Quantcast

The Nation

April 22, 1970: Earth Day Is Celebrated For the First Time

Earth Day galvanized the nascent environmental movement and has since provided a focus for organizing energies. But twenty-five years ago longtime Nation contributor Kirkpatrick Sale wrote an essay on “The Trouble With Earth Day,” suggesting that designating a single day for acknowledgment of the environmental perils posed by modern industrial society was both insufficient to the challenges we face and possibly outright harmful. Even today, knowing so much more about how we have damaged not only “the environment”—an increasingly unhelpful euphemism—but the most basic processes of nature on Earth, Sale’s essay poses questions to which we are still struggling to come up with answers.

[Earth Day] is an operation—however well meaning, however many good people involved—that is, at its core, a shuck. For after telling us where it hurts, it gives us only the most simplistic sorts of remedies. Its first is personal “life-style” Band-Aids for hemorrhaging wounds and do-it-yourself surgery; its second is the nostrum of federal laws and regulations, providing the patient with more of the kind of cures that created the disease. And it never gets around to asking—much less proposing answers for—those fundamental questions this society must be forced to face: Who, really, is causing the degradation and destruction of the environment? How can they be stopped, and stopped short, not just “regulated” and “overseen” and reformed? Why has society allowed this to go on, to the point that all oxygen-dependent species, including humans, are imperiled, and why do we seem powerless to prevent it? What would it take to accomplish the serious, wrenching, full-scale readjustments that in fact are necessary to save the earth, including reduced standards of living, consumption and growth; severe population reduction; and a new, modest, regardful relationship with the earth and its species? Who is going to carry this literally vital message to the American people? And when? For the time, as every new crisis lets us know, is later than we think.

April 22, 1970

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

April 21, 1838: John Muir Is Born

John Muir was probably the most influential and widely read naturalist—because the most mellifluous nature writer—the United States has yet produced. Though it came comparatively late to the cause of conservation, The Nation vigorously endorsed Muir’s unsuccessful campaign to save the Hetch Hetchy Valley of California from being flooded to satiate San Francisco’s thirst. “Not only has Mr. Muir made our national parks his home for many years, and written books about them,” the magazine noted in 1909, “but it was largely through his efforts that some of these parks were set aside as playgrounds and holiday resorts of the American nation.” Conservationism and environmentalism, as it happens, is this month’s Nation Ideal; be sure to check out the interactive timeline we’ve devised which surveys the entirety of The Nation’s coverage of this theme since its founding in 1865. The following essay on Muir by literary editor Mark Van Doren appeared in the Nation of April 12, 1922.

John Muir died in 1914, or he might have been better known. Death on a different scale was about to occupy the energies of the race, and not much attention was paid to the passing of an old naturalist who had devoted his life to mountains, forests, and glaciers, and who never had liked killing…. So lofty and so vibrant was the world Muir made the dwelling-place, now of his body, now of his imagination, during the remainder of his many years…. It is a miracle of literature, this rapture maintained at so high a pitch over so long a time. He passed the prime portion of his life climbing these cliffs, exploring these valleys, measuring and mapping these glaciers, threading these forests, sleeping upon these peaks, pausing upon these precipices “transparent as glass” to the beauty around him, and zealous to enter that beauty in his journal.

April 21, 1838

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

April 15, 1927: The Great Mississippi River Flood Inundates New Orleans and the Delta

The 1927 flood prompted the construction of massive levees and further spurred the northward migration of African-Americans. The following article for The Nation, “The Negro and the Flood” (June 22, 1927), makes for uncomfortable reading almost ten years after Hurricane Katrina, when the destruction wrought by the floodwaters similarly reflected a human disaster no less than a natural one. Its author, Walter White, was a writer and the leader of the NAACP from 1931 to 1955 (before, of course, starring in the break-out television series Breaking Bad).

Those in immediate charge of flood relief, whether wittingly or not, are, I believe, permitting the relief organizations to be used by plantation-owners further to enslave or at least to perpetuate peonage conditions in many parts of the flood area…Negroes in hundreds of cases were forced to work at the point of guns on the levees long after it was certain that the levees would break. Conscripted Negro labor did practically all of the hard and dangerous work in fighting the flood. Harrowing as many of these stories are, they are the almost inevitable products of a gigantic catastrophe and are part of the normal picture of the industrial and race situation in certain parts of the South. The greatest and most significant injustice is in the denial to Negroes of the right of free movement and of the privilege of selling their services to the highest bidder. That, if persisted in, would recreate and crystallize a new slavery almost as miserable as the old.

April 15, 1927

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

April 1, 1901: Whittaker Chambers Is Born

Whittaker Chambers was one of Nation literary editor Mark Van Doren’s most promising students at Columbia University, before dropping out, pledging himself to Bolshevism and heading West. According to biographer Sam Tanenhaus, Chambers traveled as a hobo, joined the Wobblies and wrote some poems, which he sent back East to Van Doren, who promptly published them in The Nation. Later, Tanenhaus relates with considerable understatement, “The Nation became a a pro-Hiss redoubt.” The following is Chambers’s poem, “Quag-Hole," from The Nation of December 31, 1924.

He waited and, as he waited, grew less eager.

He had come first, believing he was anxious.

The quag lay buried in the darkness at his feet.

The village lights shone far between and meager.

He must not whistle here. His nerves grew tauter.

A wind, that rose among the woods behind him,

Died through the fields. Then silence—broken only

By turtles puddling the invisible bog water.

Then, through a stillness, listening, he heard

Her running on the path, night-terrified

Or eager. And he watched her body slacken

And look for him. She stopped. He never stirred.

But saw how credulously, hour by hour, she stood.

And when, at last, the longing woman went,

He set his face to make the nearest light,

And marched to beat the silence through the wood.

April 1, 1901

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

March 19, 1917: Congress Adopts Daylight Saving Time

Ask those killed by the French army’s suppression of the Paris Commune (the subject of yesterday’s Almanac entry) or the Iraqis whose lives are still upended by the US invasion of 2003 (the twelfth anniversary of which we’ll observe tomorrow) whether time heals all wounds, but the politicization of the Daylight Saving Law, passed by Congress ninety-six years ago today, does seem to have somewhat abated in the intervening century. The Nation supported the law, but one of its readers a few years later adamantly did not. Speaking for the many farmers who opposed the law (and tried to repeal it in 1919) because it messed with their schedules, Lillian Beardsley of Connecticut sent the following letter to the editor:

To the Editor of The Nation:

Sir: I have read with regret your editorial reference to the Daylight Saving Law. I am accustomed to the one-sided view which the daily newspapers take of this law, but while my acquaintance with The Nation is not of many months’ standing, I am surprised to find it championing this most vicious and class-discriminatory piece of legislation. The law is vicious, in the first place, because it inflicts hardship and financial loss on the farmer, and the farmers are the hardest-working and poorest paid (according to capital invested) of any class. Agriculture is the basic industry upon which all others depend, and even though the farmers are a minority they should have first consideration in such a matter as this, and their decision should be final. In the second place, the law discriminates against the great mass of long-hour laborers, because their lighting and heating bills are increased. I know, because I live in a ten hour town.

Lillian R. Beardsley; New Britain, Connecticut

March 19, 1917

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

March 17, 1969: Golda Meir Becomes Israeli Prime Minister

As Israelis go to the polls today, they might not be aware that it was on this very day forty-six years ago that Golda Meir was elected prime minister. Back in 1956, Dan Wakefield, a young journalist whom Nation readers knew better for his reports on the civil-rights movement, traveled to Israel as the magazine’s correspondent. His article of August 4, 1956, was a profile of the then–foreign minister, known then as Golda Myerson.

Mrs. Golda Myerson is a tall, sturdy woman of fifty-eight whose appearance and speech bear little resemblance to the image that has been assigned her in the press since she replaced Moshe Sharett as Israel’s foreign minister in mid-June. The many reports and editorial analyses have made her either a shadow or a mirror of David Ben-Gurion, and promoted the impression that the shadow would follow or the mirror reflect a more “war-like” attitude on the part of the Prime Minister. The interpretations have left little room for Mrs. Myerson as a person or a diplomat—and her own approach to war and peace…. The new foreign minister of Israel is a woman with a proven ability at saying “no” to great-power governments. In the days when the British mandatory government had cut off large-scale Jewish immigration to Palestine, Golda Myerson was one of the foremost workers in conducting the illegal immigration of Jews, and in promoting active armed resistance against the mandate government. Her simple philosophy of the problem became the byword of Jewish action against the government: ‘We have no alternative.”

March 17, 1969

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

March 12, 2009: Bernard Madoff Pleads Guilty

It is hard to think of any writer living or dead more fit than Alexander Cockburn to comment on the Ponzi scheme for which Bernie Madoff admitted culpability in a guilty plea six years ago today. When the news broke in late 2008, Cockburn wrote:

We need the brush of Caravaggio to depict the awful scene where—at least on their lawyer’s account—the sons of Bernard Madoff confronted the errant paterfamilias, who informed his offspring that the cupboard was bare, the investors had been duped and all these years he’d been running “a giant Ponzi scheme.” But this time, reversing Caravaggio’s terrifying image, it was the old man who was bowed over the sacrificial rock and the sons with knives raised to dispatch their white-haired progenitor, turning him in to the FBI. Of course, there have been unkind souls eager to suggest that the three men had been working cheek by jowl for twenty years and that Bernie and his boys were in cahoots on the triage as an exercise in damage limitation. To such cynics I saw, “Pshaw!”

On the other hand, I lend a more receptive ear to those who say that at least some of Madoff Sr.’s clients were not so naive as to believe he had a virtuous investment model that permitted him to report 10-12 percent annual returns on capital invested, through boom and bust. They thought Madoff indeed had a secret model, but one coming in the distinctly unvirtuous form of insider information.

The most gullible marks are those who preen themselves as being privileged accomplishes in a profitable conspiracy where they have no personal exposure to legal sanctions. Madoff’s prosperous victims fatally miscalculated the dimension of the swindle. As instruction on how to get through life in one piece, Madoffgate is proof of the old rule: the more elegant the tailoring, the more handsomely silvered the distinguished locks, the more innocently rubicund the visage, the more likely the hand covertly fishing for one’s wallet.

March 12, 2009

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

March 5, 1871: Rosa Luxemburg Is Born

Rosa Luxemburg, founder of the Spartacus League, brutally murdered by proto-fascists in January 1919, was born on this day in 1871, just two weeks before the Paris Commune took hold. Two months after her death, in its new International Relations Section, basically an aggregation of press clippings and documents from overseas, The Nation published the full text of the Spartacist Manifesto: “Arise and face the struggle! Arise and act!” In 2011, Vivian Gornick reviewed a collection of Luxemburg’s letters, under the headline, “History and Heartbreak.”

When I was a child, Rosa Luxemburg’s name would sometimes be mentioned with awe in my slightly irreverent left-wing household. Who was she? I’d ask. A great socialist, I’d be told. She criticized Lenin. She was assassinated. For years I thought the Soviets had murdered her. In a sense, I wasn’t so far off. In 1931 Joseph Stalin had Luxemburg “excommunicated” from the canon of Marxist heroes. If she’d been living in his Russia she’d certainly have been eliminated. No revolutionary as independent-minded as she could fail, come the revolution, to be denounced as a counterrevolutionary….

There she was: a girl, a Jew, a cripple—possessed of an electrifying intelligence, a defensively arrogant tongue and an unaccountable passion for social justice, which, in her teens, led her to the illegal socialist organizations then abounding among university students in Warsaw. In the city’s radical underground, she opened her mouth to speak and found that thought and feeling came swiftly together through an eloquence that stirred those who agreed with her, and overwhelmed those who did not. The experience was exhilirating; more than exhilirating, it was clarifying; it centered her, told her who she was….

On January 15, 1919, the police came for her. She thought she was being returned to prison, and was actually relieved; the last two months had been a waking nightmare. She got into the car without a protest, was taken to army headquarters for purposes of identification, then returned to the car, where she was shot in the head.

March 5, 1871

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

March 4, 1933: Frances Perkins Becomes the First Woman in the US Cabinet

On this day in 1933, the day FDR was inaugurated as president, the Senate confirmed his appointment of Frances Perkins as secretary of labor, making her the first woman to become a member of the cabinet. The Nation’s Oswald Garrison Villard, editor until earlier that year, wrote in his column “Issues and Men” (to which title he cheekily added, for this occasion, “And a Woman—Frances Perkins”) that he, a longtime feminist, would be forever grateful to FDR for the appointment.

Really, the news that Frances Perkins is to be appointed to the Cabinet of the United States is one of the most inspiring and encouraging events of recent years. My mind is running far back as I write. I am thinking of the pioneers who first declared that woman was man’s equal in all respects and as such entitled not only to vote but to hold any office within the gift of the American people. How they were derided, how they were laughed at, how they were subjected to vile abuse, and even physical assault!….

I am particularly pleased that Frances Perkins…has kept her maiden name although happily married and the mother of a most promising daughter. In this hour of depression when the pernicious doctrine is being preached that married women should be debarred from employment by the local, State, and federal governments if there happens to be a husband or another male member of the family who is also working, it is wonderful, indeed, to have Franklin Roosevelt pick not only an extraordinarily able woman of proved ability in public office, but one whose husband is also a wage-earner. That ought to stop a great deal of the mischievous propaganda which could only work infinite harm if it should lead to the adoption of this proposal as a nation-wide policy. No State has the right to deny a woman a job, not even in times of unemployment, if she wants it, has earned it, and is capable of doing it well. Here we have another one of those real issues of personal liberty that ought never to be abridged by sex, or race, or color….

When I think of Frances Perkins’s point of view and attitude, her humanity, wisdom, and statesmanship, it seems to me that she will be an angel at the Cabinet in contrast with the sordidness and the inhumanity of her predecessors. I, for one, pledge myself here and now never to cease to be grateful to Franklin Roosevelt for this brave and just and wise action—no matter what fate may have in store for him and his Administration.

March 4, 1933

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

February 28, 1993: The Feds Raid the Branch Davidian Complex in Waco, Initiating a Long Siege

Federal agents, suspecting an obscure, cultish group called the Branch Davidians of illegally hoarding weapons in their compound in Waco, Texas, raided the complex on this day in 1993, triggering a gun battle that killed ten people. A long siege ensued, ending in a violent, military-style assault on the compound that killed seventy-six, including the group’s leader, David Koresh. A week before that final conflagration, Robert S. Fogarty, editor of The Antioch Review, wrote an article for The Nation titled “‘Cults,’ Guns and the Kingdom” (April 12, 1993), alleging that the showdown did not need to begin or end as violently as it did. Rather, Waco was the symptom of a disease that, as any glance at the morning headlines shows, plagues American still.

The historical record is replete with examples of millennial expectations, prophetic utterances and outlandish activities that have resulted in confrontations with authority and destructive behavior…. David Koresh thus has a lot of history to work with, and there is no telling which part of the tradition he will turn toward in the end. What does distinguish his standoff at Waco from other “retreat” communes is his reliance on weaponry to protect his vital interests (like the Mormons’) rather than on the courts, as the Shakers and the Oneida Community did. If the Branch Davidians (who seem to prefer to be called Koreshans) were rightfully called a sect [rather than a cult] we could then focus on the legal issues: They are defending their holy turf with guns, protecting their Messiah with an arsenal. They seem to have stockpiled their weapons as easily as they stockpiled feed for their animals. Lax Texas gun laws made all this possible, but the Koreshans are not just the product of some Texas tendency to shoot things out. Rather, they reflect our national preference for force over persuasion, our belief that bullets should be as free as words. If guns were more tightly controlled the confrontation at Waco might have been waged by a prophet forced to throw verses from Revelation against his detractors rather than the 8,000 rounds of ammunition and hundreds of automatic and semiautomatic weapons he has in readiness. Just think of all the pamphlets Koresh could have issued and the great debates the citizens of Waco could have had with him over texts and interpretations. Instead, we all sit and wait to see which side has the greatest firepower and who will get killed. It doesn’t take a prophet, a psychologist or a cult deprogrammer to see that a little gun control might have gone a long way toward preventing an apocalyptic confrontation.

February 28, 1993

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.