The first people in the New World came across a land bridge from Asia. When is unclear, there are few written records since nomadic hunter-gatherer types didn’t use datebooks or keep diaries. Still, they spread across the Americas starting civilizations, cultures and that sort of thing. They domesticated wild llamas into pack animals and tamed wild maize into corn tortillas. These were the Mayans, Aztecs, Incas, Lakotas and others whose names are lost in antiquity or somewhere in the vast wilderness which, being vast, was all over back then.
Later Columbus stopped by and discovered they were Indians, despite thinking he landed at an outpost of Japan which would have been populated by Japanese and not Indians. What can I say, history doesn’t always make sense. This version of history makes less sense than most.
Around 1500 Europeans began showing up in ships as the land bridges where closed. Amerigo Vespucci sailed up and down the South American coast and figured out it was too big to be Japan. Though, if he’d just have asked the natives he could have saved a lot of bother. He wrote up his travels and published a best seller even though most Europeans were illiterate back then. For the many-headed printers made maps because a picture is worth a thousand words and were affordable because talk is cheap. Mapmakers labeled the new continent America after the Latinized name Americus Vespuccia. They didn’t go with the last name to keep relations between the Old and New World on a first-name basis and no-one wanted to live in Vespucca. Maybe.
Countries of the age were imperialist. Since most of Europe was spoken for they decided to build some empires in the New World, after first breaking up any inconvenient empires already there. Two methods were used: turn the unwilling natives into subjects of the empire; or send your own willing people as colonists. Both systems weren’t without flaws as unwilling people can’t be relied on. Neither can willing people, as we will see. Nevertheless, empires were carved out by the seagoing powers of the age, Portugal, Spain, England, Holland and France. These would be Brazil, New Spain, New England, New Holland and New France respectively. Seems only the Portuguese had original ideas for naming places.
The idea behind colonies was you could get things much cheaper overseas than at home. Sort-of the first outsourcing. This was supposed to be especially lucrative since everything was free for the taking. The natives might object, but they didn’t have any recorded deeds or lawyers. Had they known they could plant a flag and declare total ownership perhaps they’d have done so, but it was a trade secret the Europeans sprung on them unawares. This came under the then recognized legal concept, veni vidi ownum, which roughly translates to “finders keepers.” By the time the natives got up to speed on how it worked they had missed the boat as they only had canoes.
The English subscribed to the BYO people school of empire building beginning in Virginia. But they couldn’t keep out the riff-raff. These would be the Pilgrims, Puritans who left England for freedom from religious persecution so they could freely persecute each other which scattered them into settlements up and down the northeastern seaboard.
While religious zealots were dotting the map up north, English businessmen were investing in adventurous ventures down south. None of this paid off because despite being the land of milk and honey neither were very profitable to export. Then they discovered selling tobacco to Europeans back home was just the ticket to riches. This is one of the great marketing schemes of all time, like selling people bottled water for 100 times the price of tapwater. How they convinced people inhaling smoke from burning leaves was the cat’s pajamas, is a something of a mystery. As is why cats would ever wear pajamas.
While tobacco money flowed into England, the flow to America was African slaves to work the tobacco plantations. This didn’t much please either the Indians or the Africans, but money was being made by the English and the Muslim slavers so this was glossed over. This also upset the Puritans, but they were rather preoccupied with infestations of witches, apostates and such, as well as trying to find a profit center where tobacco doesn’t grow to keep themselves in Bibles to thump and buckles for their shoes and hats. Their hats needed to be buckled tight to keep their heads from swelling, pride being strictly a no-no for Puritans.
Just to make things more of a muddle of this colonial messing about, the French and Dutch were busy meddling in the area, too. The Dutch founded New York, which they mistakenly called New Amsterdam. They settled in Manhattan which they named after the natives they paid off to go away and not come back.
In the meantime, the Spanish followed some ponce named De Leon into Florida to find the fountain of youth. If you’ve ever visit the grandparents in Florida, you know they never found it, or if they did it’s run dry long ago. Still, it was a pretty half-hearted attempt to Spanishify Florida. I suppose because it was half swamp, and full of alligators and mosquitos. What they really needed was a fountain of air conditioning.
The French settled in Quebec where they traded in beaver pelts, which really filled out a wallet. They found Beavers make good hats. The beavers themselves didn’t make the hats, their fur made for good felt. The hats were fashioned by hatters who eventually went mad from the chemicals used in felt making. There aren’t so many mad hatters these days, not too many folks wear felt hats anymore. Which is a great relief to beavers, I’m sure.
There was a lot of animosity among all the various factions vying for elbow room. You might suppose there was plenty of elbow room back then, urban sprawl having not been invented yet, but the place was choked with trees. So all the wide open spaces were wide, but not so open. This was solved with axes, cutting down trees to build houses and exporting logs and tar back to England to use as masts and tar pitch so the Royal Navy could power their sailing ships without relying on the Baltic states who ran the tree cartel. Basically, this was an early attempt at energy independence by the British.
Despite what horse racing fans say, the real sport of kings back in the day was war. Europeans would go to war at the drop of a hat, or in one case over an ear. The ear in question belonged to this Jenkins fellow, or it did until some Spaniard cut it off. Queen Anne, having both ears intact, heard about this and it knocked her socks off. Doffing hats or socks, the results are the same, war was declared. So the Georgians invaded Florida because they wanted to cut down trees in Honduras, or something. All this led to a fight over who would inherit the crown of Austria. How all this fits together is hard to explain, especially since I have no clue.
After beating up on Spaniards, the English next went to war against their favorite whipping boys, the French. This was the Seven Years War, which stateside was called the French and Indian War. This was where George Washington made his bones by losing a battle on a trip to his land holdings in Ohio, though these lands were held by Indians. In the end the French lost the war and the English took over Quebec, but never got the French to stop being French. They eventually were able to teach them to play hockey, which is something of an accomplishment when you think about it.
Generally speaking, Americans don’t like tea or taxes. While this might not excite people to war nowadays, this wasn’t always the case. Towards the end of the 18th century a lot of the English in America had never even seen England and didn’t much care what the English English thought how the place should be run. This riled the radicals and firebrands, who are always easily riled, to do away with English taxes and tea opting to drink coffee instead. How much all this caffeine consumption played into their excitability is hard to figure.
Some Bostonian hot-heads stopped paying taxes and started dumping tea into the harbor. Then they set up Committees of Correspondence to send mail without proper stamps to badmouth the English and generally stir things up. King George couldn’t tolerate this sort of thing and sent some troops over to stamp it out. This Intolerable Stamp Action agitated the agitators who put together a volunteer force of Minutemen in response. These were so called because one minute was their term of enlistment thinking beating back the British would be the work of a minute. Ever optimistic the Americans.
Rebels gathered on Breed’s Hill to fight the Battle of Bunker Hill for reasons that are unclear. The British fought marching in ranks straight up the hill rather than using a flanking maneuver, also for reasons that are unclear. The rebels shot for between the whites of the British eyes despite the smooth-bore firearms of the day being wildly inaccurate. Even so, the Redcoats were cut down in droves, though organized in battalions. This went on until the Redcoats eventually drove the Yanks from the heights with bayonettes. Both sides declared victory, a practice which continues to this day.
War never goes according to plan, the enemy have plans of their own which rarely are the same as yours. Furthermore, commanders on the same side have different plans. Toss in foreign allies with designs of their own and you can see how messed up it can get. So, the whole thing grew out of control and before you could say “Jenkins’ ear” there was fighting all over the place. At this point some delegates decided to convene a convention in Philadelphia to figure out what they were fighting for. This was before conventions were an excuse for drinking, eating, driving around in tiny cars wearing silly hats and generally making a nuisance of yourself on an expense account.
This was called the First Continental Congress assuming they’d probably need more later. The delegates decided rather than hang separately they’d declare independence and hang the consequenses. A clever move that turned treason into patriotism. They drew up a Declaration of Independence and affixed their John Hancocks, except John Hancock who just signed his name. They dubbed their creation the United States of America.
Congress put George Washington in charge of the army due to his experience losing battles in the last war, and sent the Continental Army to defend indefensible New York as a show of force. This show closed pretty quickly and the English took New York and settled in for the duration. The rebels retired to New Jersey planning a comeback for Christmas. This revival they sprung on a bunch of drunken Germans at Trenton to rave reviews in France, of all places.
In the Spring a gentleman named John Burgoyne attacked from Canada but needed support from New York and asked General Howe, who replied “why?” The offensive ground to a halt at Saratoga where Burgoyne surrendered. At this, the French sniffed opportunity in the air –one case when opportunity smelled instead of knocked– and decided to join the war against England. They sent a fleet to the Caribbean where the weather is more pleasant for battle, despite there being no American interests there. That’s what it’s like having French allies.
As the British marched about from battle victory to victory, the American cause wallowed in defeat and debt while Congress continued providing morale support but no actual money support. The “buy now, pay later” tradition of Congress was thus established. The main war effort shifted to the south where Lord Cornwallis was chasing rebel forces around the Carolinas and ultimately up into Virginia. The British went to Yorktown for resupply or evacuation and maybe a little R and R. Then a miracle happened.
Washington’s Continental Army from the north, Nathaniel Greene’s southern forces, and French troops lead by Comte de Rochambeau along with a French naval force under Comte De Grasse all converged on Yorktown at just the right moment. This in an age when waving little square flags, mud ruts, and which way the wind blew were the state of the art in communication and travel. As the British had no counter-miracle of their own Cornwallis decided his goose was cooked and surrendered.
This pretty much decided the American campaign, but the British kept fighting for appearances sake as the war now included Spain and Holland and had spread to Gibraltar, the English Channel, Africa, India and the Caribbean. This made it a world war though they weren’t attaching Roman numerals to them as such until the 20th century. When it was all over a treaty was signed and the United States was officially recognized, backdated to July 4th, 1776.
The country was first run under the Articles of Confederation, which some of the founders found wanting. They wanted was a strong central government, even though they just fought a war to do away with a strong central government. One can only imagine they were only against strong central government run by someone else.
So they threw a constitutional convention and wrote the Constitution. To sell the country on this idea the Federalist Papers were circulated proving it would work, on paper at any rate. Eventually it was ratified and the government as we know it today began, though on a much, much smaller scale. They set up three main branches, the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary. This was the checks and balances system, though the government rarely manages to ever balance their checkbook. They also attached ten amendments called the Bill of Rights which guaranteed freedoms of all sorts. The bill was much higher than expected, the price being eternal vigilance and, as it turns out, a lot of taxes.
George Washington was elected the first President becoming the Father of his Country while the other founding fathers begat Uncle Sam. With all this fathering going on the new country was pregnant with opportunities. Ben Franklin took the opportunity to impregnate more than his share, if rumors are to be believed. After Washington took office everyone went back to their own business, which mostly involved ignoring Washington’s government which wasn’t in Washington yet. Until they taxed something popular like whiskey which sparked a rebellion. This rebellion was put down and the distillers moved to Kentucky where the Revenuers didn’t have much control, if any.
President Jefferson bought Louisiana from Napoleon who was running short of funds to “liberate” Europe. Back then Louisiana was much bigger than it is today. And much more full of French which explains the names Baton Rouge, New Orleans, St. Louis, and De Troit. Meanwhile, Daniel Boone was leading settlers over the Appalachians into the Ohio valley for settling, which was very unsettling to the Indians. One of them, Tecumseh fought to stem the tide. But time and tide wait for no man and Tecumseh’s plans went down the drain at Tip a Canoe and Tyler, too.
America threw in with the French in the Napoleonic wars when the British impressed (drafted) sailors off American ships. This didn’t impress the Warhawks who called for war in 1812. Britain was too far away so the Americans attacked Canada instead. This didn’t work very well, in fact the Canadians captured Detroit. The British captured Washington, DC and burnt the White House. The Americans got a bit of their own back when Andrew Jackson defeated an English army at the battle of New Orleans. This last battle actually happened after an armistice was signed, but a victory is a victory. In the end both sides decided to return to the status quo antum and the Era of Good Feeling began. The good feeling was achieved by letting America, Canada, and Britain all claim victory in their history books.
The Erie canal was built connecting the eastern seaboard with Ohio turning New York into the most important city in the country, something New Yorkers never let you forget. Railroads and factories were also springing up all over as the industrial revolution began turning cottage industries into large workshops or sweatshops. Which is not to say folks working in cottages or anywhere else didn’t sweat as there was no air conditioning then.
Industry and profits, the country, and the national ego were expanding as Americans got it in their heads that this was all the very obvious work of providence. They called it Manifest Destiny which manifested itself into more of the same, a sort-of self-fulfilling prophecy. New states kept being added to the map, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, and more. It was another good time to be a mapmaker as there was built-in obsolescence in the business. This expansion was helped by the Northwest Ordinance which was mainly used in the Midwest. Eventually the expansion spilled over into Mexico, in the province of Texas. This was both a long way from the national capitals of Washington, DC and Mexico City so the Texans pretty much ignored both and started the earliest version of the wild west.
Figuring the Mexicans would be as easy to defy as the British had been a generation earlier, the Texans decided on a war of independence of their own. They established a stronghold at the Alamo in San Antonio, which wasn’t very strong and didn’t hold. Later the Mexicans were defeated by an army under Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto where Mexican Generalissimo Santa Anna was sent packing back to Mexico City to lick his wounds and plot another losing effort in the next war. The Texans declared a republic, which they quickly forgot about and joined the United States instead.
In 1849 gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill near San Francisco starting a gold rush. Now, rush is a relative term because in those days it took months to get to California. As the saying goes, the early bird gets the worm and the early arrivals got the gold out of the mines, later prospectors got the shaft. Fortunes were made and lost, some folks got rich, others arrived dirt poor and stayed that way despite digging through tons of dirt searching for gold veins in vain. The real money was in selling mining supplies, like tools and liquor. Levi Strauss made his fortune selling dungarees because in any kind of rush you don’t want to be caught with your pants down.
All this money eventually trickled back east to pay for the Mexican War. This war was fought to stem the flood of illegal immigrants (Americans) into northern Mexico by turning it into the southwest United States. The Marines came all the way from the shores of Tripoli to capture the Halls of Montezuma providing them with a fight song, though in the reverse order. This kept Mexicans out of California, at least for the time being.
Back east there were other troubles, North v. South, factory v. farm, tariff v. free trade, Mason v. Dixon. Americans believed in a right to self determination, unless you self-determined to be independent, which was bad, except 80 years prior when it was good. Unionists thought the country was a club you could join and never quit. The South thought this country club’s dues, tariffs, were too steep and it was being taken over by Yankees. The South thought the North should lower the tariff and “mind their own cotton-picking business” though the North didn’t grow any cotton.
In 1860 the electorate decided the Republican ticket of Abraham Lincoln was just the ticket. The South decided nothing succeeds like secession and started a Confederacy to unite in disunity. Hot-heads in Charleston bombarded Fort Sumter, Northerners all over bombarded Washington with appeals for retaliation. Both sides raised armies which raised the stakes as well as hackles all over. The cry went up “On to Richmond” while down south the cry was “Over our dead bodies.” Both eventually proved out.
Despite all the hueing and crying the two sides met at Bull Run instead. The two green armies in blue and gray fought tooth and nail with muskets and canon. At a critical juncture one Confederate general stood stubbornly earning the name “Stonewall” Jackson, which is more flattering than “Stubborn as a Jackass” Jackson. The Union army lost their nerve, and maybe their lunches, and fled the field earning the name “yellow-bellied blue-bellies.”
Since attacking the South from the north didn’t quite work, the Union tried attacking north against the South. The rebel army under Robert E. Lee counter-marched south against the North driving the North south in a series of battles lasting a week, called the Seven Days Battles rather than the Battle of the Week.
The North returned north, returned to their original plan and returned to Bull Run for a return engagement, the Battle of Bull Rerun, which they also lost. Other indecisive battles followed which didn’t accomplish much other than getting a lot of soldiers killed. The battle of Antietam did this better than most, both sides lost a lot of men though the Unionists won the field.
Afterwards President Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all the slaves in the South. As the South were pretty much ignoring U.S. laws anyway the proclamation held as much currency in the Confederacy as Confederate currency, which wasn’t much. While the slaves were free on paper, unfortunately for them they lived on plantations. Meanwhile closer to home, Lincoln un-freed opposition politicians, judges and newspapers, sending them to jail without trial or to Canada without a return ticket.
Out west, an army lead by U.S. Grant going down the Mississippi reached Vicksburg and tried to invest the stronghold. This investment wasn’t paying dividends and became a metaphorical quagmire as some of the areas around town were literal quagmires. Farther south a Union naval blockade turned the entire Confederate economy into a quagmire.
The war dragged on this way until the two eastern armies got together at Gettysburg to slug it out on July 1st, 1863. After two days of fighting and neither side giving an inch, Confederate General Lee told General Picket to charge Cemetery Ridge, a bad omen if ever there was one. This last-ditch debacle was the last straw for the Rebels who were broken and fled south just in time for the Union to celebrate the Fourth of July Confederate free.
The war wasn’t over, but it all went south for the South after that becoming a war of attrition, a nice way of saying “you’ll run out of live bodies before we do.” The North had more live bodies, but more dead bodies, too, which rather thinned the ranks. So they instituted the draft to fight involuntary servitude on plantations with involuntary servitude in the army.
The Western army under William T. Sherman marched through Georgia fighting enemy armies, enemy women, enemy children, enemy farm animals, enemy dogs, and enemy property. Back east the Union army captured Richmond and chased the Rebel army to Appomattox Courthouse where Lee sued for peace. The Confederacy was dead, along with lots of folks who died killing it. An actor, John Wilkes Booth, staged a plot off-stage in Ford’s Theater assassinating Lincoln in the back of the head. Booth escaped to be captured in a burning barn. Rather than be burned alive, they shot him. This should be a lesson to actors going off script.
The war was over and the South was beaten, so the Radical Republicans decided to beat on them a bit more. What can I tell you, that’s the way radicals are, enough is never enough. The South was reinvaded by administrators and social workers carrying carpetbags full of snake oil projects, or so the political cartoons indicated. They called this Reconstruction. We now call this sort of thing nation building, and it still doesn’t really work all that well.
We now turn our attention away from the South and head west, which is pretty much what happened then, too. Settlers headed out in wagon trains as railroad trains only went so far. To get around this the intercontinental railroad was built by gangs of Chinese heading east from San Francisco and gangs of Irishmen heading west from St. Louis. This gang activity met up at Promontory Point, Utah where they drove a golden spike linking sea to shining sea. This officially turned the western wilderness into the wild west where men were men and women were scarce.
The U.S. Cavalry chased Indians until some Indians led by Sitting Bull took a stand, to which the 7th Cavalry under George Armstrong Custer took a stand at the oxymoronically named Little Bighorn. They fought it out until the last ones standing were the Indians which made it Custer’s last stand. Though they won the battle, the Indians continued to lose the wars and their lands eventually being driven onto reservations despite their reservations. Meantimes, cowboys on horses drove cattle to railheads, settlers in wagons drove into the open plains, and hunters drove the passenger pigeon to extinction. Americans were a driven people.
All the while railroads were given great tracts of free land called rights-of-way. Only railroads were given these rights this way. The farmers got their land by homesteading, an early type of sweat equity mortgage before the FHA was invented, or by squatting, another form of “finders keepers.” The railroads laid tracks and built train stations in the middle of nowhere under the “Build it and they will come” business plan. So they did and people did come, believe it or not. Towns and farms sprung up where they had no business being, but because they did, business began and then they had a business being there after all. Which sounds like circular reasoning, but it worked out somehow.
While the west was busy being wild, the east had its own lawlessness. Not that people were widely disobeying the law, but more because there wasn’t much law around as it was the era of laissez faire, French for “lazy government is fair government.” This meant people and businesses did whatever they wanted, and what they wanted was to make money. Industrialization made things cheaper and faster and the rich got richer and the poor got richer and became middle class. The poor of Europe wanted to ride this gravy train, but got on boats and sailed to America instead. These masses huddled onto Ellis Island and took Horace Greeley’s advice to go west, which was smart because going east was back to Europe.
The trains of the time, whether carrying gravy or people, were dangerous. In fact, life was dangerous back in Victorian times, riding the train, your job, the food and water. Even sitting at home not watching TV which didn’t even exist then was hazardous because lighting was done by candles or gas flames which had a nasty propensity to burn down the house, or tenement as the case may be. Still, enough people were having a good time of it at the end of the 18th century came an entire decade called the Gay Nineties. Don’t let the name fool you, homosexuals were strictly in the closet despite Victorian homes often not even having closets.
You’d have thought the Pacific Ocean might have ended the western expansion in California, but not so. Alaska was bought from the Russian Tsar who figured it was expendable as there was more than enough room and salt mines in Siberia to accommodate his enemies. Having run out of Indians, the Americans looked for new patsies to pick on and found a likely candidate close by in Cuba, the Spanish. The USS Maine battleship blew up in Havana harbor and the papers blew up the incident and war sentiment exploded. The hapless Spanish lost their navy, the war, and places like Cuba and the Phillipines. American possessions then went so far west they were in the East. About this time the US also took over the Sandwich Islands which were renamed after they found out the natives weren’t sandwiches but Hawaiians.
The nineteenth century was a coal-fired steam age. While they weren’t running out of coal they were running out of years and so began the twentieth century full of hope and promise and some leftover soot from all that coal burning. This combined with the steam to create muck which muckrakers waded through and discovered some wealthy muckety-mucks were at the bottom of it all. Though really the common man was stuck in the muck as the rich folk lived on the other side of the tracks in the heights, and everyone knows muck runs downhill. These people called themselves Progressives because they were against progress progressing out of their control and wanted to reinvent the system. These replaced the Populists who weren’t all that popular as they never seemed to get elected.
This didn’t stop the century turning and while busybodies were agitating for reform, the business bodies were doing other things. Thus we have the age of steel, the oil age, the automobile age, and the air age, which all lumped together made up the American Century, at least as far as Americans were concerned. To prove it they dug the Panama canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, with a pass through the Caribbean added on the eastern leg just to make it pleasant. This was overseen by the first President Roosevelt, Teddy, who was called the Trust Buster because he helped break up business cabals no-one trusted to begin with, or something.
While all this canal building and system reinventing was going on, some actual invention inventing was taking place in small workshops and carriage houses because garages didn’t exist yet. One of these entrepreneurs was Henry Ford who would put America on wheels, not by inventing the wheel, but with his Model T. Thereafter there would be garages for people to invent and work out of and nowadays store a whole bunch of stuff invented since then leaving no room for a car.
Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, the phonograph, the kinescope, and the electric pen which isn’t much in demand any more, if it ever was. Two brothers from Ohio invented the airplane, proving they had the Wright stuff. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, and Nikola Tesla invented AC electricity which George Westinghouse used to electrify America. Then Marconi unwired communications by inventing radio. Combined together, what they were unwittingly inventing was the means for pop culture. Which Rube Goldberg took advantage of by inventing funny inventions.
Woodrow Wilson became president and they started inventing the national government as we understand it today, if we understand it at all. The Federal Reserve bank system was founded to regulate the money supply in circulation and income tax was established to circulate some of the supply of money towards the government. The “one man, one vote” method of electing Senators was also pushed through, though it took a little more pushing from pushy suffragettes to apply this to women as well.
Over in Europe some relatives of the late Queen Victoria had a squabble when a Serbian shot some distant relative of theirs, the Archduke of Austria. These cousins were national leaders who don’t settle things bitch-slapping each other on the Jerry Springer Show, but on the battlefield. Everyone declared war on everybody else and before you knew it they were in the middle of World War I. They didn’t call it that at the time because they didn’t know it was the prequel to World War II. They first called it the War to End all Wars, a more mistaken name they couldn’t have come up with. The alternative was the Great War, though what was so great about it is hard to fathom, seemed rather nasty all around.
Back in the states Americans re-elected President Wilson because he kept America out of the war. Which was fairly easy as it was being fought some distance away in Europe. Being a Progressive, Wilson wanted to reinvent Europe and rushed the US into the fight before Germany collapsed. The warring parties declared an armistice and got the Treaty of Versailles instead. This made the world safe for democracy, the rule of the people. The Soviet Union went for the dictatorship of the proletariat, which kinda means the rule of the people, too. Both are just catch phrases no government takes seriously.
Next on tap was the Roaring Twenties in which the taps were turned off. Despite the roar, movies were silent and so was the President, Calvin Coolidge, who thought the business of America was business and none of his business. Some unsilent do-gooders decided to make America safe for teetotling and Prohibition was passed outlawing the manufacture and sale of alcohol. This was largely ignored and speakeasies and the gangsters who operated them flourished. Folks all over were getting high drinking booze that in theory didn’t exist and at the same time buying stocks and real estate with money that only existed in theory which meant stock and real estate prices got high, too. In 1929 the boom markets crashed kicking off the Great Depression, which wasn’t all that great for a lot of people, but it was depressing.
The great men of the age believed in hands-on government and sprung to action to wrestle the wayward economy into submission and so we headed into the longest, deepest depression in history. The Dust Bowl arrived in Oklahoma and government programs arrived everywhere else as the feds helped people get over their fear of fear with government alternatives. FDR acting PDQ gave us the NRA, CCC, TVA, FDIC, SSA, and so whatever else was lacking there was no shortage of acronyms. Prohibition was ended and bootleggers joined the ranks of the unemployed, so even if you didn’t have a job at least you could get a drink. Because or despite all this America muddled through without resorting to Fascism or Communism, which is more than you can say for Europe which dragged America into their troubles anyway.
Back in Europe war broke out again as Germany invaded Poland, then France, then the Soviet Union, and just about every other country they could get at. Italy invaded Libya and over in Asia Japan was invading China. Now, the US wasn’t interested in these wars, but the wars were interested in the US as Japan attacked the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. America declared war on Japan and then Germany declared war on the US, and we found ourselves in the odd position of being allies with both impirial Britain and the communist Soviet Union. All this war declaring might seem quaint today as we don’t bother with such things anymore.
At the start there wasn’t any way for the Americans to fight the Germans directly so we sent the British ships and planes and the Soviets got trucks. This was Lend-Lease which President Roosevelt compared to lending a hose to a neighbor whose house was on fire, and worked about as well if you never thought of getting the hose back. Still, it was better than sending either ally troops considering how the Russian and British led battles had gone.
The U.S. Army eventually got into the fight along side British 8th Army, AKA Desert Rats, led by General Bernard Montgomery, AKA Monty, in north Africa against the Afrika Korps of General Irwin Rommel, AKA the Desert Fox. The Anglo-Americans chased the Axis forces into Sicily where American General George Patton made a name for himself. The Germans retreated to Italy where the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, AKA Il Duce, was deposed without any of his generals earning an AKA. At this point Italy quit the war though the war didn’t quit Italy which turned into a slow grind and a sideshow as all the big names and AKAs went elsewhere.
This elsewhere was Normandy in France where the Allies (minus Russians) invaded on D-Day, June 6th 1944. This was Operation Overlord and became the second front supplanting the other second fronts in Italy, the north Atlantic and the airspace over Germany. This toehold on the beaches was expanded to a foothold and then to a stranglehold after Patton’s Third army broke out of the hedgerows. After a series of attacks, counter-attacks and counter-counter-attacks Paris was liberated and the Germans were pushed out of France after six months or so. Which means in comparison the Germans defended France much better than the French had in 1940.
In the Pacific the Japanese were looking for a fleet action that would decide the war. They got it at the Battle of Midway only the decision wasn’t the one they were after as the U.S. naval air forces sank four of their aircraft carriers. After this the US went on the offensive and started attacking Japanese held islands in what was called island hopping. The Japanese defended tenaciously, which is to say suicidally, but were overpowered by Marines, the Army and the Navy which had overpowering firepower. This made up for the lack of American suicidalness, and anyway it’s hard to make use of dead troops which the Japanese had a lot more of.
Returning to Europe, the Germans thrust into France through the Ardenne starting the Battle of the Bulge though it was bulging in, not out. Still, it sounds better than Battle of the Dent what with alliteration. Anyway, this offensive ran out of steam though the Panzers were diesels which ran out of gas. This debacle, along with the later fall of Berlin to the Russians and the suicides of the top Nazis, pretty much ended the war in Europe.
While the Nazis committed suicide at the top ranks the Japanese took a bottom up approach. This was the Kamikaze, or Divine Wind which was a typhoon that saved Japan a long time ago. It’s hard to win a war of attrition if you kill your own troops, but that was the method tried as the Japanese sent what pilots they had left after the Mariannas Turkey Shoot to dive bomb the American fleet, plane, bomb, pilot and all. This didn’t stop the island hopping and air bases were built on captured islands so superfortresses, which weren’t fortresses at all but big planes, could jump off and bomb the bejeezus out of Japan itself.
There was a lot of bejeezus in Japan apparently as they refused to say uncle until the USAAF dropped not one, but two atomic bombs on the place. At this point the Japanese Emperor saw the handwriting on the wall, what wall survived all that bombing anyway, and decided to give up the ghost. Though some die-hards who were unhappy not to have died in the war yet tried to stop the end and staged a failed coup to continue the war until everybody was dead.
Having just flattened both Germany and Japan, the US decided to rebuild them both politically and physically. This was called the Marshall Plan. The Soviets had a different tack where they would rebuild their zones of occupation politically and skip the actual building rebuilding part. This was called the Communist Plot. Since this is a history of America we’ll skip all that and return to events stateside.
Having escaped the bombing, tank traffic and general messiness left in the wake of war the United States emerged from the war as the richest, most powerful country on Earth. Business and housing boomed and so did babies, thankfully none of this booming was from canon or bombs. Until North Korean Communists invaded South Korea kicking off the Korean War. This was the hotspot of the Cold War, though if you’ve been to Korea in the winter it’s pretty cold there. The Allies drove the Communists north until the Chinese joined on the North’s side and drove the Allies back South to where it all pretty much began. A cease-fire was called and negotiations began, though without much urgency it seems as they continue to this day though nobody much cares any more.
Back home homes were sprouting television antennae, cars were growing fins and Elvis was growing sideburns as Rock and Roll was invented just in time to fuel juvenile delinquency. This was the first stirrings of youth culture where everyone wanted to grow up fast and act immature when they did. Congress investigated Rock and Roll, fluoridated water and comic books discovering communists in government and Hollywood instead. The much more plentiful communists in Russia launched Sputnik which launched the space race and a lot of debate about a missile gap which politicians were against, unless it was in our favor. It wasn’t the missiles that worried folks so much as the nuclear warheads on the top because the Soviets had also got the atomic bomb. Thanks in part to communist agents in the US nuclear weapons program Congress completely missed while stamping out unwholesome comic books.
JFK won the presidency starting Camelot in the Oval Office only without a round table or Holy Grail. With LBJ as Vice President and RFK as Attorney General acronyms were back in style though first lady Jackie Kennedy was the most stylish of the bunch. Tragically, Kennedy was assassinated by another overlooked communist, Lee Harvey Oswald, ending Camelot on the Potomac and starting the age of conspiracy theories and continuing the tradition of assassins with three names, like John Wilkes Booth, James Earl Ray and Sirhan B. Sirhan who bucked the trend slightly with just an initial.
LBJ assumed the presidency and declared war on poverty sending troops to Viet Nam to fight communists, which I suppose is one way to battle poverty but not what most people had in mind. To run the war like a business the Johnson administration hired as Secretary of Defense a bean counter from Ford, John McNamara, who counted bodies instead. He also began the Great Society, sort-of a neo-New Deal which proposed to make prosperity great rather than making a depression great. People had their own ideas of what was great which was barbequeing and mowing grass. So they moved in droves to the suburbs where they could sprawl out, settle in, live it up, and calm down all at the same time which requires more space than you get in a city apartment.
The modern suburban home was loaded with bevy of modern appliances which made housework too easy so homemakers were bored and decided to fill their spare time with fulfilling work work even though men could have told them working in the rat race was soul-sucking and not fulfilling. So moms went to work because families needed the extra income to pay for daycare and nannies which they wouldn’t have needed had mom stayed home. Things were also changing for colored people who became negros. With some more changes they would become black. With even more changes later on they became African-American. What future changes will make them is yet to be determined.
The British invaded the US not with military forces but with rock bands, the “and roll” getting lost in transit. America responded with surf music and various sounds from places like Philly and Motown which coalesced into pop. These were the mods, who after deciding personal hygiene was for squares became hippies. This rock music was growing ever louder as were the protests against the war in Viet Nam. Nonetheless, the silent majority elected Richard Nixon president who promised to Vietnamize Viet Nam and bring law and order to America. The latter took the form of ordering wage and price controls trying to overturn the law of supply and demand which never works out well.
Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and America won the space race. The prize: a bag of rocks. Back on Earth, inflation was growing and support for the war as shrinking. The Democrats ran an unelectable candidate, George McGovern, against President Nixon who decided to use dirty tricks anyway just to be sure. Watergate flooded the news until Nixon eventually resigned. Gerald Ford became president and the butt of jokes for falling down stairs. Ford’s solution to inflation was WIN lapel buttons which, working by wishful thinking, at least didn’t have unfortunate unintended consequences as there were no consequences at all.
In California a couple guys named Steve invented the personal computer which would have consequences, but not for a while. Also during the 70s America celebrated the bicentennial with long parades and long line-ups for gas because of a gas shortage manufactured by OPEC who stopped pumping enough gas for the gas-guzzlers manufactured by Detroit which people stopped buying.
The American electorate went nuts for a peanut farmer from Georgia and elected him president. President Carter urged Americans to conserve energy and wear sweaters because, as the newsweeklies assured us, this was the dawn of a new ice age. He also encouraged the Shah of Iran to accommodate Islamic radicals who repaid both by overthrowing the Shah and holding Americans hostage in the US embassy in a most unaccommodating fashion. This embarrassed the president who decided to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by boycotting the Moscow Olympics even though he wasn’t actually on the team.
In 1980 the American electorate traded Carter for Ronald Reagan who traded arms for the hostages who returned to America while the arms would up in Nicaragua, somehow. Voodoo economics replaced stagflation and the economy started hotting up again which started melting the Cold War, though really it was the meltdown of Communism in eastern Europe that caused it. This was a metaphorical meltdown, an actual meltdown happened at a nuclear power plant at Chernobol in the USSR.
The 80s had ups and downs, highs and lows, Savings and Loans, and junk bond traders who where sometimes lowdown and dirty. As usual government spending went up, but as unusual taxes came down. What also came down was the Berlin Wall as communists gave up being communists and decided to be capitalists. Though some just switched to a different form of authoritarianism which doesn’t really have a catchy name yet.
This was supposed to give America a peace dividend which was quickly spent on cars, TVs, stereos and all sorts of junk you’ll find to this day at garage sales around the country. Others spent their dividend on personal computers which were getting better and faster and smaller, and could actually do something other than play Pong and balance a checkbook, which most people weren’t all that interested in doing to begin with figuring peace would keep paying dividends. This was the budding Silicon Age which was waiting for Al Gore to invent the Internet before it got to full swing.
America had another fling at war when Iraq invaded Kuwait. To avoid another quagmire this war lasted 100 hours, for no reason other than it was a nice round figure. Still, that was long enough to rout the Iraqi army restoring freedom to Kuwait, which was easy as it didn’t have much freedom to restore.
Voters read President Bush Sr.’s lips which they thought were saying “It’s the economy, stupid” and elected Bill Clinton who wasn’t a stupid economist or a lip reader. There was a lot of hubbub in Washington about many things like health care, free trade and chubby interns which didn’t amount to much as nobody had figured out a good use for hubbub. That is until the internet came along and turned hubbub into e-dollars for the net moguls and e-bubbles for the suckers who bought them out. The hubbub evolved into the blogoshpere and now we have more hubbub than you can shake a stick at, for what good it does.
This is where our story ends even though it’s not the end of the story. But if you think I’m going to get sucked into the arguments surrounding what’s happened lately, you take me for a fool. While I may or may not be one, even fools sometimes know where to not dare tread. Now, I admit I have overlooked a good many things in this overview, but it’s an accurate narrative despite many of the facts being mixed or made up. What the future holds in store only the future knows, but the future is uncertain so even it doesn’t know for sure.