Katherine Dunham: The Artist as Activist During World War II

Katherine Dunham (1909-2006) was a world-renowned choreographer who broke many barriers of race and gender, most notably as an African American woman whose dance company toured the United States, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Australia for several decades. In Katherine Dunham: Dance and the African Diaspora (Oxford, 2017), author Joanna Dee Das argues Dunham was more than a dancer; she was an intellectual and activist committed to using dance to fight for racial justice. At the same time, Dunham struggled to balance these social justice goals with her artistic career, financial needs, and personal desires. The following excerpt is the introduction to Chapter Four, which explores how … [Read more...]

The Fight to Exonerate Ethel Rosenberg

Why is the sixty-five year-old spy case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg back in the news? Anderson Cooper reported a segment for 60 Minutes, and Democracy Now joined numerous newspapers in continuing the siren’s call.  The case is grabbing unprecedented attention because the Rosenberg sons – Michael Meeropol and Robert Meeropol – want to get President Obama’s attention before he leaves office.  They are asking him to posthumously exonerate their mother – Ethel Rosenberg – for being wrongly convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage and executed in 1953. They have good reason to ask.  The 1951 trial was a mess, plagued with shocking irregularities and illegalities.  President Harry … [Read more...]

Northern Virginia and Cold War Covert Capital

The covert actions of the US government abroad, and their domestic ramifications, have drawn an increasing amount of attention from journalists and the general public. Yet for decades historians like Thomas Bender and Amy Kaplan have mined similar territory in an effort to debunk the rhetoric of American exceptionalism and to demonstrate how US foreign policy reshape demographics, national culture, and local politics.[1] In Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia, Andrew Friedman demonstrates how CIA skullduggery in Vietnam, Central America, and Iran intersected with burgeoning post-World War II suburbanization in Northern … [Read more...]

“Capital within a Capital”: Covert Action, the Vietnam War, and Creating a “Little Saigon” in the Heart of Northern Virginia

“That flag is the symbol of the spirit of the refu­gee,” Springfield resident and Vietnamese American talk show host Liem D Bui told journalists in 2012. The flag to which Bui referred is that of the fallen South Vietnam government and it along with an American flag fly over Eden Center shopping plaza in Falls Church, VA, a symbolic embodiment of Vietnamese American culture that some call “a capital within a capital,” for D.C.’s 80,000 residents of Vietnamese descent. Unfortunately, in recent years, the shopping center has garnered attention for more than its restaurants and markets. A murder-suicide left two men dead in July of 2012 and gambling raids in 2011 linked Eden Center and its flag … [Read more...]

An Ex-Intelligence Analyst’s Take on the Mess in Syria

"All that is very well,” replied Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden." — François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire), Candide: Ou, L’optimisme I teach Latin American history in Colorado, and write about the history of economic thought in hopes of one day claiming a hard-won doctoral degree from Columbia University. The crisis in Syria, it would seem, and the President’s call for intervention there, could hardly be farther from my daily concerns. But most of my professional life was very different. In fact this week’s events have seen the turbid confluence of almost everything I worked on from the time I finished college until the time I started graduate school. It’s been an unexpected and … [Read more...]

Constructing Constructivist Change in the Iranian-U.S. Relationship

Despite the recent myopic attention paid by the media and the Obama administration to Syria, the Iranian nuclear program remains one of the most important issues in U.S. foreign policy—or so we are told. The challenge presented by the Iranians' putative quest to acquire nuclear weapons has been portrayed as the most important security challenge facing the United States, particularly this millennium. Torn asunder by the 1979 revolution, the relationship between Iran and the United has been consistently adversarial for over 30 years. While in the West commentators and government officials accuse Iran of nefarious meddling and intransigence, the Iranian leadership views, or at least publicly … [Read more...]

Into Darkness Iron Man!: Drone Strikes and Terrorism in the Post-9/11 Era

[Editor's note: For those of you who have seen neither Iron Man 3 or Star Trek: Into Darkness, there are spoilers below.] Few action films of recent years have built their origin story so thoroughly on the psychological wreckage of 9/11 America than the Iron Man series.  True, its source material remains the popular Marvel comic, but its reboot in 2008 waded deeply into the morass of terrorism, the military industrial complex, and corporate malfeasance without really addressing any them in any meaningful way.  The franchise’s third installment, the cleverly titled Iron Man 3, shrouds Tony Stark and his mechanized self in post traumatic stress disorder while invoking a nebulous debate … [Read more...]

Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century

The first book by ToM's own Alex Cummings, Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright recently dropped from Oxford University Press.  Based on his dissertation at Columbia, the book traces the winding history of technology, property rights, and music since the invention of sound recording in the 1870s.  From sheet music  to piano rolls, and from reel-to-reel tape to CD-burners, new technologies have constantly raised the question of how sound and music ought to be regulated.  Composers didn't want their songs to be used to make player piano rolls or wax cylinder recordings in the early twentieth century--unless, of course, they were getting paid for the … [Read more...]

How Do We Know an Intervention Has Succeeded?

We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation. . . . We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans. – President Obama Back in late August of 2012, President Obama uttered words these in an impromptu press conference. At the time, it represented the most concrete and coherent statement of policy regarding the conflict in Syria. With the latest revelation that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on a small scale, calls for … [Read more...]

Syriana: Responsibility to Protect or Someone Else’s Problem?

If you’ve ever taken an International Relations Theory course then it’s likely that you’ve encountered the ubiquitous naysayer or two of IR Theory. “Why does this even matter in the study of foreign policy?” “Who cares what the Athenians told the Melians (FYI: 'The strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must')?” “Leaders don’t think about this stuff when formulating foreign policy!” Now, the last accusation may in fact be true. Sure, foreign policy elites are not necessarily thumbing through volumes of Morgenthau, Grotius, Kant, Wendt, and/or Waltz when deciding what to do about North Korea. But, these authors and the IR theories they construct provide useful analytical … [Read more...]