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      •  Saturday Q&A

Saturday Q&A

Quite a lot of history questions this week.

Current Events

H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, asks: Why would Steve Bannon risk contempt of Congress by refusing to testify at the 1/6 committee hearings? Why not simply appear and refuse to give any useful responses, instead just hold forth about voting irregularities, cancel culture, critical race theory, fake news, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, the 'Deep State', false flag operations, witch hunts, fishing expeditions, Trump Derangement Syndrome, and all that—basically what he talks about endlessly on War Room: Pandemic and Real America's Voice, but this way with a much bigger audience.

V & Z answer: Bannon benefits from dragging this out as long as is possible. First, because his "brand" is that he's a rebel who hates authority and does not do what the mamby-pamby liberals tell him to do. Second, because he expects Republicans to retake the House and shut the whole thing down in January 2023. So, his foot-dragging may keep him from ever having to testify or, at very least, could delay enough such that fully investigating Donald Trump's role in the insurrection becomes impossible.

If Bannon does show up and testify, he may try to bloviate, as you suggest. But that is less likely to buy him time, because it's still contempt. He can decline to answer questions that might incriminate him, but he can't make a mockery of all questions, particularly the ones about Donald Trump that would not be covered by the Fifth Amendment. If he does, the Department of Justice would surely toss him in jail until he decided to start behaving. And he would have no legal leg to stand on in that situation, whereas at the moment, he at least has a claim based on executive privilege. It's a weak argument, but that's better than no argument.

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, asks: Last week, Steve Bannon, et al. failed to show up to Congress in violation of their subpoena. So, why is the House just voting for contempt charges today? What is taking them so long?

Also, we are rapidly approaching the anniversary of the election and are not too far from the anniversary of 1/6, so why has everything moved so slowly? Are some people (e.g., lawmakers who allegedly provided pre-1/6 recon) likely to skate because of the delays? I would assume if they'd been totally exonerated, we'd have heard about it from Republicans endlessly.

V & Z answer: Donald Trump had a taste for doing things very quickly, and not worrying about niceties. And what did that get him, almost invariably? An injunction, because he left weaknesses in his directives that were easy for lawyers to make into a point of attack.

The 1/6 Commission, and the other folks looking at the insurrection, are dealing with people who have already lawyered up, and who will exploit any loophole they can find, no matter how sleazy the loophole might be. So, better to do things right the first time, and limit the possible legal weaknesses as much as is possible.

M.G. in Boulder, CO, asks: I hear a lot about what Merrick Garland and the DoJ are not doing. What ARE they doing??

V & Z answer: Well, the DoJ has a webpage where they provide all of the Department's press releases. This month, for example, the DoJ has awarded some grants, and issued a few announcements of new initiatives, and the AG himself has given a few speeches.

Garland is, by nature, a cautious guy. And he leads a department that is, by nature, a cautious department. They don't reveal anything until they have to, and they usually spend a great deal of time making sure every "i" is dotted and every "t" is crossed.

It's certainly possible that Garland proves to have a spine made of something other than steel, but we doubt it. You don't spend 24 years as a federal judge if you're a person like that. He's only been on the job 7 months (and change), and several key members of his team have been on the job for even less time than that. In other words, patience is called for. Recall that Watergate took considerably more than 2 years to unravel.

That said, seeing what Garland does about Steve Bannon is likely to be...instructive. And note that when action could not wait, Garland has stepped up—he's involved himself in the school board nastiness that is gripping the land, and he's pushed back against the Texas abortion law, for example.

J.F. in Fort Worth, TX, asks: (Z) brought up the possibility that Colin Powell could've been elected president in 2000. This brings up a very interesting "What If?" question. How do you think a President Powell would've handled 9/11, assuming it still occurred on his watch?

V & Z answer:That is a very tough one.

To start, we think you're right to add that "assuming it still occurred on his watch" qualifier at the end of your question. Given Powell's deep involvement in national security and in counterterrorism efforts, it is entirely plausible that he would have paid much closer attention to the intelligence warning about 9/11 than George W. Bush did. So, perhaps he would have prevented 9/11.

That said, if the attack did take place with Powell in the Oval Office, he would have been under enormous pressure to do something militarily. That pressure was coming from the neocons in the Republican Party, but also from the general public. And as he considered the possibility of invading Afghanistan, or Iraq, or both, then he would surely have recalled the Powell Doctrine, since he's the one who came up with it. The Powell Doctrine says that the answer to all eight of these questions has to be "yes" before the U.S. takes military action:

  1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
  2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
  3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
  4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
  5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
  6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
  7. Is the action supported by the American people?
  8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

Starting with Iraq, it immediately fails at least a couple of these, most obviously #5 and #8. It fails even more of the questions, particularly #1 and #2, if one rejects the claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. One has to assume that Powell, as an expert in policy toward Iraq, would have been less subject to manipulation than George W. Bush was, and would have been less persuadable that the WMD intel was real, and less persuadable that positive things were to be accomplished by invading Iraq.

That said, we do have the problem that Powell eventually came out in support of the Iraq War, and used his prestige to sell it to the world and to the American people (pretty much emptying his "prestige account" in the process). Our guess is that the general did not really have a sincerely held belief in the war, and instead that he was playing the role of dutiful soldier. That is to say, his commander made a decision, and it was his job to execute it as best as possible. So, we will conclude that a President Powell would not have invaded Iraq, recognizing the folly in the notion that toppling Saddam Hussein would be some sort of panacea. But we concede that the opposite point of view, that Powell would have been persuaded to invade Iraq, just as Bush was, is certainly a possibility.

As to Afghanistan, it is unlike a military man to eschew military solutions, and Osama bin Laden clearly needed to be tracked down. So, the "invade Afghanistan" part of the plan is much more likely to come to pass, we think, especially given the broad international support for it. In order to fulfill item #2 of the Powell Doctrine, the hypothetical President would have insisted that the objective was the capture/death of bin Laden, and once that was achieved, and that the U.S. would not try to make this an exercise in nation-building. Again, as a military man, he surely knows that Afghanistan is where empires go to die.

So, that's a possibility of no 9/11 attack at all or, if Powell also failed to prevent the attack, then no Iraq War, and a more limited Afghanistan War.


A.S. in Enfield, NH, asks: I am devastated that large parts of the climate initiatives look unlikely to make it into the reconciliation bill. The media frames this as a problem with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), but the thing that blows my mind is that not one Republican senator is stepping up to help the Democrats with this issue. Is there any Republican senator that you think could join the Democrats on climate?

V & Z answer: At risk of being obvious, the clear answer is Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). She is, first of all, one of the handful of Republican senators who is willing to rebel against her party on occasion. Further, global warming is going to hit Alaska earlier and harder than other states. In fact, that's already the case. And so, although every major officeholder in that state is a Republican (excepting those who are officially nonpartisan), the state's official website has an extensive page on climate change, how it's hurting Alaska, and how time is running out. So, the Senator could presumably break ranks with her party without too much damage, either in Washington or back home, arguing that she needs to think of her state's needs first and foremost. It would basically be the same thing Manchin is doing, just in the opposite direction.

Dark horse possibilities are Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio (both R-FL), since Miami and much of the rest of the state are in danger of being underwater in the next 50 years or so. But Scott appears to be something of a fanatic, while Rubio is not known for the strength of his spine.

J.Y. in Salem, OR asks: While I am not an advocate for policies that hurt vulnerable people, I am curious why one of the Democrats' options regarding Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) isn't to threaten withholding federal funding to West Virginia for programs that affect his constituency. Trump and the GOP repeatedly threatened to withhold funding to blue states. They actually did it on a few occasions, including wildfire funding and the SALT deduction. All the talk is about offering pork to the Senator, but I think he gets all that he needs from his coal buddies. He seems to think he has nothing to lose and is untouchable. West Virginia certainly receives more from the Feds than they contribute, so there must be something that can be put on the chopping block that would make him wince and take notice.

V & Z answer: First of all, note that "pork" refers to government funds granted to the people/industries of a particular state. It is not possible to give money directly to a member of Congress; that would be a bribe and a felony. So, his financial well-being is not germane here. And he would certainly have interest in as much pork as is possible, since even if he's doing well, he needs to votes of people who aren't doing as well.

Anyhow, there is a certain amount of federal spending that is discretionary, such as emergency relief funds. So, Joe Biden could do what Trump did, and refuse to send relief funds to West Virginia. However, he would have to wait for a disaster to befall the state before that threat would have any meaning. Further, it would look petty and punitive. So, he's not likely to do it to gain leverage over Manchin.

Biden could also withhold funding that is not discretionary, like funding for highway maintenance in West Virginia. However, that would also look petty and punitive. It would also be illegal, and West Virginia would sue and eventually win. So, that threat isn't going to carry much weight with the Senator, either.

Finally, Congress could pass a budget, or some other bill, that hits West Virginia disproportionately. That's what happened with the SALT deduction, for example. Tinkering with tax deductions probably won't work too well, since West Virginians don't pay that much in taxes. But a bill that cuts funding for, say, treatment of black lung would hit the state hard, and might hurt Manchin. The problem is that, to pass such a bill, the Democrats would need the vote of...Joe Manchin. They could try to find a Republican vote, but we know how well that works these days.

In short, then, it's pork or bust.

R.K.P. in Chicago, IL, asks: Even though it's early, what do you think of Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-WV) 2024 election chances? He didn't win by much in 2018 and we have become only more polarized. I suspect all his efforts at bipartisanship will result for very little since he does not have an 'R' after his name.

V & Z answer: We would say they are excellent.

First of all, he is literally the nation's leading expert on West Virginia voters. He's been doing this for decades, and he learned from his uncle, who did it for decades before that. We would not presume to second-guess him, since he's shown many times (six wins statewide) that he knows what he's doing. This stands in contrast to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who has won statewide election only once, and who has clearly antagonized key groups that contributed to that win.

Beyond that, there is a reason that something like 30% of Americans are registered as independent, even if they are really not. People like to flatter themselves that they are open-minded, that they march to the beat of their own drum, and/or that they put careful thought into every decision. For some independents, they're just fooling themselves, but there are others who really are like that. That's also true of some folks who are registered with one of the two major parties. Anyhow, Manchin is clearly right in line with most of the Democrats in his state, who are pretty conservative. And he's given Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in his state enough such that they can vote for him, and then vote for a bunch of Republicans, and congratulate themselves on how open-minded they are.

J.M. in Silver Spring, MD asks: You wrote about the future need for security at Trump's grave, and suggested that people would want to desecrate it. Very true, but the other side of the coin is that for every six that want to desecrate it, there will be four who want to make a pilgrimage to it to pay homage. What kind of a mess do you think that will be?

V & Z answer: To start, we're not so sure that Trump's grave will actually be a pilgrimage site. His influence is already slipping, and there are a lot of people who had a fanatical following in their day, but who pretty quickly became afterthoughts for their followers. Just considering some previous Trump-like Americans, how many people visit the graves of Andrew Jackson, William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, Charles Coughlin, Joseph McCarthy, or Charles Lindbergh anymore? The Hermitage (Jackson) gets 150,000 visitors a year, or about 400 a day, and the others undoubtedly get fewer than that.

Beyond that, defacing a presidential grave is a problem, but visiting it to bow one's head, or to leave a flag or a stone or a coin or a MAGA sign is not a big deal. That happens with a lot of graves, and the National Park Service can just clear things every day (or as often as is needed), as they do with—for example—Ulysses. S. Grant's tomb (where people tend to leave cigars despite Grant having died of, you know, throat cancer). Oscar Wilde's tomb famously had to be enclosed in glass because so many women (and some men) were kissing it and leaving lipstick all over it. We doubt that will be an issue for Trump, but if so, the glass enclosure option is a possibility (also a possibility for protecting it from vandalism).

Perhaps your concern is that the tomb will become a shrine for neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the like? That basic problem is why military authorities made sure the location of Adolf Hitler's remains is unknown, while avoiding the creation of a monument to terrorism/radical Islamism is the reason that Osama bin Laden was dumped in the ocean. It seems unlikely that Trump's grave/tomb will attract that element, but if it does, it will be under the management of the National Park Service, and they'll just eject the whack jobs.

S.B. in Cambridge, MN, asks: There are black American flags up going around my town. It feels threatening. I don't know if I'm over reacting but it feels scary. What is with the black American flags and should I be worried?

V & Z answer: The flags are being sold by vendors who serve a politically right-wing/authoritarian/pro-Trump clientele (see here, here, and here for examples). So, unless you are a far-right Trumpublican, then the message they are sending is not one you're likely to agree with.

What is that message? Well, that is where it gets a little fuzzy. There doesn't appear to be an agreed-upon, specific sentiment. This is in contrast to, say, a flag with a black field, white stars, and black and white stripes except with one of the white stripes replaced by a blue one. A flag like that is a Blue Lives Matter flag, and sends a pro-police/pro-authority message, along with a tacit anti-Black Lives Matter message.

Historically, a black flag has been used to mean "no quarter" or "no mercy." In U.S. history, Confederate soldiers sometimes waved a black flag to indicate that they would not surrender, and that they would attack anyone who approached. Plus, black is just inherently an intimidating color (at least, it is in Western societies). So, the sentiments that the new wave of black flags therefore communicate are something along the lines of anti-authority, anti-government, aggression, and willingness to use violence if needed.

If you also wanted to add a tinge of racism to that list, or more than a tinge, given that the all-black flag somewhat references the Blue Lives Matter flag, we wouldn't argue with you. Ironically, black flags have also been waved at times by anarchists, and there are some of those to be found among Antifa activists. Presumably the people purchasing these all-black flags from places like Redneck Nation Strong (the second link above) are not aware of this.

Should you be worried? Well, this is not the healthiest sentiment when it comes to the well-being of the American democracy, that's for sure. Does it speak to any risk to your person? We would say not. In our experience, Trump supporters tend to be like Trump himself—willing to talk big, but not especially willing to act. Of course, on Jan. 6, some of them also acted, but that was in a big planned group activity where many people were heavily armed. That's different than one guy who has the courage to buy a black flag but maybe not the courage to take on a group of (armed) folks who don't like it so much.


R.B. in Minneapolis, MN, asks: I have been thinking about the Select Committee on Jan 6 and the subpoenas issued, and the ignoring of said subpoenas. I suspect that if any of them do show up they will say essentially nothing. They may even Plead the 5th. So, then I looked into exactly what is in the 5th amendment, and it has a lot of ideas within it; more than most of the Amendments.

I was hoping you could give us a little insight into why we have the "no self-incrimination" right. From a different perspective I can just see "no self incrimination" as obstruction of justice. And if you want to take it a step further, maybe you could give us a little insight into the cause of each of the Ten Amendments. Why were those the rights listed?

V & Z answer: Starting with your last question, the American colonies had a legal system that was, of course, based on the British legal system. And British common law often relies on precedent, tradition, and other understandings that are not actually written down. So, the fellows who wrote the Constitution—who wanted to give opponents of the document as few angles as possible from which to attack the document—chose to leave certain rights implied, rather than spelled out in black and white.

That may have been the way British common law works, but it wasn't enough for some Americans of that era—who were familiar with their history, and familiar also with more recent abuses by the British government, which often took advantage of the leeway afforded by common law. So, many prominent officeholders of the 1780s only agreed to support the Constitution if there was a promise to add amendments spelling out various rights for citizens, and various limits on the government. The ten that were adopted covered the things that Americans of that era found most salient. There were also two that did not make the grade in the 1780s; an amendment that would have said a member of the House cannot represent more than 50,000 people (which would mean a House with more than 5,000 members today), and an amendment that said Congressional pay raises cannot kick in until the next term. The latter was eventually adopted, but not until 1992.

As to the Fifth Amendment, that story begins with medieval-era trials, which were farcical by modern standards. At best, a defendant was hauled into court and not allowed to speak while their "trial" was conducted. This facilitated the habit, sometimes seen back then, of putting animals and/or deceased people on trial. If the defendant is not allowed to speak anyhow, then it's not too much a problem if they literally cannot speak. At worst, and more commonly, a defendant was subjected to some form of trial by ordeal. They were made to hold a red-hot poker, or were held underwater, or were forced to engage in some sort of combat, or were compelled to consume poison, or were made to eat dry cheese and even drier bread without anything to drink. It was presumed that God would intervene to save an innocent person from injury/death, and so if a person was badly injured or killed during their ordeal, well, that was proof of guilt and a punishment in one tidy package.

Eventually, the medieval approach was "reformed," in the 1400s and 1500s, into a situation where the accuser told their story in court, and the accused told their story in court, with each subject to questioning, usually from a magistrate or a panel of magistrates. In order to make certain that the defendant was truthful, they were forbidden from having any sort of legal counsel. Further, they were compelled to answer any question. If they refused, then they were guilty of contempt of court, and would be punished harshly. If their answers were deemed to be false or incomplete, then they would be punished harshly. The infamous English Star Chamber, which was around from the late 1400s to the mid-1600s, is an example of this that would have been familiar to the framers of the Constitution. The Star Chamber was a version of the Supreme Court, and was originally hailed as a much fairer and more just way to dispense legal rulings. But while it was better than using drowning or poison to determine guilt, the Star Chamber also saw plenty of abuse and plenty of railroading of the accused.

As a result of this, the English system of trying cases slowly evolved in the 1600s and 1700s. Instead of "both sides get to tell their story," it shifted to "the accuser must prove their case beyond all doubt." In the latter model, the task of the defendant is not to tell their story truthfully, it is to push back against the accuser's case and to expose potential weaknesses. With the advent of this approach, the use of defense counsel was slowly legalized. Further, while a defendant was (and is) not allowed to lie, they had (and have) no obligation to help the accuser prove their case. So, it is necessary that they be allowed not to answer incriminating questions.

When the Constitution was written, the Star Chamber was far enough in the past, and the adversarial approach was well-established enough, that the framers were comfortable with not spelling things out in the original document. However, to the folks who insisted on the Bill of Rights, the Star Chamber, and more recent railroading of witnesses, were fresh enough in memory for them to insist that things be laid out in black and white.

W.B. in Mangakino, New Zealand asks: As a very interested observer from Down Under, and an Anglican priest (Episcopalian), can I ask in what part of the Bible did God convey rights?

V & Z answer: Well, if you get out your Bible and turn to the end of 2 Corinthians, you'll find the opening portion of 1 Americans. That is followed by 2 Americans, 3 Americans, and 4 Americans. After all, if four books of the Bible were given over to covering the life of Jesus, then the U.S. is damn well entitled to at least as many. Anyhow, the God-given rights are covered in those books; particular 1 Americans 23:4-17, 2 Americans 55:6-31, 3 Americans 43 (the whole thing), and 4 Americans 12:3-16 and 14:4-19.

Although you said you've looked, and that you're a priest, and yet you somehow didn't find those books. Strange, since they run for about a hundred pages in the standard Bible (KDV; King Donald Version). Maybe Kiwi bibles are defective?

Just kidding, of course. The answer to your question actually begins with the doctrine of the Divine right of kings. It didn't always have that name, but for millennia, absolute monarchs of various sorts (kings, queens, emperors, empresses, shahs, pharaohs, etc.) claimed that God (or the gods) put them on the throne, and so they (the ruler) were answerable only to Him (or Her, or them).

The thinkers of the enlightenment challenged this way of thinking, and argued that rulers derived their authority from the people they ruled, and not from the divine. However, cutting God (or the gods) completely out of the equation was not going to pass muster at a time when most people were very religious, and took His (or their) involvement in human affairs as a given. Divine power has to be flowing somewhere, and if it's not flowing to the ruler, it must be flowing to the people. Thus the model shifts from this:

God(s) ---> The Ruler ---> The People

To this:

God(s) ---> The People ---> The Ruler.

When Thomas Jefferson was writing (most of) the Declaration of Independence, he understood well that he had to put forth a compelling argument, both for the American audience and the world audience, for why rebellion against the King was justified. And so he wrote this at the start of the second paragraph of the document:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

That is just a more poetic way of laying out the God(s) ---> The People ---> The Ruler model. Jefferson probably didn't believe that wholeheartedly, but when you're a politician, sometimes you say (or write) what the people want to hear, and not necessarily what you actually think. And politicians since Tom have followed his lead in this area, even though some of them didn't really believe it, either.

B.W. in Pasadena, CA, asks: If a restrictive voting law causes voting to become overly onerous in a particular jurisdiction, could voters have standing to sue, possibly as a class action, on grounds of illegal disenfranchisement? By way of example: if an individual were expected to stay in line for 24 hours in order to vote (without bathroom breaks), would it not be reasonable to conclude that they had been effectively deprived of their right to vote?

Has a legal challenge of this nature ever been undertaken, and if so, does a clearly-defined (or even nebulous) standard exist defining when disenfranchisement has occurred? Could this be an avenue to combat voter suppression tactics?

V & Z answer: They certainly could sue, and many legal challenges of this nature have been undertaken. In fact, pretty much all voting rights suits are based on the argument that "[X] law or circumstance made voting too onerous for everyone" or "[X] law or circumstance made voting too onerous for a particular, protected group." There are so many suits of this sort that the Brennan Center has a tracker. By their count, there are currently 54 lawsuits in 17 states plus D.C. working their way through the process, including 43 cases filed this year, among those 10 each in Georgia and Texas. As you might infer from the existence of so many suits, there is not a clear (or even semi-clear) standard for when disenfranchisement has occurred.

If all that is not enough, we have two additional bits of bad news. First, the current Supreme Court, and many current judges at the lower levels of the federal court system, have shown themselves to be generally uninterested in protecting voting rights. Second, even if the hypothetical suit that you describe were to be successful, it would serve only to change things going forward. Courts do not retroactively invalidate election results unless there was outright fraud involved.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, asks: Dr./Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) announced that he has prescribed ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment. Isn't there any way to pull the license of a doctor who prescribes a medication that is not approved for the usage for which he prescribed it?

V & Z answer: Misuse of the power to prescribe can certainly cost a physician their license, although the most common way that happens is if they turn their practice into a "pill mill" and become, in effect, a drug dealer for opiate addicts. They could also get in trouble for doing something wildly unethical, like responding to a request for birth control pills by writing a scrip for sugar pills.

Harris would not be in any danger of losing his license for ivermectin prescriptions, however. First of all, physicians go "off-label" all the time. This is common, for example, with prescriptions for children, where the drug's efficacy has been proven for adults, and experience has taught the physician how to adjust the dosage for non-adults, but usage for children has not been specifically studied or approved.

Second, there are enough studies about the positive benefits of ivermectin out there—even if many of them have been recalled, or have had serious questions raised about them—that Harris could make the argument that he was following the research when he wrote the scrip. Even if most physicians would disagree with Harris, based on current knowledge, "we read the studies and reached a different conclusion" is not enough to yank someone's license.

History Matters

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, asks: Was the decision to found the Confederacy controversial in the Southern states? What percentage of the white male population in the Southern states wanted to secede in 1860/1861?

V & Z answer:There are a lot of challenges when it comes to answering this question. As you can imagine, it depends a lot on what state we're talking about, and also what area within that state. There were many gradations between the extremes of "No secession, no how!" and "We should secede yesterday!" Opinions changed based on events; there were considerably more pro-secession folks after Fort Sumter than before, to take an obvious example. And, of course, there was no such thing as polling back then, so it's not like we can check the Gallup poll for June 1862 to get a picture of Southern public opinion.

That said, there were three anti-secession candidates on the ballot in the election of 1860s. One of those, Abraham Lincoln, was not on the ballot in any of the future Confederate states except for Virginia (where he got 1.13% of the vote). However, Stephen A. Douglas was on the ballot, John Bell. The former was more strongly anti-secession than the latter, but both clearly favored the continuation of the union. Here are their shares of the votes in 10 of the 11 soon-to-be Confederate states:

State Douglas Bell Total
Tennessee 7.7% 47.7% 55.4%
Louisiana 15.1% 40.0% 55.1%
Virginia 9.7% 44.6% 54.3%
Georgia 10.9% 40.3% 51.1%
North Carolina 2.8% 46.7% 49.5%
Arkansas 9.9% 37.1% 46.9%
Alabama 15.1% 30.9% 46.0%
Mississippi 4.8% 36.2% 41.0%
Florida 1.7% 36.1% 37.8%
Texas 0.0% 24.5% 24.5%

South Carolina is missing because they held no election in 1860, with the state legislature awarding their EVs. However, their numbers would have looked like those in Texas.

Anyhow, as you can see, sentiment for unionism generally got weaker the deeper into the South one went (excepting Georgia). However, it is clear that at, as of the election of 1860, there was significant opposition to secession, which was most certainly controversial.

We don't have great numbers beyond these, so while the secessionists eventually became a majority in all of the Confederate States, we don't know how much of a majority. However, one man in ten from these states who fought in the Civil War joined...the Union Army. So, that suggests that at least 10% of the Southern population remained staunchly pro-Union, even after Fort Sumter. Undoubtedly, there were others who remained pro-Union, to varying degrees, but who did not enlist in the army.

D.C. in Brentwood, CA asks: Would there have been any way in which the South could have seceded from the union, but just not fought a war about it? Could they have just taken a peaceful, but extremely obstructionist, approach, by ignoring all federal authority and not paying federal taxes etc., requiring everything to be dragged from them, with immediate recidivism as soon as enforcement stopped?

The federal government might have sent in some kind of force to collect taxes, I guess, but I doubt they would have mobilized an army and invaded, because with this approach, there wouldn't have been an opposition army.

How do you think this scenario would have played out, and could there be lessons for future models of secession?

V & Z answer: This is exactly what the Confederacy tried to do, excepting that John Brown's 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry had convinced the Southern states of the need for self-defense. So, there was no version of events that did not involve the Confederacy building an army and a navy.

And no matter how "peaceful" the secession was, there was no way the Lincoln administration could allow states to go their own way. First, look at the answer above. There were a lot of loyal citizens, not to mention enslaved persons, to whom the administration owed a duty. Further, once the precedent was set, there would soon be other states or counties or precincts that would declare secession. And that would be the end of the American democracy, and possibly the end of democracy worldwide.

Meanwhile, as of April 1861, the Confederacy was little more than a group of rabble-rousers backed by a legal theory of dubious legitimacy. The Southern public, the Northern public, and the world watched to see if they could really make a go of secession. And that meant that, when challenged, they had to be willing to respond with force. So, Lincoln effectively goaded the Confederates into starting the war by attempting to resupply Fort Sumter. The Southerners were left to choose: (1) fire the first shot, or (2) appear spineless and weak before the country and the world, and watch the secession movement collapse. Obviously, they chose the former.

K.E. in Wilmington, NC, asks: Thanks to this site, I have begun reading (well, listening to) the Oxford History of the United States series. I've started with The Glorious Cause, and I'm working my way through the volumes chronologically, and I'm wondering what to do when I get to the period from 1896-1929. The volume for that period (Volume 8, which, according to Wikipedia, will be called Brand Name America: The Birth of the Modern United States and is being penned by Professor Bruce Schulman) is still a work in progress. Can you recommend an alternative? Maybe Frederick Lewis Allen's The Big Change: America Transforms Itself, 1900-1950? I really like Allen's writing, so I'll probably read that one anyway at some point.

V & Z answer: Allen was a trailblazing social historian, so his work is heavy on cultural stuff, particularly pop culture. However, his writing is somewhat stylized, which means that it suits some people's tastes (including yours, obviously), but not everyone's. Further, that book was published in 1952, so it is not exactly up to date on the latest scholarship, nor was it written with a full awareness of what would, and would not, prove to be important, long-term.

Oxford is using a somewhat unorthodox periodization, so there aren't too many books out there that cover that particular 35-year (or so) period. Which leaves us recommending three books that each cover a portion. First up is Walter Lord's The Good Years: From 1900 To The First World War. It was written in 1975, so is also a bit on the older side, but that matters less here, as Lord does not advance or engage with any significant arguments about that era. As the book was meant for a popular audience, it is very readable, and it basically focuses on one key event per year as a case study. By contrast, if you want something more scholarly, then consider Nell Irvin Painter's Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919, which remains the standard work on the Progressive Era even though it was first published in 1987.

Next up is World War I. This is a tricky one, because most 20th century American historians don't do military history, and most military historians look at the whole war, not just the United States' experience. That said, Garrett Peck's The Great War in America: World War I and Its Aftermath, which was published in 2018 so it would be in stores for the 100th anniversary of the end of the war, does a pretty good job of giving a narrative history of the war, while also raising some of the important non-military questions that should be addressed (e.g., the effect of the war on American politics and American foreign policy).

And finally, there is the Roaring Twenties. The aforementioned Allen also did a book on the 1920s, of course, namely Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s. If you want something recent, and very readable, then take a look at Lucy Moore's Anything Goes: A Biography of the Roaring Twenties. And if you want something that engages with more substantive issues, then perhaps Nathan Miller's' New World Coming: The 1920s And The Making Of Modern America.

M.G. in Indianapolis, IN, asks: Perhaps you could share your insight into why the United States had to wait until 1944 to attack the Germans in France, and could not do it a year earlier? One terrible thought would be that the U.S. was an enabler of the Holocaust because they knew about it, but protracted it by delaying allied victory during World War II?

V & Z answer: We are going to begin with the message that Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote to be disseminated, and to serve as his de facto resignation, had the D-Day invasion failed:

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

And that's in June 1944, when the German army had been battered by the Russians, the Brits, and the Americans for 4 years (in the former two cases) and 1½ years (in the latter case).

When the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the U.S. Navy was fairly well ready to begin waging war in the Pacific, as indicated by a tactical win at Coral Sea (May 1942) and a crushing victory at Midway (June 1942). By contrast, it took time to rebuild the U.S. Army and to get a sizable quantity of men and material over to the European-African theater. The first major American action over there was Operation Torch, the November 1942 invasion of North Africa. It was a success, in significant part because the Germans didn't have too many troops there and were surrounded on all sides (Americans to the west, Brits to the east, desert to the south, water to the north). But after Torch, it was time to pick a new, target, one that was sure to be more challenging.

So, in January 1943, there was a meeting known as the Casablanca Conference; in attendance were Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, and a handful of other key leaders and/or military officers (Joseph Stailn wasn't there because he was dealing with the Battle of Stalingrad). The major question at that gathering was: "What next?" Both FDR and Churchill liked the idea of hitting southeastern Europe, but Stalin had made clear that was not acceptable. FDR wanted to attempt a D-Day-style attack across the English Channel, but Churchill said the time was not right. He undoubtedly knew better than FDR how much damage German U-boats were doing, and he surely also knew that major improvements in radar technology were imminent. So, Churchill pushed for an invasion of Sicily and the Italian boot and won the day.

There is zero chance that anyone on the Allied side would have allowed the war to drag on for another year just to give the Nazis time to kill more Jews. Even if Roosevelt, Churchill, and de Gaulle were that antisemitic (and they certainly weren't), the costs of a world war are just too great to bear for any longer than is absolutely necessary. If you do want to point fingers, you can blame Stalin, since an invasion of southeastern Europe might not have meant a quicker victory, but it would have meant quicker liberation of the concentration camps. You can also give some blame to Churchill, if you want, since he put the brakes on an invasion of France in 1943. But we would argue against that since, as noted, Churchill had good reasons for his reluctance. Further, remember the Eisenhower letter we started with. If an invasion in June 1944 seemed incredibly risky and incredibly dangerous to the general, then how about one in February of March of 1943, without radar and with a much fresher German army and navy?

J.L. in Chicago, IL, asks: I am guessing you saw this one coming and may have decided that, having addressed one definitional controversy, you might as well tee up the next one. I noted your inclusion of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki among "awful chapters of U.S. and world history."

They were, unquestionably awful but from the context of the other examples you gave, it seems that you did not mean "awful" in the same sense as a major earthquake or even the D-Day invasion. You seemingly meant something along the lines of morally awful in a way comparable to the Trail of Tears, Columbus' misdeeds, the Inquisition, and slavery—the other examples cited. Why do you think this, and why do you think it is so self-evident that it can be stated without explanation? In particular, why do you believe this use of nuclear weapons, especially the first one in Hiroshima—since I realize there is a line of thinking that the U.S. should have allowed Japan more time to surrender before the second use in Nagasaki—was obviously inferior to President Truman's next best available course of action at the time?

As you surely know, this is at least a point of some controversy and risks of presentism—an error you have warned against multiple times. So, your position seems to call for some explanation that I am hoping you will give in a future post. This subject always brings to a quote that has stuck with me for many years since I read David McCullough's Truman He quotes George Elsey, a military and political advisor to Truman, as saying, "It's all well and good to come along later and say the bomb was a horrible thing. The whole goddamn war was a horrible thing."

V & Z answer: The examples that were included were all chosen for one reason: Those are the ones that students most commonly ask about. (Z) has been asked "Was [item from that list] a genocide?" at least 50 times for each member of the list.

It may surprise you to learn that (Z) really doesn't have an opinion on whether there was an "American genocide." As best as possible, he tries to avoid developing strong opinions on controversial historical subjects, so as to keep lectures as fair and as even-handed as possible. Yesterday's piece was an attempt to expand on the two-sentence summary of the historical debate written back in April, as best as possible, and was not advocacy. Of course, many readers interpreted it as the latter. That's one of the shortcomings of this particular medium; you can't really use the framing that you would in a proper historiographical essay (e.g., "scholar X and scholar Y have both said this, while scholar Z has said this").

Similarly, (Z) doesn't have an opinion about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Aware that the "Truman did great evil" interpretation is currently predominant, he points out in his lecture that there are many books critical of Truman (and he shows the covers of some of them), and he notes that each student is free to reach their own conclusions. However, he adds, it is the responsibility of historians to try to understand the thinking of historical figures even if we don't agree.

Following those reminders is about 15 minutes of lecture discussing the many concerns Truman had on his mind, including (1) justifying the enormous costs of the bomb to the voting public, (2) throwing a scare into the Russians, in view of the likely post-war tensions that were coming, (3) ending the war without bearing the ghastly costs of an invasion of Japan, and even (4) saving Japanese lives, by bringing the war to an end with as little killing as was possible.

And so, he developed a strategy built around the two working bombs that he had at his disposal, wherein he: (1) warned the Japanese to surrender (Jul. 26), then (2) ordered Hiroshima to be bombed (Aug. 6), then (3) gave a speech implying that he would drop many, many, many more bombs if needed (Aug. 7), and then (4) had the second bomb dropped on Nagasaki (Aug. 9), so as to sustain that threat (which was a bluff, since he did not have many, many more bombs to deploy). After going through that sequence comes (Z)'s observation that Truman's plan worked, since V-J Day came five days after Nagasaki. That is followed by a haunting video that shows the damage done to Hiroshima.

Incidentally, the students also have assigned readings on the subject—a diary entry from Truman, a letter from some of the Manhattan Project scientists telling him that he must drop the bomb, a letter from some of the Manhattan Project scientists telling him that he must NOT drop the bomb, and an account of what it was like to live through the bombing of Nagasaki.

T.P. in Monmouth, OR, asks: Can there be no genocide without official government declaration? George Ambrose, the first Indian Agent for Oregon, said the purpose of the new Grande Ronde Reservation, west of Salem, was to protect Rogue Valley natives from white settlers of Jackson County and their goal of killing all the Indians. Ambrose described 20 specific incidents, some quite disturbing. He felt his job, and the purpose of the reservation, was to protect natives from whites. With soldiers, he escorted the remaining 323 Rogues to the reservation; even on that 33-day trip they were followed and harassed by the group from Jacksonville who called themselves the "Exterminators." That's not genocide because The Exterminators weren't completely successful, or because there was no legal declaration?

V & Z answer: While it was the Holocaust that led Raphael Lemkin to coin the term "genocide," it was his reading about the Armenian genocide that first got him thinking about the subject. He was horrified that a national government could be party to such a thing. And he was also horrified that, in slaughtering a million Armenians, the Ottomans had broken no laws. In fact, the general sentiment before World War II was that if a national government wanted to wipe out some population within its borders, then that was the government's right.

And so, Lemkin's activism was an attempt to fix this glaring gap in international law. He would not have considered the situation that you describe as a genocide, for two reasons. The first is that there are, and always have been, laws on the books that deal with individuals taking violent action against other individuals, and so there is no legal deficiency here that needs to be corrected or highlighted. The second is that if we start describing any murderous conflict between factions, or tribes, or clans, or denominations as a genocide, then the term becomes watered down and no longer serves its intended purpose. Human history records thousands of incidents like this, perhaps tens of thousands.

In short, Lemkin's purpose was to describe a very specific and awful sort of crime that had fallen through the cracks of international law, in hopes of preventing further incidences of this crime.

D.T. in San Jose, CA, asks: How good are historians at identifying which current events, during their own time, will ultimately be considered historically significant?

For example, both the Oklahoma City Bombing and the September 11th attacks were newsworthy events at the time, yet only 9/11 will occupy much space in future history books. Are there certain criteria that hint to an events long-term importance?

Do you think the Trump Insurrection will ultimately be considered a historically important event? Or just an interesting footnote?

V & Z answer: They aren't especially better than anyone else. Historians are trained, on the whole, to make sense of the big picture. And they can't know what the big picture is when it's not yet complete.

There are a very small number of events in U.S. history whose significance was immediately apparent. Pearl Harbor is one, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln is another, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a third. And in all three cases, that was because major change was unavoidable, even if the nature and ultimate result of that change was not known.

However, the large majority of important events only achieve that status with the benefit of hindsight. It was not knowable on January 26, 1815, that the U.S. victory in the Battle of New Orleans would be the final armed conflict between the British and the U.S., or that the U.S. would not again be attacked by a foreign invader for 131 years (Pearl Harbor). When the Supreme Court tried to "end" the debate over slavery by issuing the Dred Scott decision on March 6, 1857, it was not knowable that, in fact, they had made a civil war all but inevitable. When the first Model T rolled off the production line on October 1, 1908, it was not knowable that America's economy, environment, culture, and way of life would soon be profoundly transformed. When a bunch of UCLA computer scientists flipped the switch on the first node of ARPANET on October 29, 1969, it was not knowable that a new historical era had just commenced.

In each of these cases, the ultimate outcome was a foreseeable possibility, and might have been guessed at, but there was no way to know, or even to be all that confident. And so it is with the insurrection. Right now, nearly every modern U.S. history class has a lecture with a title like "The Populist Revolt," covering the years 1890-96 (or so). It could be that the insurrection is the last gasp of "The Second Populist Revolt," and ends up as little more than a footnote. On the other hand, it could presage something profound; either major fixes to democratic institutions, or possibly a more successful insurrection in 4 years. The historians will find out which it is in the next 2-8 years, along with everyone else (though the resident historian does have thoughts, coming soon).

R.T. in Arlington, TX, asks: Lately we hear phrases like "being guided by the science" a lot. I am sensitive to situations where people represent ideas as proven or reliable by applying a "science" label to them without providing any data. In that vein, what is the origin story of the term "social sciences"? Was it a way to dress up disciplines where the practice has a lot of "art" to it—like psychotherapy, for instance? How does it compare to more historical academic groupings like the humanities or liberal arts? Where would you place the fields of history and political "science" in these descriptions?

V & Z answer: Some readers of this site attended UCLA, as (Z) did. And those folks know that the campus is informally divided into "south campus" (medical school, dental school, hard sciences) and "north campus" (law school, arts, letters, and social sciences). You know where the psychology department is? Smack dab in the middle. It is located in the one building (Franz Hall) that is neither clearly south campus nor north campus. Maybe that's a coincidence, or maybe that was a product of careful planning; nobody around today seems to know.

In any event, the "sciences" in "social sciences" is not just an affectation. The disciplines generally grouped under that label, which include anthropology, economics, history, political science, sociology, and, yes, psychology either didn't exist 200 years ago or, if they did, they were almost entirely observational and description-oriented. For example, history books before 1850 or so were just attempts to provide a narrative of whatever happened in a particular era, or war, or lifetime.

It was the early sociologists, who originally described their discipline as the "science of society" who determined that human interactions could be studied using the same basic model as chemical reactions, or interstellar phenomena, or medical treatments. That is, you pose questions and then you collect data and try to answer those questions, making an evidentiary case for your conclusions. Eventually, other human-interaction-focused disciplines embraced this philosophy. And so that group of disciplines became the "social sciences."

As a general rule, "humanities" is a much broader label that includes any subject focused on human society and culture. So, the social sciences are all humanities, but not all humanities are social sciences. For example, art, theater, literature and philosophy are not generally included in the social sciences. In fact, many universities divide the humanities into exactly two groups: the arts and the social sciences.

"Liberal arts," meanwhile, is far and away the oldest of the three terms, as it dates back to the ancient Greece. They meant "liberal" in the sense of "free person with full civic rights and responsibilities" and the "arts" as the subjects that someone like that needed to understand in order to function properly as a citizen. In that time, astronomy, geometry/engineering, grammar, logic, mathematics, music, and rhetoric were regarded as the seven liberal arts. Today, the term "liberal arts" is used in the classical sense, to mean " a well-rounded education" (including arts, social sciences, hard sciences, etc.). Sometimes, it is used as a synonym for "humanities."


M.D. in San Tan Valley, AZ, asks: You have in the past, written wonderful insights on the history of the Secret Service and how they have evolved to better protect the POTUS throughout the decades. My question is, how are other countries protecting their presidents, prime ministers or even kings/queens? I'm also mostly asking about countries with larger populations (over 30 million) so no need to explain this for Monaco or Palau.

V & Z answer: Given the wide availability of weapons, and the large number of people who might consider killing a prominent official, it's almost unheard of for a prominent official to go without security these days. That is especially true since the assassination of Swedish PM Olof Palme in 1986; he told his security guards to take the night off and paid for it with his life. In fact, in many countries, security for some officials is mandated by law. That includes POTUS; they cannot dismiss the USSS from protecting them, even if they want to.

The only question, then, is exactly how the problem is handled. There are some nations that follow a very similar model to that of the United States, and that recruit officers from other police-type forces for an elite force tasked with the security of top civilian officials (and often the security of the nation's nuclear codes, if they have them). The Central Security Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party (CSB) is in this category, though its officers tend to be drawn from military units rather than from civilian forces like the U.S. Secret Service's are. India's Special Protection Group (SPG) also belongs on this list, and it recruits from civilian forces like the USSS does, though the SPG currently protects only PM Narendra Modi and his family. The CSB has about 4,000 personnel; the USSS has about 3,200; the SPG about 3,000.

Other nations have a much larger force that not only protects top officials, but also important buildings (in the U.S., by contrast, buildings tend to be protected by a separate, more specialized entity, like the Capitol police or the U.S. Marshals Service). The Russian Federal Protective Service (FPS) operates along these lines, with about 50,000 personnel—some of them military, some of them civilians.

Taking things in the extreme other direction, there are also nations who have a very small force that protects a very small number of people. The Groupe de Sécurité de la Résidence de la République in France has 60 people and mostly concerns itself with the nation's president and prime minister, while the Brits have a handful of specialized forces that number from 50-500 individuals and that handle various tasks, including Royalty and Specialist Protection, Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection, the Royal Military Police Close Protection Unit, and the Special Escort Group. The first two groups handle domestic security, the third handles security when officials travel abroad, and the fourth handles mobile armed protection for members of the Royal family and government ministers (as well as high-risk prisoners and valuable cargoes). In both the cases of France and of Britain, the security details are sub-branches of an existing larger civilian force; the French agents are part of the National Gendarmerie and the National Police, the British agents are part of London's Metropolitan Police Service.

In short, when deciding how best to handle the various security tasks that face a national government, there are really three major decisions: (1) let one force handle everything, or divide things up between several forces; (2) draw officers from military forces, civilian forces, or both; and (3) create an independent bureaucracy, or let an existing, larger bureaucracy create a subdivision.

J.W. in Los Angeles, CA, asks: Of the 11 U.S. national holidays, two celebrate historical International figures (Columbus Day and Christmas). Another reason to question Columbus Day as a U.S. national day of celebration is to what extent the U.S. should be celebrating an historical International figure rather than American people, events, or principles. But the reason for sending this note to Questions and not Comments: I assume that it is appropriate for the U.S. to celebrate International figures with a national holiday, so is there an international figure other than Columbus who would be more relevant for the U.S. to celebrate?

V & Z answer: Most national holidays do not just celebrate a person, but also—by extension—a group of people and/or a particular message. So, for example, Martin Luther King Jr. is an avatar for Black Americans in general, and also for the ongoing fight for equality.

Thinking about possible additions, we couldn't narrow it down to just one, so we're going to give you four. The first is Rosalind Franklin Day, in honor of the famous British scientist. She played a key role in solving the DNA puzzle and didn't get the credit she was due, in part due to gender, and in part due to dying young of cancer (though the Nobel committee later made a rule against posthumous awards, that rule was not in place when the deceased Franklin was excluded from the prize won by Francis Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins).

There are now two holidays that remind us of the historical oppression of Black Americans (and, somewhat by extension, all minority groups). However, the largest group of Americans to be treated as second-class citizens is women, and they don't have a federal holiday as yet. Franklin could serve that purpose, since she was both a trailblazer who pushed back against conventional gender roles, and yet a victim of sexism. Having died of ovarian cancer, her day could also be an opportunity to raise money for breast cancer. That isn't the same cancer, of course, but it's pretty close in terms of being limited primarily to half the population.

Our second suggestion is Albert Einstein Day. Yes, he ended his life as an American, but he started his life as a German, which is actually our point. He was not only a titan of world history, he was also an immigrant. We had letters last weekend about Irish immigrants celebrating St. Patrick's Day and Scandinavians remembering Leif Erikson fondly and Columbus Day serving as a de facto Italian-American Day. It's not plausible that every group be given a holiday, but perhaps Einstein Day could serve as a day for all immigrants. Note that Franklin Day or Einstein Day could also pay tribute to science and to technological progress.

Our third idea is Benito Juárez Day. Outside of California and Texas, which celebrate César Chávez's birthday, the nation's sizable Latino population is currently unrecognized with a national holiday. Juárez Day could fill that gap and, because he pursued friendly relations with the U.S., could also pay tribute to the value of international cooperation.

And finally, though it would never happen, we will propose a holiday that honors a group of people rather than an individual, namely My Lai Day. The U.S. has two holidays that honor the Americans who fought in various wars, with one of those specifically honoring those who died. However, how about a nod to those whose lives were taken by Americans? Most religions have some sort of day of atonement (or many days of atonement), and Thanksgiving was originally supposed to be a civic day of atonement for Americans. So why not a holiday for reflecting on the fact that with great power comes great responsibility, that America has made mistakes in its past, and that, as a nation, we should always strive to do better?

There are our four suggestions. As per usual, we will be happy to run additional suggestions, with brief explanations, should readers care to send them in.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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