Book Review, History

Book Critique: “American Midnight”

American Midnight: The Great War, A Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis
By Adam Hochschild

My Rating: ★★★★★

What a great read—and everyone should read this. Everything I read I saw parallels with our time. People say history rhymes—in this case it has!

Xenophobia—why do we hate immigrants so much? Why do we associate them with crime, taking our jobs, bringing radicalism, trying to overthrow our government? Well, Hochschild essentially shows immigrants were low hanging fruit for politicians for their own ambitions and corrupt bureaucrats to maintain budgets and climb the ladder. There were a few good apples—Wisconsin’s very own Senator Robert LaFollette and Assistant Secretary Louis Post. Xenophobia still infects society today—we just target a different group.

Hyper patriotism/Americanism/nativism—have you heard seen MAGA supporters, their Rallies, and their candidates?! Don’t go against grain or you’re cast aside, watched, or black listed. Sound familiar? It was the same in this window of time Hochschild brings us on a journey through. To be that red-blooded, masculine American man—you got behind the war effort, you bought liberty bonds, you did your part for the war (and you dare not question it). The groups that popped up to ensure everyone fell into line—like the American Protective League—reminds me of groups like the Proud Boys or Oath Keepers that twist their patriotism to justify violence against dissidents.

Racism—my god, Hochschild’s accounts of the rampant racism/lynchings will make your skin crawl. I don’t even know what to say for this. Black citizens of this country have been poorly treated. The problem is that people know they have been but they don’t truly understand to what extent and the morbid details. Of course, this book doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface—this is only a little window from 1917-1921. Thankfully, Hochschild shows us some of the good people working hard to right the wrongs. I really want to get my hands on a good book about W.E.B. de Bois—any suggestions? While Black regiments were dodging bullets and raising the American flag in victory in the trenches of Europe, they come home to the bullets of angry white mons and they themselves being raised by rope in a tree—some in their uniforms.

Suppression of Civil Liberties—while we may not explicitly be experiencing it to the level our country men an women have in the past, we are being listened to and being watched without warrant. But imagine being jailed for a stranger overhearing you say something critical of the president; for speaking in a foreign language; attending a rally/meeting for a organization that was deemed subversive because it promotes socialism; or for not buying a government bond to support a war. Aside from the prosecution and Incarceration, there were also the angry vigilantes that took the law into their own hands—many of them going unpunished. But there are the heroes and heroines of that time that fought back—Kate O’Hare, Eugene Debs, Dr. Marie Equi—risking their lives and freedom to fight against injustice.

The book is actually terrifying for the mere fact these things have happened here, so it leaves you wondering about the possibility of something to this scale happening again. A government justifying repression to win a war to “end all wars” and “make the world safe for democracy” while simultaneously failing at both on a grand scale. One character that disappoints me—whom I have such mixed
feeling on—is Woodrow Wilson. Here is an intelligent person with what was supposed to be high moral standards. He let these unthinkable things happen. He didn’t have his own house in order before he tried to put the rest of the world back together. He suffered from being this know-it-all, I-am-above-you mentality that got him fixated in getting what he wanted. It prevented him from negotiating for a peace that would ensure actual peace. He just failed in so many ways.

Hochschild pulls this great history together using archival material, Congressional Hearings, news accounts and secondary sources. Get this book—and read it it. I couldn’t put it down.

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