Last time I was at the Briscoe I spent the whole time sifting through old newspaper film. I stumbled across a citizen’s opinion about how the city of Houston needed to get it’s act together and pave some roads instead of trying to find a company to do it for them since that had not been working. However it appears the city was eventually able to pawn off the responsibility by forcing the electric car company to pave their roads. I’m going to continue going through newspapers tomorrow and will also be looking in the directories to see what year W. L. Macate started his cement supply business. I think that the city council conspired to force the streetcar company to pave the roads for them. The resulting expenses caused the railcars to go out of business but their newly built roads were quickly exploited by the emergence of automobiles.
Well, I woke up at 9:50 and saw that we had a blog post due at 10 am so I’m going to pretend daylight savings time has not started yet meaning this is on time. So far, I have been pleasantly surprised to find that our research project into the hell-hole that is Houston is not only proceeding swimmingly, but that we are actually uncovering some genuine mysteries. Digging through the archives is a lot like solving puzzles and I think this project will be an extremely fun ride.
So far, I am leaning between two possible avenues to pursue for my project. One would be a broad interactive map of my block were the viewer clicks any of the buildings in my area, and a summary of the place with accompanying pictures, articles, and references pops up. I would decide on one time period to focus on for this. I think this would be cool because people could get an expansive idea of the role my area played in Houston at this time.
My other idea I like more but I need to do more research to see if my hypothesis is accurate. In the early 1900’s, the Houston electric company changed from an electric streetcar company to just the electric company. At the same time as the switch from streetcar to electric company happened, a local entrepreneur with a large cement distributing business, W. L. Macate, experienced a boom in his business. I would like to investigate whether forces conspired to shut down the streetcar business, in order to replace them with buses which create higher revenue. At the same time, W. L. Macate might have stepped in to provide the city with cement for their newly paved roads. Conspiracies abound!
Macate’s business is right next to the Houston electric company. At the same time, the Houston electric company straddles the train tracks and is right next to the Houston Gas company. My team is hoping to find out if the Houston gas company took over the electric company, and at the same time powers it. I also intend to do a little digging to find out if the Globe Hotel, an establishment that goes all the way back to the 1885 Sanborn collection, has had anything interesting like a murder or clown convention happen in it’s history.
I’m most likely going to go with the second idea and I really hope there is some meat to the story when I explore it. I can’t wait for Monday, the archivists are extremely helpful and have already offered me some insightful thoughts that led me to my second research question.
For our area in Houston to focus on, my group decided on sheet 9 from the 1907 collection of Sanborn maps. This area has some interesting features such as t’s close location to Buffalo Bayou River, and its accompanying railroad and gas companies. There are also some historical places such as the Mansion House, which stands as a museum to this day. My area is section 25. I liked this section because it has both the Palace Hotel and Globe Hotel. I looked back to the 1885 Sanborn collection and the Globe Hotel is still standing so I think that hotel should have a long and rich history to explore. In the upper corner of my block, there is also a very large dwelling so I am intrigued to find out who lives there. Hopefully I can contain my rapture during this project at all the information on Houston I will uncover.
I have to say that after reading “Anatomy of a Controversy” and “History at Risk” (as well as accidentally reading all of “Whose History is it Anyway”) I was feeling pretty worn out from the Enola Gay controversy, a controversy dating back to before I was born. As I geared up to read Edward J. Gallagher’s The Enola Gay Controversy, I was expecting more of the same – academic historians lamenting the death of intellectual research to the will of the majority. I was pleasantly surprised though to find that rather than blatantly take one side or the other, Gallagher’s piece merely gives the reader a chronological rundown of the events involving the controversy, from the lead up, to the meat of the debate, to the post effects. Instead of feeling like I should be ashamed if I were to agree with the veterans associations, I was left with the opportunity to make my own informed decision in regards to the controversy.
Lilienthal and Kohn clearly take the side of the historian, casting those who are against historical revision as nostalgic droobs who would still believe the earth is the center of the universe if they could. While historians are seen as infallible white knights who seek to enlighten the simple America about the realities of the dropping of the Atomic bomb. These two writers gloss over the facts that the main opponents of the Enola Gay exhibit, veterans groups, had firsthand experience in the war and know it’s horrors all too well. Kohn tells us that Secretary of the Smithsonian Robert McCormick Adams aspired to change the National Air and Space Museum from a showcase glorifying American drive and ingenuity into an internationally respected research institute and museum. However Kohn neglects to mention that when Congress appropriated the funds to start the museum, that glorification is exactly what they had in mind! I prefer Gallagher’s approach to the issue far more, with the chronology reading like footnotes that form a story. At least to my knowledge, he appears to give a full overview of the controversy, and while it still seems that the anti-revisionist camp is unwilling to compromise, he at least gives a more even look at the reasons why they are so adamant in their views.
The Enola Gay controversy, while one of many through our short history as a nation, is quite unique. At no other time have we been responsible for such an incredible feat of technological prowess coupled with so awesome a display of destructive force. After WWII, while post war passions ran high, the reasons for the dropping of the bomb were glossed over in exchange for, “it had to be done to save our lives.” For me, using the argument that the bomb saved so many lives is a paradox. Whether 63,000 or 1,000,000 people would have died in an invasion shouldn’t be the issue, rather such astronomical numbers represent a huge loss of life at either end of the spectrum. Using the same rationale, the 200,000 deaths incurred by the atomic bombs is also an unbelievable loss of human life. The sad truth is that whichever outcome had come to pass, invasion or nukes, the loss of life would have been extreme. Is it so much to ask that we lament this loss of life not from a nationalist or racial view, but from a human view? It seems that for many Americans the old adage, “better him than me” is a good enough vindication in regards to the deaths of so many Japanese.
The Enola Gay controversy was also a victim of bad timing. Once all the players in a particular issue are gone, a controversy loses much of its luster. If in 1882 Gallop had polled the post-reconstructionist south on their opinion of black Americans, you can imagine the results. However nowadays racism has no place in the American public. In 1994 the WWII veteran’s population was in their seventies and their numbers were still quite robust. For many of them WWII had been the defining moment of their lives and for some elitist historian to come along and tell them that the bomb that may have saved their lives was immoral was a slap in the face so of course, they fought viciously against any exhibit that was nothing short of a memorial to their exploits. If the exhibit were to be displayed in 2045 for the 100th anniversary of WWII though, I imagine that the response will be much more subdued as the controversy will be seen form a more historical perspective. Kohn notes that, “historians are tasked with crafting the past.”
From a personal viewpoint I like the idea of the Smithsonian trying to revise the classic perspective of the bomb as having been necessary. The truth is that there were other options instead of a nuclear strike such as diplomacy, blockade, invasion, the Soviet Union’s help, or a combination of these factors. To simply say that we needed the bomb to end the war is a gross oversimplification of a complex event and is still the pervasive opinion to this day. However the NASM, in their quest to be seen as an elite museum on the cutting edge of historical analysis, may have overstepped their position as a place of glory for American aviation prowess. Such justification for nuclear destruction could easily be used again if the world found itself embroiled in another major conflict. In this case it seems the veterans won, as the airplane now resides in the Dulles airport without any pomp surrounding its display.
The Enola Gay will forever be tied to the infamous the droppings of Atomic bombs, which vaporized two cities and killed over 200,000 people. For WWII’s 50th anniversary, Martin Harwit, the curator of the National Air and Space Museum (NASM), decided to put on an exhibit examining the bombings from a more balanced standpoint then had been the norm in America. Harwit could never have expected that the backlash from it would be so intense that it would cause him to lose his job. The controversy was between those who wanted a balanced revisionist view of the conflict, and military veterans who were outraged at the exhibit’s depiction and saw only one possible depiction of the exhibit.
The controversy was a microcosm of the changing sentiments in American culture over glorifying the past and those who thought that reflections on history should be revised. The Exhibit was to humanize the Japanese people and provide an intense look at what the bombs did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki from close up photographs to survivors’ testimony. At first, the planning for the exhibit seemed to be going smoothly. Indeed after reviewing the first script for the exhibition, Richard Hallion, the chief of the air force historical program commented, “an impressive job! A bit of tweaking along the lines discussed here should do the job” (37). However after the AFA voiced vociferous objections to the “humanization” of the Japanese, many previously pro-exhibit forces fell in line behind them. Hallion backed off from his previous position stating that he had, “raised issues of, accuracy, context, fairness, and balance” (41). As the pressure on the Smithsonian increased, numerous revisions and cuts were made to the exhibit script until it was a shell of the original. Despite all the revisions, the AFA and the influential veterans association the American Legion refused to put their approval on the exhibit, stating that it still showed the Japanese in too good of a light. Politicians, eager for some limelight against easy prey, bit at the Smithsonian’s heels. Twenty-four Representatives wrote that, “The planners of this exhibit ignored many of the constructive criticisms provided.” Historian Wayne Dzwonchyk stated that the finished script represented a, “total capitulation” (37) by the Smithsonian. The media, in blatant cases of false journalism, mislead the public by stating, in the Washington Post’s case, that the Smithsonian had not incorporated new ideas into the script when in fact they had.
All of these tumultuous events conspired to force Harwit to resign. The Smithsonian attempted to salvage the exhibition but military elements proved unwilling to budge on their stance that America’s side should be glorified and that the prevailing view of the war from the last 50 years should not be altered. The controversy stemmed from a clash between old views and revisionists and in the end, the revisionists caved to external pressures and the Enola Gay exhibit was severely toned down. The details of the case are more relevant than ever in our modern day and age. Imagine if the media and news sources had been strong armed into interpreting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as righteous battles for our freedom instead of the muddled conflicts that we are left with after 12 years of fighting. The World War II veterans associations were able to get their way thanks to their immense clout. However, as America matures more as a country, I hope that we are able to take events from our past, even ones that are discomforting to us, and examine them retrospectively.
History is, if nothing else, repetitive. In many ways, history mirrors the path humans take in growing up. It makes many obvious mistakes, learns from these mistakes and then betters itself. However, unlike a person who, in the span of a lifetime generally hammers out the proper way to act, history seems to never fully learn from its mistakes. How else to explain the myriad problems that continue to pop up throughout history, from racial intolerance to war resulting from interlocking treaties, if history is any indicator, we have a long way to go before humanity “grows up”.
Take the debate regarding the “theory” of evolution. Despite the fact that evolution has become as scientifically accepted as global warming, there remains a religious minority in America that remains staunchly opposed to accepting evolution. Many of these fundamentalists believe that the Bible, a 2,000-year-old book written when humans believed the Earth was flat and the sun revolved around us, is to be interpreted to the T. That means the earth was created a little over 6,000 years ago and that everything you have ever learned in biology class is bunk. While this stance may seem absurd to many, and indeed has led to ridicule of American intelligence on the world stage, these fundamentalists have shown a remarkable tenacity to stick by their guns. In the early 20th century, Fundamentalists used the momentum fueled by their great orator, William Jennings Bryan, to push for the removal of the teaching of evolution. While some wanted their own biblical narrative of creation taught in public schools and others did not, the consensus was that evolution was wrong. While they gained a technical victory in the Scopes Monkey Trial, the resulting ballyhoo from the trial ensured that the anti-revolution statutes would not be enforced. The resulting lack in anti-revolution drama and continued advances in biology, coupled with a public perception that Scopes was a victor for evolutionists, led to evolution becoming gradually accepted by the general populace. While commentators foretold the end of Christian fundamentalism, the movement experienced a surprise resurgence in the battles that ensued from the Supreme Court taking on a more active role in establishing the separation of Church and State from 1948 on. By the 1960’s the anti-revolution movement had essentially stagnated. Barring a few conservative holdouts, the general populace was accepting evolution. However, in 1961, The Genesis Flood gave anti-evolutionists a new cause to champion in favor of evolution, “Creation Science”. A theory not rooted in fact but rather thought up as a scientific sounding response to the scientific current of the day. Rather then push for wholesale acceptance, the Christian minority now pushed for equal time in the classroom for their theory using the same style argument used against them by evolutionists in the 1920’s! However, much as the anti-revolution bonanza of the 1920’s faded away, so too did the creation science fad fade into obscurity as observers began to realize that it was nothing more than an attempt by fundamental Christians to subvert the governments rulings against religion in the classroom. The debate on evolution was far from over though.
If Irving Stone’s 1941 statement that the Darrow-Bryan clash “dealt a death blow to fundamentalism” had any validity, the last 20 years would certainly attest otherwise. The new trend seems to be the concept of Intelligent Design. Espoused as relying on scientific tenets, Intelligent Design has yet to appear in any peer-reviewed journals, a must for any accepted scientific theory in the modern world. Consequently, its proponents appear more intent on proving Intelligent Design by discrediting Natural Evolution. The concept of Intelligent Design already appears to be cracking though. When Judge John Jones heard a case to determine whether Intelligent Design was an acceptable alternative to Evolution in classrooms, chief witness Michael Behe, a vehement ID proponent admitted that under his guidelines for science, even astrology would be accepted as science.
Much as it is predecessors before it, intelligent design will inevitable fade away into obscurity once it has been sufficiently disproved. In its place will come an equally unfounded, creationist-based argument. The next argument will have many scientific sounding technicalities and it will even succeed in converting a few evolutionist believers. However, the next theory will be nothing but a retread of a long line of “science base creationist theories”. The fact is that through all the years since Charles Darwin first promulgated the idea of evolution, it has stood up to scientific scrutiny and remains the accepted mode of our development into the human species. Fundamentalists of any denomination will inevitably attempt to subjugate others under their way of thinking. As we slowly move from the majority being more Christian leaning to a more liberal scientific thinking majority, the increasingly isolated Christian minority will only become more vociferous in espousing their beliefs. I have no problem with people wanting to believe what they want, however I simply cannot fathom why a group of people continues to insist on an idea when 144 years of scientific evidence continues to point to only one logical conclusion, that evolution is a fact. That right there sums up the great divide between religion and science. Science relies on facts, while religion relies on faith, logical or not. Whether religion or science is right remains to be seen but one thing is for sure, the dogmatic battle of faith vs. fact is far from over.
To say that history is contingent upon a certain event happening is redundant. A certain event happens because of a certain event preceding it. Going into the what-ifs of history is enough to make even the most far-sighted historians head spin. What if British spy Eddie Chapman had been given the go-ahead by Churchill to assassinate Hitler? Would it have ended the war or allowed Hitler’s generals, now unhindered, to make the right battle field calls? What if The U.S. had not given lifesaving aid and support to Ho Chi Minh prior to the Vietnam War, would we have found ourselves entangled in that military debacle? Kyoto was not chosen to be nuked because Secretary of War was fond of it because of his honeymoon there! The list of what-ifs and historical possibilities goes on and on but we are left with is the history that has actually happened. Personally I think the path that world history has followed has been plenty interesting without any of the what-ifs coming to fruition.
The historical sense of contingency must be taken into account when discussing the Scopes Monkey Trial. While the defense attempted to turn the case into an epic showdown of religion vs. science, attorney general Stewart deftly kept the case within the narrow confines he favored. Had it remained that way the case could have been a little more boring, but when Darrow shocked the courtroom by calling Bryan to the stand, they had an all-out verbal battle on the merits of literal biblical interpretation in which, as history has shown, Bryan was the clear loser. But what if Darrow had succeeded in being allowed to call his expert witnesses on evolution to the stand? It is entirely possible that many Americans, uneducated or ignorant to the idea of evolution, would have been informed of the scientific basis for evolution. Perhaps public perception could have shifted towards intellectual progression then and there. However that did not happen, instead rural Americans got to hang onto their religious ideals and would continue to remain blissfully unaware of scientific progress for the time being. As one juror stated as his reason for being unaware of evolution, “I can’t read,” because,” I am uneducated.”(153) it is important to put yourself in the context of the trial when reading this book. The idea of evolution is taken for granted nowadays, however in the South at this time, many uneducated people had nothing but the Bible and the exhortations of fundamentalists such as William Jennings Bryan to learn from. For them Evolution was blasphemy and the idea that their children would learn about it was simply unacceptable. Still there were so many close calls in this case regarding our nation’s future development that if the trial were to be replayed it’s hard to imagine the same outcome. Had Malone not followed Bryan’s virulent speech with an impassioned, fervent speech of his own, the trial would have been won right then and there. Malone commanded the floor, excoriating anti-evolutionists by declaring, “We feel we stand with science. We feel we stand with intelligence. We feel we stand with fundamental freedom in America. We are not afraid” (179). Such a robust response to Bryan’s camp brought the crowd to thunderous applause. While the judge inevitably ruled against allowing the evidence, it did give the defense enough leeway to include the testimony in their eventual appellate review, their initial intention anyways. Had Bryan simply commanded the stage there is no telling if that would have been possible. Finally, Clarence Darrow’s cross examination of William Jennings Bryan revealed the severe shortcomings in both reason and science that Bryan’s beliefs had. The public realized the path they would head down if they blindly followed the Bible, a path marred with corpses burned at the stake and intellectual ineptitude.
Thankfully history took the course it did and we now live in a society in which we are free to think and say as we feel. However we should never think that we have progressed to a point where we can’t fall back to our dark ages. There are many fundamentalists and extremists out there who would do anything it takes to make a world in their view. One shaped by intolerance and persecution. History has come close many times to allowing people to form societies like this and for the most part people with strong convictions have stood up for what is right. We cannot let ourselves become complacent and let our society progress backwards or 100 years form now, students living in a police state will be wondering, “What if we hadn’t let the government have unmitigated access into our private lives?”
“We stand on the cusp of a new age, which path shall we take, one of fear and safety, or one of wonder and freedom.”
“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” -Benjamin Franklin