The Great Divide: The Disconnect Between American Soldiers and Civilians

September 11, 2001 is a day that will forever live in the minds of the Americans who were alive to witness the terrorism displayed, and the repercussions of that day will reverberate for years and generations to come. On the evening of September 11, President George W. Bush addressed the nation and stated, “our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack.”[1] America had been eternally changed. As a result of this pivotal day in the history of the United States, President Bush declared a “war on terror,” targeting the radical terrorist group Al Qaeda concentrated in Afghanistan. Over the next several years, American soldiers flooded into the Middle East trying to stabilize a situation where our help was not wanted or welcome. Around 2004, the film industry started producing films that tried to explain the conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan with movies such as the documentary Control Room and Jarhead. However it is the 2008 Best Motion Picture of the Year Oscar winner The Hurt Locker that most enraptures audiences due to its emotional depth and intensity. However it is not only the film industry taking the opportunity to try to enlighten the public on the goings on in Iraq. Novels such as Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk show the disconnect between the American public’s view of the war, and the actual combat going on abroad. Both The Hurt Locker and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk inform the public that American civilians, as hard as they try, cannot understand what is happening abroad and there is a divide between their understanding and reality.

Director Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker opens with a quote by Chris Hedges stating, “war is a drug.”[2] Just as not all of the world’s population uses drugs, not all soldiers become addicted to the drug of mortal combat. The Hurt Locker’s Sergeant William James, played by actor Jeremy Renner, is one of the limited few. Sgt. James is a bomb specialist that diffuses I.E.D.s, short for an improvised explosive device. Throughout the film, Sgt. James is put in many treacherous situations that the other men do not envy, however Sgt. James seems impervious to the sensation of danger. He knows that he is the best at what he does, and in his mind he is unstoppable, not even the ever-present threat of death can keep him from doing his job. His counterpart, Sergeant Sanborn, is the exact opposite. Sanborn does his duty by the book, never stepping out of line, because one toe out of line can mean death, and the fact that James disregards the rules most of the time drives him nearly to murder. However by the end of the movie, James and Sanborn have come to learn each other’s ways and are closer than friends, they are more of brothers.

The movie itself is a countdown to how many days are left in Delta Company’s tour, meaning how many days the men have until they can return home to the United States. As the clock approaches zero, the men become more and more excited as their survival seems more decided. However, Specialist Eldridge, played by Brian Geraghty, knows how the smallest details and decisions can mean life or death. For him, one shot at a suspicious man with a detonator, masked as a cell phone, could have saved his friends life. At the end of the film and Delta Company’s tour, Sgt. James returns home to his girlfriend and baby boy and is not satisfied. James cannot adjust back to life as an American civilian after what he has been through in the Middle East. He tells his girlfriend what was happening in Baghdad with a sense of duty, knowing that he must return because he is the best of the best at his craft. In this sense, Chris Hedges is right; war is a drug. Sgt. James had become addicted to the adrenaline of diffusing bombs as well as his sense of duty to his country, and the mundane life of a civilian could no longer hold the same appeal it once did. However, Sgt. James was not aware of the bigger picture of the war, he only did his part, and did not ask questions, similar to the men in Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

            Bravo Company of Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk has just returned to America for their Victory Tour for their outstanding service at the Al-Ansakar Canal. They returned home as heroes, and were treated as such from city of city along the tour. What the public did not know, however, is that their favorite American heroes had to go back. This small yet poignant fact leads to the greater discussion of the disconnect between the soldiers fighting in the Middle East and the American civilian public. Throughout the novel, Fountain places segments of words that are out of order, misspelled, or in other ways jumbled. For example, the phrase “nina leven” is commonly used in the place of nine-eleven, for the day that Al Qaeda attacked America. These idioms are only said by civilians, giving the reader the idea that the person saying the words does not know their real meaning. Many times throughout the story, the soldiers of Bravo Company are asked how America is doing over there. And each time the soldiers do not know and do not give straightforward answers. Just like the men of Delta Company in The Hurt Locker, the men of Bravo Company do their job, not knowing what the other moving pieces are doing or even the goal of the big picture. They simply are told an order, and follow through according to their training. Billy is often asked how he was brave enough to do what he did in leading the attack, and he responds that it was a reflex; he acted as he had been trained to act in under those circumstances. The civilians that Bravo Company encounters on the Victory Tour seem to want to know the very details of what happened in the Middle East, but Fountain projects the idea that they will never fully know or understand. Even as Bravo Company spills the details as best they can, no one can ever fully comprehend what they have seen and been through.

When Sergeant Dime is asked how America is doing in the Middle East he responds, “All I can tell you with any certainty is that the exchange of force with intent to kill, that is truly a mind-altering experience, sir.”[3] This theme is present in both works. In Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, Sgt. William James is forever changed by his involvement in Baghdad. He has become addicted to the drug identified by Chris Hedges as war. The adrenaline and sense of duty keeps him coming back for more even after he finishes his first tour. Sgt. Billy Lynn in Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk becomes more of a man. He returns home to Stovall, Texas more mature and with a different outlook on life. Both groups of men have seen and maybe even done terrible deeds and no matter how accurately recounted to the civilian population, no one will ever fully understand the goings on in the Middle East except the men that fought there.

[1] George W. Bush, “9/11 Address to the Nation” (Oval Office, Washington, D.C., September 11, 2001).

[2] Chris Hedges, The Hurt Locker, quote, directed by Kathryn Bigelow (2008; Los Angeles; Voltage Pictures; 2009.) DVD.

[3] Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (New York: Harper Collins Publications, 2012), 65.


The Rebirth of A Nation: America in the 1980s

After the dismal decade of the 1970s, Americans of the 1980s were looking to raise their once great nation from the ashes. With Ronald Reagan at the helm, the United States began to rebuild after the economically and politically depressing 1970s. Frank Miller’s classic comic Batman: The Dark Knight Returns tells the story of Batman, a superhero that has taken the past decade off duty, reemerging into the spotlight that only the controversial protector of Gotham City can fill. Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street centers around a young, up-and-coming stockbroker named Bud Fox who is willing to do anything to get to the top, even if his actions go outside the realm of legal. These works of the 1980s show viewers the shift in American attitude from an era steeped in malaise to the present that is seeing the light for the first time in a decade.

Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns features the return of Batman to crime fighting in fictional Gotham City after a ten-year hiatus. Based on this fact, Batman has not seen action in the field since the 1960s, a decade characterized by peace and liberalism. As the 1970s was a dreary period in American history, it was also a bleak time in the history of Gotham City, as it was a phase without the protective presence of their hometown hero Batman. As this set of comics was released in 1986, it signifies America climbing from the depths of the 1970s with the reawakening of Batman. By this time, President Reagan had promoted supply-side economics, now referred to as “Reaganomics,” and the American economy had taken a turn for the better in juxtaposition to the decade prior to Reagan’s first term of his presidency.

In the first Book of the set of four, The Dark Knight Returns, Batman refers to his return to crime fighting as a “baptism,” in reference to the fact that he has been “born again.”[1] This rebirth of Gotham City’s chief protector is directly parallel to the revival of the United States and American spirit after the desolate 1970s. Throughout the work, much attention is drawn to the fact that the young people do not believe in Batman, choosing to believe that he is simply a myth. This ignorance of Gotham City’s youth shows that they cannot believe in times of peace and overall good fortune because they have not experienced it during their lifetime. However, it is not only among the young that skepticism rises due to Batman’s reappearance, it is among the adult population as well. Adults who had seen prosperity in Batman’s hay day, the 1950s and 1960s, were distrustful of their former idol’s homecoming. This idea is analogous with the American attitude of the 1980s. While many Americans were pleased that the United States had turned itself around, many were uneasy and thought that it may be too good to be true. At the end of the novel, Batman fakes his own death, allowing him to lead a different life and create an army to “bring sense to the world.”[2] While this is a criticism of Batman’s current era, it also shows his leadership in his future attempt to bring Gotham City out of the dark of the 1970s.

Released in 1987, Oliver Stone’s critically acclaimed film Wall Street tells the story of Bud Fox, a young stockbroker hell-bent on being successful and making his father proud. Raised in a working class home, Fox was instilled from a young age with strong moral values that are bent, but not completely broken, by the end of the film. Gordon Gekko, Fox’s boss and role model, is a very wealthy businessman who will do anything to come out on top. He teaches Fox his sneaky ways of success, namely inside trading, and soon Fox begins to lose the morals his father infused in him. In the context of the 1980s, this movie shows the willingness of people to do whatever it takes to forget the financially depressed 1970s. As Fox’s father was just an average man working an average job at an airline, Bud felt the responsibility to make his father proud by becoming monetarily successful, and now that it was possible, he would engage in illegal activities to do so. According to film critic Roger Ebert, Stone hits the nail of the head of an “atmosphere of financial competitiveness so ferocious that ethics are simply irrelevant.”[3] As the 1970s were full of gloom and comparatively the 1980s were a time of success, it is no wonder that people such as Bud Fox left their moral standards behind and engaged in illegal activities to fulfill their once unimaginable desires.

In comparison to the 1970s, the 1980s were a time of growth and prosperity. After leaving a period of cynicism and depression, the people of the United States were more than willing to leave their clouded past behind and move on to a better and brighter future. However this would take time, and though the 1980s were less muddled than the 1970s, they served as a transition period. For people like Bud Fox of Wall Street who threw their morals to the wind, the 1980s signify a period of greed due to economic opportunities previously unknown to America’s young professional class. Though morality may have been scant, overall the 1980s served as a period of economic growth. In Batman: Return of the Dark Night, Batman himself serves as the icon of this shift. He symbolizes the return of a once great America to its past glory. Though in the end Gotham City has not quite reached its previous magnificence, it is clear that a shift has occurred with the return of Batman and the future looks brighter than its bleak recent past. The 1980s in America were not a golden age, however they were an age of progress and a step in the right direction to a promising future.

[1] Frank Miller, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (New York: DC Comics, 1986), 34.

[2] Ibid., 199.

[3] “Wall Street,” Dec. 11, 1987,

“We Might as Well Have Just Been Shaking Hands:” Why Sex Sold in the 1970s

Life for an American resident during the 1970s was clouded by feelings of disillusionment toward government and a perceptive sense of pessimism concerning their country in decline. Relative to the 1960s, a time of peace, love, and liberalism, the 1970s were shrouded by the deterioration of what had recently been the most powerful country in the world. Living in the shadow of the failure of the Vietnam War, as well as economic crisis, American citizens turned to a visceral form of entertainment, pornography and sexual exploration. At this time, the people of the United States moved toward a more overt position on sex from the hush-hush practices of the past. This unprecedented movement towards sexual liberation can be comprehended by reading the books as well as viewing the movies from the period. John Updike’s Rabbit is Rich shows the effects of the times on a man who peaked in high school alongside the United States, now stuck in a rut of cynicism, using sexual fantasies to get him through the monotonous days at the car dealership he partially owns alongside his wife and mother-in-law and manages. The Graduate, directed by Mike Nichols, shows the turning point from covert sexuality in America to the overt sexuality seen in the 1970s. It can be seen from primary sources such as Rabbit is Rich and The Graduate that due to hard times politically and economically, Americans were ready to engage in patterns of behavior regarding sexuality never before seen in the conservative United States, which made an imprint on a decade otherwise veiled in depression and disappointment.

Rabbit Angstrom, the protagonist in John Updike’s Rabbit is Rich, was a high school basketball star, now making it big on his late father-in-law’s Toyota car dealership. However, Rabbit does not see himself as a necessarily fortunate man as he always finds little matters to complain about. From the very first pages of the novel, it is clear that Rabbit’s pessimism concerning the times and his life are going to be a persisting subject throughout. He claim’s “The fucking world is running out of gas” in the literal sense as this work is taking place during the 1979 Oil Crisis, but this is also relevant in a figurative understanding.[1] By saying that the world is running out of gas he is alluding to the fact that America is no longer the great country it used to be. It has seen defeat in the Vietnam War, which signaled the decline of the leading powerhouse country in the world, as well as fallen into economic hard times, and seen a shift for the worse regarding trust in government. The world is running out of gas and Rabbit Angstrom needs a way out. He finds his emancipation from the doldrums of everyday life in small-town U.S.A. by way of sensual, and often erotic, daydreams about the women he comes into contact with. For much of the novel the reader finds themselves inside Rabbit’s wandering thoughts, which often lead to sexual notions regarding the ladies surrounding every facet of his life. However, except when “guy-talking” with his co-worker Charlie Stavros, Rabbit keeps his thoughts to himself, not engaging in the covert to overt practices of the masses concerning sexuality, a sign that Rabbit is trying to live in America’s gilded past unlike much of America’s middle and upper class populations.

In 1967, American troops had been stationed in Vietnam for six years and public opinion about American involvement had begun to spiral downward.[2] As a way to cope with a developing disappointment in the east, American citizens began to turn toward an alternative style of entertainment, a more liberal cinema. In contrast to Rabbit, Benjamin Braddock, the main character in Mike Nichols’ The Graduate, is at the right age to fully participate in this exploration of sexual limits seen during the late 1960s and 1970s. Released in 1967, The Graduate illustrates the turning point in American media towards a more sexual entertainment industry. Although there are no explicit scenes and no inappropriate body parts are shown, the inappropriate relationship between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson foreshadows the more revealing movies, such as the quintessential pornographic film Deep Throat, which will be released to audiences in the 1970s. The ideas regarding sexual relations during the 1970s can be adequately summed up in Benjamin’s conversation with Mr. Robinson when Benjamin states that for him, sleeping with Mrs. Robinson did not mean anything and that they “might as well have just been shaking hands.”[3] By making this statement, Benjamin effectively shows the depersonalization of sex during the late 1960s that would only continue and heighten during the 1970s.

The release of more graphic films and other forms of entertainment is directly proportional to American morale in the 1970s. As American spirits dropped, the movie industries produced more and more provocative films. By the time Deep Throat was released in 1972, the American population had seen the Viet Cong take the American Embassy during the Tet Offensive in 1968, which caused a major plunge in the American public opinion of involvement in the Vietnam War. In only five years, entertainment shifted from the inappropriate relationship on Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson, to actual pornography for amusement, which was used a diversion from the current dismal political and economic climate. As Rabbit uses his imagination in Rabbit is Rich to flee from monotony and dissatisfaction of his personal life, the American public is able to access their own version of escape through the movies produced during this era.

Living in the wake of the failure of the Vietnam War led American culture to the brink of the unthinkable. Open policies regarding sex would have been unthinkable only twenty years before and would be so again twenty years after. Immediately after Vietnam Americans were faced with a malaise that could not be shaken. Their country had been defeated, there was no trust in government, and there was a crushing focus on individualism. To escape this dreary present, the American people escaped to their sexual fantasies, just like Rabbit Angstrom in Rabbit is Rich. Movies, such as The Graduate, books, and other sources of entertainment provided relief during those difficult times. In the present day of 2015, such movies as Deep Throat being shown at regular movie theaters would be unheard of. Perhaps another severe drop in American morale would bring the 1970s, with its laissez-faire policies regarding sex, back to life.

[1] John Updike, Rabbit is Rich. (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1981), 3.

[2] William Lunch and Peter Sperlich, “American Public Opinion and the War in Vietnam,” Western Political Quarterly 32 (1979): 23.

[3] The Graduate directed by Mike Nichols (1967;

A Changed Man: How the Vietnam War Altered a Generation


As a whole, the Vietnam War was a controversial war in the moment and is still a controversial and sensitive subject in America today. As a result of this, the topic of the Vietnam War is largely skipped over in high school history classes, except as a brief mention that it is apart of our American history. This blatant disregard for such a major piece of history dishonors the men that were directly and often tragically affected by this event, the soldiers themselves. In both Tim O’Brien’s fiction novel The Things They Carried and Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket the storytellers focus on the memory of the war by civilians and soldiers, as well as the impact it had on the veterans. Both pieces also relate the harsh realities of Vietnam to their audience, including the things the soldiers carried emotionally upon their return home.

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried opens with a chapter that takes its name from the title of the book. In the chapter The Things They Carried O’Brien describes in detail the weapons, food, tools, radios, and other equipment in great detail, demonstrating just how much these soldiers were weighted down with excess material. Though it was all necessary and, for the most part, evenly distributed among the men of the troop, all of this weight placed a heavy burden on the men that were doing the “humping.”[1] This opening set up the perfect juxtaposition for the intangible weight these men had on their shoulders. Throughout the novel, O’Brien tells the stories of questionably immoral happenings. For example, during his first week in Vietnam, O’Briens troop kills a Vietnamese man and then everyone goes to shake his hand. The only reason O’Brien deferred was because of fear of the dead. This conscious notice of immorality is what plagued these men after they returned home. While abroad and in the jungle, the line between moral and immoral became blurred due to strenuous circumstances, and the men acted as they saw fit in the moment. However, from the foxhole at night where the conscious comes alive or the safe shores of America once returned home, that distortion seemed much less hazy. It became clear that many of these men carried more than just physical items on their backs, but also their actions and memories, which may have weighed even more.

In The Things They Carried, O’Brien makes a point to give a human quality to the men that he spent every day with in the wilderness of South Vietnam. In different chapters he goes into detail about separate characters, their interests, their lives back home, and sometimes even their plans for the future. By doing this, O’Brien sufficiently relates to the reader that these men were really not supposed to be fighting this war. It was just the cruel hand of fate that plucked their birthday from the draft, and that was their destiny. These were just normal boys, average Joe’s, shipped off to fight a war that they did not sign up for. In Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick takes a different approach. Instead of building his characters up to be average guys, Kubrick portrays his characters to be near-mindless drones sent to Vietnam to do America’s bidding. According to Michel Ciment, a renowned French film critic, the characters transform “from man to weapon” and “Kubrick underlines the process of dehumanization.”[2] This thesis supports the idea that these soldiers were no longer the men they were in the United States, but a sort of killing machine, an idea emphasized on Joker’s helmet which read “Born to Kill” in bold black lettering.

However different these ideas may appear on the surface, they are rooted in the same theme. These soldiers went to a war that they did not sign up for and as a result lost their sense of self. In the final scene of Full Metal Jacket Joker is confronted with the task of shooting a small girl who had served as the sniper that killed his friends. Again, the soldier is confronted with the question of immorality. As she begged for death because she had already been shot once, the audience could see Joker struggling with the choice. Granting her a mercy kill seemed the right thing to do, but then again, she was just a small child, and a girl at that. This murdering of the innocent shows the complete transformation from the American man to the American soldier in Vietnam. However, the look in Joker’s eye shows that he is aware that this decision would have an impact that would last the rest of his life, haunting him for eternity.

Both of these pieces were released around fifteen years after the end of the Vietnam War. However, they were released for different reasons. In The Things They Carried O’Brien tells the story, some of it perhaps based on real events of his life as he uses his own name for the protagonist, to achieve catharsis. By remembering these events and allowing them to be publicly scrutinized, he lays his life on the line yet again. However, to come to terms with the past, one must confront it head on. Through this novel, O’Brien is able to release his pent up emotions regarding his time in Vietnam and move toward a future out of the cobwebs of painful memories. In the case of Full Metal Jacket, the release was for a wholly different reason. Kubrick released the film in 1987, only fourteen years after the end of the war, and by this time Americans had seen the toll that was taken on their soldiers upon their return. Many veterans were dealing with what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, suffering from addiction, and an overall sense of loss, of self and of others. Full Metal Jacket offers an explanation to the change in America’s male youth by showing the steps behind the alteration of the boy next door to cold-blooded killer while also showing the rationale and circumstances behind the change.   Kubrick’s film superbly enlightens without blame.

The Vietnam War was a war of mystery. No American civilian could be completely sure of why America was there or what fighting in Vietnam actually looked like. Books such as Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried are lifting that previous veil of mystery that for years concealed the horrors underneath. However, the novel is not about giving answers to the public, but giving answers to oneself and coming to peace with it. Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket clarifies how the common man was changed through a process of dehumanization so intense that a man could completely forget himself and his morals. Both of these works change the public memory of the Vietnam War from a war shrouded in secrecy, to what really mattered: our American soldiers. While O’Brien humanized his characters and Kubrick took the opposite approach, the crux of both arguments is that these men were forever changed by their experiences in South Vietnam. Nothing they ever carry will be heavier than their memories.

[1] Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried, (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1990), 5.

[2] Michel Ciment, Kubrick: The Definitive Edition, (New York: Faber and Faber, Inc., 1980; 1999), 36.

The Confederate Flag: A Symbol of the Antebellum South and the Next Great First Amendment Challenge

During the last 50 years the historiography and teaching methods regarding the subject of the Civil War has taken a major shift in the southern states. Until the mid-twentieth century, the Civil War was taught in the South primarily as a war fought over states rights. Today, the same subject has a more sinister cause with sensitive connotations. Slavery. However, this shift in ideology has not effected all of the population. According to the New York Times article “A Test of Free Speech and Bias, Served on a Plate From Texas” by Adam Liptak, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has rejected a license plate design in the form of the Confederate flag based on the principle that it is offensive to minority peoples. In opposition to this ruling the Sons of Confederate Veterans are challenging the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit by taking the case to the Supreme Court on Monday March 23 claiming that the decision infringes up the group’s First Amendment rights. Ben Jones, the spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, asserts that the Confederate flag is a symbol of the south, and in modern times is not a symbol of slavery. This disregard for the implications made by the flag as a symbol shows that not all southerners have grasped the change from a states rights conflict to a war fought over the ownership of human beings. No matter the Supreme Court’s ruling today, the fact remains that the South is not ready to completely give up their Antebellum identity.

Dallas: A City of Mistaken Identity

The physical location of Dallas, Texas is at a crossroads of America. It is where the slave-ridden ideologies of the nineteenth century south meet the open-range of the newly settled west. Because of its locational ambiguity, Dallas attracted a myriad of settlers after its founding in 1856. This fusion of cultures led to the evolution of traditional ideas concerning the “whiteness” of people of African American and Jewish descent.

In Michael Phillip’s work White Metropolis, he develops the definition of the concept of “whiteness.” According to Phillips, whiteness is not only based on one’s skin color, but also on one’s ancestry and one’s acceptance of the Anglo-Saxon elite’s ideals. The elite class of Dallas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was primarily made up of white males of Anglo-Saxon descent that practiced Protestant religions. Whiteness in early Dallas history meant better jobs and a higher quality of life. Therefore, whiteness was and idea desired of other ethnic groups such as the Jews.

The Jewish people of twentieth century Dallas were not seen as equal to the Dallasites of Anglo-Saxon descent, despite the white color of their skin. Traditionally, the west was seen as a land of growth and opportunity, and a migration of Jews wanted to make their claim in this burgeoning urban town. However, once in Dallas they were greeted with prejudice and suspicion from the cities elite. For the Dallas Jews, the inequality meant that they were excluded from the highest positions in society and the most exclusive social groups. However, many Jews like Herbert Marcus, of Neiman Marcus, did well in the department store business. Compared to other ethnic groups that inhabited the city, the Jews that resided in Dallas in the early twentieth century had almost no reason to complain.

The original Neiman Marcus building in Dallas, Texas

The original Neiman Marcus building in Dallas, Texas

Much of the African American community during the progressive years of Dallas was haunted by the memory of their ancestor’s subjection to domination in the city. Dallas history is splattered throughout with the mistreatment and oppression of the city’s African American and slave population. The ruling class of the city was afraid of their rapidly growing numbers in the early twentieth century taking control and afraid that their mistreatment of the blacks in previous generations would cause them to rise up in resentment. However, through segregation, the white elite found ways to keep their black counterparts beneath them during the Civil Rights Era. Even though the Thirteenth Amendment gave African Americans their freedom, free did not mean equal.

Both of these groups had the intense desire to obtain the whiteness of the elite class, but in doing so, it required the loss of their own culture and mimicking the mindset of the Anglo-Saxon upper class.   For the Jews, this loss of culture could be seen in the changing of their religious services from being spoken in their native Hebrew language to the elite’s English. The African American community attempted to acquire whiteness in a more outspoken ways. Backed by the NAACP, the African Americans in Dallas vocally advocated for equal rights and in the 1950s, desegregation.

The physical location of Dallas played a large role in the mindset and ideologies of the ruling class. In the beginning of its history, Dallas was a slave town, just as many towns in the south at that time. The keyword here being “south.” The upholding of the slave tradition would originally classify Dallas as a southern town and the ideas from this time period would trickle down for generations to come. However, Texas, and Dallas along with it, was a region that was being developed along with the rest of the west in the mid-nineteenth century. This city with multiple identities had an effect on the people that settled there.

The people of different identities that migrated to Dallas because they saw the American west as a land of opportunity were often sadly mistaken, unless they were male and of Anglo-Saxon descent. These ethnic people that came with the ideas of the future of equality were met with a bygone mindset rooted in racism, hatred, and suspicion. This clash of opposite ideologies took time for both groups to adapt to the other. The African Americans, Jews, Eastern Europeans, Mexicans, and people of other ethnicities had to give up their identities to try to earn this concept of whiteness that would lead to a better life. And though it would take decades, the Anglo-Saxon elite would have to learn to accept people from all corners of the globe. The tricky location of Dallas warrants the melting pot of ethnicities and ideologies that converged there in the twentieth century, but the ethnic stew was cooked into the conformity of “whiteness” and many of those original cultures have been altered into a mix of others.

The Dallas County Administration Building, home of the Six Floor Museum where President Kennedy was shot from.

The Dallas County Administration Building, home of the Six Floor Museum where President Kennedy was shot from.

When visiting Phillips in Dallas on November 1st of this year, it is hard to imagine the racism that once consumed that community. While walking around Dealey Plaza, there were people of every race and ethnicity visiting the place where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Some even taking pictures on the “X” in the street. However, we were the only group to walk under the underpass to the grassy area where three black men were falsely accused and hanged during the panic of the Dallas Fires during a hot Dallas summer. There was not even a sign commemorating the site, showing that modern Dallas has chosen to cover up its less than admirable past.

A Machiavellian West: The Construction of the Hoover Dam

The west of mid-nineteenth century America is described as “some of the most desolate territory on earth” by Joseph Stevens in his work Hoover Dam: An American Adventure . The thoughts of a man named Oliver Wozencraft as he was hallucinating in the desert to bring water and lush vegetation to his sparse surroundings brought the idea of an irrigation system to the west. With the conduction of the Fall-Davis Report in 1922, which surveyed plausible sites for the construction of such a system, the idea for a dam “at or near Boulder Canyon” began to breathe life. With the construction of an American architectural masterpiece in the middle of the unruly and sinful area of Las Vegas, the west was introduced to the federal government, that was many times negligent, in full force for the first time.

Stevens describes pre-Hoover Dam West as an “economic colony of the East” and as such, early after settlement, there was no punitive rule felt by the people from the federal government. Towns, such as Las Vegas, had the connotation of being lawless and full of gamblers, drunks, and prostitutes. And to an extent, this was true. Las Vegas was the antithesis of a community that Six Companies, the compilation of businesses funding the project, and the government wanted to set up for the workers who worked on the dam. Boulder City would be a city of strong moral values, but that was mainly so that the work did not slow. To stick to wholesome ethics, the citizens of the created Boulder City were subject to a dictatorial rule by their overseers, employees of Six Companies. Although the rules were made and enforced by Six Companies, the federal government never stepped in and gave these people many rights. In the rush to start construction, many of the workers did not even have proper housing, which shows the lack of concern by the federal government to the harsh weather and work conditions felt by the workers.

A family in the harsh environment of Ragtown, a makeshift city for early dam workers

A family in the harsh environment of Ragtown, a makeshift city for early dam workers

The newly found negligent federal presence in the west can also be seen through the court cases regarding carbon monoxide poisoning brought against Six Companies.   In these cases, men claimed to have been harmed in the making of the diversion tunnels when using trucks in enclosed areas of the canyon. While some of these cases seem to hold their ground, the judge turned a blind eye to their struggles. Federal presence can also be sensed in the cases brought against Six Companies in regards to the forcing of workers to work overtime on a regular basis. Henry Kaiser, chairman of Six Companies executive committee, claimed that the whole process of building the dam was a state of emergency, and therefore the workers could work more than eight hours per day, the maximum time limit for a days work. This is not exactly true. While the work on Hoover Dam was immensely dangerous, the work was not at all times in a state of emergency, and therefore the work should have stopped at eight hours per day per man.

It is clear that the Great Depression caused the negative effects seen on the Hoover Dam construction site. The federal government was content with the fact that there was now a job created not just to serve its purpose of irrigating parts of the west, but there was work for a multitude of people that had recently been unemployed. The government saw that there were corrupt activities going on in Boulder City, but instead of penalizing the men in charge of the project, they let it go on not only because it pumped money back into the economy, but it also gave thousands of people a livelihood again. In a time of immense struggle, this one project was a savior to thousands, no matter their treatment. To the newly present federal government, the ends justified the means.