Andrew Bacevich – America’s War for the Greater Middle East

Andrew Bacevich’s new book America’s War for the Greater Middle East was recently published by Random House.  In this work, Bacevich argues that starting in 1980, the United States started a war in the greater Middle East – an almost four decade long war.  He argues this war started with Carter’s Malaise Speech. This led the President to declare the Middle East a vital area of interest for the United States following the oil embargo and the Iranian Revolution.  Since then, the USA slowly entangled itself into a war for the Middle East.

The book delves into the policies, key points, and wars of the US efforts to shape the Middle East, but in a recent talk he distilled the most important features of this four decades-long war.  In the book and his talk, he contends that America’s war for the Middle East started with oil, but that it is also fundamentally about asserting American preeminence and projecting it forward into the 21st century. Carry the “American Century” into the 21st century.

Although his talk does not delve into each successive administrations machinations in the Middle East (you have to read the book for that), Bacevich argues that they all tried to shape, or bring the Middle East into line.  However, no administration developed a plausible strategy to bring about the desired American results and none made the means available to bring about significant change.  All dabbled. Some more than others. Moreover, providing the means would mean making the American people sacrifice, but each administration sought to maintain normalcy on the homefront. Something learned from Vietnam. Keep Americans fat and wealthy and they will not question the wars fought by the all-volunteer force.

This is another thrust of talk.  These conflict are a product of the disinterested American people who are easily distracted by the newest technological gadget or celebrity gossip.  American support freedom and democracy around the world as long as we are able to enjoy our own abundance, freedom and security.  Us first. Then you.  These demands are met by successive administrations that fight wars on the cheap to ensure the people remain fat and happy.

In handling the Middle East, Bacevich suggest that the US had two options. First, Washington could wait and promote non-violence with no guarantee of success. Second, Washington could try and eliminate the problem through Military Actions and greater sacrifice among the American people.  However, Bacevich believes the US took a Middle Ground strategy.  They United States intervened when necessary.  This allowed the war to continue on auto pilot and made war in the Middle East normal. Americans no longer question the stationing of thousands of US military personnel in the Middle East just as they no longer questioned those in Europe during the Cold War.

Why does American have a never ending war and commitments in the Middle East? Bacevich emphasizes four factors. First, there is no antiwar or anti-interventionist party in the United States.  The war for the greater Middle East is a bipartisan war. And both are deeply entrenched.  Second, Politicians would much rather support the troops and the war than question the war and US presence in the Middle East. This involves asking hard questions and challenging the American people.  Third, institutions benefit from never ending war.  The military-industrial-complex gets to continue manufacturing weapons for both sides and make large profits.  Fourth, most Americans are oblivious to the war’s negative effects. They are too busy with their lives or uninterested in their country’s actions to question and think about war.

For Bacevich, the war for the greater Middle East has been wasteful and unsuccessful. Moreover, the 21st century is changing. The United States is not a singular world power and must learn to live in a multi-polar world.  American wants of freedom, abundance, and security are changing.  Asia is eclipsing everything, but remains out of the lime-light even with the so-called Asian pivot.  The Middle East is not crucial to American security and the US cannot shape the Middle East.  The US must allow the region to reshape itself.

Lastly, Bacevich offered three alternative strategies for the Middle East.  First, the US should self-protect.  Terrorism is a modest threat.  9/11 occurred because of a break down in the United States. If the government agencies such as the FBI, CIA, and TSA are operating correctly, terrorism not a significant threat.  Second, to restore stability to the Middle East, the US should use diplomatic power, not military power.  As Ambassador Ryan Crocker once said wingtips and heels on the ground, not boots.  Finally, promote agents of change.  Support those states seeking to bring peace and balance to the Middle East.

In terms of current events, Bacevich made several comments.  First, he believes that President Obama’s easing of tensions with Iran is the most creative diplomatic action the United States has taken in the Middle East in decades.  By restoring Iran into the world of nations, Iran can act locally and internationally.  It also acts as a balance to Saudi Arabia.  He does not think Iran will have nuclear capabilities soon and that the monitoring process is working.  Discussing the current election, Bacevich seems disappointed with both candidates, like many Americans.  He does not think that Trump has the capacity to understand the complexities of the Middle East. Concerning Secretary Clinton. Bacevich believes that she will continue current polices and is more hawkish then most believe.  He sees her encouragement to intervene in Libya, rather than Benghazi as her major flaw that foreshadows her future foreign policy.

For the most part, this talk was well received and most seemed to agree with his positions, particularly from the point that the United States disengage from the Middle East militarily.  This, he seems to believe, will force the nations in the region to reach mutual understandings.  However, this seems flawed.  First, this seems to significantly overlook the role of religion in the region. Those states that are stable, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel, are dominated by a single religion or branch of Islam.  The other states are rife with sectarian violence, even Turkey which he identified as a stable nation.  The answer to this question may lay in the book where denounces the belief that intermingling of cultures is good.  In this case, he seems to support the idea of Middle Eastern states dominated by a either Sunni or Shia, not nations with both branches of Islam.

Yet, Bacevich does not seem to be one for nuance. In neither his book nor his talk did he discuss the complex tapestry of faiths and peoples of the region and the wars they are fighting amongst themselves.  Moreover, while he acknowledges that the British essentially created the modern Middle East after the First World War with no regard to the peoples and their traditions, he accepts the fact that the Middle East should develop modern sovereign nations like the West, though few have any history of sovereignty. This is a region dominated by tribal and religious loyalties. Can peoples of different tribes and religious factions even work together to form stable states? Do they even want stable states?

In analyzing and critiquing US policy, military intervention, and naïveté, Bacevich is insightful and sharp, but when thinking about the Middle East as a place where different peoples live, he often generalizes. Ignoring this diversity seems the flaw of most politicians and generals.  They see the Middle East, but they ignore its unique culture and history.  Understanding the range of peoples and cultures that Bacevich lumps into the Middle East seems essential to Bacevich’s call for a diplomatic involvement in the Middle East.




Thoughts on Britain

Waking up in Europe today, it is hard not feel a sense disbelief.  Britain’ decision to leave the EU is very troublesome and creates more uncertainty in world that is already unstable.  This vote undermines the entire European project that has sought greater integration since the Second Word War – a project established to prevent the continent from spiraling into devastating genocidal wars.

While Britain’s may have rejected it, the EU has stood for Liberal values (values based on liberty and equality born of the Enlightenment) that the “Exit” voters claim to be losing.  It is why nations like Estonia, Czechoslovakia (today the Czech Republic and Slovakia), and Romania embraced Europe and the EU following the collapse of Soviet Union – it represents freedom of the press, open markets, and free elections.  With this simple vote, Britain threatens the entire European project and the vote could result in domino effect with other countries, such as Poland and Hungary, leaving the EU.  This hypothetical, though not unrealistic scenario, would leave the EU and Britain weaker in an increasingly unstable world.

The demand to exit the EU in Britain and other countries, like Poland under the Law and Justice party, is led by a growing Right wing populism.  The rise in Right wing populism is not limited to the EU and a frightening global trend. This Right wing populism in Europe believes the EU is the source of all its problems, mostly pointing to increased immigration, especially from the Middle East often blaming Angela Merkel for throwing open the doors last summer.

Yet vilifying immigrants as an “other” to stir up nationalism is not new in Europe – it is part of the reason why the EU exists.  Perhaps one can blame President Obama for failing to get intervene in Syria, leading to the refugee crisis, but this is not the only cause. Nothing is ever that simple.  Europe, at least for now, is a rich place and a destination for economic immigrants.  The immigrant crisis caused the by the Syrian civil war only exacerbated an already existing problem.  There is no question that integrating immigrants, especially of different cultural backgrounds, is difficult and expensive, but not impossible.

The large number of immigrants have fed the fear and hatred that these Right wing parties are thriving on.  This is surely not good for Europe.  The growing nationalistic movements, something Europe has tried to move beyond, can easily lead to war and ethnic cleansing, terrors the EU was established to prevent.  And war is not unlikely especially with a country like Russia threatening Eastern Europe, desiring the return of its status that it lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The threat of a weakened shattered EU and growing Right wing populism shows an ever increasingly unstable world: political upheavals in Brazil and Mexico, growing violence in the Middle East, a volatile Pacific Ocean with China increasingly seeking to extend its influence and projection of military power.  At a time of growing instability, the British vote simply multiplies this uncertainty and leaves space for countries that eschew Liberal values, like China and Russia, to fill the void.

Without a strong unified Europe to help balance and check these strident powers, the threat of global conflict increases.  This is not stay that war will happen, but it makes it more likely.  In undermining one of the fundamental features of the European project, to prevent war and grow into a union of European peoples, Britain has in fact done the opposite.  Created greater instability, uncertainty, and growing possibility of war and the end of the EU.

Considering Lara Putnam’s “The Transitional and the Text-Searchable”

In the April 2016 volume of the American Historical Review, Lara Putnam’s article “The Transitional and the Text-Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast” investigates the relationship between the digital turn and transnational history and she suggests that “digital search has become the unacknowledged handmaiden of transnational history” – “historians can find without knowing where to look.”

In many respects, this is a great article that should be read by all historians, not just transnational historians, considering and meditating on their research tools and processes.  Putnam’s main thrust highlights how the digital turn has impacted historians work, particularly how OCR and the keyword search have accelerated our ability to locate primary and secondary sources using Google Books and databases such as ProQuest for newspapers.  Although seemingly benign, she suggests that this shift is revolutionary.

Particularly important to Putnam is the idea of “side-glancing” – the almost instance access to relevant secondary sources which allows scholars to glace outside of their own expertise to locate relevant materials.  Side-glancing, posits Putnam, enables scholars to break free from previous structures that limited historical scholarship, specifically state, regional, and local archives. Previously, archives made sense and also made researching the nation-state logical – going to multiple archives on multiple continents was and remains expensive.  Today, as Putnam emphasizes, one does not need to rely on the indexing of an archivist and sleuthing in the archive to make connections between people and places.  Instead, OCR keywords help scholars to make these connections and then pursue them, perhaps without ever leaving their office.

While this allows scholars to make connections that they previously could not, Putnam also issues pertinent warnings, particularly highlighting how digitized sources skew research. For example, citing Ian Milligan, Putnam describes how digitized newspapers are increasingly cited at the expense of other sources like local newspapers with more detailed coverage.  Moreover, she emphasizes that most digitization occurs in English and Western languages, significantly restricting the scope of OCR search and the results one gets.

Another important flaw to the keyword search is that it limits the historians understanding – if a keyword search provides a relevant newspaper article great; but it is also important to understand the context – what else was in the newspaper that day? What stories ran beside the own your search turned up?  How frequently did your topic appear? This also means that those individuals that appear in newspapers come to dominate narratives, perhaps leaving out important individuals that might be located in local and regional archives.

To combat the biases created by keyword searches and OCR, Putnam argues for the importance of researching in physical archives, noting that “things happen on the way to and in the archives.”  Being in a place and studying its past also puts historians in contact with local scholars with a better knowledge of the place and its archives.  As her narrative implies, Putnam does not advocate for “parachuting” approach to research whereby a scholars visits an archive for a week and photographs hundreds of documents – this hardly gives one a since of a place and its people, but for long-term methodical research.

Putnam’s arguments and reasoning are sound and I agree strongly with the importance of conducting archival research, especially for scholars studying countries besides the United States.  However, I think she fails to interrogate some of the restraints that her suggestions entail, specifically as they relate to doctoral students in the humanities.  These problems mostly revolve around the ability of departments and universities to fund long-term archival research, especially, as she notes, when the time degree is ticking.

For example, Putnam acknowledges that “support for graduate language study and region-specific interdisciplinary training is shriveling.”  A fact that anyone pursuing an advanced degree in the humanities recognizes.  But, her answer to this problem is for historians to recognize this as “an underserved niche” and “double down on placed-based expertise.”  Yet, this solution does not seem to solve the underlying problem – how do departments provide funding for their PhD students to developed this type of expertise, especially in a time when the political environment seems to be threatening the humanities existence?

Moreover, as she discusses, historians have long maintained strong place-based knowledge due to their need to visit administrative archives.  So, what exactly does doubling-down on placed-based expertise imply?  How does it make the humanities more relevant (perhaps valuable is a better word in today’s discourse) in and beyond academia? How does it help doctoral students find jobs?

This is not say that Putnam disregards these problems, noting that placed-based research “demands greater investment of time than current doctoral expectations make feasible.”  But, this statement hardly addresses the broader problems that are facing the humanities today.  We know that funding is scarce and that competition is fierce for money and jobs, particularly those without Ivy League credentials (yes prestige matters in the hiring and funding process), but how do we convey the value of humanities in order to secure the needed dollars to support long-term placed based research, especially for doctoral students?

Putnam’s article clearly identifies the impact keyword-search and OCR text search have had on historians’ scholarship and she makes a case for the importance of continuing place-based archival research to prevent the worst excesses of the digital turn.  Yet, if historians are to take her call for continued long-term research in foreign countries seriously, the discussion also needs to include conversations about funding this type of scholarship, especially for graduate students.  Working with limited budgets, we are the most likely to conduct “parachute” research, fail to gain a sense of place through brief visits to foreign destinations, and rely on digital primary sources.  But, if this problem is to be rectified, then departments, universities, states, and government are going to need to make an investment in place-based research, for professors and doctoral students alike.  Without this investment, Putnam’s solutions to double-down on place-based research seems plausible for only the most well-funded students and professors.

Refugee History in 20th Century Europe: A Brief Primer

A lot of smart people are discussing the current refugee crisis stemming from the Syrian Civil War.  Much of this commentary is critical of European states and asserts that Europe should look to a kinder gentler past when refugees were treated with dignity.  One of these commentators is Emily Bazelon of the New York Times. She is a extremely intelligent women, and I find her discussions on Slate’s Political Gabfest to be insightful, especially when clarifying legal issues in the United States Supreme Court.  There are few who can break down such complicated legal arguments and present them to the to the informed layperson.  Nevertheless, I find her recent attempt to delve into the refugee crisis in the New York Times Magazine an oversimplification of history.

Bazelon makes the case that during the 1920s  and after the Second World War the world was much more receptive to refugees.  In the 1920s, she emphasizes the care given to refugees of the Russian Civil War and other unstable regions who were issued Nansen Passports by the League of Nations.  She asserts that those who received these passports were quickly resettled in other countries belonging to the League of Nations (and therefore not the USA).  However, this is a major misinterpretation.  As Jay Milbrandt makes clear in his article Statelessthe Nansen Passports were not identical documents and issued haphazardly, leading some countries to rejected them.  Moreover, the passports had to be renewed every two years or they became invalidated.  As time went on, many states stopped validating the passports and started questioning the motives of those holding them.  In fact, Milbrandt suggests that those designated stateless faced a significant burden:

Although these documents [Nansen Passports] served to facilitate cross-border travel for many refugees, it provided no guarantees of protection from the state in which these individuals settled. In effect, although these individuals were granted increased freedom of movement through the Nansen Passport, they did not assure the protection enjoyed by citizens or nationals of the state in which they settled, such as personal welfare, access to employment, protection against expulsion, and other protections and liberties traditionally preserved through the state.

Therefore, simply because these refugees were permitted to flee their home countries did not mean that they were treated with dignity or accepted.

Next, Bazelon discusses the situation after the Second World War.  She seems to posit that was a period when refugees were gladly accepted by the nation’s of the world, especially the victims of the Holocaust.  However, this is flat out wrong.  In fact, in the case of the United States, the Congress only grudgingly passed legislation to aide postwar refugees.

In 1946, as camps in Germany began to swell, some European countries and the United States did began accepting refugees, but not enough to alleviate the problem. President Harry Truman’s special directive in December 1945 giving Displaced Persons (DPs) the first positions on the annual immigration quotas failed to alleviate the problem; moreover, the quota for Eastern Europe was only 13,000, leaving millions in camps. The situation was further aggravated in 1946 when thousands of Jews fled postwar Poland, following continued discrimination and pogroms.[1]  Unwilling to return home, the DPs presented a significant problem for the occupation forces that demanded a solution.  The result was the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 (DPA) which allowed 200,000 DPs to enter the United States; however, the legislation that emerged from the Congress specified quotas for each nationality, including the Jews.[2]  The DPA’s inherent problems were evident in Truman’s statement that the “bill was flagrantly discriminatory,” “mocks the American tradition of fair play,” and “discriminates in a callous fashion against displaced persons of the Jewish faith.”[3]  But, the bill passed on the last day of the 80th session. Truman only signed it because refusal meant, in his words, “there would be no legislation on behalf of displaced persons.”[4]

Passed in 1948, the DPA lasted for two years and allowed 200,000 DPs into the USA, and was restricted to only 10,000 Jews.  Further, in crafting this bill, the Congress called for strict investigations into refugees backgrounds.  The first step involved certification by the International Refugee Organization (IRO), a United Nations agency created in 1946, which screened refugees.  However, a former IRO official before the Congress described the IRO process as fraudulent stating that employees refused to check documents and were more interested in filling quotas then inspecting an individual’s background.[5]  The second step in the screening process called for an investigation of each individual by the Displaced Persons Committee (DPC), but the DPC delegated its responsibility to the U.S. Army which conducted neighborhood spot checks and examined German military records, UN camp records, and records in the Berlin Document Center.[6]  Eventually the DPA was renewed in 1950 and expired in 1952; however, with thousands of DPs still in camps, the 83rd Congress approved the Refugee Relief Act in 1953 allowing 200,000 more European DPs into the country.  Together, these two pieces of legislation permitted nearly 600,000 immigrants to enter the United States.[7]

As the case of the USA after the Second World War indicates, there was hardly a welcoming of refugees and much debating over quotas, something that Bazelon identifies as a problem in Europe today. After the war, Britain, in fact, sought every means to prevent Jews from migrating to the Palatinate Protectorate.   Yet, these actions demonstrate that not much has changed.  All nations remain protective of their boarders and want to make sure they know who is crossing their borders.  This is particularly difficult in Europe where the Nazi genocide removed the most persecuted minority and the Cold War basically froze borders, making nation-states rather homogeneous.  Yes, countries had minority populations, like the Turk guest workers in Germany, but most states had a dominant majority.

However, the opening of borders, the wealth of the European Union, and opportunities for immigrants has created new problems, leading to the increasing racism and right wing political parties like UKIP in Great Britain and the NPD in Germany.   The problem facing Europe, as many have pointed out, is that for centuries the continent was a net exporter of individuals, but now it’s wealth is making it a net importer.  Furthermore, the Syrian crisis partially stems from Europe and the USA’s decision to remain hands off, even after the use of chemical weapons.  Perhaps the best way to solve the refugee crisis is to solve the crisis, but geopolitical situation grows ever more complicated.

What we are witnessing is Europe coming  to grips with the challenge of being a net importer of individuals, and it will not be easy or simple.  One can criticize Europe and say that refugees were treated better in the past, but this is ahistorical.  One can say that Europe should open its borders and aid refugees, but a commentator must also consider history and domestic politics.  One can point to the acceptance of Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s, but one must consider the Vietnam War and American’s moral responsibility.  History, especially the history of refugees, is complicated.  Anyone providing a simple narrative has overlooked the extreme complexity and grayness of the past.  Does the crisis need solved? Yes.  Should refugees be treated with dignify? Yes.  But, looking for some romantic past doesn’t solve the current problem.

[1] Jan T. Gross, Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz, (New York: Random House, 2007).

[2] Leonard Dinnerstein, America and the Survivors of the Holocaust, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 163-182.

[3] Harry S. Truman, “Statement by the President Upon Signing the Displaced Persons Act,” June 25, 1948. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. ws/?pid=12942.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Edward M. Glazek, Hearings before the Subcommittee on Amendments to the Displaced Persons Act, Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 81st Congress, 1st and  2nd Session, February 3, 1950, 490-495.

[6] Allan A. Ryan Jr. Quiet Neighbors: Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals in America, (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1984), 20-22.

[7] Ibid., 26.

Greenwood Cemetery

This summer I was at a July 4th picnic overlooking the Ohio River and the city of Wheeling. From my vantage point, one can see the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, at one point the longest suspension bridge in the world, the Capitol Music Hall, home of the once popular Wheeling Jamboree broadcast on WWVA, the Flat Iron Building, and the Stone & Thomas Building among others.  Looking down at Wheeling and talking with a friend of mine, we were discussing several topics but we spent a good portion of our conservation talking about our mutual fascination with cemeteries.  Perhaps a morbid topic for a picnic but we nevertheless continued.  My friend described a trip he took several years ago to Buenos Aires and his visit to the La Recoleta Cemetery.  I was unaware of La Recoleta, but my friend detailed the ornamental cemetery with its above ground tombs and listed some of the notable individuals buried there, including Eva Peron and several Nobel Laurites.  A cursory Google search reveals the richness of the tombs and the fact that both the BBC and CNN listed it as one the most beautiful cemeteries in the world.

Although I have never visited a cemetery like La Recoleta, my childhood home and my parent’s home sits right next to Greenwood Cemetery, one of the larger city cemeteries in Wheeling.  Growing up next to a cemetery, I have never found them depressing, scary, or sad, but instead found them rather peaceful.  Most evenings, after the grounds crew goes home for the day, I like to walk through the cemetery gazing over the names those individuals long gone and those recently departed.  I look over the cemetery with its various monuments sections more as an anthropologist, observing the changes overtime and wondering what it says about our society.  For the last several summers, as I have wondered through Greenwood Cemetery, I have surreptitiously taken photos of the most unique monuments and thinking about writing down my observations.  My conversations this summer finally spurred me into action.

According to the Ohio County Public Library, Greenwood Cemetery was incorporated in 1866 by Mayor Andrew Sweeney, Archibald W. Campbell, Dr. Eugene A. Hildreth, W. M. List, and C. H. Berry on 37.5 acres along National Road.  Designed by James Gilchrist in the parklike style of the 19th century, the original acreage retains this feeling with curving roads shaded by large trees.  Why the park-like style?  Well 19th century America did not yet have great public parks, botanical gardens, or art museums and cemeteries provided a space individuals to walk outside and see large ornate monuments.  pumpIn the 20th century, Greenwood was expanded and the cemetery grounds now include almost 100 acres.  The newer parts have lost some of the park-like feel of the original section as cemeteries styles have changed, now having numerous individual stones rather than monuments.

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When you enter Greenwood Cemetery, you immediately see the original part of the cemetery, containing graves from the mid to late 19th century, with some 20th century markers scattered around.  I find this section to be the most visually appealing because it not only contains the family plots of some of the city’s most prominent families, such as Stifel, Schenk, Wilson, Reymann, Steenrod, and Spiedel, but it also has the most unique markers.  In this section, one is much more likely to find large family plots, perhaps indicating that families stayed in the region, and large obelisks mark many of these family plots.  I have always found the use of the obelisk fascinating as this monument style originated in ancient Egypt and now dominates the cemetery’s original grounds.

Why the popularity of the obelisk in U.S. cemeteries? In ancient Egypt, these monuments symbolized the sun god touching the Earth, and this style of monument became popular throughout ancient world.  Displaying IMG_0827.JPGThus, when attempting to convert pagan’s, the Catholic Church also adopted the obelisk, but added Christian symbolism.  According the website, Memorials in Stone, the Obelisk became popular in the United States during the period of Egyptian revivalism in the 19th century and represented patriotism, fatherhood, and power, another indicator of male dominance during the Victorian era.  Besides the obelisks, the older section contains more monument stones than any other section of the cemetery, including, angels, urns, and castle turret of the Maxwell plot.

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At the end, or bottom (since everything’s on a hill in WV) of the original section is the Thomas monument, the largest individual marker in Greenwood Cemetery.  The marker, with its life-sized statue, marks the final resting place of Jacob C. Thomas, a relatively famous individual in the region. Thomas and his business-partner Elijah J. Stone founded the dry goods store Stone & Thomas in 1847, which eventually evolved into a department store comparable to JC Penny’s. They started the store with only a $2,200 investment and it remained in operation for just over 150 years, being bought out in 1998.  Stone & Thomas expanded beyond its Wheeling store to Huntington, Charleston, Parkersburg, and most other larger WV cities.  Today, the Stone & Thomas building in downtown Wheeling is home to office spaces for business, including Williams Lea.  According his obituary, Thomas was a bachelor and died at his sister’s home in 1866.  In his will, Thomas directed that his executor “to have placed upon the burial lot in which my body may be interred at Greenwood Cemetery near the city of Wheeling a suitable granite monument at a cost of not less than Fifteen Thousand Dollars to be first paid by him out of my estate” (more information on Thomas, including his Will and Obituary, is at

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From the Thomas monument, if one veers to the right (facing Wheeling creek), they will notice a rather unique section that consists of Greek headstones with many displaying the Greek Orthodox Cross.  Growing in Wheeling, I also knew the city had a Greek population, but was surprised to find them in Greenwood.  Displaying IMG_0462.JPGNevertheless, I learned that a larger number of graves in this section came from Wheeling’s Peninsula Cemetery, and these individuals were moved during the construction of Interstate 70. According to the WV Cultural Center, the Peninsula Cemetery was opened in 1842 and was one of Wheeling’s largest cemeteries until interstate construction.

Uphill from the Thomas monument, sits the plot of the Shriver family and the new head stone of Daniel Shriver.  A Wheeling native, Shriver organized a company of men from Wheeling to serve in the Confederate Army and they became part of the 27th Infantry Regiment in the famous Stonewall Brigade.  shriverShriver was a lieutenant during the war and died in Wheeling in 1865.  I find Shriver an interesting individual as Wheeling was not only a hotbed for Republicanism during the 1860s, but was also the first capital of the state of West Virginia.  Thus, Shriver’s support of the Confederacy appears to challenge larger trends; moreover, a local organization recently replaced Shriver’s headstone.

Further to the left of Shriver’s grave, if one veers to the left (facing Wheeling creek), one enters into the newer and expanded sections of the cemetery.  It is here that one starts to notice the more individualized gravestones rather than the family plots of the original section.  The further to the right one goes, however, the more the stones become personalized.  While in older sections, some gravestones have etchings of civic organizations Displaying IMG_0459.JPGsuch as the Eagles, Lions, Shiners, and Masons, the more recent head stones are etched with sports teams, cars, song lyrics, musical instruments, etc., perhaps indicating the other directedness of American society.  This is not to say that these stones lack religious themes, but there is a far greater trend to illustrate the deceased personality.  Displaying IMG_0810.JPGSome might lament this as indication of secularization, but I would avoid this term, as the Egyptian obelisks of the 19th century are also non-Christian.

These changes in headstones are for me the most interesting part of walking through the cemetery.  Due to Greenwood’s age, a visitor is able to observe the changing trends not only in cemetery style and function, but also in how individuals have changed as well.  Displaying IMG_0812.JPGOne is able to observe how the things that people valued changed over time.  From my perspective, Greenwood has transitioned from large family plots with unique monuments and markers to individualized headstones that mark out the deceased uniqueness.  There are still numerous markers for couples, but the generational plots of the late 19th and early 20th centuries no longer exist.  Displaying IMG_0816.JPGThis is perhaps a result of Wheeling’s decline in the late 20th century or changing trends in American society. Either way, the richness of the gravestones has not decreased, simply altered from the days of Greenwood Cemetery’s opening.

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