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The Diem Experiment (Part Two)
July 17, 2019 08:10 AM PDT
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Back in Saigon in 1954, Ngo Dinh Diem becomes premier of a country shattered by war and partition. With reunification elections looming, Diem barely controls the grounds of his own palace. Hostile Frenchmen, religious militias, a crime syndicate, ex-emperor Bao Dai, and Diem's own military conspire to end his rule before it can begin. Baffled American diplomats do political triage to avert a coup, urging Diem to bring his rivals to the table. But the new premier has other plans...

The Diem Experiment (Part One)
April 24, 2019 08:26 AM PDT
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For nine years at the height of the Cold War, America's global crusade against communism rested on the shoulders of Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem. Hailed as a "miracle man" who brought the blessings of democracy and development to South Vietnam, Diem became a celebrity. But his miracles had a steep price. As his regime soaked up millions of dollars in American aid and military support, it ruthlessly suppressed its enemies, devastated villages, and failed to cope with a rising communist insurgency. As the Diem experiment began to absorb US prestige, money, and lives, Americans began to question whether their adventure in Southeast Asia was worth the cost...

Part one of this series explores Diem's rise to power and the origins of America's involvement in Vietnam. Diem tries to chart a "third way" between communism and empire; French, Japanese, and Americans vie for influence; and Vietnamese factions battle for the future of their country as a hapless emperor watches.

Soldiers of Capital (Part Two)
July 13, 2018 07:54 AM PDT
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After sending the Molly Maguires to the scaffold in 1877, Pinkerton's National Detective Agency plunged headlong into America's labor conflict. At the vanguard of its war on organized labor was the Protective Patrol, an armed force that deployed to over seventy major strikes. Was the Patrol a lawkeeping elite, as the Agency and its employers claimed? Or, as labor leaders and reformers argued, was it a gang of cold-blooded, mercenary killers? After a disastrous intervention in 1892, testimony in a dramatic Congressional hearing revealed that both sides might have been wrong all along...

Soldiers of Capital (Part One)
January 18, 2018 04:12 PM PST
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Pinkerton's National Detective Agency was 19th-century America's premier private police force, the leader of a flourishing industry that offered solutions to the chaos and corruption of the nation's law enforcement. But the Pinkertons were more than just detectives. By the 1890s, they were a private army-on-call for powerful corporations. In the first episode of this two-part series, we'll chart the birth and evolution of the Agency -- from its founding by a radical immigrant in the 1850s to its bloody pursuit of outlaws and Irish labor groups in the decades after the Civil War.

From Camelot to Abilene
July 02, 2017 08:35 AM PDT
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In a country as big and diverse as America, stories are crucially important to our sense of common identity. But where do those stories come from, and who creates them? In this episode, we examine the work of writer Owen Wister, who gave Americans one of the touchstones of our common culture: the cowboy. But beneath the familiar surface of this legendary figure lies a complex web of dark and unexpected ideas. By exploring "The Evolution of the Cow-Puncher," an essay written at the height of the volatile Gilded Age, we gain insight into the origins of the cowboy -- and how myth can overpower truth.

1877: The Great Strike and the Red Specter of the Commune (Part Two)
December 23, 2016 08:33 PM PST
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When a railroad employee walks off the job in Baltimore, it triggers a violent chain of events that engulfs the industrialized North. From Pittsburgh to San Francisco, city after city erupts in rioting and street battles as railroad men, factory workers, and the unemployed take on militias, paramilitary groups, and the US Army in a spontaneous revolt against the new industrial order. Railyards burn and urban neighborhoods become battlegrounds. Pundits, politicians, corporate leaders, socialists, and union leaders hail the birth of an exterminationist class war. And through the smoke, the dawn of a new era can be glimpsed...

1877: The Great Strike and the Red Specter of the Commune (Part One)
June 30, 2016 03:03 PM PDT
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If you think 2016 is a turbulent year for the United States, try 1877. The country is, as one observer puts it, "on the edge of a volcano." Four years into a crippling economic crisis, a hopelessly corrupt government is beset by domestic terrorism, frontier conflicts, and class war. As cities and factories replace small towns and family farms, new, unregulated corporate empires are built on the backs of a new industrial working class. Faith in the system, and in the economic and political promise of American life, is fading. And looming over it all is the specter of the Paris Commune - an uprising from below that can only end in blood...

Buffalo Bill, the Mythic West, and the Imperial Frontier
March 28, 2016 02:16 PM PDT
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William F. Cody - better known as Buffalo Bill - did more than any other person to translate the history of the American West into the language of popular culture. This episode explores how he molded his own past, and the history of the frontier, into a grand story of national progress and conquest in dime novels, stage plays, his trademark Wild West show, and even film. As the United States plunged headlong into overseas adventures in Cuba, China, and the Philippines, Cody's spectacular arena shows gave Americans a framework for understanding their country's new role in the world, and the meanings of frontiers both old and new.

The Unending Civil War of Ambrose Bierce
September 03, 2015 07:05 PM PDT
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Ambrose Bierce was a Civil War veteran and the author of the most visceral and unsettling fiction to come out of the most violent conflict in American history. A man out of step with his own time, he insisted on bringing Americans face-to-face with the harsh realities not just of war, but politics, religion, marriage, family, business, and corruption. Hated by many, loved by virtually no one, Bierce hacked and slashed his way through a popular culture drenched in sentimentality and patriotism. In the process he became the first great American antiwar writer. We still view the Civil War through a haze of distant glory and heroism, obscuring its grit and squalor – and for us, no less than his 19th-century audience, “Bitter Bierce” provides the perfect antidote.

Sword of the Wilderness (Part Two)
May 12, 2015 07:36 AM PDT
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Forty years after the Pequot War, a new conflict threatens to tear New England apart. Decades of uneasy coexistence between Puritan colonists and native Algonquians are about to come to a bloody end. King Philip's War will become one of the most destructive wars in American history, a total war shaped by religious ideology and cultural differences. From its beginnings in 1675 through the present, it will be a "report written in blood," each generation searching for a deeper meaning in the destruction. This is the story of a complex, transformative, and nearly forgotten war - and of its long shadows.

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