A Profound and Deeply Moving Essay on American History

We, as a country, have come a long way since 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Our history is full of progress and digress. Revolution and rebellion, and several instances of those two being one in the same. This particular essay begins in New York in 1848 and weaves it’s way through trial, tribulation, and tenacity until 1975 in Washington, DC. But wait, there’s more! Not only is history a part of the past, but it is a very staunch part of our present. These events have molded our society into what it is today, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. By the power vested in me, by the HIST-1493-TR0F history class, I now present to you: A Profound and Deeply Moving Essay on American History.

The women’s movement began at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. The Seneca Falls Convention began as an anti-slavery rally hosted by women, as they were not permitted to speak at the rallies hosted by men. The convention ultimately became centered around women’s rights. There were three types of women in attendance: 1) the conservative, whose attendance was purely to advocate for the rights of slaves, 2) the moderate, who vied for the rights of women but were sure the movement would take a very long time, and 3) the radical, who wanted rights immediately and would work diligently to have them. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a radical woman who was a leader of the women’s movement for 60 years along with Susan B. Anthony. Although Stanton did most of the work, like writing the Declaration of Sentiments, Anthony got most of the credit because she was not quite as radical as Stanton and exemplified “femininity”. The 19th amendment, allowing women to vote, was passed in 1920, nearly 70 years after the movement began.

The amendment was slow to be passed because of two reasons: 1) Men wanted power and control. Obvious, really, but they couldn’t just outright say that, so they blamed the Doctrine of Separate Spheres. The doctrine (henceforth referred to as the DSS) stated that men and women were inherently different. The man was the intelligent, strong, hard-working breadwinner and the woman was the emotionally unstable, physically weak, house-keeping mother. They could not, for the life of them, dare to disrupt the “natural order of things”, and 2) because in 1969 the movement split in two. The rift was caused by the Republican party’s passage of the 15th amendment, allowing all men to vote regardless of color. The AWSA wanted to stay within the Republican party. They even elected a man, Waystone Blackwell, to represent them so they could gain sympathy and support. The NWSA was the more radical of the two, led by Staton and Anthony. This group split from the Republican party and began to seek suffrage of their accord. The two joined back together in 1890 to form NAWSA.

There were several successes achieved by the movement prior to 1920. Prior to suffrage, women had no rights. They had no control of their finances. This was called coverture. The movement got covenance passed, making things jointly owned. This change did not threaten the DSS. Also, a few states allowed female voting before Congress passed the law in 1920. Mormon states, such as Utah, had a lacking female population. Thusly, voting was allowed in order to draw women to the state. A victory, nonetheless.

The absence of men during World War I certainly brought about an increase in independence and respect for the woman, but, the women’s movement was ultimately successful because of the change in leadership in 1910. The new leaders were Carrie Catt and Anna Shaw. These ladies used the DSS to their advantage, admitting that, yes, men and women are fundamentally different, but that is why women should vote. They suggested that men are angry and strong, and women would bring a softer, purer mode of thought to elections. This conservative radicalism worked, and the 19th amendment was passed on August 18, 1920.

Sometimes it is easy to forget how hard my ancestors had to fight for me to have the right to do something as simple writing this essay. Without Stanton, Anthony, Catt, Shaw, and an endless number of other women paving the way, I would not be permitted to enjoy the freedoms I have today without their hard work. Without them, I would likely be married and cooking supper for my husband right now, dreams of education merely a fleeting thought to entertain. But instead, I am sitting in an IHOP at one in the morning grumbling about how much work I have yet to do. How selfish! But, I suppose, I now have the right to be selfish. The DSS is caput, the spheres have drastically changed. The parent responsible for caring for the children is no longer just the mother, but equally the father. Men cook and clean without fearing for their masculinity. And, of course, I voted in my very first election on November 9th of this year! An election that, for the first time, a female candidate won the popular vote!

Misogyny, of course, is still a very rampant problem all throughout our country. Nay, the entire world. But equality is not achieved in a day, and one cannot change another’s mind merely by their words, one has to let the other come to the correct solution themselves. It is easy to give up, especially because one cannot see social change as clearly as they might see hatred. Action and altruism, as I always say! If the women of the suffrage movement can do it, so can we!

The social revolution following the end of WWI in 1920 set the precedent of change and counterculture of the 1950’s and the 1960’s. The economic boom following the wartime economy during WWI attributes to the grand economic failure of the 1930’s. Namely, the Great

Depression. The youth culture of the 1920’s shifted drastically from the previous decade. Young women, known as flappers, rebelled against the standard notion of femininity. They cut their hair short, wore shorter skirts, drank, danced, and dated. All of these activities were considered extremely risque. Especially with the 18th amendment’s mandates running rampant through the streets. The government, during the Progressive Era, focused heavily on the perfectability of mankind, liberating society from the woes of immoral acts. One such act was drinking, so Congress took one for the team and made the consumption and production of alcohol illegal in hopes of obliterating crime for good! To no avail, the crime rate was higher than ever, as the very adults condemning young folk for their lack of respect for their elders and their traditional values stuck out their tongue, blew a raspberry, and yelled “you can’t make me!” at the federal government. Even today there is a prohibition of sorts. Marijuana is a relatively harmless drug, but because of the personal moral codes of some politicians in the twenties, it is illegal according to the federal government. The government spends copious amounts of money keeping the drug off of the streets. So much money and effort, in fact, that what they are doing is known as the “War on Drugs”. The government has made illegal many drugs they consider dangerous, not taking into consideration that people are going to do what they want to do regardless of what their Parents in Politics tell them. It was true then and it is true now: to keep crime rates down, stop creating crime. Young people spent their time in speakeasies, attending promiscuous “petting parties”. Today, all of these activities practiced by young women are much more widely accepted. Women are much more liberated sexually and it is very commonplace to see women drinking in the company of men. Dating practices have changed even more drastically since the 1920s, suitors do not come to the door, meet her parents, or do anything of that nature any longer. In fact, I am fairly certain that I am the only person under 40 that has said the word “suitor” in just as many years. Additionally, the “sports cult hero” was becoming a phenomenon. People were just beginning to idealize athletes as American heroes. Babe Ruth was one such hero. Despite the fact that Ty Cobb was statistically the better athlete, he did not gain the same fame as his counterpart. Babe was the epitome of the smiling, pure-hearted American boy, and the media loved him. This trend of athletes being akin to entertainers has certainly continued. Many athletes, such as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, have made their fortunes not only through their athletic ability, but through their celebrity. The media can either make or break a career in athletics. Since Tiger Woods’ adultery scandal, he has lost America’s respect. We expect our athletes to hold true to our “American values”, even though many of their indiscretions are justly human. Kevin Durant, for example, left the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors this year. Thunder fans were so up in arms about Durant’s “betrayal” that they petitioned to change the name of Durant, Oklahoma to Westbrook, Oklahoma. Kevin Durant, if ever to return to Oklahoma City would face immense backlash and, perhaps, violence from his former fans. I can personally attest that most every person has made an unpopular decision in support of their personal interests, but since Durant’s life has been scrutinized by the public for years, we regard him as the most intolerable, immoral, irresponsible person to ever dare tread on the sacred ground that is the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

There was a cultural conflict between the rural and the urban communities. The conservative rural inhabitants viewed the city as a breeding ground for immortality. The rural versus urban cultural conflict was, for all intents and purposes, a skirmage between modern and traditional ideology, or the young people and the older generation. A major change that added to the already tense relations between modern and traditional lifestyles was the development of a mass consumer society. Since the 1920s, it has been our job as Americans to buy and consume as many products as possible. Our newly developed wasteful, greedy nature keeps our ever-flimsy economy running. To keeps us coming back for more, manufacturers began implementing an idea called “planned obsolescence”. Meaning, companies began designing products that were destined to break down over time, forcing their customers to buy more. For example, today’s legacy of IPhones. We are on the seventh IPhone model today, but it is foolish to think that Apple hasn’t developed a tenth model. It is only a matter of time before the IPhone 7 becomes obsolete, and Apple’s customer base will be waiting outside a Best Buy at 3am to get the IPhone 𝞹 a millennium from now. It has been proven time and time again that our cyclic consumerism is not a trustworthy means of economic prosperity. This is best exemplified through the stock market crash of 1929.

The 1920s, or the Roaring Twenties, was a time of cultural revolution, frivolous spending, and economic prosperity. Due to the newfangled notion of “credit cards”, people spent with reckless abandon. They bought into stocks, put their money into unregulated banks, gambled, and gave little regard to how, when, and why they consumed. All of this excessive spending ultimately lead to the greatest economic downturn in American history thus far, the Great Depression.

There were three main triggers to the Great Depression. 1) Poor income distribution, 2) poor corporate structure, and 3) poor trade practices. The Great Depression of the 1930’s was a complete shift from the prosperity of the 1920s, and people desperately asked for assistance from the government. However, the president at the time, Herbert Hoover, practiced the philosophy of “laissez- faire” politics. He didn’t believe that the government should interfere too much in the lives of the public, and the people who elected him thought so, too. Until 1929, of course. He was very generally unpopular until 1932, when his reputation was cemented with the Bonus Marchers Incident. The veterans of World War I were to receive their bonuses over the length of 25 years, but with the Depression in full swing, they wanted their bonuses in a lump sum, given immediately. After an unsuccessful protest, most of the veterans went home, but many didn’t have homes. 2,000 veterans stayed in Washington DC in a ramshackle community called a Hooverville. Hoover, with an election coming up, was very concerned with how 2,000 veterans camping out in front of the Capitol would affect his image. So, he ordered the army to disperse of the crowd. The army came with tanks and in the midst of tear gas and panic, a baby died. Now, Herbert Hoover is a unconcerned baby-murderer, and unconcerned baby-murderers don’t win elections.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on the other hand, was not a unconcerned baby-murderer. In fact, he was a champion of the American people in the 1930s. The democrats nominated him 1932, and he won by a landslide against Hoover. FDR was willing to do the things that Hoover wouldn’t. By 1932, in the throes of the Depression, people began changing their mindset, favoring more radical solutions. For example, Huey P. Long and his “share the wealth” proposal sounded very inviting to the people, despite the fact that it was much more communistic than anyone in later years would be comfortable with. FDR gave a very convincing illusion of being radical, but in reality, he merely implemented essential reforms. During his first 100 days, he set up social security, created jobs, and raised morale tremendously. FDR called his plan the New Deal. He created the Public Works Administration (PWA), which created jobs building schools, roads, libraries, etc. The PWA eventually became the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA created many cultural institutions, and recognized art as essential to the optimistic American spirit. The Skydance bridge, the bison etchings on I-245, and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art  are all examples of how important art is to creating a sense of beauty and community. There is still evidence of the workings of the WPA today! The bridge in the OKC Zoo, for example, has the logo of the WPA embedded in it.

FDR did not merely revolutionize the economy and American morale, he also drastically changed politics. He transformed the role of the president to chief lawmaker and changed the roles of the Democratic and Republican parties. At the time, the Democrats and the Republicans weren’t too different, but he changed the stances both took in regard to social and economic issues. Previously, the Republican party subscribed much more to “liberal” ideology, but with FDR’s Democratic nomination, his opinions on civil rights, his appointment of the first female cabinet member, and his stance on unions, the Democratic party became the champion of the “little guy.” His wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, revolutionized the role of the First Lady. Eleanor took a stance on many political issues, and had many projects of her own. Now, like Michelle Obama with her nutritional reform projects, the First Lady is much more than the face of domestic Americana. Today, the government is much more involved in the lives of the people.

FDR’s New Deal didn’t merely catalyze the rebirth of the economy, but the conception of a more equal society. His appointment of the first black justice on the supreme court and his implementation of equal pay was a trigger of the Civil Rights Movement. Other triggers included WWII, its being a “total war”, meaning that blacks enlisted as well, and the fact that the entire military was in Europe fighting against Nazi racism, so it’d be a tad bit hypocritical to do as the Nazis did. Also, after the war, in 1947, President Truman integrated the armed forces, and the American pastime, baseball, integrated as well. These fantastic changes did a lot, but not enough. In the South, to avoid having to fully adhere to integration laws, legislatures passed Jim Crow laws. These laws were meant to act as legal segregation. Separate but equal, as they said. These unfair laws enraged many and was part of the foundation the Civil Rights Movement stood upon. These laws separated bathrooms, drinking fountains, and seats in the cinema. They allowed business owners to deny service to a person based on their race. Separate schools for separate skin colors, even. A landmark supreme court case, Brown vs. Board of Education challenged this, however. A young girl by the name of Linda Brown had to travel much further to attend her segregated school than it would take to attend the school closest to her. The court ruled that separate institutions were unequal, and they overturned Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1954.  Thurgood Marshall advocated fully for the victory of Linda Brown and children like her. He said that segregation violated the 14th amendment and that things were not truly “separate but equal”. Moreover, CJ Vinson died and Earl Warren was elected. Warren was against segregation, and he convinced his other justices to rule unanimously. The case was won 0-9, and it paved the way for integration, though actual integration took a long time and was met with a lot of animosity.

President Eisenhower didn’t embrace the changing tides of equality. He said that one “cannot change the hearts of man”, a statement that is entirely dehumanizing of people of color, and an excuse for his own bigoted ideologies. The Southern Manifesto, written in Congress, stated that “if the federal government enforces integration, the South will massively resist.” The white men in Congress may have thought that they had given the final word, as most privileged white men tend to believe, but a strong woman named Rosa Parks had something to say as well. Or, rather, someplace to sit. Parks had been the secretary of the NAACP for twelve years when she refused to move to the back of the bus. Parks is known as the “first lady of the Civil Rights Movement”. She was the perfect symbol for the movement, and because her demonstration gained so much attention, and with the help of Martin Luther King Jr., there was an 18 month boycott of the public transportation system. This gained media attention and the news spread to the North, giving the activists more support. The protesters remained non-violent, a method known as civil disobedience. College students in Greensboro, North Carolina got wind of the movement and wanted to help. Several black students, formerly not given service at the segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter sparked a sit-in movement that soon spread to other college towns throughout the region. Many of the protesters were arrested for trespassing, disorderly conduct, or disturbing the peace, despite their peacefulness. Their actions made an immediate and lasting impact, the restaurant caved and allowed the students to eat there, as did many other establishments across the country. This movement, along with the entirety of the Civil Rights Movement, proves that a small group of dedicated people can change the world. That is very important to remember today, as the rights of many marginalized peoples are being threatened. To me, sometimes, it seems that my words may not have an impact. But that is when it is the perfect time to remember the brave folks that advocated for equality 50 years ago, when speaking so adamantly was frowned upon even more. Not everyone is going to like what one says, but that doesn’t make it any less important. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a bill that outlaws discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, or national origin, segregation was no longer legal. Things began to move in the right direction. Now, not even a generation later, the same people who were alive to see Ruby Bridges walk up the steps of William Frantz Elementary School are perhaps in class with her granddaughter at Oklahoma City Community College. Racism is still a huge problem today, but it is significantly better than 50 years ago. There is still a lot of work to do, but even though we may feel as if we are screaming into the abyss (and maybe we are, but that’s a topic for a different essay), everyone has the power to change their world.

Social change was a theme throughout the 1960’s, as the Vietnam conflict was in full swing.  Previous to the inception of the conflict, the doctrine of containment was postulated by George Kennan and became a general policy of the administration of President Harry S. Truman and many succeeding presidential administrations. The policy of containment was to build situations of strength around the perimeter of the Soviet Union to keep communist power within those existing boundaries. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and a variety of other treaties were made by the U.S. and other nations to contain the Soviet Union to stop the outward spread of communism.

Hand in hand with the development of containment was the creation of the Truman Doctrine. This doctrine basically stated that the U.S. would help any free people or nation resist internal or external subjugation by another country or non-democratic ideology. This meant that the U.S. would resist communist takeovers in other countries.

Vietnam has a very extensive history of being occupied by various countries. During the Japanese occupation of the country, Ho Chi Minh emerged. He rallied together a group of Vietnamese men called the Vietmen and drove Japan out of the country. The United States supported Ho Chi Minh’s success. Ho Chi Minh wrote the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, which was based on the US version. Despite all signs pointing towards the recognition of Vietnam as an independent state, France wanted to take over Vietnam for the second time. Because France is our ally, the government felt that it would be against our best interest to recognize Vietnam. So, the US condones France’s attempt to overthrow Ho Chi Minh and the Vietmen. They fought for control of the country for ten years. Since Ho Chi Minh stated that he wanted to make Vietnam an independent communist state, the US supported France even more by paying to arm them. In 1954, France lost a major battle at Dien Bien Phu and they pull out their forces. The US helped to broker peace between the two states. The treaty gave France two years to leave and divided the country in two at the 17th parallel. Ho Chi Minh was given the north, and the US took control of the south. This solution was supposed to be temporary. The new Vietnamese government was to hold an election, but the US wouldn’t let the south participate, so Ho Chi Minh attempted to invade the south. After a decade of fighting, President Kennedy was going to withdraw, but he was assassinated. Lyndon Johnson became president and he wanted to get fully involved. Johnson sent troops over to Vietnam, but since Congress didn’t approve the conflict, it could not be called a war. Without Congressional approval, the conflict did not have the means necessary to succeed, so Johnson used the Gulf of Tonkin Incident to justify asking Congress for monetary support. The incident was that of a US ship, that was spying on the north Vietnamese, being sunk by a north Vietnamese missile. Johnson told Congress that there was a second attack as well, and since Congress assumed they were being told the truth, they passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, making the US directly involved in the conflict.

There was significant anti-war sentiment during the entirety of the Vietnam conflict, and the My Lai Massacre of 1968 made things much, much worse. There was a rumor going around the military that a little village called My Lai was being used as a base of operation for the communists. So, William Calley and his platoon raided the village and, despite finding no evidence to support the claim made, killed 300 Vietnamese civilians. This and events like it bear striking resemblance to the Cold War and McCarthyism. People, even the soldiers, were so suspicious and afraid of communism that they felt that they had to rape and pillage in order to keep it at bay. McCarthy didn’t rape and pillage, per say, but the false accusations made by him and the accusations made by Calley and his men on the village of My Lai are too similar to be disputed.   In the election of 1968, Richard Nixon told the American people that he had a “secret plan” to resolve the conflict. The greatest plan. One plan to rule them all. Which sounds a lot like Donald Trump’s great, awesome, but very secret plan to Make America Great Again. But, just like Nixon actually making the conflict worse by bombing Laos and Cambodia as well as Vietnam, one can safely assume that there is no great plan, but merely a great “escapegoat” (a word I just made up. You’re welcome, Merriam-Webster) going to be made by the President-elect as soon as he steps foot in the oval office. “My great plan? I can’t be concerned with my great, awesome, perfect plan right now, Laos really needs some napalm!”

Eventually, the US began to implement an idea called “Vietnamization”, They began to train a south Vietnamese army and began to withdraw from the country themselves. In 1973, a peace treaty was signed. The US was given two years to get out of the country, and north Vietnam had to “respect the integrity” of south Vietnam. In 1975, however, north and south Vietnam became one big, happy communist state. Then, after 20 years of US non-involvement, we began to restore normal relations with the country.

In 1975, Congress passed the War Powers Act. Allowing, in a state of emergency, the president to deploy troops for 90 days before Congress approves/disapproves of the decision. Now, the president can’t have people fighting for what seems like no good reason, as the social revolutionaries of the 1960s thought.

The 1960s, like the 1920s, was a decade of social change. Young people were becoming much more politically involved in the 60s. This flux of advocacy started with an event on the UC Berkeley campus. This event was called the Free Speech Movement. On the campus, there was a hub of activity, much like OU’s south oval, called the “strip”. It was home to whatever social cause you could think of. Governor Ronald Reagan ordered the college president to “crack down” on the strip, saying that the students needed to be in class, not out having opinions and whatnot. With the arrival of the cops, students poured out of their classrooms and held a spontaneous 18-hour sit in, and this triggered protests on college campuses all over the country. This wasn’t a common theme until the latter half of the 60s, when Vietnam united all of the causes. It was the largest anti-war movement in US history.

Though US violence has ended in Vietnam, there is still plenty of violence and marginalization on our own soil. Since the election of Donald Trump, I am glad to say, there have been a great number of protests in response. A few that were orchestrated in this very Oklahoma City Community College campus, in fact. I am very glad to see people unifying behind this cause. I am even happier to see people going out and changing things rather than “showing their solidarity with a safety pin”. The anti-war protesters during the 60s had the power to change public opinion about the conflict, and thus, so do we.

It is hard, sometimes, to find the will to get off of the couch and go to make changes. It is easy, in fact, to expect someone else to do it in our place. Fear, perhaps. Or not wanting to take responsibility if met with hostility. Or the thought that, since our voices are small, that nobody will hear us. But, we are still hearing the voices of the women in the 1890s, the unemployed in the 1930s, the young black children of the 1950s, the college students in the 1960s. All of those people, all of that time. Those struggles and triumphs have become as much a part of us as our DNA. In a society that expects instant gratification, one may feel as if they can’t elicit change as quickly and effectively as they’d like. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. I feel as if I am just breaking through the mold of adolescent ignorance, and I am riddled with fear and ideas and no idea what to do with either of them. That is why history is so important, because in my fear and in my thought I am not alone. That is really beautiful, and endlessly nerve-wracking. I could, very easily, write another 15 pages worth of Nietzschean theory. Nothing is real, God is dead. I have certainly done so within my own mind over the past few months, but history is real. History is the greatest story humanity has written thus far, and I think that I am far too gregarious and I have far too much moxie to be a minor character.

5 thoughts on “A Profound and Deeply Moving Essay on American History

  1. Ma’am, for the people who do not know these issues either from History classes or are too young to remember many of these issues, this essay is a very good History lesson, good job. I am going to reblog this article for you. Shalom.

    Like

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