Sunday, July 30, 2017

A review of PBS's “Henry Ford” movie



"A lot of guys have had a lot of fun joking about Henry Ford because he admitted one time that he didn't know history. He don't know it, but history will know him. He has made more history than his critics ever read."

- Will Rogers, comedian

An interesting anecdote about Henry Ford

During the lifetime of Henry Ford, a newspaper once called him an "ignorant anarchist" (or words to that effect), which would have been a fairly serious charge at that time. Henry Ford not only disputed this with considerable umbrage, but he sued the newspaper for libel and defamation, and managed to actually win the suit. When he was put on the stand during this trial, the opposition set out to prove his ignorance by asking him questions about his knowledge of history. Paraphrasing the conversation they had, the opposition asked: "Do you know anything about the Revolution?", and he said yes. "Do you know when it was?" "Yes," he said, "it was in 1812." The opposition seized on his error, and said: "Don't you know that there wasn't any revolution in 1812? Had you forgotten that this country was born in a revolution in 1776?" "Yes, I suppose I'd forgotten that." He was grilled with high school questions like this for several days, and his lack of formal education showed; but he won the libel suit anyway. The jury basically said that he might be ignorant, but he was no anarchist. More to the point, he actually became more of a folk hero after the trial than before, seeming more like a common man, and gaining the admiration of millions.


Henry Ford

There are many ways to be intelligent

Henry Ford may not have known anything about history, and I obviously would not agree with him when he said that "History is more or less bunk" - I am, after all, a history blogger, who has written about history extensively; and I am very invested in the importance of history. Nonetheless, I think that it would not be fair to call Henry Ford "ignorant," this man who knew so much about cars and business. When it came to machinery, assembly lines, and business generally; the man seems to have been a true genius; and if you'd talked to him about these things, you would have seen that he was a tremendously smart individual. But much like certain people I could name today (but won't at this time), this elitist newspaper had no respect for practical intelligence; and went out and praised thinkers to the exclusion of praising doers. The satisfying thing about this story was seeing their attacks on his education backfire on them - instead of permanently humiliating him, it created sympathy for him among the public. Suffice it to say that it was probably the least scandalous thing that anyone could have printed about him, and it had the opposite effect of making him a sort of folk hero - a humorous effect that must have been satisfying for Ford.


Henry Ford and Barney Oldfield with a racing automobile

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Chaos in Cuba: Communist revolution, Bay of Pigs, and a close call with nuclear disaster



Historians have dedicated much attention to the Cuban Missile Crisis of the early sixties, and for good reason - it was the time in our history when the world came closest to nuclear war, which was a dramatic event worthy of serious attention from both historians and the general public. Less visible, however, is the communist revolution that rocked Cuba during most of the fifties; and the "Bay of Pigs" incident that was fairly prominent in the minds of both sides during the later crisis. It is not often that these events are covered together, since any one of these things is a complex topic in its own right; but these events in Cuba would nonetheless seem to be linked together (at least somewhat); and by more than just their closeness in time and place. The common theme running through all of them would seem to be the great worldwide struggle known as the "Cold War" - a war that was fought in Cuba ferociously during these tumultuous times, and which had importance far beyond the island itself on more than one occasion.


Picture from the Cuban War of Independence, 1898

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A review of Alistair Cooke's “America: A Personal History of the United States”



" ... these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved ... "

- The American Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776)

The British writer George Bernard Shaw is supposed to have once told a joke about the relationship between Britain and America. "The United States and Great Britain," he said, "are two countries separated by a common language." We argue about how to spell words and how to pronounce them, I think, and the "common ground" between us can sometimes be a battleground. All kidding aside, though, there is something special about the relationship between our two countries; and our shared English language could just be the most obvious manifestation of this extreme closeness. In ways that we sometimes take for granted, I think, we understand each other's humor and share each other's values. Our love of democracy and liberty, furthermore, is a characteristic that is somewhat rare in the world; and though it is found abundantly in both countries, it is not often found elsewhere to the same degree.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt meets with Winston Churchill aboard the HMS Prince of Wales - Atlantic Charter, 1941

The divide between the Americans and the British

Our culture is much the same, I think, and our view of the world is identical in many ways. But there are some differences between us that cause us both to misunderstand the other at times. It is somewhat unfortunate that my fellow Americans, for example, sometimes see the British as stuffy and unemotional (perhaps even snobbish), while the British sometimes see Americans as unsophisticated rubes who can be impetuous (and even obnoxious). I suspect that these differences have their origins in the fact that our histories diverged somewhat after the American Revolution, when the colonies declared that "all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved" (in the words of our Declaration of Independence). Thus, we have some significant differences between us, it is true; but these differences are not insurmountable. Thus, the BBC made this series about the history of America in 1973. This series was hosted by the famed journalist Alistair Cooke. This series attempted to explain us Americans - and I am an American, as you may have guessed - to our valued brethren in Britain. Thus, it helped to bridge the occasional gap of misunderstanding that sometimes pops up between us. (Although the misunderstandings are still pretty minimal even without this, and we are still a common family that gets along well most of the time.)


Alistair Cooke, the series presenter

Follow by email

Google+ Badge