A few days ago, I watched the award-winning movie, “12 Years A Slave.” It’s the kind of movie that punches you in the gut. You have to ask yourself, once the credits roll, what individual minds were thinking to inflict that much pain on one race of people. Was it power? Was it money? Or was it both? For some, sadly, the satisfaction of seeing someone in pain. The learned treatment of people who are weaker than you and the passing down of a culture from one generation to the next doesn’t explain the lack of ethics and human decency.
Yes, it’s the kind of movie that stays with you for a while. The scenes in the movie force you to reflect on the ability of men and women to inflict suffering on other people.
You would think that evolution and self assessment would force our species to move toward a more civilized state of mind and moral standing. Most of us have, but there are people on the globe who still want to take advantage of the disadvantaged, the unlucky, the ill-fated and the unfortunate.
The United States Department of State defines modern day slavery under the following categories: forced labor, sex trafficking, bonded labor, debt bondage among migrant laborers, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor, child soldiers and child sex trafficking. Estimates from different government and civilian agencies total between 12 and 27 million people forced to work without any avenues for escape. These are people who cannot walk away from their situation of their own free-will.
Even one person forced to work without any way to leave of their own free will is one more than should be tolerated. To have millions of people, many of them children, laboring under the threat of injury, violence, hunger or death is inexcusable in the age of instant communication from one continent to another. Where is the outrage?
These unfortunate people are forced to work primarily in mining, agriculture, sex trade, and textile industries. The products generated from this forced labor bring their immoral masters billions in profit. These products can find their way across the economic spectrum from computers, jewelry, clothing, phones to chocolate goods. The people used for generating this income live isolated lives under the threat of retaliation. They are subject to physical abuse, disorientation, and psychological stress. The survival instinct develops and they do what ever it takes to live another day.
However, there is some good news. Countries have been working to reduce forced labor and slavery if not at least put an end to it. Companies have begun to put policies in place to inspect their supply chain to see if any of the forced labor categories exist. Much like eliminating drugs, eradicating slavery and forced labor is a war on two fronts. The first attack should be to find the manufacturing and production sites and force the powers to change their ways. The other front should challenge the consumer to refrain from buying goods that rely on slave labor. It’s a difficult task but one that must be started and finished if we are to claim the better angels of our nature. 12 years a slave is a life time for anyone to endure but a person shouldn’t have to be one day a slave.
What can be the most satisfying aspect about history is its ability to right what has been wronged. The idea that time and a writer’s perseverance can fix what the present failed to do can be wholly satisfying. Let’s face it. Today we are only getting the partial truth. Sometimes it takes a journalist, author or researcher to uncover lost information and bring it forward above the layers of noise for all of us to see. It is satisfying to read how, through time and effort, someone’s reputation was repaired or another’s legacy was pulled down to into the valley from the mountain top.
There are many examples of history making it right. The case of Capt. Charles McVay, Commander of the USS Indianapolis, is one of many. McVay’s USS Indianapolis was hit by two torpedoes after delivering cargo on Guam while sailing toward Leyte Island 1945. Several hundred crew went down with the ship while several hundred more of the 1196 souls lost their lives drifting in the water for several days due to hyperthermia, starvation and shark attacks before being rescued. Capt. McVay, after being one of the 317 rescued, was convicted by court-martial of “hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag.” Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz remitted his sentence and restored him to active duty until his retirement in 1949. Nevertheless, this event haunted McVay for the rest of his life before committing suicide in 1968.
Due to painstaking research and several supporters working for him, in 2000 The United States Congress and President Bill Clinton gave him his redemption and passed a resolution with Clinton signing it. The resolution states, “he is exonerated for the loss of Indianapolis.” In July 2001, the Secretary of the Navy ordered his record cleared of any wrong doing.
It’s just one case of history correcting a wrong. Another case is President Gerald R. Ford. He pardoned former President Nixon on September 1974 for any criminal acts he may have committed while serving as President. At the time, this act was unpopular in many circles from the voting public to print and broadcast media companies and popular journalists. This decision probably was a major factor in costing Ford the 1976 election. However, history has a way of changing attitudes. In 2001, Ford received the JFK Profile in Courage award for making the controversial decision to pardon the former President. He said when receiving the award that “It was the state of the country’s health at home and around the world that worried me.” He seemed to know then what others seemed to comprehend many years later. The best medicine for the country was to move on.
President Harry S. Truman left office with his approval rating low. His Gallup Poll approval rating was hovering in the high 20s and low 30s. With the passage of time and several authors writing biographies about his life and presidential term, his ranking lately has been in the top 5 listing of the best Presidents of all time. Not that Truman would much care about where he was on the scale. He was only interested in getting the job done. That’s why he called in former President Herbert Hoover to help with feeding the population of war-torn Europe after World War II. Hoover is another President whose reputation took a hit in the 1930s. Hoover came through for Truman then and became a valuable asset and information resource for Truman and other Presidents to follow until his death in 1964.
These are just a few examples of change. History changes many things: Slavery, the Soviet Union, the Right to Vote, the creation of the State of Israel, Prohibition, the treatment of Native Americans and many others. What matters is, people do change and with that comes the correction of many wrongs, the condition of human foibles and the elimination of evil when needed.
Today’s writers have to admit that past investigative journalists (Woodward, Bernstein, and others) who went after President Richard Nixon after the Watergate break-in have a bit of irony to live with today. In a classic law of unintended consequences, since Gerald R. Ford’s Presidency, historians and journalists have been denied the fascination of looking back at an Administration’s legacy by listening to oval office audio tapes. The zealousness of attacking Nixon and forcing his resignation has deprived journalists and authors of pulling back the curtains to see how the White House brokers exercise power.
I write about this because of the current story in the headlines concerning President Lyndon Johnson’s latest audio tape release that shows how Johnson dealt with President Nixon’s perceived interference with the Vietnam peace talks before the 1968 Democratic Convention and Presidential Election. The tapes reveal that Johnson knew that Nixon used a proxy to approach the South Vietnam ambassador to tell him to hold off on accepting peace terms from the Johnson administration because he could get them a better deal. Johnson ultimately decided not to make this public due to security issues but did tell candidate Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who never used the information thinking that he had the election won.
It’s a fascinating bit of history in a long line of Presidential audio tapes. The history of audio tapes recording power broker meetings in the oval offices dates back to 1940. President Franklin Roosevelt got the tape rolling in a word and every President until Nixon used it since that time. The total hours for these audio tapes amounts to just under 5000, recording for history telephone conversations and meetings from both political parties. President John Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon were prolific in their use of the audio recordings. A discussion concerning what is on those tapes is for another day. Look at what the media and learning institutions could have been pouring over with a critical eye if audio recordings would have continued. Journalists and lawyers won the battle but lost the war. They proved a point that politics is a dirty business but at the same time they short-changed history. Because of what happened to Nixon, no President since has wanted to put himself in that kind of situation by having that kind of evidence used against him. And for good reason, since Nixon, gotcha journalism has ruled the headlines in addition to 24/7 television and internet media outlets. There’s an empty space everyday that media professionals have to fill.
If not for Nixon’s poor decisions and paranoia, the media and lawyers working the circumstances, today’s writers, authors and college professors would have been analyzing and listening to meetings and phone conversations detailing a number of historical events. I am not saying that Nixon was without fault, but as a historian it is regrettable that major events are not on tape for others to analyze today. Reading someone’s words is not the same as hearing a President or Chief of Staff or Cabinet member at the moment with the personality that comes with speaking the words. One only has to listen to President Johnson’s tapes to understand that.
These are just of a few events lost to history.
President Ford-The Nixon pardon, the national recovery from Nixon’s resignation, the economic recovery, the Middle East peace process, the 1976 Election.
An argument could be made that if Nixon wasn’t forced to turn over the audio tapes, there never would have been a Ford Administration.
President Reagan-The Grenada Invasion, the Cold War strategy, and disarmament talks, the Berlin Wall Speech, the 1984 Election, The Libyan Bombing, The Economic Recovery, The Space Shuttle Disaster, the 1988 Election.
President Clinton-The 1992 Election, The David Koresh Waco disaster, the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, The Somalia Conflict, the Haitian support operation, Osama Bin Laden, the first terrorist attack on the twin towers, the 1996 election, the 2000 election.
President George Bush-The 2000 Election, 9/11 Terrorist Attack, the Afghanistan Invasion, The Iraqi Invasion, Osama Bin Laden strategy, the defense build-up and strategy, the 2004 Election, the Financial Crisis, the 2008 Election, Hurricane Katrina.
President Obama-The 2008 Election, the economic crisis, the Osama Bin Laden decision, the gun control issue, the 2012 Election.
Those are just a few events from each President since Nixon. There are several more topics that would have been enlightening if there would have been an audio recorder in the Oval Office. The point is, due to past events, we, the public, have missed out on many behind the scenes decisions. The curtain remains forever closed where the great and powerful work behind.
Former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez died from a long battle with cancer on March 5, 2013. He was a long line of authoritarians, dictators, and oppressors who annoyed the United States’ politicians and presidents throughout the last 100 years or so. This brings to mind the role of the government in bringing about change for better or worse in other countries. Yes, Monday morning play calling is always perfect and much clearer.
On the other hand, the United States had to make decisions based on the best interests of their country just like Chavez supposedly did for Venezuela. Yes, for those who are sanctimonious when it comes to America’s history in determining leadership disputes, the President and Congress make decisions based on the best results for the United States at that moment with a collective eye toward the future. Many dictators were supported because it was thought that the United States would have more influence over that person than a Communist government. Stopping the spread of Communism was a major issue when deciding who to support. Once in power some of these dictators, like the Shah of Iran, abused their authority. At the beginning, contrary to the present, the United States was interested in nation building only for itself.
The Monroe Doctrine resulted in the United States intervening in many disputes in South America during its infancy and after 1900 to the present day. The Founding Father James Monroe knew the kind of price many people paid to secure liberty. He refused to let instability within other countries disturb his country’s quest toward economic and cultural stability. He simply said that the United States has a say in what happens in their hemisphere, be it South, Central or North America.
Thomas Jefferson made the determination that the United States has a right to defend itself anywhere in the world when he sent the Navy and Marines to the Barbary States to defend our right to sail through their shipping lanes without paying a tribute for protection against the pirates in 1801. For the most part, throughout our history the United States remained a regional power and stayed out of European affairs until World War I. Afterward when President Woodrow Wilson tried to organize the League of Nations, he was stopped by his own Congress and the resolve of European victors for revenge toward Germany and its allies.
This is not a love-fest from sea to shining sea. The United States is not perfect considering our history of slavery and the treatment of Indians almost from Jump Street and the encampment of Asians in World War II. However, America has gone through a self-analysis and made an effort to refrain from past mistakes. Many other countries have their own questionable events and downright sordid history with despicable actions. The United States seems to get the most flak because it has jumped into the fray and tried to at least solve problems, even working with NATO despite that organization’s inaction toward preventing many genocidal horrors. There are many cases where the United States has done some good and helped a country and even solved major issues resulting in lives being saved. Here are some examples:
Completed the Panama Canal in 1914 and gave it back to the country in 1999. The canal is one of the chief revenue resources for the country today.
The Marshall Plan, providing reconstruction funds for European Nations after World War II.
The driving force for the establishment of the United Nations.
World leader in space exploration and research.
World leader in humanitarian aid.
Forced the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait after Iraq invaded in 1991.
It’s President’s Day February 18th. With that, it’s worth discussing the gradual, double-edged communication sword candidates have had to integrate into their campaign to get their ideas to the voting public. Today, information technology has given candidates faster, easier ways to present their solutions and ideas to Americans. It also means the news cycle is quicker and reaches a wider audience if there is a slip up in their strategy or if a candidate misspeaks or gets some facts wrong.
George Washington never campaigned openly for the Presidency. He was ambitious but thought brazenly crusading for the office to be uncouth. He was a master at working behind the scenes, talking to the right people, while appearing to not covet the office but would accept it for the betterment of the nation. As history shows, Washington was the perfect person to be the first President because he didn’t want any royal titles and his leaving after two terms set the standard for years to come.
In 1836, William Henry Harrison first used a train to campaign across America. Later in 1840, William Henry Harrison was the first to openly campaign for the Presidency running against incumbent Martin Van Buren with the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” “Tyler Too” refers to John Tyler who would take office after President Harrison’s death due to sickness brought on by a one hour and 45 minute inauguration speech in the freezing, cold, Washington, DC, winter. Harrison served one month before Tyler assumed the office.
Despite the use of mass transportation such as trains, Candidates James Garfield in 1880 and William McKinley in 1896 won their elections by just sitting on the porch and welcoming visitors and serving drinks. While they were visiting, the candidates had the opportunity to present their ideas and give campaign speeches. McKinley was also reportedly the first to use the telephone to make campaign calls.
After the turn of the century, President Teddy Roosevelt was the first to be documented on film delivering campaign speeches. His bombastic, fist pumping style was perfectly suited for silent film.
Soon afterwards, radio broadcasts appeared on the political scene. President Calvin Coolidge used radio to deliver addresses in the early 1920s. Later, the 1924 election featured the candidates Coolidge and Democratic candidate John Davis delivering campaign speeches on the radio.
The Presidential debates and conventions in 1952 were the first to use the television medium to get their ideas to the public. Eisenhower’s campaign created the first TV ad. The catchy tune, “We Like Ike.” Later, President Lyndon Johnson used the television medium effectively for the “Daisy” campaign ad that ran only once but was effective in beating Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964’s election. Before the development of cable and 24 hour news channels, candidates planned their strategy with the realization that fewer television channels and reporters existed. However, the audiences were larger per channel. Even so, the Public Broadcasting System didn’t begin until 1970.
Today the press pool is larger and news channels and producers require a constant news cycle with pressure to fill the air space and get ratings.
Presidential Candidates have to negotiate several cable news organizations as well as local affiliate news reporters and anchors. In addition, the internet, YouTube, Twitter, blog writers, mobile media have given candidates more information streams. Candidates also use or have to make themselves available for the morning talk show circuit on radio and television. Talk radio has also entered the world of campaigning that can keep a story alive well after the initial news cycle.
The 1996 campaign was the first to use the internet to send out literature such as brochures and other media. The 2000 campaign candidates, Governor Bush and Vice President Gore, each created and maintained their websites. Since then, the internet, with ads, email, and other informational sites, has continually evolved to be a significant part of a campaign.
Despite several additional communication sources to reach the voting public, there is no substitute for face to face, personal exposure–the shaking of a potential voter’s hands. The modern age has seen the use of trains as a recurring theme for presidential candidates. Besides Harrison being the first, others that have used the rails are Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, William Clinton, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and most famously, Harry S. Truman on his whistle-stop tour.
All of this means that candidates and incumbents have more ways, more paths, more streams to influence voters, get their ideas out, and communicate how they are better for the country than the other person. With these tools for discovery, it is entirely possible voters will elect a woman to the highest office, and soon.
The other side of the coin is that with more opportunities to reach and more hours in the day speaking on the public stage, the chances for a mistake or a misstep increase. The good news is; it is easier to correct it if you have a counter strategy. Technology is here to stay and the days of a candidate sitting at home on the front porch waiting for voters to arrive to hear him speak are long gone.
This is the beginning of a new category that will be part of my blog menu, “I’ll Take Potpourri, Alex.” This section of the URL universe is a place where I can write about anything I want with a slant towards history. This section will concentrate on recent, current and possibly future events. Today’s topic is the State of the Union speech with a nod to President Barack Obama’s address February 12.
It’s a task every United States President accomplishes every year since George Washington presented his to congress in January 1790. Presidents George Washington and John Adams delivered their state of union speeches in person to Congress. President Thomas Jefferson disliked public speaking and thought giving a speech to congress came a little too close to the way British Monarch’s addressed the Parliament each year. Jefferson didn’t want to do anything that smacked of British ways plus he had a high-pitched speaking voice and a lisp that didn’t serve him well communicating before large audiences. He decided to give his state of the union address to congress in writing and have it read to congress by a clerk.
This practice was kept until President Woodrow Wilson delivered his state of the union speech in 1913. The practice of presenting the speech in written form through the years had the result of reducing the president’s influence in legislative matters. With radio, and later television, giving the President a new avenue for a bully pulpit reaching millions, delivering the speech in person made sense so that more influence could be exerted directly and indirectly through constituents. President Calvin Coolidge’s State of the Union address was the first to be broadcast by radio in 1923. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s address was the first to be aired on television in 1953. By the 1960s, the address was moved to prime time television.
Two recent presidents come to mind I believe thoroughly enjoyed giving the state of the union speech. They are Presidents Ronald Wilson Reagan and William Jefferson Clinton. They just seem to relish the whole spectacle and ritual of being announced, walking down the aisle, shaking hands, and standing before the whole Congressional branch, with representatives from the Judicial Branch and the Pentagon, and constituents in the balcony, knowing that they were the big dogs in that neighborhood. You could see it in their eyes—they loved it! Besides the election, it’s the Super Bowl and World Series all wrapped up in one event for the President. The address is his chance to be and look Presidential. The speech is his chance to form a consensus while outlining his legislative priorities he believes will make the United States a better nation.
I get a laugh out of the congressional audience camera close up, television cut-away reaction shot depending on which party is in power. Once the President presents an idea, one side might stand and applaud while the other sits stone-faced, looking like they heard a joke from a comedian that fell flat. It’s half of the drama of watching. Who will the TV cameras focus on while sitting there obstinate? I almost want to see the President act like a college professor or teacher and ask the person not applauding, “Hey there, yes Senator, why aren’t you getting with the program, join the team and come in for the big win.”
The sitting on the hands routine is what makes America unique. We can disagree impolitely, as in a bar fight, or politely, as in sitting and staring, refusing to acknowledge the brilliance of a statement when others around you are cheering wildly.