Category Archives: World War II

Vietnam War veteran Len Brooks, from New Jersey, places his hands on names on the Wall That Heals, which is a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. and is on display on the LBJ Presidential Library plaza everyday of the  Vietnam War Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library on the University of Texas at Austin campus. 
RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Episode 039 Ken Burns and Coming to Terms with The Vietnam War


This week I speak with America’s most acclaimed documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, about his new project, The Vietnam War. This 10-part, 18-hour epic debuts on PBS on September 17, 2017. Vietnam has long been one of the most divisive events in recent US history. And yet, after making films on the two most popular wars in US history, the Civil War and World War II, Ken Burns has taken on this extraordinarily complicated and emotion-filled topic. It’s sure to generate a lot of commentary and — as he and I discuss in this interview — hopefully, many conversations in homes across the US. This episode begins with a short set-up piece, kind of a Vietnam 101, and then moves on to the main event, my interview with Ken Burns. I hope you enjoy listening as much as I did.

Among the many things discussed in this episode:

Why Ken Burns chose to tackle the Vietnam War.

Why Americans initially supported the Vietnam War.

What eventually made the Vietnam War so controversial.

Why Ken Burns thinks his film has the potential to bring a divided America together.

How the Vietnam Wall went from controversy to sacred space.

About Ken Burns – website

Further Reading

Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Vietnam War: An Intimate History (2017)

David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (1972)

Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History (1991)

Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (1989)

Smithsonian, The Vietnam War: The Definitive Illustrated History (2017)

Karen Gottschang Turner, Even the Women Must Fight: Memories of War from North Vietnam (1998)

Music for This Episode

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Hefferman, “Discovery” (Free Music Archive)

Blue Dot Sessions, “Sage the Hunter” (Free Music Archive)

Hefferman, “Winter’s Trek” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

Production Credits

Executive Producer: Lulu Spencer

Technical Advisors: Holly Hunt and Jesse Anderson

Podcasting Consultant: Darrell Darnell of Pro Podcast Solutions

Photographer: John Buckingham

Graphic Designer: Maggie Cellucci

Website by: ERI Design

Legal services: Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

Social Media management: The Pony Express

Risk Assessment: Little Big Horn Associates

Growth strategies: 54 40 or Fight

© Snoring Beagle International, 2017

History Unfolded US Newspapers and the Holocaust

Episode 037 The History Unfolded Project and What Americans Knew About The Holocaust


This week at In The Past Lane, the history podcast, we respond to the virulent anti-semitism that was on display during the neo-Nazi and white supremacist march in Charlottesville,VA by bringing to you an episode about a remarkable history research project. It’s called, History Unfolded: US Newspapers and the Holocaust, and it’s bringing to light thousands of articles that appeared in US newspapers between 1933 and 1945 that told American readers in vivid detail about the Nazi campaign to persecute and exterminate millions of Jews in Europe. And here’s a truly remarkable feature of this project — anyone can participate as a researcher – including you, or your students, if you’re a teacher. So give a listen to my conversation with Elissa Frankle of History Unfolded and learn how this new digital research initiative is changing the way we understand the American response to the Holocaust.

Website: History Unfolded: US Newspapers and the Holocaust

Further Reading

Robert H. Abzug, America Views the Holocaust, 1933-45 : A Brief Documentary History (1999)

Michael Berenbaum, The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2006).

Leonard Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America (1995)

Henry Feingold, Bearing Witness: Holocaust: How America and Its Jews Responded to the Holocaust (1995).

Deborah E. Lipstadt, Beyond Belief: The American Press And The Coming Of The Holocaust, 1933- 1945 (1993).

Christopher Mathias, “All The Swastikas And Broken Glass Since Charlottesville,” HuffPo August 25, 2017.

Arthur D. Morse, While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy (1998)

David S. Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941-1945 (2007)

Music for This Episode

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Ketsa, “Follow the Course” (Free Music Archive)

Hefferman, “Epoch” (Free Music Archive)

Hefferman, “Winter Trek” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

Production Credits

Executive Producer: Lulu Spencer

Technical Advisors: Holly Hunt and Jesse Anderson

Podcasting Consultant: Darrell Darnell of Pro Podcast Solutions

Photographer: John Buckingham

Graphic Designer: Maggie Cellucci

Website by: ERI Design

Legal services: Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

Social Media management: The Pony Express

Risk Assessment: Little Big Horn Associates

Growth strategies: 54 40 or Fight

© Snoring Beagle International, 2017

Jimmy Carter press conference

Episode 030 Presidents and the Media: The History of Political Spin


Subscribe to the In The Past Lane podcastThis week at In The Past Lane, we talk about the American presidency – specifically the history of how US presidents have endeavored to communicate their positions on key issues of the day. To use modern political parlance, it’s the history of “spin,” that important but sometimes tawdry business of crafting and communicating a political message in such as way that it enhances your political standing. American presidents have struggled to do this since the days of the Washington administration. To help us understand what spin is and how and why it’s played such a critical role in the evolution of the modern presidency and in the success or failure of individual presidents, I talk to historian David Greenberg. He’s the author of a fascinating new book, Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency.

David Greenberg, Republic of SpinAmong the many things we discuss:
How Theodore Roosevelt created the original permanent White House spin apparatus.

Why Woodrow Wilson’s Committee on Public Information during World War I is unfairly characterized as a nefarious propaganda machine.

Why FDR’s “fireside chats” proved so effective in promoting Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda.

How Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first president to embrace the new medium of television.

Why image making became so essential to presidential success in the age of JFK.

How Jimmy Carter — yes, Jimmy Carter – was hailed early on in his presidency as a master communicator and manipulator of the media.

Why spin is not inherently negative but rather an essential element of presidential leadership.

Why the mainstream media is held in such low regard these days.

About David Greenberg – website

Further Reading

David Greenberg, Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency (WW Norton, 2016)

Katz and M. Barris, The Social Media President: Barack Obama and the Politics of Digital Engagement (2013)

William E. Leuchtenburg, The American President: From Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton (2015)

Stephen Ponder, Managing the Press: Origins of the Media Presidency, 1897-1933 (1999)

Music for This Episode

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Jon Luc Hefferman, “Winter Trek” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

Production Credits

Executive Producer: Lulu Spencer

Technical Advisors: Holly Hunt and Jesse Anderson

Podcasting Consultant: Darrell Darnell of Pro Podcast Solutions

Photographer: John Buckingham

Graphic Designer: Maggie Cellucci

Website by: ERI Design

Legal services: Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

Social Media management: The Pony Express

Risk Assessment: Little Big Horn Associates

Growth strategies: 54 40 or Fight

© Snoring Beagle International, 2017

Haymarket Bombing

Episode 029 Spies, Traitors, & Saboteurs: Civil Liberties in Times of National Crisis


This week, In The Past Lane is in Chicago to check out a cool history exhibition and speak with John Russick of the Chicago History Museum. The exhibition, “Spies, Traitors, and Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America,” was originally created by the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC in the wake of September 11. The idea behind it was to exSubscribe to ITPL - ERIplore the way the United States has handled the challenges posed by internal threats — terrorists, spies, saboteurs, hate groups, etc — while at the same time protecting civil liberties. Some of the many incidents it explores includes: the Oklahoma City bombing, the Palmer Raids, the Weather Underground, the Haymarket bombing, Japanese Internment, the KKK, German sabotage efforts during World War I, Soviet spying and McCarthyism, and the militia movement. It’s an exhibition well worth seeing. Here’s a link with more info. I also took a lot of photographs, so if you’d like to see what the exhibition looks like, just scroll down a bit.

IMG_2083After I toured the exhibition, I sat down with John Russick, Vice President of Interpretation and Education at the Chicago History Museum, to talk about why the museum decided to host “Spies, Traitors, and Saboteurs” and why the issues it raises are so very important to our democracy. It’s a really interesting conversation about history and how it should inform the present. Among the many things we discuss:

Why Americans are really good at forgetting the past (and why it’s the job of public history institutions to help them remember).

How so many issues that we wrestle with in contemporary American society — immigration, terrorism, radical movements, violations of civil liberties, debates over security vs. liberty — are not new.

How the desire for security in America during tumultuous times has always been in tension with our civil liberties, especially free speech and free thought.

How America has always struggled to define itself and its citizens — What rights are essential? Which ones are the most important? Who should enjoy them? “The work of being a free and fair society,” says Russick, “is never done.”

Why “Spies, Traitors, and Saboteurs,” which was created 13 years ago, is still very relevant in 2017.

Photos of the exhibition: scroll down

Information on the exhibition: here

Further Reading:

“Exhibit on U.S. spies and traitors hopes to speak to present day,” Chicago Tribune, April 19, 2017.

Description of the exhibition from the International Spy Museum – link

Credits:

Music for This Episode

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Lee Rosevere, “Going Home” (Free Music Archive)

Ketsa, “Escape the Profane” (Free Music Archive)

Jon Luc Hefferman, “Discovery” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

Production Credits

Executive Producer: Lulu Spencer

Associate Producer: Devyn McHugh

Technical Advisors: Holly Hunt and Jesse Anderson

Podcasting Consultant: Darrell Darnell of Pro Podcast Solutions

Photographer: John Buckingham

Graphic Designer: Maggie Cellucci

Website by: ERI Design

Legal services: Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

Social Media management: The Pony Express

Risk Assessment: Little Big Horn Associates

Growth strategies: 54 40 or Fight

© Snoring Beagle International, 2017

Photos of the exhibition:

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white-christmas-musical

White Christmas Was A War Song?

The song “White Christmas” was recorded in May 1942 and debuted in August as a song in the film, “Holiday Inn”

“White Christmas,” the song that first topped the charts in early December 1942, was a war song?  It’s true—not in its lyrics of days that are “merry and bright,” of course, but in terms of the context that launched it to an exalted status in the annals of pop music history. In fact, the connection between “White Christmas” and World War II is but one of several surprising details related to the song’s origins.

Like the fact that it was written by a Jewish songwriter (as was the case with many American Christmas songs, including “Rudolph” and “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”).  “White Christmas” was written by Irving Berlin.  Born Israel Baline in Siberia in 1888, he arrived in America with his family in 1893.  They settled on New York’s Lower East Side, at the time the largest Jewish enclave in the world.  But not everyone in the neighborhood was Jewish.  There was an Irish family living in their building and they took a liking to the young “Izzy” and often invited him into their apartment.  Thus it was in December 1893 that he witnessed his first Christmas in America—a warm a delightful experience he never forgot.  Later as an adult, he married an Irish Catholic woman named Ellin Mackay.  Because they raised their children as Christians, Berlin learned to love the holiday (albeit, its secular trappings) all the more.

In classic American fashion, Russian Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas,” the most popular Christmas song of all time

Years later in January 1940, in the days following a happy Christmas holiday with his family, the now quite famous Irving Berlin penned, “White Christmas.”  He sat on the song for more than a year, unsure of what to do with it, until approached by a Hollywood studio to write the score for “Holiday Inn,” a film that featured songs about each of the major holidays.  Bing Crosby had been selected to play the lead and sing most of the songs. When he heard “White Christmas” for the first time, he assured Berlin that he’d written a gem.

By the time of the filming of “Holiday Inn,” Crosby was the most famous singer in America, perhaps the world.  His manly, yet emotive crooning was unlike anything that preceded it in the world of pop music.  This was due in part to Crosby’s extraordinary voice, but also to his technique.  He was the first singer to embrace and then master the microphone, a new medium for broadcasting and recording introduced in the 1920s.  Historians of pop music invariably speak of Crosby’s uncanny “caressing” of the microphone with his voice, creating an unparalleled intimacy and connection with his listeners.

Crosby recorded “White Christmas” in the decidedly non-Yuletide season of May 1942.  “Holiday Inn” opened in August and became an instant hit at the box office. So, too, was its centerpiece song, “White Christmas” (the only one sung twice in the film).  It hit the Top 30 charts on October 3 and kept right on marching upward until it hit #1 on October 31, a position it held for an unprecedented eleven weeks.  Decca, the label that produced the record, was swamped with orders and barely kept up with demand.

American soldiers in the Pacific celebrate Christmas in December 1943.

Berlin’s skill as a songwriter and Crosby’s talent as a singer had combined to produce an American classic.  But there was one additional factor that helps explain the phenomenal success of “White Christmas”—timing.  As Jody Rosen writes in his book, White Christmas: The Story of an American Song, the fall of 1942 was the first holiday season away from home for millions of American servicemen.  Demand by American GI’s for “White Christmas” records exploded in September – fully three months before the holiday.  The reason is clear: the song stoked their longing to be home with their families.  “In the song’s melancholic yearning for Christmases past,” writes Rosen, “listeners heard the expression of their own nostalgia for peacetime.” Indeed, in a way that astonished Berlin and nearly everyone else, this song of peace and love soon became a most unlikely war anthem.  Unlike George M. Cohan’s World War I call to arms, “Over There!”, “White Christmas” did not appeal to the martial spirit or vengeance.  Rather, it reminded Americans on both the frontline and homefront what was at stake in the war.  “When Irving Berlin set 120,000,000 people dreaming of a White Christmas,” opined the Buffalo Courier-Express, “he provided a forcible reminder that we are fighting for the right to dream and memories to dream about.”  When Crosby visited the troops in Europe in late 1944, his rendition of “White Christmas” brought tears to the eyes of the most battle-hardened soldiers.

For the next five years the Crosby-Berlin classic surged to the top of the charts each Christmastime, hitting #1 in 1945 and 1947. All told, it made the Top 30 sixteen times in the three decades that followed its release.  The song’s popularity and staying power proved irresistible to Hollywood executives who in 1954 released the hit feature film “White Christmas” starring Crosby and Danny Kaye.

Long after the film disappeared, “White Christmas” kept going, Crosby’s recording sold more than 30 million copies – more than any other pop song in history.  Dozens of singers, from Loretta Lynn to Destiny’s Child have recorded versions of the song, pushing total worldwide sales past 160 million – and counting.

None, of course, compare to the original as sung by Crosby in 1942, a song of peace, love, and fond memories of times “merry and bright” that arrived just when the nation needed it.

One last thought to consider: the U.S. has had many of wars since 1945 and each has generated its share of popular songs.  But none of them conjure up warm and fuzzy feelings like “White Christmas.” Indeed, some of the most popular were anthems that protested war—think Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” during Vietnam.  The reason is simple: World War II was the last war in U.S. history to begin and end with overwhelming popular support.

Follow me on Twitter  @InThePastLane

Sources and Further Reading:

Ace Collins, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas (Zondervan, 2001)

Edward Jablonski, Irving Berlin: American Troubadour (Holt, 1999)

Penne L. Restad, Christmas in America: A History (Oxford, 1996)

Jody Rosen, White Christmas: The Story of an American Song (Scribner, 2007)