One of the joys of vacationing is to actually be able to devote myself to reading for a few hours a day, something I find almost impossible while working, trying to post, trying to keep up with the daily craziness of the blogosphere, and keeping a minimum degree of order in the homestead. So finally, after starting it a couple of months ago, I finished "Rebirth of a Nation" by Jackson Lears, a terrific history of the United States from 1877 to 1920. I cannot recommend this book more highly -- it's superbly written, scrupulously researched, and remarkably compact given the ground it covers, clocking in at a mere 359 pages. It covers both the Gilded Age of post-reconstruction America and the Progressive Era up through the defeat of the League of Nations and the sputtering conclusion of the Wilson Administration from both a political and cultural perspective. .
It is the hoariest of cliches to suggest that history repeats itself, but the connecting threads between our own epoch and the one described by Lears are actually pretty amazing. And only a people who know so little of their own past could have allowed the political conditions to exist such that we would repeat both the worst of the financial misfeasance and malfeasance that characterized the Gilded Age and the war-mongering stupidity that reigned among much of the American elite from 1898-1918.
I kept finding things I wanted to post about while reading the book, so I suspect I may return to it a few times. But just one tidbit I enjoyed immensely, in a sick, sad, kind of way was discovering that in the days during which Woodrow Wilson was weighing the possible intervention of the U.S. in World War I, who was urging him on to opt for war but "The New Republic," which denounced war opponents for "failing to realize that treaties will never acquire sanctity until nations are ready to seal them with their blood." The "progressives" at the New Republic saw war, in Lears' words, as a "regenerative crusade," a "great laboratory of social engineering," and a means of creating a new world from the destruction of the old.
So evidently war mongering in a dubious cause runs deep in the DNA of TNR. That and the fact that none of its editors will actually bleed for the causes they endorse.*
*Yes, I remember Michael Kelly -- he had left TNR by then -- and no, I don't feel the least bit bad for that war-mongering prick.