God’s Red Son; The Ghost Dance Religion and the Making of Modern America by Louis Warren. Basic Books, 2017.

            On 29 December 1890 there was a massacre at a place called Wounded Knee in South Dakota. It was the result of a long-standing clash of the officialdom that administrated the reservations in the Plains and the Native Americans who lived on them. The Indians were determined to maintain their old ways in the face of pressure on the part of these agents. Reservation Indians were being encouraged to adapt themselves to working as wage labor or taking up farming, getting an education in government schools, and accommodating their spiritual life to a new movement amongst the Native Tribes of the Southwest. They were frequently participants in a movement called the Ghost Dance.

            In the interest of modernity, Indians had been forced to drop certain practices that were part of their traditional Sun Dance. That included piercing the chest and back muscles with skewers and then dancing until they fell into a trance-like state. Helped along by the use of peyote. The reservation officials had had various objections to the Sun Dance when it was popular. But as it became less popular on the reservations, as the more mind-altering, Ghost Dance swept through the Indian communities on the Plains.

            This was also a time of revivalism in the Evangelical religious movements in white America. Ghost Dancers and Evangelical Christians were spiritual opponents in many ways, Louis Warren argues. For one thing they both claimed a Christ-like redeemer. But there could only be one redeemer in this monotheistic world and one means of acquiring redemption.

            There had long been many critics but also proponents of the reservation system. It enabled confinement and surveillance, both alien to Indian ways and to American religious movements. Moreover, the federal government provided Indians with food, medicinal supplies, etc.

            Eastern newspapers were frightening the country with stories about the Ghost Dance. It was part of an end-time when destruction would rain down on the white people. South and North Dakota were joining the Union (1889), and politicians worried about the spread of the Ghost Dance amongst the Dakota Indians would frighten white settlers from the new states.

The agencies also thought it important to reduce the number of firearms available to the Indians. The massacre at Wounded Knee involved a performance of the Ghost Dance. And, Warren suggests, that got linked together in the minds of newspaper readers. The effort to disarm these Lakota Indians resulted in the US Army intervening and shooting up the encampment.150 women and children were killed and 51 wounded. 

            Wounded Knee also undermined the long tradition of an assimilationist policy. These days we are proud of the success of our assimilationist policy in terms of Europeans and their comfortable settlement in the New World.  We have been less successful in accommodating freed slaves and Native Americans. European immigrants quickly settled into a job-oriented life. That was not so true of either of freed slaves or Native Americans. “Working for the white man” seemed natural to the European immigrant, but not so for the Native American.

            Meanwhile their sacred sites in the American West remain largely undisturbed and magnificent. 

            With exception of those who were forced into reservations in Oklahoma, Native Americans had lived in various environments west of the Mississippi and adapted themselves to each new environment. Only to watch as their lands became “zones of resource extraction.” (Warren) It was, however, possible to move further west. Though that would soon change.  

The Ghost Dance eventually became a “weekend activity.” The National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall in Washington seeks to help us understand the cultures of the plains Indians and supports the continuance of that culture, traditional values, and transitions in contemporary Native American life. And perhaps in some unknown corner of the western plains the Ghost Dance is still being performed.

The Third Reich; A History of Nazi Germany by Thomas Childers. Simon & Schuster, 2018 paper.

Thomas Childers has introduced many of the politicos who competed with Adolf Hitler for control of the conservative movement in inter-war Germany. Childers has described Hitler’s consolidation of power within the National Socialist German Workers’ Party the NSDAP and his dictatorship lasting from 1933 to 1945. Part of the activist foreign policy that Hitler and the Nazi Party pursued in the inter-war years, Childers makes clear, was meant to be a distraction from these Party struggles.

Adolf Hitler had an early career in Vienna as an artist painting postcards for a living. He had served in the German army in the Great War where he had won an Iron Cross for bravery in combat. He and most Germans believed that Germany had not really lost WWI. Rather, its armies had failed because of a “stab in the back.” Retaining their paramilitary formations, Hitler and others in the National Socialist movement took to the streets. These brown-shirts, as they were called, bothered the peace of Hitler’s Vienna. Its radical leadership could marshal as many as 100,000 of these brown-shirts to party rallies. They maintained their uniforms and their ardor for causing trouble. There were a half-dozen Reichstag elections between 1926 and 1932, ample opportunity to enter party politics and cause trouble.

In additional to his organizational skills, Hitler contributed his speech-making talents to conservative right-wing causes. His oratorical skills were enhanced by the popularity of radios. You could participate in street demonstrations. Or you could listen to them over the radio. He appealed to a heterogeneous group of voters, the working class but also the German middle class, tuned to their new radios. Many of the early challenges to his leadership came from this middle class.

(Adolf Hitler was not a good negotiator; this was clear in his negotiations within the Nazi Party. He would present an initial offer that had to be accepted.)

During the inter-war period, Germany suffered from a failing economy – a huge drop in industrial production and growing unemployment. The rhetoric that explained these economic woes was tinged with Anti-Semitism. It was believed that wealthy Jews had undermined the war effort. This Anti-Semitism, a mix of anger and frustration, colored the right-wing politics of the 1920s and 1930s. In reality it had long been a part of German politics.

The National Socialists were one of many political factions looking for allies that would create sufficient power in the Reichstag and give their party leaders an office. Hitler was good man for this political milieu.

Adolf Hitler used his successful advocacy of an aggressive military policy to further his career. The German military leadership was impressed – bewildered – by Hitler’s guessing correctly so consistently.  Though they faulted his “baseless optimism” and were dubious of his “apocalyptic strategizing.” Thomas Childers argues that the German political leadership, including Hitler, turned to targeting Polish and German Jews when they began to realize that they could not win a war of attrition. And their radical rhetoric was no longer finding its audience.

There has been much speculation about Adolf Hitler’s decision to enter the war between the US and Japan after Pearl Harbor. Perhaps he understood the enormous military might that we would bring with our entry into the European War. Or was it possible that his thinking ahead to a time when the Germans and the Japanese would be dividing up the Far East for themselves.

Having suggested Adolf Hitler’s alleged military acumen, it would be interesting to explain why Hitler let 338,000 Brits escape from Dunkirk in May-June of 1940. Was he looking beyond this success to a time when he might want to gain French and British cooperation against his main obstacle to dominance of continental Europe, the Russian army? In the midst of Dunkirk, was he thinking strategically of an all-out assault on Russia – Operation Barbarossa?  Hitler was well-aware that the military defeat of Russia could only be the result of a slow war of attrition, and Hitler didn’t have the time.

The German army failed to take either Leningrad or Stalingrad. But the German military leadership delayed its invasion of Russia, and then, following Napoleon, let “Winter” and Russian armies halt the German advance.

This is only a brief review of a few of the many interesting observations that Thomas Childers has made of Nationalist Socialist Germany – The Third Reich.

Roosevelt and Stalin; Portrait of a Partnership by Susan Butler. Vintage, 2016 paper.

Even in the dedication of her book, Susan Butler makes her point: “To the 405,000 Americans and the 27,000,000 Russians who died in World War II.” This was an uneven partnership, based on Russia’s assuming a greater share of the human sacrifice. Perhaps for that reason alone Stalin would have had the keener interest in the peaceful settlement to a long and deadly war.

Wars were fought by armies to be sure. But the author has carefully argued that this was not so true of World War II where planning and critical decisions were made well ahead of time and in concert with other allies.

In the nineteenth century, the European peace was dominated by a system of alliances and alignments kept together by the Prussian statesman, Otto Von Bismarck; nothing like the conferences in the inter-war period or the war years. A century after Bismarck’s dismissal, European peace was kept in place by the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, signed on 23 August 1939 by Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov.

Stalin was not fooled into thinking that this Pact was a permanent solution. He hoped that he had bought time, which Russia badly needed. Its army was not in any shape to fight the Wehrmacht at that point. True to the agreement, on 1 September 1939 the German and Russian Armies invaded Poland from their respective sides as they had agreed.

The British also moved to make peace with the German domination of Central Europe. Hence the famous (notorious?) Munich Pact between Britain and Germany, signed on 29 September 1938.

Much of the planning for the Allied conduct of the war and the peace-keeping mechanism after the German defeat took place at a series of conferences that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin, and other diplomats attended during World War II

They began with a meeting of Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt off the coast of Newfoundland in 1941.  Josef Stalin attended most of the subsequent conferences, which included a varied list of other diplomats. On to Casablanca, Cairo, Tehran, Yalta, and ending with Potsdam after Roosevelt’s death. The American delegation was headed by a less than enthusiastic President Harry Truman. These conferences required huge amounts of planning and much concern about the safety and security of their participants.

These conferences did not anticipate the continued maintenance of post-war Europe by a triumphant American military machine. Nor a North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Instead the peace was to be maintained by an organization called the United Nations and planning for a post-war peace was a major part of the conversation and then commitments that arose out of these discussions.

Most of the issues that these conferences discussed concerned the European front. And here the most significant issue was the opening of another front – Normandy – that would relieve some of the pressure on the Russian armies trying to recapture vast territory lost to the Germans. Stalin understood that the invasion across the English Channel would involve considerable planning, and he wanted to see signs that it had begun. The Russians had timed an offensive on their front to relieve pressure on the American-British army at the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944 to January 1945).

The war with Japan in the Far East also involved the some bargaining. The Russians could promise assistance there in return for military equipment – tanks and heavy trucks – in the reoccupation of Poland. The American military leadership was assuming that they would have to invade the Japanese homeland to end the war in the Far East and asking for an unconditional surrender. Hence Russian military assistance would be valuable in that sphere in return for Allied assistance in France. The Roosevelt-Stalin partnership involved some “horse trading,” and critics of our wartime diplomacy believed that we got the worst of it.

Neither Stalin nor Roosevelt was as concerned as Winston Churchill about the fate of European colonialism – particularly India. Britain had used their Sepoy army to fight their battles in colonial Malaysia. Churchill made it clear, “I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.”  He was always informed about issues coming before the Stalin-Roosevelt partnership, but not always consulted.

Should the “partnership” between Roosevelt and Stalin continue after the War? Opposition within the US to any permanent alliance with the Russians was growing. They; the Russians, “were not our kind of people.”

There were few “thanks” to Russia from members of the Roosevelt Administration. Averell Harriman pointed out that had Russian soldiers not liberated those concentration camps in Poland and Eastern Germany when they did many more American POWs would have died.

We quickly assumed the mantel of the victor and constructed our own stories about the wartime Soviet-American partnership. This was an uneven partnership, so Butler maintains, based on Russia’s bearing a greater share of the fatalities and carnage of WWII.

Unfortunately FDR did not include Harry Truman in the work of these conferences, and when he became President upon Roosevelt’s death, he knew little about these discussions, over this five-year period. Moreover he had a different set of advisors. Many Americans felt that Stalin had taken advantage of an ailing Roosevelt and a novice Mid-Westerner.

The Inferno; the Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943 by Keith Lowe. Penguin 2008, paper.

Hamburg was one of the many German cities firebombed by the British and US air forces in the last years of World War II. The city had been a supporter of the Nazi Party, and most of its administrators were good Party members.

Hamburg had been the beneficiary of German rearmament in the 1930s. It was a major center for both aircraft and naval production. Plus a mix of smaller industrial plants that supplied those major industries. Not far inland from the North Sea, it was an important port with huge docking facilities.  Royal Air Force bombers could reach the city, drop their bombs, and return to their bases in the UK on one tank of gas.

The city was subjected to an aerial strategy that the British called blanket bombing, which operated under the assumption that bombing of civilian targets would lead to public demoralization. The flights of bombers, mostly night flights, and the frequent air raid alarms, made life miserable for Germany’s city dwellers. To say the least, they suffered from sleep deprivation. The cellars and basements of Hamburg where its citizens spent a lot of time, were not only unsafe structurally. They were “unlivable.”

The German coast and Hamburg were well guarded. Long-range radar could pick up planes within one hundred miles of the coast. They had to contend with German fighter aircraft on the way, over the city, and on the way home as well.  Also the Germans had a new weapon, Düppel, bundles of strips coated with metal foil – could confuse targeting controlled by radar.

There were always a good percentage of British and American pilots who, for one reason or another, never made it to their assigned target. Hence they could choose a “target of opportunity,” If they could see the ground.

An alternative strategy was pinpoint bombing. There was a list of priorities of value to the German war effort: railroads, oil reserves, air fields, armaments industries, etc. There was, however, an even greater visibility problem with pinpoint bombing. These crucial industrial targets could soon be back in production after a raid.

Also these flights that involved specific targets needed to be bombed during day-light hours. Which made British and American bombers more vulnerable to German air defenses. In addition to the normal anti-aircraft guns, Hamburg was well endowed with flak batteries.

Allied bombers also faced heavy black smoke, the result of previous bombing runs. The mixture of bombs had included incendiaries which created fires and fire storms throughout the city, with gusts of up to 170 miles per hour. The smoke rose to 30,000 feet. Fires burned for hours using up the oxygen in the atmosphere over the city.

Hamburg was not the only city subject to Bomber Command (British). The historic cities of Lübeck and Rostock were selected initially because of their historic value. On to Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Wuppertal, Essen, Würzberg, and Dresden.

It must have occurred to many a German living through these destructive air raids that their Führer was tucked away in his bunker under the Reich Chancellery in Berlin, while they were desperately making their way through their destroyed neighborhoods, its streets littered with charred corpuses. After the raids of 27, 28 July 1943, the remains of 36,918 of Hamburg’s residents were buried in four massive graves. And the survivors had to deal with evacuation and finding a place to live until the fires were extinguished and the city functioning once again. By 1943 many Germans were convinced that they had lost the war.

In May 1945 Hamburg was handed over to the British, without firing a shot. And the British occupied the city for the remaining few weeks of the war. The Marshall Plan helped restore the city’s economy.  Nevertheless the housing stock was badly damaged.

The carpet bombing had destroyed the central part of the city and had had a negative effect on the city’s morale. The bombing of German cities had not recognized the difference between citizens and soldiers. Perhaps that was not inappropriate since “good Germans” mostly supported the National Socialists.

Iowa State University required undergraduate males to take the first two years of ROTC – Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. Mostly we marched around the football field. But in the Iowa winter there had to be some other activity; we watched reconnaissance films that were taken during the aerial assault on German cities some twelve years previously. The message was Success! Aerial warfare had made an important contribution to our victory. Keith Lowe questions this judgment call.

An Iron Wind; Europe under Hitler by Peter Fritzsche. Basic, 2018 paper.


Looking back on the 1930s, Peter Fritzsche believes that we underestimate the support that Adolf Hitler had for the National Socialist plan to reshape Europe. He uses various kinds of resources to justify that contention, but particularly memoirs and diaries to ascertain what Europeans were thinking about the future and whether there was any possibility that there could be some kind of accommodation to Hitler ambitious plans for a new age.

The story varies as we peer into those private thoughts of Europeans in the 1930s: France and its notion of cooperation with the German occupation differed from Poland with its large Polish/Jewish community. We listen to the German rejoicing in their occupation of Paris, a city which they much admired, and the account of the German treatment of Russian civilians and prisoners of war on the Eastern front and hits administrative structure, the General Govenorate. The murderous response to Polish resistance and the accommodations which the German occupation made to French public opinion.

In both the fronts, there is little to be said for the common theme, “we didn’t know.” There is rare mention of the Jewish round ups in Paris in the sources Fritzsche uses. Nor much concern about the fate of Polish Jews amongst the Polish underground, the Home Guard, or the Polish Government in Exile in London. We hear no mention of the packed train stations and trains in the East. The transports of Jews to detention centers and concentration camps was there for everyone to see. They were driven to the central market in their towns, often with whips. There is mention frequently of Jewish placidity but rarely any mention of the silence of the Poles as they watched the fate of their fellow citizens.

Fritzsche has included an interesting account of a group of Swiss volunteers, doctors and medical personnel who would travel with the German forces as they drove deep into Russia. These volunteers were no doubt the Swiss way of dealing with their neutrality. They understood their vulnerability to German invasion, and so this was an opportunity to keep their version of neutrality in their hands. And minds. They kept their mouths shut and their industries supplied the German armies in Russia.

When you follow the German land armies as they invade Russia, literally what the Swiss volunteers were doing, there is no hiding the arbitrary violence of the Germans. The German administrative structure that followed the German army, and established the General Government did not like the arbitrary violence and particularly as it became clear that Russia would not easily be conquered. The Germans resisted Napoleonic parallels, when the snows began and food became scarce. German difficulties before Leningrad and particularly their defeat at Stalingrad in the winter of 1942-1943.

The German treatment of Russian prisoners of war is perhaps the most notorious part of the Eastern Front.  And we only recently are we beginning to understand the contribution of the Russian army to Germany’s defeat.

An Iron Wind; Europe Under Hitler has little to say about the position of the Catholic Church. Surely Europeans asked Where is God? Catholics still used the rituals of the church to celebrate baptisms, confirmations, and weddings. The scale of the European disaster resulted in no immediate answer. Also Church people were worried about what the Nazi response might be to an resistance and quickly and violently suppressed in evidence.

Fritzsche mentions the silence that often fell over individuals and groups as the best means of avoiding any complications. Stay out of the way; keep to old friends. Listen but do not talk. Even though that silence could often be interpreted as collaboration. And collaborationists were executed without much fanfare. Parisians were watched.

Adolf Hitler’s radio speeches filled the public square. In Germany of course, but in occupied Europe as well. Radio ownership had expanded in Germany and elsewhere. And radio made the broadcasts of his speeches “spell binding.” At times Hitler became almost deranged, but his speeches were carefully written and planned. They were broadcast in Britain and even on American radio. And particularly as the war news turned less favorable, his speeches sustained many hopeful Germans.

Hitler alternated between international triumphs –union with Austria, the demilitarization of the Rhur, the crisis over the Sudeten Germans. But also the appeal of marching men on the streets of German cities, motorized units, tanks and trucks and flights of German bombers overhead. The lists of war casualties caused great sorrow, but a soldier’s death, Hitler insisted was the most honorable of deaths.

Fritzsche talks about silence; he also talks about noise, both representing power.

An American and Latinx History of the United States by Paul Ortiz. Beacon, 2018.

Paul Ortiz has succeeded in weaving together the roles that African American and the Latinos have played in American history. And he has done so at a critical moment when many of us are appalled by how Latino immigrants are being treated. Ortiz has shown how an amalgamation of Latin and African-American traditions have worked to the benefit of both groups. And how the considerable achievements in politics and culture of the black community since World War II have helped to welcome Latinos.

            Contrary to most accounts, Mexicans arriving at our south-western borders are not landless. The U.S. war with Mexico (1846 to 1848) had created a precarious land settlement that gave this impression. Ortiz likens it to the gradual stripping the rights of former American slaves over the land they cropped after their Emancipation. (Slavery was abolished in Mexico by proclamation in 1810, and officially in 1829, earlier than in the American South.)

            Native Americans were treated differently. The Seminoles in Florida, for example, were herded onto reservations. Children were often separated from their parents and sent off to boarding schools. The Cherokees were relocated farther west, and they were forced to walk there. Hence the Trail of Tears.

Ortiz has little is say about the pogroms and massacres of Chinese laborers in California in the 1870s. Or the hanging of cigar makers who had crossed picket lines in the Tampa Bay area. The 1870s saw a general improvement in the treatment of the agricultural work force as New World economies became more integrated into the growing North Atlantic trade. The former slaves were producing valuable crops: cotton, tobacco, and sugar cane. Professor Ortiz has sutured these various groups together in many different ways.

He has also integrated them with labor unrest amongst industrial workers in the North. The major influx of Europeans – Irish, Germans, Italians – into the industrial cities had occurred a decade or two earlier. They should be added to the mix of refugees.

Their effect on the job market and organized labor continues. Ortiz claims that the General Strike declared on May Day 2006 was the biggest single strike in American history. And it included migrant laborers from countries “south of the border.” Professor Ortiz’s rewrite of history argues that labor unrest should be part of this collective front.

 The Progressive politics of the last century should not be misrepresented. Corporations and employers had consolidated their power over the working classes. By 1910 that combination had created the greatest industrial power in the world. However, not everyone received what they considered to be their fair share.  And the differences within the work force weakened further attempts to enact reforms.

Ortiz describes what he calls “emancipatory internationalism.”  The abolition of slavery in the U.S. led to the end of slavery in the West Indies and elsewhere. He advocates a return to an alliance with organized labor that made emancipatory internationalism possible. Slavery had been financed by North American banks and that fostered military interventions. We have largely ended our “gunboat diplomacy” and turned to negotiating leagues and trade agreements that created a working relationship between North Americans and Latinos.

But, alas, we still have amendments to make. For example, minority groups continue to be subject to mass incarceration. Ortiz argues this means of controlling insurgencies and defending an economic system based on persistent inequalities is divisive.  African Americans and Latinos must continue their joint efforts to rewrite our history. And perhaps most importantly, to go after those inequalities.  

The Thirst for Empire; How Tea Shaped the Modern World by Erika Rappaport. Princeton 2017.

Erika Rappaport’s book is as much about the manipulation of consumption, in this case food consumption, as it is about the development of tea as a food crop. It is also a significant point in both the evolution of the British Empire in India and the Temperance Movement in Britain.

The late nineteenth century was becoming a world of scarcity. The “Planter Raj,” as Rappaport calls British India, was competing for land and other resources with food crops for a growing South Asian population, but also with other commercial crops, most importantly cotton. And the cotton crop was vital to the growth of the Indian textile industry. Tea was grown and harvested mostly on white-owned tea plantations. The Indian Tea Association’s membership included British growers, British manufacturers, and British retailers.

Indian tea competed with tea from China in British and European markets. It was introduced to the American market, but here it met up with resistance. Here the consumption of tea was taxed, and hence opposed by those North Americans who disagreed with the English governance on political matters.  North Americans were opposed to that particular form of raising revenue. Hence the Boston Tea Party.

Indian “black tea” competed with a more established tea consumption, “green tea” from China. The latter was thought to be superior to the Indian product. Indian tea also competed with two other beverages, coffee and chocolate. They had arrived on the European market at about the same time. There were many coffee shops in London; there were also tea shops.

Proponents of Chinese tea claimed that Indian tea was adulterated, and that was often true. Opium was added as a “flavoring” in Chinese tea. Opium was cultivated in the Indian province of Assam, largely for the Chinese market. It was mostly grown by Indian peasants, and hence also competed for land and resources with Indian tea.

Indian tea had to overcome another hurtle before it was readily accepted in Britain and elsewhere, the Victorian temperance movement. Some looked upon this newish drink as a support for temperance, the avoidance of beer, whisky, and other intoxicants, teetotaler. Others thought it was yet another support for idleness.  The consumption of tea also became associated with the evangelical movement. There was some opposition, particularly to a tea-drinking Indian Army

Rappaport has an interesting discussion of the various ways in which Indian (and Sri Lankan) tea battled their way into Imperial and North American markets. To help with this, Indian tea was displayed in the popular exhibitions and worlds’ fairs of the time and by well-known entrepreneurs. Lipton became a brand of Indian tea introduced by Thomas Lipton.

Eventually tea promoters took on the Indian market. Hindu Orthodoxy tolerated tea drinking. Initially only those who could afford both the time and money involved, mostly moderately well-off women, took up tea drinking. Add in the sweets that usually accompanied tea-drinking and tea-time became a recognized meal.                          Tea eventually broke down caste, class, and gender barriers. It was brewed on the curb side for the ordinary Indian laborer. And eventually crowded out traditional inebriants: bhang, cannabis, and others. Iced tea now competes successfully with bubbly beverages. The colas got a boost in their competition with tea, following the American military around in World War II.

Could iced tea be considered hot tea’s major opponent? An intramural contest?

Once tea-drinking was well established in Britain and the Empire, it began to be taxed and proved to be an important revenue source for the Boer War and then WWI.

An Anti-Tea-Duty League carried on a long crusade, utilizing many of the arguments used to repeal the earlier “corn law”- the duty on grain. The tea duty returned in the 1930s. It became part of the Imperial Preference scheme, enacted in 1932, that benefitted Empire tea.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Willow Tea rooms is perhaps the most famous tea establishment in Britain. It was part of the Glasgow School of Art, built in a fashionable residential area and at the height of tea-drinking popularity. The room was festooned with images of young willow trees, all designed by Mackintosh. Sadly, it was destroyed by fire which left these wonderful tea rooms a smoldering ruin. Twice! But afternoon tea has survived.

Grocery; The Buying and selling of Food in America by Michael Ruhlman. Abrams, 2018 paper.

Michael Ruhlman has analyzed the spaces in a mid-sized grocery chain based in his hometown of Cleveland, Heinen’s Grocery. A tour of the store reveals much about how we preserve our food, what a grocery store of that size stocks, and who determines the inventory.

A grocery store, at least the one in which I shop, is arranged by the degree of refrigeration needed to preserve an item. Thus the meat and dairy items are refrigerated and frozen items are in the outer perimeter of refrigerators and freezers. Good portions of what we find in a grocery store are items that need various degrees of preservation, though not necessarily refrigeration. Most items in Heinen’s Grocery that need cold storage are located with that in mind. Soaps, spices, and canned goods have much longer expiration dates and occupy the center of the store. Paper products can go almost anywhere, but are kept together.

Shopping carts. They haven’t always been around. At the store where I shop they come to the check-out-counter quite full. And judging from these full carts, most grocery shopping is done only once a week.

Ruhlman reports that decisions about stocking new items are generally made at the suggestion of the representatives hired by wholesale companies. Or the store’s buyers may attend trade shows and find new items there.

Food fads come and go surprisingly fast; customer demand generated by lots of advertising. At one time Swanson’s TV Dinners were popular. They have largely disappeared. Hydroponically-grown leaf letter has replaced iceberg lettuce. Several kinds of lettuce are combined, washed, and bagged. Eggs! From a regular dozen eggs to organic, cage-free, Omega-3, and half or full dozen of all those egg options.

The typical customer at Heinen’s is likely to buy food that has been partly prepared. Thanksgiving is the biggest food holiday of the year and involves eating turkey “with all the trimmings,” available to the grateful family.

Health crazes come and go: granola bars, avoiding GMOs (genetically modified organisms), grass-fed rather than corn-fed beef. Antibiotics and hormones that have gotten into the food we eat and the water we drink are to be avoided. Hence bottled spring water. Low sodium for those avoiding salt. Reduced caloric consumption.

Confused? There have been several successful books that give advice on eating and, therefore, shopping: Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Richard Wrangham’s Catching Fire; How Cooking Made Us Human, Michael Moss’s Salt, Sugar Fat; How the Food Giants Hooked Us. And other suggestions in Michael Ruhlman’s selected biography.

My father was a grocer in Garwin, a small Iowa town serving a farming community of 2000. The R & T Store – Rider and Thomas – was half groceries, half “dry goods,” the latter a mix of work cloths, small gifts, and other non-grocery items. The store delivered twice a week; the deliveries were the fulfillment of orders that had been placed over the phone. To entice its customers, the R & T offered specials, money losers for the store.

My father spent his days in the store but, like many of his customers, he kept a garden that produced food for the family table. He had an asparagus bed, strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, potatoes, and string beans.

We rented a large “locker drawer” where mom kept frozen foods including chickens and food grown in dad’s garden.

There were two other, smaller, grocery stores in town; but, in general, dad avoided competition with other retailers. There was a butcher shop, and hence we had only cold cuts and several cheeses. The R & T was next to the major “anchor store” in town, the post office.

In the R &T Store there were a lot of food items that weren’t packaged. That included sixteen different kinds of cookies, often “sampled.”  Customers brought their own jugs to fill with vinegar for pickling. My mother canned tomatoes as well, and stored them in our basement.

Farm wives that did a lot of baking bought flower by the fifty pound bag. Butter and cream were obtained from the local creamery. (Homemade ice cream made from real cream!) We acquired the eggs that we sold from farmers.

Eventually an A & P Store opened in Marshalltown, a small industrial town seventeen miles distant, and it began to challenge the R & T Store. After many years dad sold the store in 1956 and it survived another 10 years through another owner. Would the R & T be recognizable as a modern-day grocery business? Yes, I think it would. Although the R&T store was in a much smaller town than Cleveland and was operating twenty years earlier, my dad’s grocery was run in much the same way as Heinen’s.

The Moralist; Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made by Patricia O’Toole. Simon & Schuster, 2018.

The Great War, as the War was called until it became World War I or the First World War, is best known for the introduction of new weaponry but also for efforts to block imports of food and essential inputs into domestic food production. Both Germany and Britain relied on food imports from the Western Hemisphere as well as materials for their war industries. Hence both imposed a blockade on the other. That in turn triggered the use of German submarines against British and American merchant shipping transporting those goods across the Atlantic. And ultimately the sinking of three British passenger ships, including the Lusitania, off the coast of Ireland without a warning.

Britain had the advantage in Atlantic warfare. The British Royal Naval was superior in numbers to the Imperial German Navy. But German submarines evened the imbalance. Ultimately German submarines were sinking Allied merchant shipping faster than they could be built in Allied shipyards. By the end of the war, the British blockade had reduced German food imports to a trickle. Germans were starving.

In the midst of this oceanic warfare, President Woodrow Wilson, with the huge battlefield casualties in mind, insisted on our remaining neutral, avoiding involvement in this European conflict. The US was divided about entry into the war and their President’s refusal to do so. Nevertheless Wilson began efforts to defend the US from the oceanic war. Congress agreed to issue a series of war bonds to raise the funds necessary to put us on a war footing. Both Houses agreed to co-operate.

Was the US expedition into Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa intended to be a diversion from the European War? 4,800 troops led by General John Pershing were gathered at the US-Mexican border for what has been called the Punitive Expedition (March 1916 to February 1917). The author, Patricia O’Toole, does not comment on the motives of the Woodrow Wilson Administration.

Meanwhile back in Europe, the horrific land battles and the blockade of food and materiel were adversely affecting the war-making abilities of Germany and its allies. Wilson took this opportunity to start the negotiation for an armistice and eventually a treaty that would settle land disputes and create the conditions for a lasting peace.

Much against his moralist position, Wilson also made minimal preparations to create an army to send to the Western Front.  When Germany ended and then resumed unrestricted submarine warfare against the British merchant marine, Wilson asked the Senate for authority to support Britain and its Allies in this “war to end all wars.” Still he held back on full participation in this European War.

But then the Zimmerman Telegram. Germany’s Foreign Secretary, Arthur Zimmerman, sent a telegram to his Mexican counterpart, seemingly offering to help Mexico regain territory lost in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 – upon American entry into the European War on the German side. (The contents of the Zimmerman Telegram had been disclosed by the British.)

According to O’Toole this was a false promise. But it put additional pressure on President Wilson to end his policy of neutrality. War was declared in April 1917.

But by 1917 American banks were making huge loans to both Britain and France, funds that were used, in large part, to purchase munitions, raw materials, and food from Canada and the US. In 1917 a revolution in Russia led to her signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Germans and exiting from the war in March 1918.

Despite his earlier position, Wilson understood that border adjustments after the war would be at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. This drove the Turks into an even greater resistance to a settlement in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The dumbest, most damaging political blunder he had ever made – so Wilson confessed, – was to call for a Democratic Congress to be returned in the 1918 election  despite the unanimity that had been shown by Democrats and Republicans to his neutralist policy. His injection of partisanship into his quest for Congressional support was the first of several mistakes in his building a peaceful post-war Europe. The ultimate the payback was the Senate rejection of the Versailles Treaty.

Throngs cheered President Wilson when he arrived in Paris on his way to Versailles. O’Toole argues that his involvement in the treaty-making was a miscalculation. His triumphant sweep into France seemed to be making peace over the heads of the delegates already assembled at Versailles. He did his best, but Post-War Europe would have to live with the reparations imposed on Germany, with numerous territorial adjustments, and sadly with the war guilt clause. Germany was forced to accept full responsibility.

Patricia O’Toole’s The Moralist; Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made is centered on individuals. That is an unusual approach. Historians most commonly talk about forces: economic, material, diplomatic, how these forces motivated behavior, and the mistakes that were made as a result.

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.