History For Free
A great place to learn about history, government, and economics brought to you by educators.
Erik Randall is a Social Studies teacher and Department Chair at SLHS in San Luis, AZ. He is currently pursuing an M.A. in American History at American Public University.
AP World History Teacher, Cambridge American History Teacher, Education Consultant, & Contributing Author
June 19, 2013 is the 167th anniversary of the first organized and recorded baseball game (1846) as well as Lou Gehrig’s 110th birthday. Over the next few days, I will be publishing posts that analyze the importance of Baseball and Lou Gehrig in particular on American Culture. This is Part One.
In 1845, a group of middle class New Yorkers known as the Knickerbockers began organizing and standardizing the rules to a sport that would become baseball. Shortly thereafter, amateur baseball clubs and organization sprang up around the greater New York area. The outbreak of the Civil War and troop movements furthered the spread of the game, and by the 1870s professional teams and organizations were promoting baseball as a spectator sport.
As baseball spread in popularity, the game itself became a representation of American values. Promoters of the sport hailed it as a democratic institution where players act “like a gentleman on all occasions” never taking “an ungenerous advantage of his opponents.” Baseball’s sensibility and reputation was opined by enthusiasts as uniquely American, and immigrants soon adopted the game through acculturation. Its impact was felt across both class and racial lines (although leagues segregated very early on to reflect the sensibilities of society) as the sport spread through the stadiums and sandlots of America.
In times of both calm and crisis the American public has turned to baseball for entertainment. Its star players have become household names, and baseball’s imagery and language has become part of our national culture. American biographer Gerald Early once remarked, “I enjoy the game… principally because it makes me feel American. And I think there are only three things that America will be known for 2,000 yeas from now… the Constitution, jazz music, and baseball.” While baseball’s rules and scope have changed over the years, its cultural impact has remanded a constant.
Long before baseball became an organized sport in the 19th century, ball and bat games were played throughout the American Colonies. As early as 1773, Southern African Americans began playing ball games on Sundays, although participation in such games could lead to punishment. More commonly played in the North however, these games, referred to as “trap,” “townball,” or “base,” were largely informal with rules that varied depending on where they were played. Teams usually played on a square field and all batted balls were considered in play (even balls that went backward). The English game of Cricket was also frequently played in the United States throughout the Nineteenth Century. While baseball has many similarities to cricket, early baseball has much more in common with the aforementioned games. However, many of the skills transferred between both games, and often skilled players could excel at both. Historical drawings and accounts show these games continued throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries.
The year 1861 divided the nation and a great many men were forced to make the incredibly difficult choice as to which allegiance was strongest in their hearts. Men across the country made their choices for numerous reasons such as devotion to the Union, belief in the Constitution, defense of their State, the support of the peculiar institution, among others. As we look at Jubal A. Early, he represents such a man torn between two allegiances. A man who in 1860-1 argued vehemently against secession in the state of Virginia, yet ended up forsaking his military oaths of defense of the country.1 Here was a man who twice left his comfortable civilian life to take up arms for the Republic; the epitome of the American citizen-soldier so glorified during the Revolutionary War, turning his back on the flag he bravely defended only to raise the flag of the newly founded Confederacy.2 What could make a man trade flags by resigning from one military to join another?
Early was raised in the state of Virginia and therefore exposed to slavery throughout his life. Although there is no record of Early himself owning slaves (other than perhaps a servant) his extended family owned numerous slaves as part of their holdings throughout Virginia. He held that the blacks were property and that there could be no abolition of slavery because the Constitution guaranteed to protect an individuals property. “He believed the government established by the Constitution protected liberty and the sanctity of private property, allowing Americans, whether above or below the Mason and Dixon’s Line, to prosper.”3 Along this line of argument he believed that every state had decided for itself whether to be “slave” or “free” at the time of its inception and at the signing of the Constitution there didn’t appear to be any obstinate hurdles regarding the issue of slavery. “Slavery was a domestic institution and should not be subject to interference from the North in the form of ‘moral suasion, legislative enactment, or physical force’.”4 Despite being a centralist in regards to slavery, equally disliking fire-eaters and abolitionists, Early felt that the institution of slavery should not be touched by meddling Northerners.
A West Point graduate from the class of 1837, Jubal A. Early did not strike many as a commanding battlefield figure. Seeing no future in the military, Early resigned from the United States Army just a year after graduating. However short and unrewarding his early military career, Early experienced some fighting against the Seminoles in Florida.5 After his short military service, Early spent the better part of the next 15 years practicing law in his home state of Virginia. This time was broken with another short return to military action during the Mexican-American War from 1847-1848. “Impelled by his sense of patriotic submission, he accepted a commission as major of the First Regiment of Virginia Volunteers” to fight against a Mexican foe who sought to deprive the Texans of their rights.6
As leader of the Third Reich, it is commonly known Adolf Hilter advocated for Lebensreform (life reform). Chief among this belief was that members of the Aryan Race should abstain from drug and alcohol use in order to create a pure and strong race. However, at the same time Lebensreform was being advocated by Hilter and party officials like Heinrich Himmler, Nazi military men were nonetheless being fed the methamphetamine Pervitin in massive quantities during World War II.
Referred to as “pilot’s salt” or “tank chocolate” by members of the Wehrmacht (German armed forces), Pervitin was seen as a wonder drug by officials who freely distributed it to military men. The drug increased German soldiers’ alertness and endurance, and gave them confidence and euphoric feelings No member of the Wehrmacht was immune from the drugs effects: pilots, infantrymen, and civil defense soldiers, were consuming large quantities of methamphetamine by order of the Nazi high command.
The use of amphetamine was not uncommon throughout industrialized countries during the 1930s and 40s. Indeed, Dexedrine and other amphetamines would be given to allied pilots during the War to maintain alertness. However, in the 1938, German paramedical company Temmler Werke began working on Pervitin, a new drug that was structurally different then previous “pep” pills on the market. The Academy of Military Medicine in Berlin, decided to study methamphetamine to determine if it could be beneficial in combat situations. In tests, the academy noticed that subjects dosed with Pervitin were able to perform better in mathematical and memory tests in a controlled environment. As a result, 3 mg tablets of Pervitin were included in medical supplies for German military units during the invasion of Poland in 1939.
The success of the Polish invasion furthered Pervitin’s reputation as a military performance enhancer and consumption of the drug skyrocketed. As Nicholas Rasmussen notes, “In the Blitzkreig’s opening months… the German military consumed 35 million methamphetamine tablets” between April-June 1940. The use of Pervitin was not only restricted to enlisted men. Hilter, who suffered from numerous health symptoms, used cocaine and methamphetamine under a doctor’s watchful eye. On the homefront, non-military personal began taking the drug as part of the civilian effort. News of the new German wonder drug caused both wonder and concern among the Allies.
While Pervitin did produce positive effects, there was considerable concern about its effectiveness. Allied nations testing Pervitin on their own pilots, noticed that it caused agitation, restless, and impaired judgment. A widely circulated rumor told of an entire Germany infantry company surrendering to Russian forces in Leningrad after it wasted all its bullets during a methamphetamine-induced psychosis. In addition, Luftwaffe soldiers were also deemed as less effective and distracted by senior officials after methamphetamine-fueled missions garnered mixed results. It was widely documented that Pervitin produced restlessness, delusions, and insomnia for the soldiers. Withdrawal, unavoidable due to the heavy demand for Pervitin, was also painful for soldiers and may have been linked to poor military decision making and suicides by SS soldiers.
[Terry: I will add to the story of General Early by mentioning that the ferry at White’s Ferry–the only point that you can cross the Potomac between the Beltway and Point of Rocks is the General Jubal A. Early–the second of it’s name to my knowledge. It’s a proud ship even if a rather simple one. There is a cable anchored on either side of the river, the main deck of the ferry holds to the cable by pulleys and is pushed across the river by the small motorboat on the side. At the other side, they simply pivot the motorboat and head back. ]
[Terry: Also interesting is this article in the 2003 WIRED]
The U.S. Military Needs Its Speed
Recalling the American airborne invasion of Normandy during World War II in his 1962 book Night Drop, Army colonel and combat historian S.L.A. Marshall wrote: “The United States Army is indifferent toward common-sense rules by which the energy of men may be conserved in combat.”
Pilots from the Air Force 183rd Fighter Wing felt the reverberations of Marshall’s assessment — which is cited on page 3 of the Navy’s official guide for managing fatigue — last April. According to reports published in Canada, they misidentified a target during a bombing run over Iraq. Meeting with their commanders, they complained they were exhausted, that the “common-sense” rule of 12 hours of rest between missions was being ignored.
In return they got two pieces of advice: Stop whining and visit the flight surgeon for some “go/no-go” pills.
About a week later, two members of the 183rd, Majs. Harry Schmidt and William Umbach, launched a laser-guided bomb on a Canadian training force, killing four and injuring eight.
At a recently concluded Article 32 hearing to determine if the pilots should be court-martialed for manslaughter, assault and dereliction of duty, Schmidt and Umbach’s attorneys claimed it was the Air Force’s dextro-amphetamine (trade name, Dexedrine) tablets, aka speed, that killed the Canadians, not Schmidt and Umbach.
Originally used to treat asthma and other breathing disorders, amphetamines were discovered in the late 19th century. By the 1930s, their ability to stimulate the central nervous system had made them very popular as pep and diet pills. Today they are mostly used to treat narcolepsy, attention deficit disorder in children and, rarely, depression.
Military commanders, football coaches and students have turned to amphetamines for similar reasons: They can keep you fighting long after your body would otherwise give in to sleep.
However, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, serious potential side effects include psychotic behavior, depression, anxiety, fatigue, paranoia, aggression, violent behavior, confusion, insomnia, auditory hallucinations, mood disturbances and delusions. Such side effects long ago banished punch bowls full of Dexedrine from pre-game training tables in football clubhouses.
And those wonderfully accommodating university doctors, who distributed 30 “uppers” to even the most anorexic students for their exam-week “weight problem,” are likewise long gone from the dispensaries.
But the Defense Department, which distributed millions of amphetamine tablets to troops during World War II, Vietnam and the Gulf War, soldiers on, insisting that they are not only harmless but beneficial.
[One final interesting fact–one of the generic forms of Ritalin is Dexedrine and of course, Adderal (“Don’t Go To School Without It”) is a combination of amphetamine and dextro-amphetamine. but it’s always listed as “amphetamine salts” I suspect in order to make it sound a bit less dangerous]
- The History of Baseball (experiencebaseball.org)
- Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging 70’s (theopnation.com)
- A young Puerto Rican baseball player gets to see his dream team (nbclatino.com)
- Babe Ruth, THEN Lou Gehrig (bergonsports.wordpress.com)