Tag Archives: American history

Politics and american surveillance

Gregory-American-Surveillance-cToday is the publication date of American Surveillance: Intelligence, Privacy, and the Fourth Amendment. Its author, Anthony Gregory, offers a history of surveillance efforts that transcend party divides, urging us to look deeper into foreign policy. He is our guest blogger for this post.

Whatever else it might be, November’s election won’t be a referendum on surveillance and privacy. Hillary Rodham Clinton voted as Senator for the Patriot Act in 2001 and 2006, and Donald Trump has approved its renewal, saying he tends to “err on the side of security.” In the Democratic debates, Clinton harshly criticized NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, insisting, probably wrongly, that he “could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower” and “raised all the issues” without breaking the law. Trump has called Snowden a traitor, promised to get Russian president Vladimir Putin to hand him over, and in the past even suggested him worthy of execution. Both candidates want to expand foreign intelligence. Clinton recently told Fox television host Bill O’Reilly that among her “priorities is to launch an intelligence surge” and more information-sharing to combat terror. Trump told CBS journalist Leslie Stahl that, to defeat ISIS, “we’re going to have unbelievable intelligence, which we need [and] right now, we don’t have.”

Both major political parties have nominated surveillance hawks for the highest office in 2016, but we could excuse the public for discerning partisan differences. In recent years, both sides have postured as disagreeing fundamentally. Barack Obama ran for president echoing fellow Democrats’ condemnation of President George W. Bush’s attempts to immunize telecoms implicated in NSA warrantless wiretapping. Under Obama’s presidency, the Republican National Committee denounced the NSA’s “dragnet program” as likely “the largest surveillance effort ever launched by a democratic government against its own citizens” and its mass data collection as “contrary to the right of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment.” Inconsistent politicians have mirrored a shift among constituents. The Pew Research Center in 2006 found that 37% of Democrats and 75% of Republicans considered Bush’s surveillance program acceptable. In 2013, 64% of Democrats and 52% of Republicans approved NSA surveillance under Obama.

As far back as we can trace the American surveillance state, its defenders and detractors have transcended any consistent partisan divide. Republican president Theodore Roosevelt created what became the Federal Bureau of Investigation, against warnings from both parties. Democrat Woodrow Wilson oversaw a massive expansion of foreign and domestic intelligence during World War I. For forty-eight years, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI conducted spying on behalf of both parties’ presidents, who were often eager for his assistance targeting political enemies. Both Republicans and Democrats targeted foreigners, allies, the far right, and the radical left.

Those seeking to understand surveillance must look beyond politics and into policy. Foreign policy in particular has a profound if fraught relationship to surveillance abroad and at home. A bipartisan foreign intelligence posture has tended to bleed into the domestic sphere. From the Progressive Era through the Cold War, fears of a fifth column under foreign influence, and tactics first used in foreign occupations, inspired application of surveillance techniques within the United States. More pedestrian policy goals, such as wars on crime, drugs, and poverty, have also fueled violations of privacy.

Even as policy dynamics transcend partisanship, the legal principles at stake are frustratingly complex. Both principled and partisan critics accuse their opponents in power of unambiguously violating the Constitution, whereas both Bush and Obama claimed their surveillance program passed the Fourth Amendment test. Civil libertarians find such defenses absurd, but the Fourth Amendment is no privacy panacea. It always accommodated vast search powers. Wiretapping wasn’t even covered until 1967, when the Court found a Constitutional “right to privacy” beyond a physical property right. Conservatives long skeptical of such a “right to privacy” lack an originalist argument for why NSA surveillance violates the Fourth Amendment. Generally speaking, modern technology and the terror war’s global battleground have revealed the limits of simple legal arguments.

If there is no consistent Fourth Amendment principle against the surveillance state, how could we expect a consistently pro–Fourth Amendment political party? Granted, third parties, like the Libertarians and Greens, have more relentlessly criticized surveillance powers and are much more favorable toward Snowden. It is also outside mainstream electoral politics that we find any fundamental rethinking of the policy priorities that drive the surveillance state at home. This might discourage those who want Fourth Amendment restoration in the next election. But to understand the deeper issues requires more than partisan grandstanding. Politics cannot begin to touch a surveillance power so entrenched and a privacy right so elusive. Privacy advocates must look to policy prescriptions, foreign policy history, and broader cultural values.

Anthony Gregory is the author of The Power of Habeas Corpus in America: From the King’s Prerogative to the War on Terror, winner of the PROSE Book Award for legal studies. He is a fellow of the Independent Institute in Oakland, California.

 

 

Publishing Politics

80th-logoAs another presidential election approaches, here’s a political reading list drawn from throughout the University of Wisconsin Press’s eighty years of publishing. This includes some truly landmark books, many demonstrating the important role of Wisconsin in American politics and the role of UWP in documenting that history.

 

The Presidents We Imagine: 4516Two Centuries of White House Fictions on the Page, on the Stage, Onscreen, and Online
Jeff Smith

Examines the presidency’s ever-changing place in the American imagination, from the plays and polemics of the eighteenth century—when the new office was born in what Alexander Hamilton called “the regions of fiction”—to the digital products of the twenty-first century. A colorful, indispensable guide to the many surprising ways Americans have been “representing” presidents even as those presidents have represented them.

COVER MAKER 5.5X8.25.inddThe American Jeremiad
Anniversary Edition
Sacvan Bercovitch

In this anniversary edition, the late Sacvan Bercovitch revisits his classic study of the role of the American political sermon, or jeremiad, from a contemporary perspective, assessing developments in the the culture at large. The American Jeremiad demonstrates how fully our national identity has been forged from conflicted narratives of self-examination and redemption.

 

A Black Gambler’s World of Liquor, Vice, and Presidential Politics: Mouser-Black-Gamblers-cWilliam Thomas Scott of Illinois, 1839–1917
Bruce L. Mouser
Foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

William Thomas Scott (1839–1917) was an Illinois entrepreneur and political activist who in 1904 briefly became the first African American nominated by a national party for president of the United States before his scandalous past forced him to step aside. Scott helped build the National Negro Liberty Party to forward economic, political, and legal rights for his race. But the underworld hustling that had brought him business success proved his undoing as a national political figure. He was the NNLP’s initial presidential nominee, only to be quickly replaced by a better-educated and more socially acceptable candidate, George Edwin Taylor.

For Labor, Race, and Liberty: For LaborGeorge Edwin Taylor, His Historic Run for the White House, and the Making of Independent Black Politics
Bruce L. Mouser

More than one hundred years before Barack Obama, George Edwin Taylor made presidential history. Born in the antebellum South to a slave and a freed woman, raised and educated in Wisconsin, Taylor became the first African American ticketed as a political party’s nominee for president of the United States, running against Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. At a time when many African Americans felt allegiance to the Republican Party for its support of abolition, Taylor’s sympathy with the labor cause drew him first to the national Democratic Party and then to an African American party, the newly formed National Negro Liberty Party, which named him its presidential candidate.

Drift and Mastery: An Attempt to Diagnose the Current Unres5482-165wt
Centennial Edition

Walter Lippmann
Introduction and notes by William E. Leuchtenburg
Foreword by Ganesh Sitaraman

In 1914, a brilliant young political journalist published a book arguing that the United States had entered a period of “drift”—a lack of control over rapidly changing forces in society. He highlighted the tensions between expansion and consolidation, traditionalism and progressivism, and emotion and rationality. Mastery over drift is attainable, Walter Lippmann argued, through diligent attention to facts and making active choices. Lippman’s Drift and Mastery became one of the most important and influential documents of the Progressive Movement. This centennial edition remains invaluable as a window to the political thought of early twentieth-century America and as a lucid exploration of timeless themes in American government and politics.

La Follette’s Autobiography: A Personal Narrative of Political Experiences1400-165w
Robert M. La Follette
Foreword by Matthew Rothschild

Robert M. La Follette (1855–1925) was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, governor of Wisconsin, U.S. senator, and the U.S. Progressive Party’s presidential candidate in 1924, winning one-sixth of the total national vote. His Autobiography is both a memoir and a history of the Progressive cause in the United States, charting La Follette’s formative years in politics, his attempts to abolish entrenched state and corporate influences, and his embattled efforts to advance Progressive policies. This centennial edition includes a foreword by Matthew Rothschild, former editor of The Progressive—the magazine that La Follette himself founded.

Joe McCarthy and the Press0751
Edwin R. Bayley

“No one who cares about liberty will read Mr. Bayley’s masterful study without a shudder about the journalistic cop-outs that contributed to making the nightmare called McCarthyism. This book reminds us that it could happen here, but perhaps will make it harder to happen next time.”—Daniel Schorr

“Thorough, incisive and fascinating, this is the best account we have of the strange relationship between Joe McCarthy and the American press.”—Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

0811When Government Was Good: Memories of a Life in Politics
Henry S. Reuss
With a Foreword by John Kenneth Galbraith

U. S. House Representative Henry S. Reuss (D-Wisconsin, 1955–83) believed there was indeed a time when government worked—the “Golden Age” of 1948–68. The economy was functioning, the long overdue civil rights movement had begun to blossom, and the government had integrity. In his memoir, When Government Was Good, he blasts the political forces that he believed led to the disintegration of that Golden Age: economic and racial inequality and excessive militarism.

With Honor: 4444Melvin Laird in War, Peace, and Politics
Dale Van Atta
Foreword by President Gerald R. Ford

In 1968, at the peak of the Vietnam War, centrist Congressman Melvin Laird (R-WI) agreed to serve as Richard Nixon’s secretary of defense. It was not, Laird knew, a move likely to endear him to the American public—but as he later said, “Nixon couldn’t find anybody else who wanted the damn job.” This biography illuminates Laird’s behind-the-scenes sparring with Henry Kissinger over policy, his decisions to ignore Nixon’s wilder directives, his formative impact on arms control and health care, his key role in the selection of Ford for vice president, his frustration with the country’s abandonment of Vietnamization, and, in later years, his unheeded warning to Donald Rumsfeld that “it’s a helluva lot easier to get into a war than to get out of one.”

The Man from Clear Lake: 4766Earth Day Founder Senator Gaylord Nelson
Bill Christofferson

The life of Gaylord Nelson, a small-town Wisconsin boy who learned his values and political principles at an early age, is woven through the political history of the twentieth century. His story intersects at times with Fighting Bob La Follette, Joe McCarthy, and Bill Proxmire in Wisconsin, and with George McGovern, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Russell Long, Walter Mondale, John F. Kennedy, and others on the national scene. His founding of Earth Day in 1970 permanently changed national and global politics; more than one billion people worldwide now participate in annual Earth Day activities.

4349Raising Hell for Justice: The Washington Battles of a Heartland Progressive
David R. Obey

David R. Obey (D-Wausau) served in the U.S. House of Representatives longer than anyone in Wisconsin history, culminating in the chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee. After forty years in Congress, Obey looks back on his journey in politics beginning with his early years in the Wisconsin Legislature, when Wisconsin moved through eras of shifting balance between Republicans and Democrats. On a national level Obey traces, as few others have done, the dramatic changes in the workings of the U.S. Congress since his first election to the House in 1969. He discusses his own central role in the evolution of Congress, ethics reforms, and crucial chapters in our democracy.

5067-165wEmergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror
Chris Edelson
Foreword by Louis Fisher

Defining the scope and limits of emergency presidential power might seem easy—just turn to Article II of the Constitution. But as Chris Edelson shows, the reality is complicated. In times of crisis, presidents have frequently staked out claims to broad national security power. Drawing on excerpts from the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court opinions, Department of Justice memos, and other primary documents, Edelson weighs the various arguments that presidents have used to justify the expansive use of executive power.

Edelson-Power-without-Constraint-c
Power without Constraint: The Post-9/11 Presidency and National Security
Chris Edelson

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama criticized the George W. Bush administration for its unrestrained actions in matters of national security. In a thorough comparison of the Bush and Obama administrations’ national security policies, Chris Edelson demonstrates that President Obama and his officials have used softer rhetoric and toned-down legal arguments, but in key areas—military action, surveillance, and state secrets—they have simply found new ways to assert power without meaningful constitutional or statutory constraints. Edelson contends that this legacy of the two immediately post-9/11 presidencies raises crucial questions for future presidents, Congress, the courts, and American citizens.

Wisconsin Votes: 4449An Electoral History
Robert Booth Fowler

This history of voting in Wisconsin from statehood in 1848 to 2008 both tracks voting in key elections across the years and investigates electoral trends and patterns over the course of Wisconsin’s history. Fowler explores the ways that ethnic and religious groups in the state have voted historically, discusses the great struggle for women’s suffrage, and reminds us of many Wisconsin third parties—Socialists, Progressives, the Prohibition Party, and others. Here, too, are the famous politicians in Wisconsin history, including the La Follette family, William Proxmire, and Tommy Thompson.

New Books For July 2016

We are pleased to announce three books debuting in July.

 

Gregory-American-Surveillance-cJuly 29

American Surveillance
Intelligence, Privacy, and the Fourth Amendment

Anthony Gregory

From George Washington’s spies to the NSA

“A cogent synthesis of the history of American surveillance and of its conflict with the right to privacy enshrined in the federal Constitution. Thoroughly researched and eloquent,American Surveillance traces government surveillance from colonial times to beyond 9/11.”
—William J. Cuddihy, author of The Fourth Amendment


July 29

Anna Karenina and Others
Tolstoy’s Labyrinth of Plots

Liza Knapp

Reveals why the whole of Anna Karenina is greater than the sum of its plots

“Knapp’s keen eye for prodding out books that play off one another illuminates not only the multiplot novel in its various guises, but the adultery novel as Tolstoy reinvented it, where sexual transgression is forced to serve the quest for God and faith. A mind-expanding book.”
—Caryl Emerson, Princeton University

July 29

Repeat Performances
Ovidian Repetition and the Metamorphoses

Laurel Fulkerson and Tim Stover

Wisconsin Studies in Classics

The uses and effects of repetition, imitation, and appropriation in Latin epic poetry

“Tackles one of the most challenging and rewarding problems in Ovidiana: the question of the author’s penchant for repetition. A marvelous array of contributions retain a reader’s interest and are infused with the same spirit of wit and charm that characterizes Ovid’s own verse.”
—Lee Fratantuono, author of Madness Transformed: A Reading of Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Bascom planted seeds of the “Wisconsin Idea” in the 1870s

A guest post by J. David Hoeveler. His new book, John Bascom and the Origins of the Wisconsin Idea, has just been published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

Bascom Hall, c. 1870

Bascom Hall, c. 1870

Hoeveler-John-Bascom-and-the-Origins-of-the-Wisconsin-Idea-cThe majestic building that sits atop the University of Wisconsin in Madison bears the name Bascom Hall. Thousands of people pass by the building every day, and some may wonder who “Bascom” was. “The guiding spirit of my time,” was what what famed Wisconsin senator Robert La Follette called John Bascom. La Follette felt that Bascom was the real inspiration for what we now call the Wisconsin Idea.

John Bascom served the University of Wisconsin as its president from 1874 to 1887. He came from upstate New York, born in Genoa in 1827, and graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts. He then attended two theological seminaries. Bascom taught at his alma mater for two decades before coming to Madison. He was a prolific scholar and wrote books and essays on theology, philosophy, sociology, and economics. But he did more than that as UW president. He committed himself to social reforms and, in fact, became as outspoken on these matters as any major figure in American higher education at the time.

Bascom’s political philosophy grew out of his liberal Christianity and his understanding of evolution. The latter concept gave Bascom his notion of society as a complex organism, all of whose parts must work in integration with the whole and in cooperation with each other. So believing, Bascom set a higher priority for the collective good, the public interest.

An iconic "W" banner hangs between the columns of Bascom Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Nov. 10, 2007. ©UW-Madison University Communications 608/262-0067 Photo by: Bryce Richter Date: 11/07 File#: D200 digital camera frame 6778

Today’s Bascom Hall

Three causes especially gained Bascom’s commitment. First, he advocated for temperance and even voted for the Prohibition party. That cause may suggest to some a moralistic, puritanical strain in Bascom, but it had its progressive side. Some labor leaders and almost all women’s rights leaders of the day supported the campaign against alcohol.

UW women's basketball team, 1897

UW women’s basketball team, 1897

Second, Bascom spoke out strongly for co-education and women’s rights. At the time, respected medical literature often warned against the toll of mental labor on the female body. Bascom ridiculed such notions. He spoke not only for co-education but insisted that the UW abandon the separate curriculums that then existed for men and women students. Bascom defended some policies that leading feminists themselves did not always support. He advocated for woman’s suffrage. He would allow divorce. He even criticized the styles of dress imposed on women—the corsets and bustles popular in the Gilded Age. They conspired, he said, against females’ full and active participation in American public life.

And third, Bascom championed the rights of labor. Here especially he feared the deprivation of a class of people, the workers, and their alienation from the large social organism. Bascom defended the right of labor to organize unions and he justified the right to strike. He also denounced the excessive power of money in America. Who else, among American university leaders of this era, would dare condemn by name the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers? Bascom, though, strongly opposed socialism. He admired business enterprise, and he thrilled to the marvels of technological creativity so visible in the United States. These activities, too, he believed, create the expanded social interconnections that grow and advance human society.

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Robert La Follette and Charles Van Hise

Robert La Follette graduated from the UW in 1879. So did his classmate and friend Charles Van Hise. La Follette became Wisconsin governor in 1901, and Van Hise was inaugurated UW president in 1904. The first graduates of the UW to hold these positions, both La Follette and Van Hise had been students of Bascom. And both drew inspiration from Bascom’s urgent advocacy for the good uses of the state and the ideal of public service. Together, they put the Wisconsin Idea into place.

Fola La Follette, daughter of Robert and Belle Case La Follette, later wrote: “Two students of the class of 1879, Bob La Follette and Charles Van Hise, profoundly influenced in youth by a great teacher, were now, as mature men, collaborating to sustain former President Bascom’s ideal of the relation of a state university to the State.”

So, as discussion about the Wisconsin Idea again rises among us, we might gain in historical perspective and in contemporary understanding if we remember John Bascom, the intellectual source of this “idea.” John Bascom: philosopher, humanist, and a man of religious faith.


Hoeveler-David-2016-c

J. David Hoeveler

J. David Hoeveler holds a Distinguished Professorship in History at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. He is the author of seven books, including Creating the American Mind, The Evolutionists, and Watch on the Right.

Public & school librarians choose best UW Press books

Each year, a committee of librarians representing American public libraries and K-12 school libraries select university press books most suited to their audiences.  The result is a bibliography, University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries, an annual collection development tool published with the help and support of two divisions of the American Library Association: the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and, from public libraries, the Collection Development and Evaluation Section of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA/CODES). Each book chosen receives one or two sets of ratings, from a school library reviewer, a public library reviewer, or both. Books rated by the school librarians are also recommended for grade levels.

The following University of Wisconsin Press books (published in 2015) were chosen for the annual list!

 “The Best of the Best” titles
Bechard-Norske-Nook-Pies-cThe Norske Nook Book of Pies and Other Recipes, Jerry Bechard and Cindee Borton-Parker

Each year, panelists from the joint selection committee of librarians present a small selection of their favorite recommendations at the American Library Association annual conference at a “Best of the Best from the University Presses” session, to be held this year at the ALA conference in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, June 26, 2016, 1:00 p.m.

Outstanding-rated titles from the University Press Books Committee

  • Living Black: Social Life in an African American Neighborhood, Mark S. Fleisher
  • The Norske Nook Book of Pies and Other Recipes, Jerry Bechard and Cindee Borton-Parker

The above titles received ratings of “Outstanding” by members of the 2013 University Press Books Committee, recommended as essential additions to most public and/or school library collections.

000-099 General Knowledge

Baughman Cover Design071.3   Baughman, James L., Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, and James P. Danky (Editors)
Protest on the Page: Essays on Print and the Culture of Dissent since 1865

Explores the intertwined histories of print and protest in the United States from Reconstruction to the 2000s. Ten essays look at how protesters of all political and religious persuasions, as well as aesthetic and ethical temperaments, have used the printed page to wage battles over free speech; test racial, class, sexual, and even culinary boundaries; and to alter the moral landscape in American life.
LC 2014030784, ISBN 9780299302849 (p.), ISBN 9780299302832 (e.)
School Libraries: General Audience/High School                    Public Libraries: General Audience

300-319 Sociology, Anthropology, Cultures

Grady-Improvised-Adolescence-c305.893   Grady, Sandra  Improvised Adolescence: Somali Bantu Teenage Refugees in America

A glimpse into the lives of African refugee teens, as they negotiate the differences between African and American ideas about the transition from childhood to adulthood. Of interest to social services workers and educators as well as scholars of folklore, anthropology, African studies, and child development.
LC 2014030780, ISBN 9780299303242 (p.), ISBN 9780299303235 (e.)
School Libraries: Special Interest/High School, Professional Use          Public Libraries: Special Interest

Fleisher-LivingBlack-c305.896   Fleisher, Mark S.  Living Black: Social Life in an African American Neighborhood

Breaks the stereotype of poor African American neighborhoods as dysfunctional ghettos of helpless and hopeless people. Despite real and enduring poverty, the community described here—the historic North End of Champaign, Illinois—has a vibrant social life and strong ties among generations.
LC 2015008381, ISBN 9780299305345 (p.), ISBN 9780299305338 (e.)
School Libraries: Outstanding/Professional Use        Public Libraries: General Interest
*Outstanding* rating: “This quality ethnography reads like a series of engaging stories. The study reflects both excellent research and a clear sense of the provisions that ensure quality in qualitative research. A clear voice supporting diversity and our awareness thereof.”—Janie Pickett (AASL)

320-329 Political Science

Bartley-EclipseoftheAssassins-c327.730   Bartley, Russell H. and Sylvia Erickson Bartley  Eclipse of the Assassins: The CIA, Imperial Politics, and the Slaying of Mexican Journalist Manuel Buendía

Investigates the sensational 1984 murder of Mexico’s most influential newspaper columnist, Manuel Buendía, and how that crime reveals the lethal hand of the U.S. government in Mexico and Central America during the final decades of the twentieth century. This is a stellar, courageous work of investigative journalism and historical scholarship—grippingly told, meticulously documented, and doggedly pursued over thirty years.
LC 2015008379, ISBN 9780299306403 (c.), ISBN 9780299306434 (e.)
School Libraries: Specialized Interest / Professional Use          Public Libraries: General Interest

 

640-649 Home Economics

Bechard-Norske-Nook-Pies-c641.860   Bechard, Jerry and Cindee Borton-Parker  The Norske Nook Book of Pies and Other Recipes

The Norske Nook’s mile-high meringue and dairyland deliciousness attracts foodies, celebrities, and tourists from around the world to sample its glorious pies. This beautifully photographed cookbook features more than seventy pies, including thirty-six blue ribbon-winners at the annual National Pie Championship.
LC 2014037003, ISBN 9780299304300 (c.)
School Libraries: Outstanding/ Middle School, High School, Professional Use   Public Libraries: General Interest    *Outstanding* rating:  “If you aren’t able to make a personal visit to one of the Norske Nook’s ‘pie shrines’ this title will certainly help any home baker re-create some of their amazing recipes. Of course there are old favorites like apple and cherry pie, but you can also find mouth-watering recipes for a Snickers caramel pie, a raspberry white chocolate pie, or a Northwoods root beer float pie. The basics like pie crusts and toppings are covered in their own chapters, and non-pie chapters are devoted to tortes, muffins, cookies and Scandinavian specialties. Even non-bakers will enjoy drooling over the beautiful photographs. The directions are clear and easy-to-follow, which should make this title very appealing to middle and high school aspiring pie bakers.”—Judi Repman (AASL)

700-759 Fine Arts

Langer-RomaineBrooks-c759.13   Langer, Cassandra    Romaine Brooks: A Life

The artistic achievements of Romaine Brooks (1874-1970), both as a major expatriate American painter and as a formative innovator in the decorative arts, have long been overshadowed by her fifty-year relationship with writer Natalie Barney and a reputation as a fiercely independent, aloof heiress who associated with fascists in the 1930s. Langer provides a richer, deeper portrait of Brooks’s aesthetics and experimentation as an artist.
LC 2015008825, ISBN 9780299298609 (c.), ISBN 9780299298630 (e.)
School Libraries: Specialized Interest / High School           Public Libraries:  General Interest

 

780-799 Music, Performing Arts, Recreation, Sports

Diebel-Crossing-the-Driftless-c797.122   Diebel, Lynne   (Illustrated by Robert Diebel)  Crossing the Driftless: A Canoe Trip through a Midwestern Landscape

Crossing the Driftless is both a traveler’s tale of a 359-mile canoe trip and an exploration of the dramatic environment of the Upper Midwest’s Driftless region, following the streams of geologic and human history.
LC 2014030800, ISBN 9780299302948 (p.), ISBN 9780299302931 (e.)
School Libraries: Regional Specialized Interest / High School          Public Libraries: Regional General

 

800-819 American Literature

Merlis-JD-A-Novel-c813.54  Merlis, Mark  JD: A Novel

Thirty years after Jonathan Ascher’s death, Martha finally opens her husband’s journals and discovers his secret affairs with men as well as his all-absorbing passion for their deceased son, Mickey. Mark Merlis shows readers a vivid picture of a family who cannot find a way to speak their love for one another.
LC 2014030801, ISBN 9780299303501 (c.), ISBN 9780299303532 (e.)
School Libraries: Specialized Interest / Professional Use          Public Libraries: General Interest

 

DeVita-A-Winsome-Murder-c813.6  DeVita, James  A Winsome Murder

A serial killer brings bloody murder to the pastoral Wisconsin town of Winsome Bay, requiring the expertise of detective James Mangan, a hard-bitten Chicago cop with an unexpected knowledge of Shakespeare.
LC 2014042916, ISBN 9780299304409 (c.), ISBN 9780299304430 (e.)
School Libraries: General Interest / High School            Public Libraries: General Interest

 

 

Meet Me Halfway813.6  Morales, Jennifer   Meet Me Halfway: Milwaukee Stories

When an African American teen suffers a serious accident in the home of his white neighbor, his community must find ways to bridge divisions between black and white, gay and straight, old and young.
LC 2014030802, ISBN 9780299303648 (p.), ISBN 9780299303631 (e.)
School Libraries: Regional General Interest / Professional Use      Public Libraries: Regional General Interest

 

830-899 Literature of Other Languages 

Blessington-Euripides-Trojan-Women-c882.01  Euripides  (Verse translations by Francis Blessington, with introductions and notes)  Trojan Women, Helen, Hecuba: Three Plays about Women and the Trojan War

“These lively, accurate translations will allow readers and theater audiences to appreciate the power of Euripidean tragedy. Blessington’s language is spare and his translation fairly literal, allowing direct—sometimes punchy—delivery while retaining poetic expressions from the Greek.”—Francis Dunn, author of Tragedy’s End: Closure and Innovation in Euripidean Drama
LC 2015010084, ISBN 9780299305246 (p.), ISBN 9780299305239 (e.)
School Libraries: General Interest / High School, Professional Use     Public Libraries: General Interest

 

950-969 Asian, Middle Eastern, and African History

Lee-Dreams-of-the-Hmong-c959.004   Lee, Mai Na M.  Dreams of the Hmong Kingdom: The Quest for Legitimation in French Indochina, 1850-1960

Authoritative and original, Dreams of the Hmong Kingdom is among the first works of its kind, exploring the influence that French colonialism and Hmong leadership had on the Hmong people’s political and social aspirations.
LC 2014035663, ISBN 9780299298845 (p.), ISBN 9780299298838 (e.)
School Libraries: Specialized Interest / Professional Use                       Public Libraries:  Specialized Interest

Amony-I-am-Amony-c967.610  Amony, Evelyn  (Edited with an introduction by Erin Baines)  I Am Evelyn Amony: Reclaiming My Life from the Lord’s Resistance Army

A harrowing account by one of the 60,000 children abducted by the violent African rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army. Amony tells of her life as a forced wife to LRA leader Joseph Kony, her eleven years in the LRA, her part in a peace delegation after her capture by the Ugandan military, and her current work as a human rights advocate.
LC 2015008824, ISBN 9780299304942 (p.), ISBN 9780299304935 (e.)
School Libraries: General Interest / High School, Professional Use     Public Libraries: General Interest

 

 

New Books for May 2016

We are pleased to announce these five books debuting in May.

Brykczynski-Primed-for-Violence-cMay 11
Primed for Violence
Murder, Antisemitism, and Democratic Politics in Interwar Poland

Paul Brykczynski

The assassination that changed a nation

“The interwar period was an often violent time in which the demons of the twentieth century increasingly had their way. Brykczynski places the assassination of President Gabriel Narutowicz in the context of growing antisemitism and the emerging challenge to democracy in the recently independent Polish nation. An important story, thoroughly researched and compellingly told.”
—John Merriman, Yale University

Reitzammer-The-Athenian-Adonia-in-Context-cMay 11
The Athenian Adonia in Context
The Adonis Festival as Cultural Practice

Laurialan Reitzammer

Wisconsin Studies in Classics

Rediscovers the influence of women’s rituals on Lysistrata, Plato, and diverse Athenian works

“Persuasively reinterprets the Adonia as a ritual that brought Athenian women’s dissenting voices into the public arena to critique male social institutions and values. This innovative work draws on an immense range of ancient sources—literary, documentary, artistic, and material.”
—Laura McClure, series editor

Wong-Contemporary-Directions-in-Asian-American-Dance-cMay 11
Contemporary Directions in Asian American Dance

Edited by Yutian Wong

Studies in Dance History

An essential guide and model for current studies of Asian American dance

“A methodologically diverse and eclectic approach to Asian American dance studies, where dance is both method and content. These essays illuminate the ways that dance shapes, troubles, and pushes against the contours of what counts as Asian American cultural production.”
—Priya Srinivasan, author of Sweating Saris

Gluck-The-Invisible-Jewish-Budapest-cMay 25
The Invisible Jewish Budapest
Metropolitan Culture at the Fin de Siècle

Mary Gluck

A groundbreaking, brilliant urban history of a Central European metropolis in the decades before World War I

“A magnificently consequential book. Gluck examines the vibrant modernist culture created largely by secular Jews in Budapest, in counterpoint to a backward-looking, nationalistic Hungarian establishment and a conservative Jewish religious elite.”—Scott Spector, author of Violent Sensations

Strang-Worse-than-the-Devil-rev-ed-cAvailable now
Worse than the Devil
Anarchists, Clarence Darrow, and Justice in a Time of Terror
Revised Edition

Dean A. Strang

An unjust trial, as patriotism, nativism, and fear swept the nation

“A riveting account of a miscarriage of justice relevant to our times, when fear of radicals of a different stripe may infect our system of justice.”Booklist

The Search for My Spirit Sister

A guest post by Sara Rath. Her new book Seven Years of Grace: The Inspired Mission of Achsa W. Sprague is published by the Vermont Historical Society. (It is distributed by the University of Wisconsin Press.)

Rath-7-years-of-Grace-cWhen you write someone’s biography, it’s like assembling a puzzle. But if that person lived in the mid-nineteenth century, you can’t simply dump all the pieces out on the table and begin connecting them. Instead, you sort out the few odd pieces that you have. Then you search for the rest.

But . . . what if someone has slightly altered the few available pieces, smoothed the corners to fit his own moral doctrine?  And what if there are empty spaces, missing parts you can’t find?  The story of Achsa Sprague posed these dilemmas from the start.


Lily Dale is a Spiritualist community in upstate New York, and that’s where I first saw Achsa mentioned in a book that had been loaned to me. A footnote revealed “The Achsa W. Sprague Papers held by the Vermont Historical Society are, as far as I can ascertain, the only extant personal papers of a nineteenth century Spiritualist medium.” I was intrigued.

I purchased my own copy of the book and tore out the page with Achsa’s portrait—it’s also on the cover of Seven Years of Grace—and pinned it above my desk. There was something about her eyes, that steady, almost defiant gaze that challenged me to dare to look away.

Her enigmatic stare was appealing, and I felt similarities between us. Achsa was from Vermont. I had earned my MFA in Writing at Vermont College in Montpelier, and taught in the Goddard College MFA program at Plainfield. Achsa wrote poetry and I’d already published four books of poems. She was a missionary; that had been my childhood dream. I was intrigued by Spiritualism (I’d been enrolled in the Lily Dale workshop “The Personal Development of Mediumship,”) and we were both feminists, day-dreamers, progressives. She’d kept a daily journal, and I’d kept one since 1962. I was also a biographer and sensed there was an untold story hiding behind Achsa’s gaze.

I wanted to plunge into research right away, but I was in the midst of writing other books. My enthusiasm for Achsa would have to be sustained for a year or two, I thought. In July of 2000, I returned to Vermont, ready for work. I had already studied a published version of Achsa’s diaries. The originals had been purchased in the late 1930s at a Rutland bookstore by Leonard Twinem who, in 1941, offered an edited version for publication in The Proceedings of the Vermont Historical Society under his pseudonym, Leonard Twynham. Achsa’s entries began on June 1, 1849, “Once more I am unable to walk or do anything else; have not been a step without crutches since Sunday and see no prospect of being any better; see nothing before me but a life of miserable helplessness.” On her birthday, November 17, she wrote of her disillusionment:  “Twenty-two years ago today, a new life sprung into existence; the earth received a new inhabitant; a spirit clothed in the garments of mortality. . . . And this is my destiny, mine. My own sad history.”

Twinem’s cunning edits drove me crazy. After “my own sad history,” he followed with an ellipsis (indicating sentences deleted) and then, “Mr. Woods people want me to teach school there this winter, but don’t think I shall.”  Achsa’s rebirth was suddenly revealed in 1853 when “After a long, almost a three years silence again I unfold these pages, once more to trace upon their surface the thoughts of a long-tried heart.”  A miraculous transformation had occurred (had Twinem omitted that part?): Angel guardians had cured Achsa and obtained her promise to spread the word of Spiritualism and the fact that we do not die.

I found Achsa’s grave at the Plymouth Notch cemetery. The words “I Still Live” carved on her blue marble tombstone were nearly hidden by weather stains and spreading lichens. I realized that, by writing her biography, I could help Achsa still live.


 

I hired a fellow Vermont College MFA grad, Caroline Mercurio, to join me in viewing the extensive collection of Achsa Sprague materials in the Vermont Historical Society archives. There were so many letters sent to Achsa, all written with quill pens and difficult to decipher. Caroline photocopied each letter and sent packets to me throughout the next year. I received each thick envelope with the excitement of a child at Christmas, requiring months of quiet to painstakingly read and transcribe each. An important breakthrough occurred when Caroline noted that letters on blue stationery from a John Crawford stood out from the rest. When I placed all the Crawford letters in chronological order, an unforeseen dimension was evident: until that moment, no one had known of the intense romantic relationship that Achsa developed with this wealthy, erudite man whom she called her “Evil Genius.” Achsa’s correspondence with him was frequently quoted in his passionate replies, so the provocative exchange between the two was unmistakable: another clue in her untold story.

There were other challenges in the archival files: scraps of paper with no attributions, rough drafts of letters, even a note in mirror writing. From the abridged diaries, newspaper columns, letters, and disparate notes, I began to trace Achsa’s travels and emotions. A posthumous collection of her poetry, The Poet and Other Poems published in 1864, also contained a play with a character called “Miss Raymond.” Unmistakably Achsa, she was an improvisatrice with similar physical attributes and mystical powers.

Not unlike others, modest in her guise,

A soul of goodness beaming from her eyes.

Yet nothing marked to tell the power within,

That, when aroused, so many hearts must win.

She’d mingle in the crowd, and scarce be seen,

With thoughtful face, and modest, graceful mien;

But when her harp is once within her hands,

And rapt, inspired, before the world she stands,

A glow spreads over all her face and brow

Before which others cannot fail to bow. . .

After I returned from Vermont that summer, I was occupied with radio interviews all across the country for another of my books. In my journal, I wrote “The days pass too swiftly and I can’t work fast enough.”  I was still seeking the original Sprague diaries, writing letters and making calls to investigate their location. I spent a week at our rustic lakeside cabin with my husband, and in the silence I thought more about Achsa. “Now I can proceed with Achsa at my own pace with my own creative perspective—trusting, when it feels right, that it is right—and who is alive to contradict me, or question my possible communication with her spirit?”

Achsa and other Spiritualists were fond of quoting poet Alexander Pope, who popularized an optimistic philosophy:

. . . All nature is but art unknown to thee,
All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.

This became my mantra for the many iterations of Achsa’s manuscript that I produced thereafter: if it felt right, if my intuition captured the essence of her story based my research, then the perspective could be perceived as accurate. (If not, perhaps she’d have me struck by lightning!)


 

In February, 2001, I began a rough draft of the book.  We drove east again that summer.  At Lily Dale, I searched the cluttered library of the National Spiritualist Association of Churches and found a collection of obscure Spiritualist newspapers for which Achsa had written her “By the Wayside” column, opinionated articles, children’s stories and poems. In The Banner of Light I found a first-person account of a friend’s presence at Achsa’s deathbed. On the last day of our visit, I climbed up into the creepy attic to search among bat and mouse droppings for the missing diaries, with no success.

I placed a marble at Achsa’s grave because it reflected my face and the sky. Eliza Ward, who’d been in the original Sprague home prior to its razing, drew for me a floorplan indicating the location of rooms and even the privy. She also gave me a tiny tintype of Achsa as a girl. I visited folks at the Woodstock Historical Society to explore a fascinating record of  Spiritualist activity during Achsa’s time, and we went up to the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, where Achsa had lectured in 1856.

Without access to Achas’s lost complete diaries, my plan was to interweave the abridged diary with excerpts from letters and articles and my own narrative to tell her story. I had decisions to make about voice, tone, and organization.

A huge breakthrough occurred with my discovery of Spirit History, a website intended to “compile and preserve Nineteenth-Century American Spiritualism’s Fading Records.” This remarkable resource was created by John Buescher, who was then involved with the Voice of America. Although we’ve never met, John became a mentor whose contributions to Achsa’s story were vital, furnishing a depth and breadth that would have been impossible without his scholarship.


 

I had, by then, also become obsessed with Leonard Twinem, a/k/a L. Leonard Twynham.  I was convinced there must be some way to track a museum or a relative who might hold Achsa’s actual diaries, plus additional materials Twinem had crowed about. He’d claimed in the 1941 Proceedings that he was “contemplating the publication of a volume which will include her prose and verse and a long biographical sketch,” as he also possessed “a vast quantity of manuscript material, verses and essays, which await publication. Among her unpublished manuscripts is an autobiographical poem of 162 pages, which she composed in six days, when in such a nervous state that the spinning wheel, latches, and roosters were all muffled for her peace of mind; and also a poetic play of 75 pages dealing with the Biblical story from Eden to Calvary.”

Eccentric and parsimonious to a fault, Twinem told the Vermont Historical Society, “for the work to date I charged only the secretarial costs for transcription; and gave lots of my own time and energy aside from the large amount I originally invested in the box of Sprague items I have in  hand. So I feel my generosity is exhausted. Hence I give nothing away.”

Twinem’s brother Francis donated the box of Sprague correspondence to VHS in 1976, a decade after Leonard’s death, but there had been no other “literary remains” of Achsa Sprague in his possession, and he had no knowledge of them. Paul Carnahan, director of the VHS Library, said that the disappearance of the Sprague diaries and associated papers was one of the great mysteries of Vermont history. They, too, had searched everywhere, and no one in the state had a clue as to their whereabouts.

The diary search began to consume time that I should have spent writing. For example, when visiting a nurse practitioner for an annual appointment, I even mentioned my exasperation to her!  “Nothing happens by accident,” she assured me, and that night she told her friend of my diary quest. She passed along the resulting clairvoyant insights, which I dutifully passed along to Paul:

“I see a red brick building. The building is two stories. It has four steps up to the front door.  The building has 241 associated with it.  That might be a building number or a zip code or something. There may be more numbers but that’s all I get. You go through the door and it’s in the back corner of the room.  It’s a storeroom or something and it isn’t used anymore.  They’re gonna have to dig.  It’s more than just one and they are little books.”

Paul and Caroline then searched the cobwebbed basement of a nearly abandoned building, a warehouse where a bookshelf tipped over, spilling old copies of the 1941 Proceedings booklets. So Achsa’s diaries were there, just not the originals we wanted. Paul had been especially intrigued since 241 was the telephone exchange in the town where the red brick warehouse was located.

Vexed and frustrated, I contacted every archived collection of women’s diaries at colleges and universities in the United States. I wrote to auction houses, antiquarian booksellers in New England, historical societies. Nothing showed up.

Twinem was also a Presbyterian minister, deposed from the ministry in 1938 and restored in 1945 (what happened there?  The Episcopal diocese of New York had no idea but suggested that perhaps he “dumped the Sprague papers before being restored to the Ministry,” and perhaps “his interest in Spiritualism was why he was deposed in the first place.”)

In my exhaustive search, I acquired copies of Twinem correspondence. In a 1937 letter to the American Antiquarian society he commented about a prospective Sprague biography, “the task of assembling the material—sorting and selecting—from a jumble of letters and manuscripts, in preparation of a volume, is enormous.”

I Googled-searched Twinem, then Twynem, and obtained only a bit of useless data from the resulting letters I wrote. I requested a copy of Leonard’s will from the Probate Court of Sharon, Connecticut. A copy of his wife’s will. Nothing. I looked up Twinem’s wife Mary on Ancestry.com and wrote to a woman who’d said Mary lived with their family prior to her death. In fact, her mother had held Mary Twinem in her arms when she died, but only a few scrapbooks of Leonard’s had been in her possession. The Twinems had no descendants and nothing in the scrapbooks related to Achsa.

I finally had to admit I’d struck out.


Working with what I had, I compiled significant timelines: one for Achsa, another for John H. Crawford, and a third for Achsa’s sister, Celia Sprague, who had moved to Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, in 1853 and eventually married John Steen, a farmer from Oakfield. I hired a genealogist to help with Celia. We found the Avoca cemetery near Oakfield, and Celia’s grave next to that of her husband. Her tombstone had only her first name and this quote from Les Miserables:

“Kiss me on the forehead when I am dead  and I shall feel it.”

Prior to this, Celia’s date of death and location of her passing were unknown.

In 2003 I was awarded the Weston A. Cate Fellowship by the Vermont Historical Society, which helped with costs associated with my research.

On a rainy day in August, 2004, I spoke to a standing-room-only crowd in the Plymouth Notch schoolhouse, where Achsa had taught. With tears in my eyes, I read her poem, Lines Written in a Schoolroom:

“The school-room is deserted now,  

The happy children gone,  

and silence rests upon the spot 

So strangely, sadly lone…” 

The rain let up when we held a short ceremony at her grave, then it started raining again.


It has been twenty years since I first learned about Achsa Sprague. Since then, I’ve published four other books. Between each project, I returned to Achsa. First, I revised a scholarly, footnoted, third-person manuscript from 2004 that now rests in the Vermont Historical Society Archives and contains everything remotely relevant, down to the last painful detail. Next, I tried for a more engaging third-person version. Then I let Achsa tell her story.  First-person was fiction, but it was liberating to let her have her say! Finally I settled on allowing Celia to speak, since many letters from her had been kept in Achsa’s files. Celia’s point-of-view was historical fiction, but I lived in Wisconsin, knew its history and I could “imagine” details of Celia’s life.  In turn, she would be able to depict Achsa with personal details as no one but a sister could. Celia could also help me create missing pieces of the puzzle. She had once told Achsa, “I can now say with the poet “whatever is, is right” so henceforth you may expect me to submit to whatever comes & then do as I best can.”

 

Then the long-sought original Achsa Sprague diaries appeared on eBay in May, 2013.  Where had they been?

The seller said the diaries had been purchased at an auction in New York. “They seemed to be very interesting diaries but once we found out who the author was, then we did think they were special.”

Special? Paul Carnahan declared the diaries invaluable! The two of us offered separate bids each day to acquire them if we possibly could. Alas, the final offers grew far beyond our combined reach. Someone out-bid us for a total of $4,997.00 on May 16, 2013. Attempts to contact the purchaser since then have been for naught.

Seven Years of Grace is based as closely as possible on truths I have been able to acquire, and where there were missing pieces of the puzzle, I endeavored to capture the essence of what most likely transpired.  (“Whatever is, is right.”)

This was scribbled while I sat near Achsa’s grave one afternoon:

“You ask for a poem this is what I give you for its stead you are my voice and being, lightness itself shall guide you out of shadows and give you direction. . . we are sisters we share stories this is my secret and yours, our sorrows are similar and our loves as well. . .”


 

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Sara Rath

Sara Rath’s books published by the University of Wisconsin Press include three novels— Star Lake Saloon & Housekeeping Cottages, Night Sisters, The Waters of Star Lake—and a biography: H. H. Bennett, Photographer: His American Landscape.

Her novel Night Sisters includes scenes at the historic Wocanaga Spiritualist Camp in Wisconsin. See a video interview with Sara about Night Sisters and Wocanaga.

 

The Greatest Speech in the History of the U.S. Senate Still Resonates Today

(Note: The following opinion piece first appeared on The Daily Call, February 23, 2016. Richard Drake is the author of the UW Press book The Education of an Anti-Imperialist: Robert La Follette and U.S. Expansion.)

By Richard Drake
Special to the Daily Call

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Robert La Follette

On 4 April 1917, Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin rose in the Senate to speak in opposition to Woodrow Wilson’s call for war against Germany, a message delivered by the President to a joint session of Congress two days earlier. Wilson had said that to preserve its honor and freedom, the United States had no choice but to fight Germany. The autocratic German government recently had resumed its campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare, which Wilson characterized as an unprecedented evil in the history of civilized nations. Germany had plunged the world into a new dark age, he told the assembled lawmakers. The United States alone, Wilson believed, possessed the power and the moral idealism to bring the war to an honorable and just conclusion “for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples.” In what would become the centerpiece of Allied propaganda about the purpose of the war, the President added, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” At the end of his thirty-six-minute-long speech, nearly everyone present stood and cheered, many patriotically
waving small American flags. La Follette Wilsondefiantly kept his seat and did not join in the applause.

 

An ominous trend

La Follette’s turn to speak came two days later, in the Senate chamber. The leader of the anti-war faction in the Senate, he would take four hours to make his rebuttal to the President. After reading an anti-war letter from one of his supporters in North Dakota, he began his speech with a warning to the American people about a dangerous trend in the country. As a United States senator, he always had thought that the people deserved his best efforts to speak knowledgeably and honestly about the great issues of the day. Now a new trend could be seen in Washington: “standing back of the President without inquiring whether the President is right or wrong.” He judged it to be an ominous trend for the integrity of American politics.

La Follette thought the President not only wrong but deceptive in his war message. Future propagandists would find in Wilson’s speech an exemplary concoction for their craft. La Follette questioned Wilson’s sincerity in claiming the cause of democracy as the supreme end of America’s war policy. Some palpable facts contradicted the President’s claim. If democracy mattered so much to the United States government, why did we do nothing and say nothing about the plight of Ireland, Egypt, and India whose teeming millions languished in undemocratic servitude to our wartime ally, Great Britain? Nor had our other major allies—France, Italy, and Russia—covered themselves with glory by advancing the cause of democracy in their empires. As making the world safe for democracy could not in truth be presented as the real reason for our entering the war, it would behoove the American people to discover what actually had motivated our leaders to take this dread step.

A war of selfish ambition and cruel greed

To understand the real reasons for America’s involvement in the war, it would be necessary to determine the conflict’s origins in Europe. He guessed that at bottom the Europeans were in the process of wrecking their civilization because of commercial rivalries and imperialistic ambition. He told his fellow senators, “this war, like nearly all others, originated in the selfish ambition and cruel greed of a comparatively few men in each Government who saw the war as an opportunity for profit and power for themselves, and who were wholly indifferent to the awful suffering they knew that the war would bring the masses.” He made the right guess here. Later revelations about secret treaties and historical research in government archives would prove indisputably that the war had broken out in a context of imperialistic striving by all the major combatant nations for territories, markets, and resources.

John Bull

About American motives for intervening in the slaughter-pen of Europe, La Follette could only raise questions and make suppositions. “Are we seizing upon the war to consolidate and extend an imperialistic policy?” he asked. It looked that way to him, especially in view of our alliance with Britain. He did not think of British imperialism, in the manner of so many Americans at that time and in the future, as a charming eccentricity of a brother democracy. He told the senators, “We are uniting with Great Britain, “an empire founded upon the conquests and subjugation of weaker nations.” It stood to reason that by our alliance with the British we would be implicated in their imperialist agenda. The economics of imperialism made it seem to La Follette as if the United States were engaging in a war to make the world safe for Wall Street, not democracy. From the first Wall Street-funded war loan to the Allies in 1915, La Follette had feared that our economic entanglements with the Allies would lead ineluctably to armed intervention. It turned out to be a legitimate fear. In its spectacular revelations of the 1930s, the Nye Committee would disclose the precise details of the financial arrangements—above all, the war loans—which had done much to bring America into the war.

Washington’s variously motivated Anglophile agenda had led to the double standards with which the American media and government had judged the wartime conduct of the two coalitions. The President appeared to be unaware of these differences. For example, he had described with horror Germany’s enormities in its unrestricted submarine warfare campaign, without thinking to mention Britain’s illegal naval blockade, which had resulted in appalling hardship and injury to German civilians. La Follette sought to flesh out the President’s excessively compressed analysis. He noted that American silence about Britain’s flagrant violations of international law had “helped to drive Germany into a corner, her back to the wall, to fight with what weapons she can lay her hands on to prevent the starving of her women and children, her old men and babes.” In the typical fashion of propagandists, the President mendaciously had omitted all the facts and conditions inconvenient for his argument. Half-truths, deceptions, and lies concealed the truth of why we were going to war.

La Follette’s clear vision

Amos Pinchot, a progressive journalist friend to La Follette, sat in the press gallery that night and remembered: “At the end of his speech, tremendously moved and completely convinced of the immediate and ultimate wisdom of his vision, he stood in silence, tears running down his face.” Pinchot thought that he had the look of a despairing man, “like that of a person who had failed to keep his child from doing itself an irreparable harm.” He then sat down, slumped in his seat, and closed his eyes. Another journalist sitting with Pinchot, Gilson Gardner of the Scripps newspapers, leaned over to him and said, “This is the greatest speech we will either of us ever hear. It will not be answered because it is unanswerable.”

Paris Peace

The greatness of La Follette’s 4 April 1917 speech consists partly of its effectiveness in exposing the obfuscations of President Wilson’s fateful war message, but also of its prophetic character. He foresaw that the war would have an imperialist outcome, no matter which side won. The Paris Peace Conference at the end of the war confirmed these forebodings, as the victors created a spoils-based international order that would lead to the outbreak of the Second World War twenty years later and prepare the ground for the manifold crises in the Middle East that afflict us today.

Lunging from illusion to illusion

Moreover, La Follette rightly sensed that intervention in the war would be an irreversible turning point for the United States, the decisive act of unleashing what William Appleman Williams would call the tragedy of American diplomacy. As the world’s only creditor nation in 1919, the United States became the chief funder and the linchpin of the postwar international order. America’s foreign policy would not be able to escape the gravitational pull of economic forces operating on a global scale. Endless wars would be in the country’s future.

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We continue to live the tragedy of American diplomacy today, as our leaders lunge from illusion to illusion with no more idea than President Wilson had about the desolating costs of empire. La Follette thought that it would do no good in the long run to resort to the President’s politically soothing euphemisms to describe our empire. That these euphemisms, either in their original or updated forms, continue in use as the only way leading presidential candidates can talk about American foreign policy is a tribute to Wilson’s genius as a salesman. At the same time, the current political campaign reminds us of La Follette’s greater genius as a true leader.

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Richard Drake is professor of history at the University of Montana. He is the author of The Education of an Anti-Imperialist: Robert La Follette and U.S. ExpansionApostles and Agitators:Italy’s Marxist Revolutionary Tradition; and The Aldo Moro Murder Case, among other works.

Related writings by Richard Drake:

The Education of an Anti-Imperialist: Robert La Follette and U.S. Expansion (Studies in American Thought and Culture). University of Wisconsin Press, 2013.

On The Origins Of the Middle East Morass: This Is When Muslims In The Middle East Turned To Extremism