Who was Andrew Carnegie?

Carnegie was born in Scotland, where his father was a loom weaver, a group that was being displaced by the growth of factories. The family emigrated to the United States in 1848, when Carnegie was 12 years old, and they were transported across the state of New York by horse drawn barges on the Erie Canal on the way to Pittsburgh. There Carnegie started out as a telegraph operator, working his way up the economic ladder in a classic rags to riches story. Working for Thomas Scott, owner of the Pennsylvania Railroad during the Civil War, Carnegie supervised the construction of the railroad bridges that transported soldiers and weapons for the Union Army. This employ led him to curiosity about the production of iron and steel, the latter of which would be the product that led him to become one of the wealthiest men in American history.

Using the newly developed Bessemer process in steel plants, which made steel more quickly and cheaply than could be done previously, Carnegie turned Pittsburgh into a city with an economy that centered on steel production. At the height of his economic power Carnegie had a virtual monopoly on steel in the United States, stomping out competitors by providing a cheaper product to customers across the nation. His method introduced a system that economists today call vertical integration, where he owned all aspects of the steel making process, including the mines, the ships and railroads that transported coal and other minerals, and the steel plants. Before he was displaced by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, Carnegie was the richest man in the United States, but this wealth was not without some controversy.

One of the most famous strikes in labor history was the Homestead Strike of 1892, where skilled laborers tried to protect their rights against the growing threat of being displaced by automation. By this time Carnegie had Henry Frick running his operations, and Frick cracked down hard on the strikers, bringing in replacement workers and Pinkerton Agents to quell the violence there. Frick was a mean boss, and had other instances of what some regarded as cruel administration. There was a prominent foreman in Homestead who had put laborers there on an eight hour day, contending that less exhausted workers would be safer and produce better steel. When this man died in a factory accident, Frick promptly put the laborers back on a twelve hour day, at the same wages.

Carnegie had a social theory called the Gospel of Wealth. He contended that men competed in the economic world, and those who succeeded there obtained wealth that was a sign of God’s favor, in a process that resembled survival of the fittest in the process of evolution. He also felt that people did not know how to spend their money properly, so that the philanthropy of his later life gave them blessings, as in libraries and other cultural venues that they did not have the capacity to bestow upon themselves. Late in life, Carnegie lived in a castle that he bought in his homeland of Scotland, and members of the Parliament in London thought it rather curious that this wealthy new world capitalist heaped left-wing advice upon them in a strange manner.   Whatever his political opinions, Carnegie was a man whose life had a tremendous effect on the economy of the United States, and the world.

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Kim Jong-Un’s PR Machine

If Kim Jong-Un were not the Dictator of North Korea, he might be successful as the star of a comedy show. On the other hand, it would not seem so funny were he not the leader of a nation, so perhaps the two jobs, unfortunately, really go hand in hand. Now that he has managed to make the world news headlines on almost a daily basis, it might be a good time to look at some of his more remarkable achievements, so called, as the leader of North Korea.

-The first time he ever picked up a set of golf clubs, he shot a 34, less than two strokes per-hole, including five holes in one.

-He posted a picture of a missile launch from a submarine that experts determined to be fraudulent.

-His hairdo, with a bushy top and sides of the head shaved, is de-rigeur for the men of North Korea, under pain of execution.

-He had his own uncle, who helped to leverage him into power, executed by being shot with anti-aircraft guns.

-He had mock videos made of North Korean missiles blowing up San Francisco.

-He had his half brother assassinated by women who applied a very powerful poisonous cloth to his face in Kula Lumpur airport.

-He berated his generals at a state party for not conquering enough countries for him, and demanded that the submit letters of resignation the next day. When they appeared with their letters, he had forgotten having told them to do so, apparently having been in a blackout because of too much drinking.

This summary, of course, is only a hint of the kind of general absurdities that witnesses unfortunate enough to be close to this bizarre dictator, must witness on a daily basis. When one looks at picture of people near him, at state affairs and such like, one can see the fear in their eyes, obviously constantly trying to determine what exact behavior they must display to avoid being put to death by him. Such was the case with Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Adolph Hitler and scores of other smaller time dictators across the globe, but it seems doubtful that any of them could match King Jong-Un for self grandiosity to the point of absurdity. One example that comes to mind is Robert Graves’ portrayal of the Roman Emperor Caligula’s announcement that he had become a God, where the giggles of some present in the Royal Court that day had to be stifled to prevent the gigglers from becoming likely candidates for execution. At least the Romans, in Caligula’s case, had the courage to assassinate their crazy leader to prevent the country from suffering more greatly under the rule of a lunatic, but it seems that there are no such plans for revolt in North Korea. Perhaps a country under the leadership of a family of dictators for three generations is likely to be subject, by force of habit, to state publicity that sets new standards for deceit in the public sphere.

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Who won America’s Civil War?

The North, obviously, most would answer, and from a military point of view, that is obviously correct. When we look at the issue of race relations, however, an entirely different answer is agreed on by post-war historians, that the South won the ideological war. The failure of Reconstruction, in fact, led America into government and culture dominated by racism for another 100 years following the Civil War.

The two goals of Reconstruction were to reunite the nation and provide racial equality in the South. For a time, the second goal was achieved, as Radical Republicans from the North dominated a government where the southern states had limited representation. In the late 1860s African Americans had the right to vote, and Blacks were elected to state legislatures and other important positions of power. The former leaders of the South, however, became increasingly angry at what they regarded as the ultimate injustice of African Americans achieving equality as a result of the Civil War. They gradually fought and schemed their way back into power, creating such racist political control structures as the Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws to reinstall racist government with everything but slavery. Southerners praised the attack when one of their legislators caned Radical Republican Senator Charles Sumner, causing him serious head injuries that took months to recuperate from. Opinion in the North, unfortunately, compromised with the South in the years after the war, and racism took the helm nationwide until the true beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in 1954 with the Supreme Court Case Brown vs. The Board of Education, which began the end of racial segregation in America’s public schools.

The legacy of chattel slavery, unfortunately for America, was very deep, for this was the most cruel form of slavery in human history. A slave was considered a piece of property with no human rights. Such an economic system led to deep seated prejudices that took far more than a Civil War to overcome.

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Only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself. The masses have to be won by propaganda. -Hannah Arendt

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How did the Teddy Bear Begin?

The popular story is that Teddy Roosevelt, in a moment of supreme mercy, decided not to kill a small bear which thereafter lived happily ever after. As with most all political fables, the story is only partly true, with those who made it up cherry picking the proper information to enhance their candidate’s political image. In almost all cases, in fact, Theodore Roosevelt was free and easy with his rifle in hunting wild animals, and kept exact records of the results of his hunts, cataloging the large numbers of birds, bears, wolves, mountain lions, etc. that he did away with. Roosevelt, on the other hand, did begin American wilderness preservation on a grand scale, including Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks. Some have suggested that he did this because of his guilt about the large number of animals he killed, but this is somewhat unfair, because Roosevelt enjoyed the beauties of nature from an early age, often surprising guides who found him inordinately cheerful even when camping out in the worst conditions of rain and cold.

The teddy bear incident occurred when Roosevelt was on the hunt for black bears in Mississippi.  Unlike in the western US, bears were hard to find for the President. A tracker spent two days unsuccessfully hunting for them, and the Presidential Party began to get frustrated. Finally, when the tracker was away from Roosevelt, he spotted a black bear and gave chase. The quarry proved elusive, however, and the tracker’s dog had to pursue the fleeing bear into a lake. The tracker himself took part in the capture, and struck the bear on the head with the butt of his hunting rifle to subdue him. Unfortunately this did grave injury to the cranium of the bear, and the quite persistent tracker chained him to a tree so that Roosevelt could finish him off upon his arrival. President Roosevelt, of course, did not find the option of executing a gravely injured bear who was chained to a tree appealing, and let the poor bear off to attempt survival in the wild.

Often stories that originate in rumors do no good to the person or persons that the rumor is about, but such is clearly not the case here. The story, on the other hand, skilfully constructed by Roosevelt’s handlers, led to a far more complimentary tale that was favorable to the President, and millions of small children (and some adults) who treasure their Teddy Bears.

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A Democratic Party Fighter for Farmers

Now the family farm is a lost tradition, but there once were men who fought for it, especially Thomas Jefferson, who envisaged an America where that was all that existed. Tom Watson, a Democratic Party rebel from rural Georgia in the late nineteenth century, campaigned for the rights of farmers for his entire political life. At that time farmers were the victims of wild price swings due to the process of supply and demand, and many found themselves bankrupt or deeply in debt due to the natural swings of a capitalist economy. Today the government pretty much controls agricultural prices, and many large landholders make a living off of government grants where they get paid for growing nothing at all. Watson fought for such help from the government, which did not occur until long after he left the scene. As an eight year old, during the Civil War, he was dumbfounded at Union Army prisoners of war, who loudly sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic on a train taking them to confinement. This assault on the traditions of the old south was similar to other things he saw, such as his brother’s fledgling attempt to build an old style southern plantation home with large white wooden columns for the veranda. Yet Watson fought against the southern politicians who came to power after the war, including men who used inmates as free labor to enhance their fortunes. He became one of the primary leaders of the Farmers Alliance and then the Populist Party, and fought for the rights of small farmers who begged for government assistance to protect them from the cruelties of the market place. His political fortunes were limited however, and his taste for election battles was soured by how he considered being cheated out of the Vice-Presidential nomination in 1896. Late in his life, partially as a result, perhaps, of his love for alcohol, he fell in with more coarse political cronies, men who embraced racism and made no secret of their deep nostalgia for the good old days of the old south and slavery. Watson was far from alone in this feeling, however, for much of America, even well into the twentieth century, embraced racism as a tool of political power, especially in the deep south.   

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The Cultural War Against Hitler

There was a significant cultural rebellion against Adolph Hitler by many entertainers and artists who eventually had to leave Germany, many of whom later became big names in Hollywood. The German cabaret scene, with its brilliant stand up comedians who specialized in the poison cookie, that seemingly innocent joke with a darker twist, was a vibrant part of German culture until the cabarets were outlawed by German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. Marlene Dietrich became very popular in Germany after her role in the Blue Angel, a tragicomic film about the dark side of Germany, before she fled the scene and became an international actress based in California.  George Grosz’s ink drawings of the common people of Berlin are haunting to look at, yet this German Army veteran of World War I fled his homeland in 1933 to become a prominent artist in New York City for twenty-three years. Fritz Lang, an Austrian WWI soldier who was injured three times during the war, became a very successful director in Germany, including the haunting movie M, starring Peter Lorre as a child murderer. Lang fled to France and then Hollywood during the rise of the Nazis, where he struggled to find the kind of creative license that he had known earlier in Germany. Nevertheless, Lang was very influential on prominent film makers such as Francois Truffaut. Peter Lorre, of course, was a very dynamic character actor in several classic American films, such as The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.  Like Dietrich, he fled Germany to become an international star. Billy Wilder was a Polish Jew who was quite successful as a movie director in Germany before he had to flee the Nazis, and his success in Hollywood was extraordinary. In movies like The Apartment, a very American film starring Shirley MacClain, Jack Lemon and Fred MacMurray, Wilder demonstrated an ability to transfer his talents to very different cultures. Other artists did not make such an easy international transition, such as playwright Bertold Brecht, who fled to Russia, yet never seemed to recover the creativity he had enjoyed during the heady days of the rebellion against Hitler and the Nazis. The Weimar period in Germany is known best to Americans from the movie Cabaret, starring Liza Minnelli, yet this movie is slightly different than the book from which it came. Christopher Isherwood, and English writer, wrote about Sally Bowles, a young woman in Berlin who hung around seedy Berlin bars with angry veterans of World War I, a far cry from “come to the cabaret my friend,” as romanticized in the movie’s song. Yet the influence of those cabarets, and their cry out for freedom against Adolph Hitler, was a cry heard far and wide internationally, as many of the rebels were able to make their influence known elsewhere.

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Hitler’s Bureaucratic Genocide

The chaos that existed in Germany following the First World War had a lot to do with Adolph Hitler’s rise to power. Without an occupying force to settle things down, there was a  simmering civil war between different political groups, such as the socialists, the communists and right wing organizations including the group which would become the Nazis. The Nazis reveled in street violence, and Hitler’s early speeches to large beer drinking crowds were often policed by random paramilitaries that quickly repressed any resistance in the crowd. Hitler used such paramilitaries, who came to be called the Brownshirts, in the unsuccessful coup attempt in Munich in 1923. Hitler was sent to prison after what became known as the Munich Putsch, where he wrote his famous book of rebellion, Mein Kampf, or My Struggle. The Brownshirts became more and more influential in Hitler’s rise to power in the late twenties and early thirties, as they repressed dissenting political organizations with extreme violence, brashly intimidating anyone who had the nerve to oppose the Nazis. After Hitler came to power in 1933, he had to bring his own paramilitaries under control, to solidify his political support with parts of Germany who were not comfortable with such chaotic random violence. The German military were also not pleased with unpredictable power of the Brownshirts, and Hitler certainly did not want them to think him a disorganized and chaotic leader. He solved this with a series of political assassinations that became known as the Night of the Long Knives, in which over 85 people where killed and more than a thousand political opponents were arrested. Longtime ally Ernst Rohm, who led the Brownshirts, was killed, as was Gregor Strasser, another Nazi leader who was far more liberal in his political beliefs than Hitler. The Gestapo, or Nazi Secret Police, were formally integrated as Hitler’s new agency of political enforcement, and the Brownshirts were consolidated as the SA, much more under Nazi control. Most of the German people became more comfortable with the Nazi’s power as being more stable, despite how Germany then became a one-party state. Hitler gave a speech justifying the violence, and German courts, strange as it may seem, ruled in favor of these extra-judicial killings, blessing Hitler to kill off any political opponents as he saw fit. One world leader who noted Hitler’s success in this organized political murder was Josef Stalin, who would soon begin his own system of using execution to enhance his political power in a genocide that would soon make Hitler seem small time by comparison.  

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Stalin: the King of Genocide

Everyone remembers Adolph Hitler’s holocaust but, in terms of numbers, Josef Stalin made him seem small time by comparison. The Nazis killed nine million of their own population, six million Jews and a mix of other minorities, but no one knows Stalin’s totals, which are estimated between forty and eighty million. Stalin started out as a strong-arm enforcer for the Bolsheviks, and enlarged that role exponentially after he took over the reins of power after the death of Vladimir Lenin. Stalin had served a couple of stints of incarceration in Siberia as a result of his own revolutionary activities, and he would later subject the Soviet Union’s citizens into that type of incarceration by the millions. Ukraine was known as the breadbasket of Asia, and it became literally that as Stalin starved its inhabitants to death and removed all grain and other farm products from the country to sell to other nations to build his army. Ten million, it is estimated, died in that horrific crime against humanity. Stalin himself would travel through the Ukraine on a train to visit his wealthy dacha in the Crimea, in a train that carried the most delicious gourmet foods for the Soviet leader. If Stalin looked out the windows of his train he would have seen the starving population of the Ukraine, many of whom went to the train stations in the hope of getting out to somewhere where there was food, only to be roughly denied the opportunity by Soviet Soldiers. Stalin was a master of political prosecutions of Soviet Officials, many of whom were formerly close associates of the ruthless dictator. Accused of invariably false charges, the Show Trials were absurd theatrical displays of lies in the guise of justice, often watched by Stalin from behind a protective screen. Thereafter, Soviet officials lived their lives in a state of paralyzing fear, in constant dread that they might be the next to be chosen to take the march toward the persecution and death. Neither was it safe to be part of his bureaucracy of persecution, for often a man who was head torturer one day would be head victim the next, and no one was safe from the idiosyncratic persecution of this evil man. So the persecution led many ordinary citizens to be imprisoned in the gulags that Stalin had built for slave laborers across the Asian continent, where millions where imprisoned and subjected to horrifying treatment that often killed off the captives. So any Soviet citizen might say the wrong thing to the wrong person and end up in the Gulags, which existed long after, even past the death of Stalin in 1953. Such a genocidal system, in short, made Adolph Hitler seem like a minor leaguer.  

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Hitler’s Luck of the Devil

Hitler’s first lucky break came 13 years before he was born. His father changed his name from Shicklegruber to Hitler, and thus gave the future dictator a name that was far more slogan-ready. It is hard to imagine nearly all of Germany rising to salute a leader in unison chanting “Heil Shicklegruber!” This was one of many lucky breaks for Adolph Hitler, enabling a sociopathic individual with very dark personality traits to become the leader of a great nation and propel a world war that resulted in the death of between fifty and eighty million people. His main talent was in public speaking, but his message was, in the 1920s, only for a small far right audience. He would speak to crowds of beer drinking German nationalists who responded well to his sarcasm laced rants about the necessity of a new Germany rising up to cleanse the world of its problems. It was the Great Depression that was a very lucky break for Adolph, causing millions of unemployed Germans to be much more receptive to his message. Without the stock market crash of 1929, Hitler would have been just another beer hall rabble rouser. In power, however, he also had lucky breaks, including the survival of two assassination attempts. The first was by a carpenter who built a bomb into a podium from which Hitler was to speak. Hitler, however, paranoid man that he was, felt with good reason that people were trying to kill him, and changed his speaking time so that the bomb went off thirteen minutes too late to kill the genocidal dictator. This occurred in 1939, so the bomber failed in his wish to stop the Second World War. The second attempt to kill Hitler was in 1944, when many officers were well aware that Germany was going to lose the war, and that the military must get rid of Hitler before their beloved Armed Services were destroyed by the Allied Powers if the war continued onward. In this case Hitler’s luck was quite amazing. In an underground bunker the briefcase holding the bomb was inadvertently moved away from Hitler by an officer giving a presentation. When it went off, the table Hitler was sitting at shielded him from the major force of the impact, although four others near him were killed. Thus Hitler, a rampant extremist, was able to continue to go forward with his all or nothing strategy, and Germany ended up with hundreds of thousands more dead than if he had done the responsible thing and surrendered earlier. But, then again, Hitler was not a responsible man, and unfortunately, he had the luck of the Devil.

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