Tag Archives: Society

Change, Secession, and Liberty

When a traditional way of life is challenged, turbulent emotions run rampant. Fear and anger replaces reason. As 1860 neared its end, the southern states of the United States of America began to secede from a union which had been forged from the blood and sweat of forefathers, both northern and southern. Assured that the election of Abraham Lincoln would doom the institution of slavery, secession was viewed as the only option in what was believed to be a northern attempt to abolish, not only slavery, but a way of life. The governor of Texas opposed secession even though such a stance invited attack upon both his person and his reputation as defender of the state. Governor Sam Houston argued against secession and when his arguments failed to sway enough voters, he argued for a return to independence rather than a confederation with the other seceding states.

Society, particularly southern society, was changing. This change was not confined to the United States, in fact the United States lagged behind other nations in abolishing slavery. Regardless of the fact that the principle of liberty was spreading throughout the world, albeit slowly, certain sectors of the U.S. population cleaved to the societal norms of their predecessors, norms that were in direct opposition to the basic principle of liberty – individual freedom. The choice of secession, being preferred over such a change in society, declared a sad reality. Death of the union was preferable to change, even when that change expanded liberty, the very principle for which their forefathers had fought and died to establish during the American Revolution.

Change Came Quickly

In 1918, Fritz Haber was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. World War I delayed the presentation of the award because Haber was a German scientist, one who had gained the name ‘the father of chemical warfare’. Haber was a patriotic German committed to the German cause, however, less than fifteen years after he was celebrated as a great scientist, he fled his homeland fearing for his life. Fritz Haber was a Jew. He was also an intellectual who too closely associated with a war that had been lost rather than won. Like many other German citizens, Haber discovered that under the right set of circumstances hate could replace friendship with great rapidity. Those circumstances included an economic recession, a turbulent political climate, an abundance persuasive rhetoric, and a highly effective propaganda campaign. In less than two decades, a population who once celebrated Haber’s achievements turned their backs on the evidence that their government had implemented a policy of incarceration and extermination. Race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, and intellectual interests were more than enough justification for the public to look the other way, or worse join the Nazi agenda. Change came quickly while the public clung to the notion that they were justified in their actions.

U.S. Compulsory Education: Teaching Exceptionalism

During the mid-nineteenth century, states began passing compulsory education laws, and although all states had these laws in place by the time the United States entered World War I, there was still quite a disparity between levels of basic education received by the soldiers. Mobilization efforts during WWI highlighted the need for greater emphasis on education in the United States, but it also highlighted the need to emphasize a common nationality among its citizenry. The war had created a stigma on citizens and immigrants who were too closely related or associated with the enemy. It was felt that the ‘old country’ culture, still held by many, needed to be replaced by a commitment to a less definable, but more patriotic American culture. The desire to eliminate overt connections with European culture, a culture that seemed to instigate war rather than peace, led to strong measures designed to force change in the U.S. population. One measure included the effort to eliminate parochial schools which were viewed as being too closely tied to European culture. When Oregon amended its compulsory education laws in 1922 with the intent to eliminate parochial schools, they faced opposition including a Supreme Court case that ended up ruling against them. It was hoped that public education would transform the population into a more cohesive culture, and while states couldn’t force public school attendance versus private school attendance, over time many states were able to dictate curriculum requirements and achieve the underlying goals sought by legislators during the post-war period.

Many in the United States believed that the nation had a vital responsibility to encourage and spread notions of republican democracy. A growing belief in ‘American exceptionalism’ developed in the post-war years, due in part to wartime propaganda. If the United States was to be exceptional then it needed to guarantee that its public understood what made it exceptional. Accomplishing this task meant that its citizenry needed to understand history, and not just the history of the United States beginning with colonization or independence, but a citizen needed to understand the connection between the United States and ancient history where the foundations of democracy resided. Compulsory education, classes in American History and Western Civilization, and an emphasis on U.S. exceptionalism became the foundation for unifying a nation during the twentieth century.

Paranoia and Insecurity: A Lesson from WWII

“On a morning in December 1941, a small nation which the United States had sought to contain and squeeze into submission through economic and diplomatic pressure, attacked with crippling force a naval base belonging to one of the largest nations of the world. Japan’s aerial attack on Pearl Harbor shook the United States and its sense of security.”[1] In the movie 1941, director Steven Spielberg created a comical portrayal of a population driven to protect their coastline from Japanese attack. In Spielberg’s outlandish film the insecurity caused by the attack on Pearl Harbor fed paranoia and panic and resulted in chaos. The movie was a comical spoof on the real paranoia that existed during the World War II, a paranoia which allowed a nation to justify its own attack on liberty.

On February 23, 1942, a Japanese sub entered the coastal waters near Santa Barbara, California and launched a bombardment on an oil field in Ellwood. Just days before the attack, President Roosevelt had created Executive Order 9066 which authorized the creation of policies that would lead to the internment of U.S. citizens. Coupled with propaganda films portraying the enemy as barbarians and animalistic, the events of late 1941 and early 1942 created an insecurity within the population that seemed to justify the civil rights violations that would follow.

Terror is an effective tool in a war and can have a much greater effect on a population than that of physical attack. An enemy will try to strike fear into the hearts and minds of its opponent with the hope that terror will weaken it. Modern technology made it possible for fear to be rapidly spread through media, and media played a vital role in spreading propaganda messages during World War II. The U.S. government worked hard to control propaganda, both the enemy’s and its own, but public fear was used as a tool to garner support as well. Justifiable actions of a nation at war, actions which deliberately heightened public fear and restricted civil liberty, seem less justifiable when the war ends but the insecurity remains. After World War II ended, the fear generated by the physical attacks on the nation diminished, but the fear created by the pervasive use of propaganda during the war remained imbedded in the public psyche. History seems to indicate that nations can quickly recover from the physical challenges of war, but the psychological challenges which are often heightened by the use of politically motivated propaganda take much longer to repair. Long after the physical attack becomes just a memory, paranoia and insecurity can linger continuing to justify the restriction of liberty.

End Notes:

[1] Jessie A. Hagen, “U.S. Insecurity in the Twentieth Century: How the Pursuit of National Defense Ingrained a State of National Insecurity,” American Military University, 2014.

Additional Reading:

Conley, Cornlius W. “The Great Japanese Balloon Offensive.” Air University Review XIX, no. 2 (February 1968): 68–83. http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/1968/jan-feb/conley.html.

Dower, John W. War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. New York: Pantheon, 1986.

Roosevelt, Franklin D. “Executive Order 9066 – Authorizing the Secretary of War to Prescribe Military Areas,” February 19, 1942. Papers of Franklin Roosevelt. The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=61698.

———. “Fireside Chat, December 9, 1941,” December 9, 1941. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=16056.

———. “Fireside Chat, February 23, 1942,” February 23, 1942. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=16224.

“Civil Rights.” PBS: The War. Last modified 2007. http://www.pbs.org/thewar/at_home_civil_rights_japanese_american.htm.

“George Takei Describes His Experience in a Japanese Internment Camp.” io9. http://io9.com/george-takei-describes-his-experience-in-a-japanese-int-1533358984.

National Security: the Value of Nutrition and Education

In the years leading up to World War I, many progressive thinkers began to campaign for social reform. The industrial revolution changed society in many ways, not all of which were good for the nation or for national security. Unskilled labor and skilled labor alike were susceptible to the ills of urban life. Just as the war in Europe was igniting, one group of progressive reformers was introducing home economics textbooks and coursework into schools. Proper hygiene and good nutrition began to be taught alongside other subjects. Malnutrition and disease were viewed as ills which not only weakened society but undermined national well-being. The reformers who pushed for better living conditions and education for urban families gained a powerful ally when the United States entered WWI. The ally was the U.S. Army. When faced with a modern war, modern both in weaponry and technologically, the U.S. Army quickly discovered that it was no longer beneficial to go to war with illiterate soldiers. Modern war demanded healthy soldiers and demanded that the soldiers could communicate efficiently with each other. Basic health and literacy became a necessity for the modern army. The ground gained in understanding this truth was not easily won. The soldiers who fought in the war learned firsthand the value of both a healthy body and the ability to communicate with their fellow soldiers. Having a common language coupled with the ability to read and write in it would be something the returning soldiers would seek for their own children. These veterans would push for change. By the end of World War II the realities of modern war mandated the necessity of having a nation populated with citizens possessing basic health and education. Education and proper nutrition became a matter of national security.

Additional Reading:

  • Keene, Jennifer D. Doughboys, the Great War and the Remaking of America. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
  • National Security Act of 1947, Title X.
  • There were various publications designed to introduce Home Economics in the schools. Some have been scanned and can be found in different e-book collections. Original copies can be found through used bookstores. My favorites were authored by Helen Kinne and Anna M. Cooley.

Unexpected Consequensces: Embargoes in the Early 1800s

Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807 did not work out the way he had planned. The restricted flow of British goods entering the United States spurred the development of U.S. manufacturing and changed society. Even the Embargo Act’s replacement the Nonintercourse Act, which allowed for trade with nations other than Great Britain or France, did not halt the changes occurring within the United States. Interestingly, two changes in domestic life resulted because of the embargo and war. These changes were the increased investment into cotton textile manufacturing, and the development of iron, particularly the production of cast iron. Eventually these developments in U.S. manufacturing would provide cheaper textiles for the home, and promote changes in the production of food due to the proliferation of the cooking stove.

In the early 1790s Samuel Slater helped develop the first modern cotton mill in the United States, but it would be two decades later, during the time of embargoes and war, that Francis Cabot Lowell’s textile mill system, which incorporated into one location the production of cotton thread and the finished woven cotton fabric, was built. These changes reduced the cost of production and increased productivity thereby making cotton fabric more available to the average household. Prior to these changes in cotton textile manufacturing, cotton was considered a luxury fabric. Whereas flax could be grown easily and turned into linen by the skilled spinners and weavers in the United States, cotton fabric was typically imported prior to the development U.S. manufacturing in the early 1800s.

In addition to the availability of less expensive textiles, changes in cooking methods were occurring due to the new technology of the cooking stove. While the first modern cooking stoves began appearing in the mid-1700s, it wasn’t until the end of the century that the major flaws had been worked out. Yet the cooking stove remained outside the reach of the average home due to the high cost of cast iron in the United States. The embargoes and the War of 1812 highlighted the need for increased domestic production of iron, and by the 1820s iron production had spread through Pennsylvania with Pittsburg becoming known as the “smoky city.”[1]The greater availability and affordability of cast iron stoves changed the way food was prepared. Not only were the stoves safer than open fires, they allowed the cook a greater range in what they prepared. No longer limited to a stewpot or spit, a woman could prepare a larger variety of food for her family without the need of additional labor in the home.

Thomas Jefferson had opposed men like Alexander Hamilton who had promoted the development of U.S. manufacturing. The ills of industrialization were not unknown to both Jefferson and Hamilton, but while Jefferson preferred to believe that the agrarian lifestyle was superior to manufacturing and would better promote liberty, men like Hamilton understood that economic power would be required to protect that very same liberty. The production of raw materials alone would not be enough to propel the United States to greatness. Without economic greatness, liberty would always be threatened by the dangers of imperialism and war. So while Jefferson’s embargo was meant to pressure the European nations into respecting U.S. sovereignty, it acted as an affirmation that U.S. manufacturing was vital to U.S. survival. The embargoes also helped change domestic life in the United States. Textiles for bedding and clothing became more available and less expensive, and the entire method of cooking was transformed. The U.S. response to international conflict in the early 1800s resulted in the unexpected consequence of increased investment in manufacturing which in turn changed society by transforming life in the home.

[1] Anne Madarasz, “Tracing the Smoky City,” Western Pennsylvania History, 2002, (accessed October 18, 2014),  https://journals.psu.edu/wph/article/viewFile/5111/4894.