V-E Day

From the Facebook group Flags and Vexillology, in honor of the seventy-sixth anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (May 8, 1945), a propaganda poster illustrating the contemporary flags of the allies in World War II. Note that this was before “United Nations” referred to a more specific organization. 

Congratulations, Graduates!

Reinhardt hosted its 134th graduation ceremony yesterday for the Class of 2021, which was a delight since last year’s ceremony was canceled. Three history majors walked across the stage. They were:

Marissa Liguori, Phi Alpha Theta.

Gianna Sanders, Summa Cum Laude, Phi Alpha Theta

Tripp Wickard, Summa Cum Laude, Phi Alpha Theta, History Program Student of the Year. 

Congratulations, everybody!

“How the Irish Became White”

The title of this post is also a title of a book by Noel Ignatiev, referenced earlier on this blog. Razib Khan (on UnHerd) has resurrected it to describe the time around 4500 BC, when Neolithic farmers invaded Ireland and displaced an earlier hunter-gatherer culture. According to Khan, genetic analysis reveals these hunter-gatherers were “dark skinned and light-eyed” (like the Cheddar Man) while the invaders were “light-skinned and dark-eyed.” Apparently the “light” genes for both skin and eyes ultimately triumphed in the Irish phenotype, although many subsequent invasions contributed. 

Even Faster

Earlier on this blog we noted a Business Insider story that claimed that an iron cap placed atop an underground nuclear test in 1957 shot upwards at a speed of 125,000 miles per hour, allegedly becoming the “fastest manmade object ever.” Whether or not this actually happened, the record has been decisively broken by NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which “was clocked at over 330,000 miles per hour as it zipped through the sun’s outer atmosphere.”

Das Ministerium für Staatssicherheit

Flagge des Ministeriums für Staatssicherheit, DDR bis 1990. Wikipedia.

From The Foundation for Economic Freedom:

10 Terrifying Facts about the East German Secret Police

To maintain power for 40 years while their people starved and plotted to escape, the Communist Party had to get very good at controlling people and undermining anti-state activists. But outright street violence and assassinations weren’t good for the Party image, so the Ministry for State Security got creative. Better known as the Stasi (the German acronym), these secret police were the “Schild und Schwert der Partei” (Shield and Sword of the Party). Their sole function was to keep the Communist Party in power. They didn’t care how.

The Stasi were prolific gaslighters. In the 1950s, repression was brutal, physical torture. Early in the 1970s, eager to be accepted on the international stage, the East German Secret Police had to get more subtle. The aim of Zersetzung (a repurposed military term meaning disintegration or corrosion) was to “switch off” any activist individuals and groups who might threaten the Party. Police collected medical, school, and police records, interviews with neighbors and relatives, and any other evidence they could get and would then customize a direct hit on an individual’s mental health.

If someone looked like he might challenge the Communist Party’s legitimacy or control, the Stasi systematically destroyed his life. They used blackmail, social shame, threats, and torture. Careers, reputations, relationships, and lives were exploded to destabilize and delegitimize a critic. Some forms of harassment were almost comical: agents spread rumors about their targets, flooded their mailboxes with pornography, moved things around in their apartments, or deflated their bicycle tires day after day. Others were life-altering: Individuals labeled as subversives were banned from higher education, forced into unemployment, and forcibly committed to asylums. Many suffered long-term psychological trauma, loss of earnings, and intense social shame as a result of Stasi lies.

The Stasi had 91,000 employees at its peak—roughly one in every 30 residents was a Stasi agent. More than one in three East Germans (5.6 million) was under suspicion or surveillance, with an open Stasi file. Another half million were feeding the Stasi information. This level of surveillance and infiltration caused East Germans to live in terror—you really never knew if you could trust anyone—though most had no idea of the scope of these activities until after the Berlin Wall fell.

Stasi files laid out together would cover about 69 sq. miles. Recording detailed personal information on a third of the populace required a tremendous amount of paper. More pages of printed text were generated by the Stasi than by all German authors from the Middle Ages to WWII. Thousands of citizens were targeted as anti-government “trouble makers,” their homes were searched, phones and cars—if they were lucky enough to have either—were bugged, their letters opened and copied, and their movements secretly filmed or photographed. Every document went into a personal Stasi file. So far, hundreds of millions of files, 39 million index cards, 1.75 million photographs, 2,800 reels of film and 28,400 audio recordings have been recovered from Stasi archives. Millions more were shredded before they could be made public.

In 1992, the secret files the Stasi had kept on millions of East Germans were made available for review. Citizens can request to see their personal files, which are housed by the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives on 63 miles of dedicated shelving. Sixteen thousand sacks of shredded documents still await reassembly. The agency tasked with maintaining them employed at least 79 former Stasi members as late as 2007, according to Wikileaks. Three million individuals have applied to see their records, with decidedly mixed results. Many former subjects of Stasi investigation or surveillance found out only from these files—20 years later—that their parents, children, spouses, or lifelong friends had been informing against them.

Six more facts at the link. I know an East German woman whose family refused to look at their Stasi files, because they did not want to know who was informing on them and thus potentially lose old friends. The author finishes with this cheerful thought:

Large-scale data collection by today’s National Security Administration and Homeland Security follows the same pattern, according to well-known whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg. The “See something? Say something” culture of citizen informers, the collection of personal info without warrants, and the assumption of guilt all feel eerily familiar.

Northern Ireland

Flags and Vexillology.

Today marks the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland, when the Fourth Home Rule Bill went into effect. Someone posted to the Facebook group Flags and Vexillology a photograph of an early flag for Northern Ireland, a blue ensign with six six-pointed stars surrounding a shield of the traditional province of Ulster. This flag, however used, was superseded by the Ulster Banner, taken from the shield of the arms of Northern Ireland, which was granted in 1924. 

Heraldry-wiki.com.

Paul Halsall also draws our attention to an article at West Cork Historical Society Forum, about what happened to the once numerically strong (but still minority) Unionist/Loyalist population of Cork after 1920.

In 1919 the Unionist community in County Cork was prosperous, numerous and committed in varying degrees to the Unionist cause. They had their own newspaper, held parades and maintained a complex social system. Yet by 1923 their community lay decimated, torn asunder by a campaign of murder and intimidation and forced into a supposedly “Free State” which did little to protect them. What brought about such cataclysmic changes? How was the campaign of murder conducted and for what reasons? Did Cork Unionism maintain its identity during those violent years – and can this still be seen today?

The numerical decline between 1911 and 1926 of the Protestant (and mostly unionist) community in Cork, and indeed throughout Southern Ireland, is startling. The historian Hart puts the level of Protestant decline during this period at no less than 34% (the Roman Catholic population declined by merely 2%) and comments that “this catastrophic loss was unique to the Southern minority and unprecedented: it represents easily the single greatest measurable social change of the revolutionary era”

It is difficult to argue with Hart’s assessment that this population decline is unique in British history – representing “the only example of the mass displacement of a native ethnic group within the British Isles since the 17th century”

More at the link. Those who weren’t murdered fled to Northern Ireland or Britain. Reminds me of my own Loyalist ancestors following the American Revolution. 

The Ballpoint Pen Killed Cursive!

From an article in the Atlantic from a few years ago:

The ballpoint’s universal success has changed how most people experience ink. Its thicker ink was less likely to leak than that of its predecessors. For most purposes, this was a win—no more ink-stained shirts, no need for those stereotypically geeky pocket protectors. However, thicker ink also changes the physical experience of writing, not necessarily all for the better.

I wouldn’t have noticed the difference if it weren’t for my affection for unusual pens, which brought me to my first good fountain pen. A lifetime writing with the ballpoint and minor variations on the concept (gel pens, rollerballs) left me unprepared for how completely different a fountain pen would feel. Its thin ink immediately leaves a mark on paper with even the slightest, pressure-free touch to the surface. My writing suddenly grew extra lines, appearing between what used to be separate pen strokes. My hand, trained by the ballpoint, expected that lessening the pressure from the pen was enough to stop writing, but I found I had to lift it clear off the paper entirely. Once I started to adjust to this change, however, it felt like a godsend; a less-firm press on the page also meant less strain on my hand….

Sassoon’s analysis of how we’re taught to hold pens makes a much stronger case for the role of the ballpoint in the decline of cursive. She explains that the type of pen grip taught in contemporary grade school is the same grip that’s been used for generations, long before everyone wrote with ballpoints. However, writing with ballpoints and other modern pens requires that they be placed at a greater, more upright angle to the paper—a position that’s generally uncomfortable with a traditional pen hold. Even before computer keyboards turned so many people into carpal-tunnel sufferers, the ballpoint pen was already straining hands and wrists.

Ballpoint pens seem to have been superseded by gel pens or roller ball pens, which don’t require quite the same grip or pressure on the page. But somehow I don’t think that cursive will come back as a result. And frankly, I don’t think that the characters of the Palmer Method are all that attractive. I really wish that the Society for Italic Handwriting had been more influential. 

Modern Cronies

Ken Wheeler’s new book is now out and available for purchase. From the UGA Press website:

Modern Cronies: Southern Industrialism from Gold Rush to Convict Labor, 1829-1894

By Kenneth H. Wheeler

Modern Cronies traces how various industrialists, thrown together by the effects of the southern gold rush, shaped the development of the southeastern United States. Existing historical scholarship treats the gold rush as a self-contained blip that-aside from the horrors of Cherokee Removal (admittedly no small thing) and a supply of miners to California in 1849-had no other widespread effects. In fact, the southern gold rush was a significant force in regional and national history.

The pressure brought by the gold rush for Cherokee Removal opened the path of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, the catalyst for the development of both Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Iron makers, attracted by the gold rush, built the most elaborate iron-making operations in the Deep South near this railroad, in Georgia’s Etowah Valley; some of these iron makers became the industrial talent in the fledgling postbellum city of Birmingham, Alabama. This book explicates the networks of associations and interconnections across these varied industries in a way that newly interprets the development of the southeastern United States.

Modern Cronies also reconsiders the meaning of Joseph E. Brown, Georgia’s influential Civil War governor, political heavyweight, and wealthy industrialist. Brown was nurtured in the Etowah Valley by people who celebrated mining, industrialization, banking, land speculation, and railroading as a path to a prosperous future. Kenneth H. Wheeler explains Brown’s familial, religious, and social ties to these people; clarifies the origins of Brown’s interest in convict labor; and illustrates how he used knowledge and connections acquired in the gold rush to enrich himself. After the Civil War Brown, aided by his sons, dominated and modeled a vigorous crony capitalism with far-reaching implications.

Order your copy today!

Michael Collins, 1930-2021

Apollo 11 astronauts Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin. Wikipedia.

The Command Module pilot of the Apollo 11 mission, Michael Collins, has died at the age of 90. Only Buzz Aldrin, the Lunar Module pilot, remains with us. I have often wondered about the “third wheel” of these missions, the guy who had to stay in orbit around the Moon while the other two guys got to walk on it. Collins did create the Apollo 11 mission patch, and as he orbited the far side of the Moon, became the “most isolated human in history.” But obviously he was essential to the success of the mission, and according to Glenn Reynolds was a “very, very smart guy.” His book, Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys can be ordered on Amazon. 

The Sudd Swamp

I regret to say that I had never heard of the Sudd Swamp. This is a:

vast swamp in South Sudan, formed by the White Nile‘s Baḥr al-Jabal section. The Arabic word sudd is derived from sadd, meaning “barrier” or “obstruction”. The term “the sudd” has come to refer to any large solid floating vegetation island or mat. The area which the swamp covers is one of the world’s largest wetlands and the largest freshwater wetland in the Nile basin.

For many years the swamp, and especially its thicket of vegetation, proved an impenetrable barrier to navigation along the Nile. The ancient Egyptians failed to penetrate the Sudd and reach the areas south of it. In AD 61, a party of Roman soldiers sent by the Emperor Nero proceeded up the White Nile but were not able to get beyond the Sudd, which marked the limit of Roman penetration into equatorial Africa. For the same reasons in later times, the search for the source of the Nile was particularly difficult; it eventually involved overland expeditions from the central African coast, so as to avoid having to travel through the Sudd.

More at Wikipedia. It seems that it formed as much of a barrier between the Mediterranean world and the rest of Africa as the Sahara desert did.