Beyond the Bonus March and GI Bill

Beyond the Bonus March and GI Bill; How Veteran Politics Shaped the New Deal Era by Stephen Ortiz. New York University Press, 2012, pape.

Stephen Ortiz, a University of Florida graduate, has written an interesting book on the impact of World War I veterans on American political life in the 1920s and 1930s. WW I veterans – doughboys – had mostly entered the army as conscripts. After the war, they argued that they should receive compensation for their time in the armed forces, particularly since they had not benefitted from the good wages paid to American workers during the war.

Mindful of the veterans’ vote, Congress agreed, and in 1924 awarded ex-doughboys compensation for their wartime service in the form of interest-paying certificates payable in 1945. A few years later they were allowed to borrow money against those certificates (in 1931 up to 50%) and a good portion did so.

Matters changed in the early 1930s with the Great Depression. Led by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, these ex-doughboys began asking for immediate payment of their bonuses. But President Herbert Hoover, believing that the best means of getting America out of the depression was to balance the budget by reducing expenditure, argued that immediate payment of the bonus would add significantly to government spending.

A group of veterans in Oregon decided to march on Washington to demand immediate payment. The ‘Bonus March,’ or more popular ‘Bonus Army’, was not officially sanctioned by either of the two largest veterans’ organizations, the VFW or the American Legion. But soon veterans from many states were encamped on the Anacostia Flats and demonstrating daily at the Capitol. In July of 1932, Hoover entrusted Douglas MacArthur with responsibility for getting rid of their tent city of 43,000 veterans and their families. And MacArthur chose to do so with units of the army, their bayonets fixed and supported by six tanks.

The fall out on Hoover’s re-election prospects in ‘32, Oritz contends, was disastrous. His Democratic opponent, Franklin Roosevelt, had, however, avoided raising the bonus issue during the campaign. Roosevelt was also opposed to an early payment of the bonus. No American, he argued, just because he once wore a uniform, should be placed in a special class of beneficiaries of government programs. He threatened to veto any such legislation.

In his first two years of office, Roosevelt’s initial attempt to deal with the depressed American economy and unemployment was, like Hoover’s, to balance the budget. As part of that budget-balancing, he also opposed paying the bonuses.

One interesting perspective of Beyond the Bonus March is Ortiz’s views of the “New Deal Dissent.”  Senator Huey Long of Louisiana and Father Charles Coughlin, the “radio priest” from Detroit, both took up the veterans’ bonus cause and supported immediate payment. Consequently many who supported their advocacy of “sharing the wealth” were veterans. Long and Coughlin are usually portrayed as ‘extremists’ for their persistent attacks on American capitalism. Roosevelt spoke of them as a “menace” to the country and historians have mostly agreed.

A sitting president and legislators, worried about their re-election, did not want to face the wrath of the doughboys, however. So in the summer of 1936, accommodations were made. The bonus certificates could be exchanged for small-denominational government bonds, “baby bonds” that could be cashed immediately or with interest added if held for a period of time. The act was supported by both the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. Ortiz contends that Roosevelt’s cave-in on the bonus portends the ‘Second New Deal’ that followed his re-election.

Having come to terms with the bonus issue for World War I veterans, Ortiz suggests that neither Roosevelt nor Congress wanted a similar political storm following World War II. In 1944, the GI Bill of Rights passed through Congress with almost no opposition. 7.8 million veterans took advantage of the free schooling offered and 2.4 million got help with buying a home. The doughboys, mostly still around in 1945, must have been envious.

 

Went the Day Well? Witnessing Waterloo

Went the Day Well? Witnessing Waterloo by David Crane. Vintage, 2016, paper.

The Battle of Waterloo ended Napoleon’s effort to reverse his and French fortunes. In1814 he had been banished to the island of Elba off the coast of Tuscany, escaped, took command of the French army, and invaded Belgium. He was defeated by the Prussians at Ligny on 16 June 1815, fought the British at Quatre Bras, and was soundly defeated the next day by the combined armies of Prussia and Britain, near a village called Waterloo. David Crane’s book is a group portrait of the English on the day of battle.

Crane is critical of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, and field marshal of the British army. Britain had always relied more heavily on her navy. But Wellington’s army had performed well during the Peninsular War in Spain. Perhaps it can be said that Wellington lucked out; Waterloo brightened a generally lackluster military career.

Crane presents the army officer, George Keppel, as exemplary of the British nobility ­- an entrenched, privileged caste. Keppel cared nothing about his opportunity to acquire an education, preferring instead the London of prize-fighting and bull-bating. His father, 4th Earl of Albemarle, decided that a commission in the army might straighten out his sixteen-year-old son.

Some of the nobility acknowledged the obligations of their caste; Keppel did not. He landed in Brussels in command of an undistinguished unit of commoners, best his father could arrange for a second son. In no way prepared for leadership in a field of battle, Keppel survived. Many under his command did not.

William DeLancey did not survive Waterloo. He was a respected young officer, under Wellington as well. He had just married and the couple had spent a night or two together in Brussels, before he left for the front. She, like many female family members of the privileged class, had rented a room in the city to await news of the battle and the fate of her husband. They came: a report that he had been wounded but still alive, another that he was dead, was badly wounded and sheltered in a cottage near the field of battle. There was little care for the wounded, so she made her way to his side. They spent the last few hours of his life together.

Frederick Ponsonby was wounded at Waterloo as well. He was also the second son of a titled Englishman. Armed with only a long spear or lance his company of Light Dragoons had battled French cavalry. Ponsonby was wounded in the encounter and left on the field with the dead and dying. He spent eighteen hours there before being rescued.

Lying wounded, he had had a series of “visitors.” The first was a lone French soldier, a straggler, who stabbed Ponsonby in the back. Next a French infantry man looking for loot. Then a French officer came by, friendly but unable to come to Ponsonby’s assistance because the battle was still raging. He did offer Ponsonby a swig of his brandy. He conveyed the news – false – that the Duke of Wellington was dead and Allied battalions surrendering. Next a French infantryman used his body as a shield, chattering gaily while he fired away. Finally a gang of murderous Belgian looters came by. He survived.

Many of the stories are not about participants at Waterloo, but ordinary English folk on the “home front.” A young servant girl, Eliza Fenning, was on death row. She had insisted on baking some dumplings for her mistress, according to her mistress. It turned out that they were poisoned with arsenic. Spats between servants and mistresses were common, and this appeared to the prosecution to be the outcome of one of them. The English press, however, had doubts about Eliza’s guilt and stirred up a public controversy. All of England witnessed her trial through the newspapers. Eliza was hanged on the Friday before Waterloo. Life went on, notwithstanding events in Belgium.

In 1815 communications across Britain were limited mostly to newspapers. No wire service then, most of the news from Waterloo would be distributed in the usual way, by coach-and-fours setting out from Lombard Street, London. On this occasion, delivering the victory at Waterloo, coaches and drivers were bedecked with flowers and ribbons. On to Lincoln, Winchester, Portsmouth, Gloucester, Oxford, Bristol, Manchester, York, Newcastle, Edinburg, Perth, and Glasgow. Criers on the mail coaches proclaimed news of the great victory.

David Crane reminds us that despite the glorious defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, the ordinary Englishman saw no real improvement in his or her lives. At this juncture, crofters were being forced off their enclosed parcels of tillable land to create sheep ranges. The great landed barons, claiming outright ownership, were responding to the growing demand for wool for the mills in many of those towns through which the mail coaches passed. Many of the young men who ‘witnessed Waterloo’ would find employment in the mills, with their long hours and dangerous working conditions.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty and Arthur Goldhammer, trans. Harvard University Press, 2014.

Where to begin talking about this amazing book? Thomas Piketty argues that the degrees of inequality of both wealth and income may in the coming decades reach the levels prevailing in France and Britain in the Belle Époque from 1870 to 1914 but not since then. To understand why that may occur, one must visit the intervening century with all of its traumas – and inequalities.

Piketty’s title makes reference to Karl Marx and his Das Kapital (1867). Like his illustrious predecessor, Piketty might be accused of stirring up “class hatred.” But that is not Piketty’s purpose. Rather it is to examine measures to reduce the growing inequality in the name of saving capitalism in its democratic environment.

France and Britain, figure prominently in his analysis of capitalism. They provide the longest running statistical series, and Piketty has fashioned them into numerous, informative graphs and statistical tables.

Capital comes in different forms, and they have changed over the course of the twentieth century.  In 1870 European capital was largely agricultural and financial – bonds and stocks. Frenchmen – particular Parisians – and Brits felt comfortable in placing their capital abroad – in North American railroads and Russian sovereign debt, for example. These owners of capital lived on fixed incomes from that capital and cashed in some of it occasionally, to pay for a desired life-style. Much of it, however, was passed on within families. Consumption was not yet the bane of family fortunes.

By way of contrast in the mid-1900s most capital assets were in the form of urban housing, industrial plant and machinery, businesses and business inventories, and natural resources.

Family wealth is only partially from inheritances; it also benefits from the huge inequalities of wage income, ‘executive pay,’ for example. The defenders of this disparity in wages argue that it mirrors a meritocracy. Piketty contends, however, that there is no statistical evidence of a contribution to national productivity sufficient to justify today’s wage inequality.

To illustrate his argument that wealth inequality in the U.S. has been increasing since the 1950s, he divides the owners of wealth into four brackets, top 1.0%, 10.0%, 40.0%, and the bottom 50.0%.  Particularly outrageous are the gains in the percentage of total wealth that the top .01% have acquired. By way of contrast, the lower 50.0% of the distribution own a tiny 5.0% of the wealth.

Those in the 40.0%, bracket he names “the new proprietary middle class.” They have gained through ownership of urban housing, but also income from wages, though nothing like the top 0.01%, 1.0%, or 10.0%. Piketty’s analysis would suggest, however, that the democratic environment of capitalist economies has resulted in the rising economic and political clout of this proprietary middle class.

Inequality of income from both capital and labor has varied over the twentieth century. It was considerably less during the ‘shock’ to capitalism resulting from two world wars and the intervening depression, 1914 to 1945. These wars were financed by disportionately heavy taxes on the rich.

One interesting question raised. How should ‘human capital’ – the stock of knowledge, talents, skills, experience, and training – be reckoned, and how should it be compensated? Should it be considered a capital gain or should it be considered a wage? Is ‘human capital’ over-compensated by the present capitalist structure? The bottom 90% are assured by the wealthy that human capital is a worthwhile investment opportunity because it brings upward social mobility, for the individual, even though it does not redistribute either income or wealth.

Piketty argues that recent reductions in the progressive nature of income and estate taxes have made it more likely that the best opportunity for anyone with or without human capital is to have inherited wealthy parents.

He proposes that we should temper the growing inequality of wealth and income by taxation. He recommends a progressive but low tax on all forms of capital, perhaps 1.0 to 2.0 %. It would be much like the present property tax, which in Alachua County, Florida is about 1.5% of the assessed value of the property – land and buildings.  Remember this is a tax on an asset, not a tax on the income from that asset, and it is regressive in terms of wealth concentration.

Florida once had a tax on various forms of intangible assets – stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and capitalized assets such as copyrights, goodwill, intellectual property, etc. After a generous deduction, the rates were from 0.2% to 1.0%. It was gradually abolished by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature as unfair to heirs. Good luck with your tax on capital, Thomas Piketty!

Piketty does not think that a tax on wealth should replace either estate or income taxes, but those taxes should be reformulated along with the introduction of a tax on capital. And all should add up to a “return to the State” adequate for financing education, health services, defense, replacement income, and various transfer payments.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century was briefly a best-seller, a credit to both Piketty and to the reading public.

Mourning Lincoln

Mourning Lincoln by Martha Hodes. Yale University Press, 2016 paper.

The President and Mrs. Lincoln had decided to attend a play at Ford’s Theatre. It was Good Friday, 14 April 1865. “Our American Cousin,” a light comedy, was suitable entertainment for a President who had seen the country through a long civil war. Richmond had fallen on Monday of the previous week, and on 9 April, the Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Court House. On the night of 11 April, Lincoln had delivered a victory speech elaborating on his plans for the South’s ‘redemption’ – thereby closing the wounds of civil war. The public had expected a triumphal speech.

John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and son of a famous actor, was in the crowd and listened to Lincoln’s speech that night but had a different reading of Lincoln’s intentions. He was part of a conspiracy to disrupt the Union victory by assassinating Lincoln and his Cabinet.

The telegraph spread the terrible news of Booth’s deed around the Union. Martha Hodes notes, however, that the North was not united in its sorrow. There were many Copperheads who had opposed Lincoln’s militant resistance to Southern secession. Throughout the War they had pressed Lincoln to open negotiations with the Confederacy. They were outraged that those negotiations had been blocked by Lincoln’s decision to end slavery in the secessionist states. Their mourning of Lincoln’s death was measured.

News of the assassination also spread through the Confederacy, and again the responses were mixed. I thought, however, that Hodes’s using a Southerner from Jacksonville, Florida, Rodney Dorman, as her representative of continuing Southern intransigence didn’t work. His “glee” in hearing of Lincoln’s murder doesn’t, I suspect, represent the responses of most Southerners in April 1865. The war had been lost, and they had lost husbands, fathers, and sons. With trepidation they were ready for the war to end.

Both sides had believed that God favored their cause. How then could the South explain its defeat? The North had won the war; but with an enormous toll of dead and wounded.  And now their leader, also killed. God’s wrath?

Lincoln was shot on Good Friday, died the next day. Millions of Americans would attend church on Easter Sunday morning. Ministers had less than twenty-four hours to devise a sermon appropriate for an Easter Sunday but also one that comforted those mourning Lincoln. How could there not be some parallels between a murdered president and sacrificial lamb?

The nineteenth century thought much about the good and proper death. It would necessarily involve family in various rituals of mourning. But Lincoln’s family was mostly absent from his state funeral; Mary Lincoln chose to grieve in private.

Lincoln laid in state in the Capitol for two days, drawing thousands to view his body. Arrangements were made for a funeral train that would end up in Springfield, Illinois – a 1700 mile journey that involved a half-dozen railway companies. It would pass through many cities and towns, stopping for a few moments. Thousands of people had gathered along the route. There were over-night stops in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Harrisburg, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Chicago. Everywhere there were military escorts, including African-American troops, to honor the dead President. And also no doubt for crowd control.

The wearing of black and draping buildings in black were part of the rituals surrounding public mourning. Church and courthouse bells rang as Lincoln’s body passed through each town, and again at the end of the burial ceremony in Springfield.  Flags were flown at half-mast throughout the Union.

The public suspected that the Confederate leadership and particularly Jefferson Davis were involved in the assassination. The conspirators were soon caught, however, and responsibility for the murder of the President focused on them. Booth was shot in the course of his arrest. Eight other conspirators were arrested, tried, and hanged. So the wrath and cries for vengeance were focused on the conspirators. Davis and others in the Confederate leadership were thankful; they did not want Booth and the murder of Lincoln associated with their lost cause.

There have been three assassinations of sitting Presidents since Lincoln: James Garfield, William McKinley, and John Kennedy. President Kennedy was shot in Dallas on 22 November 1963. How vividly I remember that day. What I was doing. Who told me. How we gathered together to hear the latest news bulletin. We knew of the assassination within minutes of when the shots were fired.

Northerners knew about Lincoln’s assassination as soon as their local paper could get out a special edition. News of his murder had traveled by telegraph. Kennedy’s by radio. No doubt in 1865, like 1963, the news also spread by word-of-mouth. In both; bewilderment, anger, fear, but then a great sorrow.

Mourning Lincoln was nominated for a National Book Award, and rightly so.

 

Wilde in America; Oscar Wilde and the Invention of Modern Celebrity

Wilde in America; Oscar Wilde and the Invention of Modern Celebrity by David Friedman. W.W. Norton, 2014.

David Friedman covers one year in Oscar Wilde’s career, his tour of North America in 1882. The title makes it sound as though Wilde in America gave birth to our thriving celebrity culture. What we learn is how Wilde and his press agent cultivated opportunities available at the time. Like those present-day celebrities who crowd our grocery checkout counters, Wilde and the company that arranged his tour were hoping to create fame.  And in Wilde’s case, this was years before the literary works which made him famous.  As Friedman puts it, fame would launch Wilde’s career, not cap it.

His sponsors had sent him to America to give a series of lectures and test the waters for Patience, a Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera. It had been a success in London and they hoped for an American repeat.  But its producers wondered whether the theme of the comic opera, competition between two proponents of the aesthetic movement, would resonate in the U.S. The lyricist, W.S. Gilbert, had been inspired by watching Wilde fashion a notoriety out of ‘performing,’ in elaborate outfits, at gatherings of London’s literati.

Wilde was mindful of the importance of generating public attention with press interviews. The press interview was already a well-established phenomenon. (Here and elsewhere Friedman gives Wilde too much credit as an innovator.) In Wilde’s year touring America, he granted some 100 interviews. They were scheduled for late morning and held in his hotel room (always the most expensive in town), on a ‘set’ of Wilde’s contrivance.

He was the master of the clever, witty remark. Some of his quips were originals, a product of his quick-wittedness. Many were borrowed, stories that he had heard, then transformed as necessary, and used in his interviews and lectures.

He made good money. Halfway through his tour, Wilde had already earned $129,000 in present-day dollars. While his east-coast appearances had been pre-arranged and the auditoriums booked, the rest of the tour took form after his arrival. He accepted an invitation to visit California for three weeks and was paid $117,000 for that segment of the tour. Like other speakers on tour, he traveled – always by train – to many a cultural backwater, and to an audience that had never heard of the aesthetic movement. Remember that this was 1882. And although he did not always fill the hall in such places as Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City, he did get their attention.

He was moderately well received in Galveston, though there were several rowdy boys who tried to disrupt his lecture. He told his audience that he had the authority to arrest them, having been made an honorary colonel of the Texas Rangers. Laughter followed; it had worked. He didn’t take offense; the disruptions usually won him sympathy in the local press. (Back in England when he retold this story, he elevated his honorary rank to a general of the Texas Rangers.)

April 1, 1882 he spoke to the Bohemian Club in San Francisco. Its members, not reverential and in a trickster mood, contrived to get Wilde and themselves drunk when he joined them for lunch. So they plied him with tumblers of whiskey. They retired sloshed. Wilde, a big man, could hold his liquor and walked away still sober.

Throughout David Friedman’s book, one is struck by the bad manners of those Americans that Wilde encountered on his tour. But then he wasn’t always careful of their American pride. You can imagine the uproar when he said that he was disappointed with Niagara Falls, “bulk but not beauty.” In Chicago he had the nerve to make derogatory remarks about its famed Water Tower. In Salt Lake City he claimed that the Mormon Tabernacle was “the most purely dreadful building” he had ever seen.

Many of the photographs included in Wilde in America were taken by a New York celebrity photographer, Napoleon Sarony. Normally celebrities charged photographers a sitting fee, which Wilde had waved. In return he intended to remain in control of his image. For that reason he brought to Sarony’s studio various outfits and props. The two of them spent a whole day together contriving poses.  Wilde had been good at creating personas for live audiences; here was a new medium. Sarony later claimed that it was he who had invented Oscar Wilde.

Wilde, son of two Irish nationalists, had a hankering for “lost causes,” including the Confederacy, still around in the form of Jim Crow. In Slidell, Louisiana he witnessed the lynching of an African-American preacher accused of assaulting a white woman. He was given a tour of the French Quarter in New Orleans by the Confederate General Pierre Beauregard and later entertained by Ex-President Jefferson Davis at home in Biloxi, Mississippi.

David Friedman’s account of Wilde’s tour is also a journey through 1880s’ America, with commentary by an observant tourist.

 

The House of Owls by Tony Angell.

The House of Owls by Tony Angell. Yale University Press, 2015

There was an old owl he lived in an oak.

The more he knew the less he spoke.

The less he spoke the more he heard.

O, if men where all like that wise old bird.

Owls have been the subject, at times victim, of folklore world-wide. We talk about a night owl, being a person who commonly stays up late. You should be flattered with the sobriquet “wise old owl” because it is saluting your ‘quiet’ wisdom.  Owls are associated with sobriety; children were given an infusion of an owl egg to ward off insobriety at a later age. The bird was often viewed as the sign of doom; “I heard the owl call my name” associates its call with approaching death.  But conversely, the presence of an owl can be a sign of impending good fortune.

Most of this folklore is based on actual owl behavior. Tony Angell describes but also illustrates owl behavior with his striking drawings.

Most owls are nocturnal, hunting by moonlight, even starlight. But they often use the fading light of sunsets and the sparse light before sunrise to look for their major food source – small rodents: pocket gophers, voles, rats, and mice. They also consume small to medium-sized birds, frogs, even smaller owls.

Owls don’t build their own nests. Rather they mostly use nests formerly occupied by crows, hawks, flickers, and the larger woodpeckers. These can be found in snags of mature trees but also on ledges of rarely used structures, old Midwestern barns, for example, where owl nests can be found in the rafters. However, Angell was able to build a nesting box that worked. A male owl came looking for a site, his nest box met the owl’s approval. He then called for the female to have a look and pass judgment.

It is easy to slip into anthropomorphism when describing bird behavior.  Angell talks about owl emotions. Owls are said to express anger and fright, which is easier to accept than their “satisfaction” or “pleasure” in flight. They have long courtships and are monogamous with long-term pair bonding. They can breed at two years of age. Owl eggs require a relatively long incubation and chicks enjoy a long fledgling stage as well. And during these months, the male feeds the female and their brood. You can find flickerings of human behavior here if you wish.

The owl’s eyes are their most important sense organ, and Angell spends time explaining how they work. They are structured to be sensitive to diminished light. The eyes protrude out from the facial disk and that allows them better binocular vision. Owls can swivel their heads quickly through 270 degrees, allowing them to respond to sound or movement without moving their body. Humans at best have a 180-degree head-turning ability. The owl’s iris can close down the pupil to a pinpoint. And their pupil can quickly become enlarged to gather more light. The northern saw-whet owl’s two eyes can differ in degrees of dilation, one being fully contracted, the other fully dilated.

The author speculates that owls seem to be able to hold in their memory three-dimensional maps of their home ground and can rely on that memory to strike at birds when the light would be otherwise inadequate. He has a drawing that sequences an owl descending to strike a prey. It dives rapidly and silently and pulls up just before striking, using its talons to grab the prey.

There are 217 different owl species world-wide and the list is growing. They are mostly spread over the temperate zones. There are two families, one composed of barn owls only and the second all other species. Their fossil record goes back to the Miocene Epoch. At one time owls were much bigger; the fossil of a barn owl recovered in the Caribbean suggests an animal three times the size of today’s barn owl.

There is talk of owl habit destruction and endangerment, and hence diminished populations. The fate of each North American species is considered in The House of Owls; some are more threatened than others.  Some, particularly the barred owl, have been doing well. Owls seem to survive in the fragmented forest and even in urban environments better than do most native forest dwellers. On dog walks I often hear the hoot of a barred owl roosting on a telephone pole in the neighboring grade school yard.

Most owl species are migratory, although they do not migrate the vast distances that some birds travel to-and-from breeding grounds. Some owls, for example, move a few miles from higher mountain elevations to the valleys below. Less is known of owl migration because it is nocturnal.  Last winter, snowy owls, normally denizens of northern Canada, came as far south as Little Talbot Island, Florida and were observed foraging for mice in the sand dunes.

For over a quarter century, Tony Angell and his family spent their early evenings observing the western screech owls that inhabited their nesting box outside a window of their family home. Perhaps they then enjoyed a tale of the owl and the pussy-cat who went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat.

 

Landslide; LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America by Jonathan Darman.

Landslide; LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America by Jonathan Darman. Random, paper 2015.

Jonathan Darman’s book has joined together the political careers of Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan. It covers the landscape from John Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 to the end of Reagan’s second term in January 1988.

Johnson and Reagan were elected by two landslides, twenty years apart – 1964 and 1984. They both were gifted performers and raconteurs. Both were men of uncommon ambition. They both provided voters with images of an American future. But those futures differed widely. Johnson believed that enlightened government could help solve America’s problems. Reagan that government is the problem, not the solution. We must be freed from a leviathan welfare state that threatens our liberties.

Time stood still on that November day in 1963 when a bullet brought an end to the Kennedy saga. LBJ had to intrude on Camelot and its ending, to negotiate a delicate situation. Darman reminds us that no one knew who the assassin was, nor his motives. Johnson, riding in the car behind the Kennedys – and now the President, was rushed off on Air Force One to a secure site. But that left the grieving widow stranded in Dallas. In the days that followed, Johnson had to deal with the delicacies involved in taking up lodgings in the White House. Perhaps too rushed. Darman suggests, however, that Johnson believed the situation dangerous for the country.

Jackie Kennedy – the Kennedy family – had little regard for Lyndon Johnson. He had been badly treated by the clan as Kennedy’s vice-president. Once a powerful Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, he had been relegated to the Vice Presidency and shunned by the Kennedy cabinet and advisors.

Johnson decided that he could best pay homage to the martyred President by ‘completing’ Kennedy’s New Frontier – mostly initiatives, few accomplishments, merging it into his own Great Society. And to maintain continuity with Kennedy’s years, he kept on the Kennedy Cabinet. His Legislative record is comparable to Franklin Roosevelt’s achievements in his first term. (Medicare July 1965, thank you.)

Darman then describes the great calamity of the Johnson Presidency, a lost war. Kennedy had viewed the civil war in Indo-China as a proxy war between the Soviet Union, still allied with China, and the U.S. Johnson recognized that no American President who wished to get re-elected, and more to the point, no American President who wished to push an ambitious legislative agenda through Congress, could fail to pursue and win a war in progress.

The war was enormously unpopular, particularly amongst college students. It had influential critics who believed it unwinnable: Senator J. William Fulbright, columnist Walter Lippmann, and Senator Frank Church, among others. Johnson tried various measures to bring the Viet Cong to the negotiating table, to no avail. Casualties mounted. Eventually 58,000 Americans died in the War.

Where was Ronald Reagan when all of this was happening? He was a two-term Governor of California elected as a Republican in 1966. Darman makes much of his role as a B actor in B movies and was by the 1960s definitely a “former movie star.” Having been a lifelong Democrat, he had switched parties. He supported Goldwater’s bid to defeat Johnson in 1964 and generally took on Goldwater’s vision for America. While governor of California, he began to formulate strategies for a run against Johnson. Darman suggests that Reagan adapted well to a candidate’s world – a big role yet dependent upon others, including his “co-star,” Nancy Reagan.

Johnson was taking Reagan seriously by now. He was keeping that Goldwater campaign button pinned to his, Reagan’s lapel, figuring that voters would reject this second iteration of Goldwater platform as well. But in fact Johnson was much more concerned about facing Bobby Kennedy for the Democratic nomination, though there was little he could actively do about the situation until Bobby entered the race.

By March 1968 Johnson felt that he had lost control of his story. Democrats had suffered badly in the midterm elections in ‘66. Even Johnson now believed the war in Vietnam was not winnable. He was depressed much of the time, had heart spells, and had come to the realization that the country could not both finance a war and his new welfare measures. On 31 March 1968 he announced that he would not seek a second elected term.

I recently toured the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, went out to the Johnson ranch, and to his birth place. By the end of that tour I was ready to support chiseling Johnson’s profile onto Mount Rushmore. Landslide LJB and Ronald Reagan largely confirms my enthusiasm. Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, was not nearly as persuasive.

 

 

Electronic Books, Amazon, and the Fate of Print, 2005-2015.

 

“E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead,” an article about the book industry, shared the front page of The New York Times (23 September 2015) with the visit of Pope Francis. The author of the article, Alexandra Alter, reminded us that only five years previously, pundits were proclaiming the demise of print books. Sales of Kindle readers, Nooks, iPads, various other electronic devices, and books in the electronic format were soaring.

Surprise! E-book sales have fallen by 10% in the first five months of this year over the same period last year (quoting from the NYT article). And e-book sales have not been increasing in recent years (2005 to 2015) at anywhere near the same rate as they had in the earlier half of the period.

The impact of the electronic format on print books (mass paper, trade paper, and hard) has varied with format and category. The mass paperback format (the old ‘pocket book’) has been the most affected, by far. Print editions of mass paperback genre fiction, particularly romances but also mysteries, thrillers, science fiction & fantasy, suffered most from competition with e-books. Hardback fiction was also adversely affected. Less so, non-fiction, and less so, kids’ books.

When they first came on the market, electronic books were presented as a godsend to travelers who didn’t want print books weighing down their luggage. The chains that run bookstores at airports, however, are reporting that print books are regaining traction with travelers.

Other arguments. Lighter to hold, they would suit people who read in bed and would like to snuggle up to a Kindle. Some thought electronic books a boon to the industry because they would entice a new group of book buyers.

There were two trends worrying publishers. Rising expectations for the future of e-book and Kindle sales, they worried, would discourage print editions. It was not so much that print sales were off dramatically, but publishers noted that print was losing market share to electronic. They also worried about the fact that the book business was increasingly concentrated in one mail-order operation, Amazon.com.

Publishers had welcomed Amazon as a solution to their fledgling direct sales efforts. But Amazon began to acquire an ever-growing share of print sales and then almost immediately 65% of the electronic book market. They soon woke up to a world where one dominant retailer could dictate the prices it paid publishers for the e-books, their retail price, and hence the publishers’ margins. The older arrangement of the publisher setting a “suggested retail price” that included a fair return for themselves but also for the wholesaler and retailer was being remodeled. When negotiating price structures with Amazon, it has been generally a “take it or leave it” proposition.

Meanwhile, Amazon has begun selling all kinds of other merchandise, and the books’ share of its revenue is shrinking.  Amazon.com has become less dependent on book publishers just when book publishers were more dependent on Amazon.

Publishers Weekly recently celebrated the contribution that Amazon.com has made to the world of book retailing (”20 Years of Amazon.com Bookselling,” PW  7 September 2015).  The retailer was given a good part of the credit for creating best-sellers for the industry. The article provided a list of Amazon’s 20 all-time bestsellers. But the books on the list were titles that any brick-and-mortar book store would have sold well in that same 20 years!

Other achievements of Amazon’s first 20 years. The Kindle, introduced in 2007, was a significant contribution. However, their self-publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing, rolled out in that same year, entered an already well-established and crowded field. Textbook rentals, another listed achievement, had long been around by the time Amazon entered the market (2012). There were numerous subscription services when it got around to launching its own last year. The pattern is that Amazon enters a competitive market dominated by mostly startup companies and soon gains its usual “tight grip” on the sector, forcing out competitors (see “Digital Comics” Publishers Weekly 10 August 2015).

Readers have always availed themselves of ‘gatekeepers,’ beginning with acquisition departments of publishing houses. Gatekeepers determine the array of titles that are made available to a book-buying public. Traditional gatekeepers closer to the consumer include brick-and-mortar booksellers, libraries – and now websites including this one. Goodreads.com, a popular web site and definitely a gatekeeper, has been, wouldn’t you know it, recently bought by Amazon.

Well then, who are the winners and losers of this rise of Amazon, the e-book “explosion,” and now its contraction? The presence of small publishing houses probing the “nooks and crannies” of readership for publishing opportunities is still inspiring. There will always be entrants and exits, but this sector of the industry remains remarkably vibrant. Also, mid-sized book publishers and the conglomerates are adding warehouse space and promising faster delivery to their book store customers. They seem optimistic.

Local book stores lost big time, though they may be returning to discerning communities. The resilience of print is giving them opportunity. The American Booksellers Association reports an uptick in membership over the last five years. And wouldn’t you know it, Amazon Books has just opened its first brick-and-mortar store in Seattle, with more to come.

The group that seems to have suffered most from the e-book bubble has been authors. Authors Guild recently released a membership survey, and the median income of its membership is down significantly over the last five years of the decade. According to its report in Publishers Weekly (21 September 2015), full-time book authors’ incomes are down by 30% comparing 2009 with 2014, and part-time authors’ income by 38%. There are several causes discussed in the article. The decline of brick-and-mortar bookstores has been a factor. Certainly authors are receiving fewer royalties on e-book sales than was the case with print books. Authors, it appears, have been shouldering a good chunk of the cost of Amazon’s discounting.

Thanks to Publishers Weekly and The New York Times. Both diligently read and much admired.

 

 

 

 

 

Maguy (Katz) McCullough, Holocaust Survivor, Friend. Part I, Occupied Paris.

Maguy (Katz) McCullough, Holocaust Survivor, Friend.  Part I, Occupied Paris.

This account is heavily indebted to two books: When Paris Went Dark; The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940 to 1944 by Ronald Rosbottom, 2014 paper and Ravensbrüch; Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm, paper 2015. Thanks always to Wikipedia.

I first met Maguy (Katz) McCullough, a Parisian, at my bookstore in Gainesville. She or her husband, Bob McCullough, both well past retirement age, would come into the bookstore every morning for their New York Times. They had met on the way to Japan on a Polish tramp steamer, married, and lived half of the year in Gainesville, half in Maguy’s flat in Paris.

Neither Bob nor Maguy drove, so every Friday, I picked her up and we went grocery shopping at the nearest Publix. As both of us were not in any hurry, we almost always spent time in its parking lot, Maguy telling me her stories, me asking questions. As part of the friendship and in payment for the shopping trips, she would invite me over for scotch. More stories and questions. Stories were repeated – and repeated, which has helped me remember.

After Bob’s death, Maguy gave up coming to Gainesville so I visited her in Paris on three different occasions. She was living in the same flat that she had lived in during the 1930s, when she had a good job working for the French Railways until her arrest in 1944. Again more opportunities for stories to be told. Again good for memory work.

She told me a bit about the Katz family. Her grandfather was from Alsace. Jewish, he was a merchant, and had decided after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) that Paris was a better place for him, his family, and his business than was Alsace under the Prussians. Maguy said very little about her Jewish ancestry. Only that while at the Ravensbrück work camp she wore the Jewish star.

The Wehrmacht invaded France in May 1940 and six weeks later, France surrendered. The country was divided between occupied and unoccupied zones (until November 1942). Both were governed by the Vichy Regime, so named because it was to this small spa town that Maréchal Phillipe Pétain had moved the French government. Paris was in the occupied zone and hence subject to a German army of occupation.

Maguy was not in Paris when the German troops entered the city. At first she was uncertain about what to do. There had been a massive flight of Parisians and no certainty about what the occupation would involve and how long it would last. Eventually she returned to her Paris apartment in the 16th Arrondissement, not far from the Bois de Boulogne.

Shortly, thereafter, Adolf Hitler made his famous tour of the city. He thought Paris to be a model for European cities in the new world of Pax Germania. He hoped also to convince Parisians that life ‘under the German heel’ would be tolerable. And the German occupation force set to work to make it so – except for Jews, communists, and anyone resisting the occupation authorities.

While few Parisians openly welcomed German soldiers or Nazi bigwigs, many in the French army, the Roman Catholic Church, industrialists, and the conservative right viewed the occupation as an opportunity to weaken the French Left. Collaboration took various forms. The presence of many Germans, both military and otherwise, required a “service sector.” French merchants, café owners, waiters, laundresses, and many others served the Germans. Were they collaborating?

Like collaboration, resistance also took different forms. The earliest resisters were mostly from the French Left, and particularly the communists. Maguy always made the point that she was not, and never had been, a communist. Rather she had joined the “Free French” led from London by General Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle, an army man, distrusted the freewheeling nature of the communist resistance; he viewed them as hot-heads. While ideology divided the resistance movement in Paris and elsewhere in France, these distinctions were lost on the SS and the Gestapo.

Early in the occupation, the roundups and arrests did not involve Parisians but rather German and Austrian refugees who had arrived in Paris after 1933 and especially Jews. In 1940, the Germans had expelled 150,000 Jews from Alsace-Lorraine after it was incorporated into greater Germany. And they were mostly hiding out in Paris.

German authorities required Jews, both foreigners and Parisians, to wear the Star of David patch and carry special ID cards. A series of edicts restricted the economic and professional activities of Jews in Paris. By the time of the Grand Rafle in July 1942 – the largest of the roundups – it was obvious that French Jews were also now targeted. But surprisingly, Maguy never was a victim of these measures, and her Jewishness was not the cause of her arrest and deportation.

So far as I know, Maguy did not keep a diary. Diaries from the years of occupation kept by Parisians, famous and otherwise, suggest a city gone “dark.” From these diaries one gets the feeling of life being narrowed, to one’s neighborhood, to one’s apartment, to one room, usually the kitchen as keeping warm became a problem. Paris was dark, and also quiet; few pedestrians, fewer private cars. There was a city-wide, early-evening curfew, which put a crimp on nightlife. Bikes and public transportation were the options; Maguy took to the bike.

As she was not arrested until sometime after June 1944, Maguy had four long years under the Germans. Because telephones could not be trusted, women in the resistance were used as couriers. And she became part of the communications network; this was the golden age of the mimeograph machine and the underground tract. They urged Parisians to be more aggressive in their opposition to the German occupation, rather than waiting it out.

The knock on the door eventually came. Maguy’s name was on a list of her circuit, carelessly left on a colleague’s desk and found by the Parisian police. Her best-laid plans did not work. After her arrest she spent weeks in jail awaiting her trial before a panel of collaborating French judges. She was found guilty and sentenced to death, though the sentence was commuted to a term in prison.

I once asked Maguy if, after the war, she had ever come across the judges who had convicted her. Oh no, she assured me, they were eliminated by the resistance.

Maguy (Katz) McCullough, Holocaust Survivor, Friend. Part II, Ravensbrück.

Maguy (Katz) McCullough, Holocaust Survivor, Friend.  Part II, Ravensbrück.

There were growing numbers of women in Parisian jails as their role in the resistance broadened, and they were occupying space that the Germans wished to use for incarcerating French men. It was decided in 1944 to deport the women to Ravensbrück, a work camp for women political prisoners in Germany, due north of Berlin.

I would like to have asked Maguy about her journey from her Parisian jail to Ravensbrück. It was certainly by rail. This was not a good time to be traveling on either French or German railroads. By 1944 they were the subject of a massive British-American air offensive. The journey would have taken days, mostly nights. Maguy would have told me of over-loaded freight cars, so she may have been spared that.

The French women, Maguy included, only had to survive one winter in the camp, and that saved many of their lives. Camp-hardened Poles and other Eastern Europeans noted how ill-prepared these French women were for camp life. In turn the French women must have been overwhelmed by their first encounter with the brutal, overcrowded camp world they entered.

Maguy would have encountered every kind of prisoner: the asoziale (a-social) – prostitutes, homeless, work-shy. A good part of the camp’s inmates were Polish women sent to Ravensbrück as part of the German land clearance program in occupied Poland and then the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944. Also Polish Jews, though Jews constituted no more than 10% of the inmate population at Ravensbrück. Also represented were habitual criminals, gypsies, communists and socialists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The latter were the worst treated because they refused work that involved the manufacture of weaponry.

The idea of locating war production at Ravensbrück was a new initiative by Heinrich Himmler, SS Reichsfürher. There were already sewing shops that made clothes for the army. But in the fall of 1942 Siemens, a big prewar electrical company, located a unit there which made electrical parts for fighter planes. Shocked that the women in the sewing shops were only working eight-hours a day, Himmler introduced an eleven-hour day. Siemens reimbursed the SS for their work, not the women themselves. Still it was good to have work in these camps. You never wanted to become a useless mouth, as Himmler liked to put it.

Maguy told several stories that involved these Polish women. She and her Parisian colleagues had a special concern for them because they were young and miserably treated by their German guards.

She suffered from a strict camp procedure called the Appell (roll-call) in the Appellplatz, (camp square) rain or shine, or snow. In the winter it began before dawn. The women had to stand sometimes for hours until all were accounted for. On one Appell Maguy collapsed and was taken to her barracks, which saved her life, but at some risk to the rescuer. It was perhaps even more dangerous to appear at the Revier (infirmary). The sick and weak were commonly allowed to die.

By the time of Maguy’s arrival, discipline (though not the cruelty) was beginning to crumble. This was both fortuitous and unfortunate. Individual inmates could angle for the better work assignments, such as the squads that removed the dead or working in the camp kitchen. This competition eroded prisoner solidarity. The severe overcrowding required a disciplined regimen. By 1944 that was beginning to crumble with deadly results as prisoners felt more secure in ignoring the rules.

Much of the day-to-day administration was carried out by prisoners. Blockovas (elsewhere in the camp system called kapos) were put in charge of individual blocks to enforce discipline. Initially the Ravensbrück blockovas were largely a-socials, but eventually tended to be communists. Helm calls this takeover by the communists (heavily French) a “camp revolution.”  Some of the blockovas were brutal, like their masters. Some actually tried to be ameliorative. In either case you didn’t want to be fired from that job!

Maguy wore the Jewish star but also a red triangle which identified her as a communist. This offended her; she was not a communist but a Gaullist, for which there was no badge. Always thin, she began to lose weight. There was never enough to eat; all of Germany was starving by 1944.

Ravensbrück had been a special project of Himmler’s. He had an estate near the camp, and came there periodically to see his mistress who was stashed there. He is said to have been the quintessential micro-manager, making decisions about such minutia as inmates’ diet and the number of strokes of the whip for various offenses. Did Maguy ever see Himmler during one of his camp inspections?

Much has been made of the medical experiments performed on prisoners by licensed doctors at Ravensbrück and other camps. They resulted in much suffering. Fortunately the numbers of these ‘rabbits,’ as they were called, were small and the deaths few. Because Ravensbrück was the only camp for women, there was also experimentation on methods of controlling – and exploiting – large numbers of female slave labor. Along with the often gratuitous cruelty, there were some SS administrators thinking about the future.

The highest camp administrators were generally SS careerists. The guards were women from neighboring villages. Neither had had had any training; they generally despised those they oversaw and frequently beat them out of frustration.

As it became more obvious that Germany was losing the war, individual inmates, guards, and administrators at Ravensbrück began to recalculate their strategies. For most inmates that involved obtaining food but also not running afoul of the camp administration. If you were an inmate who had collaborated with the administration, you would be worried about how to keep from being brutalized at war’s end by those inmates you had brutalized. If a guard, maybe fading into the rural German background from which you had been recruited. If an SS administrator, flight; but to where? Or you could deny what you were hearing about the Americans at the Rhine or the Russians only miles from Mecklenburg and await developments.