One Long Night; A Global History of Concentration Camps by Andrea Pitzer Little, Brown 2017

Andrea Pitzer, the author of One Long Night, has a chapter halfway through her book called “The Architecture of Auschwitz,” and I think that a good starting point for any review of her book. The components of Auschwitz and other German camps were already in existence by the 1930s. The Germans had their own needs to house civilians temporarily in camps that would both protect them – though that was not generally the major purpose – but also utilize their labor.

In January 1942, the German bureaucrats who were responsible for devising a solution to a part of that puzzle, the “Jewish question” or Judenfrage, gathered in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee. They came up with what they considered to be a ‘final’ solution Endlösung. The question of when and where to send unwanted civilians had been an issue in Germany, the British Empire, and elsewhere since the late nineteenth century. And their death had not been the most important reason for their detention.

The issue of how to treat enemy aliens during a war had been raised back in the Spanish-American War in 1898. There were, at the time, no formal detention centers, and hence no care given to their needs. During our war with Spain, it was decided to use a Naval Air Station in Cuba on Guantanamo Bay.

In the case of Guantanamo, we were concerned about health and safety, mostly. But the whole world was shocked by the British treatment and fate of a population of Dutch farmers in South Africa, the Boers, during the Boer War of 1899. The women and children had been providing support to their men folk off fighting a guerilla war against a brutal British colonial army. The facilities for their detention were inadequate, and the Brits mostly let them die of disease and hunger in poorly provisioned camps.

At the same time, Europeans were meeting at the Hague (1899, 1907) to iron out the rules of warfare including the treatment of civilians.

I don’t want to pick on Britain and the British Empire particularly, but there is the historical record. Back home when war broke out in France and Belgium in 1914, the British began collecting German civilian prisoners then living in Britain and sending them at first to a camp on the Isle of Man, then using defunct jails and a kids holiday camp. Neither had good security, so the ‘national security people’ added additional compounds surrounded by barbed wire. German POWs were also sent to Canada where they were required to perform useful labor. Hence another part of the Hague conventions and the architecture of civilian internment had been added.

There were various classifications for these prisoners: known as Nazi sympathizers, immediate internment. (The Brits were preoccupied with the possibility of espionage risks.) Another classification was just to monitor them, confiscate their cameras. They were restricted in their travel around Britain and Ireland. However, sixty-six thousand enemy aliens not considered in any way a security threat were simply required to register. Many of them were Jewish refugees who had recently arrived in family groups.  Britain was being cautious. Much the same was true of their policies in India.

Of course the Russians had always had their “gulags,” places of extreme neglect and suffering. They also were inadequate for the immediate task of housing of captured German POWs. Also, civilians caught on the wrong side of the Russian Revolution and the collectivization of rural populations were interned into labor camps.

The German involvement in camps for German and Polish Jews is too familiar to require more elaboration. But Pitzer makes the interesting point that those internment camps were generally not initially set up to exterminate unwanted populations. They came to that as European opponents of the Nazi regime in Germany and France – but also Austria and Northern Italy, multiplied and began flowing into whatever facilities were available.

The camps became specialized. Some were purely labor camps, some punishment camps for criminality, camps for women only, but some were extermination camps. All of the “architecture” of Auschwitz-Birkenau had evolved over decades of incarceration, even if their immediate function was not Jewish destruction.

Then there were the Japanese-American internees. Always suspect by Californians, they were rounded up after Pearl Harbor and sent inland, 120,000 of them. Many were citizens with Japanese ancestors. And the internment was blessed by the US Supreme Court in “U.S. vs. Korematsu”, a famous case involving the constitutionality of the action.

We have caught up with the long, sordid history of concentration camps. But one final chapter “The Bastard Children of the Camps,” and Pitzer is not talking about human infants but rather the continued practice of interning civilians. Back to Guantánamo where we have housed those arrested after the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. And then to General Pinochet’s Chili, Kenya, Malaya, Afghanistan, and French Indo-China to look at these “bastard camps”, and also add isolation, kidnapping, interrogation, torturing, and execution, to the “architecture” already described.

At the very end, Andrea Pitzer brings up another question: what to do with the ‘bodies.’ Some German concentration camps were solidly built of brick and are still around to visit, but many are collapsing into heaps of rotting wood. Memory is often attached to physical remains – and monuments of various kinds. Will the loss of those structures also mean the demise of their remembrance?

March 1917; On the Brink of War and Revolution by Will Englund. W.W. Norton

Will England has marched us through the difficult months leading up to American entry into the Great War. German submarines were systematically sinking our cargo ships hauling industrial goods and food to Britain and her allies. There was supposed to be an exception made for passenger liners, but in May 1915 the Lusitania was sunk off the Irish coast with American lives lost in this great “crime against civilization.”

Or at least that was the judgment of President Woodrow Wilson (1913 to 1921). Wilson had campaigned for the Presidency in 1913 on a peace plank. He would not lead us into the war in Europe, already eight months old and exhibiting its enormous deadliness. In truth the country was as divided about this war as was Wilson’s mind. That encouraged him to make it “the war to end all wars,” and “peace without victory.” His 14 Points and the League of Nations Organization were already becoming, in his mind, the means to that end.

Europeans had endured their share of armed conflict in the previous century, but those wars were short and decisive, often not much longer than the year it took to complete the massive mobilization for war that their military bureaucracies had planned. But this War was proving to be not short and infinitely more deadly. If it were to serve any purpose other than killing and crippling a lot of young men, it seemed important to begin the negotiation process with the country most likely to end the war a victor, Germany.

The Germans had temporarily suspended submarine warfare with an eye toward helping Wilson sell the neutrality that he was preaching. And they were hoping to thwart the deployment of our arms and armies. But that would require a quick victory. Which meant shutting off both from the European conflict.

America was a nation based on strong Anglo-Saxon traditions. But millions of Germans had migrated to this country in the last century, mainly to the Midwestern farm belt. I grew up in a small Iowa town that had a lot of those farmers. They didn’t have a German association in town. They had a Schleswig-Holstein association. Berlin was a small town just north of us; the town’s name was changed to a safer, Lincoln.

Englund spends a good part of a chapter on a famous incident that the British hoped would persuade the U.S. to join them in their war with the German empire. The German Embassy in London had sent a telegram from the German Foreign Mister in Berlin, Arthur Zimmermann, to the president of Mexico, Venustiano Caranza, suggesting that if he would join Germany in the war against the U.S. and the Allies, the Germans would, in turn, help Mexico recover lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, lost in the Spanish American War. And the Zimmermann Telegram – as it came to be known – accomplished its purpose of drawing America into the war.

In addition to the European conflict, the country was divided about both prohibition and women’s suffrage. There was much labor unrest, agitation for an eight-hour work day. All this when Wilson had to deal with a big international crisis. W.E.B. DuBois added the new demands formulated by blacks, particularly in the North. There had been a considerable migration of African Americans out of the South, who were making demands in exchange for their labor and their patriotism.

The dust cover of Englund’s book has two portraits one of President Wilson and one of the Czar of Nicholas II. Although Nicholas enjoyed the real estate that went with the position, he was not fond of his job. Moreover he had surrounded himself with reactionary Russians, who imagined that their Czar’s decisions regarding the Great War were being influenced by his German wife. Russian elites, many of them at least, were inclined to join the Germans. But they also were surrounded by troubles: food shortages, labor unrest, police firing on demonstrators. Radicals stirring up factory workers in St. Petersburg, and mutinies in the navy and army.

Russians had joined the French in their hopes of holding on to territory in Eastern Europe.  They also had territorial gains in mind, provinces dominated by Ukranians, Balts, and Belarusians. On 15 March Nicholas abdicated, breathing a sigh of relief with his release from constant worries.

The Soviet representing the workers issued Order No. 1, which directed the military to obey only orders from the Soviets, not those of the new Provincial government. The Civil War had begun.

Wilson hopes that the Russian Revolution as we now call this turmoil would lead to greater democracy in Russia. Thus it would be the democracies against the Empires. German, Austrian, and Italian.  Russia was no longer a safe bet for the democracies category.

Despite the situation in Russia, Wilson continued to procrastinate – on the “brink” of going to war, and supported by a majority of Americans, but also concerned about the anti-war sentiment. Particularly that was a problem because we had no army; he would have to rely on universal conscription to raise one.  Eventually there would be over two million Americans serving overseas in uniform.

President Wilson had to submit his decision to enter the war to Congress. By then there was considerable support for entering the war. And so we did. Many young American men were eager to get “over there.” My dad, for example, although he never made it. After he volunteered and got his training, he was sent around to bases all over this country to assemble Curtis Jennies that were used in military flight schools.

The Source; How Rivers Made America and America Remade Its Rivers by Martin Doyle. W.W. Norton

            If our water resources are carefully managed, Martin Doyle claims, there would be sufficient rainfall for our needs. A big if!  Commonly there are shortages of rain, particularly in the dry areas of the country west of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. On the other hand, we have floods resulting from abnormal amounts of rainfall east of those great rivers. Variations in the amount of rainfall have their effect on river systems, so we have devised a system of levees – elevated banks – that keep the “flood waters” contained. Shortages of rainfall- dry spells – are less well managed.

            In those years when the rains are insufficient, “water wars” occur. Users compete for water. Long-term water shortages are mostly the result of an ever-expanding land use, which we call “suburbia.” Water shortages are also the result of increasing “industrial uses,” an essential part of the manufacturing processes. “Waste” water is also used to help us deal with the various effluents polluting the environment.

Nature supplies bacteria to help with the process of ridding ourselves of those effluents. That works fairly well, given enough time. Given enough time, the water that reenters our streams and lakes should have been stripped of a major effluent – methane. The methane can then be used to produce some of the energy needed for the restorative process. Given time and the right processing, this breaking down of waste water can also produce both nitrogen and phosphates, also useful byproducts of our water treatment plants.

Water in the Eastern U.S. has also been a source of power, the “fall line.” Doyle has a description of how water, over the centuries, has powered our economy.

In the eastern US, there is a geological feature involving falling water, the fall line. The earliest uses of the fall line in the U.S. were to power lumber and grist mills, and to manufacture flour. If the supply of water was erratic, it was useful to dam up and store water above the fall line in a lake that, when, needed, could produce a fall and source of water power. Hence water power “in storage.”

It took time to adopt steam – heating water by burning coal to produce steam. Steam could be used to power machinery connected to a power source by belts. We then learned how to convert steam power into electrical power. Happy ending: from falling water to an electric light switch.

 Martin Doyle tells another interesting story. How were these power sources financed? Private enterprise, or mostly state enterprise? There are thousands of dams and power sources throughout the country that are the result of “private enterprise”. On the other hand, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Hoover Dam, and other huge projects are government enterprises created and run by a “public sector.”

Before this federal intervention, there had to be a means of paying for this infrastructure. The early canals built in this country collected tolls and fees. But Doyle reminds us that these larger state financed projects had to await the Income Tax Amendment (1913). This constitutional amendment gave the government the authority to collect income taxes and hence the where-with-all to finance such huge projects as the TVA.

It was during the two presidencies of Ronald Reagan (1980 to 1988) that we entered the world of derivatives, options, and swaps and the ability to issue municipal bonds with lower interest rates, new financial mechanisms to pay the bills. Infrastructure costs could be sliced and divided up into federal debt allowing it to be bought and sold by private investors.  Pollution permits were now saleable. Hence President Reagan’s version of the free-market would enable the costs of the environmental activism of the public sector to be financed by the money market. Even the roadbuilders could buy “stream credits” when planning their new roads.

For many years the Army Corps of Engineers went around straightening our meandering rivers so that they were better able to serve river transport. But that had its costs, Doyle reminds us. Straightened rivers ran faster and deeper, resulting in more erosion. The disappearing meanderings had been important breeding grounds for fish and other animals. The artificial lakes behind the hundreds of dams made for good fishing. However removing the dams as they aged became a necessary, but often neglected, component of the dam-building. We are now restoring those “meanderings” and hence the environment for wildlife.

Those who look after our rivers and lakes are now taking an interest in beavers and their dams.

The Race to Save the Romanovs; The Truth Behind the Secret Plans to Rescue the Russian Imperial Family by Helen Rappaport. Penguin, 2018.

            Czar Nicholas II of Russia abdicated his throne in March 1917, to be succeeded by the Provisional and then Revolutionary (Bolshevik) governments. In this eventful year, Nicholas, his family, and his entourage were imprisoned in several towns along the Trans-Siberian Railway. They were eventually taken out into the woods near their last prison in the town of Ekaterinburg, shot and then bayonetted by their guards under the supervision of a band of Bolsheviks.

            By 1917, European royalty were one large, unhappy family. Much of the royalty were cousins: or uncles, aunts, second cousins. They would show up for family reunions but not always enjoy each other’s company. Though occasionally those connections had been useful in keeping the peace in Europe.

But another political structure, republicanism, had arisen in Russia, Britain, Scandinavia, Greece, Spain, and elsewhere. It represented a challenge to the influence of these royals.  This complicated the diplomacy surrounding a rescue of the czar. Complicated also by the fact that since 1914 these countries were at war with each other.

This was the fate of the Russian royal family. Nicholas II, his German wife – Alexandra, and their five children – four sisters and their brother, Alexey who was heir to the Russian throne.  Alexandra’s concerns about her son’s health and the influence that Rasputin had over her generated critical public opinion. But also she was German and not popular with the Russian aristocracy.

 

            Those who have already read several books about the Romanovs will be surprised at how little time Helen Rappaport spends describing Rasputin’s influence on the royal couple. He was believed to have healing powers that would help with Prince Alexey’s health problems. Alexey had hemophilia.

Among many complaints Alexandra was blamed for the Czar’s ignoring Russia’s ills. Things were not going well. Nicholas had hoped that the war in Europe would bring some reprieve from the disorder of Moscow and St. Petersburg (Petrograd). But if anything, the strikes and workers’ protests and the mutinies within the Russian navy were complicating any political resolution and certainly any collective wisdom about what to do about the growing anarchy. Nicholas had reconciled himself to abdication, but he did not want to leave Russia.

The rest of Europe, however, was looking for a place that would provide a satisfactory exile. Britain was the most likely location. The British Government had long welcomed deposed monarchs and welcomed the idea of extending an invitation to Nicholas and his family. But the British royalty were less welcoming. Their being in the midst of World War I, the British thought they should consult with their ally, France. The latter was definitely uninterested. The Germans might have been willing to accept a dethroned Russian monarch, but they were presently at war with the Russians.

It would seem that no one wanted to compete for the role of saving the Czar’s family. Or bolstering the Provisional Government and the radicalism that arose in the Duma.  Or further spreading of the Russian Revolution elsewhere in Europe. Or using the Czar’s alleged funds “stashed away in European banks” to fund a return of the Russian autocracy.

Rappaport takes us back and forth on the Trans-Siberian railway, to the frozen harbors of the Barents, to the dusty plains of Russian Asia. Nicholas agreed to become a prisoner of the Provisional Government if it meant any guarantee about the safety of his family. Talk of a Crimean exile. Had Nicholas and Alexandria agreed early on to an exile that would have opened up other possibilities?  Murmansk and Archangel would have been likely ports for their departure.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918) ended the war between Germany and Russia but failed to mention the fate of the Czar. Though likely the Russian royal family would have been mortified with the idea of being rescued by the Germans. 

What triggered the “murder” as Helen Rappaport called it? Likely it was the growing success of the Bolsheviks and the fear that the Czar would escape and lead a counter-revolution. But can we pronounce with any certainty about the outcomes: what might have been done, but wasn’t.  

Berlin 1936; Sixteen Days in August by Oliver Hilmes. Other Press, 2018.

One of the less significant moments in the Berlin Summer Olympics of 1936 was an incident involving Jessie Owens, the American star of the track and field events. Having just won one of his four gold medals, he was denied a recognition by the German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler. But Oliver Hilmes believes the incident’s authenticity is dubious.

The Olympic Games, held in Berlin’s magnificent new stadium, was the successor to the Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles in 1932.  The Germans created a new tradition; a runner delivering a lighted torch on the opening day of the Games. Supposedly the flaming torch would come from the city that had hosted the previous Olympic Games. But the Los Angeles-to-Berlin run involved one or another ocean.

The Olympics were intended to showcase the “peace-loving” Nazi regime. Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda, were regular attendees at the Games. But Hilmes suggests that their peace-loving gesture was senseless. Poland and Austria had already been occupied and added to the Third Reich, Poland by a German invasion and occupation of Austria after a fraudulent plebiscite. Austrian Nazis attending the Games were determined to outdo the Germans in their ardor. The Reich had competition on two fronts.

Hitler opened the event with his usual “mob oratory”. He was acclaimed by a capacity crowd of 100,000 sports fans in the Olympic Stadium. Hard to overlook were the numerous swastikas and the stiff-armed fascist salutes that accompanied Hitler wherever he went. Richard Wagner’s music was used as the score for the occasion.

The grand events on this first day were mostly the result of Leni Riefenstahl’s planning. Hitler was pleased. Leni was a moderately well-known photographer and lately a film-maker. She photographed the annual Nazi party rallies from 1933 through 1938 from which her newsreel, Triumph of the Will, was taken. Hilmes argues that Riefenstahl’s staging and broadcasting of these sports events became the model for radio – later television – broadcasts around the world.

The Chancellor’s favor she had, but Riefenstahl did not get along with Herr Goebbels.

The Nazi Regime had not yet displayed the murderous edge that it would soon show. By the summer of 1936, Hitler was moving against the German Jews. Jewish athletes were barred from membership in the German sports clubs that sponsored the German team.

The work camps were not yet established. They would begin to appear in the next few months. And there were still Germans who felt free to complain about the Nazis, though it was considered bad form to do so in front of the foreigners visiting Berlin for the Olympics. Hitler especially wished to impress the British. Perhaps the beginnings of an alliance could come out of this sports gathering?

It was one thing to bar German Jews from competition. But American Jews were outraged when it appeared that the American delegation to the Berlin Olympics had been closed to Jewish athletes to curry favor with the Nazis. The head of the International Olympic Committee in the U.S., Avery Brundage, was asked to investigate the situation. After a look around and some mild criticism, Brundage revealed that his sports club in Chicago also barred Jewish membership.

Forty-nine countries were represented amongst the 4000 athletes, and eighty-nine medals were passed out. Germans won the most medals, easily, followed by the U.S. But Hitler was perturbed by the success of athletes from the U.S. and other countries doing well against their German competition.

Hitler had ensured that the homeless street people would not bother the image of a prosperous Germany. Mostly Gypsies, ‘Chancellor Hitler regretted the “Gypsy Plague”. They had been largely removed from Berlin’s streets by opening day.

Hilmes takes an odd turn when he describes the Berlin night life that entertained those who attended the Berlin Olympics. He describes the high-end dining and better-known bars where the beer flowed. The presence of so many attendees to be entertained provided an opportunity for American jazz musicians, newly arrived in Germany, to find European audiences. The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra presented an Olympic Anthem, to be performed in the new stadium.

Oliver Hilmes’s final chapter is interesting – “What became of…?” Many of those attendees who come alive in Hilmes’ narrative had unfortunate endings. Berlin was badly damaged by Allied bombing during WWII. Hence the Berliners who once sparked avant-garde restaurants and trendy bars came under aerial attack – along with their establishments.

Between Monopoly and Free Trade; The English East India Company, 1600 to 1757 by Emily Erikson. Princeton, 2014 paper.

One of the early successes of capitalism, free trade, and the combination thereof was the opening up of South Asia and East Asia, “the Indies,” to Europe and particularly to the enterprise of private companies in Great Britain and Holland. Emily Erikson looks particularly at the East India Company and its trade with Asia.

Unlike most historians, Emily Erikson believes that the success of this trade depended heavily on what is called the private trade. The East India Company allowed its employees (factors) to carry on a trade of their own while they also served the Company. This private trade created opportunities that the East India Company could then exploit. These private companies usually enjoyed the same exemption from taxes and other levies as the East Indian Company.

Erikson has analyzed eight different port types in East Asia and then compiled a list of some 260 port cities and their types. Her list includes not only the most celebrated ports of call, but also various smaller ports and their trade. This trading activity with the smaller ports lasted for various lengths of time, called spells.

The goods traded were relatively stable: pepper and other spices, coffee, tea, raw silk, textiles, and eventually cotton and cotton yarn to feed the textile industry in Great Britain. Erikson mentions the “calico craze”, woven cotton cloth, also printed in India.

The types of seaport that she calls “market” and “colonial” eventually dominated this international trade. But the ports-of-call types continued to participate in the trade, both with coastal communities in South Asia and the Dutch East Indies, but also Europe.

The bulk of the trade was, however, the internal trade amongst port cities. And there were lots of smaller port cities – we might call “start-ups”- that participated in this growing port-to-port trade.

The East India Company did not own its ships; they were leased for long periods of time. Often a company’s ships would stay in one port for months looking for potential trade goods. They were free to go where trade information led them. Hence the company’s ships took as long as two years to make it to the Indian Ocean, around to the various ports of call, and then back to Britain.

As this side of the business continued to expand, another set of British investors constructed “factories” or warehouses, ship-repair, and other port facilities. Some of the ports attracted permanent settlements: private traders who established their businesses in these port towns, but also a community of Indians who became the middlemen between ports and inland markets. Other enterprising Indians provided housing for the new merchants and traders.

Trade needed to be two-way. Britain – Europe – exported a long list of consumer goods to these Asian customers. The British government and the Company worried that “balancing” of trade between South Asia and Britain would involve the drain of gold and silver,’ which was needed to back the British currency. It was a violation of a major tenant of mercantile theory which measured a country’s wealth in part by the reserves of precious metals held by the banking system.

The South Asia and East Asia Trade was financed by British savers. Britain had enjoyed a remarkable period of economic growth and hence some of the capital that financed the trade with South Asia was from those profits. India Bonds were considered a safe investment, they paid good interest, were relatively liquid, and popular with old money. Many a deal was struck in the coffee houses of London.

There has been much discussion about whether the activity of the private traders was detrimental or a boon to the economy of the East India Company. Emily Erikson definitely believes it to have been a boon.

One thing led to another. Eventually the East India Company attracted sufficient numbers of civilians to require some better way of governing the Company and its business.  The British governance of the East India Company became the Government of India, a trained bureaucracy which also became revenue collectors and established themselves in the countryside. Portuguese made roughly the same adaptation with trade to governance. Hence the colony of Goa. The Dutch East Indies made many a Dutchman wealthy. These smaller coastal ports became the opportunity for European trade to restructure the South Asian economy.

Did this European trade in Asian goods retard the economic development of the sub-continent? That is not the argument Emily Erikson makes in her Between Monopoly and Free Trade. Though many economic historians do.

Behemoth; A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World by Joshua Freeman. W.W. Norton, 2018.

Behemoth is a reference to the huge factories that once dominated the industrial landscapes of Europe and America. In the early days of the Behemoth, they were often four to five-storied brick constructions, later cement and steel. These large factory buildings and building complexes gathered around them a population of factory workers. Joshua Freeman considers this phenomenon to be “the making of the modern world.”

Freeman explores the technology of factory production in these early years, the elaborate system of leather belts that delivered the power from its source to the industrial floor. And what was called “scientific management,” i.e. getting the factors of production – raw materials, machines, and labor – to the right work station at the right time.   

This era of the Behemoth and the concentration of manufacturing lasted through World War II. In the more recent decades factories have become smaller, individual manufacturing districts more compact, and those districts dispersed around the country.

We trailed behind Britain in this early nineteenth-century factory production because of the shortage of one essential. We had no underutilized work-force. Eventually that was overcome by the employment of “farm girls,” young women off the farm, who sought work in the mills to fund their dowries. The British behemoths had more potential female and male employees available for work than did the US.

 Made to be a draw for potential factory workers, employers often built dormitories. Providing housing allowed for better supervision over the work force. But this supervision ultimately amalgamated the work force and hence their bargaining power. Labor adopted the factory strike as a means of enhancing their bargaining position. The IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) was an early instance of the growing organization of workers’ power over their work life. British capitalists, on the other hand, could draw workers from the poor house and other pools of underemployment in Britain’s rural areas not available to the early American industrialists

There were no political rights that came with factory employment. No free speech; no free assembly. It must be remembered, however, that women were barred from most of those political rights, and many men were as well, through a restricted franchise.

Children were found to be good industrial workers in a situation where body strength was not essential. They had for decades been working looms and other manufacturing processes in their homes (cottages, hence “cottage industry”). Clearing out industrial machinery from the living space and into factories was an improvement in both the work and living environments.

In these earliest years of the industrial revolution the major constraint on industrial production was the shortage of the materials available on the factory floor. Overcoming that shortage involved considerable coordination.  The raw materials used in the manufacturing process were assembled first by water transport – rivers, lakes, and reservoirs – and then by railroads.

The first few chapters of Joshua Freeman’s book describe this gradual transformation of the factory’s source of power, first by falling water, then steam using wood and hence forests as fuel. Eventually coal, converted into electricity. 

Having described factories in the US in the nineteenth century, Freeman then travels to Russia and includes an account of Soviet industrialization in the 1930s. This was a response to the rapid growth of German militarization and its industrial economy. But even more, the availability of an underutilized rural labor force. The Russians did some borrowing from European and American banks to finance its industrial development, but the major portion of funds were extracted from peasant agriculture. They also did a lot of planning in the inter-war period, borrowing from American and European expertise to explore a more rational path to an industrial economy.

Since WWII, industrial “gigantism” in Russia slowed, and the Soviets have even allowed some entrepreneurs to flourish. Ironically the other victor in WWII, the US, became an enthusiastic promoter of planned industrial development. At least if it were somewhere else. Those Americans who advocated planning were often from the American entrepreneurial class and had in mind a mixed economy – of their design. Their inspiration came from Russia and Eastern Europe. Their model: the behemoths of the twentieth century.

Behemoth; A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World by Joshua Freeman. W.W. Norton, 2018.

Behemoth is a reference to the huge factories that once dominated the industrial landscapes of Europe and America. In the early days of the Behemoth, they were often four to five-storied brick constructions, later cement and steel. These large factory buildings and building complexes gathered around them a population of factory workers. Joshua Freeman considers this phenomenon to be “the making of the modern world.”

Freeman explores the technology of factory production in these early years, the elaborate system of leather belts that delivered the power from its source to the industrial floor. And what was called “scientific management,” i.e. getting the factors of production – raw materials, machines, and labor – to the right work station at the right time.   

This era of the Behemoth and the concentration of manufacturing lasted through World War II. In the more recent decades factories have become smaller, individual manufacturing districts more compact, and those districts dispersed around the country.

We trailed behind Britain in this early nineteenth-century factory production because of the shortage of one essential. We had no underutilized work-force. Eventually that was overcome by the employment of “farm girls,” young women off the farm, who sought work in the mills to fund their dowries. The British behemoths had more potential female and male employees available for work than did the US.

 Made to be a draw for potential factory workers, employers often built dormitories. Providing housing allowed for better supervision over the work force. But this supervision ultimately amalgamated the work force and hence their bargaining power. Labor adopted the factory strike as a means of enhancing their bargaining position. The IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) was an early instance of the growing organization of workers’ power over their work life. British capitalists, on the other hand, could draw workers from the poor house and other pools of underemployment in Britain’s rural areas not available to the early American industrialists

There were no political rights that came with factory employment. No free speech; no free assembly. It must be remembered, however, that women were barred from most of those political rights, and many men were as well, through a restricted franchise.

Children were found to be good industrial workers in a situation where body strength was not essential. They had for decades been working looms and other manufacturing processes in their homes (cottages, hence “cottage industry”). Clearing out industrial machinery from the living space and into factories was an improvement in both the work and living environments.

In these earliest years of the industrial revolution the major constraint on industrial production was the shortage of the materials available on the factory floor. Overcoming that shortage involved considerable coordination.  The raw materials used in the manufacturing process were assembled first by water transport – rivers, lakes, and reservoirs – and then by railroads.

The first few chapters of Joshua Freeman’s book describe this gradual transformation of the factory’s source of power, first by falling water, then steam using wood and hence forests as fuel. Eventually coal, converted into electricity. 

Having described factories in the US in the nineteenth century, Freeman then travels to Russia and includes an account of Soviet industrialization in the 1930s. This was a response to the rapid growth of German militarization and its industrial economy. But even more, the availability of an underutilized rural labor force. The Russians did some borrowing from European and American banks to finance its industrial development, but the major portion of funds were extracted from peasant agriculture. They also did a lot of planning in the inter-war period, borrowing from American and European expertise to explore a more rational path to an industrial economy.

Since WWII, industrial “gigantism” in Russia slowed, and the Soviets have even allowed some entrepreneurs to flourish. Ironically the other victor in WWII, the US, became an enthusiastic promoter of planned industrial development. At least if it were somewhere else. Those Americans who advocated planning were often from the American entrepreneurial class and had in mind a mixed economy – of their design. Their inspiration came from Russia and Eastern Europe. Their model: the behemoths of the twentieth century.

The Race to Save the Romanovs; The Truth Behind the Secret Plans to Rescue the Russian Imperial Family by Helen Rappaport. Penguin, 2018.

Czar Nicholas II of Russia abdicated his throne in March 1917, to be succeeded by the Provisional and then Revolutionary (Bolshevik) governments. In this eventful year, Nicholas, his family, and his entourage were imprisoned in several towns along the Trans-Siberian Railway. They were eventually taken out into the woods near their last prison in the town of Ekaterinburg, shot and then bayonetted by their guards under the supervision of a band of Bolsheviks.

By 1917, European royalty were one large, unhappy family. Much of the royalty were cousins: or uncles, aunts, second cousins. They would show up for family reunions but not always enjoy each other’s company. Though occasionally those connections had been useful in keeping the peace in Europe.

But another political structure, republicanism, had arisen in Russia, Britain, Scandinavia, Greece, Spain, and elsewhere. It represented a challenge to the influence of these royals.  This complicated the diplomacy surrounding a rescue of the czar. Complicated also by the fact that since 1914 these countries were at war with each other.

This was the fate of the Russian royal family. Nicholas II, his German wife – Alexandra, and their five children – four sisters and their brother, Alexey who was heir to the Russian throne.  Alexandra’s concerns about her son’s health and the influence that Rasputin had over her generated critical public opinion. But also she was German and not popular with the Russian aristocracy.

 Those who have already read several books about the Romanovs will be surprised at how little time Helen Rappaport spends describing Rasputin’s influence on the royal couple. He was believed to have healing powers that would help with Prince Alexey’s health problems. Alexey had hemophilia.

Among many complaints Alexandra was blamed for the Czar’s ignoring Russia’s ills. Things were not going well. Nicholas had hoped that the war in Europe would bring some reprieve from the disorder of Moscow and St. Petersburg (Petrograd). But if anything, the strikes and workers’ protests and the mutinies within the Russian navy were complicating any political resolution and certainly any collective wisdom about what to do about the growing anarchy. Nicholas had reconciled himself to abdication, but he did not want to leave Russia.

The rest of Europe, however, was looking for a place that would provide a satisfactory exile. Britain was the most likely location. The British Government had long welcomed deposed monarchs and welcomed the idea of extending an invitation to Nicholas and his family. But the British royalty were less welcoming. Their being in the midst of World War I, the British thought they should consult with their ally, France. The latter was definitely uninterested. The Germans might have been willing to accept a dethroned Russian monarch, but they were presently at war with the Russians.

It would seem that no one wanted to compete for the role of saving the Czar’s family. Or bolstering the Provisional Government and the radicalism that arose in the Duma.  Or further spreading of the Russian Revolution elsewhere in Europe. Or using the Czar’s alleged funds “stashed away in European banks” to fund a return of the Russian autocracy.

Rappaport takes us back and forth on the Trans-Siberian railway, to the frozen harbors of the Barents, to the dusty plains of Russian Asia. Nicholas agreed to become a prisoner of the Provisional Government if it meant any guarantee about the safety of his family. Talk of a Crimean exile. Had Nicholas and Alexandria agreed early on to an exile that would have opened up other possibilities?  Murmansk and Archangel would have been likely ports for their departure.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918) ended the war between Germany and Russia but failed to mention the fate of the Czar. Though likely the Russian royal family would have been mortified with the idea of being rescued by the Germans. 

What triggered the “murder” as Helen Rappaport called it? Likely it was the growing success of the Bolsheviks and the fear that the Czar would escape and lead a counter-revolution. But can we pronounce with any certainty about the outcomes: what might have been done, but wasn’t.  

The Darkening Age; The Christian Destruction of the Classical World by Catherine Nixey. Macmillan, 2018.

Those defaced Greek statues and their Roman copies that you view in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and elsewhere?  Wear and Tear? Not really; many of them were literally “defaced” by Christian fanatics in Alexandria, Rome, Athens, and other cities of the Roman Empire. Once the Roman emperors, beginning with Constantine the 1st withdrew their protection from the classical world’s physical and literary heritage, damage occurred often beyond what twentieth-century restoration can achieve.

Not only was the artistic production of the Classical world damaged, so also were its texts. The most notorious was the destruction of the famous library in Alexandria, but libraries all over the Roman world were destroyed as well. Christian zealots even invaded private homes and destroyed their owners’ libraries. “Wisdom is foolishness” is the way that the Christian world dismissed the Classical. Greek philosophers were forbidden to carry on the long oral tradition of tutoring the next generation. Catherine Nixey sums it up: Athens was silenced.

Paper had not yet come along, so ancient manuscripts were copied onto parchment, i.e. prepared animal skins. The ink used, though remarkably well preserved, could be removed and the parchment covered with a new text. This removal and reuse was symbolic of the Christian text replacing the Latin, thus retaining a Classical foundation for the Christian literary tradition.

The Alexandrian library had also been a center for the translation into Greek of Jewish and Christian texts, most notably the Septuagint or, as we call it the Old Testament. Several centuries later, the Christian community in Alexandria took an anti-Jewish turn. Christians went around destroying the city’s many synagogues, and their libraries.

But Christianity borrowed heavily from the philosophers and historians of the city’s Classical and Jewish literary world as well. That was particularly true after the grant of religious toleration during the reign of Constantine in AD 312 and the Edict of Milan in the following year. The enlightenment of the Christian world was the work of monks, bishops, and parabalani. The latter were a brotherhood that initially performed the work of removing the dead but took on the additional roll of “cleansing” the public space of “remnants” of the classical world and its classical scholars. Catherine Nixey calls the parabalani “thugs.”

Most of the art from the Classical Age now resides in European and American museums. But the beautiful mosaics and frescos survived in the ruins of the baths and other communal structures.

Christians did not agree to the beauty of the naked body, the penis, nipples, etc. And they looked upon the baths as the workshops of the devil. They put the fig leaf to good use on statuesque males when that statuary began their lives in European and American museums.

What might explain those remarkable paintings of Christians being driven into an arena with hungry lions? Nixey suggests the importance of self-destruction by a public death might explain this imagery.

The flames of damnation were licking at Roman daily life. Greek theater survived but was subject to Christian disapproval. Festivals no longer were enjoyed for their merriment. Bathhouses were deplored as sinks of immorality. Blasphemers were strung up by their tongues, adulterers by their testicles.  And this new world was shaped by the censorious gaze of God’s Christian enforcers, the new priestly class. Violence against a sinner was an act of kindness; flogging him was to help him.

In a final paragraph of The Darkening Age we learn that the statue of Athena, goddess of wisdom, had been decapitated in the early Christian era. Her torso ended up face down in a corner of her Parthenon, now a step for the many tourists who visit her famous former home.

Christianity had participated in the destruction of the classical world. It had also become an heir to the classical tradition. Perhaps most importantly it began to preserve Latin and Greek literature, absorbing the wisdom of classical learning. And understood better its axiom, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you’ll be dead for eternity.”