Fall 2018. Franchise.

The Embattled Vote in America; From the Founding to the Present by Allan Lichtman. Harvard University Press. The franchise was not a once-and-forever creation by a group of colonial geniuses, but rather it was the story of the vote being expanded and contracted depending upon the political circumstances of the time.

Forging the Franchise; The Political Origins of the Women’s Vote by Dawn L. Teele. Princeton University Press. What causes and what political constituencies benefited from the passage of the women’s vote.

One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy by Carol Anderson and Dick Durbin. Bloomsbury Press. A long history of American constitutional history that lists the determined efforts to suppress minority voting.

Fall 2018. Florida. Fall 2018.

 

Barrier Islands of the Florida Gulf Coast Peninsula by Richard Davis, Jr. Pineapple Press. Covers the thirty barrier islands along Florida’s Gulf coast. Sadly many of them have been devastated by hurricane Michael.

The Biohistory of Florida by Francis William Zettler. Pineapple Press. Paper. From the Pleistocene to today – from vast prairies where elephants roamed to vast orange groves interlaced with highways.

The Springs of Florida, 3rd edition by Doug Stamm. Pineapple Press Paper. A guide to Florida’s many springs, their flora and fauna.

Florida’s Museums and Cultural Attractions, 3rd edition by Murray Laurie & Doris Bardon. Pineapple Press. Paper. Museums, country stores, one-room schoolhouses, coquina forts, churches, art galleries, and more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Balfour Declaration; The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Jonathan Schneer. Random House, 2010 paper.

The Balfour Declaration remains of interest to the twenty-first century because it became the agreement upon which a Palestinian homeland for European Jewry rested, “solving the Jewish problem.” The Declaration (2 November 1917) also provided safeguards for the religious rights of the existing non-Jewish inhabitants (Arabs) of Palestine, and less assuredly, the rights and political status that Jews were to enjoy in other countries.

This preoccupation with a homeland for the Jews on the part of European ruling elites has been termed Zionism. On the day that the Balfour Declaration was proclaimed, there were 300,000 Jews living in Britain.  Only 4,000 of those Jews considered themselves Zionists.

Jews had differing views about a future in their Holy Land. Many were intent upon creating settlements based on cooperative agriculture, the kibbutzim. Part of the Jewish Problem was that Jews had always been city folk, but only a relationship with the soil, it was argued, would give them a nationality.

Creating a homeland for European Jewry would also help consolidate Jewish support for the wartime alliance of Britain, France, and Russia. The Russian war effort was lagging and would soon dissolve in revolution. Jewish support for the war would be all the more important.

There was a big complication to realizing the Zionist goal: Palestine was well-occupied with Arab pastoralists and they would have to be cleared out, hopefully through land purchases. But also Palestine was part of the British Empire in the Near East. The agreement would have to be approved by the British Foreign Office.

British statesmen were making decisions on behalf of Arabs. That might not have been so bad. Except that the Europeans were suspected of maintaining, even attempting to expand their imperial reign in the post-war world at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. They, the British and French, were attempting to ensure a resolution to the Jewish problem in order to give some creditability to the question: “Why are we fighting the Great War at such a huge cost of the lives of young men?” The War was now three years old, and nothing was being decided on the Western Front.

Part of the thrust of European imperialism in the early twentieth century was the construction of railroads throughout their Empires. A railroad that would link the Near East to Europe was under construction. It would provide access to Islam’s holy cities of Mecca and Medina from Damascus. The railroad was particularly important during the Hejaz when thousands of Moslems made a pilgrimage to their holy cities.

Germany and hence its allies, Austro-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire (the Central Powers), were concerned about whether the Hejaz Railroad would lead to even greater imperial competition with an advantage to Britain and France.

The Balfour Declaration addressed many of these issues. Arthur James Balfour, then British Foreign Secretary (1916-1919) and a member of the Conservative Party was intent upon including a provision for a national homeland for European Jews but also safeguarding the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jews living in Palestine. And with British support, the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

But another party of Jews considered themselves assimilationists. Palestine was not the only homeland for Jews. Moreover Jews should not be required to settle in Palestine to acquire their rights. Nor to entangle themselves in British and French imperialism.

David Lloyd George, Prime Minister in the Imperial War Cabinet, became totally absorbed in fighting the war on the European fronts and little was heard about “next year in Jerusalem.” The War Cabinet, a coalition Government, promised Turks that their flag would continue to wave over the Holy Land. Whatever that meant!

Imperial objectives that had been incorporated into the Balfour Declaration remained part of the intentions of the British during the Great War. The Brits no longer had the strength they had in 1914, and the Balfour Declaration held the British war efforts together as their Imperial strength ebbed.

It became clear, however, that the homeland for European Jewry was getting in the way of the peace efforts; the Zionists were making the search for a truce more difficult. And that was particularly true once the U.S. got involved in the competition for Jewish Zionist support and the fading interest in Jewish assimilation. And ambitious politicians involved themselves in the struggle between Jewish Zionists and Assimilationists.

FDR and the Jews by Richard Breitman & Allan Lichtman. Harvard University Press, 2014 paper.

There has been considerable speculation about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s reluctance to deal with the refugee problem that arose in the 1930s with the triumph of the National Socialist Regime in Germany. Why did the Roosevelt Administration not do more to assist Jewish refugees fleeing Europe? In fact, that Administration failed to take any action that would indicate its disapproval of the Nazi Regime, at least, not until Kristallnacht in 1933. Was this due to indifference?

It must be remembered that there were huge numbers of unemployed in the U.S. at this time, and it was difficult to talk about admitting refuges that would only add to the jobless figures. As governor of New York for a term in 1928, Roosevelt had dealt with significant unemployment and not always successfully.

The authors of FDR and the Jews, Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman, believe that Roosevelt’s response to Adolf Hitler is better understood by dividing it into phases. Roosevelt and his Administration were initially bystanders concerned about the crisis in Europe but unwilling to get involved as suggested by their response to the MS St. Louis.

In 1939 the MS St. Louis, a luxury liner with 900 Jewish refugees on board, attempted to land its desperate passengers first in this country, then Havana. We would only admit as many refugees as the quotas from Germany and Austria-Hungary would allow. FDR worried that the admission of any additional European Jews would jeopardize support for his New Deal legislation.

We then attempted to getting around our immigrant restrictions by trying to find other opportunities and homes for Jews in other countries, and particularly Palestine. Palestine had been considered by European Zionists as the most desirable destination for Jewish refugees because they would face less Anti-Semitism there. But to promote this alternative, Roosevelt would have to gain the permission of the British. The Brits were, at this time, trying to convince the Arab world to drop their long resistance to granting permission to Jews who wished to settle in Palestine but with little success. Bought or seized from Arab pastoralists and arborists, the land would be used to establish agricultural colonies. It was argued that Jews settled in agricultural kibbutzim and following better farming practices would make more efficient use of the land than the herders and orchard keepers that were occupying this dry land.

Roosevelt became more alarmed after the Germans invaded Poland and began deporting its Jewish population. However, emigration to Palestine was not a likely solution since Polish Jews were not farmers but merchants and traders. We had hoped that Latin American countries would accommodate and make good use of those Jews who had applied for admission to the U.S.  By 1939, there was a waiting list of six thousand for American entry.

Any alternative required Roosevelt to confront Anti-Semitism in the U.S. Our ambassador to the United Kingdom at the time, Joseph Kennedy, father to a subsequent U.S. president, was a pronounced Anti-Semite, arguing that we should not allow Germany’s  “Jewish problems” to get us involved in a European war. We should stay out of the war, unless we were attacked. He and others in the Roosevelt Administration were also responding to a new and unfounded fear of foreign spies and saboteurs.

Congress responded to this pacifist sentiment by passing the Neutrality Acts of 1935-1939 banning shipments of food and war materiel to belligerents. But the Act failed to satisfy the isolationists.

The Roosevelts, Franklin joined by Eleanor, stuck to their argument that the best way to save Jewish lives was to win the war as quickly as possible. But the U.S. kept to its neutrality, unwilling to take any action that would appear otherwise. We refused the offer of exchanging trucks for Jewish lives. We refused to bomb the approaches to death camps – Auschwitz and others. We did not intervene in Adolf Eichmann’s horrendous murder of Hungarian Jewry in 1944.

By 1944 FDR was formulating the ground rules for a postwar international peace-keeping body. (Though the war had not yet been won!) He asked that nations outside of the French-British entente should have a voice. These countries demanded the creation of post-war institutions that would ensure a peaceful future.

Toward the end of FDR and the Jews, the authors ponder an important point. If the judgment of any historical period is corrected by its posterity, then it is no less true that the present has the opportunity to shape that historic past as well.

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.

NEW BOOKS: Conflicts of the Twentieth Century & Their Aftermaths.

We Will Not Be Silenced; The Academic Repression of Israel’s Critics by William Robinso &, Maryam Griffin. AK Press, 2017 paper. Academic freedom confronts the Israel lobby in Washington, D.C.

On Antisemitism; Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice in Palestine by Judith Butler. Haymarket, 2017 paper. Butler cautions that criticism of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians should not be considered as anti-Semitism.

The Wall and the Gate; Israel, Palestine, and the Legal Battle for Human Rights by Michael Sfard. Metropolitan Books, 2017.  A farmer in the occupied West Bank asked to have a gate build through the separation wall so that he could get to his olive trees. Seemed reasonable, but that would lead a credibility to the wall which the Palestinians were denying

Anatomy of Terror; From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State by Ali Soufan. W.W. Norton, 2017. Our assassination of bin Laden was supposed to lead to the demise of radical Islamic affiliates of his al-Qaeda organization.

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 Some 2000 German-speaking Jews formed into interrogation units to question German POWs. They were known as the Ritchie Boys.

The Kamikaze Hunters; Fighting for the Pacific: 1945 by Will Iredale. A new form of warfare – the suicide pilot – seems much less “foreign” to us in the twenty-first century.

The Untold Story of the Secret Capture by David Balme & Captain Peter Hore. Whittles, 2017 paper. Balme boarded a disabled German U-boat in the mid-Atlantic and captured one of the greatest secrets of WWII, the code used in the Enigma German machines.

Passchendaele; The Lost Victory of World War I by Nick Lloyd. Basic. A small, insignificant Flemish village was the site of a meaningless battle in the summer of 1917 when perhaps 500,000 men were killed or wounded, maimed, gassed, drowned, and all buried in this small corner of Belgium.

Humanitarians at War; The Red Cross in the Shadow of the Holocaust by Gerald Steinacher. Oxford University Press, 2017. The Red Cross was able to maintain its neutrality during WWII, but came under much criticism for both its opposition to the Allied de-Nazification efforts after the war and then the Cold War between former allies.

Allied Intelligence Handbook to the German Army, 1939 to 1945 by Stephen Bull. What did the Allies know about the German army? What were the sources of that knowledge?

The Guardians by Susan Pederson. Oxford University Press, 2017. Ending WWI, the Paris Peace Conference agreed to preserve French, British, Belgian, and Japanese dominions while handing out Ottoman territories and German colonies as “mandates” to the war’s winners.

My Lai; Vietnam, 1968, and the Descent into Darkness by Howard Jones. Oxford University Press, 2017. The massacre of Vietnamese villagers by American troops; the massacre was suppressed, but then a confession by an American soldier.