“THOSE WHO HATE YOU DON’T WIN”: THOUGHTS ON NIXON’S RESIGNATION. Reblog: Sean Munger

Today (August 9) is a historical anniversary that, while I’m sure won’t go un-noticed, may well go unappreciated. Forty-six years ago today, on August 9, 1974, Richard M. Nixon resigned as President of the United States, the only president (thus far) to do so. Gerald Ford took over as the nation’s 37th President that afternoon. This was a pivotal event in U.S. political and social history. Nothing was ever quite the same, but perhaps for reasons that are under-appreciated or outright misunderstood.

Nixon, of course, resigned because of the Watergate scandal. In 1972, as he was running for re-election, a group of political spies paid by the White House broke into some Democratic Party offices to snoop around, and they got caught. This wasn’t really what got Nixon into trouble. What happened was, three days later, he told an aide, Bob Haldeman, to call the FBI and tell them to stop investigating the case. With those words, Nixon committed a crime–obstruction of justice–and the crime was caught on tape. In 1973 it was revealed Nixon recorded many of his conversations in the White House. He fought a year-long battle to keep the tapes, and especially this one, from coming out, but the Supreme Court ruled he had to turn them over. His political support drained away. To forestall impeachment and conviction, you might say Nixon “ragequit.”

I think the emotion he was feeling was more sorrow and shame than rage. Look at this, the full recording of his farewell speech to the White House staff. It’s 21 minutes long, but I’ve cued it up to 19:06 so you can hear his interesting advice to those who want to continue in government.

“Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty, always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”

The rest of the story: “Those who hate you don’t win”: thoughts on Nixon’s resignation.

The Monuments Men (and women): Let’s get it right this time. – SeanMunger.com

Let’s not just tear down racist Confederate monuments. Let’s put up something better in their place.

Source: The Monuments Men (and women): Let’s get it right this time. – SeanMunger.com

The Monuments Men (and women):
Let’s get it right this time.


Monuments matter. They just do.

Right now, in this moment of extraordinary reflection on systemic racism in our society arising from the quite justifiable outrage over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other African-Americans by racist police, it may seem like a lot of frothing and fuming over lumps of bronze and marble that have been standing in parks and in front of courthouses for more than a century is a waste of time and resources. It may seem especially reckless to be having this national conversation while the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 110,000 Americans and counting, still rages. But it’s not. This needs to happen. It’s a reckoning with our past and part of a reassessment of our history. As a historian, and as a white man who has benefited greatly from the systemic racism that’s embedded in so many institutions in our society, let me make this clear: the Confederate and racist monuments all need to go. Every single one of them. But we also need to do more than that.

More than a few parks and courthouse squares in the U.S. have seen a curious nightly ritual. Men and women, some wearing masks, come in the middle of the night with cranes and jackhammers, and the next morning another bronze Lee, Forrest or Beauregard is carted away to a storehouse. Historian Al Mackey of the Student of the American Civil War blog has been documenting many of the removals, here. But when the pandemic is over (if it ever is) and the clouds of tear gas from the protests clear, we’ll be left with a lot of empty pedestals whose very emptiness will remind us of the battles we fought over them and the pain they’ve caused. So, tearing down racist monuments isn’t enough. We need to put up something else in their places that cements in our minds a new version of history, supplanting the false and disingenuous pseudohistory of white supremacism that the erection of Confederate monuments, most of them in the early 20th century, was deliberately designed to build.

The header image of this article is a large statute of Union Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman in Washington, D.C. The picture above is a Google Maps street view of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, and the statue of the man on horseback in front of it is John Brown Gordon, a Confederate general and likely head of the KKK in Georgia after the war (though he never admitted it). The statute of Gordon, erected in 1907 specifically as a response to a race riot, obviously needs to be torn down and melted into ingots. But that will leave that ugly pedestal standing there. What do we replace it with? How about William Tecumseh Sherman?

Sherman, who burned Atlanta and carved a path of destruction through the state in 1864, would be a perfect choice to honor in front of the Georgia State Capitol. It would represent a wholesale turn against the slave-owning past of Georgia and a powerful rejection of the toxic “Lost Cause” pseudo-historical myth that tries to pretend that the Civil War was about anything other than slavery. In fact, I think a statue of a gilded General Sherman on a horse, similar to the one in New York City’s Sherman Plaza, would look so good in front of the Georgia State Capitol that I’ve taken the liberty of photoshopping an image to show you how nice it would look.

Created with Glimpse

CONTINUE ON SEAN MUNGER’S SITE:

I’m Sean Munger.

HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY – GREEN SCREEN, COMMENTARY & REBLOG BY SEAN MUNGER

We have long known — more than a hundred years and I suspect a lot longer than that — how what we do to Earth is a tragedy in slow motion. But the tragedy is not slow anymore. There is little time to fix it before it fixes us.

Each time I pass the river’s edge and see all the garbage thrown from passing cars, I feel sick. Each day if weather allows, we go to the road to clean up the mess passing cars have made by throwing bags from fast food joints into our woods. 

Now that America has moved most of our polluting industrial companies overseas, they are free to pollute in another place rather than here. As long as it isn’t next door, we feel free to ignore it. Nonetheless, we continue to wreak havoc with leaking pipelines, drilling rigs, and of course, fracking.

Digging down into the center of the earth for natural gas? What could possibly go wrong?  In case you would like to really watch the movie, here is the entire movie, straight from YouTube.

This wonderful movie was made by John Ford in 1941 about a coal slag destroying a once beautiful town. It is worth watching for many reasons including a highly intelligent script and fine acting, It’s also a reminder that today’s tragedy didn’t begin this year or even this century. We humans have been diligently working at destroying our home planet as long as we have been “civilized.”

🛑

The history of coal mining in Wales, spoil tip disasters and Roddy McDowall’s eternal youth are up for debate in our examination of this 1941 Best Picture Oscar winner.

Source: Episode 4: How Green Was My Valley – Green Screen

A MAJOR SEA CHANGE: WHY COVID 19 IS A TURNING POINT IN HISTORY – SEAN MUNGER

A major sea change: why COVID-19 is a turning point in history.

So, it is the end of March 2020, and many of us are sequestered in our homes, trying not to get the virus that’s now sweeping the globe and has already overwhelmed the health care systems of numerous countries. People are talking about little else. Clearly, this event is big–but how big, and what are the implications for our history as a whole?

This past weekend I made a video on this subject and so far people are finding it useful and insightful. Here it is.


I wanted to post this because this subject has been on my mind. Forget for a moment, the actual danger of this pandemic. I know we are not “going back” to where we were. It won’t happen. It never has. Following every plague and epidemic, society has made a significant shift. Other events shifted it too … but a worldwide disease always shifts society and the way the world sees itself.

The Black Plague ended serfdom in Europe and ultimately changed the culture of the continent.

The biggest plague of them all, the one that killed more people than ANY other plague in history including all the sweeps the Black Death made through the world, as well as all the deaths from AIDS and the deaths in World War One was the Spanish (not really Spanish) Flu of 1918. As an aside, that disease was born among the cattle in Kansas and grew to its full potential in the trenches of WWI. It wiped out 50  million people.

From it was born modern medicine, modern scientific research. Computer and advanced technology. It was the beginning of our now. Coronavirus is not as lethal as Spanish Flu, but nonetheless, it is sweeping the world at the same speed that characterized the 1918 flu. The pandemic will change the entire world. 

Sean deals with events that I don’t feel competent to deal with. In the end, life is going to change. Not so much for the boomer generation, but for everyone younger than us. One way or the other, we are not going back to where we were, whatever that meant. It will be different. Better, I hope.


And this is also my answer to Fandango’s Provocative Question.

We are not going back to what we were doing before. It is not only improbable — it is quite literally impossible. Many if not most of the jobs people had “before” will be gone. The places for which they worked will not reopen or will substantially downsize. Many small and medium-sized businesses will close and never reopen.

There will be a glut of ownerless homes on the real estate market unless the banking industry lets reality intrude on their business practices.

There will also be a lot fewer grandparents.

No amount of money injected into the economy will force “recovery.” We seniors probably won’t live to see the resulting social, economic, and cultural shifts because we don’t have 25 or 30 years remaining. But it will happen because it has always happened. The days before Coronavirus will be “the old days.” The days before March 2020 will be our “new” past.

FAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER: THE GULF BREEZE UFO HOAX , REVISITED – Reblog. Sean Munger

Fake me to your leader:
The Gulf Breeze UFO Hoax revisited.

On the evening of November 11, 1987, in the small town of Gulf Breeze, Florida, a sedate suburb of Pensacola, an ordinary suburban house was enveloped in a strange blue light coming from the sky. The owner of the house, a building contractor named Ed Walters, rushed outside and saw a flying saucer hovering above the street. Walters ran back into his house, grabbed a Polaroid camera and took several photos of the craft. The UFO reacted, shooting a blue beam at him that transmitted telepathic images. Then Walters blacked out, waking up later on his front lawn. The photos from the Polaroid camera revealed several spectacular shots of the space vehicle that he claimed he encountered.

This was, anyway, Ed Walters’ story. The photos were his chief corroboration: no one had taken such up-close and personal pictures of a UFO before. The fact that the camera was a Polaroid was significant. To those who have never heard of this device, which was nothing short of miraculous when it appeared on the market in the 1950s, it was a camera that used film that developed itself in a matter of minutes! It was thought (erroneously) that you couldn’t fake Polaroid pictures with the same sort of double exposure tricks that have been going on for as long as photography has existed. Ergo, Walters had to be telling the truth! Right?

One of Walters’s famous photos. Most experts concluded they were pretty crude fakes; a minority insisted they were real. Few believe in them anymore.

The November 11 “sighting” was hardly the end of the incident. After telling his story to a local newspaper–which caused an immediate sensation–Ed Walters began to report and document other encounters he said he had with the mysterious craft, the obvious implication being that they were aliens of some kind. In fact, Walters said he saw one of them on December 2, 1987, a strange robot-like device or perhaps a creature wearing a spacesuit. He also took many more photographs, including a shot of one of the saucers that landed on his street. As the media picked up the story, public interest increased, as it always does about phenomena like UFOs. Other people around Gulf Breeze began saying that they too had seen flying craft. Walters himself went on TV, including the popular show Hard Copyto tell his story. I remember seeing him on one of these shows. The Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), a non-profit that investigates UFO sightings, claimed that Walters was genuine. By mid-1988 the sleepy town of Gulf Breeze was known as one of the world capitals of UFO sightings, mainly for the quality of Walters’s pictures, which far exceeded the typical grainy, indistinct and wobbly pictures taken of previous supposed flying saucers.

Walters became something of a local celebrity. His TV appearances and the interest in his story eventually led to a book deal with William Morrow, which published The Gulf Breeze Sightings, authored by Walters, in 1990. Walters sold his house and bought a new one. The same year as the book’s publication, however, the owner of his old house–one Robert Menzer–was mucking around in the attic, looking for a water pipe, when he discovered a strange object wrapped in old drafting paper hidden behind a flap of insulation. Unwrapping it, Menzer revealed a model of a flying saucer, made of foam plates, cardboard, paper, and colored plastic gel.

Soon the gig was up. Walters insisted that he was framed. Someone, he claimed, had built a model of a flying saucer, broken into his empty house and hid it to discredit him. He did, however, admit that the drafting papers the model was wrapped in–which contained plans for the model–were his, but they must have been stolen from his trash. Then someone else in the town stated that he knew Ed Walters had previously been fooling around with photographic tricks, including double exposures that could be used even to fake the irreproachable Polaroids; among those who believed the Gulf Breeze UFO photos were faked, this was the leading candidate for how it was done.

The house and street where the alleged sightings occurred as they appear today, thanks to Google Street view. An unlikely place for an intergalactic encounter?

At last, Tom Smith, a local teenager, came forward and said that Ed Walters had shown him pictures of the UFO and urged him to go forward to the press with them. Smith had some of the pictures, and was able to show investigators exactly how Walters had faked the pictures–including how he had created a depression in the ground where one of the “saucers” supposedly landed. It was done with an upside-down trampoline. Thus, it was demonstrated pretty conclusively that Ed Walters had faked the incident, and that the amazing spaceship seen in his photos was, in fact, a cardboard and styrofoam mock-up only 9 inches long –- hardly impressive for an intergalactic spaceship.


Continued on: FAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER on the SeanMunger.com Official Site!

WHY I SIGNED THE HISTORIANS’ STATEMENT ON THE IMPEACHMENT OF PRESIDENT TRUMP By SEAN MUNGER

SIGNING THE IMPEACHMENT STATEMENT – SEAN MUNGER

This week I was asked by a professional contact in the history community to add my name to this statement, called the Historians’ Statement on the Impeachment of President Trump. It was an easy call for me to do so. But, as has become evident over the last few days, this statement was much more than just another “online petition.” The historians who have signed this statement, now more than 2,000 of them, have had a measurable impact on the events that occurred in Washington, D.C. this week. Indeed, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi referenced the statement in her floor speech beginning debate on the impeachment of Trump. As you know, the House of Representatives voted to impeach him. We historians have joined numerous other professionals whose expertise is relevant to the impeachment process, such as Constitutional legal scholars and public prosecutors, in stating that impeachment is warranted under the standards of the Constitution.

Some of the historians I joined in signing include Ken Burns (documentary historian), Robert Caro (biographer of LBJ), Ron Chernow (author of the biography of Alexander Hamilton that was the basis of the Broadway musical), John Fea (fellow history podcaster and author of the wonderful Way of Improvement Leads Home blog), Alan Taylor (Pulitzer Prize-winning historian), Matthew Dennis (my former academic advisor), and many, many more.

While the statement speaks for itself, I thought I would add a few words to explain why I signed it.

I marched in favor of women’s rights and solidarity on the day after President Trump was inaugurated in 2017. That action was political. My signing of the Historians’ Statement goes beyond politics.

Reason one: Trump’s actions are unquestionably impeachable.

The Constitution’s standard for impeachment is deliberately vague: “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The fact that it’s vague doesn’t mean it’s always difficult to tell when the standard has been reached. The impeachment inquiry has proven beyond all doubt that Trump committed bribery by conditioning aid to the government of Ukraine on their investigation of the Biden family. That’s bribery. As for other “high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” it seems difficult to argue that this standard hasn’t been reached either. If we could go back in time to the stuffy room in Philadelphia where the Founders met in the summer of 1787 to create the Constitution and give them the example of Trump’s actions, it’s abundantly clear that they would agree, probably to a man, that this is the kind of behavior they had in mind when they wrote the impeachment clause. The evidence is uncontroverted. I say that both as a historian and as a lawyer.

Reason two: The Constitution and its processes must be protected.

America was created with the notion that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Flawed, yes; imperfect, yes; subject to change in interpretation by future generations who are entrusted with it, certainly. But some things about it are absolute. If the Constitution’s standard for a President’s removal from office is reached, not taking the Constitutionally-required action to set that process in motion does violence to the primacy of the Constitution and its principles. Letting Trump’s unconscionable behavior slide, giving it a pass, is itself an affront to the Constitution and everything it stands for.

The action of impeachment entails considerable political risk. While it’s true that I voted for the other lady (you know, the one who got more votes than Trump did), I’m certainly not happy with the idea that, if Trump were to be convicted, his successor would be Mike Pence, a man whose bedrock principle is that I, as a member of the LGBT community, do not deserve basic human and civil rights, and once in office he’ll likely mobilize the power of the government to strip me of those rights–because he’s done it before. But that’s a political calculation. The risk to the Constitution in turning a blind eye to Trump’s crimes transcends politics, and it should. That’s what the primacy of the Constitution means.

The men who met in this room in the summer of 1787 believed they were serving principles larger than themselves. I think we have to honor that commitment, however imperfect the Constitution was (and still is).

Reason three: Trump must be taught that his wrong actions have consequences.

Even if the Senate takes the cowardly way out and does not convict him, the impeachment of Trump has considerable value on its own. One of them is to teach him something he apparently hasn’t learned during his nearly two years in office: he can’t just do anything he wants, and his bad actions have consequences. Apparently, he has learned that lesson. There is a report out of the White House this week that Trump was surprised, astonished and furious that he was impeached, and that he’s gone through violent mood swings as a result. Indeed, an aide is quoted as saying, “He’s very angry. It’s made a deep impression.” Trump is a man impervious to facts (such as the proven scientific reality of human-caused climate change) and incapable of empathy (such as when he ordered children to be placed in concentration camps). But if impeachment can get through to him on such a deep level, and tell him that his actions will receive push-back, from the Constitution if from no other source, then the impeachment is worth it on that score alone.

Reason four: Historical precedent shows impeachment has the effect of reining in a wayward President’s actions.

If you look back at the two Presidents who have previously been impeached, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, you’ll see that, although neither was removed from office, impeachment had a profound effect on both of them: they took care to stop doing the actions that got them impeached in the first place. Andrew Johnson, in particular, was every bit as pugnacious and defiant about his impeachment as Trump is about his own. Yet, after the impeachment and Senate trial in May 1868, Johnson suddenly went quiet: he stopped trying to interfere with Congress’s power over Reconstruction and he took no significant action for the rest of his term.

Clinton, similarly, toned down his act in his last two years in office. And you can bet that, at long last, for once in his life, he stopped running around with young women and lying about it. Both Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were/are deeply flawed men who did monstrous things. But impeachment did put brakes on their reckless behavior. Even as defiant and vengeful as Trump is, I seriously doubt he’ll ever call up a head of state and ask them to interfere in our elections again. There’s no telling what other more subtle effects it will have that can serve the public good.

Andrew Johnson was, like Trump, a racist man, a white supremacist, and deeply incompetent at his job as President of the United States. But, his impeachment in 1868 did have an effect on his behavior.

I don’t like to see our Constitutional system tested and tarnished by the actions of President Trump. Our government has many important things that it could be doing right now, like taking immediate and drastic action on climate change. But the Constitution must be protected, and sometimes its enemies are within the walls rather than without.

I stand by the Historians’ statement. I only hope it’s not too late for our republic to be saved from the damage being done to it by self-serving people like Donald J. Trump.

All images in this article were either taken by me or are in the public domain.

Please check out Sean’s blog at: https://seanmunger.com/

Audacious hope or cynical sham? Wilson’s Fourteen Points at 100.

Woodrow Wilson was an ambivalent man who harbored great hopes for humankind along with deeply ingrained personal racism. This is a fine piece of historical writing. I enjoyed it and I hope so will you.

LIFE AFTER CHRISTMAS: A SURVIVOR’S TALE OF RECLAIMING MEANING AT THE HOLIDAYS – REBLOG BY SEAN MUNGER

In 2015, I officially converted to Judaism. While I was not brought up in a particularly religious household, my family has no Jewish background; the reasons why I converted are complicated, but suffice it to say that it was the right choice for me. Like most Americans, my family had celebrated Christmas for all my life, though generally not with much emphasis on the religious aspects. Christmas and the holiday season had nothing to do with my decision to become Jewish, but once I did convert, the very next December I experienced an unexpected fringe benefit: I was suddenly absolved of the obligations, stress and baggage that come with Christmas, and this absolution was much more of a relief than I would have thought possible going in.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Christmas-hater. In fact in my childhood and early adulthood I liked Christmas a lot, mirroring the progression of how it usually goes for middle-class kids brought up in largely secular families. When you’re a small child Christmas is great because you get toys; as a teenager or in college you look forward to a lengthy break from school; as an adult you tend to enjoy the togetherness with family, the food, the festive atmosphere and the general pause in a busy year. But Christmas in modern America also comes with a lot of demands. There are financial demands, in buying gifts; emotional demands in confronting family; and, these days, even political and cultural demands, as Christmas has become politicized in the context of conservatives’ ludicrous assertions of a “War on Christmas” and weaponizing Christmas-themed greetings, symbols and icons in an ongoing and very tiresome culture war.

In modern commercialized Christmas, days of (allegedly) heavy shopping have become almost like holidays unto themselves. I’m uncomfortable with this.

My Jewish friends, particularly those who have kids, are even more angsty about Christmas. It’s hard to tell a child that in your household December holidays (Hanukkah, which in 2017 is already over) are about lighting candles, saying prayers and maybe eating latkes when their non-Jewish friends are going on about the bikes, video game consoles or iPhones that they expect to receive on Christmas morning. One of my Jewish friends refers to the season as “Giftmas” and sees the commercialization of Christmas and its frenzy of stuff-buying as a significant challenge in maintaining Jewish religious identity in her household. (That it’s also a threat to Christian identity goes without saying). She’s not wrong. I don’t face the issue because I don’t have kids, but I certainly see the problem.

I’m in a bit of an odd situation because my family, who is not Jewish, still celebrates Christmas. What happened after my conversion was a sort of unspoken “truce.” No one in my family expects me to buy them gifts for a holiday I don’t celebrate; sometimes they give me gifts, which is fine, and quite appreciated, though there is no expectation of any. Frankly, receiving a very few small gifts from family members is vastly preferable to the way it was when I still “did” Christmas. The truth is, as much as I appreciate the giving spirit of Christmas, many Christmas gifts themselves are not very useful. Socks, underwear, a tie–okay, those are useful; but one year I received a little radio controlled helicopter that could hover indoors. (I was not a kid; I got this gift in my 30s). This kind of stuff piles up over time. I remember years ago moving out of an apartment and finding a big shopping bag full of old Christmas gifts, which had never been used or even taken out of the bag after I brought them home. “Oh, here’s Christmas 2003.” There’s something a little disconcerting about this.

Does the Christmas season for you include a lot of vistas like this one? Hopefully not, but for many people, trips to the mall are synonymous with holidays.

Ironically, being absolved of “Giftmas” was one of the best gifts I ever received. Not only are Star Trek coffee mugs and radio-controlled helicopters no longer piling up in the back of my closet, but I’ve been able to reclaim some real meaning for the holiday season. What does it mean to light a candle and recite a prayer that has been said, on this same night of the year, by others of your people going back 2,000 years? What does it mean to be with family–not buying or spending as some sort of symbol or cryptic communication, but actually being with them, on human terms? These rituals communicate so much more than whatever mixed messages might result from buying and giving material objects. This is the meaning of Christmas that has been lost.

Furthermore, I’m convinced that many–probably most–people who do celebrate Christmas would, deep down, agree. What does going to the mall at 3:00 AM on “Black Friday” have to do with the birth of Jesus? Why should I care when news commentators tell us how retail sales this Christmas are doing compared to the previous year? A faux-nostalgic film about a kid in the 1940s who wants a gun for Christmas is cute on some level, but running it 24 hours a day on cable, smashed between commercials for cars, electronics and toys, seems a bit much. The final irony is that I am not a Christian but I strongly agree with the sentiment, “Put Christ back in Christmas.”

My December holiday celebrates the resilience and endurance of the Jewish people as symbolized by the Hanukkah lights. Yours, if you’re a Christian, seems like it should similarly reflect upon the core values of your own faith. It’s hard for me to see how iPhones and HDTVs help make that picture clearer.

This is what December looks like for me now.

In becoming Jewish, I discovered that there is, in fact, life after Christmas. My Decembers, filled as they are with candles, family, wine and simple prayers, are actually more fun than they used to be when they were filled with toys and shopping. I wish everybody could make their holidays more meaningful, whatever faith they follow (or if they follow none at all).

THE HEADER PHOTO IS BY FLICKR USER RJCOX AND IS USED UNDER CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0 (ATTRIBUTION) LICENSE. THE OTHER IMAGES ARE IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN.

via Life After Christmas: A Survivor’s Tale of Reclaiming Meaning at the Holidays.

AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A HISTORIAN – SEAN MUNGER

” …  the misunderstanding and contempt for professional history.”

Not long ago, somebody tried to post a comment to this article, one of several I’ve written about “fake history,” which inevitably attracts angry axe-grinders. This particular comment–I didn’t approve it, of course–denied the existence of the Armenian genocide of 1915, and also obliquely denied the Holocaust, a prima facieracist position. This kind of thing is sadly pretty common when you run a history blog, but I noticed this comment employed an argument I’ve often seen before: an attempt to induce shame (in me) by saying something to the effect of, “And you call yourself a historian?” The argument is supposedly that, by not believing (or, in this case, disbelieving), a particular assertion about history, I have obviously fallen below some basic threshold of competence of the profession. In fact, this person attempted to lecture me about what historians do and what historical methods they use. It was wrong, of course, but it illustrated a disturbing trend that unfortunately I think is on the increase: a general misunderstanding and contempt for the historical process, what historians do and how they work.

I will categorically state that I have never heard the admonishment, “And you call yourself a historian?” from any person other than a purveyor of pseudohistory or some kind of patent falsehood about history. In fact, when I’m criticized for my supposed lack of historical competence, it usually comes in the same breath with an assertion that is demonstrably false and ridiculous: the idea, for instance, that Hitler was a leftistthat the Nanking massacre of 1937 did not really happen; or that the Crusades were provoked by Muslim aggression against Western Europe. A real historian has never questioned my competence based on genuine and reasonable agreement with historical analysis. I have a Ph.D. in history, specifically environmental history. Curiously, the only people who have ever questioned whether I deserve it are drive-by commenters on the Internet, usually racists or right-wing ideologues who are usually trying to advance some nationalistic or racialized distortion of history.


The complete post and room for comments are at:  “And you call yourself a historian?”: the misunderstanding and contempt for professional history.

SEAN MUNGER – SUNN CLASSIC PICTURES: HOW HOLLYWOOD INTRODUCED AMERICA TO FAKE HISTORY

At the end of the 1970s–I was about seven years old–our family was one of the earliest in our area to get cable TV. Cable was quite a luxury in 1979, and it worked very differently than it does today: there were a few basic channels, most of which did not broadcast 24 hours a day; you had your choice of movie service (we got Showtime), and there were no commercials. Showtime was a favorite at our house. They showed a lot of movies that we were unable to see anywhere else–my dad had not yet bought our infamous CED video disc player–and it was really my first foray into the world of film. I vividly remember seeing a film on Showtime back in that era that I found quite fascinating. It was a documentary called In Search of Historic Jesus, and it was released by a strange little company called Sunn Classic Pictures. Though our family was not religious, at age seven I thought In Search of Historic Jesus was gospel (no pun intended) truth.

This was only my first encounter with Sunn Classic Pictures. A couple of years later, when videocassette players started to seep into homes and schools, I remember our social studies teacher showed us a movie to fill up some class time. The film was called The Lincoln Conspiracy and portrayed, as history, a shadowy plot by Edwin Stanton and others to ice the Great Emancipator and set up John Wilkes Booth as a patsy. The Lincoln Conspiracy was also a Sunn Classic release. A few years after that, at an other school, in the school library I found a paperback book that was a tie-in for The Lincoln Conspiracy movie. It seemed that Sunn Classic Pictures was everywhere and had a surprising reach into the classrooms and minds of America’s youth.

THE FULL MOVIE OF THE LINCOLN CONSPIRACY IS AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE, BUT JUST WATCH THE FIRST 40 SECONDS. IT WILL TELL YOU EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE FILM.

Sunn Classic was indeed big business in the late 1970s. Perhaps the only example of a film studio owned by a razor company, Sunn was a subsidiary of the Schick company that made shaving razors. Started in 1971 in Salt Lake City by a man named Rayland Jensen, Sunn specialized in family fare, making G-rated pictures for working class families who weren’t habitual moviegoers. More importantly for Sunn’s business model, they exhibited their films through a technique called “four-walling.” That is, Sunn would buy out every seat in a particular theater for a weekend or two–presumably at a discount–and then resell the seats to the public, keeping 100% of the box office take while the theater owner raked in all of the concessions. Four-walling was a fad in the film industry in the 1960s and 1970s–Orson Welles was said to be quite interested in it–and, in small-market places like Oregon and Texas, it got Sunn’s odd little films in front of more hoi polloi eyeballs than would have been possible otherwise.

At least from the standpoint of a historian, though, Sunn Classic’s catalogue proves somewhat problematic. Their first big score was the American release of a European-made documentary, an adaptation of Erich von Däniken’s fraudulent but highly popular 1968 book Chariots of the Gods?, which introduced America to the ludicrous “ancient aliens” hypothesis that has proven as difficult to eradicate as syphilis in a brothel. (In this decade, for example, I have had college students assert “ancient aliens” claims in my class on climate change). Sunn also released several other “ancient aliens” pictures including The Outer Space Connection. While Sunn’s biggest hit, 1974’s The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, was an inoffensive and charming story about a man and the bear he loves–it even spawned a television series–some of its later releases ventured into theological and religious territory and made a number of spurious historical claims. The title of In Search of Noah’s Ark (1977) is self-explanatory. In Search of Historic Jesus was only slightly less fanciful, but still very far from historically responsible. The unhinged conspiracy theories of The Lincoln Conspiracy are scarcely worth dignifying with a refutation. Yet, in the late 1970s, Sunn basically owned these topics, and were very successful in marketing them.

THE 1979 “DOCUMENTARY” IN SEARCH OF HISTORIC JESUS WAS VERY TYPICAL OF SUNN CLASSIC PICTURES’S FARE.

In a certain sense you can’t blame them. Thinking in terms of American society and the history of the film industry, the late 1970s represented a perfect storm of cultural factors that was keen to be exploited by a company like Sunn. The final years of that decade, especially during the troubled presidency of Jimmy Carter, saw a marked resurgence in the cultural power of evangelical Protestant Christianity. This was the era in which Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, Phyllis Schalfly was canvassing against equal rights for women and Anita Bryant was grinding her ax against the LGBT community. The exact sort of working-class families with young kids that Sunn saw as their target audience were, between 1976 and 1980, the kind of people who responded well to an affirmation of religious values and particularly Christian reinterpretations of history. Incidentally these were also the voters who brought Ronald Reagan to power in 1980–despite the fact that the president who Reagan unseated, Carter, a born-again Southern Baptist from Georgia, was a closer match to their values. This is one of the key stories in recent American history.

Sunn Classic, though, was not in the history business. They were (and evidently still are) in the entertainment business. Selling someone a story about a thrilling chase up the slopes of Mt. Ararat to find petrified timbers that “prove” the literal historicity of the Noah story in Genesis was an attractive business proposition in 1977, however much it may have distorted the historical realities. (There is no historical evidence for the actual existence of an Ark as described in Genesis, despite numerous attempts, most by Christian evangelicals, to find it). Whether historically responsible or not, Sunn Classic Pictures filled a cultural need incipient in its audience. History does sell, but history that validates a particular world-view tends to command a higher price in the marketplace than history done, as academics strive to do it, without as much overt bias.

SEE ORIGINAL POST AT: Sunn Classic Pictures: how Hollywood introduced America to fake history. – SEAN MUNGER

CHARLOTTESVILLE: I CAN’T BE SILENT. NONE OF US CAN. – (REBLOG) SEAN MUNGER

This is a well thought out, well written piece. Worth reading.


The last few days have made it very difficult to feel pride at being an American. The violence and hatred at a racist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, capped off by a terrorist attack by a Nazi killing and wounding innocent people, should horrify any thinking person. Add to this the deep and disturbing failure by President Donald Trump to denounce the Nazis and their toadies until it was too late to do any good, and what we have in the past few days is a picture of an America that is totally unacceptable. I haven’t been able to talk much about what happened in Charlottesville, but this is an issue of such importance that we all must speak out. Silence is consent, and I do not consent.

We can’t let these vile and hate-filled people take over our country–and they are trying mightily to do exactly that. They also think they’re succeeding, and that’s a problem. Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, misogynists, anti-Semites, GamerGaters, the “alt-right”–virtually to a man they see Donald Trump as a hero, someone who can advance their agenda of marginalizing people of color, women, the LGBT community, or really anyone who isn’t white, straight, male, conservative and thinks like them. The fact that Nazis were able to march in Charlottesville in what they perceived as triumph is itself an alarm bell for what’s happened to our country and our political discourse. Furthermore, these people want the kind of conflict with counter-protestors that got so much coverage this weekend. If someone dies, it’s good for them. Their ideology, just like the Nazism of the 1930s in Germany, is held together with blood. All of us must make sure that these people fail utterly and completely in their sick project to transform America into something evil.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP CLEARLY EMBOLDENS NAZIS AND OTHER RACISTS TO PUSH THEIR AGENDA. MOST MEMBERS OF THE “ALT-RIGHT” ADORE HIM AND SUPPORT HIM TO THE END.

See full article at: CHARLOTTSESVILLE: I CAN’T BE SILENT. NONE OF US CAN.

Trump’s Paris betrayal: the stupidest decision of the 21st century.

I don’t often write blog articles with the sole purpose of commenting on news items, but as a decision today by President Donald Trump deeply implicates climate change–without a doubt the most serious problem facing every American and every person on earth right now–I felt I couldn’t let it go by without at least a few words. My academic expertise is in the history of climate change, I’ve taught courses on the history of climate change (and wrote about them, here and here), and most post-academic career involves climate change, so I believe I’m qualified to speak on the subject.

Trump’s decision to abrogate the Paris climate change accord, at least where the United States is concerned, is not merely a strategic misstep (though it is), a betrayal of American trust and power in the world (which it is), and an immoral surrender to fossil fuel economic interests that seek to destroy their own children’s future for short-term gain (which is beyond all doubt). It is also abysmally stupid: uninformed, a decision born of ignorance and deliberate misunderstanding, and yet another hallmark of the total incompetence with which Trump approaches a job that’s simply far too complex for him to understand or to do well.

John Kerry, seen here arriving in Paris in November 2015 to negotiate the climate accord, pledged the United States’s trust and goodwill to the world by signing the treaty. Trump has destroyed that trust.

Fighting climate change is not about choosing “helping the Earth” over job security or economic prosperity for Americans. Fighting climate change is job security and economic prosperity for Americans. The private sector has already decided that fossil fuels are on their way out and the future is renewable energy. Trump’s decision means that America is jumping off this train, and it will be all the more difficult–and expensive–to try to jump back on it once Trump is out of power, which is inevitable. Why would he want to make American business less competitive? That’s exactly what this decision does.

Furthermore, the decision to back out of Paris utterly destroys any influence or power that the United States has in the world to foster international cooperation on climate change, and much else. Trump has willingly ceded that influence to China. When the United States returns to the Paris Accords after Trump is removed from power–note I say when, not if–we will have to do so upon terms of China’s choosing, not ours. Add to this the possibility that other countries will seek to punish us economically for Trump’s decision, and we have a decision that carries a host of bad consequences, and exactly zero good ones.

Meet the world’s new leader on fighting climate change–and probably almost everything else. Retreating from Paris puts China in the driver’s seat on almost every major economic and political issue today.

Because climate change has such disastrous long-term consequences, Trump’s decision today will probably go down as the single worst move of his already failed presidency. It’s probably the decision he’ll be remembered for more than any other, and for longer than any other. It’s how he will go down in history: a clueless denier, willfully blind to proven scientific reality, incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions, and who probably doesn’t care about them anyway. As a historian, I predict that few decisions of this century will ever, whether in hindsight or in the moment, look as bad as this one.

This is, however, hardly the end of America’s efforts to fight climate change. In fact, it’s the beginning. As meaningful efforts to fight climate change now shift to the state, local, private sector and international fronts, Trump has ensured mainly that the freight train of unstoppable progress toward a decarbonized world will run right over him without a millisecond’s pause. All of us who actually understand the issues surrounding climate change are riding on that train.

All images in this article are in the public domain.

Source: Trump’s Paris betrayal: the stupidest decision of the 21st century.

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