BackStory

The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

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Over There

April marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’s entry into World War I. So on this episode of BackStory, Brian, Joanne, and Ed discuss how this oft-forgotten war set the stage for the American century.

We’ll explore how Woodrow Wilson led a decidedly isolationist country into war. We’ll also discuss the repressive ways Wilson and his administration cracked down on anti-war sentiment.

The Great War

World War I was sometimes called “the war to end all wars.” But a hundred years after the fighting began, it’s become a war that’s often forgotten in American history, or viewed as a prelude to WWII. In this episode, we explore some of the ways the conflict affected Americans far beyond the battlefields of Europe — from debates about the meaning of free speech, to the fight over how the war would be remembered.

 

Rules of Engagement

This past week, a federal judge handed down lengthy prison terms to four former Blackwater security guards in the massacre of 14 unarmed men, women and children in Iraq in 2007 — a terrible reminder that not all is fair in war. Pope Francis meanwhile made headlines for labeling as “genocide” the mass killing of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey during World War I. And in recent years, America’s targeted drone strikes against terror suspects has raised questions about what is and isn’t an appropriate means of waging war.

So what are the “rules of war,” and who gets to decide them? In this episode, Brian, Ed and Peter look at how past generations have answered those questions. They explore the role the Civil War played in defining modern warfare, and, earlier, the violent battle tactics of European colonizers versus American Indian ways of war. And with the Syrian government facing accusations that it used toxic chemicals in a bombing raid on its own citizens, the Guys consider what made the use of chemical weapons taboo in the first place.

 

Mission Accomplished

At the end of May, President Barack Obama told the graduating class at West Point that “we are winding down our war in Afghanistan,” having committed to withdraw most US troops by the end of the year, and all of them by 2016. Ending the United States’ longest war has been a lengthy and gradual process, but have American wars typically had neat or definitive endings?

In this episode, BackStory casts its gaze over prominent conflicts of the last three centuries, and explores what it takes to end a war — both in legal terms, and in the popular imagination. From military and diplomatic maneuvers, to courtroom battles and ongoing cultural conflict, the Guys and their guests explore whether wars ever really end.

Coming Home

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created thousands of new combat veterans. But what is it like for these soldiers once they return home? How were veterans of America’s earlier wars treated, and what kinds of challenges did they face? Are veterans only as popular as the wars they’ve fought in?

As Veterans Day approaches, we’re taking a look at the experiences of veterans throughout American history. On this episode, we’ll explore how the psychological impact of war was understood before PTSD was a diagnosis, take a look at the evolution of expectations for veterans’ wives and mothers, and probe the symbolic place of Confederate veterans after the Civil War.

The War to End All Wars

On November 11, 1918, Germany formally surrendered to the Allied Powers, about 19 months after the United States entered the conflict. On this episode, Brian and Nathan reflect on how, 100 years later, “the war to end all wars” is still with Americans.

Women at Work

This time on BackStory, we look at women in the workforce, from 19th century domestic workers, to the Rosies of World War II, to the labs of Silicon Valley — where programming a computer was once very much a woman’s job. Find out how sexual harassment claims came into being, and why “protective” labor laws regarding women often amounted to discriminatory exclusion from certain jobs.

This episode and related resources are funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this {article, book, exhibition, film, program, database, report, Web resource}, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Contagion [2016]

As the Zika virus spreads across the Americas, it’s worth looking at how the U.S. has responded to past epidemics. In this episode of BackStory, the Guys consider the impact of smallpox on New York City’s 19th century immigrant communities, and explore the rampant spread of diseases in the wake of the Civil War and the first World War.

 

 

 

Apocalypse Now & Then

December 21st, 2012 marks the end of the “Mayan Long Count” calendar, and has triggered another round of prophesies about the end of the world. So we figured we’d spend this particular period of end-times looking back on all the good times we had… worrying about end-times.

On this episode: moments when we thought the game was about to be all over. From Indian prophets to bunker builders, the History Guys try to figure out why apocalyptic visions gain traction when they do, and ask what they tell us about American hopes and fears through the centuries.

The Future Then [2016]

It’s 2016. So, where are our jetpacks? Our hovering skateboards? Where are our colonies on Mars? And what about the totalitarian dystopia?

For as long as anyone can remember, Americans have pondered the possible futurefrom the flying cars and 3-hour workdays of The Jetsons to World War III and nuclear holocaust. And sometimes, we’ve made those dreams come true—or at least, we’ve tried. On this episode of BackStory, Brian, Ed and Peter kick off the new year by asking what past visions of the future can tell us about the times that conjured them.

BackStory