals. Daniel Bell argued that the revolutionary parties failed to gain support because they were obsessed with ideological purity rather than political success, leading them to oppose the war. In addition to these weaknesses, Paul Buhle argued that the party didn't bring in new immigrants and focused on elections rather than their issues. The final straw during the 1920s, according to Eric Foner, was that opposition to the war opened American socialists to prosecution under the Espionage and Sedition Acts.

Workers' experiences with 1920s welfare capitalism may have also helped ward of revolution in the United States. Lizbeth Cohen argued that the Depression did not make workers anti capitalist after the paternalism of the 1920s. What workers desired was "moral capitalism" that provided workers the security and compensation they deserved. Participation in wars and voting led workers to believe that they were entitled to state support and protection from the excesses of business. Unfortunately, welfare capitalism largely disappeared with the onset of the Great Depression - businesses no longer saw a need to keep workers so happy, and many could not afford the expense of providing housing and other services to their workers.

By Franklin Delano Roosevelt's election in 1932, the United States would seem ripe for a revolution, but faith in FDR's attempts at reforms should get credit for American political stability during the Great Depression. FDR was able to absorb some labor militancy in the New Deal and led the Democratic party to develop a broad coalition that included Communists. James Weinstein argued that the Communists saw themselves as the left wing of the New Deal ruling coalition. As long as the goals of socialism and nationalism were the same, the Communists prospered. Their influence waned as those two sets of goals diverged.

The Blog

Now that I've passed my dissertation defense and sent my final draft to the Graduate School via ProQuest, I'm finally feeling up to blogging again. Many of the posts will deal with the challenge of finding a full-time gig as a newly-minted PhD, with my experiences teaching online and classroom courses as an adjunct, and other geeky academic stuff. I've also unearthed all of the notes I took as a student at UA, both in classes I took and those I TA'd, so I expect a lot of that stuff will make it onto the blog. The first sets will likely be notes from one of my comprehensive exams. I also expect to look closer at current events and military history more generally as I get my feet back under me.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Chaplains and Killing Non-combatants

I'm increasingly interested in the roles of chaplains in Vietnam. Not only do they seem to play an important role in reporting atrocities during the war, but responses to them by soldier are quite visceral. Some turned to chaplains like Fr. Watters, who died ministering to wounded soldiers on the battlefield at Dak To, for comfort, while others decried the bellicosity of chaplains for volunteering to man the door guns of helicopters. In my dissertation, the most prominent chaplains were Captains Cresswell and Davis. Cresswell encouraged Hugh Thompson to report civilian deaths at My Lai, and reported them to his own superior, Americal Division Chaplain Colonel Francis R. Lewis. While Cresswell and Lewis were criticized for not reporting My Lai outside the Americal Division, Fr. Davis seems to have convinced three soldiers to testify against a senior NCO in the murders of three Vietnamese farmers.

Chaplains in Vietnam represented a wide range of attitudes on the war and the killing of noncombatants. Joanna Bourke's An Intimate History of Killing cites an 1960s study of their attitudes to show that soldiers could not reliably look to them for guidance when it came to the treatment of Vietnamese civilians. Seventy-three chaplains took part in the study, and sixty-nine of them argued against killing noncombatants. That seems like a solid stance against civilian deaths, but four were willing to accept justifications offered by commanding officers for killing noncombatants, and another was willing to accept it it were a military necessity. When it came to reporting atrocities, seven said they would only complain to the commanding officer of the soldiers involved. Another forty-six indicated that they would only report atrocities within the confines of the Chaplain's Branch. What that means is that 72% would likely only report potential war crimes within the immediate chain of command.

Beyond the issue of killing noncombatants, 42% of the chaplains indicated that they would accept a commanding officer's decision not to accept surrenders without complaint. 90% of those in the study expressed only minor ethical qualms about violations of the laws of war. Only 15% of the chaplains asserted that they would advise soldiers to disobey illegal or immoral orders.

This leaves some obvious issues. If chaplains were not willing to vigorously report atrocities, how could the average soldier be expected to do so? If chaplains were unwilling to advise troops about how to deal with immoral or illegal orders, how were soldiers supposed to have the courage to do so? Even, Fr. Davis, who conducted courses on combat morality for the 2/503rd saw this as a confusing area for the men under his pastoral care. What chance did soldiers have to fulfill their legal and moral obligations regarding war crimes in this environment?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On Conscientious Objection and the ACA

I don't often post items directly related to current politics on my blog - those I save for Facebook friends, and occasional items on Twitter. Although I've not blogged much as I got deeper into writing my dissertation, my intent is for this place to remain related primarily to historical and academic interests. Today I'm breaking that rule because Annalee Flower Horne has a great post about the Hobby Lobby/Affordable Care Act case currently before the Supreme Court of the United States as it relates to actual Conscientious Objection. Rather than focusing on whether a corporation has enough personhood to have religious views, Annalee focuses on the concept of Objection. Take some time to go read it, it is definitely worth the effort.

This very peripherally relates to my dissertation, which includes a focus on morality and combat during the Vietnam War. One of the key figures in the media chapter - which I'm revising again over the next two days - is James Henry, a medic who happened to witness multiple atrocities. Unlike most other soldiers in Vietnam who witnessed atrocities, Henry repeatedly tried to report the war crimes he saw. Having been warned to keep quiet about it for his own personal safety while still in country, he tried first to report murders and rapes by members of his unit to a Staff Judge Advocate and an agent of the Criminal Investigation Division on his return to the United States. The lawyer told him to wait until his enlistment was up because the Army had so much power to make himself miserable. The CID man got aggressive with Henry asking him what he was trying to pull?

Wisely taking the advice of the SJA, Henry waited until he was out of the service and wrote to his Congressman to report the atrocities he saw in Vietnam while under the command of Captain Donald Reh. After being ignored, he did an interview with Scanlan's Magazine, gave a press conference at the Los Angeles Press Club, and joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He holds the distinction of being the only veteran to testify at the Winter Soldier Investigations in January 1971 to have his claims substantiated by the Army. That happened not because the other members of VVAW were liars (a few were), but because he chose to seek justice on both the individual and institutional levels. Unlike the others, Henry gave CID names, dates, and locations for the atrocities he witnessed.

Why am I bringing him into this discussion? In addition to being the only soldier at WSI to have his claims of war crimes verified by the Army, he also happened to be the only soldier to earn a status as a conscientious objector without providing a religious justification. He eventually agreed to enlist as a combat medic to avoid prosecution by the local U.S. Attorney. While in Vietnam he earned a Bronze Star for working hard to save his comrades while under fire. Despite being described as a "mild hippie" by his platoon commander, the other members of his platoon recall that from the beginning he moved like a veteran in field, especially under fire.

Like the examples Annalee provides, James Henry was Conscientious Objector who still did everything required of him to fulfill the obligations of citizenship. Think about it - he showed that you can maintain your moral and ethical beliefs, but that you have to sacrifice to do so. Otherwise, they aren't worth very much.

Monday, March 17, 2014

On Writing Conclusions

The three most challenging  parts of writing my dissertation have definitely been the My Lai chapter (revised five times now), the Introduction, and starting on the Conclusion. I've discussed the problems with the My Lai chapter at length already, but before today I only mentioned the challenges of writing an introduction and conclusion on Twitter and Facebook. The intro was unexpectedly difficult because I assumed that in most respects it was really just another round of revisions of my prospectus. That turned out to be wrong due to the new direction my evidence forced my to take with my analysis, so while I was able to repurpose significant portions of the prospectus, I ended up doing a lot of new writing, and revisiting the historiography on My Lai and atrocities in Vietnam.

Conclusions are different animals. Like everyone else, I've written a short conclusions to papers, conference presentations, and journal articles, but since is my first book-length project, I've been unsure about how to approach this important element in the dissertation. After the long slog through graduate school, I know how important the introduction and conclusion are in helping readers understand what the whole point of the book is, but how to pull that off is another issue entirely. That meant a bit of quick research into how to write a conclusion - I know this applies to many graduate students, but by temperament I usually try to figure things out for myself before asking for help, and  enjoy doing research to solve problems.

My first stops were Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Jules Benjamin's A Student's Guide to History, and Mary Lynn Rampolla's A Pocket Guide to Writing in History. I have a long personal history with these three books - my first encounter with Turabian was as a junior in high school, while I got the others in graduate school to help out my own students. Predictably, Benjamin and Rampolla were no help. Indeed, Rampolla was counter-productive since she indicates that no new ideas, arguments or information should appear in a conclusion. While that's fine for an essay, based on the hundreds of academic works I've read at this point, it isn't accurate for books. Since I had already planned to use some very interesting sources that didn't work with the body of my dissertation, but speak to the overall theme that how soldiers understood the issue of atrocities in Vietnam was a complex and varied greatly based on their own background, goals, and experiences, Rampolla's advice almost started a bit of a panic attack.

Turabian was more helpful, likely because her audience is different. Benjamin and Rampolla are oriented toward helping undergraduates figure out how to write and do research for history courses, not write theses or dissertations. Luckily, Turabian provides a process for writing a conclusion that was familiar once I saw it laid out, though the initial suggestion sounded a bit snarky:
If you have no better plan, build your conclusion around the elements of your introduction, in reverse order.
Having said that she provides some useful advice in two basic points:
  1. Restate your claim more fully, and with more specificity than in the introduction.
  2. Point out new significance, practical applications, or new research.
I'm not sure my research has practical applications since the All Volunteer Force is increasingly less representative of the rest of American society than the conscript and draft-motivated armies of the 20th century. Similarly, while the Army noted that there was no consistent official way for soldiers to report atrocities without going through their immediate change of command as late as 1973 (and I'm not sure that it ever implemented that), the on-going debate about taking the process of investigating and court-martialing soldiers for sexual assault away from the chain of command. In some respects these are related issues. How could soldiers be expected to report atrocities through the chain of command when the officers above them often engaged in or ignored atrocities? Similarly, how can the DoD expect victims of sexual assault to report the crimes to the person who committed or enabled those assaults?

There is a lot of room for further research in the area of how American soldiers understood and reacted to atrocities in Vietnam. As Nick Turse put it in Kill Anything that Moves, this entire subject has taken on the status of forbidden or forgotten knowledge since the fall of Saigon in 1975. Beyond that, I'm only dealing with U.S. Army troops who witnessed or reported atrocities. There's remaining work to be done with other branches of services, especially the Marine Corps.  There's also the issue of soldiers who didn't witness atrocities - how did they understand the issue? Since Army chaplains played important roles in two of my chapters, there's also more work to be done to understand their position within the Army, how soldiers viewed them, and how that played into reporting of atrocities.

This still leaves out the issue of additional material. Luckily, a member of my committee provided good direction on that. He argued that as long as the new items fit in a way that accentuated the main argument of the dissertation, then there was no reason not to add it into the conclusion. However, if the materials were more in the nature of interesting anecdotes that don't really add anything, save the stuff for another project. That's something I can manage, and I think the items (mostly from oral histories) will lend themselves well to the overall conclusion.

The next order of business: write the dang conclusion, and start what I hope is the final round of pre-defense revisions.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Alabama Law Review Symposium on New York Times vs. Sullivan

The Alabama Law Review will host a symposium to mark the 50th anniversary of New York Times vs. Sullivan on February 28 and would like to invite students and faculty to attend.

New York Times vs. Sullivan is one of the most important cases in the history of First Amendment jurisprudence. Famously described by a noted First Amendment scholar at the time as “an occasion for dancing in the streets,” the decision in New York Times vs. Sullivan constitutionalized the law of libel, recognizing a dramatic breadth of freedom to criticize public officials for their conduct; in so doing, it had a significant impact on both freedom of speech and freedom of the press, one that has been debated ever since.

As a historical matter, moreover, the case was intimately connected to the history of the civil rights movement, particularly within the state of Alabama.

Symposium speakers include some of the nation’s foremost experts on both the history and law concerning New York Times vs. Sullivan.

They include Professor David A. Anderson, University of Texas School of Law; Judge U.W. Clemon, Northern District of Alabama; Professor RonNell Andersen Jones, BYU Law School; Judge Robert Sack, Second Circuit Court of Appeals; Professor Chris Schmidt, ITT Chicago-Kent College of Law; Professor Mark Tushnet, Harvard Law School; and Professor Sonya West, The University of Georgia School of Law.

We will need to have a headcount by February 21 for planning purposes. Please let me know if you have any interest in attending or inviting your students. Attached you will find a schedule of the day’s events, and you may also share this link for registration:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

100 Years to WWI: Sarajevo to Versailles

“100 Years to WWI: Sarajevo to Versailles”  is a brand new four week summer program recreating the path of the First World War by traveling through Vienna,  Berlin, Brussels, Lille, Reims, and ending in Paris.  Through visits to four battlefields and 25 plus museums and historical sites, participants in the program will get a glimpse of the lasting repercussions and begin to understand the magnitude of the events that transpired 100 years ago. Participants will also have the once in a lifetime opportunity to be there as Europe commemorates these historical events.

The four week program, begins on June 8th in Vienna, Austria, and ends on July 3rd in Paris, France. The program fee of $6,848 includes tuition, accommodation for 25 nights, 25 breakfasts, unlimited local transportation in each city, transportation between cities, entry to 25+ museums and historical sites as well as the four guided battlefield tours and welcome/farewell dinners. The program will offer six semester credits in History, Art History, Government and Global Affairs. We will also be seeking credits in Economics and German. Undergraduate and graduate students with at least a 2.25 GPA are eligible to apply. The application deadline is March 7th.

Professor Marion Deshmukh,  the Robert T Hawkes Professor of History at George Mason, will be leading the program. Dr. Deshmukh teaches courses in History and  Art History with a focus on Europe, specifically Austria and Germany. Please click on her name to learn more about the specific courses she teaches and her numerous publications.

More info at: WWI Summer 2014. Online application: apply.