Sunday, October 21, 2012

Origins of the Cold War

With the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis I thought I would publish an essay that I wrote back in 2001.

In 1914 H. G. Wells’ novel The World Set Free was published.  While its literary quality at times takes a back seat to the message that Wells was trying to promulgate, it was in this work that he coined the name ‘atomic bomb’, depicted its discovery and nature, and described its use in a world war.  The story is told from the perspective of the 1970's and describes a world war that occurred in the 1950's.  In an interesting intersection of fiction and reality, Wells’ fictional scientist Holsten first achieves artificial atomic disintegration of bismuth in 1933, and it was in 1933 that  the Joliot-Curies first produced radioactive phosphorous by bombarding aluminum with electrons.  Upon hearing of their work, Leo Szilard immediately knew what it meant, because he had read Wells.  With the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a year before Wells’ own death, one war was ended, and a new one begun.

The Cold War may have officially begun with the dawning of the nuclear age, but its origins lie further in the past than those pivotal acts.  In his 1994 book, The Specter of Communism, Melvyn P. Leffler concentrates on the geopolitical events of the years 1917-1953 in his quest for those origins.  What began as an ideological clash following the Bolshevik revolution, turned into a more aggressive anti-Communism in the 1940s with Stalin’s selling of raw material to the Nazi’s and the 1941 Soviet nonaggression pact with Japan.  Stalin’s direction to Communist parties abroad to end their alliances with antifascist parties, and the resulting actions of the American Communist Party further spurred anti-Communist feelings in the U.S.

Fear of Communism did not, however, translate into a fear of the Soviet Union, especially when compared to the Nazi threat.  In a realization of the axiom that politics sometimes makes for strange bedfellows, the Allies found themselves in a wartime alliance with the Soviet Union against Germany.  But the alliance was never an easy one.  Each side had its own agenda and reasons for engaging in it, and after the war it was not long before it began to unravel under the forces of mutual distrust and misapprehensions.  As the fragile alliance crumbled the specter of Communism raised its head once more and the ideological clash was transformed into a power struggle that would continue for over forty years and leave very few aspects of our world untouched.

While the brevity of the work precludes an in-depth analysis of the complexities of the origins of the Cold War, Leffler does point out the role that misapprehensions played in the early years of its waging when the stakes were being identified and the battle lines were being drawn.  As the title implies the image that the United States had of Communism was a combination of fantasy and reality, an apparition of frightening demeanor.  The Communist versus capitalist, autocracy versus democracy, bipolar scenario did form a convenient framework for articulating the conflict, but the world is seldom, if ever, that black and white.  If, at times, his portrayal of the Soviet Union seems a trifle naive or simplistic, perhaps that merely reflects the naivete with which it was perceived in popular American culture.  As the blurbs on the back indicate, his book is a good introduction to the subject, but it is not the whole story.

In fact, as John Lewis Gaddis points out in his book We Now Know, the whole story has not yet been told, and could not be told before that war was over and the archives of the players opened and their secrets revealed.  This 1997 book is one of several to appear in recent years that examines the Cold War from a perspective that includes not only the knowledge of how it ended, but also how some of the other players perceived its waging.  Any one of his central chapters could easily be turned into a book in its own right, and some of them already have been.  As with Leffler, Gaddis is covering the early years of the Cold War, but his coverage extends for another ten years, stopping at the Cuban Missile Crisis, rather than the death of Stalin.  The greater length of his book allows for a more detailed treatment of the origins of the Cold War, and the extended scope results in a greater coverage of the use of the threat of nuclear weapons in its waging and also the impact of the conflict on the Third World, where a new Great Game was being played out.

This is a work of synthesis, and an attempt on his part to relate what we now know about the Cold War to what we thought we knew, and as such it is interesting to read it in conjunction with Gaddis’ earlier work The United States and the Origins of the Cold War 1941-1947, published in 1972.  With access to foreign sources opening up and the continuing declassification of documents, individuals that perhaps seemed a bit flat in Leffler’s book gain depth and complexity in Gaddis’.  And with this added understanding of the players, the events of the Cold War become more understandable, if no less tragic.

Lack of access to these sources, however, does not mean that you could not write a penetrating historical analysis of the Cold War, even before that war was over, as Barton J. Bernstein’s American Foreign Policy and the Origins of the Cold War amply demonstrate.  Written in 1970 this work was considered to be somewhat radical in its interpretation, but in light of the sources available in a post-Cold War, post-Soviet world, it now comes across as being rather perceptive.  Perceptive, too, was Wallace’s assessment of how the post war actions of America might be seen by other nations (in the letter to Truman, quoted on pp. 381-82), and one can’t help wondering what would have happened had Truman been more receptive to Wallace’s analysis.  Unfortunately, Wallace was fired for publicly criticizing Truman’s foreign policy.  With the firing of Wallace, the way was opened for George Kennan, a respected foreign service officer who wound up providing the intellectual power behind the Policy Planning Staff and formulating the policy of containment that would dominate U.S.-Soviet relations.  The story of his influence on U.S.-Soviet relations is ably told in Wilson Miscamble’s 1988 book George Kennan and the Making of American Foreign Policy, 1947-1950.

Bernstein’s analysis of Truman’s foreign policy also provides a nice counterpoint to the analysis put forth in Leffler’s book A Preponderance of Power : National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War, which examines the grand strategy of the Truman years.  In this in-depth analysis he is seeking to answer what he considers to be the perennial questions of the Cold War regarding US-Soviet relations, the spread of the conflict to the Third World, the arms race that it spawned and especially the question of whether or not the U.S. policy was wise or foolish.  He began the research for this book in 1979, and the book itself was published in 1992, so perhaps the optimism of its conclusions is not too surprising, considering the events that were taking place in the world during that time.

In contrast to Leffler’s optimism is the much more critical look at American foreign relations given by William Appleman Williams in his 1959 book The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, in which he broke with the traditional view of America as isolationist and argued that although we may not have had an empire in the sense of the French or the British, our economic policy did reflect an imperialist motivation.  In an argument since echoed elsewhere the conflict between Communism and capitalism becomes a competition for economic markets and influence.

For over forty years the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union dominated world politics, and dictated the economic priorities in both nations, and as we look beyond its origins to its eventual outcome we must also come to terms with its enduring legacy.  Perhaps the most prominent symbol of that legacy is the nuclear arsenal that many analysts insist prevented the Cold War from heating up.  Regardless of what is finally determined about the veracity of that claim, living under the threat of nuclear annihilation in the form of mutual assured destruction for almost half a century has had a lasting impact upon our culture.  From the 1950s craze for bomb shelters (my brother John lives in a house that contains one) to the sudden upsurge in the sighting of UFOs (a phenomena that Carl Jung attributed to the uncertainty of living under the threat of nuclear annihilation) the images of nuclear fear have permeated our society.  It is no coincidence that Japan came out with the Godzilla movie, featuring a monster created from the effects of atomic bomb radiation, and who can forget Stanley Kubrick’s dark satire Dr. Strangelove.

As the images of the Cold War permeated our society the lines between fiction and reality continued to blur.  The war was fought in many ways and on many fronts.  It was fought with secrets, threats and images and, as in most conflicts, propaganda and control of information were important factors.  As the conflict stretched out over decades, evolving into a stalemate, the conception of its nature crystallized into a battle between good and evil, light and dark, although which side was which was surely a matter of perspective.

But as we penetrate that history, and gain the perspective that only the distance of time can provide us we may find that distinction failing, as it usually does in any conflict.  In its effort to contain the Soviet Union the United State interfered in the internal affairs of other countries, supported dictatorships, even conspired in the assassination of heads of state and opposition leaders.  The irony that many of these actions were carried out under the aegis of promoting democracy was not lost on the peoples of the countries in whose affairs the U.S. meddled, and in a post-Cold War world the dragon’s teeth that were sown during its waging are continuing to sprout, further complicating the enduring legacy of this U.S.-Soviet conflict.

Further Readings on the Cold War

John Lewis Gaddis, The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947, Columbia University Press, 1972

A history of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union during and immediately after World War II.  Attempts to examine the many forces - domestic politics, bureaucratic inertia, individual personalities of the major players, as well as the perceptions of the intentions of the Soviets - that influenced the key decisions being made.

Melvin Leffler, A Preponderance of Power : National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War, Stanford University Press, 1991
An in-depth analysis of Truman’s “grand strategy” that attempts to answer the big questions of the Cold War regarding the formation of U.S. foreign policy, written even as that war was coming to an end.  One can’t help wondering if the euphoria of that sudden victory affected the tone of his conclusions.

Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C., George Kennan and the Making of American Foreign Policy, 1947-1950, Princeton University Press, 1988

A study of George Kennan’s influence on foreign policy as the head of the Policy Planning Staff, his formulation of the policy of containment, the implementation of the Marshall Plan and the formation of NATO.

William Appleman Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, Norton, 1959
A revisionist history that presents the U.S. as a tough, sometimes ruthless, promoter of its own economic power and influence.  Points out that even if the U.S. did not have an empire in the sense that the British and French did, its economic policy was a form of imperialism.

John Lewis Gaddis, The United States and the End of the Cold War : Implications, Reconsiderations, Provocations, Oxford University Press, 1994

A look back that asks, now that the Cold War is over, what’s next?  Includes an interesting reassessment of John Foster Dulles and Ronald Reagan and new interpretations of how America waged the Cold War, including the role of morality, nuclear weapons and espionage.

John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment : A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security, Oxford University Press, 1982

In-depth assessment of American post-war foreign policy, focusing on George Kennan’s policy of containment.  But he goes beyond its formulation to claim that American leaders misunderstood Kennan’s intentions, resulting in policy actions that Kennan did not approve of.

John Lewis Gaddis, Jonathon Rosenberg, Ernest R. May & Philip H. Gordon, eds. , Cold War Statesmen Confront the Bomb : Nuclear Diplomacy since 1945, Oxford University Press, 1999

Attempts to answer one of the most debated questions of the Cold War: did nuclear weapons prevent World War III?  by examining the careers of 10 Cold War statesmen - Harry Truman, John Foster Dulles, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Josef Stalin, Nikita Kruschev, Mao Zedong, Winston Churchill, Charles De Gaulle, and Konrad Adenauer - and their perceptions of war in light of nuclear weapons.

David Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb : The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy 1939-1956, Yale University Press, 1994
A penetrating account of the development of the Soviet atomic bomb, and Soviet nuclear policy, covering the war years and the origins of the Cold War.  Holloway draws upon sources only recently available and this glimpse of America during this time through Soviet eyes, specifically Stalin’s eyes, is absolutely fascinating.  Equally fascinating is the insight he provides into the culture of the Soviet Union during this period.

Hugh Gusterson, Nuclear Rites : A Weapons Laboratory at the End of the Cold War, University of California Press, 1996

An anthropologist’s look at the culture of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.  The place that, along with Los Alamos National Laboratory, made the nuclear warheads that may or may not have preserved the peace.  Remember the military-industrial complex?  This is an important part of it, and an important legacy of the Cold War.

Spencer R. Weart, Nuclear Fear : A History of Images, Harvard University Press, 1988

As the title implies Weart is examining the psychological aspects of the nuclear legacy of the Cold War.  While his analysis is a bit too Freudian for my tastes it makes for some fascinating reading, and will probably make you take a second look at some of those old monster movies.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Opera in America

From 2002 to 2004 I lived in a loft apartment in Center City Philadelphia.  I had always wanted to live the life of a city sophisticate, and I finally had the chance.  It was a lot of fun, but it was expensive.  One of the many cultural activities that I enjoyed while living in the city was the Opera Company of Philadelphia.  I had season tickets for a seat in one of the Proscenium Boxes.  It gave me an excuse to sew elegant evening gowns, make matching jewelry, and where the beaver coat that I inherited from my grandmother.  Even after I moved down to Virginia I maintained my box seat until they stopped offering the Saturday evening performance.  I loved going to the opera, but reading the surtitles was always awkward.

Then one day I saw The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein performed in English.  It was a revelation.  Why, I asked myself, don't they perform all operas in America in English?  It was hilarious, especially when the Grand Duchess snagged her costume on the scenery during one of her entrances and was briefly stuck.  When she pulled free she was trailing about 8 feet of trim, which the General promptly stepped into.  She actually lost it, doubling over in laughter, while the General gamely persevered.  It was then that I realized that forcing us to read translations vastly diminished our enjoyment of the performance for the simple reason that you can't really listen and read at the same time.  And you definitely can't watch what is going on on the stage while you are busy reading the surtitles.

So why don't the folks that produce operas in America translate them into English?  Is it some outmoded idea of remaining faithful to the original?  Or of maintaining the purity of the work?  Do they think it is too hard?  Or do they simply not think of it at all?  As I watch the Metropolitan Opera struggle to keep going it occurs to me that presenting opera in America in English could revitalize the art form and revitalize the Met.  And why stop with translating operas into English.  Why not make it a practice to translate the opera into the native tongue of whichever country it is being performed in?  After all, there is nothing magical about the language of the original, it just happened to be the language of the librettist.  I have a feeling the Wagner fans will think I am a heretic for saying that.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


I grew up reading science fiction, watching Star Trek, and dreaming of a future in space.  I became an Aerospace Engineer, studied orbital mechanics and control systems, and later I earned an MS in Physics (Observational Astronomy).  I was star struck.  Needless to say, I have been disappointed with our lack of progress in space exploration.

The Apollo program was a cold war effort motivated by beating the Russians and while it was an amazing feat of technological development, it did not leave us with any sustainable capability.  The original concept of the Space Shuttle would have been much better.  It would have been totally reusable, with a flying delta winged booster carrying the shuttle up before detaching and returning to Earth.  But Congress nickled and dimed NASA to death, literally.  If that original design had been used, there would have been no solid rocket boosters to blow up, or drop insulation on vulnerable heat tiles.  But when the Atlantis touches down, we won't even have that capability any more.

In more recent years, there have been efforts at the privatization of space exploration, and I cheered when Space Ship One won the X-Prize, but more needs to be done, and it is still hard to get the financial resources needed to create the infrastructure that a sustainable presence in space requires.  NASA still possesses remarkable facilities and despite their brain drain, they still have a lot of very smart people working for them, but they are being run by bean counters who lack vision and are being strangled by the Government.  They need to break free, create a vision for sustainable space exploration, and take their case to the American people, perhaps even to the world.  There is an organization, called Kickstarter that allows people who need financial backing to reach out to the public in an effort to gain that backing.  I recently supported an independent publisher through Kickstarter, and it has occurred to me that this could be a new model for a number of endeavors, including space exploration.

Another possible method of funding would be to allow tax payers to actually have some discretion as to where their tax dollars go.  I read a short story many years ago that used this as the basic premise (it was a Christmas story, and I think it was called World Peace).  When the people in that world filed their tax returns they could go through all the possible programs and select those that they wanted to support.

Of course, if our government is really serious about turning our economy around and creating jobs, they could just increase NASA's budget instead of spending money paving roads that don't really need it.  Economic studies (see this one, for example) have shown the benefits of spending on space (as opposed to spending on defense).  And for those who think that NASA gets lots of money already, they don't.  NASA's budget for 2011 is 19 billion dollars, which is less than 1 % of the Federal Budget.

And for the skeptics out there it is already being done: 
Scientists Turn to Crowds on the Web to Finance Their Projects

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Paul Weindling, “A Virulent Strain: German bacteriology as scientific racism, 1890-1920”

Race, Science and Medicine, 1700-1960, Waltraud Ernst & Bernard Harris, eds. London: Routledge, 1999.  218-34.

This book is a collection of essays centering on the issue of race in science and medicine.  This particular chapter is arguing that bacteriology became racialized as a reaction to transmigrants crossing from the East in the 1890s.  This racialization of disease became even more pronounced during the German occupation of eastern territories during World War I.

By the time of the 1892 cholera outbreak in Hamburg, epidemics were seen as belonging to a more primitive time, when Europeans were considered to be more or less on the same cultural level as the ‘colonial’ races.  But even as outbreaks of cholera were becoming increasingly rare, bacteriologists were aware of other ‘Asian’ diseases that were threatening the European races.  Leprosy was on the rise on the Baltic fringes of Germany, and there were fears about the importation of typhus, small pox and the plague by transmigrants from the East traveling to Ellis Island.

As bacteriological knowledge increased, the identification of pathogens with diseases resulted in a more objective specificity, but it also opened the door for the possibility that susceptibility to a pathogen was a racial attribute.  If this could be shown, it could be used to give an objective scientific basis to the notion of different human species.  In cases where the animal vector (such as the louse) was identified before the pathogen, anyone infested with the animal vectors were considered a threat to the overall population, and it was easy to conflate the ethnicity of the carriers with the contagion.

In response to the threat of disease from transmigrants, medical stations were set up on Germany’s eastern borders that inspected and disinfected transmigrants.  These stations did not, however, have a consistent policy for such cleansing, nor did they necessarily have adequate facilities.  Policies could be quite draconian and dehumanizing, and the attendants were often coarse and ill-mannered.  Women and men were separated, breaking up families, and sick children were often removed to distant hospital facilities, with no information provided to the relatives, and no visitation by family members allowed.  Although there was no official interest in religious background (religion was not generally recorded) the German and American press sensationalized the idea that Eastern European Jews were importing infections.  Public prejudice against Russian Jewish refugees increased during the 1890s, and the stereotype of Eastern Europeans as living in filth and squalor was reinforced.

With German and Austro-Hungarian occupation of eastern territories during World War I, the situation only worsened.   Occupying troops enforced sanitation standards upon the population, often targeting specific groups within that population (e.g., Polish Jews, Serbian Muslims).  Anti-lice pamphlets were prepared in Yiddish, with the help of Rabbis, that urged the cutting of hair, the shaving of beards, and the burning of (infested) wigs of Orthodox women, but they were not effective.  Some considered this lack of effectiveness as being due to the ‘primitive’ religious culture of the Jews.  In turn, the local communities resented this intrusion into their private lives and viewed the delousing installations with hatred, even burning some down.  The Germans compiled lists of Jews that were to be forcibly washed and deloused every week, and closed shops if their owners refused to be deloused.

Labor shortages during the harvest led to the importation of large amounts of Eastern European workers into Germany.  Although the workers were deloused, the delousing was not effective and in 1917 there was a severe typhus epidemic in Warsaw, which aroused further racist hostility towards Jews.

In contrast to the attitude of German and Austrian medical officers in Poland, the Austrian medical officers in Serbia prided themselves on respecting local religion.  They used Serbian women to inspect Muslim women for typhus.  They viewed themselves as “apostles of civilization” (p. 230) and the overall tone of their actions was more moralistic and religious, than racial.

Unfortunately, by 1918 the prejudice of German and Austrian authorities against Polish Jews as carriers of typhus had increased to the point that refugees arriving in Vienna were held in concentration camps, under atrocious conditions that caused deaths among the inmates.  Medical officers believed that Polish Jews constituted an epidemic risk, and the Reich authorities closed the borders to these workers.  They were vilified as immoral, lazy, opportunistic, dirty and unreliable.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Beatrice Webb

My Apprenticeship, AMS Press, New York, 1977 (reprint of the 1926 London edition published by Longmans, Green & Co.)

For Beatrice Webb (née Potter) the underlying controversy of life is the struggle between the Ego that affirms and the Ego that denies, and it is upon the course of this controversy that the attainment of inner harmony and consistent conduct in personal and public affairs rests.  For Beatrice this debate was resolved into two questions: Can there be a science of social organization, analogous to mechanics or chemistry, that would enable mankind to forecast what will happen in society and allow us to alter those events.  And, if there is such a science, is science all we need?  Or do we also need religion?  This book is a tentative attempt to answer those questions and describes her journey towards socialism, the Fabian Society and her marriage to Sidney Webb.

She concludes, finally, that society is a vast laboratory in which experiments in human relationships are constantly being carried out, consciously or unconsciously, and that to survive and prosper we should equip ourselves with the knowledge of how things happen.  And that this knowledge can only be obtained by persistent research into the past and present behavior of humanity.  But knowing how things happen does not settle the question of what ought to happen nor should it because, with regard to that question, science has no answer.  Answering the question of ‘ought’ depends upon human values, which alter from society to society and over time.

For Beatrice, answering the question of ‘ought’ led her to socialism.  Her research in the East End revealed to her the physical misery and moral debasement that was the legacy of the rack-renting landlord and the capitalist profit-maker of nineteenth-century commerce and industry.  Some of these ills (low wages, long hours, unsanitary working conditions) she felt could be remedied by appropriate legislative action and pressure from the Trade Unions.  This meant a move from early Victorian individualism to an all-pervading control, in the interest of the community, of the economic activities of landlords and capitalists.

But even if this regulation did succeed in alleviating the worst injustices of the capitalist system, there still must be some way to insure a minimum state of civilized existence for every citizen via some form of socialism that would provide public education, public health, public parks, and public provision for the elderly and the ill, and some form of support for the involuntarily unemployed, paid for out of rates and taxes.

To address what she considered the psychological evil of a society divided into the haves and have nots, or the rich and the poor, a schism that would not be remedied by a rise in wages as the United States demonstrated, she recommended an alternative to the modern business model based upon the co-operative movement.  In the co-operative she saw the invention of a new type of industrial organization in which an industry was governed by the community of consumers for the common benefit of the consumers.  To this organization she wished to add Trade Unions or professional societies, whose purpose it was to protect personal dignity and individual freedom by giving workers the means to participate in the administration of their trades and services.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Social Control in Nineteenth Century Britain

ed. by A. P. Donajgrodzki.  London: Croom Helm, 1977
    ‘Social Police’ and the Bureaucratic Elite: A Vision of Order in the Age of Reform (pp. 51-76).

This book is a collection of essays concerned with the application of the concept of social control (borrowed from sociology) to the study of relationships between the classes in nineteenth century Britain.  Although the contributors have different perspectives on social control, all share a fundamental assumption that social order is not only maintained through legal systems (police and prison) but is also expressed through a wide variety of social institutions, both formal and informal.  The book purports to be the first collection of historical essays to make use of this concept.

The essay under consideration here, written by Donajgrodzki, is concerned with examining the common foundations in the thought of Hugh Tremenheere, a traditionalist, and Edwin Chadwick, a Benthamite (in fact he was Bentham’s amanuensis and a devoted adherent).  Both men, he claims, approached the problems of social control from the perspective of social police.  This perspective was characterized by the belief that it was a common morality that produced social order, so that any policy aimed at maintaining it would have to take into consideration not just the legal systems, but also religion, morality, education, leisure activities and even housing and public health.  It further held that if left to themselves, the poor were liable to be led astray, that is they were normless.  They are, perhaps, like a errant children, who do not know any better and must be guided in their moral development as well as in the everyday acts of life.

Donajgrodzki believes that the notion of social police may be an adaptation and intensification of pre-industrial beliefs about the proper relationship between the classes and the control of the poor.  In some parts of the country civil authority was matched by ecclesiastical authority, and this permitted extensive scrutiny of the lives and behavior of the poor and the possibility of social control through the power and influence of the clergy.  With industrialization the poor often gained some measure of economic independence, but this independence was not seen to carry over into a right for individualism, which was seen as incompatible with social order.  Industrialization tended to intensify the feeling that the poor need to be guided and taught, and led to speculations about how this could best be achieved.

Hugh Seymour Tremenheere, the first mines inspector, was a traditionalist whose duties included both reporting on the technical aspects of mining and also on the state of the people in the mining districts.  He felt that the way to maintain social order was to create a controlling and sustaining environment in which all factors, even the most trivial, were carefully considered.  His was a theory of reciprocal obligation, employers had a moral obligation to their employees, and the interests of both were the same.  He did not fear the intellectual and moral development of the poor and felt that it would contribute to social stability, because once they had been properly educated the poor would understand the nature of the proper relationship between themselves and the rich.  Industry would thus play the leading role in creating the proper environment for the working poor, with the state merely ensuring that the socially destructive practices of industry was curtailed.  The state should also contribute to the social welfare of the people by increasing the numbers of schools and staffing them with appropriate role models.  He also wanted an increase in the number of clergy, seeing them as front line enforcers of proper social behavior.

Whereas Tremenheere approached the problem of social control from a paternalistic perspective, Chadwick approached it from a Benthamite one.  They both saw order as being the product of a variety of social processes and thought that it was attainable only if the poor were watched over and guided.  But Chadwick believed that harsher and more coercive measures of enforcement were as important as the benevolent provision of the proper environment.  And unlike Tremenheere he felt that the state should take a much more active role in creating a systematic, humane and efficient social police.  The role of the police was to include not just the apprehension of criminals but also the supervision of public leisure and the enforcement of public health measures.  To offset their role as enforcers, police should also take on humanitarian and benevolent roles in a community, such as acting as fireman.  He felt that Tremenheere placed too much emphasis on the role of the church and that he was not hard enough on the trade unions, whom Chadwick saw as a disruptive force.  While he is often remembered for his advocation of state intervention, he was also enthusiastic about a paternalistic role for the industries for many of the same reasons that Tremenheere was.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

 Susan L. Smith, Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired : Black Women’s Health Activism in America, 1890-1950, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press,1995.

As the subtitle of this book implies, it is about the role of black women in black health care.  The time period under consideration, 1890-1950, was a time of legalized segregation, but it was also a time when the American welfare state was expanding.  Unfortunately those benefits generally did not cross the color line.  In response to this, and as part of the political agenda for black rights and equal access to government resources, black activists attempted to draw attention to black health issues.

The creation of a black health movement began as a private crusade instituted primarily by black club women.  These women constructed the infrastructure of their communities through their work in religious and secular groups, groups that included not only church associations, but also female auxiliaries and women’s clubs.  These clubs started day nurseries and kindergartens.  They opened working girls’ homes in the North and the Midwest to help young black migrants from the South with housing, employment information, and moral instruction.  But because segregation and racism prevented African Americans from getting even the most basic health care, these clubs focused most of their interest on public health work.  Despite personnel and monetary limitations, they provided health education and some basic health services to impoverished communities and in Atlanta and Chicago they tried to provide African Americans with the same basic urban amenities that white communities received as a matter of course via tax-supported city services.

In 1915 these reform efforts became part of a national black health movement when Booker T. Washington launched a health education campaign from the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.  This campaign, known as National Negro Health Week, was seen by black leaders and community organizers as a way for advancing the race through the promotion of black health education and cooperation across racial lines.  The Tuskegee Institute served as the headquarters for the campaign until it was taken over in 1930 by the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) and turned into a year-round program.

In the 1930s the statistical information now available revealed the plight of black Americans in the form of higher mortality and morbidity rates as compared to the white population.  Growing awareness of the problem among health officials did not necessarily lead to better health treatment for blacks, but rather led white officials to blame the African Americans themselves for their illness by saying that it was due to their behavior and, in the case of venereal disease, to their sexual immorality and promiscuity.  In response to these accusations, the black leaders responded with the statement that a population was only as healthy as its sickest members and called for an end to racist practices and the integration of health services, seeing these measures as the only real solution for the health issues facing black Americans.

By the 1940s the medical civil rights movement arose as black health workers struggled to integrate hospitals and medical and nursing schools and associations.  The effort was met by resistance within both the white and black communities.  But in 1950 the USPHS pronounced the end of the National Negro Health Movement and the Office of Negro Health Work on the grounds that the nation was moving towards integration.