Category Archives: History

WashPost gets it exactly right: ‘Donald Trump is a unique threat to American democracy’

That’s one of the best, clearest headlines I’ve read on an editorial in a while. It states the case cleanly and well.

I’ll just quote the first graf:

DONALD J. TRUMP, until now a Republican problem, this week became a challenge the nation must confront and overcome. The real estate tycoon is uniquely unqualified to serve as president, in experience and temperament. He is mounting a campaign of snarl and sneer, not substance. To the extent he has views, they are wrong in their diagnosis of America’s problems and dangerous in their proposed solutions. Mr. Trump’s politics of denigration and division could strain the bonds that have held a diverse nation together. His contempt for constitutional norms might reveal the nation’s two-century-old experiment in checks and balances to be more fragile than we knew….

That is a wonderfully well-crafted bit of truth-telling, and every word of it is skilfully back up, in 13 more paragraphs that are just as good. You should go read the whole thing.

I continue to be astounded that some Democrats as well as Republicans are falling into the usual patterns of thinking this is a normal election, and that normal voting patterns should apply. Democrats speak in terms of Republicans ALL being as bad as Trump, and some perhaps worse. Republicans say he may be no gem, but he’s certainly no worse than Hillary Clinton, if not better.

They are all tragically, grotesquely wrong, and this editorial clearly states why.

The point of it is the same I’ve been making here about the unique horror that Trump represents.

Please read it, and take what it says to heart.

Yes, that’s right: Iraq under Saddam sponsored terrorism

Another of Trump's favorite strongmen.

Another of Trump’s favorite strongmen.

In doing a fact-check on Donald Trump’s assertion that Saddam Hussein was “so good” at killing terrorists (and yes, he got four Pinocchios), The Washington Post reminded us of some history.

Namely, that rather than being some anti-terrorist scourge, Saddam was officially considered by the United States to be a state sponsor of terror.

Because, you know, he was.

What I remember knowing back before our invasion of 2003 was that he used to send $25,000 cash payments — bounties, if you will — to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers who killed Israelis.

Here’s the thing about Saddam, though: He was “so good” at killing terrorists (and he called all domestic opponents of his regime terrorists) inside Iraq. Just because he was “good” at killing anyone he saw as posing a challenge to his absolute control of the country. Frankly — just to stick up for Trump a bit here — I think they could have taken off one of the Pinocchios for that. Even though Saddam wasn’t killing them to make the world a safer place, but to hold onto dictatorial power.

But when it came to terrorists striking at the rest of the world — well, he was all for that.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt from the Post’s story:

Hussein’s regime was a long-standing supporter of international terrorism and was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism by the State Department before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In 2007, the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), a think tank for national security agencies, published a five-volume report, “Saddam and Terrorism.” The report, compiled after hundreds of thousands of Iraqi documents became available after Iraq fell, highlighted relationships between Hussein’s regime and regional and global terrorism. The report details how Hussein nurtured relationships with terrorist groups, especially Palestinian ones. (We explored this issue in a 2014 fact-check.)

Among its major findings was that there was no direct connection between Hussein’s Iraq and al-Qaeda  calling attention to the premise of one of George W. Bush administration’s justifications for invading Iraq. But the report found that at times, their short-term goals overlapped….

One of the charges I used to get a lot from my antiwar friends was that we supposedly went to war on the erroneous belief that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. As I always had to explain, that wasn’t something I ever believed or tried to get anyone else to believe. But there was no question that outside his borders, he was often a friend to terrorists…

 

Obama, groping through the moral twilight of drone warfare

OK, so it's really a picture of the president touring Carlsbad Caverns with his family last month, but it seemed to go with my headline.

OK, so it’s really a picture of the president touring Carlsbad Caverns with his family last month, but it seemed to go with my headline.

Today, the Obama administration owned up to a number of bystanders killed a collateral damage in drone strikes:

The United States has inadvertently killed between 64 and 116 noncombatant civilians in drone and other lethal attacks against terrorism suspects in places not considered active war zones, the Obama administration said Friday.

The unintentional deaths came in a total of 473 CIA and military counterterrorism strikes up to the end of 2015 that the administration said have taken between 2,372 and 2,581 militants permanently off the battlefield in countries where the United States is not at war, which would include Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya.

The release was accompanied by an executive order, signed by President Obama, designed to give added weight to existing administration standards and procedures governing the use of lethal force and for limiting civilian casualties….

So. 473 drone strikes. At least 2,372 people regarded as enemies of the United States killed. And the tradeoff is as many as 116 folks who were minding their own business, snuffed out without warning by hellfire from the sky.

What do we think about that? Are the attacks justified? Is the tradeoff morally defensible? Can we rationalize killing an innocent person for every 20 terrorists?

The administration released this information in connection with the president’s promise to be more transparent about his “I’ve got a list” program of drone warfare.

By disclosing, he’s pulling us in, sharing the burden. Now that we know, it’s more on us. We, too, are walking about in a moral twilight. How do feel about that?

Excuse this digression….

Are you familiar with the naval battle that occurred outside Boston Harbor between HMS Shannon and USS Chesapeake on 1 June 1813? Up to that point in the War of 1812, there had been several one-on-one battles between British and American ships, and the infant U.S. Navy had won all of them — which had really shaken up the Royal Navy. They were used to fighting the French, and always winning.

Philip Broke, commander of HMS Shannon, had been blockading Boston Harbor for months. He was low on water and other provisions and couldn’t stay on station much longer. But he didn’t want to leave without having had a chance to reclaim the Royal Navy’s honor against the Americans. So he sent a note into the harbor to Capt. James Lawrence of the Chesapeake, challenging him to come out and fight.

Lawrence did so that very day (although coincidentally, on his own initiative, not because of the note). And after a furiously intense 15 minutes of fighting in which 252 men were killed or wounded, Shannon had won. Lawrence, who was mortally wounded in the battle, famously said “Don’t give up the ship!” as he was taken below — but moments later, his men were forced to do just that. He died of his wounds three days later, as his captured ship was being taken to Halifax.

Broke, too, was gravely wounded. He survived, and was made a baronet for his victory, but his injuries ended his active service for good.

This story is told in vivid detail in one of Patrick O’Brian’s novels, The Fortune of War. As you know, I’m always trying to get everyone I know to read these books about Captain Jack Aubrey and his particular friend, surgeon Stephen Maturin, and I recently persuaded my wife to read this one.

To her, Broke’s note challenging Lawrence made no sense.

And yes, it does seem a bit irrational, like two boys meeting on a playground and saying simultaneously, “I can beat you!” and going at it. Boys who’ve heard too many stories about jousting knights in shining armor.

But there was a time when behavior such as Broke’s was universally lauded, held up as an ideal. And I confess I’m atavistic enough to feel admiration for him, while at the same time seeing that whole war as an absurd waste. (I contain multitudes.)

And I have to wonder: Was there not honor in inviting the enemy out to a fair fight, one in which the challenger’s life was on the line as much as anyone’s? A fight in which many were killed, but all were legitimate combatants? Are we better, more rational, more enlightened, more admirable now that we fight wars like this instead?

Kamp_mellem_den_engelske_fregat_Shannon_og_den_amerikanske_fregat_Chesapeak

The initial exchange of gunfire between Chesapeake and Shannon.

Drawing a connection between Trump and Tillman

My old colleague and friend Jeff Miller brought this to my attention, as he had not seen anyone draw a direct connection between Donald Trump and Ben Tillman, although he was “Surprised it took this long.”

The relevant passage:

As the civil-rights movement burgeoned, Wallace repositioned himself to lead the white resistance and famously declared, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Wallace, a political innovator of the first rank, pioneered the sublimation of racial rage into hatred of government, not just the federal imposition of black rights in a second Reconstruction, but government meddling generally. This anticipated the politics of Newt Gingrich, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, and the Tea Party because it connected Southern racial resentment to the anti-government libertarian economics of the business right. The explicit racism became latent and coded—a dog whistle. The stars of today’s Republican right are all practitioners of this art. But Trump went them one better.

“Trump doesn’t tweet dog whistles, he blasts foghorns,” wrote Washington Post op-ed columnist Eugene Robinson. In this, Trump echoes an earlier band of 20th-century Southern demagogues. Southern politicians such as Mississippi’s Theodore Bilbo, South Carolina’s “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, and Georgia’s Eugene Talmadge were more blatant and direct than Wallace in demeaning blacks. And like Trump, they relished the fact that they were not about issues—for issues (other than race) mattered little in traditional Southern politics. Instead, they concentrated on providing a venomous, racist form of entertainment for the white working class—another parallel with Trump.

I have to disagree with the premise, though. I don’t think Trump is more overt than Wallace, or that he “blast foghorns” rather than “dog whistles.”

Mr. Articulate

Mr. Articulate?

The truth is that Trump is not articulate enough to blast any message clearly. He is well within the tradition of implying rather than directly stating, at least most of the time.

But that suggests to me one way in which Wallace was superior to Trump: He was far more articulate.

I watched a documentary recently about the annus horribilis 1968, and was struck by one thing: All of the candidates, including Wallace, had such a clear grasp of issues and expressed their views clearly as well.

Wallace was a hateful creep, but he was a hateful creep who could speak in complete sentences. He towers so far over Trump in that regard that it’s startling to go view those old clips, and compare them to the unintelligible mush that comes from Trump’s mouth.

Yeah, I know — you don’t think “erudition” when you hear “George Wallace.” But compared to Trump, he was the Algonquin Round Table

Members and associates of the Algonquin Round Table... Art Samuels, Charles MacArthur, Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott

Members and associates of the Algonquin Round Table… Art Samuels, Charles MacArthur, Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott

Cranston, others are AMAZING in ‘All the Way’

I intend to drop my subscription to HBO Now, as an economizing measure, after the last episode of “Game of Thrones” this weekend. (I’m not giving up much; my Amazon Prime account gives me access to pretty much everything I value about HBO.)

Before doing that, I made a point last night to watch the new HBO movie, “All the Way,” starring Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Johnson.

I was blown away. Wow. I did not know Cranston could act like that. Sure, a lot of it was a brilliant makeup job, but that was just the start. And it wasn’t just the voice impersonation; plenty of people could do that. It was his physicality — the way he positioned and moved his body, the subtleties of his facial expressions, that made him seem to inhabit LBJ.

The constant Grimace of Anxiety

The constant Grimace of Anxiety

Just watching his mouth shape the words was hypnotic. As much as I liked “Breaking Bad,” it persuaded me that he had a limited set of expressions. In the early seasons, I got really tired of that grimace of extreme anxiety that he wore constantly — although, in retrospect, I suppose that was masterful, too, as it so effectively communicated his stress to me, which was part of what I didn’t like about it.

But to watch that jaw and lips and teeth become those of LBJ was astounding.

But the quality of this production extends far beyond Cranston. You’ll also be impressed by Bradley Whitford as Hubert Humphrey, and Melissa Leo as Lady Bird. Frank Langella as Sen. Richard Russell and Steven Root as J. Edgar Hoover are both wonderful as well, but then those guys always are.

There are less impressive parts, of course. The actor who plays Strom Thurmond only has a line or two, but I still fault him for doing too little with it.

But the greatest letdown is Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King. For one thing, he doesn’t seem old enough. Yeah, I know — MLK was only 35 at the time and Mackie is precisely that age. But King had a bearing that made him seem older than he was.

Perhaps I expect too much, but it seems that in everything I see — the disappointing “Selma” comes to mind — the actors portraying King fall far short of capturing him. Mr. Mackle simply lacks the gravitas — in the shape of his face, his voice, his manner. King had a presence that impressed. Why is there not an actor out there who can communicate it, or at least approximate it?

But let’s not linger on the shortcomings. “All the Way” is excellent, and if you have access, you should take the time to see it.

all-the-way-bryan-cranston

Sometimes ‘realism’ is taken to unreal lengths

With all the talk about guns in the wake of the Orlando massacre, we got to talking on an earlier thread about the role of firearms in American history, which started me (as a child of the ’50s, who felt naked without a toy six-gun on my hip) to start riffing on that peculiarly American art form, the Western, and how it has evolved.

So I thought I’d expand on the subject in a separate post…

I, and others my age, grew up on unrealistic westerns in which every man went around with a gun in a holster, except for wusses such as shopkeepers or bankers. I’m pretty sure that is an exaggeration, and I suspect that people who went obviously armed were probably looked at askance by the townspeople, although it may have seemed marginally less bizarre than it would today on Gervais Street.

Just as gunfights were nothing like the ritualized affairs we know from movies, with two men approaching down the dusty street, pausing with their hands hovering over their holsters, scrupulously waiting for the other guy to go for his gun before drawing.

Gunfights such as the one at the OK Corral were wild, confused affairs more akin to what happened at that video game storethe other day…

Modern westerns, of course, go for realism.

SPOILER ALERT!

I’m belatedly watching “Deadwood.” I’m not binge-watching because, as one whose ancestors stuck to Civilization — by which I mean the East Coast — I can only take so much profanity, filth, crudeness, naked avarice and utter disregard for common decency at a time. (As much as it would scandalize my 6-year-old self, I have come to suspect as an adult that had I lived back then, I likely would have been a “dude.” Which wasn’t as cool back then as it sounds today.) Thirty seconds with the “Deadwood” character Al Swearengen (based on a real guy) can make you want to write off the human race as beyond redemption. At the very least, it should persuade a discriminating person to give the Wild West a wide berth.

I would not want to live in the same territory as this guy.

I would not want to live in the same territory as this guy.

Anyway, I’m in the first season, and in the last episode the death of Wild Bill Hickok was depicted — VERY realistically, with him being shot in the back without warning while playing poker.

Such realism is preferable, I suppose. And the clean-cut, 1950s-style western was ridiculous (compare above the guy who played Hickok on TV when I was a little kid and it was my favorite show, the version from Deadwood and the real guy).

Although enough of “Deadwood” and you can start to long, at least a little, for the Disneyland version, with the good guys in spotless white hats.

Or at least for characters you give a damn doggone about. So far the only relatively likeable person on this series is Calamity Jane, and you don’t want your kids in the room when she’s talking.

Bottom line, I’m sure something like everything you see on “Deadwood” actually happened at one time or other in the Old West. But not distilled to this extent, not as unrelenting with the soul-wearing nastiness. Just like, unlike on cop shows, real cops can easily go their whole careers without discharging a firearm in the line of duty.

Surely they had to let up and give it a rest sometime — go through a day with a killing, or maybe speak two sentences in a row without an F-bomb, just to give their profanity mills a rest.

Or else it seems that after a couple of days, they’d get exhausted with it all and skeddadle back East. I know I would have.

Quick: Whose catchphrase was, “Hey, Wild Bill! Wait for me!” The answer is below…

I never knew this photo existed in color

Ali color

I was startled to find the above image in my WashPost app over the weekend.

Startled because I had no idea that a color version of the photo existed.

You see the more familiar version below. While they are almost identical, aside from the color in the one above, they aren’t quite. I imagine they were shot by different cameras that were right next to each other, in the same split-second (although it’s possible that they’re from the same camera and exposed a tiny fraction of a second apart, with the black-and-white version printed from a color negative — but that seems less likely).

But they’re definitely not from the same negative. Note the position of his right elbow — it’s markedly different in relation to the waistband of his trunks. A more dramatic difference — the bald photographer at ringside is seen directly between Clay’s (this is before he was Ali) legs in the color photo, and is off to the side of his right leg in the the black-and-white.

Bottom line, though, which photo do you like better? A silly question, perhaps, but bear with me.

You might say the color one, as it gives you more information.

But I prefer the black-and-white. It just seems more… legit. It’s history, and one thinks of legitimate photos of history as being black-and-white — particularly specific photos one has already seen in black-and-white.

Also, at the time, it was news. And news photos were in black and white back then. (The color one, according to the credit, was taken by Neil Leifer for Sports Illustrated — which unlike newspapers at the time, used color photos.)

Color seems… fake somehow. Like it was a re-enactment. Or like a colorized version of “Casablanca.”

It’s not a rational response, I’ll admit. But that’s how I responded to it…

clay black and white

Just to take note of what happened on this date in 1944

Approaching Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.

Approaching Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.

I don’t have anything new to say about it at the moment, but I thought I’d take note of the date.

Today was the day that the United States, Great Britain, Canada and our other allies put 175,000 men onto a hostile shore. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had done everything he could to keep them off of it, and to ensure that if they did land, they would die.

But we managed it anyway. Or rather, our forebears did.

Who were these guys we sent to do this thing? One of the most interesting paragraphs in Stephen Ambrose’s book about the invasion is this one:

GI

Look at this one sentence again: “He was twenty-six years old, five feet eight inches tall, weighed 144 pounds, had a thirty-three-and-a-half-inch chest, and a thirty-one-inch waist.”

These were little guys! Even after they’d bulked up, their chests were 34.5 inches! Today they’d have to go to the boys’ department to buy a sport coat.

But they got the job done.

Allied_Invasion_Force

Here’s why we have to stay in NATO, Donald

Germany quiz

OK, there are a lot of reasons, but here’s a dumbed-down, grunt-grunt macho one he might actually understand:

We need to make sure Germany stays on our side.

Somehow I missed this news last week, until it turned up on the Slate News Quiz today:

Six NATO countries squared off last week in the Strong Europe Tank Challenge, a two-day competition that pitted some of the alliance’s best tank crews against each another in a series of events centered on armored warfare.

The challenge, which concluded Thursday and was held in Grafenwoehr, Germany, was the first of its kind there since 1991. The competition was designed to foster “military partnership” while showcasing the ability of NATO countries to work together, according to a U.S. Army statement.

Germany took top honors in the competition, followed by Denmark and Poland in second place and third place respectively.

The challenge, co-hosted by U.S. Army Europe and the German Bundeswehr, is a nod to the Cold War era and a tacit acknowledgment that NATO will need well-trained conventional forces if it ever has to go to war with a newly-emboldened Russia….

Back the last time we weren’t on the same team as ze Germans, they had the best tanks (and the Leopard 2A6s they won with this time look, to my untrained eye, creepily like Tigers). But we won by showing up with way MORE of them than they could produce. We tried that this time, too — every other country sent a single tank platoon to the competition, but we sent two. To no avail, as it turned out. They beat us anyway.

Good thing they’re on our side now. We need to keep it that way, despite what Donald Trump says….

German Leopard 2A6M with turret reversed

German Leopard 2A6M with turret reversed

Civil rights veteran insulted by bathroom issue comparison

Twitter directed me to this oped piece, which originally ran in The Charlotte Observer. An excerpt:

Let us be clear: HB2 cannot be compared to the injustice of Jim Crow. In fact, it is insulting to liken African Americans’ continuing struggle for equality in America to the liberals’ attempt to alter society’s accepted norms.

Recently, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch compared HB2 to Jim Crow. Jim Crow laws were put into place to keep an entire race positioned as second-class citizens. HB2 simply says that men and women should use the restroom of their biological sex in government buildings and schools. This comparison is highly offensive and utterly disrespectful to those families and individuals who have shed blood and lost lives to advance the cause of civil rights. I take this as a personal slap in the face because I was an active participant in the civil rights movement….

The piece is accompanied by an old AP photo showing the author, Clarence Henderson, participating in a sit-in at a Woolworth’s counter in Greensboro in 1960. Which sort of establishes his credentials.

Thoughts?

Me, I’m just glad it’s North Carolina that has stepped into this big time, and not us. Mr. Henderson would probably not agree…

Losing is winning: A conservative embraces ironic contradiction

sweater

Quit your complaining and put on a sweater!

Remember Jerry Brown back in the ‘70s? Less is More? Small is beautiful?

Or for that matter, Jimmy Carter, turning down the heat in the White House and wearing cardigans? (As opposed to Richard Nixon chilling the Lincoln Sitting Room with air-conditioning so he could have a fire going in the fireplace year-round?)

I was very much into that at the time. Don’t be greedy. Have some self-discipline. Embrace self-denial. Save the planet, etc. As logic, “Less is More” seemed to me like a Christian construction, along the lines of “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

Then along came Reaganism, the huge reaction to all that sort of ironic wisdom – Only More is More! Small is just small! Right after the 1980 election, my wife visited our bank with our very young children, and the teller handed them lollipops without asking my wife whether it was OK. I blamed Reagan. What else could you expect when you replace a boiled-peanuts president with one who’s all about jellybeans? Me First and the Gimme-Gimmes.

Well, now we have Republicans – one of them, at least – embracing what might in a facile sense be regarded as a bad thing, or at least something less than good, as a positive. In a column headlined “Hillary: The Conservative Hope,” Bret Stephens declared:

For conservatives, a Democratic victory in November means the loss of another election, with all the policy reversals that entails. That may be dispiriting, but elections will come again. A Trump presidency means losing the Republican Party. Conservatives need to accept that most conservative of wisdoms—sometimes, losing is winning, especially when it offers an education in the importance of political hygiene.

He may call it the “most conservative of wisdoms,” but I’ve seen little evidence of that among those who have called themselves conservatives (although they often are not) for the past generation or so. What we’ve seen lately has been more of the “Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women” variety….

For that matter, remember when Jerry Brown had hair, and a hot girlfriend? Sometimes more was more.

On the other hand, remember when Jerry Brown had hair, and a hot girlfriend? Sometimes more was more.

Check out the often chilling ‘Look Who’s Back’

Just wanted to bring to your attention a fascinating dark comedy that recently made its appearance on Netflix, in case you haven’t seen it already.Er_ist_wieder_da_(book_cover)

In English, it’s called “Look Who’s Back.” But it’s a German film, and the original name is “Er ist wieder da.” It’s based on a satirical novel of the same name. Here’s the premise…

One day in the present, Adolph Hitler wakes up, disoriented, in a park located on the site of the Führerbunker. He meets up with a desperate man who has just lost his job at a TV network, who uses the Führer to turn his fortunes around. Subsequently, Hitler becomes a huge draw on a popular show called, “Whoa, dude!”

The idea is that no one knows this is actually Adolph Hitler. People think he’s a brilliantly ironic comedian or method actor (since he never drops out of character). They love him. And many come to love him for the wrong reasons.

SPOILER ALERT!

What makes this interesting is that it punctures our smug assumptions that we moderns are so much better than those awful people who live in the past. Two of the most chilling moments:

  • Hitler is delighted by many aspects of modern life. He particularly is drawn to the Web, especially because anyone can make use of it, without editors or other conventional controls being in the way. When he learns that no one ultimately controls Wikipedia, he is delighted. He sees the opportunity that provides.
  • HUGE SPOILER ALERT: Repeatedly, the Führer runs into everyday people on the street who are filled with indignation over the way nonEuropean immigrants are flooding into their country. Hitler encourages them in this, and declares, in the very last line of the film, “I can work with this.”

Because, you see, while everyone else thinks their using Hitler — to drive TV ratings and such — he is single-mindedly bent on rising to power again.

Oh, and don’t think this is just a German problem, given how well politicians with similar messages are faring in this country in this election year…

Insight into our modern polarization over guns

The Wall Street Journal today published an excerpt from a interesting-sounding book called The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of American Gun Culture, by Pamela Haag.

After asserting that in the early part of our history, guns were not so much romanticized as seen as tools that a lot of people needed, the account gets to the point when marketing came into play:

BN-NR025_guns_JV_20160421123914Though some Americans always loved their Winchesters and Colts, many others saw guns as dowdy, practical tools. They would shop for them by perusing advertisements in farm-focused periodicals like the American Agriculturalist or the Rural New Yorker.

As the frontier was settled and U.S. cities grew, fewer Americans even needed guns as tools. By the turn of the 20th century, the industry had embraced the emerging science of marketing. Gun companies began thinking about how to create new demand for their products. In this respect, their business was no different from the stove or soap business.

Having started with customers who needed guns but didn’t especially love them, the industry now focused on those who loved guns but didn’t especially need them. In the late 1800s, gun companies were innovators in advertising, among the first merchandisers to make extensive use of chromolithography, an early technique for producing multicolored print. Their calendars and other promotional materials were works of art, depicting exciting scenes in which gunmen faced off with bandits or beasts….

I like that bit about how “the industry now focused on those who loved guns but didn’t especially need them,” which helped encourage many people’s emotional attachment to these items.

The piece concludes:

Gun-industry advertisements began to invoke the “natural instinct” to own a gun or a “real boy’s” yearning for one. A 1920 ad in Literary Digest neatly summarized this spirit: “You know [your son] wants a gun. But you don’t know how much he wants it. He can’t tell you. It’s beyond words.” Gun marketing had moved from describing how guns work to describing how guns make their owners feel.

This period, before the outbreak of World War I, saw the birth of today’s American gun culture. Within a few decades, as guns became more prominent in criminal activity and suicides, an antigun culture also began to rise. Many Americans recoiled from these new forms of everyday violence, even as others increasingly cherished their firearms and the personal meaning they found in them. The U.S. was on a slow spiral toward the modern, polarized politics of guns.

And here we are, a nation split between people who are appalled by the existence of guns and others who would rather die than relinquish them.

 

Remembering the great, up in Boston

a938ded2-966b-4841-b8f8-e980cfcbc62c

Doug Ross sent me this photo this morning with the message:

Coincidence?

Here’s where I am at today. .my son’s train stop in Boston.

That’s a reference to our discussion of John Quincy Adams on a previous post.

I’ve never been to Boston, but if they refer to John Quincy as often as we Southerners do to Andy Jackson, maybe I should go to there, if just for a visit…

Tubman to replace Old Hickory; Hamilton to stay on sawbuck (Yay!)

Here’s some mighty fine news:

WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department will announce on Wednesday afternoon that Harriet Tubman, an African­American who ferried hundreds of slaves to freedom, will replace the slaveholding Andrew Jackson on the center of a new $20 note, according to a Treasury official, while newly popular Alexander Hamilton will remain on the face of the $10 bill….

And the best part to me — with all due respect to Ms. Tubman and the noble role she plays in our history — is that Alexander Hamilton will stay on the sawbuck. As I’ve said before, if anyone needed to go, it was Old Hickory.

I celebrated that part of the news on Twitter the other day:

But I neglected to mention it on the blog, so I’m glad to have this opportunity to make up for that.Tubman mug

Jackson is one of my less favorite major American historical figures, despite his triumph at New Orleans. I consider his defeat of John Quincy Adams — possibly the best-qualified president in our history — in their second contest to be one of our nation’s low points.

And I feel something of a personal connection to Ms. Tubman — when my wife and youngest daughter moved up to Pennsylvania for a year so my daughter could study ballet there, they lived in part of a house that had been part of the Underground Railroad. Or, at least, its cellar had been.

So I’m quite pleased…

Once, parties provided a hedge against excesses of direct democracy. No more…

I enjoyed seeing, in The Washington Post today, a Muslim from birth and son of an Islamic scholar explaining the American political system to Donald Trump, and other “real” Americans who are as confused about it as the Donald is.

I refer to Fareed Zakaria’s weekly column. An excerpt:

Having recently discovered how the nomination process works in the Republican Party, Donald Trump is furious. “They wanted to keep people out,” he bellowed. “This is a dirty trick.” In fact, Mr. Trump is right on the first count and wrong on the second. Political parties do have mechanisms to “keep people out.” But far from being a trick, they are the crux of what makes parties valuable in a democracy.

Fareed Zakaria

Fareed Zakaria

Clinton Rossiter begins his classic book “Parties and Politics in America” with this declaration: “No America without democracy, no democracy without politics, no politics without parties.” In a large and diverse country, to get things done, people need devices to navigate the political system, organize themselves, channel particular interests and ideologies, and negotiate with others who have differing interests and views. Political parties have traditionally played this role in the United States. And they have often played it as a counterweight to the momentary passions of the public.

At the heart of the American political party is the selection of its presidential candidate. This process used to be controlled by party elites — mayors, governors, legislators. In the early 20th century, an additional mechanism was added to test a candidate’s viability on the campaign trail: primaries. Still, between 1912 and 1968, the man who won a party’s presidential primaries became the nominee less than half the time. Dwight Eisenhower was chosen not by primary voters but in a complex, contested convention.

1968 was the year things changed….

… and not for the better. That was when the Democrats, and then the Republicans turned toward letting primaries decide.

Which was when the parties lost the one characteristic that made them useful — providing the service of vetting candidates so that total whack jobs didn’t show up on the November ballot.

I remember the late David Broder waxing nostalgic about what parties had once been, and he hoped, could be again: entities that asked candidates the key question of “Who sent you?” — meaning, what reliable person or people vouch for you? The problem he was lamenting is that too often, the answer had become “I sent myself.” Which is how you get socially dysfunctional egoists such as Trump — and Ted Cruz — threatening to take the GOP nomination.

My response to that was that to the extent parties played that vetting role in the distant past, there was no sign they were prepared to play it now. And as I said then and now, the evil parties do greatly outweigh any slight benefit they still provide.

Anyway, I thank Mr. Zakaria for providing this small history lesson to people like the caller I heard on NPR this week who wanted to know why convention delegates had any say in the nominating process….

 

Halcyon days, when Americans were Americans

By that I mean, when Americans were Americans first, as opposed to seeing themselves as Democrats or Republicans or liberals or conservatives or Tea Partiers or what have you.

This fit of nostalgia was prompted by reading a book review in The Wall Street Journal today, of a book titled Harry & Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg and the Partnership That Created the Free World. After noting that upon the death of FDR, many (including the new president himself) doubted that Harry Truman was up to the job, the review continues:

Watching from the Senate, Republican Arthur Vandenberg wrote to the new president with words of encouragement. “Good luck and God bless you,” he said. “Let me help you whenever I can. America marches on.” In his diary, he was more pensive: “The gravest question-mark in every American heart is about Truman. Can he swing the job?” To which the optimistic answer came, “Despite his limited capacities, I believe he can.”download (2)

Those words seem extraordinary today. The Republicans had not won a national election since 1928. Roosevelt had ridden roughshod over them in Congress with his New Deal, broke the tradition of serving only two terms and fashioned a liberal Supreme Court. After 12 years of humiliation and defeat, FDR’s death could have provided Republicans with an opportunity to get on the front foot, to take advantage of an inexperienced and uncharismatic new president. And yet here was Vandenberg, one of the leading Republicans in the Senate, saying not only that he believed the man could overcome his limitations but also that he would do everything he could to help him.

Lawrence J. Haas’s “Harry & Arthur” is thus a story of bipartisanship at work. The subtitle, “Truman, Vandenberg and the Partnership That Created the Free World,” seems at first sight hyperbolic, at least concerning Vandenberg, but Mr. Haas makes an excellent case that Truman’s worldview could not have been implemented without the senator from Michigan. The two men shared a vision for America in the world and over the next six years, until the senator’s death from lung cancer in 1951, set about putting it place. Even a short list demonstrates the revolution in global strategy that would take place during the Truman years: the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, NATO, the U.N. Charter, not to mention the creation of the CIA, the Defense Department and the U.S. Air Force.

Those were indeed the days, when such alliances were possible…

Bryan enjoyed Master and Commander, and you would, too

Master-and-Commander-Banner-ID-39TR-1G11-J6T7-orig

Bryan Caskey, having read the first book in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series of historical novels, has posted a glowing review on his own blog, Permanent Press.

As he wrote to me upon finishing Master and Commander:

I enjoyed it immensely, even with having to wade through the nautical lingo. It was sort of like reading Shakespeare in that it’s sort of confusing at first, but if you keep plowing through, you get used to the writing, and eventually you don’t have to focus so much on figuring what the heck is going on. One nice thing about the Kindle is that you can touch any word, and the Wikipedia entry for it comes up, so it’s a breeze to look up all the odd words. This was also my first time reading a Kindle, and I’ve enjoyed the lightness of not carrying around a heavy ol’ book. The one-touch lookup also saved me from dragging around some sort of Royal Navy dictionary.

The end battle was sort of odd, with JA not participating. The battle against the Cacafuego was shorter than I hoped, but I enjoyed how afterwards Harte tried to minimize the action by complaining about all the supplies that JA needed from the yard after the battle. Hopefully, JA will not continue to sabotage his career with these sorts of personal indiscretions.

I liked the Court-martial bit toward the end in addition to all of JA’s interaction with higher-ranked naval officers. Throughout, the descriptions of the ocean and how ships cut through the water are wonderful. I now understand the title of the second book Post Captain, as it’s a rank – not something to do with the mail. I’m guessing he makes the rank of Post Captain near the end of the book, setting him up to really “let every stitch of cloth fly” in the next book – to use the vernacular.

I’ll try to get through Post Captain before I go on vacation so I can enjoy HMS Surprise while I’m actually on vacation in the Dominican Republic.

All in all, a wonderful read that is a nice easy transition from all the non-fiction I’ve read. While this is fiction, it has a decidedly non-fiction tone about it.

The most non-fiction thing about that first book is that it is based so faithfully upon the early career of Lord Cochrane, upon whom Jack Aubrey is in part based.

In reality, the astounding Sophie-Cacafuego battle depicted in the novel was between Cochrane’s real-life Speedy and the Spanish xebec-frigate Gamo — down to the smallest detail, including the parts you assume must be made up.

As for JA being sidelined during the battle of Algeciras — well, that’s what happened to Cochrane, so it happens to Lucky Jack as well.

But as to Bryan’s hope that “JA will not continue to sabotage his career with these sorts of personal indiscretions…” Well, Jack is a lion at sea, a man perfectly in his element. But he has a lot of trouble knowing how to behave on shore, which will cause further problems. Just so you’re forewarned. Dr. Maturin is the opposite, a lubber who will never lose his land legs. Which is good, as Bryan notes: “O’Brian nicely uses the device of explaining everything to Maturin (who knows nothing about sailing), as a way of explaining everything to the reader.”

Folks, if you haven’t read these books, you’re missing out. There’s no better historical fiction anywhere. But aside from literary merit, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin will become two of your best friends. Their world, that of Nelson’s Navy, will become yours, and you’ll want to spend all your time there.

Fortunately, there are 20 novels in the series. I envy Bryan that he still has all but one still before him. I envy him, but wish him joy nonetheless…

sails1sails2

There’s no excuse for Cruz calling for ‘carpet’ bombing

Walls of houses of Wesel still stand, as do the churches, but a great part of the town was destroyed when the German commander forced the Allied troops to fight their way street by street through the ruins. Germany, 1945. Army. (OWI) Exact Date Shot Unknown NARA FILE #: 208-N-39903 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1336

Wesel was 97% destroyed before it was finally taken by Allied troops in 1945. See that carpet of craters? Wikipedia doesn’t SAY those are bomb craters, but what else might they be?

I tend to agree pretty frequently with Charles Krauthammer on national security issues, but I was disappointed in him over the weekend.

Did you see his column assessing the foreign policy approaches of Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, which he termed, respectively, “passivist,” “internationalist,” “unilateralist” and “mercantilist.”

There was much of value in the column, and some things to enjoy — such as his observation that Trump’s worldview comes closest to that of King Philip II of Spain (1556-1598).

Of course, I was disappointed that he left out Kasich — I reject the notion that we have no options left but these four. But to his credit, he promised that “If Kasich pulls off a miracle, he’ll get his own column.” Which he would, of course, unquestionably deserve at that point.

Most of his observations are sound, and he is scrupulously careful to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton would likely be less reluctant to take effective action in the world than her erstwhile boss, President Obama. He says her nearest historical analog is her husband’s approach in the 1990s — which isn’t as good as, say, Tony Blair in that decade, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

What gets me is the way he bends over backwards to make Cruz’ approach palatable:

The most aggressive of the three contenders thus far. Wants post-Cold War U.S. leadership restored. Is prepared to take risks and act alone when necessary. Pledges to tear up the Iran deal, cement the U.S.-Israel alliance and carpet bomb the Islamic State.

Overdoes it with “carpet” — it implies Dresden — although it was likely just an attempt at rhetorical emphasis….

Really?!?!?!? “Overdoes it?” The fact that Cruz uses that word utterly disqualifies him from consideration as POTUS. Whether he really wants to do that, or merely does not understand what the word means, he is beyond the pale.

Here’s what “carpet bombing” means:

Carpet bombing, also known as saturation bombing, is a large aerial bombing done in a progressive manner to inflict damage in every part of a selected area of land.[1][2][3][4] The phrase evokes the image of explosions completely covering an area, in the same way that a carpet covers a floor. Carpet bombing is usually achieved by dropping many unguided bombs.

And yes, when we think of “carpet bombing” we do think of Dresden, and Tokyo, and Cologne, and all those other places that we sent thousands of planes over in an effort to destroy everything below — including all those civilians.

I’m not going to get into the ethics of our having done that in the course of total war, in a time in which we lacked the technical precision of modern munitions. I’m just going to say that that is what is clearly, unquestionably meant when one says “carpet bombing” — that you’re dropping a carpet of bombs to destroy everything and everyone in the covered area, and let God sort them out.

There is no room in the 21st century, when we have so many other options, for a suggestion like that. The term is primitive, atavistic, barbaric — which is no doubt why Cruz said it, in an attempt to appeal to Trumpist sensibilities.

Yet Krauthammer is completely blasé about it, with that forgiving “overdoes.”

But that’s just the setup to the really bad thing: His assertion that Cruz’ closest historical analog is… Ronald Reagan.

So it’s come to this: That folks on the right are working so hard to talk themselves into settling for Cruz that Charles Krauthammer can equate the Cruz worldview with that of the one guy Republicans believe could do no wrong.

That’s just inexcusable.

Quote of the day, from Edmund Burke

“The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.”

Edmund Burke

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Burke

I found that quote today at the top of a Washington Post column headlined, “Trump is the demagogue that our Founding Fathers feared.”

You should go read that if you need reminding of why our republic was set up the way it was — for that matter, why our Founders chose a republic, as opposed to (shudder) pure democracy.

As for Burke — one of these days I need to read more about him. I don’t know as much as I should about the politics in Britain at the time of our Revolution. For instance, I have trouble understanding how he could have been the father of modern conservatism when he wasn’t even a Tory.

I read that he was for American independence and Catholic Emancipation, and that he opposed the French Revolution. I’m with him on all those…