(part of) You Are Here: Explorations in Search of Current Reality

If some of these writings seem less than coherent, I am so far just trying to find my way. If you see signs of potential, then check in from time to time - I expect to be making more sense as I go along.
See also Tales of the Early Republic, a resource for trying to make some sense of early nineteenth century America


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What Kind of Project is This?

It is very difficult to get a real sense of any major episode of history. If you approach any such episode with no knowledge, skillful writers with their own strong senses of what it represents can probably convince you of any of a number of contradictory "lessons of history".

In trying to make sense of the transformations of America that happenned in the early decades of the 1800s, I adopted a scheme of delaying the big picture, and looking at one tiny event, or person, or place at a time and trying to relate to that. An early taste of where that lead can be seen in Jacksonian Miscellanies - Highlights of First 24 Issues. At history conferences I used to attend, historians who drew very different conclusions about a subject listened to and learned from eachother. Sometimes there was heated debate, but respect was also present.

While I may have read a few dozen books related to the Cold War, there is very little about which I can give a coherent satisfactory explanation, whereas many Americans, having read a lot less, won't hesitate to sumarize the whole thing in 25 words or less. One of the problems is the way that belief systems and our (social) identity become almost impossible to separate. "I and other right-thinking people know that this: ... is how and why it happenned. Others, whose identity is often summed up in some pejoritive way, make this ridiculous claim: ...".

The email newsletter Jacksonian Miscellanies consisted of roughly chapter sized excerpts from real period documents, with maybe 20% context and interpretation added. My general approach was to try to surprise myself, shifting from time to time based on the question "What have I not been paying attention to?". When I was trying to get a handle on (printed) source material from the 1820s-1840s, it seemed, at least, finite. I felt like one of the blind men with the elephant at least, not like a blind ant crawling on an elephant, but with the Cold War I feel more like the ant, and what, anyway, are "original source materials" on the Cold War? I am trying to understand simultaneously both major happenings, like the Berlin Air Lift, or the Korean War, or the first visit to America by a Soviet leader, and major initiatives taken by various entities to tell us what it all meant at the time it was happenning, whether it was by ex-Communists like Whittaker Chambers, people in Eisenhower's or Kennedy's White House, the founder of the John Birch Society, or influential members of the "new left".

One surprise I have had already is that Catholics seemed to have had an unusually large part in the early days of the formation of anti-Communist views of the USSR. Also that even earlier, the alarm was sounded to a large part by left-leaning Europeans who might have been initially attracted to the USSR, but saw what was really going on there, and went around the world and across the U.S. trying to get us over our war propaganda inspired illusions about "Uncle Joe" Stalin. See Dr. America: The Lives of Thomas A. Dooley, 1927-1961 (Culture, Politics, and the Cold War)

I will mostly stick to one narrow subject at a time, so anyone following this blog will take a long time getting any idea of a "big picture". But for people willing to be exposed to surprising aspects of Cold War thought, even aspects you would have tended to stay away from out of repugnance for one point of view or another, I am hoping to provide something of interest. Hopefully, by focusing on undeniably influential (in one war or another) sources, even a "learning-on-the-job" historian can succeed to some extent, as I seemed to do with Jacksonian Miscellanies, which for a while made me pretty well known to scholars of the period, many of whom read it.

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