NATO at 70

Secretary of State Dean Acheson joins eleven other foreign ministers in signing the proposal of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) while President Truman and Vice President Alben Barkley look on, 4 April 1949.

Continuing on in a sense with yesterday’s post about the creation of the Marshall Plan, today marks the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The scene we see above is Secretary of State Dean Acheson signing the agreement with President Truman and Vice President Alben William Barkley looking on over Acheson’s shoulder. Acheson was one of a dozen foreign ministers in Washington on 4 April 1949 who signed on in the creation of NATO. President Truman spoke to those assembled.

From here the measure went to the U.S. Senate, where passage of the NATO Treaty was by no means a given. Senator Robert A. Taft was just of many who had his concerns. Eventually the Senate ratified the NATO treaty in June. Eisenhower was the natural choice to lead NATO. The supreme allied commander in the Second World War at this time was the president of Columbia University and would take a leave of absence from the school in 1950 to lead the NATO troops in Western Europe.

Again, the more we understand the difficulties in creating such complex mechanisms as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Marshall Plan, the better we might see the wisdom in treading lightly on the hows & whys of tearing asunder their hard won gains.

(image/Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer)

The Marshall Plan turns 71

President Harry S. Truman and Secretary of State George C. Marshall shake hands as the chief executive sees Marshall off on the secretary’s way to the London Conference of Foreign Ministers on 20 November 1947. Marshall had given his Harvard commencement speech advocating aid for Europe five months previously and Truman would sign the bill creating the Marshall Plan five months later.

President Harry S. Truman signed the Economic Recovery Act on this date in 1948. Better known as the Marshall Plan after the Secretary of State who helped bring it to fruition, the initiative was one of the great successes of the Cold War. In April 1948 Europe was entering its fourth spring of peace, such as peace was; if you were living in Italy, Greece, Eastern Europe, or many other locales at the time you might have seen things differently. The most immediate crisis after V-E Day was relocating displaced persons and feeding the starving. Much of the latter task fell to Fiorello H. La Guardia, the former mayor of New York City who took the job of Director General of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) in spring 1946 and worked his characteristically indefatigable schedule for nine brutal months until resigning in poor health and passing on in September 1947.

Great as the work of La Guardia and his staff of almost 25,000 workers was, it was apparent that their endeavors were insufficient on their own and that a longer term strategy was necessary. On 5 June 1947, now two full years after the war’s end, Secretary of State George Marshall gave the Harvard University commencement address in which he laid out the case for an assistance plan to aid Europe. He called for a policy not to aid any particular country per se but a policy “against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos” more generally. The Soviets themselves could have participated had they wished. Events moved quickly after that, with bipartisan support coming from both houses of Congress. The bill passed 69-17 in the Senate and 329-74 in the House. All that was left was for Truman to sign the measure into law on 3 April 1948.

People often take initiatives such as the Marshall Plan for granted, in large part because they were conceived so well and executed so efficiently that we take their benefits for granted. Men like Truman, Marshall, Dean Acheson, and the late Franklin Roosevelt understood the mistakes of the First World War. They had seen the Bonus Army in Washington and the rise of Hitler and fascism in Europe. That is why they created such measures as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (GI Bill) and Economic Recovery Act (Marshall Plan). We would do well to remember just how difficult it is to execute good policy. It is extraordinarily difficult to solve problems well, and all too easy to undo good diplomacy through arrogance, carelessness, and ignorance.

(image/National Archives and Records Administration)


Opening Day 2019

Professional and college baseball players such as the 1919 University of Michigan baseball team were returning to the field in that first spring after the Great War’s end.

The days have been busy and full this week, which is a good thing. We took our students to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade yesterday afternoon to view and discuss the construction of Robert Moses’s Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. I concluded the presentation with a brief reading, just two paragraphs, from Truman Capote’s 1959 Holiday magazine article “A House in the Heights.” Capote lived in at least two rented homes in Brooklyn Heights during his time in New York City. I pointed out to students the one at 16 Pineapple.

I would be remiss if I were not to note that today is Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. Today is the earliest Opening Day ever. It makes sense to push up the start of the season to accommodate the longer post-season; they just don’t want it falling into November. I came across this photograph of the 1919 University of Michigan baseball team and find it extraordinary on a number of level. First of all is the stunning clarity of this image, taken not on the field but within the control of a photographer’s studio. The menswear of both the players and coaches/managers is intriguing as well. One of baseball’s most special features is that you get dressed up to play it. Baseball uniforms are not so much gym clothes but style wear. There is a reason the Yankees wear pinstripes.

When this photo was taken ball players were returning from Europe and rejoining their college and pro teams. I’ll probably come back to it in October, but as it would turn out the 1919 Black Sox scandal, and subsequent trial, would add to the bitterness and cynicism of the post-Great War milieu in the early 1920s.

Enjoy the season.

(image/Rentschler’s Studio, Ann Arbor, Michigan; Bentley Historical Library)

Sunday morning coffee

A First Army field jacket seen at Brooklyn Flea, March 2019

I hope everyone’s week was good. Blogging will continue to be light in the coming days while the semester is in full swing. There is just so much going on. Yesterday I began Eric Rauchway’s new book Winter War: Hoover, Roosevelt and the First Clash Over the New Deal, which is about the four month interregnum between the November 1932 election and March 1933 inaugural. Almost fifteen years ago now I read Rauchway’s Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt’s America for a class on the Gilded Age with David Nasaw. I’m only about fifty pages in but the tone so far is very harsh toward Hoover. I’ll come back to it with more observations when I finish the book.

I was at Brooklyn Flea across the street from the Barclays Center yesterday, where I bough a small leather wallet and a pair of cuff links. I’m transitioning to wearing suits more and am making French cuff shirts part of my arsenal. I have three suits now and intend to get a solid grey worsted or flannel number over the summer in time for the fall semester. All in due time.

When I was at the flea market yesterday I saw what I though might be a pasteover Beatles Butcher cover. I don’t own any vinyl, nor do I plan on going down that rabbit hole, but when I saw a copy of Yesterday and Today in a bin I had to stop and look. The anodyne trunk photograph was pasted on, which led me to think it might have been a second state copy. I mentioned it to the vendor, telling him what he may have on his hands, and even got him to take a picture of me with the album cover. When I got home I examined the photo while reading online about ways to tell if a record is indeed a Butcher second state. (First and third state versions are obvious.) To make a long story short it was not a Butcher cover, and the giveaway was right there even though I was unaware of it in the moment: the copy I saw had an RIAA Gold Record seal, an indicator that this was a later pressing. And that was the end of that.

I did see and photograph the First Army field jacket you see above. Even had it been in my size I would not have purchased the coat. Putting it mildly, it is bad form to wear military gear with patches if one has not served with said unit. Seeing it though was something special. I always wonder when I encounter such things in second-hand places how they got where they did. Who owned it and where & when did he serve? Two years ago I bought a heavy winter coat, made in England many decades ago, in a thrift store in Pompano Beach. It is entirely speculation on my part but I can surmise that the double-breasted, full-length coat once belonged to a retiree who brought the piece down with him from the Northeast only to bring it to Goodwill upon realizing he would never need it in sub-tropical Florida. I think of him and who he might have been every time I put it on, and try to live up to his legacy.

A little Sunday reading

The New York City Mayor’s Committee on Permanent War Memorial’s official rendering for the unrealized enduring monument.

Here is a little something to read over the remainder of one’s weekend: my piece at Roads to the Great War about the temporary Victory Arch built in Madison Square in the winter of 1919. This is the article I was alluding to last week when I posted the pictures of the return of the 27th Division. I have always found it interesting the way civic leaders built such ornate edifices knowing they would be used hard for a few short months or years and then torn down. Almost all of the facilities built for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago for instance, were temporary assemblies built not of marble or granite but timber and plaster of Paris. The White City in all its majesty appeared poised to stand for centuries when in reality its wood and plaster would not have withstood more than one or two Chicago winters. At least we have the stories and photographs to remember them by.

Enjoy your Sunday.

(image/New York State Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections)


La Guardia & FDR, October 1936

Fiorello La Guardia and Franklin Roosevelt break ground on the “tube” connecting Manhattan and Queens one month prior to the 1936 national election. Members of Local 184 made Roosevelt an honorary member during the ceremony. After this long day, Roosevelt traveled north of the city to his home in Hyde Park. New Deal funds totaling $58,000,000 in 1930s dollars went into building the tunnel, which opened one month ahead of schedule in October 1940. Roosevelt was the first to drive across.

I wish the image quality were higher but there is surprisingly little documentation of this historical moment. Here we see Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and President Roosevelt at the groundbreaking for what we now call the Queens–Midtown Tunnel. The photograph is from the 3 October 1936 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the day after the groundbreaking. I was not aware until I began co-teaching this course in January of the size and scope of the infrastructure projects built in New York City under the New Deal. Of course I was aware of such efforts as refurbishing Civil War battlefields, tidying parks, planting trees, building small-scale restrooms and picnic areas along byways. But large scale infrastructure is something on a whole other magnitude.

Municipal leaders outside Gotham believed the fix was in between Roosevelt and La Guardia. That is understandable given that Roosevelt had previously been the governor of New York and that he and Eleanor still owned a house on East 65th Street. The reality though was that New York City and State entered the New Deal process earlier than most locales because men like Herbert Lehman, Robert Moses, and Fiorello La Guardia were ready from the outset with plans. As the 1930s went on other municipalities caught up in real dollars.

This image we see here, grainy as it is, was taken about one month prior to the 1936 national campaign in which Roosevelt ran for re-election against Al Landon. La Guardia was a Progressive Republican supporting Roosevelt. Both men understood the power of publicity and the photo op. Roosevelt’s radio address was broadcast nationally. More than 100,000 people, many of them schoolchildren, turned out on 2 October 1936 to see Roosevelt speak, Mayor La Guardia, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, and Senator Robert F. Wagner also sharing the stage. (Earlier the same day this photo was taken La Guardia and Roosevelt together attended Game 2 of the Yankees-Giants World Series at the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan, a game the Yankees won 18-4.) While many did not realize it at the time–though given his political instincts Roosevelt almost certainly did–the 1936 presidential election sealed the coalition of conservative white Southern Democrats, blue collar trade unionists, rural populists, African-Americans, and ethnic voters that largely held together until the tumult of the 1960s.

The return of the 27th Division

The Eagle captured the excitement of the Leviathan’s return while noting signs of the coming difficulty in securing the peace. The Mauretania returned this same day with another 3,500 men from the 27th Division.

A few minutes ago on this rainy Sunday morning I hit send and submitted something that hopefully will appear in an online venue toward the end of the month. I suppose this will give away the topic, but in my research I found these incredible images we see of men from the 27th “New York” Division returning from France 100 years ago this week. Nearly 15,000 of O’Ryan’s Roughnecks returned aboard the Leviathan and Mauretania on March 6, 1919. I always found it extraordinary the way the men packed in to these huge ocean liners by the thousands like this for the voyage home. During the Second World War Dwight Eisenhower and other military officials gave the men the choice of coming home the way the doughboys had a generation earlier, or staggering the launches with more crossings and thus fewer men to make the passage more comfortable. The thing was, that also meant more time in getting everyone back. Eager to get home and move on with their lives, the dogfaces chose the former virtually to a person.

Men of the 27th Division aboard the Leviathan arrive in New York Harbor, March 6, 1919. Arrivals such as this, with ships crammed stem to stern with doughboys, were almost a daily occurrence in winter 1919.

The Leviathan pulls in to New York Harbor on March 6, 1919. Dockworkers returned from strike to ensure the Leviathan and Mauretania’s safe arrival in the city with the men of the 27th.

(bottom images/Library of Congress)

Snow day

What is one to do when arriving at work and finding it closed for a snow day? Go to Panera Bread and get a little reading and work done.

This was me at 8:45 this morning after I got to work and discovered that my college was closed for the day.

When I arrived I pulled on the door to find it locked; then, I went around the corner to another entrance where the special officer told me of the snow day and closing. At first I was irritated with myself while retracing my steps down the street. So I went to Panera Bread, where I had a coffee and did some class work for 75 minutes before going to Trader Joe’s and stocking up on some things. The book here is Mason B. Williams’s City of Ambition: FDR, LaGuardia, and the Making of Modern New York. As the title suggests the book examines the relationship between the American president and New York City mayor during the Great Depression and Second World War. I am about 1/3 of the way through and it is becoming one of those books that takes me in a different direction.

Co-teaching this course with its focus on Robert Moses over the Spring term has been a revelation; there are so many threads to pursue and I am learning something new literally every day.

Sunday morning coffee

A young girl’s poem written in winter 1939 in anticipation of the coming spring and opening of the World’s Fair. The poem appeared in the 21 February 1939 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

I hope everyone’s weekend has been good. Yesterday afternoon I tried to see They Shall Not Grow Old at a theater in Brooklyn but alas it was sold out. The man at the counter told me today’s one showing would also likely fill up, so I bought a ticket for this afternoon’s showing. I’ve spent the morning continuing with this week’s lesson plans. Among other things I intend to focus much on the 1939-40 World’s Fair in Queens. Basically it was two fairs, one in 1939 focusing on an optimistic “world of tomorrow” and another in 1940 that played out after the German and Soviet invasion of Poland and onset of the Second World War. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle dedicated a great deal of space to the fair in the lead-up to its opening on 30 April 1939 when President Roosevelt gave the dedication address. That coverage included things like this poem we read above.

Unscaffolding the Trylon and Perisphere

A 1939 World’s Fair guide shows off the Trylon and Perisphere after the scaffolding came down, February 22, 1939

I don’t have much to add but wanted to share this photograph I discovered this morning while preparing for next week’s classes. Here we see a young woman standing before the Trylon and Perisphere after the remainder of their scaffolding was taken off on 22 February 1939. The World’s Fair coincided with the sesquicentennial of George Washington’s First Inaugural; President Roosevelt opened the Fair on 30 April, 150 years to the day after Washington took the oath of office in Lower Manhattan at Federal Hall. In winter 1939 Robert Moses’s crews were working long shifts to prepare the fair grounds in Queens in time to ensure the event opened on time come spring. Presumably they took the scaffolding off on Washington’s Birthday intentionally to promote the upcoming fair and emphasize the tie-in to the first president.

(image/Associated Press)