ISSUE 1. Was John D. Rockefeller a "Robber Baron"?
YES: Matthew Josephson, from The Robber Barons: The Great American Capitalists, 1861-1901
NO: Ralph W. Hidy and Muriel E. Hidy, from History of Standard Oil Company (New Jersey), vol. 1: Pioneering in Big Business, 1882-1911
Historian Matthew Josephson depicts John D. Rockefeller as an unconscionable manipulator who employed deception, bribery, and outright conspiracy to eliminate his competitors for control of the oil industry in the United States. Business historians Ralph W. Hidy and Muriel E. Hidy argue that Rockefeller and his associates were innovative representatives of corporate capitalism who brought stability to the often chaotic petroleum industry.
ISSUE 2. Did Nineteenth-Century Women of the West Fail to Overcome the Hardships of Living on the Great Plains?
YES: Christine Stansell, from "Women on the Great Plains 1865-1890", Women's Studies
NO: Glenda Riley, from A Place to Grow: Women in the American West
Professor of history Christine Stansell contends that women on the Great Plains were separated from friends and relatives and consequently endured lonely lives and loveless marriages. Professor of history Glenda Riley argues that women on the Great Plains created rich and varied social lives through the development of strong support networks.
Elaine Tyler May, a professor of American studies and history, argues that the Industrial Revolution in the United States, with its improved technology, increasing income, and emerging consumerism, led to higher rates of divorce because family wage earners failed to meet rising expectations for material accumulation. History professors Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Robert Korstad, and James Leloudis contend that the cotton mill villages of the New South, rather than destroying family work patterns, fostered a labor system that permitted parents and children to work together as a traditional family unit.
ISSUE 4. Were American Workers in the Gilded Age Conservative Capitalists?
YES: Carl N. Degler, from Out of Our Past: The Forces That Shaped Modern America, 3rd ed.
NO: Herbert G. Gutman, from Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America: Essays in American Working-Class and Social History
Professor of history Carl N. Degler maintains that the American labor movement accepted capitalism and reacted conservatively to the radical organizational changes brought about in the economic system by big business. Professor of history Herbert G. Gutman argues that from 1843 to 1893, American factory workers attempted to humanize the system through the maintenance of their traditional, artisan, preindustrial work habits.
Professor of political science and political economy Ernest S. Griffith (1896-1981) argues that the city governments that were controlled by the political bosses represented a betrayal of the public trust. Professor of history Jon C. Teaford argues that municipal governments in the late nineteenth century achieved remarkable success in dealing with the challenges presented by rapid urbanization.
PART 2. The Response to Industrialism: War, Depressions, and Reforms, 1898-1945
ISSUE 6. Did Yellow Journalism Cause the Spanish-American War?
YES: W. A. Swanberg, from Citizen Hearst: A Biography of William Randolph Hearst
Journalist W. A. Swanberg argues that newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst used the sensational and exploitative stories in his widely circulated New York Journal to stir up public opinion and to force President William McKinley to wage a war against Spain to free Cuba. Historian David Nasaw maintains that even if Hearst had not gone into publishing, the United States would have entered the war for political, economic, and security reasons.
Professor of history Howard N. Rabinowitz suggests that racial segregation represented an improvement in the lives of African Americans in that it provided access to a variety of public services and accommodations from which they otherwise would have been excluded in the late-nineteenth-century South. Professor of American history Leon F. Litwack argues that "the age of Jim Crow", wherein efforts by whites to deny African Americans equal protection of the laws or the privileges and immunities guaranteed other citizens seemingly knew no bounds, created a highly repressive environment for blacks.
ISSUE 8. Did the Progressives Fail?
YES: Richard M. Abrams, from "The Failure of Progressivism", in Richard Abrams and Lawrence Levine, eds., The Shaping of the Twentieth Century, 2d ed.
NO: Arthur S. Link and Richard L. McCormick, from Progressivism
Professor of history Richard M. Abrams maintains that progressivism was a failure because it never seriously confronted the inequalities that still exist in American society. Professors of history Arthur S. Link and Richard L. McCormick argue that the Progressives were a diverse group of reformers who confronted and ameliorated the worst abuses that emerged in urban industrial America during the early 1900s.
Professor of history William L. O'Neill contends that the women's movement died following the success of the suffrage campaign because women were not united in support of many of the other issues that affected them and because the increasingly militant feminism of the Woman's Party alienated many supporters of women's rights. Anne Firor Scott, a professor emeritus of history, maintains that the suffrage victory produced a heightened interest in further social and political reform, which inspired southern women to pursue their goals throughout the 1920s.
ISSUE 10. Was the New Deal an Effective Answer to the Great Depression?
YES: Roger Biles, from A New Deal for the American People
NO: Gary Dean Best, from Pride, Prejudice, and Politics: Roosevelt Versus Recovery, 1933-1938
Professor of history Roger Biles contends that, in spite of its minimal reforms, the New Deal created a limited welfare state that implemented economic stabilizers to avert another depression. Professor of history Gary Dean Best argues that Roosevelt's regulatory programs retarded the nation's economic recovery from the Great Depression until World War II.
Retired rear admiral Robert A. Theobald argues that President Franklin D. Roosevelt deliberately withheld information from the commanders at Pearl Harbor in order to encourage the Japanese to make a surprise attack on the weak U.S. Pacific Fleet. Historian Roberta Wohlstetter contends that even though naval intelligence broke the Japanese code, conflicting signals and the lack of a central agency coordinating U.S. intelligence information made it impossible to predict the Pearl Harbor attack.
PART 3. The Cold War and Beyond
ISSUE 12. Was the United States Responsible for the Cold War?
YES: Thomas G. Paterson, from Meeting the Communist Threat: Truman to Reagan
NO: John Lewis Gaddis, from Russia, the Soviet Union, and the United States: An Interpretive History, 2d ed.
Professor of history Thomas G. Paterson argues that the Truman administration exaggerated the Soviet threat after World War II because the United States had expansionist political and economic global needs. Professor of history John Lewis Gaddis argues that the power vacuum that existed in Europe at the end of World War II exaggerated and made almost inevitable a clash between the United States and the USSR.
ISSUE 13. Did the Civil Rights Movement Improve Race Relations in the United States?
YES: Robert Weisbrot, from Freedom Bound: A History of America's Civil Rights Movement
NO: Tom Wicker, from Tragic Failure: Racial Integration in America
Professor of history Robert Weisbrot describes the lasting achievements produced by the civil rights movement in the realm of school desegregation, the protection of voting rights for African Americans, and the deepening commitment to racial harmony. Political journalist Tom Wicker recognizes that legal segregation ended in the South in the 1960s but contends that in the 1970s and 1980s white animosity toward African American achievements drained momentum from the movement for true racial equality.
ISSUE 14. Was America's Escalation of the War in Vietnam Inevitable?
YES: Brian VanDeMark, from Into the Quagmire: Lyndon Johnson and the Escalation of the Vietnam War
NO: H. R. McMaster, from Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam
Professor of history Brian VanDeMark argues that President Lyndon Johnson failed to question the viability of increasing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War because he was a prisoner of America's global containment policy. H. R. McMaster, an active-duty army tanker, maintains that the Vietnam disaster was not inevitable but a uniquely human failure whose responsibility was shared by President Johnson and his principal advisers.
Professor of history Reed Ueda maintains that the sheer magnitude and diversity of immigrants continually reshapes the American character, making America a "permanently unfinished country". Former Colorado governor Richard D. Lamm argues that immigration should be severely curtailed. He contends that the most recent immigrants are members of the underclass who are culturally unassimilable and who take jobs away from the poorest citizens in an already overpopulated America.
Professor of history John Lewis Gaddis argues that President Reagan combined a policy of militancy and operational pragmatism to bring about the most significant improvement in Soviet-American relations since the end of World War II. Professors of political science Daniel Deudney and G. John Ikenberry contend that the cold war ended only when Soviet president Gorbachev accepted Western liberal values and the need for global cooperation.
Journalist Lars-Erik Nelson argues that President Bill Clinton is a sadly flawed human being but a reasonably good president whose administration was a time of peace and plenty for Americans. Political scientists James MacGregor Burns and Georgia J. Sorenson et al. argue that Clinton will not rank among the near-great presidents because he is a transactional broker who lacks the ideological commitment to tackle the big issues facing American society.