We are almost done with 2017. This year has been a roller-coaster, full of bad news, heartbreaks and terrors, from rising fascism and a new tide of racial hatred in America to tensions abroad (especially involving North Korea) and disastrous impacts of climate change. It’s also been a momentous year for me personally. I went through a major life transition in 2017, finally finishing my Ph.D., going on to a new job, and starting a business in the field of climate change adaptation. Almost everything is different for me at the end of 2017 than it was at the beginning.
My blog went through these same ups and downs. In terms of volume, much less material appeared on SeanMunger.com this year than did either of the previous years; indeed, especially during the summer (at the height of my life/job transition), the flow of articles staunched to a bare trickle. But I do think I did some great work on this website during 2017. As I usually do at the end of every year in some format, I thought I’d detail what I think are my best posts during this year. These are the articles that I think come the closest to what I want this blog to be read and remembered for.
The year was only a few days old when I posted this, what I think is one of my finest pure-history articles from 2017. Starting in a tiny building in Key West, Florida in 1927, Pan-Am rose to become the world’s undisputed giant in commercial aviation, with flights spanning the globe and its familiar blue logo seemingly everywhere. Then in 1991, quite abruptly, it was all over. What happened? In this article I traced the rise and fall of the airline, and how the shifting conditions of the 20th century at first benefited and ultimately destroyed it. I still get comments from people who remember flying Pan-Am decades ago.
Though I have generally tried not to turn this blog into a political site, it was hard not to get political in 2017–especially when talking about history. A disturbing trend I’ve noticed is the rise of people who believe, for various blinkered ideological reasons, demonstrably false things about the past, like the idea that Adolf Hitler was a leftist or that the Nanking massacre of 1937 was faked. In this article I tried to explain what “Fake History” is and why it’s so dangerous. Needless to say, some people were deeply angered by this article. That tells me that I did it exactly right; historians who still care about the truth are a serious threat to those who would do violence to the past for political or ideological reasons.
On the whole, my readers did not really “get” the Bootsey experiment. Again crossing the line into politics, in March I wrote two very short fictional stories, each one a flash-fiction piece set in a near-future America where the government of the United States has been overthrown by a computer-generated image of a talking cat. Far from being just a cute icon, Bootsey, the cat, is the public face of a fascist regime determined to “Make America Cute Again.” These stories, admittedly absurdist in their conception, were meant to make one think about the implications of our diversion-obsessed society which is, in real life, sliding into authoritarianism. Later in the month I did a follow-up, “Bootsey’s Birthday Party,” which is actually the better of the two stories. These stories were perhaps too weird for readers to really respond to, but I still think it’s some of my better work on this blog in 2017.
Another dispatch from the war on “Fake History,” this article was intended to counter the disturbing tendency among some medieval history buffs on the Internet to use the history of the Crusades to deploy an ideological or religiously-motivated attack on Islam or Muslims in general. In truth the history of the Crusades is very complicated, but it’s far from the one-note moral story that Islamophobes wish it was. Again angry at how history is misused for a partisan agenda, I felt the need to set the record straight.
Here’s another of my favorite straight-up history articles. In 1934, an ocean liner called the Morro Castle caught fire and ultimately beached off the resort town of Asbury Park, New Jersey. The disaster and the reactions to it–and especially how the ship’s beaching provided a curious economic lifeline to the Depression-wracked town–played out in unexpected and unusual ways. I’d been wanting for years to do an article on the Morro Castle; judging how this turned out, it was worth the wait.
Since the middle of the 19th century, treasure seekers have converged on an obscure island off the coast of Nova Scotia, convinced that a hoard of great value is buried there. The legend has even persisted into a fact-free History Channel series. In reality there’s no treasure there and there never was. In this series of articles (Parts I – II – III – IV) I thoroughly deconstructed the legend, explaining both its lack of logic and the nonexistence of historical evidence for it. Though a ripping good yarn, the reality is that Oak Island is nothing more than a 150-year-old confidence scam, albeit one that has cost several people their lives.
During 2017, I finally broke my years-long dependence on Twitter. I still have an account, but I’ve now largely limited it to promoting my books, blogs and podcasts, and I don’t interact much with people on it anymore. This article explains why. It has to do with Nazis, Russian trolls and Donald Trump, but the descent of Twitter also lays bare some very ugly things about our society. Twitter’s toxic brew of racism, hype and triviality mirrors deeper problems in our culture. This was a depressing article to do, but one that many readers responded to with sympathy.
As you can see from some previous entries, a major theme on this blog in 2017 was pushing back against distortions of history. I did that again on November 22, the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which was undoubtedly done by a single gunman acting alone–the odious Lee Harvey Oswald–despite the absolute certainty of most of America that an elaborate conspiracy existed. Well, historical facts remain facts no matter how many people disbelieve them. I think it’s one of my finest pieces of the year, but it ignited a lot of outrage, especially on my Facebook page. In a world where historical lies are common, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. Oswald acted alone. No conspiracy. Full stop.
Considering that I now work in the field of climate change, I couldn’t let this list slip by without mention of the single most important issue facing the world today. I originally wrote this blog for my professional website, but I cribbed it here to expose it to my own audience. Despite the setbacks and disasters of climate change in 2017 that at times make one want to give up all hope, there are in fact some extremely encouraging things happening that indicate that we, as a society, are not simply electing to commit global suicide by ignoring climate change. This article was among the most-shared of the year. It is probably the single most important statement I made on SeanMunger.com all year.
The newest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, has engendered deeply polarized reactions. It clearly represents something new and provocative, and coming as it does in the year of “the Resistance” to Trump and fascism, it opens a lot of dialogues that some people would rather not have. But I loved the film and in this article I explain why it’s the best of the franchise with the exception of The Empire Strikes Back. Some readers don’t agree, but at least arguing about Star Wars is far less stressful than arguing about politics. This is a fun article, and one of my better movie reviews, I think.
So now we move on, to another year, another tumultuous time in world history, and definitely more blogs to come. I have no idea what 2018 will bring, but whatever it does, you will see it reflected here.
Happy New Year.