The General vs. the President; MacArthur and Truman

The General vs. the President; MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War by H.W. Brands.  Doubleday, 2016.

In April 1951 Harry Truman, in his second term as President, fired General Douglas MacArthur, then commander of the United Nations forces in the Korean War. North Korean forces had crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded South Korea one year earlier in June 1950, with the intention of uniting the peninsula. At that time General MacArthur was the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Occupied Japan, and he continued in this role until the peace treaty was signed in San Francisco in September 1951. He is considered to have been successful at guiding Japan toward a democracy and helping to restart its economy. He was also in charge of American forces in the Pacific and thus Korea fell under this command.

In 1948 MacArthur had indicated an interest in running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Presidency. He withdrew after the Wisconsin Primary and the nomination went to Thomas Dewey. H.W. Brands suggests that MacArthur’s interest in elected office was a factor in the friction between the General and the President.

It happened that Russia was boycotting the United Nations Security Council when it received the call from the Republic of South Korea asking for military assistance. Hence Russia was not able to block the UN’s decision.

China also had a permanent seat on the Security Council held by the Nationalist Chinese (Kuomintang). The Nationalists had lost a civil war on the Mainland to the Communists. Their power was confined to the island of Taiwan (Formosa). Most of the troops were supplied by the US, but several other countries also contributed: the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Philippines, and Turkey.

Almost from the beginning of our deployment, General MacArthur and President Truman had disagreed about the conduct of the War, and how autonomous a field commander should be from his Commander-in-Chief. MacArthur considered the Korean peninsula to be part of his Pacific command and, without waiting for instructions from President Truman, had begun sending military aid to the South Koreans. Next came American ground troops, part of the occupation forces stationed in Japan. Then the use of American airpower based in Japan, and then the bombing of the Yahu bridges to intercept the supply of arms coming from China and Russia.

Each time, MacArthur claimed that his decision was essential to keeping the North Koreans from permanently occupying the peninsula south of the 38th Parallel. And they were the prerogative of the field commander.  Each time Truman edged closer to firing MacArthur for insubordination; but hesitated to do so in view of his popularity with the American public.

The use of the atom bomb as a tactical weapon, according to Brands, was under discussion. It had only been five years since the bomb had been used against Japan. But that had been for strategic objectives, never on the battlefield. The Truman Administration worried about MacArthur being “trigger-happy.”

One major bone of contention was MacArthur’s suggestion that the UN make use of the Nationalist troops on Formosa against the North Koreans, now being reinforced by Chinese “volunteers.” Truman understood the nature of limited warfare better than did several of his successors in the Presidency, and he realized that this might bring on a larger confrontation and involve large numbers of American fatalities.

In 1951 my older brother turned eighteen. The extended family had lost a father/son in World War II. Even as a twelve-year old, I sensed the unpopularity of another war. But I was also captivated by The Des Moines Register’s daily maps showing the progress of the North Koreans; I read about the successful amphibious assault at Inchon and then the Chinese intervention and our retreat from the Yalu River.

The author makes clear his own reservations about MacArthur’s rambunctiousness. And that was true of this reader in the first half of the book. But Brands also allows the reader to wonder about the way MacArthur was treated after his dismissal. Was his firing the result of his advocating a more aggressive policy in Korea?  Might it have involved American presidential election politics? As it turned out MacArthur’s dismissal resulted in another general, Dwight Eisenhower, pushing MacArthur aside and ending any chance of his gaining the Republican nomination in1952.

MacArthur had his comeuppance, however. As he bid farewell to Japan, crowds gathered to provide him with a royal departure. More crowds greeted him when he arrived in San Francisco, and then in Washington. He received a ticker-tape parade in New York. MacArthur was the “man of the hour.”

Truman managed to sulk in silence. Though telling his Whitehouse staff and cabinet that his mistake had been not to fire MacArthur earlier. It is interesting that Eisenhower never invited MacArthur to assist his run for the Presidency.

The peace process stretched out over a two-year stalemate. Our demand for unconditional surrender was eventually relaxed and the war ended. Though obviously not the continuing conflict between the two Koreas and their sponsors. Fortunately so far in this twenty-first-century version of the scrap, both sides are being cautious.

The Money Cult

The Money Cult; Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream by Chris Lehmann. Melville House, 2016.

The American founding story features Pilgrims in those funny hats and austere ways. Their religion was not yet entangled in their economic life. But the industrial revolution came along in the last half of the nineteenth century, and their “plain living” had to be reconciled with both the growing aggregate wealth of the community and widening disparities in the distribution of income. Their accommodation to this wealth also embraced the pursuit of profit and its rewards. The latter was surely a sign of God’s favor.

We are familiar with Chris Lehmann’s argument. Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class; An Economic Study of Institutions and even more relevant Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism described the relationship between the ethics of austere Protestantism and the emergence of the spirit of modern capitalism.

Lehmann tracks various religious “awakenings” in the British-American colonies beginning with the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 40s. This “new birth” or “new light” was preached by itinerant celebrity speakers at “revivals” or camp meetings. The Awakening also involved a huge output of tracts. Their preaching and writing borrowed heavily from a particular reading of Scripture. Mostly evangelical, these preachers were good at marketing themselves and their message.

This robust advocacy also resulted in numerous schisms and consequently new congregations and creeds. Even though most claimed to be imitating the creedless early church, Creeds came along nevertheless.

Then, as now, there were efforts to reconcile devout faith with good fortune. Benevolence toward the needy was held up as a Christian virtue. The title, Money Cult, suggests that often these various splinter groups were like cults. They worshipped God and were thankful for His largess, which He chose to reward differentially.

Historians have called western New York State the “burned-over district” because of the many denominations and movements that originated in this region during the “Second Great Awakening.” Western Kentucky was another site of religious fervor and preaching. The church that I grew up in, the Disciples of Christ (sometimes referred to as the Christian Church), originated on the Kentucky frontier. It grew out of the preaching of Thomas and Alexander Campbell. They hoped to keep their movement free of creeds by imitating the apostolic church. Ultimately the Disciples found their way into American mainstream Protestantism – Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopal and American Baptist.

The authors and preachers of this nineteenth-century “Awakening” talked about self-improvement through faith. This religious revivalism became closely associated with a parallel effort to recognize an entrepreneurial class. Often found at the popular Chautauqua assemblies peddling their self-help tracts, they began to use radio broadcasting in the 1920s and eventually television in the 1950s.

Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993) is an example of this blending of capitalism and Christian outreach. He was for many years pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. He is best known for his book The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) and for his monthly tracts, Guideposts. Peale was a friend of the politically powerful, including Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. J.C. Penny was a friend and supporter of Peale’s.

Tim LaHaye (1919-2015) is an example of another fusion of laissez-faire capitalism and the benefits bestowed on the prosperous by an admiring God. His ministry was mostly in California and involved a large congregation, intense public relations, and fund raising. He was also a successful writer, beginning his fictional Left Behind series in 1995. As his book titles suggest, he was into the notion of “end times” and rapture of the righteous few.

According to Lehmann, this new breed of evangelists continued to merge capitalist rhetoric and Christian evangelism. Many also absorbed right-wing political views from the business class they admired who supported them financially. Perhaps their pronouncements about end-times is a partial explanation for their complacency in the face of growing wealth inequality and indifference to our environmental future.

Billy Graham, 98, has just retired from his ministry. He began that ministry in 1949, reaching a constituency of affluent, moderately conservative Protestants. He continued to use the outdoor rally that previous Christian evangelists pioneered with great success. Who will succeed him on the religious circuit?


Defining Duty in the Civil War

Defining Duty in the Civil War; Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front by J. Matthew Gallman. University of North Carolina Press, 2017 paper.

Matthew Gallman has described the ways in which the Union’s civilians understood the meaning of duty and citizenship in wartime. He has used a fascinating variety of evidential sources: the numerous newspapers and pamphlets of the day, humor magazines, literary journals, novels, and more to describe the character of popular culture during the Civil War.

Writers were responding to the high rates of literacy. Often letters home from soldiers at the front would be reprinted in the local press and thus circulate within the soldier’s community. Pre-printed cartes de visite stationery was a popular means of corresponding, and their patriotic themes were a good means of tracing popular opinion.

There were many ways in which young men in the Union could meet their intention of serving their country, either in the field of battle or on the home front. Initially there were sufficient enlistments of willing young men to cover the needs of what was assumed would be a short war. But volunteers soon proved insufficient. Other options. You could find an old lady who was willing to convince a provost marshal of her total dependence upon you. Or young men could pay a $300.00 commutation fee ($9,150 in 2017 dollars). You could apply for a deferment, arguing that you were engaged in an occupation necessary to the war effort. You could accept a bounty as an incentive to enlist. The money given out as bounties was raised by your local community. (Bounty jumpers were those who went AWOL and returned home.) You could hire a substitute. There was always Canada.

You could claim to have a “bad spleen’” and prove it with a doctor’s note, forged if necessary. You could mutilate your trigger finger. Gallman argues that these options were a combination of patriotic appeals and something akin to market-like incentives.

There were also conscientious objectors, not to be confused with those who opposed the war for political reasons, the Copperheads. Quakers had a long-standing antipathy to war. But there were also numerous Quakers who had contracts to supply materiel for the battlefield. And they profited while others fought.

Professor Gallman (History, UF) could have buttressed his clear arguments with a quick look at “the songs that fought the Civil War.” (See The model would be The Songs that Fought the War; Popular Music and the Home Front, 1939-1945.) Tell My Father is perhaps the most moving of the popular songs of the Civil War era. Familiar to me: The Yellow Rose of Texas, When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, We’re Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground, Marching through Georgia, and a disproportionate number of songs that celebrate the Irish involvement in the Union cause.

Some are marching songs, many sung around the campfire. They would have been available as sheet music for the home front and the parlor piano.  Their sentiments matched the meaning of duty and citizenship in wartime that Gallman describes.

The Lincoln Administration was remarkably patient with this imperfect recruitment. It did not argue that all those who avoided war service were unpatriotic. Rather his Administration looked for ways in which these nineteenth-century peaceniks could find opportunities to serve their country off the battlefield.

Lincoln regarded conscription as an opportunity to select those who could best serve their country on the battlefield. Conscription was not a conscription of the unwilling but rather selecting from a nation that had volunteered en masse.

The system led to abuse. And no amount of humor. One petition to a provost marshal asking for the bearer’s relief from military service because his vital importance to the home front was attested to and signed by 500 ladies!

Urban elite males sought opportunities to receive a command. They then had to recruit their unit. That would take time, effort, and money. At times these would-be commanders would hang around army headquarters as though they were on active duty, but without a unit. General McClellan found this so bothersome that he ordered all officers to return to their units or be removed from army command posts.

The various strategies for appearing dutiful are almost exclusively white male contrivances. In the early years of the war, the stated aim was the preservation of the union; all patriotic men were to serve their country to restore its unity. With the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 war aims changed. Slave emancipation emerged as the main aim. Northern civilians were much less enthusiastic about that objective, which affected enlistment.

What about blacks? The participation of African Americans was more complicated. Confederate forces threatened to enslave black soldiers from northern cities who were taken captive. Blacks, until late in the war, were paid less than white soldiers and were primarily used for heavy labor rather than infantry.

Northern white men were entering the period of service as individuals looking for the best way to serve their country. Northern black males, on the other hand, constructed a collective response of their race to defining duty in the Civil War.

The Other Slavery

The Other Slavery; The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America by Andrés Reséndez Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.


Andrés Reséndez has called our attention to the widespread enslavement of Indians in the American West and Spanish Mexico as early as the sixteenth-century. Indian slavery was different from the African slavery used extensively in the cotton fields of the Southern United States. Indian slavery grew out of the institution of peonage and was more like the involuntary servitude practiced in medieval and early modern Europe. Some historians would argue that the apprenticeship laws in early colonial America were a form of servitude similar to Indian slavery in our Western states.

The silver mines of colonial Spain were labor intensive and Indian slaves were used to dig out the silver and then carry out the heavy loads of tailings. And this demand for slaves for the mines supported a complicated set of exchanges amongst the western Indian tribes. The presence of a steady demand for leather – hence buffalo hides – for the mines and miners gave work to many captive female slaves. And the use of the horse in buffalo hunts increased the kill and the trade in hides.

The author suggests that the first source of Indian slaves in the Southwest was the Island of Espaňola in the Galápagos. The slave-hunting venues multiplied; eventually there were five major slaving areas –Chile, Paraguay and the adjoining provinces of Brazil, the grassland areas of Colombia and Venezuela, the Philippines, and northern Mexico, the last being the focus of The Other Slavery. Many of the western tribes had captured members of other tribes in warfare, for which they demanded ransoms. And often that ransom demand was met with captives who then became slaves.

Andrés Reséndez suggests why the presence of Indian slavery was neglected in histories of North American settlement. For one, there was no abolitionist movement focusing on Indian slavery. Because of the settlement that ended the Mexican War (1846-1848), President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 also applied to the slaves of Indian tribes in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and parts of California. When the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in January 1865, it also abolished Indian slavery as well. But that was almost an afterthought.

Reséndez  reminds us that the Spanish Empire made numerous efforts to reform and eventually abolish Indian slavery long before the nineteenth century, first in Spain and then in Spanish America. In 1542 the New Legal Code of Metropolitan Spain stated that no American Indians could be enslaved under any circumstance. Charles II (1675-1700) and earlier during his mother Mariana’s regency (1665-1675) Spain enacted ordinances limiting slavery and passed them on to its New World colonial governments to enforce. But to no avail. The labor of Indian slaves was needed in the silver mines on which metropolitan Spain depended. Also it was common for Spanish clergy to argue that Indians were better off living in Christian homes and exposed to the true religion than in their own natural state. Never really successful, the strictures against slavery at least gave Native Americans an occasional opportunity to seek justice in Spanish courts.

Spanish Legal Codes, however, had a provision that Indians captured in a designated zone of war could be sold into slavery. So when you needed to acquire Indian slaves either to trade, or to work in your mine or tend your crops, you conducted a military campaign, which justified enslavement.

It is not surprising that Indian slaves offered greater resistance to their enslavement than was the case with African slavery. There were greater opportunities for hiding out and flight than was true in the American South. Even then and given how badly they were treated, there were remarkably few slave uprisings.

The largest uprising in the Southwest was the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680. The plan to have all of the Pueblos arise at the same time was compromised by a lack of co-ordination among the several Pueblos. .  Also by killing friars and destroying church property, the revolt seemed to be an attack on Christianity. The Indians were said to be led by Indian “sorcerers and idolaters.”

Reséndez suggests that part of the unsettled character of the Southwest was a result of conflict between those tribes that were trying to retain their nomadic way of life and competing tribes that had taken up agriculture and a more settled existence. Their allegiances during the rebellion tended to align in this way.

Andrés Reséndez argues that the decline and demographic collapse of Native American populations was primarily due to the Indian slave trade rather than the spread of infectious diseases as is often argued. And the acquisition of horses turned whole tribes, for example, the Comanches, into raiders and slave traders.  Until the nineteenth century, captive males past a certain age were either killed or sent south to the great slave emporium of Parral, in Chihuahua State, Mexico, Never to return. Eventually, however, the younger males were kept around to replenish the many males killed in warfare.



Divided Cities

Divided Cities; Belfast (Northern Ireland), Beirut (Lebanon), Jerusalem (Israel), Mostar (Bosnia Herzegovina), and Nicosia (Cyprus) by Jon Calame & Ester Charlesworth. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009, paper.


Divided Cities was required reading for a course in international relations taught by Professor Ida Hozic at the University of Florida in the spring semester of 2017. Three of these divided cities that we discussed are in Europe. But there are divided cities in the Middle East, the Balkans, Cyprus, and Palestine as well

The authors of Divided Cities and Professor Hozic agree that the walls – in some cases former thoroughfares – are intended to separate ethnic groups. Short-run solutions to conflict management, they have, however, created even greater tensions between the separated groups. This was definitely true of divided Berlin after World War II. As with Berlin, many divided cities are the product of proxy wars between outsiders. The Israelis and their patron, the US, have determined Jerusalem’s partition, largely ignoring Palestinian interests. International peace-keeping organizations, including the United Nations, have also imposed walls on cities.

Divided cities are sometimes the consequence of the disappearance of the British and other European Empires after WWII. Belfast and Mostar are examples. They were part of a partitioning of former colonies in order to accommodate ethnic and religious differences.

In the Jerusalem case, Britain was unable to keep the peace between the Arabs and the European Jews who fled to Palestine after Britain acquired a mandate in 1920. British efforts to contain the ethnic and religious conflict between Arab and Jew was unpopular with both. The British withdrawal in 1948, however, created a seemingly irreconcilable division in Greater Jerusalem. Intended to resolve the growing clashes, division has solved nothing. And the Israelis, with American collusion, began to create settlements within the Jerusalem area often on land confiscated or purchased from the Palestinians.

Creating divided cities is not new to history. In medieval Europe and elsewhere, walls were used to divide a city from a more insecure countryside or to define a population subject to special urban taxes. These divisions also served as ethnic enclaves or became so over time.

In many ways the divided city of Nicosia on Cyprus best illustrates the long history of walls that separate. A “green line” and buffer zone, established in 1963, ran through the old walled town and divided Greek from Turkish enclaves. This green line followed the major thoroughfare through the city that had connected popular squares in the old Venetian city. At times, however, it divided ethnically mixed neighborhoods resulting in their being less diverse.

Nicosia’s walls and green line encapsulated the long history of Europe’s divided cities. However, its fate in the twentieth century was to continue that division, a situation the authors claim was an instance of the British policy of “divide and leave.”

The division of Belfast was a British Imperial solution to ethnic differences, “the Troubles.” But here there was also a declining industrial base that had been a healthy part of the city’s stability. Both Northern Ireland (six Ulster Counties and heavily Protestant) and the Republic of Ireland (Roman Catholic) were granted self-government by the British in the 1920s. World War II caused deep divisions among the Irish.  Northern Ireland joined with the British in the war against Germany. The Irish Republic remained neutral, and watched France and the Low Countries being overrun by the German Wehrmacht. The Luftwaffe bombed Belfast along with other British cities but not Dublin and other Irish Republic cities.

Divisions within cites have become more complicated recently because of refugees flowing into cities to escape the violence in the eastern Mediterranean. Beirut is an example. Generally refugees create densities that lead to the deterioration of housing and infrastructure. And refugees often seek out their ethnic cohort intensifying divisions.

Even North America cities are frequently “divided” by economic disparities and racial conflict. No walls! But oh, the proposed wall on the Mexican border.

These are contentious issues and the authors have retained a neutrality, while explaining the enormous costs involved in these walls that divide. The book supports the unhappy conclusion that this “apartheid” ultimately impedes intercommunal cooperation.