Steve Haycox

In 1935, the newly elected U.S. senator from Louisiana, Huey P. Long, began what looked to be a vigorous and aggressive campaign for president of the U.S. Long was a hugely popular populist politician. He had risen to public prominence in Louisiana by attacking the oil interests who effectively ran the state, charging them with callous greed and indifference to the deprivations suffered by the common people -- which the companies could have done much to alleviate by ceasing to buy politicians who successfully opposed mitigating legislative reforms. A flamboyant anti-elitist known for his bombastic rhetoric, use of radio to reach people in remote rural regions, and strong-arm political tactics, Long had been elected governor in 1928. An authoritarian who controlled state government with an...Steve Haycox
“Keine gewalt gegen Frauen.” That’s what the women of Cologne are saying on signs carried in spontaneous protests that erupted across the city last week following an ugly outbreak of male power, arrogance and lack of discipline. On New Year’s Eve, as thousands of year-end revelers crowded into the German city’s main plaza by the central train station and the extraordinary Gothic cathedral, about a thousand “North African or Arab-looking” men set about systematically molesting and manhandling hundreds of women; one rape was reported. It was an organized attack, a premeditated, violent and intimidating disparagement of women. Police and others in the crowd did not initially grasp what was happening. Imagine Rockefeller Center at Christmas or Times Square on New Year’s Eve; many women feared...Steve Haycox
In 1929, Salvador de Madariaga -- a Spanish diplomat, historian and writer who was for a time chair of the Council of the League of Nations -- published a book on the psychology of nationalism, which he titled "Englishmen, Frenchmen, Spaniards." Once required reading for doctoral candidates in history, the book reminded us that every culture interprets history in terms of its own self-interest. Thus, English historians understood World War I from an English point of view; the French differently, in terms of French interests; and German historians had a strikingly different view. Only by reading and synthesizing them all, Madariaga counseled, could any historian hope to achieve a comprehensive and balanced view. The argument may seem commonplace, but it’s a hard lesson to internalize and...Steve Haycox
Nothing quite captures the tragicomedy of our current national political theater as the notion of “bread and circuses.” This was the phrase used by the Roman poet Juvenal in the 1st century to characterize the degradation of Roman politics, sunk to persistent pandering for votes by politicians who promised and provided free bread, and frequent circuses and other entertainments. True, Donald Trump and other populist hucksters have captured the discomfiture and anger of a large segment of the electorate fed up with polarized government, unfulfilled promises and the continuing economic decline of the middle class. Accomplished fearmongers, they now also raise the specter of an unsafe America whose citizens are prey for terrorists masquerading as war refugees. But meanwhile, substantive...Steve Haycox
Alaska Dispatch News recently provided a useful reminder of the complexity of real life by reprinting from the Anchorage Daily News Tom Kizzia’s 1999 four-part series on the unfulfilled plan floated by officials in the U.S. Interior Department in the late 1930s to resettle German Jewish refugees in Alaska. For reasons familiar to history, German Jews were desperate to get out of Germany both before and after “Kristallnacht” in 1938 as Nazi hatred and scapegoating overtook them. The Interior Department, at the time engaged in a campaign to develop Alaska, imagined the territory as fertile ground for new settlers. The resource-rich province was sparsely populated but apparently had no substantive history of ethnic prejudice. Alaskans, it was thought, accepted anyone willing to work and pull...Steve Haycox
One of the questions history asks is which is more important: the times or the person? Are there inexorable forces that so determine circumstances that leaders, or persons, are so constrained that anyone would be compelled to make the same decision, no matter who? Or does the person always make the difference. Among those historians willing to take a stand, some argue that history is indeed the product of individual judgments which reflect different capabilities, that whoever is in the leadership, or circumstance, makes all the difference. Some add that serendipity plays a role, i.e., had someone else been the player, things would have developed differently than they did. Others argue the times make the person, that no matter who might have been the leader, or present at a given moment,...Steve Haycox
There have been murmurings on campus lately protesting the death of the humanities. Some students want them back! Perhaps that’s inevitable: students, after all, are supposed to challenge the basic assumptions of their elders, and one of those assumptions, the one that has dominated education for some time, is that the prime goal is to prepare students to be able to get a paying job. The STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – are seen as the practical fields that will facilitate that goal. The stories about philosophy majors driving taxis have driven education into stark instrumentality. It’s not just that from this perspective there seems little point in reading "Hamlet," or studying Pascal’s "Pensees." As STEM areas become more complicated, there’s just...Steve Haycox
Colonial American history once was taught somewhat differently than it is now. A generation ago students learned there was a triangular trade system across the Atlantic, though just which ports, coasts and products were involved was always a bit murky. Also, it wasn’t clear how the triangular trade meshed with British trading goods going directly to the colonies, while New England pine trees went to Britain for masts for English ships. It’s all quite passé now; there were many trade routes across the Atlantic and they cannot be reduced to a simple, single system. Beginning in the 1960s, a new sub-discipline in history arose called Atlantic studies. It started with the knowledge that soon after discovery of the new world, European entrepreneurs began to capitalize on several New World...Steve Haycox
Opinion journals like National Review, The New Yorker and the Atlantic recently have given significant attention to a new book by Timothy Snyder, the Yale historian of Eastern Europe and the Holocaust, whose 2010 work "Bloodlands" attracted considerable note. In "Bloodlands," Snyder recounted the brutal, bloody, mid-20th century history of the lands between the eastern border of Germany and the Ukraine. About 14 million people were murdered in that area between 1933 and 1945, “mass violence of a sort never before visited upon this region. The victims were chiefly Jews, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, Russians and Balts, the people native to these lands," Snyder notes in his newest book. Most of the killers were Soviets and Nazis, but locals readily joined them in the slaughter, expressing...Steve Haycox
Anchorage’s centennial year is drawing to a close, and the remarkable summer with it. The concerts, parties and plays are over, and the golden hues of the birch leaves signal closure. It was entertaining, for sure. Was it illuminating? If one thing stands out as a conclusion about who we are, it seems to be diversity. UAA Professor Chad Farrell’s analysis of the ethnic and racial composition of Anchorage schools and neighborhoods over the last few years set the stage. As most know by now, Anchorage has the three most diverse high schools in the nation: East, Bartlett and West. Mountain View is the most diverse neighborhood. Todd Hardesty celebrated that diversity in his centennial film “Anchorage Is,” as did Charles Wohlforth in his marvelous centennial history “From the Shores of Ship...Steve Haycox