Turkeyfoot: What is Our BIG Problem
An eccentric gay-Quaker historian living in Germany decides on a quixotic whim—for deeply idealistic and quasi-spiritual reasons—to run for the US Senate in his native Iowa. To his consternation, he soon finds himself hip-deep in the moral quicksand of Midwestern Trumpism. Unexpectedly, he discovers that his Trump-drunk relatives embody the very electorate he has to woo. This story tells how this onetime farmboy got into this swamp, how he escaped, and how other residents of Trump Nation—if they truly care about our country and the larger world—might punch their way out of political paper bags as well. This book—two tomes woven into one, each uniquely pertinent to this historical moment—provides all Americans (as well as other mortals beyond our shores) a way out. Book One explores the cynical, two-party electoral system that both feeds and embodies the social-political deadlock our country faces; Book Two concludes with fifteen strategies for how to bridge the chasms that currently divide us: Combined, they outline how to rediscover compassion for each other at a juncture in our national and global history when either we find each other again or we all will be lost, together, forever.
Brexit = Britain Unraveled: A Modern Greek Tragedy in Three Acts
Brexit did not come out of nowhere. As with all individual endeavors as well as mass social projects, there is a backstory — or, more aptly, backstories.
Some of the more dispassionate insights into the British — especially the English — and their endless Brexit misery comes, ironically, from a Yank.
Michael Luick-Thrams attended a boys grammar school as a teen, in the 1980s, and has visited Britain every few years ever since. Now a Ph.D. historian teaching in Germany, his "Modern Greek Tragedy in Three Acts " about Brexit is a meditation on who Britons have been, who they are now and who they might [not] become.
When I began compiling this far-reaching work as part of my Goddard College master’s thesis in fall 1989, I did so amidst daily news reports of the unraveling of the post-war order of a Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. I also had active help from William Shirer—who I called “Bill “—who by then he was facing the end of a long career, so was pleased to assist me.
Now, given this tome’s renewed relevance, it is time to republish “In the Eagle’s Long Shadow: U.S. Americans Inside Nazi Germany “ in digital form, for a globalized audience. The examples of the selected 11 U.S. nationals living and working in the Third Reich illustrate in exacting detail everyday life under the weight of Nazi dictatorship; their first-person accounts of their direct experiences and their reactions to them still have much to say to the world we inhabit today. In an era where ideology has become so fraught with potential divisiveness, it is crucial that democracy-loving peoples everywhere better understand the deadly yet insidious nature of authoritarianism—be that the heavy-handed scrutiny of the Nazis or the slick, covert spying of social-media providers and clandestine governmental agencies.
This book provides a cogent, comprehensive review of a society, not so long ago,
that slipped over the edge dividing light from darkness, then—only after much effort and many decades—righted itself to re-assume its place among civilized nations. Let their hard-earned firsthand knowledge be a warning to us.
In the Eagle’s Long Shadow: U.S. Americans inside Nazi Germany
They witnessed the First World War—and fought the Second. In between, they endured a depression longer and more severe than America has ever experienced, before or since. Together, the “Greatest Generation” built a New Deal that touched every aspect of American life. Then, after WWII—during the country’s most extended, game-changing economic boom—they raised an exceptional generation of children, even as they landed the “Eagle” on the moon. And, they forged a postwar world order that ushered in globalization and prosperity for millions.
Those shining achievements, however, have long blended out national moments and events preceding WWII. Some fundamental experiences that indelibly shaped that legendary generation included the typical “mundane,” day-to-day experiences many of them shared: momentary shots of family life; scenes from church or school; indications of how individuals and groups talked—or not—about sex, and their personal failures or dreams… as well as events such as women’s securing the vote in 1920, the ascendant KKK of the 1920s, the on-going public debates over “demon rum” or evolution (e.g., the Scopes trial), etc.
All of that, however, can seem vague or overwhelming on abstract, “societal” levels—but what about as seen in a single life, or in the lives of those closest to a given case study? In this case, we study the early life of Charlie Thrams, born “Ammi Ishmael Rose.” In it, we see some of the fruit of the—as seen from contemporary eyes—restrictive social mores, which dictated what was “acceptable” and what was not. In order to bend to the shape of the dominant norms around her, Ammi’s birth mother brought him into this world in secret, in an anonymous boarding house in Southcentral Iowa… and from there, the tale unfolds for almost a decade until the child—now “Charlie”—is adopted by two loving parents… whose own story, in turn, is told briefly in Part II as a “mirror opposite” at the book’s end, as a moral counterpart to Part I.
Even if at times uncomfortable to read, Part I brings to light subchapters of US social history from the mid-1920s to mid-‘30s. Representatively, they examine mostly overlooked influences that both shaped some of the “Greatest Generation’s” character and determined not only the biographies of those who comprised it, but the destiny of the United States. Our ancestors’ pasts colored our present and, if left unconscious, lames our future: By understanding them, we better recognize ourselves. This social-political review lends nuances to the legacies of a decisive generation in our nation’s history that otherwise too easily get lost among the glow of a larger-than-life mythos. By considering this heritage anew, we can see our origins and also out possible fates in a different, fuller light: In seeking them, we might find us.
Our Cousin Charlie / Sweet Sadness:
The Social Landscapes that Shaped the “Greatest Generation”
Creating "New Americans":
World War II-Era European Refugees' Formation of American Identities
This dissertation examines how refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe were received by refugee centers in Europe, Cuba and the United States and assisted in forming new identities commensurate with the host countries. The majority of the 13 centers reviewed were run by Quakers--Scattergood Hostel (Iowa/USA) being the most extensively presented in this work.
Diese Dissertation beschaeftigt sich damit wie die vom Nazi Europa vertriebenen Fluechtlinge in Fluechtlingsheimen in Kuba, Amerika und im noch nicht okupierten Europa aufgenommen wurden, bzw. den Gastlaendern entsprechend ihre Identitaeten aenderten. Die Mehrheit der 13 untersuchten Fluechtlingsheime wurden von Quaekern betrieben, wobei Scattergood Hostel (Iowa/USA) am ausfuerhlichsten in dieser Veroeffentlichung beschrieben wird.
Hidden or Forbidden No More:
Prequels to the "Greatest Generation," 1914-39
TRACES Center for History and Culture's latest exhibit in book form (aka exhibit catalog) looks at five sub-stories behind the overall saga of the social influences that shaped a much-mythologized generation. Made famous and later revered as people who witnessed the First World War, survived the Great Depression while building together the New Deal, fought the Second World War, drove the postwar boom and even landed on the moon, the "Greatest" also had shadow sides. This exhibit and catalog examine 1) the anti-German hysteria of WWI; 2) 1918's global flu pandemic; 3) Midwest bootleggers during Prohibition; 4) the so-called "Second Wave" of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s; and 5) "Cow Wars" that arose out of the mass unemployment of the Great Depression. While it might seem that we are putting our [great-/grand-]parents under a microscope or "on the couch," this story is really about all of us. By dissecting the world that shaped our ancestors, we better know ourselves—their descendants. With greater understanding of our families’ and our roles in creating the status quo, we can better change it. Owning our personal assumptions and privileges allows us to withdraw from unconscious “living” that impinges or endangers those around us—especially non-whites or those dis-empowered by our power.
This exhibit explores social change over time, as seen in family-historical contexts. It asks how people of diverse backgrounds became an “us;” who we have been in the past; who we are today; and who we might yet become.
The Midwest that existed as little as 35 years ago is gone. Sweeping, long-term changes in the region’s agriculture, economy, technology, politics and its ethnic, age or other demographics have altered the ways we live. In the process we have lost old treasures even as we have gained new possibilities. This exhibit examines such changes.
Some seniors say they find it difficult to relate to youth who use technology and communication forms different from what was the norm a generation ago. Both seniors and parents cite a failure to transfer a sense of history—our cultural legacy—to younger Midwesterners. While not transferring practical information hobbles young people’s later job skills and economic performance, not transferring cultural information erodes their social skills. Cultural competency is the ability to understand how we became who we are, how we have changed over time—or not—and how humans change at all. It informs us how we behave as individuals, live together and govern ourselves.
"At Home in the Heartland" seeks to strengthen civic culture, accentuate enduring community connections and reinforce Midwesterners’ shared identity. It works from the premise that knowledge of the past sheds insight about the present and can impart wisdom for the future. It ponders what lies ahead even as it reviews what lies behind us.
At Home in the Heartland: How Midwesterners Got to be "Us"
In the late 1970s, my brother’s girlfriend (now wife) studied physical therapy at St Mary’s in Minneapolis. My big bro would trek “to the Cities” from our native Northcentral Iowa to visit her: Once or twice—but not thrice—he took me along. On one such outing, we went to experience a new phenomenon—a mall. While traipsing randomly around Burnsville’s, I wandered into a bookstore, where I stumbled across John Seymour’s “Guide to Self-Sufficiency.” At the time a Young Republican, a Born-Again Christian and engaged to marry Beth—with whom I planned to farm and have many children—that book shook my entire worldview... to the point that by the time I soon thereafter enrolled at Iowa State University in 1982, I had “converted.” Already as an undergrad, I wholeheartedly advocated soil, water and energy conservation; I distrusted the long-term effects—not to mention the short-term costs—of mainstream agriculture’s dependency on petroleum-based inputs. And, I began to see more and more clearly many of the social, let alone spiritual consequences of not only America’s, but increasingly much of the world’s tendency to favor Big over Small. (Among other authors, E.F. Schumacher also rocked my world with his “Small is Beautiful”—but so did the writings of Wendell Berry, Rachel Carson and so many more.)
In 2016, as an independent candidate for the US Senate from Iowa, I felt overjoyed when I stumbled across a copy of my undergraduate thesis paper—the product of a for-credit independent study, which the Des Moines Sunday Register featured serially. In all modesty, that paper—written almost 40 years ago—seems also to me, its author, as impressively comprehensive, singularly progressive and, sadly, ahead of its time. In fact, then even my project’s academic sponsor questioned not only the feasibility but “the need for” such programs, as I advocated in this work… but don’t take my word for it: E N J O Y !
Rural Iowa: Its Past, and Some Proposals for its Future
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