Day 8 Issues in Modern America   January 31, 2002


1. Names. Platoon Monday night, discussion Tuesday. Those working on responses, I’d suggest looking at Vietnam sites as well as those just on the film.


The daily entries are up on the web site now, through Tuesday. Lauren’s working on adding some internal links at the start that will make them a little easier to navigate, but you can browse them any time.


Projects next Thursday. Topics: explore how some issue we’ve discussed in American history remains active today, perhaps. What’s the legacy of nonviolent action mean for America in the 21st century? Protests at WTO meetings, and at abortion clinics—there’s a very short answer. What’s the legacy of industrial capitalism? Enron and Microsoft, cozy dealings between the richest men and the most powerful politicians; and Bill Gates setting up a multi-billion-dollar fund for world-wide public health improvements. Figure out some question, a substantial question, that you’d like to know the answer to. If you want to do something that connects with your major, that’s fine; note the general college policy that you shouldn’t use the same research or the same writing for two classes without permission from both instructors.


Look carefully at the instructions in the appendix. Note that you do need a brief bibliography, and that your topical statement will very likely be stronger if you actually consult those texts.


2. For today: the civil rights movement and the Cold War. It’s interesting that the one was more or less contained within the other, in terms of time. We’ll be returning to these events closer to our own time more often than the more distant ones in the rest of the course, but today I hope to establish some themes and ideas that will help us on the way.


3. Civil Rights movement. Some themes and comments.


“Ordinary people.” Yes. A mass movement, not just a few exceptional leaders and a bunch of ignorant followers. The importance of planning and training and of everyone involved understanding and being committed to the strategy and tactics of nonviolence. Rosa Parks had nonviolence training. The involvement of young people, college students, etc. Why? The Freedom Riders of 1964, Freedom Summer—hundreds of college students, mostly white and northerners, coming south. Resisted strongly by southerners, they helped raise awareness in the north—face it, white people beaten up and killed in the cause of freedom made a bigger impression on white northerners than black folks. An important, unanticipated effect: those Freedom Riders, when they returned to college, were more radicalized, ready to apply the tactics of nonviolent resistance and direct action to other injustices they saw around them: college governance, gender oppression, the war in Vietnam.


The “movement” as a complicated mix of groups and organizations. The longer it went on, the more complicated it got. J/H talk very little of what happened by the mid-sixties, when impatience with the slow pace of change grew and the Black Power movement, more radical and willing to talk about violence in “self-defense,” drew more and more followers. The Black Muslims, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, etc.


But the early groups: NAACP, SCLC, ACMHR, SNCC, CORE.


Let’s talk about tactics and strategy. The list on 223. Ends and means must cohere—this is crucial and a fundamental difference with the strategy of force. To defeat the system, not individuals; to believe that even “bad” people can change in response to nonviolent pressure. The importance of suffering as a social force, awakening the conscience of the oppressor.


Another key, mentioned only in passing: publicity. TV images of blacks and whites attacked by police dogs and blasted by fire hoses shocked millions who had lived more or less oblivious to racism.


Major legislative victories: the Voting Rights Act of 65, the Civil Rights Act of 68.


Segregationist resistance: against “big government,” “outside agitators,” “Communists.” The less overt racism of the north, which became more overt under pressure; King famously said that he’d never seen such hatred as when he led a march for open housing in Cicero, a suburb of Chicago. Massive riots in cities north and south in most of the summers of the late 60s, and again even as recently as 1992 in L.A.


Other effects: Magda doubts that the civil rights movement was a model for Poland. I don’t know enough to say, about that or the other movements J/H mention—the Philippines, South Africa, China, other countries in Eastern Europe. But it is beyond question that in the last two decades of the century there were numerous successful social and political transformations that were largely driven by nonviolent activism. After the militarism and stagnation of the Cold War, that’s reason for a great deal of hope.


4. The Cold War. from NSC 68 (1950), which Darin found:

“The fundamental design of those who control the Soviet Union and the international communist movement is to retain and solidify their absolute power, first in the Soviet Union and second in the areas now under their control. In the minds of the Soviet leaders, however, achievement of this design requires the dynamic extension of their authority and the ultimate elimination of any effective opposition to their authority.

The design, therefore, calls for the complete subversion or forcible destruction of the machinery of government and structure of society in the countries of the non-Soviet world and their replacement by an apparatus and structure subservient to and controlled from the Kremlin. To that end Soviet efforts are now directed toward the domination of the Eurasian land mass. The United States, as the principal center of power in the non-Soviet world and the bulwark of opposition to Soviet expansion, is the principal enemy whose integrity and vitality must be subverted or destroyed by one means or another if the Kremlin is to achieve its fundamental design.

IV. The Underlying Conflict in the Realm of ideas and Values between the U.S. Purpose and the Kremlin Design


The Kremlin regards the United States as the only major threat to the conflict between idea of slavery under the grim oligarchy of the Kremlin, which has come to a crisis with the polarization of power described in Section I, and the exclusive possession of atomic weapons by the two protagonists. The idea of freedom, moreover, is peculiarly and intolerably subversive of the idea of slavery. But the converse is not true. The implacable purpose of the slave state to eliminate the challenge of freedom has placed the two great powers at opposite poles. It is this fact which gives the present polarization of power the quality of crisis.”

Now all this isn’t absolutely untrue. But it’s not true, either, and it never was. The Soviet Union under Stalin and then Kruschev was an aggressive adversary, killed millions of its own people, tried to expand its sphere of influence and ruthlessly suppressed dissent when it could. “Grim oligarchy” isn’t entirely untrue. But “slavery” isn’t true. The U.S. persistently and systematically overestimated both Soviet ambitions and capabilities, especially military capabilities.


The USSR and the US were allies in WW II after all. Stalin’s aim of “competitive partnership,” 236. He was paranoid, but he also ruled a country devastated by war. What if the US had given him signals that didn’t fuel his paranoia to such a degree? What if Henry Wallace had succeeded Roosevelt, instead of Truman?


At any rate, mutual paranoia became a self-reinforcing system. Maps like this  were in newspapers, along with all sorts of articles about the Communist threat and Soviet atrocities. McCarthy claimed he had a list of “known Communist agents” within the government. People with long-distant or only vague connections to leftist groups and causes were fired, blacklisted, sometimes jailed.


The other fronts: Central and Eastern Europe, the long militarized stalemate of the Iron Curtain. And the race for nuclear weapons (and others). Mutually Assured Destruction and missile gaps and all of that. And the competition in the “Third World,” in which the U.S. efforts to oppose “communism” led us repeatedly to support repressive and corrupt right-wing governments and to oppose revolutionary people’s movements fighting for national independence. Yes, this is ironic.


Vietnam as the largest example and the largest failure of this rigid anticommunist policy. Ho Chi Minh was, in many ways, more like George Washington than like Lenin; at any point during the war he would probably have won a free election in South Vietnam. The U.S. essentially took over from France as colonial power. . . . But we’ll talk more about this on Tuesday.


Effects of Cold War: militarization, polarization, cultural splits, narrowing of genuine options and possibilities of debate. With the end of the draft, a military largely staffed by those under economic pressure, esp. at lower ranks; essentially, we have a poverty draft, while middle-class people are exempt.


Economic costs of guns over butter; military spending does provide jobs, but it’s a wildly inefficient way of bettering living standards, because everything that’s produced either just sits there or gets blown up. Figure a thousand bucks a year, every year of your life, for everybody that you know. What could you do with that $70,000 if it wasn’t going to the military? What could we do next year with $387 billion? Bluffton College runs on roughly $23,100,000.  In other words, we could run 16,753 Bluffton Colleges for what it costs to run the military for a year . . .




I choose this site because it involved an interview with the first nine African American students that integrated Central High School. 

Rachel Mack On George Wallace.

Lori Pongtana

Owing to it, you can learn about various legal claims made by black people. Besides, you can also get some info about a wide range of actions in the 50s,e.g. about the events in Montgomery.

Magda Perz

The website I have chose is basically a timeline of the civil rights

movement starting at Brown Vs. Topeka all the way to the present efforts.

It also gives alternate sites at the end which look interesting. 

Steven Roach  National Security Council document 68.

Darin Riffle  is a website about the Rosenberg trial. What haunts me is that from what I know about what happened there are some holes to the story and they may have not been guilty. I just wonder if the threat of communism sent the government on a witch hunt.  This is the speech that Truman gave before congress about the threat of communism and what should be done to stop it from growing.

Jen Peterson