U.S. History postsSunday January 27, 2019
I was at the downtown Seattle library yesterday doing some research on an old Hollywood screenwriter when I came across the following cartoon in a 1933 copy of the The Saturday Evening Post (founded AD 1728 by Benj. Franklin). I know a bit of racial history in this country, I know the era I was in, but you still do a double-take at the combo of cutesy/kitschy and horror:
That's a Henry comic by Carl Anderson. I remember seeing them as a kid. He kind of freaked me out: bald and silent, he looked like he was made of taffy. Anderson created him in 1932, they were taken over by others in the 1940s, and kept going in some dailies until about 1990.
The magazines themselves are amazing: large, edit-heavy, often more than 100 pages, and generally trying to make sense of the world. In just one issue, June 24, 1933, you could read Dorothy Thompson's boots-on-the-ground take on the new German Socialist Party led by Adolf Hitler, along with short stories by Booth Tarkington and F. Scott Fitzgerald—who, by the way, didn't even make the cover. His name didn't mean enough in 1933 to sell the magazine. Tarkington's and Thompson's did.
But even while trying to make sense of the world, they had this one huge blind spot. In another issue, from ‘34, there’s a non-fiction piece by Mississippi author Harris Dickson, “The First Law of Farming,” that includes photos of African Americans, and captions reading, for example, “On ‘Ration Day,’ Negroes Flock to the Store, Chattering Like Happy Blackbirds.” Yes, they capitalized most words in captions back then. Maybe where Trump got it.
All of this is less to condemn the people in the past for their blind spot than to acknowledge the distance traveled. Also to wonder what our blind spot is. Because there surely is one, seen every day, which will be just as obvious to people 100 years from now.
I came across this old Milton Caniff strip on IMDb.com when I was watching the 1940 movie serial of the same name. Serial wasn't bad, considering it was a 1940 movie serial. There was racism in it, but nothing like this.
A few thoughts:
- “Chinaman” isn't even the bad part.
- “Warm up to that Chinaman”: That's the bad part. Terry, our hero, is being duplicitous from the start.
- And how does he warm up to him? He takes his “A” sweater and makes it spell “SAP.” He turns him into the butt of a joke.
- And for that, he demands a favor. God, what a dick.
- And those Chinese characters Caniff writes? They‘re not anything. The only one that’s a real character is the first: 女。It means “female.” It's generally not part of a name, and it certainly wouldn't be part of this guy's name. The others are horseshit. Like pretending Xtruioq is a word.
- But because Terry can't pronounce the Chinese guy's name (that isn't a name), he renames him. Is there a joke in the name, too? Like a pitiful sigh?
Remember: This was read by kids. Terry was a role model for kids. Next time some right-wing yahoo complains that modern athletes aren't good “role models,” feel free to bring up Terry and the Pirates.
In the rest of this Sunday strip, which you can see here, Pat, the older hero of the strip, Batman to Terry's Robin, is almost seduced by the sexy “Dragon Lady.” It's both sides of the All-American white male attitude toward the Chinese: the women are sexy and thus dangerous; the men are idiots and thus comic foils.
The 2017-2018 lineup, back in 2009.
I remember a time when we didn't have any living ex-presidents.
I was a kid, and, in quick order, Eisenhower (March 1969), Truman (December 1972) and LBJ (January 1973) all died. Obviously JFK and FDR were dead, too, and the dudes before FDR (Hoover: 1964; Coolidge: 1933), so we were left with no living ex-presidents, just one living president: President Fucking Nixon.
Then our roster of exes began to grow:
- 1974: Nixon
- 1977: Ford
- 1981: Carter
- 1989: Reagan
- 1993: H.W. Bush
At this point we had five. In ‘94, Nixon took the dirt nap. That left four. But in 2001, we added Clinton to bring the team back to five.
During W.’s terms we lost two more: Reagan in 2004 and Ford in 2006. That left us with three:
Carter, H.W. Bush, Clinton
W. was added in 2009, Obama in 2017, and H.W. left us at the tail end of last year. The current roster:
Carter, Clinton, W. Bush, Obama
What's startling is that since that moment when I was 10 when we had no ex-presidents, no Democratic ex-president has died. Meaning the roster of exes is mostly Dems.
And in the news today?
Trump just claimed that former PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES have privately told him that he's doing things they should have done re: the border. Seems highly unlikely this ever happened and should be pretty easy to verify.— Robert Maguire (@RobertMaguire_) January 4, 2019
As it was. Another lie. Shocking.
Anyway, it's nice to have ex-presidents. I hope we get to add to the list soon. Like this year. Or this month. Or this week. Or yesterday.
Armistice Day + 100: 'I do not believe that any of us loves a blustering nationality'
More kismet with Jill Lepore. I'm up to WWI in her book, “These Truths: A History of the United States,” and read the following this morning—on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I:
The scale of death in the American Civil War, so staggering at the time—750,000 dead, in four years of fighting—looked, by comparison, minuscule. Within the first eight weeks of the war alone, nearly 400,000 Germans were killed, wounded, sick, or missing. In 1916, over a matter of mere months, there were 800,000 military casualties in Verdun and 1.1 million at the Somme. But civilians were slaughtered, too. The Ottoman government massacred as many as 1.5 million Armenians. For the first time, war was waged by airplane, bombs dropped from a great height, as if by the gods themselves. Cathedrals were shelled, libraries bombed, hospitals blasted. Before the war was over, nearly 40 million people had been killed and another 20 million wounded. What sane person could believe in progress in an age of mass slaughter?
U.S. involvement by way of the Zimmerman telegram—a German promise to Mexico that it would regain the lost territories of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona if it fought us—also led to our first federal propaganda department, the Committee on Public Information, which was “headed by a baby-faced, forty-one-year-old muckraker from Missouri named George Creel, best-known for an exposé on child labor called Children in Bondage. Creel applied the methods of Progressive Era muckraking to the work of whipping up a frenzy for fighting.”
Lepore reminds us of the backlash against civil rights during the era. After Congress passed the 1918 Sedition Act, the Justice Department charged more than 2,000 Americans with that crime—particularly socialists. The leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Bill Haywood, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Former presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs was sentenced to 10 for delivering a speech, Lepore writes, in which he'd told his listeners that they were “fit for something better than slavery and cannon fodder.”
As for now? Yesterday, our current president traveled to France to participate in 100th anniversary ceremonies to honor the war dead; but then he decided not to. The White House said bad weather was the reason but didn't extrapolate, leaving everyone guessing. From the Washington Post: “The cemetery is 50 miles from Paris. Perhaps the president was planning to travel on Marine One, which is occasionally grounded by the military.” Today, other world leaders rebuked Trump's nationalism. Pres. Macron: “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism by saying, ‘our interest first, who cares about the others?’”
Which brings us back to “These Truths.” Wilson's 1916 re-election campaign slogan was, of course, “He kept us out of war,” which Teddy Roosevelt, still fomenting, called an “ignoble shirking of responsibility.” Wilson's repsonse: “I am an American, but I do not believe that any of us loves a blustering nationality.”
I'll let Paul Simon take us out.
“Since the Middle Ages, Muslim traders from North Africa had traded in Africans from below the Sahara, where slavery was widespread. In much of Africa, labor, not land, constituted the sole form of property recognized by law, a form of consolidating wealth and generating revenue, which meant that African states tended to be small and that, while European wars were fought for land, African wars were fought for labor. People captured in African wars were bought and sold in large markets by merchants and local officials and kings and, beginning in the 1450s, by Portuguese sea captains. Columbus, a veteran of that trade, reported to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 that it would be the work of a moment to enslave the people of Haiti, since ‘with 50 men all of them could be held in subjection and can be made to do whatever one might wish.’ In sugar mines and gold mines, the Spanish worked their native slaves to death while many more died of disease. Soon, they turned to another source of forced labor, Africans traded by the Portuguese.”
from Jill Lepore's much-recommended “These Truths: A History of the United States.” I was actually hoping for some redemption for Columbus here but didn't find much. Ms. Lepore will be speaking in Seattle this Friday at Benaroya Hall. The Columbus quote about “50 men” comes from the “Diaro of Christopher Columbus,” which isn't the original (that's lost) but something transcribed by Bartolome de Las Casas in the 1530s.