Wednesday’s Book Review: “Beyond the Sixth Game”

Beyond the Sixth Game. By Peter Gammons. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.

Game six of the 1975 World Series is often referred to as the greatest in history. The Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds battled to a standstill in extra innings with the Reds leading the series 3-2. Carlton Fisk hit a walk-off home run in the twelfth inning to send the series to a seventh game, which the Reds won to claim its first series victory in more than a generation.

Gammons seeks to go beyond this iconic struggle to answer a question that many have posed afterward, why did such a promising Red Sox team fail to win even a single World Series with the personnel that excited everyone in 1975. The team challenged for years from 1973 through the early 1980s, but only played in the one series it lost. It had three future Hall of Famers on that team—Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice—as well as an outstanding pair of starting pitchers in Luis Tiant and Bill Lee and talented everyday players led by AL Rookie of the Year and league MVP Fred Lynn.

Gammons answer seems to be that changes to the game, especially the advent of free agency, as well as the rise of cable sports networks and superstations, contributed to the team being broken up and players leaving for better deals elsewhere. While Gammons hits hard the leadership of the Red Sox for failure to adapt to a new environment, he seems to wallow in the nostalgia of what might have been and like so many other sportswriters lent credence to the owners’ position that free agency was one of the worst things that ever happened in MLB.

Gammons ran through a list of players who were with their teams their entire careers—like that is the most important thing—but fails to note that players have moved all the time. Let me cite a few greats who moved elsewhere before free agency because their team owners wanted to get rid of them: Babe Ruth, Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, and Henry Aaron. Gammons failed to note that several after the advent of free agency remained with their original teams for their entire careers; Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Guinn, George Brett, Kirby Puckett, and Willie Stargell come to mind. The issue of player movement is really not terribly compelling.

Gammons is wrong to give legitimacy to the side of the owners fighting the MLB Player’s Association seeking some parity with the baseball establishment. Owners wanted to turn back the clock to keep MLB in the desperate years of the 1950s when the result was that the dominance of New York teams because of their greater resources hindered the growth of the game. The equity created through arbitration and free agency ensured that the game was never more popular before than it was after the new structure forced changes in management that allowed for free agents and core players from a farm system now more important than ever.

Red Sox leadership failed to make changes. It was stuck in the mud in the same way that it was with the integration to the game in the 1940s. It suffered because of that; it did the same here as well. It took new leadership and the advance of new thinking to create the juggernaut so dominate in the early twenty-first century. Gammons could not have known this in 1985, but this book now appears both dated and arguing a lost cause.

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Sacred Space, Chosen-ness, and Perspectives on the American Past

textbook-thumb-200x282-80797In his classic book, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (1959), Mircea Eliade suggested that humanity has always sought to designate physical locations as either sacred—to be held reverent and exceptional, to be approached with respect and awe—or secular depending on the type of experiences that have taken and are intended to take place there.

The perception of sacred space has often emphasized God’s intrusion into the human world, certainly Eliade thought so, but humanity creates it own “sacred space” with a qualitative difference between how one approaches it and how one interacts with the secular or, in Eliade’s parlance, “profane” space of everyday life that lacks special meaning. There is, Eliade observed, in sacred space “a strong, significant space; there are other spaces that are not sacred and so are without structure and consistency.” These other spaces, he argued, are “amorphous.”

At a fundamental level sacred space represented the location where the world of humanity meets the world of deity and the eternal. The temple in all religious traditions incorporates sacred space of the most sublime type. It might be viewed as a place where the vertical axis of communication between heaven and Earth meet, the spot where the traffic between two existences reach out to each other. As the biblical dictate stated: “Take heed that you do not offer your burnt offerings in any place that you see, but in the place which the Lord shall choose…there you shall offer your burnt offerings” (Deut. 12:13, NIV). Assignment of sacred stature to places, locations, and structures—both natural and human-built—has dominated the idea of sacred space throughout human history.

While Eliade was concerned exclusively with the overtly religious dimensions of sacred space in the realm of humanity, let me suggest that we may apply his ideas about sacred space to places “holy” in the context of American civil religion. Sociologist Robert Bellah in his 1967 article, “Civil Religion in America,” that Americans have accepted as a people a common set of principles, values, rituals, memories, holidays, and beliefs that as a society have special meaning. They reside parallel to, and in some cases instead of, more overtly religious ideals. He referred to this as American civil religion, a national and nationalistic perspective on the nature, meaning, and ideals of America.]

We see this is many ways in American history. For example, in Richard T. Hughes’ powerful recent book, Myths America Lives By (2003), he shows how the citizens of the United States have embraced a conception that they are part of a nation chosen of God, special among all others on the globe. One may appropriately question if such a special relationship exists, but the power of this longstanding belief for understanding the development of the United States is undeniable. It helps explain much about American actions on the world stage, about how its politicians act in crisis, and the peculiar moralisms that find expression in all types of issues in the public sphere.

It is no secret that the Puritan immigrants to America from England viewed themselves as God’s elect, but perhaps fewer understand that this sense of “chosen-ness” has found expression throughout the nation’s history. Citizens of the United States have long viewed this as a new “land of Canaan,” to use a religious conception, and found representation in the idea of a national covenant in which the inhabitants lived justly and were rewarded as a result. At it’s best, this value calls on Americans to shoulder responsibilities that reflected a high-minded national creed: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

At the same time, these beliefs offer enormous negatives for the United States. High-minded morality has too often been used to justify high-handed political, economic, and diplomatic activities by the United States. For example, as discussed by historian Richard Hughes, it has led to misguided efforts by Americans “to export and impose its cultural and economics values throughout the world, regardless of the impact those policies might have on poor and dispossessed people in other parts of the world.”

This belief in “chosen-ness,” while it is uniquely untrue, is among the most powerful and persistent conceptions motivating American beliefs. It has its roots in Old Testament concepts and fosters the conclusion that the United States is exceptional not only because of its superpower status, its economic might, its military muscle, or its cultural expressions but also because of a special relationship with God. There is nothing new about this. The author of Deuteronomy recorded that God told the ancient Jewish people: “The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the people on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Deut. 7:6, NIV).

Americans appropriated this belief as a chosen people and it has motivated much of what has taken place throughout the history of the republic. From the Puritans of colonial New England with their “city on a hill” to the recent “mission” of George W. Bush and the neo-conservatives claiming that they are bringing democracy, capitalism, and liberty to Iraq and the remainder of the Middle East a belief that the U.S. has been blessed by God permeates the national character.

As historian Walter A. McDougall concludedin is book, Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World since 1776 (1997), Old Testament traditions “were coherent, mutually supportive, and reflective of our original image of America as a Promised Land.” Over time Americans absolutized the idea of divine chosen-ness. Neo-orthodox theologian H. Reinhold Niehbuhr concluded in 1927: “the old idea of American Christians as a chosen people who had been called to a special task was turned into the notion of a chosen nation especially favored…As the nineteenth century went on, the note of divine favoritism was increasingly sounded.”

During the Cold War those feelings of divine favoritism waxed and manifested themselves in myriad ways. Historian Richard Hofstadter remarked in The Progressive Historians (1968) that during the years of struggle with the Soviet Union Americans, seeing totalitarianism of all stripes, engaged in a broad rethinking of America and accepted “a revival of the old feeling that the United States is better and different.” As he explained, “the cold war brought a certain closing of the ranks, a disposition to stress common objectives, a revulsion from Marxism and its tendency to think of social conflict as carried à outrance.”

As a society we have adopted a civil religion that reveres the founders, venerates the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and emphasizes a consensus interpretation of our national past that celebrates the long tradition of shared American ideals and values while de-emphasizing conflict. Its proponents questioned the ideas and people who challenged those cherished principles, seeing in many of them strains of authoritarianism, anarchy, and narrow- and simple-mindedness of all varieties.

Broad efforts to control the telling of the past along a specific civil religion emphasis has sometimes manifested itself in discomfiting ways.  While much of this language would place a “civics” spin on the teaching of American history—and could be largely innocuous—some go beyond that to emphasize a narrow presentation of historical facts and little latitude for interpretation.

We have seen of late renewed attempts to deal with these issues. Debates over curricula, the priority of using leftist interpretations of the past, and the exhibitry of contested themes in American history all speak to the ongoing issues to be adjudicated in the earlt twenty-first century. What will happen in these connections in the future. It is obvious that there are political forces motivated by ideology that are debating the nature of the United States and its future evolution. What will this debate mean for the study of the American past?

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Cassini Arrives at Saturn: Happy Anniversary!

This image from the Cassini spacecraft shows four moons huddled near Saturn’s multi-hued disk. The coloration of the planet’s northern hemisphere has changed noticeably since the Cassini spacecraft’s arrival in orbit in mid-2004. Giant Titan (5,150 kilometers, or 3,200 miles across), with its darker winter hemisphere, dominates the smaller moons in the scene. Beneath and left of Titan is Janus (181 kilometers, or 113 miles across). Mimas (397 kilometers, or 247 miles across) appears as a bright dot close to the planet and beneath the rings. Prometheus (102 kilometers, or 63 miles across) is a faint speck hugging the rings between the two small moons. This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from less than a degree above the ringplane. This image was taken by Cassini’s wide-angle camera on October 26, 2007, at a distance of approximately 1.5 million kilometers (920,000 miles) from Saturn and 2.7 million kilometers (1.7 million miles) from Titan.

Representing the international character of many NASA planetary missions since Voyager, Cassini-Huygens, a joint effort of NASA, the European Space Agency, and Italian Space Agency, has also proved to be an incredible success. It seems appropriate to recall this mission since Cassini, the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn, arrived there on July 1, 2004. This mission also sent a probe (Huygens) to the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan on January 15, 2005. Huygens was a product of the European Space Agency, and the first outer planetary mission by that organization. I will write specifically about Huygens in another blog post.

But even before its Saturnian encounter, the Cassini mission advanced science by finding individual storm cells of upwelling bright-white clouds in dark “belts” in Jupiter’s atmosphere, and by conducting a radio signal experiment on October 10, 2003 that supported Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

At Saturn, Cassini has discovered three new moons (Methone, Pallene, and Polydeuces), observed water ice geysers erupting from the south pole of the moon Enceladus, obtained images appearing to show lakes of liquid hydrocarbon (such as methane and ethane) in Titan’s northern latitudes, and discovered a storm at the south pole of Saturn with a distinct eye wall. Cassini, like Galileo at Jupiter, has demonstrated that icy moons orbiting gas giant planets are potential refuges of life, and attractive destinations for a new era of robotic planetary exploration.

It seems appropriate to recognize the important of the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn at this point when it arrived at the planet. It’s success was the result of large-scale flagship planning and operations in an international setting between NASA and other space organizations. Some have derided these missions as “Battlestar Galacticas” that cost too much and are too slow in their development; others emphasize that these costly and time-consuming missions provide more good science over a longer period than smaller, quicker projects. The reality is that both sides are correct, and that the best answer is a mix of missions of a large, complex variety but also smaller, more focused projects. Regardless of where one comes down on this debate, no one can deny that Cassini has been a stunning planetary science mission that has made a fundamental impact on our knowledge of this unique planetary system. So, happy anniversary Cassini; and I hope there are many more.

Cassini performed two flybys of Venus and one of Earth to obtain the velocity needed to leave the inner solar system. It then flew by Jupiter before finally arriving at Saturn in July 2004, more than six years after launch.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency”

A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency. By Glenn Greenwald. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

Reporter Glenn Greenwald’s thesis is straightforward: George W. Bush approached every issue he faced as one on which the forces of good had to overcome the forces of evil. Everything, and as far as Greenwald is concerned that means literally EVERYTHING, was in black and white with no shades of gray whatsoever. Consequently, the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath defined his presidency were viewed as the result of evil being perpetrated by those who were evil on the good people and the good nation of the United States. The sense of American innocence present in this perspective was palpable. The myth of the innocent nation so much a part of Bush’s character, allowed him to come to believe that whatever he did to respond to this perceived evil was just and righteous.

No doubt this sense was fostered by Bush’s strikingly non-nuanced Christian beliefs, and this too led him to accept as true that he was locked in a desperate struggle with evil. He viewed the world this way, seeing it in virtually all periods of American history but it is especially present in the great struggles of the twentieth century. He accepted that in World Wars I and II America was fighting for the survival of all that was good against forces of evil. But it also was especially prevalent in the Cold War against the Soviet Union, and certainly in the aftermath of 9/11 in the global war on terrorism.

In essence A Tragic Legacy is a character study of George W. Bush. It is one that points to what Greenwald believes were fundamental flaws in his personality; but it is more than that since it also exemplifies the mindset of his administration and policies pursued during the first decade of the twenty-first century. This led to a demonization of people and cultures that held ideas different from Bush, and tragic wars in Iraq and, although less so, in Afghanistan.

Greenwald makes a convincing case, but as someone who values academic arguments for me there was a bit too much of journalistic license in the discussion. For one thing I appreciate the scholarly apparatus, and I found the lack of any sort of documentation whatsoever troubling. Greenwald offered basic statements about where large quote came from, but no specifics. For example, on p. 105 he quotes from a Dr. Rafael Medoff’s 2003 article but doesn’t bother to tell you the name of the article or where it appeared, to say nothing of page number, etc. That is common throughout the book. I want more specificity and the ability to follow-up on, even to fact check, what is being said. It’s not that I don’t think Greenwald is incorrectly quoting these sources; I always want to verify everything.

Perhaps that is not a problem for other readers, but it is for me. I take the analysis in this book seriously, and I want the substance to back it up.

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The Assassinations of Joseph Smith Jr. and Hyrum Smith

Joseph Smith Jr.

June 27th marks the anniversary of the 1844 assassinations of Joseph Smith Jr., the Mormon founding prophet, and his brother Hyrum Smith at the Carthage Jail in Hancock County, Illinois. It is usually a day of remembrance for those claiming the legacy of Smith and the religious group he founded. The murders occurred late in the afternoon of the 27th, when conspirators engineered an attack on the jail. Although they killed only the Smith brothers, Mormon Apostle John Taylor was also seriously wounded while Willard Richards survived essentially unscathed.

This event set in motion a series of tumultuous changes, leading to the succession of Brigham Young as the head of the majority group of Mormons. He, of course, led them to Utah where they became a powerful force religiously, economically, and politically. Other groups also emerged; there occurred a splintering of the church as constituted in the era of Joseph Smith into at least ten identifiable groups. The fights were over theology and doctrine, polity and personality, pettiness and provocation. My own religious home among this panoply of groups, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (which changed its name to Community of Christ in 2000), coalesced around the leadership of the prophet’s son, Joseph Smith III, a bit later.

How the Smiths came to be in the Carthage Jail, for me, is the most interesting part of the story. Perhap the greatest mistake of Joseph Smith Jr.’s, life—certainly it was the most costly—was the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor newspaper, published by Mormon dissidents in June 1844. They exposed Smith as an authoritarian leader who controlled everything in Nauvoo. They challenged his leadership, his practices—especially plural marriage—and his militarism. Smith pushed the Nauvoo city council to declare this newspaper a “nuisance” and ordered it destroyed.

In another time, in another circumstance, Smith might have gotten away with the destruction of the Expositor. Not this time. The dissenters Smith sought to destroy this time had been a part of Mormonism’s middle class, persons who had known both power and influence—especially William Law, a successful businessman and a counselor to Joseph Smith in the First Presidency for a time in the early 1840s—who immediately filed charges for Smith’s arrest. He was ensconced in the Carthage Jail, along with brother Hyrum and other lieutenants, on the afternoon of the 27th when armed conspirators assassinated the Smith brothers.

A murder conspiracy developed only on the afternoon of the 27th as men called together by the local militia leadership near Carthage were dismissed without any official mission. As they returned to Carthage, they gradually dwindled to no more than 75, but some began to assert that since they were gathered together that they should, according to John Hay, who grew up in the area, “finish the matter totally. The unavowed design of the leaders communicated itself magnetically to the men, until the entire company became fused into one mass of bloodthirsty energy.” George Rockwell placed the best possible light on the conspiracy by telling his father soon after the event that those involved were “unwilling to be trifled with any longer, [and] they determined to take the matter into their own hands, and execute justice before they [the Smith brothers] should succeed in making their escape.”

Thomas Halman was present in Carthage at the time of the mobbing. A little more than a month after the murders he wrote to a friend, George Weston, about the episode. His account provides an interesting perspective on the conspiracy: “About four o’clock on the 27th of June the jail was surrounded by a mob disguised, who demanded the prisoners. The guard told them to desist—fired and wounded some, but before they had time to do more, they were being held down by the mob (taking good care not to hurt them) whilst others of the mob were making quick but thorough work of the object they had in view. They reached up stairs, Hyrum closed the door upon them and received his death wounds thro the door. Jo fired upon them, from some unknown cause raised the window on the cast and jumped from it. But received a number of balls before he reached the ground. They both expired immediately!”

Artist’s depiction of the asassination of Joseph Smith.

William R. Hamilton was one of the youngest members of the militia at the time of the Smiths’ murders in 1844. Later a judge in the county, he was the son of Artois Hamilton, who owned the hotel in Carthage. Hamilton described his experiences of the murders in a letter to Foster Walker, a resident of Pontoosac, in Hancock County. Hamilton noted that the mob approached the jail from the north, streaming on either side to completely surround the building. “The guards were quietly sitting in front and in the hall below,” he commented, “all of whom were captured without much trouble or danger. Just a little suspicion might be attached to the officer in command. Yet it might be presumed he thought his only duty was to keep the Smiths from coming downstairs.”

Hamilton wrote that he sprinted to the site of the murders ahead of his company. “When about fifty yards away I saw Joseph Smith come to the window and fall out.” Then he added:

One of the men went to him and partially straightened his body out beside the well curb. Just at this time I got up amongst the men and heard him say, “he’s dead,” when all the mob immediately left. I went to where Smith was lying and found that he was dead without doubt. I then went up to the room where they had been quartered, where I found Hyram Smith lying upon the floor on his back, dead. No person was in the room, or came while I was there. He was stretched out on the floor, just as he had fallen after being shot. The shot that killed him was fired through the door panel by one of the mob, while in the hall, and struck him in the left breast; he falling backward. There were in the room at that time four persons the two Smiths and Elders Taylor and Richards. Taylor was wounded, being hit several times—all flesh wounds—and was the same night taken to Nauvoo. Richards was not hurt and immediately after the mob left the hall, carried Taylor into the cell department of the jail, which was done just before I went upstairs.

Hamilton also described how the Mormons had tried to secure the door when the mob came upstairs and how Smith had fired an old English pepper-box revolver through the doorway. He then commented that “After I had satisfied my curiosity, seen and been among the mob, seen the prophet shot, and seen the dead men, it occurred to me I ought to go home and tell the news. When about 200 yards from the jail I met the company coming ready for business. Nothing was to be done but to “about face,” return to camp and be disbanded; which was promptly done in good order, as their prisoners were dead and not likely to run away.”

As soon as the murders were done the mob disappeared. John Hay remarked of this: “They went home at a killing pace over the wide dusty prairie. Warsaw is eighteen miles from Carthage; the Smiths were killed at half-past five; at a quarters before eight the returning crowd began to drag their weary limbs through the main street of Warsaw,—at such an astounding rate of speed had the lash of their own thoughts driven them.”

They were concerned that the Nauvoo Legion would march but it did not. While the women and children were ferried across the river to Missouri, the “men kept guard night and day in the hazel thickets around the town.” But nothing happened. The Mormon leaders called for patience and mourning but not revenge. They sent a delegation to Carthage to retrieve their dead. The bodies of Joseph and Hyrum Smith were returned to Nauvoo the next day and buried on June 29.

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Anti-War and Anti-German Sentiment in Illinois in World War I

When the United States entered World War I in April 1917 the overall population of Illinois firmly supported the American war effort; however, there were persistent anti‑war and pro‑German sentiments expressed by some in the state. The state had a long history of anti‑war activism; it had been a hotbed of “Copperheadism” during the Civil War, the members of which advocated the negotia­tion of a peaceful settlement allowing the South to create an independent nation.

At the time of American entrance into World War I, Illinois had more German‑ and Austrian‑born residents than any other state, and Chicago was the considered the world’s sixth‑largest German city, whose mayor forcefully opposed American involvement in the fighting. Indicative of this position, just before the declaration of war 25 German‑American leaders from Chicago went to Washington to convince President Woodrow Wilson that the United States should either remain neutral in the European war or enter on the side of Germany rather than the British and French. When the declaration of war was presented to the U.S. Congress in April 1917, five of the 50 votes against the declaration came from Illinois representatives. All of these congressmen were reelected the next year, indicating that their position was popular with their constituents.

U.S. propaganda poster in World War I.

Other leaders in the state opposed the American entrance into World War I for reasons other than ancestry. Jane Addams, the eminent Chicago social worker, chaired the Women’s Peace Party and worked for American neutrality on moral grounds. She, and such pacifists as Jenkin Lloyd Jones believed the war unnecessary. From the Chicago headquarters of the Socialist Party emerged constant criticism of American involvement in the war. The party also organized anti‑war rallies and other activities which hampered the prosecution of the war.

The International Workers of the World, a radical labor organization which was also based in Chicago, opposed the war as a capitalist machination to further enslave laborers. That the anti‑war position of these individuals and groups was appreciated by many is suggested by the 1917 judicial election in Chicago where the Socialist ticket polled approximately one‑third of the vote against a Republican/Democratic coalition of incumbents.

Jane Addams organized and attended peace rallies and protests against the war. Here she is shown with the Noordam peace delegates in 1915.

These were minority opinions, however, and the individuals holding them were suspected as traitors by the majority of the Illinois population. This suspicion led to action in some cases, and not all of it was legal. The confiscation of anti‑war literature in the Socialist Party headquarters in Chicago and the resultant action to restrict their use of the postal service may have been somewhat overzealous but was probably legal because of the sedition laws on the books. The sentencing of 166 members of the Interna­tional Workers of the World to 20 years in prison on the general grounds that they hampered the war effort was certainly of questionable legality.

Equally unfair was the treatment of residents of German extraction. German aliens were registered by the state on 4 February and 17 June 1918 so that their whereabouts could be traced. They were barred from certain zones such as defense plants and military installations unless they obtained a special pass. Some community leaders, without any official declaration to do so, pressured German‑language newspapers to cease operations, and there was in some locales informal boycotts of businesses operated by German‑Americans. In most cases the people had done nothing to warrant any action against them, and most were actively supporting the war effort. This harsh approach toward dealing with Ger­man‑Americans was unwarranted in all but a few instances.

Robert Prager (1888-1918), was a German-born coal miner Collinsville, Illinois, during World War I.

The most serious incident took place in Collinsville, near St. Louis, in April 1918 when Robert P. Prager was lynched. Prager was a German immigrant and a Socialist who was suspected of being a spy. Stripped, bound with an American flag, and dragged through the streets, Prager was murdered amid the cheers of some 500 spectators. Governor Lowden demanded that the guilty be punished, but when 11 men were finally tried for the murder their attorney justified the deed as “patriotic murder.” Less than 25 minutes after beginning deliberations, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty and the lynchers were released.

As tragic as these instances of intolerance were, they represented minority positions for most residents of the sate. Illinois, both the government and the population, essentially supported the war effort and took pride in the state’s performance. With the ending of hostilities following the 11 November 1918 armistice, in which Germany admitted its defeat, the nation began to demobilize. As the Illinois troops came home Governor Lowden met most of the major units at their debarkation points to congratulate them on their performance. Many of the state’s men under arms had participated in the most important and decisive engagements of the war, and before the middle of 1919 most of them had been mustered out of the service. Many of the state’s veterans went to St. Louis for the first national conven­tion of the American Legion, an organization that remains one of the most effective voices for veterans in the United States.

The Illinois experience in World War I, like that of the rest of the nation, was a watershed in the history of the state. It was an enormously heady time, one in which the citizenry sought to “make the world safe for democracy,” to use a phrase President Wilson coined to justify the war. The state enthusiastically supported the war effort, except in these few isolated instances. But in a million ways when Illinois emerged from World War I, it was a changed entity. Just from an economic standpoint the war wrought enormous dislocations. More people moved from the farms to the factories, races were thrown together in the larger cities, and business investments were shifted. It signaled the increasing presence of the national government into the affairs of the state’s residents in the form of the draft, government loans, defense installations, income taxes, and the like. Of especial importance, as they experienced the horrors of “the war to end all wars,” the experience signified the passage to a more skeptical population.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Nauvoo Polygamy: ‘but we called it celestial marriage'”

Nauvoo Polygamy: “but we called it celestial marriage.” By George D. Smith. Signature Books, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2008. Introduction, photographs, appendices, footnotes, bibliography, index. ix + 705 pp. ISBN: 978-1-56085-201-8. Hardcover with dustjacket. $39.95.

Plural marriage, or polygamy, among the Mormons has long been one of the most controversial and fascinating subjects in the history of the American religion. During the Nauvoo, Illinois, sojourn of the Mormons between 1839 and 1846 the practice of marrying more than one wife grew as a tenet of the faith and Joseph Smith Jr., founder and prophet of this religious group, initiated several of his closest associates into the “Principle,” telling them that it was demanded of God for his chosen people. This book by George D. Smith, long a student of Mormon polygamy and the dominant force behind Signature Books as an alternative publisher of Mormon history from that offered by the church’s official press, offers the most detailed and sophisticated analysis of polygamy’s origins and practice during the life of the prophet.

Gossip about the practice of polygamy had swirled about Mormonism since the early 1830s—an 1835 General Conference had even adopted a resolution explicitly denying the charge—but the practice emerged full-blown in Nauvoo during the early 1840s. According to faithful Mormon accounts Joseph Smith had begun it only because it was the will of God. A commandment to that effect had come as early as 1831 and Smith had practiced polygamy in fits and starts over the years, but he expanded it secretly in Nauvoo.

A formal revelation commanding this practice came in 1843, but it was still not well known even among the faithful until after his assassination in 1844. His first plural marriage in Nauvoo was to Louisa Beaman on April 5, 1841, and by the time of Smith’s death the best evidence suggests that he had married some 33 different women. Some of these were young teenagers, most of whom he had met while they had been servants in his home. He also pressed other confidents to take additional wives, some of whom were already married to other men. Through all of this rumors swirled and Smith consistently denied them. When resistance to these actions arose in the church and dissenters accused him of reprehensible actions—including internal dissenters such as the upright William Law—they were defamed as “persecutors,” “false swearers,” and “wolves” whose charges were “of the devil.”

For those accepting plural marriage this practice was about extending familial ties into eternity, achieving eventually the status of godhood in the “celestial kingdom.” The complex theology justifying this emerged over time, but it was built on a set of assumption about gender relations, priesthood, hierarchies of power, and both subservience and surrender to church authorities on the part of those entering the “Principle.” The critical aspect of this is the necessary linkage of women to men. The faithful wife, or more likely wives, had gifts and promises and blessing with the husband, but not in her own right, and this helped ensure her subservience.

These themes of subservience and surrender are brought to the fore in this book by George D. Smith. The men who engaged in polygamy signaled their surrender and subservience to Joseph Smith, although they would have said they signaled it to God, by agreeing to alter their lifestyles in ways that forever set them apart from the American mainstream. The women who entered the “Principle” also sacrificed their desires and dreams on the altar of plural marriage to serve their husband and family. Accepting plural marriage required a remarkable alteration of societal norms. It ensured that as long as the individual desired maintaining a relationship to the family, he or she also had to remain true to the Latter-day Saint church as the only place where the practice of polygamy would be tolerated.

This domination of the lives of believers in such a fundamental manner led to abuses and a series of scandals in Nauvoo. George Smith delights in relating these issues. First, there is the seduction of married women who were induced to leave their legal husbands, usually without a divorce, and sometimes their children to take up with some Mormon priesthood member in plural marriage. Second, and more nefarious, was the pursuit of teenagers and their inducement to enter plural marriage with much older Mormon priesthood. Prurient interests, as George Smith makes clear, drove much of this effort. That is not to say that those engaged in plural marriage were motivated solely by lust. The vast majority seemed to believe they were engaged in carrying out God’s will.

The story that George Smith tells here, with its emphasis on subservience and surrender, seduction and priestly hierarchies is one that makes modern Mormons uncomfortable. Although the church practiced polygamy openly in Utah until 1890, abandoning it only as part of an agreement with federal officials, some believers in the mission of Joseph Smith Jr. continue to practice polygamy to the present. The last part of Nauvoo Polygamy details the debate over the nature and meaning of polygamy in Mormon history and how it has been dealt with, or more likely not dealt with, by the church’s current membership. George Smith titles one of his chapters discussing this subject “A Silenced Past” and excoriates the church hierarchy: “Instead of evaluating a difficult past in order not to repeat it, the church leadership tried to separate its troubles from their apparent causes” (p. 442).

Understanding these myths, how they arose, why they have salience, and how they have affected the people being studied is critical to furthering understanding about Nauvoo and the church’s experience there. George Smith found little of this in the recounting of the official church response to Nauvoo polygamy. Indeed, Smith concludes, “The thirteen-million-strong mainstream LDS Church tries to suppress the memory of a half century of polygamy” (p. 550). While Smith is essentially speaking to the Mormon membership in Nauvoo Polygamy his desire to tell this story is also appropriate for non-Mormons interested in the history of Illinois and his study makes an important contribution that will be valuable to all seeking fuller understanding of the Mormon experience in Nauvoo.

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Celebrity Activism in Sports and Society

Jane Fonda in the 1960s.

It is almost a truism in modern America that celebrities engage in various causes aimed at overcoming various challenges plaguing society. Much of this is accepted and even celebrated. As often as not, it is the result of a unique confluence of circumstances beyond the control of any individual. As Neal Gabler has written: “Celebrity not only has narrative advantages over traditional art, it seems to be the most effective, the most efficient, the most accessible, the most rapid, the nimblest means to reify the country’s inchoate fears and longings and to do so entertainingly to boot. Celebrity is protean. It can touch upon practically anything in American life: Race (O.J. Simpson), changing sexual roles (Bobbitt), middle-age crisis (Bill Clinton), betrayal (Woody Allen and Mia Farrow), sexual harassment (Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill), you name it. One is almost assured that if an issue is roiling omewhere in the American consciousness there will eventually be a celebrity narrative to dramatize it” (Neal Gabler, Toward a New Definition of Celebrity [Los Angeles, CA: The Norman Lear Center, 2010], p. 14).

Brigitte Bardot

As  Saabira Chaudhuri wrote in 2006 in Forbes: “Charities have long relied on boldfacers to help promote their causes. Jerry Lewis’ annual muscular dystrophy telethon dates back to 1966. Sexy actress Brigitte Bardot retired from Hollywood in 1974 to devote all her time to animal rights. Sometimes their motives aren’t entirely selfless. Controversial celebrities exploit charity work as a way to buff up an image, or perhaps even for tax purposes.” The complex interrelationships between celebrities and causes of all shapes and sizes go back centuries, but emerged as critical components in the modern media age of the twentieth century.

Mark Twain

Writers in the nineteenth century used their celebrity power to lead charges for alterations in the public sphere. Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Harriett Beecher Stowe loudly supported the abolition of slavery. Mark Twain denounced American imperialism and atrocities in the 1898-1902 wars against Spain during the Filipino insurrection. Twain famously wrote that there are “two kinds of Civilization–one for home consumption and one for the heathen market” and “two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away from him…then kills him to get his land” (Mark Twain, “To the Person Sitting in Darkness,” North American Review, February 1901, reprinted in The Freeman, December 14, 1921, pp. 324-27, quote from p. 325).

More recently, celebrities from many arenas have stood for societal change. From Hollywood—such stars as Angelina Jolie, Sean Penn, George Clooney, Marlin Brando, and many others—to rock’s recording studios—John Mellencamp, Bono, and 50 Cent come to mind—to others famous for being famous—perhaps Paris Hilton and John F. Kennedy Jr. are the best American examples—celebrities have long used their influence to change the world. They have something that others lack, the ability to gain an audience and make a statement to anyone. Their telephone calls are returned, their tweets are re-tweeted, and their causes gain note because of their championing of them.

Bono with President George W. Bush

In sports, likewise, athletes have long engaged in social causes, especially charities, and have received accolades for it. As only a few examples, bicyclist Lance Armstrong’s foundation has raised millions for cancer research. In addition, NFL great Bart Starr supports several charities, including the Rawhide Boys Ranch for troubled teens. Furthermore, NBA superstar Michael Jordan has supported several organizations, including Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of America, Special Olympics, and CharitaBulls. Stan Musial’s “Stan the Man Foundation” supports the military and their families by providing financial support to them in times of crisis. MLB Hall of Famer Lou Brock and his wife are ordained and engage in a range of charitable activities through their ministry.

There are arguably two types of activists, and while many are of one type few are known for the other. The first type is the celebrity as do-gooder writ large. Most of the people mentioned thus far are in that category. Unless there is some scandal associated with these charitable activities, and that occasionally happens, these people are universally praised for their civic-mindedness and efforts to “give back to the community.” These individuals, for all of their positive attributes, do not challenge power but rather they embrace it. Unlike Mark Twain, they are more likely to appear in photos with political leaders than to call them out in any meaningful way.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono

The second type of activist is more like Mark Twain, a persistent and powerful voice for change that questions the power structure and demands a fundamental restructuring of society. They are revolutionaries rather than reformers. William Easterly characterized this phenomenon in the Washington Post when philosophizing on the differences between John Lennon and Bono. Without questioning his activism, Easterly comments that “While Bono calls global poverty a moral wrong, he does not identify the wrongdoers. Instead, he buys into technocratic illusions about the issue without paying attention to who has power and who lacks it, who oppresses and who is oppressed. He runs with the crowd that believes ending poverty is a matter of technical expertise–doing things such as expanding food yields with nitrogen-fixing leguminous plants or solar-powered drip irrigation.” John Lennon, however, was a different type of activist. He called out those who occupied the corridors of power to “give peace a chance” and to “imagine” a world without countries, war, or oppression. Easterly adds:

True dissidents–celebrity or not—play a vital role in democracy. But the celebrity desire to gain political power and social approval breeds intellectual conformity, precisely the opposite of what we need to achieve real changes. Politicians, intellectuals and the public can fall prey to groupthink (We must invade Vietnam to keep the dominoes from falling!) and need dissidents to shake them out of it.

True dissidents claim no expertise; they offer no 10-point plans to fix a problem. They are most effective when they simply assert that the status quo is morally wrong. Of course, they need to be noticed to have an impact, hence the historical role of dissidents such as Lennon who can use their celebrity to be heard (William Easterly, “John Lennon vs. Bono: The Death of the Celebrity Activist,” Washington Post, December 10, 2010).

Failure to confront the problem head on suggests a lack of moral commitment. Can one oppose the wrongs of the world without opposing those who commit those wrongs?

Sportswriter William Rhoden made a similar argument for sports figures and their activism, or lack thereof. While there is a pantheon of athlete activists in history, few today fall into that category. In his estimation, “athletes have ridden the coattails of protest movements, benefiting from the sacrifices of the [Paul] Robesons and [Jackie] Robinsons and Jim Browns and Muhammad Alis, but have been content to be symbolic markers of progress rather than activists in their own right, pushing progress forward. They have been unwilling to rock the boat” (William C. Rhoden, Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete [New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006], p. 217).

The ultimate athlete’s protest: Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics.

Although Rhoden was writing specifically about ­African American athletes, the story is the same regardless of race or ethnicity. They are processed, like so many manufactured products, homogenized “to get along, they learn by inference about the benevolent superiority of the [owners] and enter into a tacit agreement to let the system operate without comment,” said Rhoden. They learn, he adds, “to accept the power structure as it is. The young, talented athlete learns about the value of cultivating the far-reaching range of affiliations, connections, and alliances that can make the athlete’s…journey smooth; he also learns about the kinds of associations and ideas that can make it quite miserable or even terminate it altogether.” They learn early on to keep their mouths shut, uttering trite clichés and little more. That is one of the reasons why when an athlete articulates sophisticated criticism of the status quo, regardless of the purpose, it is such a delight to journalists and such a threat to owners and others in the power structure.

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Planetary Protection: Announcing a New National Academies Study

The National Academies has just published the interim report, “The Goals, Rationales, and Definition of Planetary Protection.” It makes for really interesting reading. You may find a downloadable copy here.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Rumsfeld’s Wars: The Arrogance of Power”

Rumsfeld’s Wars: The Arrogance of Power. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008. By Dale R. Herspring.

This is an important book, but a difficult one to get through. This is the case not because of turgid writing or poor analysis, but because it is so disturbing. Donald Rumsfeld had a reputation as a superb administrator and organizer when he took office as President George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense in 2001. Having served both in that capacity and in a range of other senior governmental posts in previous Republican administrations, he brought a wealth of experience and understanding about the manner in which the U.S. government operated. But he was also well known as an arrogant, ruthless bureaucratic infighter. Some, even inside the Republican Party, distrusted him and were sure that he would sell out his best friend for personal gain.

Dale Herspring, a retired Foreign Service officer and Navy veteran, is a faculty member at the University of Kansas. His work, Rumsfeld’s Wars: The Arrogance of Power, reviews the experience of Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. He especially analyzes two major elements of his experiences in the DoD. The first was his stated task upon entering the SECDEF job of military transformation, a shorthand for the reorganization of the services into smaller, more nimble, more technologically advanced, and presumably more flexible and effective armed forces needed for the twenty-first century. Many people inside the defense establishment had been talking about transformation since the end of the Cold War; the loss of the Soviet Union meant that the dominant concerns of more than 40 years had changed and the military needed to change in response. Rumsfeld was certain that he had the answer to what was needed in this transformation, and refused to listen to others and to take other perspectives seriously.

In implementing his presumed reforms he disregarded the advice of his senior officers, some of whom were just as committed as he to transforming the military, and according to Herspring even went so far as to seize control of the promotion system to ensure that only those with whom he thought he could work reached positions of leadership. This was unprecedented in the last half of the twentieth century and said to the military brass that he considered them incompetent and unprofessional as well as deserving only of his manipulation. As you might guess, Herspring documents a succession of failures, some of them brought on by Rumsfeld through his “arrogance of power,” but also because he was abandoned by the officer corps who through inaction and sometimes active resistance sidetracked his efforts. Although probably not intended by Herspring, this discussion reads like a Greek tragedy as hubris overcomes the central character and leads to failure and collapse.

Even more to the point is Herspring’s analysis of the second great challenge of Rumsfeld’s leadership of the DoD, the Iraq War. Again, Rumsfeld, with the help of key Neocons Donald Feith and Paul Wolfowitz, totally failed through both ignorance and arrogance. Wanting desperately to build a case for attacking Iraq in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in Washington and New York, Rumsfeld—who actually was not much of a Neocon himself—allowed Feith to run wild in the Pentagon using his specially created “Office of Special Plans” to sift through raw intelligence data in search of linkages between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. While the revelations on torturing detainees to build this connection had not yet come out and Herspring did not relate anything on this aspect of part of the story, he makes clear that Feith’s actions were far beyond the norm.

Herspring wrote of Feith’s efforts, “They were certain these linkages were there; it would only be a matter of putting things together…This approach runs counter to that of professional intelligence analysts. Either there is a connection or there isn’t, no matter how many leads are followed” (p. 104). It was a type of desperation that Herspring documents, and it took the U.S. into a war that was unnecessary and the aftermath of which was exceptionally poorly executed. Inside of the government, others questioned this effort as well, especially Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said of Feith’s argument about a connection between 9/11 and Iraq, “This is bullshit” on February 2, 2003 (p. 122). Nonetheless, he presented a toned-down version of it before the U.N. on the fifth.

Rumsfeld also accepted the Neocon assessment that the Iraqis would greet the Americans as liberators and the DoD failed to plan for the aftermath of the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Essentially there was no plan beyond purging Iraq of the Baathists who had run everything in the nation under Saddam’s direction. They did almost as poorly in disbanding the army. All of this was intended to rid the halls of power of individuals loyal to Saddam but by dismissing them, Iraq lost virtually all of the people who had the skills necessary to maintain order, keep utilities working, etc. Moreover, it really ticked off the very same people, and some of them organized the opposition that grew up in Iraq within a few months of the American occupation. Rumsfeld, in presiding over this process, “refused to work with the rest of the government, being convinced that only Defense knew how to approach political problems like de-Baathification” (p. 144).

When confronted with the realities of failure in Iraq, Rumsfeld was both arrogant and obnoxious. Herspring makes the case that one instance shows this better than any other. In late 2004 a solder asked him, “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” Rumsfeld responded, “You go to war with the army you have.” Herspring’s comment is telling: “Instead of expressing concern and talking about what Washington was doing to solve the problem, the young man was basically told, ‘suck it up, you have what you have’” (p. 177). More than a year after taking down Saddam, there was no excuse for not providing the troops what they needed to maximize the change of their survival and a successful accomplishment of their mission.

In the end, Herspring has offered a valuable analysis of what happened in the Pentagon under Rumsfeld, and by extension the problems of the military in Iraq. It is not surprising that President Bush would sack Rumsfeld, but he waited far too long. The same is even truer of some of his underlings in the DoD. What a mess, and it’s far from resolved. Herspring, I should add, is not a partisan in this story. He approaches it as scholar who seeks to document what has happened and why.

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