Penn Central Crash

In City Journal, a look back at the collapse of the Penn Central Railroad (hat tip: Instapundit), which provides some salutary lessons on how not to run a business:

After the merger [of the Pennsylvania and the New York Central], the railroads discovered that they had incompatible computer systems, which threw railyards into chaos and angered customers. The Penn Central’s three top officials, too, were incompatible. They “scarcely spoke to one another,” write Daughen and Binzen. Stuart Saunders, the board chairman, was a political guy. Alfred Perlman, the president, was a trains guy. These different outlooks could have complemented each other, but personalities got in the way. Rounding out this dysfunctional triumvirate was Penn vet David Bevan, the top financial official, perpetually “angry and humiliated” at not being picked for the top job.

Bevan had two ideas for keeping the cash-bleeding Penn Central alive: corporate diversification and financial trickery. If a railroad couldn’t make money, he thought, perhaps it could invest its cash in entities that could make money. The Penn had a head start in this; it already owned vast swathes of real estate around Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station, including five hotels and a share in Madison Square Garden, as well as the New York Rangers and Knicks.

Bevan added to this conservative legacy portfolio a bizarre array of new business interests, from an executive-jet company (he was its best customer) to pipelines, speculative land tracts in the southern U.S., and a travel agency. “Nobody . . . could name the 186 different companies . . . under the Penn Central’s umbrella,” Daughen and Binzen write. Under Bevan’s stewardship, these companies often sold stakes of themselves to one another, generating illusory paper profits. The Penn also had touchingly optimistic views about the future, booking years’ worth of profits, for example, when a third party agreed to buy a tract of real estate for which it wouldn’t actually be able to pay for years. Bevan was also determined to take some of the supposed profits of these deals for himself, setting up an “investment club” with several associates to buy and sell shares in these side companies before the much bigger Penn Central did, thus benefiting from the subsequent price changes.

These innovative methods didn’t generate the money that the Penn Central needed to balance the books, however. So Bevan turned to straightforward borrowing. With $1.5 billion in annual revenue, the Penn borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars from the nation’s largest banks, including more than $100 million in the nascent “commercial paper” market. This market of short-term loans was meant not for permanent operating deficits but to cover temporary shortfalls like meeting payroll just before a customer paid for a big order. The banks didn’t ask questions, though, because Penn Central had such a solid reputation—and because it was such a good fee-payer.

This three-card monte game lasted—until it didn’t. At First National City, the predecessor of Citigroup, chief Walter Wriston was “furious at his loan officers for getting his bank so deeply involved”—$300 million in loans—“without knowing what a hole the Penn Central was in.” Members of the Penn Central’s august board were also mad—though many of them perhaps never thought to ask questions because they headed companies that were themselves customers of or vendors for the railroad.

The banks’ and the board members’ big idea was to ask the federal government for a bailout. President Richard Nixon vacillated but ultimately said no, on the basis of the now-quaint idea that Congress would have to agree, which it did not.

The railroad then declared bankruptcy in June 1970, having lasted just 871 days. “Never before had there been a cataclysm as stunning as this,” write Daughen and Binzen. “What had been conceived of as the most awesome transportation machine in the world had ended as the most monumental business failure in United States history . . . How the mighty fell: Stuart Saunders, businessman of the year in 1968, business bankrupt of the year in 1970.” Saunders had a rejoinder: “I didn’t have anything to do with the concept of the Penn Central.”

Read the whole thing

Ernst Kantorowicz

From the Chronicle of Higher Education (hat tip: Paul Halsall), a remembrance of a mildly famous mid-century episode:

The Right-Wing Medievalist Who Refused the Loyalty Oath: On Ernst Kantorowicz, academic freedom, and “the secret university.”

In 1950, Ernst Kantorowicz, a distinguished professor of medieval history, was fired from the University of California at Berkeley for refusing to sign an oath of loyalty, which had been mandated, in a fit of Cold War panic, by the University of California’s Board of Regents. Kantorowicz principally objected to the Board of Regents’ requirement that all professors with U.S. citizenship declare in writing that they upheld the Constitution and were not members of any organization advocating the government’s overthrow.

Kantorowicz was by no means alone in his refusal to sign. Across the UC system, another 36 tenured professors lost their jobs alongside him. As it turned out, California’s Supreme Court overturned the sackings. By then it didn’t matter much for Kantorowicz. He had already found a job at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Looking back, this incident may seem trivial enough: just another display of Cold War paranoia, just another demonstration of supine conciliation on the part of university authorities.

But we shouldn’t let Kantorowicz’s firing fall out of institutional memory. If anything, his act has become more rather than less significant, because, paradoxically, the reasons he gave for his refusal were so peculiar, so out of touch. They were remote from ordinary ways of thinking about the professoriate’s role and status then. They are even more remote now. This very remoteness can suggest new ways for professors to relate to the university system today, as it becomes unmoored from centuries-old traditions and legitimations and as the empire of obsolescence expands.

In refusing to sign the loyalty oath, Kantorowicz did not appeal primarily to the notion of “academic freedom” as articulated by John Dewey and others earlier in the century. Nor did he refuse to sign because he was any kind of leftist. To the contrary, he was (as he put it in the pamphlet he wrote about the affair) a “conservative” who, as a volunteer fighter against the Munich 1919 uprising, had actually killed Communists.

His reasons appealed to a different conceptual or institutional tradition than any acknowledged either in modern politics or by modern academic administration. He believed that a professor is “entrusted with” an office in a particular “body corporate,” or corpus mysticum, i.e., a university. That status was defined in medieval Europe when universities were established as a universitas magistrorum et scholarium — as bodies made up of students and professors and nobody else.

As a corporation, the university had a particular legal status. It could not be identified with the sum of its members; it was rather a disembodied entity, permanent and immortal. What enabled the scholar to participate in the university was professorial office, which endowed its bearer with “dignity.” Dignity, thus conceived, is not a personal comportment but a quality essential to office. Or rather: In a permanent, mystical institution, dignity fuses office to the private personality, as Kantorowicz put it in his most famous book, The King’s Two Bodies (1957).

As a corpus mysticum, the university is a corporation in a different sense than the modern business enterprise. Because students and professors were the embodied corpus mysticum, regents or janitors, for instance, do not themselves belong to the university proper. They are attached outsiders. Janitors, for instance, merely keep the campus clean. Regents ensure that formal university procedures as mandated by the state are observed. But as members of the university’s body corporate, professors were not employees at all.

In other words, for Kantorowicz, a professorship was a public trust. No one had control over professors. No one measured their performance. The dignity of the professorial office called upon its bearers to act according to their “conscience,” which was held to be inseparable from the professor’s “genuine duties as member of the academic body corporate.” Furthermore, dignity required them to enact their conscience with “passion” and “love.” It involved a willingness to sacrifice their embodied self for the sake of the office: a concept of sacrifice whose historical origins included God’s sacrifice of Christ’s humanity.

Yeah, I’d say that sounds out of touch! For more on this episode read the whole thing, and the chapter on “The Nazi Twins” in Norman F. Cantor’s Inventing the Middle Ages (1989). 

Long Live our Soviet Motherland!

From History Today (hat tip: Ron Good):

Could the Soviet Union Have Survived?

We ask four historians whether the demise of one of the 20th century’s superpowers was as inevitable as it now seems.

Rodric Braithwaite, British Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1988-91) and author of Armageddon and Paranoia: the Nuclear Confrontation (Profile, 2017).

People still argue about the fall of the Roman Empire. They are not going to agree quickly on why the Soviet Union collapsed when it did. Some think it could have lasted for many years, others that the collapse was unforeseeable. Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet dissident scientist, foresaw it decades before it happened.

Victory in war took the Soviet armies to the centre of Europe, where they stayed. The Soviet Union’s seductive ideology had already given it influence across the world. But after Stalin’s death in 1953 the ideology started looking threadbare, even at home. In Eastern Europe, inside the Soviet Union itself, the subject peoples were increasingly restless for freedom. Soviet scientists were the equal of any in the world, but their country was too poor to afford both guns and butter and their skills were directed towards matching the American military machine, rather than improving the people’s welfare. It worked for a while. But in 1983 the Soviet Chief of Staff admitted that ‘We will never be able to catch up with [the Americans] in modern arms until we have an economic revolution. And the question is whether we can have an economic revolution without a political revolution’. 

The Soviet leaders were not stupid. They knew something had to be done. In 1985, after three decrepit leaders died in succession, they picked Mikhail Gorbachev to run the country: young, experienced, competent and – they wrongly thought – orthodox. But Gorbachev believed that change was inescapable. He curbed the KGB, freed the press and introduced a kind of democracy. He was defeated by a conservative establishment, an intractable economy and an unsustainable imperial burden. It was the fatal moment, identified by the 19th-century French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville, when a decaying regime tries to reform – and disintegrates.

Russians call Gorbachev a traitor for failing to prevent the collapse by force. Foreigners dismiss him as an inadequate bungler. No one has suggested a convincing alternative scenario. 

The other participants reference Gorbachev’s attempts to curb drinking on the job (“Did he understand who he was getting into a fight with?”), anti-Soviet demonstrations in the Kazakh SSR in 1986 (did you know about these? I didn’t!), and Glasnost, i.e. Gorbachev’s policy of press freedom, which undermined the “key to the survival of any dictatorship, [which] is strict control of the media, which shapes public opinion and promotes tacit acceptance of a regime.” I seem to remember Christopher Hitchens once offered a similar answer. 

Read ’em all

Murdoch Mysteries

Historical characters I have learned about from watching Murdoch Mysteries:

Florence Nightingale Graham (1881-1966), who went by the business name Elizabeth Arden, was a Canadian-American businesswoman who founded what is now Elizabeth Arden, Inc. and built a cosmetics empire in the United States. By 1929, she owned 150 salons in Europe and the United States. Her 1,000 products were being sold in 22 countries. She was the sole owner, and at the peak of her career she was one of the wealthiest women in the world.

Dan Seavey, also known as “Roaring” Dan Seavey (1865-1949), was a sailor, fisherman, farmer, saloon keeper, prospector, U.S. marshal, thief, poacher, smuggler, hijacker, human trafficker, and timber pirate in Wisconsin and Michigan and on the Great Lakes in the late-19th to early-20th century.

John Joseph Kelso (1864-1935) was a newspaper reporter and social crusader who immigrated to Canada from Ireland with his family in 1874 when he was ten years old. They suffered hardships of hunger and cold in their early years in Toronto and, throughout his life, this motivated Kelso’s compassion towards the poor and unfortunate. While a reporter for the World and the Globe, Kelso founded the Toronto Humane Society in 1887 for the prevention of cruelty to children and animals, the Fresh Air Fund and the Santa Claus Fund in 1888 to provide excursions and cheer for poor women and children, and the Children’s Aid Society (Canada) in 1891.

John Ross Robertson (1841-1918) was a Canadian newspaper publisher, politician, and philanthropist. He was elected to the Canadian House of Commons for the electoral district of Toronto East in the 1896 federal election defeating the incumbent. The world of sports was also a focus for Robertson’s public-spiritedness. A fervent advocate of amateur sport, he served as president of the Ontario Hockey Association from 1899 to 1905, which was a critical time period in the history of the sport. His battle to protect hockey from the influence of professionalism caused him to be called the “father of Amateur Hockey in Ontario.”

Cassie L. Chadwick (1857-1907) was the most well-known pseudonym used by Canadian con artist Elizabeth Bigley, who defrauded several American banks out of millions of dollars during the late 1800s and early 1900s by claiming to be an illegitimate daughter and heiress of the Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Newspaper accounts of the time described her as one of the greatest con artists in American history. She pulled off the heist in the Gilded Age of American history, during which time women were not allowed to vote or get loans from the banks, leading some historians to refer to her bank heist as one of the greatest in American history.

Margaret Haile was a Canadian socialist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a teacher and journalist by profession. She was active in the socialist movements in both Canada and the United States. Frederic Heath’s “Socialism in America,” published in January 1900 in the Social Democracy Red Book, lists her, along with Corinne Stubbs Brown and Eugene V. Debs, among “One Hundred Well-known Social Democrats”.

Clara Brett Martin (1874-1923), born to Abram and Elizabeth Martin, a well-to-do Anglican-Irish family, opened the way for women to become lawyers in Canada by being the first in the British Empire in 1897. In 1888, Martin was accepted to Trinity College in Toronto. And in 1890, Martin graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics at the age of sixteen, which was almost unheard of because of the masculinity associated with that field. In 1891, Martin submitted a petition to the Law Society of Upper Canada to permit her to become a student member, a prerequisite to articling as a clerk, attending lectures and sitting the exams required to receive a certificate of fitness to practice as a solicitor. Her petition was rejected by the Law Society after contentious debate, with the Special Committee reviewing the petition interpreting the statute which incorporated the Law Society as permitting only men to be admitted to the practice of law. W.D. Balfour sponsored a bill that provided that the word “person” in the Law Society’s statute should be interpreted to include females as well as males. Martin’s cause was also supported by prominent women of the day including Emily Stowe and Lady Aberdeen. With the support of the Premier, Oliver Mowat, legislation was passed on April 13, 1892, and permitted the admission of women as solicitors.

(Quotations from Wikipedia and Murdoch Mysteries Fandom)

Moon Shot Museums

Enjoyed a trip to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, this week. Huntsville played a role in manufacturing munitions during the Second World War, a role that continued afterwards as a site of rocket and missile development for the U.S. Army. This meant that the city became the American home of a great many German scientists and engineers nabbed in Operation Paperclip, including the most important one of all: Wernher von Braun. With the Space Race, Huntsville and von Braun became even more important, and the success of the Apollo missions has ensured their fame forever, memorialized in this museum. 

The main hall, designated the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, contains one of the few Saturn V launch vehicles still in existence,* displayed horizontally, elevated, and separated into its component sections. Underneath it, all sorts of artifacts, information, and interactive exhibits about just what the NASA needed to do to make space flight and  lunar exploration possible. It was all very complex, but technology, organization, and wealth got the job done. 

Some of the items on display include:

A capsule from Project Mercury (see Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff). 

A capsule from Project Gemini.

The Command Module for Apollo 16. 

A Lunar Roving Vehicle, including instructions on how to unload it from the Lunar Exploration Module and unfold it for use, something I always wondered about.

Space Race memorabilia. 

Admit it, you were always curious.

Von Braun himself is presented as a great genius – not only for his skills in rocketry, but also in negotiating with politicians, publicizing space exploration, and managing his team. Apparently he was very inspirational to work for. 

The museum does not completely ignore his past. Pictured is a V-2 rocket, developed by von Braun and his team for Nazi Germany – some 3000 of which were built by slave labor and fired at targets in England and the Low Countries, killing some 9000 people. This was the so-called Miracle Weapon that was going to turn the tide of the war and save Germany from invasion. It didn’t, but building such devices was very interesting to the former allies of World War II, especially as there came to be the possibility of arming them with nuclear warheads for added destructiveness. So rather than facing any sort of postwar de-Nazification or possible trial, von Braun and most of his team were scooped up and brought to the United States before the Soviets could get them, where they were put to very good use. Recall the joke: “Why did we win the Space Race? Our Germans were better than their Germans.” It does not appear that von Braun retained any Nazi sympathies during his American career, in the mode of Dr. Strangelove (if he ever had them in the first place, although he did attain the rank of Sturmbannführer in the SS). And it seems that most Americans were willing to play along, in thanks for services rendered – with the notable exception of Tom Lehrer, who called him “a man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience” and imagined him saying:

“Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
That’s not my department,” says Wernher von Braun.

So if you’re looking for a museum devoted to a less controversial figure, you should visit the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio. We stopped in last summer on our way home from Canada, serendipitously on the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong, of course, was the first human to set foot on the Moon, and his hometown is very proud of him, although his museum doesn’t have nearly the collection that Huntsville does. He comes across as a clean-cut, straight-arrow midwesterner – exactly the sort of all-American hero to serve as great PR for the space program.  

Some items on display:

From Armstrong’s early days as a test pilot.

Armstrong’s space suit.

Saturn V model with tower.

Rocket engine. (It looks too small to be an F-1.)

From slightly later in NASA’s history: technology to allow astronauts to drink soda in a zero-gravity environment. (Apparently NASA was neutral during the Cola Wars.)

I kind of wish this plaque read “We got here first! Screw you, Commies!” which is what the whole thing was really about.

**********

* The Saturn V erected in the courtyard of the Huntsville museum is a full-scale model, constructed in 1999. It serves as a Huntsville landmark and provides the sort of publicity that von Braun would approve of, but it cost the Center $10 million of borrowed money and was instrumental in the firing of director Mike Wing after all of one year on the job. 

Shakedown 1979

From Commentary:

The Year the Sky Fell

Review of Black Wave by Kim Ghattas

In the Greater Middle East, the year 1979 felt like the end of the world. Americans know it as the ominous date of the Iranian Revolution, the hostage crisis, and the rise of the grim-faced, murderous Ayatollah Khomeini. But those weren’t the only pivotal events that unfolded back then. The scarcely known siege of Mecca occurred at the same time, and it was equally dreadful—and fateful. In an effort to appease an armed insurrection, the Saudi government sharply reversed what precious little social progress had been made and, in a revolution from above, transformed the country into an even more regressive and repressive place than it already was. The Saudi and Iranian governments, once grudging allies, became sworn, bitter enemies determined to export their own revolutions to the whole Muslim world, across the Middle East and beyond, including to Afghanistan, which coincidentally had just been invaded by the Soviet Union.

Nearly all the worst disasters that have swept across the Muslim world in the past four decades can be traced at least in part back to that year. That’s the thesis of the masterful book Black Wave, by Beirut-born, Emmy Award–winning journalist Kim Ghattas. She traveled from Egypt and Iraq to Iran and Pakistan, and no matter where she went, the people with whom she spoke let loose a tsunami of emotion when she asked how that year had devastated them and their countries. She felt as if she were “conducting national or regional therapy.…Everyone had a story about how 1979 had wrecked their lives, their marriage, their education, including those born after that year.”

More at the link.

Tulsa Mass Graves

From PJMedia, a story about an obscure event that doesn’t deserve to be:

Possible Mass Graves Discovered From 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Massacre

It was the worst spasm of racial violence in the history of the United States. And it has been largely ignored in history.

The Greenwood district in Tulsa was the richest black neighborhood in the country, known at the time as “The Black Wall Street.” In 1921, a riot began over the Memorial Day weekend when a young black man was accused of assaulting a 17-year-old white girl. Angry whites gathered at the jail while some black men, hearing rumors of a lynching, also headed to the jail. At that point, history and myth merge and what happened to set off the crowd is unknown.

At one point, planes were employed to strafe the crowds of black women and children fleeing for their lives. Property damage was immense. More than 10,000 blacks were left homeless and an unknown number had been killed. Official statistics put the number of dead at 36 with about 800 seriously injured. Some believe the actual number of dead is in the hundreds.

The state established a commission in 1996 to investigate exactly what happened. At that time, the commission found evidence of three possible mass grave sites, but the evidence had been inconclusive.

A more recent survey using far more sophisticated technology may have given state authorities enough evidence to begin an archaeological dig at some of the sites.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: from Smithsonian Magazine (hat tip: Dan Franke):

A Long-Lost Manuscript Contains a Searing Eyewitness Account of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921

An Oklahoma lawyer details the attack by hundreds of whites on the thriving black neighborhood where hundreds died 95 years ago

The ten-page manuscript is typewritten, on yellowed legal paper, and folded in thirds. But the words, an eyewitness account of the May 31, 1921, racial massacre that destroyed what was known as Tulsa, Oklahoma’s “Black Wall Street,” are searing.

“I could see planes circling in mid-air. They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top,” wrote Buck Colbert Franklin (1879-1960). 

The Oklahoma lawyer, father of famed African-American historian John Hope Franklin (1915-2009), was describing the attack by hundreds of whites on the thriving black neighborhood known as Greenwood in the booming oil town. “Lurid flames roared and belched and licked their forked tongues into the air. Smoke ascended the sky in thick, black volumes and amid it all, the planes—now a dozen or more in number—still hummed and darted here and there with the agility of natural birds of the air.”

Franklin writes that he left his law office, locked the door, and descended to the foot of the steps.

“The side-walks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught from the top,” he continues. “I paused and waited for an opportune time to escape. ‘Where oh where is our splendid fire department with its half dozen stations?’ I asked myself. ‘Is the city in conspiracy with the mob?’”

Franklin’s harrowing manuscript now resides among the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The previously unknown document was found last year, purchased from a private seller by a group of Tulsans and donated to the museum with the support of the Franklin family.

More at the link

The Nineteenth

I missed this anniversary, two months ago now, but it deserves to be remembered. From CBS News:

19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote was passed 100 years ago today

The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing American women the right to vote, celebrates a big birthday on Tuesday, as it was passed by both chambers of Congress 100 years ago on June 4, 1919. According to the National Archives, the House of Representatives first passed the amendment on May 21, 1919, and two weeks later, on June 4, the Senate followed with a vote of 56 to 25. The next year, following approval by three-fourths of state legislatures, the amendment was ratified into the Constitution.  

The opening of the Amendment’s text reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

Since the 19th Amendment’s passage, women have helped inaugurate a new era of American politics. In fact, many historians can point a clear line from the passage of the 19th amendment to the passage of Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s and the current movements seeking to offer greater federal protections for gay and transgender Americans.  

The 19th Amendment emerged out of the Progressive Era in American politics, a period of increased social activism and economic reform during the first two decades of the 20th century. Suffragists like Jeannette Rankin, the first female member of the House of Representatives, brought greater attention to the rights of women. Certain states like California, Washington and Arizona passed their own legislation granting women either full or partial suffrage in the early 1910s. Wyoming was the first to do so in 1869, when it was still a territory. 

The 19th Amendment changed the electorate forever. Some names are etched in the annals of American history: Winnifred Huck of Illinois, the first woman to win a special election to Congress; Gladys Pyle of South Dakota, the first woman elected to the Senate without previously been appointed; Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress; Patsy Mink of Hawaii, the first non-white woman and Asian American woman elected to Congress; Shirley Chisholm of New York, the first African American woman elected to Congress; and Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate. 

And then there’s Nellie Ross of Wyoming, the first female governor, Sandra Day O’Conner, the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House. 

Some historic images may be seen at the link.

The Starry Plough

An interesting article on HubPages from Liam A. Ryan, about Ireland’s Starry Plough flag. Excerpts:

The original Starry Plough flag was first adopted by James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army in April 1914. The original design had the symbol of a gold ploughshare with a sword as its cutting edge and the seven stars of the Ursa Major constellation superimposed upon it, with a green background. This flag is also carried by the Irish Republican Socialist Movement although the various factions of the Official IRA used it quite prominently as a de facto logo in the not so distant past. The original Starry Plough was designed as the military ‘colours’ or standard of the Irish Citizen Army and this explains its slightly oversized appearance when reproduced on conventional flag dimensions. In recent times the Provisional Sinn Fein splinter group Éirigi have to a certain extent re-claimed the ICA version of the Starry Plough flag.

The modern-day Starry Plough design with its striking seven white stars on blue background made its first appearance during the 1930s as the emblem of the Republican Congress. The Republican Congress of the 1930s was a Left-wing Republican political construct created by Peadar O’Donnell and others in the hope of placing Irish Republicanism on a more overtly Leftist trajectory. Since then, the modern day Starry Plough has been intrinsically and rightly linked to Irish Republican Socialism.

Various Irish Trades Unions have adopted both versions of the Starry Plough or incorporated them into their emblems over the years. The Irish Labour Party at one stage used it as their party logo, on a brownish-red background but have since ditched it, along with any pretence at being remotely a Socialist party after habitually paddling in the murky waters of coalition government with Fine Gael, a party who spawned Ireland’s only significant fascist movement, the Blueshirts.

The Communist Party of Ireland’s youth wing, the Connolly Youth Movement, have used the Starry Plough in their banners. One of the most iconic images from the early ‘Troubles’, showed militant Belfast Official IRA leader, Joe McCann, armed with an M1 Carbine, with the Starry Plough flag flying beside him at the battle of Inglis’ Bakery in the Markets area of Belfast.

The Workers Party use the early Starry Plough design (which is also known as the Plough and Stars) in their party logo and for some time that version of the flag was closely associated with the Stickies [members of the Official IRA after the Provisional IRA split from it – JG]. However, over this past two decades the original Starry Plough flag has been carried by the Irish Republican Socialist Movement during demonstrations and in Colour Parties, along with the modern Republican Congress version of the flag – the instantly recognisable 7 stars on blue background.

All contemporary Irish Republican organisations, including Provisional Sinn Fein, Republican Sinn Fein, Saoradh, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and others carry the Starry Plough flag during parades, although it is more for traditional symbolic purposes than any real political commitment to Connolly’s Marxism. During a Free State army commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, one of their colour parties carried the original Starry Plough standard of Connolly’s Marxist militia, the Irish Citizen Army. One may very well ask what connection the Free State armed forces could ever claim to have to the Revolutionary Socialist flag of a worker’s militia, the ICA.

In recent years a version of the Republican Congress Starry Plough with a red background has become increasingly popular, especially after its very public appearance at the funeral of veteran Derry Republican Socialist, Seamus ‘Chang’ Coyle. Although it is unlikely that the red background ‘Plough will ever replace the more established designs, it certainly complements them. With a border poll becoming an increasingly popular issue in Ireland and Irish reunification a serious possibility, the Starry Plough flag may well take on an even increased significance as the rallying standard of the Irish working class, as envisioned by James Connolly and Seamus Costello.

I’m curious about the existence of the IRSP/INLA, three of whose members died on hunger strike in 1981. Why would you join this party and its “military wing,” and not Sinn Fein/PIRA? The latter claims political legitimacy from the Easter Rising of 1916, the Second Dial, and opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty/Irish Free State. I understand the historic importance of James Connolly and the ICA, but making Irish republicanism more “socialist” was what caused the PIRA to split from the “Stickies” – it was ultimately a distraction from the real business of a united, 32-county republic of Ireland.

I wonder what sort of feuding went on between the PIRA and INLA…

The Treaty of Versailles

From the National Post:

A century after the Treaty of Versailles, its anniversary passes largely unobserved

The treaty that formally ended the First World War was widely seen as a failure, but to forget about it is to risk romanticizing the war

One hundred Junes ago, the world had a go at ensuring peace for Europe. Heads of state convened in a palace in the suburbs of Paris and tried to resolve 51 months of war. One of the products of the meeting, the Treaty of Versailles, is now treated as a failure.

“I think that Versailles is tinged almost forever with this kind of air of disillusionment and sorrow that all that suffering didn’t lead to something more conclusive and inspiring,” says Ian McKay, director of the L.R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University. “So maybe that’s why we’re not celebrating the anniversary.”

June 28 marks the centennial of the signing of the treaty, the document that formally ended the First World War. It was a product of the Paris Peace Conference, which also created the League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations. The treaty focused on Germany, to which it assigned new borders and — most controversially — blame for the war.

Other centenaries of the Great War have attracted great ceremony. For the Armistice in November 2018 and the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined other world leaders in France.

The prime minister is not marking the anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles; his office says Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan will post about it on social media. The lack of celebration could be explained by the treaty’s failures. It is criticized for being too harsh on Germany and contributing to its aggression in the 1930s and ’40s. The treaty also did not prevent wars in the Balkans, Turkey and Eastern Ukraine. Still, some historians urge people to remember the treaty not so much to learn from it as to prevent them from romanticizing the war’s legacy.

“What Versailles really did was humiliate Germany,” says McKay. “I really appreciate people who want to say, ‘Okay, thank goodness our boys died for something heroic and noble, and the world is a better place as a result of it.’ I would really love to believe that, but when you look soberly at the history of the 20th century, maybe 90 million deaths caused as a direct application of warfare, it’s hard for me to draw that optimistic conclusion.”

Tragic or not, the Treaty deserves to be remembered.

Normally the Canadian media never misses an opportunity to play up the Canadian angle, and I’m surprised that this article did not mention Canada’s participation at the Paris Peace Conference. From Wikipedia’s entry on Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden:

Convinced that Canada had become a nation on the battlefields of Europe, Borden demanded that it have a separate seat at the Paris Peace Conference. This was initially opposed not only by Britain but also by the United States, who perceived such a delegation as an extra British vote. Borden responded by pointing out that since Canada had lost a far larger proportion of its men compared to the U.S. in the war (although not more in absolute numbers), Canada at least had the right to the representation of a “minor” power. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George eventually relented, and convinced the reluctant Americans to accept the presence of separate Canadian, Indian, Australian, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South African delegations. Despite this, Borden boycotted the opening ceremony, protesting at the precedence given to the prime minister of the much smaller Newfoundland over him.

Not only did Borden’s persistence allow him to represent Canada in Paris as a nation, it also ensured that each of the dominions could sign the Treaty of Versailles in its own right, and receive a separate membership in the League of Nations. During the conference Borden tried to act as an intermediary between the United States and other members of the British Empire delegation, particularly Australia and New Zealand over the issue of Mandates. Borden also discussed with Lloyd George, the possibility of Canada taking over the administration of Belize and the West Indies, but no agreement was reached.

At Borden’s insistence, the treaty was ratified by the Canadian Parliament.