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.

Florida in World War II; Floating Fortress by Nick Wynne & Richard Moorhead. History Press, 2010.

Two hundred forty-eight thousand Floridians served in the armed forces in World War II. Tampa and Jacksonville shipyards made a significant contribution to the production of cargo ships, 35,000 worked in the yards in Jacksonville.  But Florida’s most significant contribution was the training bases for the army and navy personnel and particularly various National Guard Units from the Southern States in preparation for their departure overseas: Camp Blanding for the army and Camp Gordon Johnston for amphibious warfare. The U.S. was looking beyond immediate needs to the beach landings in Normandy, Okinawa, and other islands in the South Pacific. Not a major industrial state, we, nevertheless, made and/or assembled many smaller parts and components for war materiel produced elsewhere.

Florida had advantages over most states in situating military bases. It was not heavily forested, enjoyed year-round good weather, and relatively good railroad service. The almost 200 military bases in Florida needed infrastructure and that was a big job, mostly finished by mid-war, although as much as possible the U.S. used housing built by the WPA during the depression.

Perhaps the most notable early achievement of the fliers trained in Florida at Eglin Field was their involvement in the Doolittle air raid on Japanese cities in April 1942. Kept a secret, the authors, Nick Wynne and Richard Moorhead claim that it was a big morale booster for the U.S. as well as proving to the Japanese that their homeland and its cities were vulnerable.


A good portion of those army men trained at Camp Blanding were “replacements.” Its official name was the Infantry Replacement Training Center. While the trainees saw a lot of each other, their units were not kept together for the duration of the war or even for all of their training.

Speaking of replacements, part of the production of cargo ships was to replace merchant ships sunk by German submarines off Florida’s coastal waters. There were wooden watchtowers erected so that civilian volunteers could spot German shipping and aircraft. (See Operation Drumbeat; The Dramatic True Story of Germany’s First U-Boat Attacks along the American Coast by Michael Gannon.) So the story goes, German spies and saboteurs buried explosives and money on Florida beaches with the idea of arousing opposition to our entry into WWII. Most of them were eventually caught and executed. The authors give more credence to these stories than did Gannon’s book.

Florida became an important training base for amphibious warfare, and particularly, looking ahead to Normandy, Italy, Okinawa, and other islands in the South Pacific. The landings involved a close integration of all forces under a unified command, especially the Higgins landing craft with a hinged front and used in amphibious landings along the Normandy Coast.

The buildings at Camp Blanding these days are few, but at one time there were literally thousands of barracks and tent-like structures called hutments, which housed six soldiers and their equipment while they were in training. Days off and little to do hanging around the Camp, many of the trainees headed to near-by towns, particularly Starke. And on that road from Blanding to Starke there was a variety of less than “wholesome” entertainments; gambling establishments, bordellos, and “independent” prostitutes.

There were USO (United Service Organization) canteens in Starke and Gainesville that brought GIs and local women together to dance and flirt. The building is still around. It was purchased by the City of Gainesville in 1942 and renamed the Thelma Boltin Center, after the employee that scheduled a variety of entertainments but particularly free movies.

The city of Gainesville purchased the building in December 1942 and eventually it became known as the Thelma Boltin Center. While a USO canteen, it welcomed at least 25,000 soldiers from Blanding. There are also a couple of barracks moved from Blanding to Gainesville that are still around, now being used to house young males attending the University, rather than young men training for war.

Camp Blanding, Camp Gordon Johnston, and their sub camps had one final use in World War II. They were used to house German and Italian prisoners of war. The POWs began arriving in September 1942; the earliest were sailors rescued from sunken German U-boats. By 1943 they were mostly prisoners from Rommel’s Afrika Corps. The transfer to sunny, peaceful Florida was certainly better than the fate of most Germans – civilian and military in the last years of the War. Amongst the POWs from the Afrika Corps were those who wished to keep up the good fight. And the two sets of POWs did not get along, so the camp commanders found that they had to keep them separated.

In 1960 I made my first trip to Germany. Dealing with a malfunctioning motor bike, I had time and opportunity to visit with men working in the equivalent of our road-side repair shops. Several that I talked with had been POWs in the U.S. and they had no trouble deciding which was preferable. We Floridians were hospitable and their backs were soaking up that Florida sunshine.

Silent Sparks; The Wondrous World of Fireflies by Sara Lewis. Princeton University Press, 2016.

As kids we spend evenings, gathering fireflies into jars to make lanterns. Once that wonderment was over, the jars were opened and the fireflies took off.  Depending upon the species, they tended to fly and flash differently, some close to the ground from which they had emerged so recently.

I have never seen    Sara Lewis’s Silent Sparks brings back my childhood memories of summer a firefly in my Florida backyard.

Fireflies are not flies nor bugs. But rather beetles, a very diverse family. Beetles arose some 150 million years ago and today constitute 25% of all species. The Latin names for the two species that Lewis focusses on are Photinus and Photuris. These species were described years ago by James Lloyd an entomologist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida.

Lewis describes the complicated metamorphosis of fireflies (sometimes called lightening bugs or glow worms). During their lifetimes, all beetles undergo complete metamorphosis. That requires drastic changes in their physical structures and habits, and in their habitats.

In the northern latitudes they live longest – sometimes one to three years – in their larval state, where they are voracious eaters of snails and earthworms. . They are pupae for a comparatively brief period of two weeks or so, when they rearrange their bodies in metamorphosis to better survive when they emerge in their new, adult habitat – mostly on or near the ground under damp leaf mold in wooded areas or grassy meadows.

The adults exhibit what biologists call sexual dimorphism. Males and females are recognizably different as adults, easy to identify because of the differing shape of their light-producing lanterns. They emerge from metamorphosis with a much distorted male/female ratio of 218/12. That ratio results in considerable female promiscuity.  So a lof of energy must be expended by the male in his search for females of the same species with which to mate.

The males of some species have evolved an ability to synchronize their flashes. The pattern of flashes that they exhibit varies from species to species. Species notification, Sarah Lewis calls it. That would seem to violate evolutionary logic because that synchronization would seemingly be an exhibit of co-operation. Biologists have scurried to put up an explanation for this phenomenon. Lewis favors what is called the “beacon hypothesis.” Together, gathered on a blade of grass or on tree trunks, the males gradually synchronize their flashes and since their flashing patterns vary between species, their beacons better attract the attention of the females of their species, who take up perches nearby.  The females of some species assist the hunt by releasing pheromones.

Entomologists talk about the various firefly species as being reproductively isolated, i.e. they breed only with others of their same species. They are true to their own gene pool. They have species specific signals.

Lewis spends less time in describing their use of “perfumes.” Better is her description of what she calls gift-giving. These nuptial gifts are valuable when nutrients are scarce. Their examination requires a scrutiny of the interior spaces of the male reproductive glands where their sperm is wrapped into packages. Once the “bundle” reaches the female reproductive tract after mating, it is stored in a pouch and slowly digested over the next several days.

How is the male controlling his flash? Chemicals, and it is difficult to explain, the mechanism, but Lewis has it controlled by “light switches.” Here and elsewhere the author lapses into anthropomorphisms and metaphors.

Lightening bugs have numerous predators – spiders and bugs – and they arm themselves against these predators by using poisons, potent toxic steroids. Most do not eat as adults. They do have blood, which is useful for certain medical tests, and therefore they are harvested.

Females of the group, Photuris hunt, catch, and eat male lightening bugs of other groups. The females have thus become femmes fatales.

What seems to be the leading cause of the fireflies’ declining numbers in addition to the harvesting for commercial uses? Light pollution confuses the male’s flashing, so bring back the night. Yard lights: make sure they are turned off when not in use.  Land clearing destroys the habitat for the larvae. Fireflies are not good at dispersing to new habitats and so this is particularly harmful. Pesticides and fertilizer.

In the last section of Silent Sparks, Sara Lewis provides the reader with a field guide for common North American fireflies that might be found in our backyards, including range maps. Helpful, and you might want to take a trip up to the Appalachians to see many of the species.   Or, even better yet to Japan, Korea, and Malaysia to see more of those wondrous worlds.

The One Percent Solution; How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time by Gordon Lafer. Cornell University Press, 2017.

Gordon Lafer’s title is confusing. He doesn’t really think that the remodeling of our public education is a “solution.” Rather his is a description of how “corporations”- but I would say the wealthy – those who are in the top 1% income bracket – are leading us into a very big mistake. They are encouraging us to abandon the public schools in favor of charter and proprietary schools. That ‘experiment’ of opening education to private enterprise is being tried on a city-wide scale in New Orleans.

A Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, has greatly facilitated the flow of millions of dollars into both political parties. But in recent years a disproportionate share has gone to the Republican Party and its candidates. And their opulence has allowed them greater influence over the political process. Lafer has taken notice of that in the subtitle to his book How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time.

One good example is the flow of resources into private schooling. New Orleans joined what has become a major trend in K-through-12 schools, supporting privatization either by issuing vouchers, rewarded to parents with the idea that they can then seek the best education for their kids, or by reshaping K-through-12 instruction so that private schools can compete with the older public school system.

Conservatives have constructed a strategy and rhetoric that turns out to be quite successful. They are critical of the practice of deducting the cost of union dues and various benefits from teachers’ pay.  Or if that is too obvious, some states have required that the employer ask for and be given permission to deduct union dues and the cost of those benefits, but employees should only be allowed to do so if they have received permission from the wage earner, be it teachers and other employees. This would restrict the ability of unions to bargain effectively. “Wage theft” is the polemic used, and barring that practice is “paycheck protection.”

(Lafer points out that there are no such laws requiring corporations to notify their stock holders when they are taking political stands or making political contributions.)

There are efforts within the public schools to create opportunities for corporate America. The money flowing into education from the private sector reduces the influence that public school teachers have over the education they provide. As part of the graduation requirements, many school districts require at least some of public school education to be delivered by digital instruction. That is particularly true of any evaluation, and hence an opportunity for standardized tests and eventually a standardized curriculum. In many school districts, teachers are evaluated, in part at least, by the scores, which makes the tests more important to the curriculum.

There are any number of ironies in Lafer’s evaluation of American education. It has always been considered important that whatever interventions there are by state Departments of Education, they should not discourage the professionalism of the teacher. An apprenticeship should be involved. There is no mention of “student teaching,” which would have been preceded by at least some pedagogical training at an accredited college.

Leaving the school room, if you consider the American work force in total, you will find a market structure that isn’t rewarding improvements in productivity. Lafer notes that from 1973 to 2013 American labor productivity increased by 74.4%. But compensation only increased by 9.2%. Lafer begrudges the corporations (and the richest 1%) their disproportionate gains. He is perplexed, and so will be the reader, by how persuasive the rhetoric is that defends this state of affairs. Why isn’t there some mechanism that would prevent this from happening? Particularly since most everyone would agree that this huge economic inequality leads to political inequality.  Nor have the American corporations, so richly rewarded, created much in the way of new jobs.

Nor has worker productivity benefited wages. The minimum wage is intended to at least boost some wage rates at the bottom rungs of the wage ladder. But the minimum wage looked to be a definite threat to the returns of the employer class. So that was fixed in many states and localities by state and federal legislation that prevents them from creating their own minimum wage – often considerably higher than the federal. Increases in the minimum wage should at least have kept up with the inflation rate.

An employer might want to bestow the category “independent contractor” on you, allowing some greater independence as his employee. But that might deprive her or him of mandatory requirements such as unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, sick leave, overtime, even meal breaks.

Say “no thanks!”

One Long Night; A Global History of Concentration Camps by Andrea Pitzer. Little, Brown and Company 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?

Hoover; An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times

Hoover; An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times by Kenneth Whyte. Knopf, 2018.

Herbert Hoover was the first U.S. President to be born west of the Mississippi, in the small Iowa town of West Branch. Kenneth Whyte, author of this biography, makes him succeed in nearly every endeavor in his complicated and busy life. Those successes began with the fortune he made as a mining engineer, geologist, and consultant for mining activities around the world. Some, however, would disagree about a claim for the success of his Presidency, 1928-1932.

Hoover’s early successes involved his responsibility for getting the 120,000 Americans caught in Europe when the war broke out in 1914 out of harm’s way. He then organized food relief during and after the German invasion of Belgium and France in 1914.

The German army had occupied Belgium and imposed a blockade interrupting food shipments from the U.S. The blockade was enforced by submarine warfare in the sea approaches to Great Britain, France, and Belgium.  Our efforts to provide food were prompted by a genuine benevolence. But in addition, U.S. agricultural exports stood to gain ground on other potential exporters.

Kenneth Whyte, like other biographers of Hoover, face a dilemma. Was Hoover a progressive, intervening in capitalist markets and the policy of laisse faire to obtain a humanitarian goal? Or was he a conservative? Latter in his political career, Hoover revealed his conservative side, attempting to limit the intrusions of the state into a self-regulating market?

What did Herbert Hoover think of Woodrow Wilson (President 1912-1920)? An idealist, Wilson swept into the Paris peace talks in 1918 with his own peace-keeping proposals and ignored sage advice from the more experienced Hoover, or so Hoover thought.

Wilson was now in his second term as President, and traditionally Presidents were limited to two terms. There was talk about Hoover making a run for the White House, but he held back on joining the race. Instead he watched as Warren G. Harding won the Republican nomination and the election. Followed by Calvin Coolidge four years later. The Harding and Coolidge Presidencies are mostly known for the scandals toward the end of the Harding Administration and the first year of Coolidge’s Presidency.

In the American political tradition, candidates for high office did not typically make campaign appearances. Had Hoover campaigned for office in 1920, he might have won the Republican nomination, and likely also the election. He eventually won the Presidency in 1928, but only for one term.

Hoover continued to be loyal to the old school of battening down the hatches and waiting for better times. His belief in private philanthropy rather than government handouts, according to Whyte, seemed to be the tune for the time.  At least that was the tenor of Hoover’s presidency.

A second term? But history intervened. The Wall Street crash in October 1929 happened during the first year of Hoover’s administration. Banks began to fail and the lines of the unemployed lengthened. Hoover waited for the counter-cyclical policies that he had advocated to take hold. He is remembered mostly for this inactivity. He did favor tax reforms and job-creating projects that he thought would help lift the country out of the Depression.

Although he couldn’t get their approval, he also favored a collective of the healthy banks to extend private aid to their weakened brethren. Hoover believed this initiative on the part of the banks was more desirable than government intervention. They declined.

There were, however, some pro-active moves. The Glass-Steagall Act and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation were two. But there were numerous Presidential vetoes of other relief legislation as Hoover waited for the business class to take over the leadership. (Now days, the wait would be for entrepreneurial activity to fight economic slowdowns.)

Two other issues contributed to Hoover’s being defeated for a second term. He leaned toward the ‘dries,’ and hence opposed the repeal of the Prohibition amendment when the country was going wet.

And perhaps most harmful to that second term was the fight with the Bonus Army. Given the difficulty that many World War I veterans were experiencing in the 1920s, there were calls from many sides to allow the veterans to collect their bonuses for service in the Great War ahead of time. To press the point, large numbers of veterans arrived in Washington, occupying government buildings and demanding that they be paid their bonuses early. Hoover’s refusal, and sent in the army to oust the veterans – led by General Douglas MacArthur, ending with certainty, his chance for a second term.

Herbert Hoover never quite understood why the country rejected him in 1920 and again in 1924. It gulled him that his failed efforts to pull the country out of the Depression were thrown back in his face. But his successor, FDR, was given credit for Hoover’s efforts that succeeded.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. Broadway, 2017 paper.

Named as one of the ten “Best Books” in 2016 by The New York Times, the reader will, nevertheless, perhaps be as confused as I was. Matthew Desmond follows eight families of various descriptions who are looking for affordable housing for their families in the greater Milwaukee area. They are considering both trailer park and an apartment in an existing rental unit. And landlords are looking for tenants who can pay the rents they are asking. The reader needs a chart to keep the dozens of characters divided into their families. Or perhaps it is the author’s intention to create a confusion that exists in the real world amongst the poor and poorly housed.

Landlords have to overlook the fact that many of those looking for housing have already been evicted several times, either because they can’t pay the rent, or are engaged in illegal activities, or have male companions who are engaged in illegal activities.

Potential landlords have an array of reasons for rejecting applicants because they can’t afford the rent. The applicant may be a first-time renter without someone to cosign the application. He or she may have bad references from a previous landlord.

Potential tenants may be asked whether they have been evicted within the last three years or have a felony drug or violent crime conviction in the last seven years; or a record of disorderly conduct, including domestic abuse.

Eviction may seem like an option for the landlord, but the lost rent resulting from vacancies are almost never recovered. Landlords are in the best bargaining position if the prospective tenant has not yet moved in. Evictions can be a matter of throwing the few possessions their tenants have out on the curb, or inviting a storage facility to collect the possessions and store them, charging a monthly rent. Desmond follows these possessions in and out of rental units in these storage facilities around
South Milwaukee.

The courts preside, more or less, over this complicated system. Both evicted tenants and their former landlords must wait for their case to be heard by a court. Often there is no alternative to eviction. The rents are simply too high for the family’s income. There is back rent that is due. It has to be paid somehow, often by soliciting friends and family for financial assistance. Moving into a homeless shelter, kids and all, is destructive of family life.

The landlord or his agent can legitimately turn off the electricity. There goes the food stored in the refrigerator, and the heating unit. It is difficult for the reader to comprehend and the reviewer to organize this world in order to describe it fully. Hence. the difficulty which the courts face in sorting out the evictions.

Consider the kids, which is something that the courts and the families try to do. Moving in search of affordable rent usually involves a new school. Being homeless means that the kids aren’t getting the education they need to leave this world of misfortune.

Landlords are frequently accused of not keeping up their rental properties. The obvious reply is why not put those delinquent in their rent payments to work repairing and painting their rental properties? The problem is one of matching the skill set of a non-performing tenant with the skills needed for the job.

The confusion over housing for the poor is then complicated further by the problems they have in obtaining short-term loans to be able to afford anything like a security deposit on a new home. They face higher borrowing costs and too frequently banks foreclose on whatever assets they have.

Popular wisdom among real-estate dealers and landlords is that rent, mortgage payments, etc. should amount to about 30% of family income. A journalist who investigated the situation in South Milwaukee found that the rent was 70 to 80% of family income.

Housing vouchers are intended to help those looking for housing but can’t pay the rent because of insufficient income. But many argue that those who receive vouchers should be required to find a job or at least spend a lot of time looking for a job – while they are also looking for affordable housing. The need for this assistance from the city could be avoided with sufficient family income. Unfortunately Milwaukee, like other Midwestern cities, has seen a movement of well-paying jobs out of the central cities. So economic trends are working against that common, easy answer.

Matthew Desmond has made a considerable effort to be “fair” in his analysis of the situation. He has stepped into a very complicated world of poverty and indebtedness. And unfairness!

Sons and Soldiers; The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis

Sons and Soldiers; The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S Army to Fight Hitler by Bruce Henderson. William Morrow, 2017.

Bruce Henderson has woven together a history of the last years of World War II with the story of the Ritchie Boys. The “Boys” were young service men trained for U.S. Army intelligence during W.W. II. Fourteen percent of them were young Jewish men who escaped from Nazi Germany after Kristallnacht, an assault on Jews and their property on the night 9 November 1938. Their knowledge of German and other European languages was recognized as valuable to the Allied war effort, and they either volunteered or were drafted into the intelligence service.  The term Ritchie is from the camp in Maryland where they were trained. Henderson has found ten Ritchie Boys who are exemplary of this special service in the War.

Sadly the exit of thousands of German Jews in the 1930s resulted in the splitting up of families. The farewell dinners and tearful train departures were often the last time these sons would see their parents and siblings. Germany was no longer safe for the Jews.

German and East-European Jews were fleeing to the Netherlands, France, Britain, the U.S. and other safe havens in the late 1930s to wait out the insanity of Nazi Germany. The German invasion of Belgium and then France in 1939 turned migration into flight.

Many left Germany with the idea of acquiring American citizenship and joining our armies now assembling in Britain for the Normandy Landings. It was dangerous, however, to fight in the front ranks of the British or American armies. Without American or British citizenship, they would be considered spies and traitors. But their talents and limitations could be put to good use to the rear of the front.  Several thousands of these young Jews were sent to a special camp for training in interrogation. Attached to British and American units, they were used to interrogate German POWs.

Most of the intelligence they gathered would be considered “tactical.” Where were the enemy mortars and machine guns placed? They listened to German military propaganda broadcasts to better understand the German foot-soldier. They had studied the German Battle Order, its hierarchical organization, command structure, disposition of personnel, and the equipment of units facing them on the battle field, and the quality of the troops that the Allied armies faced.

SS Panzer Divisions were dreaded because of the many fanatics in their ranks. Later many of the German infantry were drawn from the Wehrmacht, Reichsmarine, the elite Waffen SS Panzer Divisions, and guards from the concentration camps as those services began to crumble.

Most intelligence gathering had been accompanied by beatings and other forms of coercion. Take no prisoners! But a dead or abused prisoner was a missed opportunity.

The Ritchie Boys were taught a different set of methods. POWs were required by the Geneva Convention to give their name, rank, and serial number. But asking for them was not a good starter because it reminded the prisoner of obligations to his unit. Never enquire about his family, what his father did for a living. That would remind the soldier of his familial obligations and loyalties.

You might, instead, start the “conversation” by asking the POW where he was from in Germany. What was he trained to perform? (German armies were well-trained.) Let the prisoner know what intelligence you had already gained from previous interrogations. Most of the interrogations involved one individual at a time; interrogating groups of German soldiers together would remind them of their loyalties to their fellow infantrymen.

Huge numbers of Germans troops were surrendering, 4000 to 5000 every 24 hours by the time of the cross-channel invasions. Hence those trained in interrogation had to screen prisoners quickly as they entered the POW “cages.” Recent arrivals were most likely to have actionable information.

Henderson tells an amusing story. German soldiers, above all, hoped to avoid falling into the hands of the Russians where they would be sent to a Russian POW camp in Poland or the Ukraine. Those POWs that were not cooperating were informed that they would be questioned by Russians. There were, however, no Russians interrogators available in France or Belgium. So someone would fake a Russian accent picked up from a comic Russian character that appeared regularly on Eddie Cantor’s radio program, making it seem like a possibility that the POW would be handed over to the Russians.

It was important to keep immediately behind the fighting front. That would provide fresh intelligence from the battlefront. Tactical information got old fast. Not always was it verbal information. Several of the most important intelligence triumphs were maps of mine fields taken off German prisoners.

There is much heroism in Bruce Henderson’s narrative. And sadness. He has ended with the return of many of the Ritchie Boys to their destroyed German homeland and scattered families.

The Second Coming of the KKK; The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s

The Second Coming of the KKK; The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition by Linda Gordon. Liveright, 2017.

Linda Gordon relates the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s to other contemporary movements. The earliest Klan organization followed the end of the Civil War. But she suggests various other “ancestors”. Nativism, one of them, is a political movement that promoted the interests of native inhabitants against more recent immigrants. Populism, another ancestor, advocates the rights and power of the “people” in their struggle against a privileged elite. She also associates this second version of the KKK with the fascist movements in the interwar period, particularly the fascism of Mussolini’s Italy and Franco’s Spain. Membership in the Klan was secret, but organizational claims ranged from three to six million.

The Klan had much in common with the other fraternal organizations of the time: the Masons, the American Legion, the Odd Fellows, and the Knights of Columbus, among others. These fraternal orders were most active in the early 1920s following the Great War. However, they began to lose favor in the latter part of the ‘20s.

The organization had the blessing of the Evangelical and Fundamentalist religious movements, although that was less so after a series of scandals, financial and sexual, involving the Klan’s leadership. The 1920s were also the years of the temperance movement. Klanners could be on both sides of Prohibition after the constitutional amendment was passed in 1920.

The founder of this “second coming” of the KKK was William Simmons, a preacher and retired army colonel, who was in it primarily for the money. He was also inspired by Thomas Dixon’s popular novels, The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan and The Leopard’s Spots (1905) and D.W. Griffin’s film The Birth of a Nation (1915). Simmons employed recruiters who got a cut of the membership fee.

There were local organizations that were associated with the KKK by what we would today call franchises and they earned money for the organization through the sale of paraphernalia. This amounted to a substantial revenue stream that helped sponsor many of the Klan’s activities: involvement in parades, picnics, fireworks, and airplane stunts.

Cross burnings were often incorporated into their secret rituals. The robes and masks associated with the KKK were aimed at intimidation of minority groups and particularly African-Americans.

It is often assumed that the members were drawn mostly from small towns and farming communities in the Mid-West and South. But Gordon suggests that the Klan was drawing its enthusiasts from city populations as well. Klansmen were able to fill Madison Square Garden in New York City on several occasions. Membership in the Klan was secret, but organizational claims ranged from three to six million. Surprisingly, Oregon had the largest percentage of KKK membership relative to its population, followed by Indiana. The 1920s Klan was moving north and west.

There were Klan women as well. They, like their menfolk, were concerned with preserving “American values,” which involved them with Anti-Semitism and Anti-Catholic activities.

The members were racist and kept that throughout the second and into the “third coming,” responding to the Civil Rights movement. This was a much smaller phenomenon, though at times it out-matched the Second Klan in fervor.

The second Ku Klux Klan claimed several “accomplishments.” Troubled with the high levels of immigration in the early 1920s, they supported nation-wide immigration restrictions and campaigned for the Chinese and Japanese exclusion on the West Coast. Also while they liked their parades and their cross burnings, they largely avoided street violence. The author maintains that the KKK provided male spaces where they could revert back to being soldier/warriors. Gordon is reminded of the traditional gathering amongst German-Americans – herrenabend – or “stag parties.”

Florida had its share of KKK activities. Some of that was aimed at Cuban-Americans working in Florida’s cigar industry and men working in the turpentine and lumber industries. In January 1923, a band of whites in Levy County “took justice into their own hands” and lynched several Negroes accused of having raped and robbed a white woman in the small town of Rosewood.

The sheriff of Levy County raised a posse and began an investigation. Men arrived from Cedar Key and surrounding towns to help in the search for the black male who was alleged to have raped the white woman. Some of these vigilantes were deputized, and dogs were brought in to help with the search. The alleged rapist was found, tortured, shot, and lynched. African-American homes in Rosewood were then torched.

Just previous to this incident the Klan had held a rally of over one hundred hooded Klansmen fifty miles away in Gainesville under a burning cross.

Gordon makes the point that most KKK members were drawn from the respectable class or sought to be viewed as middle class. Like  those who joined other fraternal organizations. The poor, tucked away in the Florida backwoods, could not afford the entrance fees.

The Marshall Plan; Dawn of the Cold War by Benn Steil.

The Marshall Plan; Dawn of the Cold War by Benn Steil. Simon & Schuster, 2018.

What precipitated the rupture in Russian-U.S. relations after they jointly defeated Nazi Germany? Benn Steil makes it clear that it was both sides that initiated the “Cold War” in the late 1940s. As it unfolded, both were motivated by their intention to make sure that Germany would not again pose a threat to Europe, though it would need to survive and revive. Post-war policy would also have to take into account the sacrifices involved in defeating Germany. The victorious Allies were hoping to avoid the economic disruption that followed WWI. Western Russia was in ruins and would need American assistance. But to contain Russia’s threat to Central Europe there must be a restoration of industrial Germany.

This new policy of containment was delineated by George F. Kennen, a senior U.S. diplomat hen serving in Moscow. His “long telegraph” called for the U.S. to stay engaged in Europe. Germany’s industrial recovery, with American support, was essential to Europe’s long-term revival. American Lend Lease had supported the British war effort. The Marshall Plan, would now help restore Europe’s industrial economy.

The Russians were ambivalent about the Marshall Plan from the beginning. Was it a capitalist conspiracy to restore a capitalist economy in the heart of Europe? Or a means of keeping the U.S. invested in making the outcomes of WWII permanent?

The Russian demand for reparations from Germany, in the form of industrial plant and amounting to $268 billion in today’s dollars, would have to be in the form of industrial plant. (Germany had no Russian rubbles with which to pay!) resulting in the dismantling of German industrial plant.  However, we were anxious to insure the German recovery because it would block the expansion of Russian communism. In the absence of any agreement on reparations, the Russians were helping themselves to Eastern Europe. American aid to postwar Germany was being used to meet the Russian demands for reparations and for  a territorial buffer.

The Marshall Plan was offered to the Soviet Union. They declined to take part because they believed that it was a pretext for imposing a capitalist economy on post-war Germany. Surprisingly the Soviets initially allowed their “satellites” to choose, though soon blocked their participation. Gradually, beginning with Czechoslovakia, they reigned in their Eastern Europe allies – Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. We would have extended Marshall Plan aid to Yugoslavia despite its being a communist state. But its break with the Soviet Union made the Marshall Plan available to this remaining Balkan state.

Steil makes the point that the peace that followed the Great War involved moving borders rather than people. After WWII it was the opposite; mostly people moved into regions where they could enjoy a majority or at least a significant minority.

The European Recovery Program – the Marshall Plan – was welcomed by most Europeans, but also Americans. In fact the Russians were largely correct in assuming that with Marshall Plan aid and a reemergence of Euro-American trade, we were also looking to use a continued U.S. involvement as an assurance of a liberal democracy.

Perhaps the most dynamic event of the emerging Cold War was the Berlin Airlift. We had been sending shipments of food, fuel, and chemicals to Germany through the port of Rotterdam. No problem. But there was no agreement about the establishment of a new German currency that would replace the Reichmark and be agreeable to both Russia and the U.S.

The currency issue was a particular problem for Berlin, which had been divided from the rest of the Russian occupied territory by the different currency and by a guarded concrete barrier, the Berlin Wall. The Soviets could exert pressure on the Western Allies by a blockade of essential imports from the U.S. by ground transport. The U.S. and its Allies responded with the Berlin Airlift, bringing those imports, especially food, in by means of air transport.

The Russians were certain that we could not pull off an airlift, at least for a long enough time to make it a permanent fixture of our occupation of Berlin. To their dismay we did so. There is a photography that captured American hearts; young Berliners waving at planes bringing their supplies into Tempelhof Airport In 1948-1949.

There was one happy American politician. Harry Truman, running for a second term in1948, defeated Thomas Dewey. Truman was well aware of the jeopardy that Russian moves in Berlin placed on his political career. And isn’t this true more generally of the Cold War. In its ‘dawn’ political careers were at stake on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Did the Marshall Plan impede German reunification? Very likely it did.