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Remembering Pearl Harbor

The sacrifices of those who served in the American military in December, 1941 should be recounted often for us all to ponder and appreciate that the 3000 Americans who died at Pearl Harbor should not have perished in vain.  The sincerest memorial to those who fought and died in this tragedy (and others in American history) is to analyze and discuss the multitude of reasons why it happened and how we ensure that American servicemen are not knowingly put in harm’s way for political purposes ever again. 

As there is far too much information available today for the surprise attack myth to survive even cursory scrutiny, and thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and declassification of hundreds of thousands of decoded Japanese messages, we can now get a very clear picture of how events unfolded in 1940-41.

The myth reported by our historians and the media is that the United States was minding its own business until the Japanese launched an unprovoked attack at Pearl Harbor, thereby dragging a reluctant US into a world struggle.  In reality, the US under FDR had been deeply involved in Far Eastern affairs for some time, and those policies actually provoked the Japanese attack. 

As Oliver Lyttleton, British Minister of Production stated in 1944…”Japan was provoked into attacking America at Pearl Harbor.  It is a travesty to say that America was forced into the War.”

After FDR’s numerous provocations toward Germany without retaliation (while the US was neutral) he switched his focus to Japan and had assistance with Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, who stated in October 1941 that “for a long time I have believed that our best entrance into the war would be by way of Japan.” 

And as early as January 27th, 1941, US Ambassador to Japan in Tokyo, Joseph C. Grew noted in his diary that “there is a lot of talk around town to the effect that the Japanese, in case of a break with the US, are planning to go all out in a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor.  Of course, I informed our government.”  Even Admiral Ernest J. King wrote a prescient report on 31 March 1941 that predicted a surprise Japanese dawn air attack on Hawaii as the opening of hostilities. 

The US had prepared for a Japanese-American conflict since 1906 with “War Plan Orange” which predicted the Philippines as the expected target, attacked by surprise as the Japanese were notorious for.  By early 1940 Claire Chennault, an American airman hired by the Chinese, was urging General Hap Arnold and Roosevelt to provide bombers with which to firebomb Japanese cities in retaliation for their attacks on China.

While we cannot excuse Japan’s aggressiveness in Asia in the 1930’s, those in high position in the United States government continually provoked the Japanese by freezing assets in the US, closing the Panama Canal to her shipping and progressively reducing exports to Japan until it became an all-out embargo along with Britain’s. 

The Philippines, by 1941, were reinforced to the point of being the strongest US overseas base with 120,000 troops and the Philippine Army had been called into service by FDR.  General MacArthur had 74 medium and heavy bombers along with 175 fighters that included the new B-17’s and P-40E’s with which to attack or defend with.  The mobilization of troops and munitions has always been recognized as preparation for attack and we thus assumed this posture to the Japanese.

The US then implied military threats to Tokyo if it did not alter its Asian policies and on 26 November 1941, FDR issued an ultimatum that Japan withdraw all military forces from China and Indochina as well as break its treaty with Germany and Italy.  The day before the 26 November ultimatum was sent, Secretary of War Stimson wrote in his Diary that “the question was how we should maneuver [the Japanese] into the position of firing the first shot.” 

The bait offered was our Pacific fleet.

In 1940, Admiral J.O. Richardson, then commander of the Pacific Fleet, flew to Washington to protest FDR’s decision to base the fleet in Hawaii instead of its normal berthing at San Diego. His concern was that Pearl Harbor was vulnerable to attack, was difficult to defend against torpedo planes, lacked fuel supplies and dry docks.  Richardson came away from his meeting with FDR “with the impression that, despite his spoken word, the President was fully determined to put the US into the war if Great Britain could hold out until he was reelected.”

Roosevelt relieved Richardson of command with the comment that the admiral “didn’t understand politics.” He replaced Richardson with Admiral Husband Kimmel, who was still concerned about Pearl Harbor’s vulnerability but did not challenge FDR.

Also to be considered was the April, 1941 ABD Agreement FDR concluded with the British and Dutch in Indochina which committed US troops to war if the Dutch East Indies were invaded by the Japanese.  Add to this the 1940 $25 million loan and Lend-Lease aid provided to China.

The Dutch and British were of course eager for US forces to protect their Far Eastern colonial empire from the Japanese while their military was busy in a European war.  And FDR’s dilemma was his 1940 election pledge of non-intervention (unless attacked) to the American people and the US Constitution, which allowed only Congress authority to declare war.  

One of the most revealing elements in FDR’s beforehand knowledge of Japan’s intentions was breaking of the Japanese diplomatic and naval operations codes as early as mid-1939. Copies of all deciphered Japanese messages were delivered to Roosevelt and the Secretaries of War, State and Navy, as well as Army Chief of Staff Marshall and Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Harold Stark. 

With no deciphering machines in Pearl Harbor, though three machines went to Britain, the commanders in Pearl Harbor were left completely dependent upon Washington for information.  It must be understood that with this deciphered information, our government officials could not have been better informed had they had seats in the Japanese war council.

It is in this bare political light that Pearl Harbor should be examined and judged for historical perspective.  Our military should not be pawns used by presidents to initiate war, the very fundamental reason the Founders deliberated extensively on the establishment of a standing army which might be used as such.

As nothing happens in a vacuum and the post-World War One US Neutrality Acts were in place to avoid the political machinations that dragged us into that conflict, FDR’s steady erosion of US neutrality and secret agreements led to that unnecessary loss of brave American service-men.  We hopefully have learned from this.  Bernhard Thuersam

Sources:

Betrayal at Pearl Harbor, Rusbridger & Nave, 1991, Summit Books

The Years of MacArthur, Vol 1, D. C. James, 1970, Houghton Mifflin Company

Blankets of Fire, Kenneth P. Werrell, 1996, Smithsonian Institution Press

Desperate Deception, Thomas E. Mahl, 1998, Brassey’s Books

Pearl Harbor: The Secret War, George Morgenstern, 1947, Devin-Adair Co.

Ten Year’s in Japan, Joseph C. Grew, 1944, Simon & Schuster

The Covenant with Power

In Woodrow Wilson’s call for a declaration of war against Germany, he spoke of freedom of the seas yet was silent on Britain’s blockade of Europe. He also proclaimed self-determination as a great principle while declaring Irish independence as irrelevant and avoiding the question of Southern self-determination 56 years earlier in his own country. Senator Robert LaFollette wrote of Wilson: “I sometimes think the man has no sense of things that penetrate below the surface.  With him, the rhetoric of a thing is the thing itself.  Words, phrases, felicity of expression and a blind egotism have been his stock in trade.”

The Covenant with Power

 “If the United States had refused to intervene in 1917, would a German victory in 1918 have been a better historical alternative? The answer is debatable.

What would have happened if Wilson had taken William Jennings Bryan’s advice and practiced real rather than sham neutrality? Without the backing of American weaponry, munitions and loans, the Allies would have been forced to abandon their goal of the knockout blow. The war might have ended in 1916 with a negotiated peace based on a mutual admission that the conflict had become a stalemate.  As a genuine neutral, Wilson might have even have persuaded both sides to let him be a mediator.

Lloyd George’s argument – that unless the United States intervened, Wilson would have no place at the peace table – was specious at best. Both sides would have needed America’s wealth and industrial resources to rebuild their shattered economies.

A victorious Germany would have no need of political adventurers such as Adolf Hitler. Nor would this counterfactual Germany have inserted the Bolsheviks into Russia and supported them with secret-service money.  Lenin and Trotsky might have agitated in a political vacuum in Switzerland unto a crabbed old age. The war created the collapse that gave Bolshevism its seventy-year reign of blood and terror.

Perhaps the best way to look at Woodrow Wilson’s tragically flawed intervention in World War I is, in the words of the historian Lloyd C. Gardner, as a covenant with power. Painfully, with mistakes aplenty, the United States recognized that power is at the heart of history.

At the Paris Peace Conference, Wilson discovered limitations to America’s power . . . [especially those that] lay in the prime illusion of idealism – the expectation that noble words can easily be translated into meaningful realities.

Woodrow Wilson struggled with his inadvertent covenant with power. Like Lincoln, who suspended habeas corpus and jailed [thousands] of dissenters during the Civil War, Wilson tolerated a brutally realistic government of the home front.”

(The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I, Thomas Fleming, Basic Books, 2003, excerpts pp. 480-482)

A Shameful Line of Work

Charles Ignatius Pfaff was the owner of New York City’s “Pfaff’s Cave” where customers “lounged among the hogsheads in an atmosphere of pipe smoke and laughter.”  The New York Illustrated News of February 23, 1861 wrote about the Pfaffians – “free-thinkers and free lovers, and jolly companions well met, who make symposia, which for wit, for frolic, and now and then for real intellectual brilliance, are not to be found in any house within the golden circles of Fifth Avenue.”

Pfaff’s was the meeting place of the self-appointed intellectuals including Saturday Press editor Henry Clapp, Jr., who was asked his opinion of newspaperman Horace Greeley. Clapp responded that Greely “is a self-made man who worships his creator.”

A Shameful Line of Work

 “Newspapermen lived on the periphery of a society which barely understood their function. Dickens, the most widely-read novelist of the day, had held them up to ridicule in Martin Chuzzlewit. Among American novels of the period, only two of seventeen touching upon journalism mentioned reporters at all; both were by James Fenimore Cooper, and both derogatory.

To be a reporter was to be a Paul Pry, a Jenkins, a busybody, a snooper, a penny-a-liner, a ne’er do-well.  Edmund Clarence Stedman, a reporter on the Tribune in 1860, considered that “it is shameful to earn a living in this way.”

It had been a quarter of a century since the penny papers led the way in broadening the concept of news, but it was their reporting of sex and crime that most impressed the public and left a lingering conviction that reporters were disreputable. Half a dozen of them had gone along with the armies of Scott and Taylor to report the Mexican War; many more had brought the story of “Bloody Kansas” to the country, often inventing the blood . . .”

But the emphasis of the press remained on opinion rather than news, on editorials and editorial commentary, as witness the fame of Greeley himself, of Henry J. Raymond, of Bryant, of a galaxy of editors . . . The Superintendent of the Census of 1860 reflected the prevailing view when he classified eighty percent of the periodicals of the country, including all 373 daily newspapers, as “political in their character.”

[The reporters at Greeley’s New York Tribune] gave superb implementation to Greely’s credo: that the newspaper must provide American society with leadership – moral, political, artistic and intellectual leadership – before anything else.”

(Bohemian Brigade: Civil War Newsmen in Action, Louis M. Starr, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987, excerpts pp. 4-6; 19)

News Fronts, Rumors, False Reports and Speculations

“When we study the history of journalism we are principally studying a way in which men in the past have grasped reality.” James W. Carey, (“The Problem of Journalism History, Journalism History, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1974)

In 1860 New York City was the hub of journalism and locked in the maelstrom of lurid crime reports, immoral [tales of varied personages] . . . created by James Gordon Bennett’s news machine, the New York Herald. Pay for “reporters” was minimal and all that was required was a reasonable grasp of the English language. The worst “were not above fabricating news if facts did not come readily to hand.”

The New Orleans Picayune editorialized that “The Herald may be said to represent, in one particular, the genius of the ‘universal Yankee nation’ — that is, in its supreme regard for what is vulgarly called the main chance.”

News Fronts, Rumors, False Reports and Speculations

“The people of the interior,” President [James] Buchanan wrote apprehensively to James Gordon Bennett on the very day that South Carolina left the Union, “are kept in a constant state of excitement from what are called “telegrams.” The Philadelphia Morning Pennsylvanian, among many others, though the telegraph “a curse to the country.”

“We warn the people to beware of this new power in our midst, more potent than ‘an army with banners.’ Its whole stock in trade consists in the perpetual excitement of the community.”

The Erie Weekly Gazette had another caution: “Beware of this ‘special correspondence’ confidence game . . . in the New York or Philadelphia journals. A safe plan is to believe nothing you find in a ‘sensation’ column, however seemingly well authenticated . . .”

There was ample justification for these forebodings.  As word came of State after State preparing to follow South Carolina out of the Union in anticipation of a Republican in the White House . . . the press began dispensing news, rumors, false reports and speculations on a scale that left men confounded. 

Undercover men from the New York World, the Tribune, the Evening Post, the Baltimore American, and the Philadelphia Press arrived [in Charleston] as the tension mounted. Everyone who could read knew by the middle of February [1861] that the brick walls of Sumter were eight feet thick, that the Major and his garrison numbered scarcely a hundred . . .

[Charles A. Dana of Horace Greeley’s Tribune, had] three men in Charleston. These and other Tribune men in the South sported blue secession cockades in their lapels, wrote in an elaborate code Dana had devised, and addressed their material to New York banks and commercial houses which had agreed to serve as fronts.

In the third week of May . . . Dana [served an editorial] with plenty of lead: “On to Richmond! To Richmond Onward! On to Richmond, then is the voice of the people . . . Let her still sowing of the wind, have generous harvest of the whirlwind, and let it be now . . . To Richmond! To Richmond!”

(Bohemian Brigade: Civil War Newsmen in Action, Louis M. Starr, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987, excerpts pp. 9-11; 20-21; 33-34)

Journalism, Truth and War

“There is something in the human mind that turns instinctively to fiction, and that even journalists succumb.” What remains to the world, Mencken argued, “is a series of long tested and solidly agreeable lies.”

Journalism, Truth and War

In May 1830 James Gordon Bennett founded the New York Herald in search of “that mass market” which was soon to become the Holy Grail of American industry. In its pages aimed at the laboring classes were “police-court reports, details of murders and offenses against morality of an interesting nature, blow-by-blow write ups of bare knuckle prize fights, stock market reports, gossip and the most up-to-date news that money could procure.”

By the 1850s news-collection was the central task of the business, with political broadsiding still the bread and butter of each paper – as each thought of itself as the very political life of its particular partisan party.

New reporters picked this up immediately and wrote from the party point of view.  When trouble commenced in the Kansas Territory in the mid-1850s, Republican party-minded papers sent young reporters on westbound trains and steamers to get the right news to send back East.

One “reporter” was 21-year-old James Redpath, a Scottish immigrant to Michigan, whose only training was writing “fervid articles damning slavery in a Detroit paper.” This caused him to be highly regard by the editors of the St. Louis Missouri Democrat, Chicago Tribune and New York Tribune. These connections and his worship of John Brown helped him become a delegate for the first two conventions of the Free State faction, and a major’s rank in the Free State army once guerilla warfare began.

Bernard Weisberger wrote in his “Reporters for the Union” that the “reporters sent to Kansas by the metropolitan journals wrote amid the time-hallowed insanity of an election year and under the weight of their own upbringing. They were actors, not spectators, and many believed that truth could be put to flight in a free and open encounter unless it received at least some assistance. They sallied forth to depict a contest between freedom and tyranny in the impressive arena “beyond the Mississippi.” The results boded ill for the Union.”

Just before Lincoln’s election in 1860 Redpath admitted: “I believed that a civil war . . . would ultimate in slave insurrection and that Kansas troubles would probably create a military conflict . . . Hence I . . . went to Kansas; and endeavored personally and by my pen, to precipitate a revolution.”

(Reporters for the Union, Bernard A, Weisberger, Little, Brown and Company, 1953)

A Predetermined Military Trial

Though John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Lincoln caused a virtual blockade of the entire Atlantic coast from Baltimore to Hampton Roads in Virginia, Secretary of War Stanton had not ordered closed the road to Port Tobacco which led to the Confederacy.  This was the route the alleged assassin was expected to take to escape pursuers.

A Predetermined Military Trial

“[Confederate foreign agent Harry] Hotze must have regretted his lack of caution in commenting two years previously on Lincoln’s fear of assassination. For it was immediately charged that the shooting was part of a plot hatched by the Confederate Government headed by Jefferson Davis. [The] Stabbing and wounding of Secretary of State Seward and an attempt on Vice President Andrew Johnson the same night provided evidence of a widespread plot, and a Confederate courier, Johnny Surratt, was accused of a part in these connected activities.

Surratt was not captured, but his mother and a number of other persons were taken into custody, tried by a military court, and hanged. Booth was shot and killed by a special detail of pursuers dispatched from Washington by the War Department. Orders were issued for the arrest of Jefferson Davis and other members of the Confederate cabinet on like charges.

By waiting over one hundred years to write this history, one has the virtue of hindsight, as well as the disclosure of secret papers of the Lincoln administration which had been kept sealed by request of his heirs until certain persons named therein were dead.

It is difficult to understand why Lincoln’s family wished to protect those at whom the finger of suspicion would have pointed by disclosure of these papers after his murder.

For the papers indicated that the Lincoln Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, had prior knowledge of the reported plot of John Wilkes Booth and others at Mrs. Surratt’s boarding house in Washington, but had failed to either warn Lincoln or give him special protection.

It was obvious even to observers at the time that the real beneficiary, should the plot have succeeded in killing the Vice President and Secretary of State, also would have been next in line for the Presidency. Moreover, the Radical Republicans had refused to support Lincoln at the 1864 [Republican] Convention, and this was the faction supported by and supporting Stanton in the disputes following Johnson’s accession.

Immediately following Lincoln’s assassination, Stanton was in full control of the government through martial law, and was in charge of the trials of the so-called conspirators. While the hanging of so many persons without a civil trial did not arouse much comment abroad, the execution of Mrs. Surratt, because Booth had lodged at her house, was the subject of considerable discussion.

But the War Secretary refused [to not hang Mrs. Surratt] on grounds that the executions were necessary to avoid panic among the populace. This would indicate, of course, that the outcome of the military trial was predetermined.”    

(Felix Senac: Sage of Felix Senac, Being the Legend and Biography of a Confederate Agent in Europe, Regina Rapier, 1972, excerpts pp. 182-183)

Gullible Reporters, Fake News and Servants

Embedded reporters with Northern armies often influenced elections as in the case of the 1863 gubernatorial campaign in Ohio. They fed stories to the Cincinnati Commercial in opposition to the Democratic candidate, writing that soldiers “detested the “nasty little traitorous imposter and gambler of sedition.”

Thus inspired, and with the help of General Rosecrans, the men cast over nine thousand absentee votes for the Republican candidate versus two-hundred fifty votes for the Democrat.

Gullible Reporters, Fake News and Servants

“Making heroes was in some respects a natural preoccupation for the correspondents. The country fidgeted over the morning papers impatiently, looking for the one man with the ready answer or short cut which would bring a quick return out of the national investment in man power, energy and cash.

In an age of open frontier, Americans were used to fast results, to things that got done. They could not accept then – in fact, they never did learn to accept – the notion of a war to be won by long and bloody campaigns of strangulation. The faith in the coming of a “genius” who would carry matters through with one master stroke died hard.

The reporters who became barkers for these “geniuses” were no more gullible than most, but their position made their errors more damaging. Besides, in flattering officers for personal or political motives, they were depressing their newborn profession to the hurdy-gurdy-playing levels of army “public relations.”

Always ready with a sneering word, the Chicago Tribune, in 1862, wrote that much of the laudatory writing of the war was emitted by “army correspondents, with bellies full from the mess tables of Major Generals . . . the dissonant few being swallowed up like Pharaoh’s lean kine by the well-kept bullocks who form the majority.”

Most of the correspondents were apparently as willing to state political opinions as a party guest with a comic monologue to perform. They could not avoid the emancipation question if they tried . . . the Democratic journals acridly pointed out, the Negro was “chin capital” for the Republican press. In that press, the Negroes were painted as a band of brothers, knit by a universal desire for legalized freedom.

[But a] good many conservative orators were frightening laboring audiences with the warning that the Negroes were all too willing to work. If set free, the argument ran, they would drift northward and crowd white men out of jobs. An army correspondent of the Chicago Tribune stepped into the breach with the answer to that.

[He assured readers that] the Negroes did “not wish to remove to the cold and frigid North. This [Southern] climate is more genial, and here is their home. Only give them a fair remuneration for their labor, and strike off their shackles, and the good people of Illinois need not trouble themselves at the prospect of Negro immigration.”

As a matter of fact, many officers and men were genuinely opposed to releasing “contrabands” from camp on practical as well as political or sentimental grounds. Three war correspondents, sweating through the siege of Corinth, Mississippi, in mid-1862, had domestic arrangements typical of many members of the expedition. They shared the services of Bob and Johnny, two Negro youths who blacked their boots, pressed clothes, cooked, ran errands and more or less gentled their employers’ condition for monthly wages totaling six and twelve dollars.”

(Reporters for the Union, Bernard A. Weisberger, Little, Brown and Company, 1953, excerpts pp. 240-243)

Conservative Southern Democrats of 1917

Washington’s warning regarding foreign entanglements, as well as John Quincy Adam’s belief that America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy, were forgotten by Woodrow Wilson’s reign. In the latter’s time there were those in Congress who saw that Britain was a preferred creditor of American business interests and thus had to be bailed out with American lives and fortune.

The question must be asked: Had Britain been left on its own to seek an armistice with Germany, and Kaiser Wilhelm remaining on the throne, would a German nationalist rising out of American intervention and German defeat have occurred?

Conservative Southern Democrats of 1917

“[In] the period of neutrality of the First World War more Southerners opposed intervention and Wilson’s foreign policies than they did intervention and [FDR’s] foreign policies in the period of neutrality of the Second World War.

In an editorial of March 11, 1917, the Greensboro Daily News said the rich and the heads of corporate industry wanted war, not the great, silent masses. It was persuaded by its readers’ letters, it said, “that the masses of people of this section have little desire to take a hand in Europe’s slaughter and confusion.”

Several Southerners in Congress, such as Claude Kitchin of North Carolina, majority leader in the House of Representatives, and Senator James K. Vardaman of Mississippi, opposed Wilson’s foreign policy and upheld traditional isolationist views. Vardaman belonged to that “little band of willful men” who in February 1917 successfully filibustered against Wilson’s Armed Neutrality bill and was one of the six senators who voted against war with Germany.

In his opposition speech of April 8, 1917, to Wilson’s request for war, Kitchin insisted that the President’s foreign policy had been pro-British from the outbreak of hostilities. “We are to make their quarrel, right or wrong, our quarrel,” Kitchin said. “We are to fight out, with all the resources in men, money and credit of the Government and its people a difference between the belligerents of Europe to which we were and are utter strangers.” This was a view many isolationists, North and South, could accept.

Kitchin and the South resented, among other things, Britain’s blockade because of its adverse effect on cotton and tobacco growers . . . [as] in the first two years of the war, the South suffered more from the blockade than any other section. The possibility that the Southerners in Congress might join with the German-American and Irish-American elements to force a retaliatory arms embargo against the British for suppression of the cotton trade with Central Europe appeared in 1915 as a grave threat to Anglo-American relations.

“The cotton producers of North Carolina and the entire South are aroused over the action of Great Britain in declaring cotton contraband,” Claude Kitchin announced, according the Greensboro Daily News of August 27, 1915, “and they want the Administration to be as emphatic in dealing with England on this score as it has been dealing with Germany over others.”

Throughout the South there was a widespread campaign for retaliation against the British government.

The British, to pacify the South, finally made a secret agreement with the American government to buy enough cotton to stabilize the price at ten cents a pound. British buying . . . soon drove up cotton prices and the crisis passed.”

(The South and Isolationism, Alexander Deconde; The South and the Sectional Image, The Sectional Theme Since Reconstruction, Dewey W. Grantham, editor, Harper & Row, 1967, excerpts pp. 120-121)

Stereotypes and White Trash in Little Rock

The Little Rock episode of government force used in the integration of Arkansas schools caused little damage to Governor Orval Faubus as he easily secured reelection in 1958, and served three more terms.

Hollywood used Little Rock to advance their stereotypes of the Southern citizenry, with “A Face in the Crowd” described below, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.”

The latter two paint a damning picture of poor Southern white people with the Ewell family depicted as untrustworthy “poor white trash”; Gregory Peck provided “a pale imitation of the primal Cajun doing his dance to drumbeats.” “Redneck” and “white trash” were often used interchangeably; “hillbilly” was waiting in the wings if the other two did not suffice.

Stereotypes and White Trash in Little Rock

“Little Rock was the most important domestic news story of 1957. It transformed the Central High neighborhood into a newsroom, attracting reporters from the major newspapers, magazines and television networks. By the end of September, the number of press people had grown from a handful to 225 highly visible journalists and cameramen. The standoff between the courts and the governor – the “crisis” environment swirling around the school grounds – grabbed the world’s attention.

The media easily slipped into Southern stereotypes, depicting “many in overalls,” “tobacco-chewing white men,” or as one New York Times article highlighted, a “scrawny redneck man” yelling insults at the soldiers. Local Arkansas journalists similarly dismissed the demonstrators as “a lot of rednecks.” Unruly women who stood by became “slattern housewives” and “harpies.” One Southern reporter said it outright: “Hell, look at them. They’re just poor white trash, mostly.”

In Nashville, mob violence erupted that same month after the integration of an elementary school. There, a Time [magazine] reporter had a field day trashing the women in the crowd: “vacant-faced women in curlers and loose-hanging blouses,” not to mention a rock-throwing waitress with a tattooed arm.

These were all predictable motifs, serving to distance rabble-rousers from the “normal” good people of Arkansas and Tennessee. By 1959, the Times Literary Supplement acknowledged that it was the “ugly faces” of “rednecks, crackers, tar-heels and other poor white trash” that would be forever remembered from Central High.

In the same year that Little Rock consumed the news media, Hollywood produced a feature-length film that capitalized on the redneck image. Starring Andy Griffith and directed by Elia Kazan, A Face in the Crowd was . . . “a dark drama that followed “Lonesome Rhodes,” a down-and-out man discovered playing guitar in an Arkansas jail, and traced his rapid rise into the national limelight as a powerful and ruthless TV star.

For reviewers, Griffith’s performance was a cross between Huey Long and Elvis Presley – a hollering, singing “redneck gone berserk with power.”

(White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, Nancy Isenberg, Viking Press, 2016, excerpts pp. 251-252)

May 2, 2019 - Enemies of the Republic, Historians on History, Historical Accuracy, Newspapers, Propaganda    Comments Off on Journalists Versus Plodders

Journalists Versus Plodders

The eminent historian J.G. Randall writes of journalists masquerading as historians who easily reveal themselves, such as when “one of the best magazines of the country palmed off some forged Lincoln and Ann Rutledge letters whose fraudulent character could have been detected by a beginner in historical method.” Newspaper writers and their insatiable need for sensationalism and “breaking news stories” to sell papers or corner viewers takes precedence over facts and evidence. The piece below was written in 1939 when fake history in newspapers and magazines was not unknown.

Journalists Versus Plodders

“It has been said that in the journalism of our day the reporting function is better performed than the interpretive function. In other words, given the limitations of news gathering in a world of censorship and propaganda, news writers of today are less unsatisfactory than columnists and editorialists.

The historian may easily be tempted to turn commentator or, if you please, columnist. Editorializing or column writing is easy. It usually takes less effort than research. It offers a cue for easy writing. It satisfies a literary impulse. It finds a demand in the minds of many readers. It is popular to spread one’s story on a broad canvas, to deal with generalization or prediction, to deliver over-the-counter a consignment of impressive pronouncements and omniscient finalities.

Such writers get reputations as thinkers; research men are too likely to appear as plodders. Research is tied down; it is the editorialist who soars and sparkles.

Along with this there is another tendency – the inclination to speak slightingly of that individual who is pityingly referred to as the “professional historian.” At times this term seems almost to connote something suspicious or discreditable, as if amateur standing in the historical field constitutes in itself a kind of superiority.

One does not consider amateur standing desirable in chemistry, nor does one often hear the term “professional chemists.” Similarly it might be enough to speak of historians and let it go at that. The competent historian does not need to pay much heed to it, merely making sure that he justify himself at that point where his essential function lies, i.e., in historical investigation, in the discovering and testing of evidence, and the formulating of conclusions that tie up with reliable and adequate proof.”

(The Civil War Restudied, J.G. Randall, Journal of Southern History, University of Louisiana Press, November 1940, Volume VI, Number 4, excerpts pg. 440)