Fist Of History

March, 2014Archive for

James Wilkinson – Dick or Super Dick?

Monday, March 31st, 2014


One of the fascinating things about the history of the United States is the unusual cast of characters who played decisive roles in the formation of the nation – it is fair to say that the United States was founded by a blend of rebels, dreamers, plotters, visionaries, vagabonds, and scoundrels.  Above is one who fits in the last category, if one is being kind, James Wilkinson, born in 1757 and deceased in 1825.  Wilkinson began his career with the United States during its nascent years, serving initially as a Captain, and then being swiftly promoted to Colonel, during the opening years of the American Revolution.  In 1777 Wilkinson was charged by General Gates to carry the official dispatches back to the Continental Congress informing them of the major American victory at the Battle of Saratoga in New York.  Wilkinson completed his assignment, after a small delay to handle personal matters in Philadelphia, and while providing his report to the Congress of what happened he just happened to mention how incredibly brave and awesome he was at the battle.  Incredibly brave and awesome.  Carried the day brave and awesome.  But such flat out lying is understandable in a young and ambitious twenty year old and completely justifies his being promoted to Brigadier General by the Continental Congress and enraging other, more senior Colonels.  It also helped Wilkinson took part in a conspiracy to get General Washington tossed out as the Commander of the American Army, by 1778 Wilkinson feel in position due to General Gates having enough of his activities.  The Congress made Wilkinson a general in the supply services but he resigned the position.

But his career of messing with the United States had only just begun, in 1782 Wilkinson took a job as a general in the Pennsylvania militia and in 1783 served as a state assemblyman, but in 1787 he took a “special trip” down to New Orleans.  The purpose of his mission was to negotiate access for Kentucky to the Mississippi River – at the time Kentucky being a territory that was part of Pennsylvania and the Mississippi’s mouth being under the control of Spain, which also controlled New Orleans.  (Don’t ask.)  Wilkinson took this opportunity to try to hook up a deal with Spain, if they provided him with a “consideration” (money, property, position) he could ensure that Kentucky, rather than becoming a new state in the United States, instead peeled off and became a territory of Spain instead.  Wilkinson swore an oath of loyalty to Spain where he got the cool code name Agent 13, in reference to the secret code he used to communicate with Spain.  His plans with turning Kentucky into part of Spain failed and he didn’t get his money, but Wilkinson escaped being caught in his acts of questionable loyalty and was promoted to a position as commander of the entire United States army instead.  Wilkinson held this position from 1800 till 1812 when his lack of military skill and the demands of an actual war finally led to his being put in a lesser command, and later removed from the army entirely.  (He faced a court martial after losing two battles in the War of 1812 but was, of course, found innocent.)  In 1803 Wilkinson was the official who formally took ownership of the Louisiana Territory on behalf of the United States from France (again, don’t ask) – Wilkinson took advantage of this trip to hook back up with his Spanish buddies and offer to sell state secrets in exchange for getting his pension back.  (Which he totally did for another twelve years.)


In 1804 Aaron Burr (pictured above) decided that he had had enough of his political career being in free-fall and, after serving as the third Vice President of the United States, decided to pursue his own “questionable” venture in the western territories of the United States.  Burr traveled in the Ohio Territory and the Louisiana Territory talking to people about some interesting thoughts he’d had – about how the federal government was no longer following policies that really favored the west, about freedom, and about maybe organizing some other political arrangements in the western territories.  Was Burr advocating these areas secede from the United States and form a new nation?  Well, at his treason trial it was never really clear and he was acquitted, so from a legal perspective no.  But during his time working on this project Burr made a special friend who worked to help him in…whatever he was planning, a powerful general by the name of Wilkinson.  Wilkinson though decided, when the situation didn’t seem to be going his way, to cut his losses and provide evidence of Burr’s treasonous activities.  This included a helpful letter Wilkinson wrote that he said was a “copy” of a letter Burr had sent him asking him to help in treason, an action which of course horrified Wilkinson to his core.  Sadly he had lost the original of the letter but the copy had been made at the time and was most accurate.  The courts threw the copy out and Wilkinson was humiliated for this interesting evidence admission.

Of course Wilkinson remained in command of the United States army even after this got out, personally I’m guessing because the federal government somehow lacked other people with military training.

Finally after being relieved of his command in the War of 1812 Wilkinson quietly faded into obscurity…which is of course a falsehood.  He actually wrote his memoirs trying to clear his name and in 1821 traveled to Mexico and attempted to get the government there to give him a special land grant in Texas.  He died in Mexico waiting for approval of his request.  His activities as a spy were finally proved in 1854 when a Louisiana historian found letters in Wilkinson’s handwriting documenting his activities on behalf of the Spanish crown.

James Wilkinson – definitely one of our more “colorful” founding figures.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on James Wilkinson, PBS documentary entry on James Wilkinson, Wikipedia entry on Aaron Burr.

Nonpartisan League of North Dakota

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014


The Progressive Era in the United States was a period of various social changes, changes that rode upon a wave of voter political action demanding new laws, new restrictions, and a new social contract on both the federal and state levels throughout the nation.  One particular example of this was the Nonpartisan League of North Dakota, an organization that came about due to a former Socialist organizer named A.C. Townley who, working with others, built a movement whose goal was to end the political and economic domination of North Dakota by organized interests in Minnesota.  Townley did his work by traveling throughout North Dakota and asking farmers to sign up in support of a progressive platform that advocated certain major reforms to the nature of North Dakota including:  state ownership of the grain elevators, state ownership and operation of a railroad, and a state run bank to extend credit to farmers in the region.  The overall goal was to change the nature of the relationship of North Dakota’s government to economic development and operation within the state, mainly to break the powerful shipping and storage monopolies on the states main economic element, wheat production.  Townley collected a six dollar membership fee and a pledge from voters to support the goals of the Nonpartisan League and, oddly enough, the League actually swept the elections.

Not as the Nonpartisan League, it made no effort to run an actual party proper, instead Townley and other organizers worked to get Republican candidates nominated who would support the League’s platform.  Their goal was to use the brand-recognition for the Republican party held by most North Dakota farmers and use that loyalty, along with their organization, to ensure Progress Republicans got into office.  In the elections of 1916 the League, through the North Dakota Republican party, swept the state’s House of Representatives, gained many seats in the Senate, and got a farmer elected governor.  By 1918 the next election gave the League full control of the various levers of power in the state to allow it to enact most of its platform between 1916 to 1920.


The above cartoon refers to efforts to reform the states constitution to grant it far more sweeping powers to directly control the engines of economic growth through state, non-profit, ownership.  However the Progressive League’s dreams didn’t actually succeed.  The boom of the 1920s economically reduced support for their efforts with rising grain prices initially, eroding farmers support for more radical solutions.  The League was also opposed by an organized business counter-movement, called the Independent Voters Association.  What really killed the experiment though was outside economic boycotts, specifically one of the central concepts in North Dakota was the creation of a state-owned bank to finance, with low interest loans, economic development.  However this bank needed to raise capital so a bond issue was offered for sale to the citizens of North Dakota and the rest of the United States to build the capital necessary for long term economic development.  North Dakota responded, the rest of the United States did not, investors refused to touch the newly issued bonds considering them “too risky” an investment.

By the 1930s the experiment was dead, however it is an indication of what progressive politics can do when backed by a well organized group.  One legacy of the experiment remains, the Bank of North Dakota, a state-run bank that handles all state finances and also offers very low interest student loans.  It’s operations are very curtailed however, to prevent it competing with commercial banking in the state.



Sources:  Wikipedia entry on the Nonpartisan League and the Bank of North Dakota, general history of the Nonpartisan League, and Occupy Money:  Creating an Economy Where Everybody Wins by Margrit Kennedy

Sudetenland Crisis – 1938 versus Sevastopol Crisis – 2014 (Opinion)

Monday, March 24th, 2014


Ah nationalism and ethnic identity, the devil of an issue that continually causes separations and wars between various competing groups of humans, as most recently seen by the situation in the Ukraine and Sevastopol in 2014.  When something like this happens people most often attempt to pull an analogy from history and the one currently springing to mind most often between the current Sevastopol Crisis is the Sudetenland Crisis of 1938.  Most people provide a context by briefly going over the events of 1938 and then jumping immediately into linking Putin to Hitler in that both appear to be making territorial modification demands and insisting on a chunk of a sovereign nation based on shared linguistic and cultural roots.  Unfortunately though that comparison starts to bump into some problems when you dig into the details.  Specifically you have to look at the root causes behind what happened in the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1919 and the conflict between Wilson’s Fourteen Points and national identity and how that linked to the crisis.  (Aspects of which are not as clearly present in the current Ukraine situation to my eye.)

Czechoslovakia was formed in 1919 from various pieces of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire by the terms of the World War I peace settlement, specifically the Treaty of St. Germain, which lumped the region settled by three million ethnic Germans as part of the new Czechoslovakian state.  [The reasons for this are complicated but it boils down to the original territorial borders of the Crown of Bohemia which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.]  The Sudetenland Germans wanted to be merged with the new state of Austria instead and to potentially eventually merge, with Austria, into forming a new Greater Germany, an outcome Great Britain, France, and the United States refused to consider for mostly realpolitik reasons.  From 1919 through till 1938 the Sudetenland Germans had a love/hate relationship with the newly formed republic of Czechoslovakia, settling down in the 1920s to a grudging acceptance of the status quo but as the 1930s rolled around, and the global Great Depression shattered old political outlooks, more extreme political views gained pull.  The gentleman pictured above, Konrad Henlein, in 1933 with the rise of Nazism in Germany formed a new pro-German movement in the Sudetenland called the Sudeten German Home Front.  This group gained political support and began a five year project of agitation, with ongoing German support, to push for initially decentralization in the Czechoslovakian state and, later, separation and incorporation into Germany to end “Czech oppression of the Sudetenland Germans.”

Anschluss sudetendeutscher Gebiete

History fortunately provides us with excellent hindsight in some cases and we can now safely say the Czech oppression was not as bad as Henlein argued, it was a conflict of cultural development and Czech language and culture being shoved into the Sudetenland region to form a more unified national cultural sense.  The Sudeten German Home Front however engaged in armed rebellion, uprisings, terrorist attacks, and worked to provoke a crisis in 1938 at Hitler’s bequest to hopefully force Czechoslovakia to give up the region for its economic benefits to the Nazi state.  (Pictured above some of the “home militias” of Sudetenland enjoying the hospitality of their fellow Sudeten Germans.)  In September 1938 the crisis came to an end when France and Great Britain forced Czechoslovakia to give up the Sudetenland, by refusing to fight to support Czechoslovakia due to Hitler offering a “reasonable” settlement of taking the Sudetenland gradually.  (The loss of territory was not only an economic blow to Czechoslovakia but also cost them a wonderful array of fortifications in the mountainous border of the region.)


So how does this compare to 2014?  On the surface it seems similar, complete with “spontaneous Crimean militias” appearing to gain control of Sevastopol that are pretty openly backed by the Russian government and regional splits based on ethnic and linguistic differences.  However I’d argue that the comparison breaks down somewhat when you look at the history of the Ukraine, it has a long history of being treated as a semi-sovereign nation in the twentieth century and as a linked territory it has a history stretching back for centuries.  It’s ownership over Sevastopol has a muddied history but any territorial claim has a muddied history when you dig back far enough.  The current split in the Ukraine rests upon, to my eye, an issue of future economic orientation and political orientation, a division based on long-standing regional issues that is coming to a head.  (One scholar I saw interviewed argued that there is no “Ukraine” and never has been, an interesting argument but one that can also be applied to many nation-states depending on how you slice them.)

Hitler in 1938, although engaging in a blunt grab for power and economic gain, at the heart of his complaint had a spark of validity.  He was trying to regain territory occupied by people who had wanted to rejoin Germany since the end of World War I and felt they were ethnically, linguistically, and culturally German.  This was a drive that was maintained for nearly twenty years and rested upon a treaty of settlement that was only reluctantly agreed to by the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time.

Source:  Wikipedia entry on Sudetenland Germans and The Second World War, A Short History by R.A.C. Parker

Comic and Ads Friday – 03/21/14

Friday, March 21st, 2014

It’s time for another installment of old cartoons and old ads!

Cartoon_Baby_Hippo_1893Source: Life Magazine, 1893


Source:  Life Magazine, 1900


Source:  Life Magazine, 1892.

(Bonus points for high sexism)


Source:  Life Magazine, 1892

(Who doesn’t love a hotel that advertises being free of malaria)


Source:  Life Magazine

(No, I don’t know what this is about either)

Flying Aircraft Carriers

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014


As a historian there are a few topics for which I have a soft spot and one of those is the airship, specifically the rigid lighter-than-aircraft.  (To summarize briefly the rigid airship has its name because within the top portion is a frame, usually made of an aluminum alloy, that provides support.  Unlike a blimp which, when the gas is removed, deflates, the rigid airship looks the same when full of lifting gas or empty.)  During the 1920s and the 1930s the U.S. Navy experimented with different airships and the possible role they could play in modern warfare.  A particularly interesting role was explored by two U.S. airships, the U.S.S. Akron and the U.S.S. Macon (pictured above) – as flying aircraft carriers.  The original concept was that the airship could serve as a long-range naval scout and spy out enemy fleet movements at a great distance and the fighters it carried with it internally could be launched to protect the airship from attack.  However as the doctrine developed the emphasis switched to the idea that the airship would carry the fighters a vast distance outwards and, when approaching enemy ships, launch the planes to continue scouting while the airship stayed back out of harms way.


Specifically the test plane was the Curtiss F9c Sparrowhawk, as you can see above a rather compact biplane that packed a couple of light machine guns and also carried a docking hook on top.  As part of the test experiments with the plane some versions had the landing gear taken off and replaced with a fuel tank, making it completely dependent upon its airship for carrying it around and ensuring it landed safely.  The docking hook is particularly important to mention, because of the method used to get the plane in and out of the airship.


That is pretty much the entire setup, the airplane would be lowered from the interior of the airship hooked into place on that ring, the engine started, and the plane dropped from the hook so it could zoom off and engage in its mission.  Upon its return however the landing gantry would be lowered again and the pilot would have to carefully maneuver the plane into position and catch the ring with the hook mounted on the top of the plane.  Only when a good “lock” was maintained could the planes engine be switched off and the plane hauled back into the interior of the airship.  This delicate operation was made additionally challenging by the regular problems of flying such as wind.  (Pilots referred to the rig as the “flying trapeze.”)

Overall the program, as odd as it sounds, was fairly successful, both airships took part in test scouting operations and did manage to find the fleets they were sent out to tag, and both airships were able to launch and capture planes.  Unfortunately neither airship lasted long in service, both were lost to accidents due to operator error in extreme conditions.  In both cases the ended up losing their tail fin control services during bad weather and suffered structural failure.  In the case of the USS Akron tragically 73 of her 76 man crew died in the waters off New Jersey when she crashed, the USS Macon when she crashed two years later, however life jackets on the Macon and inflatable rafts prevented another major disaster and it only lost two of its 76 man crew, both due to mishap in the accident.

A fun bonus fact, apparently the USS Akron had on board a special “spy basket” – an airplane fuselage that could be lowered (in theory) from the ship to peek out beneath the clouds while the airship itself hid above the clouds.  Apparently on the test run the “spy basket” ended up wildly oscillating back and forth rather than staying still like a good “spy basket.”  One imagines that would have been terrible for observation but probably would have been one of the most fun thrill rides ever.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk, USS Akron, and USS Macon

World War I Brilliance by Necessity – the Brusilov Offensive of 1916

Monday, March 17th, 2014


This picture seems to scream “Damn right I’m a bad ass” and it is fitting for Aleksei Brusilov – the designer of one of the most effective offensives in World War I, the most effective on the Eastern Front and probably the most successful of the entire war.  As most people know World War I was a war of grinding mass infantry battles, generals focused on a particular set of tactics – lead off an offensive with a heavy artillery pounding to destroy the enemy entrenchments, then send in waves of infantry to occupy the theoretically pounded trenches and, ideally, break through the trench line and into clear ground beyond for a swift, decisive offensive.  Ideally you also amassed huge numbers of infantry in a narrow area to give your assault the weight necessary to overwhelm any defenders left in the opposing trenches.  The problems with these tactics were multiple however:  first, and foremost, the artillery tore up the ground between your trenches and those of your opponent, breaking up the infantry advance and also making it increasing hard to get reserves into the battle to hold the ground you smashed.  Furthermore your enemy by 1915 had learned to keep their reserves in specially designed deep shelters so they could pop out once the artillery bombardment let up to greet the oncoming infantry assault with their own artillery, machine gun, and small arms fire.  The only solution generals could think of was to increase the amount of artillery fire in the hopes of obliterating the opposition and leaving vacant ground, a plan that wasted huge amounts of material and failed to win battles.

Brusilov in 1916 had a unique problem to solve however, on his military front he did not have a large number of men to overwhelm his opponent with in waves of troops and he didn’t have the sort of massive stockpiles of ammunition needed for a multiple week long bombardment of the enemy positions.  Scarcity forced him to get highly creative, so his offensive combined some radical ideas:  first carefully preparing massive shelters near the front lines for his reserves, to keep them safe and also put them very close to the battlefield.  Second, using camouflage to conceal his buildup of troops.  Third, spreading his offensive out over an extremely broad front so that his opponents would not know where the main thrust was taking place, and therefore have to scatter their reserves to cover a large area of battle.  But finally, and key, he refined how artillery was used and how infantry advanced.  Rather than waves of men pouring into battle he instructed his soldiers to advance carefully, in looser formations, firing as they advanced and covering each other as they moved into the enemy positions.  Artillery would fire only a short, very intense barrage against carefully selected targets and working in close coordination so that the infantry would be supported by the artillery fire, not face ground churned up into muck by indifferent firing.


The offensive began on 4 June 1916 and rapidly turned into a massive success, the defenders, unprepared for these novel tactics and unable to halt the advance fell back, several enemy units facing Brusilov simply collapsed and surrendered as his infantry overwhelmed their positions.  This offensive gained huge amounts of ground and actually changed the strategic balance of the war for a short period of time, it is considered the greatest military catastrophe the Austro-Hungarian army faced and led to Germany taking a very firm hand in controlling the Austro-Hungarian armies for the rest of the war.  The Russian army for the next year was halted by German units, stiffening the resolve of the Austro-Hungarian forces to fight.  So the question is with this offensive taking place so successfully why didn’t the other armies allied with Russia, or those of Germany and Austria-Hungry, adopt these tactics and change the nature of the war?

Honestly because Brusilov’s offensive was seen by the professional military on both sides as a fluke, in their eyes it worked despite doing everything wrong, and would have worked even better if they had been able to pour in more soldiers, on a narrower front, with more artillery.  In fact many generals simply pointed at this offensive as an example of why they needed more resources to fight, because obviously if an offensive in strength so close to parity with the defenders could work in a fortunate moment, how much better would an offensive work on a similar fortunate moment in the future if more of the “correct” tactics were used?  Sadly even Brusilov himself feel victim to this line of thinking, his future offensives utilized increasingly older and less successful tactics as he tried to expand on his earlier success.

The only other major offensive to use similar ideas was the major 1918 German offensive in the west – however even they, although using “shock-troops” for rapid advancement through weak points in the enemy line, ended up using heavily artillery and wave attacks for their major effort.  (Which also failed.)  It wasn’t until World War II that some of the ideas of rapid movement and mutual covering of troop advancement, plus combined arms, came into its own.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on Brusilov Offensive

French Submarine Surcouf

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014


The French submarine Surcouf was commissioned in 1927 and launched in 1929 and it was a marvel of its day, designed as an underwater “corsair” – a ship capable of fighting with surface ships in limited gunnery duels as well as carrying torpedoes aboard and a fully functional seaplane for both reconnaissance and possibly even airstrikes against surface ships.  Why the Surcouf was built though is a fascinating story of the interwar years, a spirit of experimentation, fueled by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922.

The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 limited the number, size, and firepower of surface ships that its five signatory nations could possess, however the treaty but no limitations upon submarine design, as they were seen as an emerging technology.  During the treaty negotiations the British did attempt to have limits regarding submarines conduct on the high seas included in the treaty, arguing that submarines could only attack merchant shipping if they first surfaced and declared their intention, ensured the safe escape of the crew or provided accommodations to take the crew prisoner, and ensured the merchant ship was carrying actual military items.  It didn’t get added to the treaty but was accepted as the “proper” means of conducting anti-commerce raiding by submarines in a civilized manner, the British government argued that such an agreement would make submarines as commerce raiders effectively useless, since they would have to surrender some of the key advantages that made them effect weapons:  surprise and stealth.

The French built the Surcouf with the following additional enhancements:  a motor launch to convey landing parties from the ship, it carried aboard it a compliment of marines, and had a cargo hold with fittings to contain up to forty prisoners.  Although the French never clearly articulated the point it seems likely the Surcouf was built in part as a response to the British commerce raiding standards to prove that the a submarine could be built that could meet the standards and still be effective.  Against commercial shipping, had it ever been deployed, it is likely the Surcouf would have been a devastating lone wolf hunter.  Doubly so if you consider that the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 did limit nations from arming merchant vessels beyond minimal “defensive” armaments that the Surcouf would have been able to successfully face.


Sadly the Surcouf never got the chance to try its chops against commercial shipping or military ships, it never saw service during the interwar period and when Germany invaded France in 1940 it was undergoing repairs in Brest, it made it to England to seek shelter during the war.  The British promptly impounded the ship and later turned it over to the Free French under Charles De Gaulle – where it was used as a warship in the French French Navy, specifically as a secret troop transport in early Free French military landings in two tiny French islands off Canada.  It was lost, tragically, in 1942 – the exact reason is unknown but the most likely reason is mishap at sea, specifically accidentally rammed by a freighter traveling in the Pacific.  The Surcouf was one of the largest submarines afloat at the time but was not the only aircraft carrier submarine experiments – the United States, Great Britain, and Japan all toyed with the idea.

The Japanese though took it the furthest, the subject of a future entry that will touch on a special class of Japanese aircraft carrier submarines and a secret plan to attack the Panama Canal at the end of the war….

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on the Surcouf 

How Cost-Plus Contracts Changed America

Monday, March 10th, 2014


That is Henry Stimson, Secretary of War for the United States from 1940 to 1944, and as good a face as any to slap on an article focused on how an abstract purchasing decision drastically changed the face of the United States.  World War II represented a massive, staggering investment by the United States government in war material, as was mentioned in an earlier entry, an investment which resulted in a whopping 120% of GDP being held as debt by the federal government, a.k.a. the people of the United States.  What was amazing though was how the money was spent, as the U.S. government needed vast quantities of war material quickly it utilized a specialized form of procurement contract, the “cost plus contract.”  Now this contract had first been used in World War I and had been designed as a “cost plus percentage of cost” contract – i.e. if it cost a manufacturer $100 to produce a military item and the percentage was ten percent, the government would pay the contractor $110 per unit.  Unfortunately this led to massive abuse by war contractors in World War I, so the government for World War II went with a new model, “Cost Plus Fixed Fee” with an added incentive that the fee would go down a bit if the contractor exceeded certain price caps.  The exact dynamics vary quite a bit by contract and contractor, but what these leaner, but still lovely, contracts did to the face of the United States was huge.

First it still encouraged manufacturers to now produce as much war material as the government would pay for, and the government’s World War II appetite for war material was nearly endless.  Now manufacturers did not need to worry about balancing labor costs against a fixed expectation of market share and proceeds from the sale of goods, they had to focus on producing as many goods as they can.  Which sparked a sudden huge appetite for labor, 1942 marked the beginning of a huge boom in hiring that virtually wiped out unemployment.  Add to that the fact that the draft was pulling away huge numbers of young men and suddenly factories were hiring women, and minorities, in vast droves.  Although racism remained a powerful force in dividing up who did what on the factory floor what changed was northern factories suddenly demanded Latino and African-American labor in vast quantities.  Bodies were needed to work machines, the largest impact of course being the huge hiring and training of women for industrial work.


The federal government also invested a huge amount into California, the Golden State benefited by a fantastic infusion of federal funds that allowed for the production of new production facilities and shipyards as well as many new military bases.  California’s economy boomed during the war and sparked a huge resettlement effort by people seeking new opportunities in the 1940s.  (That same investment infusion was sustained by Cold War spending in the Golden State post-World War II, since the infrastructure was in place.  Especially within the aerospace industry.)  From 1942 to 1945 the United States enjoyed a bizarre economic situation that also led to probably one of the largest changes in the economic nature of the nation, a vast redistribution of wealth.  To attract labor higher wages had to be offered, combined with lavish federal spending, support networks, and very high tax rates upon the wealthy and the United States enjoyed a shrinking in material difference between the classes that laid a foundation of progressive social norms that lasted until the early 1970s.  Simply put workers got used to extensive benefits, solid paychecks, and union organization in factories.  (A benefit of the actions of the Roosevelt administration which worked hard to pacify labor during the war to avoid disruptions of production.)

So what happened to all this progressive change?  Well the wealth-distribution stuck around through the 1950s and most of the 1960s, but the end of World War II also bought a solid end to many other progressive ventures.  The U.S. government ended a series of programs to assist workers with a broader social network, as part of a broad post-war scaling back.  The efforts to end discrimination in the workplace came to a grinding halt with the end of U.S. federal contracts and racism reverted itself, forcing African-Americans and Latinos out of the factory and into lower positioned service jobs.  (Although the movement of African-Americans from the south to the north remained, leading to large African-American populations in cities like Detroit and Chicago.)  Finally women were rapidly squeezed out of the workplace through direct actions to return them to domestic household support and open jobs up for returning veterans of the war.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on Cost-plus Contracts, Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War, Ships for Victory: A History of Shipbuilding Under the U.S. Maritime Commission in World War II, article on the Economic Consequences of World War II, Schmoop entry on World War II economy in the U.S.

World War I as a Bar Fight

Monday, March 10th, 2014


First, full props for whomever developed this, it is adorable, and only needs a few modifications to fully capture the wonder that is World War I:

“Japan calls over from the other side of the room that it’s on Britain’s side, but stays there” – they forgot to add – “When Germany isn’t looking Japan steals his hat and put’s it on his head.”  [Capture of German holdings in China.]

“At one point Britain and Germany look at each other and each flips out a knife, the fight stops for a moment and everyone looks on, Britain and Germany take a few fake stabs at each other, put the knives away, and then carry on as though nothing happened.  Everyone else joins back in.”  [Battle of Jutland]

“Mexico, looking beat up and sitting near America, gets called to by Germany – ‘Hey mate if you jump in here and help me with the guy next to you I’ll cover your bar tab!’  Mexico looks up from his drink, looks at America, who scowls at him, looks back down at his drink and replies ‘I’m good here, thanks.'”  [U.S. 1916 intervention in Mexico and the Zimmerman Telegram.]

“The United States calls out several times ‘Mates, I’ve got a plan to stop all this, it’s a really good plan.  Guys, come on, guys, seriously, GUYS!’  Then he wades in and smashes German with a bar stool after France and Britain have been whaling on Germany.  When Germany falls over America looks down at him and says ‘Told you I had a plan to end all this, ass.'”  [Wilson’s 14 points]

“China asks for Germany’s former hat back, since it was originally stolen from him, and now Japan stole it.  Everyone ignores China who sits back down and looks depressed.”  [Post-war settlement and China’s requests for territorial integrity ignored.]

Of course they missed my favorite part – when France, Britain, and America carve out bloody chunks from Germany and Russia and craft them into lovely new crying babies that quickly become teenagers and start punching each other while everyone looks on tiredly.  [For those who can’t guess – Versailles Treaty and the creation of new shiny nations.]



Cartoon and Old Ads Friday

Friday, March 7th, 2014


Source:  Life Magazine, 1892  (Oh and no, I don’t quite understand what they are going for with this either)


Source:  Life Magazine, 1896


Source:  Life Magazine, 1892 (Because nothing sells playing cards like naked infants)


Source:  Life Magazine, 1896  (You know it’s powerful, it’s got POWER BEAMS coming from it)