01 March 2009

History in the memory hole

Reading at Micky Kaus's place I came across his reaction to the President's attempt to justify the massive amounts of spending going on, that are greater than I care to think about.  He took out the three parts that he sees as major attempts by the President for this, and quotes him:

In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry.

From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age.

In the wake of war and depression, the G.I. Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. [E.A.]

First off is the Transcontinental Railroad which was first proposed in 1845 and Congress put out some bonds during the war to make it, but then this little thing known as the Civil War ate up manpower and funding for it.  Money spent in 1863 was in the most unconnected part of the country: California.  Money spent in JUL 1865 was after: the burning of Atlanta, the re-election of President Lincoln, the defeat of Lee and his surrender at  Appomattox in APR 1865, Lincoln's assassination in APR 1865, and the beginning of the Reconstruction.  California did not participate very much in the war not having a direct connection to much of anything back east, and to say that we laid railroad track from one end of the country to the other DURING the war when the 'Golden Spike' was put in on NOV 1869 is not even stretching the truth.

This is intentionally mis-stating history to sell a petty political program.


Second is the Industrial Revolution that most folks put up at the end of the 18th century to early 19th century, about the 1840's as and end point (see. Wikipedia amongst others).  The reason the US Civil War is such a major landmark in history is that it is the first time a fully industrialized foe went against a marginally industrialized one, and industrial might demonstrated that the disparity could not be made up on the battlefield where logistics was King.  It is very interesting to read Jerry Pournelle's site many times but this one seems appropriate, responding to a professor in 2005:

I don't want to sound condescending, but I am not astonished that the remedy, as seen by a professor of education, is more money. Yet I recall my 4-room 8 grade school in Capleville in the late 1930's and early 40's, and I cannot help thinking that we got a better education in 8 years in that school, from 2-year Normal School graduate teachers, than our kids now get in High School from "credentialed" teachers who have graduated from Departments of Education.

I do NOT believe the remedy is more money. The remedy is to insist on results and only pay for results. The remedy is to forget credentials and degrees and training and look at RESULTS, and fire the teachers who cannot teach. Nothing else will work. Of course we will never do that. Our schools are not for education, they are for credentialing, and that applies to grades 1-8, high school, college, and Departments of Education. You get there, you pay your fee, you get your credential; and once you have the credentials you are QUALIFIED, and can only be removed for -- well, essentially for nothing. The number of teachers fired for incompetence in the United States is so trivial as to be lost in the noise, and the only real way to lose a teaching job is to fake your credentials; if you have the credentials you are presumed to be competent even if your pupils learn nothing whatever.

Even more interesting is that the idea of secondary schools didn't start to hit until the early 20th century between 1910 to 1940 in the US.  Great Britain had learning at schools as a mostly private concern and it wasn't until 1900 that the Nation officially brought in secondary education.  Germany expanded primary education after WWI and added for-fee additional 4 years during that period, also.  This is a good full CENTURY after the Industrial Revolution and its 'aftermath'.

This is an intentional lie about history on its face.  And, no, having an ignorant speech writer isn't a help as it only points to the intellectual laxness of the speaker.


That brings us to the third one which is the closest to the point, but misses the point a bit.  The GI Bill passed in 1944 did, indeed, provide not only educational benefits, but home mortgage benefits to returning GIs.  As a group the GIs that would utilize these benefits the most were those returning from later wars, like Vietnam, and the great good of the first GI bill was that it allowed returning veterans to allot their money to the school of their choice: higher educational institutions had begun to over-charge GIs and raise tuition.

What created that middle-class, however, was the pent-up spending needs of a Nation that had sacrificed 50% of its GDP to war time spending.  Rationing at home and the lack of production of new items, such as cars, meant that returning GIs had back pay from military service, along with what women had earned but had lacked goods to buy at home, and that pent-up demand funded by ready cash would change the way Americans were able to live.  That *alone* would have formed the largest middle-class that the country had ever seen, as the ability to afford a home and a plot of land would create the 'suburbs' as a vibrant area of life due to the influx of new people to them.  Prior to WWII the activity of the social life of major cities was downtown, but with the appearance of suburbia that would begin to wane and the economic power wielded by families would help to create a boom in industry that would also have to supply post-war Nations that had their infrastructure devastated by the war.  That global need would put a spotlight on the untouched industrial power: the United States.

The GI Bill would play a part in that in smoothing transition for veterans, unlike what had happened in past conflicts, and that transition would allow industries to spread into new areas to create jobs.

How could those two factors do anything *but* create a new middle class?

As it was a little over half of returning WWII veterans used their benefits for higher education, while the rest continued on with their skill base and increased it by returning directly to work.  While those coming out of colleges and universities would gain a percentage increase in job pay, mostly in the middle management arena, that was only above the already high levels of wages being established by their non-university brothers.  This generation would try to move on from the war and what they remembered of the Great Depression so as to give their children a 'leg up' in life.  And yet, by 1956, poor Johnny couldn't read.  And today the rate of his not reading amongst each cohort has remained stable: no matter how much money is thrown at education there is a portion of American children that do not do well in the US education system no matter what is tried.

It is historically disingenuous to cite the government's GI Bill as 'creating' a middle class: it could do no such thing as these returning veterans would still need jobs to pay for food, clothing and other basic necessities which, for many, would be in a newly married life.  Matching up men and women who had readily available cash and the needs of a family would serve as the economic basis for creating a large middle class in America.  And while the GI Bill would help the post-war transition, and add icing on the cake of an economy that was exploding in activity, the idea that it would be the force to create that middle class is plainly nuts.

This is more than 'stretching the truth': it is not recognizing the basic social and economic forces that drive the US economy.


Apparently this current occupant of the White House can get away with such things and no one calling him on it, while the prior occupant would have been ridiculed for his lack of knowledge and ignorance.  Strange to think that it is the current occupant that is supposed to be so 'hip' and 'modern' and 'cool' and yet can't use Google.

Because that is part of the modern age, and there is no excuse for getting these things wrong... unless you are trying to sell a bigger lie than those being presented.

Or else you are left with the strong suspicion that, as the song goes, he really 'doesn't know much about history'...

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