OTD in 1860 – the Crittenden Compromise is introduced

It was on this date in 1860 that Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden introduced the famous compromise legislation he and others hoped would head off a civil war.

Too much, too late

Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden was a founding member of the Constitutional Unionist Party.

The doomed Crittenden Compromise called for six new amendments to the Constitution that would essentially revive the Missouri Compromise borders for slavery, strip Congress of most powers to regulate slavery, bolster the Fugitive Slave Law, and guarantee the institution of slavery for the South.

South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens owned 276 slaves in 1860.

The impetus for the proposed legislation was the imminent vote of secession by South Carolina as well as the likely actions by a number of other slave states. Following the election of Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln on November 6, South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens called for a state secession convention on the very day Crittenden offered his compromise in the U.S. Senate.

The previous day, Pickens penned a request to President James Buchanan proposing that federal troops stationed at Charleston Harbor’s Fort Sumter be replaced by South Carolina militia already staged nearby. Buchanan sidestepped the issue, no doubt sending what was, perhaps, the unintended message that such a proposal might be accomplished with more negotiations.

Two days later, on December 20, 1860, in spite of the Crittenden Compromise, South Carolina

became the first state that voted to secede from the Union.

Still, Crittenden’s bill received lackluster attention as seven other states voted to secede by February 1, 1861.

Lincoln took the oath of office on March 4, 1861, and on April 12, Confederate forces opened fire on Fort Sumter, essentially making the Crittenden Compromise a dead issue.


Bigelow’s Detroit deserves a second look

Have you seen the film, Detroit? Few have – and that’s a problem.

CREDIT: The Guardian

At a time when the Whitehouse is occupied by a lunatic whose power is largely derived from his impulsive willingness to stoke the fires of racism, one would think director Kathryn Bigelow’s account of the 1967 Detroit conflagration would be welcomed.

At a time when all-blue American flags with a mourning stripe mock Black Lives Matter, one would think a film with such great potential to spark meaningful dialogue among whites who have no idea of the very real issue of police violence in predominantly black neighborhoods would be used as a teachable moment.

At a time when so many families either don’t know or fail to pass along to their children the history and personal significance of the turbulent period of the late civil rights era, one would think a movie, even with its imperfections, would be widely seen as an entry point to a past largely ignored and forgotten.

In all three instances, you’d be wrong to harbor such hopeful thoughts.

The film, which I watched last night, (along with only two other movie patrons), has been savaged by movie critics, and therefore, poorly attended at a time when no one else is making major-release films on topics that deal with that soon-to-be-unknown period.

The criticism falls into two overlapping camps. One is that the, (two-hour and twenty-three-minute long), movie doesn’t bother to inform the viewer of the active political movement within the black community prior to the riot. The other, predictably, is that both the writer and director are white, which both acknowledge limits the depth of experience brought to the script and the film.

My counter to the first criticism is that Detroit is not a PBS documentary in which context and richer character development can be constructed in four to six hours.

As to the second criticism, the pretentious charge that Detroit “made by whites for whites” may be, in part, true. Are critics unaware that a helluva a lot of whites have no idea that un-impugned police misconduct, let alone the myriad causes of urban uprisings, actually occurred during the 1960s?

I left the theatre feeling both helpless and hopeless, last night. The film’s gripping content clearly spoke to the contemporary relevance of the themes, something few damning critics bothered to notice. That accounted for my feelings of helplessness.

As for hopelessness, I know I’ll return to my students on Tuesday knowing they’ll have no prior knowledge of their grandparent’s experiences, much less Reconstruction, the period I’m now teaching. Of course, it’s my job to introduce them to this history, but without a dialogue at home and in the community in general, I fear, and with good reason, that any fruit borne from studying the past will merely rot.

Perhaps just as tragic, my own neighbors will dismiss the message of Black Lives Matter as they hoist their Blue Lives Matter banners, never once considering they’ve been conned by racists whose new ascendancy might be tempered by a film that dared to give treatment to an important set of relevant ideas.

Key research sources on the Japanese surrender

Key research sources on the Japanese surrender

Plenty of reading and plenty of coffee.

Plenty of reading and plenty of coffee.

In my accidental series regarding what I learned writing about the Japanese surrender, the topic led me to a wide variety of sources. Several of these I consider invaluable for anyone wanting a more comprehensive understanding of the process by which the Imperial Japanese government surrendered. Not surprisingly, some authors come to completely different conclusions over such topics as the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, the Showa’s culpability in the conduct of the war and subject of my inquiry, what factors caused Japan to surrender.

The most reliable digital sources

In my opinion, the best source on the Internet is Doug Long’s, Hiroshima: Was it necessary? Straightforward, well cited and demonstrating a superior effort to avoid bias, yet with an informed thesis, the site includes a well-respected counter argument, also well researched, by respected historian, Gar Alperovitz. The context in which The decision to use the atomic bomb was written is that of the highly charged political response to the Smithsonian Institute’s retrospective on the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Limiting the scope

I specifically avoided the question as to the moral and military imperatives having to do with the decision to use nuclear weapons on Japan. My choice was driven by the mountain of evidence that it was a number of factors that led to Japan’s surrender. As a note to those who believe the myth “everyone felt a certain way back then,” the record is clear the military necessity for using the bombs was dismissed by some very well-informed military and diplomatic figures. However, my purpose was not to enter into a non-historical debate, hence my silence on the matter.

A number of sources I used were primarily about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These sources are wide-ranging in nature and my research interest was narrowly focused on the Japanese military and government’s response to the introduction of nuclear weapons. Not surprisingly, there was great overlap in Japan’s reaction to the two atomic bombings and the dramatic effect of the U.S. Navy’s submarine, surface fleet and carrier-based air attacks that successfully blockaded the Japanese home islands.

I also steered clear of the invasion of Japan debate largely due to the serious misgivings of that invasion’s necessity by many top U.S. military commanders and senior diplomats at that time. Most commonly cited by those who opposed landing on the home islands was the evidence that the naval blockade made such a costly prospect wholly unnecessary as Japan was materially unable to continue fighting, even in a strictly defensive mode.

One counter to this position, perhaps the least examined facet of the Pacific War, was the fear by both Japanese and American officials of a communist revolution by the Japanese people, a possibility the Soviet Union would certainly have exploited had this occurred. This same concern, a very credible consideration, remains a supporting argument for the decision to use the atomic bombs before conditions in Japan worsened.

Understanding the roles played

It became clear my prior understanding of why the Japanese government surrendered did not include even a rudimentary understanding of Japan’s flawed system of government since the Meiji Constitution of 1889, (implementation), hopelessly and intentionally compromised by militarists long before Japan’s nominal role as a member of the allied powers in WWI, accelerating with the onset of the Great Depression. This latter period is known for government by assassination due to the successful and near-successful political killings perpetrate by ultra-nationals with direct ties to the militarists. The threat of murder by members of the armed forces clearly cowed many, if not most, Japanese  politicians into either supporting or remaining silent on some of the nation’s most controversial decisions during the 1930s and throughout the Pacific War.

It is the certain knowledge of this political culture of mortal intimidation that clouds the last great mystery of WWII. To what degree was the Showa Emperor Hirohito culpable for his empire’s wars and war crimes?

Organizing context

As I delved into the research for my initially planned short post, each fact begged new questions, the answers to which were needed to explain the original quest as to why Japan surrendered. Three elements of my search had to be considered as context for any evidence presented on the many subjects.

Tainted testimony: The Cold War’s first victim

The first of these was the period in which the claims were made. Any testimony given by Japanese officers and officials immediately after Japan’s surrender had to viewed in the context of a subject trying to ensure to a victor with expedient, ulterior motives that the Emperor would be seen as a helpless prisoner of the military rather than a war criminal. The primary message conveyed by those who gave testimony to Supreme Commander MacArthur’s investigating general, Bonner Feller, was that the Showa bravely risked death by opposing the war hawks, the holdouts to peace, by his stunning intervention during two Imperial Conferences during the four days between the bombing of Nagasaki and the Imperial Rescript ordering his subject to “bear the unbearable.” The failed coup on the night of August 13-14 only reinforces that theme.

The Showa Emperor Hirohito’s culpability

The Showa Emperor Hirohito in dress uniform.

The Showa Emperor Hirohito in dress uniform.

However, there exists a number of respectable scholars, Herbert Bix chief among these, who argue the Showa was anything but a puppet of the militarists. This presents the second element of concern – overt academic bias by the authors of many of these works.

The strong sense of justice, while commendable on the part of the authors, unfortunately has led to lapses in verifiable citations of the most damning claims. These assertions, such as the Showa’s alleged rescript to Japanese civilians on Saipan to commit suicide rather than surrender to the Americans, is so tempting to accept, and yet so apocryphal in its construction.

Given the U.S. Navy’s remarkable feat of continually breaking Japanese code, the absence of records documenting the Showa’s direct link to any such order, while not disproving the claim, fails to meet the standard of proof expected of credible historical evidence.

A cautious venture into the working of another culture

Finally, not being a scholar of Japanese culture, I cannot possibly recognize, let alone interpret, the nuanced meanings of claims, context and events stemming from such a culture as that of Japan. This underscores the need to seek out a wide variety of sources, including those in languages we don’t speak. While there will always be some loss in translation, we can’t ignore such sources due to the feeling uncomfortable, even vulnerable, because of what we don’t know or understand as is so often the case with expanding our curiosity into other cultures.

Still, these translated interpretations are still just as subject to bias and propaganda as any elucidation of the past. Both the Japanese generals, admirals and government figures trying to paint their emperor as faultless in the conduct of war used the argument that Americans could not possibly understand the hidden meaning in Japanese actions. This argument was willingly accepted by Bonner Fellers’ investigators, anxious to provide Washington, via MacArthur, what we might today call plausible deniability for the Showa.

In the end, I repeat my belief it will be years before a satisfactorily comprehensive number of histories can be written as to why Japan capitulated.

Book sources

In closing, I also recommend the following books I consulted as my research took on a life of its own.

The Rising Sun, 1970, by John Toland

Japan’s Decision to Surrender, 1954, by Robert Butow

Tojo and the coming of the war, 1961, by Robert Butow

From the Time-Life WWII Series:

The Rising Sun, 1977, by Arthur Zich and the editors of Time-Life Books

The Secret War, 1981, by Francis Russell and the editors of Time-Life Books

The Fall of Japan, 1983, by Keith Wheeler and the editors of Time-Life Books

Books I intend to read on the subject:

Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan, 2005, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa

On Active Service In Peace and War, 1948, Henry Stimson & McGeorge Bundy