Peace History and U.S. Foreign Policy

Image courtesy of Roger Peace

Is it possible to cultivate a peace perspective while studying American wars? I think it is, if value-based questions are asked and a corresponding framework for analysis is offered.

The peacehistory-usfp.org website, which I am developing with the support of the Peace History Society and Historians Against the War, asks whether each foreign war fought by the United States was just and necessary. This is the entry point for critically evaluating U.S. wars and foreign policies.

The standards for evaluating wars are situated outside of Washington but within the real world. They are rooted in the developing moral architecture of international norms, including prohibitions against national aggression written into the Charter of the United Nations (1945), human rights guidelines as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and subsequent human rights treaties, and humanitarian laws governing the conduct of war as set forth in the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
Having taught many U.S. history survey courses at the community college level, including 35 “U.S. in the World” courses, I have struggled to find appropriate resources that offer alternative perspectives to the dominant nationalistic viewpoints that infuse undergraduate textbooks and popular websites. Wars are typically evaluated on the basis of whether American power and interests were advanced, with little concern for “just war” principles or the harm done to others.

The goal of the website is to fully examine every U.S. war and major foreign policy orientation over the course of 240 years. Thus far, four of the eighteen planned entries have been completed: War of 1812, U.S.-Mexican War, War of 1898 and U.S.-Filipino War, and Korean War. Each entry comprises a short book of 28,000-32,000 words (roughly 85-95 pages), supplemented with images.

I invite educators to utilize the website by assigning sections for student reading. Feedback is welcome. I also invite scholars to participate in developing new entries, whether by suggesting resources, creating outlines, writing sections, or reading drafts.
The website does not purport to reveal an “untold story,” but rather to parlay critical perspectives commonly found at higher levels of academia into accessible narratives for non-history majors and the general public (history majors will benefit as well). In the War of 1812 entry, for example, I relied on the authoritative accounts of historians Donald R. Hickey, Carl Benn, and Alan Taylor, experts on the subject, among others. The perspective put forth is “new” only in the sense that U.S. textbooks and popular history have privileged the official (Madison) administration viewpoint, minimizing or excluding British, Canadian, and Native American views, and treating dissenting Federalists and peace advocates as losers. It will nonetheless appear new to many.

Peace scholars have added much to our understanding of the role of peace movements and antiwar voices in policy debates and protests. The intent of the website is not to fashion the story around these movements and individuals, but to give them more prominence and highlight their critiques. Readers and students should become thoroughly familiar with the idea that the prospect of war has typically engendered intense debate and opposition, that U.S. leaders have often resorted to underhanded methods to push the nation into war, and that militant patriotism has been used to intimidate and silence antiwar voices.

Apart from historical entries, there are two other parts of the website that have yet to be developed. One is a subsection in “Resources” to be titled “For Educators,” which might include lesson plans and curricula/syllabi for courses. Another is the “Connections” section, which I envision as highlighting recent newspaper and website articles connecting past and present.

To take one example, the New York Times (9/7/16), in covering President Obama’s visit to Laos, reported that “the United States had dropped more than two million tons of bombs on this country during the height of the Vietnam War, more than it dropped on Germany and Japan during World War II.” Obama offered $30 million to help clean up the still-unexploded bombs, which “lie buried under fields and forests, killing and maiming thousands of children, farmers, and others who stumble on them.” The war has not ended for Laotians.

In the end, I hope that the website leads students and citizens to intelligently question both current and past U.S. foreign policies, and to consider alternative international arrangements that build on international cooperation, mutual security, and common problem-solving. More immediately, I hope it serves as an outreach vehicle for the Peace History Society and Historians Against the War.

 


Roger Peace earned his doctorate in American Foreign Relations from Florida State University and taught U.S. and world history courses for 17 years. Prior to teaching, he worked as a local peace organizer and foundation director for nearly two decades. He is the author of A Call to Conscience: The Anti-Contra War Campaign (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012). Contact him at rcpeace3@embarqmail.com.

HathiTrust

In the world of digital collections and archives, few organizations compare to the HathiTrust. The multi-institutional library brings together the individual collection of its more than 100 partner institutions to create a digital clearinghouse of nearly 14 million total volumes, including books, journals, magazines and other print material. For scholars of interested in peace research, HathiTrust includes documents from a number of peace organizations, including the American Peace Society and the National Council for Prevention of War. It also includes numerous documents related to the U.S. government and a large catalog of digital books. In fact, roughly 39% of the works hosted by HathiTrust are in the public domain.

Below is an example of the type of documentation that can be found in HathiTrust. It is a program for the Fourth Annual American Peace Congress held in St. Louis, Missouri between May 1 and 3, 1913.

HathiTrust also creates digital tools and software designed to facilitate researchers’ navigation through the library’s massive amounts of digital text. HathiTrust is a valuable resource for educators and researchers, housing numerous documents while generating better tools to access them with.

EDIT – An earlier version of this article claimed that HathiTrust houses 39% of the works in the public domain. This is incorrect. The accurate claim is that 39% of the materials held HathiTrust are in the public domain.

StoryMap JS

Later this week we will have the first post from Alisha Baginski (follow her on Twitter at @BAGINS_), Peace and Change’s student intern, who will be unveiling a digital project she created using StoryMap JS. Before the post debuts, I thought that I would introduce our readers to the digital tool that she is using and its applications in the classroom and beyond.

StoryMap JS is an open-source tool that allows users to create web-based, multimedia-rich narratives that emphasize the importance of geography. Developed at Northwestern University’s Knight Lab, the tool can be used by those looking for a simple means of telling a story ground in space. Built using Knight Lab’s Gigapixel, StoryMap JS also allows for the creation of media rich stories that incorporate videos as well as photographs, maps, works of art and any other image file.

Numerous news organizations, such as The Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy, and CNBC, have used StoryMap JS maps to report on events around the globe. However, the tool is not intended for journalists alone and has seen significant use in the classroom. At Colorado State University, students under Dr. Robert Jordan have created impressive projects using StoryMap JS, such as this student project that tracked indigenous language in North and South America.

Because of the relative ease of access and engaging interface, StoryMap JS is a tool with potential for both educators and professionals. We at Peace and Change are excited by the opportunity to publish using the tool and introduce it to our readership.  

FoundSF

I recently came across a unique, and very useful, digital archive documenting the history of San Francisco called FoundSF. The archive is a wiki – a website that is maintained and edited through the collaborative processes of its users – that catalogs and presents historical artifacts from the San Francisco area. It contains digitized newspapers, videos, and pictures of San Francisco and the communities that call it home. The themes of the collection found on FoundSF range from broad discussions on race, gender, and the area’s ecology, to remembrances of San Francisco theme parks and attractions.

Perhaps to the surprise of few, there is much space dedicated to the various protest movements that rocked San Francisco over the latter half of the twentieth-century. In fact, a certain rebelliousness pervades the entire archive, with many of the conventions of impartiality ignored. As the curators point out, “FoundSF does not have a mission to present a ‘neutral point of view.’ Instead, we are focused on presenting real artifacts of history, and some of the best of these are highly biased and provocative.”

Although one should not take what is written on FoundSF as the gospel truth – and let’s be honest, most of the readers of Peace and Change are used to giving their sources a careful inspection – the documents held in the archive are fascinating.

For example, there are interviews with activists that highlight the intersection of the Gay Rights movement with pro-FSLN activism in the 1970s and 1980s.

Video interview: Chris Carlsson, edited by Joe Caffentzis

There are also remembrances of the 1968 San Francisco State student strike, accompanied by pictures of the unrest.

Photo: Lou de la Torre via FoundSF

Although admittedly tendentious, FoundSF is a treasure trove of documents detailing the turbulent history of San Francisco and is a valuable source for both researchers and educators.

Swarthmore College Peace Collection

In our efforts to better understand the width and breadth of peace scholarship, we at Peace and Change will begin a regular series of posts in which we examine the digital resources available to students, teachers, scholars, and activists. We will shine a spotlight on those tools and archives that forward our understanding of peace studies by either cataloging resources, facilitating student learning, or providing a unique lens through which to view the subject. Through these posts, we hope to introduce readers to resources that may help them improve their scholarship, enhance student learning outcomes, and strengthen their activism.

We chose to begin our series with the Swarthmore College Peace Collection (SCPC), an archive at Swarthmore College, obviously, that houses thousands of documents, including those from the Peace History Society.

The SCPC was founded as a library and archive for the books and papers of Jane Addams, as well as the files for Women’s Peace Party and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Over half of the collections documents pertain to women, and cover subjects related to “pacifism, women and peace, conscientious objection, nonviolence, civil disobedience, progressivism, the Vietnam era, African-American protest and civil rights, feminism, civil liberties, the history of social work, and other reform movements.” The website also houses a number of digitized photographic collections and links to peace organizations and their history.

The SCPC website provides finding aids to help navigate the archives large collections, as well as links to other online collections.

For those interested in the intersection of race, gender, and class with peace history, the Swarthmore College Peace History Collection is a useful hub that will satisfy the needs of scholars, the teachers, and students.