Vocal Introduction CD+Rom of
Reconstructing American History
by Alfred de Grazia
(The voice is that of the Author)
Click here to start and Stop the Audio Introduction
As I finish writing this history in my eightieth year,
I find that I have lived more than one-third of the life history
of the United States of America.
As a child I listened to a loving old neighbor tell
stories about her father's service in the Grand Army of the Republic.
I examined my tiny palm curiously when she related
how a bullet pierced a hole in his hand.
Her father could have had a grandfather who
served in George Washington's Revolutionary Army.
Going back in time by four hundred years, I would need
a line of only six more story-telling native
American ancestors to be able to recite to my audience an
eye-witness account of some of what
was happening in the year 1400 A.D.
This period would be contemporary with the
late Middle Ages in Europe,
the Ming Dynasty in China,
the Aztec Empire in Mexico, and
the time of five hundred Indian nations within the
present boundaries of the USA.
The cultural pall of family and school typically and early
enveloped me, allowing the curious eye of a child
only a few peepholes for objectivity and contrariness.
I was bathed in the Midwest atmosphere even in embryo,
because pregnant ladies were being told in those days that
they should become as fat as possible and bear large babies...
and so, weighing in at over nine pounds I
entered my Midwestern culture,
which then began to stretch in all directions.
I was regarded as one of the brighter pupils of Americana
at Franklin Elementary School in Chicago
between 1925 and 1932,
wherefore and naturally I would come to believe
that the poor apprentice lad, Benjamin Franklin,
had grown to be greatest of Americans,
George Washington notwithstanding.
It was there I learned to set type by hand, as Franklin had done.
Then came the
linotype and monotype, with the right and left
adjusted lines still universally employed. Then came
the computer program, with the ability
that a few poets had dreamt of -
a centered and independent line, fitted to the meaning.
American history was my epic,
so I considered it in the form of free verse,
largely metered, with a centered changing line.
Despite respectable criticism, I persisted and can
offer now my work in this unprecedented form.
I continued to soak in the culture,
even as I sought to become its critic,
which meant my own critic, too.
One Sunday afternoon -- the year may have been 1925 --
on Chicago's Navy Pier, stretched far out upon Lake Michigan,
a Bandmaster, who happened to be my father, was conducting
an aggregation of musicians through an elaborate concert program.
This allowed me and my brother, small boys, to slip out
and into the game-room that was behind the concert hall.
There, iron and nickel-plated slot machines stood, formidable, colorful.
"See through a high-powered microscope!" one of them announced,
"Read the Lord's Prayer Carved on the Head of a Pin!"
We gave it our two pennies and peered, entranced,
at the prodigious microscopy.
It was true, just as advertised.
Already, you see, a conglomeration of American culture traits had
merged here, to which this child was serenely adjusted.
To begin with, he was a typical American individualist,
insufficiently dutiful to sit through the concert.
Moreover, he was now experiencing the American ideal, of a
happy blend of the Bible, Science, Entertainment, and Profit -
without realizing what an incongruent and squabbling set
of ideas they made up.
Moreover, slightly puzzled, I wondered "Why should
so important a message be reduced to so small a space?
Did it not belong on huge billboards?"
(Billboards were the favorite medium of the age for urgent advertising).
A long decade later, while studying political representation,
linguistics, and the sociology of knowledge at the same time,
the unconscious intricacy of this cultural integration of dissimilarities dawned
Maybe there is even something else that is also typically American:
for I am compressing the nation's history into a single volume.
Is it to be a sacred patriotic manual?
There is more than enough of that, nor is it nice or helpful.
Is it scientific reductionism to a compact set of principles? I hope so.
Handy practicality? In a way.
Entertainment? Would that it were!
Profitability? Not for me.
Time-saving? Possibly for you.
I prefer to believe that it is fairly sized,
for a functional and humanistic exposition of whatwas,
whatmight have been, and whatshould be.
My perspective is of a world-citizen, an earthling, who,
although tempted to give an American slant to events,
appreciates that the welfare of America,
as well as of the rest of the world,
depends upon the largest appraisal of American history.
My intended audience is fully adult, and broad-minded,
with a capacity for indignation at what has happened in the past,
made tolerable by a sense of irony at our ancient follies.
American beliefs and practices, intertwined processes,
will be continuously scanned for what they provided
to everyone of welfare; culture; and governance.
Deciding upon, achieving, and distributing the goods
of welfare, culture, and governance in America
are the essence of its organic movement over the ages.
Included in welfare are affection, well-being,
diet, health, housing, income, wealth, medical care, and working.
Within our special idea of culture are
contained schooling, knowledge, religion, science,
travel, and the arts.
Governance refers to power and influence,
authority, respect, prestige, warfare,
politics, organization and law.
Welfare, culture, and governance are intakes and outputs
of all people as they act by themselves and through all institutions;
hence all organizations, like all persons,
are pertinent: churches, armies, football leagues,
fraternal orders, political parties,
courts, circuses, and more.
The three domains are perceived by us as the constant
concerns of every person, greatly varying and differently distributed.
As I proceed with the substance of the historical process,
I shall continually take note of how the basic values were sought and shared.
My book affects to be scientific, even while brief.
Like any other general work in science,
it conveys only the knowledge required to stake a claim
for the validity of selected theories and hypotheses.
The author warrants that anyone else would agree with him
after searching for and applying homologous facts.
He claims that his individual statements fit into a larger scheme
of scientifically testable theory about American history.
Given so large a task to be performed in a single volume,
clarification and proof of the principles must be
by reference to representative and salient cases and instances.
Thus, I might say, "...Although Washington, Grant, and Lyndon Johnson
were heavy drinkers, they were not the only Presidents who were such;
actually, alcoholic beverages were regularly consumed
by most of the three-score Presidents
before, after and/or during their terms of office..."
Digging up all of the facts that might validate or nullify this statement,
weighing their nuances, and reporting them --
I think of the argument whether Richard Nixon was a heavy drinker --
would be beyond the energies of the author, and,
even if complete evidence were available,
could not be afforded space in print.
Besides, where could I find time to
monographs on all of my
Critics are expected, therefore, indeed invited,
to revel among all such statements:
correcting, approving, carping, and enlarging.
In any event I would not use such a statement unless
it contributed to some larger understanding of history;
this is not to be a collection of gossip
or a reckless blaster of idols.
The "New History" prefers a cosmopolitan civilization,
as broad as it is deep, global,
and that has been good. History-telling
ought generally to be corrective and therapeutic,
by which I mean that it should be realistic, moral, and useful.
To see historiography as divorced from ethical principle
(except as an operational procedure) mistakes science,
natural as well as social.
All pure science has an applied science attached to it,
and is indeed dependent ultimately upon it.
So it is perfectly proper and necessary to write history
as the application of the pure social sciences
to the applied science of bringing about a better world.
We take care to separate the fact from the preferences;
what is true is not ipso facto right,
nor is what is right whatever usually happens or must occur.
And we take care to be clear and open, never hypocritical,
about what we deem to be a preferable condition
of people and society, and about the good and bad consequences
of the same event.
Often we hear people say, people both of
the so-called elite and hoi polloi,
that you cannot judge the men and morals of the past by
the standards of today, or by your own standards -
whereupon people go to churches or proceed to swear by
some ancient holy testament -- if not the Bible,
then some constitution or ancient writer.
Thus they reveal themselves to be quite willing in their own case
to let ancient morals govern modern conduct.
Are we to believe that we must accept the past
whatever its crimes and stupidities, without judging it??
If we did so, we would be making a most important
moral judgement and set a low standard for our conduct.
We cannot- at least, I cannot -- tolerate letting history be my model.
I say that we must study the past scientifically and
judge it ethically, if we are to derive from history its greatest gifts.
I dare to hope that I have in this Reconstruction
of American History
set a precedent for the new Millennium.
Alfred de Grazia August 1, 1999