Order vs. Democracy

You never know how a planned class discussion will go or the direction it will take.  Today my survey courses explored some primary sources which lay out American foreign policy in the late 1940s.  I asked my students to think about the challenges that emerged by the end of WWII and how those challenges sent the United States down a very different path compared with its response to WWI.  I show clips from videos about the Red Scare and HUAC meetings along with images of hydrogen bombs and the classic "Duck and Cover."  In class today we read through Harry Truman’s 1947 address (Truman Doctrine/Containment) to Congress in which he asks for $400,000 400 million dollars to be used to help the nations of Turkey and Greece deal with civil war and the "threat" of communism.  It’s a fairly easy document for students to interpret and it beautifully sets up this country’s foreign policy for the next 50 years.  We talked about this along with the question of what responsibilities the United States was faced with in the aftermath of WWII.  In short, students had to think about what kind of world the United States was attempting to bring about through its actions? 

As we went through the document we came across the following line: "I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid, which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes."  One of my students was struck by the last few words and asked for an explanation.  I asked the class which word stood out and they suggested the word "order."  What is an orderly political process?  A few of the students suggested that it is a democratic system, but than another student suggested that it may not involve democracy.  What a wonderful teaching moment, and one that I did not want to slip away.  With the relationship between order and political systems in mind I asked the class to reflect on the war in Iraq as a case study.  We agreed that one of the goals of the Bush administration was to bring democracy to the country, but that at this point it was unlikely that such a lofty goal is still possible.  I then asked the class to think about what they would be willing to comprise for.  Would they settle for a nation that was without the kinds of political opportunities – the hallmarks of democracy – that we take for granted in exchange for "order" and stability.  Would this be satisfactory narrowly understood in terms of what is best for our foreign policy.  We can imagine a country that is stable without the kinds of violence that have grown all too common, but that maintains "friendly" relations with the United States.  One student asked whether both the Iraqi people and the United States would be better off with Saddam Hussein in power.  Is order along with authoritarian violence rather than a democracy sufficient from this perspective?  I tend not to answer these types of questions for fear that I may influence their thinking, but I was surprised by how many students agreed with this assessment.  I wanted the class to consider the possibility that American security may have to do with external conditions that go beyond concerns for freedom and democracy.  It’s not meant as an indictment, but as a comment on the history of America’s foreign relations. 

American foreign policy is incredibly complex following WWII.  It straddles both a concern for democracy and freedom on the one hand along with very practical decisions that highlight "order" and stability over human rights.  We didn’t come to any firm conclusions in connection with all of this, but it is nice to know that the class will be able to consider different moments of American interventionism during the Cold War within a wide context that considers a range of factors. 

0 comments

A Sad Day

All of you have heard about the news coming out of Virginia Tech.  I learned about it during our lunch hour and had to watch a few of my colleagues scramble to touch base with spouses and children who attend school or work at the school.  Every year we send some of our best students to Virginia Tech and I know a couple of people who teach in the History Department.  My thoughts go out to the families of the victims and rest of the Virginia Tech community. 

This is truly a horrible day.

2 comments

Correction, he actually said “That damn flag needs to come down.”

University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier on the Confederate flag

3 comments

Karen Cox on the United Daughters of the Confederacy

Karen Cox, William Blair and others recently spoke at the “The Legacy of Stones River: Remembering the Civil War" which was held in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Cox is the author of the excellent book, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation
of Confederate Culture
(University of Florida Press, 2003).  The book offers the most comprehensive analysis of the social make-up of the organization over time and its agenda.  This article provides an overview of her talk and a preview of the book:

The United Daughters of the Confederacy was an outgrowth of the various
benevolent aid societies and ladies memorial groups that developed during and
after the war, Cox said.  Initially these groups had worked to aid the war
effort and to help the widows and children of Confederate soldiers who died in
battle.
The ladies memorial groups were centered on bereavement and to
returning the bodies of the war dead from far-flung battlefields. It wasn’t
until the South had been returned to home rule that the real vindication efforts
began.  Vindication was an important goal of the UDC, which was founded
just up the road in Nashville, Cox said.  The National Association of the
Daughters of the Confederacy was organized in Nashville on Sept.10, 1894, by
founders Caroline Meriwether Goodlett of Nashville and Anna Davenport Raines of
Georgia. At its second meeting in Atlanta, in 1895, the organization changed its
name to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  “The two founders …
their career was the Lost Cause,” Cox said. “From the beginning this would be a
very elite organization.”

The general goals of the group were:


To memorialize those who fought for and fell in battle for the Confederate
cause.

• To preserve the history of the “War Between States.”

• To
educate future generations about the Confederacy from a pro-Southern
viewpoint.

• Social in nature. The group even had blackball provisions to
keep out women who weren’t from the top social strata.

We’ve only recently begun to look at the role that elite white Southern women took in shaping the contours of the Lost Cause and in turn shaping the way we think about the Civil War.  A closer look at these organizations also provides insight into the extent and limits of political action among Southern white women.  I am looking forward to the publication of Caroline Janney’s study of the Ladies Memorial Associations which were active in the years following the end of the war. 

3 comments

National Council for History Education: A Few Thoughts

I had a pretty good time in Williamsburg this weekend at the annual meeting of the National Council For History Education.   Eight history teachers from the various divisions at my school made the trip.  Originally we decided to use the weekend as an opportunity for the department to bond a bit, but with our department chair and another teacher leaving at the end of the year I was skeptical.  Surprisingly, this was the best part of the trip.  One of the teachers organized a private tour with Ed Chappell who is Director of Architectural Research for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.  We spent about 2 hours walking up Duke of Gloucester Street and Ed did a fabulous job of giving us a quick overview of how to interpret the various buildings.  That night we had a great dinner and made sure to spend as much of the school’s money as possible (LOL). 

As for the conference itself I was disappointed.  I listened to Gordon Wood deliver a talk at one of the general sessions, but unfortunately it sounded like something pulled directly out of one of his survey lectures at Brown.  I did get a chance to talk with Wood in a small group of about 5 people for about 30 minutes and I enjoyed that immensely.  The general session also revealed some interesting demographics, including very few blacks and a large number of older women.  As for individual sessions I attended two that involved the use and role of primary sources in the classroom.  While I wasn’t expecting to be blown away, at this point in my career I find it difficult to sit through a session where the first fifteen minutes involve the presenter asking the audience why we use documents in the classroom and what we hope to teach our students through their inclusion in the curriculum.  I’m sorry, but at this point in my career I find it difficult to sit through that.  There were plenty of sessions on pedagogy, but I was also looking for people who were passionate about history.  I did meet James Percoco who teaches up in Northern Virginia and is in my mind one of the most innovative teachers around. 

My experience this past weekend definitely places the steps the OAH and AHA have taken to address the teaching of history in our schools within a broader perspective.  I guess the problem for me is that I tend to approach the teaching of history more from the perspective of someone who practices the historian’s craft rather than from a purely educational perspective – don’t know if that makes any sense.   

4 comments