Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Flipping Pages Through History - American Dreams book review

Flipping Pages Through History
3.5 out of 4 stars
H.W. Brands: American Dreams, Penguin Group, Copyright 2011, 420 pages
American Dreams by H.W. Brands is a historical nonfiction that covers the history of America from 1945 up until 2010.
This book takes the reader on an elaborate walk through the recent history of one of the more powerful nations in the world.
As each page is turned, details of events that led through, or oftentimes caused, the United States of America change in it’s
ways of government, policies, environment, and lifestyle of the people living within is laid out, ready to inspire and educate the
next individual that holds the book. One of the recurring details of this publication is focusing on how America interacts with the
rest of the world. Although one's eyes may be tempted to skim over the descriptive words and sometimes complex thinking that
comes along with a number of the stories inside, each chapter is very informative and the reader will likely set down the book
with knowledge about the United States that is commonly unknown to others.
From covering events such as the Cold War in 1947, to electing President Obama in 2008, many historical affairs are recorded
by H.W. Brands on the pages of this nonfiction read. Brands tells of the reputation-damaging fad of McCarthyism as Joseph
McCarthy frolicked around, pointing Communist fingers at people, left and right. The expansion of the ever-broadening middle
class as it continues to make its way in the world and how this class affects the economy it is a part of is covered in this book.
The strikes and speeches made from and inspired by leaders such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. as the Civil Rights
Movement made its way into the news feeds of America is retold by Brands as he quotes Martin Luther King Jr., “The great
glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right...We are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, the
Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God
Almighty is wrong” (88). Other major issues in history like the brutality of the Vietnam War, the scandals and impeachment of
President Nixon, the terrifying outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, the heartbreaking tragedies of 9/11, and even the invention and
upbringing of cell phones into daily lives is found within the pages of American Dreams.

Although the cover is pleasing to the eye and maybe even considered simple, the stories inside are anything but. As Brands
takes you through the past 60+ years of the United States, he presents stories, ideas, policies, and all sorts of detail unheard to
the present-day common American that occasionally have a complexity that was not expected. The words were often jumbled
together in my mind as I tried to make an understanding of the information being bestowed upon me. Although this was the
case for several chapters, I still found my interest in American history increase and the desire to discover what each chapter
had in store for me grew stronger with each page turn. However, no author is perfect and Brands is no exception because he
used a number of details that eventually lost my attention and I constantly found my mind wandering as I glazed over the words
on the page. But, if you intend to quickly glance over this book without a second thought, you’re making the wrong choice
because Brands does such an excellent job of providing great detail and slipping in information that not even the best and
brightest would know about America, and he does so flawlessly as he isn’t the slightest bit redundant with his ways of bringing
about new information. I would recommend this book to anyone who has a desire to learn the general history along with the
unique details of many events for the United States of America; you will definitely be satisfied. This was also a good book
choice for my APUSH historical nonfiction read because it wasn’t repetitive and it kept me interested while most other students
taking the class lost interest in their books shortly past the first few chapters, so I recommend this book if you’re taking APUSH.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Fight, Fight, Fight!

There’s a common human response to issues, big or small, that people resort to all the time. It’s called “fight or flight”. When a two-year-old has their toy taken away by the bossy toddler they’re playing alongside with, they would most likely either start screaming and physically try to take it back (fight) or they would run crying to their mom (flight). When one country is trying to assist another country and the situation progressively gets worse to a point where they can’t handle it, does that country either go to war (fight) or do they decide that the other country is not their problem and they stop trying to help (flight)? You see, this coping mechanism is applicable (and mostly used) in all situations. However, I’m just going to focus on the “fight” side of it.
It seems throughout history that most problems are resolved through violence. For example, the Boston Tea Party, the Civil War, or even the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Why do people resort to violence? In the book American Dreams by H.W. Brands, it tells of another historical violence, “...while standing on the second-floor balcony of his Memphis motel, [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] was struck in the head by a rifle bullet fired form cover some distance away. Rushed to the hospital, he was pronounced dad an hour later” (160). Brands continues, “...news of the assassination flashed across the continent and triggered the largest wave of riots to date. Johnson pleaded fro calm and declared a national day of mourning in King’s honor” (160). The violent act of assassinating Martin Luther King Jr. led to riots and more non-peaceful reactions. People choosing to react violently to a conflict applies to the APUSH theme of “people” because it shows what kind of people there are in the United States. So I ask again, why do people resort to violence?
One way to look at it is because violence is a way to get things done. It is usually done in a drastic manner and sometimes may even seem to get the point across, but all it really does is cause more problems. In today’s world, a constant problem is shootings and gun control. As each shooting happens, from the shooting at the movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado to the mass shooting at a concert in Las Vegas, Nevada, the issue of gun control is brought to Congress’s attention, more persistently each time. “I am praying that our lawmakers find the courage to face our nation's gun violence problem. This must stop.” exclaims former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords. The issue of gun control is a controversial topic that, as it continues to be brought up, results in more conflicts among American citizens as they argue and try to make their perspective known. If violence weren’t present in the first place, this issue wouldn’t be there.
In the late 1960s, there was a lot of violence present. The United States had recently lost a president, John F. Kennedy, to assassination, along with Martin Luther King Jr. and also JFK’s brother Robert Kennedy, who was a candidate for the election of the next president. With all of this violence going around, it was hard to keep the idea of “American liberalism” alive. H.W. Brands states, “Essential to American liberalism had always been the hope that people can resolve their problems peacefully. The blood of the two Kennedys and King, the blood on the streets of America’s cities, and the blood in Vietnam made that hope almost impossible to maintain” (American Dreams 162).

Violence is not the best solution to all the conflicts out there. It will only cause more problems. How much happier and more peaceful would America be without all shootings, all the riots, all the violence?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

From Conflict to War

Why do wars get started? There are a variety of reasons, such as for economic gain, territorial gain, revenge, religion, nationalism, and the list goes on. Now more specifically, why was the Vietnam War started?              
Like many of the conflicts in the mid 1900s, this war was over communism. President John F. Kennedy had gotten America involved with Vietnam, trying to help the Vietnamese government stay in control while communist groups attempted to influence the country. Unfortunately, Kennedy was assassinated and in his position of authority, Lyndon B. Johnson was put in place. However, even with a new president, the situation in Vietnam became increasingly worse and the decision was made to go to war. The strategy was to overthrow the communists in hopes to keep Vietnam under control, however Mike Mansfield, the Senate majority leader, warned against that, “This process of coup upon coup may be expected to become increasingly divorced from any real concern with the needs of the Vietnamese people. If the people do not go over actively to the Viet Cong, they will at best care very little about resisting them” (135 American Dreams, H.W. Brands). Johnson agreed with this statement, although he did not know how to act on it, so the Vietnam War was carried out. This war is an example of how America affects the world. The United States sees a problem elsewhere and they jump in and attempt to fix it, like that of Vietnam -communism was spreading and the Vietnamese government asked for assistance, so America took the issue into its hands.
In the novel, American Dreams by H.W. Brands, it tells of President Johnson’s biggest desire from Vietnam, “...what he most wanted from Vietnam was sufficient stability for that country not to derail his domestic plans. He trod a narrow path between too little support of Saigon, which would risk a South Vietnamese collapse, and too much support, which would appear alarmist and would distract Congress and the American people from issues on the homefront” (136).  As president, Johnson was more focused on domestic affairs than foreign affairs, so fighting communism in southeast Asia was not a preferred item on his to-do list. However, no one made him do it; the decision was all his to follow through with going to war.
According to the book,  American Dreams by H.W. Brands, Johnson started the war because “...he believed in what he was doing...He didn’t doubt for a minute that a communist victory in Vietnam would bode ill for the United States and worse for the Vietnamese people… ‘if we should lose in South Vietnam, we would lose Southeast Asia. Country after country on the periphery of the American alliance system would give way and look toward Communist China as the rising power of the area’” (137). He knew that if communism spread throughout Vietnam, it would continue throughout Asia and would become a much larger problem.
The second reason is because, “Johnson didn’t think winning in Vietnam would be inordinately difficult. The United States was the greatest military power in world history…” (137 American Dreams, H.W. Brands). The president was confident in America’s ability to beat Vietnam, so he knew it was best to fight communism under that circumstance.
Johnson’s third reason for fighting was he “believed that a commitment given had to be honored” (137 American Dreams, H.W. Brands). Kennedy had promised to protect the Vietnamese government from the communist groups that were trying to take over and Johnson saw it as his job to fulfill that promise.
The last reason to go to war was “Johnson refused to spend the political capital that withdrawing from Vietnam would cost him...The purpose of Johnson’s election victory, as he interpreted it, was to build the Great Society. If staying the course -Truman’s course, Eisenhower’s course, Kennedy’s course- in Vietnam was the price of the Great Society, he would pay it.” (137-138 American Dreams, H.W. Brands). The president believed that going to war in Vietnam would help him with the rest of his presidency and it would harm his presidency if he did not, and this belief influenced his decision of war.

Based on these reasons, President Johnson kept the United States in Vietnam to fight communism. Now that we can see the results of the Vietnam War many years later, did Johnson make the best decision by trying to solve the conflict or would it have been better to stay out of it?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Moving Forward: Civil Rights

Jim Crow Laws (noun): Legislation enacted in southern states after emancipation to restrict Black rights and enforce segregation.
Following the Civil War, many white southerners were not happy with the end of slavery. In order to keep the peace, a series of new laws were created, commonly known as the Jim Crow Laws. These laws worked well for the south for a time, but eventually the African Americans that it restricted acted out against them.
Rosa Parks, after having attended a school in Tennessee for labor activism and civil rights, was inspired to challenge the Jim Crow system, which had limited her all throughout her life. On December 1, 1955, Parks refused to move seats on a segregated bus. This action inspired E.D. Nixon, head of the NAACP, not only to challenge the Montgomery bus law, but “to bring the national spotlight upon Jim Crow, believing -accurately, as events proved- that a system that had grown up in the regional shadows of Southern life couldn’t long survive the glare of national television cameras” (H.W. Brands, American Dreams, 87). Nixon started a boycott of the bus system, putting Martin Luther King Jr. to lead. The APUSH theme of “Peopling” fits with Rosa Parks’ actions and the following boycott because it shows how people throughout America had the ability to act and change the country over time. This boycott and other events regarding the rights of African Americans began unfolding as Nixon had suspected. In the novel American Dreams, H.W. Brands details, “The city refused to relent, and the impasse stretched into the spring and then summer of 1956. Only after the Supreme Court intervened, ruling in November that the Montgomery ordinance violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, were King and the boycotters able to declare victory. The city acted vindictively petty in defeat, fining King $85 for violating a special anti-boycott measure. On principle he refused to pay and kept the boycott going. The city backed down, and in December 1956, more than a year after it began, the Montgomery boycott ended" (88).
Notice that this boycott occurred in the South.
Another racial conflict happened February 1960 in North Carolina. A few college students from an all-black school walked into Woolworth’s department store and sat at the lunch counter that was reserved for whites only. The employees were bewildered by this and did not know how to react. Finally the manager closed the store in an attempt to resolve the issue. However, the conflict carried over to the next day and many days that followed as blacks gathered to silently protest, and all throughout the South dozens of “sit-ins” occurred. This resulted in much violence, as white crowds gathered around the protestors and disrespected them by shouting and even physically assaulting. Due to all of the chaos, the movement received national attention regarding the Jim Crow system, although it did not solve all of the problems.
This movement occurred in the South.
Many other conflicts and movements, such as Sweatt v. Painter and CORE’s sponsored “Freedom Ride” (when blacks tested Supreme Court’s ban of segregating the interstate buses and trains by riding them), took place in the South. Why is it that a majority of the African American-related conflicts happened in the South and not often in the North? One key point is that slavery was majorly an issue for the South compared to the North. The Americans in the South have always had a different perspective on African Americans, so when laws got changed, it took a longer time to adjust.

Even after the Civil Rights Movement, blacks weren’t always seen equally. Laws were changed and restrictions lifted, but people were still racist towards other ethnicities, and still are today. With all that this country has been through, all the voices spoken out and sacrifices made, what will it take for Americans to treat each and every citizen equally?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

In the Middle of the Money

America is known for several things. If I were a foreigner, I would associate America with words such as freedom and patriotism, but would also think of the less significant things like the fast food McDonalds. However, when thinking of the economy, instantly, the middle class comes to mind, and there’s reason for that. The middle class is what runs our country’s economy. Why is this? According to the novel American Dreams by H.W. Brands, “Starting around the beginning of World War II the disparity between the wealthy and the rest of America diminished drastically. Wartime taxes took much of the income of the really rich, and jobs in war industries boosted incomes of wage workers” (79). Due to World War II changing up citizens’ money situations, many people became middle class citizens. Even today the United States’ economy is made up of roughly 50% middle class residents. This is easily relatable to the APUSH theme of “Identity” because America is largely known for it’s huge middle class economy, and it all got started in the mid 1900s.
The United States had a huge middle class economy throughout the 50s, 60s, 70s, and even up till now. Brands states, “...most Americans came to consider themselves middle class. Some distinguished between the blue collars of the factory floors and the white collars of the office suites, but equally often the former were thought of as lower middle class and the best-compensated of the latter as upper middle class” (79). If there was upper middle class and lower middle class, then why isn’t there just an upper class and a lower class? Sure, in America that does exist, but most people are a part of the middle class, and not so much the other two. Why do we focus so much on the middle class?
That question has been asked by many different people as has it been answered by many, but the results are too diverse to prove that one answer is correct. There are many other topics to discuss on the issue of the middle class though that are not left unanswered. In the book American Dreams, it tells that because of the large middle class, “Americans thought they were equal because they were equal -at least much more equal than they had been in their recent history” (80). Since a majority of United States citizens were part of the middle class, they felt equal with each other. Although there was an upper and lower branch inside the middle class, they were all middle class nonetheless and felt uniform.  “In the 1950s factory workers and office workers alike earned enough money to support a thoroughly respectable middle-class lifestyle” (80).Since the 1940s, the middle class has been the backbone of the United States; it supported the American economy well and it still does to this day.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Look into the 50s

       When one thinks of the 1950s, images of sock hops and poodle skirts may come to their mind, but what about all the horrors? The fifties weren’t all sunshine and rainbows, they had real problems as well.
       Let's take it back to a town in West Virginia known as Wheeling. The day is February 9, 1950 and Joseph McCarthy gets up to give a speech before the Ohio County Women's Republican Club. It is during this speech (known as “Enemies From Within”) that McCarthy claims to have a list of government workers who are communist. That accusation is just the beginning of what will tear apart many American citizens’ lives as fingers are pointed at them for supporting communism. This movement is known as McCarthyism.
Communism was a serious problem in the world during this time period, so calling people out as Communists was a huge deal. Those that were accused would lose almost everything: their job, their friends, their reputation, all of it. One issue inside of McCarthyism is that Joseph McCarthy would accuse a large number of people, and everyone else believed him. But why would they listen to him? What gives him the authority to waltz around the country destroying others’ lives? Well, that’s just the case; he didn’t have authority to do any of this, he used the tactics of knowing what was going through a majority of Americans’ heads during the time and acting on their thoughts and fears. In American Dreams, author H.W. Brands explains,
“McCarthy clearly tapped into anxieties current in the American psyche. Some of the anxieties were perfectly rational. Soviet communism was a threat. Spies did exist...Other emotions evoked by McCarthy were less directly connected to the communist question but no less effective in mobilizing political support” (53). McCarthy knew people were scared and vulnerable, which is just the time they will run to anyone who can bring comfort. Having people accused of being communists made Americans feel safer, knowing that with more exposed, less were out there.
With every communist charged and every life impaired, McCarthy gained even more power. The best APUSH theme for this situation is “Politics and Power”. McCarthy majorly affected politics as he claimed a large amount of people working for the Department of State were part of the Communist party. As people listened to McCarthy’s accusations, he gained more power and continued to impair the lives of innocent citizens. However, as we can tell by the fact that McCarthyism isn’t really around today, McCarthy’s power eventually came to an end. H.W. Brands describes to us in American Dreams, “In time McCarthy overreached, to no one’s great surprise. It was in the nature of his style that his allegations had to grow ever more outrageous, simply to retain the attention of the press and the public...McCarthy eventually assaulted the U.S. Army as an institution” (54). McCarthy didn’t know where his boundaries were, as it seemed he called people out left and right, and in the end it came back to bite him. After accusing the Army, Joseph Welch, special counsel for the U.S. Army, lashed out at McCarthy during a hearing about communism and following that, the awful days of McCarthyism came to an end.
As I read the chapter that highlights McCarthyism in American Dreams, I learned a lot about this movement and how out of hand it became. I enjoy reading about all the many details of big events in history that tend to get left out and I also love that I am increasing my knowledge on United States history, as I don’t read many nonfiction books. It is slightly hard to make it through each chapter being that there is a lot of detail and many words that I’m unfamiliar with in the book, but the outcome will be (and already has been) worth it and I am excited to continue to learn with every new page I turn.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The War that Never Ended

“Communism” was a word that you couldn’t use lightly in the late 1940s, not that you should now either, but because of this word, the “War that Never Ended” occurred. People were on one side or another; there was no in between. The sides were to be for or against communism; being for it meant supporting the Soviet Union and being against it meant being with America. As written in my current historical read, American Dreams by H.W. Brands, “By dividing the world rhetorically into communist and non communist spheres, Truman tended to confirm the actual division of the world. The United States had been trying to get the Russians out of Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe; Truman’s policy would give them an excuse to stay” (36). Even after World War II, the world was still split amongst itself with the idea of communism. President Harry Truman decided that communism wasn’t needed in existence so he got the United States involved with attempting to get it out. This applies to the APUSH theme of “America in the World” as the United States are intervening in the politics of the Soviet Union. This created what is known as the Cold War.
President Harry Truman was the leader of the United States of America at the time and he got things done the way he wanted. At one point, Stalin backed out of a promise he had made with the US president, which did not go over well with most Americans. H.W. Brands tells of how Truman handled the situation, “In the bluntest language he told Molotov that Moscow had better do what it had promised. The Soviet foreign minister was shocked. ‘I have never been talked to like that in my life,’ he said, according to Truman’s account. Truman retorted: ‘Carry out your agreements and you won’t get talked to like that’” (30). It’s so interesting that Truman would have the courage to talk to a leader, and a leader from one of America’s greater threats at that, with such a sassy and somewhat patronizing tone. There are many other places in chapter 2 of this book that show what people have to say and their point of views, and I find that so fascinating! There’s another man, by the name of Robert Taft, who took a different view than President Roosevelt on the topics of big governments and foreign affairs. He tried to keep America out of the second world war, and later “challenged Truman on the subject of military aid to Greece and Turkey” (36). Taft is another example of having a different point of view than most do.
Speaking of having contrasting views and bringing it back to communism, Truman and Stalin did not get along. That’s not all of it though, because it wasn’t just Truman and Stalin, it was the United States and the Soviet Union. There was a great separation between the two nations, all because of some silly perspectives. What caught my thinking was that nations don’t have 100% support on all their decisions, which means not everyone in Russia supported being communist, and vice versa for the United States, yet these two countries hated each other. It was the leaders that chose their country’s stance, not each individual, and yet the Soviets and the Americans did not get along. Why does it happen like that? Why do the individual decisions of each country's leader affect how each nation sees each other? Truman says that America is anti-communism and Stalin’s country is communist and suddenly everyone involved with that country is hated by the other. That’s not fair to the people who can’t speak out for themselves or even for those who just don’t care.
American Dreams has so much more to say about the Cold War, and that’s just Chapter 2. That’s what’s great about this book is that it’s a timeline, but not like some brief line that you skim over; no, it gives history from 1945 to present day in such unique detail. It keeps me drawn to the pages to find out what subject will be covered next and what stories will be told that the history books have forgotten to include. I’m enjoying this read and cannot wait to continue with it!