Monday, April 16, 2012

A People's Read-a-long: Weeks 12, 13, & 14

Welcome to Week 14 of A People's Read-a-long! We're reading a chapter a week, and I'm finding the pace deligtful. Note: the hosts have switched to posting every other week instead of every week, but I'm bucking the trend and posting every week. This week is not a week everyone is posting. (Missed the earlier posts? Check out my posts for weeks onetwothreefourfivesixseveneight and nineten, and eleven.) After getting off track, I'm caught up and will now return to my weekly Monday posts (I hope).

My thoughts: Chapter 12, entitled "The Empire and the People," brings us into the 20th century, where my knowledge of history is much stronger. This chapter, however, focuses on the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War, which I realized I knew very little about. The themes of war as a unifying force is once again apparent. The focus is really on the growing international power of the United States as it continues to expand geographically and economically.

Here are my favorite tidbits and trivia from this chapter:
  • "The idea of an 'open door' became the dominant theme of the American foreign policy in the twentieth century. It was a more sophisticated approach to imperialism that the traditional empire-building of Europe."
  • "The [Spanish-American] war brought more employment and higher wages, but also higher prices."
  • The more I learned about the Spanish-American War, the more I became convinced we shouldn't call it that. Yes, the fight was between Spain and the United States, but it wasn't fought in either country and doesn't get to the heart of what the war was about. It seems at the very least we could call it A War Over Cuba.
  • The Philippine-American War, which I confess to never having heard of, should be more well-known, if only for its brutality. As one "British witness said: 'This is not war; it is simply massacre and murderous butchery.'"
  • The chapter's conclusion sets the stage beautiful for what is coming: "The 'patience, industry, and moderation' preached to blacks, the 'patriotism' preached to whites, did not fully sink in. In the first years of the twentieth century, despite all the demonstrated power of the state, large numbers of blacks, whites, men, women became impatient, immoderate, unpatriotic."

Chapter 13, "The Socialist Challenge," addresses the rising "class anger that came from the realities of ordinary life."

  • One delight in this chapter was Zinn's exploration of the political leanings (and writings) of authors, including Mark Twain, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Theodore Dreiser and Frank Norris. While the political leanings of Upton Sinclair are well-known, I was surprised to hear about Jack London being a Socialist.
  • The statistics of workplace safety are shocking: In 1904, "27,000 workers were killed on the job." In 1914, "35,000 workers were killed in industrial accidents and 700,000 injured." Is it any wonder people were willing to risk so much when they had so little to fight against these practices enabling the rich to get richer?
  • I was shocked to see only "3 percent of the Socialist party's members were women in 1904." By 1913, however, "15 percent of the membership was women." For such an egalitarian movement, I hoped it would have had more gender equity, but of course, membership does not include all ideological supporters.
  • I love this exchange between an eighty-year-old Susan B. Anthony and Eugene Debs: "Give us suffrage, and we'll give you socialism." "Give us socialism, and we'll give you suffrage."

Chapter 14, "War is the Health of the State," focuses on World War I. It also marks the half-way point of this book, as my Kindle crossed 50% while reading it.
  • Again, I found myself fascinated by statistics of atrocity: "ten million were to die on the battlefield; 20 million were to die of hunger and disease related to the war."
  • Amidst the great tragedies of World War I, I kept imagining Maisie Dobbs and Bess Crawford, both nurses during the war. 
  • The Espionage Act of 1917 is frightening legislation and makes he Patriot Act look tame. It "was used to imprison Americans who spoke or wrote against the war." 900 people went to jail for violating the Espionage Act. 

Intrigued? Read along! Buy A People's History of the United States from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (the Kindle version.) You don't have to post each week.

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  1. I am loving these recaps, and since I gave up on the book, it's helpful for me to see where Zinn goes with all this. I find your last point about the Spanish-American war to be very interesting. Great post today!

    1. Thanks! As much as I'm enjoying this book, I don't think it's one that I'll re-read. My husband has read it five times, but I will go back and re-read my recaps. It's the joy of posting weekly!

  2. Well done … as always. I think I'm going to skip Chapter 13 or I'll never get caught up so I appreciate your summary of it. Can't believe we're at 50%!!! Woo hoo!!! I'm thinking it will get more and more interesting from here on out as we get to more recent history. As far as I'm concerned, you're the superstar of this readalong!

    1. Thanks, Jenners! I am glad half of the book is in the 1900's, as I know more and hope I can provide more context for Zinn's perspective. But, yes, hooray to being half-way done!


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