Aug 9, 2020 – 1920 Look-Back – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 320

Description: Bill, Kelley, and Rachel look back at four things from a hundred years ago, including the Senate failure of the Treaty of Versailles, the launch of the radio broadcast industry, the 19th amendment, and a small postal reform.

Links and notes for ep. 320 (PDF): http://arsenalfordemocracy.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/AFD-Ep-320-Links-and-Notes-1920-Look-Back.pdf

Theme music by Stunt Bird.

Lend Lease 15 – Oklahoma and Oregon Resist the Great War – Dec 8, 2019

Description: In 1917, Oregon Senator Harry Lane votes against the US joining World War One and Oklahoma socialists rise up violently against the draft in the Green Corn Rebellion. Bill, Rachel, Nate.

Links and notes for ep 15 (PDF): http://arsenalfordemocracy.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Lend-Lease-Episode-15-Notes-and-Links-Oklahoma-Green-Corn-Rebellion-and-Oregon-Senator-Harry-Lane.pdf

Music by Stunt Bird.

May 8, 2018 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 224

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Half-Episode: The US nationalization of all railroads during World War One. People: Bill, Rachel, Nate. Produced: May 6th, 2018.

Episode 224 (28 min):
AFD 224

Related links

– Article Citation: “Liquidation of Federal Railroad Control” by James C. Davis, American Bar Association Journal, vol. 8, No. 6 (June 1922), pp. 327-332
– General background: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Railroad_Administration

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Music by friend of the show Stunt Bird.

January 23, 2018 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 211

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Topics: The final year of the World War One centennial; Medicaid and welfare work requirements. People: Bill, Rachel, Nate. Produced: Jan 21st, 2018.

Episode 211 (54 min):
AFD 211

Related links

AFD 211 Links Discussed/Recommended and Detailed Notes on Work Requirements (PDF)

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Stitcher Link: Arsenal for Democracy on Stitcher

Music by friend of the show Stunt Bird.

Trench warfare comes to eastern Syria

Trench warfare largely fell out of favor when aerial bombing became more commonplace and it wasn’t so rare for one or both sides to possess aircraft with serious ground attack capabilities. (Paratroopers didn’t help matters either, if you were trying to defend a location via front-facing trenches.)

But in a conflict where neither side has its own air force, such as the war between Kurdish YPG fighters and ISIS in eastern Syria, extensive trench complexes still make sense for slowing offensives and for securing territory. The New York Times sent reporters to the Kurdish front lines and reported back on the scale and complexity of the earthworks there:

[Kurdish] fighters hold most of the more than 280-mile-long front line with the Islamic State. Parts of it have come to resemble an international border, with deep trenches and high berms running for miles, lined with bright lights to prevent jihadist infiltrators. The whole line is dotted with heavily sandbagged positions to protect against machine gun and mortar attacks by the jihadists.

 
The geo-ethnic divisions wracking Syria, Iraq, and Turkey today were largely drawn during World War I and the five or so years that followed it, so it’s interesting to see massive earthworks and trench networks like that war re-emerge a century later in the waging of this conflict.

Approximate front line of the southward push by Kurdish YPG forces against ISIS in eastern Syria, as of October 26, 2015. (Map via Wikimedia community.)

Approximate front line of the southward push by Kurdish YPG forces against ISIS in eastern Syria, as of October 26, 2015. (Map via Wikimedia community.)

The Russian Revolution & the 1918 Massachusetts Convention

I’ve been reading very heavily from the “Debates in the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention 1917-1918” (particularly Volumes III and IV) — published by Wright and Potter Printing Company (the state printers) in 1920 and freely available today from Google Books — and it’s pretty fascinating for both its detailed discussions of political theory and practice and its time-capsule-like preservation of the tumultuous historical time period in which the convention occurred.

The convention was convened in early 1917, before the U.S. entered World War I and as Russia was beginning to collapse. By the time it ended in mid-1918, the U.S. intervention was in full swing — as was the Bolshevik October Revolution and the Russian Civil War. The delegates in the heat of debates toward the end of the convention could not help but be swept along by the momentous history unfolding around the world.

While there are many historical points I hope to explore more, the convention’s discussions of the Russian Revolution interested me for a first post. Just a few selections are included below.

One important Somerville delegate thought ballot initiatives were as bad as the Russian Revolution:

Mr. Underhill (Somerville): I may be unduly alarmed. The initiative and referendum are not in operation in Massachusetts as yet, and possibly the recent publicity given to the chief backer of the initiative and referendum, Mr. Hearst, and his newspapers may cause the people of Massachusetts to pause and consider whether anything advocated by that gentleman or his newspapers is for the best interest of the community, and it will be defeated. But, sir, if it should be adopted, I should like to remind you that since the Convention passed the initiative and referendum, we have had an illustration of the will and rule of the majority, in Russia. We have had an example of popular government without restraint and without restrictions, which could occur in Massachusetts as well as in Russia. And, sir, it seems to me that if we are going to open the doors wide, we are going to have every demagogue from Cape Cod to the Berkshire Hills telling the people “All you have got to do now is to vote for a homestead and the Government the State or the municipality is going to give it to you.”

 
In reality, contrary to Delegate Underhill’s belief at the time, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia proved to be a coup by a small minority faction, rather than an expression of majority will. He made repeat appearances in the convention debates labeling every left-leaning constitutional proposal a Bolshevik plot, including the idea of having state-subsidized housing as a right for every citizen. Another point of contention in the debates was when Underhill implied that the Russian immigrant population in Brockton at the time was a Bolshevik sleeper cell.

Ironically, a Boston delegate argued that ballot initiatives might actually help conservatively counteract the (what he believed to be) undue militant leftist influence upon state legislators, who he felt would actually be easier to pressure behind closed doors than the whole electorate:

Mr. Herbert A. Kenney (Boston): What do we find in this situation? President Wilson has called the initiative and referendum “a gun behind the door.” My distinguished friend from Brookline (Mr. Walker) spoke very forcibly on those lines. Suppose, for instance, that the House and the Senate say that the minimum wage shall be, – as they do in Russia under the Bolsheviki, – say, $100 a week. Now the Legislature must vote for that; why? Because if one single member of the Legislature votes against that the labor element will center its fire on that man. They might not get him in one year but they can get him in two years or three years or perhaps ten years. He is a marked man. The same way with the Senate.

 
In a discussion of the minimum wage (and whether to guarantee it under the Constitution), one of the more leftist delegates argued that it was a necessity to avoid a revolution or takeover by industrial labor — and described his own evolving viewpoints on the future of labor politics in the U.S. over the momentous course of 1917 and early 1918: Read more

Remembering East Africa’s WWI fallen

Did You Know: World War I included battles in East Africa by local conscripts and produced widespread famine in the East African colonial system…

More than one million people died in East Africa during World War One. Some soldiers were forced to fight members of their own families on the battlefield because of the way borders were drawn up by European colonial powers, writes Oswald Masebo.

 
There are still guns and other battlefield artifacts in place since 1916.

John Iliffe’s archival research suggests that Germany had about 15,000 soldiers in south-west Tanzania in 1916 out of whom about 3,000 were Germans and the remaining 12,000 were Tanzanians whose names are not recorded.

The Tanzanian carrier corps also played a central role in sustaining the war. Their story should be recovered.

It is estimated that during the peak of military operations in 1916 the German colonial state conscripted some 45,000 African carrier corps.

 
After the German colonies collapsed or were seized, many who had benefited from German colonization or had been forced to serve it had to hide their identities or change their stories to avoid being branded collaborators by fellow locals and the new British authorities.