Tag Archives: politics

New books in May 2017

We are pleased to announce six new books to be published in May.

May 9, 2017
WHISPERS OF CRUEL WRONGS
The Correspondence of Louisa Jacobs and Her Circle, 1879-1911
Edited by Mary Maillard

Louisa Jacobs was the daughter of Harriet Jacobs, author of the famous autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. That work included a heartbreaking account of Harriet parting with six-year-old Louisa, taken away to the North by her white father. Now, rediscovered letters reveal the lives of Louisa and her circle and shed light on Harriet’s old age.

“A rich and fascinating portrait of Philadelphia’s and Washington D.C.’s black elite after the Civil War. Even as the letters depict the increasingly troubled political status and economic fortunes of the correspondents, they offer rare glimpses into private homes and inner emotions.”—Carla L. Peterson,author of Black Gotham

Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography
William L. Andrews, Series Editor

May 16, 2017
TO OFFER COMPASSION
A History of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion
Doris Andrea Dirks and Patricia A. Relf

“Conservative Christianity has become synonymous with opposition to abortion, but before the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized it in the U.S., clergy organized to protect pregnant women and direct them to safe abortions. Dirks and Relf explore this extraordinary and little-known history through detailed first-person interviews and extensive research with Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy who, between 1967 and 1973, created a pregnancy counseling service and national underground network to provide women with options for adoption, parenting assistance, and pregnancy termination. . . . Critically important social history that too many in today’s abortion wars have never known or chosen to forget.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

 

May 23, 2017
SPIRIT CHILDREN
Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana
Aaron R. Denham

“A brilliant, sensitive, and moving book about the heartbreaking phenomenon of infanticide. This is a book to be taken seriously by hospital personnel, public health policymakers, NGO workers, and anyone interested in the fate of the world’s most vulnerable young children.”—Alma Gottlieb, coauthor of A World of Babies

“A skillful ethnography of the spirit child phenomenon in northern Ghana—children who fail to thrive, are feared to harm their families, and therefore should be ‘sent back.’ This insightful, theoretically rich analysis offers a nuanced ecological, economic, and cultural explanation of maternal attachment.”—John M. Janzen, author of The Quest for Therapy in Lower Zaire

Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture
Thomas Spear, Neil Kodesh, Tejumola Olaniyan, Michael G. Schatzberg, and James H. Sweet, Series Editors

 

May 23, 2017
THE LAND REMEMBERS

The Story of a Farm and Its People  9th Edition
Ben Logan
With an introduction by Curt Meine

“Ben Logan is strikingly successful in recalling his own boyhood world, a lonely ridge farm in southwestern Wisconsin. . . . He reviews his growing-up years in the 1920s and ’30s less with nostalgia than with a naturalist’s eye for detail, wary of the distortions of memory and sentiment.”—Christian Science Monitor

“A book to be cherished and remembered.”—Publishers Weekly

 

 

May 30, 2017
PINERY BOYS
Songs and Songcatching in the Lumberjack Era
Edited by Franz Rickaby with Gretchen Dykstra and James P. Leary

As the heyday of the lumber camps faded, a young scholar named Franz Rickaby set out to find songs from shanty boys, river drivers, and sawmill hands in the Upper Midwest. Pinery Boys now incorporates, commemorates, contextualizes, and complements Rickaby’s 1926 book. It includes annotations throughout by folklore scholar James P. Leary and an engaging biography by Rickaby’s granddaughter Gretchen Dykstra. Central to this edition are the fifty-one songs that Rickaby originally published, plus fourteen additional songs selected to represent the

Franz Rickaby

varied collecting Rickaby did beyond the lumber camps.

“[Rickaby] was the first to put the singing lumberjack into an adequate record and was of pioneering stuff. … His book renders the big woods, not with bizarre hokum and studied claptrap … but with the fidelity of an unimpeachable witness.”—Carl Sandburg

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest Series
Joseph Salmons and James P. Leary, Series Editors

 

May 23, 2017
The second book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series
DEATH AT GILLS ROCK
Patricia Skalka

“In her atmospheric, tightly written sequel, Skalka vividly captures the beauty of a remote Wisconsin peninsula that will attract readers of regional mysteries. Also recommended for fans of William Kent Krueger, Nevada Barr, and Mary Logue.”
Library Journal, starred review

“Three World War II heroes about to be honored by the Coast Guard are all found dead, apparent victims of carbon monoxide poisoning while playing cards at a cabin. . . . The second installment of this first-rate series (Death Stalks Door County, 2014) provides plenty of challenges for both the detective and the reader.”Kirkus Reviews

“Skalka captures the . . . small-town atmosphere vividly, and her intricate plot and well-developed characters will appeal to fans of William Kent Krueger.”Booklist

Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era

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Law professor Michael O’Hear has just published his new book with us this week: Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era. We spoke with him about his findings on this timely subject.

A lot has been written in the popular and academic press about mass incarceration, as the number of Americans in prison has increased tremendously since the 1970s. What does your book add?

Most writing on mass incarceration deals with the subject as a generalized national phenomenon. However, the vast majority of American prisoners—about seven in eight—are held in state institutions after being sentenced in state courts under state laws. Really, it is state-level policies and practices that have driven the unprecedented imprisonment boom that we have seen in the U.S. over the past four decades. This helps to explain why mass incarceration has hit some states a lot harder than others. Yet, there are very few studies that explore the experience of particular states in depth. We will not have the full story of mass incarceration in America until state experiences are better understood.

My book covers the historical development of sentencing policy in Wisconsin over a period of more than forty years. Only a handful of other states have been studied in a comparable fashion. I hope to enrich the literature by putting another state that has had a distinctive experience under the microscope. Of course, I think my book will also hold a special appeal for Wisconsinites who are interested in better understanding and possibly reforming penal practices in their own state.

How hard did mass incarceration hit Wisconsin?

In some respects, the Wisconsin experience has been representative of the overall national experience. As with most other states, Wisconsin’s prison population rose sharply in the last quarter of the twentieth century and remains today near its all-time high. At present, the prison population amounts to about 377 out of every 100,000 state residents. This figure is not far off the national average of 402 state prisoners out of every 100,000 U.S. residents.

However, Wisconsin’s numbers do stand out in at least two ways. First, the state’s prison population grew remarkably quickly, even by national standards. In the early 1970’s, Wisconsin’s imprisonment rate was only about half the national average. In essence, Wisconsin went from being a low-imprisonment state forty years ago to a middle-of-the-pack state today. Second, mass incarceration hit Wisconsin’s African American community in an especially dramatic and disheartening way. By some measures, Wisconsin may have the nation’s very highest rate of black male incarceration. In some neighborhoods in Milwaukee, in particular, imprisonment has become a routine and expected part of the life experience of young men of color.

What caused Wisconsin’s prison population to grow so quickly?behind bars

Let me first address two common errors about mass incarceration. I’ve heard these stories often from commentators both locally and nationally, but the Wisconsin experience does a good job of highlighting the problems with these accounts. First, many people think that mass incarceration was caused by the “war on drugs.” It is true that the imprisonment boom, at both the state and national level, coincided with a toughening of drug laws and a sharp increase in drug arrests. However, the vast majority of arrests have been for low-level offenses, like simple possession of marijuana, and the offenders have tended to cycle in and out of the criminal-justice system relatively quickly. Thus, in Wisconsin, the portion of the prison population serving time for drug offenses topped out at about 15 percent, and has since dropped to below 10 percent. The national numbers are a little higher, but the fact remains that mass incarceration would still exist even if every drug offender were released from prison tomorrow.

Second, it is often said that mass incarceration resulted from the adoption of mandatory minimums and other laws that took away the discretion of sentencing judges. It is true that Wisconsin, like many other states, adopted a host of new statutory minimums in the 1980s and 1990s. However, upon closer inspection, the minimums are revealed for what they really were—largely symbolic enactments that vented public frustration over crime without actually doing much to pump up the prison population. Minimums were relatively short, or narrowly targeted, or included safety valves that permitted judges to avoid them. In some states, like California, discretion was much more dramatically curtailed. However, the Wisconsin story demonstrates that mass incarceration happened without aggressive changes in sentencing law.

In Wisconsin, the prison population initially exploded because crime exploded, and because judges and prosecutors lacked confidence in the ability of the Department of Corrections to manage the rising tide of offenders effectively in the community. But then, even when crime stabilized in the 1990s, the prison population continued to grow, as indicated in the figure below. Sentences were becoming more severe, reflecting the entrenchment of tough-on-crime attitudes among criminal-justice officials. (In Wisconsin, as in most states, judges and district attorneys are elected, which makes it perilous for these key local officials to appear overly lenient.) For a few years, generous parole practices partly counterbalanced tougher sentences, but parole grew politicized in the mid-1990s and was effectively phased out. The formal elimination of parole through “truth in sentencing” helped to ensure that Wisconsin’s prison population would remain near its all-time high on a sustained basis.

Figure: Wisconsin Prisoners and Arrests for Violent Crime

Figure: Wisconsin Prisoners and Arrests for Violent Crime

Why should we care about the state or national imprisonment rate?

Commentators have been calling for large-scale decarceration in the United States for years. The numbers-crunchers tell us that that this could likely be accomplished with little or no adverse impact on public safety. The historical experiences of Wisconsin and Minnesota offer a telling comparison. The two states had similar crime and imprisonment rates in the early 1970s. Since then, Wisconsin’s imprisonment rate has grown far more quickly than Minnesota’s, but the crime rates have remained closely in sync.

In recent years, the opponents of mass incarceration have particularly emphasized the fiscal burdens of imprisonment. It is true that corrections expenses are stressing state budgets in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Local taxpayers are now paying more for corrections than they are for the University of Wisconsin, which hardly seems an ideal way to prioritize public expenditures. Still, I am skeptical that appeals to fiscal restraint alone will inspire much decarceration. Fear of crime remains widespread, and people resist thinking about crime policy in terms of dollars and cents; the stakes just seem too high.barbed wire

Reformers need to make the case that new sentencing policies would not only save money, but actually make us safer. Accumulating bodies of evidence show that imprisonment can make some offenders more likely to reoffend, while some types of community-based rehabilitative programming can significantly reduce risks of recidivism. However, I argue in my book that real reform likely requires more than just a good public education campaign.

Ultimately, as a society, we must move beyond the reflexive vilification of offenders and recognize their shared humanity. They are not just criminals, but also parents, children, spouses, neighbors, friends, and employees, and many desperately want to do something positive with their lives. Moreover, most come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have faced extraordinary adversity growing up, which ought to inspire at least a little compassion. If we care about the well-being of prisoners, and the well-being of those on the outside who are connected to them, then we should care very deeply about the excessive use of imprisonment that is reflected in the mass-incarceration numbers. This is not to say that we should empty out the prisons tomorrow. Saint Augustine taught us to hate the sin, but love the sinner. If we were really to take that teaching to heart, we would find ways to protect public safety and hold offenders accountable, but without doing so much unnecessary damage to so many human lives along the way.

Michael OMichael O'Hear‘Hear is a professor of law at Marquette University. He is an editor of the journal Federal Sentencing Reporter and has published many articles on sentencing law, criminal procedure, and public opinion about the criminal justice system.

 

Michael O’Hear

New books, December & January

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We are pleased to announce these new and soon-to-be-published books.

Published December 6
Inside Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts: Seeking Justice after Genocide
Bert Ingelaere
“This masterful study provides a balanced, nuanced assessment of Rwanda’s local courts, showing how diverse social dynamics influenced both the operations of gacaca and its outcomes in different local communities. Essential reading for anyone interested in transitional justice and conflict resolution, in Rwanda and beyond.”—Catharine Newbury, Smith College
Critical Human Rights   Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

 

To be published January 10Lamore-Reading-African-American-Autobiography-2016-c
Reading African American Autobiography: Twenty-First-Century Contexts and Criticism
Edited by Eric D. Lamore
“These provocative essays reveal the exciting state of African American autobiographical studies. The critical approaches explored here—from new-media studies and eco-criticism to reading the interplay between visual and verbal autobiographical acts—not only frame and interpret the life narratives proliferating within today’s digital and popular cultures, they enliven classic literary texts for a contemporary age.”—Angela Ards, author of Words of Witness
Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography   William L. Andrews, Series Editor

5526-165wTo be published January 10
American Autobiography after 9/11

Megan Brown
“Demonstrates how several American life-writing subgenres have reflected and responded to national and personal anxieties after 9/11. This accessible and well-argued book is an essential resource for understanding contemporary memoir.”—G. Thomas Couser, Hofstra University
Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography   William L. Andrews, Series Editor

 

To be published January 175415-165w
Understanding and Teaching the Cold War
Edited by Matthew Masur
“A superb collection of authoritative, imaginative, and even provocative essays on teaching the history of the Cold War, effectively merging historiography, methodology, and innovative use of primary documents.”—Jeremi Suri, author of Henry Kissinger and the American Century
The Harvey Goldberg Series for Understanding and Teaching History

John Day Tully, Matthew Masur, and Brad Austin, Series Editors

5493-165wTo be published January 17
Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era: 
How Judges Retained Power and Why Mass Incarceration Happened Anyway
Michael O’Hear
“Serious students of modern sentencing reforms—as well as everyone eager to understand the roots of, and potential responses to, modern mass incarceration—must have this book on their reading list. O’Hear thoroughly canvasses the dynamic story of Wisconsin’s uniquely important sentencing reform history.”—Douglas Berman, author of the Sentencing Law and Policy Blog

 

 

Readings on Syria and Cuba

2633Cleopatra’s Wedding Present: Travels through Syria
Robert Tewdwr Moss
Introduction by Lucretia Stewart

Robert Tewdwr Moss was a journalist of astonishing versatility who was murdered in London in 1996, the day after he finished this book. He left this lyrical gem as his legacy. Moss’s memoir of his travels through Syria resonates on many levels: as a profoundly telling vivisection of Middle Eastern society, a chilling history of ethnic crimes, a picaresque adventure story, a purely entertaining travelogue, a poignant romance—and now, a record of Syria in the late twentieth century, before the devastation of civil war.

 

5216-165wWinner, Luciano Tomassini International Relations Book Award, Latin American Studies Association
Cubans in Angola: South-South Cooperation and Transfer of Knowledge, 1976–1991
Christine Hatzky

“Hatzky convincingly argues that Cuba and Angola were not mere pawns in a proxy war between the Cold War superpowers, but that both countries worked as independent actors with their own specific interests in a relationship of equal partnership. . . . Well written and excellently translated.”American Historical Review

Angola, a former Portuguese colony in southern central Africa, gained independence in 1975 and almost immediately plunged into more than two decades of conflict and crisis. Fidel Castro sent Cuban military troops to Angola in support of the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA), leading to its ascension to power despite facing threats both international and domestic. What is less known, and what Cubans in Angola brings to light, is the significant role Cubans played in the transformation of civil society in Angola during these years. Offering not just military support but also political, medical, administrative, and technical expertise as well as educational assistance, the Cuban presence in Angola is a unique example of transatlantic cooperation between two formerly colonized nations in the global South.

 

3495Transgression and Conformity: Cuban Writers and Artists after the Revolution
Linda S. Howe

“A brilliant synthesis of Cuba’s cultural production since the Revolution. Linda Howe offers the ultimate guide to understanding the cultural policies of the island. . . . Fascinating and comprehensive.”
—Cristina García, editor of Cubanísimo

Defining the political and aesthetic tensions that have shaped Cuban culture for over forty years, Linda Howe explores the historical and political constraints imposed upon Cuban artists and intellectuals during and after the Revolution. Focusing on the work of Afro-Cuban writers Nancy Morejón and Miguel Barnet, Howe exposes the complex relationship between Afro-Cuban intellectuals and government authorities as well as the racial issues present in Cuban culture.

 

 

A brief history of the Irish Nationalist Movement

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Paul A. Townend, author of The Road to Home Rule: Anti-imperialism and the Irish National Movement, provides some background on the turbulent political landscape in Ireland in the late 1800s. The University of Wisconsin Press is publishing this book today in the book series History of Ireland and Irish Diaspora

The Road to Home Rule tracks the relationship of discontented Irish patriots with their place in the British imperial system. As “jingo” imperial policies drove the relentless and often violent imperial expansion of the British Empire of the 1870s and 1880s, Irish political entrepreneurs capitalized on a rising, visceral popular Irish rejection of that system. The story parallels in certain ways the striking current turn in Anglo-American political culture towards anti-globalist populism.

Then and now, an ambitious and rambunctious political minority worked tirelessly, successfully, and, in the minds of the political establishment, unscrupulously, to disturb what many saw as an inevitable progressive march away from the past. This past was bound by localism and resentful identity politics, and this minority sought to move towards a brighter, more prosperous, and mutually advantageous transnational and interconnected future. In Ireland in the 1870s, Anglo-Irish elites led by the lawyer Isaac Butt imagined a new Ireland, ruled by its own parliament but even more closely connected to the British Empire, the great globalizing force of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. By granting Ireland local autonomy in the form of “home rule,” Butt argued to anyone in England who would listen that Irish grievances could be settled quickly, and reconciled Irish energy and human capital could be harnessed to help build the rapidly expanding empire.

Identifying with Benjamin Disraeli’s efforts to lead a populist turn in British imperial culture, and to embrace the inspirational potential of imperial grandeur, Butt and others believed that, properly led, Irish soldiers, merchants, and emigrants could leverage their longstanding service to Empire into a genuine partnership for ordering the world’s less civilized peoples. The joint project of spreading Christianity, British law, and building a global economy dominated by British technology, capital markets, communications, and transport infrastructure—railroads, telegraphs, and steamships—would thus transcend generations of petty sectarian animosities and festering grievances. All of this would allow the intransigent “Irish problem” to fade into the history books, a curiosity of the past, overcome forever by the force of progress, prosperity, optimism, and mutual enterprise.

In Ireland, however, this vision was disturbed by unanticipated developments, and was then swallowed up by a wave of frustrated and angry Irish populism. The uncharacteristically unimaginative failure of Disraeli to seize the opportunity presented by Butt’s offer of collaborative partnership frustrated Butt and his Irish allies. Rising economic distress in Ireland occasioned by the disruption of global agricultural markets compounded popular discontent. The situation boiled over as Disraeli, and then his Liberal successor, William Ewart Gladstone, embarked between 1878 and 1885 on a spectacular series of bloody imperial campaigns against Afghans, Zulus, Boers, Egyptians, and Sudanese peoples unwilling to accept Pax Britannica and all its benefits, which they never asked for.

It took the political entrepreneurship of Charles Stewart Parnell, however, and a handful of cosmopolitan allies—many of them globetrotting journalists and foreign correspondents, like the Fenian J.J. O’Kelly or Parnell’s close associate, Cork native Justin McCarthy—to capitalize on the populist opportunity afforded by these wars and economic disruptions. Parnell caught the pulse of Irish disgust and rejected any embrace of British imperial ambition. He worked to marshal anti-imperial Irish public opinion, stirred as it was by imperial violence, appalled by the imposition of “Zulu-whipped” British soldiers on the Irish countryside, and quick to see parallels between Irish, African, and Indian experiences of British power.  Parnell superseded Butt by forging a powerful bond with nationalist sentiment, building a transformative and enormously consequential new Home Rule movement that demanded greater independence and rejected Irish support for the imperial project. He and others used the press, especially the new technologies that encouraged the insertion of political cartoons, to promote a vision of empire building as an exercise in hypocritical brutality.

Photo Credit: National Library, Ireland

“Look on this, and on this,” July 1882; comparing the occupation of Alexandria with “Coercion” during the Irish Land War. Photo Credit: National Library, Ireland

By strengthening for many in Ireland the connection between opposition to Union and opposition to empire, Parnell made it nearly impossible for himself or his successors to reconcile Irish independence with imperial citizenship. They alienated forever many imperially minded Britons who rightly diagnosed the threat Parnellism posed to the emerging British-dominated global system. As Flora Dixie, the shrewd pioneering war correspondent and sympathetic critic of Parnell, noted at the time, her English friends were disgusted by the apparent unwillingness of a Home Rule Irish parliament led by Parnell to “agree to any imperial policy of the ministry.” “What would be the result,” she wondered, of this fundamental disconnect on foreign policy, “if not political anarchy?”

In embracing nationalism and rejecting the transnational progressivism of their day, these Irish nationalists acted more out of opportunism than ideology. The leaders of the Parnell movement were neither parochial nor anti-modern, but they did enormously frustrate a seemingly inevitable march of history towards a future that many believed would subordinate local economic interests, as well as cultural and political identities, to new power structures and forces of globalization. To achieve their political goals, Parnellite Home Rulers had to stoke public opinion, graphically caricature British power, and work to remind Irish people of their historical grievances. While they often encouraged sympathy and solidarity with other imperial subjects, their sometimes cynical embrace of contemporary racial attitudes also led them to encourage the Irish people to expect political success where less “civilized” peoples failed to resist British power. In their struggle against what they understood to be overwhelmingly powerful political and economic forces, they adopted an opportunistic and ethically fluid approach to building their movement into a transformative revolution.

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“Prophet and Loss.”; Satirizing the occupation of Egypt. Photo Credit: National Library, Ireland

How Brexit might be better understood by contemplating the Irish anti-imperialist campaign is too presentist an undertaking for this historian. But, it is interesting to note how contemptuous Butt and his contemporaries were about Parnell’s efforts, even while they acknowledged the potent destructive political force of charismatically led populist campaigns rooted in economic frustration, fiercely held “local” identities, and resentment of distant and unresponsive elites. As Mitchell Henry, one appalled ally of Butt, put it in a public letter in 1879, the new leadership was “revolutionary and criminal” in its rebranding of Irish patriotism as the rejection of empire. “The object of the Home Rule movement,” he insisted, was “to present Great Britain and Ireland as one empire, united together.”

The lessons of history are often invoked; one of the most important is that it can be very difficult to judge the likely verdict of the future on the choices made in a given present. Parnell remains a national hero in Ireland; his political genius is acknowledged by many who are less sure of the long term consequences of the political movement he led. But to the majority of his politically astute contemporaries, the savvy Irish elites of his day, Parnell was a demagogue who enabled the short-sighted and opportunistic rejection of the best way forward for the Irish people into a better future and a brighter era of cooperation. Because he refused to let go of the past and move on from bitterness and grievance, the argument went, his trading in the emotionally effective but short-sighted currency of anti-imperialism left the Irish outside of the power structures that self-interest dictated they accept and adapt to.

Townend-Paul-2016-cPaul A. Townend is a professor of British and Irish history at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. He is the author of Father Mathew, Temperance, and Irish Identity and the coeditor of Ireland in an Imperial World.

 

 

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.

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 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