Tag Archives | American History

How To Think About The Origins Of The American Surveillance State

slaveryMatt Stoller on understanding that the United States was birthed as a surveillance society:

American political surveillance is older than the republic itself.

Think about it this way. Slaves were controlled in a largely totalitarian society, even before the American Revolution, and this lasted until the Civil War. This society involved radical restrictions on peoples’ ability to read, travel, work for pay, trade, own property, marry, and not be physically and mentally abused. At the core of slavery was an aggressive need for control, it was the mother of all totalitarian surveillance cultures. This surveillance didn’t just involve slaves, but surveillance of those who sought to free slaves via such institutions as the Underground Railroad.

After slavery and a brief interlude of Reconstruction, sharecropping and segregation took its place, and sharecropping was enforced by a reign of terror by both legal institutions like local police and commercial monopolies of credit, railroads, and farm supplies, and extra-legal institutions like the KKK.

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A Children’s Illustrated History of Presidential Assassination

Longtime disinformation collaborator Bryan Young (producer of the classic obesity film Killer At Large) has a new book in the works and he’s looking for funding via Kickstarter. He has our backing and we endorse the project should you care to lend yours.

Here’s their project description:

A Children’s Illustrated History of Presidential Assassination is a beautifully illustrated book born of a child’s desire to learn and a father’s belief that gaining knowledge should be fun and uplifting. It is designed to educate, entertain, and enlighten children from ages 1 to 100.

A couple of years ago, while visiting Washington D.C. for a writer’s workshop, author Bryan Young visited Ford’s Theatre, the site of John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. When he returned home, he showed his children the many pictures he had taken from his trip. To his delight and surprise, his daughter Scout was incredibly interested in the subject of Lincoln’s assassination, and Presidential assassinations in general.

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How The U.S. Air Force Nearly Nuked North Carolina

Long-serving disinfonauts may remember Disinfo Dave recounting the tale of the USAF B-52 that dropped two nuclear bombs on North Carolina for Canadian TV host Strombo (for those who never saw it, here’s Dave…).

Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser picks up the thread in his new book on nuclear weapons, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, reviewed here by Mother Jones:

On January 23, 1961, a B-52 packing a pair of Mark 39 hydrogen bombs suffered a refueling snafu and went into an uncontrolled spin over North Carolina. In the cockpit of the rapidly disintegrating bomber (only one crew member bailed out safely) was a lanyard attached to the bomb-release mechanism. Intense G-forces tugged hard at it and unleashed the nukes, which, at four megatons, were 250 times more powerful than the weapon that leveled Hiroshima. One of them “failed safe” and plummeted to the ground unarmed.

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What If European History Was Told Like Native American History?

european historyAn Indigenous History of North America inverts the norm by imagining a U.S. school textbook devoted to the intricacies of indigenous societies in the Americas, with a few paragraphs covering the history of Europe:

The first immigrants to Europe arrived thousands of years ago from central Asia. Most pre-contact Europeans lived together in small villages. Because the continent was very crowded, their lives were ruled by strict hierarchies within the family and outside it to control resources. Europe was highly multi-ethnic, and most tribes were ruled by hereditary leaders who commanded the majority “commoners.” These groups were engaged in near constant warfare.

Religion infused every part of Europeans’ lives. Europeans believed in one supreme deity, a father figure, who they believed was made of three parts, and they particularly worshiped the deity’s son. They claimed that their god had given humans domination over the earth. They built elaborate temples to him and performed ceremonies in which they ate crackers and drank wine and believed it was the body and blood of their god, who would provide them with entrance into a wondrous afterlife called heaven when they died.

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Remains Uncovered Of 14-Year-Old Girl Cannibalized At Jamestown Colony

jamestown cannibalismIs cannibalism the seed from which the United States sprang? Historical accounts have long hinted that the settlers at Jamestown, the first English colony in America, survived the harsh winter by feasting on the dead. Via CNN, researchers now have physical evidence in the form of bodily remains:

The winter of 1609 to 1610 was treacherous for early American settlers. Some 240 of the 300 colonists at Jamestown, in Virginia, died during this period, called the “Starving Time.” Desperate times led to desperate measures. New evidence suggests that includes eating the flesh of fellow colonists.

Archaeologists revealed Wednesday their analysis of 17th century skeletal remains suggesting that settlers practiced cannibalism to survive. Researchers unearthed an incomplete human skull and tibia in 2012 that contain several features suggesting that this particular person had been cannibalized. The remains come from a 14-year-old girl of English origin, whom historians are calling “Jane.”

There are about half a dozen accounts that mention cannibalistic behaviors at that time.

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Why America Needs A White History Month

James Baldwin. Source: MDCarchives (CC)

Mychal Denzel Smith writes for the Guardian:

We need a White History Month.

For anyone who speaks on issues of race publicly, the idea has long been a joke – a retort thrown at you from frustrated white folks who believe they are being discriminated against because there doesn’t exist a special month set aside to celebrate their racial identity. They cry foul at the notion of Black History Month, Black Entertainment Television, Black Enterprise and everything else with “black” in the title – even, sometimes, going so far as to say these things are racist in nature because their names and missions are “discriminatory”. It’s preposterous, but they counter that they need a White History Month to provide balance and equality.

After laughing this off for years, I’m now on the same page.

I don’t mean White History in the same way we (attempt) to celebrate Black History during February, or Women’s History in March.

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Descendants Want Connecticut To Clear Names Of Women Executed For Witchcraft

More than three centuries later, Connecticut is the last state refusing to issue apology or posthumous pardons for those put to death during the time when laws based on the Bible held sway in America, Religion News Service writes:

At age 82, Bernice Mable Graham Telian doubts she’ll live long enough to see the name of her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother and 10 others hanged in colonial Connecticut for witchcraft cleared.

Telian was researching her family tree when she discovered that her seventh grandmother, Mary Barnes of Farmington, Conn., was sent to the gallows at the site of the old State House in Hartford in 1663. “You won’t find Mary’s grave. She and all these people who were hanged were dumped in a hole. They wanted them to be forgotten,” said Telian, a retired university administrator.

Connecticut was executing suspected witches some 40 years before the infamous (and better known) trials in Salem, Mass.

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Cahokia: The First City In North America

While Europe was embroiled in the the Dark Ages, bustling Cahokia featured architectural marvels, and residents sipped a black coffee-like beverage and played a game similar to bocce ball. Via Live Science:

Cahokia was a city that, at its peak from 1050-1200 A.D., was larger than many European cities, including London. Located across the Mississippi River from modern-day St. Louis, it was the largest pre-Columbian city north of Mexico. The inhabitants of Cahokia did not use a writing system, and researchers today rely heavily on archaeology to interpret it.

Cultural finds from the city include evidence of a popular game called “Chunkey” and a caffeine loaded drink. Artistic finds include stone tablets carved with images (such as a birdman) as well as evidence of sophisticated copper working, including jewelry and headdresses.

The city fell into decline after 1200 A.D., becoming abandoned by 1400. The name “Cahokia” is from an aboriginal people that lived in the area during the 17th century.

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The Naming Of America

Happy Fourth of July! Native American Netroots provides some perspective on the meaning of ‘America’:

America was named on April 25, 1507 after the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci. Vespucci made at least two voyages across the Atlantic… [the] first voyage was in 1499 when he sailed with Alonso de Hojeda.

While Columbus might be characterized as a religious fanatic who could hardly speak or write without invoking the Christian God and dwelling fervently on his personal relationship with this God, Vespucci almost never referred to God. Religion was never very high on the scale of values to which Vespucci had been exposed. While he undoubtedly learned a little about the Christian God as a child, he seems to have forgotten all of this by the time he was an adult.

Unlike Columbus, Vespucci never waged war on the natives, nor did he found any colonies. He never commanded a fleet or even led an expedition.

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