Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Desmond Doss: Medal of Honor

Movies which present historical events may be entertaining, but we must examine them carefully. Such films often change details in order to make a more enjoyable plot.

The film Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of PFC Desmond Doss, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery in saving the lives of American soldiers while risking his own life. While the film does change some details of Doss’s early life and childhood, it is largely accurate in its depiction of his military activity. As journalist Robert Cherry writes,

The film, directed by Mel Gibson, centers on the life of Desmond Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist. His work in a Virginia defense plant exempted him from the draft during the Second World War. His patriotism, however, compelled Doss to join the Army, despite religious beliefs that would not allow him to carry a weapon. Doss explained, “Can’t stay here while all others in my community go and fight for me.” When asked by an enlistment officer why he wanted to join up, despite his unwillingness to fight, Doss answered, “While everyone else is taking lives, I will be saving them.”

Doss enlisted in his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia, and eventually earned the rank of Private First Class. He was assigned to the Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division.

The events in which he would earn the Medal of Honor would take place between 29 April and 21 May, 1945. But before that, he faced many obstacles.

At every step, Doss faced administrative and social obstacles to becoming a combat medic. His commanding officer told his platoon, “Private Doss does not believe in violence, so don’t look to him to save you on the battlefield.” The hostilities he experienced intensified when one of the enlistees led a group of men to physically assault Doss, claiming, “I don’t think this is a case of religion, I think this is cowardice.” Doss, however, eventually gains enough respect from his comrades that he is able to finish his training and is sent to the battlefields of Okinawa.

The fighting on the Island of Okinawa happened near the end of the war. The Japanese were mounting their last major defensive efforts.

Doss’s unit attacked and fought its way up what the military records call “a jagged escarpment.” When they found themselves at the summit, a massive barrage of Japanese “artillery, mortar, and machinegun fire crashed into them.”

The records go on to say that many soldiers were wounded, and those not wounded quickly retreated. Robert Cherry details Doss’s bravery:

When his platoon is brutally counterattacked, forcing a retreat from Hacksaw Ridge, Doss decides to stay behind to help evacuate the wounded. Over the coming days, he single-handedly rescues 75 soldiers, including his commander. Each time he saves a man, Doss prays, “Dear Lord, help me save one more.” For his actions, Desmond Doss was awarded the Medal of Honor.

The military documents note that, at one point, Doss crawled 200 yards forward from the line under heavy fire to bring back a wounded comrade.

At another point, he crawled so far forward that the was eight yards from the enemy line; he repeated this until he’d retrieved four wounded soldiers.

The actions of Desmond Doss attract attention, and a major Hollywood movie, seventy years after the fact, because of his selflessness, courage, and dedication to principles. As Robert Cherry notes, “this movie highlights the three core values that underpin the behavior of many” ordinary Americans: “patriotism, religion, and individual perseverance.”

These are uniting values: people of all races, religions, cultures, and languages embrace principles like these: “In the movie, we see how religious beliefs promote efforts to help others,” writes Cherry:

The vast majority of deeply religious individuals are focused on how to conduct their own lives in the service of family and community.

PFC Doss, as the military citation states, “unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist” wounded men. Desmond Doss had both principles and a selfless dedication to fulfilling those principles.

Some people doubted Doss; some even mocked him. But he simply worked to live out his beliefs as best he could.

The film also highlights individual perseverance: how the hero did not succumb to defeatism when confronted by obstacles; how he relied on his own initiative rather than becoming a victim by waiting passively for outside intervention.

There have been many brave women and men over the years who have dedicated themselves to doing the right thing. They don’t all agree on what, exactly, the right thing is. But they understand that it’s related to self-sacrifice, to defending innocent people from evil attacks, and to facing opposition bravely.

The Congressional Medal of Honor (CMOH) has been awarded over the years to women and men who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their lives above and beyond the call of duty.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Which Type of Spy?

The USSR began constructing an intelligence network inside the United States as early as the 1920s, but large-scale infiltration of both governmental and social institutions started a decade later, in the 1930s.

As the various Soviet intelligence agencies planted their operatives in the U.S., two main functions became clear. On the one hand, these spies were to steal confidential information from the government and send in to Moscow. On the other hand, they were also influence policy decisions being made in the agencies in which they were “moles.”

Naturally, there was a sort of synergy between these two functions, as historians Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write:

Not, to be sure, that influence and espionage operations existed in separate, watertight compartments, nor could they in many cases have done so. The two aspects typically went together, as Communist or pro-Soviet moles in official positions might do one, the other, or both, as opportunity presented. The case of Alger Hiss provides a notable instance. Much has been made of the “pumpkin papers” (copies of diplomatic records) that his ex-Communist accuser Chambers produced in the course of their legal battles as proof that Hiss engaged in espionage when he was at the State Department. Attention has been focused pro and con on what these documents proved concerning his fealty to Moscow and (among his defenders) where else they might have come from. Less noticed is what the documents were about — namely, data from U.S. envoys abroad that would have disclosed to Moscow what American and other Western policy was going to be in the global turmoil occurring in the 1930s.

Alger Hiss, then, operated not only as a spy in the sense that he was funneling classified information into the international communist conspiracy. He was also a spy in the sense that he shaped policy: he was a trusted advisor to President Roosevelt in the early 1940s, and often met face-to-face with FDR, who allowed Hiss to largely determine U.S. policy toward the USSR.

Friday, December 2, 2016

New Scholarship Reveals Cold War Damage: Soviets Harmed U.S. Interests

Surveying the ways in which historians discuss the Cold War, a reader will encounter a narrative in which the primary, and perhaps only, purpose of Soviet agents in the United States was to steal secrets and send them back to Moscow.

To be sure, that was one purpose of the espionage network which the international communist conspiracy built inside the United States, starting as early as the 1920s, and flourishing in the 1930s.

Soviet “moles” were planted into both social and governmental institutions in the 1930s, a presence which would cause harm for decades to come.

Although their tasks included gathering confidential information and handing it on to various Soviet intelligence agencies, they had another role: skewing policy makers in matters of diplomacy. While the standard historical narrative offers the intelligence-gathering functions of Soviet spies, their role in policy formation is neglected. Reviewing new evidence about Soviet operative, historians Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein reject the standard narrative:

Our view is quite otherwise, in emphasis as well as in some respects in terms of substance. It’s evident on the record before us that pro-Soviet spying did occur in the United States, sometimes in large doses, and was of great importance. This was most famously so concerning theft of our atomic secrets, but applied as well to confidential data such as the development of radar, jet propulsion, and other military systems. We not only acknowledge the significance of such spying, but stress it in most definite fashion. But that stipulation is different from the notion that spying was the only problem posed by Soviet agents. As important in some respects — and often more so — was the question of policy influence wielded by pro-Soviet apparatchiks on official payrolls (who were in fact dubbed “agents of influence” by their Moscow bosses).

So it was that Alger Hiss, on the payroll of a Soviet intelligence agency, worked his way up the ladder within the State Department, leading what seemed to be an exemplary career. Eventually, he became a trusted advisor to President Roosevelt, meeting with him face-to-face.

FDR was in poor health, and often delegated the development of policy to such advisors. Alger Hiss shaped policies which played into the hands of Josef Stalin in eastern Europe, and into the hands of Mao in China.

These policies, which caused the United States to offer only lukewarm opposition to the imperialistic expansionism of the international communist conspiracy, were directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people under Mao’s and Stalin’s harsh tyranny.

This should not be a surprise, if a paid Soviet agent was shaping U.S. policy!

Why Cold War Espionage Matters

In many histories of the Cold War, the narrative implies that, if there were communist spies inside the U.S. government, then their task there would have been to steal classified information and send it to Moscow. Such histories also imply that, if these spies didn’t manage to succeed in stealing and relaying such secrets, then no harm was done.

But recent scholarship by Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein reveals a more complex narrative.

Soviet operatives planted in both social and governmental institutions served not only to obtain confidential information and send it back to the USSR, but they also had other functions. They were often tasked with subtly influencing U.S. policy decisions.

This is seen, e.g., in the fact that one of President Roosevelt’s advisors was on the payroll of a Soviet intelligence agency. Alger Hiss, who gave advice to FDR in face-to-face meetings, was actually a Soviet agent.

Hiss nudged Roosevelt to make decisions which were not in the best interests of the United States, but rather decisions which favored Stalin’s imperialistic expansionism. As Evans and Romerstein write,

Thus far our analysis and conclusions track closely with the views of others who have examined the relevant data and written about these matters. At this point, however, the story as we see it diverges sharply from that set forth in some other volumes — the main difference concerning the seemingly pervasive notion in Cold War studies that the major if not the only problem posed by Communists on official payrolls was that of spying. In what seems to be the now standard version of the subject, it’s assumed or said that the chief danger presented by Soviet agents in the United States was the theft of military or diplomatic secrets. Conversely, it’s implied though seldom explicitly stated that if such spying didn’t happen, the presence of Communists on official payrolls was not a huge security problem.

In hindsight, the chief danger posed by Soviet intelligence operatives, and the chief damage caused by them, was perhaps not in the stealing of secrets, but in the manipulation of U.S. policymakers.

Tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of deaths around the globe can be traced to the fact that U.S. diplomacy was skewed to favor the international communist conspiracy.

The failure of the United States, the UK, and other nations to enthusiastically support Chiang Kai-shek against Mao led to the deaths of millions of Chinese when Mao’s dictatorship mercilessly oppressed that nation.

Unchecked communist expansionism in Korea, southeast Asia, and eastern Europe was encouraged by hesitant American foreign policy.

In the mid-1940s, communist infiltration into various offices of the U.S. government set the state for decades of damage, caused by deliberately misguided foreign policies.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Global Network: The International Communist Conspiracy

In the 1920s, the Soviet Union developed global ambitions. It sought to undermine and destabilize governments around the globe, and hoped then to assume control of those countries.

It endeavored to achieve these imperialistic dreams by infiltrating both governments and other social institutions with undercover operatives. Once in place, these “moles” could both smuggle secrets back to Moscow, and steer policy of other countries in ways which would benefit the USSR.

Spies from various Soviet intelligence agencies were active in England, China, Mexico, and dozens of other nations. As historians Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write:

Further confirmed by the recent revelations is something known before but in frequent need of stressing. Communist operatives in the United States were linked in multiple ways not only to their Moscow bosses but to Reds in other countries, all parts of a far-flung global apparatus. The most conspicuous of these ties were to the Cambridge University Communist cell of England, which produced such notorious Soviet agents as Anthony Blunt, Kim Philby, and Guy Burgess. There were, in addition, North American members of this ring who attended Cambridge in the 1930s and then returned to pursue official duties on this side of the ocean. Such pro-Red operatives as Philby, Burgess, and Donald Maclean would later be dispatched to Washington by Whitehall to liaise with U.S. officials. American and British security problems accordingly crisscrossed and interacted at many places.

One example of such activity was a spy ring of Soviet agents in England and the United States who were used to influence policy regarding China. These agents, native-born Britons and Americans, nudged decisionmakers in Washington and London to reduce their support for Chiang Kai-shek, which in turn allowed Mao to overthrow China’s government and install a communist dictatorship.

The USSR Steers Policy

During 1920s, America’s attention was captured by the technological advancements and booming economy which raised incomes for citizens in all income brackets: blue collar workers, farmers, and business leaders.

During the 1930s, America’s attention was captured by the misery of the Great Depression, caused by government efforts which turned what would have been a momentary downturn into an enduring economic catastrophe.

During both decades, few people were aware of a steady effort by the USSR to plant operatives in various social and governmental institutions inside the United States. These “moles” worked for various Soviet intelligence agencies, and constituted a huge, if largely undetected, threat to millions of lives.

These spies were coordinated, in part, by the Communist Party (CPUSA), which was not merely a political party espousing various policies and candidates, but was rather a terrorist organization, espousing an explicitly “violent” overthrow of the U.S. government. The CPUSA’s documents specifically used the word ‘violent’ in its call for revolution.

These Soviet agents stole government secrets and sent them to Moscow. They also influenced American policy decisions, as historian Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write:

In sum, as shown by a now substantial mass of data, a powerful and devious enemy had by the middle 1940s succeeded in planting myriad secret agents and sympathizers in offices of the U.S. government (and other posts of influence) where they were able to serve the cause of Moscow and betray America’s national interests. The American people were blissfully ignorant of this danger, while a sizable number of high officials were either indifferent to the problem or in some cases complicit with it. A more alarming scenario for the safety and security of the nation would be hard to imagine.

One Soviet agent, Alger Hiss, had worked his way up to an influential role in the State Department, and had regular face-to-face meetings with President Roosevelt.

FDR, whose health was failing, relied increasingly on various advisors, who essentially made many of his policy decisions for him. Alger Hiss, a Soviet operative, was directing policy. American diplomacy in the mid-1940s sometimes favored the interests of the USSR over the security of the United States.

Soviet Moles Influence U.S. Policy

During the 1920s and 1930s, the Soviet Union and its various intelligence agencies places numerous “moles” into “deep cover” inside various institutions, both governmental and non-governmental, in the United States.

These agents had various functions: some gathered intelligence by stealing classified documents; others influenced U.S. policy makers to skew diplomatic decisions to the advantage of the USSR; and some actually prepared for an overthrow of the U.S. government.

Such spies were coordinated, in part, through the Communist Party, which was in fact not a political party, not interested in merely advocating policies and candidates, but which was actually a terrorist organization, explicitly advocating a “violent” revolution in North America. As historians Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write,

In due course many such pro-Soviet operatives rose to fairly high positions, which made their allegiance to Moscow even more problematic. The best known of these apparatchiks was Alger Hiss, who became a significant figure in the U.S. State Department in the war years and would play a critical role in planning for the postwar era. And while Hiss is the most remembered of Moscow’s undercover agents, he was merely one of many. As the records prove, there were dozens of others like him at the State Department, White House, Treasury, Commerce, the wartime agencies, and other official venues.

By 1943, President Roosevelt’s failing health caused him to be increasingly reliant on assistants, instead of formulating his own policy decisions by himself.

Documents declassified after the end of the Cold War verify that Alger Hiss was a Soviet agent. Hiss was one of FDR’s trusted advisors, having considerable influence on Roosevelt’s policies during face-to-face meetings with the president.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Milkweed Saves Lives

During WW2, floatation devices were crucial to saving the lives of sailors whose ships had sunk, and saving the lives of airmen who’d bailed out or crashed at sea.

The principle is simple. Give the sailors and airmen something that floats. But finding a substance that doesn’t become waterlogged is crucial. Many substances float for a while, but lifejackets need to float for hours and even days.

Milkweed is a plant regarded as a nuisance by gardeners and farmers. entomologists prize it for its ability to attract butterflies, but it true value became apparent in the early 1940s, when demand for lifejackets rose sharply.

Historian Gerald Wykes recounts how Michigan provided large amounts of milkweed for the nation’s warriors:

Late in World War II, the common milkweed was often the only thing that kept a downed aviator or soaking-wet sailor from slipping beneath the waves. The plant’s floss was used as the all-important filler for flotation devices.

Among many lives saved at sea by such flotation devices were those of President George H.W. Bush, who survived his aircraft’s crash in an inflatable raft, and Louis “Louie” Zamperini, whose raft drifted over 2,000 miles during 43 days after his airplane crashed.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

More Than a Difference of Opinion

Starting around the time of WW1, and lasting until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989/1991, there were small but significant numbers of pro-Soviet individuals in the United States.

American society, in accord with its nature, wanted to extend tolerance to those whose political opinions were outside the mainstream. The United States articulated, after all, freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights.

But it soon became clear that this was no mere difference of opinion. Those who sympathized with the international communist conspiracy were not simply expressing a political point of view: they were terrorists.

The Communist Party in the United States (CPUSA) was not interested in the political process, nor was it engaged in attempting to persuade the voters about its ideology. Instead, it was engaged in espionage.

As part of the Soviet spy network, the CPUSA worked both to smuggle secrets out of the U.S. government and send them back to Moscow, and to infiltrate the ranks of advisors and appointees within the government and thereby nudge U.S. foreign policy away from the interests of ordinary American citizens and toward the interests of the USSR.

Soviet operatives worked their way into very sensitive positions in the federal government. Communists like Alger Hiss were advisors at the highest levels, meeting face-to-face with the president and shaping major diplomatic decisions.

Alger Hiss was a confidant to President Roosevelt. Under Hiss’s guidance, or misguidance, FDR allowed Stalin to ravage large parts of eastern Europe, and paved the way for Mao to bully Chiang Kai-shek out of China.

The CPUSA was even prepared for violence, and asserted in its written materials that it sought a “violent” revolution inside the United States.

Pro-Communists inside the United States were not merely people with alternative opinions. They were actively engaged in supporting Stalin’s murderous drive for world domination, as historians Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write:

As the record further shows, Communists and fellow travelers on official rosters in case after case were agents of the Soviet Union, plighting their troth to Moscow and striving to promote the cause of the dictator Stalin. This is of course contrary to the notion that American Reds were simply idealistic do-gooders, perhaps a bit misguided but devoted to peace and social justice, and thus shouldn’t have been ousted from government jobs just because of their opinions. In countless instances, we know that domestic Communists in official posts were actively working on behalf of Russia, and thus were the minions of a hostile foreign power.

Stalin explicitly sought to overthrow the western-style democracies in Europe, South America, and North America. His effort to bring the world under totalitarian subjugation relied on various factors, one of which was an extensive Soviet espionage network inside the United States.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Soviet Spy Ring Bigger Than First Suspected

The massive amount of data which historians have found concerning Cold War espionage has led to a reappraisal of the extent to which the Soviet spy network infiltrated the United States.

Shocking cases, like the fact that Soviet operative Alger Hiss infiltrated the State Department in the 1930s, and was advising President Roosevelt in face-to-face meetings, are merely the tip of the iceberg.

The international communist conspiracy operated an extensive spy network inside both social institutions and government agencies.

Millions of pages of formerly secret documents are now available to scholars. Researching the dark underworld of Soviet espionage inside the United States, historians Stan Evans and Herb Romerstein write:

Looking at this considerable body of data, and matching one set of materials with another, we can draw certain definite conclusions about the scope of Soviet-Communist activity in the United States and other target nations. First and foremost, it’s evident from now-available records that Communist penetration of our government — and our society in general — was, over a span of decades, massive. Hundreds of Soviet agents, Communist Party members, and fellow travelers were ensconced on official payrolls, beginning in the New Deal era then increasing rapidly during World War II, when the Soviets were our allies against the Nazis.

Under the influence of Alger Hiss, FDR made odd policy decisions, ceding millions of square miles - and millions of innocent lives - to Stalin’s expansionist imperialism.

Historians are now learning that, from the 1930s onward, the Soviets had an espionage network larger and more effective than researchers had previously imagined.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Historians Sort Cold War Data

When the Cold War ended, sometime between 1989 and 1991, historians went to work. Massive amounts of behind-the-scenes data became available.

Scholars would now be able to learn the secrets of the massive Soviet espionage network which had been active for decades inside the United States.

The narrative of the international communist conspiracy, and how it infiltrated various social institutions and government agencies, would be pieced together with data from a wide variety of sources.

Information became declassified from various Soviet intelligence agencies, like the KGB, once the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Private collections of papers from various former Soviet agents also became public.

Other sources included surveillance files from the FBI, and data from the U.S. Army’s Venona project. In late 1946, officers were able to break secret Soviet codes. Venona, begun in 1943, revealed extensive communist infiltration into various government offices.

Reviewing these various sources of Cold War data for researchers, historians Stan Evans and Herb Romerstein write:

To all of which there should be added — though this too is much neglected — a sizable trove of information about Red activity in the United States collected by committees of the Congress, based on the testimony of ex-Communist witnesses, the findings of staff investigators, and information from intelligence agencies, security squads at the State Department, and other official bodies. Like the endeavors of the FBI, the work of the committees was often downgraded or ignored while the Cold War was in progress. As may be seen today in the light of the new disclosures, the hearings and reports of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, and other panels of the Congress were (and are) a gold mine of useful information on Cold War issues.

Taken together, the bits of information formed a verifiable idea of the Soviet espionage network inside the United States. The first Venona decrypts revealed that communist spies had infiltrated the Manhattan Project and the facilities at Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Spies were also shown to be in several different offices within the federal government, including the State Department and the Treasury Department.

In total, Soviet infiltration and subversion inside the United States was more extensive than scholars had previously suspected.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Historians Gather Evidence about Cold War Spies

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1990/1991, historians have worked to reconstruct information about the massive intelligence network which the USSR operated inside the United States. Although the earliest traces of that network date back as far as 1919, the large-scale espionage efforts began in the 1930s.

Historians have gathered data from multiple sources about the Soviet spy network. The United States Army was able, by means of its Operation Venona, to intercept and decode a number of encrypted messages between Moscow and communist operatives in America.

Other sources of information include files from various intelligence agencies: files which were declassified and made accessible to the public once the Cold War had ended.

But some of the biggest sources of evidence about Soviet intelligence-gathering inside the United States are the files and archives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Historians Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write:

Of importance also — though an underrated resource — are the confidential archives of the FBI, which was tracking and recording the activities of Communists and Soviet agents in the United States before Venona came on line and before the advent of the Cold War. In some recent studies the efforts of the FBI in this regard have been disparaged, but, on close inspection, these negative comments aren’t backed up by the record. In some cases of the New Deal years the Bureau may have missed clues it should have noted, but by the early 1940s it was far ahead of other U.S. agencies in spotting and combating the infiltration problem.

From these data, it is clear not only that the Soviet espionage network inside the United States was massive, and that it was highly effective at sending classified secrets back to the Kremlin, but also that it exerted a subtle but significant pressure on U.S. policymakers.

Not only did the Soviet have access to confidential information, but they also were influencing decisions made inside the U.S. government by means of well-placed secret agents.

Some of those agents, like Alger Hiss, worked at the highest levels of government: Hiss had face-to-face meetings with the president.

The President of the United States was taking advice from a communist spy!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Bunny Berigan, Jazz Pioneer

A highly skilled trumpeter and an engaging vocalist, Bunny Berigan was a successful recording artist in the 1930s, a representative of the era’s jazz movement. He was also popular on the concert circuit.

Having played with both Benny Goodman’s band and Tommy Dorsey’s band, Berigan moved on to do some solo and freelance work in 1935/1946, and to become the leader of his own band in 1937.

One of his most famous recordings was a song titled, “I Can’t Get Started,” written by Ira Gershwin and Vernon Duke. The song was written in 1936, but received little attention until Berigan’s recording of it became wildly popular.

Berigan’s emergence into national prominence was facilitated by his personal acquaintance with the leading jazz artists of his era, as historian Richard Sudhalter writes:

In early 1928 Berigan landed a job at Janssen’s Hofbrau restaurant in Philadelphia, with a band led by singer-violinist Frank Cornwell; they rehearsed in New York, affording the young brassman his first contact with a circle of musicians he’d soon come to dominate. He met cornetist Rex Stewart, who in turn introduced him to others, including Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.

Jazz was already an established category of music by the time Berigan started his career, but has often been the case in the history of jazz, experimentation and development were common, and Berigan was no exception to this pattern. He was an innovator.

There were several trumpeters in the 1930s who displayed technical excellence. But Berigan was a master not only of technique, but rather also of artistic impression, as Sudhalter explains:

But it's hard to imagine any of those men, however accomplished, inspiring talk of “something special in the magic department.” Berigan, then, can't be understood as simply an amalgam of skills and attributes. There is another di­mension; even his less distinguished recorded work exudes a sense of something transcendental, unmatched by any other trumpet soloist of the 1930s.

Sadly, Berigan died at the age of 33 in 1942. Despite his premature death, his recordings remain popular almost a century after his performances.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Venona and Beyond

When historians explore the amazingly extensive network of spies which the Soviet Union planted inside the United States, one of the chief sources about this espionage is the Venona project.

The Venona files were a large set of decryptions which various U.S. intelligence agencies, mainly inside the U.S. Army, were able to intercept and decode as Soviet agents inside the the U.S. sent encrypted messages to their supervisors inside America and in Moscow.

Soviet intelligence operations started in the United States as early as 1919, but reached full force in the 1930s. A network of operatives was in constant contact with the Kremlin, sending data to Moscow, and receiving instructions about how to influence U.S. policies.

Although representing a massive amount of evidence, the Venona decrypts were far from the only data about the international communist conspiracy and its activity in America, as historians Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write:

Other revelations dating from the 1990s include material from the archives of the Soviet Union and other east bloc nations when for a brief period after the Communists were toppled from power such records were made available to researchers. The most recent such disclosures are the so-called Vassiliev papers, named for a former Soviet intelligence staffer who made voluminous copies of secret records and smuggled them out of Russia when he defected to the West. Similar revelations had been made by previous such defectors, including Oleg Gordievsky, Stanislav Levchenko, and Victor Kravchenko, along with native American defectors such as Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley.

Both Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley had worked for the Communist Party (CPUSA) in the United States, which was not a political party at all, but rather a terrorist organization, plotting to send secret military information to Moscow, plotting to influence American policymakers to act not in the best interests of U.S. citizens but rather to the advantage of the USSR, and plotting to eventually use even ‘violent’ methods to overthrow the U.S. government.

The CPUSA had explicitly used the word ‘violent’ in its description of the revolution which it hoped to instigate inside the United States.

After the end of the Cold War, and after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990/1991, the various sources of data revealed that the extent of the communist espionage network inside the United States was far larger than anyone had previously imagined.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Uncovering Evidence of Soviet Spies

Starting shortly after the two revolutions of 1917, and after the conclusion of a civil war several years later, the USSR began to assemble and expand an international communist conspiracy, the goal of which was to topple governments in noncommunist countries and establish socialist dictatorships.

Starting as early as 1919, such efforts in the United States reached high levels in the 1930s, and were significantly active for several decades thereafter.

The Soviet espionage network inside the United States was shockingly expansive, and astonishingly effective. A single example suffices: Alger Hiss was a communist operative, and was also a direct advisor to President Roosevelt.

Hiss influenced Roosevelt’s policy-making activities. Some of FDR’s decisions toward the end of his presidency were not in the best interests of the United States, nor in the best interests of its allies, but were advantageous to the USSR.

Hiss’s infiltration becomes all the more surprising when one understands that he was not acting alone, but was part of a large network, and part of a chain of command that led ultimately to Moscow and to Stalin.

How do we know about these Soviet agents? Much of the evidence was not available until the collapse of the Soviet Union around 1990/1991, as historians Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write:

Among the information sources now available on such matters, those most often cited are the Venona decrypts compiled by the U.S. Army Signal Corps in the 1940s. Venona was the codename given to encrypted messages exchanged between the Red intelligence bosses in Moscow and their agents in this country. The Army codebreakers intercepted thousands of these missives and by a painstaking process were able to decipher a substantial number. This information, reflecting the extent of the Soviets’ activities in the United States and the identities of many of their contacts, was shared by the Army with the FBI to counter and eventually help break various of the pro-Red networks. These decrypts weren’t made public until 1995, half a century after they were first recorded.

To be sure, some data was available even before the end of the Cold War. Much of that was uncovered and publicized by Congress.

In addition to the Venona intercepts, there were files from the KGB, from the East German Stasi, and from the private records of former Soviet agents who defected to the western nations.

In the United States, some records from the FBI and other agencies were declassified and made public after the end of the Cold War.

Although not all the data is now available, and some of it may be lost forever, there is no doubt that a wide-ranging and dangerous Soviet espionage network existed inside the United States prior to 1990.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Soviets Plant Moles Inside America

After the revolutions of 1917, the communists spent several years solidifying their hold on Russia during a civil war. Once their dictatorship was firmly in place, however, they turned their attention to other parts of the world.

As early as 1919, the Soviet Socialists used one of their ‘front’ organizations, the IWW, to terrorize the city of Seattle in a general strike. The ordinary citizens of that city were confined to their houses as IWW officials enforced a curfew. Simple daily necessities like food and laundry were sometimes unavailable.

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) seemed to be a labor union, but was in fact a ‘cover’ for Soviet intelligence agencies.

The USSR planted spies in many different organizations, governmental and nongovernmental, and created other organizations of their own. As historians Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write,

A main object of Moscow’s subliminal onslaught was to plant secret agents in the United States and other Western nations, with emphasis on official agencies that dealt with military, intelligence, or foreign policy issues. From these positions, pro-Soviet operatives were able to engage in policy sabotage, spying, and other species of subversion that advanced the interests of the Kremlin. As shall be seen, activity of this type was involved in countless aspects of the Cold War story.

The international communist conspiracy was more successful than many people at the time knew. Only later did it become clear how effectively the Soviets had infiltrated various parts of American society.

Men like Alger Hiss engaged in ‘policy sabotage,’ which meant that they were able to influence policymakers. Under the sway of Hiss’s advice, and his assessments of various foreign situations, various government officials made decisions which were not in the best interests of the United States, but which were advantageous to the Soviet Union.

Hiss even had face-to-face and one-on-one meetings with President Roosevelt in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Under Hiss’s influence, FDR made decisions which meant that millions of people in Poland and Czechoslovakia would be victims of murderous socialist dictatorships. Millions of them them died.

Agents like Hiss are called ‘moles,’ meaning that they spend a long time, quietly working their ways into important roles inside crucial institutions. Inside the United States, the Soviet espionage network continued to operate from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Karelian Fever: Idealistic Americans Suffer under Soviet Rule

From the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917, and from the time of the founding of the USSR in 1922, a small but steady stream of well-intentioned people from both Canada and the United States migrated to Russia, hoping to establish a communist utopia.

That stream continued over the decades.

One demographic segment within this trend was a group of Finns. People had migrated from Finland to both Canada and the U.S., settling and establishing homes and families.

After living in North America for many years, some of these immigrants, and some of their children, formed a movement known as ‘Karelian Fever.’ They migrated back to Finland, where they intended to build a socialist society.

Fueled by visions of economic justice, they did not understand that Soviet propaganda was manipulating them. The communists in Russia and in Finland saw the idealistic migrants as cheap labor.

Finland was not on good terms with the USSR. After the 1917 revolution, Finland, a former Russian possession, declared its independence from Russia. Military conflict resulted as the Finns asserted their autonomy.

Although Finland was opposed to the Soviet Socialists, there was a significant minority of communists and socialists within Finland.

When the Finns from North America arrived in the USSR and in Finland in the 1930s, hoping to build a socialist paradise, they did indeed work diligently. But Stalin did not believe that they were trustworthy, having lived in North America.

Ultimately, Stalin chose to eliminate most of them, as history John Earl Haynes reports:

The tragic end to Karelian Fever might be worth some attention. In the early 1930s, thousands of idealistic Finnish Americans and Finnish Canadians migrated to the Soviet republic of Karelia to help construct communism. Estimates vary from at least 4,000 to as many as 10,000 of these migrants. Most had been born in Finland, migrated to North America, and then migrated back eastward to Karelia. But in their second migration they took with them their children who had been born and raised for some time and in the USA and Canada.

Stalin was paranoid. His secret police fabricated false allegations, arrested many of the Finns, and executed most of them.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, archeologists discovered mass graves containing the bodies of thousands of Finns. They had been executed by firing squad, starved to death, or died of disease in internment camps.

Many of these victims were U.S. citizens. The USSR’s actions in this case constituted an act of war. Questions remain about the degree to which the U.S. government was aware of the situation and why it failed to respond in any significant way.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Judiciary’s Task: Textual Interpretation

The history of the United States can be understood through the lens of textual interpretation. Rights and freedom are defined and listed in documents, primarily in the Constitution.

One central assignment for a judge or a court is, then, to examine, explain, and apply the foundational texts both of the Constitution and of various individual laws and regulations.

If a citizen’s liberties are codified in these documents, then carefully examining the words is the activity which will protect a citizen’s freedoms and civil rights. We can see how, over the years and centuries, these texts have protected citizens and their rights from the government.

Citizens of the United States, wishing to limit the government’s power and thereby protect themselves, wrote the Constitution in 1787. It was ratified by the various states during the several years following.

In 1789, the citizens further clarified their rights by proposing, and ratifying, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, known collectively as the Bill of Rights.

These texts, along with numerous other statutes, are interpreted and applied in court. Four principles have emerged which guide legal interpretation. Attorney General and former Senator Scott Pruitt explains the first principle:

The law, whether statutes or the Constitution itself, must be applied according to its text. In other words, judges should not apply the law based on what is good policy or what they suppose Congress may have intended (but did not express) in passing legislation.

The task of a judge is to examine words on paper. The judge is not to operate out of his own opinion about what should happen, nor is the judge to guess about what Congress may have thought when it wrote the words.

The rules of a board game, or of a sport, are similar: the people playing the game, or the referees and umpires, must apply the rules as they stand and as they are written. The officials cannot make calls according their own opinions about what should happen; nor can the officials make calls based on guesses about what other people might believe.

Scott Pruitt continues with the second principle of interpretation:

The words of the law should be understood as they were understood by the people when the law was enacted.

Words and phrases can change their meaning over time. For example, the Constitution speaks of Congress issuing a “letter of marque,” a phrase which is no longer common in our language. The phrase refers to a document which authorizes a private citizen to stop pirates and turn them over to the government.

Judges must become familiar with certain words and phrases which have changed their meanings, or which are no longer often used. Why? Because rights, freedoms, and liberties are contained in those words and phrases.

The meaning of laws is fixed by the meaning ascribed to their words at the time they were enacted.

The first two principles relate to words. A notion called ‘popular sovereignty’ is contained in a third principle of constitutional

jurisprudence: an unwavering respect for the idea of popular government. Laws, including the Constitution, receive their legitimacy from the people.

The authors of the Constitution were familiar with the writings of John Locke and other philosophers. Based on such views, they argued, in the Declaration of Independence, that “the consent of the governed” lent legitimacy to a government.

The Declaration of Independence, in turn, was the philosophical foundation for the Constitution. The Constitution formulates mechanisms whereby “the governed” – i.e., the citizens – can give or withhold consent. Scott Pruitt writes:

Judges should respect the constitutional prerogative of the people to pass laws through their representative legislatures, limited by the restraints imposed by the Constitution – which was itself ratified by popular means.

The fourth and final interpretive principle for judges and courts is that the one should read the Constitution as a document which articulates, and provides defensive mechanisms for, the individual’s political liberties:

The rights actually guaranteed in the Constitution should be tenaciously defended, from the right of free speech to the rights of criminal defendants.

This is especially clear in the ninth and tenth amendments. The citizens pointedly withheld their ratification of the Constitution until those amendments were added to it.

The ninth amendment states that a citizen not only has the rights which the Constitution specifically designates to citizens, but that a citizen also has other, unenumerated, rights.

The tenth amendment states that the government has only those rights or powers specifically given to it in the Constitution, and no others. Scott Pruitt comments:

The Constitution’s primary protection of liberty is its structure of checks and balances between branches and its division of powers between the federal government and the states.

One important task for a judge or for a court, then, is to determine ‘questions of law’ – to ask about the meaning of a piece of text.

Not all of a legal process is linguistic. There are also ‘questions of fact’ – determining a physical circumstance or event.

The United States legal system was able to develop toward an increasing amount of personal liberty and toward a desired objective neutrality because it directed its judiciary to view their task linguistically. The codification of legislation in text is a public process, making the law accessible to all.

Two of the several values on which a free society bases its legal system are objectivity and neutrality.

When the interpretation of law is seen as a linguistic task, and not a political task, the legal process is nudged toward objectivity. When the judge and jury are asked to view themselves as interpreters of a text, and not expressers of conviction, then the process is nudged toward neutrality.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

War Is Expensive: Paying for Independence

When the thirteen colonies fought for their independence, one of the chief obstacles they encountered was a lack of resources. The Continental Congress was not able to provide large quantities of men or materiel.

To address this problem, the American military used the practices of impressment and conscription. While the two terms are similar, ‘impressment’ is usually used to refer to the act of seizing property. ‘Conscription’ is refers to mandatory military service, or the ‘draft’ in modern terminology.

These practices constituted a challenge to the identity of the new nation: their grievance against England was partly based on the British army’s practices of conscription and impressment, and one of their goals in the war was to end conscription and impressment.

Was it, then, consistent or plausible to use these tactics in the effort to abolish these tactics? Historian John Maass writes:

Logistical and manpower problems and North Carolina’s efforts to resolve them occupied civil and military leaders, as well as ordinary citizens, throughout the Revolutionary conflict. These unremitting demands led to two of the most burdensome intrusions into the routines of Carolina inhabitants during “these troublesome times”: impressment and conscription. Both of these expedients produced antipathy and resistance to Patriot authorities, and undermined support for the new state in general. Moreover, they added significantly to the debilitating disorders within the state during most of the war years. Impressment, the act of seizing property for public service or use, was a lawful yet deeply resented practice adopted by North Carolina out of military necessity given the woefully inadequate logistical apparatus the state established. Despite the legitimate basis for impressment, it was subject to considerable abuse, was often overly broad in scope, and became a license to steal in the hands of some disreputable agents. This practice, vehemently opposed by merchants, planters, and poor families alike, was employed during most of the conflict, so that it affected what must have been the majority of Carolinians, whose resultant anger was directed primarily at the state. Such a widespread practice not only caused inhabitants to resist the state’s incessant demands, but also led others to join the enemy.

The practices generated resentment and bitterness among the populace, so much so that it some cases it threatened to nudge individuals to change their allegiance: to cease supporting the bid for independence and embrace instead the British colonial masters.

The Americans encountered a problem which is inherent in any society which embraces liberty as one of its highest values: any government which is strong enough to protect liberty will also be strong enough to damage liberty, and may indeed infringe on liberty in its effort to defend it.

Must one sacrifice part of one’s freedom to keep that freedom? Surrender bits of freedom to pay for the effort to defend it?

Yet the alternative was for the colonies to continue under the harsh rule of the British imperialists.

The Americans took a risk. They wagered that their government would give back the wartime powers it used in impressment and conscription. They gambled that, if they granted power to the government long enough to establish freedom from England, then the government would relinquish those powers once the thirteen colonies had established their independence.

The great historical singularity is this: that America’s risk, gamble, and wager paid off. From 1775 to 1783, Americans surrendered some of their liberty in the effort to permanently increase their liberty. It worked. In 1784, Americans had measurably more political liberty than they did in 1774.

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Terrorist Organization: the CPUSA

When the Cold War ended between 1989 and 1991, historians began to get access to data which had previously been classified and kept secret by various world governments. A whole host of mysteries were made available to the reading public.

Not only during the Cold War, from 1946 to 1990, but even earlier, since the beginning of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party in the USA had shown a surprising durability and resiliency.

When leaders like Bill Haywood, who organized one of the CPUSA’s “front” organizations, the IWW, got into trouble or were being investigated by the FBI, they fled to the Soviet Union - the source of their organization’s support.

The Industrial Workers of the World, known as the IWW or the “Wobblies,” was only one of several Soviet-funded operations inside the United States. This funding was kept secret. The public didn’t know that the IWW ultimately answered to Moscow.

The IWW was instrumental in organizing the Seattle General Strike of 1919, in which thousands of ordinary citizens were held hostage by socialist and communist terrorists who controlled the city for several days, keeping families confined to their houses for many hours per day, and controlling every aspect of life with totalitarian rigidity.

Not only during the ‘Cold War,’ generally defined as lasting from 1946 to 1990, but also starting even as early as 1919, the USSR was funding, organizing, and directing activities in the United States.

Through its various ‘front’ organizations, the international communist conspiracy hoped to achieve a “violent” revolution in North America. The conspiracy explicitly used the word ‘violence,’ and envisioned sabotage, assassinations, and brute force to impose its socialist agenda on the populace.

As historian John Earl Haynes notes,

My research colleague, Harvey Klehr, and I were extremely fortunate to be the first historians to explore several major long-closed archives: the Communist International and Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) records in Moscow, the decrypted Soviet cables of the National Security Agency’s Venona project, and the KGB archival notebooks of Alexander Vassiliev. Among the most surprising discoveries was that the Soviet Union’s secret subsidies of the CPUSA were much larger and lasted much longer than we expected, only ending in 1988 with a $3 million secret payment. In addition, the number of American sources recruited into Soviet espionage between 1935 and 1945 was much larger than we had earlier expected, and the extent of the CPUSA’s direct involvement in that espionage, making itself into an auxiliary of Soviet intelligence, was much more extensive than we expected.

The USSR was directly involved with the CPUSA even before it was officially formed. In January of 1919, Vladimir Lenin formed contacts within a socialist party in the United States.

The Leninist-Communist elements within the United States then broke away from this particular socialist party and formed two communist parties. Moscow, however, wanted only one party, in order to facilitate easier command and control.

Directives from the USSR ensured that by mid-1921, there was one unified CPUSA. From that point forward, a direct and continuous link brought funding and instructions from the Soviet Union to the CPUSA.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Brief Chance to View the Soviets Critically

Until June 1941, the USSR and the Nazis were allies. The “Hitler-Stalin Pact” was the name given to the treaty which solidified the friendship between the two nations.

Also called the “Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact” or the “Nazi-Soviet Pact,” the agreement showed the rest of the world that these two regimes were essentially brutal socialist dictatorships who were happy to work with each other to inflict misery on the rest of the world.

Americans saw this team as a serious threat. The Soviet government was Hitler’s friend, and was also planting its operations inside the United States.

The Communist Party in America, known as the CPUSA, was not an independent organization, but rather an agency of the USSR. The CPUSA was not a political party, advocating platforms and nominating candidates, but rather a terrorist organization, which explicitly stated that it sought the “violent” revolution which would overthrow the government of the United States.

In the political jargon of the era, ‘Brown’ referred to the Nazi party, and ‘Red’ referred to the Soviet Socialist government, as historian Stan Evans writes:

While it lasted, the spectacle of Brown and Red dictatorships in common harness spurred Congress to decisive action, including stern new laws that treated the two as equal dangers. Foremost among these measures was the Hatch Act, adopted in 1939 and further toughened in 1940, which outlawed the hiring or retention of federal workers who advocated the “overthrow of our constitutional form of government,” a rote phrase officially said to mean members of the Communist Party. In May 1941, Congress would adopt a bill of even broader scope, requiring scrutiny of federal workers involved with any “subversive” group whatever. This was Public Law 135, directing that the FBI investigate “the employees of every department, agency and independent establishment of the federal government who are members of subversive organizations or advocate the overthrow of the Federal government,” and report back to Congress.

When the partnership between the Nazis and the Soviet Socialists came to an end in June 1941, Stalin quickly joined the western Allies against the Nazis. This required the United States to set aside its knowledge that Stalin had planted an espionage network in America.

Certain elements inside the U.S. government - elements which had already turned a blind eye to Soviet infiltration in the 1930s - again deliberately ignored growing activity on the part of various Soviet intelligence agencies inside the United States.

While cooperation with the USSR may have been necessary to defeat the Nazis, this cooperation led some to drop their guard concerning Stalin’s intent to undermine the U.S. government.

Between August 1939, when the alliance between the Nazis and the Soviet Socialists was formed, and June 1941, when it ended, there was a period of time when U.S. intelligence agencies could view the USSR and its espionage network more critically.

Prior to that time, and after that time, there were various political influences which prevented a major effort to stop Soviet spy network inside the United States.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Soviet Spies Shape U.S. Policy

Between 1919 and 1990/1991, one of the chief ways in which the Soviet Union made its presence in America felt was an organization known as the CPUSA: The Communist Party USA. The smaller part of this organization was visible to the public: its rallies and conventions, its print publications.

The larger part of the CPUSA was invisible: secret memberships, clandestine meetings, encrypted messages to and from Moscow. “Among important features of the Communist apparatus,” write historians Stan Evans and Herb Romerstein, “was its interactive, global nature: the degree to which it collaborated with its sponsors/paymasters in the Kremlin and pro-Red forces in other countries.”

The USSR, through a vast and often successful propaganda effort, portrayed “the CPUSA as a well-meaning indigenous outfit.” In fact, it was a terrorist organization.

The group acted in multiple ways. On the one hand, it was “a domestic menace.” As such, it sought, in its own words, a “violent” revolution: it hoped for a “coup d’├ętat or revolution in the streets, as happened in Russia.” This resulted in “the prosecution of its leaders for violation of the Smith Act.”

Historians debate “whether there was any realistic chance of similar dire events occurring in a U.S. context.” There probably wasn’t.

On the other hand, a more serious threat was posed by “the CP’s far more important Cold War role as fifth-columnist agent of a hostile foreign power.” The CPUSA was better at espionage than at whipping up the masses to overthrow the U.S. government.

The CPUSA’s covert operations fell into several categories. First, there was “spying — the theft of military or diplomatic secrets.” Second, there was “the overarching Communist goal of influencing U.S. policy in favor of the Soviet interest.” A third task was using the group’s hidden influence to shape the media’s reporting about the Soviet Union.

The visible CPUSA was laughably small, and some segments of the public dismissed the organization as harmless lunatics. But, although it did not succeed in overthrowing the U.S. federal government, it did inflict real damage when it influenced U.S. policy makers: bungled responses to Soviet aggression cost lives in several countries.

The CPUSA’s action led directly to the deaths of innocent civilians.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Effective Spying Requires Patience

Although textbooks often define the ‘Cold War’ as lasting from the end of WW2 until the fall of the USSR in 1990/1991, the years from 1917 until 1945 were also significant for the widespread Soviet espionage effort inside the United States.

As soon as Lenin took power in November 1917, the USSR began to think about its opportunities to spread communism inside other nations, although this would not begin until Soviets consolidated their power over Russia by eliminating resistance during the Russian Civil War, which lasted from November 1917 until October 1922.

(The communist takeover is cited as the ‘October Revolution’ because the Russian calendar in 1917 was not synchronized with western Europe and North America. Although the Russian Civil War ended in 1922, guerilla bands continued to offer resistance in the following years.)

By 1919, the Soviets had strengthened their hold on Russia enough that they could begin sponsoring subversive activities in other nations. After infiltrating various labor unions, they organized the Seattle General Strike of that year.

An entire major American city was held hostage for several days, with thousands of citizens being held captive in their houses when the strike leaders declared a curfew, and the freedom of movement eliminated when only strike leaders were allowed to drive on the city’s streets.

Decades before the traditional starting-point of the Cold War, Soviet agents were able to disrupt daily life for thousands of people in North America.

The USSR was patient in its quest to impose dictatorships on other countries. The planting of spies can take years. Once enlisted with one of the Soviet intelligence agencies, operatives often did no espionage for several years, and worked simply on gaining good reputations and access to sensitive information in their places of employment, as historian Stan Evans writes:

Communist penetration of the American government was a long-term process that ebbed and flowed but never ceased entirely. As with other infiltration targets, such as schools, media outlets, civic groups, or labor unions, the purposes were several: to influence policies and programs, make propaganda, disrupt or sabotage things from time to time, and — where chance presented — engage in “intelligence”-gathering operations, otherwise known as spying.

Until 1939, the Soviets enjoyed two decades in which they could plant spies inside the United States with relative ease. But then came a year-and-a-half long period in which the USSR accidentally showed its nature.

During the time when Hitler and Stalin were allies, it was clear that the Soviets and the Nazis were quite comfortable together. This alerted Americans to the dangers of Soviet Socialism.

As noted, such infiltration at the official level developed mostly in two phases — one in the depression years, the other during World War II. The net effect of these twin incursions was a sizable Communist presence on the federal payroll, far greater than most histories have suggested. However, in the trough between the rising waves (August 1939 – June 1941), the Hitler-Stalin pact exploded, shattering the Communist Party’s anti-Nazi image and setting back the penetration effort that prospered in the 1930s. Though these losses would later be recouped, events during the heyday of the pact would have profound effects long after it had ignominiously ended. ended. The seeds of conflict over U.S. security policies for years to come would be sown in the wild zigzags and contradictions of this era.

When the alliance between the Nazis and the Soviet Communists came to a sudden end in 1941, the Soviets worked to repair their image, and slowly convince the United States that the USSR would be a faithful ally.

Both the United States government and the public struggled with cognitive dissonance as they worked to harmonize the incompatible images of Soviet Socialism being both an ally to the genocidal Nazis and an ally to the free nations of western Europe and North America.

Inside the U.S. government, there would be a split between those who trusted the Soviets and were willing to work un-skeptically with them, and those who felt that Americans should keep an eye on the USSR’s underground spy operations in North America. This tension would continue during WW2, but was kept out of sight because of the wartime need to cooperate with the Soviets.

When the war ended, this tension became more visible, and the emergence of skepticism toward Soviet Socialism, along with the awareness of its espionage activities inside the United States, marks the traditional beginning of the Cold War.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Puritans: Victims of Inaccurate Historians?

In the Capitol rotunda, visitors see an 1843 painting by artist Robert Weir. It shows the Puritans, some of the earliest permanent settlers in North America.

Viewers are surprised to see them dressed in rainbow of colors - garments are yellow and red, green and beige, blue and purple. The image is historically accurate - and the Puritans were not always dressed in black and white.

Diaries, journals, and letters described such colorful clothing. Commercial records recorded transactions of colored and dyed cloth.

The Puritans founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. They are not to be confused with the Pilgrims, who settled at Plymouth in 1620. As their name indicates, the Puritans hoped to “purify” the Church of England: to improve and reform it, returning it to what they perceived to be the original and foundational concepts of the faith.

In the case of the Puritans, “purifying” the faith did not mean the introduction of strict rules, but rather an emphasis on joy in daily life.

Happy people wearing brightly colored clothes - this might not correspond to the cliches and stereotypical images of the Puritans which modern media present. How did these cheerful people get a reputation for being “drab, glum and pleasure-hating,” as Mark O’Keefe phrases it?

Through distorted versions of history, people seeking freedom from restrictions placed on their expression of religion came to be seen as

religious zealots whose idea of fun was burning someone falsely accused as a witch, or narrow-minded prudes best described by the adjective they spawned: “puritanical.”

Take the witches as an example. Fewer witches were accused or tried in North America than in Europe, both in absolute numbers and as a percent of the population. Yet the Puritans get the blame, much more so than Enlightenment-era Europeans. Why this misconception?

Part of the answer is popular fiction. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850 and adapted several times into film, is a perennial favorite, as is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, a 1953 play adapted for the cinema.

While dramatically powerful, neither work is accurate. Historian Richard Godbeer notes that

Most of my students are quite surprised by what I have to say about Puritan sex and Puritan life in general because they bring preconceptions they've absorbed.

Novels and theatrical works are entertaining, powerful, and emotionally moving, but they often do not reflect the actual evidence about the events as they occurred. Yet because of their dramatic force, the images they present remain in the collective consciousness, despite the fact that such images conflict with data about the people and places in question.

Exemplifying the Zeitgeist of the 1920s, H.L. Mencken began using the word ‘puritanism’ in a negative sense - in contrast to the upbeat image associated, until 1850 or a bit later, with the Puritans.

Colorful clothing, dancing, music, beer, wine, and a healthy dose of romantic attraction between men and women - these are the characteristics of how the Puritans actually lived. The images handed to viewers by the media are simply sadly wrong.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Changing Strategies Without Changing Goals?

For the first century and a half of the nation’s existence, the United States saw its military as existing primarily to protect the lives, liberties, and properties of its citizens. To be sure, there were arguably occasional departures from that maxim, but they were in any case small in scale and rare in occurrence.

It is possible to see the Cold War as a departure from previous patterns of American strategic thought. During the Cold War, policymakers embraced the idea that it was in the service of American interests, indeed essential to American interests, that militant socialism not dominate various other countries around the planet: the vocabulary of ‘domino effect’ and ‘rollback’ and ‘containment’ emerged.

The conflicts in Vietnam and Korea demonstrate a willingness, not found a century earlier, to use significant amounts of American military power in distant lands in engagements which did not directly protect American lives or soil. The indirect threat present in these locations, it was argued, would eventually be as dangerous as any direct threat.

During the Cold War, strategy was conceived in the broadest possible terms, and not limited to military action. The contest was not between two armies, but rather between two ideologies, and as such, this contest would incorporate economic, artistic, athletic, and scientific competition.

This understanding of the Cold War, according to historian Russell Weigley, instantiates the theoretical work of Carl von Clausewitz:

During the Cold War and especially after the Korean War, belief that the United States was involved in a protracted conflict with international Communism led to a departure from historic habits and to an effort to form a national strategy for the employment of American power in defense and promotion of the country’s political values and interests. The new national strategy would be not merely a military strategy but an all-inclusive planning for the use of the nation’s total resources to defend and advance the national interests, encompassing military strategy and Clausewitz’s use of combats along with other means.

Weigley goes on to argue that, prior to the Cold War era, strategic thought was a field of work in which few Americans engaged, in which little work was done, and in which serious analysis was rare.

The strategic work that was done prior to the Cold War was narrower in scope, and limited to a military understanding of strategy. Broader theoretical work, like that of Clausewitz and Sun-Tzu, was rare:

This determination to conceive and to act upon a national strategy prompted a flow of writing and criticism concerned with strategy, including its military aspects, that was unprecedented in American history. Although by the 1970s the bipolar confrontation between the United States and Soviet Russian Communism that produced the new interest in strategy and a new concern for a broad national strategy had given way to more complex power relationships, the perils of unstable world politics, an unstable balance of nuclear force, and “wars of national liberation” are more than ample to perpetuate strategic thought and writing as a thriving American industry.

Military policy and foreign relations changed after 1945 in a way which made them not merely different in content, but in concept, from the diplomatic and military engagements of the previous century.

This question presents itself: is it possible to embrace this significant change in strategy, indeed this change in the nation’s understanding of its role among the other nations of the world, and simultaneously remain true to the founding principles of the United States - remain true to the notion of individual political liberty as central and essential? This question lies behind aspects of the debate between ‘isolationists’ and ‘internationalists,’ although framing the debate with those two words oversimplifies the question.

Can America play a large role in the world without sacrificing its commitment to personal freedom in the realms of political expression, religion, and property rights?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Stopping the Barbary Coast Terrorists: Getting Inside the Attacker's Mind

Shortly after declaring and defending its independence, the United States faced a series of threats. Some of them came from the imperialist ambitions of the major European powers.

Other threats came from a loose alliance of Muslims states known collectively as the ‘Barbary Coast.’ Libya, Tunisia, Algiers, and Morocco engaged in an extensive seafaring piracy operation, which seized ships, confiscated cargo, and either sold the crews into slavery or executed them.

Under President George Washington, the United States began to develop its naval power to meet this threat, as Russell Weigley writes:

In response to the European part of these threats, Congress voted in 1794 to rehabilitate coastal fortifications of the Revolutionary era and to erect new ones to protect sixteen principal ports and harbors. Explicitly in response to the Barbary pirates, Congress voted a navy of six frigates, but with the proviso that the building of the frigates should be suspended if the United States made peace with the Regency of Algiers. The Federalist Congressmen who sponsored the latter measure and the Federalist War Department which administered it may have had more than the Algerines in mind, however, for the Washington administration laid down six cruisers designed to meet in more than equal combat the best British or French vessels of their class, including three frigates rated at forty-four guns which would be superior to any European warships save line-of-battle ships. On March 15, 1796, President Washington had to inform Congress that the peace with Algiers contemplated by the Naval Act of 1794 had been attained - the United States having consented to pay a satisfactory amount of tribute - but Federalist advocates of a strong government and respectable armed forces were able to win Congressional approval for completing three of the frigates anyway, United States and Constitution, 44 guns, and Constellation, 38.

The treaty with Algiers, however, proved to be a sham. As soon as it was signed, the Algerians developed clear and deliberate plans to violate the treaty and resume the enslavement and execution of United States citizens.

It would fall to Washington’s successors - Adams and Jefferson - to confront the Barbary Coast attackers. The U.S. government was alarmed that Americans were still dying in ritualized Islamic beheadings.

A flexible response - the ability to change the plans and deployments of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps - was needed to face these dangers, as Mark Levin writes:

The Founders recognized that America had to be strong politically, economically, culturally, and militarily to survive and thrive in a complex, ever-changing global environment not only in their time but for all time. History bears this out. After the Revolutionary War, the Founders realized that the Confederation was inadequate to conduct foreign affairs, since each state was free to act on its own. There could be no coherent national security policy, because there was no standing army and each state ultimately was responsible for its own defense. The nation’s economy was vulnerable to pirates who were terrorizing transatlantic shipping routes and thereby inhibiting trade and commerce. And the British and Spanish empires were looming threats.

Jefferson and Adams had extensive experience in diplomacy, and had met ambassadors from Muslim states before becoming presidents. They understood that negotiating with the Barbary Coast states would be a general waste of effort.

Adams and Jefferson knew to ignore the words of the Barbary Coast diplomats; they would say whatever it took to achieve their interests, with no intention of abiding by any agreement, written or spoken. The Americans studied the history and culture of these states, even the Qur’an, to better understand their attackers.

The American leaders had studied enough to ‘get inside’ the thought processes of the Islamic governments, as Dennis Prager writes:

The primary, if not only, reason Jefferson had a copy of the Koran was to try to understand the Koran and Islam in light of what the Muslim ambassador from Tripoli had told him and John Adams. When asked why Tripoli pirates were attacking American ships and enslaving Americans, the Muslim ambassador explained that Muslims are commanded to do so by the Koran.

Jefferson wrote that the Tripoli ambassador told him that “it was written in their Koran that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman [Muslim] who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to Paradise.”

Under the presidency of Jefferson, then, the United States negotiated by a show of military force. This proved to be the only way to stop the butchering of American sailors, and the sale of American sailors into slavery.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

North American Indians: Points of First Contact

The history of interactions between the Indians (or ‘Native Americans’) and those who came from other parts of the world is long and complex. For an understanding of the cultures indigenous to North America, records of the first contacts between Indians and early explorers offer unique data.

These moments of first contact show us Indian behavior before they had any experience - good or bad - with those from the outside. Later moments of contact were based on experiences, and so show an Indian culture which had already changed inasmuch as it had begun to form a conceptualized notion of who these outsiders were.

After years of contact, Indian culture had changed significantly, e.g., their use of horses and beads.

Historians must always return, then, to the points of first contact to gain the most pristine evidence of Indian culture.

A note on terminology is also in order: in the twenty-first century, many Indian groups have rejected terminology like ‘Native Americans’ and prefer to be called ‘Indians.’ This is manifest, e.g., among the Cherokees of North Carolina in their tribal councils and museums.

One record of first contact describes an encounter between Indians and a French explorer. These Indians had neither met, seen, nor heard of people from outside North America, so this meeting was a true first contact.

At the shipwreck Museum located at Whitefish Point in Michigan, the curator notes:

In 1610 the young French interpretor Etienne Brule entered into the vast uncharted wilderness of the Great Lakes area. Sent to explore and learn the ways of the Indians, he was considered the first European to penetrate this region. Always moving and never forming a true alliance, he was later turned on by the Hurons who had him bound, tortured, quartered and eaten.

It is not clear whether the curator intends the comment that Brule ‘never’ formed ‘a true alliance’ to be some justification for, or amelioration of, cannibalism.

In any case, the Frenchman had stumbled upon a society formed by human sacrifice, frequent tribal warfare, and cannibalism. His murder was unprovoked.

This, then, is a glimpse into the way Indian culture functioned prior to any effects which outside contact may have had upon it. The Encyclopedia Britannica reports that

The details of his death remain uncertain, but according to several accounts, he was killed and eaten by the Hurons, his adoptive tribe, whose lore thereafter attributed a prolonged “curse” to his murder.

More than a century later, Juan Nentvig was the first European encountered by Indians around what is now Mexico and the southwestern United States. As an example of first contact, he documented the treatment of women among the Indians. They were treated as animals and as property.

By the time of events such as the conflicts at Wounded Knee and at Little Bighorn, Indian culture had changed significantly because of its interaction with Europeans, Africans, and Asians. The Indians of the second half of the nineteenth century were observably different than those who lived prior to any contact from the outside world.

Those who inhabited North America prior to the widespread settling of Europeans would have regarded Geronimo and his colleagues at the 1898 ‘Indian Congress’ in Omaha as utterly foreign.

The most reliable data about indigenous North American cultures comes, then, from points of first contact.

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Different Kind of Southern Strategy

Historians often use the phrase ‘Southern Strategy’ to refer to a set of tactics designed to get white voters in the deep South away from “their old comfortable arrangements with the local Democrats,” as Kevin Phillips, a Republican Party strategist, told the New York Times in May 1970.

The Republicans had consistently attracted large numbers - often a majority - of the Black voters in the South, from the late 1860s onward. But in order to have more victories, the GOP also wanted white voters.

The ‘Southern Strategy’ was the Republican Party’s attempt to crack the bloc of segregationist voters to whom the Democratic Party was fiercely loyal. The whites of the deep South had voted reliably Democrat, also since the late 1860s.

This, then, was the Republican Party’s ‘Southern Strategy,’ and it was probably a factor in the Nixon victories of 1968 and 1972.

But there was an earlier plan, on the part of the Democratic Party, which could also have been called a ‘Southern Strategy’ of a sort.

From the 1860s onward, any hope for the Democratic Party in national electoral politics was based on the party’s solid hold on the segregationist and secessionist deep South. As the Republican Party had a solid foundation among the South’s African-American voters, so the Democratic Party had its base among the whites in the South, who were still angry about the Reconstruction-era civil rights which the Blacks had obtained.

Explaining how the Democratic Party played on the racism of its base, Patrick Buchanan writes:

How did presidential nominees like Al Smith and FDR of New York and Adlai Stevenson of Illinois sustain the allegiance of northern liberals and Southern segregationists? By balancing progressive candidates with Southern or border-state segregationists on every national ticket between 1928 and 1960, except 1940. Those vice presidential nominees were Joe Robinson, of Arkansas, in 1928; John Nance Garner, of Texas, in 1932 and 1936; Harry Truman, of Missouri, who had flirted with the Klan, in 1944; Alben Barkley, of Kentucky, in 1948; John Sparkman, of Alabama, in 1952, who would sign the Southern Manifesto denouncing the Brown decision; and Estes Kefauver, of Tennessee, in 1956.

The African-American voters of the era understood the Democratic Party’s commitment to its segregationist base, and so the Republican Party received a steady majority of Black votes.

The Democrats, meanwhile, experienced considerable success, with party leaders like Orval Faubus, George Wallace, and Lester Maddox.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

W.E.B. Du Bois Articulates His Religious Views

The academic career of W.E.B. Du Bois covered much intellectual territory: from an early attraction to the free market, which he then saw as a chance for African-Americans to compete and prove their talent, to a later leaning toward socialism in his declining years.

Despite his successive embrace of different, and even mutually exclusive, politico-economic views, his engagement in spiritual matters remained constant, even if the details likewise varied.

In his engagement with what would come to be known as the ‘civil rights movement,’ Du Bois saw the motivational and psychological power of the Black church. As historian Gary Dorrien writes:

For Du Bois, nothing compared to the black church as a source of inspiration, hope, solidarity, identity, belonging, moral language, and transcendent meaning. Black Americans owned nothing else outright. Du Bois stressed that any movement worth building had to share in the life of the black church, speaking its language of hope and redemption. The Niagara Movement, and later the NAACP, had to include religious leaders, reaching beyond the usual circle of urban professionals. Though he has often been argued out of the lineage, the black social gospel happened among church leaders who appropriated Du Bois for their own contexts.

But Du Bois saw religion as more than mere emoting. While he rejected much about the Black church, and much about orthodox Christianity, he also refused to embrace atheism. The reader may attribute a nuanced position to Du Bois, in part because of his formative experiences in Berlin.

Working with significant scholars in Berlin, Du Bois was attracted to Marx’s atheism, but ultimately rejected it. He was exposed to the careful philological and philosophical methods of a generation of significant scholars. Francis Broderick writes:

In 1892, after two years of graduate study at Harvard, DuBois went abroad on a grant - half gift, half loan - from the Slater Fund, a philanthropic foundation headed by ex-President Rutherford B. Hayes. At the University of Berlin, he continued his course work in the social sciences. His program for the fall term of his first year, for example, included a course in politics under Heinrich von Treitschke; a study of the beginnings of the modern state; Rudolph von Gneist’s Prussian state reform; theoretical political economy and “industrialism and society” under Adolph Wagner; and Gustav von Schmoller’s Prussian constitutional history. In addition, he was admitted to Schmoller’s seminar and, as at Harvard, spent the bulk of his time preparing a research paper, this time on “The Plantation and Peasant Proprietorship System of Agriculture in the Southern United States.”

Because Du Bois received training in the careful formulation of ideas, his statements about religion and faith may, and should, be carefully parsed. Brian Johnson writes:

When Du Bois began his two years of graduate study at the University of Berlin in 1890, nineteenth-century German universities offered the world's best education in socially scientific research.

Du Bois synthesized his childhood experiences in a Congregationalist church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, with the legendary scholarship of Germany’s nineteenth century.

Rudolf von Gneist, e.g., was consulted by the rulers of Japan when they wrote those sections of their constitution which dealt with religion and society. Brian Johnson continues:

Du Bois’ exposure in Berlin to the most rigorous form of socially scientific methodology available in the late nineteenth century would apparently spur him towards an avowed commitment to commingle his earlier desire to see manifest within African-American communities a more appropriate moral, ethical, intellectual, and social framework - namely a true Christian pragmatism that resembled what he experienced within the Congregationalist Great Barrington community - and the method by which he would be able to observe and document it - namely, social science. And this rather naive oil-and-water philosophy held by the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1895 would remain irreconcilable for the still developing agnostic who would embark upon his career as a social scientist and reformer as a professor at Wilberforce and Atlanta universities. Much further, it probably led to the most pronounced silence in Du Bois’ utterly detailed chronology, autobiographical writings, and personal correspondence - his tenure within the American Negro Academy (1897-1903) and his relationship with Reverend Alexander Crummell.

Although Du Bois was eager to harness the ethical implications of Christianity in the service of the civil rights movements, and although he was eager to harness the motivational power of the church for the same purposes, we may not assume that Du Bois saw nothing more than ethics and emotional motivation in religion.

Du Bois countenanced a concept of God which was ontologically independent and objectively real.

Because his education in Berlin instilled in him a thorough precision in his use of words, his steady refusal to embrace atheism may be taken, not as a casual use of words, but rather as a thought-out philosophical stance.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Curious Religion of W.E.B. Du Bois

Over the decades of his career, the economic and political views of W.E.B. Du Bois changed considerably. The constant factor in his thought, however, was a persistent spiritual awareness.

Before beginning his college education, Du Bois was already on a path to formulate his own spirituality. Like Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein, Du Bois wanted his own investigation of God, and was not willing merely to receive a prefabricated belief system.

His early experiences in school prepared him well for this. His classes included Latin, Greek, geometry, and geography: good preparation for natural theology. Historian Francis Broderick gives an overview of the secondary curriculum which Du Bois studied:

DuBois’s preparation was well started at his high school in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where he took the standard “classical” college preparatory course: four years of Latin and three of Greek; arithmetic, algebra, and geometry in three of the four years; one year of English, a year of ancient and American history; and scattered terms of geography, physiology, and hygiene. In addition, like every other student, he presented compositions, declamations, and recitations, and performed occasional exercises in reading, spelling, and music. His high school principal, Frank A. Hosmer, encouraged him to plan for college and even helped to provide the necessary text books. Will rewarded Hosmer’s confidence by completing the high school course with high honors, along with various extracurricular distinctions such as the presidency of the high school lyceum. Such a record encouraged young Will’s townsmen to arrange for a scholarship to Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee.

As a student at Fisk University in the 1880s, Du Bois drifted away from both the mainstream Black church, and from the broader Christian orthodoxy of which that church was a part.

In Berlin in the 1890s, Du Bois was exposed to a spectrum of belief systems, held by his professors, who were leading scholars in the social sciences. Biographies of Du Bois routinely list his Berlin professors as a catalogue of the brightest minds in the field, and work with them stimulated his intellect.

Although in some ways attracted to Marx’s atheism, Du Bois, again following Einstein and Newton, studiously avoided atheism. It is not that Du Bois consciously patterned himself after Einstein or Newton, but rather that his development naturally paralleled theirs.

The literature on him routinely reports that he called himself an ‘agnostic.’ In 1948, answering a correspondent who’d asked about his beliefs, he wrote:

If by being “a believer in God,” you mean a belief in a person of vast power who consciously rules the universe for the good of mankind, I answer No; I cannot disprove this assumption, but I certainly see no proof to sustain such a belief, neither in History nor in my personal experience.

If on the other hand you mean by “God” a vague Force which, in some uncomprehensible way, dominates all life and change, then I answer, Yes; I recognize such Force, and if you wish to call it God, I do not object.

Du Bois makes two assertions: first, that he cannot disprove the existence of a personal God; second, that he asserts the existence of a God who is at least impersonal.

His position, that there exists some Higher Power, and that at least in principle one cannot disprove that this Higher Power might have agency, is detectable in the works for which Du Bois is more famous, his writings on social science and his efforts in what would later become known as the ‘civil rights movement.’

While Du Bois recognized organized religion as a persuasive force, as a psychological force, and as society’s keeper of ethics, he went beyond religious institutions and recognized an ontologically independent Deity, whose existence is real and objective. Gary Dorrien writes:

His passionate, unorthodox spiritual sensibility came through to many readers. They understood that a religious, arguably Christian passion lay behind Du Bois’s furious attacks on unworthy ministers and church dogmatism. Even at Wilberforce, Du Bois stumped for social gospel religion: “Christianity means sympathy; the realization of what it costs a human being to live and support a family in decency … Christianity means unselfishness; the willingness to forego in part one’s personal advantage and give up some personal desires for the sake of a larger end which will be for the advantage of a greater number of people.”

In Berlin, Du Bois was exposed to the work of his professors, men like Heinrich von Treitschke, Rudolph von Gneist, Gustav von Schmoller, and Adolph Wagner. These scholars were significant. Rudolf von Gneist, e.g., powerfully influence Max Weber.

These professors, and others, influenced Du Bois. They themselves were only a generation removed from great thinkers like Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Schleiermacher.

Because Du Bois absorbed the scholarly methods of these intellects, the reader is justified in carefully parsing his texts, e.g., his 1948 letter on religious belief. These texts can be analyzed as one analyzes philosophical texts.

It becomes clear, then, that there is no justification for the assertion that Du Bois was an atheist. He explicitly strove to avoid atheism.

While clearly aware of the motivational and psychological power of religion, and while he hoped at certain points in his career to harness that power for the cause of civil rights, he did not reduce the concept of God to mere emoting.

Du Bois also does not fit easily into the categories of orthodox Christianity or of mainstream Black church.

As a thinker, Du Bois was a committed theist, but one of his own stripe.

Monday, February 1, 2016

W.E.B. Du Bois and God

Among African-American civil rights leaders, W.E.B. Du Bois is one of the more complex personalities. His thoughts during the early part of his career were quite different than during his later work.

In his early phases, Du Bois saw free markets and free enterprise as a chance for Blacks to move upward in society. He wanted to remove the artificial restrictions of institutionalized racism and to allow African-Americans to compete.

He believed that Blacks had creativity, ingenuity, and motivation, and that given a chance in the business world, many of them would succeed.

But later in life, Du Bois had become cynical, and doubted whether a truly fair business climate could be established. At the end of his career, he reject the ideas of a “free market” and instead wanted a socialist government to control how people used their money.

Thus Du Bois embraced, at different times, two opposing views.

But Du Bois had a spiritual element in his thought which remained continuous over the years. Although attracted to Marx’s atheism, Du Bois did not declare himself an atheist. He retained some spiritual attitude, however ambiguous. Historian Gary Dorrien writes:

Du Bois, however, had a spiritual wellspring of his own. He was a keen appreciator of Jesus, and his argument with the black church was a lover's quarrel. His writings were strewn with religious images and references, even after he supposedly dropped religion for Marxism. The Souls of Black Folk famously invoked “our spiritual strivings” and lauded the spirituals. He began his book Darkwater with the social gospel “Credo,” conjured a black baby Jesus in his essay “The Second Coming,” conjured an adult black Jesus in the scathing “Jesus Christ in Texas,” and ended with a “Hymn to the Peoples.”

Although vague, Du Bois refused to relegate his spirituality to realm of symbolism or emotion. He certainly did not belong in the mainstream of African-American Christianity.

At times he criticized the Black churches; at other times he sought to encourage them. To be sure, he saw the power of religion to energize. But he did not rule out an objective ontological reality within spirituality. Gary Dorrien notes that even at the end of his career, Du Bois was concerned about the social role of religion:

As late as the 1950s, Du Bois was still writing about saving “the tattered shreds of God.”

While studying at Fisk University in the 1880s, Du Bois drifted from orthodox Christianity. In the 1890s, he did graduate work in Berlin, where he was introduced to many unorthodox forms of Christianity. He was interested in exploring these more nuanced form of spirituality, rather than dogmatic and doctrinaire atheism.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

George Washington's Chaplains: the Notion of ‘Church and State’ in Action

In the long and tangled history of religion in the United States, concrete examples from the Revolutionary Era can help to clarify murky and controversial concepts, like the ‘free exercise of religion’ and the ‘separation of church and state,’ about which heated debate still rages today.

Most notably, the separation of church and state was fueled by two motives: first, the desire to separate church from religion, and second, the desire for religion to inform the political process.

To the eyes of a twenty-first century reader, the phrases ‘church and state’ and ‘religion and state’ might seem similar, even synonymous. But in the late eighteenth century, these phrases captured a tension between church and religion.

For the Revolutionaries in North America, ‘church’ was a human institution, which, although perhaps founded with admirable intentions, had been corrupted and was in fact often the tool of the King. Britain’s Anglican Church was fueled, not with freely-given donations, but with taxes.

The Anglican Church, and its American offspring, the Episcopal Church, was, until 1776, the only authorized church in the thirteen colonies. Often, the Church had little to do with genuinely spiritual matters, and emphasized instead legalistic morality and ceremonial propriety.

Casting off the Anglican Church in the Revolution, the Americans saw themselves as become more religious, not less, in the act of dethroning the church. They didn’t want a government to impose institutions, traditions, and rules by acknowledging, funding, and authorizing a church to be the ‘established’ church.

In the terminology of the day, a church was ‘established’ if it was recognized by the government as the only official and authorized church, and if the government subsidized the church with taxpayer money. The American Revolution intended to energize and liberate religion by disestablishing the church. Freed from institutionalism and legalistic tradition, religious thought would energize the political process. This is why the First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

So it was, that when George Washington was organizing chaplains for the spiritual care of his troops, that he was little interested in their denominations - Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Quaker, Lutheran etc.

They would not be working for the church. They’d be working for Continental Army. Historian Tim Townsend writes:

When George Washington was desperate for a chaplain to minister to his drunken Virginia backcountry troops, he asked the governor to provide him one, writing that the absence of a chaplain reflected “dishonor on the regiment.” Some of Washington’s soldiers told him they’d pay a chaplain’s salary from their own pockets, but Washington said he’d rather have a chaplain appointed as an officer because that would have “a more graceful appearance.” A chaplain, Washington wrote, “ought to be provided, that we may at least have the show if we are said to want the substance of Godliness.” When Washington became commander of the Continental Army on July 2, 1775, he found fifteen chaplains among the army’s twenty-three regiments. He encouraged the chaplains to lead weekly worship services, and he eventually admitted ministers of eight denominations into the chaplaincy and urged his commanders to facilitate the free exercise of religion among their troops.

By discarding ‘establishment,’ the Americans would encourage ‘the free exercise’ of religion. This took forms which, to the twenty-first century eye, seem odd: Thomas Jefferson discouraged Congressmen from attending worship in churches in or near the capital; instead, he organized services in government buildings, reading aloud from the Bible, singing hymns, and praying. Jefferson himself participated regularly.

Jefferson understood himself to be freeing the government from the influence of church, while infusing what he understood to be a purer form of spirituality into the political process.

When offices were created for Chaplain of the United States Senate and Chaplain of the House of Representatives, it was understood that those who filled them were no longer to be in the employ of any church.

As the old saying goes, “he who pays the piper calls the tune.”

On the logic that whoever pays a worker determines what he does, the principle of ‘disestablishment’ required that the government hire and pay the chaplain. The ‘separation of church and state’ meant that no church could have an employee within the government.

Rather, by hiring its own chaplains, the government was getting religion without the church: it was not a staffer of any church, but rather the government’s own employee who explained the Bible, preached, and organized prayers and hymns.