[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Adam Hochschild has long specialized in excavating ignored moments in history and considering their relevance for today. His classic King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa — about the conquest and exploitation of the Congo by that Belgian ruler — appeared just as that country was beginning a decades-long civil war sparked not by a European monarch, but by multinational corporations and local warlords backed by neighboring countries.
In his newest book, American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis (which, like so many of his works, I can proudly say I edited), he again tackles a historical subject with an eerie echo in the present moment. The years 1917 to 1921 were the Trumpiest period in American history before The Donald arrived on the scene. They were filled with red-baiting as well as rage against immigrants and refugees, not to speak of so many other things that Trump would have liked to do, including censoring the critical media and throwing hundreds of people in prison solely for things they wrote or said.
I can’t recommend the book to you more highly! I consider it a must-read. Should you want a signed, personalized copy, all you have to do is donate at least $100 (at least $125 if you live outside the U.S.) to TomDispatch. And believe me, TD definitely needs your help to keep on keeping on in this ever-stranger world of ours. So, if you feel the urge, do visit our donation page and lend a hand!
And one small p.s.: TomDispatch will take the Columbus Day weekend off. We’ll be back Tuesday. Tom]
Consider it an irony first class. In 2017, Reality Winner, a former Air Force enlistee who had been working for a national security contractor at Fort Gordon, Georgia, would be prosecuted by the Trump Justice Department and sentenced to more than five years in prison for leaking one secret government document to The Intercept. Its subject? Under the circumstances, maybe you won’t be shocked to learn that it was about possible Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Winner was prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act, which had in previous years been used against leakers like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. And let me just repeat that she was sent to prison for more than five years (and served more than four of them) for leaking a single secret document about the 2016 election.
As TomDispatch regular Adam Hochschild, author of the just-published American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis, points out, FBI agents used a warrant under that same Espionage Act to enter Donald Trump’s Florida estate where they found more than 300 classified government documents (and 48 folders that once contained such documents but were now empty). Put in the context of Winner, you would have to assume that our former president will now be a genuine loser, right? I mean, if one document gets you five years in prison, how many do hundreds get you? The answer, if you ask Reality Winner, now free and recently interviewed by NBC News, is perhaps none. Not surprisingly, she finds any comparison between herself and the former president “incredibly ironic.” Nonetheless, in her deep humanity, she is not urging that he be locked up like her.
In his piece today, Hochschild returns to that devastating 1917 act, passed in the midst of World War I, and to the crushing of the Socialist Party in America in that same era. He wonders in a telling fashion: How might the United States be different today if, a century ago, the leadership of this country had not acted both so ruthlessly and in such an eerily Trumpian way? Tom
The Never-Ending Impact of a Forgotten Blitzkrieg Against the American Left
Donald Trump has had the urge to crush many things, including the last election. So I must admit I found it eerily amusing that, when the FBI entered his estate at Mar-a-Lago recently, they did so under a warrant authorized by the Espionage Act of 1917. History certainly has a strange way of returning in our world and also of crushing alternatives. Whatever Trump did, that act has a sorry track record in both its own time and ours when it has been used, including by his administration, to silence the leakers of government information. And because my latest book, American Midnight: The Great War, A Violent Peace, and America's Forgotten Crisis, is about the crushing of alternatives a century ago in this country, in the midst of all this, I couldn't help thinking about a part of our history that The Donald would undoubtedly have been the first to crush, if he had the chance.
But let me start with a personal event closer to the present. While visiting Denmark recently, I developed an infection in my hand and wanted to see a doctor. The hotel in the provincial city where I was staying directed me to a local hospital. I was quickly shown into a consulting room, where a nurse questioned me and told me to wait. Only a few minutes passed before a physician entered the room, examined me, and said in excellent English, yes, indeed, I did need an antibiotic. He promptly swiveled in his chair, opened a cabinet behind him, took out a bottle of pills, handed it to me, and told me to take two a day for 10 days. When I thanked him and asked where I should go to pay for the consultation and the medicine, he responded simply, “We have no facilities for that.”Read More