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A Forgotten Stage of the Atlantic Slave Trade

by Gregory E. O’Malley 

HNN September 21, 2014

156926-FPJOn January 9, 1786, thirty-five “Men, Women, boys and Girls” from Angola climbed aboard a small brig in Kingston’s busy harbor and returned to sea. They had recently survived an Atlantic crossing to Jamaica with hundreds of other captives, but the vagaries of the Atlantic slave market split them off for another voyage. Embarking on this second ocean passage, the smaller group of captives climbed aboard a much smaller vessel, called Mars. The crew also packed the hold with goods, so the Angolans maneuvered around barrels of rum, sugar, and pimento.

The observant among them gleaned from the sun or stars that this new voyage carried them north, instead of west. They surely noticed a change in the weather. Winter gripped North America, and even in Georgia that January, locals remarked at “the severity of it.” The Mars rocked and thrashed in violent waves whipped up by storms out of the northeast. Frigid rains and high seas drenched the deck with water that dripped and sloshed into the hold. Contrary winds caused an unexpectedly “long passage.” Provisions ran low.

The crew headed for the nearest harbor, but one of the Angolan women succumbed to cold or hunger and “died two days before [the Mars] got into port.” Mercifully, the other thirty-four prisoners survived to reach Savannah, Georgia—probably unaware that their intended destination had been a place called Charleston, farther up the coast. The merchant in charge of selling the survivors perceived them as “a very slight made People,” probably because their passage from Jamaica on short rations made them appear so. One man died “a few days after they arrived.” The others recovered enough for sale into American slavery, but it would eight months after sailing from Jamaica before the last of them sold.

As typically told, the story of the Atlantic slave trade ends after the ocean crossing. A transatlantic slave ship glides into an American port, planters flock to an auction on the pier, and enslaved people presumably march with new owners to nearby plantations. Slave trade histories usually end with such a sale, but for hundreds of thousands of enslaved African people the journey did not end there. Labor-hungry plantation owners were not the only buyers of weary survivors of the Middle Passage; merchant speculators sought human commodities as well.

Port records, merchant papers, and imperial correspondence all suggest that a thriving intercolonial slave trade dispersed as many as a quarter of the African people who arrived in the New World, extending their dangerous journeys to American plantations. Such “final passages,” after the Atlantic crossing, occurred for a variety of reasons. Some colonial markets were too small to attract vessels directly from Africa with hundreds of slaves, but could be profitably targeted by intercolonial traders with a few enslaved people and an assortment of goods; some European empires enjoyed stronger trading positions in Africa than others, creating supply and price discrepancies across imperial borders in the Americas, setting the stage for smuggling; some important sites of American slavery were inland, requiring overland distribution after the Middle Passage. Whatever the reasons, colonial port records document more than seven thousand such shipments originating in British American colonies alone. Thousands more ventures surely occurred—in other regions and in periods not covered by surviving records.

Despite the vast scale of such intercolonial trafficking, historians have been slow to recognize and examine it, a blind spot especially pronounced for the British Atlantic. The oversight may stem partly from the long shadow that Philip Curtin cast on the field. His path-breaking book, The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (1969), was framed by a simple and straightforward question: Just how many African people crossed the Atlantic in the slave trade? That question (and his attempt to answer it by synthesizing regional estimates from the extant secondary scholarship) was an essential starting point for slave trade studies. But in some ways, Curtin’s focus on quantifying the transatlantic migration circumscribed the field—in ways both obvious and more surprising. – See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/156926#sthash.K6rDShzB.dpuf

Most straightforward, for decades after Curtin’s book appeared, slave trade scholars focused on the so-called “numbers game,” with one scholar after another revising Curtin’s estimates. Some used census records and demographic modeling; others counted the captives in port records and shipping returns. Such efforts culminated in Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database (www.slavevoyages.org), spearheaded by David Eltis, which seeks to document each individual voyage that carried Africans across the Atlantic. It is a prodigious work that documents more than 35,000 slave-trading ventures. The database improves our knowledge of the trade’s scale, organization, and mortality, and it stands as a monument to scholarly collaboration, with dozens of researchers contributing data. Despite these virtues, however, the database is limited to voyages that crossed the Atlantic—omitting the intercolonial trade—perhaps because that is how Curtin framed the question that launched the field.

More surprising perhaps, critics of such quantitative study have also focused on the Atlantic crossing at the expense of other phases of the trade. In recent years, a rich historiography has called for moving beyond the counting of enslaved people crossing the Atlantic to achieve a more humanizing portrayal—one that reckons more with what enslaved migrants endured, how they understood their journeys, and what cultures they carried with them. Marcus Rediker’s The Slave Ship: A Human History (2008) and Stephanie Smallwood’s Saltwater Slavery (2009), for example, focus explicitly on lived experiences aboard slave ships, on putting a human face on the millions of people who had been counted by other slave trade scholars. Yet these works, too, stop after the Atlantic crossing. They describe the infamous Middle Passage, but do not examine the networks of dispersal that forced beleaguered men and women onward—from Barbados to Savannah, from Jamaica to Panama, or from Charleston to the North American backcountry.

Yet hundreds of thousands of enslaved people did move on. Weary, often ill, angry, and often terrified, they arrived in a first American port only to be purchased by intercolonial speculators. American traders bought enslaved people in one port for transshipment to another, adding additional weeks and new dangers to the voyages of captives. Mortality in this intercolonial trade was devastating for people already debilitated by the Middle Passage. Furthermore, dispersal after the Atlantic crossing often separated transatlantic shipmates who shared language, culture, or even ties of kinship. And the importance of such intra-American trafficking extends beyond the devastating experiences of captives. The intercolonial slave trade spread the institution of slavery to new colonies and helped colonial merchants elaborate their trade networks. Many general traders in the Americas (and imperial policymakers) saw such slave trading as vital to opening a broader business with new customers, entangling the profits of slave trading with all manner of other commerce.

There is a certain irony to slave trade scholars focusing only on the Atlantic crossing—an irony captured in the phrase used to describe that journey. For most twenty-first-century readers, “Middle Passage” conjures thoughts of the horrific experiences of African captives in their forced Atlantic crossings, but the voyage was termed “middle” to reflect European, not African, experience. For European traders the transatlantic voyage typically formed the second leg of a three-part journey: a first passage, from Europe to Africa with trade goods; a “middle” passage, from Africa to America with slaves; and a third voyage, from America back to Europe with colonial staples. This “triangle” trade gave the Middle Passage its name. Despite these Eurocentric origins, scholars have claimed the term for the slave trade’s victims. But ironically, “Middle Passage” actually fits the experiences of African migrants better than most scholars have realized. The journeys of enslaved Africans did not begin at their ports of embarkation for the ocean crossing, nor did they end when transatlantic vessels reached the Americas. Instead, people often fell into slavery deep in the African interior, facing a first passage to the Atlantic coast; likewise, many enslaved people spread outward after the Middle Passage, often settling hundreds or even thousands of miles away from their first American landfall. Understanding the African migration experience—and the full profits of slave trading—requires reckoning with these final passages after the Atlantic crossing.

Gregory E. O’Malley is an Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the author of “Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1807″ (2014

The frontispiece from the Memoirs of Henry Obookiah, published 1818. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic
John Demos

Great failure is often more enduring than we realize. Before the downward spiral, the effort seems to cast the future in its image. It captures a moment and then goes uncommemorated. Yet it does not go away. It is as if the hopes it once contained continue to smolder.

The Paris Commune, the revolutionary socialist government that ruled the French capital in the spring of 1871, was such a failure: virtually erased from the public memory of modern Paris, but an inspiration to generations of socialists before the Russian Revolution and a corresponding source of fear for their opponents. Another such failure was the Foreign Mission School of Cornwall, Connecticut, the subject of John Demos’s new book, The Heathen School, freshly longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award.

The comparison, I concede, seems grandiose. The Commune left thousands, possibly tens of thousands, dead and large swaths of Paris in ruins. The Foreign Mission School destroyed only itself, leaving disillusioned graduates and an embittered and divided local community that threatened, but never executed, violence. It did its damage at a distance.

What unites the Commune with the Foreign Mission School is the bright and defining hope each originally contained and the disappointment each eventually produced. The Commune was a moment when France seemed to augur a new day; the school embodied equivalent optimism for the United States. Cornwall was a visible world of farms, forests, and villages but also an invisible world where God and Satan contested. God’s victory would be America’s gift to posterity.

The Heathen School, as it was called in everyday speech, became an American exercise in revolutionary uplift designed to transform the vast non-Christian world into something that looked like Connecticut. Instead of sending missionaries to the heathen, the school brought the heathen to the missionaries. The school would transform young men into Christians able to become missionaries or to assist them. It was part of an American project to spread republicanism and Protestant Christianity—for Americans regarded the two as inextricably linked—across the globe.

indexDemos possesses an uncanny ability to see the reflection of a much larger world in the towns of colonial New England and the early republic. In The Heathen School, what Demos discerns is American exceptionalism: the proposition that the United States is a chosen nation whose history diverges from all others and whose destiny will determine the fate of the world. It is an idea still embraced by most American politicians (even when they are smart enough not to believe it) and loathed by most American historians.

Extravagant ideas can alight on modest places. Cornwall is a small town in what was, during the early nineteenth century, the heartland of a New England evangelicalism determined to change the world. Some of the locals were articulate proponents of American exceptionalism and made it the rationale for the school. The United States was, according to Yale College President Timothy Dwight, the place where “Empire’s brightest throne shall rise.” Lyman Beecher of Connecticut—the father of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, who followed the reforming zeal of evangelicalism into abolition—already knew the answer when he asked, “From what nation shall the renovating power go forth?” There was less a fine line between American benevolence and American imperialism than no line at all.

It later became a cliché that Protestant missionaries to Hawaii, including those associated with the Heathen School, “came to do good and did well,” but the original enthusiasm for uplift was genuine. These were people who thought the millennium might be at hand. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission, sponsors of the Foreign Mission School, reversed the connections between expanding American trade and spreading the Gospel. “Natives of almost every heathen country” were being drawn from their homes by American commerce, the Board said. If not converted, they would bring the worst of American society back to their lands, corrupting their countrymen and prejudicing them against Christianity. The Foreign Mission School would take non-Christians drawn to the United States by commerce, or those who already lived within its boundaries, educate them, convert them, and send them home to transform their homelands.

The school was thus ancestral to a variety of American projects designed to make foreigners into instruments of conversion, people who would turn their countrymen into people like us. Our current rationale in training military officers and economists is not so different than that for training missionaries. As the sponsors of the Heathen School knew, the results could be disappointing. Frequently, they still are, unless you consider the likes of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Mohamed Morsi, both partially educated on American shores, successful at creating New England in Egypt.

• • •

We tend not to look closely at the societies we expect to transform. We collapse them into largely undifferentiated lumps. This is true now as it was then. The very term Heathen School conveyed the American sense of a vast, indistinguishable mass of non-Christians. The students who came to the school were, however, disparate. Hawaiians dominated the first class, but it also included an Abenaki Indian, a Bengali, and a man named John Johnson, whose father was the child of an “English gentleman” and a “Hindoo woman” and whose mother was “a Jewess of the race of black Jews.” Later Tahitians came, as did at least one more Jew, a student from Timor, a Malay held as a slave in China, a Chinese, and two Greek boys from Malta. The students came from the four corners of the earth, but they were heathens one and all.

Demos breaks the undifferentiated mass into particular people. He concentrates on a small set of individuals—Henry Obookiah, who was Hawaiian, John Ridge and Elias Boudinot, both of whom were Cherokees from Georgia, and Sarah Bird Northrup and Harriet Gold, who were from Cornwall. The desire for salvation ran together with more earthly ones. The result is a book as much about psychology as theology and as much about intimacy as commerce.

In Demos’s books people who think they control events find themselves shaken by those supposedly under their influence. But the Hawaiian Henry Obookiah, who both in a sense created the Heathen School and was its chief product, was not the challenge that brought the imperial dream down.

Events far from New England uprooted Obookiah and deposited him in Connecticut. The internal wars that yielded the kingdom of Hawaii orphaned Obookiah, and the China and Pacific trade, of which the Hawaiian Islands were an integral part, set him in motion. He became a Kanaka, an expatriate Hawaiian sailor, who made his way to New England and arrived at Yale in search of an education. In Demos’s interpretation he was in search of family; he thought he found it in Connecticut.

Obookiah underwent a classic Protestant conversion experience and came “home to New Jerusalem,” entering the church on April 9, 1815. It was Obookiah who formulated a plan to return to Hawaii “to preach the Gospel to my Countrymen” in their own language. He became the most celebrated of the group of Hawaiians who formed the nucleus of the Foreign Mission School’s first class. It was, the American Board believed, the hand of providence that brought Obookiah to Connecticut. The founders felt “confident that this thing is from God . . . [and] will, among others, be a means of evangelizing the world.” Obookiah did seem to be the real thing. He invented orthography for writing Hawaiian, learned Hebrew, and grew famous, which proved useful for raising money and advancing the cause.

Obookiah died of typhus in 1818, one of those fortunate deaths that frees a person from responsibility for failures to come. As was the custom, his deathbed scene was fully described and his words recorded. Lyman Beecher preached his eulogy. His ghostwritten Memoirs would go through “about a dozen editions,” according to Demos. His goals, though, were largely unfulfilled. In Hawaii the missionaries, accompanied by several of the graduates of the Foreign Mission School, made converts, but the students were by and large a disappointment. In time the Americans took over the islands, enriched themselves, and largely dispossessed the inhabitants, who dwindled in numbers.

When Obookiah died the Hawaiian missionaries had not yet departed, nor had John Ridge, Elias Boudinot, and the other Cherokee students arrived at the Heathen School. After 1818 American Indians would dominate the student body. There was tension between the Indians and the Pacific Islanders; there were issues with truancy, discipline, and uneven academic achievement. But most troubling were relationships between the Cornwall girls and the scholars, or, as officials put it, “the colored boys.”

The desire to save the Indians, and a long history of sexual relations between Indian women and white men, did not prepare Cornwall for consensual sexual relations—in or out of marriage—between its white women and the school’s Indian men. To many readers, this will not come as a surprise, but the history of interracial sex is far more complicated than most Americans believe, and even more complicated than Demos makes it here. In the nation’s first days, it was fairly common and, if not fully accepted in all configurations, not routinely condemned or punished. But as the nineteenth century went on, prejudices against what became known as miscegenation intensified and hardened. The end of slavery—and with it the guaranteed subordination of black men and the coerced availability of black women—alongside worries about inheritance and property transmission and changing ideas about race all made interracial sex less tolerated than it had been earlier in American history. In Cornwall signs of this resistance appeared early.

John Ridge was from a leading Cherokee family and had already been to mission schools within the Cherokee Nation before he came to Cornwall in 1818. His romance with Sarah Northrup would have been utterly conventional had he not been Cherokee and she not been white. He was sick and entered the Northrup home. Sarah and her mother nursed him. He fell in love with Sarah and she with him.

The family sought to disrupt the romance by sending Sarah to her grandparents. The American Board decided it was time for John to return home, but neither distance nor time stilled their passion for each other—a passion that disturbed the social order. John Ridge published a denunciation of racial prejudice that allowed the “most stupid and illiterate white man” to disdain the most polished Indian. With Sarah’s devotion to John remaining strong, and her parents fearful that she would waste away longing for him and become vulnerable to consumption, Sarah’s family agreed to the marriage. It took place in January 1824, after John returned to Cornwall. Although some defended the marriage, much of Cornwall was outraged, and threats of violence accompanied the denunciations. John and Sarah moved to New Echota in the Cherokee Nation.

The marriage of John Ridge’s cousin Elias Boudinot to Harriet Gold bred even greater resentment and brought public demonstrations of disapproval. Harriet’s brothers and sisters and their spouses bitterly opposed the marriage. One of her brothers-in-law, the Reverend Cornelius Everest, wrote, “We weep; we sigh; our feelings are indescribable. Ah, it all is to be summed up in this—our sister loves an Indian! Shame on such love.” A minister from a neighboring town married Elias and Harriet in March of 1826 because the local minister refused to do so. They, too, would depart for the Cherokee Nation.

The school defended racial equality in the abstract, but not the actual fact of the marriages. Its evangelical supporters would not accept intermarriage, and the Ridge-Northrup wedding appears to have precipitated a decline in contributions. The founders had lost faith in their scholars, the last of whom would leave in 1828. Most of the graduates were disappointments to their teachers.

• • •

With the Boudinot-Gold marriage, Demos’s attention shifts to Cherokee country, and he signals the shift with what he calls an interlude. Demos narrates his own journeys paralleling those of his characters. He traveled to Hawaii to find Obookiah’s birthplace. And nearly two centuries after the Ridges and Boudinots settled in New Echota, Demos went for a visit.

We cannot time travel. A stop in Cornwall, or New Echota, or Obookiah’s birthplace leaves the visitor firmly in the present. But the past often lingers; its evidence endures. There are original buildings in Cornwall, fewer in New Echota. And at these sites stories and storytellers meet. Right here, in this house, this happened; here, these people once lived.

The historian’s next step is at once problematic and wondrous. Demos takes it. “In my mind’s eye I can glimpse the scholars passing in and out,” he writes of his visit to Cornwall. Being there “lessened the distance between my own world and that of the school.” Similarly in Georgia he muses that, for Harriet Gold, New Echota was a blank space to be filled in by experience. “So too, in my own case: an equally blank space. Until I have a chance to go there.” He travels to encounter traces of the past that remain visible.

That past was a Cherokee past, and what happened to the Cherokees in the 1820s and 1830s was a disgrace to the United States, but it was not a simple story, and Demos does not try to suggest otherwise. The Cherokee story shadowed, he writes, “on a vastly grander scale, that of the Foreign Mission School—high hopes, valiant efforts, leading to eventual tragic defeat.”

The same sense of mission and providential destiny that created the mission school ultimately did in the Cherokees. This is not to say the American Board destroyed them; many of their missionaries remained ardent supporters of the Cherokees’ attempt to retain their homeland. But the very sense of Christian superiority and providential favor for the United States embedded in the school also inspired those who sought to dispossess the Cherokees. Indians recognized this, and tried to counter it. They sought to separate American providential thinking into its secular and religious strains and pit them against each other. Indians hoped Christians would not evict Christians. They would, and they did.

Both Ridge and Boudinot had reason to doubt the value of the American Board as an ally, and neither thought that the United States would honor existing treaties. Seeing resistance as hopeless, they joined the Treaty Party, which ceded the Cherokees’ homeland to the United States. The Treaty Party had no authority, and the vast majority of Cherokees who followed Head Chief John Ross opposed them and their treaty, which was ratified, if only barely, by the Senate. In what Demos rightly describes as ethnic cleansing, the Cherokees and their neighbors lost their land, and many lost their lives in government roundups and a forced march west. For enabling this dispossession and dislocation, Ridge and Boudinot would pay with their lives when the surviving Cherokees reached Indian Territory.

The removal of the Cherokees would seem to make the tale of the Heathen School a familiar American story in which race takes the center stage. Racial prejudice sought to thwart the marriages of the Ridges and Boudinots and ultimately did in the school itself. Racial prejudice launched the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears. But if race in the United States is a familiar topic, it is also a complicated one, and Demos shows its complications. His great strength as a historian is his ability to move effortlessly from the personal to the national, and when he does so here, a story about heathens and “colored boys” expands to include black slaves.

Many members of the Cherokee elite were slaveholders, and when Sarah Ridge, née Northrup, moved to Georgia, she mutated from a Yankee to a plantation mistress. She was in the eyes of both Cherokees and black slaves a “white lady,” the very status that brought so much trouble in Cornwall. With her husband’s assassination, Sarah was described as having “a dead heart in a living bosom.” Her Cherokee relatives sought to strip her and her children of their inheritance since she was “a white lady and had no clan.” She lived by hiring out her slaves. Her sons grew up quarrelsome and violent. They, along with a sizeable number of anti-Ross Cherokees, stood with the Confederacy, as did, although Demos does not mention it, Boudinot’s son, Elias Cornelius.

Lyman Beecher’s descendants became abolitionists, but the descendants of the leading Cherokee graduates of the Heathen School joined the Confederacy in defense of human slavery. Two of them, John Rollins Ridge and Elias Cornelius Boudinot, eventually fled the Cherokee Nation under threat of death and ended up alienated from both their New England and Cherokee roots. The failures of the Heathen School had only ramified.

Demos draws a parallel between Cornwall’s opposition to interracial marriage in the nineteenth century and the illegality of same-sex marriage in the twenty-first. His intent, I think, is something more than to compare inequities, particularly since, with same-sex marriage now legal in Connecticut, the analogy might produce comforting feelings of growing tolerance. Demos is too good a historian to think the past will be much of a comfort to us. He has crafted the book otherwise. His heroes, Sara and John Ridge, do not become villains, but they are more than simply victims of racism. Similarly the Cherokees and Hawaiians were betrayed and despoiled, but they were not innocents.

Demos’s analogies have a deeper target: the American sense of being a beacon to the world, its last best hope. This only leads us astray. We want to shape the world without the world touching us and revealing our own limits and prejudices, but more than that we insist on foreigners being unrealized versions of ourselves. We educate the Sisis and Morsis thinking they will become agents of our desires and in so doing forget that they, like the students at the Heathen School, were never ours to shape.

Richard White, Margaret Byrne Professor of American History at Stanford University, is author, most recently, of Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America.

Mark MazzettiThe Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth

by Mark Lauchs 

New Books in Foreign Policy  August 8, 2014

Mark Mazzetti

Mark Mazzetti

[Cross-posted from New Books in Terrorism and Organized Crime] There are many movies 517SbF-1VcL._SL160_about evil CIA agents assassinating supposed enemies of the US. Those who saw the latest Captain America movie will have witnessed the plan by Hydra (a fascist faction within a secret agency presumably within the CIA) build floating gunships that can identify and eliminate those who pose a threat to national security. We are not there yet, but Mark Mazzetti‘s book The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth (Penguin, 2013)  should give us some anxiety about the current technology used for “extra-judicial killings”. Mazzetti gives us the history of the drone wars – a term hated by the Air Force who note that the drones are piloted aircraft  albeit from a remote location – and their ability to be used for the elimination of… well, enemies of the US and its allies. Having said that, this is not a diatribe of opposition but a balanced and careful examination of history and political process. At the core of the book is a discussion of how the CIA and the US military are running parallel drone operations with different criteria and standards of care and success. Mazzetti’s book presents us with, what I found to be, a frightening insight into operations that are so common that they rarely rate a mention in the media. I highly recommend the book and suggest that anyone running a course on military ethics include it in their reading list. There is more than enough ethical controversy raised in the book to fill a semester of discussion.

La Universidad de Columbia acaba de dar acceso gratuito a los cursos “online” (MOOC) del historiador norteamericano Eric Foner. Autor de obras imprescindibles como Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877  (1988) y The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2011), Foner es uno de los grandes analistas de la guerra civil norteamericana y del periodo de la Reconstrucción.

Columbia University Releases Eric Foner’s Civil War MOOCs. It’s Free! 

HNN  September 17, 2014

Free history courses to reach educators and students worldwide, expanding Columbia’s online teaching initiatives

NEW YORK, New York, September 11, 2014 — Columbia University’s Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) today announced the release of three new online courses on edX: The Civil War and Reconstruction. Eric Foner, Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian and Columbia University’s DeWitt Clinton Professor of History, teaches this three-part massive open online course (MOOC). On Wednesday, September 17, the first course launches – the series is free and accessible to anyone anywhere with an Internet connection, including K-12 educators and students.

The new history series, the first humanities course offering by Columbia on edX, is an open learning experience spread out over weeks of stimulating lectures, interactive assignments, and community discussions. The entire series is 27 weeks long and challenges students to examine the politics of history and investigate themes that are still very present in our national dialogue – the balance of power between local and national authority, the boundaries of citizenship, and the meaning of freedom and equality.

“We are delighted that Eric Foner is kicking off Columbia’s involvement with the edX platform,” said Columbia University Provost John H. Coatsworth. “His course series on the Civil War will highlight one of our finest teachers while providing students around the world with a window on to the outstanding humanities instruction for which Columbia is known.”

The three online courses are:

1. A House Divided: The Road to Civil War, 1850-1861 – 10 weeks, beginning September 17

2. A New Birth of Freedom: The Civil War, 1861-1865 – 8 weeks, beginning December 1

3. The Unfinished Revolution: Reconstruction and After, 1865-1890 – 9 weeks, beginning February 25

The series trailer is online here:

“Recent events have underscored the fact that our society is still grappling with the long-term legacies of slavery and the failure of Reconstruction, so this history is especially pertinent today” said Professor Foner.

“If you want to know where the world you’re living in came from,” Foner tells us in the trailer, “you need to know about the Civil War era.”

“The Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning is thrilled to see Eric Foner‘s work published this way,” said CCNMTL director Maurice Matiz. “Besides having a great interest in getting those connected to Columbia during Foner’s long career —our alumni— access to the course, we are also hoping that the course will have broad appeal given the public interest in this key period of our history.”

“We are honored to work with Eric Foner on his first MOOC, “The Civil War and Reconstruction,” and to help history-lovers everywhere connect with this prominent historian to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of our shared past and society today,” said Anant Agarwal, edX CEO and professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT.

This MOOC series is also registered as an XSeries on edX, giving learners the opportunity to sign up and receive a verified certificate of achievement that authenticates their successful completion of each course.

Visit ColumbiaX here.

In addition, the lecture videos from the entire course will be published on CCNMTL’s YouTube channel.

Watergate’s most lasting sin: Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and the pardon that made us all cynics

Rick Perlstein

Salon.com   September 8, 2014

Ronald Reagan, left, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford, far right, pose with George Bush in the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in 1990. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma) (Credit: Associated Press)

Ronald Reagan, left, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford, far right, pose with George Bush in the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in 1990. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma) (Credit: Associated Press)

When you’ve published a book about Watergate, your phone rings off the hook in the days leading up to Aug. 9, 2014, the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation. But my phone’s been quiet this week — even though the event that took place almost exactly one month later, on Sept. 8, 1974, is the one that really changed the world. It’s still changing the world 40 years later.

Gerald Ford had announced upon acceding to the highest office in the land, “Our Constitution works; our great republic is a government of laws and not men. Here the people rule.” For the sentiment, he reaped a harvest of gratitude. The very existence of this new presidency, everyone said, proved that “the system worked.”

Then, four Sundays later, 11:05 a.m., when many Americans would have, like Ford, just returned from church — in the mood, he hoped, for mercy — Ford proceeded to read, then sign, a proclamation announcing that pursuant to Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, he was granting “a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20 through August 9, 1974.”

It was an enormously unpopular act. Ford’s approval rating declined from 71 to 49 percent, the most precipitous in history. This pardon was proof, the people said, that the system didn’t work — America was still crooked. Suspicions were widespread that it was the fruit of a dirty deal between Nixon and Ford: the presidency in exchange for the pardon. “The son of a bitch pardoned the son of a bitch,” was how Carl Bernstein broke the news Bob Woodward on the phone.

Since then, judgment on the pardon has reversed 180 degrees. First Woodward, then Bernstein, came to conclude there had been no deal, and that this was instead an extraordinarily noble act: Ford “realized intuitively that the country had to get beyond Nixon.” After Ford died in 2006, Peggy Noonan went even further. She said Ford “threw himself on a grenade to protect the country from shame.”

They’re wrong. For political elites took away a dangerous lesson from the Ford pardon — our true shame: All it takes is the incantation of magic words like “stability” and “confidence” and “consensus” in order to inure yourself from accountability for just about any malfeasance

In 1975 the Senate and House empaneled committees to investigate the CIA, FBI and, later, the NSA after it was discovered these agencies had operated unethically and illegally. The House committee, under Rep. Otis Pike, who died last year in obscurity, discovered not merely that the CIA was out of control, but that it was incompetent — for instance, predicting Mideast peace the week before the Yom Kippur War broke out. Frank Church’s Senate committee, meanwhile, proved the NSA was illegally gathering the telegraph traffic of American citizens, without even top executives of the telegraph companies being aware of it.

But, in the spirit of the Nixon pardon, the idea of holding elite institutions to reckoning had fallen out of favor. At the height of the intelligence investigations Washington Post’s publisher Katharine Graham complained of the media’s tendency to “see a conspiracy and cover-up in everything.” Sen. J. William Fulbright said “these are not the kind of truths we need most right now,” that the nation demanded “restored stability and confidence” instead. The CIA had no trouble promptly drumming up a disingenuous propaganda campaign that all but neutered reform. And, 39 years later, these institutions are still largely broken, and still almost entirely unaccountable.

Follow the thread a little more than a decade later. Ronald Reagan’s administration contravened law and its own solemn pledges by selling hundreds of thousands of missiles to Iran in an attempt to free hostages held in Lebanon. The president’s own diaries revealed that he approved the action; he lied about that in a press conference. The deal didn’t even work; Hezbollah just took more hostages. Then profits were diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras in direct violation of congressional statute. But instead of a Watergate-style Senate investigation (the one in 1973 heard witnesses live on TV for over five months and produced 26 volumes of reports), Iran-Contra was investigated by a panel convened by Reagan himself and led by a political ally, Sen. John Tower; at subsequent congressional hearings, deliberately limited in scope, the star witness, Oliver North, testifying under immunity, bragged of destroying thousands of pages of evidence.

Six administration officials, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, were indicted by a special prosecutor. But one month before leaving office, President George H.W. Bush — who did not testify in congressional hearings about his own involvement in the affair as vice president, because the Democratic chairman, Sen. Daniel Inouye, wished to spare him embarrassment — pardoned them all.

Just like 40 years ago today, a longing for consensus over messy conflict, for elite comity instead of accountability, “stability and confidence” instead of justice, trumped all.

Meanwhile, the congressional minority report on Iran-Contra, drafted by then-Rep. Richard Cheney, all but rejected the very notion of congressional oversight over the executive branch — and Cheney, as George W. Bush’s vice president, literally took Iran-Contra as the subject for a “lessons learned” workshop on how to put such a foreign policy into practice.

Note, of course, that Cheney had once been top deputy in Gerald Ford’s White House. The Nixon pardon had to have been a lesson learned for him, too — future administrations would let the Bush administration get away with things like illegally spying on Americans, and starting a war on false pretenses, scot-free. And he was right: Following his 2008 election, President Obama announced “that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backward.”

Comity over accountability. Denialism instead of risking national “shame.” In 2001, the John F. Kennedy Library awarded Ford its Profile in Courage award for the pardon decision. But the idea that “too big to fail” institutions are too fragile to handle honest reckoning with the truth is not courage. It is civic cowardice. Better, much better, that we keep the faith: that our Constitution can work, that our great republic is a government of laws and not men, and that here, the people rule.

Rick Perlstein is the author of “The Invisible Bridge,” “Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America” and “Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus”

H-Diplo-LOGO

Comparto con mis lectores esta excelente reseña del más reciente libro del historiador estadounidense John Prados sobre el papel jugado por la CIA en la historia de Estados Unidos.

John Prados. The Family Jewels: The CIA, Secrecy, and Presidential Power. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013.

Reviewed by Paul M. McGarr (University of Nottingham)
Published on H-Diplo (September, 2014)

PradosJohn Prados ends his latest book on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with a call to action. In The Family Jewels: The CIA, Secrecy, and Presidential Power, Prados argues that the intelligence system in the United States is broken. Setting out a case for intelligence reform, this prominent commentator on the secret world declares that “There is much work to be done by presidents, legislators, officials and citizens. The time to start is now” (p. 333). From its inception in the late 1940s, Prados suggests, the CIA’s interrelationship with its executive patron in the White House has served the American people poorly. In short, the CIA is presented as a dysfunctional intelligence organization, tainted by habitual abuses of power, recurrent illegality, and an inveterate obsession with concealing, when not willfully misrepresenting, the less savory aspects of its institutional history. The extent to which intelligence agencies can, and should, be held publicly accountable for their actions within the framework of a democratic society forms the leitmotif of this account of the CIA and its “Family Jewels,” or most controversial intelligence operations.

Prados’s particular reading of the CIA and its operational history is unsurprising given his background as a leading advocate of government transparency and position as a senior fellow of the Washington DC-based National Security Archive, which for decades has been at the forefront of efforts to liberalize the disclosure of classified state records. Few scholars of intelligence, or indeed wider American foreign policy, will find much in the way of new evidence in this book. To a large extent Prados offers up a comprehensive and expertly crafted, if by now familiar synthesis, of the most controversial covert operations mounted by the CIA during the second half of the twentieth century and, more recently, in the context of an ongoing global war on terror. Prados provides detailed and engaging accounts of the original Family Jewels revelations, which were first aired in the New York Times in late 1974; the subsequent Year of Intelligence in 1975; the CIA’s involvement in political surveillance on American soil; and agency complicity in eavesdropping, extrajudicial detention, and assassination plots; all cover well worn historical ground.[1] Likewise, Prados’s examinations of the efforts undertaken by Langley to control the CIA’s public image and manipulate official and unofficial documentary representations of agency history have recently attracted scholarly attention.[2]

The value of this latest in a long and seemingly endless line of polemics focused on the CIA, resides in the questions that it poses to contemporary American policymakers and their broader political constituencies. Prados meticulously catalogues and forensically interrogates evidence that suggests the CIA has long played fast and loose with its own charter and the U.S. Constitution in support of White House policy. Moreover, the U.S. intelligence communities “tendency to replicate” legally and ethically questionable activities in pursuit of executive directives has, in Prados’s eyes, proved singularly counterproductive and is indicative of the “disturbing” possibility “that abuse fulfills some functional purpose” (p. 322).

Supporters of the Agency will undoubtedly take exception to the stridency with which Prados condemns the CIA’s institutional culture and operational performance. To be sure, mundane yet successful intelligence operations, for obvious reasons, tend to remain hidden from public view and, in any case, generate fewer media headlines and much less controversy than more spectacular “failures.” Indeed, a central plank of Prados’s thesis is that manifestations of “abuse” within the intelligence environment “fester” in the dark shadows of excessive and unwarranted secrecy (p. 323). Equally, rightly or wrongly, the agency has invariably been forced to assume the role of public fall guy whenever a capricious president encounters political difficulties as a consequence of intelligence “blowback.” In fact, to his credit, Prados is careful to emphasize the long-standing and pivotal role played by senior government officials outside the agency, including Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, in exerting pressure on the CIA to launch controversial and action-orientated operations. Most notably, Dick Cheney is castigated as “the leading ringmaster” behind a litany of intelligence impropriety stretching back over thirty years, originating in efforts to hamstring the Rockefeller Commission on intelligence in the mid-1970s, and continuing through post-9/11 furors involving extraordinary rendition, enhanced interrogation, and NSA eavesdropping (p. 323). Democrat politicians come in for similar censure. In electing not to pursue Bush administration officials and CIA officers for acts of allegedly illegality, yet prosecuting CIA whistleblowers, such as John Kiriakou, and expanding the use of drone strikes across Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, Barak Obama has perpetuated “actions [that] have damaged America’s real interests” (p. 326).

ciaThe book makes its biggest impact by deftly weaving a litany of historic intelligence abuses into the narrative of contemporary debates surrounding tensions between the preservation of national security on the one hand, and the maintenance on civil liberties and individual freedoms on the other. Prados constructs a strong case for interpreting Family Jewel abuses not as unfortunate historical glitches, but instead as components in an endemic pattern of executive misconduct, the roots of which stretch back to the formation of the postwar national security state. In this sense, perhaps a common thread can be discerned, as Prados claims, between the imprisonment and maltreatment of Yuri Nosenko, a KGB defector to United States in the 1960s, and the secret prisons, extraordinary renditions, enhanced interrogation practices employed by the CIA after 2001. The National Security Agency (NSA) communication interception programs recently revealed by Edward Snowden could be seen to have antecedents in CIA and NSA surveillance operations mounted inside the United States during the 1950s and 1960s, such as CHAOS, SHAMROCK and MINARET. The current deployment of drones armed with Hellfire missiles in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen to target foreign nationals deemed threats to the United States, contain faint echoes of earlier assassination plots hatched against Fidel Castro, Patrice Lumumba, and Rafael Trujillo. For sure, as Prados is at pains to point out, “the issue of abuse in intelligence activities” has hardly receded since the 1970s (p. 3). In fact, it has mushroomed in the aftermath of 9/11.

Prados argues that this abuse thrives amid secrecy and, in turn, corrodes public trust and confidence in the important work performed by intelligence agencies. Prados’s antidote to the malaise afflicting America’s intelligence community is a large dose of transparency. Noting that “over the years Langley has worked very hard to cloak its daggers” (p. 190), Prados reopens the long-standing debate about how open and accountable intelligence agencies can be in a liberal democracy while, at the same time, safeguarding the anonymity of sources and methods and preserving operational effectiveness. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Prados’s answer is, quite a lot more open than at present. Indeed, Prados insists that disclosure of questionable intelligence practices is not the problem. Investigate journalists from Seymour Hersh, the reporter responsible for uncovering the original Family Jewels, to Dana Priest, the Washington Poststaffer who broke the post-9/11 “Top Secret America” story, are lauded for performing a valuable public service. However, continued vigilance on the part of the Fourth Estate, Prados concludes, can only be of limited utility in holding governments and intelligence services to account. Press exposes and the disclosures of whistle-blowers from Philip Agee to Edward Snowden, have, after all, failed to stem a recurring pattern of intelligence scandals. The voting public and political classes have notably short memories. In Prados’s estimation, the historical pattern of questionable practices and the efforts to evade accountability exhibited by America’s spymasters are suggestive of an urgent need to reform the current system of intelligence oversight.

Lambasting existing regulatory mechanisms as not fit for the purpose, Prados bemoans that congressional committees tasked with scrutinizing the CIA’s work rely heavily on agency disclosure, are understaffed, and are subject to powerful political and legal pressures. In their place, Prados proposes an oversight system centered upon regular public reviews of intelligence agencies. Such a radical prescription for reform raises a number questions. Is a public role in intelligence oversight practical? How would the security implications inherent in such a system be overcome? Would public intelligence hearings turn into media circuses reminiscent of the Church and Pike Committee enquiries of the mid-1970s, or the Iran-Contra inquests a decade later? Would, in short, such a system of oversight generate more heat than light?

John Prados has produced an expertly crafted and thought-provoking account of the faultiness between the United States’s intelligence community and its clients in the White House. He makes a strong case for intelligence reform. Prados’s prescriptions for change, however, are less persuasive. Ultimately, it is by challenging the American public to engage more meaningfully with complex and contentious debates within the intelligence sphere that encompass issues of ethics, civil liberties, and national security, that Prados’ book promises to make its greatest mark.

Notes

[1]. Some of the best accounts that address CIA covert action include Roy Godson, Dirty Tricks or Trump Cards: US Covert Action and Counterintelligence(Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 1996); Gregory Treverton, Covert Action: The Limits of Intervention in the Postwar World (New York: Basic Books, 1987); and John Prados, Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006).

[2]. See, Paul McGarr and Matthew Jones, “‘Real Substance, Not Just Symbolism’? The CIA and the Representation of Covert Operations in the Foreign Relations of the United States Series,” in Intelligence Studies in Britain and the US: Historiography since 1945, ed. Christopher R. Moran and Christopher J. Murphy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), 65-89; and Christopher R. Moran, ‘The Last Assignment: David Atlee Phillips and the Birth of CIA Public Relations,” International History Review 35, no. 2 (2013): 337-355.

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=41209

Citation: Paul M. McGarr. Review of Prados, John, The Family Jewels: The CIA, Secrecy, and Presidential Power. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. September, 2014.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=41209

Setenta y cinco años de “Lo que el viento se llevó”

Manuel Martínez Maldonado
80 grados   12 de septiembre de 2014

Gone-With-The-Wind-Poster-gone-with-the-wind-33266928-1667-2500

Luego de un blitzkrieg publicitario que giraba sobre quién iba a interpretar a Scarlett O’Hara el legendario David O. Selznick anunció a Vivien Leigh como la escogida. En el año 1939, preámbulo temporal de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, la Civil estadounidense habría de tomar primer plano en las pantallas de los cines de unos Estados Unidos sospechosos de las tendencias socialistas de Franklin Roosevelt y su Nuevo Trato, y en contra de cualquier intervención del país en los problemas europeos. Curiosamente, en una vuelta repleta de ironía, Selznick fue a buscar ayuda de los ingleses para conseguir la actriz que representaría a su heroína sin saber que pronto los ingleses le estarían pidiendo socorro a los norteamericanos cuando los alemanes se iban acercando a Gran Bretaña. También fue capaz por un tiempo de lograr que la atención de su país se concentrara en una guerra que ya había transcurrido y no en una que se estaba empollando.

De todas las actrices que compitieron por el papel –Paulette Goddard, Bette Davis, Tallulah Bankhead, Susan Hayward, y otras− es imposible ver a ninguna de ellas como la sagaz, impertinente, valerosa y bella Scarlett que fue Leigh, al momento la mujer de Laurence Olivier. Esa contribución de Inglaterra al cine mundial es digna de recordar porque sin duda demostró una confianza entre los dos países en una industria que habría de contribuir enormemente al triunfo aliado en la guerra. Importar la estrella del filme del cine inglés implicaba un vínculo estrecho entre los dos países, una confianza en que las asociaciones angloamericanas funcionaban a un nivel sublime (artístico) y práctico (los ingresos en la taquilla). Las negociaciones entre Alexander Korda, quien tenía a Leigh bajo contrato, y Selznick, ambos judíos, fueron el contrapunto a las de Churchill y Roosevelt. De la primera se esperaba el triunfo del arte; de la segunda, el triunfo de la humanidad. Como sabemos, así fue. El éxito de esa simbiosis transatlántica se comprobó cuando la película obtuvo trece nominaciones para el Oscar y ganó ocho, incluyendo mejor película, mejor actriz principal (Leigh), mejor actriz de reparto, Hattie McDaniel (Mammy), y produjo treinta y dos millones de dólares cuando esos valían mucho más que ahora. Se calcula que desde su debut el filme ha recaudado el equivalente a $3.3 billones de dólares. En otras palabras, una de las películas más taquilleras en la historia.

El triunfo de la película después que debutó en 1939 fue tal que se proyectó durante los bombardeos nazis de Londres y estuvo en cartelera allí por cuatro años. Ya para el 1942, después del ataque a Pearl Harbor, Inglaterra contaba con la ayuda completa de los Estados Unidos y los ingleses podían ir a los cines del West End a ver GWTW sabiendo que contaban con la ayuda militar que impediría un triunfo nazi. Además, se podía ver en pantalla un paralelismo temático entre GWTW y lo que estaba ocurriendo en el mundo que nunca consideró Margaret Mitchell. Publicada en 1937, con Hitler apoderado de Alemania, la novela idealizó la esclavitud y presentó a los negros esclavos como figuras complacidas y agradecidas de sus dueños. Esto mientras los nazis comenzaban los abusos contra los “inferiores”, representados por los judíos, los gitanos, otros “con inestabilidad racial”, los enfermos y los homosexuales. Esa ilusión de complacencia la usaron Hitler y sus asesinos recurriendo a las patrañas montadas en Theresienstadt, un campo de concentración cerca de Praga en el que se idealizaba por unos días (conciertos, juegos de fútbol, paradas) la vida de sus prisioneros para satisfacer las visitas periódicas de la Cruz Roja.  Como si fuera poco, parte de la novela y de la película trata muy de paso el origen del Ku Klux Klan cuyas ideas eran (son) paralelas a las de la Gestapo y la SS. Lo más probable es que Mitchell no estuviera familiarizada, como también lo desconocía la mayoría de los norteamericanos, con los campos de concentración nazis que comenzaron en 1935-36, pero que no aumentaron numéricamente hasta el año en que debutó la película, ni comenzaron sus programas de exterminio masivo hasta más tarde. Sin embargo, los arrabales a los que estaban condenados los libertos que surgieron en el Sur durante la época de la Reconstrucción son, hasta cierto punto, el reflejo del discrimen y el prejuicio racial en esos estados que aceptaron su derrota pero no cambiaron sus costumbres. Esos guetos de pobreza, hambre y linchamientos lo único que no tenían era cámaras de gases.

Cuando el filme debutó en Atlanta con un fastuoso desfile de lujo, la segregación racial en la ciudad imposibilitó la presencia de Hattie MacDaniel y Butterlfy McQueen (Prissy). Esta última no solo fue víctima del prejuicio del los blancos, sino también del desprecio de otros miembros de su raza porque consideraron su actuación servil, paródica y denigrante. Hoy día es difícil no ver que hay mucho de cierto en esa apreciación, pero no creo (como ha de ser patente a todos los que ven el filme) que la representación de Prissy estuviera bajo el control “artístico” o emocional de la actriz. Dudo además que las descargas contra la actuación de McQueen reflejen lo que pudo haber sentido ella en su corazón; después de todo, estaba haciendo su trabajo. No hay duda de que el filme tiene unos enfoques que se consideran políticamente incorrectos en el ambiente de hoy día. Sin embargo, no es ni tendencioso ni irresponsable como lo fue en su época con el tema racial “The Birth of a Nation” (1915), tanto así que era usada por el Ku Klux Klan como mecanismo de reclutamiento de miembros.

pruebasinprisa2Más central que el tema racial, GWTW presenta a Scarlett como una mujer emprendedora que lucha contra todo infortunio sin dejarse vencer por las circunstancias. Ella comprende que la guerra está cambiando, no solo el paisaje a su alrededor, sino la vida que ella conoció cuando joven. El viento de la guerra se ha llevado el pasado para siempre y es evidente que las costumbres de su mundo han mutado irremediablemente. Esos cambios inducidos por la guerra influyeron en las transformaciones que la derrota causó en los líderes de los estados de la Confederación. Curiosamente, en su gran libro sobre la guerra Civil Norteamericana, Battle Cry of Freedom (1988, Ballantine Book, N.Y.) James M. McPherson argumenta que a pesar de que ya en Europa y en el resto del hemisferio occidental se había abolido la esclavitud y el servilismo institucionalizado, el Sur se aferraba a esos sistemas. Eso, según el eminente historiador, hizo que los siete estados secesionistas reclamaran que eran ellos los que estaban protegiendo los derechos y valores tradicionales según el norte se lanzaba a un futuro de capitalismo industrial. De hecho, Scarlett, contrario a la tradición de la “beldad sureña” (“southern belle”) se representa como alguien que comienza a adaptarse a las nuevas ideas norteñas.  Ya había demostrado ser un espíritu libre y autosuficiente, capaz de valerse por sí misma y defender lo suyo. Con el final de la guerra se convierte en la operadora de un aserradero, rompiendo así con las nociones tradicionales antiguas y demostrando su capacidad para los negocios.

Hoy día los derechos de las mujeres son parte de la cotidianidad, aunque aún faltan muchas barreras por derribar. Mas en 1939, en una película vista por poco menos de la mitad de la población de los EE UU (vendió sesenta millones de boletos en una población de cerca de ciento treinta millones de personas), ver a una mujer manejar un negocio y trabajar fuera del hogar no era la visión tradicional ni en el sur ni en el norte. En eso la película fue profética. Cuando la necesidad de producir barcos de guerra, tanques, aviones, armas, municiones, uniformes y otras necesidades para los soldados en dos frentes se agudizó durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, las mujeres emularon a Scarlett: fueron a trabajar para defender su vida y mantener sus hogares. En contraste con Scarlett, quien pasó a ser una matrona de sociedad, muchas mujeres de los 40 del siglo pasado, se quedaron trabajando y no volvieron a la vida tradicional de amas de casa.

Otros historiadores, incluyendo a McPherson, dan fe de que ningún suceso hizo tanto para cambiar la vida de la nación norteamericana como la Guerra Civil (1861-65). GWTW nos presenta el melodrama de Scarlett, Rhett Butler (Clark Gable, en quien pensó Mitchell mientras escribía su novela), Melanie (la extraordinaria Olivia de Havilland), Ashley (el perfecto Leslie Howard) y su familia, como uno que ejemplifica lo que debe de haber sucedido en muchos lugares del Sur Antebellum. En hacerlo plasmó para un gran público ese suceso transcendental que aún hoy día tiene relevancia. Solo hay que ver la división tajante entre conservadores y liberales en este momento, y, más allá de lo que nadie pudo haberse imaginado, la reacción que la derecha conservadora ha tenido ante un presidente negro, para darse cuenta de la profundidad de la herida causada por una guerra que cumple ciento cincuenta años de terminada en 2015. Tal parece que el impasse ideológico político de hoy día no es otra cosa que una lucha perniciosa que viene desde la Guerra Civil pero que se ha recrudecido e intensificado porque no había tenido un protagonista negro tan prominente. Una lucha cuyo resultado constitutivo y abolicionista ha logrado muy poco (como los sucesos en Ferguson atestiguan) en mejorar el prejuicio contra la gente de color y las relaciones raciales en los EEUU.

Aunque sigue teniendo sus críticos, GWTW es vista y admirada por miles. Según los tiempos han ido cambiando la estética cinemática también se ha transformado. La popularidad de las películas generadas por computadores y las técnicas de digitalización han hecho mella en la percepción de este clásico y de muchos otros. A pesar de eso uno puede apreciar GWTW como precursora de muchos temas que hoy día son causa de preocupación en la sociedad. Como sucede con muchos clásicos después de un tiempo la tentación de interpretaciones revisionistas es enorme. No empece, no cabe duda de que GWTW llega a su aniversario de diamante como un gran logro del cinema. Si no la han experimentado, háganlo y consideren analizar sus temas y postulados en el contexto de lo que ocurre hoy día en los Estados Unidos. Tendrán mucho de qué pensar.

Manuel Martínez Maldonado

Manuel Martínez Maldonado

Nació en Yauco, Puerto Rico. Fue crítico de cine de Caribbean Business, El Reportero y El Mundo en San Juan (1978 a 1989). Sus poemas y ensayos han aparecido en Yunque, Revista de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Caribán, Mairena, Pharos, Linden Lane, Resonancias, y la Revista del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. Ha publicado los poemarios La Voz Sostenida (Mairena,1984); Palm Beach Blues (Editorial Cultural, 1985); Por Amor al Arte (Playor, 1989); Hotel María (Verbum, 1999); y Novela de Mediodía (Editorial Cultural, 2003). También ha publicado las novelas Isla Verde (1999) y El vuelo del dragón (2011).

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