Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Retired Emperor

August 22, 2016

Japanese Emperor Akihito may be thinking of abdicating his post because his age is making it difficult to fulfill his duties as emperor. The BBC has this story.

Japan’s Emperor Akihito has strongly indicated he wants to step down, saying he fears his age will make it difficult to fulfil his duties.

The revered 82-year-old emperor’s comments came in only his second-ever televised address to the public.

Emperor Akihito did not explicitly say he wanted to abdicate as he is barred from making political statements.

PM Shinzo Abe said the government would take the remarks “seriously” and discuss what could be done.

“Upon reflecting how he handles his official duty and so on, his age and the current situation of how he works, I do respect the heavy responsibility the emperor must be feeling and I believe we need to think hard about what we can do,” he said.

It is not as easy as that, though.

Why can’t the emperor abdicate? Abdication is not mentioned under Japan’s existing laws, so they would need to be changed for the emperor to be able to stand down. The changes would also have to be approved by parliament.

Emperor Akihito

Emperor Akihito

I am actually a little surprised that there is no provision for an Emperor abdicating under current Japanese law. There was a time, during the Heian period, in which the Emperor was not only permitted to abdicate, but was actually required to step down in favor of his successor.

The period of time from 794-1185, when the court at Heian ruled over Japan is known as the Heian period. This was a remarkable period of Japanese history, in which the Japanese fully absorbed the influences from China and made them part of a a uniquely Japanese culture. During the Heian period, Japanese arts, literature, and philosophy reached a peak seldom equalled in the centuries since. The influence of the Heian period on Japanese culture is something like that of ancient Greece and Rome in the West, the basis of everything that followed.

The earlier Heian period is also one of the few times in Japanese history in which the Emperor actually wielded political power, following the example of the all-powerful Chinese Emperors. Over time, however, the Imperial house began to decline in power and vigor, just as the various Chinese dynasties had. The powerful Fujiwara clan began to gain power at the expense of the Emperors. The Fujiwaras monopolized the top government posts and were the regents when an Emperor was a minor. They married their daughters to the Emperors so that a Fujiwara was always the Emperor’s father-in-law, with the filial obligations that brought. Eventually, the Fujiwara regents began to compel the Emperors to abdicate as soon as they were old enough to rule on their own. These Retired Emperors often became Buddhist monks and were referred to as Cloistered Emperors. By 1000, the Fujiwara regent was the emperor of Japan in all but name, while the reigning Emperor was a figurehead.

In any other country, it is likely that the people who had the power behind the throne would have grown weary of the pretense and seized the throne themselves, as the Frankish Carolingians had overthrown the Merovingians and were overthrown in their turn by the French Capets, or the succeeding dynasties of China had overthrown one another. In Japan, however, this was unthinkable. One of the ideas that the Japanese had not taken from Chinese politics was the concept of the Mandate of Heaven. The Japanese Emperor was the direct descendant of the Sun Goddess and thus always had the Mandate of Heaven, whatever the failings of his person or his line. The Fujiwaras had to be content with being regents.

In time, the Fujiwaras declined and the Imperial House began to reassert itself. In a characteristically Japanese fashion, the reigning Emperors, themselves, did not attempt to regain power. Instead, the Retired Emperors took power. This was the known as Cloistered Rule. So, during the period of Cloistered Rule, Japan was ruled by an all-powerful Emperor, who was in fact, a figurehead, with a Regent or Chief Minister from the Fujiwara Clan who was supposed to be powerful, but was another figurehead, while the real power was held by a former emperor who was in theory, merely a monk. It seems unnecessarily baroque and complicated, but the Japanese have generally preferred rule by consensus rather than by a single strong man. The system seemed to work well enough.

Then again, perhaps it did not. The members of the Imperial Court at Heian always had a strong contempt for common people and the outer provinces of Japan, what we might refer to as flyover country. For the court nobles, the common people were little better than domestic animals, while the military aristocracy who fought off the northern barbarians were themselves semi-barbarians. The Imperial Court became more insular and isolated from the concerns of the provinces. The members of the court became more concerned with their rank and position at court than with administrating the country. As a result, the military leaders in the provinces began to gain power and by 1185, after a series of struggles between several Retired Emperors and military clans related to the Imperial Family, a warlord named Minamoto no Yoritomo took power as the first Shogun (Supreme General), ending the Heian Period, and establishing the military dictatorship of the Shoguns that lasted through several dynasties of Shoguns until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The Imperial Court and the court nobility continued as before except they had no power and depended on the Shoguns for funds.

Emperors still occasionally abdicated in favor of their successor, but the custom of Cloistered Rule ended with the end of the Heian Period. The last Emperor to abdicate was Kokaku who reigned from 1779-1817. His position as Retired Emperor caused some trouble with the Tokugawa Shoguns, and it is perhaps not coincidental that from his reign, and retirement, the Imperial Court began the process of asserting itself against the Shoguns.

I don’t know when the laws about abdication were changed or whether the current law in Japan actually prohibits an Emperor from resigning or whether there is simply no provision for abdication. Judging from the article, it would seem to be the latter case. If so, than I can’t imagine there would be any reason to deny Akihito’s wish to abdicate, especially considering his age and health. There is, after all, ample precedent in Japanese history.

Who is David Duke?

August 15, 2016

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke has come out of whatever rock he has been hiding under to express his support for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, so naturally National Public Radio had to go speak with him about his endorsement and his run for a Senate seat from his native state Louisiana.

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke is running for U.S. Senate and tells NPR that he believes he’ll be getting the votes of Donald Trump supporters.

And he reiterated his own support for Trump, saying he’s “100 percent behind” the Republican presidential candidate’s agenda.

“As a United States senator, nobody will be more supportive of his legislative agenda, his Supreme Court agenda, than I will,” Duke said.

Trump, while he once said he didn’t know enough about Duke to comment on him, has several times disavowed endorsements by Duke. But that hasn’t stopped some white supremacists from publicly supporting Trump’s campaign.

Duke says that Trump’s attacks on Muslims and illegal immigration have brought his own beliefs into the mainstream.

The former KKK grand wizard, who describes himself as advocating for European-Americans, filed to run for an open Senate seat in Louisiana just one day after the Republican National Convention.

Who is David Duke. anyway, and why should anyone care who he endorses or what he is doing?

As noted, David Duke was a leader in the Ku Klux Klan. To be more precise, Duke was the Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan from 1974 to 1980. This is not as impressive as it might seem. The Ku Klux Klan hasn’t really existed since the 1930’s, at least not as a single national organization with a centralized leadership. Instead, the Ku Klux Klan has become a number of small fragmented groups with a handful of members. These rival Klans tend to hate each other, along with other racist groups, as much as they hate Blacks, Jews, the federal government and other perceived enemies. Because there is not any such thing as the Ku Klux Klan is existence any more, anyone with a few followers can start his own Klan with and declare himself Grand Wizard or Imperial Dragon or any other title he wishes. That is just what David Duke did. In 1974 founded the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and made himself Grand Wizard.

Duke didn’t fit the common stereotype of a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. He was not a drunken red neck constantly spouting racial slurs, but an articulate, educated, and telegenic figure who preferred to dress in business suits rather than Klan robes. He tried to change the Klan’s image from a band of violent racists to something like a White civil rights organization with an emphasis on nonviolence and legality. As a result, he became popular on the talk show circuit where liberal talk show hosts, like Phil Donahue, could present him as the charismatic leader of the new, growing and dangerous Ku Klux Klan.

It was all a lie. Duke’s Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was not rapidly growing in numbers and influence.The Klan remained divided and fractious and the more violent and old fashioned Klans, like Duke’s rival Bill Wilkinson’s Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan were actually more popular among racists. Duke himself was not a particularly good administrator or leader. In the late 1970’s, a reporter for the Tennesean named Jerry Thompson managed to infiltrate the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the Invisible Empire and discovered that Duke’s organization was a shambles. Meetings were rare and not well attended. Duke found it difficult to gather a quorum for Thompson’s initiation ceremony. The group seemed to exist more for Duke’s publicity than anything else. By contrast, Thompson found the Invisible Empire frightening with their more violent rhetoric and carrying guns everywhere. Even so, Wilkinson’s group had few members and despite a real  danger of individual Klansmen committing violent crimes, the organization as a whole was fairly ineffective. Thompson tried to play up the Klan threat in his book, My Life in the Klan, but all his investigative journalism managed to convey was how ridiculous Duke and the Ku Klux Klan actually were.

David Duke resigned his position as Grand Wizard in 1980 under somewhat murky circumstances. He claimed that he had become disenchanted because of the associations between the Klan and violence, particularly when he had no power to stop other Klans from committing violent acts. Instead, Duke decided to form a new organization the National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP). There were allegations that he had used funds from the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan to renovate his home. Jerry Thompson reported that Duke had met with Wilkinson and agreed to sell him the membership list for his organization. This was seen as a betrayal by many of Duke’s former associates.

Since then, David Duke has been busy writing and promoting his racist and anti-Semitic views. He was convicted of tax fraud and mail fraud back in 2002. He has also run for public office and generally losing. He did manage to win election to the Louisiana House of Representatives where he served from 1989-1992. He does not seem to have been a very effective legislator. Duke has generally run as a Republican, although he began as a Democrat and joined Ross Perot‘s Reform Party in 2000, working for Pat Buchanan.

The answer to the question, “who is David Duke?”, then, is that he is nobody of importance. David Duke is a failed politician and a failed leader of a fringe movement. There is no reason for anybody to really care what David Duke thinks on any issue. So, why does NPR think Duke’s opinions are worth reading? Maybe the editor’s note at the beginning of the article can explain.

NPR spoke with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who supports Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, because Duke represents the way in which white supremacists attach themselves to Trump’s campaign.

The logic is that because white supremacists support Donald Trump, Donald Trump must be a white supremacist. It doesn’t matter that Donald Trump is hardly running on a white supremacist platform. He has said some unpleasant things about illegal immigrants and Islamic terrorists, but I do not believe that it is racist to insist that we maintain some control over who gets into our country. This is simply guilt by association. Not even association, since I doubt that Donald Trump has ever met David Duke and may well have been telling the truth when he said he had never heard of him.

It is odd that no one seems inclined to look into the past associates of any Democrats. Barack Obama began his political career in the apartment of a left-wing terrorist and attended a church with a racist, anti-American pastor for many years. The Clintons have a number of unsavory acquaintances, not to mention their corrupt dealings with their Clinton Foundation. None of that seems to matter as much as a nobody like David Duke endorsing Donald Trump, just as the Clintons’ obvious corruption is somehow of far less importance than Donald Trump’s more idiotic public comments.

We have had a biased media for quite a long time, but I don’t think that I have ever seen them so determined to choose a winner for the next election, even if it means sacrificing what little integrity they still have and even if it means outright deception. I have never liked Donald Trump very much and I wish that someone else had been the Republican nominee, but I have to say that anyone who the liberal media hates so much must be doing something right.

 

Abolish the Police

July 18, 2016

A Black Lives Matter activist named Jessica Disu has called for the police to be abolished during what was called a heated discussion on the Kelly File, as reported on Fox News.

A Black Lives Matter activist from Chicago argued during a heated Kelly File discussion that American police forces should be abolished.

“Here are the solutions. We need to abolish the police, period. Demilitarize the police, disarm the police, and we need to come up with community solutions for transformative justice,” said Jessica Disu, drawing some shocked reactions.

The conversation started with Megyn Kelly asking the panel – which included Black Rights Matter supporters, law enforcement officers, conservative commentators and religious leaders – about some who praised the Dallas gunman.

Disu, who described herself as a community organizer, said that Black Lives Matter has never called for violence against anyone.

She did not comment when Kelly pointed out that some protesters have called for “dead cops.”

Megyn Kelly asked her how citizens would be protected if police forces were “abolished.”

“We need to come up with community solutions. The police force in this country began as slave patrol,” Disu argued.

The suggestion is not actually as crazy as it sounds. We believe that having a professional, uniformed, quasi-military style police force is essential for maintaining order in our communities, but in fact, the idea of a body of police officers with the duty of capturing criminals and investigating crimes is a surprisingly recent one, dating back only to the early to middle nineteenth century. Before that time there were no policemen, as we know them. Of course, there have been officials charged with maintaining law and order for as long as human beings have had governments, various forms of county sheriffs. town constables, city watchmen, etc. For the most part, these officials have had the duty of enforcing court orders, serving warrants, responding to citizen’s complaints, and keeping order. Pursuing criminals wasn’t their main function. In most cases, in the ancient and medieval eras, it was up to the victim of a crime and his family to resolve crimes committed against them and to bring the criminal to the attention of the magistrates. Often, there were no public prosecutors, as we know them, and it was up to the victim to bring charges against the criminal in court. If the identity of the criminal were not known, the victims could hire a thief-taker, something like a modern private investigator, to track down and capture the criminal.

This system probably worked well enough in a Medieval setting of a rural country with small villages where everyone knew each other. Social pressure would have prevented most people from committing crimes and it wasn’t too difficult to discover who was responsible for a theft or murder, etc. It perhaps worked less well in the larger cities of pre-industrial Europe, but conditions were probably manageable, at least for the elite. With the industrial revolution, cities such as London or Paris began to grow in population to an extent unprecedented in European history. There were large numbers of people moving to the cities in search of jobs and as a result crime increased to unprecedented levels. It was becoming obvious that something better was needed.

Robert Peel is often credited with establishing the first metropolitan police force in London in, although the gendarmes established by Napoleon in France anticipated his reforms in some respects. Robert Peel was a Conservative politician who would go on to become Prime Minister in 1834-1835 and 1841-1846, when he would prove himself to be something of a reformer. In 1829, Peel was serving as Home Secretary and had become greatly concerned over the rise in crime in London and other British cities. Acting on the recommendations of the committee he had created to resolve the problem, Peel got Parliament to pass the Metropolitan Police Act which created the first, tu, metropolitan police in history.

Strange as it may seem, the idea of having uniformed police patrolling the streets of London was fairly controversial when the Metropolitan Police Act was passed. For many Londoners, the idea of a semi-military force keeping order seemed more fitting for the despotic regimes of the Continent than for a free country like England. The freedom loving Englishmen, along with their former colonists in America had a particular horror of a large standing army as an instrument of tyranny. Kings used such forces to impose their will on the people. For this reason, Peel was anxious to emphasize that the new police force was not a military organization, but was a politically neutral body accountable to the public it served. The police wore blue uniforms, in contrast to red worn by British soldiers (redcoats) and carried no weapon except a club and a rattle, later replaced by a whistle, to call for assistance and he used no military ranks, except for sergeant. Above all, Peel saw his new police force as part of the public, not as something separate. “The police are the public and the public are the police”, he often said.

The London Metropolitan Police proved to be effective at controlling crime and police forces based on Peel’s principles were soon organized in other cities in Britain and the United States. Professional police forces like Peel’s have become the norm all over the world to the point where it is simply inconceivable for a modern society to be run without them, yet I wonder what Robert Peel would make of what we have made of his creation. I think he would be alarmed at the extent in which his critics have been proven right.

Remember that the most important principle on which Peel organized the London police around was the idea that the police were not soldiers occupying the city of London but were a professional, civilian organization dedicated to serving the public. Somehow, over the last century that principle has been eroded. All too often, the police today are organized on explicitly military lines with military-style ranks, uniforms and training. We have heavily armed police officers in armored personnel carriers and Special Weapons and Tactics units being increasingly used to perform the normal duties of police work. Inevitably, people who are trained almost as soldiers begin to act like members of an occupying army instead of public servants, particularly in areas where the ethnicity of the police differs from that of the community. They become warrior cops instead of public guardians.

An excellent question

An excellent question

I do not favor abolishing the police. We cannot go back to the simpler times in which a society could get by with informal law enforcement. Yet, maybe it is time to have sort sort of public discussion what sort of law enforcement serves us best in the twenty-first century. We may want to move away from the warrior cop model in which the police become almost as dangerous to civilians as the criminals towards a police force more integrated with the communities they serve. Demilitarizing the police seems to be a good first step. we certainly want to stop this tendency to see the police and the civilians as somehow being opposing sides. Both the police and the public, at least theoretically, want the same things; safe places to live.

For this reason, movements like Black Lives Matter and community organizers like Jessica Disu are doing more harm than good. By all means, police officers who break the law should be punished, and the police do not do their side any favors when they refuse to assist in the prosecuting wrongdoers in their ranks, but it is reckless and irresponsible to paint all police officers as racists bent on killing black men for no reason. This antagonism can only make needed reforms more difficult to enact, particularly when abuses which should concern everyone; Black and White, police and civilian become a matter of Black versus White and police against the civilians. We all have to learn to stand together or we will fall divided.

The Election of 1852

July 8, 2016

The election of 1852 was the calm before the storm. The issue of slavery, which had been inflamed over the issue of extending slavery to the territories won from Mexico, had been temporarily calmed by the Compromise of 1850. This compromise, like any good compromise had failed to satisfy either side and would eventually contribute to the sectional tensions that led to the Civil War. At the time, however, it seemed reasonable enough and probably did delay the Secession Crisis and the War by a decade.

The slavery issue was still out there, however, and since both the Democratic and the Whig parties required a broad, national coalition of North and South to win, neither major party was willing to nominate a candidate who had expressed a strong view on the slavery, or any other sectional, issue. This meant that both parties turned to candidates who had not played much of a role in national politics or had shown strong leadership in the civil government. Neither party was willing to take any real stand on the issues of the day and the Whig and Democratic party platforms were virtually identical. The election of 1852 was to be fought over personalities rather than issues.

The Democratic national convention met first, from June 1-5, at the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts in Baltimore, Maryland. The party was bitterly divided between the supporters of the four major candidates, Lewis Cass of Michigan who had been the nominee in 1848, James Buchanan of Pennsylvania who would be the nominee in 1856, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, and William L. Marcy of New York. Aside from these, there were various dark horse and favorite son candidates put in the ballots. None of the major candidates were able to obtain a majority of the delegates’ votes and none of them had a consistent lead or momentum over the others. On the thirty-fifth ballot, Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire was on the ballot. Pierce slowly gained votes as the balloting continued and by the forty-ninth ballot he was nominated.

Franklin Pierce had been a relatively obscure New Hampshire politician who had served as a Congressman from 1833 to 1837 and as a Senator from 1837 to 1842. He had fought in the Mexican War in command of volunteers from New England and had risen to the rank of Brigadier General. Pierce was personally opposed to slavery but considered the abolitionist the greatest threat to the Union. As a northern with sympathy for the south, Pierce seemed to be a perfect candidate. The Democrats went on to nominate Alabama Senator William R. King as Pierce;s running mate. King was a Unionist who opposed both the abolitionists and the more radical pro-slavery “fire eaters“. As it turned out, King was already very ill with tuberculosis and would die soon after becoming Vice-President.

The Whig Party’s convention also met at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore from June 17-20. Like the Democrats, the Whigs were divided. President Zachary Taylor had died after little more than a year in office to be succeeded by his Vice-president Millard Fillmore. Fillmore wanted to be nominated for another term but he was unpopular among some Whigs for his support of the Compromise of 1850 and many Whigs believed that he could not be elected for a term in his own right. They preferred to use the Whig standby of nominating a war hero, in this case, General Winfield Scott.

Winfield Scott was one of the most remarkable Americans of the nineteenth century and it is a pity that he is no longer so well known. Scott was a war hero who commanded forces in the War of 1812, the Blackhawk War, the Mexican-American War, and the Second Seminole War. He served as Commanding General of the United States Army from 1841-1861, longer than any other man who has served in that post and he holds the record as longest-serving active duty general in the US Army.  In his long tenure as Commanding General, Scott essentially created the army that was to fight in the Mexican War and the Civil War and he wrote the book on the tactics and drill used by the Army from 1840-1855. Scott was not only a brilliant general, but also a compassionate leader who because of his care for the men under his command and his adherence to military drill and discipline was known as “Old Fuss and Feathers. At 75, Winfield Scott was too old and ill to lead troops in the Civil War, nevertheless he did develop the Anaconda Plan of slowly dividing and squeezing the South into submission. This plan was ultimately used by the North, but at the beginning of the war it ran against the popular sentiment of “on to Richmond and end the war by Christmas” that prevailed in the North. Although Scott was proved right in his assessment that an quick and easy victory was impossible, he felt obliged to retire after the disastrous Battle of Bull Run, though Lincoln still consulted him throughout the war.Getting back to 1852, the Whigs nominated Winfield Scott for president after fifty-three ballots and selected former North Carolina Governor and Senator William Alexander Graham.

There were a number of third parties, most notably the Free Soil Party which nominated New Hampshire Senator John P Hale for President and Indiana Congressman George Washington Julian for Vice-President.

There is not much to be said about the general election. Despite Scott’s skills as a military leader, he was no politician and Old Fuss and Feathers somehow didn’t seem as appealing as Zachary Taylor’s  Old Rough and Ready. Scott seemed to be rather too military to be the civilian Commander-in-Chief. The Democrats warned of a “Reign of Epaulets”, contrasting the uniformed, rank conscious, professional Scott with the humble citizen-soldier Franklin Pierce who, like Cincinnatus, left to fight for his country and then returned to civilian life. Scott’s anti-slavery views also did not help him in the South.

The Whigs, in their turn, ridiculed Franklin Pierce for his obscurity. They also made use of an incident during the Mexican War in which Pierce fell off his startled horse and wounded himself in his groin and knee. While Pierce’s enemies claimed that he had fainted through cowardice or drunkenness, the truth is that Pierce fought with courage in the Mexican-American War, insisting on leading his brigade after the accident, even though he was in terrible pain. This didn’t stop the Whigs from deriding him as the fainting general and the “hero of many a well-fought bottle”.

In the end Pierce and the Democrats won by a landslide. Pierce got 1,607, 510 (50.8%) of the popular vote to Scott’s 1,386,492 (43.9%). Winfield Scott only won four states; Vermont, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Tennessee so the electoral vote was 254 to 42. The election of 1852 was to be the last presidential election in which the Whigs participated. The devastating loss in 1852, the deaths of party leaders Henry Clay and Daniel Webster that year, and increasing sectional tensions over slavery destroyed the Whigs over the next two years.

John Hale of the Free Soil Party got 155,210 (4.9%) popular votes, less than half of their 1848 showing, and no electoral votes. The lessened tensions over slavery in 1852 had caused many of the barnburners to return to the Democratic Party, but by 1856 the Free Soil Party would merge with anti-slavery former Whigs to create the Republican Party.

The Election of 1852

The Election of 1852

As for Franklin Pierce, he turned out to be somewhat over his head as president. He would have made a decent enough leader in peaceful times but he proved incapable of dealing with rising tensions over extending slavery in the territories and his support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act only made the polarization between North and South worse.

Independence Day

July 4, 2016

The Fourth of July is the day on which the American people celebrate their independence from Great Britain. It is not actually clear why Independence Day is the Fourth. Congress actually passed the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776. It has often been thought that the Declaration was signed on the fourth, but that doesn’t seem to be true. There wasn’t any one time when the members of Congress signed the Declaration and there were a few who didn’t get around to signing it until August. Nevertheless, the fourth is the date that stuck. As John Adams wrote to Abigail.

English:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

And so it has been, for the last 240 years. May God bless America and grant us many more years of freedom.

Happy Independence Day.

The Rise of Adolf Hitler

June 8, 2016

In my last post, I described how this internet meme was particularly ignorant because Donald Trump is not anything like Adolf Hitler and the social and political circumstances of Weimar Germany is nothing like contemporary America.

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It is also ignorant because the creator seems to know next to nothing about the rise of Adolf Hitler. The conventional idea about the rise of Hitler is that he was swept into office by a tidal wave of popular enthusiasm. That is certainly the story told by Nazi propagandists who were eager to cast Hitler as the embodiment of the Aryan racial will. The truth is somewhat different. Hitler gained power in Germany by taking advantage of certain features of the Weimar constitution which made it possible for someone like him to seize power and of the foolishness and timidity of his opponents who consistently underestimated him.

For most of the 1920’s the Nazis were very much a fringe party in German politics. Although a great many Germans essentially agreed with Hitler’s ideas about Jews, Aryans, the Versailles Treaty, and other matters, the Nazis seemed to be too lawless, violent, and, well, extreme, to appeal to the German middle class, especially after the hyper-inflation of the early Weimar years had ended and Germany shared in the general prosperity of the roaring 20’s. The Nazis were lucky to get 3% of the vote, when they were allowed to run at all. The Nazi Party was actually banned in many parts of Germany after the Beer Hall Putsch and because of the violent antics of the SA Stormtroopers.

This changed after the stock market crash of October, 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression. Germany was as hard hit by the Depression as every other industrialized country and as the German people became increasingly desperate, they were more willing to listen to people thought extreme only a year before. In addition, the increasing strength of the German Communist Party among the working class frightened many members of the middle class, who feared that a Communist victory would lead to a Soviet style dictatorship. Many Germans came to believe, perhaps rightly, that Hitler was the lesser evil.

In the September, 1930 Reichstag election the Nazis won 18.25% of the vote, going from 12 to 107 of the 577 seats, making them the second largest party in the Reichstag. The third largest party was the German Communist Party which had won 77 seats. Germany was in the peculiar position of having two of the largest political parties in its parliament dedicated to overthrowing the government and unwilling to join any coalition or participate in the cabinet. Both the Nazis and the Communists tried their best to disrupt the functioning of the government both in the Reichstag and in battles in the streets. Curiously, this policy of disruption helped rather than hurt the Nazis. With the quasi-military discipline of the SA and their well organized rallies, the Nazis were able to give the impression that they were the only people who had their act together in a nation that was falling apart.

The incumbent Chancellor, Heinrich Bruning, had the support of President Hindenburg and was able to put together a coalition composed of his Catholic Center Party and some other conservative parties. Bruning did not have a majority, however, and it became increasingly necessary for the president to use his emergency powers to permit the government to continue to function.

Hindenburg’s seven year term was set to end in 1932. Hindenburg was 84 years old and did not really want to serve a second term as president. He only decided to run for reelection because he feared that Hitler, who he detested, might be able to defeat any other candidate. The first round of the presidential election was held on March 13, and Hindenburg won, but with only 49.6% of the vote, necessitating a second round which was held on April 10. This time, Hindenburg won with 53% of the vote. Hitler was second with 36.8%.

Bruning’s government fell on May 30 and Hindenburg appointed Franz von Papen to be Chancellor. Papen had almost no support in the Reichstag, even from his own Catholic Center Party which regarded him as a traitor, but he did have the full support of President Hindenburg and using Article 48, was able to rule as a virtual dictator. Papen lifted Bruning’s ban on the SS and SA and indicated that he was willing to work with Hitler and the Nazis. This appeasement worked about as well for Papen as it later would at Munich, Hitler would not cooperate or join in any coalition unless he were named Chancellor. New elections were called for July 31.

In the July 31, 1932 election, the Nazis got 37.27% of the popular vote, the most the Nazis would ever get in a fair and free election. This was enough to get them 230 seats in the Reichstag, out of the total 608, making the Nazis the largest single party. The Communists were third with 89 seats, so the majority of the members of the Reichstag now belonged to parties dedicated to overthrowing the Weimar Republic. This made forming any coalition impossible and Papen continued to govern with the use of presidential decrees. Papen was not popular either in the Reichstag or with the German public and in September 1932, he was obliged to have Hindenburg dissolve the Reichstag and call for new elections on November 6.

The Nazis lost seats in this election. They got only 33.09% of the popular vote and dropped to 196 seats in the Reichstag. The Nazis were still the largest party, but it seemed as though they were beginning to lose momentum to the Communists who now held 100 seats. The party treasury was depleted and it is possible that if another election had been called within the next few months, the Nazis would have lacked the resources to maintain their position. However, the Nazis were to be saved by good fortune and the weakness of their opposition.

Papen resigned as Chancellor and was replaced by his defense minister, Kurt von Schleicher on December 3. Schleicher proved to be incapable of governing and resigned on January 23. Meanwhile, Papen had approached Hitler, proposing to convince President Hindenburg to make Hitler Chancellor in return for Papen being Vice-Chancellor. Hitler agreed and Papen was eventually able to persuade a reluctant Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor on January 30, 1933.It might seem to unwise for Papen to allow a dangerous demagogue like Hitler to have any position of power and Papen may be justly condemned for enabling Hitler’s rise to power, but Papen believed that Hitler would be in a weak position as Chancellor. The Nazis did not have a majority in the Reichstag and only held only three posts in the eleven member cabinet, the Chancellorship and two relatively unimportant posts. Hitler did not possess, as Papen did, the confidence of President Hindenburg. Hitler would be a figurehead, useful for rallying the masses behind the government’s policies, but contained, while Vice-Chancellor Papen would be the real power, or so he thought.

Hitler had no intention of being contained. What Papen and others did not understand was that Hitler did not wish to become Chancellor only to work within the system. He planned to overthrow the Weimar Republic. Hitler’s experience in the Beerhall Putsch had taught him that it was useless to fight a revolution against the power of a modern state. Instead, Hitler planned to use the German state to make his revolution.

The Reichstag had been dissolved when Hindenburg had appointed Hitler Chancellor so new elections were called for March 5, 1933. These latest elections were held in the wake of the Reichstag fire on February 27. Although the Nazis probably didn’t start the fire, as many suspected, the Nazis quickly made use of the arrest of a deranged Dutch Communist to instigate a national panic of an imminent Communist revolution. The next day, President Hindenburg issued the Decree for the Protection of the People and State, granting Hitler emergency powers to deal with the supposed insurrection. Hitler did not ban the Communist Party and any other opposition to the Nazis but they were harassed and their leaders arrested. The Nazis and their allies were backed by the full power of the state by the next election and the Nazis got 43.91% of the popular vote giving them 288 out of 647 seats in the Reichstag. The Nazis still did not have a majority, even though they were in control of the electoral process and had used the Brownshirts to provoke violence on the streets and at opposing parties’ meetings. The Nazis formed a coalition with the German National People’s Party and with the support of the Catholic Center Party was able to pass the Enabling Act, giving all legislative power to the Chancellor on March 24, 1933.

Hitler quickly established a totalitarian dictatorship over Germany, outlawing all political parties except for the Nazis and imprisoning anyone who dared to oppose the new order. By the next elections in November 1933, the Nazis won in a landslide 92.11% of the vote gaining all 661 seats in the Reichstag. Considering that the Nazis were the only party permitted to run and it was hinted that voting against the Nazis, or refusing to vote at all might have unpleasant repercussions, the surprising thing is that 7.89% of the German voters actually submitted blank ballots in protest.

The 86-year President Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934 and Hitler arranged to abolish the office of President and assume its power in his own person as Führer and Reich Chancellor. The Weimar Republic was over and the Third Reich had begun.

Trump is not Hitler, We are not Weimar

June 6, 2016

I am normally a strong advocate for freedom of speech and naturally I oppose the censorship of any type of speech no matter how offensive it may be. I would like to make one exception to this rule. I think that anyone who compares any American politician to Adolf Hitler, or any other totalitarian dictator should be punished, perhaps with a flogging. There are no figures in American politics that are even remotely like Hitler and such a comparison is not only ridiculous but an insult to those people who really have suffered, or are presently suffering under the rule of a dictator.

According to some, Donald Trump is the latest incarnation of Adolf Hitler.

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This is simply ignorant. The political system and social conditions of Germany’s Weimar Republic in the 1920’s and 30’s were very different from the circumstances in twenty-first century America. While the creators of the Weimar Republic intended to form a liberal, democratic republic, there were certain aspects of the German constitution which made it easier for a potential dictator like Hitler to seize power than is the case in the United States. Also, Hitler did not gain power in Germany in quite the way that is popularly believed. Hitler did not become the Führer by being swept into power by a vast popular movement. Rather, Hitler was made Chancellor as a result of a backroom deal with politicians who thought they could use him.

The government of the German Weimar Republic was a multi-party parliamentary system. The German parliament was bicameral with the lower house, the Reichstag, having considerably more power than the upper house, the Reichsrat. The Reichsrat represented the various federal states of Germany and was largely advisory. The members of the Reichstag were elected by universal suffrage, using the principle of proportional representation. Voters voted for national party lists of candidates and each party received the number of seats in the Reichstag proportional to its share of the national vote. This system encouraged the formation of small, splinter parties since a party could appeal to a small segment of the population and still get seats in the Reichstag.  Because of the large number of parties, each seeming to want to turn Germany in a different direction, it proved to be difficult to form lasting coalitions with the result that the Reichstag became ineffective, particularly after the Great Depression began.

The leader of the Reichstag and head of the cabinet was the Chancellor. He was the head of government and the one responsible for getting legislation passed. The head of state was the President, who had considerable power of his own. He was the head of the armed forces and could dissolve the Reichstag, leading to new elections within sixty days. Under Article 48 of the constitution, the president had the power to rule by decree in an emergency. Article 48 was one of the tools Hitler used to seize absolute power in Germany though the last president of the Republic, the aging war hero Paul von Hindenburg also used Article 48 extensively as the Reichstag proved increasingly unable to act. In a sense then, Hitler did not create a dictatorship in Germany so much as step into a dictatorship already made.

 

The political and social circumstances of the late Weimar Republic and the twenty-first century United States couldn’t be more different. Elections in the United States use the single member, first past the post system. Each Congressional district elects one Representative, with whoever gets a plurality of the vote gaining the seat. Every state elects two Senators, but no state elects both its Senators in the same election and again whoever gets the most votes wins. The presidency is a little more complicated because of the electoral college, but the same principle applies. This system tends to empower a majority at the expense of the minority since the candidate with 50.1% of the vote wins and the 49.9% who voted for the other candidate may feel disenfranchised. This system also has the effect of encouraging large, broad-based political parties and coalitions since a political party needs to appeal to a majority at least in some regions in order to get any seats in Congress. This first past the post system makes it very difficult for any third party to gain power since, unlike a proportional system, they cannot get any power unless they outright win an election. This makes it very unlikely that a fringe party like the Nazis could get anywhere in American politics. A would-be Hitler would have to run as a Democrat or Republican, and he would have to persuade the majority of American voters to elect him, something the Nazis never managed to do in Germany.

Even if a Hitler managed to become president, it doesn’t seem likely that he would make himself into a dictator. The constitution contains no provisions for a president to assume emergency, dictatorial powers and I think that a president who made an overt attempt to declare himself Führer would meet with a lot more opposition than Hitler had. Remember that a great many Germans detested the Weimar constitution as something imposed upon them by the “November Criminals” who surrendered Germany at the end of World War I. A large number of Germans, perhaps a majority, felt that the Weimar government was somehow illegitimate, and Hitler wasn’t the only one calling for its overthrow. I do not think that a candidate who openly proposed scrapping the American constitution in favor of a socialist dictatorship would have much support. Certainly none of the current presidential candidates are calling for the government to be overthrown. Bernie Sanders may call himself a socialist, but he is quick to add that he is a democratic socialist who wants to expand the welfare state, not a revolutionary who is going to impose a Hugo Chavez style dictatorship. Donald Trump may have only the vaguest of notions about the constitutional separation of powers, but he isn’t saying he wants to be the Führer.

Hitler came to power in the midst of the Great Depression, the worst economic climate of the past century. We are not currently even in a recession. It may be true that America’s recovery from the last recession has been rather lackluster but the economy is nowhere near as bad as it was then. There are people who have been displaced by the processes of globalization and advancing technology, but their plight is not even close to the suffering of the Great Depression. The United States has not recently lost a war in which a generation had been decimated and we have not had a humiliating treaty with crippling reparations imposed upon his. America in 2016 is simply not an environment in which a Hitler is likely to thrive, nor is Donald Trump anything at all like Hitler in ideology, politics, or mannerisms. As I said before, this internet meme is simply ignorant.

 

Don’t Say Eskimo

May 9, 2016

If you want to understand why people hate what is commonly called political correctness, you don’t have to go much further than to read this article from NPR explaining why we should not use the word “Eskimo”.

Confused about the word Eskimo?

It’s a commonly used term referring to the native peoples of Alaska and other Arctic regions, including Siberia, Canada and Greenland. It comes from a Central Algonquian language called Ojibwe, which people still speak around the Great Lakes region on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border. But the word has a controversial history. (Editor’s note: And that’s why it’s not used in the stories on Greenland that NPR has posted this week.)

Actually, no, I wasn’t at all confused. Eskimos are those people who live far to the north. I doubt many people are in the habit of asking NPR for advice on what words to use and it seems rather presumptuous for the author of this article to tell the rest of us what is appropriate or offensive. Most people resent being told to use certain politically correct expressions, even when it is well intended.  But to continue.

People in many parts of the Arctic consider Eskimo a derogatory term because it was widely used by racist, non-native colonizers. Many people also thought it meant eater of raw meat, which connoted barbarism and violence. Although the word’s exact etymology is unclear, mid-century anthropologists suggested that the word came from the Latin word excommunicati, meaning the excommunicated ones, because the native people of the Canadian Arctic were not Christian.

But now there’s a new theory. According to the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, linguists believe the word Eskimo actually came from the French word esquimaux, meaning one who nets snowshoes. Netting snowshoes is the highly-precise way that Arctic peoples built winter footwear by tightly weaving, or netting, sinew from caribou or other animals across a wooden frame.

But the correction to the etymological record came too late to rehabilitate the word Eskimo. The word’s racist history means most people in Canada and Greenland still prefer other terms. The most widespread is Inuit, which means simply, “people.” The singular, which means “person,” is Inuk.

Of course, as with so many words sullied by the crimes of colonialism, not everyone agrees on what to do with Eskimo. Many Native Alaskans still refer to themselves as Eskimos, in part because the word Inuit isn’t part of the Yupik languages of Alaska and Siberia.

But unless you’re native to the circumpolar region, the short answer is: You probably shouldn’t use the word Eskimo.

So, “Eskimo” was bad because it was believed to be derogatory, but now it may not be so bad, but we still shouldn’t say it because an Eskimo might be offended.

The fact is that few Native American tribes or nations are widely known by the names they call themselves. Most Indian groups are commonly known by the names others have given them. Some are of obvious European origin, the Black Foot, Nez Perce, Creek, Delaware, Crow, or Beaver. In most cases, these are translations of their original names into English, French, or Spanish. Many are known by names given by their enemies, thus; Sioux (little snakes), Mohawk (man eaters), or Iroquois (real snakes), or their friends like Comanche (they fight with us). Some of the tribal names derive from European attempts to pronounce unfamiliar words, Ute from Nuutsiu, Seneca from Osininka, or Illini from Illiniwek. Of course, there are the names we use for the people as a whole. Indians are only called Indians because Columbus didn’t know where he was, and while the Indians are certainly natives to this continent, they did not call themselves Americans.

It is not just the Native Americans who are not called by the names they call themselves. No one in China knew that they were Chinese until they met the Europeans. The Chinese call themselves the Sons of Han and their country is the Middle Kingdom (Zhong Guo). China seems to be derived from the first Imperial dynasty the Qin. The Indians had many names for themselves, since India is a very diverse country, but India is derived through Persian from the Indus River. The most common Indian word for India is Bharat. The Hindu religion was not called Hinduism until the Muslims started to conquer India. Before that time, the Hindus had no need of a word to distinguish their religion.

Our Western civilization largely began with the Greeks, but the words Greek and Greece come from Latin. The Greeks knew themselves as the Hellenes and their country as Hellas. We call the Deutsche Germans and Deutschland Germany, while the French refer to them as Allemands and Allemagne from the German tribe the Alamanians. This isn’t just an European colonialist custom. The Arabs and Persians refer to Europeans as al-Faranj and Farangi from the Franks.

It seems that almost no one in the world is called by outsiders by the same name they use for themselves. It doesn’t seem practical to go through every language and change every term that might be offensive to someone somewhere in the world  so I think I’ll just go on saying Eskimo.

Eskimos

Eskimos

The Czars

April 11, 2016

There is a tendency, when writing of the history of a nation, to focus on the actions of rulers of that nation. American history books tend to divide American history by presidents, while British books differentiate the eras of British history by kings and queens, and later prime ministers, Chinese by dynasties, and so on. This approach is understandable since while kings and emperors may not have as much control over the events of the nations they rule as they would like, their reigns do give convenient dividing points between periods and eras. Still, there is often a lot going on that has little to do with the actions of any rulers and a history focused on the ruling class risks overlooking many factors and events in the country’s history.

This approach may be more justified in the case of Russian history, than in the histories of most other nations. For much of its history, Russia has been ruled by a strong, centralised government with political power vested in one man or woman, the Czar. The personality of Russia’s Czar was the most powerful influence on the development of the Russian nation. Russia only became a unified nation when the earliest Czars were able to establish control over the unruly boards and the Orthodox Church, become strong enough to defeat the invading Mongols, Poles and Lithuanians and take the title of Czar. The history of Russia is the history of its Czars.

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The Czars by James P. Duffy and Vincent L. Ricci tells the story of Russia’s czars, from their messy beginnings as the Vikings who raided, traded, and then settled the vast Russian lands to the murder of Nicholas II at the hands of the Bolshevik revolutionaries. It is a fascinating story, well told by the two authors. They give a biography of every Czar, the early and obscure princes of Kiev and Muscovy no less than such titanic rulers as Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, giving something of the personalities and lives of each Czar as well as the historical circumstances of their reigns. I found the early history of the unification of Russia to be particularly interesting as this was a period that I didn’t know much about. Most histories of Russia seem to cover this time in the first chapter before quickly moving on to Ivan the Great and his son Ivan the Terrible.

The only fault that I can find with The Czars is the absence of maps. A map of the Ukraine and the European part of Russia would have been very handy, especially if it included all the little principalities and cities that were absorbed by the growing Russian state in its earliest years. I found myself having to consult Google maps to get some idea of where the various regions of European Russia were in relation to each other and where the battles against the Mongols and the Poles took place. A genealogy of the two Russian dynasties, the Ruriks and the Romanovs would also have been useful, especially with the early Ruriks who had not yet established the tradition of handing down power from father to son, and with the more tumultuous times of trouble in which several short-lived and distantly related Czars followed one another in succession. Despite these shortcoming, I still found the Czars to be interesting and informative.

Return of the Baron

March 28, 2016

Baron Hill was the Congressional Representative for the ninth Congressional district of Indiana, the district I happen to live in, from 1999 to 2005 and 2007 to 2011. Now he wants to be one of Indiana’s Senators.

David,

I have known Baron Hill a long time. I worked to get him elected to Congress and was honored to serve as his Chief of Staff — and I am thrilled the Indiana Democratic Party has endorsed him to be our next U.S. Senator.

Baron is the just the kind of man we need in Washington. He will start fixing problems again in Washington instead of playing political games that we see coming out of the Republican majorities right now.

Will you add your name to let Baron know he has your support in 2016?

Baron’s roots in this great state go deep. He grew up in Seymour as the youngest of seven kids, played basketball at Seymour High, and worked in his family’s small business. He’s seen firsthand the changes the past many years have brought to Indiana.

Baron knows we are at a turning point. Inequality is growing as working families are getting left behind. Special interests have a voice in Washington, but what about regular people?

He is going to be a voice for all Hoosiers — our voice. He’ll fight for an economy that works for everyone. He’ll work to grow our local businesses and make college affordable for our kids.

Baron knows Indiana is worth fighting for. But he needs us standing with him.

Will you add your name to show you’re on Baron’s team in 2016?

Baron Hill will do the job he is elected to do in the U.S. Senate, and he needs your help today.

Thank you for all you do.

John Zody
Chairman
Indiana Democratic Party

I remember Baron Hill very well. It’s not likely that anyone outside of the state of Indiana would know anything about Mr. Hill, although he did receive a certain amount of national attention before his defeat in the 2010 election. Here are a few videos to remind the viewer who Baron Hill is and why he doesn’t belong in the Senate

 

The political terrorists he refers to are his own constituents who happened to object to his vote supporting Obamacare. Because they were actually challenging him over his vote, he considered them to be the same as al-Qaeda.

Here is another.

 

This isn’t a town meeting in which the representative of the people of the ninth Congressional district responds to the concerns of the people, but an audience in which the Baron deigns to speak to his subjects.

There are a lot more videos of Baron Hill being dismissive or rude to his constituents at town hall meetings, etc. He is apparently something of a sore loser as well, if the people in this video are correct.

This is why Baron Hill was defeated in 2010. His name, Baron, seems to fit him very well. He acts with all the arrogance and condescension to his “inferiors” as some medieval baron. He is part of the problem of an arrogant and unresponsive political elite that is causing Americans to turn to outsiders for leadership, even such obviously unqualified candidates as Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. Baron Hill is the last person I would want to see in the Senate.


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