A witness to the takeover of the US embassy during the Iranian Revolution (an interview with former political officer Michael Metrinko)

On November 4, 1979, amid the chaos of the Iranian revolution, a huge crowd of Iranian militants and students stormed the US embassy in the Iranian capital of Tehran and took 52 American diplomats and citizens hostage. One of those diplomats who was taken hostage was a young political officer by the name of Michael Metrinko. For 444 days, he and the other 51 hostages were held against their will by the Iranian regime, who sought to profit from the hostage takeover by demanding that the United States hand over the exiled Iranian Shah in return for the hostages, something the US President Jimmy Carter refused to do. Finally, on January 20, 1981, after over a year in captivity and a failed rescue attempt by the US, the 52 hostages were released into American hands. Forty years later the incident still casts a large shadow over US-Iranian relations, which continues to be strained.

Iran hostage crisis - Wikipedia

Militants and students storm the embassy on November 4, 1979.

In order to understand why the revolution occurred, one has to go back to the year 1953. It was at this time that the Iranian government under Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh was removed from power in a coup orchestrated by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the United Kingdom’s M16 (foreign intelligence branch). In Mossadegh’s place, the US helped put back into power Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah. While the Shah had been on the throne since 1941, his political powers increased considerably after the events of 1953. Under the Pahlavi Dynasty (1926-1979), Iran witnessed huge economic and modernization programs. In one of the most famous efforts to bring about political and economic reform, known as the “White Revolution,” the Shah implemented policies that sought to significantly reduce the powers of major landlords. He also gave women the right to vote in elections, a step that angered the conservative religious clerical establishment.

To his critics, the Shah’s regime was not a modernizing force but a very repressive political model. On the Shah’s watch, thousands of Iranians were arrested, tortured, and sometimes even executed. “I had students who had been in jail because they were opposed to the Shah. I had one student who was executed, wonderful student, after being tortured by the Shah’s secret police”, Michael recalled.

By the late 1970s, dissatisfaction with the Shah’s regime had reached a boiling point. Thousands of Iranians from all walks of life came out to protest against the Iranian monarchy. “There was a lot of demonstrations here and there. Anyone who could not see the revolution coming had to be blind, death, dumb, and incredibly stupid. You could sense it. You could feel it. You could hear about it” Michael stated. In January 1979, after much thought, the Shah, who was sick with cancer, boarded a plane and left Iran for the last time into exile. “It was time for him to go. He didn’t understand that”. Shortly after his departure, a man by the name of Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran from exile and became the leader of what was now a full-on revolution.[1]

As the United States had been a major supporter of the Shah’s rule, there was a lot of anti-American sentiment expressed among the Iranian revolutionaries. Outside the US embassy in Tehran, there were often large protests against the US government by Iranian militants and students from the nearby university. On the morning of November 4, 1979, there was what seemed to be another usual protest by militants and students. Then, suddenly, members of the large crowd began to scale the embassy walls and some managed to get the embassy gate open. A sea of people began to storm the main embassy building itself within the compound. “I had gotten there early. I was sitting there doing some paperwork with my back turned to the window. I heard this rumbling noise start. I eventually went to the window to check it out and saw a huge crowd of people storming the gates. That’s when the alarms went off. We just sat there and waited.”[2]

The militants and students quickly took control of the embassy grounds and seized 52 American diplomats and citizens hostages. For over a year the hostages, Michael included, were held in tight conditions. “Spent ten months in solitary confinement. I was routinely beaten. I slept on bare concrete floors a lot of the time. I was often handcuffed. I sat in a room in solitary with a guy sitting ten feet away pointing a gun at me. I was never allowed to write a letter. My parents did not know I was alive until December 1980. Nor did the State Department. One of the guards smuggled a letter out for me” Michael recalled. Many of the hostages were interrogated and beaten. Some were forced into mock executions, where the prisoners were lined up against a wall where they thought they would be killed.[3]

Michael Metrinko, political officer, held hostage in Iran, 1981 vintage press photo print - Historic Images

Michael Metrinko as a foreign service officer in the United States State Department

In April 1980, the United States military, with the go ahead from US President Jimmy Carter, launched Operation Eagle Claw, a military attempt at rescuing the hostages from Tehran and returning them to the US. A group of US military helicopters and transport aircraft were sent into the Iranian desert from the USS Nimitz and the USS Coral Sea. Unfortunately, as the operation was underway, the aircraft encountered a large sandstorm that forced the group to land. Upon landing, it was discovered that one of the helicopters had a damaged rotor blade and was subsequently abandoned. To make matters worse, a bus carrying a group of civilians arrived in the area and had to be captured and guarded by members of the US Delta Force team that was part of the operation.[4]

Seeing that the operation seemed to be going nowhere, President Jimmy Carter ordered the team to abort the mission and return back to base. As the aircraft took off, one of the transport planes collided with one of the helicopters, bursting into a massive fireball that ultimately resulted in the deaths of 8 crew members. Operation Eagle Claw had resulted in a total failure and a large propaganda victory for Khomeini, who claimed that God had protected Iran by sending in the sandstorm to stop the US operation. President Carter was forced to take full responsibility for the failed mission, and it greatly hurt his reelection chances in 1980, which were already not that great to begin with thanks to domestic economic troubles.[5]

In September 1980, Iraq under the leadership of Saddam Hussein invaded Iran and soon the two countries were deadlocked into a full-blown war with warfare tactics not seen since the First World War. It was around this time that other countries began putting more and more pressure on Iran to release the hostages. Also, due to the death of the Shah back in July of that year, the Iranians now had little use of the hostages as a bargaining chip. Furthermore, with the war with Iraq raging on, Iran was in desperate need for military supplies. Since Iran had mostly American-made arms and equipment, Iran was forced to go to the US for extra supplies. As a result, Iran and the United states with the assistance of Algeria, began to negotiate for the release of the hostages.[6]

On January 20, 1981, minutes after Ronald Reagan had been inaugurated as President, the hostages were finally released after 444 days in captivity. “Free at last. Felt good. I was glad to be out. I don’t think I had any ill effects. I got into very good physical condition while I was in my cell” Michael stated. Forty-two years later and relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran continue to be nearly nonexistent as Iran considers the US to be the “Great Satan” and still celebrates the takeover of the US embassy 42 years later. When asked if he regretted anything, Michael simply replied, “Yeah that I didn’t stay home that morning,” as he laughs out loud.

The Iran hostage crisis of 1979-1981 was and continues to be an important historic event. To this day, this major diplomatic incident shapes American public and government opinions of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Maybe one day the two countries can put the bad blood behind them and normalize relations. Until that time, however, the two will remain at odds and seek ways to challenge and undermine the interests of the other.[7]

 

Interview subject: Michael J. Metrinko, age 75, retired US Political Officer who worked in the US State Department during the late 1970s and was taken hostage during the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979

-Audio recording with Michael Metrinko, Carlisle, PA, April 26, 2021

 

 

Bibliography

[1] FARBER, DAVID. “TAKEOVER IN TEHRAN.” In Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America’s First Encounter with Radical Islam, 73-101. PRINCETON; OXFORD: Princeton University Press, 2005. http://www.jstor.org.envoy.dickinson.edu:2048/stable/j.ctt7sts9.7.

[2] FARBER, DAVID. “444 DAYS.” In Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America’s First Encounter with Radical Islam, 137-80. PRINCETON; OXFORD: Princeton University Press, 2005. http://www.jstor.org.envoy.dickinson.edu:2048/stable/j.ctt7sts9.9.

[3] Smith, Steve. “Policy Preferences and Bureaucratic Position: The Case of the American Hostage Rescue Mission.” International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-) 61, no. 1 (1984): 9-25. doi:10.2307/2619777.

[4] McDermott, Rose. “Prospect Theory in International Relations: The Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission.” Political Psychology 13, no. 2 (1992): 237-63. doi:10.2307/3791680.

[5] Smith, Steve. “Groupthink and the Hostage Rescue Mission.” British Journal of Political Science 15, no. 1 (1985): 117-23. http://www.jstor.org.envoy.dickinson.edu:2048/stable/193750.

[6] Nuechterlein, Donald E. “Iran Hostage Crisis: The Changing Mood in America.” In A Cold War Odyssey, 167-94. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1997. http://www.jstor.org.envoy.dickinson.edu:2048/stable/j.ctt130hzr1.12.

[7] Schachter, Oscar. “SELF-HELP IN INTERNATIONAL LAW: U.S. Action in the Iranian Hostages Crisis.” Journal of International Affairs 37, no. 2 (1984): 231-46. http://www.jstor.org.envoy.dickinson.edu:2048/stable/24356927.

 

The Rise of Republicanism and the Downfall of Social Issues in America during the 1980’s

By: Sarah Whittemore

Arthur Whittemore was a freshman at Hamilton College when republican candidate Ronald Reagan was running for President of the United States in 1980.

Picture of Arthur Whittemore in 1984 with his Golden Retriever.
Picture: Courtesy of Arthur Whittemore

I interviewed Arthur about where he stood and how he felt about Reagan’s presidential actions during this time along with everything that transpired throughout Reagan’s presidency. As Henderson’s textbook The American Yawp states: “Reagan rode the wave of a powerful political movement referred to by historians as the New Right. More libertarian in its economics and more politically forceful in its conservative religious principles than the moderate brand of conservatism popular after World War II, the New Right had by the 1980s evolved into the most influential wing of the Republican Party. And it could claim increasing credit for Republican electoral successes.”[1] In my interview with Arthur, I asked him his opinion on Reagan’s new political movement referred to as the “New Deal.” Arthur believed that “A focus on conservative values and personal responsibility is an excellent foundation. I agree with Jefferson: that the government that governs best is the government that governs least and with Ford: that a government that is able to give you everything you want will take from you everything that you have.”[2]

Pictured here is newly inaugurated President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan on January 20, 1981
Picture: Courtesy of Britannica.com

Reagan’s inauguration into office was the turning point in Arthur’s everyday life “The reascent of conservative principles, especially with regard to reduced taxation provided a huge economic uplift – a rising tide that lifted all boats. Perhaps more importantly, though, the engineered demise of communism fundamentally changed the world.  We no longer fear global nuclear war — there are other terrors – but the unthinkable is no longer a threat. That is thanks to Ronald Reagan more than anyone else.”[3] 

The days of living in nuclear fear and Reagan’s anticommunist agendas brought an end to communism throughout the Middle East, Latin and Central Americas. Reagan’s expansion of the military was a precursor for ending communism and war between countries. “The Reagan administration made Latin America a showcase for its newly assertive policies. Jimmy Carter had sought to promote human rights in the region, but Reagan and his advisors scrapped this approach and instead focused on fighting communism—a term they applied to all Latin American left-wing movements. And so when communists with ties to Cuba overthrew the government of the Caribbean nation of Grenada in October 1983, Reagan dispatched the U.S. Marines to the island. Dubbed Operation Urgent Fury, the Grenada invasion overthrew the leftist government after less than a week of fighting.”[4] An anticommunist who brought communism to an end, President Reagan proceeded to cut taxes, built up the United States military, negotiated with the soviets regarding the nuclear arms agreement, brought unemployment to an all time low, and brought an end to the Cold War. Arthur’s views as well as the majority believed that President Ronald Reagan changed the American ways for the better. 

Arthur’s conservative views and beliefs were embedded in him as a child. “Both of my parents were both republican. I grew up in a white-collared household and neighborhood and have always believed that a government that governs best governs less.”[5] In 1981, Arthur’s life drastically changed. While he was on a trip in Norway, he got a call that his father passed away suddenly from a massive heart attack at 48 years old. “My father’s passing was a drastic change. My father was a businessman, like myself, and  I looked up to him in every aspect of life; he was a great man with a great brain. He was also one of the funniest people I have ever met in my life. After his passing, I knew that I had to step it up in a way. After I got my bachelors degree at Hamilton College, I then got my masters degree in geology at The University of Vermont. I then realized I wanted to implement business into my career as well, kind of like a tribute to my father in a sort of way; so I went back to school and attended Carnegie Mellon University for my M.B.A. My father’s passing when I was young made me realize that I wanted to be as successful as he was and to be the best I possibly could be at any occupation I chose to do.”[6] The economic decline from Carter’s term in the 1970’s affected Arthur’s life and the majority of people’s lives in this country greatly. As The American Yawp states: “While the IRS controversy flared, economic crises multiplied. Unemployment reached 7.8 percent in May 1980, up from 6 percent at the start of Carter’s first term. Inflation (the rate at which the cost of goods and services increases) jumped from 6 percent in 1978 to a staggering 20 percent by the winter of 1980.”[7] 

Picture of gas pumps being closed due to the energy crisis in the 1970’s.
Picture: Courtesy of History.com

In my interview with Arthur, I asked him about the energy crisis in the 1970’s and how it affected his way of life as well. “Gas prices rose by a factor of five and even then you couldn’t get any. You sat in line in your car to fill your tank and could only get gas on even or odd days depending on your license plate. But it went way beyond the energy crisis. The 70s (despite some good music) was a period of terrible malaise in America — first Watergate, then Stagflation and the Carter Years, including the loss of American exceptionalism around the globe. We were on the verge of falling apart. Reagan comes with both good ideas and great optimism. It really changed the trajectory. Unfortunately, it wasn’t permanent.”[8]

In my interview with Arthur, I asked him how the 1950’s, 1960’s, and the 1970’s fueled the rise of conservatism in this country, “The fifties were a soft and easy time in America, but with a looming threat from the USSR. The sixties were a time of radical change (much as now) that left much of middle America uneasy, but unsure where to go. Nixon called them the silent majority, but they were unable to make a difference. So in the sixties we saw the Great Society BS and riots and hippies. It came really fast as a reaction to a failing war in Vietnam. Nixon came along and tried to slow it, but then the Watergarte scandal put the conservatives on the run. But there were no real conservatives thenn.  It was the failure of economic policy and foreign policy under Carter that brought us to the point where conservatism could truly emerge.”[9]

In regards to President Ronald Regan’s domestic agenda, Reagan helped create and rebuild the significant drop in our nation’s economy in the 1980’s along with improving social security.

Photo of President Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan is speaking to Soviet Union leader Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall” (The Berlin Wall) because it was a symbol of communism. 
Picture: Courtesy of History.com

“Reagan’s domestic policies had a major impact on the American people and have had for many years. He followed up the passage of the largest tax cut in U.S. history by supporting and signing into law the Tax Reform law of 1986. Reagan led the battle for a Social Security reform bill designed to ensure the long-term solvency of the system, and oversaw the passage of immigration reform legislation, as well as the expansion of the Medicare program to protect the elderly and disabled against “catastrophic” health costs.”[10] The new Tax Reform law and Reagan’s battle for a Social Security reform bill were not the only groundbreaking work that he did for this country. “Reagan elevated William Rehnquist to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and appointed three justices to the bench: Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and the first woman named to the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor. Part of the New Right’s basic beliefs was that “judicial activism” was un-Constitutional and judges should be selected by an adherence to “judicial restraint.” Reagan’s judicial selections were based on this principle.”[11] To have a woman be appointed justice to the Supreme Court was a step in the right direction for women’s equality in high powered roles in this country. In 1984, President Reagan ran for reelection. “In November 1984, Ronald Reagan was reelected in a landslide, defeating Walter Mondale and his running mate Geraldine Ferraro (1935-), the first female vice-presidential candidate from a major U.S. political party. Reagan, who announced it was “morning again in America,” carried 49 out of 50 states in the election and received 525 out of 538 electoral votes, the largest number ever won by an American presidential candidate.”[12] Women’s equality in high powered roles was a groundbreaking achievement. In my interview with Arthur, I asked him about what he thought about Geraldine Ferraro being the first female vice-presidential candidate and how it affected his views on women’s rights and what he thought about women being in high positioned roles in the government and just in general. “In my opinion, her gender was irrelevant.  She just wasn’t qualified. I would have voted for plenty of women for VP if they were qualified.  So her gender wasn’t a factor for me, and I really didn’t think it mattered to most voters. It was a curiosity but I don’t think her sex affected the election.”[13]

The 1980’s was the rise of President Reagan and the rise of Republicanism in America. The increase of unemployment rates in America was at an all time low. However, once Reagan’s reelection in November 1984, struggles were evident throughout some Americans. “Working- and middle-class Americans, especially those of color, struggled to maintain economic equilibrium during the Reagan years. The growing national debt generated fresh economic pain.”[14] Reagan’s time in office brought prosperity to the upper 5% of white-Americans, it also made the black community more vulnerable. “Indeed, income for the top fifth of African American households increased faster than that of white households for most of the decade. Middle-class African Americans found new doors open to them in the 1980s, but the poor and working-class faced continual challenges. During Reagan’s last year in office the African American poverty rate stood at 31.6 percent, as opposed to 10.1 percent for whites.”[15] President Ronald Reagan did a lot of good for this country, however, he did a lot of good for this country for the white population; while ignoring the black population and providing the stigma that has been there for decades. “African American communities, especially in urban areas, also bore the stigma of violence and criminality. Homicide was the leading cause of death for Black males between ages fifteen and twenty-four, occurring at a rate six times that of other groups. Although African Americans were most often the victims of violent crime, sensationalist media reports incited fears about black-on-white crime in big cities. Ironically, such fear could by itself spark violence.”[16] The 1980’s under Reagan’s Presidency was substantially better for white-Americans over black-Americans who perished under the hand of The Reagan Administration. Black communities under Reagan’s control were unfair, to say the least. Throughout Reagan’s presidency however, race relations became substantially worse; especially during Reagan’s second term in office. “During Reagan’s last year in office the African American poverty rate stood at 31.6 percent, as opposed to 10.1 percent for whites.

This “Don’t listen to rumors about AIDS. Get the facts!” poster of Patti LaBelle doesn’t allow people to just ignore this syndrome anymore.
Picture: Courtesy of The American Yawp.

Black unemployment remained double that of whites throughout the decade. By 1990, the median income for Black families was $21,423, 42 percent below the median income for white households. The Reagan administration failed to address such disparities and in many ways intensified them.”[17] In my interview with Arthur, I asked him about race relations and if he thought that Reagan intensified them throughout his presidency. “I feel as if race relations were definiately increasing throughout Reagan’s term, especially towards the end. However, like I stated in a similar question you asked me earlier, ‘Race relations have been on a steady improvement over time.  I think they were better in the 80s than in the 60s and I know they are better today than they were in the 80s.’[18] That however does not excuse Reagan’s inability to take action within the black-communities and to look the other way in ignorance when race relations were, and still are very prominent to this day.”[19] President Reagan was, “more interested in economic issues than social ones”[20] Another social issue that President Reagan tried to ignore was the outburst of AIDS. “The emergence of a deadly new illness, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), simultaneously devastated, stigmatized, and energized the nation’s homosexual community. When AIDS appeared in the early 1980s, most of its victims were gay men.”[21] “President Ronald Raegan and his administration was very slow to fund the HIV epidemic along with AIDS due to the fact that it was labeled as a “‘gay compromise syndrome’”[22] As the article state: “The equivalence of AIDS with the gay community made the conservative Reagan administration sluggish in its response to say the least.”[23]

 

During President Reagan’s two terms in office starting from 1981 and ending in 1989, Reagan did a lot of good for the uprising of republicanism throughout his 8-year-term making more executive decisions about securing the economy and saving social security. Along with negotiating with the Soviet’s regarding the nuclear arms agreement and ending communist relations in the Soviet Union, The Middle East, and both Central and Latin America’s all together, cutting taxes, and building The United States’ Military up throughout his presidency.

President Ronald Reagan (left) and Gorbachev, leader of The Soviet Union (right) shaking hands after discussing the nuclear arms reduction agreement.
Picture: Courtesy of Britannica.com

Reagan was a great president for many reasons, however, he completely dismissed three key social issues across America that the country paid for after his terms. Reagan completely dismissed Americans, especially black-communities, social, economic, and racial struggles throughout his term by allowing “The top fifth of households enjoyed rising incomes while the rest stagnated or declined. In constant dollars, annual chief executive officer (CEO) pay rose from $3 million in 1980 to roughly $12 million during Reagan’s last year in the White House. Between 1985 and 1989 the number of Americans living in poverty remained steady at thirty-three million.”[24] Reagan also ignored the rising cases of AIDS within the country because it was viewed as “‘gay compromise syndrome’”[25]  As Arthur Whittemore describes the 1980’s and Reagan’s presidential era in more of an economical standpoint rather than a social issues standpoint. Arthur’s views as well as the majority believed that President Ronald Reagan changed the American ways for the better.

[1] Yawp Chapter 29: I

[2] Interview with Arthur Whittemore, April 29, 2021

[3] Interview with Arthur Whittemore, April 29, 2021

[4] Yawp Chapter 29: X

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Yawp Chapter 29: III

[8] Interview with Arthur Whittemore, April 29, 2021

[9] Interview with Arthur Whittemore, April 29, 2021

[10] “The Reagan Presidency.” Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum , n.d. https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/reagans/reagan-administration/reagan-presidency.

[11] “The Reagan Presidency.” Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum , n.d. https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/reagans/reagan-administration/reagan-presidency.

[12] History.com Editors, “Ronald Reagan,” History.com (A&E Television Networks, November 9, 2009), https://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/ronald-reagan.

[13] Interview with Arthur Whittemore, April 29, 2021

[14] Yawp Chapter 29: VIII

[15] Yawp Chapter 29: VII

[16] Yawp Chapter 29: VII

[17] Yawp Chapter 29: VII

[18] Interview with Arthur Whittemore, April 29, 2021

[19] Ibid

[20] Yawp Chapter 29: IX

[21] Yawp Chapter 29: IX

[22] Email Reflection, April 29, 2021

[23] Sam Drabkins, Matthew Pinsker on May 2, and dani ramdani on June 24, “Fighting the Epidemic-Grass-Root HIV Support Groups in the 80’s,” History 118: US History Since 1877 (The American Yawp , May 21, 2015), https://blogs.dickinson.edu/hist-118pinsker/2015/05/21/fighting-the-epidemic-grass-root-aids-support-groups-in-the-80s/.

[24] Yawp Chapter 29: XI

[25] Sam Drabkins, Matthew Pinsker on May 2, and dani ramdani on June 24, “Fighting the Epidemic-Grass-Root HIV Support Groups in the 80’s,” History 118: US History Since 1877 (The American Yawp , May 21, 2015), https://blogs.dickinson.edu/hist-118pinsker/2015/05/21/fighting-the-epidemic-grass-root-aids-support-groups-in-the-80s/.

 

Sarah Whittemore

Oral History Project Interview 

4/29/2021

Q: What was your opinion on Reagan’s political movement the “New Right?”

A: I believe that a focus on conservative values and personal responsibility is an excellent foundation.  I agree with Jefferson that the government that governs best is the government that governs least and with Ford that a government that is able to give you everything you want will take from you everything that you have.

Q: How did the “New Right” affect your life?

A: The reascent of conservative principles, especially with regard to reduced taxation provided a huge economic uplift – a rising tide that lifted all boats.  Perhaps more importantly, though, the engineered demise of communism fundamentally changed the world.  We no longer fear global nuclear war — there are other terrors – but the unthinkable is no longer a threat.  That is thanks to Ronald Reagan more than anyone else.

Q: How did the media portray Jerry Falwell and the moral majority? 

A: I didn’t pay much attention to the Moral Majority or any of their ilk.  They were conservatives for a different reason that I was.  But the evangelicals were necessary to create the voting bloc we needed to slow the tide of progressiism.

Q: Is the religious right more powerful today than in the 1980’s in your opinion?

A: I don’t think the religious right has much sway today right now.  So No.

Q: Did you notice the difference between President Carter’s “New Deal” and President Reagan’s “New Right?” If so, what are they?

A:  The New Deal was FDR not Carter.  And the differences between the New Deal (and also the Great Society of the sixties) and the conservative movement of the eighties and nineties is a stark contrast.  The success of the conservative movement changed the democratic party from a new deal / great society mindset to a more business focused type of democrat.  As your article says, the democrats of the nineties looked and talked a lot like the republicans of the sixties.

Q: Do you think that the moral majority is still a force in the Republican Party and have they become more radical?

A: I really don’t think the evangelicals have much sway.  The conservative pundits on FoxNews still defend religious freedom, and point out injustices against christians, but the thought leadership is not there — it’s about economic ideology not religious ideology.

Q: Do Political Action Committies (PAC) have more influence today than they did in the last 1970’s early 1980’s? 

A:  Sure — they didn’t really exist until the eighties when the campaign finance laws changed.

Q: Do you remember the Energy Crisis? How were you and/or anyone you knew affected by the crisis? 

A: Gas prices rose by a factor of five and even then you couldn’t get any.  You sat in line in your car to fill your tank and could only get gas on even or odd days depending on your license plate.  But it went way beyond the energy crisis.  The 70s (despite some good music) was a period of terrible malaise in America — first Watergate, then Stagflation and the Carter Years, including the loss of American exceptionalism around the globe.  We were on the verge of falling apart.  Reagan comes with both good ideas and great optimism.  It really changed the trajectory.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t permanent.

Q: My textbook states: “Americans increasingly embraced racial diversity as a positive value but most often approached the issue through an individualistic—not a systemic—framework.” Do you think race relations were better when Reagan was in office or are they better now? Why do you think this?   

A: Race relations have been on a steady improvement over time.  I think they were better in the 80s than in the 60s and I know they are better today than they were in the 80s.  Forget all the George Floyd riots.  Look at neighborhoods.  Look at mixed marriages.  My son-in-law is black.  My grandchildren are mixed race.  That would not have happened a generation ago.  And certainly not two generations ago.  Things are getting better every day.  The left just doesn’t want us to believe that — perhaps they think the pace of change is not fast enough – but the direction of change is one of constant improvement.

Q: Do you remember what it was like when Democratic candidate Walter Mondale named his running mate Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to ever run in a debate?

A: In my opinion, her gender was irrelevant.  She just wasn’t qualified.  I would have voted for plenty of women for VP if they were qualified.  So her gender wasn’t a factor for me, and I really didn’t think it mattered to most voters.  It was a curiosity but I don’t think her sex affected the election.

Q: How did your life change when the The Apple II computer came out in 1977?  

A: Not much.  My first computer was an IBM PC in 1985.  I’ve had a computer ever since.

Q: What changed in the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s that fueld the rise of conservatism?

A: The fifties were a soft and easy time in America, but with a looming threat from the USSR.  The sixties were a time of radical change (much as now) that left much of middle America uneasy, but unsure where to go.  Nixon called them the silent majority, but they were unable to make a difference.  So in the sixties we saw the Great Society BS and riots and hippies.  It came really fast as a reaction to a failing war in Viet Nam.  Nixon came along and tried to slow it, but then the Watergarte scandal put the conservatives on the run.  But there were no real conservatives thenn.  It was the failure of economic policy and foreign policy under Carter that brought us to the point where conservatism could truly emerge.

Q: What made you realize that you are a republican?

A: Both of my parents were both republican. I grew up in a white-collared household and neighborhood and have always believed that a government that governs best governs less

Q: What was the worst part/ drastic change that happened in your life during the 1980’s? Why?

A: My father’s passing was a drastic change. My father was a businessman, like myself, and  I looked up to him in every aspect of life; he was a great man with a great brain. He was also one of the funniest people I have ever met in my life. After his passing, I knew that I had to step it up in a way. After I got my bachelors degree at Hamilton College, I then got my masters degree in geology at The University of Vermont. I then realized I wanted to implement business into my career as well, kind of like a tribute to my father in a sort of way; so I went back to school and attended Carnegie Mellon University for my M.B.A. My father’s passing when I was young made me realize that I wanted to be as successful as he was and to be the best I possibly could be at any occupation I chose to do.

Q: Do you think that President Reagan intensified race relations throughout his presidential term?

A: I feel as if race relations were definiately increasing throughout Reagan’s term, especially towards the end. However, like I stated in a similar question you asked me earlier, ‘Race relations have been on a steady improvement over time. I think they were better in the 80s than in the 60s and I know they are better today than they were in the 80s.’ That however does not excuse Reagan’s inability to take action within the black-communities and to look the other way in ignorance when race relations were, and still are very prominent to this day.

Oral History Project Interview

Sarah Whittemore

Oral History Project Interview 

4/29/2021

I asked my Father, Arthur Snow Whittemore III about the 1980’s; which correlates with the American Yawp Chapter 29. At first I asked my father if he would consent to answering my questions and he did.

Q: What was your opinion on Reagan’s political movement the “New Right?”

A: I believe that a focus on conservative values and personal responsibility is an excellent foundation.  I agree with Jefferson that the government that governs best is the government that governs least and with Ford that a government that is able to give you everything you want will take from you everything that you have.

Q: How did the “New Right” affect your life?

A: The reascent of conservative principles, especially with regard to reduced taxation provided a huge economic uplift – a rising tide that lifted all boats.  Perhaps more importantly, though, the engineered demise of communism fundamentally changed the world.  We no longer fear global nuclear war — there are other terrors – but the unthinkable is no longer a threat.  That is thanks to Ronald Reagan more than anyone else.

Q: How did the media portray Jerry Falwell and the moral majority? 

A: I didn’t pay much attention to the Moral Majority or any of their ilk.  They were conservatives for a different reason that I was.  But the evangelicals were necessary to create the voting bloc we needed to slow the tide of progressiism.

Q: Is the religious right more powerful today than in the 1980’s in your opinion?

A: I don’t think the religious right has much sway today right now.  So No.

Q: Did you notice the difference between President Carter’s “New Deal” and President Reagan’s “New Right?” If so, what are they?

A:  The New Deal was FDR not Carter.  And the differences between the New Deal (and also the Great Society of the sixties) and the conservative movement of the eighties and nineties is a stark contrast.  The success of the conservative movement changed the democratic party from a new deal / great society mindset to a more business focused type of democrat.  As your article says, the democrats of the nineties looked and talked a lot like the republicans of the sixties.

Q: Do you think that the moral majority is still a force in the Republican Party and have they become more radical?

A: I really don’t think the evangelicals have much sway.  The conservative pundits on FoxNews still defend religious freedom, and point out injustices against christians, but the thought leadership is not there — it’s about economic ideology not religious ideology.

Q: Do Political Action Committies (PAC) have more influence today than they did in the last 1970’s early 1980’s? 

A:  Sure — they didn’t really exist until the eighties when the campaign finance laws changed.

Q: Do you remember the Energy Crisis? How were you and/or anyone you knew affected by the crisis? 

A: Gas prices rose by a factor of five and even then you couldn’t get any.  You sat in line in your car to fill your tank and could only get gas on even or odd days depending on your license plate.  But it went way beyond the energy crisis.  The 70s (despite some good music) was a period of terrible malaise in America — first Watergate, then Stagflation and the Carter Years, including the loss of American exceptionalism around the globe.  We were on the verge of falling apart.  Reagan comes with both good ideas and great optimism.  It really changed the trajectory.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t permanent.

Q: My textbook states: “Americans increasingly embraced racial diversity as a positive value but most often approached the issue through an individualistic—not a systemic—framework.” Do you think race relations were better when Reagan was in office or are they better now? Why do you think this?   

A: Race relations have been on a steady improvement over time.  I think they were better in the 80s than in the 60s and I know they are better today than they were in the 80s.  Forget all the George Floyd riots.  Look at neighborhoods.  Look at mixed marriages.  My son-in-law is black.  My grandchildren are mixed race.  That would not have happened a generation ago.  And certainly not two generations ago.  Things are getting better every day.  The left just doesn’t want us to believe that — perhaps they think the pace of change is not fast enough – but the direction of change is one of constant improvement.

Q: Do you remember what it was like when Democratic candidate Walter Mondale named his running mate Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to ever run in a debate?

A: In my opinion, her gender was irrelevant.  She just wasn’t qualified.  I would have voted for plenty of women for VP if they were qualified.  So her gender wasn’t a factor for me, and I really didn’t think it mattered to most voters.  It was a curiosity but I don’t think her sex affected the election.

Q: How did your life change when the The Apple II computer came out in 1977?  

A: Not much.  My first computer was an IBM PC in 1985.  I’ve had a computer ever since.

Q: What changed in the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s that fueld the rise of conservatism?

A: The fifties were a soft and easy time in America, but with a looming threat from the USSR.  The sixties were a time of radical change (much as now) that left much of middle America uneasy, but unsure where to go.  Nixon called them the silent majority, but they were unable to make a difference.  So in the sixties we saw the Great Society BS and riots and hippies.  It came really fast as a reaction to a failing war in Viet Nam.  Nixon came along and tried to slow it, but then the Watergarte scandal put the conservatives on the run.  But there were no real conservatives thenn.  It was the failure of economic policy and foreign policy under Carter that brought us to the point where conservatism could truly emerge.

 

Email Reflection: 4/29

Email Reflection 4/29 

Sarah Whittemore

 

I decided to reflect upon Sam Drabkin’s article: Fighting the Epidemic- Grass-root HIV suppport groups in the 80’s. This article stood out to me due to the fact that President Ronald Raegan and his administration was very slow to fund the HIV epidemic along with AIDS due to the fact that it was labeled as a “‘gay compromise syndome’” As the article state: “The equivalence of AIDS with the gay community made the conservative Reagan administration sluggish in its response to say the least.” I find it interesting that even though AIDS was around in the 1970’s that the disease itself was not deemed as a disease unitl the 80’s. I find this reckless due to the fact that in 1982, 618 people that had the disease died because of the lack of response and the article states that “By the end of 1983 that number had more than tripled” However, once the Reagan administration “changed its position” on this disease, Reagan “increased the federal budget for AIDS research, to half a billion dollars over 5 years.” The budget that the Reagan administration funded for AIDS research allowed Catherine Drabkin to direct her own support group. I also find it interesting that after one of Reagan’s friends: Rock Hudson died due to AIDS, “marked a turning point”. After movie star Rock Hudson died, “funds were made available for research and treatment.” I find this article fascinating because only after movie star Rock Hudson died of this disease, did the Reagan administration actually take action to attempt to control it. 

 

Discussion –Combatants

Overview

STUDENT COMMENT:  This week’s reading in American YAWP covered racial, social, and political tensions, the strain of the Vietnam War abroad and at domestically, the crisis of 1968, and the rise of Richard Nixon. The 1960’s, particularly 1968, is noted as one of the most tragic years in American history and it is not hard to see why. The Tet offensive occurred, which was a series of surprise attacks in Vietnam on the U.S. and South Korean forces, which led to the highest casualty toll of Americans in the Vietnam war. Not only that, but Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, and through all of this, the support for the Vietnam war continued to dwindle with protests sparking up all across the country leading to the fear that “civil society was unraveling.” (YAWP, 28) Richard Nixon “played on these fears” when he ran for president, also promising that he would end the war, but not win it. (YAWP, 28) Needless, to say, 1968 was a tumultuous year.

STUDENT COMMENT:  The oral history projects of Braxton, Huber, and Nolan tell the story of U.S. troops deployed in Vietnam. These three stories help illustrate the danger of the Vietnam war for combat troops as well as some of their reluctance to be stationed there.

Black Panthers

Black Panthers

New York Times, May 14th 1971.

STUDENT COMMENT: In 2015 Christina Braxton wrote about Dennis Braxton, a black veteran who did not receive appreciation after his return from Vietnam, “When he returned to California in 1971, he describes the area as “hippie-land.” Peaceful protests were now extremely common but movements like the Black Panther Party also rose in popularity. One of the first things Braxton did when released from the Navy was to join the Black Panthers”(Braxton, 2015). This goes to show that while Braxton was fighting for the nation there was a public reform, the amount of change that occurred must have been bizarre to him. Braxton did not hesitate to join the Black Panthers, a political group for African Americans, as the civil rights movement was one of key movements going on at the time.

Galiano

Dane Huber, Lawrence Galiano in Vietnam, November 1, 2017, http://blogs.dickinson.edu/hist-118pinsker/2017/11/01/vietnam-war-3/.

Lawrence Galiano

STUDENT COMMENT:  Huber’s interview with Lawrence Galiano reveals the ways in which the U.S. was unprepared for the war and how the effect of it led to the loss of lives of soldiers and even the vilification that the soldiers received after coming home. The YAWP chapter explains in depth the response of the war on the Johnson presidency and the country’s response to the war, it notably leaves how the soldiers fared under these conditions and their experiences when they came back home. After the war, he was criticized and even asked to take off his uniform on a plane to protect himself. Before the war, Sergeant Galiano was drafted into the war leaving behind his girlfriend and his dream of going to architectural school to fight for his country. This was a decision that was made for him. The whole experience from being drafted to his arrival in Vietnam was littered with inadequate leadership and lack of preparation. Firstly, he was taken to Fort Dix, where he had to sleep in the parking lot because there were no beds. Upon arriving in Vietnam, the soldiers were given little training and their practice with m14 was rendered useless when they were asked to use the m16s. This change seemed more futile when he realized that the communist forces used AK47s, a far more superior weapon that he claims, “didn’t jam [and] you could hold it under water and it would fire.” Additionally, they were wholly unprepared for the war because as thy never had the numbers and military officials did not have insight to provide resources. The YAWP narrates how networks like CBS displayed the violence enacted on the Vietnamese at the hands of the U.S. and this fueled the protest across the country. While the protest against the war is justified, and the violence against the Vietnamese by soldiers like Lt. Calley were truly horrifying, some of the soldiers were just victims of circumstance. The individual stories of Dennis Braxton, who as a black man was belittled and conflicted about the war or Galiano who was blamed for something he could not control, show there is no single narrative in a war. It holds different stakes for all involved.

STUDENT COMMENT:  The story that really struck me was the life of Sargent Lawrence Galiano in the Vietnam War. Galiano was drafted in 1966, and was first dropped off in Pleiku, Vietnam with little training or mental preparation. He states, when he was dropped out of the helicopter, “everything was under fire”. I can’t sit here and begin to imagine how horrifying that is, not knowing if you are going to make it out, especially when you are fighting in a war you did not voluntarily sign up for. I also want to point out the aftermath of the war, because I think the mental effects of soldiers are overlooked. Galiano talks about how he struggled mentally after coming home, probably a form of ptsd/depression. My grandfather was also in Vietnam, and he experiences this to this day. In addition to this, the treatment of Vietnam soldiers is something I had really never heard about. Today, our troops are highly respected, whereas back then the veterans were treated horribly because of instances like the “US troops [raping] and/or [massacring] hundreds of civilians in the village of My Lai” (YAWP Chapter 28). I find it really heartbreaking that the American people shamed the Vietnam veterans because their service was not by choice, and not all soldiers participated in these horrifying activities like the instance of My Lai.

Intelligence Operative

STUDENT COMMENT:  There are many interesting yet forgotten stories about the soldiers in the Vietnam War. Aside from Dennis Braxton, Jimmy Bracken had the role of gathering social intelligence in Southern Vietnam. He took on ASA missions which he was not even permitted to speak about till long after the end of the war. When reflecting on the war Bracken stated he “didn’t really have that much of an impact”(Nolan, 2018). In the outcome his role may not have been very influential but “As the war deteriorated, the Johnson administration escalated American involvement by deploying hundreds of thousands of troops to prevent the communist takeover of the south. Stalemates, body counts, hazy war aims, and the draft catalyzed an antiwar movement and triggered protests throughout the United States and Europe” (YAWP 28, II). South Vietnam, where Bracken operated the most, was the center of global attention at the time. His role in the war had an effect on foreign policy throughout the world, even if he did not feel it did. The action of the US to have troops in Southern Vietnam outraged the US public. Regardless of the outcome of the war it is tragic that these two veterans did not get to experience the appreciation other veterans received in other wars.

Sample Outline

There are many effective ways to organize an oral history-based essay.  Here is one sample outline:

I.  Introduction

  • Narrative vignette (with quotation from interview)
  • Thesis statement and interpretive overview

II.  Background

  • Personal history (subject’s story)
  • General context (focused on secondary sources)

III.  Narrative

  • Heart of the story (mix of quotations and sources)

IV.  Analysis

  • Explain or interpret significance (address Brands book)

V.  Conclusion

  • Return to narrative vignette and deepen insights

Chasing the American Dream

Chasing the American Dream
by David Ndreca

[NOTE:  Both the subject and the interviewer switch languages as per convenience, therefore, the transcript has been translated and appropriated.]

“Immigrants dreamed the same dreams that immigrants always have–of opportunity in America for themselves and their children” Brands writes in his American Dreams.[1]

In this short piece, I will introduce the story of Marcello Cardillo, an Italian immigrant who came to the United States in 1966 to chase the American Dream. The focus of my story is the description of Cardillo’s journey, which demonstrates the hardships and sacrifices an immigrant had to go through to get to the land of the free and opportunities. Not only will I describe his journey, but also the nature of his success and his consequent ability to help others, who, just like him, dreamed of America. This piece follows the spirit of Brands’ statement, supplementing it and giving it a more sensitive perspective.

In the late 1930’s, Marcello Cardillo’s father, Peppe Cardillo—a U.S. born citizen—was taken back to Italy by his parents and, he was never allowed to come to the U.S. again. In 1940 he was drafted to Africa.[2]Specifically, he was drafted in the Italian Eastern Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana), a complex of territories made up of ancient Italian colonial possessions of Somalia, the Eritrean Colony and the Ethiopian Empire.[3]During the war, Peppe lost a leg and was sent back to Italy. Unable to provide for his family, Peppe sent his young kids to work in the fields but it was not enough to feed a family of seven, with a sick mother and a disabled father.[4]Many Italians who emigrated to the United States during the 20s and 30s eventually returned to Italy, “a rarely noted fact that reveals a fundamental ambivalence about being in the United States.”[5]Known as “soujourners” or “economic opportunists” these immigrants came to the U.S. to make money and return home to buy land and open businesses.[6]

At the age of 16, Marcello Cardillo applied, along with his other two male siblings, for a U.S. visa, but it was denied since their uncle was an outspoken communist. Overtaken by desperation, Marcello, the youngest of them all, undertook a journey to Northern Italy, hoping to make it to Switzerland. In Milan, the young Cardillo had to spend the night under a bridge waiting for the seven o’clock bus to Zurich. He said “It was the end of September but I wasn’t cold, I didn’t feel it. I had six starving people at home and the simple idea that I could provide them with a piece of bread kept me going.”[7]

In Switzerland Cardillo was sheltered by farmers and was allowed to sleep in a barn. His hosts found him a job and also forced him to go to night school. “They told me that if I wanted to work, I had to go to school so I could do something better, perhaps find a job in the city.”Soon, Cardillo moved into a little apartment in Zurich, which was “expensive, but it was worth it” he said, “I could make double of what I made working in the farm, and I could send my family twice as much.”[8]

Two years had gone by, and it was time to go see his family. Cardillo had now purchased a car, a Fiat 600 Vignale Spyder, a car he could only afford without much sacrifice. “I was poor, I gave most of my money to my family, but I had saved a lot and now I could pass as middle-class kid, but I was nowhere close to being like [them].”[9]

While visiting his family at the age of 18, Cardillo got arrested for intentionally avoiding the draft. “The communists of the village had reported me, who else?” he stated, “poverty led people into committing evil actions against each other” he continued. Because of his family’s many connections, Cardillo was granted 24 hours to spend with his parents before he could be taken by the authorities and escorted to a military base. However, Cardillo decided to flee and with the help of his neighbor, a marshal of the Carabinieri (Italian police), he was escorted in the marshal’s car trunk to a train station in Rome. “You must cross the Lugano border tomorrow at 9:15, my brother’s shift starts exactly at 9. I will call him, tell him I sent you. He will help you cross the border” the marshal told Cardillo. Once arrived at his apartment in Zurich, Cardillo no longer felt safe and he knew it wouldn’t have been long before the police would find him. Cardillo shared his concerns with his family in New York, and his aunt promised that she’d help him leave Europe.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished the Quota Acts which were based on national origins and opened the borders to people with skills needed in a developing American economy.[10]It’s 1966, just a year after the passing of the new immigration law. Cardillo’s aunt sought the help of Congresswoman Edna F. Kelly who, according to Cardillo, “called the U.S. consul in Zurich and arranged a work visa” for him (There is no evidence of such correspondence nor is Mr. Cardillo aware of the relationship between his aunt and the Representative Kelly).

Representative Edna Kelly was a Democrat from New York and had different roles in American politics; most importantly, she was known for her contributions to foreign affairs and women’s rights. Kelly served as the Chair of the Subcommittee on Europe and later as the third ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.[11]Many Representatives, including Kelly, favored immigration reform. The House Immigration Committee took the issue of race and racial discrimination as legitimate grounds for supporting a new reform.[12]Most Congressman in support of the immigration reform “represented eastern European interests, either in their ethnically mixed regions, or in their own or biographies.”[13]

“The plane took off and I thought about that good-hearted woman (referring to Rep. Edna Kelly). I wouldn’t be on this plane without her, and without my aunt.” At the age of 20 Cardillo arrived to the United States and was not expecting what he saw. “It was dark and rainy but I couldn’t take my eyes off the high ceilings of the airport” he said. “I was asked my passport by a very tall officer. He asked me many questions to which I didn’t know how to answer, of course, but I do remember very well his big mustache.”[14]The American Dream turned to be a bit bittersweet: the demand for laborers was very high but Italian immigrants had socialist approaches to work organizations and were organized into mutual-aid societies. Italian Socialists provided leadership and protection to garment workers, barbers, and construction workers. The Italian Socialists also built a bridge between Italians and labor organizations such as the Knights of Labor or the Bricklayer’s, Mason’s and Plasterer’s International Union of America of which Cardillo was a part of.[15]

Once settled at his aunt’s house, Cardillo quickly started working as a construction laborer with his uncle but was unsatisfied with the attitude of his superiors. “Our bosses would give us the worst positions, the risky ones and many times they withheld a portion of our salaries to pay for the tools but in reality those filthy bastards were putting that money into their pockets” Cardillo stated.[16]In fact, immigrant workers took, and arguably still take, jobs with higher health and safety risks than native-born laborers. This phenomenon occurs because of the immigrants’ levels of education, language abilities, and different perceptions of job risks. Many immigrants obtained their work authorization directly through their employer and were tied to the company for an extended period of time. Undoubtedly, this leads to a system prone to exploitation but because of the aforementioned factors—particularly those immigrants whom immigration status depended on their employer—laborers did not seek for alternative employment or working rights out of fear of the consequences for them and their families.[17]

At 23 years-old Cardillo had just gotten married and wanted his family to live comfortably and still had parents and siblings to feed back in Italy.  He said “I needed to do something, I was an angry young man that needed opportunities and not a [slave-like operated employment].” With the help of family and friends, Cardillo opened an Italian deli in downtown Brooklyn. There, he employed his wife Adele while he continued to work as a construction laborer. In two-year time, Marcello and Adele Cardillo saved enough money to buy a house in Yonkers, New York.[18]Italians were known for the many entrepreneurs and workers engaged in the manufacturing, construction and food businesses. Italians did not assimilate in America, but they created a cultural pluralism that allowed them to keep their Italian traditions and values while becoming good Americans.[19]

In 1983, Cardillo decided to sell his Italian deli and invest the earnings into a construction business. “It was a Sunday, I remember it because we had just returned from mass at St. John’s church. We sat down outside the fig tree and I [consulted] Adele whether or not we should sell our deli. She did not hesitate and supported my idea without any questions” Cardillo said. Within a few weeks Marcello opens his construction business called M & C, S & D Mason Contractors, Inc. and hires five laborers. It was a hard beginning working as subcontractors in Westchester County, NY, there was a lot of competition, and Cardillo’s English was very limited.  However, only a few years later, Cardillo became one of the most renowned construction businessmen in the county. His projects quickly increased and were comprised from 50 to even 100 condominiums. “I did 50 condominiums for Jack Nicklaus. I know [him] very well, we don’t hangout anymore but I knew him very well” Cardillo proudly said. This business not only allowed him to chase his American Dream, but to help his employess do so as well. He made sure his they were protected by a union and partnered with the Bricklayer’s, Mason’s and Plasterer’s International Union of America, the oldest and still operating trade union in the United States. After 30 years in business, the union awarded him with a plaque of excellence in craftsmanship.[20]

After many years in business, Cardillo started supporting both politicians and people in need. He donated to humanitarian organizations and sponsored campaigns. He held beneficiary events and distributed food to the poor. “After 50 years working with immigrants, [Hispanics], people of color, with everybody, [I can say] for me, working people are all the same. America is the number one [compared to any other country] in the world. I am Italian but America is the number one for me. When you’re born in another country and you come to the United States you got to suffer a lot” Cardillo concluded.[21] 

[1]H. W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), 384.

[2]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, March 17, 2018.

[3]Giuseppe Morandini, Enrico Cerulli, and Ugo Leone, “AFRICA ORIENTALE ITALIANA in “Enciclopedia Italiana”,” Treccani, , accessed April 28, 2018, http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/africa-orientale-italiana_res-13a6efa4-87e5-11dc-8e9d-0016357eee51_(Enciclopedia-Italiana)/.

[4]I Interview with Mr. Cardillo, March 28, 2018.

[5]Stephen S. Hall, “ITALIAN-AMERICANS COMING INTO THEIR OWN,” The New York Times, May 15, 1983, , accessed April 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/05/15/magazine/italian-americans-coming-into-their-own.html?pagewanted=all.

[6]Ibid

[7]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, April 24, 2018.

[8]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, April 4, 2018.

[9]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, March 17, 2018.

[10][10]H. W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), 371.

[11]“Kelly, Edna Flannery,” US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives, Accessed April 28, 2018.http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/16168.

[12]http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=2&sid=e9f5d25d-9e01-4437-887e-4dac1b08ff44%40sessionmgr101page 58

[13]Ibid page 64

[14]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, April 24, 2018.

[15]Wang Xinyang, Economic opportunity, artisan leadership, and immigrant workers: Italian and Chiense immigrant workers in New York City, 18090-1980, (Labor History, 1996) 492-493.

[16]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, March 17, 2018.

[17]http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=c33255e9-d7cc-420f-8aee-a4cec4dca146%40sessionmgr104page 142-143

[18]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, April 24, 2018.

[19]Mary Brown, Italians of the South Villages, report, ed. Rafaele Fierro (New York City, NY: Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation , 2007), 80, October 15, 2015, accessed April 28, 2018, gvshp.org/blog/2015/10/08/italians-of-the-south-village/

[20]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, April 4, 2018.

[21]I Interview with Mr. Cardillo, March 17, 2018.

 

Interviews

–Video recording, Yonkers, NY March 17, 2018.

–Inteview, Yonkers, NY March 28, 2018.

–Phone Interview, April 4, 2018.

–Phone Interview, April 24, 2018.

Selected Transcript

– Video recording

[NOTE: Both the subject and the interviewer switch languages as per convenience, therefore, the use of certain terminology has been appropriated.]

[English]

Q. I know your father was a U.S. citizen. What happened to him?
A. My father was born in this country and then my grandpa [took him] back to Italy when he was 12 years-old. He never came back in this country because in 1930 [there was a draft to Africa]. In Africa, he lost his leg and never came back in this country.

Q. Where were you born? When did you come to the United States?
A. I was born in Italy, in the province of Rome, I left [the country] when I was sixteen years-old and went living in Switzerland. In Switzerland I used to go to school. During the day at work and at night I used to go to school. Then in 1966, I came to the United States to find my [wife]. I was 23 years-old when I met my wife, we got married and after a little while, in a year, we bought a house.

Q. How were you able to sustain your family and buy a house?
A. I used to work all over the place to make money. After three years, I bought my first store, an [Italian] deli. During the day, I would work at the construction site and at night at the deli.

[Translated from Italian]

Q. Were there any obstacles that hindered your business?
A. At the time, everything was managed by the mafia but I was never, I mean … How can I say it … A man from the mafia came to collect the “protection fee” but I told him I didn’t make enough money to pay for the protection.

[English]

Q. What happened afterwards?
A. After that, I closed the store and opened my [construction] business. I stayed in [the construction] business 33 years. I started with three foremen and ended up with 80, 90, 60. [All] union people, everyone used to be a [union man] and I was glad to be a union man and still am a union man, up to today.

[Translated from Italian]

Q. How big were your projects?
A. All the projects consisted of 50, 100, 80 condominiums depending on the various projects, but they were all new.

Q. I know you’ve worked for famous people.
A. Yes, I did 50 condominiums for Jack Nicklaus. I know [him] very well, we don’t hangout anymore but I knew him very well, we ate together… Then I know many political figures such as Nita Lowey (D-NY 17thDistrict), (former state) Senator Spano. I know many of these judges, they’re my friends because the have respected me as a [working] immigrant and I respect them for who they are.

[English]

Q. How did you engage with the community?
A. When I was 26, I started joining [various Italian clubs]. At first, [I joined the] Columbus League, named after Cristoforo Colombo, after that, I joined the Italian-American Organization. After two years, they made me the President of C.I.A.O. A lot of people did not like it because I was an immigrant, I don’t speak very well English. [Afterwards] I started [sponsoring] politicians, I started helping them, helping people and this is my story. After 50 years working with immigrants, any kind of people. I worked with immigrants, Spanish, people of color, with everybody. For me, working people are all the same. For me, America is the number one [compared to any other country]. I am Italian but America is the number one for me.When you’re born in another country and you come to the United States you got to suffer a lot.

[Translated from Italian]

Q. A bizarre question but would you go back to Italy?
A. No. Because I’m planted here and I no longer like the Italian [socio-political] environment. However, Italy is still Italy, it’s beautiful! When you spend your whole life abroad, it’s hard to get used to the Italian environment again.

 

 

The Election of 1980: The Start of the Reagan Revolution

By: Mitchell Snyder

In June of 1976, the future of the Republican Party remained uncertain as delegates and candidates alike entered a convention without a candidate. In the months leading up to the gathering, neither President Gerald Ford or Governor Ronald Reagan had secured enough primary wins to claim the coveted nomination outright.[1] Throughout the crowds of delegates, politicians and campaign staff, whispers of uncertainty spread. Among this crowd was a young Charlie Gerow, a college student and an outspoken Reagan loyalist. He was there to support the man he believed would one day sit in the oval office, a belief that would become reality four years later.[2]

Charlie had first met the former California governor in Washington D.C. at private meeting arranged by a colleague he had met while volunteering for the Republican Party in Pennsylvania. Gerow recalls the meeting fondly: “I was still a sophomore or junior in college… I had the chance to meet the future President of the United States for four or five minutes, one on one. Which was really, at that point in my life, the greatest thing that ever happened.”[3] Since that day, he dedicated countless hours workings towards one goal – making Ronald Reagan the President of the United States.

The National Interest, Lee Edwards
President Ford invites then Governor Reagan to address the 1976 Convention.

At the 1976 Republican Convention, Charlie remembers a profound sense of confidence among the Reagan delegation. Despite being behind in both polls and primary wins, the Reagan camp believe they had both the momentum and enough ‘tricks up their sleeves’ to secure the nomination.[4] Unfortunately, this confidence would soon be replaced by a deep sense of disappointment. Despite the Reagan team’s best efforts, the convention had a nominee and it was President Gerald Ford. However, this wasn’t the end of Ronald Reagan’s political life. In an unprecedented moment, President Ford invited his defeated opponent, Ronald Reagan, to address the convention. According to H.W. Brands’s Book, American Dreams, this prompted “…many delegates – ‘eyes glistening with tears,’… to conclude that the convention had chosen the wrong candidate.”[5] Gerow had the same impression as he stood in the convention hall. “…[I] was there in the hall of the house when President Reagan spoke, and heard that tremendous, uplifting, emotional speech which left many of the delegates, kind of, scratching their heads saying, ‘did we just nominate the wrong guy?’”[6]

This belief would be solidified the following day when Ronald Reagan addressed his own mini-convention of supporters and staff following the loss to Ford. Charlie was among crowd who had gathered at the request of their defeated candidate, eager to hear what he had to say. Reagan took this time to thank those who had worked so hard to get him nominated. He told them the fight wasn’t over and the future was bright. In this moment, Charlie knew this wasn’t the end of the Reagan story. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, but everyone left that room knowing that Ronald Reagan would be back.”[7]

In November 1979, Charlie joined county chairmen, elected officials, and volunteers on a journey from Central Pennsylvania to the Hilton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan to hear Ronald Reagan announce his candidacy for President of the United States. It had been four long years, and much had changed. Charlie was now enrolled at Villanova Law School working towards achieving his J.D. However, his dedication to Ronald Reagan remained firmly in place. He had been invited on this trip by his friend and the Reagan campaign manager for Pennsylvania, Drew Lewis. Drew had played host on the ride down. He had brought them coffee and snacks to help make the long pilgrimage seam more enjoyable. Charlie remembers that night like it was yesterday. “He [Ronald Reagan] introduced that night and played on National television a video announcing his campaign, which, was kind of an edgy piece of campaign technology, at that point… It really went over exceptionally well and paved the way for his 1980 successful campaign for President.”[8] He remembers the pure excitement in the air that night. “The energy level was really incredibly high. Ronald Reagan’s ability to connect with people as the great communicator was really on full display that night in New York… People left highly motivated and highly energized and ready for the tough campaign that was to come…”[9]

CBS News
Reagan stares down Mr. Green after exclaiming “I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!”

Throughout the primary Reagan was quick to emerge as the front runner in the crowded field of candidates. One such moment that showcased Reagan’s leadership occurred during a primary debate. This debate was a controversial to say the least. The Federal Elections Committee decided that the debate, which was sponsored by a local newspaper, that excluded all other candidates except the front runners (Reagan and Bush), constituted an improper campaign contribution. In response to this, the Reagan’s campaign paid for all the candidates to join the debate to circumvent this ruling.[10] During this debate, the moderator John Green instructed for Reagan’s microphone to be but off prompting the response “I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!” Gerow remembers this moment as a pivotal part of the primary campaign. He explained “The reason that was so important was voters saw in that moment the definitive notion of who Ronald Reagan was… It didn’t matter what was said at that debate because no one remember one word. They remember that little tinny vignette, that moment in time when Ronald Reagan’s leadership and strength showed through.”[11]

Charlie says it is important to understand that Reagan’s strong responses to attacks on him didn’t end up manifested in grudges. In fact, throughout the campaign he observed Reagan rarely held grudges against his primary opponents. He remembers one incident where “ There had been a dust up with [Senate Majority Leader and Primary Opponent] Howard Baker… there was some hard feelings… [but] Ronald Reagan was getting ready to call Howard Baker about something, and one of his aids said “You can’t do that, you can’t do that” Reagan just gently leaned back and said ‘Oh yeah, I am suppose to be mad at him aren’t I?’”[12]

The Washington Times
President Carter and then candidate Ronald Reagan debate.

Following the primary Charlie Gerow became involved in the campaign in a more official capacity. “After the primaries were concluded in the 1980, I actually got a pay check – which was really important to a young man right out of law school! I went to work as a Political Director, Regional Coordinator for the Reagan Campaign.”[13]  In this position, he worked to build coalitions throughout Pennsylvania to help bring in the needed support to defeat Jimmy Carter. He remembers one of the defining moments that “made a real difference” was the final debate. Gerow explains “The debates were Ronald Reagan’s shinning moments… the race was still neck and neck, many polls showed Jimmy Carter ahead… Ronald Reagan was able to define himself and at the same time contrast himself with Jimmy Carter, particularly in the final debate where he looked in the camera in the eye and said to the American people ‘Are you better off now than you were four years ago?’”[14]

In describing the results of the 1980 election H.W. Brand’s writes “It wasn’t surprising that Reagan won handily.”[15] However, Gerow remembers quite a different feeling among the Reagan team that night. He explains the staff had worked for weeks to prepare for Election Night 1980. Gerow remembers “.. we were all hunkered down with you know computer which, in those days, were almost unheard of… We had all sorts of sophisticated models to check out votes as they came in and make projections etc.” The Reagan staff expected to be up late into the night, believing the election would be extremely close. In fact, in preparation of their anticipated all-nighter they took some time to eat dinner and relax before the stressful night that was coming. However, Gerow explains “By the time we had finished dinner the news was announcing Ronald Reagan had been elected because it was such a landslide. Nobody, I don’t think, really thought it would be as wide a margin as it turned out to be.”[16]

Communities Digital News
President-Elect Reagan and his wife Nancy celebrate their victory!

The following that historic night the Guardian reported “Ronald Reagan will be the next President of the United States. He was heading for the White House early today in what appeared to be a landslide victory in the presidential election.”[17] This marked the end of Reagan’s 1980 campaign but the beginning of what is often referred to as the Reagan Revolution. A time where conservative ideas of lessened regulation, traditional values and smaller government became the staples of the American system.[18] A revolution that was lead by its charismatic spokesman Ronald Reagan. Gerow believes that Reagan’s gracious nature is what made this revolution possible. He was able to connect with voters of different backgrounds and make them feel important. “Folks use to say when you walked into the room with Ronald Reagan you knew he was the most important man in the world and when you left you felt like you were.”[19]

Citations:

[1]Randy Roberts & David Welky, Ronald Reagan Treasures: The Life of the Great Communicator in Photos & Memorabilia (San Diego: Thunder Bay Press, 2015.) 93-94.

[2] In person interview with Charlie Gerow, Harrisburg, PA, April 25th, 2018.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5]  H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 216.

[6] In person interview with Charlie Gerow, Harrisburg, PA, April 25th, 2018.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] In person interview with Charlie Gerow, Harrisburg, PA, April 18th, 2018.

[10]  Dufresne, Louise. “Ronald Reagan’s Testy Moment in the 1980 GOP Debate.” CBS News. February 11, 2016. Accessed April 26, 2018. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/reagans-testy-moment-in-the-1980-gop-debate/.

[11] In person interview with Charlie Gerow, Harrisburg, PA, April 25th, 2018.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] In person interview with Charlie Gerow, Harrisburg, PA, April 25th, 2018.

[15] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 217.

[16] In person interview with Charlie Gerow, Harrisburg, PA, April 25th, 2018.

[17] Harold Jackson & Alex Brummer, The Guardian Historical Archieve, A Landslide makes it President Reagan: Aides tell tearful Jimmy Carter that ‘It’s all over.’

[18] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 232-236.

[19] In person interview with Charlie Gerow, Harrisburg, PA, April 18th, 2018.

Image Citations:

[1] Edwards, Lee. “President Ford Invites Then Governor Reagan to Address the 1976 Convention.” The National Interest.

[2] “Reagan Stares down Mr. Green after Exclaiming ‘I Am Paying for This Microphone, Mr. Green!”.” CBS News.

[3] “President Carter and Then Candidate Ronald Reagan Debate.” The Washington Times.

[4] “President-Elect Reagan and His Wife Nancy Celebrate Their Victory!” Communities Digital News.

Selective Interview Transcript: 

[NOTE: This is a transcript of excerpts from a much longer interview recorded & conducted in person.]

Q: How did you become involved with Ronald Reagan campaign?

A: “I always found President Reagan to be a fascinating person. He was unlike any politician I had ever encountered. He was charismatic, a talented speaker, and more than anything he wasn’t boring to listen to. He didn’t get bogged down in small details, not that he didn’t know them, he just understood that the people wanted to hear something more, something more real.”

Q: What do you mean by real?

A:  “Well, it is something that real Americans can related to. They certainly couldn’t relate to President Carter and his focus on data points and statistics. People wanted someone who they could picture as one of them – President Reagan was certainly able to related to them in that way.”

Q: After the 2016 election, we heard a lot of talk about polling and the role of the media in politics. What was the attitude towards these things on the Reagan Campaign and by Reagan himself?

A: “As expected, our campaign staff certainly kept track of what the polls and pundits where saying. As someone who works with the State Party yourself, you know the importance of staying up to date – or at least I hope you do! [Laughter] However, unlike the average politico or politician now-a-days, President Reagan didn’t guide himself using polls or talking heads. He would spend much of his time speaking with voters about the values and principles that he believed were right and let the chips fall where they may.”

Q: What was the climate in the U.S. prior to the 1980 election?

A: “It wasn’t great. People were significantly unhappy – facing unemployment, inflation and a lack of confident leadership. There were Americans being held hostage abroad, you know the hostages, and many voters believed that their best days were behind them.”

Q: You worked very closely with President Reagan throughout your time as one of his Campaign Aides. What was the most surprising thing you observed about him?

A: “Well, lets see. That’s a tough one – as aides we saw a lot. I would have to say it was how he treated our campaign rivals. You see, he wasn’t like any politician I had met prior. Many of them kept these lists of people who they believed had wronged them. A list of enemies that that could finally get some sort of retribution back from once the election was over. He simply didn’t do this. In fact, I recall one incident during the 1980 campaign when a rival said especially nasty things about the President. Shortly after, he [President Reagan] actually went to call the man about another topic. All of us were shocked – we thought this could clearly only encourage more negative behavior. So, we advised him against it. He responded, ‘Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be mad at him, aren’t I?’ He wasn’t your average politician – he was definitely something special.”

Q: You mentioned, that he spoke with voters about his beliefs. Do you think he did this effectively?

A: “He certainly did. No doubt in my mind – he was a master at it.”

Q: Why do you call him a Master at it?

A: “Well, it was his ability to focus on what others were saying and feeling rather than himself. You could walk into a meeting knowing he was one of the most important men in the world and leave thinking that you were. He would speak to the average voter the same way he spoke to Senators and Congressman – it was extremely admirable. It allowed him to connect with the average American – and I believe helped him earn that nickname ‘The Great Communicator.'”

Timeline:

Best Kept Secrets of the Vietnam War: the Untold Story of the Significance of Social Intelligence


By Catie Nolan

Bracken in Nhu Trang in 1966. Courtesy of Jimmy Bracken

Upon returning home from Vietnam in 1969, if you had asked Jimmy Bracken what he did in the Vietnam War, he would have told you that he was “assigned to the Army Signal Corps” [1].  But this was a lie, and Bracken swore to keep it a secret for 25 years following his deployment. In an oral history interview, Bracken reveals his role as a social intelligence gatherer for the Army Security Agency (ASA) in South Vietnam between 1966 and 1969.  Bracken reflects on his experience in Vietnam and claims that he “didn’t really have that much of an impact” [2]. Bracken’s disposition is one not represented in H. W. Brands’ American Dreams.  By primarily focusing on military combat in Vietnam, Brands fails to recognize the role of the ASA in detecting Vietcong communications.  Undercover designations intended to mask soldiers’ identities and NSA policy laws hinder public knowledge on these veterans’ impact on the Vietnam War.  Due to the secrecy and high classification of an operation, its role, and its agents, ASA missions and units were unknown and until recently, have been kept secrets from the public.  The absence of historical documentation to support Jimmy Bracken’s reflection of his role within the social intelligence force of the ASA highlights the NSA’s obstruction of the ASA’s history in Vietnam.  The NSA’s ability to legally obstruct documents by deeming them as classified prevented historians from producing accurate representations of the history of social intelligence in the Vietnam War.

Bracken’s undercover role within the ASA was to gather Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) via radio and provide tactical information to military forces to best execute attacks using the location of VC units.  In Vietnam, the ASA utilized Airborne Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) equipment, “to identify, triangulate and analyze enemy radio communications” [3]. According to William LeGro, the author of Vietnam from Cease-Fire to Capitulation, these ARDF units were the “single most valuable intelligence resource available to American and Allied forces during the war in Vietnam” [4].  ASA units served under a military unit and were codenamed to protect the unit’s true mission; many ASA units had codenames as Radio Research Units [5].  Upon receiving his draft notice in 1965, Bracken registered within the Army Security Agency (ASA), a subordinate group of the National Security Agency (NSA).  Bracken spent a year learning Vietnamese at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, California. This time in Monterey intended to prepare him to translate encrypted Vietnamese messages intercepted via radio that following year.  After landing in Saigon with the 237th Radio Research Group in 1966, Bracken traveled to Nhu Trang with a Morse-code translator and radio repair guide. Bracken recalls that “Not many other people were doing what I was doing” as he reflects on his duty in Vietnam [6].

The difficulty in his job was not only translating a language he had learned in the span of one year, but also finding Vietcong and North Vietnamese radio broadcasts.  Bracken typically remained in the same location, either “in a tent or the back of his pick-up truck, and listen[ed] to the radios,” spending hours a day searching for signals [7].  Bracken recalls his experience in intercepting radio transmissions: “I heard a lot of static… and every now and then, you’d pick up a voice transmission. Most of the time it was just reaching numbers, which was the way they coded their messages” [8].  Bracken usually heard a series of four-digit groupings. Each group would translate into one letter or number (i.e. “1235 = a”) [9]. Most of these messages translated into numbers and were coordinates that the Vietcong was sending to artillery. Bracken would make a tape of the transmissions, then send the tape to one of the larger military bases in Nha Trang or Phu Bai, or to NSA at Fort Meade.  There, cryptologists would “listen to the tapes, transcribe the encrypted messages, and then go back over them” [10]. When Bracken would intercept coordinate communications, he recalls that “sometimes I’d look at those coordinates to make sure it wasn’t where I was sitting, so I didn’t have to worry about ducking” [11]. While James L. Gilbert’s The Most Secret War provides historical analysis on the impact of Radio Research Units, the contents of these transcripts are not available for public view.

Soldier using Ground-based Radio Direction-Finding. Courtesy of US Army (https://www.army.mil/article/125717/3rd_rru_arrives_in_vietnam_may_13_1961)

Enacted in 1959, Public Law 86-36 authorized the protection of names employed by the NSA, as well as classification of the functions of the NSA.  This law also established the National Security Agency “as the principal agency of the Government responsible for signals intelligence activities” and enabled the Agency “to function without the disclosure of information which would endanger the accomplishment of its functions” [12].  The NSA was permitted to withhold any information that could inhibit the Agency’s goal of obtaining social intelligence or achieving a goal involving national security. The Agency prohibited employees from discussing any matter pertaining to their role, mission, or any classified detail involving the NSA. Throughout the Vietnam Conflict, “ASA would designate all of its units as ‘Radio Research’ to shield its presence” [13].  Bracken recalls that his undercover designation was to “the Army Signal Corps,” a military signal gathering effort [14]. Bracken did not actually work for the military, but this cover allowed the NSA to protect its presence in Vietnam. Knowledge of the NSA’s involvement in Vietnam was not available to the public until the 2000s when the National Security Agency released documentation describing social intelligence involvement in Vietnam.  In a declassified report by the NSA released in December of 2007, senior historian Robert Hanyok researched highlights how a “cryptologic communitywide history” began in 1967 but abruptly stopped in 1971, the same year the NSA deployed ASA units in Vietnam [15].  An attempt to record “the Army Security Agency’s official history never got beyond a draft stage” [16]. According to Hanyok, “it seemed the SIGINT [signals intelligence] community simply was uninterested in any thoughtful reflection on its effort during the conflict” [17].  While halting this effort to record history raised suspicions, the NSA was legally entitled to discontinue historical recordings.  Enacted in 1967, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) “provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information,” with the exceptions for “law enforcement and national security records” [18].

In 1964, the amendment of Title III to Public law 88-290 allowed the Secretary of NSA to employ any person and grant them temporary and limited access to classified cryptologic information.  “During any period of war declared by the Congress, or during any period when the Secretary determines that a national disaster exists, or in exceptional cases” the Secretary “may authorize the employment of any person in … the Agency, and may grant to any such person access to classified information, on a temporary basis, pending the completion of the full field investigation and the clearance for access to classified information required by this subsection” [19].  This law allowed NSA to hire “any” civilian and authorized the deployment of NSA employees to Vietnam and control their ability to discuss their role and the information involved [20]. In addition to its ability to recruit employees and grant them access to national classified information, this law marks a significant increase in the power of the NSA and creates a loophole in which troops can be deployed without a congressional declaration of war. The implementation of laws similar to these allowed the NSA to obstruct public access to the NSA’s plans of national security and intelligence, in addition to the recognition of those involved.  The NSA’s motive to inhibit public knowledge of and access to a number of historical documents concerning ASA forces is unclear, their obstruction inhibits historians’ understanding of the significance of social intelligence in Vietnam.

 Historian H. W. Brands omits the involvement of American social intelligence in the Vietnam War.  In response to President Ngo Dinh Diem and US officials in Saigon request for US assistance, John B. Willems of the Department of the Army proposed the establishment of programs “to provide training to the South Vietnamese and at the same time establish US intercept operations in the country in February of 1961 [21].  President Johnson approved the deployment of “secret operations against the Viet Cong” [22]. On May 13th, 1961, the 3d Radio Research Unit’s “entry marked the first time an entire Army unit had deployed to South Vietnam” [23].  This unit was the 400th United States Army Security Agency Operations Unit, “with a cover designation as the 3d Radio Research Unit” [24].  These Army Security Agency personnel were among the earliest U.S. military personnel in Vietnam.  Brands claims that “American troops in Vietnam had functioned chiefly as advisers” until March of 1965 (Brands 140).  Realistically, it only was until May of 1961 that “only individual advisors had been assigned” [26]. Prior to the escalation of the Vietnam conflict and buildup of US forces in 1965, “ASA direct support units began entering Vietnam as part of the Army’s approved force structure” in 1961 [27].  The ASA command was intended to function as a “strictly tactical support role” [28]. Their arrival in Vietnam demonstrated that they would need to quickly reinvent “what they thought they knew about SIGINT” to fit the environment. It was this “extremely hot and humid climate” that Bracken described that would require the implementation of trucks to transport Direction Finding radio equipment and their teams [29].  US SIGINT found itself constantly challenged to “improve its methods and systems” in order to combat the VC [30]. Brands recognizes the US’ difficulty in “the land, the jungle, [and] the sun” of Vietnam environment, but does not address how SIGINT played a significant role within US combat forces “to demonstrate America’s steadfastness” [31].

In addition to misrepresenting US presence in Vietnam before 1965, Brands fails to address the significance of social intelligence in his recounting of the war.  Brands discusses how the Vietnam War was largely fought via combat on the ground and in the air. The absence of recognition for social intelligence forces causes veterans of the ASA to feel their duty was insignificant. Dave Sandelin, an ASA veteran in the Vietnam War, “whose job was to find the enemy through their radio transmissions,” would likely agree with Bracken’s feeling that he did not feel like he did much for the war effort [32, 33].  Bracken’s stated that ASA veterans “could not declare his role or discuss the details of our involvement in Vietnam for 25 years” [34]. Sandelin declared that “There were a lot of people that made great contributions to the U.S. military that never got any recognition” [35].  A cause of these sentiments are the laws like Public law 88-290 and 86-36 that impeded the discussion or release of any information pertinent to these veterans or their involvement in Vietnam (until recently). This lack of public knowledge likely contributes to why the ASA and its veterans received little recognition for its role in Vietnam.  The ASA’s deployment of its first Radio Research Unit in 1961 demonstrates larger US involvement that described in American Dreams, likely because this operation could not be discussed until 25 years after the conclusion of the war.  By this time, much of history of the Vietnam War has already been deciphered by what was already know.

The ASA’s absence from Vietnam War history demonstrates how the supporting factors that contribute to an event can be left out of historical narratives.  The classification of secrets during and following the Vietnam War obstructed historians’ inclusion of social intelligence and its significance within events of the Vietnam War.  Jimmy Bracken’s reflection on his role within the social intelligence force provides insight on the lack of historical documentation of the ASA and its narratives. While social intelligence does not demonstrate as direct an impact as combat forces, combat forces depend on this essential information to efficiently execute military attacks and defense.  Social intelligence forces like the ASA tend to receive less recognition than combat forces in historical recountings due to US policy on the intelligence operations’ classifications, which impeded public knowledge on the existence of these programs and their effects until almost 30 years after the conflict resided.

 

[1] Phone Interview with Jimmy Bracken, April 25, 2018.

[2] Phone Interview with Jimmy Bracken, April 2, 2018.

[3] Captain Kevin Sandell, “‘Spooks and Spies’ — Local ASA vets tell stories of combat, intel collection,” U.S. Army, last modified November 13, 2017. https://www.army.mil/article/196814/spooks_and_spies_local_asa_vets_tell_stories_of_combat_intel_collection.

[4] Sandell, “‘Spooks and Spies,'” U.S. Army.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Phone Interview with Jimmy Bracken, April 25, 2018.

[7] Phone Interview with Jimmy Bracken, April 2, 2018.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Phone Interview with Jimmy Bracken, April 25, 2018.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Legal Basis for NSA and Cryptologic Activities,” in Part 1 of U.S. Intelligence Agencies and Activities: Hearings Before the Select Committee on Intelligence, U.S. House of Representatives, Ninety-fourth Congress, First Session, vol. 4, U.S. Intelligence Agencies and Activities: Intelligence Costs and Fiscal Procedures (D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975), 374, https://books.google.com/books?id=9hh3VshHZ4oC&pg=PA371&lpg=PA371&dq=%E2%80%9Cto+function+without+the+disclosure+of+information+which+would+endanger+the+accomplishment+of+its+functions%E2%80%9D+%5BU.S.+Intelligence+Agencies+and+Activities:+Intelligence+costs+and+fiscal%5D&source=bl&ots=XJH709uNdb&sig=NrnssjAxrWqkixU8q_R5wGRWYXU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjtsunDh-PaAhVuT98KHawnDcYQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q=to%20function%20without&f=false.

[13] James L. Gilbert, The Most Secret War: Army Signals Intelligence in Vietnam (Fort Belvoir, VA: Military History Office, US Army Intelligence and Security Command, 2003), 6, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiug.30112064013359;view=1up;seq=1.

[14] Phone Interview with Jimmy Bracken, April 25, 2018.

[15] Robert J. Hanyok, Spartans in Darkness: American SIGINT and the Indochina War, 1945-1975, The NSA Period: 1952 – Present (2002), 7:455, https://fas.org/irp/nsa/spartans/aftermath.pdf.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 456.

[18] U. S. Department of State, “The Freedom of Information Act,” U.S. Department of State Freedom of Information Act, https://foia.state.gov/Learn/FOIA.aspx.

[19] “Public Law 88-290: Title III – Personnel Security Procedures in National Security Agency,” in Public Law (United States Government Publishing Office, 1964), 169, http://uscode.house.gov/statutes/pl/88/290.pdf.

[20] Ibid., 169.

[21] Gilbert, The Most Secret War, 4.

[22] History.com Staff. “Vietnam War Timeline.” History.com. https://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war-timeline.

[23] Gilbert, The Most Secret War, 7.

[24] Ibid.

[25] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 140.

[26] Gilbert, The Most, 7.

[27] Ibid., 32.

[28] Robert J. Hanyok, Spartans in Darkness: American SIGINT and the Indochina War, 1945-1975, The Burden’s First Fanfare: American SIGINT Arrives in Republic of Vietnam, 1961 – 64 (2002), 7:125, https://fas.org/irp/nsa/spartans/chapter4.pdf.

[29] Phone Interview with Jimmy Bracken, April 2, 2018.

[30] Robert J. Hanyok, Spartans in Darkness: American SIGINT and the Indochina War, 1945-1975, Xerve’s Arrows: SIGINT Support to the Air War, 1964-1972 (2002), 7:234, https://fas.org/irp/nsa/spartans/chapter6.pdf.

[31] Brands, 145, 139.

[32] Joe Habina. “Intelligence group played key role in military effort.” The Charlotte Observer, November 8, 2014. http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/community/city-news/ article9228452.html.

[33] Phone Interview with Jimmy Bracken, April 2, 2018.

[34] Inid.

[35] Habina

 

Timeline

Baseball, TV, and Race in Postwar New York

Liam Donahue

30 April 2018

“Not until the 1950s, when a critical mass of households first owned televisions, did TV [baseball] games become a regular thing. Once they did, advertisers began paying for commercials to be shown on broadcasts, and the ad money launched baseball on a meteoric rise.”–H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945, Pp. 75.

In 1946, Phil Shevlin, a native of Long Island, went to Brooklyn to visit his aunt and uncle. He was 10 years old. Phil remembers seeing a curious sight: a whole bunch of people were crowded around a storefront, “and there was this little tiny TV set, and they were showing a [baseball] game. And everybody was standing there, looking, with their face pressed against the window. That was my first experience ever seeing a television.”[1] The incident Phil is describing, while it may seem mundane, was actually representative of an important crossroads in American cultural history in the 1950s. Television was just beginning to proliferate in the late 1940s in America, and Baseball would also soon be carried live on TV. Phil had caught these two cultural features at the very beginning of their intersection. Of similar importance to this memory of Phil’s is the time and place it took place in. Jackie Robinson, the second baseman who broke baseball’s color barrier, played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and 1946 was the year before his debut season. H.W. Brands discusses these things, but condenses them all to a single page (75) of his book American Dreams: the United States since 1945. Phil Shevlin’s experiences supplement Brands’ quick skim over these topics, giving them an immediacy and a sense of life and detail that can only be obtained through a firsthand account.

Phil Shevlin was born in 1936. He grew up in the town of St. James, on Long Island, where he played a lot of sandlot baseball. He moved to Carlisle in 1954. In 1955, after high school, he joined the Army as a Military Policeman, specializing in transportation. He spent time driving officers back and forth between Washington and the Army War College. Later that same year, Phil went overseas to Paris, where he worked as chauffeur to a two-star General, the Chief of Intelligence at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. He still lives in Carlisle today, working at the information desk in Dickinson College’s Kline Athletic Center.

Baseball had been growing steadily in popularity since the beginning of the 20th century, however its popularity was transformed significantly through broadcast media. The first game was broadcast in 1939, as a test.[2] By the late forties and early fifties, “radio and TV stations could afford to pay large sums for the privilege of broadcasting games.”[3] Phil remembers listening to radio broadcasts of games, albeit on a slight delay due to the way the radio station received updates about the game. “You got the radio games from a far city, but it was on ticker tape to the station, and then you heard the ticker tape in the background and the guy was announcing what happened.” Phil watched baseball as much as he could, and he also played countless sandlot games with his friends.[4] Baseball was as popular as ever, yet there was another side to the coin. TV broadcasts of games, some thought, were actually taking fans away from the stadiums. “Television,” it was feared, would “consume baseball.”[5] Phil, despite the many sandlot games he played with friends, also vicariously watched baseball on TV “whenever [he] could, as much as possible,” even though at first he “only got the NYC area games on TV, and Philadelphia.”[6] Ticket sales were hurt, however ad revenue from TV more than made up for it. “For instance, the Dodgers’ income from radio and television in 1955 exceeded their player payroll by more than $250,000…interest, as opposed to attendance, never flagged.”[7]

Image result for baseball 1950s

A well-attended baseball game in the 1950s. TV would impact that. Courtesy of Gopgle Images.

Phil’s family got a TV in 1947, well before most American households did. They were the first family in their town to get one.[8] The TV was “[t]he number one consumer item of the 1950s…in 1947, fourteen thousand families had one, by 1957, ten million families had one.”[9] Phil’s family was one of those fourteen thousand. Luckily, his father had connections. “My dad worked in a hardware store that sold TVs,” he explained, “and I dunno how he afforded it but he got a TV.”[10] Television in Phil’s hometown of St. James, Long island, had “sort of just blossomed in the fifties… you knew who had TV because they had to have an antenna, and by the fifties everybody had an antenna, unless they didn’t have any money.”[11] An item such as this was not a small purchase for a middle class family in the 1950s. Phil remembers that, “they were an expensive item to a family that didn’t have a whole lot of money, but [retailers] made things achievable, different stores…they had to get their merchandise out, so they made credit plans, things of that nature.”[12] Just as TV sucked people away from attending baseball games, it also took people indoors away from other outdoor pursuits. TV “provided a way to spend more leisure time than middle-class families were used to having in the much more Spartan existence of the 1930s and 1940s.”[13] Phil observed this very phenomenon play out, although he noticed a split in who was most affected by it. Some, it was apparent, were spending more of their leisure time indoors. “The kid’s didn’t, the older people [did],” he said. “On the weekends, you didn’t see them travelling around like they did before. A lot of them, especially in New York City, you’d see them walking all over. Once TV came along, it cut that down. But the kids were still outside playing sandlot ball.”[14]  

A family in the 1950s, gathered around their TV set. Courtesy of Google Images.

Race was a hot button issue for baseball around the time that Phil saw his first TV in Brooklyn in 1946. Baseball had been segregated since its beginning, yet the prominence of black men fighting and dying for the United States in the Second World War brought the issue to a head. “Many critics complained of the hypocrisy of requiring black men to fight and die in a war against European racism but denying them the opportunity to play ‘the national pastime.’”[15] Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey took note of this growing sentiment, and was “convinced of the ability of black ballplayers, their potential gate attraction, and the injustice of their exclusion from major league baseball.”[16] Rickey decided, in secret, to sign Robinson to play for the 1947 Dodgers. Phil, close as he was to Brooklyn, got the Dodgers on TV. He saw Robinson’s first game, saw baseball’s color barrier come down in real time. “I was off sick [from school] that day,” he grinned. “Fortunately we had the T.V. to watch baseball. It was opening day of the ’47 season.”[17] But Phil also got the chance to go to a Dodger’s game and see Robinson play firsthand. Sometimes, things could get rough. Opposing players “gave him a hard time…he was playing second base, and whenever they slid into second base, the spikes [cleats] were always flying, they’d have their feet up in the air. He got hit with a lot of pitches.”[18] On singing with the Dodgers, Branch Rickey had “extracted from Robinson a promise not to respond to the abuse for his first three years.”[19] After this period was over, Robinson started responding to hecklers, “angrily confront[ing] opposing players who taunted him.”[20] Off the field, he advocated for the NAACP, and fought hard against the continued presence of racism in American society.

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Jackie Robinson, in his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform. Courtesy of gettyimages.com

Brands flies through all of this on one page of American Dreams, during his chapter on “the golden age of the middle class.”[22] He mentions that “not until the 1950s, when a critical mass of houses first owned televisions, did TV games first become a regular thing.”[23] Phil, watching Jackie play in 1947 from the comfort of his home, was on the cutting edge of the phenomenon Brands describes. TV, Brands writes, “launched baseball on a meteoric rise.”[24] This rise was helped by people like Phil who watched the games on TV, providing the Brooklyn Dodgers with their surplus discussed earlier, despite declining ticket sales. The integration of baseball is described by Brands, who sums up the Dodgers as facing “considerable hostility before eventually being accepted.”[25] Phil’s firsthand witnessing of this hostility adds flavor to Brands’ abbreviation.

On that day in Brooklyn in 1946 when Phil Shevlin saw his first TV, though he may not have been aware of it, he was witnessing the beginning of a larger shift in postwar American culture. Baseball’s collision with TV would shape the direction the game took, a transition that started even earlier than H.W. Brands mentions. Phil had the good fortune to be one of the first in his area to get a television, and his memories of watching the neighborhood fill up with them at the same time as more people were drawn indoors, as well as of watching baseball on TV right as games started to be televised give his remarks a depth and insight that expand nicely on what Brands covers quickly in his book. Similarly, his experience of watching Jackie Robinson break the color barrier helps bring a milestone in American social and cultural history to life.

 

[1] Interview in person at Kline center, 2 April 2018

[2] H. W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (New York, Penguin Books, 2010). 75.

[3] White, G. Edward. “The Decline of the National Pastime.” In Creating the National Pastime: Baseball Transforms Itself, 1903-1953, 316-30. Princeton University Press, 1996. [JSTOR]. Accessed 4/28/18. 324.

[4] Interview 2 April 2018

[5] William Marshall, “Chapter 21: Baseball then and Now” In Baseball’s Pivotal Era, 1945-1951 (Kentucky, University Press of Kentucky, 1999): pp 426-440. 428. [JSTOR] Accessed 4/29/18.

[6] Interview 2 April 2018.

[7] William 429.

[8] Interview 2 April 2018.

[9]  John Robert Greene. “Comfort and Crisis: The 1950s.” In America in the Sixties, 1-19. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2010. [JSTOR]. Accessed 3/29/18. 2.

[10] Interview 2 April 2018.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Greene 2.

[14] Interview 2 April 2018.

[15] “Robinson, Jackie” American National Biography (http://www.anb.org). Accessed 4/29/18.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Interview 2 April 2018.

[18] Ibid.

[19] American National Biography

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Brands 68.

[23] Ibid 75.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

Selected Transcript:

April 2, 2018 at the Kline Center

Question: You said you watched Jackie Robinson’s First game on TV?

Answer: His first game, it was in April 1947

Q: Where on TV?

A: I watched it at home, Long island, St. James N. Y.

Q: So you guys had a TV at that point?

A: we did.

Q: Did the neighbors have a TV as well?

A; No, we were one of the first in our town to have one, my dad worked in a hardware store that sold TVs, and I dunno how he afforded it but he got a TV. I was off sick that day (JR gameday), I would miss a lot of school, but fortunately we had the TV to watch Baseball. It was opening day of the ’47 season.

Q: you said earlier [a day before, in conversation] that you only got the local games, right?

A: Oh, yeah, they wouldn’t bring any…even on the radio, you got the radio games from a far city, but it was on ticker tape to the station, and then you heard the ticker tape in the background and the guy was announcing what happened…but we only got the NYC area games on TV, and Philadelphia. We got the Philadelphia games.

Q: as time went on in the 50’s, did you experience other families in your area getting TVs as it became more and more prevalent?

A: Oh yeah, it sort of just blossomed in the fifties, like I said we got ours in ’47…In the fiftes, you knew who had TV because they had to have an antenna, and by the 50s everybody had an antenna, unless they didn’t have any money…TVs weren’t expensive…they were an expensive item to a family that didn’t have a whole lot of money, but they made things achievable, different stores…they had to get their merchandise out, so they made credit plans, things of that nature.

I remember the first time I saw a baseball game on television was when I was visiting my uncle and aunt who lived in Brooklyn, and we were going to Madison square garden to see a hockey game, and they had a sporting goods chain in NY called Davega Sporting Goods, and…there was a whole crowd of people standing around the storefront, at night, and there was this little tiny TV set, and they were showing a game. And everybody was standing there, looking, with their face pressed against the window. That was my first experience ever seeing a television. That was probably 1946. I’ll bet it wasn’t more than a ten inch screen, if that. Our first [TV] was a seven inch. Then we had a round set, it had a round screen. That was the one I saw Jackie play on.

Q: You mentioned [a day previously] that you played baseball outside with your friends. As TV grew in popularity, did you notice people spending more time indoors?

A: Yes. The kids didn’t, the older people [did]. On the weekends, you didn’t see them travelling around like they did before. A lot of them, especially in New York City, you’d see them walking all over. Once TV came along, it cut that down. But the kids were still outside playing sandlot ball.

Q: Let’s transition to the culture of the fifties. Do you remember things such as Mcdonald’s, Disneyland, in their early stages?

A: Didn’t have any of that. We didn’t have McDonald’s [in St. James] when I was growing up, didn’t have one when I graduated high school. I know when I came to Carlisle [in 1954] there were no fast food restaurants, we had one but it wasn’t a chain or a conglomerate…We had a place in Mount Holly, called Woody’s Barbeque. I worked there [in the late fifties]. The cars drove up, and the [workers] would come out and take their orders…the food would come out and the [worker] would put the tray on the car window.

Q: Let’s talk about baseball. You saw Jackie Robinson play?

A: That was in ’47. His first season.

Q: was that before or after the team accepted him?

A: Oh, they accepted him in the first year, but it took awhile. When [Team captain] Peewee Reese put his arm around him on the field, that had a big impact.

Q: Do you know if that had the same impact on the fans as well,?

A: Probably some. NYC was a hodgepodge of nationalities, so you didn’t know who he might have offended, but it goes back…I can remember here in Carlisle we had a bus station on Pitt street, and it still had black only water fountains, restrooms for blacks and for whites. I went to military police school in Georgia, right outside of Agusta, and they had signs on the grass…colored not allowed. That was really bad down there, it didn’t start changing until the sixties.

Q: The game you saw Jackie play in…

A: I remember it was a night game. What a feeling to walk from the dark streets, through the turnstile, and there was the field, all lit up like daytime…beautiful. It’s a great feeling.

Q: Was there any violence towards Jackie?

A: they gave him a hard time…He was playing second base, and whenever they slid into second base, the spikes were always flying, they’d have their feet up in the air. He got hit with a lot of pitches. On Jackie Robinson Day, every player wears #42.

They tracked him quite awhile before they signed him and picked him to be the first guy to break the color barrier. He took a lot of heat [at college] where he played football. He was a good football player. He handled himself well as an athlete.