Celebrating All Things Dieselpunk

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Diesel Era Spirit

According to a recent blog post by Danette Wilson, “The Celts, the Norse and the Slavs believed that there were three ‘spirit nights’ in the year when magic ran amok and the Otherworld was near”.  Spirits such as pixies, phookas, willow the wisps, Jenny Greenteeth and more would roam the earth looking to snare an unsuspecting victim. She goes on to mention that the Midsummer Eve, or Summer Solstice, was one of those spirit nights.

The end of the Diesel Era saw a wonderful re-imagining of one of these spirits in the movie Harvey.

Starring James Stewart, Josephine Hull and Peggy Dow, Harvey may be one of James Stewart’s best movies. IMDb gives the following summary of the plot:

Due to his insistence that he has an invisible six foot-tall rabbit for a best friend, a whimsical middle-aged man is thought by his family to be insane - but he may be wiser than anyone knows.

So on this Midsummer’s Eve celebrate our own mischievous spirit and bring home a copy of Harvey.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

America First … Again

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” - George Santayana

“Those of us who remember the past are condemned to watch others repeat it.” – Dieselpunk Axiom

Back in April, Donald Trump, the presumptive Presidential nominee for US Republican Party, made the following statement during a speech,
"My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people, and American security, above all else. That will be the foundation of every decision that I will make. America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration."
Donald Trump
Donald Trump’s use of the phrase ‘America First ‘ sent shock waves around the world. Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO with the Anti-Defamation League, issued a statement,
“... for many Americans, the term ‘America First’ will always be associated with and tainted by this history. In a political season that already has prompted a national conversation about civility and tolerance, choosing a call to action historically associated with incivility and intolerance seems ill-advised,"

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Reuters concerning Trump’s statement,

"I can only hope that the election campaign in the U.S.A. does not lack the perception of reality.”

What was it about a seemingly innocuous phase such as “America First” that rattled so many? To understand we need to go back to the Diesel Era.

America First was first coined by Woodrow Wilson as a label for his isolationist policy. In his policy, America would stay out of the Great War until Europe finally carried things “so far” and then the US would step in.

The legendary newspaper owner William Hearst was strongly pro-German and vehemently opposed America being involved in the Great War or even sending aid to the Allies. When America did enter the war he adopted Wilson's slogan for his newspaper and used it as part of a policy in which he advocated that while fighting Germany, America should still not give aid to the Allied countries.

William Hearst
In the 1932 election the question wasn't whether Herbert Hoover would be elected. Even though Hoover was running for reelection the Great Depression had destroyed any hopes of winning. As a result, it was known that whoever won the Democratic Party nomination would automatically be president.

Hearst hated FDR and through his support behind Congressman John Nance Garner from Texas. In his support for Garner, Hearst said that he preferred “a man … whose guiding motto is ‘America First,’”.

Hearst then set about reinventing Garner with a mythological log-cabin birth along with the characteristics that Hearst thought would help him win. Garner was not only a strong free-trader he also shared Hearst paranoia that the greatest danger to America was its “increasing tendency toward socialism and communism.”

Hearst’s paranoia about socialism and communism isn’t as disturbing as his admiration for Adolf Hitler. By 1932, Hearst was publishing articles written by Hitler. Hearst praised Hitler, saying in his paper that he saved Germany from “the beckoning arms of Bolshevism.” Hearst also liked Hitler’s emphasis on nationalism meaning that he put Germany first by attacking, literally, those on the Left. Something that Hearst wanted to see happen in the US as well.

Hearst could not stop the Roosevelt steamroller at the Democratic convention in 1932. However, he did have sufficient pull to be able to ensure that FDR chose Garner as his running mate. With Garner as FDRs running mate Hearst and the president-elect buried the hatchet. FDR eventually replaced Garner with Henry A. Wallace as his VP in his 1940 reelection .

However, peace between Hearst and FDR didn’t last long. By the end of 1933 Hearst was describing the New Deal as “more communistic than the communists” and as being, “un-American to the core.”

During the 1930s, Hearst paper with “AMERICA FIRST” on its masthead with a stylized eagle clutching a ribbon reading, “AN AMERICAN PAPER FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE,” praised and promoted Nazism. Hearst, through his paper, said that fascism was a “great achievement”. His paranoia grew every year. Communists, according the Hearst, could be found from the FDR administration to college professors to unions.

Hearst paranoia translated, like it so often does, into violence. When mobs attacked the homes of strikers in San Francisco in July of 1934 Hearst’s New York Times reported, “Thank God the patriotic citizens of California have shown us the way.”

Representatives with the Trump campaign have denied that there’s any connection between his use of the phrase.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Black City Saint by Richard A. Knaak

New dieselpunk fiction. Black City Saint by Richard A. Knaak.

According to Amazon.com,

“For more than sixteen hundred years, Nick Medea has followed and guarded the Gate that keeps the mortal realm and that of Feirie separate, seeking in vain absolution for the fatal errors he made when he slew the dragon. All that while, he has tried and failed to keep the woman he loves from dying over and over.

Yet in the fifty years since the Night the Dragon Breathed over the city of Chicago, the Gate has not only remained fixed, but open to the trespasses of the Wyld, the darkest of the Feiriefolk. Not only does that mean an evil resurrected from Nick’s own past, but the reincarnation of his lost Cleolinda, a reincarnation destined once more to die.

Nick must turn inward to that which he distrusts the most: the Dragon, the beast he slew when he was still only Saint George. He must turn to the monster residing in him, now a part of him...but ever seeking escape.

The gang war brewing between Prohibition bootleggers may be the least of his concerns. If Nick cannot prevent an old evil from opening the way between realms...then not only might Chicago face a fate worse than the Great Fire, but so will the rest of the mortal realm.”

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cirque du Soleil: Paramour

(Do to circumstances beyond my control, this will be an abbreviated blog post. I plan to return to my regular postings next time.- Larry)

Cirque du Soleil has gone dieselpunk with its new production on Broadway: Paramour.

According to the official Cirque du Soleil web site:

Cirque du Soleil has dazzled audiences the world over, and now it’s finally coming to Broadway with its boldest, most heart-soaring spectacle ever. PARAMOUR spins the thrilling tale of a beautiful young actress forced to choose between love and art in the glamorous world of Golden Age Hollywood. Featuring eye-popping acrobatics and sumptuous music and dance, PARAMOUR is a groundbreaking new event that will transport you to a sublime world of emotion and awe as it walks the exhilarating tightrope of the heart.

To learn more about this play, visit broadway.com.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Dirty Thirties In the News

I’ve always been a Dirty Thirties kind of Dieselpunk. The 1930s saw the horrors of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, the rise of Fascism and the start of World War 2. Yet, it also saw the eternal optimism of the human spirit with the New Deal, world changing inventions (such as the jet engine and FM radio) and the Golden Age of Radio and Motion Pictures.

Recently there have been a rash of online items related to the Dirty Thirties. All three article linked here relates to dieselpunk in they all tie that era in with today.

The Battle Hymn of The Great Depression’ by Rosa Inocencia Smith (The Atlantic)

This article explains the title to John Steinbeck's novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and shows how this classic of American fiction ties into today’s US Presidential election.

The Case for a New WPA’ by Alana Semuels (The Atlantic)

This commentary explores the Works Projects Administration of the New Deal and the writer makes a compelling argument for a similar national program for the 21st century.

The World-Wide Elimination of Polio (Popular Science)

Polio was one of the great scourges of the Diesel Era. The disease’s most famous victim being President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This article in Popular Science explores the exciting advances in the fight against polio and how the dramatic drop in the number of cases indicate a high likelihood of its world-wide eradication by the end of 2016.  

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Dr. Seuss Goes to War

When most people think of Dr. Seuss they think of children’s books such as The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. What most don’t know was that he was also a very active political cartoonist.

However, from 1940 to 1948 Dr. Seuss (whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel) penned over 400 editorial cartoons for the New York newspaper the PM.

The University of California at San Diego has a massive collection of his political cartoons from that time available to be viewed online.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Brussels: Nation at the Crossroads of Conflict

Early in the morning of March 22, 2016 terrorists exploded bombs in Brussels, Belgium. The bombings were the deadliest act of terrorism in Belgium's history. At least 34 people were killed with hundreds injured.

This wasn’t the first time Belgium was the target of international violence. Belgium was at the crossroads of violence during the two great conflicts of the Diesel Era.

World War One
During the early days of the Great War, Germany invaded neutral Belgium. Known as the Schlieffen Plan, the invasion was meant to allow the German forces to circumvent the French defenses with the goal of quickly capturing Paris. Due to an 1839 agreement to protect Belgium this caused the British to join into the conflict.

Belgium army in World War One
The German invasion sent waves of Belgium refugees into Netherlands, France and England. To stop the outgoing flow of refugees, in 1915 the German authorities built an electric fence (known as the Wire of Death) along the Belgian-Dutch border. It’s estimated that between 2,000 to 3,000 Belgian refugees died trying leave the country.

The world was shocked by the atrocities committed by the German authorities in Belgium. Known as the Rape of Belgium, it’s been confirmed that the German army executed as many as 6,500 French and Belgian civilians in 1914 claiming that they were responding to guerrilla attacks. Often these were random large-scale shootings directed by junior German officers. However, the German Army recorded 101 ‘major’ incidents in which 10 or more civilians, totaling to 4,421 deaths, were executed at a time. They recorded that 1,100 Belgians were killed in 383 ‘minor’ incidents.
Painting by George Bellow depicting German atrocities in Belgium
World War Two
World War One devastated Belgium. As a result, the small nation announced what it called the ‘Independent Policy’ in which it would remain neutral in the event of another European war. It even signed a treaty with Nazi Germany in 1937 in which it was promised that its borders would not be violated.

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1975-021-20 / Pincornelly / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,
On May 10, 1940, German broke its agreement and invaded Belgium. Under the code name Case Yellow, Germany used Belgium as a shortcut into France much as it had in World War One. The German forces quickly overwhelmed the Belgium army. Belgium fell in just 18 days.

As in World War One, conditions in Belgium during the German occupation were harsh to say the least. Food and fuel were tightly rationed. Belgian civilians living near possible targets such as railway junctions were in danger of Allied aerial bombing. Civil rights were non-existent. Not only were they oppressed by the Germans but there were collaborators from Belgian Fascist parties in Flanders and Wallonia. Several of them recruited for the SS and the German army.

However, in 1942, the occupation reached a new level of horror not seen during the Great War. That year the Germans began to systematically persecute Jews and deport them to concentration camps. They also deported non-Jewish Belgium civilians to work in factories in Germany. Starting in 1944, the SS and Nazi Party gained much greater control in Belgium, which placed greater and greater hardships.

Belgium people have shown to be resilient in the face of adversity. In the aftermath of the two wars they recovered to become world leaders. They were founders of the European Union. Quality of life is quite high in Belgium as shown by it being categorized as ‘very high’ on the Human Development Index, which is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income per capita indicators.

Just as the Belgium people survived and recovered to be stronger from the devastation of the two world wars, they will rebound from the recent terrorist attacks to continue as one of the great countries of the world.