Category Archives: economics

Fear of Germany in the Antipodes Before 1914

From German Raiders of the South Seas, by Robin Bromby (Highgate, 2012), Kindle Loc. 441-459, 636-658:

The Germans took advantage of the dithering by the British, and raised their flag on the northern coast of New Guinea. The British Government, confronted by this development, was furious. Although not then in the government (but later to be colonial secretary himself), Joseph Chamberlain spoke for British public opinion when he said: ‘I don’t care about New Guinea, and I am not afraid of German colonisation, but I don’t like to be cheeked by Bismarck or anyone else’. Britain promptly proclaimed its sovereignty over the southern part of the island, the territory to be known as Papua.

The Germans, meanwhile, had marked out their claim. North-east mainland New Guinea became Kaiser Wilhelmsland, New Britain was renamed Neu Pommern, and New Ireland was now Neu Mecklenburg. The village of Kokopo, on Neu Pommern, was the main German administrative centre and was renamed Herbertshohe. But what scared the Australians more than changes of nomenclature was that Germany now had a potential naval base in their backyard (and in New Zealand’s backyard once the Germans acquired the western islands of Samoa).

Where the flag went, so went German trading companies. The most famous was the Hamburg house of Godeffroy which had set up its first trading base in Samoa in 1857. In 1872 an English visitor to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands reported that almost all the white men there were agents of a Godeffroy ally, Weber and Company of Apia. That same year a Royal Navy ship found a Godeffroy agent established at Ponape in the Caroline Islands. In fact, by the end of the 1870s the company had posts and agencies in Fiji, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, the New Hebrides, New Britain and the Marshall Islands as well. They were out to corner the copra trade. And they were supported back in Germany by an insistent new group, the Kolonialverein, which advocated the importance of trade with colonial territories. German ships traded with non-German islands including Tonga. It was significant that German companies had established themselves in the region well before the imperial thrust from Berlin. Hermsheim Company opened a branch at Yap, part of the Caroline Islands, in 1873 to trade copra. In 1903, the Germans discovered phosphate on Angaur Island in the Carolines (now in the Republic of Palau) and in 1909 Deutsche Sudsee Phosphat AG began mining, production rising to 90,000 tons in 1913.

New Guinea was the poor relation. By the time they were thrown out in 1914, the Germans had still never even come into contact with the majority of their subjects. However, they did achieve a great deal more in terms of economic development, public works and education than did the Australians in Papua. (By 1914 the Australians had not even built a public school.)

The failure of this German colony is adduced by the fact that shortly before the war there were only slightly more than 1,100 Europeans living on mainland New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago combined. It was hot, covered in jungle, peopled by what were seen at the time as savages and malaria was lying in wait for any European. Hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of marks were pumped into plantations which returned practically nothing. Berlin did not care — it had neither the economic importance of German East Africa, the naval appeal of Tsingtao, nor the emotional tug of Samoa.

But Australia did care about New Guinea. It remembered how the Germans had sneaked in during 1884. It also knew that any German colony, malarial or not, was a safe haven for the Imperial German Navy and, as such, ought to be taken seriously. The New Zealanders had similar fears for Western Samoa — along with the desire to make it the jewel in the crown of New Zealand’s Pacific empire.

On the morning of 6 August 1914 a cipher telegraph arrived from the Colonial Secretary in London addressed to the Australian Governor-General:

If your Ministers desire and feel themselves able to seize German wireless stations at Yap in Marshall Islands, Nauru on Pleasant Island, and New Guinea, we should feel that this was a great and urgent Imperial service. You will, however, realise that any territory now occupied must be at the disposal of the Imperial Government for purposes of an ultimate settlement at conclusion of the war. Other Dominions are acting in a similar way on the same understanding, in particular, suggestion is being made to New Zealand in regard to Samoa.

Australia and New Zealand did not need to be asked a second time. The Dominion governments were behind Britain all the way; the recruits could not wait to sink a bayonet into a German. At the turn of the century, German’s Foreign Secretary Prince von Bülow had stated contentedly that ‘now Germany’s possessions in the South Seas are complete and this treaty (with Spain over the Carolines and Marianas) together with the one with China regarding Kiaochow, are milestones along the same road, the road to Weltpolitik’.

The Australians sailed from Sydney on 19 August. The Australian army force left aboard the armed troopship the Berrima which, together with the navy escort, arrived off Herbertshohe on 11 September.

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Filed under Australia, Britain, economics, Micronesia, migration, nationalism, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, war

Germany’s Lack of Settler Colonies Overseas

From German Raiders of the South Seas, by Robin Bromby (Highgate, 2012), Kindle Loc. 409-425:

But colonies were attractive for one other important reason. Germany needed new markets if it was to combat unemployment at home. Emigration was a major concern: between 1871 and 1881, some 800,000 people left the newly united Germany; taking the period 1887 to 1906, the figure grows to over one million. But here was the rub for Germany: almost all of those emigrants went to the United States. By contrast, while many British went to America, large numbers also chose Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia; in other words, Britain ‘kept’ the bulk of its emigrants within its empire, thereby enlarging its own export markets and simultaneously increasing the strength of that Empire. For the Germans, by contrast, their emigrants were lost forever.

Chancellor Bismarck had previously frustrated the colonial lobby simply because he did not want to antagonise Britain or France; anyway, colonies were not part of his design for Germany’s future. In 1884, however, he did a volte-face and approved the annexation of five territories: New Guinea (including New Britain, New Ireland and part of the Solomon Islands), South-West Africa, Togoland, the Cameroons and Tanganyika. The Germans were now convinced territories — and a fleet to protect their trade lines — had become a necessity. The phobia that Britain and other foreign competitors would try to destroy that trade was accentuated by ever-increasing German unemployment in the last decades of the century.

But then, as economic conditions improved after 1900, emigration from Germany slowed to a trickle. Moreover, getting immigrants interested in the new German colonies was not easy: there were no temperate ones with large swathes of potential farmland, or anything vaguely approaching the appeal of the Cape Colony, New Zealand, Canada or the Australian colonies. The Cameroons and Togoland were seen as tropical hellholes, and South-West Africa was unsuited to farming because so much of it was arid. By 1913, this entire empire was home to just 23,500 Germans, and many of those were serving in the administrations, army or police forces rather than as people making a new home. This lack of critical mass of Europeans in the German colonies also meant these territories never became a meaningful market for manufactured goods from the home country.

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Filed under Africa, anglosphere, Australia, Britain, Canada, economics, Germany, malaria, Micronesia, migration, nationalism, Papua New Guinea, Samoa

The Mexican Republic’s First Century

From The Banana Wars: An Inner History of the American Empire 1900-1934, by Lester D. Langley (Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1983), pp. 77-79:

The Mexican republic that Wilson so desperately sought to reform commemorated in September 1910 the centenary of the grito de Dolores, the ringing of church bells in the village of Guadalupe signaling the revolution against Spanish rule. In the nineteenth century, the republic had been governed by savants and opportunists; by statesmen with visions of a peaceful society, where politics would be infused with reason; and by despots who ruled in the tradition of central authority inherited from the Spanish monarchy. American observers considered Mexico an arrogant nation misruled by such unscrupulous leaders as the “crimson jester,” Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, until the republic lost almost half of its territory in war with the United States. After that, many Americans, notably rising Republicans like Abraham Lincoln, thought of their neighbor as a ravaged society, wasted by internecine civil war or preyed upon by European interlopers. The one figure of nineteenth-century Mexico who conveyed a statesmanlike image was Benito Juarez, who in the 1850s fought the power of the church and military and in 1867 overthrew Maximilian’s monarchy. Yet Juarez, for all his dedication to political ideals Americans cherished, remained essentially an inscrutable Zapotec Indian with suspicion of anything foreign and harbored deep distrust of the rambunctious republic to the north.

Juarez, at least, made Mexico the example of a republic that threw off its European trappings. One of his lieutenants in the antimonarchial struggle, Porfirio Diaz, who became president in 1876, presented to the world a stable, prosperous republic. He began by convincing a skeptical American government that the border between the two countries must be secured against marauders, so that the American army would not have to cross the Rio Grande to chase cattle thieves, Indians, or bandits. Resisting American pressures to send patrols into the wastelands of northern Mexico, Diaz started policing it with rurales, who kept the peace and earned Diaz American plaudits.

In the 1880s, as he centralized his authority, Diaz opened the country to speculators, engineers, and promoters of all stripes. Mexico would be modernized with foreign technology and talent. The republic joined the list of “civilized” nations on the gold standard. Its foreign trade jumped markedly; its exports diversified. And its economic ties to the United States multiplied: In 1872, when Juarez died, Americans purchased 36 percent of Mexican exports; by 1890, 75 percent. American capital and technology poured into mining, railroading, and oil exploration. The American presence was fittingly symbolized in 1881 when the New York legislature incorporated the Mexican Southern Railroad and named Ulysses S. Grant as its first president.

And Diaz patronizingly protected the foreigner, removing legal obstacles to foreign concerns and assuring a ready supply of unskilled labor for their use. Privilege went to foreigners to such degrees that it was commonly observed that Mexico was the parent of aliens and the stepparent of Mexicans. By 1910, fully 75 percent of the mines and 50 percent of the oil fields belonged to Americans.

After 1900, as his power became more entrenched, Diaz grew increasingly apprehensive about the large American presence in Mexico. His Central American gestures on behalf of Zelaya were in part aimed at offsetting American influence, and he provided concessions to British oil interests as a way of countering the enormous amount of American capital invested in Mexican petroleum.

But it was not American capital that brought Diaz down eight months after the 1910 celebration. As he aged, he became mellower; his associates, uncertain about the succession, began maneuvering furiously behind the scenes. They became even more frantic after Diaz declared in 1908 in a famous interview with an American journalist, James Creelman, that he had guided Mexico into the twentieth century and the nation was now ready for democracy. His retirement would coincide with the centennial in 1910. In the aftermath of the interview with Creelman there was a flurry of political activity. New parties appeared, and angry voices, silenced by Diaz for thirty years, spoke harshly against the political system the dictator had created.

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Philippine Basques and World War II

From Basques in the Philippines, by Marciano R. de Borja (U. Nevada Press, 2012), pp. 109-111:

On March 31, 1937, Franco launched the military offensive against Bizkaia. The air force—whose core group was composed of German and Italian pilots—pounded the cities of Eibat, Durango, Gernika, Zornotza, Mungia, and Bilbao, causing hundreds of deaths. As depicted in the famous painting of Pablo Picasso, Gernika was razed. In fact, the town had no military installations and was not sheltering combatants. It became a prime target because it was the place where the fueros of the Basques were traditionally renewed by the Spanish monarchs. It was therefore a symbol of Basque autonomy. The destruction of Gernika was meant to crush the Basque spirit of resistance. The Basque residents in the Philippines were divided. Those from Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa loathed Franco, while those from Navarre backed him. In fact, Navarre was the first province in Spain to throw its support to Franco and supplied troops to the nationalist cause. One of Franco’s able military commanders, General Emilio Mola, was Navarrese.

When the Spanish civil war broke out in 1936, Basque exiles like Saturnina de Uriarte and Estanislao Garovilla settled in Cebu and established the most important fish-canning factory in the country, the Cebu Fishing Corporation. Uriarte was pre­viously a partner in Garovilla Hermanos y Compañia, a canning factory in Bermeo (Bizkaia). Basque philanthropists such as Marino de Gamboa and Manuel María de Ynchausti, and companies, like Aldecoa-Erquiaga and Company, extended assistance to Basque refugees.

Although the Basques in the Philippines were concerned about the Spanish civil war, they were more preoccupied with the imminent war in the Pacific. Japan had invaded China in 1939 [sic!; actually many times in many places, but full-scale warfare commenced in 1937—J.], and its relations with the United States had become antagonistic and bellicose. The Philippine Commonwealth government under President Manuel L. Quezon hired General Douglas MacArthur, the newly retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Army, as field marshal to prepare the Philippine defense in the event of war.

On December 8, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked and destroyed by the Japanese Imperial Navy. Days after, Manila was declared an open city to spare it from destruction. The American air force bases in Clark (Pampanga) and Iba (Zambales) in central Luzon were destroyed. The Japanese forces entered Manila on January 2, 1942, without a fight. The combined American and Filipino forces defended Bataan in a last-ditch effort to halt the Japanese advances. On April 9, Bataan fell, and Japan became the new colonial master of the Philippines. But the resistance movement continued.

During the war, Spaniards, including the Basques, were viewed with suspicion and hostility by many Filipinos. Some Spaniards collaborated outright with the Japanese and openly rejoiced over the initial defeat of the Americans, believing naively that the Japanese would return the Philippines to Spain. All the castilas (Spaniards), therefore, became the target of resentment and were vilified as the “Fifth Column,” a derogatory term meaning opportunists, potential traitors, and outright collaborationists. In fact, assets of Basque families and companies, such as Aboitiz, Ayala, Elizalde, were frozen by the Philippine Commonwealth government, although they supported the American military. For instance, the vessels of La Naviera, a shipping firm partly owned by the Aboitiz and Company, were put at the disposition of the American forces. Aboitiz and Company was singled out because it had had a Japanese director on its board and exported large quantities of copra to Japan in the 1930s, obviously used to fuel Japan’s war machine.

The hatred against the Spaniards was further exacerbated by the fact that General Francisco Franco, the caudillo (supreme ruler) of Spain, sent a congratulatory message to the Japanese command immediately after the fall of Corregidor and Bataan. Spain was one of the eleven nations aligned with the Axis powers that recognized the puppet government established by the Japanese military forces in the Philippines.

Most Basques were fiercely opposed to the Japanese occupation. Many Basque families, like the Elizaldes, the Luzurriagas, and the Legarretas, contributed indirectly and directly to the Philippine guerrilla movement. Others, like the Uriartes, the Bilbaos, and the Elordis, joined the resistance movement in Negros and the Visayas region.

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Russian Economic Success before 1914

From Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, by Max Hastings (Knopf, 2013), Kindle Loc. 757-815:

Russia boomed in the last years before Armageddon, to the dismay of its German and Austrian enemies. After 1917, its new Bolshevik rulers forged a myth of Tsarist industrial failure. In reality, the Russian economy had become the fourth largest in the world, growing at almost 10 per cent annually. The country’s 1913 national income was almost as large as that of Britain, 171 per cent of France’s, 83.5 per cent of Germany’s, albeit distributed among a much larger population – the Tsar ruled two hundred million people to the Kaiser’s sixty-five million.Russia had the largest agricultural production in Europe, growing as much grain as Britain, France and Germany combined. After several good harvests, the state’s revenues were soaring. In 1910, European Russia had only one-tenth the railway density of Britain or Germany, but thereafter this increased rapidly, funded by French loans. Russian production of iron, steel, coal and cotton goods matched that of France, though still lagging far behind Germany’s and Britain’s.

Most Russians were conspicuously better off than they had been at the end of the previous century: per-capita incomes rose 56 per cent between 1898 and 1913. With an expansion of schools, literacy doubled in the same period, to something near 40 per cent, while infant mortality and the overall death rate fell steeply. There was a growing business class, though this had little influence on government, still dominated by the landowning aristocracy. Russian high life exercised a fascination for Western Europeans. That genteel British magazine The Lady portrayed Nicholas II’s empire in romantic and even gushing terms: ‘this vast country with its great cities and arid steppes and extremes of riches and poverty, captures the imagination. Not a few Englishmen and Englishwomen have succumbed to its fascinations and made it their home, and English people, generally speaking, are liked and welcomed by Russians. One learns that the girls of the richer classes are brought up very carefully. They are kept under strict control in the nursery and the schoolroom, live a simple, healthy life, are well taught several languages including English and French … with the result that they are well-educated, interesting, graceful, and have a pleasing, reposeful manner.’

It was certainly true that Europe’s other royal and noble fraternities mingled on easy terms with their Russian counterparts, who were as much at home in Paris, Biarritz and London as in St Petersburg. But the Tsarist regime, and the supremely hedonistic aristocracy behind it, faced acute domestic tensions. Whatever the Hapsburg Empire’s difficulties in managing its ethnic minorities, the Romanov Empire’s were worse: enforced Russification, especially of language, was bitterly resisted in Finland, Poland, the Baltic states and Muslim regions of the Caucasus. Moreover Russia faced massive turmoil created by disaffected industrial workers. In 1910 the country suffered just 222 stoppages, all attributed by the police to economic rather than political factors. By 1913 this tally had swelled to 2,404 strikes, 1,034 of them branded as political; in the following year there were 3,534, of which 2,565 were deemed political. Baron Nikolai Wrangel observed presciently: ‘We are on the verge of events, the like of which the world has not seen since the time of the barbarian invasions. Soon everything that constitutes our lives will strike the world as useless. A period of barbarism is about to begin and it will last for decades.’

Nicholas II was a sensitive man, more rational than the Kaiser if no more intelligent. Having seen the 1905 Russo-Japanese war – which Wilhelm incited him to fight – provoke a revolution at home, the Tsar understood that a general European conflict would be disastrous for most, if not all, of the participants. But he cherished a naïve faith in the common interests of the emperors’ trade union, supposing that he and Wilhelm enjoyed a personal understanding, and were alike committed to peace. He was contradictorily influenced, however, by Russia’s recent humiliations – in 1905 by Japan’s forces, in 1908 by Austrian diplomacy when the Hapsburgs summarily annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina. The latter especially rankled. In January 1914 the Tsar sternly declared to former French foreign minister Théophile Delcassé: ‘We shall not let ourselves be trampled upon.’

A conscientious ruler, Nicholas saw all foreign dispatches and telegrams; many military intelligence reports bear his personal mark. But his imagination was limited: he existed in an almost divine seclusion from his people, served by ministers of varying degrees of incompetence, committed to sustaining authoritarian rule. An assured paternalist, on rural visits he was deluded about the monarchy’s popularity by glimpses of cheering peasantry, with whom he never seriously engaged. He believed that revolutionary and even reformist sentiment was confined to Jews, students, landless peasants and some industrial workers. The Kaiser would not have dared to act as arbitrarily as did the tsar in scorning the will of the people: when the Duma voted against funding four battleships for the Baltic Fleet, Nicholas shrugged and ordered that they should be built anyway. Even the views of the 215-member State Council, dominated by the nobility and landowners, carried limited weight.

If no European government displayed much cohesion in 1914, Nicholas II’s administration was conspicuously ramshackle. Lord Lansdowne observed caustically of the ruler’s weak character: ‘the only way to deal with the Tsar is to be the last to leave his room’. Nicholas’s most important political counsellor was Sergei Sazonov, the foreign minister. Fifty-three years old and a member of the minor nobility, he had travelled widely in Europe, serving in Russia’s London embassy, where he developed a morbid suspiciousness about British designs. He had now led the foreign ministry for four years. His department – known for its location as the Choristers’ Bridge, just as its French counterpart was the Quai d’Orsay – spoke scarcely at all to the Ministry of War or to its chief, Vladimir Sukhomlinov; meanwhile the latter knew almost nothing about international affairs.

Russian statesmen were divided between easterners and westerners. Some favoured a new emphasis on Russian Asia and exploitation of its mineral resources. The diplomat Baron Rosen urged the Tsar that his empire had no interests in Europe save its borders, and certainly none worth a war. But Rosen was mocked by other royal advisers as ‘not a proper Russian’. Nicholas’s personal respect and even sympathy for Germany caused him to direct most of his emotional hostility towards Austria-Hungary. Though not committed to pan-Slavism, he was determined to assert the legitimacy of Russian influence in the Balkans. It remains a focus of keen dispute how far such an assumption was morally or politically justifiable.

Russia’s intelligentsia as a matter of course detested and despised the imperial regime. Captain Langlois, a French expert on the Tsarist Empire, wrote in 1913 that ‘Russian youth, unfortunately supported or even incited by its teachers, adopted anti-military and even anti-patriotic sentiments which we can scarcely imagine.’ When war came, the cynicism of the educated class was evidenced by its many sons who evaded military service. Russian literature produced no Kipling to sing the praises of empire. Lack of self-belief, coupled to nationalistic aggressiveness, has always been a prominent contradiction in the Russian character. Nicholas’s thoughtful subjects were conscious of their country’s repeated failures in wars – against the British, French, Turks, Japanese. The last represented the first occasion in modern history when a European nation was defeated by an Asiatic one, which worsened the humiliation. In 1876 the foreign minister Prince Gorchakov told a colleague gloomily: ‘we are a great, powerless country’.

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Rapid Change before 1914

From Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, by Max Hastings (Knopf, 2013), Kindle Loc. 554-577:

It is a conceit of our own times to suppose that we are obliged to live, and national leaderships to make decisions, amid unprecedentedly rapid change. Yet between 1900 and 1914, technological, social and political advances swept Europe and America on a scale unknown in any such previous timespan, the blink of an eye in human experience. Einstein promulgated his special theory of relativity. Marie Curie isolated radium and Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first synthetic polymer. Telephones, gramophones, motor vehicles, cinema performances and electrified homes became commonplace among affluent people in the world’s richer societies. Mass-circulation newspapers soared to unprecedented social influence and political power.

In 1903 man first achieved powered flight; five years later, Ferdinand Count Zeppelin lyricised the mission to secure unrestricted passage across the skies, an increasingly plausible prospect: ‘Only therewith can the divine ancient command be fulfilled … [that] creation should be subjugated by mankind.’ At sea, following the 1906 launch of the Royal Navy’s Dreadnought, all capital ships lacking its heavy ordnance mounted in power-driven turrets became obsolete, unfit to join a fleet line of battle. The range at which squadrons expected to exchange fire, a few thousand yards when admirals were cadets, now stretched to tens of miles. Submarines were recognised as potent weapons. Ashore, while the American Civil War and not the First World War was the first great conflict of the industrial age, in the interval between the two the technology of destruction made dramatic advances: machine-guns achieved reliability and efficiency, artillery increased its killing power. It was realised that barbed wire could be employed to check the movements of soldiers as effectively as those of beasts. Much speculation about the future character of war was nonetheless mistaken. An anonymous 1908 article in the German publication Militär-Wochenblatt asserted that the 1904–05 Russo-Japanese experience in Manchuria ‘proved that even well-defended fortifications and entrenchments can be taken, even across open ground, by courage and cunning exploitation of terrain … The concept of states waging war to the point of absolute exhaustion is beyond the European cultural experience.’

Socialism became a major force in every continental state, while Liberalism entered historic decline. The revolt of women against statutory subjection emerged as a significant issue, especially in Britain. Across Europe real wages rose almost 50 per cent between 1890 and 1912, child mortality declined and nutrition greatly improved. But despite such advances – or, in accordance with de Tocqueville’s view that misery becomes less acceptable when no longer absolute, because of them – tens of millions of workers recoiled from the inequalities of society. Industries in Russia, France, Germany and Britain were convulsed by strikes, sometimes violent, which spread alarm and even terror among the ruling classes. In 1905 Russia experienced its first major revolution. Germany displaced France and Russia as the British Empire’s most plausible enemy. Britain, which had been the world’s first industrialised nation, saw its share of global manufacturing fall from one-third in 1870 to one-seventh in 1913.

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When Baseball Was Everywhere

From Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball’s Color Line, by Tom Dunkel (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013), Kindle Loc. 357-410:

There is no big bang theory of baseball. It evolved, like the blues and the miniskirt. Bat-and-ball games were being played in Massachusetts in 1735 and in Pennsylvania in 1831. The New York Knickerbockers put baseball rules down on paper in 1845, but nine innings weren’t the norm until 1857 and overhand pitches wouldn’t gain acceptance until 1884.

Through every modification, baseball’s popularity swelled. By the end of the Civil War, America finally had a pastime with mass appeal; somehow square dancing and rail splitting had never quite captured the public imagination. A pair of milestones marked the transition to commercialism. In 1869 the Cincinnati Red Stockings put ten players on salary, a luxury the team seemingly couldn’t afford, since the Stockings unraveled within two years. In 1876 the eight-team National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs began play; this was the first entity with the resources and the leadership to survive over time. (That’s the same National League still going strong today.) The 52–14 Chicago White Stockings won the 1876 championship, finishing six games ahead of the spunky Hartford Dark Blues and St. Louis Brown Stockings.

Poet Carl Sandburg grew up in Galesburg, Illinois, in the 1880s on a steady diet of Chicago sports pages, which fed his fantasy that he would someday wake up a big-league outfielder. “What is this fascination about making a hickory stick connect with a thrown ball . . . or running for a fly and leaping in the air for a one-handed catch?” he mused in his memoir Always the Young Strangers. “These questions have gone round and round in the heads of millions of American boys for generations.” Adulthood didn’t necessarily bring definitive answers to such questions.

The professional ranks expanded in 1901 with the spawning of an American League to compete with the National League, but their combined sixteen teams occupied only the top floor of what historian Harold Seymour referred to as the sprawling “House of Baseball.” There was plenty of action below and it wasn’t confined to schoolyards or playgrounds. Industrial and recreation leagues flourished. Grown men by the tens of thousands laced on spikes and lost themselves in takeout slides and doubles that split the gap. Indian reservations had hardball teams. Employees of coal companies, trolley car manufacturers, police departments, funeral homes, and local Communist parties took to the field together in off-hours. As baseball became the language of leisure, it collided with another cherished American tradition: the will to win. The result was predictable. Dollar bills got stuffed into uniform pockets, usually because a company or a town or some civic-minded pooh-bah had lost patience with losing. This semipro ethos infused the farthest fringes of the sport. Dwight Eisenhower earned spending money patrolling center field for a team in the Kansas State League in 1910, registering under the phony surname “Wilson” in order to protect his amateur status. Young Mr. Eisenhower had his eyes on an appointment to West Point and—who knows?—maybe a career in the military. On a summer day in 1915 an estimated 100,000 fans flooded Cleveland’s Brookside Park to watch a game between the White Autos and Omaha Luxers, two regional semipro superpowers.

The WPA Guide for Alabama made mention of “a semi pro team in nearly every town.” Some of the teams courted a broad audience. When Nashville, [Alabama Arkansas], hosted Dierks, [Alabama Arkansas], for a game in 1924, the Nashville News reported, “Ladies will be admitted free, as will one-armed and one-legged men and children under 6 years old.” Up north in New York, the Brooklyn Bushwicks installed lights on their field in 1930, five years before the Major Leagues took the plunge into night baseball.

Family-owned Bona Allen, Incorporated, of Buford, Georgia, had several thousand employees. It primarily produced shoes but also supplied the raw leather used to make baseball gloves. The semipro Bona Allen Shoemakers crisscrossed the Southeast with players earning a princely $300 to $400 a month. The company mounted a giant shoe on a Chevrolet chassis and an advance man would drive from town to town, handing out leather key chains to drum up interest before ball games. There was a standing offer: every member of an opposing team that beat Bona Allen received a free pair of dress shoes. The company didn’t give many away. In 1936, for example, the Shoemakers stomped to a 73–6 record, peeling off a 35–game winning streak. Their ballpark in Buford was a gem. Crowds turned out even when the Shoemakers weren’t there. In-progress summaries from important road games were relayed by Teletype to the Bona Allen plant. Somebody would read the updates over a loudspeaker while hundreds of fans sat in the stands outside cheering a deserted field.

Major League baseball held the line at just sixteen teams until 1961, but a crazy quilt of minor leagues got stitched together by independent hands. As far back as 1909 there were 246 minor league teams loosely tied to 35 leagues. These were rogue operators that sold their best players to the highest-bidding big-league club. In 1921 the Major Leagues chose to take more direct control of their destiny and adopted the farm system. American and National league teams were free to own and operate multiple minor-league affiliates that would feed talent up the organizational chain. Branch Rickey, then running the St. Louis Cardinals, was the visionary godfather of this new business model. The New York Yankees followed a few steps behind him. Those two teams set about assembling well-funded farm systems that would give them a competitive advantage for decades to come. Other teams dragged their feet and paid the price as the Yanks and Cards made regular trips to the World Series.

By 1932 the minor leagues had contracted to 102 teams and 14 leagues, but they were still a vibrant enterprise and still predominantly independent. However, the country remained largely rural and provincial. The automobile was duke, not yet king, of the culture. Fans wanted to cheer for a home team that was only a few blocks from home; all the better if they could walk to the ballpark. Since most major and minor league teams were many miles away, local semipro teams bridged that sports gap, although the definition of “semipro” was elastic. At the “light” end of the semipro spectrum, players received a token salary or passed the hat for donations during games. They’d often put in a full day’s work before slipping on their uniforms. At the opposite, “heavy,” extreme were generously subsidized clubs like the Bona Allen Shoemakers. They charged admission to games, the quality of play was high, the pay was excellent, and work obligations generally minimal. A player’s “job” might be to read the newspaper or to hopscotch bars at night chatting up fans. In 1930 the average minor leaguer earned about $65 a month. It was not unheard of for prospects to turn down a pro contract in favor of sticking with their company or town team. The money was likely to be better and there was the added security of year-round employment, no trifling consideration with the economy a shambles.

This book is far, far better by every measure than the very poorly written Barnstorming Hawaiian Travelers book I’ve just finished. I had to force myself to finish the last one. But once I began reading Color Blind, I couldn’t put it down. It reads well, but unfortunately appears to be very poorly fact-checked in places.

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The Wilsonian Reset with Latin America, 1913

From The Banana Wars: An Inner History of the American Empire 1900-1934, by Lester D. Langley (Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1983), p. 121:

Thus the military interventions in Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the Wilson era, often portrayed as drastic departures from American practice, had ample historical precedent. What was different about Wilsonian policy toward Hispaniola was the degree of political interference undertaken by the United States to reform its admittedly backward societies and, that failing, the willingness to use military intervention as a means of bringing about reform. It can be argued that Roosevelt had done much to set the pattern for such interfering behavior in the Dominican Republic’s internal affairs with the customs receivership. But Roosevelt had established strict limitations on what he believed the United States should and should not in the republic, and the 1907 treat had reaffirmed these restrictions. We would collect the customs, set aside 55 percent for satisfying foreign claimants, and give the politicians of Santo Domingo the remainder. We would protect the customhouses from the perils of insurrection. After that, if their political house was in disorder—and it usually was—it was their house.

That was Roosevelt and Root‘s approach. Their policy for the republic involved no sweeping American prescriptions for reordering Dominican finances or tinkering with the republic’s chronically disturbed political system. Taft and Knox went much further. In 1912, when revolutionary outbreaks disturbed the frontier, the American minister, William Russell, recommended military occupation of the customhouses and indeed a takeover of the country to bring to an end what he considered barbaric practices—forced recruiting into warlord armies, pilfering of public funds, and judicial corruption.

Wilson and Bryan advocated even more stringent requirements for the Dominican political system. The president personally directed Mexican policy, and he gave Bryan and the State Department considerable latitude in Dominican and Haitian affairs. The Great Commoner was easily the most controversial of Wilson’s cabinet appointees. Acting on the impulse that he must cleanse the foreign service, he zealously removed most of the appointees who had secured their posts under the nascent professional standards inaugurated by Hay and appointed wheelhorses and party hacks in their stead. For Latin American posts Bryan’s housecleaning resulted in the dismissal of ministers with an average of fifteen years’ experience and knowledge of the language of the country to which they were accredited. Most of Bryan’s nominees were simply incompetent, though the new minister to the Dominican Republic, James M. Sullivan, a former lawyer and prizefight promoter (who had been recommended by the secretary of state as one of his “deserving Democrats”), was both incompetent and corrupt. Eventually public revelations about the circumstances of his appointment and Wilson’s intervention brought Sullivan’s removal but not before he had seriously damaged American prestige in the republic.

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Death of Venice’s Stato da Mar, c. 1500

From: City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, by Roger Crowley (Random House, 2012), Kindle Loc. 5454-5511:

Vasco da Gama returned from India in September 1499, having rounded the Cape of Good Hope. The Republic dispatched an ambassador to the court of Lisbon to investigate; it was not until July 1501 that his report came in. The reality of it fell on the lagoon like a thunderclap. Terrible foreboding gripped the city. For the Venetians, who lived with a particularly intense awareness of physical geography, the implications were obvious. Priuli poured his gloomiest predictions into his diary. It was a marvel, incredible, the most momentous news of the time:

… which will take a greater intelligence than mine to comprehend. At the receipt of this news, the whole city … was dumbfounded, and the wisest thought it was the worst news ever heard. They understood that Venice had ascended to such fame and wealth only through trading by sea, by means of which a large quantity of spices were brought in, which foreigners came from everywhere to buy. From their presence and the trade [Venice] acquired great benefits. Now from this new route, the spices of India will be transported to Lisbon, where Hungarians, Germans, the Flemish, and the French will look to buy, being able to get them at a better price. Because the spices that come to Venice pass through Syria and the sultan’s lands, paying exorbitant taxes at every stage of the way, when they get to Venice the prices have increased so much that something originally worth a ducat costs a ducat seventy or even two. From these obstacles, via the sea route, it will come about that Portugal can give much lower prices.

Cutting out hundreds of small middlemen, snubbing the avaricious, unstable Mamluks, buying in bulk, shipping directly: To Venetian merchants, such advantages were self-evident.

There were countering voices; some pointed out the difficulties of the voyage:

… the king of Portugal could not continue to use the new route to Calicut, since of the thirteen caravels which he had dispatched only six had returned safely; that the losses outweighed the advantages; that few sailors would be prepared to risk their lives on such a long and dangerous voyage.

But Priuli was certain: “From this news, spices of all sorts will decrease enormously in Venice, because the usual buyers, understanding the news, will decline, being reluctant to buy.” He ended with an apology to future readers for having written at such length. “These new facts are of such importance to our city that I have been carried away with anxiety.”

In a visionary flash, Priuli foresaw, and much of Venice with him, the end of a whole system, a paradigm shift: not just Venice, but a whole network of long-distance commerce doomed to decline. All the old trade routes and their burgeoning cities that had flourished since antiquity were suddenly glimpsed as backwaters—Cairo, the Black Sea, Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad, Smyrna, the ports of the Red Sea, and the great cities of the Levant, Constantinople itself—all these threatened to be cut out from the cycles of world trade by oceangoing galleons. The Mediterranean would be bypassed; the Adriatic would no longer be the route to anywhere; important outstations such as Cyprus and Crete would sink into decline.

The Portuguese rubbed this in. The king invited Venetian merchants to buy their spices in Lisbon; they would no longer need to treat with the fickle infidel. Some were tempted, but the Republic had too much invested in the Levant to withdraw easily; their merchants there would be soft targets for the sultan’s wrath if they bought elsewhere. Nor, from the eastern Mediterranean, was sending their own ships to India readily practical. The whole business model of the Venetian state appeared, at a stroke, obsolete.

The effects were felt almost immediately. In 1502, the Beirut galleys brought back only four bales of pepper; prices in Venice steepled; the Germans reduced their purchases; many decamped to Lisbon. In 1502, the Republic dispatched a secret embassy to Cairo to point out the dangers. It was essential to destroy the Portuguese maritime threat now. They offered financial support. They proposed digging a canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. But the Mamluk dynasty, hated by its subjects, was also in decline. It proved powerless to see off the intruders. In 1500, the Mamluk chronicler Ibn Iyas recorded an extraordinary event. The balsam gardens outside Cairo, which had existed since remote antiquity, produced an oil with miraculous properties highly prized by the Venetians. Its trade symbolized the centuries-old commercial relationship between Islamic countries and the West. That year, the balsam trees withered away and vanished forever. Seventeen years later, the Ottomans strung up the last Mamluk sultan from a Cairo gate.

Tome Pires, a Portuguese adventurer, gleefully spelled out the implications for Venice. In 1511, the Portuguese conquered Malacca on the Malay Peninsula, the market for the produce of the Spice Islands. “Whoever is lord of Malacca,” he wrote, “has his hand on the throat of Venice.” It would be a slow and uneven pressure, but the Portuguese and their successors would eventually squeeze the life out of the Venetian trade with the Orient. The fears that Priuli expressed would in time prove well-founded; and the Ottomans meanwhile would systematically strip away the Stato da Mar.

The classical allusions of de’ Barbari’s map already contain a backward-looking note; they hint at nostalgia, a remaking of the tough, energetic realities of the Stato da Mar into something ornamental. They perhaps reflected structural changes within Venetian society. The recurrent bouts of plague meant that the city’s population was never self-replenishing; it relied on immigrants, and many of those from mainland Italy came without knowledge of the seafaring life. It was already noticeable during the Chioggia crisis that the volunteer citizens had to be given rowing lessons. In 1201, at the time of the adventure of the Fourth Crusade, the majority of Venice’s male population were seafarers; by 1500, they were not. The emotional attachment to the sea, expressed in the Senza, would last until the death of the Republic, but by 1500, Venice was turning increasingly to the land; within four years, it would be engaged in a disastrous Italian war that would again bring enemies to the edge of the lagoon. There was a crisis in shipbuilding, a greater emphasis on industry. The patriotic solidarity that had been the hallmark of Venetian destiny had been seen to fray: A sizable part of the ruling elite had demonstrated that, though still keen to recoup the profits of maritime trade, they were not prepared to fight for the bases and sea-lanes on which it depended. Others, who had made fortunes in the rich fifteenth century, stopped sending their sons to sea as apprentice bowmen. Increasingly, a wealthy man might look to reinvest in estates on the terra firma, to own a country mansion with escutcheons over the door; these were respectable hallmarks of nobility to which all self-made men might aspire.

It was Priuli again, acute and regretful, who caught this impulse and pinpointed the declining glory it seemed to imply. “The Venetians,” he wrote in 1505, “are much more inclined to the Terra Firma, which has become more attractive and pleasing, than to the sea, the ancient root cause of all their glory, wealth, and honor.”

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Comparing the Russian and Turkish Revolutions

From The Sultans, by Noel Barber (Simon & Schuster, 1973), p. 284:

During all these years there were remarkable parallels between those two arch-enemies of the past, Turkey and Russia. The Russian revolution in 1905, the Young Turks in 1908, had both sprung from the same original passions – a deeply rooted desire for democratic government at a time when the equivalent of Britain’s Industrial Revolution was changing the face of the two empires, each half European, half Asian. Each had reached a moment of destiny after losing a succession of wars. The parallels went further. Both separated Church from State. And while Constantinople became Istanbul, and a new capital was built out of a primitive village on the steppes, St Petersburg became Petrograd, then Leningrad and the capital was moved to Moscow. In both cases the move was symbolic, the sign not only that each country wanted to blot out its tarnished history but wanted also to signalise to the world that it was making a fresh start.

There was, however, one vital difference between the two countries. A massive ideology underlay the tremendous events in Russia, often paralysing the Bolshevik attempts to introduce reforms, to get things done. By contrast Musatafa Kemal, as he Europeanised Turkey, unceremoniously nationalising banks, introducing rural electrification, was never hampered by mystical theories which had to be earnestly debated. Since the basis of Mustafa Kemal’s ideology was to produce a modern, Westernised Turkey, he could bulldoze any measures, however startling, through Parliament simply because reform was the only creed he preached.

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