(Cross-posted on The Other McCain)
(Note: University of Rhode Island Assistant Professor of History Erik Loomis has recently established himself as a famous laughingstock of online political argument, using the excuse “metaphor” to claim that it’s OK to say that the National Rifle Association is a “terrorist organization”and that he wants NRA chief Wayne LaPierre’s “head on a stick,” prior todeleting his Twitter account. This inspired curiosity as to Professor Loomis’s academic qualifications. — RSM)
Having recently delved a bit into Erik Loomis’s apparent craving for attention. I thought I’d delve a bit into his scholarship in response to R.S. McCain’s tweet wondering what Loomis wrote about for his history Ph.D dissertation. McCain suggested the dissertation might be on “Historical Uses of Violent Obscene Language in Political Discourse.” I suppose he meant that in jest, but what I found was actually weirder. Loomis earned his Ph.D (with distinction!; C.V. here) writing about (in part) homosexual lumberjacks and castrated Marxists in the early 1900s (well, okay, only one castrated Marxist).
An abstract of Loomis’s 2008 dissertation, “The Battle for the Body: Work and Environment in the Pacific Northwest Lumber Industry, 1800-1940,” is available here.
I downloaded the full dissertation and skimmed through it. I don’t recommend that you follow suit, unless — perhaps — you’re intrigued by homosexual lumberjacks, the lynching and castration of Marxists, and/or Marxist labor organizing generally. And even then, it’s a dull, plodding read. (By contrast, I have to give Loomis credit for cranking out interesting tweets; too bad he recently deleted his Twitter account, so that all we can look forward to is the chance to peruse the archive of his past tweets, still available on Topsy.com.)
The dissertation’s basic story is pretty much what you’d expect of your typical leftist historian at an American university. During the first century or so of trees being felled in the Northwest after the white man first arrived in force, the greedy capitalists raped the land and killed the gentle forest creatures, despite the best efforts of the ordinary, salt-of-the-earth lumberjacks who wanted to preserve the environment and save the animals. Plus, they wanted better pay and working conditions, of course.
Marxist unionists (with the Industrial Workers of the World, “I.W.W.”) seized on the situation early in the 1910s and sought to unionize the lumberjacks. Their efforts were bearing fruit, but then World War I intervened. The government had an urgent need for spruce wood for its airplanes, so in an E – V – I – L conspiracy, it: (1) forced the timber companies to give the lumberjacks basically everything they wanted, in terms of pay and working conditions; (2) forced the lumberjacks to join a government-established union; and (3) forced the lumberjacks to reject the Marxist unionists, and their I.W.W. But, the government did nothing to help save the earth or help the animals — all it cared about was winning the war by preventing disruption of spruce wood production!
The Marxist unionists weren’t happy with this, so as soon as the war was over, in the small town of Centralia, Washington, the Marxists staged an ambush of American Legion members who opposed them, using two snipers hidden in the hills — killing four of the Legionnaires (including two war heroes). The town folk weren’t happy with this, so they lynched one of the Marxists and prosecuted the rest, getting them sentenced to long prison terms. Thus died the chance for the Marxists to unionize the lumberjacks and thereby improve their pay and working conditions and save the environment and animals. Eventually, in the mid-1930s, the AFL-CIO unionized the lumberjacks, but by that point environmental conditions in the forests weren’t a pressing issue; all the AFL-CIO focused on was pay and working conditions. The bottom line is that despite the lumberjacks’ long-held wish to help save the earth and the peaceful forest creatures, they never got the union backing they needed to effectively advance this agenda against the greedy capitalists (and the E – V – I – L government forces).
In general, pretty much a waste of paper and computer storage space, though probably not the worst liberal claptrap ever produced by an American history Ph.D candidate. However, three parts of Loomis’s dissertation caught my attention, because they suggest that weird, sometimes violence-supportive, ideas are hardly new to Loomis (in other words, it seems he exhibited a weird streak in his writing even before Twitter; Twitter just gave him a more visible outlet).
1. For some reason, Loomis can’t resist talking about early 20th centuryhomosexual lumberjacks, and the anal sex they preferred (over oral sex). I mean, after reading pages 155-56 I immediately thought of the Monty Python “Lumberjack Song” (video here; lyrics here). And I felt I needed a shower, too. Here’s the key excerpt (bottom of p. 155 and top of p. 156) (citations omitted):
The Wobblies [Marxist unionists] claimed that workers spread these diseases [syphilis and other STDs] to one another through men using contaminated blankets, but homosexuality in the camps seems a more likely explanation, though neither union or lumber industry publications ever discussed this.
Historian Peter Boag discusses in great detail the history of homosexual men in the Pacific Northwest of the early twentieth century. Boag shows us that working-class men, including loggers, looked to find a partner that could cut through their loneliness and misery, share sex, and provide companionship as they moved around the West. Usually these relationships consisted of an older man and a younger man where the older man generally dominated and took care of the younger. Boag asserts that these men generally preferred anal sex, as opposed to the oral sex often practiced by the middle-class gay subculture thriving in the Northwest’s cities. Given that males dominated the population of the Northwest throughout its industrial expansion after 1890 it is not surprising that so many loggers made partners of other men.
2. For some reason Loomis can’t resist spending three pages (pp. 191-93) discussing whether or not the town folk of Centralia castrated the Marxist who was involved in the ambush before they lynched him. I guess this is one of Loomis’s few opportunities to talk about “genderized” discourse. Here are the key excerpts from that discussion:
[N]o one could match Wesley Everest’s manhood. The Wobblies defended Everest’s manhood with intense vigor because they wanted to make him a martyr but also because they believed the mob had castrated him before killing him thus stripping him of the ultimate symbol of his manhood.
* * *
Wesley Everest’s alleged castration raises ideas about gendered bodies. Whether Everest’s murderers actually castrated him is in doubt. But soon the legend sprung up that the mob had castrated Everest, a notion promulgated by John Dos Passos in his novel, 1919. . . . [T]he Wobblies used the idea of castration, the ultimate demanning of the body, to further their agenda about manhood, the body, and the environment. For the I.W.W., Everest’s testicles held the core of working-class manhood.
3. In his discussion of the Marxists’ deadly ambush of the American Legion members in Centralia (pp. 195-200), one gets the strong sense that Loomis is rooting for the Marxist assassins (perhaps no surprise, given recent developments). I didn’t notice any criticism of the Marxists for staging the ambush, but I did notice Loomis going into some detail about why the Marxists felt their ambush justified. Further, Loomis portrays the overwhelming contemporary newspaper opinion against the Marxists as perhaps indicative of xenophobia, and as reflecting the public’s view that Marxist unionists weren’t patriotic (because, Loomis to his credit notes, of the minor detail that they had been against the U.S. winning the war). Loomis implies that the effort of the Legionnaires “to get their side of the story out” (p. 198) was some sort of propaganda effort even though it mostly involved pointing out that the two Marxists who hid in the hills as snipers, so they could kill the four Legionnaires, didn’t face the Legionnaires “straight on.” (P. 199).
I can’t say I enjoyed reading Loomis’s dissertation, which struck me as basically aimless and uninteresting, and contributing little if anything to the study of U.S. history. ( I fear for our current generation of students if Loomis is typical of modern professors.). But I did think it worthwhile to take a look at the dissertation, and write this up, for the perspective it may supply in evaluating Loomis’s recent activities. Thanks to R.S. McCain for suggesting an inquiry into Loomis’s dissertation.