Saturday, October 15, 2011

On the Side of the Winners

The man, who was supposed to bring victory for Germany with his "wonder weapon," the V-2, experienced the end of the war in comfortable peace. In the town of Oberammergau he enjoyed, under the watchful eye of the SS, the spring weather in the company of his colleagues from the military experimental station at Peenemünde: "we sat on our mountain, and below, through the valley, moved the Allies." Wernher von Braun had already been prepared for a while to go over to the enemy. On May 2, 1945 - the radio had just announced Adolf Hitler's death - he sent his brother on a bicycle into the valley to the American troops. "My country had lost two world wars," he wrote. "This time I would like to be on the winner's side."

The victors would grant him this wish. Yesterday's enemy became a friend and helper, and so the history of Wernher von Braun is not only about the opportunism of the individual, but rather also about the opportunism of a great nation: after 1945, the American brought more than a thousand German scientists - rocketeers, aviation engineers, and biologist specializing in space flight - into the country; an operation which began under the code name 'Overcast' and which was carried forward for more than twenty years as 'Project Paperclip.'

Wernher von Braun would lead his German scientists to create both America's military missile program and its peaceful civilian space exploration missions. As NASA's leading engineer and researcher, his triumphs would extend from manned landings on the moon to unmanned spacecraft reaching Jupiter, Neptune, and beyond. And it all began with a bicycle ride through the beautiful mountain countryside of southern Germany!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Abuse Stops Here

A nation which demonstrates weakness, or which shows that it lacks the will to defend itself, will not long endure. During one period of history in 1975, the United States risked such a fate, until courage and nerve of President Gerald Ford demonstrated to the world that we were willing to protect the lives of our citizens.

Professor John Greene at Cazanovia College, explains that American flirted with passivity at the same time that the barbaric government of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge was becoming ever more aggressive. The bloodthirsty thugs who took illegitimate control of Cambodia's government had not only proved that they were willing to murder millions of their country's own citizens, but they had also captured an American ship, the Mayaguez; they assumed that America's lessened posture, in the wake of its humiliation in Vietnam, meant that the United States would not dare to defend itself:

This was not the first hostile action of the new Khmer Rouge government in the weeks following American withdrawal from Cambodia and Vietnam. Ten days prior to the Mayaguez incident, they had seized and released several Thai fishing boats; eight days earlier, they had fired on a South Korean ship and unsuccessfully attempted to board her; six days before, several South Vietnamese craft had been confiscated, and five days before, a Panamanian ship had been stopped and detained for thirty-six hours. Nor was it the first seizure of an American commercial vessel. Over the preceding twenty-three years, Ecuador had seized twenty-three vessels and had beaten and shot at numerous American crews. Rather than react in a hostile fashion, previous administrations had paid fines to secure the release of the ships.
America had turned onto a dangerous path: allowed pirates or hostile regimes to capture our ships, and then paying ransom money to get them back. This pattern of activity only encourages more piracy and more attacks on our ships.

To change this pattern would require boldness. President Gerald Ford is the leader who decided that America should stop taking abuse and stand up to protect the lives and freedom of its citizens.

Mere hours after the capture of the Mayaguez, President Ford ordered the U.S. Marines to land on a small island owned by Cambodia, and at the same time ordered the Air Force to being bombing over Cambodia. Quickly, the Khmer Rouge released both the ship and its sailors.

President Ford had demonstrated that he would take decisive action, and that he would not allow Americans to be bullied. The United States gained, or regained, some respect among the nations of the world.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Obtaining Full Civil Rights for African-Americans

The general outline of the struggle by the Blacks for civil rights in the United States during the 1950's and 1960's is well known: Martin Luther King, voting rights, desegregation, and bus boycotts. But in addition to these general notions, more specific facts can shed light on the details of the process by which African-Americans gained full access to the rights first delivered to them a century earlier, immediately after the Civil War: in the late 1860's and early 1870's, Blacks had more access to voting and other civil rights than they would have in the 1930's or 1940's. Things had actually regressed rather than progressed. When the Democrat party gained control of the federal government, in the forms of Woodrow Wilson and FDR, segregation was introduced into many social institutions. (Wilson actually discouraged Black students from applying to universities.) It would not be until the late 1940's that progress toward civil rights would resume: Eisenhower began integrated the Army, forcing Truman to finish the process. When Eisenhower moved from being a general to being a president, he continued the integration process: he ordered the famous 101st Airborne unit to integrate the high school in Little Rock, Arkansas - when the governor of the state, a member of the Democrat party, had refused to integrate the school, and had in fact sent the state's police to keep Black students out.

The Republicans carried the move toward from integration from the 1950's into the 1960's: when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was presented to Congress, Cengage's history textbook tells us, it was clear to President Johnson that

the Democratic Party would continue trying to block it. Consequently, he and his allies in the U.S. Senate courted crucial Republican support for curtailing a

Democrat-led filibuster. Finally, the Republicans defeated the Democrats, passed the Civil Rights Act, and ensured that African-Americans in the south would have their full civil rights. Martin Luther King's dream was fulfilled by his friends, the Republicans in Congress. Despite the anti-Black sentiments of the Democrat Party, the Republicans won, ensuring equality for all Americans.