Archive for enero 2015

NPR   All Things Considered   January 30, 2015 

Guantanamo Bay is home to the United States’ oldest overseas base. And since it was established in 1903, the base has been a bone of contention in U.S. and Cuban relations. Melissa Block talks to Vanderbilt History professor Paul Kramer.

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The Tragedy of American Diplomacy and US Imperialism

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter

Imperial & Global Forum    July 29, 2014

The_Tragedy_of_American_DiplomacyWilliam Appleman Williams is considered the founder of the “strongly influential” Wisconsin School of U.S. foreign relations imperial history that took root from within the History Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Williams’s book The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, first published in 1959, was the first of many revisionist imperial histories of American foreign policy that appeared amid what would become the broader radical New Left movement.

Beginning with Tragedy, Wisconsin-School-inspired revisionist histories suggest that, owing to the distinctive nature of American capitalism, imperial presidents embarked upon a bipartisan quest for foreign markets with broad business and agrarian support, culminating in the acquisition of both a formal and informal American empire. Williams termed it “Open Door imperialism,” an American manifestation of “the imperialism of free trade.”

In this episode of the Centre’s Talking Empire podcast series, hosted by Professor Richard Toye, I discuss the significant historiographical influence of Tragedy, particularly how it and subsequent New Left imperial revisionist histories helped overturn longstanding conceptions of American imperial expansion. As a result, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy continues to retain a dominant position within the study of American imperial history and historiography.

Episode 10: The Tragedy of American Diplomacy

Professor Richard Toye interviews Dr. Marc-William Palen about William Appleman Williams’s Tragedy of American Diplomacy(1959) and its long-term influence within American imperial history and historiography.

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Slavery, Freedom, Citizenship, and Teaching


 What does freedom mean?

African American Intellectual History Society January 26, 2015

This week, I’ll start teaching a senior seminar titled Slavery, Freedom, and Citizenship, and I’ll open by posing that question to my students. It’s one of my not-yet-old standbys, in part because it invites response without requiring any specific preparation by the students. It’s a question that doesn’t need much help to get the ball rolling. And it (ideally) pulls students in to a conversation by having them grapple with one of the most important questions of black and American life, past and present.

SoulThe class calls on students to think about slavery, freedom, and citizenship as both real experiences and concepts that were continually made and remade by black and white Americans in the nineteenth century. I’ll have a chance to re-read some of my favorite things, like parts of Walter Johnson’s Soul by Soul. In a chapter called “Making a World out of Slaves,” Johnson expands upon Ed Morgan’s “American paradox,” showing the ways that freedom was tied to whiteness and that those linked statuses were created not only through the enslavement, but also the blackness, of others. We’ll step through historiography to consider the ways enslavement was made and remade, reading John Blassingame on enslaved “personality types” and Stephanie Camp on communities, geographies, and the nature of resistance. And we’ll think about the creation of both freedom and citizenship in the work of fugitives, lawmakers, presidents, soldiers, Freedmen’s Bureau agents, night riders, and of course freed women and men.

A big reason why I’m so excited about the class is that I’ll have a chance to think through the complexities of these three statuses. Is freedom simply the absence of enslavement? What do various unfreedoms in our past and present tell us about the possibilities and limits of American freedom? What does it mean that citizenship imposes limits on freedom? Is freedom in the sense of liberty from all obligations a desirable goal?

Having students examine and discuss these and other difficult questions is part of my vision of an ideal classroom. I’ve told myself and others that my goal as a teacher is to have undergraduates do “practice history” – thinking critically and arguing both forcefully and carefully. But why? What do these students, all senior history majors, but most of whom will choose not to follow my career path, gain by thinking like historians? Caleb McDaniel recently tweeted responses to a survey in which he asked undergraduates about the value of history in the present. Most offered some version of the idea that history repeats itself, and that knowing the past will help us avoid mistakes in the future. Most scholars would say that the answer is far more complicated, but I’ve had a hard time figuring out what exactly I think the answer is.

The other day I mentioned to my eye doctor that I teach African American history. She volunteered that she had recently learned that Abraham Lincoln “didn’t particularly like” black people; emancipation was no more than a strategy to win the war. Leaving aside questions about why that was the first aspect of black history that came to mind, that sort of confident simplification stuck with me. It’s the impulse I want students to push against. Ultimately, many of us aim to instill empathy in students, but even that in itself isn’t the clearest way to explain the value of the past in the present. Understanding historical actors as they existed in their own worlds demands that we think—not only about what happened and how it happened, but also about how complicated life has been, and, by extension, remains. Lincoln did not “free the slaves,” but he is remembered as having done so. Further, the slaves were “freed,” and many of them credited Lincoln with that change. My hope is for students to be, or become, comfortable recognizing this complexity, dwelling in the contradictory truths that Lincoln had both much and little to do with emancipation.

I guess that in the end I want students to think, and to want to think, in and beyond my classroom. We all might have a lot to gain from a little thoughtfulness.

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A People’s History of Muslims in the United States Zinn Education Project
What school textbooks and the media miss
By Alison Kysia

When I teach history related to Islam or Muslims in the United States, I begin by asking students what names they associate with these terms. The list is consistent year after year: Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, and Muhammad Ali.

ali_newspaper_vietnamprotest_caption2All of these individuals have affected U.S. history in significant ways. If we take a step back and look at the messages these figures communicate about Muslims in U.S. history, we see a story dominated by men and by the Nation of Islam. Although important, focusing solely on these stories leaves us with a skewed view of Muslims in U.S. history. Even these examples are a stretch. Most of my students reference 9/11 as the first time they heard of Muslims.

Mainstream textbooks do little to correct or supplement the biases that students learn from the media. These books distort the rich and complex place of Muslims throughout U.S. history. For example, Malik El-Shabazz (consistently referred to first by the name Malcolm X rather than the name he chose for himself before his assassination) is framed as the militant, angry black man, the opposite of the Christian, nonviolent Martin Luther King Jr. Muhammad Ali is another popular representative of Muslims in U.S. history textbooks but is misrepresented through the emphasis on his boxing career rather than his anti-racist activism against the Vietnam War.

blackcresent9780521600798Muslims have been part of our story from the beginning. For example, although U.S. history textbooks wouldn’t dare leave out the sanitized story of Christopher Columbus, they fail to include the Muslim-led revolt against his son, Diego, on Dec. 25, 1522. Armed with the machetes they used to cut cane, these rebels, including enslaved West African Muslims, succeeded in killing a number of colonial settlers before the insurrection was quelled; of the 15 bodies recovered, nine were Europeans. As Michael Gomez explains in Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas, Muslims were among the first to resist the colonialists. In fact, colonial authorities had long seen these “Moors” as a threat. According to Sylviane Diouf, author of Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas, colonial documents between the Crown and conquistadors describe enslaved Muslims as “arrogant, disobedient, rebellious, and incorrigible.” Diouf writes that no fewer than five decrees were issued against these rebels in the first 50 years of colonization. Records from as early as 1503 confirm a request by Nicholas de Ovando, the governor of Hispaniola, to Queen Isabella asking her to restrict further shipment of enslaved Muslims because they were “a source of scandal to the Indians, and some had fled their owners.” It’s essential that students know that resistance to colonial domination has always been a part of our history—and Muslims played a role in this resistance from the earliest days.

Advertisements for people escaping slavery included names like Moosa or Mustapha, common names even among Muslims today. According to Gomez, in 1753 Mahamut (one of many spellings of Muhammad) and Abel Conder challenged the legality of their enslavement through a petition to the South Carolina government “in Arabick.” Similarly, in 1790 a number of formerly enslaved people originally from Morocco—referred to as free Moors—likewise petitioned South Carolina to secure equal rights with whites.

U.S. history textbooks generally present “slaves” as a monolithic group, absent of history, culture, and scholarship. But stories of the Muslim presence in the early United States give examples of the rich multicultural diversity among enslaved Africans.

Mahammed-Ali-ben-Said_captionAlthough most of the first Muslims in the United States were brought as slaves, some came as free men. Mohammed Ali b. Said, or Nicholas Said, fought in the Civil War. He was born around 1833 in the Islamic state of Bornu near Lake Chad. He was enslaved around 1849 and sold numerous times throughout the Middle East, Russia, and Europe. He traveled to the United States as a free man in 1860 and became a teacher in Detroit. Said joined the 55th Regiment of Massachusetts Colored Volunteers and served in the Union Army until 1865.

Nagi_Daifullah_captionMuslims are also part of the rich history of resistance to Jim Crow. In the 1920s, P. Nathaniel Johnson, who changed his name to Ahmad Din, led a multiracial integrated mosque in St. Louis. The Ahmadiyya Muslim community in the United States (followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who began an Islamic renewal movement in India in 1889) vocally opposed segregation, supported Marcus Garvey’s UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association), and included articles in their newspaper, The Moslem Sunrise, criticizing U.S. racism.

Muslims also participated in union activism. One of them was Nagi Daifallah, a Yemeni Muslim farmworker murdered for his participation in the 1973 California grape strike. Nagi was an active member of the UFW (United Farm Workers of America). On Aug. 15, Nagi joined a weeks-long strike in Lamont, Calif., where he worked at the nearby El Rancho Farms. Fifteen strikers met early that morning at the Smokehouse Café when Kern County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Gilbert Cooper arrived to harass the workers. The deputy targeted Nagi, who tried to run away. Cooper ran after him and smashed Nagi in the head with a long five-cell metal flashlight. Nagi’s spinal cord was severed from his skull. Two sheriff’s deputies picked Nagi up by the wrists and dragged him for 60 feet, taking no care to protect his head, which repeatedly hit the pavement, and then dumped him in the gutter. Deputies arrested workers who attempted to help Nagi, and he died shortly thereafter.

sarsour_arrested_wcaption3U.S. Muslims today continue the legacy of a people’s history. Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, is an outspoken critic of stop-and-frisk and proponent of immigration reform—she was arrested in October 2013 at the national immigration reform protest in Washington, D.C. She is also at the forefront of protests against the NYPD and CIA-sponsored secret surveillance program against Muslims that began in 2001. Not only is Sarsour’s nonprofit one of the organizations targeted by the illegal spying program, so too is her children’s soccer league. The NYPD included the league in its community outreach program until further investigation found that the NYPD’s involvement was simply a way to spy on the community. As Sarsour explains in a Democracy Now!interview, “[W]hat it does is it creates psychological warfare in our community.” Considering the fact that Muslims have been routinely disappeared by the U.S. government since 9/11, her willingness to stand up to the NYPD and CIA is even more courageous.

Students need these stories of Muslims throughout U.S. history in order to talk back to the dominant media stereotypes of Muslims aslying, violent, brown foreigners. If we gave students the historical examples in this article and more, they would realize that the history of Muslims in the United States is not limited to 9/11 and, in fact, spans from the late 15th century through today.

alison_kysiaAlison Kysia has taught history at Northern Virginia Community College-Alexandria for six years. She is a Zinn Education Project Program Associate at Teaching for Change. This article is part of the Zinn Education Project If We Knew Our History series.


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A Black Captain America is Nothing New

HNN   January 25, 2015

If you’ve been paying any attention to comics recently, you probably know that Captain America is now black.  (Even if you are not an avid reader, the new Cap has certainly drawn a good deal of attention in the wider media, too.)  While the monetary motives behind Marvel’s decision to make such a dramatic change are not hard to guess—gin up some publicity, increase sales, set up the inevitable and lucrative return of the original Cap Steve Rogers down the road—the transition to a black Cap also reflects the continuing struggle with race in America today.

Such race swapping is hardly new to comics. The 1970s and 1980s saw this approach adopted at Marvel, where black versions of Iron Man, Goliath, and Captain Marvel appeared, while rival DC introduced a black Green Lantern.  Comics have deployed this tactic with increased regularity since the 1990s as part of an effort to diversify their stable of heroes. In addition to (often temporarily) black versions of Superman, Captain America, Firestorm, and Mr. Terrific, the end of the twentieth century saw a Latino Blue Beetle and a Chinese Atom.  More recently, DC re-introduced Wally West, the Silver Age Flash’s white kid sidekick, as an AfricanAmerican and Marvel debuted a new teenage version of Ms. Marvel: the Muslim American Kamala Khan. The new Captain America—Sam Wilson, previously The Falcon—is but the latest iteration of a decades-long pattern of diversity through race-swapping, an approach to multiculturalism that has often foundered, as Wilson’s history and current story arc suggest.

While Sam Wilson’s creators undoubtedly hoped that their new hero would challenge negative stereotypes of African Americans when he debuted in 1969, their presentation of the black hero struggled to escape other tropes of blackness in America.  Grounded in Harlem—as so many black heroes have been ever since—Sam Wilson was raised by a minister and a social worker, positive role models to be sure, but still little more than stock black characters. And their positive influence was limited, too, as Wilson lapsed, again stereotypically, for a while into gang life after their untimely deaths.  While he ultimately chose a more heroic path as The Falcon, Wilson has historically struggled to present something really “new” for blacks in American popular culture: a truly human and fully recognized character not defined by stereotypes, either positive or negative.

Also not new in the “new” Captain America is the ethnic replacement’s struggle to measure up to the original. Such a conflict is not new to Falcon: in the 1970s, when the original Cap briefly gained super strength, Falcon’s feelings of inferiority prompted him to get his by-now characteristic wings, the black man’s first effort to “measure up” to his partner. The new Captain America’s first appearances have already established how much he remains not equal to the original. In the current crossover series Axis, the new Captain America, like several other heroes, has been “inverted” into a darker version of himself: selfish, tyrannical, and violent to the point of echoing more Marvel’s anti-hero The Punisher than the patriotic hero whose shield he bears (and now uses to break the bones and faces of his opponents)! Even in the first issue of his own title—All-New Captain America—the new Cap falls short. His white sidekick Nomad handles the iconic shield with greater dexterity, and the issue’s foe, perennial punching bag Batroc the Leaper, chafes at fighting a hero he still sees as an “errand boy” and “sidekick.” This replacement’s inferiority will only be reinforced by the inevitable return of original Cap Steve Rogers to the role, an inferiority that only complicates if not frustrates the putative aims of putting a black character in this costume.

​The inability of Sam Wilson’s creators—and readers—to imagine him unconstrained by long-held stereotypes and tropes echoes a too familiar problem in the United States today as rioting erupts in places like Ferguson, Missouri.  As Americans watch events unfold on their television screens, stereotypical understandings of African Americans—long projected by the news media and reinforced by comic book characters—too easily shape our understandings of current events.  While it is convenient to divide the world into progressive, peaceful, and well-intentioned blacks on one side and violence-prone looters on the other, the world is more complicated than our media and popular culture portrays.  Until Americans can transcend these over-simplified understandings of our racially vexed history and society, these struggles will likely continue and our superheroes will be unlikely to save us from ourselves.

Patrick Hamilton, Associate Professor of English, and Allan Austin, Professor of History & Government at Misericordia University are currently finishing a book on race and superheroes since World War II.

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How an International Perspective Changes Our Understanding of the Civil War

HNN January 25, 2015

“Some of our worst navel-gazing has occurred in connection with the Civil War,” David Potter once wrote. Historians seemed content to see the war as “a conflict all our own, as American as apple pie.” More than any other episode in America’s past, the Civil War has remained firmly encased within a tight national narrative. An earlier generation told the tale of a tragic brother’s war. Now we tend to see it as the painful first step in America’s reluctant reckoning with race. In either telling it lies at the heart of the story Americans tell themselves about themselves.

What value would be added by viewing the war from outside the nation? How does it change our understanding of the war to situate it within a larger international context?

One simple answer is that the war mattered greatly to the world. In newspapers and magazines, in meeting halls, churches, taverns, lecture halls, workers unions, and at posh dinner parties, foreigners followed the war with great interest and they debated what it meant for their future.

It was conservatives who first promoted the idea that the rupture of America’s so-called Great Republic proved the failure of the entire republican experiment. They were delighted with the prospect of a fragmented, weakened United States. Some aristocrats predicted that all the troubled American republics would find their way back to monarchy before long.

Unionists abroad soon embraced the idea that the war would be an epic battle in the historic struggle between reform and reaction, ongoing since the American and French revolutions. Karl Marx proclaimed America’s war the “first grand war of contemporaneous history” in which the “highest form of popular self-government till now realized is giving battle to the meanest and most shameless form of man’s enslaving recorded in the annals of history.” French liberals found la question amércaine a convenient excuse to obliquely criticize Napoleon III’s autocratic empire. For Latin Americans this was more than a parlor debate. Spain and France took advantage of the American debacle to take back American empires and restore the troubled Latin American republics to monarchical order and Catholic authority. Latin America was about to witness a “war of the crowns against the Liberty Caps,” the president of Peru predicted.

My second point is that what foreign observers thought about America’s war also mattered greatly to its outcome. Government leaders in Britain and France remained neutral, but many favored the fragmentation of the United States and were waiting for the opportunity to intervene by mediating peace on terms of separation. Union secretary of state William Seward crafted a foreign policy that combined threats to “wrap the world in flames” if any nation dared lend aid to the rebellion with ingenious efforts to align the Union cause with ideals of liberty, equality, and government by the people. He sent over speakers and special agents and secretly funded history’s first deliberate, state-sponsored public diplomacy program. It succeeded not by propagandizing so much as by “soft-power” tactics that involved enlisting the pens and voices of sympathetic foreign spokesmen. It worked. By early 1863 the growing public support for the Union, solidified by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, imposed a high political cost on any government that dared move to intervene.

My final claim for an international framing of the war is that its outcome also mattered greatly to the world. Once slavery ended in the United States, Spain and Brazil were exposed to new pressures at home and abroad. Spain, responding to promises of emancipation by Cuban revolutionaries, introduced a free womb law in 1870, which effectively put slavery on the road to extinction. Brazil, the last bastion of slavery, followed suit the next year. “We did not need a civil war” to end slavery, one Brazilian politician put it succinctly; “the world laughing at us was enough.”

The Union victory also rescued democracy from extinction. Lincoln was hardly bragging when he called America the “last best hope of earth.” Except for Switzerland, there were no republics of any size in Europe. Latin America’s young republics had been wracked by civil wars, pronunciamentos, and military despotism since independence. Until 1861 the United States had stood as a lonely example of a working republic in a world of empires, monarchies, and military despots.

Against all predictions to the contrary, the Union astonished the world by proving that a democratic society could actually mobilize a massive citizen army, endure four grueling years of war, and even survive an assassination without succumbing to anarchy or despotism. The trial of democracy, it seemed, had returned a very different verdict from the one conservatives had relished four years earlier. One US diplomat wrote from France that the “mysterious power of republican institutions was never so highly estimated here as now, never.”

Quite apart from the resilience of America’s democracy, the years after 1865 witnessed a stunning resurgence of republican success throughout the Atlantic world. European empires retreated from the Americas. Britain set up the Dominion of Canada in 1867 to govern itself. Russia sold Alaska to the US the same year and withdrew from the Western Hemisphere. Spain pulled out of Santo Domingo only to face a fierce decade-long republican insurrection in Cuba. France withdrew from Mexico in 1866 and left Maximilian to face the triumphant Mexican Republic’s firing squad. The shots that ended this European experiment in American monarchy sent a mournful echo across the Atlantic.

The Union’s victory also shook the thrones of Europe. In the face of massive public demonstrations, Britain passed the Great Reform Act of 1867, which vastly expanded the right to vote. Spain’s Glorious Revolution of 1868 deposed Queen Isabella II and launched a brief experiment in popular government. Napoleon III’s Second Empire collapsed in disgrace during his disastrous war with Prussia; France’s Third Republic was proclaimed in 1870. That same year the Italians completed the Risorgimento when they stormed the gates of Rome and reduced Pope Pius IX, the nemesis of liberal Europe, to a prisoner of the Vatican.

The experiment in government by the people survived the crisis of the 1860s only to face far graver challenges in the twentieth century. In 1933 democracy’s most notorious adversary, Adolph Hitler, looked back with regret at America’s Civil War: “The beginnings of a great new social order based on the principle of slavery and inequality were destroyed by that war, and with them also the embryo of a future truly great America.” That war might have established “a real Herren-class that would have swept away all the falsities of liberty and equality.”

America’s Civil War was much more than just a civil war. It was part of an international crisis out of which the imperiled principles of liberty, equality, and self-government experienced a new birth. The Union’s victory changed the world not only “for todM0Bq.dpufay,” as Lincoln said, but “for a vast future also.”

Don H. Doyle is McCausland Professor of History at the University of South Carolina. He is author of The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War (Basic Books, 2015).

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 The American Internment Camp You Never Heard of

by Jan Jarboe Russell

HNN January 20, 2015


The general history of America’s internment of its own citizens during World War II has long been focused on the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese, 62 percent of them American-born, who were forcibly evacuated from the Pacific coast after the bombings during World War II.

But what I learned during my five years of research for the book, The Train To Crystal City, is that that Executive Order 9066, which ordered the internment of Japanese, also allowed the Roosevelt administration to intern German and Italian immigrants and their American-born children.

About 6,000 Japanese, German, and Italians and their children were housed in a secret internment camp in Crystal City, Texas, a small desert town at the southern tip of Texas, about 35 miles from the Mexican border.

The history of the camp in Crystal City exposes a corner of American history that few knew existed. The camp opened in 1942 with the official purpose to reunite immigrant fathers who’d been arrested by the FBI as «enemy aliens» with their wives and children. It became the only interment camp in the U.S. that held entire families and multiple nationalities.

Earl Harrison, Roosevelt’s new commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, visited the small town of Crystal City, Texas on November 6, 1942, arriving by train from his home in Philadelphia. He walked around a 240-acre site that was previously used as a migrant worker camp for Mexican laborers. From Harrison’s point of view, the isolated location of the camp, far from areas considered vital to the war effort, was positive. It was as close to Siberia as we had in America – which made it an unlikely target for sabotage and protected its secrecy.

Week after week, month after month, from 1942 to 1948, trains with window shards pulled shut, carried civilians from all over the world across miles of flat, empty plains to the small desert town at the southern tip of Texas. Roosevelt not only arrested German, Japanese and Italians on American soil, but orchestrated the removal of 4,058 Germans, 2,264 Japanese and 288 Italians from thirteen Latin American countries – and locked many of them up in Crystal City.

A little known fact, documented by the historian Max Paul Friedman in his book, Nazis and Good Neighbors, is that 81 of those taken from Latin America were Jews who had fled persecution in Nazi Germany. One Jewish family – the Jacobis from Columbia – was interned in Crystal City.

But Crystal City had other secrets. It was the center of Roosevelt’s prisoner exchange program. On September 1, 1939, the day before Germany invaded Poland, Roosevelt created a division within the Department of State – the Special War Problems Division – to create a pool of Japanese and German «enemy aliens» – to be used as hostages in exchange when the U.S. inevitably joined the war.

Over the course of the war, thousands of prisoners in Crystal City, including their American-born children, were exchanged for ostensibly more important Americans – diplomats, businessmen, soldiers, physicians, and missionaries – behind enemy lines in Japan and Germany. The first of four exchanges in Crystal City took place in June 1942 and the second on September 2, 1943. During those exchanges, more than 2,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were traded for Americans caught in Japan. In February 1944, 634 German immigrants and their children, were sent from Crystal City into Germany. On January 2, 1945, 428 more in Crystal City were traded into war.

Daily life in Crystal City was highly regimented. Every morning the American flag was raised in ceremony. As the camp awakened, sleepy night guards relinquished their posts to daytime guards. Censors, who were fluent in German and Japanese, read the incoming mail of internees and cut out portions that related in any way to the war effort. Internees were allowed to write only two letters and one postcard per week. These, too, were censored. Comic books were confiscated for fear that they contained coded messages. Officials kept a dossier on each internee. A small police force patrolled the camp. At the front gate, vehicles of visitors were searched, both upon entry and exit.

The roll calls seemed endless. Three times a day, a whistle blew in the camp, and everyone had to run back to their cottages and huts, form lines, show their faces and stand still for the count. In the presence of armed guards, absences were noted. Prisoners met visitors – friends or relatives – in a hut under the watchful eyes of surveillance officers. As for escape, everyone knew the penalty was death. In fact, for the duration of the camp’s history no one dared risk it.

Despite the harsh conditions, the children in the camp, most of them born in America, were humanely treated. The camp had three schools: the American school, where the teachers were certified by the Texas board of education, the Japanese school, taught by Japanese fathers and mothers, and the German school, taught by Germans. American-born teenagers were often in conflict with their foreign-born parents over issues of loyalty.

One anecdote tells the story. Shortly after the camp was opened, Earl Harrison – the head of the INS – visited the camp. During a tour given by Joseph O’Rourke, the officer in charge, Harrison and O’Rourke encountered a group of children. O’Rourke asked what they were doing. «Playing war,» a young boy said.

«Okay,» said O’Rourke. «But I hope nobody gets killed.» He and Harrison continued their tour.

On the way back, the two men stopped at the same spot and found the children seated on the ground, looking glum.

«What happened to the war?» O’Rourke asked.

«It ended,» they explained. «Nobody wanted to be the enemy. We all wanted to be the Americans.»

The fundamental questions of citizenship – the status of aliens, indeed the definition of who is and who is not an American – are perennial. The travesty in Crystal City was that given the high stakes during World War II and the anti-immigrant sentiment at the time, the cost to civil liberties was high.

© 2015 Jan Jarboe Russell, author of The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World Wa

Jan Jarboe Russell, the author of “The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II,” is a former Nieman Fellow, a contributing editor for Texas Monthly, and has written for the San Antonio Express-News, the New York Times, Slate, and other magazines. She is the author of “Lady Bird: A Biography of Mrs. Johnson” and has also compiled and edited “They Lived to Tell the Tale.” She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband, Dr. Lewis F. Russell, Jr. For more information please visit her website, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.

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Reflecting on the U.S. Occupation of Haiti, One Hundred Years Later

Brandon Byrd

African American Intellectual History Society

January 13, 2015


U.S. Marines Patrol Haiti, 1915

This year marks the anniversary of two cataclysmic events in Haitian history: the U.S. occupation of Haiti in 1915 and the earthquake of 2010. While the latter deserves (and is receiving) ample attention, I plan on devoting my posts this year to the centennial of the occupation. This post introduces what I hope will be a compelling series for readers interested in the links among U.S. imperialism, Haiti, and black intellectual history.

In 1915, United States Marines invaded Haiti. U.S. policymakers justified the invasion by pointing to the death of Haitian President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam at the hands of a mob. But this violence was more a convenience than a concern. U.S. officials had spent the previous decades attempting to obtain Haitian territory for use as a coaling station and sanctioning the seizure of Haitian finances by U.S. banks. Now, with the outbreak of World War I portending a German encroachment in the Caribbean, President Woodrow Wilson and his subordinates identified the unrest in Port-au-Prince as the perfect excuse to realize longstanding military and economic aspirations. It allowed them to act on their racism, too. In the estimation of Wilson’s Secretary of State, Haitians had proven their “inherent tendency to revert to savagery.”[1] It never occurred to him that a government committed to Jim Crow had no business acting as an agent of civilization.

An occupation motivated by these prejudices had an unsurprising effect: it crippled Haiti. Occupation administrators revived old labor laws and conscripted Haitians for public works projects. At the same time, they formed the Gendermarie, a law enforcement body that gave Marines full control over Haitian soldiers. The restructuring of the Haitian political system allowed for both excesses. Occupation authorities arrested dissidents, censored the press, enforced racial segregation, installed a puppet president, seized the state treasury, and crafted a new constitution that eliminated an historic ban on foreign landownership in Haiti. These developments convinced Haitians that the Americans had come to re-enslave a people whose ancestors had dared to emancipate themselves.

The attempt to re-forge the bonds of slavery broken during the Haitian Revolution met considerable resistance, though. Peasants mobilized throughout the countryside to repel the Marines. Moreover, Haitian journalists published anti-occupation articles, politicians resigned their posts, musicians penned songs of liberation, professionals established nationalist organizations, workers unionized, and students went on strike. African Americans joined this resistance. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Field Secretary James Weldon Johnson implored his peers to take special interest in restoring the sovereignty of Haiti, “the one best chance that the Negro has . . . to prove that he is capable of the highest self-government.”[2] Many did. Black men and women collaborated with Haitian nationalist groups and formed their own anti-occupation organizations. They reported on conditions in occupied Haiti, inspired white liberals to oppose the occupation, and refused to vote for any politician who did not do likewise. Black activists realized a truth voiced by the NAACP: “it was unquestionably the race prejudice which prevails in the United States that made possible the brutalities practiced . . . upon citizens of the Negro Republic of Haiti.”[3] It was their hope that the restoration of Haitian independence in 1934 would hasten the death of white supremacy in America.

Although the occupation has been remembered (if at all) as a minor episode in U.S. imperialism, it had a profound impact on Americans. As historian Mary A. Renda shows, the polemics of Marines who occupied Haiti entrenched a paternalistic concept of empire and a fantastic idea of “voodoo” in the American consciousness.[4] The occupation also transformed black political culture. Black elites had traditionally embraced Western theories of civilization and asserted their equality by stressing their “Americanness.” But as Haiti groaned under the weight of imperialism, black intellectuals now prioritized race over nation. Alongside Haitian intellectuals, they defended black folk culture and critiqued capitalism as well as imperialism. Their decision to challenge the global structures of racial inequality rather than operate from within them provided the foundations of modern black political protest.

The impact of the occupation was, however, most pronounced in Haiti. Besides killing upwards of 11,500 Haitians, U.S. Marines destabilized Haitian economic and political geographies by ensuring that all roads literally led to Port-au-Prince. Occupation officials also militarized Haiti to an unprecedented extent through the creation of the Gendermarie (later changed to the Garde d’Haiti). Finally, the occupation eroded local governance and solidified the influence of the United States and other outside nations upon Haiti. Indeed, the present proliferation of United Nations troops and foreign non-governmental organizations conjures images of the U.S. occupation to many Haitian activists. The comparisons are not baseless.

Historian Laurent Dubois notes that “a different Haiti is—always, and still—possible.”[5] But only if we grapple with its history and the outsized role that the United States has exerted upon it. The centennial of the occupation offers the ideal opportunity to do so. The invasion of Haiti by U.S. Marines transformed U.S. culture and foreign policy. It changed black thought. It devastated Haiti. Any thought of a “different” Haiti must, then, proceed from the acknowledgment that contemporary Haiti is not ahistorical. Instead, it is a product of imperialist intervention. It is the result of Pan-African solidarity. It is the consequence of past decisions made by outsiders who also envisioned a “different” Haiti, for better or worse. I hope, then, that this series becomes just one part of a larger conversation about the material and intellectual effects of an occupation that is more present than past.

Next month: The “Black Republic:” The Meaning of Haitian Independence before the Occupation

[1] Laurent Dubois, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2012), 213-215.

[2] James Weldon Johnson, “The Truth About Haiti: An N.A.A.C.P. Investigation,” Crisis 20, no. 5 (September 1920) 223-224.

[3] Eleventh Annual Report of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the Year 1920 (New York: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People National Office, 1921), 7.

[4] Mary A. Renda, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915-1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001).

[5] Dubois, 370.

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Los duendes de las estadísticas de WordPress.com prepararon un informe sobre el año 2014 de este blog.

Aquí hay un extracto:

El Museo del Louvre tiene 8.5 millones de visitantes por año. Este blog fue visto cerca de 100.000 veces en 2014. Si fuese una exposición en el Museo del Louvre, se precisarían alrededor de 4 días para que toda esa gente la visitase.

Haz click para ver el reporte completo.

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Two Landed Elite Illustrados Betrayed Bonifacio

By Rudy D. Liporada

Andres-Bonifacio-photo.3The movie Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo is a refreshing bold reflection on what was really the role of Andres Bonifacio in the struggle of Filipinos against oppressors. This would be juxtaposed him against Jose Rizal, the so called national hero of the Philippines; and Emilio Aguinaldo who is presumed to have declared Philippine independence.
Questions are: Should Bonifacio not be the national hero; and is Emilio Aguinaldo’s independence declaration real?

We would not want to water down the contributions of Rizal and Aguinaldo in defining the miseries of the Indios at the crossroads of their being liberated from the Spaniards into the clutches of American colonialism in the late 1890’s. We must, however, identify their social positions which define their perspectives at that time and, perhaps, doubt if the accolades for which they are venerated for should really be offered to Bonifacio.

Jose-Rizal-4Emilio-AguinaldoWe could peg our doubt on a Renato Constantino reaction where he says: “In the histories of many nations, the national revolution represents a peak of achievement to which the minds of man return time and again in reverence and for a renewal of faith in freedom. For the national revolution is invariably the one period in a nation’s history when the people were most united, most involved, and most decisively active in the fight for freedom. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that almost always the leader of that revolution becomes the principal hero of his people. There is Washington for the United States, Lenin for the Soviet Union, Bolivar for Latin America, Sun Yat Sen, then Mao Tse-Tung for China and Ho Chi Minh for Vietnam. The unity between the venerated mass action and the honored single individual enhances the influence of both.”

All these heroes mentioned by Constantino united their people and raised arms against their oppressors towards liberation.

Rizal, educated and belonging to the landed elite, did not raise arms against the Spaniards. True, he aired the miseries of the indios but he was for reform, wanting for Filipinos to be equals of Spaniards so he could be a representative to the Spanish Cortez, be a part ruler of the indios. In his novels, he criticized those who would take up arms like his character, Simon. He even wrote his Noli and Fili in Spanish which the masses did not understand.

He even admonished Bonifacio when the later offered to help him escape from being imprisoned in Dapitan and warned him against armed rebellion – to the extent of threatening to expose the Katipunan, the revolutionary secret society, to the guardia civil.

As dispensation from his imprisonment, Rizal also applied to become a doctor in Cuba. Unfortunately for him, the revolution broke out while he was living the Philippines. Though he was for reform, the Spaniards judged his writings to be incendiary enough and blamed him for the uprising. He was then executed.

Aguinaldo, on the other hand, also educated and belonging to the landed elite, joined the revolution of Bonifacio when the struggle was already making headways. Ambition to grab the leadership, he contended that the Katipunan should cease to exist because it was a secret organization before the revolution. When the revolution erupted, Aguinaldo contended that the Katipunan was no longer a secret organization and that a new organization should be supplant it. He then called for an election and rigged it with his fellow educated and landed elite loyalist to name him supremo.
Insulted and feeling betrayed, Bonifacio refused to recognize the election. He was then branded a traitor by Aguinaldo, had him arrested and executed.

Lacking the fervor of a true Katipunero, Aguinaldo surrendered the movement at the Pact of Biak-na-Bato and exiled himself to Hong Kong with the money paid to him by the Spaniards.

Later on, Aguinaldo joined the Americans at the outbreak of the Spanish-American war. With the surrender of Spain to the Americans, Aguinaldo declared Philippine Independence of June 12, 1898. The proclamation document was signed by 98 personages who witnessed the phrase therein that included “under the protection of the Mighty and Humane North American nation.” Thus, Aguinaldo placed the so called First Philippine Republic as a mere protectorate of the United States. Moreover, the United States and Spain did not recognize this declaration. No satellite nation of both countries did.

Eventually, sensing that the Americans really wanted to colonize the Philippines, Aguinaldo declared war, but by then, under his leadership, the movement was already dissipated. He was eventually captured leading to his total capitulation and total annihilation of the revolutionary movement.

Compared to Rizal and Aguinaldo, Bonifacio came from the working class. Unlike the two, Bonifacio had no land holdings and was really from the poor oppressed class. His total commitment to the revolution was borne from a situation where he had no comforts to return to should he decide to vacillate in his commitment. Rizal had his landholdings, his profession, and his education. These made him capable of vacillation which he did. Aguinaldo, too, had land holdings, comforts, which led him to accept terms of surrender.

This begs the question: how then did Rizal become the national hero, how then did Aguinaldo prosper in history and Bonifacio relegated to a minor hero? History is written by the victors. As soon as the Americans suppressed the revolutionaries, they controlled the Philippine education with the coming of the Thomasites; and twisting of historical facts was an easy task.

Theodore Friend in his book, Between Two Empires, says that Taft “with other American colonial officials and some conservative Filipinos, chose him (Rizal) as a model hero over other contestants – Aguinaldo too militant, Bonifacio too radical, Mabini unregenerate.” This decision to sponsor Rizal was implemented with the passage of the following Acts of the Philippine Commission: (1) Act No. 137 which organized the politico-military district of Morong and named it the province of Rizal ‘in honor of the most illustrious Filipino and the most illustrious Tagalog the islands had ever known, ‘ (2) Act No.243 which authorized a public subscription for the erection of a monument in honor or Rizal at the Luneta, and (3) Act No. 346 which set aside the anniversary of his death as a day of observance”.

In short, the colonialists wanted the Filipinos to emulate an illustrado who would just advocate reforms, one who is against an armed uprising. It is no wonder that Rizal is depicted in his shrine at Luneta as one who is just standing passive, holding a book, just looking scholarly; not fiery advocating resistance – which the colonialists want every Filipino to just be.

And so it was that through decades of American molded education, Filipinos minds had been engrained with the notion that Bonifacio, a true fierce fighter for freedom, should not be the national hero.

Well, Bonifacio’s resurrection is so much needed now.

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