Check out David Cutler’s interview with Pulitzer Prize winning historian Eric Foner in The Atlantic. Foner shares his thoughts on the the state of history education in America and the importance of high school history instruction.
Check out David Cutler’s interview with Pulitzer Prize winning historian Eric Foner in The Atlantic. Foner shares his thoughts on the the state of history education in America and the importance of high school history instruction.
When Lyndon Johnson appeared before a joint session of the House and Senate to deliver his third State of the Union Address, he pressed the need for two different policy priorities: one domestic, and the other military. Two years before, he had announced his determination to fight a war on poverty. Later in the same year he had requested Congressional authorization to increase the US military engagement in Vietnam. By now, Johnson’s critics were pointing out a conflict between the two agendas; the nation did not have the resources to fight a war on poverty and a war in Vietnam at the same time, they said. In his speech on January 12, 1966, Johnson acknowledged the difficulty: “Because of Vietnam we cannot do all that we should, or all that we would like to do.” He promised that his administration would “attack waste and inefficiency” in an effort to stretch the federal dollar. But he insisted on pressing forward on both the domestic and defensive fronts. He argued that the war in Vietnam was necessary to defend American freedom, while the war on poverty, he implied, preserved the justice of the American experiment:
There are men who cry out: We must sacrifice. Well, let us rather ask them: Who will they sacrifice? Are they going to sacrifice the children who seek the learning, or the sick who need medical care, or the families who dwell in squalor now brightened by the hope of home? Will they sacrifice opportunity for the distressed, the beauty of our land, the hope of our poor?
Time may require further sacrifices. And if it does, then we will make them.
But we will not heed those who wring it from the hopes of the unfortunate here in a land of plenty.
I believe that we can continue the Great Society while we fight in Vietnam. But if there are some who do not believe this, then, in the name of justice, let them call for the contribution of those who live in the fullness of our blessing, rather than try to strip it from the hands of those that are most in need. . . . .
In recalling the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, we most often call to mind the moving rhetoric of his sermons and public speeches. But King was also adept at clear and dispassionate analysis, as is seen in this essay published in Ebony magazine in May 1966. Here he reviewed what had been accomplished by the non-violent civil rights movement centered in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference he led, describing its philosophy and methods. He also looked ahead to the work he thought the group now needed to undertake: alleviating poverty, particularly in America’s center cities, where the majority population was generally African American. In King’s view, poverty in the Northern inner city was an injustice equal to the denial of civil rights in the South, and he saw a role for African Americans in changing the conscience of America with regard to this poverty.
For high school classroom analysis, a particularly interesting portion of the essay begins under the heading “Strategy for Change.” This section explains the reasons King insisted on a nonviolent strategy in his movement. It then goes on to outline the new challenges presented by the effort to fight poverty. Here are excerpts:
The American racial revolution has been a revolution to “get in” rather than to overthrow. . . . If one is in search of a better job, it does not help to burn down the factory. If one needs more adequate education, shooting the principal will not help, or if housing is the goal, only building and construction will produce that end. . . . The nonviolent strategy has been to dramatize the evils of our society in such a way that pressure is brought to bear against those evils by the forces of good will in the community and change is produced. . . .
So far, we have had the Constitution backing most of the demands for change, and this has made our work easier . . . . Now we are approaching areas where the voice of the Constitution is not clear. . . . The Constitution assured the right to vote, but there is no such assurance of the right to adequate housing, or the right to an adequate income. And yet, in a nation which has a gross national product of 750 billion dollars a year, it is morally right to insist that every person has a decent house, an adequate education and enough money to provide basic necessities for one’s family. Achievement of these goals will be a lot more difficult and require much more discipline, understanding, organization and sacrifice.
As President Johnson’s proposed civil rights legislation slowly moved through Congress during the spring of 1964, Malcolm X expressed cynicism about its prospects in speeches to his followers (see, for example, “The Ballot or the Bullet.”) Once a leading spokesman of the Nation of Islam, a religious-political movement claiming adherence to Islamic principles but actually a hybrid mixing Islamic ideas with a Black Nationalist political agenda, Malcolm X had recently broken with the group after becoming disillusioned with its charismatic leader Elijah Muhammad. But Malcolm continued to espouse the group’s goal of Black separatism, which he envisioned taking place through return to the African homeland. Until this could be achieved, Malcolm X counseled his followers to cooperate with the civil rights movement’s goal of asserting Constitutionally guaranteed rights for African Americans, but not its nonviolent strategy.
In a press conference speech directed at a wider national audience, Malcolm X explained his split with the Nation of Islam, his plan to found a new mosque in New York City, and his position on the civil rights movement. Below is an excerpt showing a key difference between his views and those of Martin Luther King. (In our next blog post, we will highlight King’s argument for a nonviolent strategy.)
Concerning nonviolence: it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks. It is legal and lawful to own a shotgun or a rifle. We believe in obeying the law.
In areas where our people are the constant victims of brutality, and the government seems unable or unwilling to protect them, we should form rifle clubs that can be used to defend our lives and our property in times of emergency, such as happened last year in Birmingham; Plaquemine, Louisiana; Cambridge, Maryland; and Danville, Virginia. When our people are being bitten by dogs, they are within their rights to kill those dogs.
We should be peaceful, law-abiding—but the time has come for the American Negro to fight back in self-defense whenever and wherever he is being unjustly and unlawfully attacked.
If the government thinks I am wrong for saying this, then let the government start doing its job.
After the Gulf of Tonkin resolution (August 1964) gave Congressional sanction for greater US military involvement in Vietnam, President Johnson authorized a bombing campaign against North Vietnam. The North was sending personnel and supplies through Laos into South Vietnam to support guerilla forces called “Viet Cong” who sought to overthrow the government in the South and unite the country under a communist regime. Johnson hoped the bombing campaign would persuade the North to withdraw its troops. But when a year of bombing failed to change the North’s resolve, Johnson prepared to send large numbers of American troops to South Vietnam.
In the policy discussion surrounding the decision to escalate the war effort, a lone dissent was raised by Under Secretary of State George Ball. Between May 1964 and May 1966, Ball wrote more than 20 memoranda challenging the increasing American involvement in Vietnam. A good short sample of his hard-edged analysis is this paper, titled “Cutting our Losses in South Vietnam,” submitted to Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on June 28, 1965. Arguing that South Vietnam was peripheral to American interests, that the South Vietnamese government we were supporting lacked popular support, and that the US military was ill-prepared to wage war in jungle terrain against a determined guerilla opponent, Ball recommended a slowly staged American withdrawal:
Admittedly, such a withdrawal would create short-term problems . . . but by taking prompt and effective defensive and affirmative measures we should be able to avoid any serious long-term consequences. By and large, the world knows that the government in Saigon is a joke, and if our withdrawal resulted from an effort to face this problem squarely, friendly nations would not interpret it as a US failure to keep its commitments. More likely most nations would consider that we had more than kept our commitments to Vietnam—and that our decision to force the issue of stability was a mark of prudence and maturity.
During the Kennedy administration, the US became minimally involved in a civil war in Vietnam, sending military advisors to assist the South Vietnamese in countering efforts, supported by North Vietnam, to unify Vietnam under a communist government.
Unlike the event that triggered large-scale military involvement in Korea—the invasion of the south from the northern part of a divided country—the episode that triggered a gradually escalating US military involvement in Viet Nam could be described as an isolated attack. North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the US Destroyer Maddox, on August 2, 1964 in the Gulf of Tonkin off North Vietnam. Attacks reported to have taken place on the Maddox and another Destroyer, the Turner Joy, on August 4 appear not to have taken place, although this was not known for certain at the time.
President Johnson announced the attacks in a television address to the American people on the night of August 4. The next day he sent Congress a request for “a resolution expressing the unity and determination of the United States in supporting freedom and in protecting peace in Southeast Asia.”
Congress passed a resolution on August 10, now known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, stating that the United States was prepared to use “all necessary steps, including the use of armed force,” as the President determined, to defend states in southeast Asia asking for assistance.
In the light of more recent history of US military intervention overseas, the last paragraph of this message makes interesting reading:
The events of this week would in any event have made the passage of a congressional resolution essential. But there is an additional reason for doing so at a time when we are entering on 3 months of political campaigning. Hostile nations must understand that in such a period the United States will continue to protect its national interests, and that in these matters there is no division among us.
John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address ranks among the most remembered speeches of the 20th century. Many quote his declaration, “Let the word go forth from this time and place . . . that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans”—which seems to suggest a new approach that Kennedy, who was younger than any preceding president, brought to American governance. It is well to consider the words Kennedy spoke just before this reference to his youth. He acknowledges that human technological capacity has changed, but he insists that American principles have not:
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary belief for which our forebears fought is still at issue around the globe, the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of these human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Today, April 15th, is the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination. Four days before, the president had delivered his last public address. It was his official acknowledgement of the Confederate surrender. But instead of dwelling on the hard-fought victory, Lincoln spent the bulk of his speech outlining his approach to the next difficult task: returning the lately rebellious states to their pre-war status as participants in the democratic governance of the nation. (Already the state of Louisiana had applied for recognition of its rewritten state constitution.) The occasion was unprecedented and posed numerous practical difficulties:
Unlike the case of a war between independent nations, there is no authorized organ for us to treat with. No one man has authority to give up the rebellion for any other man. We simply must begin with, and mould from, disorganized and discordant elements. Nor is it a small additional embarrassment that we, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner, and means of reconstruction. . . .
Some in Congress, who feared that the Southern states would not recognize the national decision to emancipate the slaves, wanted to delay the admission of Southern representatives to Congress while awaiting proofs that the 13th Amendment would be respected. These voices wanted to impose tests before “readmitting” seceded states. Lincoln, who never acknowledged that the Confederate states had any right to secede, details his plans for reconstruction only after asserting that talk of “readmitting” states to the Union would not be constructive:
We all agree that the seceded States, so called, are out of their proper practical relation with the Union; and that the sole object of the government, civil and military, in regard to those States is to again get them into that proper practical relation. I believe it is not only possible, but in fact, easier to do this, without deciding, or even considering, whether these states have even been out of the Union, than with it. Finding themselves safely at home, it would be utterly immaterial whether they had ever been abroad. Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these states and the Union; and each forever after, innocently indulge his own opinion whether, in doing the acts, he brought the States from without, into the Union, or only gave them proper assistance, they never having been out of it.
Korea, like Germany, emerged from World War II as a divided nation. Under Japanese imperial control before the war, Korea was divided along the 38th parallel by the circumstance that the surrender of Japanese forces there was overseen partly by the US and partly by the Soviets. Much as had occurred in Germany, a joint American-Soviet commission that was formed to arrange for a unified Korea failed to agree. When the United Nations called for free elections in the whole peninsula, the US helped supervise these in the south, but the Soviets blocked elections in the area it controlled. Instead they gave their support to the nationalist leader Kim Il Sung, who established a communist dictatorship.
American forces withdrew from South Korea in 1949. When North Korean troops invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, it appeared to President Truman and his advisors that something more than civil war was flaring. They feared this was the first of many communist incursions into independent Asian nations. Truman allowed time for the United Nations Security Council to respond to the attack, which it did on June 27, calling on UN members to help South Korea repel the invasion. (At the time, the Soviet Union was boycotting Security Council deliberations.) Truman then at once ordered US air and sea forces to assist the South Korean government, while also ordering naval protection for Formosa, where he feared the next Communist attack might occur, and increasing military assistance to the Philippines and to French forces in Indo-China.
Speaking to the American people three weeks after the fighting began, Truman recounted the recent history of Korea and explained why he thought the North Korean attack had to be countered:
This attack has made it clear, beyond all doubt, that the international Communist movement is willing to use armed invasion to conquer independent nations. An act of aggression such as this creates a very real danger to the security of all free nations.
Truman’s speech went on to describe other defensive measures he though necessary in the current climate—a build-up of armed forces that he noted would require an income tax increase to fund.
Crafted under the leadership of Paul Nitze (head of the Policy Planning Staff of the State Department) and delivered to President Truman on April 7, 1950, NSC 68 was an attempt to lay out a comprehensive approach to dealing with the Soviet Union. It was initiated by Truman’s concern about the development of thermonuclear weapons (exponentially more powerful than the fission bombs exploded over Japan at the end of World War II). Truman asked for a review of American security policy in light of this new weapon.
Nitze’s team took a broad view of the problem, titling the report “United States Objectives and Programs for National Security.” First, they analyzed the core ideas of American and Soviet society and underscored the inevitability of conflict:
The Kremlin regards the United States as the only major threat to the conflict between idea of slavery under the grim oligarchy of the Kremlin, which has come to a crisis with the polarization of power . . . and the exclusive possession of atomic weapons by the two protagonists. The idea of freedom, moreover, is peculiarly and intolerably subversive of the idea of slavery. But the converse is not true. The implacable purpose of the slave state to eliminate the challenge of freedom has placed the two great powers at opposite poles. It is this fact which gives the present polarization of power the quality of crisis.
Recognizing that confronting the Soviet Union would require a long-term struggle, Nitze’s team discussed not only traditional foreign policy and defense issues, but also domestic issues, especially the American economy as the necessary foundation for this long-term struggle. The paper would come to be viewed as an important statement of the strategy of containment.
The Cornerstone Project has just introduced The Roots of Liberty: Unlocking the Federalist Papers. This is a comprehensive curriculum for teaching about the Federalist Papers, and it includes:
To learn more, or to access a free lesson, click here.
Tomorrow is the 65th anniversary of the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The first peacetime military alliance outside of the Western hemisphere that the US joined, it marked a departure from the generally isolationist policy of the US prior to the World War II. Now, Truman and his policy advisors saw a need to provide collective security against an expansionist Soviet Union. The Soviet blockade of West Berlin, the Soviet-sponsored coup in Czechoslovakia, added to worries about Soviet meddling in Greek and Turkish affairs, caused US officials to worry that Western European states could find their independence compromised. Through the Marshall Plan, the US had already demonstrated a willingness to support the political security of Western Europe through aid to its economic recovery. This helped many Western European states to see the advantage of a military alliance. Truman’s speech at the signing of the treaty included a carefully worded reference to an impasse already arising in the United Nations:
Within the United Nations, this country and other countries have hoped to establish an international force for the use of the United Nations in preserving peace throughout the world. Our efforts to establish this force, however, have been blocked by one of the major powers.
This lack of unanimous agreement in the Security Council does not mean that we must abandon our attempts to make peace secure.
It also included a statement of political principles that Truman implied the parties to the alliance shared:
We believe that it is possible for nations to achieve unity on the great principles of human freedom and justice, and at the same time to permit, in other respects, the greatest diversity of which the human mind is capable.
Our faith in this kind of unity is borne out by our experience here in the United States in creating one nation out of the variety of our continental resources and the peoples of many lands.
This method of organizing diverse peoples and cultures is in direct contrast to the method of the police state, which attempts to achieve unity by imposing the same beliefs and the same rule of force on everyone.
Truman made the same point in his speech to the Senate appealing for ratification of the treaty:
The nations signing this treaty share a common heritage of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. The American members of the North Atlantic community stem directly from the European members in tradition and in love of freedom. We have joined together in the progressive development of free institutions, and we have shared our moral and material strength in the present task of rebuilding from the devastation of war.
Exactly when and how did the Cold War begin? This set of documents on “The Grand Alliance” that defeated Nazi Germany in World War II shows the swift unraveling of the agreement made at Yalta on the question of Poland, one of the areas liberated from Nazi conquest that, according to the Crimean agreement, was to be helped to an independent status, with decisions about government made in free elections. The Memorandum of a Meeting at the White House (April 23, 1945) shows a particularly interesting discussion among newly inaugurated President Truman and his advisors, during the last months of the war in Europe. While the Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, Ambassador to the Soviet Union Averell Harriman, and Secretary of State Edward Stettinius warn that the Soviets intend to set up a puppet state in Poland, and argue that the US should stand firm against this, other officials, including Secretary of of War Henry Stimson and General Marshall, argue that maintaining a cooperative relationship with Soviet Union is the paramount concern.
If you teach in a Catholic school you may want to be aware of a new opportunity from Sophia Institute for Teachers. The organization has just launched a website for teachers to upload and download lessons they’ve created. While they are building it out, they’re paying $10 for every resource that is accepted for publication.
The Curriculum Exchange already contains several resources for teachers of American History and government, such as this lesson on the Declaration of Independence and Just War, and this DBQ on Martin Luther King, Jr and non-violence.
You can find more info on the $10 per lesson offer here.
Crimea, the sunfish-shaped peninsula on the Northern Black Sea, connected to the Ukraine at the “head”—but within a few miles of Russia at its eastern “tail”—has been in the news lately. We associate the region with the Crimean War of the mid-19th century, which occasioned Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” and Florence Nightingale’s efforts to improve battlefield medicine. But in February of 1945, in the seaport of Yalta, it was the site of a final meeting of the three chief Allied leaders throughout most of war—Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin—who reached an agreement on the terms of the German surrender.
Reporting to Congress on the results of the conference on March 1, 1945, Roosevelt announced the plan for a “temporary” division of Germany into four zones, with France, Britain, the United States and Russia each administering one. He also announced what he called a “unanimous” agreement “that the political and economic problems of any area liberated from Nazi conquest, or any former Axis satellite, are a joint responsibility of all three Governments [Britain, the United States, and Russia]. They will join together during the temporary period of instability after hostilities, to help the people of any liberated area, or of any former satellite state, to solve their own problems through firmly established democratic processes.” And he looked ahead to a preliminary meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco on April 25, 1945.
Six weeks later, Roosevelt collapsed and died of a cerebral hemorrhage.