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The World In One Zip Code

A tour in portraits of Washington D.C.’s exceptionally diverse Columbia Pike neighborhood, Living Diversity: The Columbia Pike Documentary Project features the work of five inspired photographers. Lead photographer Lloyd Wolf appeared on NPR’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, and in addition to posting the entire interview on their site ( listen to it here), they have created a stunning photo gallery. The Living Diversity web site is now online.

Posted in Art and Architecture, Literary and Cultural Studies, Press News, Virginiana

LISTEN: “No Sunday School Picnic”

LBJ_MLK_GF In the summer of 1965, exactly fifty years ago, President Johnson made the decision to “Americanize” the Vietnam War. This meant escalating dramatically the number of US troops in Vietnam and, after playing a comparatively peripheral role, assuming the burden of defending the south against the communist forces of the north. The southeast Asian country was about to gain a profoundly new significance for the American people. In the new essay-length ebook The War Bells Have Rung: The LBJ Tapes and the Americanization of the Vietnam War, George C. Herring explores this turning point in our history through a remarkable resource—LBJ’s privately taped conversations.

The tapes show how the president had grave doubts about eventual success in Vietnam. And yet, he felt he had to agree to General Westmoreland’s request for more troops. He cited America’s years-long commitment to southeast Asia and, displaying more than a little Cold War hubris, felt he could not abandon it. A peaceful exit through diplomacy seemed unrealistic; as long as Hanoi felt it had the upper hand, LBJ reasoned, why would they engage in peace talks that would only “get them to give up something they’re going to win”? He even compared their position to his own when he beat Barry Goldwater in a landslide election: “They’re arrogant as hell and I don’t blame them. I defeated Goldwater by 15 million [votes]. Now why would I want to give Goldwater half of my Cabinet?”

On July 7, Johnson spoke with Martin Luther King Jr. You may read a transcript and listen to the entire conversation here. Their main business was the voting rights bill, but the conversation eventually turned to controversial remarks King had made about Vietnam.

MLK: Now, there was one other point that I wanted to mention to you because it has, again, concerned me a great deal. In the last few days, in fact, last week I made a speech in [Petersburg]Virginia, where I made a statement concerning the Vietnam situation. And there have been a number of . . . press statements about it . . . I know the terrible burden and awesome responsibilities and decisions that you have to make are just very complicated. So I didn’t want to add to the burdens because I know they’re very difficult.

LBJ: Well, you’re very . . . helpful, and I appreciate it. I did see it. I was distressed. I do want to talk to you. I’d welcome a chance to review with you my problems and our alternatives there. And I not only know you have a right, I think you have a duty as a minister and as a leader of millions of people to give them a sense of purpose and direction. . . . I’ve lost about 264 lives up to now.

MLK: Yeah.

LBJ: And I could lose 265,000 mighty easy, and I’m trying to keep those zeros down and, at the same time, not trigger a conflagration that would be worse if we pulled out. I can’t stay there and do nothing.

After explaining to a patient King why he cannot “tuck tail and run,” the president goes onto invoke that trademark of Cold War logic, the domino theory.

LBJ: If I pulled out, I think that our commitments would be no good anywhere. I think it would immediately trigger a situation in Thailand that would be just as bad as it is in Vietnam. I think we’d be right back to the Philippines with problems. I think we’d . . . the Germans would be scared to death that our commitment to them was no good. And God knows what we’d have other places in the world.

Johnson remained an ambivalent hawk, however, wary of the Joint Chiefs’ military demands. He also needed to maintain the support of a Congress that he had to work with—above all to pass the Great Society legislation he hoped would be his chief legacy. Ten days after speaking with MLK, Johnson was on the phone with House minority leader  Gerald Ford, who supported more bombing of North Vietnam but balked at the idea of more troops on the ground. This July 17 phone call— which you may read and listen to here—is a master class in controlling a conversation. Whereas LBJ’s tone with Reverend King was very calm and sober, almost to the point of solemnity, with Ford he engages in a colorful performance, raising his voice, telling jokes, flattering. He insists the newly added troops cannot be sitting ducks and must be allowed to engage if they come under threat—a position that few would argue with but somewhat beside the point. He also manages to satisfy Ford when pressed for details on Congress’s role in approving any further military actions, although his answer is noncommittal. Ford is, as Herring puts it, “artfully worked over.” By the end of their talk, LBJ has Ford promising his cooperation.

Ford: [A]s far as I’m concerned, I will in the future, as I’ve done in the past, you know, I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder.

LBJ: I know that and I’m proud of you and your country’s proud of you. And the only thing I regret is that you’re going to pick up some Republican seats as a result of that kind of forward-looking policy. And I won’t be happy with that unless they’re like you. And if they’re like you, I won’t object.

There is a bitter layer of irony here, of course: as Herring points out, Ford would be president a decade later when the US endured the “inglorious end to the Vietnam War.”

The War Bells Have Rung, a specially priced essay-length ebook including links to audio files of LBJ’s private tapes, is available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other ebook retailers. George Herring has contributed a piece on LBJ and Vietnam to Salon— read it here.

Posted in History and Political Science, Main, Rotunda

LISTEN: The Next Step Up the Ladder

LBJ-for-blog-post July 28 marks an anniversary that is not well known but which looms large in American history. On that day in 1965, Lyndon Johnson appeared on television to deliver his famous “Why We Are in Vietnam” speech, as he announced to the American public that he would be committing more American troops to that war-torn region. This massive escalation—General Westmoreland requested 150,000 additional troops—represents the “Americanization” of the war and is seen by most historians as the turning point in America’s involvement in a country that would help define, tragically, an entire era.

To coincide with the 50th anniversary of these events, we are presenting a special essay by George Herring, one of the great chroniclers of the Vietnam War. Published in a special ebook-only format, The War Bells Have Rung: The LBJ Tapes and the Americanization of the Vietnam War reveals that LBJ, like many of his eventual critics, saw the war as a doomed enterprise. And yet, he felt he had no choice but to pursue it. Using recordings of the president’s private phone calls from that fateful summer, Herring shares the fascinating behind-the-scenes drama of LBJ’s decision.

On June 8, only three days after Westmoreland’s request for more troops, LBJ was attempting to take a nap. The reader won’t be shocked to hear that LBJ failed to succeed. And so he turned to something he knew so well—working the phones. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield had recently urged the president to find a diplomatic solution to the situation in Vietnam; Johnson called him now to discuss the troop escalation that they both knew would mean no such thing. This compelling conversation, like most of Johnson’s important conversations as president, was recorded and may be listened to here. Here is part of the transcript:

President Johnson: . . . I haven’t talked to a human. I’m over here in bed. I just tried to take a nap, get going on my second day and I couldn’t. I just decided I’d call you.

But I think I’ll say to the Congress that General [Dwight] Eisenhower thought we ought to go in here and do here what we, in effect, did in Greece and Turkey, and so forth. And the Congress thought that we ought to have the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, and we passed it, 82–1.  And President [John F.] Kennedy thought we ought to do this and he sent these people in here. And I have thought that we ought to stay there. But all of my military people tell me, and my economic people, that we cannot do this to the extent of the commitment we have now. It’s got to be materially increased and the outcome is not really predictable at the moment. I don’t think I’d use that language, but I would say something, that unless we have further augmentation, we cannot be secure. Our 75,000 men are going to be in great danger unless they have 75,000 more. My judgment is—and I’m no military man at all, but I study it every day and every night, and I read the cables. I look back over what’s happened in the last two years, or the last four, really, and if they get 150[000], they’ll have to have another 150[000], and then they’ll have to have another 150[000]. So the big question then is: What does the Congress want to do about it, under these circumstances? I get . . . I know that—I know what the military wants to do. I really know what I think Rusk and McNamara want to do, and Bundy. But I’m not sure—and I think I know what the country wants to do now—but I’m not sure that they’ll want to do that six months from now.

Mansfield: Right.

President Johnson: And I want you to give me your best thinking on it and see how we ought to handle it. If we handle it at all, what we ought to do. [Mansfield acknowledges.] If you—

Mansfield: Since our last conversation I’ve been doing some thinking.

President Johnson: Yeah.

Mansfield: And doing some writing, and I’m just . . .  Next time I see you, I’ll give it to you or send it down to you.

President Johnson: All right.

Mansfield: I’m afraid I’m just as worried as you are [unclear].

As Herring notes, LBJ “was brutally realistic in perceiving that escalation could acquire a momentum of its own, one request from the military likely leading to another—and then another.” Nonetheless, once he had made his decision to take the plunge and give the military what it requested, he would have to sell the idea to the American people. It is interesting to see Johnson mention Eisenhower’s and Kennedy’s involvement in Vietnam in this conversation, as he would invoke both of them in his eventual television speech.

When LBJ asked his Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara if the request for more troops was “just the next step. . . . up the ladder,” McNamara responded in the affirmative. History would prove him right.

The War Bells Have Rung, a specially priced essay-length ebook including links to audio files of LBJ’s private tapes, will be published on July 28. Available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other ebook retailers.

Posted in History and Political Science, Main, Rotunda

An Epochal Peace

rkr The new agreement with Iran over its nuclear program hews closely to R.K. Ramazani‘s recommendation in the afterword of his 2013 book Independence Without Freedom: Iran’s Foreign Policy. According to the new deal, Iran will be able to maintain its program but for peaceful uses only. Ramazani, widely considered the dean of Iranian foreign policy study, urged the U.S. to recognize Iran’s own ambivalence about nuclear weapons while allowing some freedom in civilian uses of a nuclear program.

He writes: “I hope that the foregoing analysis will aid a better American understanding not only of the fundamental driving forces and instruments of Iran’s foreign policy in general but also of Iran’s nuclear policy in particular. The United States claims that Iran intends to make nuclear bombs, while Iran insists that it opposes making and stockpiling nuclear weapons because it is ‘sinful’ (haram) in Islam and that it has “the right to enrich uranium” for peaceful purposes as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

“In approaching Iran’s real nuclear intention, I situate it in the wider context of Iran’s diplomatic culture, which reveals that since the Iranian Revolution the opposition of the West in general and the United States in particular to Iran’s nuclear development has created in the psyche of the Iranian people a need to defend their nation’s ‘inalienable right’ (haq-e Mosallam) to enrich uranium for civilian uses, such as electricity.  This sense strikes deep roots in the Iranian ancient loyalty to national identity, the goal of political independence, and the quest for regional primacy, not dominance.

“I believe that had the P5+1 nations—the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, and German—understood Iran’s nuclear intention in these terms, no such unrealistic goal of halting Iran’s enrichment would have been set.  Short of stopping enrichment, Iran would be prepared to accept limits on its enrichment level, perhaps even to the extent of forgoing breakout capability. It all depends, of course, on what Iran will get in return.  To set the limits is the key challenge that Iran and its negotiating partners face today, and the failure to meet it through patient and persistent diplomacy could result in a catastrophic regional war with far-reaching consequences for the global economy and international politics.”

Posted in History and Political Science, Press News

Rotunda Adds Adams and Madison Content

Three volumes from the Adams Papers and Papers of James Madison projects are the source for nearly 1,200 new documents in Rotunda’s American Founding Era collection.

Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 10, January 1794–June 1795, 305 documents
This volume includes many letters between John and Abigail never before printed. During this period John Adams is in Pennsylvania serving as the vice president, while Abigail remains on the farm in Quincy, Massachusetts. Their son John Quincy Adams is appointed U.S. minister resident at The Hague, and brother Thomas Boylston accompanies him to serve as his secretary.

Papers of John Adams, Volume 16, February 1784–March 1785, 355 documents
This volume finds Adams in Europe, joined finally by wife Abigail and daughter Nabby, where he continues his diplomatic work. Along with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson he serves on a commission to negotiate trade treaties with nations in Europe and North Africa; as minister to the Netherlands, he secures a loan that helps preserve his new nation from financial disaster.

Papers of James Madison, Presidential Series, Volume 7, 25 October 1813–30 June 1814: 538 documents
With his country still embroiled in the War of 1812 with Britain, Madison engages in peace negotiations and attempts to strengthen commercial ties with Europe. Besides political documents, this volume includes family correspondence and Edinburgh Review editor Francis Jeffrey’s account of a conversation with Madison in November 1813.

Posted in History and Political Science, Press News, Rotunda

The Golden Afternoon

Cup.410.g.74 55 This summer marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, three years after a trip up the Isis from Oxford prompted Charles Lutwidge Dodgson to pen this immortal story. A panoply of commemorative events can be found online at Alice150. For those who wish to recall that “golden afternoon” closer to home, we offer two books to mark the occasion.

Enlivened by close to 200 illustrations, Frankie Morris’s splendid biography Artist of Wonderland is an engaging survey of the work of John Tenniel, the artist who illustrated the Alice books. And the just-published The Pamphlets of Lewis Carroll: Games, Puzzles, and Related Pieces, an overview of Carroll’s second career as a creator of games and puzzles, will appeal to lovers of puzzles, wordplay, and the wit and wonder of its celebrated author. We spoke to the latter volume’s editor, Christopher Morgan, about this fascinating aspect of Carroll’s life and how his games complement and shed light on his beloved fictions.

Q: Carroll’s fiction was wildly original. Do his games and puzzles display a similar originality, or is he closer to his peers in this field? And what in these games and puzzles strikes you as distinctly Victorian?

A: Many of Carroll’s best games and puzzles have an eccentric, original flavor. His Alice books are full of whimsy and wordplay, and his word games feature puns, anagrams, and similar challenges. He wrote a series of short poems containing some simple wordplay challenges, called “Puzzles From Wonderland.” They first appeared in Aunt Judy’s Magazine in 1870, and they’re featured in the new book. Here’s one short example:

Dreaming of apples on a wall,
And dreaming often, dear,
I dreamed that if I counted all,
How many would appear?

Can you tell how many apples there were? If you know that wordplay is involved (specifically, punning), you’ll probably see that the answer is ten, because “often” can be split into “of ten.”

Carroll’s most popular word game, Doublets, is still played today, although now we call it Word Ladders. It features Carroll’s lighthearted whimsy. The object of the game is to take two words of the same length, for example, DOG and CAT. Change one letter in DOG to make a new word, then keep creating a series of new three-letter words, changing one letter each time, until you get to CAT. The fewer steps you take, the higher your score. One answer is:


That was fairly easy. Only three steps were needed here, and you can’t do better than that, so that’s a maximum score. But the game becomes challenging fairly quickly. For example, Carroll asked readers of his Doublets magazine column to “Dip PEN in INK.” The best answer took seven steps:


Maybe you can do better! Ever witty, Carroll also asked readers to “Evolve MAN from APE.” Here’s one solution:


It’s fun to make up your own Doublets by taking random pairs of words, but Carroll preferred it if the words were related in some way. Here are a few more good challenges:

Change OAT to RYE
Change FISH to BIRD
Change CAIN to ABEL
Change COMB into HAIR
Change ARMY into NAVY
Change STAND into STILL

Another good example of Carroll’s offbeat approach to games is his Circular Billiards game. You might think that playing billiards on a round table sounds strange, but it would probably be regarded as normal in Wonderland. Billiards is popular in the UK, but is not as well known in the USA. A rectangular billiard table looks like a pool table, but doesn’t have pockets. When you play the game, instead of trying to hit balls into pockets, you get points by bouncing your ball off the cushions and hitting your opponent’s ball in just the right way. Carroll’s round table design makes the game more challenging, because a balls act differently when bouncing off circular cushions. Unfortunately, the game never became popular, because circular tables were too expensive and difficult to make. 3D illusion based on John Tenniel's original illustration of Humpty Dumpty. Designed by Amanda Turner. Courtesy of Thinkfun

Q: In addition to authoring novels and poems, Carroll famously pursued problems of mathematics and logic. Games and puzzles draw off of math and logic in obvious ways, but they are also designed to entertain or delight others. Can we see the games and puzzles described in this volume as being a sort of common ground between these two themes in his life–the mathematician and the author of entertainments?

A: Yes, absolutely. His games and puzzles bridge the two worlds. Nearly all of his games were designed to be both fun and educational. For example, he created a number guessing puzzle in 1895 that is quite puzzling. You ask a spectator to think of a number, and then carry out a long series of seemingly random calculations. Amazingly, you can then ask for the final result and correctly name the original number your spectator chose. If you correctly analyze the mathematics involved in the process, you’ll see how it’s done. So Carroll was trying to both delight and instruct.

Q: What are some of your favorites among his games and puzzles?

A: I particularly like the Pack of Cards trick. Although we can’t be 100% sure, the trick is very likely Carroll’s handiwork. It involves dealing a deck of cards into a series of piles that seem to thoroughly mix the deck up. Yet, at the end, when you gather the cards into one pile, you can spell the names of each card, dealing one card per letter, and a card of that value will turn up each time. For a second climax, you can turn the deck face up face up and show that it’s in perfect order from top to bottom! Since I’m a magician, I like to perform this trick for children, who particularly enjoy it. I also love the handkerchief mouse trick, also included in the book. It was a popular Victorian magic trick. It was not invented by Carroll, but he loved to perform it. Years after Carroll’s passing, a child friend, Isa Bowman, said that he performed the handkerchief mouse trick “better than anyone I ever saw, and it was a never failing joy.”

Q: Who exactly were these games and puzzles made for? Did any of them have formal publication or distribution? Were any of the games played by the children he befriended (such as Alice Liddell, just to name the most famous)?

A: Carroll did indeed create some of his games specifically for Alice Liddell and her sisters. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Red Queen plays croquet with Alice. Carroll created his own version of croquet, called Castle Croquét, for Alice and her sisters, and printed a pamphlet about it in 1863. This was during the time he was writing Alice’s Adventures Underground, the precursor to the first official Alice book. (He kept changing the rules, because the girls complained that the game was too hard!)

Early in his publishing career, Carroll made his games and puzzles available to interested adult or child friends, printed in relatively small press runs. But his long-term goal was to get the word games before a larger audience via popular magazines. After much planning and negotiation from Carroll, two of his word games, Doublets and Syzygies, became the subjects of two long-running columns he conducted in Vanity Fair and The Lady magazines in 1879-1881 and 1891-1892, respectively. Some of his pamphlets with larger press runs appear regularly in today’s book collector’s market, but the pamphlets with smaller press runs are quite scarce. And, indeed, the magazine word game columns have never been reprinted (except for short extracts), though they contain much fresh wit and humor from Carroll. So we felt a book was needed to rescue Carroll’s charming game and puzzle pamphlets from obscure Victorian archives and make them available once again to the public, with annotations and updates.

The Pamphlets of Lewis Carroll: Games, Puzzles, and Related Pieces, edited by Christopher Morgan, is available now.

Posted in Featured, Literary and Cultural Studies

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