Tag Archives: Nazi Germany

Video for the Classroom: “Joe Louis was a Fighting Man”

It’s almost criminal that over a week has passed in Black History Month, and the Neighborhood has no posts about important African Americans.

Today’s post is a more fun aspect of history, but important nonetheless.  It can be argued that more musical tributes were written about Joe Louis than any other athlete in American history–a Black athlete accepted by both whites and Blacks.

The longest-running heavyweight boxing champion in history, from 1937 to 1949, Joe Louis was among the greatest and most influential athletes of the 20th century.  A hero to African Americans beaten down by the Depression, discrimination and Klan violence, Louis would also become the first Black athlete widely accepted by whites as well.

The culminating moment of Louis’ career was the second fight between Louis and Max Schmeling on June 22, 1938.  Schmeling, a symbol of Nazi Germany, was immediately cast as the villain (despite his own antipathy towards Hitler).  Louis, incredibly, became an American hero overnight. 

His defeat of Schmeling in two minutes and four seconds sent Black neighborhoods across America into wild celebrations, and create something of a mythic hero in Joe Louis.  It would be a heroism belied by the still-rampant discrimination in American life through World War II.

Today’s video is a montage of Joe’s greatest hits.  Yet it’s the audio that’s most important.  Listen to the great blues ballad “Joe Louis was a Fighting Man” and you can get a glimpse of how much Joe Louis meant to people.

It’s also a pretty good tune.  Enjoy.

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Movies for the Classroom: Triumph of the Will

If any teacher is starting, or is in the middle of, a unit about the Holocaust, you MUST include this film in your lessons.

Triumph of the Will (1935), directed by Leni Riefenstahl, is widely considered among the greatest propaganda films of all time.  Riefenstahi documents the 1934 Party Congress of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP), or Nazi Party.  In her camera work, editing, and use of moving and close-up shots, Riefenstahi succeeds in creating a dazzling, upward movement of a people on the rise–and a leader at the forefront of that movement.

 In many classrooms, students have at least a cursory understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust.  However, many teachers, due to either ignorance, lack of content knowledge, etc., paint the tragedy as a simplistic moral tale: innocents slaughtered by heartless, unfeeling monsters.  Here’s an experiment I do that proves this otherwise.

Play the film for the students–and make sure you don’t tell the children any more than its a movie from the 1930s.  Watch and note how many times the children tap or play along to the marching music, cheer, give a Nazi salute, etc. 

I then ask, “Class, you know about Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, right?”  Most of my kids will probably respond about the Holocaust, about starting wars, hating Jews, or at the very least “he’s a bad guy.”

Then comes my response: “…then why did you enjoy the film so much?”

Most of the class would sit, stunned.  One year, a girl started to cry.  For the students, the realization that they became immersed in Nazi propaganda is a frightening experience.  Its an experience that’s absolutely necessary in order to understand the Holocaust.

The slaughter of millions of people was not done by mere monsters.  As shown in Triumph of the Will, an entire nation of regular people–people just like you and me–was seduced by the call of a return to glory and happiness.  

Little did they realize then the horrible cost of that seduction.

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Movies for the Classroom: With the Marines at Tarawa

I’ve still been a little shell-shocked lately after the grueling test season ended.  I’ll be trying for more original material for later this week, possibly before Thanksgiving. 

This week I’ve been watching the incredible series WWII in HD on the History Channel.  This series is a compilation of newly-discovered color footage of the Second World War, enhanced and spliced with High-Definition graphics to create a unique visual experience.  First-hand accounts are narrated throughout the series in each theater of the war.  Though it may be too strong for your students, definitely take a look for yourself, especially on an HD TV. 

One of the people highlighted on this show is Time/Life war correspondent Robert Sherrod.  He was with the Marines that met stiff Japanese resistence in Tarawa, Saipan and Iwo Jima.  The Marines that filmed the Tarawa operation spliced together a documentary film, With the Marines at Tarawa.  Under the Hays code for film decency, the film was considered too graphic for major Hollywood distribution.  Sherrod persuaded President Franklin Roosevelt that the American public needed to see this film, so that they understood the full price of war.  Roosevelt consented, and the film gained a nationwide release. 

It won the 1945 Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject, and it galvanized the war effort, which had flagged after the casualty counts at Tarawa were released.  Attached above is the actual documentary, which gives you a unique look at World War II that many people today think wasn’t available at the time. 

Americans in 1944 saw graphic images of war, just as Americans in 1968 saw images of Vietnam.  Yet the outcome was altogether different.  I leave it to you to debate why.

WARNING: This film is EXTREMELY GRAPHIC in nature.  DO NOT SHOW this film in your classroom unless you have WRITTEN CLEARANCE from an administrator. 

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Mr. D’s First Ever Contest: “Who is history’s greatest a**hole?”

Author’s Note: The asterisks in the title are for those readers that might catch this on spam filters.  Check all your boxes before deleting as a rule.  Thanks, Mr. D

71276407As today is a national holiday to celebrate a truly controversial figure in history–part hero, part visionary, part scumbag–Columbus Day is also the day the Neighborhood launches its first contest. 

I’m sending this to all readers and would-be readers.  We need suggestions as to who was history’s greatest asshole.  Who was mankind’s greatest douchebag, bastard, son-of-a-bitch, etc.?  Who in the annals of humankind would you want to kick in the nuts, smack in the old kisser, and dance a Charleston on their grave?

Mr.D’s Neighborhood wants to know.  And there’s prizes involved.

E-mail or post a comment with your suggestion.  The top five will be selected, by me, to be placed on a poll on this blog.  Then the readers decide.  If your entry wins, you get the following:

(a) A one-on-one web interview showcasing your “asshole,” why you chose him/her, and some free publicity about your biz/site/blog/upcoming feature that will broadcast here at the Neighborhood.

(b) A free copy of Gotham, the must-have history of New York City from its founding to 1898, by Edgar Burrows and Mike Wallace. 

(c) A free copy of one trade/academic book featuring the latest research on your “asshole.” 

Sounds good?  Let’s get those suggestions in.  Here are a few ground rules:

  1. Your entry should include the name of the “asshole”, the dates of birth and/or death, and a short paragraph as to why this person is an “asshole.”  Please include your name, your e-mail and your website, if you have one.
  2. Your entry can be from any place, at almost any time.  However, we will include only people active up until the fall of the Communist bloc (1989-1992).  No recent personalities.  No Bush, no Obama, no bin Laden.  Got it?   I’M BEING VERY STRICT ABOUT THIS.   
  3. Do not include deities, mythological beings, or any folk hero/talltale hero/legendary figure who has little concrete connection to an actual person, i.e. Robin Hood, El Cid, Achilles, etc.
  4. Please include factual information about your “asshole.”  When possible, state a source.  I’m not looking for MLA or APA stylebook shit, but I do want some real info to back up your claims of asshole-ity. 
  5. Do not include the unholy Trinity of evil: Hitler, Stalin, or Mao.  They belong in a different category entirely.
  6. All entries are due by FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2009. 

All entries will be reviewed by me.  You will only get an e-mail response if your entry was chosen for the top five.  Winner of the poll will be notified on this website once dates for the poll are finalized, soon after the entry deadline.

Any questions or concerns, please let me know.  You can submit your entry either by e-mail or by posting a comment to this post.

Please spread this to anyone you know.  Let’s make this a great contest to find our number 1 “asshole” in history!

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A Long-Winded History of Presidential Addresses to Congress

ObamaSpeechThe Presidential address to Congress is the “After School Special” of American politics.

In the course of over two centuries of representative government, the President sometimes summons both houses of Congress to deliver an address that contains a “very special message.”  It usually involves a “national crisis” or an “urgent threat” which “imperils our national character.”  At the same time, the President asks to “stop bipartisan bickering” in order to “find a solution” so that “America can be strong again.”

In the end, we all learned an important lesson (cue the Full House moral music).  Both sides decide to settle their differences.  More often, they wait until the President stops spouting and continue business as usual.  Besides, everyone hated that “Just Say No” episode of Punky Brewster, anyway.

I was thinking about these addresses as I was reading about the hubbub from President Obama’s recent address to Congress concerning health care reform.  You would think that such an address would be effective, considering the exalted office and the rare instance of both houses sitting together.

History has proven otherwise.

Giving speeches to Congress is one of the few tasks of a President that is spelled out specifically in the Constitution.

“He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient;” – United States Constitution, Article 2, Section 3, Clause 1.

The “State of the Union” is the only speech the President has to do by law, and he doesn’t even have to show up.  Notice that the Constitution doesn’t say “give a speech”, but rather “give to the Congress Information…”  Thomas Jefferson thought giving a speech from the “Throne” was too much like the British monarch opening Parliament, so starting in 1801, he wrote his address to be read by clerks.  This practice continued until Woodrow Wilson reverted to speechmaking in 1913.   

Presidential addresses to Congress apart from the “State of the Union” were extremely rare.   According to the clerk’s office of the U.S. House of Representatives, the President has only addressed both houses 61 times in American history.  60 of these speeches were given after 1913.   

The first joint-session address was John Adams’ address of May 16, 1797.  He addressed the legislature about the worsening relations between the United States and Revolutionary France.  Since many of the legislators were pro-French, the address fell on deaf ears.  This would not be the first time.  Between 1797 and 1913 not a single speech was made by a sitting president to a joint session of Congress.  Not even Abraham Lincoln—although the guy was painfully shy, so he gets a pass.

The real maelstrom of hot air begins in 1913 with Woodrow Wilson.  The guy had it all: bookish snobbery, rabid racism, and a dipstick diplomacy that opened up for a second world war.  Oh how he shared his book learning with the world: his 18 speeches before Congress is still a record, and it doesn’t even include his State of the Union addresses.  He touched on everything: tariffs, currency reform, Mexican relations (before WWI, the Mexican Revolution was a big problem.  The 1914 message was probably about Pancho Villa alone.), railroad disputes, and of course, that little problem out there called World War I.

Chief executives have been comparatively mum since old Woody left us in 1921.  The following are some important Presidential speeches since 1913.  You can judge how effective they are.

April 2, 1917 – Woodrow Wilson asks Congress to declare war against Germany.  On December 4th, just for good measure, he sneaks a war declaration against Austria-Hungary into his State of the Union address.  You know, in case Germany felt lonely.

January 8, 1918 – Wilson again, this time at his dipstick best.  Here he outlined his plan for peace in postwar Europe: his famous “Fourteen Points.”  When the final treaty came up a couple years later, the Republican Senate, led by Henry Cabot Lodge, rejected it.  This was probably the last time a Massachusetts senator voted against a Democratic President.

February 7, 1923 – Warren Harding addresses Great Britain’s mounting indebtedness to the United States.  This is unremarkable, except to remind Americans when our money was actually worth something.

December 8, 1941 – Franklin D. Roosevelt asks Congress to declare war on Japan following Pearl Harbor.  This time, Germany decides to jump the gun and declare war on us.  You know, in case Japan felt lonely.

March 1, 1945 – Roosevelt delivers the results of the Yalta Conference, where FDR feebly called Stalin “Uncle Joe,” while Uncle Joe molested his nephews by keeping Eastern Europe for himself.

November 17, 1947 – Harry Truman outlines US aid to postwar Europe.  Postwar Europe responds by purchasing tight-fitting sweaters, smoking filterless cigarettes and developing an anti-American attitude that would make Uncle Joe proud.

March 17, 1948 – In his address about European security, Truman told a packed House chamber: “Uncle Joe took WHAT??!!”

January 5, 1957 – Dwight Eisenhower delivers speech on the state of the Middle East.  He says two words: “Fucked up.”  He then corrects himself, “Sorry.  Fucked up royally.”  Ike makes his tee time at Congressional with time to spare.

May 25, 1961 – in his only non-State of the Union speech, John F. Kennedy addresses a host of “urgent national needs,” such as foreign aid, national defense, civil rights and the space race.  He urges speedy resolution, as he senses he’s “on the clock.”  In fact, he’s just being fellated by a stewardess under the podium.

March 25, 1965 – Lyndon Johnson addresses Congress on the passage of the Voting Rights Act.  Southern legislators put fingers in their ears, pretending not to hear.  An hour with Huey Newton and a ball-peen hammer makes them whistle a different tune—and it ain’t “Dixie.”

June 1, 1972 – Richard Nixon reports on his trip to Europe: “Yep, they still hate us.”  Continues covering up Watergate.

October 8, 1974 – Gerald Ford speaks on the economy, learning the hard way that oil-rich Arab sultans do not accept mood rings as collateral.

April 20, 1977 – Jimmy Carter pleads with America to conserve on energy.  Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and Mazda are the only ones who listen.

February 18, 1981 – Ronald Reagan wants to talk about economic recovery, but can’t remember.

April 28, 1981 – Reagan remembers what he wanted to talk about in February, inflation.  His solution involves inflating Moscow with radioactive waste.  Tip O’Neill chuckles politely.

September 11, 1990 – George H. W. Bush addresses Congress and the nation about the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq.  Bush can’t stand letting that precious crude go to waste.  September 11 passes insignificantly for another 11 years.

March  6, 1991 – Bush comes back to announce that the war is over: he got his crude back.  Good boy, Schwartzkopf. 

September 22, 1993 – Before both houses of Congress and with the economy in the shitter, Bill Clinton takes a stab at health care reform.  America goes ballistic and elects its first Republican Congress since the Truman years.  Bill sticks to riding the coattails of a surging tech bubble.  He also keeps his stabbing to young interns from now on.

September 20, 2001 – George W. Bush addresses a shocked nation reeling from the horrors of 9/11.  He announces the creation of a “Director of Homeland Security.”  At first, he wasn’t sure what this meant.  After reading up on Heinrich Himmler and the Gestapo, Dick Cheney got the hint.  He then filled in the boss with the details.

September 9, 2009 – Barack Obama takes another stab at health care reform, with an economy in the toilet and Americans disgruntled at his policies.  Sounds a lot like 1993, doesn’t it?

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Summer Vacation Flick: Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”

I’ll be pretty infrequent with posts this week, as curricular matters need to be attended to.  In short, my curriculum and assessment quagmire that I alluded to last week needs to be somewhat completed.  Welcome to my personal hell.

Anyway, regulars to the Neighborhood know that I’m a sucker for war movies.  World War II movies are my favorite.  Nothing gets my blood going in the morning than seeing Nazis blown to bits on screen–particularly by squads with a southerner, a Brooklyn guy, a West Pointer, and a farm boy, as per the stereotype of the time. 

The war experience has experienced various incarnations on film.  One that is still among the best is among the earliest: Roberto Rossellini’s Open City (1945), which used recently-liberated Rome as its backdrop.   World War II has been portrayed as a heroic struggle (Sands of Iwo Jima), a moral fable (Seven Beauties and Stalag 17), a social critique (The Best Years of Our Lives), a post-modern farce (Catch-22 and How I Won the War), a duel with humanity (Saving Private Ryan) and a duel with the subconscious (The Thin Red Line).

This summer, Quentin Tarantino would like to add his two cents to the great conflict.  Above is a trailer to his new film Inglourious Basterds, which centers on an affable, if psychotic, group of Jewish-American soldiers who lead a guerrilla campaign of terror through the Third Reich.  If this has all the trademarks of a Tarantino film, expect a lot of cursing and a whole lot of blood.  I’m going to reserve judgment on this until I see it at its August release.  Until then, you can decide where this fits in WWII filmography.

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Movies for the Classroom: Walt Disney and World War II Cartoons

As summer approaches, I like to show how media and communication have affected our history.  To that end, YouTube has been an invaluable asset in reaching students with historical media.  You would be amazed as to what you can find. 

Today’s selections showcase Walt Disney’s contributions to World War II.  Like so many studios during the war, Disney was contracted by the US armed forces to produce training films, documentaries, propaganda and morale-boosting films.  There was a monetary aspect to this as well: Disney had spent so much making its masterpiece Fantasia (1940) that it nearly bankrupted the studio.  These government contracts saved the studio, which produced nearly 68 hours of film during the war years, nearly all for the war propaganda effort.

The government contracted 32 short films from the studio–the studio’s location, near the Lockheed aircraft plant, made it a perfect place for creating training and production films.  Many films were animated training films for the various military departments, including some animated sequences for Frank Capra’s “Why We Fight” series.  Yet two of the best were these animated shorts from 1943.

The first is Education for Death, subtitled as “The Making of a Nazi.”  It was based on a book by German emigre Gregor Ziemer that chronicles a young boy’s development in Nazi Germany, from young innocent cherub to a cold, unfeeling Nazi ready to give his life for his Fuhrer.  It is an interesting window into the way emotion–and especially family emotion–was used to stir up anti-Nazi sentiment.  No mother would have been able to watch their son intentionally be turned into a monster by the state, which offers up loads of classroom discussion.

The second is a more humorous piece titled Der Fuhrer’s Face.  It follows Donald Duck through a nightmare in which he imagines himself in Nazi Germany working in a defense plant.  His entire routine is watched and monitored by a ridiculous band of Nazis singing the title theme song, which was recorded by noted comedy singer Spike Jonze.  This is propaganda as absurdity–the use of exaggeration and satire to make the enemy seem as ridiculous as possible.  It won the 1943 Academy Award for best animated short-subject, and is a gem to share with your students.

Note the quality of the production of both cartoons.  Walt Disney Productions devoted 90% of their staff to these war films–the very same staff that produced such classics as Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi.  The era from 1937 to the start of the war was considered Disney’s golden age of animation, and their talent really shows in these films.  Look at how the first one uses shadows and light, faceless authority figures and dark overtones to create a mood.  Definitely contrast that with the bright, lively and silly nature of the Donald Duck cartoon. 

Enjoy the films, and if you want more information on WWII propaganda, this link has some incredible pictures to use.

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