Tag Archives: #history

Remembering the Hometown Boys

Today’s guest-blogger is Brad Larson, director of the Oshkosh Public Museum and author of All the Hometown Boys.

As a boy in the early 1960s, I seldom saw my grandfather. He had divorced from my grandmother in the early 1930s, remarried, and moved away. His relationship with his two young sons was strained, to put it nicely. Yet, as he and my father aged, they occasionally came together to heal wounds. On one such instance, he led my brother and me to the trunk of his car to show us his old army boots.  He told us those heavy, hob-nailed boots still had remnants of encrusted mud in a few small places. “Boys,” he said, “that is the dirt of France.”

I stood there in the summer sun next to his Pontiac, just a ten year old boy, transfixed as he revealed abbreviated stories of his experiences as a teenage National Guardsman in what seemed to be a distant land and an overlooked war. Strange as it might seem in hindsight, those old boots and the stories he told made everything seem genuine. I came to realize that my grandfather, white-haired and old, was once a courageous soldier.

Brad’s grandfather, Martin Larson

My desire and determination to resurrect the stories of Wisconsin’s 150th Machine Gun Battalion might have had its roots in the stories of my grandfather. Indeed, even as a boy it seemed that I was aware that memory is a fickle thing. As I describe in All the Hometown Boys, the 150th was a household name after its creation in 1917, for it was part of America’s celebrated 42nd “Rainbow” Division, a National Guard division that brought together men from 26 states. The nation was justly proud of the exploits and victories of the “hometown boys.”  In welcome home parades, the men were esteemed heroes.

But 100 years later, who remembers the 150th Machine Gun Battalion, or America’s soldiers who released France from almost certain defeat? If 30-plus years of museum work have shown me anything, it is that remembrance of our past is weak, perhaps even fading. I think that impression is especially true for World War I, for the soldiers of America’s first world war do not even have their own national memorial in Washington, D.C.

Memory is what we make it. To honor and remember someone, or some event, requires time, dedication, and effort to ensure we discover and perhaps even pass on the story. True reverence for our past comes not from brief media coverage close to an anniversary, but rather grows in the hearts and minds of everyday Americans. They make the decision that men like my grandfather, or the men of the 150th Machine Gun Battalion, soldiers who gave of themselves, lost their youth and in some cases their life, deserve to be remembered.  We should take joy in discovering their stories.

 

Brad Larson has been the director of the Oshkosh Public Museum since 1989 and has been researching and presenting public programs about the 150th Machine Gun Battalion for many years. He is the author of Voices of History, 1941–1945.

Starvation Shore

Today’s guest blogger is Laura Waterman, author of Starvation Shore, a compelling tale based on a true story of polar explorers fighting for their lives.

 

My novel, Starvation Shore, is based on the Greely Arctic Expedition of 1881–1884. Also known as the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, this three-year saga of a little known American Arctic expedition can be equated with the Franklin Expedition for daring and horrific disaster.

This is the story of 25 men who find that surviving in the Arctic requires cooperation to the point of selflessness. But as darkness, vicious wind, and gelid cold confines them to what feels like a prison sentence, what gets laid bare are the fatal flaws and staggering misjudgments.

I began work on this novel in 2008. Researching and writing it has been an epic journey itself. I was drawn to this story because of the hardships that bring us face to face with our true selves. I was curious to join with these men, to see how I would react in a setting that made such physical demands, that required moral, ethical, and spiritual courage.

A group photo of the explorers

This expedition grew out of a desire to counter the enormous loss of men and ships in the Arctic over the last three centuries. In 1881 the United States was part of the International Polar Year that established stations around the icecap. Lt. Greely’s men were there to take meteorological observations and so learn about the Arctic.  They were expected to set a new Farthest North, long held by the British. The U.S. Army was in charge. The equivalent today would be a manned trip to Mars.

Sgt. David Brainard

I used the men’s diaries, particularly Sgt. David Brainard’s, the portion he wrote at Cape Sabine after the men had left the fort they had built at Discovery Harbor, farther north and only 500 miles from the North Pole. The promised resupply by ship had failed because of pack ice. The men had spent a second winter, and as the third winter drew near, Lt. Greely ordered the men into the open boats, a controversial move. They had had supplies enough to make it through a third winter, if they had stayed.

Pvt. Charles B. Henry

That this was an unhappy expedition from the start fascinated me. What was going to happen? Dr. Pavy and Lt. Greely were a mismatch of temperaments. Lt. Kislingbury wished he’d never come.  His senseless acts of insubordination caused Lt. Greely to break him. Sgt. Brainard was sure they had a murderer along, namely Pvt. Charles Henry. Lt. Lockwood, brave, strong, a gifted leader of men—he set the Farthest North record—was prone to depression.

On the other hand, Pvt. Shorty Frederick was there when you needed him. Their young astronomer, Ned Israel, took infectious delight in the mystery of an Arctic night. Photographer George Rice’s glass plates showed a frigid black and white beauty not seen before. Eskimo Jens Edwards died in his boat catching seals for them.

The six survivors on their way home in 1884

When the rescue party arrived in 1884, two thirds of the men were dead. What George Rice had feared, and Sgt. Brainard had tried to prevent, had happened: cannibalism.

I grew up reading about adventure; most children do:  Doctor Doolittle, Treasure Island, Swallows and Amazons. When I read Annapurna, Maurice Herzog’s account of the first 8000-meter peak to be climbed, I wondered, had I been along, could I have made it to the top? I began climbing on my homeground. The White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Presidential Range in winter, and learned about winds that can knock you down, visibility so compromised you’re relying on all your senses and your internal compass, and frightening subzero cold. I drew on this experience for writing Starvation Shore. I learned, as Greely’s men did, that we are often capable of more than we had thought possible.

 

 Laura Waterman is an author, environmentalist, and outdoor enthusiast. Her books include The Green Guide to Low-Impact Hiking and CampingA Fine Kind of Madness: Mountain Adventures Tall and True, and Losing the Garden: The Story of a Marriage.

The Lost Lives of Greek Vases

Today we present an essay by guest blogger and author Sheramy D. Bundrick, whose book Athens, Etruria, and the Many Lives of Greek Figured Pottery is featured in our series Wisconsin Studies in Classics.

 

Research for Athens, Etruria, and the Many Lives of Greek Figured Pottery included an unexpected foray into scholarly detective work: recapturing the long-forgotten archaeological contexts of Athenian vases collected in the nineteenth century.  Preparing a chapter on vases used as Etruscan cremation urns, I mined volumes of the Bullettino dell’Instituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica and Notizie degli Scavi for documented examples, and I discovered four whose descriptions matched vases in American museums but which had somehow been orphaned from knowledge of their findspots.  All were sold at the time by the private landowners who oversaw their excavation.  One is now in the Harvard University Art Museums (Figs. 1–2): in the 1876 Bullettino, an amphora of exact description—down to the gestures, garments, and attributes of figures—is recorded as being from Tarquinia, found in a pit tomb where it served as a cinerarium.  Harvard curators Susanne Ebbinghaus and Amy Brauer confirmed that this was new information and suggested I consult papers of the amphora’s donor, Henry Williamson Haynes (1831–1912), at the Massachusetts Historical Society.  Archaeologist and Harvard alumnus, Haynes bequeathed his antiquities collection to the Classics Department, which passed to the art museum years later.  Haynes’ travel diary and a letter to his mother state that he visited Tarquinia on 21 May 1876 and met the Marzi brothers, who owned the land where the amphora was discovered.  No mention of buying it, but paired with the Bullettino, these documents permit confirmation of the amphora’s journey from Athens, to Tarquinia, to America.

Figure 1

Why does this matter?  Historically, it didn’t: the Athenian makers and milieu of vases were believed most important, and their Etruscan ownership a blip in time.  But attitudes and disciplines change, and in today’s more globalized, networked world, the purchasers of figured pottery—often far from Athens itself—earn as much scholarly attention as their producers.  In my book, I argue that the symbiotic relationship between workshops and consumers literally shaped the ceramic industry; knowing the biographies of individual vases encourages a better understanding of that relationship.

Take again the Harvard amphora, attributed to an anonymous potter-painter known as the Affecter for the mannered drawing style.  In her 1975 monograph, Heide Mommsen suggested dates of ca. 550–520 B.C.E. for the Affecter’s career and sorted vases into stylistic periods.  Recovering the Harvard amphora’s findspot reveals that at least three amphorae in the earliest phase went to Tarquinia, all depicting gatherings of gods.  Most of the Affecter’s surviving vases traveled to Etruria, raising questions whether he used information from traders to guide his choices of shapes and subjects.  Some of his vases even feature the apparent logos of traders under their feet.  Back in Tarquinia, knowing the Harvard amphora served as a cinerarium yields more questions.  Did the pictured gods, for example—who all had Etruscan equivalents—act as protectors for the dead?  If the deceased’s remains survived, they could be forensically analyzed for information about age and gender, but as was often the case in the nineteenth century, these were discarded.

Figure 2

Reuniting the Harvard amphora with its lost context provides a somewhat happy ending, but the overwhelming majority of vases lack known findspots, either through early discovery and rare documentation or more recent, illicit looting.  The intellectual consequences are considerable: although much can be said about unprovenienced antiquities of any variety, in missing their contexts, their story remains incomplete.  Writing my book, I often found myself challenged by what I could and could not discuss as a result, and I hope my work serves as a call for awareness as much as a contribution of ideas.

 

Figs. 1–2. Athenian amphora attributed to the Affecter, from Tarquinia, ca. 540 B.C.E. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, transfer from the Department of the Classics, Harvard University, bequest of Henry W. Haynes, 1912, 1977.216.2244. (Photos: Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College)

 

Sheramy D. Bundrick is a professor of art history at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. She is the author of Music and Image in Classical Athens.

The Lasting Impact of Francisco Franco

This week we have a piece written by guest-blogger Stanley G. Payne, co-author of the book Franco: A Personal and Political Biography.

 

The revolutionary movements that provoked the Spanish Civil War in 1936 created the only violent mass collectivist revolution of Western Europe in the twentieth century, but the victor in this contest was Francisco Franco, the most successful counterrevolutionary leader of the era.  He went on to create the first stable dictatorship in Spain’s history, surviving World War II and remaining in power until he died of natural causes in 1975, having defeated all comers for nearly four decades.  In the process he promoted the definitive socioeconomic modernization of his country and created institutions that after his death permitted a peaceful transition to democratic constitutional monarchy, led by liberal Francoists, though this final outcome was not his intention.

Franco was the most powerful individual figure in the more than two millennia of Spanish history, for no king under traditional institutions enjoyed the resources of an organized twentieth-century dictator.  He has been both the most widely praised and the most extensively and vehemently vituperated personality in the annals of Spain.

During the twenty-first century the country has begun to fragment.  The Spanish left, bereft of ideas or a coherent new program, has partially repudiated the prosperous, broadly decentralized democracy of 1977-2018, claiming that it was tainted by Franco’s dictatorship, even though it put an end to the latter. “Anti-Francoism” has become a central banner, crediting a dictator who vanished more than four decades ago with the power to dominate Spanish affairs from beyond the tomb.  In Spain more than anywhere else, polemics about recent history form a major part of current political controversy.

Though most twenty-first century Spaniards do not support the fantasies of so-called “historical memory,” which is neither history nor memory, the ignorance of history is as widespread in their country as in any other Western land.  These circumstances raise anew the question of exactly who was Francisco Franco and what exactly was his historical record.  The literature about him is enormous, greater than that concerning anyone else in Spanish history, but is strongly divided between encomia and denunciation.

The present biography seeks to open a new inquiry that is more balanced and objective, or at least less subject to the influence of polemics than its predecessors, based on a broad base of key primary and secondary sources.  It treats the sharply contrasting aspects of Franco’s rule, from the rigorous Civil War-era repression to the positive achievements of later years.  While investigating all the major aspects of Franco’s career over four decades, it also seeks to offer a personal portrait of the dictator, from his early career as a teen-aged infantry officer through his marriage and family life to his eventual demise in the most public (and one of the most prolonged) natural deaths of modern times.

It may be that no other Western country changed more during one lifetime than did Spain during Franco’s eighty-three years, and many of these changes were closely involved with his own biography.  The book grapples with this lengthy process of change, and with the numerous mutations of Franco’s own rule, as his regime evolved from a politics of semi-fascism to Catholic corporatism to modernizing bureaucratic authoritarianism, from associate of the Third Reich to important ally of the United States.  It seeks to provide deeper understanding of a key historical personality, and also of the dynamic evolution of Spain during the twentieth century.

 

Stanley G. Payne (right) is the Hilldale–Jaume Vicens Vives Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the author of many books, including A History of Fascism, 1914–1945The Franco Regime, 1936–1975; and Spain: A Unique History.
Jesús Palacios (left) is a noted historian, investigative journalist, and adjunct professor at the University of Madrid.

Archives of Terror: Reasons for Hope

Today’s guest blogger is Seth Bernstein, translator and editor of Alexander Vatlin’s Agents of Terror. The book is to be released in paperback this week.

Alexander Vatlin’s book Agents of Terror is one of the finest exemplars of Russia’s archival revolution. At the end of the Soviet Union and especially in its aftermath, Russian archives declassified millions of files and provided public access to the records. These documents remain the basis for thousands of scholarly and popular works that have appeared since the late 1980s. Vatlin, a Moscow State University professor, based his work on an especially coveted source—investigation files from Stalin’s Great Terror of 1937-38. Focusing on the lower ranks of Stalin’s secret police (the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, NKVD) and their victims in one district, it reveals the motivations and logistics of mass terror through a gripping micro-history.

[Above] A home in Kuntsevo District in the 1930s. The area faced repression from NKVD officers profiled in Agents of Terror.              

 Since the mid-1990s, declassification has slowed or reversed in some cases. Reclassification of documents primarily affected access to the archives of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Recently researchers have revealed disturbing news that the FSB has destroyed records from the GULAG administration.

There have been less publicized archival closings as well. In 2006, a Russian law forbid archives and other institutions from releasing files containing personal information for 75 years. The nominal aims of the law are laudable. In practice, however, archival administrators have limited access to files that reflect poorly on the Soviet state because of fear or their own convictions. Among these collections are the case files that Vatlin used in Agents of Terror, a collection of the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF). Two years after the original Russian text appeared in 2004, the research behind the book became impossible to replicate.

There is recent news that should encourage those who wish to see post-Soviet archives become more open, especially those who would like to see more research like Vatlin’s Agents of Terror. With the passing of 75 years on the dates of most of the archival files, a group of graduate students at Moscow State University (MGU) and the human rights organization Memorial agreed with GARF to digitize the entire collection of case files. Vatlin used roughly 500 case files from the terror from one district as a microhistory of Stalinist repression. In contrast, the MGU students are leading a team that will digitize approximately 100,000 files. The digitized collection will be published at the site Open List, a collaborative database of victims of Stalinist repression.

The project has great potential as a scholarly database, of course. For scholars working on the history of state repression, the history of Stalinism or using quantitative methods to explore other aspects of history and society, the collection promises to be a major source of data. More importantly, though, the database helps to fill a moral void that Vatlin exposed in Agents of Terror. In the conclusion, he states that his work is just a “fragment of an immense tragedy”:

 “In the fairy tale of the snow queen, a kingdom fell into an age of
darkness when a cursed mirror broke into myriad pieces, sowing
frosty indifference among its people. As in this fable, the living
fragments cast asunder in Soviet power’s war against its people
will weigh upon us until they are retrieved and placed into the light
of day—to the very last person.” (144)

Open List is one example of a group working to put these pieces back into place. Even as archival access has become more difficult in some instances, researchers, NGOs and state employees continue their work to bring new evidence to light about the Soviet past.

 

 

Seth Bernstein is assistant professor of history at Higher School of Economics in Moscow. He is the translator of Agents of Terror: Ordinary Men and Extraordinary Violence in Stalin’s Secret Police (University of Wisconsin Press, 2016) and Liudmila Novikova’s An Anti-Bolshevik Alternative: The White Movement and the Civil War in the Russian North (University of Wisconsin Press, 2018), and the author of Raised under Stalin: Young Communists and the Defense of Socialism (Cornell University Press, 2017).

 

The Other Paris

 

Post-Colonial Paris: Fictions of Intimacy in the City of Light, a new book by today’s guest blogger Laila Amine, is published this week in the series Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture

When I meet new people and they hear my French accent, the conversation often veers to Paris, its beauty, its rich culture, or to the dream of one day visiting the City of Light. Their fantasy of Paris (and France more broadly) and my experiences as a child of North African immigrants in government subsidized housing could not be more different. In the cultural imaginary of Paris, there is little room for the working class multi-racial outskirts, unless the subject is Islamic culture and the subjection of women and queer subjects.

The Paris imagined in Maghrebi, African American and French immigrant cultures was both invisible in the scholarship and hypervisible as the “Badlands of the Republic” in French mainstream media. Like the city of the Francophile tourists, this other Paris is largely an imagined territory, albeit associated with crime, unbridled patriarchy, and violence.

Un-shackling the sensational and the Paris outskirts, this book chronicles everyday life in the impoverished sectors of the French capital in various contexts and cultural traditions. We find versions of Postcolonial Paris in post-World War II Maghrebi and African American expatriate fiction, 1980s beur fiction and cinema, and contemporary French immigrant cultures. Together, works by Driss Chraïbi, Mehdi Charef, William Gardner Smith, Faïza Guène, J.R., and Princess Hijab register the shifting politics and grammars of race in a nation where it does not appear on the census and where the public overwhelmingly condemns it as an Anglo-Saxon importation.

Spanning 1955 to 2015, authors of African descent have pondered the French tyranny of universalism and interrogated the myth of Paris as a space of liberation for the African diaspora. Some of the most well-known Francophiles, such as James Baldwin, also wrote about a French capital marred by colonial exclusion. By desegregating the cultural study of Paris to include its impoverished outskirts, the book reveals that writers and filmmakers have deployed Franco-African intimate encounters to articulate the political exclusion of racialized subjects. In the colonial and contemporary eras, their narratives of intimacy can help us better understand the ways in which gender and sexual difference work(ed) to construct, maintain, or challenge racial boundaries.

Postcolonial Paris would not have been possible without the numerous scholars of Postcolonial French Studies, Paris Noir, and Black Europe who paved the way, including Sylvie Durmelat, Anne Donadey, Nacira Guénif-Souillamas, Trica Keaton, Alec Hargreaves, Jarrod Hayes, Michel Laronde, Neil MacMaster, Adlai Murdoch, Mireille Rosello, Paul Silverstein, Tyler Stovall, and Benjamin Stora.

Laila Amine is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was born and grew up in France.

How Nazis co-opted German folklore studies

Our guest blogger is James R. Dow, whose new UWP book is published today: Heinrich Himmler’s Cultural Commissions: Programmed Plunder in Italy and Yugoslavia.

Traditional costumes, Folk Art Museum, Innsbruck. Photo by Reinhard Bodner.

“Oh, what a wonderful career you must have had, a specialist in German folklore! All those fairy tales and legends, beautiful folk songs, charming costumes , and those delightful buildings we’ve seen in open-air museums.”

Well, it’s more complicated than that. German folklorists and linguists included world-famous scholars, beginning with the Brothers Grimm and continuing well into the twentieth century. As the Nazis rose to power, however, these disciplines were distorted into racist pseudoscience. Under the direction of Heinrich Himmler’s SS-Ahnenerbe (Ancestral Inheritance), folklore became a tool for constructing a unified German realm and a manufactured lineage from ancient and “pure” Germanic and Nordic blood.

German folklorists and linguists were certainly not alone in selling out to the National Socialist regime, but they were called on to provide the ideological base for Heinrich Himmler’s SS-Ahnenerbe (SS-Ancestral Inheritance). A total of fourteen men and two women, mostly highly educated, became part of cultural commissions sent on a mission to two German-speaking areas: the province of South Tyrol in Italy and Gottschee in Slovenia.

Himmler assigned them to research “the space, spirit, deed, and inheritance of the Nordic races of the Indo-Germanic realm.” The commissions adhered to a belief in a stream of blood, but it proved to be nothing more than a popularized concept of “race,” with everything based on the self-deluding construction of a unified Germanic realm. This was pseudoscience masquerading as hereditary science.

The commissions found pre-Christian tales, ancient Germanic customs, worship sites, architecture, songs sung in parallel fifths, and the last remnants of a Gothic language still very much alive in the mountains, valleys, and villages of the Southern Alps.

Cow decorated with a floral swastika. Photo courtesy of Josef Rainer.

Why is this important? Himmler’s project was arguably the largest field investigation of traditional folklore in history, and the depth of the research carried out on that “Gothic” language, Cymbrian, is unparalleled. But the research was done as part of multiple projects of the SS-Ahnenerbe, which also included conducting medical “research” on prisoners in the concentration camps at Dachau and Natzweiler. When Wolfram Sievers, the business director of the Ahnenerbe, stood trial in Nürnberg in 1946, one piece of evidence brought against him was his collection of Jewish skulls, most likely from Natzweiler. You can view part of his trial on YouTube.

This was state-sponsored research, and some of the researchers were from the same universities where German excellence in scholarship had been unquestioned. The entire undertaking in Italy and Slovenia became nothing less than an affront to honest and responsible scholarship, state-mandated or otherwise. Public sector folklore studies and linguistic documentation today can learn much from this unprecedented and unparalleled occurrence in the annals of the humanities and social science scholarship.

James R. Dow is a professor emeritus of German at Iowa State University. He is the author of German Folklore: A Handbook and The Study of European Ethnology in Austria. He is the editor of numerous books, including The Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythologyand Legend and The Nazification of an Academic Discipline.

 

Talking about civilian complicity with the Pinochet regime’s violence

Civil Obedience: Complicity and Complacency in Chile since Pinochet by Michael J. Lazzara is published this week in the series Critical Human Rights. We spoke with Lazzara about issues raised by his book.

Q. Why is it so important to talk about civilian complicity now, more than forty years after the September 11, 1973, coup that put General Augusto Pinochet in power?

A. In the midst of the Cold War, the Pinochet regime (1973-1990) came to power as a violent reaction against democratically elected President Salvador Allende’s “Peaceful Road to Socialism.” Pinochet’s seventeen-year dictatorship resulted in the murder, disappearance, and exile of thousands of Chilean citizens who longed to build a more just and equitable society, as well as the torture of tens of thousands more. Throughout the 1990s, the early years of Chile’s transition to democracy, people almost exclusively attributed the Pinochet regime’s human rights violations to the military, the most egregious perpetrators. Yet we know that dictatorships are always supported behind the scenes by a cast of complicit civilians who play roles—major or minor—in perpetuating the violence and who, through complex processes of rationalization, manage to turn a knowing blind eye to the torture and murder of their fellow citizens.

The stark reality is that many of those who supported the Pinochet regime “behind the scenes” in the 1970s and 1980s remain active in politics, business, and other sectors today. Victims, their families, artists, academics, journalists, lawyers, and concerned citizens have struggled for decades to fight for memory and create a culture of respect for human rights. To a great extent, they have succeeded. But we can’t easily forget that memory and human rights constantly find themselves under attack from political and economic forces that still perpetuate certain violent attitudes fostered under dictatorship.

Q. Is the public discourse of these civilian accomplices relevant for thinking about the “post-truth” era in which we’re living?

A. Definitely! My book is not only about civilian complicity in Chile but also about how civilian accomplices remember and justify their past actions and commitments. I use the phrase “fictions of mastery” to talk about the vital lies (or partial truths) that such accomplices spin, both publically and privately, in order to live with themselves or to convince others that they were acting in the “best interest” of the country or out of a sense of patriotic duty.

Clearly, our contemporary scene is full of individuals who spin stories to advance particular agendas or maintain their hold on political and economic power. My book deconstructs and “outs” such self-serving fictions—and actors—while also advocating for a need for accountability (moral, ethical, and even judicial, when applicable).

Q. Your work provocatively suggests a relationship between complicity and complacency. How are these two concepts linked?

A. The question is important because it forces us to ask: Who is complicit? My book answers this question boldly, even somewhat controversially. It asserts that the spectrum of complicity is vast—that it includes not only those who participated directly in the dictatorship’s crimes but also those who knew what was going on but stood by and did nothing. Even more assertively, I argue that the vast spectrum of complicity in Chile may very well include certain people who years ago fought for revolutionary change and social justice and who now, decades later, wholeheartedly embrace the neoliberal model that the General and his civilian economists espoused. I call these revolutionaries-turned-neoliberals “complacent subjects” and wonder if their political stance, interested in protecting their own status and wealth, might be construed as a form of complicity with the dictatorship’s legacy.

Q. The Chilean dictatorship ended nearly three decades ago. Many analysts praise the country’s transition to democracy as highly “successful.” Why is it important that we continue thinking today about the legacies of the Pinochet regime?

A. Many people, especially economists outside of Chile, have called Chile an “economic miracle” because its economy did relatively well when compared to other countries in the region. This may indeed be true by some measures. But we cannot forget that Chile’s economic strength has its origins in a dark history of torture, disappearances, and murders. We also can’t forget that, despite its economic growth, Chile remains one of the most unequal countries in the world. Moreover, socioeconomic inequality has sparked massive protests and deep disenchantment with political elites from across the ideological spectrum.

The past does not go away. Anyone who goes to Chile today can see and feel signs of the dictatorship’s legacy everywhere. It’s palpable! The political and economic class that sympathized with the dictatorship is now back in power, and the dictatorship’s constitution, penned in 1980, remains in effect. There are still families who have not located their disappeared loved ones. And despite the valiant efforts of those who have struggled to create a culture of human rights and justice, every so often people in positions of power appear in the media denying past human rights violations or explaining them away. Schools avoid talking about the recent past, particularly at the primary and secondary levels. Lots of families remain politically divided. For all of these reasons, it is just as important now as it was in the 1980s and 1990s that we continue the fight for accountability, truth, and justice.

When I began researching Civil Obedience, eight years ago, almost no one was talking about civilian complicity with the South American dictatorships. The topic was complete public taboo. Over the past five or so years, important works of journalism have started to address the subject, and it is now commonplace to hear people in Chile use the term “civilian-military dictatorship” (dictadura cívico-militar). I hope that my book will help fuel an honest debate about the uncomfortable ways in which Chile’s brutally violent past still maintains a hold on the present.

Michael J. Lazzara is a professor of Latin American literature and cultural studies at the University of California, Davis. His several books include Chile in Transition: The Poetics and Politics of Memory and Luz Arce and Pinochet’s Chile: Testimony in the Aftermath of State Violence.

Critical Human Rights
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors 

 

New Books & New Paperbacks, May 2018

We’re pleased to announce the following books to be published this month.

May 8, 2018
Death Rides the Ferry
Patricia Skalka

“An intricate, intriguing plot in which Door County Sheriff Dave Cubiak can stop a ruthless killer only by finding the link between a spate of murders and a forty-year-old mystery.”—Michael Stanley, author of the Detective Kubu series

“Skalka is equally skilled at evoking the beloved Door County landscape and revealing the complexities of the human heart, as Sheriff Cubiak’s latest case evokes personal demons. This thought-provoking mystery, set in a beautiful but treacherous environment, is sure to please.”—Kathleen Ernst, author of The Light Keeper’s Legacy

 

May 15, 2018
Civil Obedience: Complicity and Complacency in Chile since Pinochet
Michael J. Lazzara

Critical Human Rights

“Original, engaging, and direly needed. Lazzara, one of the leading scholars writing on human rights, memory, and trauma in Chile and Argentina, looks at the many ethical positions civilians have latched onto to save face in the decades since the Pinochet dictatorship.”—Greg Dawes, author of Verses Against the Darkness

“Provocative, conceptually powerful, and fluidly expressed, Lazzara’s book forces a reckoning with the active, ample ways Chileans violently transformed politics, the economy, and the social fabric to lasting effect and amid ongoing denial. The arguments and implications extend well beyond Chile to our own politics and societies.”—Katherine Hite, author of Politics and the Art of Commemoration

 

May 29, 2018
Heinrich Himmler’s Cultural Commissions: Programmed Plunder in Italy and Yugoslavia
James R. Dow

“Unshrouds folklore’s manipulation by Nazi leaders, and thank goodness for that, even if it is uncomfortable to confront. Dow has unearthed, and deftly explained, an incredible storehouse of material from Himmler’s cultural commissions, probably the largest organized field collecting project in history. The lessons he astutely draws are critical for understanding the Nazi era and are relevant to today’s cultural politics. A great achievement.”—Simon J. Bronner, author of Explaining Traditions

“Dow analyzes the motives of the protagonists of Himmler’s Cultural Commissions, and his treatment of the ideological preconditions for the field investigations is compelling. A major contribution to our understanding of Nazism.”—Konrad Köstlin, University of Vienna

 

May 31, 2018
Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937-1946

Now in Paperback
James P. Leary

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest

• Grammy Nominee
• Winner, Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award for Best Historical Research in Folk or World Music

“A stunning work of curation and scholarship. . . . Whether you’re a music-maker or just a listener, reader, and thinker, there’s a surprise on every track and every page.”Huffington Post

“A treasure. . . . Leary’s deep knowledge of the subject matter is demonstrated by thought-provoking facts placing the dance tunes, ballads, lyrics songs, hymns, political anthems, and more in historical context.”Library Journal

“A landmark. . . . Attains the highest standards of folklore studies.”Journal of Folklore Research

J.D. SALINGER, NAZIS, AND VEDANTA HINDUSIM

Eberhard Alsen’s new book, J.D. Salinger and the Nazis, is published today. We interviewed Alsen about his work.

 

Q. When did you first read any fiction by J.D. Salinger?

A. I became a Salinger fan in 1966 after reading “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and the rest of his Nine Stories. After that I read the other six Glass Family Stories. Only much later did I read The Catcher in the Rye, the novel for which Salinger is best known.

Q. What is it about Salinger that led you to become a scholar of his work and life?

A. By following up on the many references to Vedanta Hinduism in Salinger’s stories I discovered that he had been taking courses at the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center in New York. I enrolled in a seminar similar to the one Salinger took, and I travelled from Cortland, New York, to New York City every Friday for six months. This was in 1977. In 1978, I was invited to a Ramakrishna Center retreat on an island in the St. Lawrence River where we did an intensive study of the Upanishads. Salinger had attended that same retreat a few years earlier. In short, Salinger inspired me to convert to Vedanta Hinduism.

My first Salinger book, Salinger’s Glass Stories as a Composite Novel, is an interpretation of the seven Glass Family Stories in terms of their Vedanta ideas. The impetus for that book came from Salinger’s inscription in a book he gave to his teacher Swami Nikhilananda. In that inscription, he says that he wrote Franny and Zooey “to circulate the ideas of Vedanta.”

Q. In your research on Salinger’s WWII experiences, what discoveries surprised you?

A. Everyone who has written about Salinger’s war experiences claims that the nervous breakdown he suffered after the end of the war was due to the stress of combat. But Salinger was not a combat soldier. He was an agent for the Counter Intelligence Corps. The daily reports of his CIC detachment in the National Archives show that he never fought the Germans in battle because he did his CIC work well behind the front lines.

Q. As a native of Germany, what special skills or insights were you able to bring to the research of this book?

A. First of all, I still read and speak German very well because, after I moved to the United States in 1962, I have regularly gone back to Germany, on three occasions to teach at German universities. I therefore had no problems evaluating German documents relating to Salinger’s activities in Germany.

Also I have a good understanding of the German military that Salinger faced because my father was an officer in the Wehrmacht and because I myself served in the post-war German Army.

And finally, I understand what Salinger’s problems were in rounding up old Nazis after the end of the war because my father was a Nazi, and I have many documents relating to my father’s denazification.

CIC officers at work

Q. Did Salinger participate in the Denazification Progam, and what did that program entail?

A. After his discharge from the U.S. Army in November of 1945, Salinger signed up for an additional six-month stint as a special investigator for the Counter Intelligence Corps. His task was to track down and arrest Nazis who had gone into hiding, so they could be brought before a Denazification Court. Even before Germany and Austria had been completely occupied, the Allies––the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and France––had created the Denazification Program. Its aim was to remove all Nazi officials from positions of influence and to punish all former members of the Nazi Party for having supported an evil regime.

Eberhard Alsen

Eberhard Alsen is a professor emeritus of English at Cortland College, State University of New York. He is the author of several books, including A Reader’s Guide to J.D. Salinger and Salinger’s Glass Stories as a Composite Novel.