Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Friday, August 17, 2012
Just finished Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party, and the Transformation of American Democracy by Sidney M. Milksis. The thesis is perfectly encapsulated in the title. In waging a presidential campaign of ideas over party, Theodore Roosevelt ushered in a new era of issues and personality-based elections. Parties were the clear loser in this new model. Institutional notions like loyalty and balance of faction became superseded by adherence to ideas. Natually, Miksis does not see the Progressive Party as a quixotic campaign of a retired pol, but a movement waiting its fulfillment. Progressives across the spectrum had gone on record in favor of a new political regime, one that sought to restrain the hands of the machine and replace the smoke filled room with an enlightented citizenry using tools of open democracy. Theodore Roosevelt certianly marched forward of Taft and Wilson in calls for primaries, referendum, and the like. One of the most interesting things about this campaign is how little Roosevelt stumped on his own past experience as president. Psychologically, this seemed to give him more space as an underdog and outsider (always the sweet spot in American politics), but it really was about chosing the direction of the country for the next generation. If the Progressive Party was more a baby in need of a midwife than it was Roosevelt's vanity campaign what happened after 1912? In addition to Roosevelt's abandonment, its constant infighting among diverse constitiuents, amd the Great War, one must add the progressive's strong belief in a candidate focused election, meaning they had no stomach for the gritty business of building a political party.
Friday, August 10, 2012
I am just finishing Eric Bergerud’s excellent Touched with Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific. This analysis focuses on the men, conditions, and structures of the opposing armies much more than on the generals and their plans. One of the best parts of this book is a chapter devoted to the unique environment of Papua/New Guinea, which was an active participant in the war as much as any other factor. Although small, there is a growing interest in examining the cross section between military history and the environment. My one big take away item for the role of the environment is that neither the Japanese nor the Americans/Australians were fully prepared for jungle warfare. It was an unfamiliar environment for both sides. Malaria and jungle rot (sounds like real horrible stuff) affected both sides. The torrential downpours and omnipresent mud tormented the combatants without discrimination. In fact, the allies were a little better prepared for it both logistically and medically than were the Japanese, although movement of supplies, including quinine, was slow in the miserable conditions. What made the Japanese soldier appear to be such better jungle fighters can be attributed to their intense indoctrination in the code of Bushido that they received in their training, not from some inherent predisposition to the terrain. This was an orchestrated effort by the army to counter the fact that their men were poorly equipped and supplied compared to their contemporaries (the navy definitely got the gravy in imperial Japan). Bergerud also discusses the native peoples of the region who wanted the war to go away. Australian Coast Watchers could survive in isolated regions, but the individual Japanese soldier and small patrols ran the risk of natives picking them off if they got the chance.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
My book Chester Alan Arthur: The Life of a Gilded Age Politican and President