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Archive for 30 enero 2014

The Two Faces of Empire 
Melville Knew Them, We Still Live With Them 
By Greg Grandin

TomDispatch.com   January 26, 2014

A captain ready to drive himself and all around him to ruin in the hunt for a white whale. It’s a well-known story, and over the years, mad Ahab in Herman Melville’s most famous novel, Moby-Dick, has been used as an exemplar of unhinged American power, most recently of George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq.

But what’s really frightening isn’t our Ahabs, the hawks who periodically want to bomb some poor country, be it Vietnam or Afghanistan, back to the Stone Age.  The respectable types are the true “terror of our age,” as Noam Chomsky called them collectively nearly 50 years ago.  The really scary characters are our soberest politiciansscholarsjournalistsprofessionals, andmanagers, men and women (though mostly men) who imagine themselves asmorally serious, and then enable the wars, devastate the planet, and rationalize the atrocities.  They are a type that has been with us for a long time.  More than a century and a half ago, Melville, who had a captain for every face of empire, found their perfect expression — for his moment and ours.

For the last six years, I’ve been researching the life of an American seal killer, a ship captain named Amasa Delano who, in the 1790s, was among the earliest New Englanders to sail into the South Pacific.  Money was flush, seals were many, and Delano and his fellow ship captains established the first unofficial U.S. colonies on islands off the coast of Chile.  They operated under an informal council of captains, divvied up territory, enforced debt contracts, celebrated the Fourth of July, and set up ad hoc courts of law.  When no bible was available, the collected works of William Shakespeare, found in the libraries of most ships, were used to swear oaths.

From his first expedition, Delano took hundreds of thousands of sealskins to China, where he traded them for spices, ceramics, and tea to bring back to Boston.  During a second, failed voyage, however, an event took place that would make Amasa notorious — at least among the readers of the fiction of Herman Melville.

Here’s what happened: One day in February 1805 in the South Pacific, Amasa Delano spent nearly a full day on board a battered Spanish slave ship, conversing with its captain, helping with repairs, and distributing food and water to its thirsty and starving voyagers, a handful of Spaniards and about 70 West African men and women he thought were slaves. They weren’t.

Those West Africans had rebelled weeks earlier, killing most of the Spanish crew, along with the slaver taking them to Peru to be sold, and demanded to be returned to Senegal.  When they spotted Delano’s ship, they came up with a plan: let him board and act as if they were still slaves, buying time to seize the sealer’s vessel and supplies.  Remarkably, for nine hours, Delano, an experienced mariner and distant relative of future president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was convinced that he was on a distressed but otherwise normally functioning slave ship.

Having barely survived the encounter, he wrote about the experience in his memoir, which Melville read and turned into what many consider his “other” masterpiece.  Published in 1855, on the eve of the Civil War, Benito Cereno is one of the darkest stories in American literature.  It’s told from the perspective of Amasa Delano as he wanders lost through a shadow world of his own racial prejudices.

One of the things that attracted Melville to the historical Amasa was undoubtedly the juxtaposition between his cheerful self-regard — he considers himself a modern man, a liberal opposed to slavery — and his complete obliviousness to the social world around him.  The real Amasa was well meaning, judicious, temperate, and modest.

In other words, he was no Ahab, whose vengeful pursuit of a metaphysical whale has been used as an allegory for every American excess, every catastrophic war, every disastrous environmental policy, from Vietnam and Iraq to the explosion of the BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Ahab, whose peg-legged pacing of the quarterdeck of his doomed ship enters the dreams of his men sleeping below like the “crunching teeth of sharks.”  Ahab, whose monomania is an extension of the individualism born out of American expansion and whose rage is that of an ego that refuses to be limited by nature’s frontier.  “Our Ahab,” as a soldier in Oliver Stone’s moviePlatoon calls a ruthless sergeant who senselessly murders innocent Vietnamese.

Ahab is certainly one face of American power. In the course of writing a book on the history that inspired Benito Cereno, I’ve come to think of it as not the most frightening — or even the most destructive of American faces.  Consider Amasa.

Killing Seals

Since the end of the Cold War, extractive capitalism has spread over our post-industrialized world with a predatory force that would shock even Karl Marx.  From the mineral-rich Congo to the open-pit gold mines of Guatemala, from Chile’s until recently pristine Patagonia to the fracking fields of Pennsylvania and the melting Arctic north, there is no crevice where some useful rock, liquid, or gas can hide, no jungle forbidden enough to keep out the oil rigs and elephant killers, no citadel-like glacier, no hard-baked shale that can’t be cracked open, no ocean that can’t be poisoned.

And Amasa was there at the beginning.  Seal fur may not have been the world’s first valuable natural resource, but sealing represented one of young America’s first experiences of boom-and-bust resource extraction beyond its borders.

With increasing frequency starting in the early 1790s and then in a mad rush beginning in 1798, ships left New Haven, Norwich, Stonington, New London, and Boston, heading for the great half-moon archipelago of remote islands running from Argentina in the Atlantic to Chile in the Pacific.  They were on the hunt for the fur seal, which wears a layer of velvety down like an undergarment just below an outer coat of stiff gray-black hair.

In Moby-Dick, Melville portrayed whaling as the American industry.  Brutal and bloody but also humanizing, work on a whale ship required intense coordination and camaraderie.  Out of the gruesomeness of the hunt, the peeling of the whale’s skin from its carcass, and the hellish boil of the blubber or fat, something sublime emerged: human solidarity among the workers.  And like the whale oil that lit the lamps of the world, divinity itself glowed from the labor: “Thou shalt see it shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God.”

Sealing was something else entirely.  It called to mind not industrial democracy but the isolation and violence of conquest, settler colonialism, and warfare.  Whaling took place in a watery commons open to all.  Sealing took place on land.  Sealers seized territory, fought one another to keep it, and pulled out what wealth they could as fast as they could before abandoning their empty and wasted island claims.  The process pitted desperate sailors against equally desperate officers in as all-or-nothing a system of labor relations as can be imagined.

In other words, whaling may have represented the promethean power of proto-industrialism, with all the good (solidarity, interconnectedness, and democracy) and bad (the exploitation of men and nature) that went with it, but sealing better predicted today’s postindustrial extracted, hunted, drilled, fracked, hot, and strip-mined world.

Seals were killed by the millions and with a shocking casualness.  A group of sealers would get between the water and the rookeries and simply start clubbing.  A single seal makes a noise like a cow or a dog, but tens of thousands of them together, so witnesses testified, sound like a Pacific cyclone.  Once we “began the work of death,” one sealer remembered, “the battle caused me considerable terror.”

South Pacific beaches came to look like Dante’s Inferno.  As the clubbing proceeded, mountains of skinned, reeking carcasses piled up and the sands ran red with torrents of blood.  The killing was unceasing, continuing into the night by the light of bonfires kindled with the corpses of seals and penguins.

And keep in mind that this massive kill-off took place not for something like whale oil, used by all for light and fire.  Seal fur was harvested to warm the wealthy and meet a demand created by a new phase of capitalism: conspicuous consumption.  Pelts were used for ladies’ capes, coats, muffs, and mittens, and gentlemen’s waistcoats.  The fur of baby pups wasn’t much valued, so some beaches were simply turned into seal orphanages, with thousands of newborns left to starve to death.  In a pinch though, their downy fur, too, could be used — to make wallets.

Occasionally, elephant seals would be taken for their oil in an even more horrific manner: when they opened their mouths to bellow, their hunters would toss rocks in and then begin to stab them with long lances.  Pierced in multiple places like Saint Sebastian, the animals’ high-pressured circulatory system gushed “fountains of blood, spouting to a considerable distance.”

At first the frenetic pace of the killing didn’t matter: there were so many seals.  On one island alone, Amasa Delano estimated, there were “two to three millions of them” when New Englanders first arrived to make “a business of killing seals.”

“If many of them were killed in a night,” wrote one observer, “they would not be missed in the morning.”  It did indeed seem as if you could kill every one in sight one day, then start afresh the next.  Within just a few years, though, Amasa and his fellow sealers had taken so many seal skins to China that Canton’s warehouses couldn’t hold them.  They began to pile up on the docks, rotting in the rain, and their market price crashed.

To make up the margin, sealers further accelerated the pace of the killing — until there was nothing left to kill.  In this way, oversupply and extinction went hand in hand.  In the process, cooperation among sealers gave way to bloody battles over thinning rookeries.  Previously, it only took a few weeks and a handful of men to fill a ship’s hold with skins.  As those rookeries began to disappear, however, more and more men were needed to find and kill the required number of seals and they were often left on desolate islands for two- or three-year stretches, living alone in miserable huts in dreary weather, wondering if their ships were ever going to return for them.

“On island after island, coast after coast,” one historian wrote, “the seals had been destroyed to the last available pup, on the supposition that if sealer Tom did not kill every seal in sight, sealer Dick or sealer Harry would not be so squeamish.”  By 1804, on the very island where Amasa estimated that there had been millions of seals, there were more sailors than prey.  Two years later, there were no seals at all.

The Machinery of Civilization

There exists a near perfect inverse symmetry between the real Amasa and the fictional Ahab, with each representing a face of the American Empire.  Amasa is virtuous, Ahab vengeful.  Amasa seems trapped by the shallowness of his perception of the world.  Ahab is profound; he peers into the depths.  Amasa can’t see evil (especially his own). Ahab sees only nature’s “intangible malignity.”

Both are representatives of the most predatory industries of their day, their ships carrying what Delano once called the “machinery of civilization” to the Pacific, using steel, iron, and fire to kill animals and transform their corpses into value on the spot.

Yet Ahab is the exception, a rebel who hunts his white whale against all rational economic logic.  He has hijacked the “machinery” that his ship represents and rioted against “civilization.”  He pursues his quixotic chase in violation of the contract he has with his employers.  When his first mate, Starbuck, insists that his obsession will hurt the profits of the ship’s owners, Ahab dismisses the concern: “Let the owners stand on Nantucket beach and outyell the Typhoons. What cares Ahab?  Owners, Owners?  Thou art always prating to me, Starbuck, about those miserly owners, as if the owners were my conscience.”

Insurgents like Ahab, however dangerous to the people around them, are not the primary drivers of destruction.  They are not the ones who will hunt animals to near extinction — or who are today forcing the world to the brink.  Those would be the men who never dissent, who either at the frontlines of extraction or in the corporate backrooms administer the destruction of the planet, day in, day out, inexorably, unsensationally without notice, their actions controlled by an ever greater series of financial abstractions and calculations made in the stock exchanges of New York, London, and Shanghai.

If Ahab is still the exception, Delano is still the rule.  Throughout his long memoir, he reveals himself as ever faithful to the customs and institutions of maritime law, unwilling to take any action that would injure the interests of his investors and insurers.  “All bad consequences,” he wrote, describing the importance of protecting property rights, “may be avoided by one who has a knowledge of his duty, and is disposed faithfully to obey its dictates.”

It is in Delano’s reaction to the West African rebels, once he finally realizes he has been the target of an elaborately staged con, that the distinction separating the sealer from the whaler becomes clear.  The mesmeric Ahab — the “thunder-cloven old oak” — has been taken as a prototype of the twentieth-century totalitarian, a one-legged Hitler or Stalin who uses an emotional magnetism to convince his men to willingly follow him on his doomed hunt for Moby Dick.

Delano is not a demagogue.  His authority is rooted in a much more common form of power: the control of labor and the conversion of diminishing natural resources into marketable items.  As seals disappeared, however, so too did his authority.  His men first began to grouse and then conspire.  In turn, Delano had to rely ever more on physical punishment, on floggings even for the most minor of offences, to maintain control of his ship — until, that is, he came across the Spanish slaver.  Delano might have been personally opposed to slavery, yet once he realized he had been played for a fool, he organized his men to retake the slave ship and violently pacify the rebels.  In the process, they disemboweled some of the rebels and left them writhing in their viscera, using their sealing lances, which Delano described as “exceedingly sharp and as bright as a gentleman’s sword.”

Caught in the pincers of supply and demand, trapped in the vortex of ecological exhaustion, with no seals left to kill, no money to be made, and his own crew on the brink of mutiny, Delano rallied his men to the chase — not of a white whale but of black rebels.  In the process, he reestablished his fraying authority.  As for the surviving rebels, Delano re-enslaved them.  Propriety, of course, meant returning them and the ship to its owners.

Our Amasas, Ourselves

With Ahab, Melville looked to the past, basing his obsessed captain on Lucifer, the fallen angel in revolt against the heavens, and associating him with America’s “manifest destiny,” with the nation’s restless drive beyond its borders.  With Amasa, Melville glimpsed the future.  Drawing on the memoirs of a real captain, he created a new literary archetype, a moral man sure of his righteousness yet unable to link cause to effect, oblivious to the consequences of his actions even as he careens toward catastrophe.

They are still with us, our Amasas.  They have knowledge of their duty and are disposed faithfully to follow its dictates, even unto the ends of the Earth.

TomDispatch regular Greg Grandin’s new book, The Empire of Necessity:  Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World, has just been published. 

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The New Yorker    JANUARY 23, 2014

dr-strangelove-still-580.jpg

This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy about nuclear weapons, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Released on January 29, 1964, the film caused a good deal of controversy. Its plot suggested that a mentally deranged American general could order a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, without consulting the President. One reviewer described the film as “dangerous … an evil thing about an evil thing.” Another compared it to Soviet propaganda. Although “Strangelove” was clearly a farce, with the comedian Peter Sellers playing three roles, it was criticized for being implausible. An expert at the Institute for Strategic Studies called the events in the film “impossible on a dozen counts.” A former Deputy Secretary of Defense dismissed the idea that someone could authorize the use of a nuclear weapon without the President’s approval: “Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth.” (See a compendium of clips from the film.) When “Fail-Safe”—a Hollywood thriller with a similar plot, directed by Sidney Lumet—opened, later that year, it was criticized in much the same way. “The incidents in ‘Fail-Safe’ are deliberate lies!” General Curtis LeMay, the Air Force chief of staff, said. “Nothing like that could happen.” The first casualty of every war is the truth—and the Cold War was no exception to that dictum. Half a century after Kubrick’s mad general, Jack D. Ripper, launched a nuclear strike on the Soviets to defend the purity of “our precious bodily fluids” from Communist subversion, we now know that American officers did indeed have the ability to start a Third World War on their own. And despite the introduction of rigorous safeguards in the years since then, the risk of an accidental or unauthorized nuclear detonation hasn’t been completely eliminated.

The command and control of nuclear weapons has long been plagued by an “always/never” dilemma. The administrative and technological systems that are necessary to insure that nuclear weapons are always available for use in wartime may be quite different from those necessary to guarantee that such weapons can never be used, without proper authorization, in peacetime. During the nineteen-fifties and sixties, the “always” in American war planning was given far greater precedence than the “never.” Through two terms in office, beginning in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower struggled with this dilemma. He wanted to retain Presidential control of nuclear weapons while defending America and its allies from attack. But, in a crisis, those two goals might prove contradictory, raising all sorts of difficult questions. What if Soviet bombers were en route to the United States but the President somehow couldn’t be reached? What if Soviet tanks were rolling into West Germany but a communications breakdown prevented NATOofficers from contacting the White House? What if the President were killed during a surprise attack on Washington, D.C., along with the rest of the nation’s civilian leadership? Who would order a nuclear retaliation then?

With great reluctance, Eisenhower agreed to let American officers use their nuclear weapons, in an emergency, if there were no time or no means to contact the President. Air Force pilots were allowed to fire their nuclear anti-aircraft rockets to shoot down Soviet bombers heading toward the United States. And about half a dozen high-level American commanders were allowed to use far more powerful nuclear weapons, without contacting the White House first, when their forces were under attack and “the urgency of time and circumstances clearly does not permit a specific decision by the President, or other person empowered to act in his stead.” Eisenhower worried that providing that sort of authorization in advance could make it possible for someone to do “something foolish down the chain of command” and start an all-out nuclear war. But the alternative—allowing an attack on the United States to go unanswered or NATO forces to be overrun—seemed a lot worse. Aware that his decision might create public unease about who really controlled America’s nuclear arsenal, Eisenhower insisted that his delegation of Presidential authority be kept secret. At a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he confessed to being “very fearful of having written papers on this matter.”

President John F. Kennedy was surprised to learn, just a few weeks after taking office, about this secret delegation of power. “A subordinate commander faced with a substantial military action,” Kennedy was told in a top-secret memo, “could start the thermonuclear holocaust on his own initiative if he could not reach you.” Kennedy and his national-security advisers were shocked not only by the wide latitude given to American officers but also by the loose custody of the roughly three thousand American nuclear weapons stored in Europe. Few of the weapons had locks on them. Anyone who got hold of them could detonate them. And there was little to prevent NATO officers from Turkey, Holland, Italy, Great Britain, and Germany from using them without the approval of the United States.

In December, 1960, fifteen members of Congress serving on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy had toured NATO bases to investigate how American nuclear weapons were being deployed. They found that the weapons—some of them about a hundred times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima—were routinely guarded, transported, and handled by foreign military personnel. American control of the weapons was practically nonexistent. Harold Agnew, a Los Alamos physicist who accompanied the group, was especially concerned to see German pilots sitting in German planes that were decorated with Iron Crosses—and carrying American atomic bombs. Agnew, in his own words, “nearly wet his pants” when he realized that a lone American sentry with a rifle was all that prevented someone from taking off in one of those planes and bombing the Soviet Union.

* * *

The Kennedy Administration soon decided to put locking devices inside NATO’s nuclear weapons. The coded electromechanical switches, known as “permissive action links” (PALs), would be placed on the arming lines. The weapons would be inoperable without the proper code—and that code would be shared with NATO allies only when the White House was prepared to fight the Soviets. The American military didn’t like the idea of these coded switches, fearing that mechanical devices installed to improve weapon safety would diminish weapon reliability. A top-secret State Department memo summarized the view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1961: “all is well with the atomic stockpile program and there is no need for any changes.”

After a crash program to develop the new control technology, during the mid-nineteen-sixties, permissive action links were finally placed inside most of the nuclear weapons deployed by NATO forces. But Kennedy’s directive applied only to the NATO arsenal. For years, the Air Force and the Navy blocked attempts to add coded switches to the weapons solely in their custody. During a national emergency, they argued, the consequences of not receiving the proper code from the White House might be disastrous. And locked weapons might play into the hands of Communist saboteurs. “The very existence of the lock capability,” a top Air Force general claimed, “would create a fail-disable potential for knowledgeable agents to ‘dud’ the entire Minuteman [missile] force.” The Joint Chiefs thought that strict military discipline was the best safeguard against an unauthorized nuclear strike. A two-man rule was instituted to make it more difficult for someone to use a nuclear weapon without permission. And a new screening program, the Human Reliability Program, was created to stop people with emotional, psychological, and substance-abuse problems from gaining access to nuclear weapons.

Despite public assurances that everything was fully under control, in the winter of 1964, while “Dr. Strangelove” was playing in theatres and being condemned as Soviet propaganda, there was nothing to prevent an American bomber crew or missile launch crew from using their weapons against the Soviets. Kubrick had researched the subject for years, consulted experts, and worked closely with a former R.A.F. pilot, Peter George, on the screenplay of the film. George’s novel about the risk of accidental nuclear war, “Red Alert,” was the source for most of “Strangelove” ’s plot. Unbeknownst to both Kubrick and George, a top official at the Department of Defense had already sent a copy of “Red Alert” to every member of the Pentagon’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Ballistic Missiles. At the Pentagon, the book was taken seriously as a cautionary tale about what might go wrong. Even Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara privately worried that an accident, a mistake, or a rogue American officer could start a nuclear war.

Coded switches to prevent the unauthorized use of nuclear weapons were finally added to the control systems of American missiles and bombers in the early nineteen-seventies. The Air Force was not pleased, and considered the new security measures to be an insult, a lack of confidence in its personnel. Although the Air Force now denies this claim, according to more than one source I contacted, the code necessary to launch a missile was set to be the same at every Minuteman site: 00000000.

* * *

The early permissive action links were rudimentary. Placed in NATO weapons during the nineteen-sixties and known as Category A PALs, the switches relied on a split four-digit code, with ten thousand possible combinations. If the United States went to war, two people would be necessary to unlock a nuclear weapon, each of them provided with half the code. Category A PALs were useful mainly to delay unauthorized use, to buy time after a weapon had been taken or to thwart an individual psychotic hoping to cause a large explosion. A skilled technician could open a stolen weapon and unlock it within a few hours. Today’s Category D PALs, installed in the Air Force’s hydrogen bombs, are more sophisticated. They require a six-digit code, with a million possible combinations, and have a limited-try feature that disables a weapon when the wrong code is repeatedly entered.

The Air Force’s land-based Minuteman III missiles and the Navy’s submarine-based Trident II missiles now require an eight-digit code—which is no longer 00000000—in order to be launched. The Minuteman crews receive the code via underground cables or an aboveground radio antenna. Sending the launch code to submarines deep underwater presents a greater challenge. Trident submarines contain two safes. One holds the keys necessary to launch a missile; the other holds the combination to the safe with the keys; and the combination to the safe holding the combination must be transmitted to the sub by very-low-frequency or extremely-low-frequency radio. In a pinch, if Washington, D.C., has been destroyed and the launch code doesn’t arrive, the sub’s crew can open the safes with a blowtorch.

The security measures now used to control America’s nuclear weapons are a vast improvement over those of 1964. But, like all human endeavors, they are inherently flawed. The Department of Defense’s Personnel Reliability Program is supposed to keep people with serious emotional or psychological issues away from nuclear weapons—and yet two of the nation’s top nuclear commanders were recently removed from their posts. Neither appears to be the sort of calm, stable person you want with a finger on the button. In fact, their misbehavior seems straight out of “Strangelove.”

Vice Admiral Tim Giardina, the second-highest-ranking officer at the U.S. Strategic Command—the organization responsible for all of America’s nuclear forces—-was investigated last summer for allegedly using counterfeit gambling chips at the Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa. According to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, “a significant monetary amount” of counterfeit chips was involved. Giardina was relieved of his command on October 3, 2013. A few days later, Major General Michael Carey, the Air Force commander in charge of America’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, was fired for conduct “unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.” According to a report by the Inspector General of the Air Force, Carey had consumed too much alcohol during an official trip to Russia, behaved rudely toward Russian officers, spent time with “suspect” young foreign women in Moscow, loudly discussed sensitive information in a public hotel lounge there, and drunkenly pleaded to get onstage and sing with a Beatles cover band at La Cantina, a Mexican restaurant near Red Square. Despite his requests, the band wouldn’t let Carey onstage to sing or to play the guitar.

While drinking beer in the executive lounge at Moscow’s Marriott Aurora during that visit, General Carey made an admission with serious public-policy implications. He off-handedly told a delegation of U.S. national-security officials that his missile-launch officers have the “worst morale in the Air Force.” Recent events suggest that may be true. In the spring of 2013, nineteen launch officers at Minot Air Force base in North Dakota were decertified for violating safety rules and poor discipline. In August, 2013, the entire missile wing at Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana failed its safety inspection. Last week, the Air Force revealed that thirty-four launch officers at Malmstrom had been decertified for cheating on proficiency exams—and that at least three launch officers are being investigated for illegal drug use. The findings of a report by the RAND Corporation, leaked to the A.P., were equally disturbing. The study found that the rates of spousal abuse and court martials among Air Force personnel with nuclear responsibilities are much higher than those among people with other jobs in the Air Force. “We don’t care if things go properly,” a launch officer told RAND. “We just don’t want to get in trouble.”

The most unlikely and absurd plot element in “Strangelove” is the existence of a Soviet “Doomsday Machine.” The device would trigger itself, automatically, if the Soviet Union were attacked with nuclear weapons. It was meant to be the ultimate deterrent, a threat to destroy the world in order to prevent an American nuclear strike. But the failure of the Soviets to tell the United States about the contraption defeats its purpose and, at the end of the film, inadvertently causes a nuclear Armageddon. “The whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost,” Dr. Strangelove, the President’s science adviser, explains to the Soviet Ambassador, “if you keep it a secret!”

A decade after the release of “Strangelove,” the Soviet Union began work on the Perimeter system—-a network of sensors and computers that could allow junior military officials to launch missiles without oversight from the Soviet leadership. Perhaps nobody at the Kremlin had seen the film. Completed in 1985, the system was known as the Dead Hand. Once it was activated, Perimeter would order the launch of long-range missiles at the United States if it detected nuclear detonations on Soviet soil and Soviet leaders couldn’t be reached. Like the Doomsday Machine in “Strangelove,” Perimeter was kept secret from the United States; its existence was not revealed until years after the Cold War ended.

In retrospect, Kubrick’s black comedy provided a far more accurate description of the dangers inherent in nuclear command-and-control systems than the ones that the American people got from the White House, the Pentagon, and the mainstream media.

“This is absolute madness, Ambassador,” President Merkin Muffley says in the film, after being told about the Soviets’ automated retaliatory system. “Why should you build such a thing?” Fifty years later, that question remains unanswered, and “Strangelove” seems all the more brilliant, bleak, and terrifyingly on the mark.

You can read Eric Schlosser’s guide to the long-secret documents that help explain the risks America took with its nuclear arsenal, and watch and read his deconstruction of clips from “Dr. Strangelove” and from a little-seen film about permissive action links.

Eric Schlosser is the author of “Command and Control.”

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An index to more than 10 million New York City birth, marriage and death records from 1866 to 1948 is available free online thanks to a collaboration between the city’s Department of Records and Ancestry.com.

While access to the index is free, the documents themselves must be purchased from the city.

“When researching the American side of your family history, the likelihood of an ancestor either living in New York City or immigrating through it is very high,” said Todd Godfrey, director of content acquisition at Ancestry.com.

“We are pleased to have teamed up with Ancestry.com in making this easily searchable index of New York City’s vital records available online for free,” said Eileen Flannelly, commissioner of the city’s Records Department. The indexes were created by volunteers from the Italian Genealogical Group and the German Genealogy Group, Ms. Flannelly said.

The index can be found here. (This is a different, better link than the one originally published here.)

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Doris Kearns Goodwin Tackles the “Irrepressible Conflict” of 1912

by Sheldon M. Stern

HNN  January 22, 2014

Image via Wiki Commons.

There are few things that fascinate historical writers and readers more than moments at which events take a very clear and decisive turn in one direction versus another — for example — the stories of how Franklin Roosevelt chose Harry Truman (1944) and John Kennedy chose Lyndon Johnson (1960) as vice-presidential running mates. If FDR and JFK had lived to complete their terms these choices would be little more than historical footnotes. But, of course, they didn’t. As a result, the dramatic appeal of these turning-point episodes is never-ending; and, as revealed in Robert Caro’s 2012 reexamination of the selection of LBJ, new evidence and insights continue to reshape assumptions that have often held sway for decades. (1)

However, no decisive moment in the history of the American presidency is more dramatic, indeed, almost redolent of a Greek or Shakespearian tragedy, than the collapse of the personal friendship and political partnership of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft between 1909 and 1912. This saga, which had profound implications for the decade of World War I and beyond, has been the focus of several major studies since 2002. Kathleen Dalton devoted nearly two hundred pages of her TR biography to his post-White House years; Patricia O’Toole’s examination of Roosevelt’s last decade covered more than four hundred pages; and Edmund Morris, in the final volume of his TR trilogy, devoted nearly six hundred pages to the same ten years. (2)

Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose intuitive grasp of the interstices between politics and personality has produced vivid insights into the public and private lives of Lyndon Johnson, the Kennedy family, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, has now added her perspective to the Roosevelt-Taft story. (3) The tale unfolds against the backdrop of an intensifying state and national progressive reform movement, supported by an exceptionally talented group of journalists assembled at McClure’s Magazine. Ray Stannard Baker, Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, and William Allen White were committed to exposing the corrupt, covert power amassed by corporate special interests and their political allies in the decades since the end of Reconstruction. Goodwin skillfully balances two concurrent stories: the personal and political intimacy that developed between Roosevelt and Taft (TR’s most reliable associate and trouble shooter) and the unprecedented and mutually advantageous relationship which Roosevelt shrewdly cultivated with this influential corps of journalists.

Goodwin, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is at her best in setting the stage — that is, in giving the reader a vivid sense of the social, economic, and family contexts that produced Roosevelt and Taft; they were both the sons of wealthy, public-spirited families which valued principled and honest public service, particularly in the wake of the industrial revolution which had created a vast and growing gap between the very rich and the working poor. The early TR story is, of course, very well-known, but Goodwin also gives equal attention to the far less familiar story of big Bill Taft, whose personality and temperament were virtually antithetical to that of his friend Roosevelt. Their personal and political relationship was, in many ways, an attraction of opposites.

TR was a man of action, who loved the spotlight and the chance to publicly take on those who differed with him on politics, science, history, literature or anything else — a political animal to the core. He was devoted to his wife Edith and their six children, (4) but rarely allowed her objections to get in the way of his preferred course of action. Edith, whose early life is discussed in revealing detail, was an intensely private person; she did not want her husband to leave his family for nearly a year of hunting in Africa in 1909, opposed his decision to run for president again in 1912, and resisted his determination to lead a mapping expedition into the Brazilian wilderness (which nearly cost him his life) in 1913-1914. Nonetheless, he made and carried out these decisions, often leaving Edith lonely and depressed.

Taft, known for his genial personal warmth, preferred to work in the background; he was an excellent administrator with a judicial temperament who always tried to objectively weigh both sides of an argument. He carried out every presidential assignment with skill and even-handedness, became the most valued man in TR’s Cabinet, and virtually served as acting president during Roosevelt’s extended tour of the western states in 1905. Nellie Taft, unlike Edith Roosevelt, adored politics and had been committed to becoming a president’s wife ever since she first visited the White House as a young girl during the Hayes administration. Nellie’s character and ambition, deftly rendered by Goodwin, was clearly a central factor in Taft’s private and public life.

Bill Taft was acutely dependent on his wife’s love, support, and advice, often deferring to her on critical decisions. She, as well as his politically influential brothers, Horace and Charles, wanted him to be president; he wanted to be Chief Justice of the United States. His mother, Louise Torrey Taft, sympathized with her son’s reluctance to seek the highest political prize in the land: “A place on the Supreme Bench, where my boy would administer justice, is my ambition for him. His is a judicial mind, you know, and he loves the law.” She explicitly cautioned her son: “Roosevelt is a good fighter and enjoys it, but the malice of the politicians would make you miserable.” (5) The result: he listened to his wife and brothers, turned down three offers from TR to be appointed to the High Court, and ran for president instead — with ultimately calamitous results for his personal and family happiness.

Goodwin skillfully highlights the stark contrast between the intimacy and trust once enjoyed by TR and Taft and the depths of personal and public bitterness that followed — so much so that it’s almost like reading two entirely separate books. The first part, carrying the story to early 1909, allows her to demonstrate the best of her insight and interpretive originality. In the second part, the details of which are so much more familiar, the task is considerably more difficult since most of the primary sources on the 1912 rift have already been extensively mined by countless journalists and historians. It is impossible, of course, to try to isolate a single cause for such a complex human and political drama. Perhaps, as Goodwin suggests, the conflict was all but inevitable in light of Taft’s self-doubt about his ability to serve as an executive leader and TR’s yearning to hold on to power — at least through his influence on (and over) the man he had selected to succeed him.

Early in 1912, as he was about to announce his candidacy, TR told an old college friend: “What do I owe to Taft? It was through me and my friends that he became President.” (6) In fact, Roosevelt had repeatedly (and successfully) delegated the most difficult political and diplomatic assignments to Taft. One newspaper commented humorously that it was too bad that Mr. Taft could not be cut in two. In 1906, Secretary of War Taft toured the country as the administration’s spokesman in the mid-term Congressional elections. Roosevelt was “overjoyed” by the results (small losses in the House and four seats gained in the Senate) and told his devoted ally, “I cannot sufficiently congratulate you upon the great part you have played in the contest.” (7)

The first signs of the impending debacle had appeared just after Taft won the 1908 Republican presidential nomination. The nominee announced publicly that he was planning to bring the final draft of his acceptance speech to TR’s Oyster Bay home for discussion and possible revision. The press blasted this “humiliating pilgrimage,” comparing Taft to “a schoolboy about to submit his composition to the teacher before he read it in school.” Some journalists even joked that T.A.F.T. meant “take advice from Theodore.” The nominee understood the need to demonstrate his independence but responded, rather guilelessly, that he also had “the highest regard for the president’s judgment and a keen appreciation of his wonderful ability for forceful expression.” (8)

Roosevelt’s officious response to Taft’s request for comments on the speech illustrates precisely what the candidate was up against: (9)

Both of the first two paragraphs should certainly be omitted. The rest of the speech is I think admirable, with two or three corrections. On pages thirty-seven and thirty-eight reference to bank deposits is weak and most of it should be omitted. It is apologetic and hesitating and would give advantage to opponents. The last two thirds of page forty-six should be omitted and supplanted by something else, or at least entirely changed. In present shape, there are phrases that would not please the negro and would displease the white. I do not like the stray pages about injunction and am doubtful about the page concerning the identity of interest of employer and employees. … The first two paragraphs should for different reasons certainly come out.

The president also included a personal admonition:

I think that the number of times my name is used should be cut down. You are now the leader, and there must be nothing that looks like self-depreciation or undue submission of yourself. My name should be used only enough thoroly [likely an example of TR’s quixotic campaign to reform spelling] to convince people of the identity and continuity of our policies.

Talk about mixed messages! TR does not merely make suggestions for changes in the speech, but essentially orders them in a peremptory tone much like that of the traditional nineteenth century rod-and-ruler school teacher. At the same time, he urges Taft to publicly affirm his independence! Perhaps Roosevelt really wanted Taft to merely make the public appearance of greater independence while remaining privately in thrall to his mentor’s personality and policies. The president, in any case, seemed genuinely incapable of understanding the bind in which he was placing his likely successor. Taft was understandably very ambivalent — first announcing after his election that he would keep Roosevelt’s cabinet intact and then clumsily angering his former chief by making major changes to demonstrate that he was really in charge. He was damned in the eyes of TR and the progressives if he replaced key administration reformers and damned by the press and much of the GOP Old Guard if he didn’t. It was hardly an auspicious way to kick off a new administration.

By early 1912, once it became clear that TR would challenge him for the nomination, a despondent Taft looked back at two years of increasingly bitter conflict with his former chief and told his aide Archie Butt: “I could not ask his advice on all questions. I could not subordinate my administration to him and retain my self-respect, but it is hard, very hard, Archie, to see a devoted friendship going to pieces like a rope of sand.” (10)

Goodwin seems personally sympathetic to Taft, but politically sympathetic to the activism championed by Roosevelt — hailed as “the trustbuster” by progressive reformers. Taft, with considerable justification, pointed to the fact that his Justice Department had brought ninety antitrust suits in four years as compared to only forty-four by Roosevelt in nearly eight years. TR, however, had insisted publicly on a “moral” definition of “good” vs. “bad” trusts; but Taft was committed to dispassionately carrying out the law — a textbook definition of the difference between a politician and a judge.

The key factor that drove this personal and political disaster was almost certainly Theodore Roosevelt’s failure to face the fact that he desperately wanted to return to the White House — a conclusion about which Goodwin seems somewhat ambivalent. TR, of course, frequently spoke and wrote about his contentment with private life at Sagamore Hill with his wife and children — but, as Patricia O’Toole insists, he never grasped, “that most of the challenges to adjusting to life without power lay in his own character.” A man of action rather than reflection, he understood his own motives “no better than fish understand water,” regularly deceiving himself about his own ambition. (11)

Colonel Roosevelt had insisted that he would not lift a finger to win the nomination unless it became an irresistible public duty to accept a spontaneous and unsolicited call from the American people. That “call” came in February 1912, when a group of eight progressive Republican governors published a round-robin letter declaring that TR was the clear choice of the great majority of Republican voters. But, as Goodwin makes clear, Roosevelt had arranged in advance “to answer their demand with an announcement of his candidacy. … the Colonel was orchestrating every detail of how and when to respond publicly to the round-robin letter he himself had initiated.” Even Alice Roosevelt, thrilled by her father’s decision to throw his hat into the ring, admitted that the letter had been “somewhat ‘cooked.’” (12) The “Saturnalia” (as Goodwin aptly calls it) that followed was, by any definition, an irrepressible conflict.

* * * * *

1 Robert Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power, Knopf, 2012, pp. 109-156.

2 Kathleen Dalton, Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life, Knopf, 2002; Patricia O’Toole, When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt after the White House, Simon &m Schuster, 2005; Edmund Morris , Colonel Roosevelt, Random House, 2010.

3 Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of American Journalism, Simon and Schuster, 2013.

4 Alice, the oldest, was the child of TR’s first wife, who died of Bright’s disease at age twenty-two in 1884.

5 Goodwin, Bully Pulpit, p. 521.

6 Ibid., 682.

7 Ibid., pp. 501, 510.

8 American President — a Reference Resource: http://millercenter.org/president/taft/essays/biography/print; Goodwin, Bully Pulpit, p. 549.

9 Elting E. Morison, editor, The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt: The Big Stick, 1907-1909, Volume VI, Harvard University Press, 1952, pp. 1139-40.

10 Lawrence F. Abbott, ed., Taft and Roosevelt: The Intimate Letters of Archie Butt, Volume 2, Doubleday, Doran, 1930, p. 803.

11 O’Toole, When Trumpets Call, pp. 123, 128.

12 Goodwin, Bully Pulpit, pp. 673, 677; Joseph L. Gardner, Departing Glory: Theodore Roosevelt as Ex-President, Scribner’s, 1973, p. 214.

Sheldon M. Stern is the author of numerous articles and Averting ‘the Final Failure’: John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings (2003), The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis (2005), and The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myths vs. Reality (2012), in the Stanford University Press Nuclear Age Series. He was Historian at the Kennedy Library from 1977 to 2000.

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Civil War in the Senate

By JONATHAN W. WHITE
New York Times   January 17, 2014

No word was more hotly contested during the Civil War than “loyalty.” Republicans persistently accused Democrats of disloyalty and treason for opposing Republican war measures, and no Democrat was immune from accusations of disloyalty, even at the highest levels of the government.

Senator Garrett Davis, Democrat of Kentucky Library of Congress

Senator Garrett Davis, Democrat of Kentucky
Library of Congress

But Democrats gave as good as they got, accusing the Republicans of disloyalty to the Constitution. On Jan. 5, 1864, Senator Garrett Davis of Kentucky introduced a series of resolutions denouncing the Lincoln administration’s allegedly unconstitutional actions. Taking up five full pages in the Senate Journal, the resolutions accused Lincoln of destroying the constitutional rights of both Northern and Southern civilians, and claimed that the president sought to “subjugate” and “revolutionize” the South by abolishing slavery. Davis called on all conservative Americans, North and South, to turn against their war leaders and elect delegates for a national convention that would negotiate an end to the war.

Davis, an antebellum Whig who had originally been a firm supporter of the war, had become disillusioned by the changing nature of the conflict. To him, the war was no longer about Union, but conquest, abolition and centralization.

Many observers were struck by the bitter language of Davis’s resolutions. One fellow senator claimed that Davis’s criticisms of Lincoln were harsher than Thomas Jefferson’s grievances against King George in the Declaration of Independence. On Jan. 8, Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts introduced a resolution calling for Davis’s expulsion from the Senate. Citing one of Davis’s resolutions “in which, among other things, it is declared that ‘the people [of the] North ought to revolt against their war leaders and take this great matter into their own hands,’” Wilson accused Davis of seeking “to incite the people of the United States to revolt against the President … and to take the prosecution of the war into their own hands.”

Library of CongressSenator Garrett Davis, Democrat of KentuckDavis immediately protested that this was “a garbled version of my resolution,” and that Wilson’s “jaundiced, narrow mind” made him “wholly incompetent to give a proper rendering of those resolutions.” (Indeed, Wilson had blatantly misrepresented them. By omitting any mention of the South, or of Davis’s call for a national peace convention, Wilson portrayed Davis as wanting to inflame civil war and bloodshed in the North, when in reality, Davis hoped to end hostilities by uniting the peace elements in both sections.)

The nature and purpose of free speech became a central part of the debate over Davis’s resolutions. Davis lamented that “if any man has the audacity to question” the measures of the Republican majority, he “is branded and denounced by them as disloyal, as a traitor.” But the minority party possessed a right — if not a duty, he said — to criticize the majority.

Amazingly, several Republicans came to Davis’s defense. William Pitt Fessenden of Maine argued that Davis’s words had been taken out of context in order to distort their meaning. It would be better to debate the issues, Fessenden declared, and let the voters decide which view was best. Similarly, John P. Hale of New Hampshire thought that punishing Davis would be a sign of weakness, and that the resolutions should be answered, not censored.

Even Lazarus W. Powell, a Kentucky Democrat whom Davis, during his pro-war days, had tried to have expelled for disloyalty in 1862, praised his former antagonist, arguing that Davis’s resolutions against Lincoln were prompted by “love of country.” Any senator “who believes there has been maladministration of the Government” but “has not the courage or manhood” to “sound the alarm … is an unworthy representative of a free people.”

It quickly became apparent that two-thirds of the Senate would not vote to expel Davis, so the Radical Republican Jacob Howard of Michigan proposed instead to censure him. “Like other rights,” Howard declared, free speech “is to be used in subordination to the public welfare — used to support and not to destroy the Government; and he is little better than a madman who claims to use it for the very purpose of breaking in pieces the shield by which it is protected.” Senator Wilson concurred, arguing that freedom of speech could be limited “when those words and acts give aid and comfort to enemies who are seeking to blot it from the muster-roll of nations.”

Howard’s proposition struck many senators as even more insidious than expulsion, since censure could be attained by a simple majority vote. Either censure or expulsion, explained the Republican Henry S. Lane of Indiana, would do more to silence free speech in the Senate than the caning of Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts had in 1856. Realizing that this effort had little momentum, Wilson withdrew his resolution on Jan. 28.

During the debate over Davis’s expulsion, Senate Republicans devised a different way to rid their body of another vocal Copperhead. In March 1863, Sumner had introduced a resolution to require that all senators swear an ironclad test oath professing both past and future loyalty to the United States. Democrats opposed this new requirement, claiming that Congress could not require a new oath of members who had already been sworn into office, that it went beyond the oath required by the Constitution, and that it was retrospective rather than promissory. After a short debate, Senate Republicans voluntarily subscribed to the oath, and most Democrats reluctantly followed suit. By December 1863 all but two senators had voluntarily taken it.

But in January 1864, Sumner’s resolution resurfaced in the Senate, with Republicans claiming that it was necessary “to keep from this body traitors in arms against the Government.” Both sides recognized that the resolution was aimed at James A. Bayard Jr., a Peace Democrat from Delaware. In response, Bayard claimed that his “past life and conduct ought to be a sufficient answer” to any charges against his patriotism. If he did not believe it was unconstitutional to require the ironclad test oath of congressmen, he declared, he would take it “without a moment’s hesitation as readily as any member of this body.”

On Jan. 25, the Republicans pressed Sumner’s resolution to a vote, and it passed over strenuous Democratic objections. The next day Bayard took the oath and then immediately resigned his seat.

In his final act as a senator during the Civil War, Bayard delivered a speech explaining his actions. He recounted how he had favored peaceable separation before the firing began. The progress of the war only confirmed his initial intuition. The North was now waging a war of “subjugation,” and the liberties of Northerners had been sacrificed at its altar. Elections in his home state had been controlled by the military, and citizens of Delaware were daily arrested without warrants, known accusers, charges, hearings or trials.

But very few, if any, of his colleagues shared his concerns. “Standing therefore almost alone in this body, I have lost the hope that I can longer be of service to my country or my State,” Bayard declared. “With a firm conviction that your decision inflicts a vital wound upon free representative government, I cannot, by continuing to hold the seat I now occupy under it, give my personal assent and sanction to its propriety. To do so, I must forfeit my own self-respect and sacrifice my clear convictions of duty for the sake merely of retaining a high trust and station with its emoluments. That will I never do.”

While Bayard professed indignation at the prospect of having to take the ironclad test oath, in truth, it is a wonder that he could have taken it conscientiously. His private correspondence reveals a man who wanted the South to win the war (he called it an “invasion of another people” as early as September 1861), and who privately expressed sorrow when the rebels suffered military defeats. “I feel very sad to-day for I believe there is truth in the report that New Orleans has fallen, and I think Savannah will follow,” he wrote in April 1862. “Yet all this will not end but only prolong this wretched war, & its devastation.” Throughout the war Bayard somehow held on to the increasingly untenable position that only “peaceful separation” would bring the war to a close.

Radical Republicans in the Senate had long wished to rid themselves of Bayard, but he had never committed a crime or public indiscretion to justify it. Bayard’s refusal to take the oath, however, opened a window of opportunity that proved much easier than expulsion. What they could not accomplish with Garrett Davis, whose “disloyal” speech was protected by the Constitution, the radicals could do with James A. Bayard. Through a simple change in Senate rules, the Republicans compelled a conscientious rebel sympathizer to resign his seat.

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Jonathan W. White is an assistant professor of American studies at Christopher Newport University. He is the author of “Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War: The Trials of John Merryman” and “Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln.” He is also writing a book called “Midnight in America: A History of Sleep and Dreams during the Civil War.”

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En su primer año en la presidencia, Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) inició un programa de reformas sociales que en su conjunto son conocidas como la Gran Sociedad y que estaba basado en dos objetivos centrales: acabar con la pobreza y con la injusticia racial. El Presidente buscó trasformar al país por medio de una serie de importantes reformas. En 1964, Johnson logró que el Congreso aprobara la Ley de Derechos Civiles  y una reducción en los impuestos de unos $10 mil millones, que produjo un aumento en el capital de inversión y en el consumo personal.  Como resultado, la economía creció y el déficit presupuestario se redujo.

Johnson también le declaró la guerra a la pobreza. La prosperidad de la década de 1950 no acabó con la pobreza en los Estados Unidos. En su clásica obra The Other America (1962), el activista político Michael Harrington alegaba que 40 millones de estadounidenses no tenían una dieta apropiada y vivían en pésimas condiciones. Con muy poca o ninguna ayuda estatal, los pobres estaban atrapados en círculo vicioso que no les permitía salir de la  cultura de la pobreza.  La falta de educación, cuidado médico y empleo les condenaban, según Harrington, a ser “extranjeros” en su propio país. Para enfrentar esta situación, LBJ propuso la creación de programas de entrenamiento que permitieran que los pobres se integraran a la economía norteamericana. En 1964 fue aprobada la Ley de Oportunidades Económicas creando una entidad federal –la Oficina de Oportunidades Económicas–  encargada de combatir la pobreza. El arsenal de la administración Johnson contra la pobreza incluyó los creación de los “Job Corps”, una especie de Cuerpos de Paz locales, y la creación del programa de Head Star para niños preescolares, entre otros.

Los programas de la Gran Sociedad causaron revuelo entre los conservadores, entre ellos, el Senador por Arizona Barry Goldwater. Goldwater se oponía  al crecimiento del gobierno a través de la creación de programas de asistencia social y del gasto deficitario. El Senador también se opuso a las medidas a favor de la integración ración racial de la sociedad norteamericana. Para las elecciones de 1964, los conservadores, con Goldwater a la cabeza, tomaron el control del Partido Republicano y adoptaron un plataforma completamente opuesta a la Gran Sociedad.  Durante la campaña presidencial, Goldwater criticó la Ley de Derechos Civiles, la guerra contra la pobreza, la política exterior de Johnson, etc.  Sin embargo, ello no fue suficiente para evitar una gran victoria Demócrata, pues Johnson fue electo con el 61.1% de los votos populares (43,127,041 votos). Goldwater sólo recibió el 38.5% de los votos populares (27,175,754 votos) y sólo ganó 6 de los 50 estados de la Unión.

Fortalecido por una victoria aplastante, LBJ impulsó su programa de reformas. En 1965 fueron creados el Medicare y el Medicaid para proveer de servicios médicos gratuitos a los ancianos y los recipientes de ayuda social o welfare, respectivamente. También fueron aprobadas leyes proveyendo mil millones de dólares para la educación elemental y secundaria, suspendiendo las pruebas de alfabetismo como requisito electoral, asignando $8 mil millones a programas de vivienda, asignando $650 millones para becas y préstamos a bajo interés para estudiantes universitarios, creando la National Endowment for the Arts para promover la producción artística y el desarrollo cultural, y aboliendo el sistema de cuotas migratorias creado en 1924, abriendo nuevamente las puertas de los Estados Unidos a los inmigrantes.

Fuente: CARPE DIEM Professor Mark J. Perry's Blog for Economics and Finance (http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2010/09/us-poverty-rate-1959-to-2009.html)

Fuente: CARPE DIEM Professor Mark J. Perry’s Blog for Economics and Finance (http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2010/09/us-poverty-rate-1959-to-2009.html)

En términos generales, la Gran Sociedad tuvo un impacto positivo en las vidas de millones de estadounidenses. Prueba de ello es que la proporción de pobres bajó de 22% en 1960 a 13% en 1969, la mortalidad infantil bajó un tercio, los Head Star atendieron a 2 millones de niños y el ingreso de las familias afroamericanas aumento de un 54% a 61% del ingreso de sus homologas  blancas. El porcentaje de ciudadanos negros en la pobreza bajó de 40 a 20%. En sus primeros diez años de existencia, el Medicare y el Medicare proveyeron asistencia médica a 47 millones de norteamericanos a un costo de $28 mil millones. Sin embargo, la participación de los Estados Unidos en la guerra de Vietnam comprometió el programa liberal. Para 1966, el gobierno federal gastaba 20 veces más en el conflicto indochino, que en la lucha contra la pobreza. Además, no todos los estadounidenses estaban felices con el liberalismo de LBJ. Muchos rechazaban la regulación de los negocios y la intervención del gobierno federal en la educación pública.  Otros, veían con recelo el crecimiento del gobierno federal y su intervención de la vida de los norteamericanos. Las elecciones legislativas de 1966 sirvieron de barómetro nacional, pues los demócratas perdieron 47 representantes, lo que selló el destino del reformismo de Johnson.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez, PhD

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