// archives

Truman to Eisenhower

This category contains 69 posts

The King of Comedy.

“‘If you want to find the ur-texts of “The Producers” and “Blazing Saddles,” of “Sleeper” and “Annie Hall,” of “All in the Family” and “M*A*S*H” and “Saturday Night Live,”‘ Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times when he was its chief theater critic, ‘check out the old kinescopes of Sid Caesar.'”

Television pioneer Sid Caesar, 1922-2014. “Albert Einstein was a Caesar fan. Alfred Hitchcock called Mr. Caesar the funniest performer since Charlie Chaplin.”

Hello?…Uh…Hello Dmitri?

“With great reluctance, Eisenhower agreed to let American officers use their nuclear weapons, in an emergency, if there were no time or no means to contact the President…Aware that his decision might create public unease about who really controlled America’s nuclear arsenal, Eisenhower insisted that his delegation of Presidential authority be kept secret. At a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he confessed to being ‘very fearful of having written papers on this matter.'”

Following up on the recent revelations that, for decades, the nuclear launch code was actually 000000: In the New Yorker and fifty years after the film’s release, Eric Schlosser discovers that pretty much everything in Dr. Strangelove was correct, right down to the secret Doomsday device. “Fifty years later…’Strangelove’ seems all the more brilliant, bleak, and terrifyingly on the mark.”

The Literal (and Semiotic) Seuss.

The original Buzzfeed post from whence these came seems to have been airlocked, but the images have survived at LinkMachineGo and elsewhere: What Dr. Seuss Books Are Really About.

Or for a longer but equally goofy answer, see Louis Menand in The New Yorker, circa 2002: “The Cat in the Hat was a Cold War invention. His value as an analyst of the psychology of his time…is readily appreciated: transgression and hypocrisy are the principal themes of his little story. But he also stands in an intimate and paradoxical relation to national-security policy. He was both its creature and its nemesis — the unraveller of the very culture that produced him and that made him a star.”

The Enemy of my Enemy.

But returning to their POW camps, the Americans carried a conviction that they had just witnessed overwhelming proof of Soviet guilt. The corpses’ advanced state of decay told them the killings took place much earlier in the war, when the Soviets still controlled the area…The evidence that did the most to convince them was the good state of the men’s boots and clothing: That told them the men had not lived long after being captured.

Newly-released documents tell of how America learned of the 1940 Katyn Massacre seventy-two years ago, and worked to keep it quiet. “The directive was to ‘never to speak about a secret message on Katyn.’ During the 1951-52 Congressional hearings, for example, no material was presented to demonstrate that Washington knew about Katyn as early as it did.

Well, Mars is the Red Planet…

“Informant stated that the general aim of these science fiction writers is to frighten the people into a state of paralysis or psychological incompetence bordering on hysteria which would make it very possible to conduct a Third World War in which the American people would seriously believe [sic] could not be won since their morale had been seriously destroyed.”

They’re coming to get you, Bradbury…Apparently, the author of The Martian Chronicles was on the FBI’s Communist watchlist in the 50’s and 60’s for penning potentially subversive “science fiction” stories. “Using a Freedom of Information Act Request, the Huffington Post received a copy of Bradbury’s file, and it turns out the FBI checked Bradbury’s passport records and staked out his house.

Devil in a Blue Dress.


(Ok, admittedly, that’s still unsubstantiated. Sorry, couldn’t resist.) In any event, a sturdy and plodding workhorse of a biopic, Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar attempts to humanize the man who fanned forty years of fears about Communism to become architect of the F.B.I. and one of the most powerful figures in Washington. It’s…not bad, and I would say I was engaged for most of the movie’s run. But, even despite all the Brokeback Mountain-style kabuki restraint that Eastwood must’ve felt he had to employ to do justice to the are-they-or-aren’t-they relationship of Hoover and longtime partner Clyde Tolson, a film about a figure as polarizing as J. Edgar Hoover should take stronger stands about its subject. Despite some very good (and, in di Caprio’s case, very bizarre) performances, this is mostly biopic mush.

It doesn’t help that Eastwood has yet again opted for the tinkly piano and gray palette that seems to characterize all of his historical pictures. This worked wonders for Letters of Iwo Jima, not so much for Flags of our Fathers and this film. Here, Eastwood has set a story beginning in 1919 — perhaps the most lurid and tumultuous single year for America in the 20th century (I’m only ever-so-slightly biased on this) — and made it look like a drab, washed-out daguerrotype. In that fateful summer, after an anarchist’s bomb blows up the front porch of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s house in the ritzy West End of Washington (his neighbors, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, had just parked down the street), Hoover is hand-picked to run the new “General Intelligence Division” of the Justice Department that will bring the perpetrators to justice.

With previous experience at the Library of Congress in organizing information, Hoover soon takes on two key assistants in Tolson (Armie Hammer, once again exuding Ivy League entitlement) and personal secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts, who gets the best of the age make-up), and quickly attempts to make a CSI of the GID. Cut to forty years later, and Hoover — now balding, paunchy, and covered in latex — is obsessively snooping on Martin Luther King and making veiled threats to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy about his brother’s sleeping habits. With our two historical poles established, the rest of J. Edgar flits back and forth in time, telling the story of its protagonist as both a young and old man – Other than these two moments, the film spends most of its time, strangely enough, dealing with the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. (In 2004, when discussing The Alamo, I noted how fun it is to cast the story of American history with actors. Let me say that Josh Lucas totally works as Charles Lindbergh.)

For the most part, J. Edgar is an innocuous edutainment. But it also has some serious problems, and not just the standard-issue groanworthy biopic tropes like Freudian parent issues overdetermining the subject’s entire life story. (Here, Mom (Judi Dench) is a stern and overbearing sort who forces Hoover to bury his secrets within, even as he’s trying to pry up everyone else’s.) Y’see, it comes out rather late in the third act that Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black have attempted to add a Fight Club-ish “unreliable narrator” schtick to the film: The whole time, we’ve been watching Hoover’s sanitized retelling of his own history. But this should-be-huge reveal is underplayed, and thus becomes somewhat buried. And, as a result, people who don’t know anything about the times are going to leave a theater with a very wrongheaded sense of the story.

For example, it’s never mentioned or adequately explained that the 1919 anarchist bombings which open the film only killed two people — one of them the bomber on Palmer’s porch, who either tripped or mis-timed the blast — and that, not unlike recent times, pretty much everything Palmer and Hoover did subsequently in 1919 was a massive overreaction. (Hence, the “Red Scare.”) They show Hoover and a team of G-men knocking down an anarchist printing press in Paterson, New Jersey linked to the bombs, but, with the arguable exception of Emma Goldman’s deportation proceedings at Ellis Island, they don’t show any of the many, many raids that were just glorified fishing expeditions and/or excuses to remove foreign-born potential Communists from American shores.

Similarly, when the film briefly depicts the Centralia Massacre that same year, it shows events in a way that Hoover, and many other Americans, probably saw them — I.W.W. radicals killing patriotic veterans in a turkey shoot. But that depiction does violence to the much more complicated truth of the event, which involved American Legion members deciding first to go march on some radical Wobblies. And you’d never know that the culmination of that day was an I.W.W. member and veteran grabbed from jail by soldiers, beaten, castrated, hung, hung, hung, shot, and shot. Again, Eastwood and Black have written themselves a pass for this, because they hint Hoover is an unreliable narrator at the end of the film. But that lede is buried.

So the history has definite issues, and this same tendency towards whitewashing detracts from the whole film. Granted, given how little we know, the Tolson-Hoover relationship should perhaps be treated with this discretion — although my understanding is they were more conceived of as a couple than this film lets on. (FWIW, Hammer is quite good here despite some unfortunate age-makeup, and a Supporting Actor nod is likely.) But, that aside, and to be blunt about it, sometimes an asshole is just an asshole. One can argue that Hoover had all the reasons in the world to be the way he was — an overbearing mom, a traumatic secret, whathaveyou. But this film spends more time trying to make us feel charitable towards its protagonist than it does putting his behavior in any kind of appropriate context. (For example, why is Hoover obsessed with MLK? Should he be wiretapping him? It’s never really addressed.) Should we feel for J. Edgar, after hearing his story? Perhaps, yes. But we should also leave the theater with a clearer sense of how illegal and often reprehensible his rise to power really was.

The Things I’ve Seen…


In the US History is Surprisingly Short department, an eyewitness to Lincoln’s assassination appears on TV (for a February 9th, 1956 episode of I’ve Got a Secret, to be exact.)

50 Years Ago, Our Journey Began.


What beauty. I saw clouds and their light shadows on the distant dear earth…The water looked like darkish, slightly gleaming spots…When I watched the horizon, I saw the abrupt, contrasting transition from the earth’s light-colored surface to the absolutely black sky. I enjoyed the rich color spectrum of the earth. It is surrounded by a light blue aureole that gradually darkens, becoming turquiose, dark blue, violet, and finally coal black.

Fifty years ago this week, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first, however briefly, to leave the cradle and get off-world. May there be many more.

Death of a Cosmonaut.

Starman tells the story of a friendship between two cosmonauts, Vladimir Komarov and Soviet hero Yuri Gagarin, the first human to reach outer space…In 1957, both men were assigned to the same Earth-orbiting mission, and both knew the space capsule was not safe to fly. Komarov told friends he knew he would probably die. But he wouldn’t back out because he didn’t want Gagarin to die. Gagarin would have been his replacement.

By way of LinkMachineGo, NPR’s Robert Krulwich tells the tale of the sad and unnecessary death of cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. “As he heads to his doom, U.S. listening posts in Turkey hear him crying in rage, ‘cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship.’

Luce Canon (and FORTUNE’s fool).

“From the mid-1930s through the late ’50s, Time Inc. was probably the largest news organization in the world, with bureaus on every continent…The company’s success was partly a result of shrewd management. But it was also a result of Luce, who had looked into the future and seen an increasingly integrated nation bound together by railroads, highways, radio, movies and the rise of a national corporate culture. As a result, Americans would need a vast amount of information and an efficient way of accessing it. Luce embraced that future and created vehicles that served the needs of his rapidly changing times.”

On the release of his long-awaited The Publisher, an extensive biography of TIME/LIFE founder Henry Luce, Columbia historian (and my dissertation advisor) Alan Brinkley discusses how Luce may have coped with the Digital Age. “Luce — for all his flaws — was an innovator, a visionary and a man of vast and daunting self-confidence. Were he to live in our time, trying once again to revolutionize the spread of knowledge, he might find his talents much in demand.

And, in very related news, Boing Boing posts Chris Ware’s recently rejected throwback cover for Fortune‘s annual 500 issue. “It hearkens back to the golden age of Fortune as an exemplar of beautifully designed and illustrated magazines…’and he filled the image with tons of satirical imagery, like the U.S. Treasury being raided by Wall Street, China dumping money into the ocean, homes being flooded, homes being foreclosed, and CEOs dancing a jig while society devolves into chaos. The cover, needless to say, was rejected.’

Undaunted Audacity.

Nonfiction writers who succumb to the temptations of phantom scholarship are a burgeoning breed these days, although most stop short of fabricating interviews with Presidents. But Stephen Ambrose, who, at the time of his death, in 2002, was America’s most famous and popular historian, appears to have done just that.

In less-sanguine history news, and by way of Past Punditry, a new blog by an old Columbia colleague of mine, it appears that the late Stephen Ambrose — already unmasked as a serial plagiarist — also conjured several purported interviews with President Eisenhower out of thin air. “Access to Eisenhower in his retirement years was tightly controlled…These records show that Eisenhower saw Ambrose only three times, for a total of less than five hours. The two men were never alone together.” Hmm…I could’ve saved a lot of time in gradual school if I could just make it up. (Sadly, there’s been a rash of fake presidential quotes going around lately.)

Farewell to the Disc-Man.

‘I thought the name was a horror,’ he told The Press Enterprise of Riverside, Calif., in 2007. “Terrible.” (Before perfecting the Pluto Platter in 1955, Mr. Morrison had called earlier incarnations of his disc the Flyin’ Cake Pan, the Whirlo-Way and the Flyin-Saucer.)” And millions of dogs howled in lament: Walter Frederick Morrison, inventor of the Frisbee, 1920-2010. (By way of FmH and The Late Adopter.)

MLK 2010.

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability,
but comes through continuous struggle.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
* * * * * *

The Serpent on the Staff.

“As a society, we trust doctors to be more concerned with the pulse of their patients than the pulse of commerce. Yet the American Medical Association is using that trust to try to block a robust public insurance option as part of health reform. In fact the A.M.A. now represents only 19 percent of practicing physicians…Its membership has declined in part because of its embarrassing historical record: the A.M.A. supported segregation, opposed President Harry Truman’s plans for national health insurance, backed tobacco, denounced Medicare and opposed President Bill Clinton’s health reform plan.

And don’t forget Sheppard-Towner: In his column this week, Nicholas Kristof take aim at the powerful American Medical Association. “‘They’ve always been on the wrong side of things,’ Dr. Scheiner told me, speaking of the A.M.A. ‘They may be protecting their interests, but they’re not protecting the interests of the American public.‘”

On the Cusp.

“In the summer of 1959, Allen Ginsberg, the generation’s visionary poet of exuberance and doom, wrote in the Village Voice: ‘No one in America can know what will happen. No one is in real control. America is having a nervous breakdown…Therefore there has been great exaltation, despair, prophecy, strain, suicide, secrecy, and public gaiety among the poets of the city.’ He might as well have written that today.

In Slate and per his recent book, Fred Kaplan makes the case for 1959 as a Very Important Year, and uses the groundbreaking flight of Luna 1 as that moment’s muse. “[I]t, and the race to space that it triggered, helped create the climate in which all those other breakthroughs were possible or, at least, appealing to a broad population. The breakdown of barriers in space, speed, and time made other barriers ripe for transgressing.” And folks argue space exploration isn’t important

Ground Control to Major Kong.

“In Huntsville, Ala., there is an unusual grave site where, instead of flowers, people sometimes leave bananas. The gravestone reads: ‘Miss Baker, squirrel monkey, first U.S. animal to fly in space and return alive. May 28, 1959.‘” On the fiftieth anniversary of their history-making flight, NPR remembers NASA’s pioneering space monkeys, Able and Baker. “More than 300 people attended Baker’s funeral service when she died of kidney failure in 1984, Buckbee says. And, he says, often at her grave at the entrance to the rocket center, ‘you’ll see a banana or two laying there.’

The Manchurian Handbook.

“The military trainers who came to Guantanamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of ‘coercive management techniques’ for possible use on prisoners, including ‘sleep deprivation,’ ‘prolonged constraint,’ and ‘exposure.’ What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners…The only change made in the chart presented at Guantanamo was to drop its original title: ‘Communist Coercive Methods for Eliciting Individual Compliance.‘”

How low have we sunk under Dubya? Apparently, under this administration, we’ve actually been plagiarizing Maoist torture techniques for use in the Gitmo gulag. “‘What makes this document doubly stunning is that these were techniques to get false confessions,’ Levin said. ‘People say we need intelligence, and we do. But we don’t need false intelligence.’

The Century that Was.

Another personal plug: As part of the online rollout for a new edition of Walter LaFeber’s The American Century, I recently composed four brief classroom essays on various 20th century events, as evaluated from a 21st century (re: ruthlessly presentist) perspective. In case anyone’s interested, they’ve now gone live: The Versailles Conference | The Military Industrial Complex Speech | The Tet Offensive | A Second American Century? Now, that’s edutainment.

Eisenhower for Obama.

“The biggest barrier to rolling up our sleeves and preparing for a better future is our own apathy, fear or immobility. We have been living in a zero-sum political environment where all heads have been lowered to avert being lopped off by angry, noisy extremists. I am convinced that Barack Obama is the one presidential candidate today who can encourage ordinary Americans to stand straight again; he is a man who can salve our national wounds and both inspire and pursue genuine bipartisan cooperation. Just as important, Obama can assure the world and Americans that this great nation’s impulses are still free, open, fair and broad-minded.

In the WP, Susan Eisenhower, Ike’s granddaughter, endorses Obama for president. “My grandfather was pursued by both political parties and eventually became the Republican nominee…He went on to win the presidency — with the indispensable help of a ‘Democrats for Eisenhower’ movement. These crossover voters were attracted by his pledge to bring change to Washington and by the prospect that he would unify the nation. It is in this great tradition of crossover voters that I support Barack Obama’s candidacy for president. If the Democratic Party chooses Obama as its candidate, this lifelong Republican will work to get him elected and encourage him to seek strategic solutions to meet America’s greatest challenges.

The Hoover Raids.

In order to make effective these apprehensions, the proclamation suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus for apprehensions made pursuant to it.” Taking a page from his earlier mentor, A. Mitchell Palmer, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, recently declassified documents reveal, floated the idea of interning 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty in 1950, during the Korean War. [Hoover's letter.] “Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to ‘protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.’ The F.B.I would ‘apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous’ to national security, Hoover’s proposal said.” Thank goodness our intelligence community is past such retrograde thinking and kneejerk trampling on civil liberties today…uh, right?

Omsbudsdog Emeritus

Photos on flickr

Recent Tweets

Pinterested

Follow Me on Pinterest 
My Pinterest Badge by: Jafaloo. For Support visit: My Pinterest Badge

Visions



The Zero Theorem (7.5/10)

Visions Past

Guardians of the Galaxy (8/10)
Boyhood (10/10)
Snowpiercer (7/10)
Jodorowsky's Dune (7.5/10)
X-Men: Days of Future Past (7.5/10)
The Amazing Spiderman 2 (4/10)
Locke (8/10)
The Double (7.5/10)
Blue Ruin (8/10)
Le Weekend (7.5/10)
God's Pocket (6.5/10)
Devil's Knot (5/10)
Under the Skin (7.5/10)
Transcendence (3/10)
Nymphomaniac, Vol. 1 (3/10)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (8.5/10)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (6/10)
300: Rise of an Empire (4/10)
Robocop (5.5/10)
The Lego Movie (8.5/10)
The Monuments Men (4/10)
GitM BEST OF 2013
GitM Review Archive

Currently Reading


The Invisible Bridge, Rick Perlstein

Recently Read

Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem
This Book Is Full of Spiders, David Wong
The Weirdness, Jeremy Bushnell
How to Live Safely in A Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu
The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown
Command and Control, Eric Schlosser
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

Uphill All the Way

Syndicate this site:
RSS 1.0 | Atom (2.0)

Unless otherwise specified, the opinions expressed here are those of the author (me), and me alone.

All header images intended as homage. Please contact me if you want one taken down.

GitM is and has always been ad-free. Tips are appreciated if the feeling strikes.

Archives