American Collections blog

27 posts categorized " Official Publications"

23 July 2021

The Paradoxes of Power: Photographic records and postwar nuclear testing

This blog by Timothy Peacock is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research scholars and creatives associated with the Eccles Centre, including those supported by the Centre’s awards, have undertaken across the Library’s Americas collections.

 

Nuclear cloud superimposed over the New York skyline
Figure 1: ‘Bomb vs Metropolis’ – a composite photograph comparing [the] initial height of Crossroads Baker mushroom cloud with New York buildings. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946 (British Library shelfmark W67/5211), p. 215.

 

75 years ago in July 1946, Operation Crossroads involved the first postwar nuclear weapons tests, at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. These consisted of two Bombs, codenamed Able, which was dropped from an aircraft, and Baker, positioned underwater, both targeting a fleet of over 90 decommissioned US and captured WW2 ships.i Further examination of the British Library’s holdings, which include the Official Pictorial Report on Crossroads, highlights not only the destructive force of the weapons and their multiple impacts, but also the ‘power’ and paradoxes of the images themselves. Such paradoxes vary from the photography and ways in which images were used, to scientific planning being accompanied by choices based on luck rituals, to the wide range of what was tested beyond the ships themselves.


Figure 1 is a stark example, a composite near the end of the book which superimposes New York’s skyline onto the Crossroads Baker nuclear cloud, to give readers some frame of reference as to the potential scale of the blast. This image echoed contemporary practices of newspapers, which printed maps of US cities with circles on them to indicate potential radii of atomic destruction.ii Nevertheless, while generating contemporary interest, this is one of the images which has, ironically, not been nearly as widely circulated in subsequent years as those of the unobscured originals (including, for instance, Figure 2). These pictures, which showed the growth of the cloud itself, whether from closeup or afar, seem to have had an even more powerful impact and reusability, possibly by not being tied to any skyline or context, and the even greater psychological visual disparity they display, engulfing the tiny dots at their base which were full-sized battleships.

 

Nuclear mushroom cloud
Figure 2: Image at a distance of the Crossroads Baker cloud and ships at the base of the cloud. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946 (British Library shelfmark W67/5211), p. 199.

 

A significant paradox is that Crossroads was, at the time, one of the most photographed events in history, but many of the pictures were not made public. The Record itself is a mere 200 still images out of over 50,000 taken. Half the world’s film footage was used to capture the event, leading to shortages in Hollywood and film studios elsewhere for months. However, much footage remained (and remains) classified, some material only released in recent years. Those images which are available illustrate a fraction of the different perspectives and cameras used, including the self-referential pictures of the camera equipment itself. A further paradox is that only a few thousand televisions existed in the US in 1946, so many people would have experienced Crossroads either via the shared ritual of watching on newsreels in cinemas or through pictures in newspapers or in this Record.

 

Rows of recording equipment in front of an airplane.
Figure 3: A total “of [328] cameras used by the Army Air Forces” at Crossroads, not including the Navy cameras on “planes and on ships, or in fixed shore installations”. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946 (British Library shelfmark W67/5211), pp. 72-3.

 

While Crossroads involved highly scientific and rigorous planning, it is interesting to see the extent to which photos also captured human rituals of betting and chance and how these shaped parts of the exercise. However, these rituals either echoed previous responses to such scientific uncertainties or were considered fair methods of selection. In some cases, this involved decisions prior to Crossroads: the former German battleship Prinz Eugen, for example, pictured in the Report and one of the three non-US target vessels, had originally been awarded as a war prize to the US by drawing lots with the British and Soviets for other vessels.iii At Bikini Atoll, there were informal pools among military personnel and scientists (Figure 4), betting on such aspects as “how many ships would be sunk [by Crossroads], or as to the exact time” of bomb detonation for the air-dropped weapon. Similarly, while those few journalists documenting Crossroads Able from the air were selected by their peers (Figure 5) “the radio commentator was chosen by lot”. That these latter details and images are even contained in the Record shows something of them being regarded as significant in the ‘human’ stories behind the tests, while also reminiscent of the very first nuclear bomb test ‘Trinity’ a year earlier, when scientists took bets, including on whether they were going to set the atmosphere on fire!iv

 

Three men stand together.
Figure 4: “ATOMIC PARI MUTUEL […] Rear Admiral T. A. Solberg […] N. J. Hotter project physicist […watching] Major Harold H. Wood, bombardier” filling in an atomic betting pool. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946 (British Library shelfmark W67/5211), p. 100.

 

 

Four men stand with their bags in front of a plabe with The Voice written on the side of it.
Figure 5: Standing in front of a B-17 plane “four newsmen who covered the atomic bomb tests from the air […] The radio commentator was chosen by lot.” Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946 (British Library shelfmark W67/5211), p. 86.

 

While Crossroads mainly involved testing atomic bombs against ships, the images also highlight, paradoxically, the wide variety of equipment loaded onto the decks of target vessels to assess how atomic bombs would impact these, from tanks and aircraft parts to clothing and rations.

 

A tank is hoisted in the air.
Figure 6: “AN ARMY TANK JOINS THE NAVY […] a new light 26-ton tank armed with the Air Corps 75 mm cannon is hoisted aboard the "Pennsylvania"”. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946 (British Library shelfmark W67/5211), p. 66.

 

 

Men walk passed large equipment on board the ship's deck.
Figure 7: “experimental wing panels installed […] on the deck of a target vessel […] Visible also along the deck are a tail assembly, stablilizer, range-finder, and rear support of a small mobile”. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946 (British Library shelfmark W67/5211), p. 68.

 

 

Bow of a battleship with tanks and other equipment parked on it.
Figure 8: “Bow of the battleship "Arkansas" with Army Ground Force equipment in place.” Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946 (British Library shelfmark W67/5211), p. 65.

75 years on, perhaps the greatest paradox from these images is that Crossroads’ story, which was foundational in the history of nuclear weapons development and was intended to have the widest possible photographic/filmic dissemination, remains relatively unknown. Its history is, ironically, overshadowed by its most visual legacy in popular culture, the mushroom cloud itself.

_____

Dr Timothy Peacock, Eccles Fellow 2019, is a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Glasgow. He is on Twitter @DrTimPeacock

_____

i The source material for this blog is drawn from Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, p. 71. British Library shelfmark: W67/5211. This item is also available digitally courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. For further information about the Operation, see Jonathan M. Weisgall, Operation Crossroads: The Atomic Tests at Bikini Atoll (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1994) British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 94/14429
ii Rosemary B. Mariner, The Atomic Bomb and American Society: New Perspectives (University of Tennessee Press, 2009), p. 4.
iii Fritz-Otto Busch, Prinz Eugen (London: First Futura Publications, 1975), pp. 212-13. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection X.708/41193
iv US DOE, ‘The Manhattan Project’ - https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan-project-history/Events/1945/trinity.htm

NB Readers interested in Operation Crossroads may also wish to read an earlier blog by Timothy Peacock and a blog by Mark Eastwood, who undertook a PhD placement with the Eccles Centre in 2016.

 

19 June 2021

Celebrating Juneteenth

Yesterday marked the first observance of Juneteenth as a national holiday in the US, following President Joe Biden signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law earlier this week. Today, Saturday 19 June, is actually Juneteenth, and marks the 156th anniversary of the day when enslaved people in Texas learned of their freedom. Whilst the Emancipation Proclamation delivered by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 had officially outlawed slavery in all the rebel states, enforcement generally relied on the arrival of Union troops. Texas was the most remote of the slave states and it wasn’t until 19 June 1865 that General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and issued General Order Number 3 at locations around the city, informing Texans that all slaves were now free.

General Order No 3
‘General Orders, No. 3.’ included in The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. [Operations in Louisiana and the Trans-Mississippi States and Territories; April-June 1865; Series 1, Vol. 48, Chapter 60, Part 2] (1896), 54th Congress, 1st Session, Serial Set Vol No. 3437, Session Vol. No. 70 (H.Doc. 369, pt. 2); available in the US Congressional Serial Set digital e-resource (remote access for British Library Readers)

Juneteenth was marked by African American residents of Galveston in 1866 and annual celebrations gradually spread across Texas, then the south and eventually to other parts of the country, often thanks to Texans migrating. Celebrations are typically locally organised. In the early years they combined religious, civil and community elements.

In 1895 the community of Parsons, Kansas, a railroad town which would have had many black residents with connections to Texas, held its first community Juneteenth celebration. The ‘Local and Personal News’ column of the Parsons Weekly Blade, an African-American newspaper, reported that:

Last Wednesday the citizens of this city and vicinity, native Texans, assembled in the fair grounds to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the liberation of the bonded Afro-American of Texas. After indulging in various pleasures, they were called to the sumptuous repasts that were spread by our energetic ladies […]. At 3:30 the people were called together in the amphitheater to hear the speakers of the day.1

There were songs, including ‘Hold the Fort’, a gospel hymn inspired by a Union victory in 1864, which melds martial and Christian imagery, and ‘John Brown’s Body’, a popular song commemorating the executed abolitionist John Brown and his attack on Harper’s Ferry in 1859. Both songs had been popular with the Union army during the Civil War. (They still held currency in 1895 and would continue to have a place in the gospel and folk traditions, as well as within protest and workers movements in the 20th century: you can find Pete Seeger, for example, performing both songs on YouTube if you’d like to hear them.)

Following the music and speeches by religious leaders, ‘an animated game of base ball was witnessed; when the happy throng repaired to their homes expressing themselves as highly pleased with their first Juneteenth celebration.’

Well into the 20th century, Juneteenth celebrations continued to have a regional flavour and were generally still associated with Texas. In 1941 The Negro Star, a black newspaper from Wichita, Kansas, ran an Associated Negro Press story, ‘Texas Preparing for “Juneteenth” Celebration’. Reporting from Houston, Texas, the item noted that, ‘This city, together with the rest of Tan Texas is busily preparing for the annual “Juneteenth” celebration, most colorful and all inclusive holiday celebrated by Negroes in the Lone Star state. Held on June 19th, civic, social and fraternal organizations join hands in celebrating their day of deliverance from slavery.’2 The article went on to explain that ‘most people use [the day] as a means of being excused from work. Few if any of them can be found on their jobs on that day. White employers have found it expedient to overlook their colored employees’ absence on Juneteenth.’ The main events were to be held in Emancipation Park, an area of the city originally solely used to mark Juneteenth but later donated to the city, and which, from 1922 to 1940 was the only park for African-Americans during segregation.3 There was to be ‘a traditional program of speaking and singing of spirituals […], and guests were to include ‘World war vets, Spanish-American war vets, and the few remaining ex-slaves.’ The inclusion of the formerly enslaved in an event taking place during the Second World War is a stark reminder, even now, of how near the experience of slavery is in human terms.

The popularity of Juneteenth celebrations dipped during the Civil Rights era, when campaigning energies were put towards integrationist efforts and making space for black Americans within existing social, political and cultural structures. However, with the rise of Black Power and renewed interest in African American history and culture in the late 1960s and 1970s, Juneteenth saw a resurgence across the US. This revival saw large celebrations take place in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin during the 1970s.

It Happened June 19  Milwaukee Star (Milwaukee  Wisconsin)  June 27  1974 (p.5)
Celebrations in Milwaukee in 1974, ‘It Happened: June 19,’ Milwaukee Star, June 27, 1974 (p.5), via the African American Newspapers 1827-1998 digital resource.

In 1974 the Milwaukee Star, an African American newspaper, reviewed the inner city Juneteenth celebrations of the previous week, giving a sense of the vibrancy of the event with people ‘dancing, laughing and singing’ in a heavily-illustrated article.4 Black arts and culture had taken a larger role in the celebrations by this point: the article noted ‘on one side street a poet stands speaking to a small crowd on Black love, while next to him a local DJ tries hard to drown him out with a very loud James Brown record.’ The journalist, Michael Holt, also noted the political tensions encapsulated by the day, describing a pull between those who felt the anniversary should be a solemn occasion and those ‘who look at the festivities as a vehicle to relieve the inner frustrations, if only for a day.’ Holt quoted a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor who had told his class the previous year that the ‘so-called Juneteenth Day celebration “was nothing but a modern day version of the practice in slavery days of masters giving slaves the day off to get drunk and release tensions upon themselves.” But despite the explanation by the professor, many of his students could be seen roaming the streets on the so-call Black Fourth of July celebration.’

The connection to the Fourth of July Independence Day celebrations has often prompted reflection on the broader significance of Juneteenth. A thoughtful editorial by Paula Harris-White in the Afro-Hawaii News in July 1991 noted that the Fourth of July holiday ‘often serves as a reminder of the position that people of color have held in America. They have been slaves, coolie workers, “savages”, foreigners, in spite of the fact that this was their place of birth. For many Americans, actual independence came long after July 4, 1776. Sometimes people who thought they were free, could have that freedom arbitrarily revoked, even in the 20th century, because their name was Wantanabe or Yamada.’5 Harris-White went on to explain the origins of Juneteenth to her readers and observed, ‘I share this information with all of you because sometimes we need to put our history in perspective. While I do acknowledge those leaders who chose to liberate the thirteen colonies from England, as a woman of color, I can quite never forget that their act of declaring freedom did not include people like me.’

As Kevin Young, Andrew W. Mellon director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, noted in the New York Times on 18 June 2021:

What Juneteenth and other Emancipation days commemorate is both the promise of freedom and its delay. For June 19, 1865, doesn’t mark the day enslaved African Americans were set free in the United States but the day the news of Emancipation reached them in Texas, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It is a holiday ringed, like a good brisket, though not in smoke but irony. Out of such ironies Black people have made the blues, made lemonade, made good. The lesson of Juneteenth is both of celebration and expectation, of freedom deferred but still sought and of the freedoms to come.6

For those interested in researching African American history at the British Library, the African American Newspapers 1827-1998 digital resource from Readex is an excellent starting point, and is available for registered readers to access remotely. You can find out about the range of remote access e-resources here, including the US Congressional Serial Set, American Broadsides and Ephemera, and Early American Newspapers.

-- Cara Rodway, Eccles Centre
June 2021

Footnotes:
1. ‘Local and Personal News,’ Parsons Weekly Blade (Parsons, Kansas), June 22, 1895 (p.4)
2. ‘Texas Preparing for "Juneteenth" Celebration,’ The Negro Star (Wichita, Kansas), June 6, 1941 (p.3)
3. ‘Emancipation Park, Written Historical and Descriptive Data’, Historic American Landscapes Survey, HALS No. TX-7, HABS/HAER/HALS Collection at the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division (available here)
4. ‘It Happened: June 19,’ Milwaukee Star (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), June 27, 1974 (p.5)
5. Editorial, Afro-Hawai'i News (published as Afro-Hawaii News) (Honolulu, Hawaii), July 31, 1991 (p.3)
6. Young, Kevin, ‘Opinion: Juneteenth Is a National Holiday Now. Can It Still Be Black?,’ New York Times, June 18, 2021 (accessed online)

11 February 2017

The Flint Sit-down Strike, 1936-37

Eighty years ago today – following a 44-day sit-down strike at their plant in Flint, Michigan – General Motors (GM) formally recognised the United Automobile Workers (UAW) as the sole bargaining authority for the striking workers.

Flint Wikimedia
Wikimedia Commons, provided by Farm Security Administration. LC-USF34-040028-D.

It is almost impossible to over-estimate the impact this recognition had upon both the unionisation of the American automobile industry and the labour movement across the United States.

In the early years of the Great Depression, increased workloads and cuts in pay were commonplace across the auto industry. In 1935, the average auto worker’s income was barely half that deemed by the government to be a minimum for a family of four. The following summer, hundreds of workers died in Michigan auto plants due to the heat wave and on-going poor working conditions. Theoretically, such conditions made these plants ripe for union organisation. However, strikes in 1930 and 1934 had been viciously broken up by the Flint police, aided by company informers; indeed, GM paid $839,000 for detective work in 1934 alone (1).

In 1935, the passage of the National Labor Relations Act – which legalised strikes – invigorated the Congress of Industrial Organizations' efforts to unionize industrial plants across the US. The following summer, UAW officials unaffiliated with existing (GM-infiltrated) locals began organising in Flint – an audacious plan, given it was essentially a company town; yet, they recognised the pay-off could be enormous. To avoid detection, they met with workers in their own homes and encouraged them to join; many did so. General Motors’ reaction was swift. On 29 December union leaders learned that over the New Year’s holiday the company planned to remove the huge and vital ‘dies’ used to make car bodies. If this happened, cars could be made elsewhere, thereby weakening the union’s strategic position. Recognising what was at stake, the workers refused to leave the plant.

The next 44 days were unprecedented in the history of American labour. Inside the plant, the workers organised themselves into committees for cleaning, defence, entertainment and exercise, while supporters outside brought them food and supplies.

  Flint wikimedia meal

Wikimedia Commons, provided by Farm Security Administration (LC-USF34-040031-D).

Finally, on 11 February 1937, GM signed an agreement recognising the UAW, and agreeing not to discriminate against those workers who had struck. The following year, nearly one-hundred sit-down strikes took place in auto plants across the country; UAW membership rose from 50,000 to 300,000; and auto worker wages rose by as much as 300%. This historic sit-down strike presaged a decade of intense union activity across American industry, and an extraordinary improvement in the lives of ordinary workers.

The British Library holds a wide variety of materials documenting the labour movement within the United States, including: reports, newspapers and recruiting pamphlets by individual unions, the CIO and the American Federation of Labor (AFL); Congressional hearings, reports, and federal legislation; publications by political parties, including the Socialist Party and the Communist Party of America; and reports by civil rights organisations. Additionally, the rise and activity of the unions may also be documented through our extensive collection of American newspapers, secondary sources, and electronic databases.

 Witch hunt CIO

George E. Novack, Witch-hunt in Minnesota: the federal prosecution of the Socialist Workers Party and Local 544, CIO. New York: Civil Defense Committee, [1941?]. Shelfmark: YD.2005.a.6863; The CIO: what it is and how it came to be. Washington, DC: Committee for Industrial Organization, 1937. Shelfmark: YD.2009.a.1501

AFL Communist party

Communist Party of the United States. For a Powerful, United A.F. of L. New York: Workers Library, 1936. Shelfmark: YD.2007.a.1654; Communist Party of the United States. Greetings to the American Working People on the Occasion of the First Anniversary of the Great Labor Merger, AFL-CIO! New York: Labor Committee, Communist Party, USA, [195?]. Shelfmark: YD.2009.a.1322

  UAW local

John G. Kruchko, The Birth of a Union Local: the history of UAW Local 674, Norwood, Ohio, 1933 to 1940. Ithaca, NY: New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University, 1972. Shelfmark: q72/20497

1. "The 1936 - 37 Flint, Michigan Sit-Down Strike," BBC, Retrieved May 18, 2012, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-london/A672310 

Jean Petrovic

16 November 2016

American Studies Training Day in Boston Spa

Have you visited the British Library in Boston Spa yet? Did you know that you can access millions of books, journals and newspapers from the Boston Spa Reading Room? If you live in the north of England, the British Library at Boston Spa may be the most convenient way to view our collections.

Last Friday the Americas Team and the Eccles Centre for American Studies joined forces for a special training session on resources for American Studies at the British Library at Boston Spa.

50 students from the universities of Leeds, Chester, Birmingham, York, Northumbria, Sunderland, Central Lancashire, Sheffield and Dundee, among others, joined us on a misty autumnal morning in North Yorkshire to explore the British Library’s North American holdings.

Aerial shot of Boston Spa site

The British Library at Boston Spa from the sky (we went by train)

The day began with an introduction to the British Library holdings and the history of the American collections within the Library. We had a look at the different catalogues for printed items, manuscripts, and the sound archive, as well as our collection of e-resources. This was followed by a virtual show and tell of highlights in our American collections (take a look at our American Revolution and American Literature in Europe sites to see a few of the items we discussed).

Our day continued with a fascinating presentation about the Boston Spa site and the UK newspaper collections by our colleagues Joanne Cox and David Clayforth, where we heard about how the Library’s different sites and collections have been reconfigured over time. The Eccles Centre’s Fran Fuentes illustrated how the newspaper collections holds vast potential for researchers working in the Americas, and guided students through a case study focussing on holdings of regional US newspapers. This was followed by two parallel sessions: one on resources for the study of American literature, where we looked at the research potential of comparing UK and US editions as well as our wonderful collection of fine press books, and one on US official publications, where Jennie Grimshaw helped students navigate our immense and sometimes challenging collection.

We are hoping to organise a similar training day in 2017 and we will advertise it widely on the blog and our twitter accounts @_Americas and @BL_EcclesCentre. Do let us know if there are any areas in the collections about which you would like to learn more!

07 April 2015

Nixon and Hoover

8466362812_e7a3951b9a

President Nixon celebrating FBI Director Hoover's birthday on Air Force One with Secretary of State William P. Rogers and Mrs. Rogers, 12/31/1971 National Archives Identifier: 194400 Local Identifier: NLRN-WHPO-C8156-2 Creator(s): General Services Administration. National Archives and Records Service. Office of Presidential Libraries. Office of Presidential Papers. (01/20/1969 - ca. 12/1974) https://www.flickr.com/photos/nleomf/8466362812/sizes/l/in/photostream/ 

It was a great pleasure last month to hear Alexander Butterfield in conversation with Professor Iwan Morgan at the Library. Butterfield was a trusted member of the Nixon's inner circle since the President's inauguration in 1969. By February 1971, Butterfield was instructed to oversee the installation of the now infamous White House taping system. In 1973, he revealed its existence to the Senate Select Committee and the Watergate investigation was transformed.

Now in his late eighties Butterfield provided clear and humorous insight into life in the Nixon White House. For me, the talk reminded me of a long shadow that hung over the U.S. Executive until 1972, that of J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover was brought to mind, not because he was mentioned directly, but in 1937, a Richard Milhous Nixon applied to join the FBI. From the documents available in the FBI online Records, it appears that Nixon passed all the various tests required. Nor did the extensive background checks flag up anything untoward. Nevertheless Nixon was not appointed a FBI field agent, though no explicit reason was given. However, a memorandum to Hoover, on the 18th March 1954, stated that:

“[T]he reason for the cancellation of the appointment is not reflected in the file. It may be assumed that the view of the fact that Mr Nixon was not immediately available for appointment, and based on our needs in August of 1937, that the appointment was cancelled.”

It is no coincidence that this memo was written at this juncture. By 1954 Nixon was in his second year as Vice- President in the Eisenhower administration. Indeed, from November 1946 when Nixon was elected as Representative for California, along with John F. Kennedy for Massachusetts and a Senator Joseph R. McCarthy for Wisconsin, all of the aforementioned would have received a fresh FBI file as newly elected legislators. Clearly in the subsequent years of Congressional service, Nixon and Hoover’s relationship must have developed, not least because Nixon’s anti-communist views were closely aligned to those of Joseph McCarthy’s who courted Hoover’s friendship from his arrival at the Capitol.

As McCarthy’s recklessness “threatened to the respectability of Republican anti-Communism”, Eisenhower used Nixon as a go-between in an effort to restrain the maverick Wisconsin Senator. Nevertheless, the closeness of the Nixon/Hoover relationship over the years was possibly best illustrated by Hoover’s bragging in FBI circles that he had created Nixon. This would have been reinforced in Hoover’s own mind when as President–elect Nixon met with Hoover early on at his transition headquarters in New York, promising him, 'Edgar, you are one of the few people who is to have direct access to me at all times.'

Inevitably Hoover held the whip hand in their relationship since on the two occasions when Nixon came under pressure to force Hoover to resign and summoned him to the Oval Office, he always left with his position as Director of the FBI intact. It was heart disease and not the Executive which ended J. Edger Hoover’s tenure.

Ironically, it was at that meeting in the Hotel Pierre in New York where Hoover planted the seed that would ultimately result in Nixon’s downfall.

Hoover warned Nixon, who as President-elect would attend the White House as the guest of the incumbent, then President Johnson, that he should be careful what he said, because 'Johnson had installed elaborate electronic equipment which enabled him secretly to record conversations in the Oval Office.'

On Nixon’s orders his deputy assistant Alexander Butterfield instructed the Secret Service to install recording devices in various locations around the White House, including five microphones fitted into the fabric of the Oval Office desk.

 

- Jerry Jenkins

A collection of Nixon’s recordings are freely available online: http://www.nixontapes.org/index.html

Presidential Campaign Activities of 1972, S. Res. 60. Watergate and Related Activities Phase 1: Watergate Investigation. Book 5. Accessible via the Congressional Hearings Digital Collection, 1824-1979

Morgan, Iwan, Nixon Arnold. London 2002 BL.Shelkmark : YC.2002.a.23723

Gentry, Curt, J. Edgar Hoover: the Man and the Secrets. WW. Norton: London 2001 BL Shelfmark : YA.1992.b.4224

The Watergate investigation index: Senate Select Committee hearings and reports on presidential campaign activities, compiled by Hedda Garza, Wilmington : Scholarly Resources, 1982. BL Shelfmark : X:205/1531 

04 February 2014

Federal Writers' Project publications

  Photograph,_California_no__8,_Oakland_May_23,_1940,_Writers_Project,_and_centers_for_other_P_&_S_projects_____-_NARA_-_296093
Wikimedia Commons, provided by the National Archives and Records Administration

The Federal Writers’ Project was established by President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1935 – six years into the Great Depression. At its peak it provided employment for more than 7,500 writers, editors, historians and other white collar workers.

Yet while its primary aim was to provide economic relief, the Project’s highly ambitious first Director, Henry Alsberg, regarded it as a means by which to vividly document America’s rapidly changing cultural landscape.

Today, the Project is perhaps best known for its American Guide Series – a set of travel guides to the 48 states, plus Alaska territory, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. Unlike traditional guides, these included not only driving tours documenting what could be found at every stop, but long photographic essays detailing the economic, cultural and historical resources of each state. All but a few of these are held by the British Library, as are many of the regional, county, city and town guides that were also produced.

Festivals in San Francisco

Festivals of San Francisco,  James Ladd Delkin [in association with] Stanford University, 1939. Printed at the Grabhorn Press. This particularly fine edition was part of a gift of 90 American imprints to the Eccles Centre in 2002 from Princeton University Library to celebrate the 90th birthday of Lady Eccles.

In addition to the guides, the Project produced ethnic studies such as The Italians of New York (shelfmark: L.70/641) and The Armenians of Massachusetts (shelfmark: YA.1991.a.15502); urban and rural folklore collections, including Nebraska Folklore (shelfmark: X.700/21082) and Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies among the Georgia Coastal Negroes (shelfmark: 010007.h.70); and nature studies.

The Project also collected the narratives of more than 2,300 former slaves in seventeen states, although most of these remained unseen until the multi-volume The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography was published in the 1970s (refer to guide below).

The Library’s extensive holdings are listed in The Federal Writers' Project: a guide to material held at the British Library.

 [J.P.]

10 July 2013

Eisenhower and European Integration

 Letters between eisenhower on Coal & Steel

The British Library recently made available the digitised contents of the EU Bookshop via its catalogue: Explore the British Library now provides free access to a range of digitised official publications produced by the European Union (and its previous incarnations) from the mid 1950s up to the present day.

Why would this be of relevance to our Americas blog I hear you ask? Firstly, I hope to make the wider research community aware of the development since there is a wide range of interesting and informative material available on the subject of European integration. But I’m also taking the opportunity to share an interesting primary source that I’ve discovered from within the EU Bookshop collection:  

Correspondence between President Eisenhower and Presidents of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Congress of the United States about the European Coal and Steel Community and the European unification. 

This 1953 publication (issued in both English and French), offers an insight to the views of President Eisenhower and the members of the U.S. Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee on the prospect of the Coal and Steel Community growing into a wider European community. All parties were keen that this transformation 'may be speedily developed, ratified and put into force.' (Resolution of 16 June 1953 by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives).  

The final part of the document is a communiqué issued from the White House on 3 June 1953, following a meeting held between President Eisenhower and Jean Monnet, the economist and diplomat regarded as the chief architect of European unity, Franz Etzel, and Dirk Pieter Spierenburg. The text notes that while in Europe Eisenhower’s 'experience there convinced him that the uniting of Europe is a historic necessity for the peace and prosperity of Europeans and of the world.' In addition, the document states that in the U.S. 'in the field of coal and steel the barriers, which have so long divided Europe, have been removed so that those basic materials enjoy a single market of 155 million consumers...'

The sentiments articulated in the document echo over time. In recent years I’ve attended many talks and lectures organised by our Eccles Centre for American Studies, and delivered by a range of U.S. statesmen and diplomats. One common and ongoing thread in these events has been the importance of the transatlantic relationship between Europe and U.S. 

To close, in a piece on the U.S. and the European Union, I must mention the fine work of the University of Pittsburgh’s Archive of European Integration to disseminate European Union documentation.

[J.J.]

27 June 2013

Bert the Turtle: or, how they learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

 Bert, the Turtle: ‘The Duck and Cover Song’ Leon Carr, Leo Corday & Leo Langlois. 1953 © Sheldon Music Inc

Bert, the Turtle: ‘The Duck and Cover Song’, Leon Carr, Leo Corday & Leo Langlois. 1953 © Sheldon Music Inc.

Bert, the Turtle: ‘The Duck and Cover Song’ Leon Carr, Leo Corday & Leo Langlois. 1953 © Sheldon Music Inc

If you’ve been to our exhibition Propaganda: power and persuasion you will probably have spotted the cute character above and you might have listened to the accompanying recording of the Duck and Cover song. Bert also features in the Duck and Cover film. I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering how on earth Bert’s capers and ducking under your school desk could ever have been considered sufficient protection against the blast of a nuclear bomb – after all, the film and song came out in 1951, well after the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. So I started to do a bit of reading to find out more. The subject is obviously much too big and complex for a simple blogpost so I’m just going to note a few of the things I discovered and point to some further reading for anyone who is as intrigued as me at just what kind of collective delusion (or what Peter Boyer has described as the ‘big sleep’) was going on in the Cold War U.S. of the early 1950s.

In August 1949 the Soviet Union conducted its first successful nuclear test, and ‘America’s unique physical security,’ as President Eisenhower had described it, changed forever. During WWII, ‘civil defence’ had meant black-out drills, learning how to conserve scarce resources, planting ‘victory gardens,’ raising money through war bonds, and Rosie the Riveter (many examples of which are to be found in our exhibition). But the new threat from weapons capable of flattening U.S. cities meant that civil defence had to be re-defined, and initially at least, the education system was considered to offer the perfect conduit for transmitting the required message. ‘Education is our first line of defense. In the conflict of principle and policy which divides the world today, America’s hope, our hope, the hope of the world, is education.’ said President Truman in 1949. In January 1951 he announced the formation of a new federal agency – the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA). Its role was to be both supervisory and ‘inspirational’, but responsibility for implementing (and funding) its programmes was left to individual states. Although TV (still in its infancy and not in all homes), was used for dissemination of some information, the FCDA preferred radio, print and film, and most of its output was aimed at the public school system. So, the early fifties represent a very specific period in the history of education in U.S. schools – when national defence and education were inextricably linked (leading to the National Defense Education Act of 1958), and teachers provided bomb threat and civil defence training to children, – and through the children, their parents.

One key thing to note is that training wasn't about the technology of the bomb or what happened when it went off, but more about how to behave, emphasising the ‘3 Rs’ –Rights, Respects, and Responsibilities. According to the New York Board of Education, ‘the child should know what to do in school, at home, in the street, or in the playground. He should be trained in self-reliance, imbued with faith in his ability to survive, no matter what the danger.’  According to the FCDA, ‘Like the A-bomb, panic is fissionable. It can produce a chain reaction more deeply destructive than any explosive known.’ To gain the support of parents, letters were sent to homes to reassure them, citing ‘competent experts’ in the atomic field. For example, parents in Los Angeles were told, ‘As devastating as the atomic bomb is, there is no evidence to justify a feeling of hopelessness in the event of such a bombing.’ There in fact seems to have been an amazing lack of public information on the effects of the bomb in the early 1950s –with the Atomic Energy Commission actively minimising the known effects of radiation. In addition, JoAnne Brown notes that virtually no factual material on the effects of an atomic bomb appeared in educational journals in the 1950s or in history text books. This, together with the over-riding emphasis on controlling panic, of being alert but not alarmed,  starts to make the idea of ‘duck and cover’ as a strategy look just a little more understandable.   

Several types of air raid drill were introduced – ‘duck and cover’ being the most common (and best remembered), but there were also advance warning drills (usually involving moving classes to school basements or other shelters), and dispersal drills (mainly tested on the east coast and soon deemed impractical). Teachers were also given a variety of materials for use in class, and Bert the Turtle/the Duck and Cover story was one of the most popular. Issued by the FCDA in 1951, it received a wide distribution in print (as a comic book), as both film and filmstrip, and song. The film is one of the first attempts on screen to help children understand what they should do in the event of an atomic bomb attack. As Bert explains, ‘It explodes with a flash brighter than any you have ever seen. Things will be knocked down all over town… YOU must be ready to protect yourself.’ So, as soon as a teacher shouted ‘duck,’ kids were taught to dive under their desks and assume the ‘atomic head clutch position.’ As JoAnne Wood explains, ‘Duck and Cover typified the way both educators and FCDA officials handled civil defense for children. Instruction and drill were typically purged of all frightening elements and were implemented with a perverse cheeriness. The net effect was a bizarre disjuncture between the known consequences of atomic war and the playful precautions of people living under its threat.’ Brown argues that this illegitimisation of people’s fears fostered a ‘dangerous and widespread psychology of repression,’ and others have gone on to argue that the psychological fall-out from this repression was one of the causes of the unrest and protest movements of the 1960s (see Robert Jay Lifton, The Broken Connection: on death and the continuity of life, Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, 1979. BL shelfmark YC.1996.a.4169).

Another major strand of the school civil defence activities was the introduction of identification programmes for children. This is straying off my ‘Bert the Turtle’ story, but I can’t resist including a quote from the Journal of the National Education Association on the various options for identifying lost – and dead (although not overtly stated as such) children in the event of an attack. Just look at the options! ‘Tattooing is considered occasionally, but generally rejected because of its associations and impermanence in the case of severe burns... Marking of clothing is more seriously regarded [but] clothing can be destroyed... and is frequently interchanged. Fingerprinting is... regarded by some as an infringement of privacy. Cards are easily worn out, stolen or destroyed.’ For anyone interested, the preferred system opted for was the dog tag, long used by soldiers, but now ‘domesticated’ as JoAnne Brown describes it, for home use, and taking on an almost talismanic quality for protection of the nation’s children. Of course, the likelihood that dog tags would help identify anyone caught up in an atomic bomb blast is as believable as thinking you would be ok if you hid under your desk.

There are numerous reasons why teachers were, on the whole, complicit in the ritual of civil defence activities but I’ve no space to comment on them in a blog that’s already way too long. The two articles cited below provide much more information – and also explain why this peculiar role assigned to teachers and the school system didn’t last for very long. By the time of the launch of Sputnik in 1957, it was clear that America had fallen behind in the technology race. As former Senator William Benton put it, ‘Russian classrooms and libraries, her laboratories and teaching methods may threaten us more than her hydrogen bombs.’ Critics of the early 1950s focus on moral and spiritual education wanted a bigger emphasis on technical education which, to quote Michael Carey ‘would enable them to build weapons – more, bigger, better – and create the absolute security that moral and spiritual education could never attain.’  

But to return to Bert the Turtle: as one California cabbie recalls from his schooldays, ‘Only the young, the naïve and the schoolteachers were fooled by the drill.’ An educational filmstrip perhaps provides the most appropriate advice: 'The Atomic Energy Commission says the best defense against an atom bomb is to BE SOMEWHERE ELSE when it bursts.'

Further reading:

Michael J. Carey, The Schools and Civil Defense: the Fifties revisited. Teachers College Record, Vol.84 (1), Fall 1982, pp.115-127 (NB. The whole issue is on Education for Peace and Disarmament: toward a living world). BL shelfmark Ac.2688.q/4

JoAnne Brown, “A is for Atom, B is for Bomb”: Civil Defense in American Public Education, 1948-1963. Journal of American History, Vol.75 (1), June 1988, pp.68-90. Available through JSTOR in the Library’s reading rooms.

Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American thought and culture at the dawn of the atomic age, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994 BL shelfmark YA.1997.b.2861 and Fallout: a historian reflects on America’s Half-Century Encounter with Nuclear Weapons, Columbus: Ohio State University press, 1998. BL shelfmark: 98/17544

[C.H.]

 

 

Bert, the Turtle: ‘The Duck and Cover Song’ Leon Carr, Leo Corday & Leo Langlois. 1953 © Sheldon Music Inc

 

Bert, the Turtle: ‘The Duck and Cover Song’ Leon Carr, Leo Corday & Leo Langlois. 1953 © Sheldon Music Inc

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