Monthly Archives: February 2012

February 29, 2012, 7:16 pm

Contraband of war.

Students in my Civil War class tend to be fascinated by the disjuncture between the Lincoln of memory, who stands tall as the Great Emancipator, and the Lincoln of history, who only very gradually embraced emancipation as a necessity of war and then later as a moral imperative.* One of the crucial moments in that evolution was the controversy over treating slaves as contraband of war, an episode during which several of Lincoln’s generals, in fall 1861, outstripped their Commander-in-Chief and began practicing not-quite-emancipation on the ground. They refused to return slaves that crossed the Union lines to their former owners, leaving those people in an odd situation: not quite free, but no longer enslaved either.

The BBC has a story up about one of the sites where that controversy played out: the South Carolina Sea Islands. I have to admit that this is the kind of article that …

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February 27, 2012, 4:44 pm

“Is today the day they’re going to shoot us?”

Anita Creamer’s article in the Sacramento Bee on Executive Order 9066 and the effect of internment on Japanese Americans.

Today Japanese American educators and researchers say that the community’s third generation – the Sansei, most of them born after the war to parents who had been imprisoned – has inherited a complicated generational legacy that has played out in the Japanese American culture ever since the days of camp.

“A lot of what people experience in adulthood can be traced back to the trauma their parents passed on intergenerationally,” said Satsuki Ina, 67, a psychotherapist and retired Sacramento State professor who was born to Nisei (or second) generation parents at the Tule Lake camp in Northern California.

Through her research, which culminated in an Emmy-winning PBS documentary, “Children of the Camps,” she discovered that post-traumatic stress scarred the lives of …

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February 24, 2012, 7:11 am

Reading the Bretton Woods debates.

As one Telegraph blog says,

Students of economic history are in for a treat. An official studying deep in the bowels of the US Treasury library has recently uncovered a prize of truly startling proportions – an 800 page plus transcript of the Bretton Woods conference in July 1944, the meeting of nations which established the foundations of today’s international monetary system. … Those who have seen it say it is hard to point to any outright revelation about the talks, in which for Britain, the economist John Maynard Keynes was a leading player. But the level of intellectual debate is said to have been extraordinarily impressive, with exactly the same arguments as to voting rights and undue Western influence at the IMF and World Bank as exist today. The Indian delegation is said to have been particularly outspoken, despite the fact that India was still then a colony of the UK.

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February 23, 2012, 11:32 am

Recycling the cycle of poverty.

We are fortunate to have a guest post today from Robin Averbeck. Ms. Averbeck is a doctoral candidate working on the community action programs of the Lyndon Johnson administration, and has some insights appropriate to the current interest in Charles Murray’s new book and the idea of a culture of poverty. It’s always a privilege to work with a student whose research is interesting on its own terms and also engages current events in an intriguing way.

In the winter of 1963, the sociologist Charles Lebeaux argued that poverty, rather than merely a lack of money, was in fact the result of several complex, interrelated causes. “Poverty is not simply a matter of deficient income,” Lebeaux explained. “It involves a reinforcing pattern of restricted opportunities, deficient community services, abnormal social pressures and predators, and defensive adaptations. Increased income alone is…

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February 23, 2012, 5:26 am

Getting Used

So Colonel Daniel Davis criticizes the American effort in Afghanistan (a criticism I don’t agree with, by the way)? Watch as (it sure seems) the Pentagon media machine spins up to discredit him through cooperative media folk, in this case, Tom Ricks of Foreign Policy (and formerly the Washington Post). First comes the reasoned response, from a professor at the National War College:

I was prepared for a real critique and came away profoundly disappointed. Every veteran has an important story, but [Davis'] work is a mess. It is not a successor piece to HR McMaster’s book on the Joint Chiefs during Vietnam, or Paul Yingling’s critique of U.S. generalship that appeared in Armed Forces Journal a few years back. Davis is not a hero, but he will go into the whistleblower hall of fame. If years hence, he doesn’t make full Colonel, it will be construed as punishment, but there is nothing in…

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February 22, 2012, 10:47 am

American Empire

Some of the best works on the American Empire are being done by reporters and publicatioins exclusively focused on the various branches of the US military. Sean Naylor, of the Army Times, is an example. His six part series on covert American activities in Somalia is an enormously valuable insight into the nuts and bolts of global imperial efforts, missions that will go on long after the United States has left Iraq and Afghanistan. An excerpt:

The official referred to Joint Special Operations Command’s notion of “the unblinking eye” — using intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to keep a target under constant watch. In Iraq and Afghanistan, JSOC was “developing the concept of ‘we don’t want any blinks in our collection’ — the unblinking eye,” the senior intel official said.

But the wars in those countries deprived commanders in the Horn of the…

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February 22, 2012, 10:23 am

In the souk, they know how to do this.

Jon Chait reads the secret Romer memo saying we needed $1.8t stimulus, and finds that the evidence shows the administration asked for a smaller and too-small stimulus on purely political grounds.

The counterfactual is what would have happened if Obama had proposed a much larger stimulus to begin with. His political team believed it would have risked delaying the bill or caused it to collapse entirely. Perhaps. It’s also possible it would have simply shifted the frame of the debate, so that “large” was now defined by $1.8 trillion rather than $800 billion, and the “centrist” position would settle in at, say, a trillion and a half or thereabouts.

This is what you would do if you were buying a car or a house. It is elementary bargaining. It is something that even the most lackluster of legislators does, or should, know. Why it is coming as a revelation now, I cannot imagine.

February 22, 2012, 10:13 am

Fear and present danger.

We are not only safer than we think, we are safer than we have ever been, say Micah Zenko and Michael A. Cohen.

The world that the United States inhabits today is a remarkably safe and secure place. It is a world with fewer violent conflicts and greater political freedom than at virtually any other point in human history. All over the world, people enjoy longer life expectancy and greater economic opportunity than ever before. The United States faces no plausible existential threats, no great-power rival, and no near-term competition for the role of global hegemon. The U.S. military is the world’s most powerful, and even in the middle of a sustained downturn, the U.S. economy remains among one of the world’s most vibrant and adaptive. Although the United States faces a host of international challenges, they pose little risk to the overwhelming majority of American citizens and can…

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February 22, 2012, 6:49 am

Military History Carnival Coming Up

I’ll be running the 30th edition of the Military History Carnival over at Cliopatria on March 1. Submit the best of military history on the web here by February 27.

February 19, 2012, 12:40 pm

Consequential elections v. consequential presidencies: 2000 and Bush win.

In the Washington Post, David Mayhew asks which was the most important presidential election in US history.

This is tough, because not all consequential presidencies derived from consequential elections. Roosevelt sailed to victory in 1932 and 1936, which respectively inaugurated and ratified the New Deal. It’s hard to feel the elections themselves were consequential, because they were nothing like close; it’s the surrounding circumstances and the appeal of Roosevelt’s reactions that were important; the presidency was won or lost before the actual election.

The 1860 election wasn’t close, so it’s more like 1932 that way. The 1960 election was very close, and maybe an earlier Nixon presidency would have made a big difference, but I’m not sure. A Dewey win in 1948 might well have mattered, but again, I’m not entirely sure.

I think the best match of consequential election – where the …

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February 18, 2012, 10:34 am

No Sex Please, We’re British Teachers In Arizona

State Bill 1467:

IF A PERSON WHO PROVIDES CLASSROOM INSTRUCTION IN A PUBLIC SCHOOL ENGAGES IN SPEECH OR CONDUCT THAT WOULD VIOLATE THE STANDARDS ADOPTED BY THE FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION CONCERNING OBSCENITY, INDECENCY AND PROFANITY IF THAT SPEECH OR CONDUCT WERE BROADCAST ON TELEVISION OR RADIO:
1. FOR THE FIRST OCCURRENCE, THE SCHOOL SHALL SUSPEND THE PERSON, AT A MINIMUM, FOR ONE WEEK OF EMPLOYMENT, AND THE PERSON SHALL NOT RECEIVE ANY COMPENSATION FOR THE DURATION OF THE SUSPENSION. THIS PARAGRAPH DOES NOT PROHIBIT A SCHOOL AFTER THE FIRST OCCURRENCE FROM SUSPENDING THE PERSON FOR A LONGER DURATION OR TERMINATING THE EMPLOYMENT OF THAT PERSON.
2. FOR THE SECOND OCCURRENCE, THE SCHOOL SHALL SUSPEND THE PERSON, AT A MINIMUM, FOR TWO WEEKS OF EMPLOYMENT, AND THE PERSON SHALL NOT RECEIVE ANY COMPENSATION FOR THE DURATION OF THE SUSPENSION. THIS PARAGRAPH DOES NOT PROHIBIT A…

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February 16, 2012, 7:00 am

I’m Going To Need A Bigger Cup Of Coffee

Powers 2The sources available to historians jump exponentially for the post-1945 era. The rise of typewriters, copy machines, computers, and printers created a blizzard of paper that shows no sign of ending. Add into that all the electronic files, email, and the like, not to mention oral history recordings, and historians studying the years after World War II might be forgiven for having a thousand-yard stare and powerful bifocals. Google (which I am using as a generic word for search & indexing of all type. There goes the trademark) has helped some, but has its own problems.

Now comes the flood of video. The Air Force, the linked article notes, collects 6 petabytes (which is technical language for “Holy sh#$%$#%, that’s a lot of data”) of high-definition video per day. Such video could be remarkably useful for military historians (want to watch a combat engagement in real time?) but…

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February 15, 2012, 2:01 pm

Fleece and exist.

Yesterday in the Aggie one read,

The UC sent cease-and-desist letters to notehall.com on Nov. 10, 2010, a note-sharing website owned by the Santa Clara company Chegg, as well as coursehero.com on Jan. 10, 2011, appealing to the websites to stop encouraging students to post notes on their sites. They remained in negotiations for several months before the sites removed the content.

Today, I received an email from someone named Tracy King, Content Administrator, reading

Hi there,

Thanks for being part of the Notehall family. We are working hard to expand our services at UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-DAVIS and need your help.

Apply to be a Note Taker this term.

The Position:
The job is a flexible semester long position. Depending on the class you cover you can earn up to $450.

The responsibilities:
• Take notes for a class you’re currently enrolled in
• Create study guide…

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February 15, 2012, 10:01 am

1.55 Americans

022012mc ss logo1 800Both military historians and the United States military have long had an unhealthy fascination with the German Army of World War II. The Wehrmacht, the thinking goes, was both enormously effective (much more so than their enemies), and apolitical.[1] Unstained by its lack of involvement in Nazi war crimes, the Wehrmacht was thus a useful military model. Add to that the start of the Cold War, in which the Soviets became the main enemy, and the American military looked to the Germans for information and inspiration. The apotheosis of this was Colonel Trevor Dupuy’s Quantified Judgment Model, which used a statistical analysis to conclude that Germans were more effective soldiers than Americans in World War II. The German’s Combat Effectiveness Value, according to Dupuy, was significantly higher than that of the Allies, western and eastern front alike. Each German soldier, Dupuy…

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February 14, 2012, 5:14 pm

Alexander Field, Greg Clark, and Optimism about the Current Unpleasantness.

On the jacket of Alexander Field’s new book A Great Leap Forward, my colleague Greg Clark says this:

As we sit mired in the Great Recession, Alexander Field’s exciting reappraisal of the Great Depression offers surprising solace. By showing the Great Depression was coupled with the most rapid technological advance in U.S. history, he fundamentally recasts the history of the 1930s. But he also offers hope that our own depression likely will have no long-run costs to the U.S. economy.

By measuring total factor productivity (TFP), or the improvement in productivity not accounted for by traditional inputs, Field finds tremendous gains during the Depression. They owe in part to private investment in manufacturing efficiencies, chemical processes, and other technical improvements. Historiographically, there’s a major payoff in showing that the vast majority of such innovation came during…

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