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When German Immigrants Were America’s Undesirables

May 11, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

World War I propaganda poster from the US intelligence office 'Don't talk, the web is spun for you with invisible threads, keep out of it, help to destroy it, spies are listening,' showing Kaiser Wilhelm II as the spider. (Credit: Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)

In a recent interview, White House chief of staff John Kelly told NPR that undocumented immigrants are “not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society.” And he listed a few reasons why:

“They’re overwhelmingly rural people,” he said. “In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English … They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills.”

Kelly was talking specifically about immigrants from Latin American countries. But a century before, this line of thinking was used against another group that didn’t seem to be able to “assimilate”: German Americans.

At the time, these roughly eight million Americans were the country’s largest non-English-speaking group. Many had come over in a migration wave in the late 19th century. Once here, they built restaurants and guesthouses that, in the German tradition, each had their own beer brewery. In 1910, the U.S. had 554 German-language newspapers, as well as German-language school systems that coexisted with English-language schools.

“By 1917 these immigrants who came to Cincinnati or St. Louis or Milwaukee or New York or Baltimore were fully integrated into American society,” says Richard E. Schade, a German studies professor at the University of Cincinnati. But when the U.S. entered World War I, these immigrants came up against a new “anti-German hysteria.”

World War I propaganda poster from the US intelligence office ‘Don’t talk, the web is spun for you with invisible threads, keep out of it, help to destroy it, spies are listening,’ showing Kaiser Wilhelm II as the spider. (Credit: Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)

Because Germany was one of America’s adversaries in the war, many Anglo-Americans began to fear that German Americans were still loyal to the Kaiser, or German emperor. Suddenly, German Americans became “hyphenated Americans” who suspiciously practiced their own traditions instead of “assimilating” into Anglo-American culture. As President Woodrow Wilson once admonished: “Any man who carries a hyphen about with him, carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic when he gets ready.”

With the war, German Americans became a perceived security threat. They also got a new nickname.

“The number one American term for Germans in the …read more

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Watch the Government Test Gas Masks on Children During the Cold War

May 11, 2018 in History

By Allison McNearney

History Flashback takes a look at historical “found footage” of all kinds—newsreels, instructional films, even cartoons—to give us a glimpse into how much things have changed, and how much has remained the same.

Since chemical warfare exploded on the scene with lethal and terrifying force at the Second Battle of Ypres during WWI, nations have been attempting to create defenses for both soldiers and civilians against weapons that are largely invisible and indiscriminately deadly. Gas masks have been on the front lines of this effort.

During the 20th century, authorities were particularly concerned with how to protect the youngest generation from the sins of their fathers. During both World Wars and the Cold War, they created school drills and new mask designs that tried to make the experience less frightening and more protective for the little ones. Except, that is, for that time in the 1960s when the U.S. government decided to use children as gas mask guinea pigs.

Gas masks were a miner’s best friend.

Today, we mostly think of gas masks as a defense against the threat of chemical warfare, but the invention has its roots in a more functional—though no less harrowing—place. Throughout history, certain workers have braved the dangers of smoke and noxious gasses while on the job. In ancient Greece, sponges were used as a form of protection; during the plagues of the 17th and 18th centuries, doctors donned beak-like masks filled with sweet smelling herbs and spices, which they thought would protect them from both contagion and foul odors.

But the more modern ancestor of what we today know as the gas mask began appearing around the turn of the 19th century, when protective gear was first invented for miners. Over the next hundred years, these early masks would go through a series of improvements. Charcoal was added to purify the incoming air, a respirator system was invented, and the masks were made increasingly lighter and more effective in their fit. Each of these changes occurred with an eye towards keeping civilians like firemen, rescue divers and miners safe in the workplace.

And then, World War I broke out.

In 1915, the need for gas masks abruptly changed when the Germans first dispersed chlorine gas across the battlefield of Ypres. The Allies were wholly unprepared for this new form of warfare. While scientists and medical professionals quickly rushed to find …read more

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How Royal Portraits Could Make or Break an Engagement

May 10, 2018 in History

By Hadley Meares

German artist Hans Holbein. (Credit: The Print Collector/Getty Images)

For much of their courtship, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s romance spanned an ocean. Although they are from different countries and radically different backgrounds—one a British royal, the other an American actress—modern travel and technology made their trans-Atlantic romance possible.

It wasn’t always so easy for royals to find matches—or even to see each other in the flesh before their wedding day. Until the advent of photography and advanced transportation, royals looking for a spouse had to rely on portraits and oral reports about their prospective mates. Marriage was a form of diplomacy, tying royal families together politically—often from afar.

“The prospective couple would often be in different countries, with marriage negotiations conducted by proxies,” explains Dr. Susan Foister, Deputy Director and Curator of Early Netherlandish, German and British Paintings at the National Gallery in London. “Portraiture was a vital tool to ensure that a stranger marrying into the royal line was sufficiently personable for royal status, and full-length portraits and full-face images were thought desirable, at least by the English, so any disfigurement could not be hidden.”

This was a big concern, as royal portraits supplied by the potential bride or groom’s own artist often exaggerated the attractiveness of the sitter. In 1795, the future Queen Caroline of England spoke for generations of disappointed royals upon first meeting her fiancé, the Prince of Wales. “I find him very fat, and by no means as beautiful as his portrait.”

Rulers were fully aware of the propaganda value of court portraiture (see, for example, artists’ attempts to soften and disguise the attributes of Spain’s Charles II, who lived with a number of physical issues as the result of inbreeding). To make sure the likeness of a potential mate was accurate, some European royals—almost exclusively male—resorted to sending their own trusted artists on missions to capture the likeness of their potential betrothed as early as the Middle Ages.

“In 1384, the French king [Charles VI]’s advisors sent an artist to Scotland to create an image of Egidia, daughter of Robert II, but before the painter arrived, she had already married a countryman,” historian Retha Warnicke writes in The Marrying of Anne of Cleves. “Artists next traveled to Bavaria, Austria, and Lorraine and, after viewing the miniatures they painted, 17-year-old Charles was said to have fallen in love with 14-year-old Isabella of Bavaria, whom he wed in 1385.”

In 1428, the legendary Flemish painter Jan Van Eyck traveled …read more

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The Chernobyl Cover-Up: How Officials Botched Evacuating an Irradiated City

May 10, 2018 in History

By Serhii Plokhy

A helicopter 'bomb run' on the damaged Chernobyl reactor (visible in the background). During the first days after the explosion, helicopter pilots dropped thousands of tons of sand, clay, boron and lead into the opening created in the roof of the reactor by the explosion, exposing themselves to extremely high levels of radiation. May 1986 (Credit: Igor Kostin/Sputnik Images)

History Reads is a weekly series featuring work from Team History, a group of experts and influencers, exploring history’s most fascinating questions.

In the early hours of April 26, 1986, the world witnessed the worst nuclear catastrophe in history. A reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in northern Ukraine exploded, spreading radioactive clouds all over Europe and a large part of the globe. In all, 50 million curies of radiation were released into the atmosphere—the equivalent of 500 Hiroshima bombs. In this exclusive excerpt from Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe, we witness the dramatic exodus from Prypiat, a city of 50,000 located a few miles from the damaged reactor.

The call came around 5:00 a.m. on April 26, awakening the most powerful man in the land, the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. The message: There had been an explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but the reactor was intact. “In the first hours and even the first day after the accident there was no understanding that the reactor had exploded and that there had been a huge nuclear emission into the atmosphere,” remembered Gorbachev later. He saw no need to awaken other members of the Soviet leadership or interrupt the weekend by calling an emergency session of the Politburo. Instead, Gorbachev approved the creation of a state commission to look into the causes of the explosion and deal with its consequences.

Boris Shcherbina, deputy head of the Soviet government and chairman of the high commission, was summoned from a business trip to Siberia and sent to Ukraine. He arrived in Prypiat, the town that housed the construction workers and operators of the nuclear plant, around 8:00 p.m. on April 26, more than 18 hours after the explosion. By that time very little had been done to deal with the consequences of the disaster, as no one in the local Soviet hierarchy dared to take responsibility for declaring the reactor dead. Shcherbina began a brainstorming session.

Only then did everyone accept what had been unthinkable only hours earlier: A meltdown had occurred, and the reactor’s core was damaged, spreading radioactivity all over the place.

A helicopter ‘bomb run’ on the damaged Chernobyl reactor (visible in the background). During the first days after the explosion, helicopter pilots dropped thousands of tons of sand, clay, boron and lead …read more

Source: HISTORY

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How ‘Deep Throat’ Took Down Nixon From Inside the FBI

May 10, 2018 in History

By Annette McDermott

G. Gordon Liddy. (Credit: AP Photo)

Former FBI deputy director William Mark Felt, Sr., then age 91, broke his 30-year silence and confirmed in June 2005 that he was “Deep Throat,” the anonymous government source who had leaked crucial information to Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, which helped take down President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

Watergate began in June 1972 when five robbers linked to Nixon’s re-election campaign were caught red-handed wiretapping phones and stealing documents inside the Democratic National Committee’s office in Washington, D.C.’s Watergate office complex.

Nixon—who denied involvement or knowledge of the incident—then participated in an extensive cover-up.

Throughout the 1972 election campaign and beyond, Deep Throat fed Woodward and Bernstein a steady flow of information which exposed Nixon’s knowledge of the scandal.

G. Gordon Liddy. (Credit: AP Photo)

G. Gordon Liddy connived the Watergate break-in.

The idea to break into the Democratic National Committee’s office and tap their phones was the brainchild of G. Gordon Liddy, Finance Counsel for the Committee for the Reelection of the President (CRP). He took his plan to White House Counsel John Dean and Attorney General John Mitchell, who approved a smaller-scale version of the idea.

The initial break-in and wiretapping went without a hitch; however, when the burglars returned to the scene of the crime to fix some broken wiretaps on June 17, 1972, they were caught red-handed and arrested.

After the arrests, Liddy and his accomplices scrambled to destroy evidence as the Nixon propaganda machine went into full gear. They vehemently denied they, the President or anyone in the White House were involved with the break-in, even though a $25,000 check allotted for Nixon’s campaign mysteriously ended up in the bank account of a real estate firm owned by one of the robbers.


Mark Felt posing for a picture with his pistol drawn for a newspaper story in 1958. (Credit: Howard Moore/Deseret Morning News/Getty Images)

‘Deep Throat’ was No. 2 at the FBI.

At the time of the break-in, Felt was second-in-command at the FBI and in charge of day-to-day operations. He was essentially point man for the FBI investigation into the crime.

Felt and his staff interviewed dozens of CRP members, but the meetings were also attended by White House lawyers. Felt believed transcripts of the interviews were passed on to White House counsel John Dean by acting FBI director Patrick Gray.

Felt knew Nixon was …read more

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Why Are Tourists in Utah Throwing Dino Footprints Into a Lake?

May 10, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

Illustration of a Deinonychus. (Credit: De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images)

Visitors to Red Fleet State Park are destroying preserved dinosaur footprints, according to officials at the park in Vernal, Utah.

Specifically, officials allege that tourists have been removing pieces of sandstone imprinted with prehistoric dino tracks and throwing them into a nearby lake, potentially shattering or dissolving the artifacts. Though officials say tourists probably don’t always realize the rocks they’re throwing into the lake contain dinosaur footprints, it’s still not clear why they’re dislodging sandstone from a state park and throwing it into a lake in the first place.

Josh Hansen, the park’s manager, told the Salt Lake Tribune that he recently stopped a kid from tossing a red slab with two dinosaur toe-prints into the water. But by the time Hansen reached him, the boy had already thrown multiple tracks in the lake.

The footprints likely come from the three-toed Deinonychus, a dinosaur that Jurassic Park famously mislabeled as a Velociraptor, or “raptor.” These dinos wandered the Earth about 120 to 110 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous Period. Only unlike the ones in the movie, they didn’t really spray their prey with venom.

Illustration of a Deinonychus. (Credit: De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images)

Though the footprints aren’t official designated as fossils, the Utah code treats them as such. This means that visitors who toss them in the water could theoretically receive a felony charge.

Park officials say they are reluctant to go there, hoping instead that they can convince visitors to stop doing this. The park will put up more signs reminding people not to tamper with the site, but is clearly frustrated that people aren’t paying attention to the existing signs that already tell them not to disturb the area.

The park estimates that in the past six months, tourists have removed at least 10 of the larger, more visible dino footprints, which range from 3 to 17 inches long.


Red Fleet State Park in Utah. (Credit: John Roberts/360cities.net/Getty Images)

The issue of tourists tampering with preservation sites is something that many …read more

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Why Martha Washington Was the Ultimate Military Spouse

May 10, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Washington's Headquarters in Valley Forge. (Credit: The New York Public Library)

Life as a military spouse can be lonely, anxious, and filled with social pressure. But where do those high expectations come from? Military spouses have long been expected to make sacrifices for their country—and Martha Washington, the first First Lady, helped set the tone nearly 250 years ago.

Like other upper-class white women of her day, Martha was expected to raise children, oversee her massive staff of slaves and servants, and receive her husband’s guests. But when George Washington took command of the Continental Army, her life changed irrevocably. She did not know it, but her husband would be gone for eight long years as the army struggled to defeat the larger and more technologically advanced British army.

Today, many military members’ deployments are overseas, but George was deployed nearby. Martha followed him to camp, and they spent about half of the war together.

Washington’s Headquarters in Valley Forge. (Credit: The New York Public Library)

During the 18th century, war was seasonal, and when autumn came, both armies hunkered down in winter quarters. This gave Martha a chance to see George, and he requested that she visit his winter encampment each year of the war. As the war dragged on, she became a critical comfort to the increasingly unhappy general.

Martha took an active role at camp. She managed food and essentially ran Washington’s headquarters, organizing social events and soothing the tempers of officers and their wives. She comforted not only her husband, but the soldiers she met there.

“I never in my life knew a woman so busy from early morning until latest as was lady Washington,” wrote a woman who visited Valley Forge in 1778. Martha oversaw social events, nursed sick soldiers, acted as a liaison between her husband and other officials, and cheered troops whose prospects of victory looked increasingly bleak.


General Washington and his wife visiting camp at Valley Forge on Christmas Day, 1779. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

She also became the general’s confidante not just in issues of love, but in issues of military strategy. “Martha had more responsibility than the other wives,” notes George Washington’s Mount Vernon. “She was the General’s sounding …read more

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America Helped Start Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program

May 9, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

Part of a display at the Atoms for Peace exhibit in the United States, 1955. (Credit: Carl Mydans/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

For several decades now, the U.S. has sought to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But ironically, the reason Iran has the technology to build these weapons in the first place is because the U.S. gave it to Iran between 1957 and 1979. This nuclear assistance was part of a Cold War strategy known as “Atoms for Peace.”

The strategy’s name comes from Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech, given before the United Nations General Assembly in 1953. In it, he suggested that promoting the non-military use of nuclear technology could discourage countries from using it to create nuclear weapons, or “Atoms for War.”

The speech came only eight years after the invention of the atomic bomb, at a time when the U.S. was anxious to keep these new and frightening weapons from proliferating around the world. Strange as it sounds, President Eisenhower viewed his “Atoms for Peace” strategy partly as a form of arms control.

“He thought that sharing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes would reduce the incentives of countries to want to make nuclear bombs,” says Matthew Fuhrmann, a political science professor at Texas A&M University and author of Atomic Assistance: How “Atoms for Peace” Programs Cause Nuclear Insecurity. For example, countries can use nuclear technology to generate electricity through nuclear power plants or produce radioisotopes for medical purposes.

AUDIO: Eisenhower on Atomic Energy On December 8, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses the General Assembly of the United Nations on the peaceful use of atomic energy.

“The alternative, of course, was to just try and set up an international embargo that would restrict the transfer of any nuclear technology to any state that didn’t already possess it,” Fuhrmann says. However, Eisenhower feared an embargo would “make other countries want the technology more,” possibly increasing “their resolve to eventually get it and maybe use it for more sinister purposes.”

There was also another dimension to “Atoms for Peace.” Nuclear technology was something valuable and new, and it conferred a certain status on countries that had it. The U.S. viewed providing other countries with the technology as a means of gaining influence over those states and achieving political goals. To that end, the U.S. provided nuclear assistance<span style="font-weight: …read more

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The First Birth Control Pill Used Puerto Rican Women as Guinea Pigs

May 9, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

An undated photo of Margaret Sanger (1883-1966). (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

It came in a brown bottle, marketed as a safe way for married women to treat menstrual disorders. But the contents of that little brown bottle were as potent as a bomb. Inside was Enovid, the world’s first birth control pill.

Soon, Enovid would usher in a new era of sexual autonomy for women. It was marketed as a safe, clinically tested way to take control of reproductive health. But few women who took it then, or since, realized how complicated its birth really was.

The pill had a bright future, but its past—one intertwined with eugenics and colonialism—was fraught. Its clinical trials took place not in the mainland United States, but in Puerto Rico, where poor women were given a strong formulation of the drug without being told they were taking part in a trial or about any of the risks they’d face. Three women died during the secretive test phase—but their deaths were never investigated.

An undated photo of Margaret Sanger (1883-1966). (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

The pill’s history starts with one of the most influential figures in the birth control movement, Margaret Sanger. Outspoken and fearless, Sanger was willing to defy the law on behalf of women’s reproductive rights. In 1916, she opened the nation’s first birth control clinic and was arrested for distributing information on contraception and put on trial for breaking a New York law. The trial that followed is now considered a watershed moment for birth control in the United States, and inspired physicians and researchers to begin seeking better ways to help women plan and prevent pregnancies.

Sanger thought that women would never be free until they had the ability to control their own bodies. But her views on birth control were also rooted in philosophies that would raise raise modern eyebrows. Historians contest a longstanding myth that Sanger thought non-white people should be prevented from procreating, but they agree that Sanger supported eugenics, a theory that “undesirable” populations could be reduced or eliminated by controlling their breeding.

In Sanger’s case, that “undesirable” group was “the mentally and physically defective.” Using eugenic language of the era, Sanger argued that birth control could help wipe out …read more

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The Tense History of U.S.-Iran Sanctions, from the Hostage Crisis to the Nuclear Deal

May 8, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Iran's Revolutionary Guards preparing to burn an American flag on the al-Fao Peninsula after it was recaptured by Iranian forces from the Iraqi army during the Iran-Iraq War, 1986. The combatants hold up photographs of Ayatollah Khomeini, along with green flags reading 'Allah Akbar'  which translates to 'God is Great'. (Credit: Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images)

In what is being called the most momentous foreign policy move of Donald Trump’s presidency, the president announced on May 8, 2018 that he’s withdrawing the United States from its historic 2015 nuclear accord with Iran. The end of the nuclear deal means a new beginning for economic sanctions against the country—sanctions that, over the decades, have cratered Iran’s economy and destabilized relations throughout the Middle East.

Technically, the United States and Iran have never been at war. But by imposing unilateral sanctions, the U.S. has long wielded money as a weapon in a shadow war that’s been raging since 1979. Here’s how sanctions went from punitive measure to status quo:

The Iran hostage crisis led Jimmy Carter to mount the first U.S. sanctions against Iran

The history of American sanctions against Iran began with a bang when a group of Iranian students stormed the American embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, taking more than 60 United States citizens hostage and sparking an international crisis. The 444-day-long hostage crisis tanked Jimmy Carter’s presidency, ushered in a new political era for Iran, and helped skyrocket Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a revolutionary cleric who objected to United States interference, to international significance.

It also created a state of permanent deadlock between the U.S. and Iran—a tense standoff characterized by a pattern of sanctions over direct negotiations.

VIDEO: Iran Hostage Crisis Explore the chain of events that set off the Iran hostage crisis – an diplomatic standoff that would keep Americans on edge and shape the course of Jimmy Carter’s presidency.

President Carter swiftly imposed sanctions on Iran after the hostage crisis began, cutting off sales of Iranian oil and freezing Iranian assets. These measures did nothing to help along diplomatic negotiations for the release of the prisoners, so on April 7, 1980, 212 days after the crisis began, he announced even more drastic measures. The U.S. cut off diplomatic relations with Iran, imposed economic sanctions including cutting off food aid, closed Iranian institutions within the U.S., and embargoed all imports from Iran.

“I am committed to the safe return of the hostages,” Carter told the nation. “The steps that I have ordered today are those that are necessary now. Other action may become necessary if these steps …read more

Source: HISTORY