10 Things You May Not Know About U.S. History
If UB historian Eric Singer’s first five “untold” aspects of American history piqued your interest, here is an additional handful, ripe for eyebrow raising if not jaw dropping. Even more fill the pages of Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s book, The Untold History of the United States, for which Singer served as principal researcher.
6. Many prominent Americans disagreed with Secretary of State John Hay that the Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars were “splendid” ones, “carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favored by the Fortune which loves the brave.” Contrary to Hay’s upbeat assessment and the sensationalism of William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer and other yellow journalists of their time, the Anti-Imperialist League vigorously opposed American involvement overseas in 1898 on moral, economic or racial grounds. Members of the league included Andrew Carnegie, Clarence Darrow, Mark Twain, Jane Addams and Samuel Gompers. One prominent anti-imperialist observed, “(Commodore George) Dewey took Manila with the loss of one man—and all our institutions.”
7. The U.S. government engaged in significant wartime propaganda. Opposition to World War I was so strong, the U.S. government established an official propaganda agency, the Committee on Public Information. The committee employed 75,000 volunteers known as “four-minute men” who gave pro-war speeches in department stores, on public transit vehicles, in churches and in theaters across the country. The committee placed ads prodding magazine readers to turn in to the Department of Justice “the man who spreads pessimistic stories … cries for peace, or belittles our efforts to win the war.” Newspapers parroted the committee’s messages uncritically, even when it falsely stated that Lenin and Trotsky were paid German agents betraying the Russian people.
8. A military coup in America? Widely respected and decorated Marine Gen. Smedley Butler testified to a House Special Committee on Un-American Activities in 1933 that the commander of the American Legion’s Massachusetts chapter together with a bond salesman had tried to recruit him to organize a million-soldier military coup. The aim: to topple the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, an idea that Butler summarily rejected, thereby putting an end to the plan. The committee concluded that “attempts to establish a fascist organization in the United States … were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient.”
9. Adolf Hitler used a U.S. practice as model for “race improvement.” Between 1909 and 1964, more than 20,000 people in California were sterilized under the guise of “race improvement.” Hitler cited American advances in the area of eugenics to advocate forced sterilization in Germany. He told his Nazi collaborators, “I have studied with great interest the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock.”
10. Many U.S. military leaders considered the atomic bombings either militarily unnecessary, morally objectionable or both. Though 85 percent of Americans approved of the use of atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, six of seven five-star officers who earned their ultimate star in World War II rejected the idea the atomic bombs were necessary to end the war. Adm. William Leahy declared that the atomic bombings were violations of “every Christian ethic I have ever heard of and all of the known laws of war. … The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. In being the first to use it we adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the dark ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”