Thursday, June 23, 2011

Japan Sneaks

To understand what happened at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, one must go back at least a decade, and possibly more. Japan's imperial ambitions didn't fan into flame overnight. Politically and militarily, much thought and discussion had been given to the question of how Japan would dominate eastern Asia and control the Pacific Ocean. At the same time, other nations were not paying attention. Oxford's Michael Korda writes:

The year 1933 was pivotal in more ways than one. Japan's rearmament and intransigence were increasing at a rapid pace ...

In American, however, people were thinking mainly about economic survival:

Preventing the United States from collapsing into chaos and taking steps to rebuild its crippled economy and self-confidence were foremost in the president's mind, naturally enough, and neither he nor his Army Chief of Staff had much time to worry about events in ...

distant Japan. On the contrary, the U.S. Army was having a difficult time obtaining enough funding to keep itself in existence, let alone defend the nation against Japanese attacks:

War was far from Roosevelt's mind, and the problems of the Army farther still. Military appropriations were relentlessly cut back; the development and production of new weapons were slowed to a standstill, even for the most basic needs.

Japan, however, was building battleships, aircraft carriers, and airplanes at an ever-increasing rate, and developing new theories of warfare - all of which would be directed eventually at America.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Doubting the Pulitzer

Journalists and newspaper reporters of all stripes dream of winning the famed Pulitzer Prize. Walter Duranty did, in 1932, for his work as a New York Times reporter in Russia - at that time, the Soviet Union. Duranty's articles were detailed and well-written. They were also wrong: when millions died in the famine, or series of famines, which Joseph Stalin orchestrated to press his people into submission, Duranty assured American readers that there was no famine!

When, many years later, Duranty's falsehoods, written as propaganda to support the Soviet Union in the eyes of journalists and their audiences, his reputation was ruined. No longer regarded as a serious reporter, he was seen seen as someone who had deliberately lied to millions of Americans. Whether he did so because he believed in Stalin and wanted to support him, or because he had been paid by the Soviet government, is not clear.

In any case, the question arose: should his Pulitzer Prize be retracted? In 2003, the Pulitzer committee conducted several meetings to review the case. They wrote:

In recent months, much attention has been paid to Mr. Duranty's dispatches regarding the famine in the Soviet Union in 1932-1933, which have been criticized as gravely defective.

Although Duranty wrote many articles over several decades, the prize had been awarded specifically for thirteen articles in the newspaper and two in a magazine:

In its review of the 13 articles, the Board determined that Mr. Duranty's 1931 work, measured by today's standards for foreign reporting, falls seriously short. In that regard, the Board's view is similar to that of The New York Times itself and of some scholars who have examined his 1931 reports.

Although the Pulitzer committee found Duranty's work to be substandard, the worst examples of his falsified articles were written after 1931, while the prize was given for the work written in 1931. It was decided not to retract his prize, but rather to make a corrective statement:

The famine of 1932-1933 was horrific and has not received the international attention it deserves.

The Pulitzer committee wanted to accomplish three things: make a statement about the severity of the famine and the blatant ignoring of it by the media, rebuke Duranty for his negligence, and yet let the rebuke suffice instead of actually withdrawing his prize.

By its decision, the board in no way wishes to diminish the gravity of that loss. The Board extends its sympathy to Ukrainians and others in the United States and throughout the world who still mourn the suffering and deaths brought on by Josef Stalin.

In any case, the fact remains that a Soviet Communist dictator starved millions of his own people to death, and an America reporter refused to let the world know.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The McKinley Legacy

President William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, throwing Vice President Theodore Roosevelt into office. But in the years before he died, McKinley's actions created important precedents. Harvard University's Alvin Felzenberg writes:

A strong “sound money” and high-tariff man, McKinley helped make the United States a world power. The Spanish-American War, commenced and ended upon his own terms, proved a trial run for American participation in World War I. Woodrow Wilson’s presidency might have ended on a better note had he followed McKinley’s example of including the opposition party in the peace negotiations.

McKinley understood the importance of international currency exchange - America was entering its peak industrial era, and needed a good trading medium. The tariff question is more complex: tariffs can be reduced or eliminated with those nations who do likewise, creating truly free trade. But against nations who impose tariffs, we must also levy, to create an equilibrium.

Mark Hanna was McKinley's campaign manager, both for his election and his re-election. Hanna and McKinley made a winning team:

In their two winning campaigns against the charismatic and populist “boy orator,” William Jennings Bryan, the two pioneered many of the techniques political consultants and their clients have employed ever since. As president, McKinley introduced them into the art of governance.

McKinley's victory in the Spanish-American War gave U.S. control over the Philippines. Difficult to manage, Roosevelt would eventually begin the process of spinning the Philippines off as an independent country (by 1935 the independence process would be almost complete, to be interrupted by WWII, and finalized in 1946).

The "Roaring Twenties" - Where'd the Money Come from?

The standard narrative presented by most American History textbooks talks about the booming economy of the 1920's: unemployment was almost unknown, and not only did Americans have jobs, but they had well-paid jobs; new standards of personal wealth arose - people sold their horses and bought cars, people got radios, telephones, and electricity.

What created these "good time"? Princeton University's Larry Kudlow explains:

Coolidge’s vice president was former Harding budget director and Chicago banker Charles Dawes. Coolidge kept on former-President Harding’s Treasury man, Andrew Mellon. Working with a Republican Congress during the mid 1920s, these men continued the “return to normalcy” policies of Warren Harding by cutting tax rates, reducing federal spending, and lowering the post-WWI Federal debt.

The timeless economic truths hold: lower taxes, reduce government debt, and people will prosper. The good times of the 1920's ended with the Great Depression - a time marked by increased government debt, higher taxes, and government interference in the free market. It is debatable whether or not regulation caused the Great Depression - some economists think that the reason is to be found in the tariffs - but it is in any case clear that the Great Depression was prolonged by government spending, government debt, government regulation of business, and taxes.