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History has remembered the Spanish-American conflict as a “splendid little war.” Between April and August 1898, over 72,000 American soldiers, sailors, and Marines steamrolled the larger forces of the decaying Spanish Empire in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, who had given up his position in the McKinley administration in order to create the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry (better known as the Rough Riders), became an all-American hero after the war. More importantly, America’s victories at San Juan Hill, Santiago, and Manila Bay showed the world that Washington had now entered into the age of empires.

The Spanish-American War is notable because it conclusively proved that the media can concoct a war without much evidence. The “gay ’90s” in America belonged to the press barons, otherwise known as the purveyors of “yellow journalism.” Competitors William Randolph Hearst (later portrayed as the character Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane) and Joseph Pulitzer fed war fever prior to the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor by writing sanguinary and exaggerated stories about Spanish atrocities against the innocent and helpless Cubans. While thousands of Cubans really did suffer in concentration camps, Hearst and Pulitzer often filled their pages with imaginary Spanish intrigues against the United States and American businessmen in Cuba. As a gross indication of the press’s power, one apocryphal story claims that illustrator Frederic Remington received a telegram from Hearst while covering the Cuban rebellion: “You furnish the pictures and I will furnish the war.” More… “Invasions: Real and Imagined”

Benjamin Welton is a freelance writer based in Boston. He is the author of Hands Dabbled in Blood.
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One hundred years ago, President Woodrow Wilson went before the United States Senate and asked Congress for a declaration of war against the Central Powers. The impetus for this declaration was Wilhelmine Germany’s return to unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic. Wilson, who had a year earlier campaigned on a promise of keeping the United States out of war, now, in April, asked to send American boys to Europe in order to

fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts — for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.

More… “Mist, Mountains, and Men”

Benjamin Welton is a freelance writer based in Boston. He is the author of Hands Dabbled in Blood.
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It’s a difficult task, writing about a country that is yet to appear on many printed maps. This is compounded when you’re writing as a foreigner, representing a foreign perspective that sees the new country mainly in terms of conflict and uncertainty.

It can also be argued that an outsider mining a newly independent country for fiction is doing a disservice to the authors from that country, whose own voices should be primary. Yet, fiction remains one of the most accessible ways that most people will come to learn about the country’s culture. And one unfortunate reality of Anglophone publishing is, blockbuster authors like Stieg Larsson aside, much literature written in other languages isn’t translated into English, or is published only in small print runs.

More… “Write Outside”

Christine Ro’s writing about books, music, and other topics is collected at ChristineRo.com.
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Would the United States be better off without the South? It is a question that is often asked by white progressives and centrists in other parts of the country, now that the Democrats have become a largely-Northern party while the former Confederacy has become the heartland of what was once Lincoln’s party. If the Confederacy had been allowed to secede, would what remained — let us call it the Rump USA — be a socially-liberal, civil libertarian, social-democratic paradise today?

Let us ignore, for a moment, the indifference by the white Americans who muse about this scenario to the fate of black Americans, who disproportionately reside in the South to this day, as well as to their fellow victims and sometime victimizers, the white Southern poor. Had they been permanently stranded outside the United States after 1861, neither group would have benefited from federal abolition of slavery, federal civil rights and voting rights legislation, or federally-subsidized economic development in the South.
More… “Without the South”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
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The great Austrian novelist Robert Musil, born like Mencken in 1880, placed these prophetic words in the mouth of his protagonist Ulrich, in The Man without Qualities: “One can’t be angry with one’s own time without damage to oneself.” It’s a warning H. L. Mencken may never have read, or have held up to him as a caution by a friend or an enemy, but it suits his case as well as anything he wrote or had written about him. He was a cultural and political malcontent who hurled anathemas left and right and aligned himself with no one. His favorite boast was that resistance to the status quo was in his bloodstream. “How did I get my slant on life?” he replied in an interview in 1926. “My ancestors for 300 years back were all bad citizens… They were always against what the rest were for… I was prejudiced… More…

Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.

This sentiment has been echoed in every sport, at all levels of competition, and throughout time. Legacies have been sealed, fortunes have been made, legends have been forged on the back of victory. History remembers winners, not losers. Would we even know who Michael Jordan was even if he hadn’t won six championships? Would we even care about Babe Ruth if the Yankees weren’t so dominate? Would Jesse Owens have become part of American folklore if he didn’t defeat all challengers in Germany?

Matt Blitz is a writer based out of Los Angeles who’s written for Atlas Obscura, CNN, Untapped Cities, and Today I Found Out. He’s currently the head of Obscura Society LA. He does laundry on a regular basis. You can follow him on Twitter @whyblitz.

In the first few weeks of World War I, Evelyn Underhill published a little book about mysticism. Practical Mysticism: A Little Book for Normal People was written during the last months of peace. But was a book about mysticism for the common man really necessary when the whole world was collapsing? Underhill decided it was, more than ever.

The contemplative life, wrote Underhill, is not some dreamy, silly pursuit; “a game fit only for idle women and inferior poets.” Neither is it a pious “special career, involving abstraction from the world of things.” Mysticism is a call to arms. It is a challenge to engage with true reality, to see things are they really are. “The mystical consciousness,” Underhill wrote in her Preface, “has the power of lifting those who possess it to a plane of reality which no struggle, no cruelty, can… More…

I’m depressed by how 2011 is going. It’s been one bad thing after another, starting with the car bomb at the Coptic Church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve. Now there’s the war in Libya. Is world peace a happy delusion that we inscribe on greeting cards and nothing more? Can you help restore my faith in humanity? — MJ

 

I hear you. You would think that with all our advancements, we would finally learn how to make peace with one another.  Sometimes I think we really haven’t moved forward at all, like we’re stuck in the Middle Ages where corrupt leaders slice off people’s heads. But I always try to remember that earnest individuals have tried to make world peace a reality. By establishing peacekeeping organizations and conferences, we have tried to rise above violence. And we… More…

A war has been brewing in Europe and no one seems to care. Admittedly, the hostilities have been mild so far: hurt feelings, insults, diplomatic wrangling. Yves Leterme (a Flemish politician) questioned whether people in the French-speaking part of Belgium have the “intellectual capacity” to learn Dutch. Belgium, Leterme suspects, holds together as a nation only because of three things: “king, national football team and certain beers.” Not even all the beers.

 

Belgium is not the most obvious candidate for a unified state. It is, and arguably always has been, deeply and fundamentally divided between the French-speaking southern half of the country (Wallonia) and the Dutch-speaking northern half of the country (Flanders). The separation runs back to the Frankish invasions of the area back around the fifth century, which is a pretty longstanding divide even by European standards…. More…

 

There’s been a lot of griping, of late, about the decade just passed. That seems appropriate for a decade that began in terrorism and war, and ended in economic turmoil (never having gotten the terrorism and war out of its system along the way). It was crap. TIME magazine, a reasonably polite rag most of the time, called it the “Decade from Hell.” Gallup polls over the last 10 years recorded all-time lows in the collective low. Those inclined to dabble in the marketing of stocks have collectively labeled the last decade, “the worst ever.” And so on.

Whenever people get to the business of condemning decades, I think of W.H. Auden. That’s because of his famous poem “September 1, 1939”, which opens with the following lines:

I sit in one of the dives On Fifty-second Street Uncertain… More…