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The Butchertown Chronicles: Savage Peace by Ann Hagedorn

The Butchertown Chronicles: Savage Peace by Ann Hagedorn

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Published by Thomas Burchfield
A review of a fascinating, hair-raising history of the year 1919. If you think things are bad now, just take a look . . . .
A review of a fascinating, hair-raising history of the year 1919. If you think things are bad now, just take a look . . . .

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Published by: Thomas Burchfield on Mar 26, 2013
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03/26/2013

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 The Butchertown Chronicles: 
“ 
Savage P 
eace” by Ann Hagedorn
 For research into my next novel,
Butchertown
 , I recently read 
 by Ann Hagedorn.
It’s an often exciting and moving book about America
during theyear after World War I ended, when American troops returned toan even more turbulent country than the one they left barely twoyears before.In this book,
“Savage” hardly begins to describe
what happened.If you think things are bad now, take a trip through the year 1919.
You’ll need a stout heart for the journey.
 
Savage Peace
is part of the genre that relates the events of asingle year. ( 
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before
 
Columbus
is another example of this approach.) Judging fromthis, the first in this specialized genre
I’ve read,
this may not anoptimum approach.I found at least three or four great books jostling for attentionhere, all of them told passionately and compellingly. One is about 
Uncle Sam’s
war on dissent against his wars. World War I set theUnited States on the road to becoming the global power that it 
remains today. This “success” (I use the term
gingerly), alsoseemed to stoke native fear and paranoia to unprecedented and alarming ferocity.Once the war was over, the United States seemed to turn its war fever inward, like an auto-immune disease. With no more dirty Huns to fight, the country declared war on itself, especially itsmore foreign-seeming elements, political leftists and radicals,especially those who were immigrants, such as Emma Goldmanand a remarkable little spitfire named Mollie Steimer.Even stalwart liberal patriots such as poet Carl Sandburg found themselves behind bars.
The Bolshies weren’t just 
hiding under the bed 
— 
they had woven themselves into the mattress to set it afire. The government even set private organizations loose onthe populace.Unions, naturally, were also targeted. Wages were suppressed during the war years of 1914 to 1918, and neither unions nor workers had much appetite for thwarting the war effort withwage hikes and other demands. Once the war ended though, themanufacturers were content to go on paying crap wages for craphours. Massive strikes ensued, which were put down withsometimes murderous ferocity.To be sure, there were some reasons for alarm: Fire-bombing anarchists were in their heyday then and even autocrat Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer deserves a measure of sympathy after his house was bombed with him and his family inside. But thesecrimes were committed by tiny groups of gamy crackpots and 
 
dunderheads who did a better job of hoisting themselves on their own petards. They had no credible or reliable links to moreserious, high-profile radicals, all of whom were well-aware of thedamage that violence could do to their cause.
But, of course, that’s much too much nuance for the radicals on
the right, especially since many of them held, or were about tograb hold of, the levers of power, among them one J. Edgar Hoover. It 
’s
so much easier, so much simpler, to declare all your opponents enemies of the state and life and throw 
‘em
in thenearest pokey. Thinking things through is not a characteristic of the radical mind, no matter its compass bearings.When that mindset achieves power, the results can bedisastrous, as they were here: resources wasted, thousands of lives ruined and America
’s nervous
slump into an armed quasi- dictatorial camp that would have made Mussolini and Stalindance a two-step. The bloody Bolshie revolution that thegovernment and its many supporters swore again and again wasgoing to happen RIGHT NOW OR TOMORR 
OW WE’RE ALL GONNA
DIE! never happened . . . nope, not even close . . . though plenty of other bad things did.The second great book cramming 
Savage Peace
follows thecontinued rise of the civil rights movement. The movement had 
been on an upswing ever since the release of D.W. Griffith’s
racist classic film
“ 
The Birth of the Nation.
” 
During World War I,black troops served with great distinction, but only the French Army could be bothered to award them medals.When black soldiers returned home, though, they were not greeted as heroes, but as ominous threats to white privilege and supremacy. Practically any black soldier who dared to wear hisuniform in public risked a fiendish and horrific death at the handsof white mobs, crimes that were evil through and through. Thesadism of these assaults is mind-boggling and stomach churning.

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