Thank George Washington for Thanksgiving.

It wasn’t the pilgrims that gave us our modern understanding of Thanksgiving. Nor was it Lincoln’s Thanksgiving declaration during the Civil War. It was our first president, George Washington, who proclaimed, from New York City on October 3, 1789 our first Thanksgiving – a day set aside to thank God for the blessings of the young nation. Below I have culled the entire address from the primary sources of Mount Vernon. If you’ve never read it, it’s worth a read. It’s a shame that our school kids don’t read this proclamation each year.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

Happy Thanksgiving from Abraham Lincoln

On this Thanksgiving, it is, perhaps, appropriate to go back to Abraham Lincoln’s words from his Thankgiving Proclamation to give us all some perspective. For Lincoln, Thanksgiving was about acknowledging the mercies of God in the midst of the great civil war the country was embroiled in. And here, in 2016, we may not be physically at war with each other, but we are in the middle of a great ideological struggle which has severely divided our nation in two. While debates of philosophy and policy are important, they are not on Thanksgiving Day. May we all pause and reflect on Lincoln’s wise words.

 

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Is the 2016 Election really about the Supreme Court?

There are currently 8 justices on the Supreme Court. The oldest ones are as follows:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg – age 83 (liberal)

Anthony Kennedy – age 80  (seen as a swing vote between the conservative and liberal wings of the Supreme Court)

Steven Beyer – age 78 (liberal)

Of course, the 9th seat, currently vacant, was held by Antonin Scalia who was a conservative.

Of the remaining five on the court, the conservatives include Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Liberals include Sonya Sotomayer and Elena Kagan.

So this we know for sure, the new president will choose a replacement for conservative Scalia. We don’t know if there will be any other vacancies, but it is not unreasonable to surmise that there could be anywhere from 1-3 additional appointments which the next president will make. So that means, the next president could impact anywhere from 11% to 44% of the make-up of the Supreme Court.

The court has been so evenly divided in recent years that such a swing could help re-shape the court for the next generation. The current 4-3 liberal advantage (with Kennedy as a swing vote) could increase with a Clinton presidency. A Trump presidency would most likely keep the court in the conservative-leaning 5-4 range.

Now, of course, much of this also depends on the make-up of the Senate which has to approve the president’s appointments. The Republicans currently hold on to power, but it remains to be seen if the Democrats could grab control back from the G.O.P. this November. It might be a long shot, but not out of the question.

So regardless what a voter thinks of Clinton or Trump’s politics and deftness of handing the executive branch, the prospect of changes to the Supreme Court should be a powerful motivator for each side of the political spectrum. Long term societal changes typically come from Supreme Court decisions and the next generation of judges will greatly impact the nation.

I would suggest that voters need to strongly consider the future of the Supreme Court in the hands of the next president. The ideologies between Clinton and Trump in this regard are complete opposites. Trump has promised to choose conservative nominees. Clinton will choose liberal nominees. Depending on your personal political philosophy, this should weigh heavily on your mind as you decide who to vote for this November.

Neither Jew nor Greek: The Church and the Civil Rights Movement

I appreciate Kimberly Horton allowing me to publish her very interesting paper on various Christian denominations’ responses to the Civil Rights Movement. It’s an area I had not previously given much thought to, but as you will see, it’s an area where the view of the church and Christian charity towards equal rights for African Americans varied greatly. I hope you find it as interesting and enlightening as I did. 

Neither Jew nor Greek: The Church and the Civil Rights Movement

by Kimberly Horton – Guest Contributor

It is an unfortunate fact that racism has played a rather large part in the history of the church. Whether Jews and Gentiles or Whites and Blacks, followers of Christ have worked for and against discrimination based solely on race. Many believers, however, have successfully taken a stand against racism in the church. The Southern Baptist, Episcopal, and Catholic churches each took different stances on the civil rights movements with differing levels of severity, and in the end they all came to adopt the Biblical attitude towards racism that God calls us to have. Racism has always been wrong, but some branches of the Church took longer to realize that than others.

Interestingly enough, the Catholic church—often perceived to be austere and frugal—proved to be the most accepting of the African race and the quickest to support the Civil Rights Movement. According to Andrew S. Moore in the Encyclopedia of Alabama, segregation was not strictly practiced. “Blacks and whites occasionally participated in religious functions together. They attended the same parish at times, even if African Americans often sat apart from whites and received communion after white parishioners” (Moore). Even so, Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen forbid priests from actively challenging state segregation laws (Moore). Despite his warnings, a few Catholics did begin to step out and take a stand against racism. Catholic activist groups, like New Orleans-based Southeastern Regional Interracial Commission (SERINCO) and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), began holding meetings, hosting speakers, and bringing together interracial gatherings in the name of racial equality (Anderson 73). In a 1949 address, Louis Twomey, S.J., asked of his Catholic audience, “How would you like to be done by you as you do to the Negro?” (Anderson 73-74). The Catholic church was beginning to question its stance on American apartheid. Eventually, a statement was issued in 1958 by the American Catholic declaring that “the heart of the race question is moral and religious” and that “segregation cannot be reconciled with the Christian view of our fellow man” (Moore). From then on, things continued to progress. Violence was shunned, racism was scorned, and peace was sought by more and more Catholics across the country; racism within the Catholic church was on the decline.

In contrast to the Catholic church, the American Episcopal church embraced the Jim Crow “separate but equal” philosophy of law. In the words of the Episcopal Church Archives, “The Episcopal Church treated African Americans as a problem: culturally and socially separated and inferior, but by baptism, full and equal members of the community” (“Church Awakens…”). They felt that, by giving blacks their own congregations, their own bishops, and their own offices, they might fix the inequalities and stop racial mistreatment. Over time, though, this wasn’t enough. In December 1959, over 100 Episcopalians gathered to form a committee that would fight against all racial segregation within the church (“Church Awakens…”). They called themselves the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity (ESCRU) and began meeting at St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina (“Church Awakens…”). Through ESCRU, awareness of racial discrimination within the Church began to grow. At its peak, ESCRU had over 5,000 member in 29 chapters across the country, the majority being laymen (“Church Awakens…”). Additionally, many Episcopalians stood up for civil rights on the Freedom Rides, organizing sit-ins, and through integrating the University of the South, a school of theology. Through the use of organization to promote their cause, the Episcopal church fought and won against the segregation that gripped their denomination.

Finally, the most harrowing journey to equality is found in none other than the Southern Baptist Church. The biggest opponent in the church body of civil rights as a whole, Southern Baptists admit to excluding African-Americans from worship, membership, and leadership (“Resolution on Racial…”). Heavily involved in the activities of the Ku Klux Klan, many Southern Baptists aided in organizing bombings, violent protests, and even the murder of African-Americans and civil rights supporters. This was no social stigma of sitting separately or a “separate but equal” policy—according to an article in the Economist, some churches voted to exclude black people from their congregation entirely (“Love the Sinner”). Astonishingly, this blatant racism extended far beyond the reach of the Civil Rights Movement. Wayne Flynt, a historian and pastor, recounts leaving the denomination well into the 1980s while clashes centering around racism and discrimination still existed: “The church was the last bastion of segregation,” he voiced with a tinge of bitter regret (“Love the Sinner”). Though certain leaders of the church made official statements against racism in the days of the Civil Rights Movements, they made little difference in the lives of the laymen—the first official resolution noted ironically, “we rejoice that the number of lynchings for 1940 was so small, being only five” (“Resolution Concerning…”). Another official resolution on racism was not made until 1978, and then another in 1989; and these were merely short statements that denounced racism and encouraged the denomination to work against the practice. The most radical changes in the denomination’s doctrine took place much later than those in the Catholic and the Episcopal churches; but they were perhaps the most radical out of all the church body. In 1995, on the 150th anniversary of the Southern Baptist denomination, their annual convention released a resolution that addressed the wrongs committed by their church, reaffirmed the teachings of the Bible on the equality of all men, and openly apologized to their “African-American brothers and sisters”: “We apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime… we ask forgiveness from our African-American brothers and sisters, acknowledging that our own healing is at stake” (“Resolution on Racial…”). Their transformation, from openly attacking to humbly apologizing, is incredibly admirable. It reflects, in a way, our own journey with God: from violently rebelling against Him to grovelling for forgiveness at His feet. God can use even “the least of these” to reveal His glory in magnificent ways—including the rebellion of His own churches.

In conclusion, the Catholic, Episcopal, and Southern Baptist churches each took different paths as they worked to overcome racism; and each of them eventually came to incorporate the Biblical truth that race matters not in the Kingdom of God. Romans 10:12 puts the issue to rest once and for all: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.”

 

Works Cited

Anderson, R. Bentley. Black, White, and Catholic: New Orleans Interracialism,

1947-1956. Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 2005. Print.

“The Church Awakens: African Americans and the Search for Justice.” Archives of

the Episcopal Church. The Archives of the Episcopal Church, 2008. Web. 05

May 2016.

English Standard Version Bible. BibleGateway. Web. 05 May 2016.

Moore, Andrew S. “Catholicism and the Civil Rights Movement.” Encyclopedia of

Alabama. Encyclopedia of Alabama, 8 Mar. 2007. Web.

“Love the Sinner | A Bittersweet Tale of Prejudice, Overcome and Enduring, in the

Deep South.” The Economist. Economist Newspaper Limited, 24 Oct. 2015. Web.

29 Apr. 2016.

“Resolution Concerning Race Relations.” Southern Baptist Convention. Southern

Baptist Convention, 1941. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

“Resolution On Racial Reconciliation On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern

Baptist Convention.” Southern Baptist Convention. Southern Baptist

Convention, 1995. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

Did Truman Start the Vietnam War?

The headline is purposefully provocative. How could Truman, who came on the scene after Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, have started the Vietnam War of two decades later? He didn’t, of course, but the case could be made, and was made in my thesis, that Truman instituted a policy shift towards Indochina which set the groundwork for what was to come. Here’s a snippet of my introduction on the topic.

Harry S. Truman, Vice-President and former Senator from Missouri, assumed the office of the Presidency on April 12, 1945 after the death of the longest serving U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Truman immediately found himself in charge of a nation embroiled in the most all-encompassing war in human history. Unprecedented in scope and in challenge, President Truman faced the ravages of war waning in Europe but with the likelihood of a long and costly affair in the Pacific Theater against Japan. The Truman administration was charged with the task of managing war reparations, checking Communist advances, attacking an entrenched Japanese army, and balancing fragile relations with Britain and France. This would have been enough of a challenge for a seasoned leader like Roosevelt, but for the inexperienced Truman, it was truly daunting.

Truman had served as Vice President for only a matter of weeks before Roosevelt’s death. His senatorial background gave him limited experience in the realm of foreign affairs, and Roosevelt did not include the new V.P. in important matters of state during the nascent hours of FDR’s fourth term.  In fact, Truman had been excluded from most executive branch conferences on foreign policy, leaving him to gleam his knowledge of world events mostly from reading newspapers and listening to Capitol Hill chatter (Donovan xiv).  When he became president, Truman did not know about the Manhattan Project (Bradley 103), and had not been informed of what Roosevelt had said at the meetings in Tehran and Yalta earlier in the year (Donovan 10).  He entered the Presidency as a neophyte in foreign policy with no experience in the art of negotiating (Donovan 10), and he brought with him a new Secretary of State, James Byrnes, who also had little foreign policy training (Donovan 17).  This lack of experience, coupled with Roosevelt’s confusing and often contradictory foreign policy, presented Truman with great challenges as his administration tried to bring closure to two wars while balancing world peace.

Not surprisingly, Truman said very little publicly about foreign policy over the first few months of his presidency, but a closer look at the actions of the executive branch in the early days of his administration reveals a clear shift in foreign policy which favored an understandably strong commitment toward France and Britain as tensions heightened with the Soviets over the make-up of post-war Europe (Lucas 13).  In July 1945, the discord over Poland unraveled the trust between the two war-time allies and put Warsaw firmly under control of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (Donovan 57). This undoubtedly gave Britain, France, and the U.S. a great deal of apprehension concerning the Soviet Union’s long-term plans. The U.S. viewed the Soviets in purely ideological terms, thinking that worldwide Communism was the goal (Lucas 13). By the end of 1945, most American policy experts viewed Soviet aggression as the greatest threat to world security, and they saw the Soviets emerging as the dominant power in Asia (Buhite and Hamel 370). Because of this, Truman’s focus on repairing European alliances in the summer of 1945 made a lot of sense; however, this European-focused foreign policy shift would have grave consequences for the peoples of Indochina.

Know Your History: 1896 Plessy v. Furgeson

In 1892, Homer Plessy was jailed for sitting on a white rail car. Homer was extremely light skinned and could have passed for a white person, but under the law of Louisiana, he wasn’t ‘white enough’.

The case, which eventually made it to the Supreme Court in 1896, centered around Louisiana’s segregation laws and whether they violated the 13th and 14th amendments ensuring equal protection for everyone. These amendments were added to the constitution at the end of the Civil War in order to, theoretically, give everyone equal rights.

In practice, however, blacks and minorities were never given equality, and many Jim Crow laws popped up after the war, especially throughout the south, which legally segregated the races, keeping minorities oppressed, in poverty, and without a political voice.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in one of its most infamous, landmark decisions, ruled that Louisiana’s segregation laws were constitutional. This is where they came up with their “separate but equal” defense of the law. They stated that separate facilities for the races were fine as long as they were equal. Now the farce was on.

The southern states now had legal precedent to bolster their racial laws, claiming that black schools were equal with white schools, or black water fountains were equal with white water fountains. Of course, this was a sham of justice. Nothing was ever equal for the minorities who had to live under the Jim Crow laws.

The decision of Plessy v. Ferguson settled the matter of racial segregation in America until 1954 when the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. The Board of Education that separate education facilities for the different races was not constitutional. This led to the integration of schools which started in the 1950s as the civil rights movement got its wings and was ready to take on the establishment.

Creator or Consumer?

Tina’s Book Review recently published a guest post from me entitled “A Creator or a Consumer” – She also did a nice spotlight of The Recluse Storyteller. Please click on the link to read the original post on her website. Below, I’ll re-blog my guest post as well.

Tina’s Book Review Spotlight & Guest Post

A Creator or a Consumer? 
by Mark Sasse – 2013

Have you ever just taken a moment to look around your house at all the stuff you have wasted money on? It’s okay to admit it. We surround ourselves with a ton of junk.

A while back I wrote a blog post lamenting all the money I had spent on computers over the years – buying top of the line models which would be in the trash faster than a literary agent can press the delete key from an e-query letter. (Sorry about that. I’m not bitter.)
I recently surveyed some items in our house. A $120 video console that nobody uses. A $200 iPod Touch that freezes up and now only plays music. My daughter’s $500 camera which is outdated and remains “awkward to use” as she says. My other daughter’s $100 camera that doesn’t work. My son’s $100 camera that hasn’t taken a picture in over a year. And the list goes on … Limited resources spent on “must-have” items which end up in the trash or at a garage sale for 2% of its original value. At least with a paperback, you can rip its cover off and still end up providing enjoyment for people. Somebody in Simi Valley or in a Special Economic Zone in eastern China is laughing. I’m pretty sure it isn’t me.

Over the last few years, I’ve been noticing a shift in my thinking. I am no longer enthralled with mindless TV content or Hollywood same-as-last-year blockbusters. I have a growing desire to be defined by what I create, not by what I consume. And so the transition is in place. Sure, I still like things. Sometimes too much. But the draw is much less now that I have allowed myself to be myself. What do I mean by that? I went for twenty years afraid of being a writer because I felt that I couldn’t measure up to anyone else, and so I settled on being a consumer, instead. But can satisfaction be found in what we consume or what we create?

When I wrote my first novel “Beauty Rising” in the summer of 2011, I was afraid to do anything with it. I was afraid that I couldn’t repeat the process. I promised myself this: I won’t release it until I have written my second. I wrote my second novel, “The Recluse Storyteller” in the summer of 2012. Once completed, I finally felt free to release my first which I did in December 2012. I repeated the same process this year – creating my third before releasing my second. What I learned throughout this whole process is that I love to create. I love to write stories and see where they take me, discovering what will happen, knowing that the outcome is solely determined by me – not by Hollywood, or a face-less corporation. Now that I have started the creative process, there is no going back.

I would much prefer to be typing away on my computer (yes, I know. I can’t get away from it) than watching a forgettable episode TV. The creative process in itself has become the ends for me. I am rewarded by the process, and if nobody ever reads my works, I’m all right with that because I just love to write and create. But if others like my writings, all the better. You may not be a writer, but I would encourage you to find whatever it is that you love and pursue it. Whether it be cooking, or gardening, or art, or friendship-building, or, etc…I believe we were all meant to be creative in one way or another. Once we tune into what that means in our own lives, we will find the pull of consumerism to be less and less on our lives. That can’t be a bad thing, can it?

A Presidential, Federal, Capitalistic, Representative Democracy

What type of government is the United States of America?

A presidential, federal, capitalistic, representative democracy!

A mouthful, for sure.

Can’t we just say republic?  Nope!

Can’t we just say democracy? Serious lacking!

Can’t we just say federal? Think again.

All four of those descriptions are needed to truly understand how our government works because the forms of government are complicated and don’t easily overlap. Let’s take them one-by-one:

Presidential: This shows that the executive branch is a co-equal and separate entity from the legislative branch. The president is the head of the government, but not a member of congress (or parliament). This is a very important distinction.

Federal: This shows how power is divided geographically between the central government (federal) and the state governments. Some powers are specifically expressed and given to the federal government. Other powers reserved for the states. This is opposed to a unitary government where one central government makes all laws for everyone.

Capitalistic: This shows how the economy is organized. The government functions as a regulator of the economy but typically not an actually controlling any segments of the economy. This is different from a socialist government where many segments (healthcare, education, utilities) are owned and controlled directly by the government. Is this one changing in America? Yes, I believe it is in some respects.

Representative Democracy: This shows how we have a republic. Everyone has a vote and voice – but only through their elected representatives. Multiple parties are allowed to participate. This is in opposition to an authoritarian government which limits the number of people able to participate in politics.

So there you have it. To accurately describe the US Government, you should call it a presidential, federal, capitalistic, representative democracy.

Historical Snippet: The Robber Barons

Did you ever wonder if the Robber Barons really did earn their reputation?  Well, try these few individuals on for size.

Only a mild examination of the Gilded Age gives many vivid illustrations of how the Robber Barons rightfully earned such a disreputable distinction.  The expansion of the railroad led to numerous opportunities for the quick manipulator and the well connected to promptly abscond with millions of dollars worth of public property and Congress-awarded capital.  In total, over one hundred and fifty million acres of land including all mineral rights were granted to railroad industrialists who split the Wild West with new train routes which connected newly settled California with the east (Josephson 79).  One of the most clever railroad tycoons was Jay Cooke.  He not only was granted public land to build the Union Pacific Railroad, but he also used government loaned capital which enabled him to build railroads while risking nothing of his own wealth.  As work ensued on the Cooke inspired railroad, the price per mile was eventually raised to such exorbitant heights that when the golden spike was pounded in at Promontory Point there was over fifty million dollars of public funds unaccounted for (Josephson 92).  Another of the railroad barons, Joseph Huntington, would force local towns to pay for the privilege of having their town connected to the railroad while threatening that their refusal would mean another town would prosper (Josephson 84-85).  Jay Gould, perhaps the most talented devious mind of the bunch, illegally printed millions of dollars worth of Erie Railroad stock in order to thwart a take-over by rival Vanderbilt (Josephson 133).

While all of this illegal posturing over control of the railroads progressed, American business practices were beginning to drastically shift.

As the railroad changed the way business operated by enabling companies to become regional and then eventually national forces, the great industrial giants brokered shady deals with the railroads in order to gain an inch of advantage over their competitors. J. D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil became a monolith which sought to crush all competition, and he knew that controlling the railroads was a huge part of that.  He forced railroads to agree to offer illegal rebates on freight charges to make his oil the most competitive (Porter 72-73). Once the railroads were in his back pocket, he could as he would say “turn the screw” on competitors either forcing them to sell, to join his syndicate or to be run out of business.  Such tactics produced the giant Standard Oil Trust which boasted control of nearly 90% of the nation’s refined oil by the end of the 1870s (Porter 73). The market was cornered and the government took little notice.

Rockefeller and associates wanted to do away with the speculative nature of oil by controlling output and putting competitors out of business so they could dictate world prices (Josephson 116). The barons of the Standard Oil Trust sat and discussed their business dealings in the same manner as the government’s executive branch would map out the country’s future and set goals for development.  The difference being, in theory, that government officials would be building economic systems which ultimately encourage investment and growth which benefit the entire nation in increased production, wealth-building, and tax revenue.  In contrast, the oligopoly of Rockefeller planned out their attack to benefit their own competitive edge by ruthlessly driving competitors out of business through strong-armed tactics and shrewd closed-door business deals.  Complete control of the market had become the mindset of the day, and the wealthy elite seemed to be able to control it at will – often times illegally.  It was an unsavory business that would create serious doubts in the minds of Americans concerning the nature of big business in America.

Essay: A Historical Overview of Vietnam from WWII through the Vietnam War

From time to time, I like to post complete essays of mine which touch upon topics near and dear to my heart. If you know me, you won’t be surprised that this one is about Vietnam. I try to give a broad overview of the historical context which led to the Vietnam War of the 1960s. To do so, one has to start at the broader context of French Indochina and World War II. Then I try to analyze useful historical approaches to this topic. I’d appreciate your feedback.

The legacy of the Vietnam War continues to resonate loudly today especially in the shadows of the war in Iraq. The war of 1963-1975, which so vividly helped to define a generation, had its roots in the post World War II power vacuum caused by the defeat of the Japanese and the collapse of the French colonial infrastructure.  This enabled the United States to take a foothold in Indochina which would have broad consequences in the following decades.  In this short paper, I will give an overview of US involvement in Indochina during the two decades prior to the Vietnam War.  I will then discuss the type of historical theory or approach which may be most useful when researching this topic.

In the early months of 1945, the Allied forces saw the European Theatre coming to a close, but a peaceful ending to the war in the Pacific remained anything but certain.  The death of US president Franklin Roosevelt in April 1945 cast a cloud of doubt over the future status of the European colonial territories of Southeast Asia.   Roosevelt was a harsh critic of European colonialism and had no desire to see the French, in particular, reclaim Indochina after the war (Abouzahr 50). Even the communist led Vietnamese independence group, the Viet Minh, lamented Roosevelt’s death as a blow to the anti-colonial cause (“World News”).  Yet even with Roosevelt’s passing, America was determined to use all forces and tools at their disposal to fight against the Japanese who had imposed their suzerainty over most of the region.

After some initial contacts between the Viet Minh and the Allied forces in southern China, the US sent some officers from the newly formed Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh headquarters in Tan Trao one hundred miles north of Hanoi (Marr 286).  The OSS officers spent several weeks training Viet Minh forces (Marr 364).  Six days after the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, the Viet Minh received word of Japanese surrender and celebrated with the Americans remaining in camp (Marr 368).    A week later as Ho Chi Minh and his cadres trekked to Hanoi for the first time to fill the void in the political vacuum left because of the Japanese surrender, he was accompanied by some of those OSS officers who even dined with the enigmatic Vietnamese leader in Hanoi (Marr 488).  On September 2, 1945 as Ho Chi Minh delivered Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence, American officers stood with the swelling crowd which nearly seemed like an American endorsement of the ceremony (Marr 538).  However, relations between the Vietnamese and Americans would never seem so close again.  In fact, official US policy at the time was to ignore Ho Chi Minh’s Declaration of Independence in favor of supporting the French claim on Indochina (Latham 29).

At the closure of World War II, the Truman administration had very little regard for the small colonial countries of Southeast Asia and did not at all question France’s sovereignty over Indochina (Previdi 146).   Truman was completely in support of France’s desire to reclaim their Indochinese possessions, and he even had US war ships carry French troops back into southern Vietnam within weeks of Ho Chi Minh’s Declaration of Independence (Marr 545).

By the end of 1946, Ho Chi Minh realized that coming to peaceful terms with the French over the make-up of Vietnam was impossible, and on December 19, 1946 from a cave on the outskirts of Hanoi, he broadcast the call for a war of resistance against the French.  This war became known as the French-Indochina War.   The US strongly needed France’s support of the Marshall plan in Europe to rebuild the war torn countries and stop the tide of encroaching communism (Abouzahr 49).  While the Marshall plan did not directly support France’s war efforts in Indochina, the billions of dollars they did receive enabled them to free up resources that otherwise would not have been available in their war effort (Abouzahr 50).

The US, however, was not totally content with France’s aims in Indochina.  The US wanted the French to grant Vietnam enough autonomy that would shift public opinion away from Ho Chi Minh (Abouzahr 50).   Some US officials wanted France to be given an ultimatum to either grant Vietnam their sovereignty or risk losing US aid (Abouzahr 51).   The French countered with their ‘Bao Dai solution’ which granted Vietnam independence with former emperor Bao Dai as head of state.  However, in reality, France still called the shots and Bao Dai had little power in his own country (Abouzahr 52).  But this tactic did seem to set up a significant situation which would be played out over the next few years.  Bao Dai’s government was a legitimate alternative to Ho Chi Minh’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam which still operated in exile from the hills of northern Vietnam.  These two governments were locked in a power play which would come to its head at the Geneva Conventions of 1954.  The ‘Bao Dai’ tactic also seemed to placate the Americans who, by the early nineteen fifties, were bankrolling nearly eighty percent of France’s war effort in Indochina (Umetsu 398).

By spring 1954, the long French-Indochina War continued to rage.  France’s will to fight was wavering as French public opinion soured toward the war (Umetsu 400).  The US wanted the French to continue fighting until a military solution was accomplished so that the states of Indochina could become independent and foment indigenous support against the communist cause (Umetsu 401).  As the western powers moved toward an international conference in Geneva to settle the issue of Indochina, Ho Chi Minh’s forces moved against the large French army which had dug itself into the remote valley of Dien Bien Phu in northwestern Vietnam.  Against overwhelming odds, Ho Chi Minh’s forces methodically dissected the valley bringing complete French surrender on May 7, the day before the opening of the Indochina phase of the Geneva Convention (Umetsu 411).  The Vietnamese had their signature victory and the communist forces could no longer be brushed aside.  The Vietnamese came to the bargaining table from a position of strength which eventually shifted US policy and led to the division of Vietnam at the 17th parallel.  The north would be controlled by Ho Chi Minh’s communist government and the south by the French supported and soon to be American backed Republic of Vietnam led by Ngo Dinh Diem.  Elections to re-unify the country were scheduled to take place in 1956.

The reunification elections never took place.  The US believed that the popular anti-colonial figure Ho Chi Minh would easily win the election (Latham 29).  The US decided to invest heavily in ‘nation-building’ in South Vietnam in order to build a strong economy and a legitimate government (Latham 29).  The US spent $1.65 billion dollars in South Vietnam between 1955-1961 yet did little except alienate the South Vietnamese public (Latham 29).  In the north, Ho Chi Minh’s government used land reform as a means of collectivizing the land which resulted in an unpopular land policy which bullied former landowners and allowed no resistance to their policy (Duncansan 51).  However, South Vietnam’s land policy was little better if not worse.   The Saigon government did little to rectify large discrepancies in wealth by allowing families to own up to 100 hectares which was nearly 30 times the maximum allowed under other US-advised land reform programs in Asia (Latham 29).  This meant that poor families with no land remained at the whim of the land owners who often rented land at exorbitant rates.  This is perhaps one reason that the Vietnam communist’s infiltration into the south was so successful later on because peasants had nothing to lose and possibly a lot to gain by supporting the communist cause.

To further exacerbate the widening gap between US policy and the average peasants, the US backed South Vietnamese government set up the Strategic Hamlet Program by relocating peasants in places which Diem called ‘prosperity and density centers’ (Latham 34).  It was really a disastrous move in social engineering.   Many peasants were forced to leave their homes often at gunpoint (Latham 35).  As I have spent many years in Vietnam, I understand clearly the Vietnamaese concept of “que” or “homeland”.  It is the sacred place of their ancestors which gives them their connection to the past.  There is little else which could incite such anger and hatred in a Vietnamese heart than to drive them forcefully from their home.  US planners thought that these strategic villages, complete with a security force and government provided provisions, would help replace traditional family loyalties with loyalties to the state (Latham 34-35).   This was clearly a grave miscalculation. The US nation building plan was a disaster which led a repressive environment (Latham 36).    By 1963, Diem’s government was such a failure that the US supported a coup d’état to overthrow Diem weeks before John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 (Karnow 293-294).   Kennedy’s successor Lyndon Johnson believed that Vietnam’s social engineering would not be possible without US troops on the ground (Latham 37).  Thus, without a complete change in US policy, war with the north seemed inevitable.

I would now like to look briefly at the historical methodology used in some of the literature on this topic.  The first temptation a historian would have when analyzing this era would most likely be to give it a political treatment.  The massive volume of larger than life figures from FDR to Johnson, from Truman to JFK, from Ho Chi Minh to Ngo Dinh Diem, from Charles DeGualle to Vo Nguyen Giap, give the researcher quite a range of characters in which to build a fascinating narrative.  David Marr did it brilliantly in Vietnam 1945 when he captured the post World War II struggles of the fledgling nation of Vietnam (Marr). Stanley Karnow also gave this era a thorough political overview in Vietnam: A History as he weaved stories of US & French policy against the backdrop of the Vietnamese struggle for independence (Karnow).   William Duiker defied some of the conventional wisdom of historical study by putting together the most exhaustive, and authoritative biography of Ho Chi Minh.  Ho Chi Minh is such a striking and overwhelming figure that the biography works on many levels.  His life touched upon so many facets of the entire Indochinese story from the USA to France, from the Soviet Union to China and Vietnam that this biography is thorough and important in scope (Duiker).

Besides the tendency to focus on political history, Marxist theory would be especially helpful when looking at divided Vietnam after the 1954 convention.  Northern Vietnam collectivized society in such a way that it ripped the social fabric in two.  Dennis Duncanson describes this vividly in the article “The Legacy of Ho Chi Minh” in which he describes the gap of economic ideas which Marx and Lenin left to Stalin to define.  Stalin’s ideas eventually led its way to China’s Mao and Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh (50).  This economic restructuring affected every facet of Vietnamese life from the 1950s to the 1990s.  It is in this breadth of scope that Marxist theory would be successful in dissecting the communist state apparatus which controlled Vietnam.  Latham does a similar thing defining the societal changes that took place in the south in “Redirecting the Revolution?” He looks at how US policy was implemented on the local level, disrupting the lives of peasants and sending them into the arms of the communists (Latham). On this micro-level, Marxist theory would be helpful in understanding the totality of Vietnamese societal change.

One temptation that I have when looking at this topic is to read into the scenarios and play the ‘what if’ game.  What if FDR didn’t die?  What if Truman decided not to back the French and supported Vietnamese independence in 1945?  What if the French chose a Buddhist instead of Catholic to lead the south?  What if elections in 1956 were allowed to go forward?  There are so many seemingly connected parts to the puzzle that it makes one wonder how the Vietnam War ever really did come about.  As tempting as this game may be, it is most likely not useful to try to find an overriding theme or purpose by trying to directly connect the dots between 1945 Indochina and 1963 South Vietnam.  As Abouzahr reminds us, “Given the complexity of the issue such as the Indochinese Wars, it seems unlikely that a clear pattern of cause and effect can exist” (49).  This is perhaps the clear reminder to all to approach Vietnam with a heavy dose of historicism.  We must describe as accurately as possible what led to the Vietnam War, but we must be careful not to make too much out of the missed chances of diplomacy.

Works Cited

 Abouzahr, Sami. “The Tangled Web.” History Today 54.10 (Oct. 2004): 49-55.

Duiker, William J.  Ho Chi Minh: A Life.  New York: Hyperion, 2001.

Duncanson, Dennis. “The Legacy of Ho Chi Minh.” Asian Affairs 23.1 (Feb 1992): 49-65.

Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Viking Penguin, 1991.

Latham, Michael E. “Redirecting the Revolution? The USA and the Failure of nation-

building in South Vietnam.”  Third World Quarterly 27.1 (Feb 2006): 27-41.

Marr, David G. Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power.  University of California Press.

Berkeley: 1995.

Previdi, Robert. “Vietnam 1945 to 1975: Communism on Display.” Parameters: US Army

War College 33.3 (Sep. 2003): 146.

Umetsu, Hiroyuki. “Australia’s Response to the Indochina Crisis of 1954 amidst the Anglo-

American Confrontation.” Australian Journal of Politics & History 52.3 (Sep. 2006): 398-416.

“World News.” Bao Chi Viet Nam Doc Lap 14 April 1945.