The Vanishing Voter Paper

By on November 16, 2008 Comments Off on The Vanishing Voter Paper

The Honor Pledge: I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given, nor received any unauthorized help on this work.- Jason B. Ward

Abstract: In this paper I will summarize the Argument presented by Thomas Patterson in the second chapter of The Vanishing Voter, argue why his theory is not watertight, and discuss conclusions of other scholarly materials regarding the influence of party/candidate roles on voter turnout.

Chapter 2: Parties and Candidates, Politics of Movement

In the second chapter of his book, The Vanishing Voter, Thomas Patterson discusses how the diminishing power of political parties, coupled with the rise of strong candidates has weakened voter participation. Patterson begins his examination with a study from the 1950s which reveals that most voters could define the ideological principles of the Democratic and Republican parties. Patterson points to the triviality of campaigns as another sign of voter disenchantment, “In no other era has the outcome of presidential elections hinged so much on small issues as it has in recent decades.”[1] Patterson furthers his argument by saying that, in part, voters attribute their dissatisfaction to the media coverage of campaigns. On pages 28- 33 Patterson reveals the historical impetuses and fates of party realignment, he said, “The New Deal resolved much of the economic and status uncertainty that fueled the realignment cycle” which eventually led to special interests dictating party platforms.[2]

With parties abandoning broad visionary platforms in exchange for particularistic short- term objectives, voters seemed to be adrift without parties that represented their ideals. Consequently, turnout declined. Patterson notes that by the mid-1980s studies showed that voters had a tougher time identifying the parties’ ideological principles.  Independents arose from this group of previous partisans who could no longer conceptualize the guiding principles of their once beloved parties. Patterson says that independents are not as attuned to campaigns, and thus are not as reliable to turnout as are partisans. The premise Patterson tries to prove is that Republicans and Democrats have divergent means, but similar ends, “Party decline was inevitable when the long-term struggle over competing visions of the nation waned.”[3] Patterson identifies diminishing party relevance as the catalyst for diminishing voter turnout.

The last third of Chapter Two is devoted to the current candidate- centeredness of campaigns as well as the media involvement in them. Patterson attributes the reformed nomination process of the late 1960s, that shifted the emphasis away from party elders to primary elections, as a key reason for candidate- centeredness. With candidate- centeredness comes ad hominem attacks which often serve to disengage the electorate. Patterson says that as campaign war chests and interest groups increased, voters felt discouraged and voiceless. More voters feel that politics is only a game for the rich, elite, beltway insiders. Patterson finally argues that the media have turned campaigns in to a show for ratings. Voters tune out when their interests are trivialized and pushed aside, “People resent the type of election coverage that makes mountains out of molehills.”[4]

Voter Turnout: A National Myth and the Influence of Part Ideology

I must say that Patterson does a good job of summarizing the thematic history of American politics, especially as it pertains to party realignments. The New Deal forever redefined the role that the government would play in the handling of the national economy, and both parties had to adapt to that reality. I think Patterson also aptly characterizes the current nature of political campaigns, especially how candidates and the media are more important than ever. It can be argued that Barack Obama’s candidacy was the biggest, most overt “cult of personality” campaign run in U.S. election history. I also believe that the media are only enabling the superficial and hyper-polarized nature of campaigns by their sensational and editorial coverage. That having been said, I think Patterson’s selective portrayal of American history and over-generalization of electoral politics ultimately hurts his argument.

1. High voter turnout in elections of yore is a myth. Patterson makes the argument that not only is voter participation low in America, it is decreasing.  Yes, compared to other established Western democracies, America’s voter participation is low, but relative to American electoral history, turn out in 2008 is roughly only five or six points lower than the highest turn out of the past 100 years (66% in 1908).[5] Before that, turnout was slightly higher, but the graft and corruption of Gilded Age politics inflated those numbers.  When this book was published in 2002 turnout trends in America were downward, but the past two presidential elections have seen participation above 60%. So, although participation amongst those who are eligible to vote is objectively low, the idea that America has high voter turn out historically, is just not true.

2. Patterson has selectively misrepresented candidate-centeredness. In this chapter, one of Patterson’s main arguments is that the diminished effectiveness of parties, and the rise of stronger candidates has exacerbated the decrease in voter turnout. I accept his notion that parties have weakened, and that candidates are now heavily emphasized, but since voter participation is on the rise, Patterson’s argument does not remain true. The influence of both parties and candidates has changed, but this change is not responsible for the vanishing voter. True to Patterson’s general idea, Barack Obama, not the Democratic party, can be credited for voter excitement in 2008, but it was Obama’s articulation of the fundamental ideals of the Democratic party that won him the election. This election was a clear choice about the future direction of the country, and Obama went back to basics by channeling the tenets of the Democratic party- government intervention in the economy, protecting the “little guy”, and hope. Obama was able to frame this election as a referendum on Republican leadership and the endorsement of a Democratic vision for the future.

With the potential for a filibuster proof senate still attainable, it seems as though voters did not just like what Obama was saying, but they liked what the national Democratic party was promising. Yes, with the myriad and often times conflicting party platforms, the parties no longer insure voter loyalty, but when the stakes are high and citizens long for a new direction, the parties become cognitive shortcuts. The Democrats will control Washington because people can still differentiate between the two distinct directions offered by the parties.

3. Voter turnout is conditional, and that it okay. As was quoted earlier, Patterson believes that recent elections have hinged on small issues. I disagree. There is no doubt that every campaign is characterized by the trivial, but I believe that voters are motivated to vote when the country is in the midst of defining crises. I categorize elections into three groups: “peace and prosperity elections” (1984, 1988, 1996, 2000), “wartime elections”(2004), and “economic elections”(1980, 1992, 2008). “Peace and prosperity” campaigns are defined by and decided on polarizing wedge issues and petty political attacks. With seemingly little at stake in a toxic political environment, voters stay home. “Wartime” campaigns can be just as vicious, for example, the morally reprehensible “swiftboating” of John Kerry in 2004. Because we were at war voter turnout was as high as it had been since the 1960s. Regardless of campaign tactics, voters are not likely to change horses in midstream and in 2004 they relied on the cognitive shortcut that Republicans were the national security party. In 1992 and 2008 “it was the economy, stupid!” of course there were many “small” distractions like Bill Clinton’s marijuana use and Barack Obama’s alleged connections with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, but at the end of the day people voted with their pocketbooks- and voted for the Democrats.

Every election since 1800 has been mired in mudslinging, (some of the worst occurred in 1828 and 1884) but about half of all presidential elections have been decided on transcendent national issues. So, is higher turnout the new trend? Yes and no. As long as elections are defined by critical issues like war and economic vitality, voter turnout will only continue to increase because Americans really do care about the direction of the country. On the other hand, at the first sign of peace and prosperity, I suspect voters will become complacent and stay home.

Other Articles on Turnout and My Conclusion

In the article, Low Voter Turnout: Is America’s democracy in trouble? (2000) Mary Cooper, quotes Carolyn Jefferson- Jenkins, the president of the League of Women Voters, “‘If you listen to any conversation, everybody has an opinion [about politics], and everybody’s talking about what’s going on, that’s not apathy. People are not apathetic, they’re disengaged.'”[6] The article goes on to cite Roderick Hart’s analysis that, “low turnout is ultimately an affirmation of the status quo.”[7] These insights offered by scholars and political insiders, reinforce my point that until something ‘engages’ the electorate, a non-vote is a vote of confidence.

In the article, The Partisan Divide (2004), by Alan Greenblatt, Will Marshall the president of The Progressive Policy Institute argues that the polarization of American politics has led to parity among the two parties.  “So what will end this period of parity? ‘Big events are going to reshape the political landscape’ Marshall says.”[8] In the 2008 general election polarization seemed to fall by the wayside, the big event that reshaped the landscape? The economic crisis. In the second chapter of his book, Patterson predicated his argument of low voter turnout on the weakening of parties. With the perfect concoction of one of the most appealing presidential candidates of all time, along with the party- devised and implemented “50 state strategy”, the Democrats of 2008 proved that D.C. was big enough for a strong, effective party and a strong, effective candidate.

In conclusion, the two specific reasons Patterson cites for low voter turnout, weakened parties and candidate- centeredness, ended up being two of the reasons for higher voter turnout in 2008. Therefore, Patterson’s thesis and conclusions are no longer valid. Voter participation is conditional. The “condition” is typically whether voters deem an electoral decision important enough in which to participate. In other words, voters vote when they want.  As an American who cherishes his freedom to exercise (or not exercise) his rights, I think voter turnout is just fine as it is.

End Notes

[1] Patterson, Thomas E. The Vanishing Voter. New York: Vintage Books, 2002, p. 26.

[2] Ibid, 32.

[3] Ibid, 47.

[4] Ibid, 57.

[5] Khan, Huma. “Voter Turnout Numbers Could Set Record.”

[6] Cooper, Mary, H. Low Voter Turnout: Is America’s democracy in trouble?”

[7] Hart, Roderick. “Campaign Talk: Why Elections are good for us” (2000). Quoted in Mary Cooper, “Low Voter Turnout: Is America’s democracy in trouble?”

[8] Greenblatt, Alan. “The Partisan Divide: Are Politics More Polarized Than Ever?”

Bibliography and Media Citations

Cooper, Mary, H. “Low Voter Turnout: Is America’s democracy in trouble?” CQ Researcher Vol. 10, Iss. 36 (Oct. 20, 2000) http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre2000102000&type=hitlist&num=0 (date accessed: November 16, 2008)

Greenblatt, Alan. “The Partisan Divide: Are Politics More Polarized Than Ever?” CQ Researcher Vol. 14, Iss. 16 (Apr. 30, 2004) http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre2004043000&type=hitlist&num=2 (date accessed: November 16, 2008)

Khan, Huma. “Voter Turnout Numbers Could Set Record.” abcnews.com October 24, 2008. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Story?id=6099769&page=1(date accessed: November 16, 2008)

Patterson, Thomas E. The Vanishing Voter. New York: Vintage Books, 2002.

Picture Citation

Irish Quad, “The Vanishing Voter Book Cover Image”

www.irishquad.com/images/sale/B016.jpg

(Accessed: November 16, 2008)

The Long Walk Home

By on November 11, 2008  Tagged Comments Off on The Long Walk Home

Wow! What a great movie, what an emotional movie, and what a pertinent movie. With it being exactly one week after the election of our nation’s first black president, I could not stop thinking about how monumentous that election really was as I watched The Long Walk Home. I was born in 1987 and grew up with blacks, I went to school with them, played with them, and interacted with them in myriad ways everyday. For many of this generation Obama’s candidacy was definitely different, but it was far from unthinkable or unbelievable.  We, and in fact most Americans, did not consider his race to be a deciding factor either way. That can be attributed to Obama’s personal choice to not be a “race candidate”, but it is also a testement to how far many Americans have come in accepting non- whites in positions of power and prestige.  I have heard pundits in the press say things to the effect of “it’s about time” or “it took long enough”. I too am glad this day has finally come for America, but watching a film that depicted the very painful reality of segregation that existed only fifty years ago really put things into perspective. In the 1950s blacks were “a different species” and frankly I think we have come a long way. My parents were born in 1953 and 1954, my grandparents were raising their families when the repugnance of racism was at its most raw. Although racism is still visible in very real and heartbreaking forms, for those leaders of the civil rights movement who are still around, what was at one time inconceivable is now a reality.

It’s What Glory Did Not Say

By on October 8, 2008  Tagged , Comments Off on It’s What Glory Did Not Say

This was the first time I had ever seen this movie and I must say I was impressed. I thought it was entertaining and engaging. I agree with Elizabeth, I too would put this in the Amistad category of historical accuracy with crucial shortcomings. The problem I have with this movie is that it portrays the 54th, in fact, the entire Union victory as a forgone conclusion. The sense I got from the lecture and readings was that during the war, the situation was a little more tenuous. Dr. McClurken said that Blacks learned the heartbreaking realities of politics and discrimination through their service. Although the movie did a good job of showing racism towards blacks in the military at first, by the end of the movie all of the wounds were healed. The movie did not reference the New York draft riots, or convey the truth that the majority of black battalions were actually labor units. This movie makes it seem like once the black soldiers proved themselves as capable brothers- in- arms, a certain equality had been achieved. I also take issue with the fact that the film portrays the South as all bad, and the North as either racist- white or tolerant- white. The political situation was far more complicated, and the movie fell short in representing the viewpoints that shaped the social and political landscape of the Civil War.  I guess the best way to put it is, what the film left out is more damaging than what was in.

Expectations and Initial Opinions

By on September 1, 2008  Tagged Comments Off on Expectations and Initial Opinions

I am looking foward to this class a lot because I have always been fascinated by movies. One of my favorite hobbies is watching a movies’ director’s commentary, but I have never really researched a movie/ a movie’s particular historical subject to any great depth. At the beginning of each semester I think about my expectations for a class, and one of my expectations for U.S. History in Film is that I will forever view movies in a new way. Furthermore, I expect that I will always ponder the veracity of the story being told on screen. These expectations excite me, I want to be an active watcher of films, I want to always question what is being shown by “Hollywood”.

I believe it is extremely important to watch with a critical eye, for many of the reasons that we discussed last Thursday. For one, movies are ubiquitous. Movies are marketed, they are seen by mass audiences, and (if done well) they have a long shelf- life. With breathtaking cinematography, astute direction, and award winning acting it is no wonder that Americans accept a rewriting of History through film. I would say that if a historical film makes a powerful emotional appeal, audiences will identify with the human interest story so much that the historical “nuts and bolts” become secondary.

One historical film that always makes a strong emotional impact with me is, A League of Their Own. I did not do my 299 on Women’s baseball during World War II, so I generally accept that representation as historically accurate. Frankly, the emotional climax of the sisterhood storyline of Kit and Dottie at the Hall of Fame reunion effectively places the historical accuracy of the film into the background. It could be argued that A League of Their Own was not produced to tell the historical story of the Woman’s Baseball League, or that it is as much a sports drama as anything else. Regardless, in my opinion it serves as one of the most prominent representations of the 1940s homefront. I also think it is a good example of the larger point I am trying to make which is that a film’s emotional storyline will often diminish its historical focus. In turn, Americans look at a film’s Historical setting as a subtext, taking it as the truth, “it looks like the ’40s, it sounds like the ’40s…it is the 1940s”. This is dangerous because by not representing a historical time with accurate depictions, important lessons to be learned from history could be lost. For example, if you downplay or eliminate misogyny from A League of Their Own, you eliminate a part of our nation’s historical narrative and a chance to educate future generations

“I’m Going to Graceland. . .”

By on April 2, 2008 Comments Off on “I’m Going to Graceland. . .”

Sorry for putting this up so late, but here is my music analysis. The song is Graceland by Paul Simon.

I provide a link which was passed along to me by Professor Fernsebner that provides a little more background into Paul Simon’s psyche.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/28/arts/music/28simo.html?_r=2&st=cse&sq=paul+simon&scp=1&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

The other link is a youtube clip of a Graceland performance.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtT7Og2LBbE

             Frankly, I have never been an Elvis fan, so whenever I heard the Paul Simon song Graceland, I either skipped it or did not pay it any attention.  Over the past year or so I have become a huge Paul Simon fan, so I decided to give Graceland another chance. I realized that “Graceland” was a metaphor for Simon’s soul searching, not merely an homage to a rock ‘n roll legend. I believe that the best artists speak to listeners with poignancy and power, and that is exactly what Paul Simon has done with his 1986 Song.

            When Simon wrote this song he was forty- five years old, and he had already reached fame within the folk/pop era as part of the duo Simon and Garfunkel.  In the 1970s Simon became a solo artist with successful hits and albums, during this decade he also married his first wife.  By the mid 1980s his marriage was ending, and he was redefining his sound and career. It was his trip to South Africa that shaped the Graceland album. Graceland features the use of African instruments and musicians which offered Simon a new perspective on his life. Through experimental sounds and poetic lyricism, Simon uses Graceland to convey the importance of human emotion.

            The raw pain of a failed marriage and a mid-life/ identity crisis become the driving force in the song. The events of Simon’s life that have left him hurt and confused ultimately lead him to search for spirituality and fulfillment.  One of the most powerful verses of the song describes the aftermath of his marriage, “And she said losing love is like a window in your heart, everybody sees you’re blown apart, everybody sees the wind blow.” These lyrics resonate so well with listeners because most people have felt the vulnerability of being wronged, hurt, or deserted.  Simon takes those emotions and uses them as motivation to find meaning in his life. The final verse of the song portrays the action moving on, “And I may be obliged to defend every love every ending or maybe there’s no obligations now, maybe I’ve a reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland”.  At first Simon is trying to justify and make sense of what has happened in his life, but then says, find your Graceland. Find a place where you can explore your emotions and ideas to forge a new or stronger identity.

            For his entire career Paul Simon was an expressive, emotional artist rather than an “activist” artist.  Simon’s aforementioned trip to South Africa in 1986 was controversial because he violated a cultural boycott of the South African Government.  The South African boycott was an international response to the government mandated Apartheid, or segregation of blacks and whites in South Africa.  Paul Simon did not go to South Africa intent on making a political criticism, but the social implications of his song and album Graceland proved powerful. The lyrics of Graceland do not overtly criticize the apartheid, but by recording with black South African musicians Simon gave voice to a marginalized group.  Simon was able to erode the control of the apartheid by introducing the world to black South African music. Graceland is a far more powerful song because instead of “criticizing the bad guys”, Simon empowered the meek.

“This is Shenzhen”

By on March 24, 2008 Comments Off on “This is Shenzhen”

 This case study was an eyeopening exposee on the realities of the new economic and social conditions in China. The old Communist system kept China behind the curve, so the natural reaction to correct the problem was reform. Reform provided new opportunities for wealth, the only problem is these “new opportunities” were not industries or careers that would propel China into a modern economy. 

Prostitution was just one of the “professions” where impoverished factory workers could supplement their income for a hope of a better future. Because the new economy was based in self- interest, there was no more focus on the greater good for China. With much of the population living hand- to- mouth, and only looking out for themselves, the vitality and economic potential of China has been drastically compromised.

The Chinese Communist party is losing its grip on the people not because they have allowed reform, but because they have not provided a lucrative structure by which the Chinese worker can benefit. The CCP has just fallen short. There is no way that a factory job can sustain the level of productivity the new pseudo- free-market economy needs in order to expand. For this Shenzhen hooker, Prostitution is only the means to her ultimate end of becoming an entrepreneur.

This has disastrous consequences for the Party because the Chinese have accepted the reality that they can no longer depend on the state for security. Furthermore, these economic realities will erode the power and influence of the party. If Chinese citizens realize that they are better off achieving success through other means e.g. prostitution or (my previous blog’s focus) the People’s Liberation Army, then the party will lose power. The Party has yet another concern, if they so chose to be concerned by it. Not only is their populous struggling economically, but the Specialized Economic Zones have become a breeding ground for drugs, disease, and crime along with myriad other societal problems.  

In summation, this “by an means necessary” attitude for wealth has handicapped the Chinese citizen and economy, while simultaneously eroded the power of the party. How will The party address these new concerns? and How successful will the Chinese be at functioning in a developing economy?

 http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2004093811_chinaarmy27.html

 

For my research this semester I am looking at the role of the People’s Liberation Army in the “New China”, the China of modernization and reform. I found an informative Seattle Times article that explains just how integral the PLA has become to the progress of China. Under Maoist thought the slogan was, “Throw Away Your Pen and Join the Army” which was an overt call for duty to country, while also rebuking intellectuals. However, as China has made more democratic and technological reforms the slogan has evolved into, “Carry Your Pen to the Army and Become More Accomplished”. This article chronicles a transformed Chinese military which is in turn transforming China.

 

The PLA has undergone a public relations facelift since its days as the states’ iron fist at Tiananmen Square. Today the public image of the PLA reflects an army for the people, not against the people. Many recent relief efforts by the PLA have help to restore glory to a position in the military. Another selling point for the PLA has been its ability to provide technical skills that are not available in China’s private sector. Because of the technological modernizations, the military has required higher levels of education in order to be admitted as a soldier. This redesigned military has undoubtedly made China a more versatile and potent threat, but what this means for the party could have a more profound effect.

 

PLA soldiers are no longer just scraped from the bottom of the barrel, this new dynamic military will require professional soldiers. Many university students see the army as a springboard into a successful life in the government. Zhou Hao is a student at Tsinghua University, “I prefer to work for the government after I graduate, and I think my experience in the army will help me to get a position”. Because the soldiers are getting better education and training in high tech fields, they will be able to go back to university and get a better degree for their future careers. In this way the agent of change or mobility in China is no longer solely the party.

 

The party and the army have always been inextricably linked, but now the relationship is changing. People are seeing the army as a viable mode of social and career mobility, and the party is not too comfortable with that. “The army now offers higher salaries, higher status than before and more opportunities for advancement. If you wore the uniform before, maybe you couldn’t get a girlfriend. Now, even that’s different.” The party liked the fact that they were the ultimate dispensers of success, but now the army is becoming its own provider of success. One way the CCP has combated this new autonomy of the PLA is to require a re-education of the military, including soldiers, on the principles of Chinese socialism and party ideology. The link to another article shows the state’s response to the military’s power presented in this article.

http://english.people.com.cn/90001/90776/90785/6353225.html

Family as the Fulcrum

By on February 20, 2008 Comments Off on Family as the Fulcrum

I would like to take a closer look at the Chinese family to see how it is represented by the myriad perspectives we have encountered thus far. Although family never seemed to play the primary role of importance in Chinese life, there seemed to be a constant commentary on its function. Perhaps why I find this topic so intriguing is, regardless of the world or events around us, family is the one constant.

Family jumped right off the pages of Red Sorghum, and I thought, How is family remembered? What is the purpose of family? Is it the “glue” that holds life together, or is it a pawn used for selfish aims? While watching In The Heat of the Sun The scenes that involved the family members were some of the most poignant. Since this film was set during the Cultural Revolution, it provided a completely new perspective. Some questions that I ponder as I reflect on the film include: How important is the family? There is a state demand that calls on the young to repudiate what their parents and older generations stand for, how does that message contradict natural feelings of filial duty? I suppose the general theme that comes out of comparing and contrasting these two sources is, context for analysis. Both of these stories are set during times of immense turmoil and conflict. How does the family complicate these matters? Or how does the family survive or evolve through these times?

The flip-side to the perspective of a filmmaker or author would be to examine what the State has done to construct a family identity. By looking at Picturing Power in the People’s Republic,Linda Benson’s book, and Stefan Landsberger’s Posters website I would like to see how a state created definition of state would differ from a personal interpretation or representation.

“In the Heat of the Sun”, Red Sorghum, and The Chinese Military

By on February 17, 2008 Comments Off on “In the Heat of the Sun”, Red Sorghum, and The Chinese Military

My blog this week will touch on a lot of different topics. I would first like to comment on the film we watched last week, and just share some notes I jotted down. Since I am new to the Eastern perspective, whenever I encounter this material I am always trying to relate it to something I have seen before. This approach does not always work of course, but sometimes it is really helpful in understanding the universality of themes.

Last week I would scribble notes down every time I saw something in the film that reminded me of American cinema. For instance, “the gang” reminded me a lot of Stand By Me, as did the general narration of the story. “Gangs” seem to be the vehicle for coming- of- age stories. There was that scene in the swimming pool, (I will get back to the swimming pool later- that setting was often employed) where Monkey was drifting into fantasy or at least admiring Mi Lan in her red bathing suit coming out of the pool, which just hearkened back to Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Sexuality, and coming in to one’s own, sexually is universal. I thought it was interesting that the imagery was so similar. Every so often during the film I would see echoes of The Graduate, one of my favorite movies. The Final scene of this movie is reminiscent of the scene in The Graduate where Benjamin is in his pool sinking in his scuba suit. There is something about a swimming pool that so perfectly communicates distance, desolation, and isolation. I could go on, but I will wait and see if anyone would like to pick up this thread and keep running with it. I would love to discuss!

Since this is a rather long post I will just comment on some of my ideas about Red Sorghum and my topic. The role smell has in shaping memory and with creating effective literature. Also, I was watching BBC America this weekend and there was a feature on the youth of China becoming involved with military training. I did not see all of the story but I think it was related to a physical education class.

PLA Soldier and Boy in 1975

By on February 4, 2008 Comments Off on PLA Soldier and Boy in 1975

pla99.jpg

 “Defend the islands with one mind, rebuild the islands as one family, 1975.”

This is a propaganda poster for the People’s Liberation Army from 1975. The caption says so much about the ideals of Communist China. In January of 1974 The PLA was involved in a military exercise against the South Vietnamese for the Paracel Islands. These three islands in the South China Sea were recaptured by the PLA after an amphibious invasion. “Defend the islands with one mind…” calls on the Chinese to be committed to the same objectives, unity in national defense and national purpose. “Rebuild the islands as one family…” The Paracel islands were seen as part of greater China and thus part of the “greater Chinese family”. This poster calls on every Chinese citizen, young and old, to strengthen China together.

By this time the Cultural Revolution was over, or at least coming to an end, as was Mao’s life itself. This poster is a powerful one because it represents the “changing of the gaurd” in many ways.  Political leadership was going through a transitional phase at this time, with some wanting modernization and others, a continuation of the status quo. This PLA soldier is grooming a young boy in the same mold in order to perpetuate the ideals of Red China.

So, at this point perhaps the ideals for which the PLA were fighting remained the same, but there was a fundamental difference in what the military would look like. As we look at the poster notice the traditional fatigues both man and boy are wearing, to me it conjures up the images of one of our sailors  in World War II, and the boy looks like Beaver Cleaver going to a boy scout meeting- hardly a cutting edge look. Their weapons as well, the boy is holding a spear, and the soldier is holding what looks to be a wooden weapon of some kind. Behind them on the shore is a wooden row boat, and only off in the distance might there be modern ships.

There is great use of red in the poster, it is not dominant but the boy wears red around his neck and around his spear, the lookout flag in the back has red on it, and the soldier has red on his hat and uniform. All of this contrasts with the soft dawn colors of the painting. The sun is rising over the South China Sea, and the soldier and boy look out to the horizon as if to know that greater days are ahead. The new generation is ready to follow the footsteps in the sand.


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