Andrew Pregnall: We choose to go to the moon

For this Thursday’s class, I was responsible for reading/watching JFK’s 1962 “We choose to go to the moon” address at Rice University. Throughout the course of his speech, I noticed three interesting rhetorical techniques that I will explore throughout the course of this blog.

At the outset of the speech, I was immediately struck by Kennedy’s juxtaposition of dualities. He describes “an hour of change and challenge” and a “decade of hope and fear” and “an age of both knowledge and ignorance.” It is evident that Kennedy’s juxtapositions are framing the United States against the USSR, with the United States being associated with the positively connotated words, change, hope, and knowledge, while the USSR is being associated with the negatively connotated words, challenge, fear, and ignorance. I find this technique striking because it simultaneously sets up an “us versus them” mentality while simultaneously promoting a sense of American patriotism that Kennedy can then funnel towards excitement and approval of the mission to the moon.

After his juxtaposition of dualities, Kennedy moves into a narrative about the technological history of mankind. Probably to the chagrin of many a historian of technology, Kennedy frames this history as one of accelerating upward progress. Rhetorically, this is, again, a brilliant technique because it sets up the mission to the moon as just another step in mankind’s destiny of reaching some form of enlightenment. Since JKF is delivering this address to a primarily American audience, this history naturally carries the connotation that Americans should be the ones to reach this next stage of enlightenment. In fact, Kennedy expressly notes that if American wants to lead the world, it needs to reach the moon.

Finally, the last rhetorical technique I noticed was Kennedy’s comparison of the space race to a sailing across the sea. I found this to be clever because it conjured images of past explorers like Columbus who Americans, by and large, view as heroic individuals, and thus carried the promise that our mission to the moon would cement American names alongside the names of those early explorers. It framed our mission as a noble one ultimately made it one the public was willing to support. Overall, this speech exemplified a number of the many reasons JFK is considered to be one of the best public speakers in American history.

Word Count: 386

Speech text from:

Andrew Pregnall: The Cold War and the Space Race

For this Tuesday’s class, I was responsible for presenting the class with a brief, three minute or less, history of the Cold War to put the space race into context. Before class, I thought it was important to contextualize the space rate within the history of nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation. At the end of World War II, the United States dropped Little Boy and Fat Man on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and some historians argue that this constituted the start of the Cold War. Just a few years later, in 1949-1950, the USSR tested their own, more powerful, nuclear weapons, and that time period essentially set off the arms race to see who could build the most weapons and the most powerful weapons.

Image result for cold war timeline
The infographic I used to summarize the Cold War in class. Source:

At this point, it is appropriate to address the fundamental reason why the US and the USSR felt they needed to have nuclear armaments. To state it succinctly, the US felt the USSR’s promotion of communism led to a dangerous world. As a result, they took many steps to prevent the spread of communism in the world, and kept nuclear weapons in case full-fledged war with the USSR broke out. In a similar vein, the USSR felt the US was a dangerous to their country and the ideas it promoted around the world, so they kept nuclear weapons in case war broke out. Both countries having weapons led to the phenomenon or philosophy of “mutually assured destruction.”

In the period from 1947 to 1957, the US and USSR also engaged in a few proxy wars, including the Greek Civil War and the Korean War, in which they backed their respective ideologies by supporting a particular side in the war. These wars were known as ‘proxy wars’ because the US and the USSR were not ‘directly’ involved in the conflict; however, these wars certainly ratcheted up the tensions between the two countries. Then, in 1957, the USSR launched Sputnik 1 into space.

Now, in high school, I was taught the standard narrative that many people in the United States feared the launch of Sputnik because it was unexpected and many believed it could be used as a nuclear weapon delivery device, or at the very minimum it demonstrated that the USSR had the capability to deliver a long range nuclear device to the states. As we discussed in class, however, not all US scientists and government officials shared this sentiment about Sputnik, for its launch was planned and publicized in advance and represented a great leap forward in the technical capabilities of humanity. Although I had never learned this alternative story of the launching of Sputnik I, it does not surprise me. U.S. history in high school tends to, in my opinion, present a very simplified narrative of history that does more to paint our country in a good light than it does to truly teach students about the past and how to think critically about it. Ultimately, I found this alternative narrative very interesting because I had simply never heard about it before and because it demonstrates how where you are born colors what history you learn and how you learn about it.

Word Count:  540


Andrew Pregnall: Historiography

For this Tuesday’s class, I examined the historiographical approach known as either “history from below” or “people’s history.” Initially, I did not know that people’s history was its own historiographical approach because I always thought this style of historiography fell under a socialist/Marxist lens. I most likely thought this because a people’s history approach seems, to me, to fall neatly under the bourgeoisie vs. proletariat narrative embedded in Marxist histories – just with a heavy emphasis on the role of the proletariat. Conversely, “history from above” or “great man’s history” – another historiographical approach I found – would fall under that same Marxist lens but with a heavy focus on the bourgeoisie.

Anyhow, when I realized that “history from below” was considered its own historiographical approach, I wanted to write about a quintessential example of history from below – A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. I’ve been reading Zinn’s book in small chunks for a bit now, and I’ve found it to be a very refreshing approach to U.S. history for two distinct reasons. The first reason is Zinn’s historiographical approach. I remember that even though world history and US history in high school focused so much on the accomplishments of great men – which were and are important to be sure – my favorite parts of the class were always the little snippets of insight we would gain into everyday people’s lives. Major events effect everyone in their own unique way, and I immensely enjoy trying to piece together those individual narratives into a compelling and relevant analysis/story of the past. Thus, to have an entire book dedicated to this approach and present an alternative view of what I learned in high school is very refreshing, enjoyable, and rewarding.

In addition, I found Zinn’s approach to US history to be very refreshing because he is so candid about what his approach to history and the biases it introduces. I think this sentence in the introduction to Zinn’s book perfectly sums up this type of candidness:

The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex

Zinn then continues to talk about how his historiographical approach focuses on the conquered, slaves, workers, and dominated for another page and a half and concludes “That, being as blunt as I can, is my approach to the history of the United States. The reader may as well know that before going on.”

I find this openness about one’s approach/biases to be so powerful because it equips the reader with the knowledge and ability to be deeply critical about the strengths and flaws of the text.

Finally, to give one example of how this historiographical approach affects how Zinn writes about history, I would like to talk about something timely and relevant to this week. Zinn’s opening chapter discusses the rich Native culture that existed in the United States until Christopher Columbus arrived in the “New World.” In standard histories taught in US middle and high schools, the story of Christopher Columbus is one of noble discovery for God, gold, and glory. In Zinn’s text, however, the story of systemic pillaging, raping, and murdering of indigenous peoples and their land is told through the eyes of those natives, and through the personal diaries of the conquerors who were fully aware of what they were doing. Ultimately, I believe it is important that we tell all of these stories and contextualize them in the light of their counterparts because that enables us to have a more productive dialogue about issues we’re facing today such as celebrating Columbus Day vs Indigenous People’s Day.

Andrew Pregnall: Reflections on “The Sad Irons”

For this Thursday’s class I read “The Sad Irons” which is an excerpt from Robert A Caro’s book The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power. “The Sad Irons” was an interesting chapter to read because it did not necessarily contain an overt argument about the electrification of rural America. Instead, the chapter traced the implementation and effects of electricity in Hill Country – part of Lyndon Johnson’s congressional district – which was notably ‘behind the times’ when it came to the implementation of electricity. For instance, farmer’s in Hill Country, unlike their more contemporary counterparts, could not use an electric cow milkers, refrigerators, electric water pumps, or electric stoves because of their lack of electricity.

Caro argued that the lack of electric utilities on farms did not just affect the “quality of life” of these farmers, but it fundamentally affected how they were able to do farm work and compete in their market. To explain, farmers who did not have access to milkers had to wake up at o-dark thirty to milk all of their cows which was an hours long process. They did so in pitch black because kerosene lamps ran the risk of burning down their barns and because they needed every hour of daylight to work the fields. Once milking was done, farmers needed to keep their milk on ice so that they could sell it to the dairy or at market. However, ice was expensive and difficult to maintain, and it was often ineffective at keeping the milk cold enough to be able to sell it at market or to the dairy. This was just one example of how farmers lacking electricity had to do more labor and had less ability to complete against their electricity-having counterparts.

Throughout the chapter, Caro traces many similar narratives about ways in which the lack of electricity affected the ability of farmers and other Hill Country folk to ‘live a full life.’ He discusses the wash (which we discussed in our unit about women and technology!), ironing, reading, and other forms of entertainment. Given the quality of life narrative present in this chapter and the other readings discussed in class, I find the conventional narrative around the REA to be unsurprising. Like Dr Hirsh said, it is a great story to tell – especially if one is in government and is trying to implement other programs / policies around the country – because one can say “look how much your lives improved!”


Andrew Pregnall: Reflections on Latin American Coups

For this Tuesday’s class, I read about U.S. involvement in Latin American political coups during the Cold War since I felt like there was an interesting juxtaposition between US and Latin American narratives surrounding the events. To explain, when I was in high school I remember these political coups being taught in one of three ways:

  1. Not mentioning the coups at all
  2. Mentioning the coups happened, but glazing over that the United States was involved in them
  3. Teaching that the coup happened and that there was US involvement in the coup, and presenting a narrative that US involvement was necessary and justified (to prevent the spread of communism, to protect US economic interests, to protect world peace, etc)

Outside of class, however, I remember reading commentary (mostly on social media websites) from Latinx people that explained why many Latin American countries have a very different view of the US military and intelligence systems (particularly the Marines and the CIA) because of their involvement in the overthrow of democratically elected (communist) governments. I read that often times authoritarian right-wing dictators were installed in place of these communist government, and, as a result, many Latin American peoples suffered human rights violations during this period (which the United States would ironically go on to critique).

Seeing as I read these perspectives in high school, I first wanted to find out all of the times/places that the United States was involved in a political coup in Latin American during the Cold War. Here is what I found:

  1. Guatemala (1954) – Operation PBSUCCESS
  2. Cuba (1961) – Bay of Pigs (Failed)
  3. Cuba (1960) — Operation MONGOOSE (Failed)
  4. Dominican Republic (1965)
  5. Chile (1973) – Project FUBELT
  6. Nicaragua (1982-1989) – Part of the Iran-Contra scandal
  7. Grenada (1983) – Operation Urgent Fury (Success)
  8. Panama (1989) – Operation Just Cause

Upon researching these individuals instances a little more closely, I did find some truth to the narratives I had been reading during high school. For instance, after the United States help overthrow Allende – the democratically elected president of Chile – a military dictatorship was installed with Augosto Pinochet at the helm. During his reign, 3000 Chilean political dissidents either disappeared or were killed and over 200,000 Chileans went into exile (BBC). Additionally, I found that many nations within the international community were not silent about the US involvement in these coups. For instance, after operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling US actions in Grenada a “flagrant violation of international law.” (Wikipedia)

Finally, in a brief search for more academic publications on US involvement in the Cold War I found two journal articles that seemed to focus on analyzing when the United States got involved in Latin American politics (in reference to coups). One article by Jorge I Dominguez argued that the United States only got militarily involved in Latin American when it felt ideologically threatened by communism; however, Dominguez concluded that these interventions did not constitute a drastic departure from previous US policy on the continent and thus did not have a major impact on long term relations. Although this was by no mean an extensive review of literature on the subject, I found it interesting that the top papers I found via search algorithms shared a similar narrative to what I was told in high school.

Word Count: 580

Bulmer-Thomas, Victor, and James Dunkerley, eds. “The United States and Latin America: The New Agenda.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.