Category Archives: History

Check out Joe Long’s awesome history lectures on Zoom!

Joe one

Y’all, I’m swamped today, but right now, Joe Long — curator of education at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum — is giving a great lecture on some of the fascinating, unique, handmade flags in the museum’s collections.

The museum is closed because of the crisis, but Joe it doing these from home, three times a week.

Here’s the link to join:

https://us04web.zoom.us/j/3124574421

And here’s a release we put out about the series:

Tune in to History at Home, with the Relic Room’s Joe Long

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum may be physically closed by the coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean our programming has to stop.

Starting Wednesday, April 1, Curator of Education Joe Long will be presenting some fascinating live programs that you can stream at home.

And while we all know Joe as a guy more at home in the 19th century, he assures us this is no April Fool’s joke. He’s been training himself on 21st century technology that will enable him to stream onto your screens at home in real time.

Each presentation will last half an hour, and will be a mix of live lecture, Powerpoint and images from our collections.

Go to the museum’s Facebook page, and there you will find a link and instructions on how to tune in. Don’t be late! Each program is limited to 100 participants.

Joe plans three live programs each week, and here are the first three:

  • Wednesday, April 1, 11 a.m. – “How to Be a Villain: Tarleton and Kilpatrick.” South Carolina has seen its share of villains. Banastre Tarleton, nemesis of Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion, was seen as a monster by Patriots. And Judson Kilpatrick relished his role as cavalry commander in Sherman’s March to the Sea – when he got to Barnwell, he said it would be known as “Burnwell” when he was through.
  • Thursday, April 2, 11 a.m. – “Rally ‘Round the Flag: Relic Room Flags and Stories.” This will feature images from the museum’s extensive collection of both Confederate and Union flags from the Civil War. Joe will talk about the people who made these unique, original flags; about the men who carried them into battle; and about the symbolism of the flags’ designs.
  • Friday, April 3, 11 a.m. – “Dread of the Adriatic: U-Boat Skipper Georg Von Trapp.” If you’ve seen “The Sound of Music,” you know Capt. Von Trapp as the dour, if brave and distinguished, man whose household is transformed by his children’s governess, Maria. But before that, he was a bold naval leader with a flair for unconventional tactics – a U-boat captain, a staunch monarchist, and an Austrian patriot.

The programs will be suitable for all ages – educational for the kids as well as their homebound parents.

Check it out, enjoy, and learn!

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‘That’s it! I vote we continue to be hunter-gatherers…’

That tiny square of ground is what inspired these musings.

That tiny square of ground under the shovel is what inspired these musings.

My wife is the gardener. Always has been. She’s had an organic garden going since the first time we were in a house rather than an apartment. At our current location, which is cursed with hard clay, she grows vegetables in small, raised beds.

Consequently, she just goes out to pick our food daily. Depending on what’s in season — and almost any time of the year, there are various greens going that she can go trim from and make a salad.

Which is nice.

So this year, as I have done in previous years but not followed up on it, I voiced a wish to grow something myself: okra. With me, it’s always okra.

I’ve grown other things in the past during my own brief forays into agriculture. But whenever I think, what vegetable do I want more of?, it’s pretty much always okra. Also, it’s not that hard to grow, and you don’t have insane stuff happening like smut growing on your corn.

Anyway, this year my wife took me up on my idle assertion, and — using the authority vested in her as agriculture commissioner of our household — granted me the use of one of her boxes. But I’d have to dig a new bed for it. That is, before purchasing and filling the box with bagged soil from the store (the only place to get serious dirt when you live on “land” like ours), I would have to use one of our mattocks to bust up a section of lawn.

I, of course, being a thoroughly modern fellow, suggested borrowing our older son’s tiller that he bought last year (he’s a pretty serious gardener himself, blessed with sandy soil — recently, he even started keeping chickens). My wife said all the rocks in our clay would probably break his tiller, and I agreed that she probably had a point.

So I spent a fairly lengthy amount of time Saturday bent over almost completely (the mattock has a short handle), chopping and chopping and chopping up the clay, and then grabbing handfuls of loosening grass and trying to shake the clay loose from it.

And I kept thinking… well, you member recently I told you about reading Guns, Germs and Steel? It deals at great length with what caused different human populations to develop differently, and why when the nations of Europe started spreading around the world in the 16th century, they ran into a lot of cultures that were still hunter-gatherers. The book did a lot of explanation — and speculation — about how and why those cultures developed the way they did when they did.

One of the main themes of author Jared Diamond is refuting the racist assumptions that had such currency in the 19th century about why European cultures “advanced” so far beyond those of more “primitive” people. Basically, he demonstrates that it was mostly a matter of luck of the draw — having the right, domesticable plant and animal species in a given area being one of the greatest determinants. Because everything that came later — writing, technology, complex political structures, etc. — depended on how early and how successfully you adopted agriculture.

I was convinced of the rightness of his propositions, with a caveat: I suspect there are some people who just didn’t want to give up hunter-gathering.

And as my mattock rose and fell, and as I fought off dizziness every time I straightened up for a moment while tilling the soil in a manner not far removed from the techniques of the Stone Age, I kept thinking that were I a member of a pre-agricultural band or tribe or whatever, I would be that guy.

I’d be the guy saying, Yes, you make excellent points about the advantages of settling down and growing our own food and forming more complex social arrangements and initiating a technological process that will ultimately lead to HD televisions. And I particularly like the point made by Ogg over here that if we start growing crops, we can then make beer. A good supply of beer would be nice to have while watching our HD televisions. Especially if we have developed the refrigerator. It’s an appealing vision of the future, I’ll admit.

And as you know — I mention it often enough — I’m a communitarian kind of guy. I like the idea that we would have to work together to build such infrastructure as elaborate irrigation systems for our crops — and that to do that, we’d have to have structures for cooperating such as governments. That’s very much in my wheelhouse.

But think about it: Don’t we have cooperation now, in a truly meaningful way? I mean, come on, guys — we all know that no one of us can bring down a mastodon alone! We have to work together — Ogg in front of the mastodon distracting him, Thrag and his brothers on the flanks to drive their spears into its sides, and me standing on a nearby hill offering helpful suggestions. You know, as Karl over here keeps saying, “from each according to his ability”…

And what about when those yahoos from across the valley attack our camp, trying to take some of our women so they can diversity their feeble, stagnant gene pool? We need all the spears and clubs that can come running. That’s way communal.

But if we settle down and start farming, next thing you know we’ll have villages, then towns, then cities. And we’ll have ever more elaborate institutions to direct and organize our affairs. And you know that that means:

  • First think you know, libertarians will start cropping up, absurdly claiming that they can make it on their own without collective effort.
  • Then before you know it, there’ll be a Tea Party.
  • Then, as sure as can be, Trumpism will arrive, and you’ll know the whole thing has grown decadent, possibly beyond saving.
  • Finally, some jackass like this guy will arise.

None of us wants that. So let’s put down these stone implements before we get a blister, and go out on a hunt, how about it? Who’s with me? (I go running off like Bluto in “Animal House”…)

Anyway, that’s what I was thinking while I was digging out that raised bed. And it was only about four or five feet square. Imagine if it had been an acre. It would have inspired me to write War and Peace, if I survived it…

Come on out for SwordFest 2020 on Saturday

Dan demonstrates the katana for Joe and Dawndy.

Dan demonstrates the katana for Joe and Dawndy.

I don’t always remember to tell y’all about cool things going on at the Relic Room — a client of ours — but I’d truly be remiss if I didn’t give you a heads-up about SwordFest.

I went over to WIS today with Curator of Education Joe Long and Dan Bernardo of WellWithin Martial Arts so they could do a live segment on Dawndy Mercer Plank’s lunchtime show. And it was fun. Dan gave a quick-but-deadly-looking demonstration of his skill with a katana, just one of many bladed-weapon techniques you will see demonstrated on Saturday.

That’s just one of many sword styles from history you’ll see at the event, but a particularly relevant one. It’s a little-known fact (he said, channeling Cliff Clavin) that the oldest artifact at the museum is a katana made in about 1600 that was captured by a South Carolinian at Iwo Jima.

Here’s the release about the event. I’m going to be there. I hope to see some of y’all:

En garde! Third annual SwordFest features every kind of swordplay. And it’s free!

COLUMBIA, S.C. – On Saturday, Feb. 8, the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum will again come alive to the clanging and schwinging of swords.

All kinds of swords. Basically, if it’s got a blade and a hilt, you’ll see it in action or on display at the museum’s third annual SwordFest.

And it’s all free and open to the public, all day long.

We’re talking medieval swords, Renaissance swords, 19th-century swords, Japanese swords, Chinese swords, pirate-style cutlasses, modern sport fencing and lightsabers from a galaxy far, far away. More swashbuckling than you’ve ever seen before, and far more varied.

The doors open at 10 a.m., and here’s the schedule. All are in the Atrium except for the first and last, as noted:

10:15 a.m. – “Wade Hampton: Battlefield Swordsman.” This lecture by Education Curator Joe Long, about South Carolina’s most famous hand-to-hand warrior, will be delivered in the Education Room.

11 a.m. – Medieval swordplay. Laurence Lagnese of The Palmetto Knights Steel Combat Team will present a medieval weapon and armor demonstration.

12:15 p.m. – Lightsabers! Trey Jones and members of the Aiken Lightsaber Club will present the techniques of the Jedi, including a choreographed lightsaber duel.

1 p.m. – Art of the Katana. Dan Bernardo of WellWithin Martial Arts of Columbia will show the Japanese approach to sword usage through the stylized, and lethal, techniques of traditional kenjutsu.

1:15 p.m. – “Butterfly Swords.” Keith Mosher of KDA Wing Chun. This fast-flowing Chinese swordsmanship system, part of several kung fu styles including Wing Chun, uses twin blades.

1:30 p.m. – Kids’ Demo: “How to Fight Off Pirates!” The basics of naval cutlass techniques explained in an interactive session for youngsters. (And yes, the “blades” they use will be safe simulators, not the real thing.)

2 p.m. – Modern fencing. South Carolina competitive fencers will demonstrate the fast-moving modern sport.

3 p.m. – “The South Carolina Broadsword System.” Historical researcher and swordsman Benjamin Battiste explains the unique broadsword style taught in our own state during the first half of the 19th century. This will be in the Education Room.

Local, historical, worldwide and intergalactic swashbuckling. You can’t ask for much more than that!

And here’s a video about the event. It includes some brief clips from last year’s SwordFest:

A busy MLK Day in Columbia

Joe MLK

Y’all, I’ve been too busy to post today, but as you know this was a busy day in Columbia for presidential candidates.

Of course, it was a lot more than that. It was MLK Day, which for me has generally been a rather busy holiday. It all started 20 years ago today, when the Columbia Urban League, under the leadership of J.T. McLawhorn and Dr. David Swinton, decided to do something BIG to show how much folks wanted the Confederate flag off the State House dome.

With the help of a coalition of like-minded groups, they succeeded. J.T. and I went on Cynthia Hardy’s show (Cynthia, by the way, was J.T.’s right-hand person at the Urban League at the time) on WACH over the weekend to talk about that event. Why have us old guys on TV to reminiscent about something so long ago? Because it was amazing. There’s been nothing like it before or since. Here’s a picture. The crowd was estimated at 60,000.

In the years since, the march at rally at the State House has become branded as more of an NAACP production (it was one of the organizations that helped with the first one), while the CUL has put its energies into a huge breakfast event at the Brookland Baptist convention facility. Both are magnets for Democrats with national ambitions. I was at the Urban League event this morning, with friends:

It was great to see and hear Joe, of course — and to a lesser extent Pete and Tom and Deval.

I didn’t get a chance to speak with Joe — and was jealous that my friend Samuel Tenenbaum got to sit next to Joe. For my part, I sat at one of the tables dedicated to the Biden contingent, and got to visit with Joe’s state political director and fellow Smith campaign alumnus Scott Harriford.

While I didn’t speak with Joe, I did shake hands with Pete. I didn’t set out to, but we sort of bumped into each other while trying to squeeze through the crowd back to our seats. So I did the civil, and stuck out my hand and said, “How’s it going, Mayor?” And he took it and nodded and moved on. (Yeah, I know. I just didn’t have anything pertinent in mind to say.)

Anyway.

I’m not going to try to report on what everybody said. I leave that to the reporters. Here’s The State’s story, and here’s the Post and Courier’s.

I just thought I’d share how I observed the holiday. How did you?

Cynthia shared this pic taken just before we went on her show. That's Jim Felder on the left, J.T. McLawhorn on the right, and some old white guy in the middle.

Cynthia shared this pic taken just before we went on her show. That’s Jim Felder on the left, J.T. McLawhorn on the right, and some old white guy in the middle.

Persistent traces of history: Foxholes in the Ardennes

1000w_q95

I was looking up something about the Battle of the Bulge, which had started on Dec. 16 and was still going on 75 years ago today, and ran across a fact that surprised me a bit, and that I though I would share.

It seems that you can still see the foxholes occupied by members of the 101st Airborne Division — including the guys celebrated in the book and series “Band of Brothers” — in the Bois Jacques portion of the Ardennes. Time has not yet fully filled them in. Which is fitting I suppose, since these holes were not the kind that were dug one day and abandoned the next. Those guys lived in and fought from those holes for a month before rising up to take the town of Foy and resume their march into Germany.

When I did a search for images, I ran across this one of several present members of the 101st sitting in what remains of those holes just last month, on Dec. 14.

Here’s the caption provided by the Army:

Maj. David Real with sustainment Brigade 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), sits in a foxhole in Ardennes Belgium, Dec. 14, dug by soldiers during the battle of the bulge. The Soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge fought in these foxholes for over a month. (DOD photo by Pfc. John Simpson)

That’s all. I just found the image interesting, and thought I’d share it.

75 years ago today in the Ardennes

Germans

Seventy-five years ago, my father-in-law was one of the green troops of the 106th Infantry Division that had been placed on the front line in what was regarded as a relatively safe area. There, in the snowy Ardennes Forest, they could learn what it’s like to be on the line, maybe make some contact with the few enemy troops believed to be in the area, and in general get some seasoning.bulge map

And then, divisions of armor and infantry the Allies didn’t know Hitler had just rolled right over the 106th. There was some brief fighting — my father-in-law would be haunted by having seen a friend killed by a bullet he thought was meant for him — but the two regiments of the 106th on the line were captured en masse. That included my father-in-law, Walter Joseph Phelan, and 6,000 others, among them the novelist Kurt Vonnegut

After an arduous journey east, Mr. Phelan would spend the rest of the war in a POW camp in Germany.

It was the largest land battle fought by the U.S. Army in that war.

Years ago in a biography of Adolph Hitler, I read that he hoped to shock the Western Allies into a stalemate or negotiated peace so that he could turn all his remaining assets to trying to stop the relentless Russian advance. When I read that, it seemed insane. Everything I knew about American resolve during that war, in retrospect, made that seem impossible.

It doesn’t seem so impossible to me today, after Vietnam, Mogadishu, and other experiences. But I’m glad Hitler was wrong about us that time. And I’m deeply grateful to the Americans and Brits who fought so hard to put an end to Nazism — my father-in-law, the men of the 101st who went into battle without winter clothing or enough ammunition, this guy whom I read about this morning, all of them.

And I’m in awe of what they achieved.

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Come on out and help us Remember Pearl Harbor

Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island. View looks about east, with the supply depot, submarine base and fuel tank farm in the right center distance. A torpedo has just hit USS West Virginia on the far side of Ford Island (center). Other battleships moored nearby are (from left): Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee (inboard of West Virginia), Oklahoma (torpedoed and listing) alongside Maryland, and California. On the near side of Ford Island, to the left, are light cruisers Detroit and Raleigh, target and training ship Utah and seaplane tender Tangier. Raleigh and Utah have been torpedoed, and Utah is listing sharply to port. Japanese planes are visible in the right center (over Ford Island) and over the Navy Yard at right. Japanese writing in the lower right states that the photograph was reproduced by authorization of the Navy Ministry.  U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island.

As y’all know, I help the S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum publicize its events. But I too often forget to let y’all know about them ahead of time.

I was telling Bryan Caskey about this one yesterday, and he was interested (although he had a conflict), so I thought I’d pass it on to the rest of the gang.

Since I already wrote a release about it, I’ll just save myself some typing by sharing that with you:

Join us at the Relic Room to Remember – and learn about – Pearl Harbor

COLUMBIA, S.C. – “Remember Pearl Harbor!”

Who could forget? It wasn’t just the “date that will live in infamy,” but the moment when America turned on a dime and was permanently transformed. We went instantly from being a nation of isolationists who didn’t want to hear about the problems of Europe and Asia, to a war machine of unprecedented power – and after that, the leader of global efforts to prevent such a conflict from ever emerging again.

On this Dec. 7, the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum will host a Pearl Harbor Day program that will help both young and old better remember, and understand, the meaning of that day in 1941. The program will certainly be about memory, but also about lessons learned.

Admission is free to the entire program.

Here’s what’s on the schedule for that Saturday:

10 a.m. to 3 p.m. – Living History and WW2 Weapon Displays. In the Atrium, living historians will impersonate a wide range of participants in the conflict, and talk to attendees about their different roles. Military equipment, including small arms, from the world’s largest conflict will also be on display. In addition to the re-enactors there will be real-life heroes, members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. You can thank them personally, and support the work of this association of combat-wounded veterans.

11 a.m. to 2 p.m. – WW2 Education Stations. At stations within the museum gallery, volunteers will offer short lessons in basic World War II skills include aircraft silhouette identification, code-breaking, and other sailors’ tasks, which could make the difference between victory and defeat. Get your “Qualification Card” signed for the “Battle of the Atrium Sea.”

2 p.m.  – “Guadalcanal: US Marines against Imperial Japan, 7 August 1942-8 February 1943.” Fritz Hamer, the museum’s curator of history, will explain the bloody but vital struggle for the island of Guadalcanal. This is a lecture for adults while younger participants join in the simultaneous wargame out in the museum’s atrium.

2 p.m. – “The Battle of the Atrium Sea.” Kids can sharpen their tactical thinking, controlling their own pieces of the Pacific theater, laid out on the atrium floor. Will the defiant Americans or the mighty Imperial Japanese fleet win the day? It’s going to be up to you! (Battle participants may be limited by available units in the scenario.)

3 p.m. – “Atrium Sea After-Action Review.” We’ll look over the “battle” fought in the atrium and compare it to actual Pacific War fights. What happened, and why?

Come on out and help us remember the day that we must never forget.

About the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum

Founded in 1896, the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum is an accredited museum focusing on South Carolina’s distinguished martial tradition through the Revolutionary War, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Vietnam, the War on Terror, and other American conflicts. It serves as the state’s military history museum by collecting, preserving, and exhibiting South Carolina’s military heritage from the colonial era to the present, and by providing superior educational experiences and programming. It is located at 301 Gervais St. in Columbia, sharing the Columbia Mills building with the State Museum. For more information, go to https://crr.sc.gov/.

Did you notice how I slipped in and oblique mention of the Postwar Liberal Order? Sneaky, huh?

As you see, the program is broader than merely remembering Dec. 7 — it covers portions of the long road back.

For my part, I’m tentatively planning on attending Fritz’ lecture on Guadalcanal. Most of what I know about that comes from fiction: Battle Cry by Leon Uris, and The Thin Red Line by James Jones. I’d like to place my understanding on more of a factual footing…

My best new follow in a while. Currahee!

Shared this on Twitter, might as well share it here:

Guarnere feed

Top Five History-Based Holiday Ideas

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The controversy over Columbus Day got me to thinking of history-based holidays we could have, if only we thought a little harder. They’re not in order of preference, but in calendar order:

  1. Rubicon Day — OK, so this didn’t happen in America. But Julius Caesar’s decision to cross that creek with his troops had a huge effect on something that matters to Americans. It ended the last republic we would see for 1,000 years. But I’m also thinking we could have some fun with it. We could have toga parties each Jan. 10, and go around saying “iacta alea est” to each other. Maybe not your idea of a good time, but maybe we could make a drinking game out of it.
  2. British Invasion Day — No, it’s not about 1814. It’s about 1964, and this holiday would be pure fun. We’d celebrate it on February 9, the day the Beatles first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” We’d all play music by the Beatles, the Stones, Herman’s Hermits, the Animals, Freddie and the Dreamers, Peter and Gordon, and so forth. We’d have theme parties in which we’d all dress like the invaders, and go around saying “gear” and “fab.” And if you said bad things about the holiday, we’d all say you were “dead grotty.”
  3. Lincoln’s Birthday, Feb. 12 — Yes, bring it back, and repeal this “President’s Day” nonsense, in order to drive home the fact that he was our greatest president, and is largely responsible for America being America, having thrown off its original sin via that war that we fight on until the slave states’ unconditional surrender — and making sure it didn’t end until the 13th Amendment was passed, so that all that bloodshed served a purpose. Sorry about the run-on sentence…
  4. Smallpox Day — This is sort of related to the idea of “Indigenous People’s Day,” but I actually have three reasons to mark the day. First, it seems to me that the most horrific public health disaster in human history (way bigger than the Black Death) was back in the 16th century when 95 percent of the native population was wiped out by European diseases for which they had no resistance — usually before the victims had even encountered the Europeans. Something so awful should be remembered. My second reason is celebratory — celebrating the fact that we’ve been so successful at wiping out the disease that a rite of passage of my childhood, the “vaccination” (that’s what we called it; we didn’t know what it was for), is unknown to today’s children. Third, as a warning — that it could come back some day, and we need to fully prepared to wipe it out again if it does. This would be on May 17, the birthday of Edward Jenner.
  5. Independence Day, July 2 — So that we’d be celebrating the actual day that Congress voted to declare independence, not the day that the document’s final edits were approved. This is personal, because John Adams is my fave Founder, and this was day that HE thought should be celebrated, after his weeks of hard work arguing the Congress into taking this momentous step — debate during which Thomas Jefferson, who gets the glory, sat there like a bump on a log. Harrumph…
One idea for celebrating Rubicon Day.

One idea for celebrating Rubicon Day.

Of course Columbus discovered America — a fact which, in itself, makes him neither a hero nor a devil

Look, people… If it makes you happy, Columbus was wrong, the Bugs Bunny version notwithstanding.

Yeah, the Earth was round, as every educated person of his day knew. Only low-information types thought otherwise. But the scholars of the day also knew how big the Earth was, and why Columbus’ idea of sailing west to get to the East Indies was a pipe dream.

But because he was dumb enough to insist on proving his point, he accidentally discovered the New World — and almost no other development in human history has had such wide-reaching consequences, for good or ill.

Consequently, I consider efforts to downplay his “discovery” of the New World a bit on the silly side. Such as this reference in an interesting piece by the NYT’s Brent Staples:

It also tied Italian-Americans closely to the paternalistic assertion, still heard today, that Columbus “discovered” a continent that was already inhabited by Native Americans….

Allow me to make a “paternalistic assertion.” Yep, he did discover America. And everything that has happened since arises from that fact.

A digression…

Right now, I’m reading the book Guns, Germs and Steel, and it’s fascinating. Basically, it attempts to determine the underlying factors that caused certain parts of the world to be “discovered,” and ultimately dominated by, people from other parts of the world.

The whole book aims to answer a question posed to the author by a New Guinean politician named Yali back in the ’70s. When Europeans “discovered” New Guinea a couple of centuries back, the people there were technologically still in the Stone Age. The local people were blown away by the physical artifacts of a modern society — ranging from steel axes to soft drinks — which they referred to collectively as “cargo.” Yali asked the author:

“Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”

Jared Diamond’s attempts to answer the question are deeply fascinating.

The book spends considerable time on one incident in particular, back in 1532. You may know the story of how Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro took the Incan emperor prisoner, accepted a ransom from the Incas of a vast amount of gold, and then killed the emperor anyway. Aside from dwelling on some “woke” aspect of this encounter, such as the obvious fact that these Spaniards were a__holes, Diamond asked why it happened this way. In other words, why didn’t Incan emperor Atahuallpa go to Spain, take King Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, prisoner and hold him for ransom? A variation of Yali’s question.

And no, the answer isn’t that Atahuallpa was a nicer guy, or for that matter that American Indians were on the whole nicer than white guys (although again, Pizarro and crew didn’t exactly create a great first impression for the rest of us white guys).

Nor is Diamond satisfied with, the Spaniards had guns and steel swords and horses. The book aims to understand why people from Europe had guns and steel swords and horses. For that, he goes back to when homo sapiens first spread out over the Earth, and in certain places gave up hunting and gathering for farming, and different kinds of farming in different places, and the effects that had on the development of technology an complex political structures, and so on.

I highly recommend the book.

But my point is that, whether you personally see it as a good thing or a bad thing, Columbus’ discovery of America was definitely a thing, and one of the most consequential pivot points of history. If you want to explore just how consequential, I recommend another book, which I’ve recommended before: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles C. Mann.

What happened on Oct. 12, 1492, was monumental, and certainly worth marking with a special observance. It changed the world as almost nothing else that has ever happened did. Where people get all bollixed up is when they try to assign moral value to the event.

I don’t know why people do that. Discovering America doesn’t make Columbus a good guy. It doesn’t really make him a bad guy, either. Some other stuff he did after he got here makes him look pretty bad — especially to someone with a 2019 worldview. But like him or hate him, the thing he did, what he stumbled onto, has enormous global significance. He did something amazing, but it doesn’t make him a hero. Or the devil.

The arrival of Europeans, with their relative immunity to certain diseases like smallpox, had horrific consequences for the native population of this hemisphere. What happened was so horrible that it staggers the imagination: 95 percent of the population died out.

But just as discovering America doesn’t make Columbus a hero (to me at least he was not), he can’t really be blamed for everything that happened to the people who lived here, however badly he may have treated the natives he encountered. (Which was pretty damned badly.) He didn’t say, “Hey, let’s go to China (where he thought he was headed) and infect the local people so they all die out.” In fact, most of the people of this hemisphere died over the next few decades long before they came into contact with whites — the germs spread across these continents much faster than people did. People of European descent didn’t even realize on what scale this happened until quite recently (and to learn more about that, read Mann’s prequel, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.)

Of course, people can play games with the word “discovered.” They can say, those Asian people who crossed the land bridge 15,000 years ago “discovered” America, or even say the first Europeans to discover America were actually the Vikings. Or St. Brendan the Navigator. But none of those events opened this side of the world to the other side, mainly because the world wasn’t technologically prepared to bring that about.

So, as a historic event with repercussions for the entire planet, the moment that America got discovered — in the sense of the planet learning of its existence and being affected by it — well, that happened 527 years ago this week.

Feel about it any way you like, but that’s the way things unfolded….

Landing_of_Columbus_(2)

It’s Johnny’s Birthday

Once again, it is John Lennon’s birthday.

I always remember it, and not the other Beatles’ birthdays, not merely because it comes six days after my own. It’s because of Nueve de Octubre, and that looms large because when I was a schoolboy in Ecuador, we always got a whole week off for it — while only getting a day and a half for Christmas.

At the time, I thought that it was Ecuadorean Independence Day. I mean, it would have to be at least that, right — who would take off a whole week for anything less?1024px-Escudo_de_Guayas.svg

But it turns out that it’s only when the province of Guayas, which contained the city of Guayaquil — where I lived — declared its independence from Spain. Not the whole country.

Bonus fact ripped from today’s headlines: Guayaquil is now effectively the capital of Ecuador, since unrest in Quito caused el presidente to have to relocate the seat of government.

Now you know.

Let’s close with one of John’s better songs…

Uh, should we rethink this democracy thing?

He IS known by three letters, but they aren't "AOC"...

He IS known by three letters, but they aren’t “AOC”…

I’ve confessed before that, unlike most American editorialists, I was always kind of ambivalent about urging people to get out to vote. Which made me kind of an iconoclast, if not a heretic.

This simple expression of civic piety (You know the drill: “No matter how you vote, vote!”) tended to stick in my throat, and here’s why: If you have to be goaded to do something as basic to your duty as a citizen as vote, then are you really somebody that I want to see voting?

And today, I’ve received a press release that makes me even more hesitant to urge the average apathetic America to get out there and have just as much a say in who our leaders are as I do. The headline on the email was, “18% of Americans believe AOC authored the New Deal.”

Before you call me a horrible elitist, just look over some of these numbers:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 9th, 2019
MEDIA CONTACT: Connor Murnane
PHONE: (202) 798-5450

America’s Knowledge Crisis: A Survey on Civic Literacy

Washington, DC — A national survey commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) draws new attention to a crisis in civic understanding and the urgent need for renewed focus on civics education at the postsecondary level.

Some of the alarming results include:

  • 26% of respondents believe Brett Kavanaugh is the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and 14% of respondents selected Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016.
    • 15% of the college graduates surveyed selected Brett Kavanaugh.
    • Fewer than half correctly identified John Roberts.
  • 18% of respondents identified Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a freshman member of the current Congress, as the author of the New Deal, a suite of public programs enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s.
    •  12% of the college graduates surveyed selected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
  • 63% did not know the term lengths of U.S. Senators and Representatives.
    • Fewer than half of the college graduates surveyed knew the correct answer.
  • 12% of respondents understand the relationship between the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, and correctly answered that the 13th Amendment freed all the slaves in the United States.
    • 19% of the college graduates surveyed selected the correct answer.

ACTA’s What Will They Learn? report, an assessment of 1,123 general education programs scheduled for release tomorrow, helps to explain America’s civic illiteracy. Our analysis of 2019–2020 course catalogs revealed that only 18% of U.S. colleges and universities require students to take a course in American history or government.

”Colleges have the responsibility to prepare students for a lifetime of informed citizenship. Our annual What Will They Learn? report illustrates the steady deterioration of the core curriculum. When American history and government courses are removed, you begin to see disheartening survey responses like these, and America’s experiment in self-government begins to slip from our grasp,” said Michael Poliakoff, president of ACTA.

The survey was conducted in August by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and consisted of 15 questions designed to assess respondents’ knowledge of foundational events in U.S. history and key political principles. The respondents make up a nationally representative sample of 1,002 U.S. adults. To view the full survey results, click here >>


ACTA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability in higher education. We receive no government funding and are supported through the generosity of individuals and foundations. For more information, visit GoACTA.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, and subscribe to our newsletter.

If that doesn’t give you pause about this universal suffrage thing, then you’re not reading it right.

No, I’m not talking about taking away anyone’s right to vote. But data such as this makes me think twice about urging the average non-voter to exercise that right. At least, I hope the ones who credit AOC with the New Deal are non-voters. Ditto with the 63 percent who don’t know how long the terms of senators and House members are, even though that’s not quite as slap-you-in-the-face ignorant as the other thing…

I am appalled that this man represented my country at the D-Day commemoration

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As y’all know, I generally don’t like to let the sixth of June go by without acknowledging it in some way. The events of that day in 1944 stagger the imagination, and loom large in my concept of my country and its place in the world.

It’s not just the bold stroke at dislodging Hitler from the Continent, from the world. For that matter, I’m not even sure it was the decisive battle of the war; I remain too ignorant of the titanic struggles on the Eastern Front to be able to peg that with confidence. Serious students of history can have lively arguments about that.

But it was monumental. In fact, it was, on almost any measurement or any scale, just possibly the most impressive thing the human race has done in one day in the past century. It’s absolutely astounding, not just as the aggregation of personal acts of courage it took, but the fact that human beings worked together that well to do a supremely difficult thing that was eminently worth doing. (So yeah, for me there’s a huge communitarian aspect to it.)

A thing that hope for future freedom depended on to such a degree…

So I like to take note of it, I feel obliged to take note of it, particularly since I live in a world in which far too few people even care about having a concept of historical context, of what it took to form our present existence. And the 75th anniversary, likely the last major milestone that any of those few remaining veterans will see, is particularly important.

But I haven’t written about it before this late hour because I haven’t wanted to share the cloud of negativity that has overshadowed this event for me this week, this year.

All week, we’ve been building up to it. The man this country elected president has been slouching toward Normandy ever since the weekend, spewing his vulgarity, his grossness, his self-absorption and disregard for decency before him like the burning fuel from a flamethrower.

I’ve been so embarrassed for our country that Queen Elizabeth, the prime minister and other dignitaries of the best friend this nation has ever had have been forced, by respect for our relationship, to entertain this supreme vulgarian. The Brits have been doing what decency and respect for friends demands, and the fact that they’re having to lavish all this on Donald J. Trump is our collective fault for electing him.

I’m not going to recite all the mortifying things he’s said and done this week while representing our country among civilized people abroad. Go read about them yourself, here and here and here and on and on. I call your attention in particular to his constant evocation of himself, which is the only person on the planet he cares about.

All that has been bad enough.

But to know that this person was going to head our delegation to the commemoration of the Normandy landings was so much worse.

This was a day for taking stock of our country and what it has stood for, what it has meant to the world back before the ugly resurgence of “America First.”

This was a day for humbly acknowledging Courage and Honor and Duty and Sacrifice. And we sent a man who does not know what those words mean, who does not care that he does not know, a man who in fact is the embodiment of the opposites of those virtues.

Seventy-five years ago, we sent such good men over there, the best we had.

Look what we sent this week.

And yes, yes, I know we sent D-Day veterans as well, and I stand in awe of them. No one, not even Trump, can take the slightest scrap of honor from them. But look who we sent to stand in front of them…

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Unlike earlier princes, Baby Archie will always know his place

Shakespeare's earlier version of Game of Thrones.

Shakespeare’s earlier version of Game of Thrones.

I’ve lost track of how many of my ancestors were beheaded, or killed in battles fighting on the wrong side in the real-life Game of Thrones that was medieval Britain. One led a failed rebellion against Bloody Mary. Another, whose name I forget, fell alongside Richard III at Bosworth Field.

I’d search and tell you, but there’s a huge inadequacy in the Ancestry tree database: You can search by people’s names, but if there’s a way to search by cause or place of death, I haven’t found it.

I bore you yet again with my genealogy fetish because the birth of Prince Harry’s baby boy has got me to thinking about royal succession.

The morning Baby Sussex came into the world, I had started the day watching the tail end of the most recent episode of GoT on my Roku while working out on the elliptical. That wasn’t long enough, so I started watching something I recorded awhile back from PBS — Part 1 of Shakespeare’s Henry VI, the version that kicks off the second Hollow Crown series.

I saw the scene in which a group of lords display their allegiances by plucking either a white or red rose from the bushes in a garden in which they’re standing, then go off in a huff to start fighting the Wars of the Roses.

Henry V’s uninspiring offspring sits on the throne, but the Yorkists — also being Plantagenets — have a pretty strong claim to the crown, seeing as how Prince Hal’s Dad had taken it away from their line by force (see Richard II.

But you can make an argument either way, and they did. A lot of people died in the process, including some of my ancestors and almost certainly yours, too.

Today, it’s so simple. We know where Harry’s new son stands in the line of succession — he’s seventh. Nobody disputes this. It’s all so definite, so certain. You can look it up on Wikipedia.

On the one hand, it seems hugely ironic that it’s all so cut-and-dried, now that it doesn’t matter at all who the monarch is. There’s no power in the throne at all.

Of course, on the other hand, I suppose that’s why there’s no controversy about it. Who cares? Why fight about it?

I suppose if the king or queen suddenly had virtually absolute power again, the succession would suddenly become all fuzzy, or at least disputed.

In that alternative universe, 30 years from now young Archie — yes, that’s what his parents have decided to name the new royal — might be drawing his sword against King George, claiming that the crown should have passed to Harry’s line after the untimely death of King William.

I expect that Lord Jughead and Sir Moose would back his claim. But he could not rely on Sir Reggie, Earl of Mantle, who would likely play both sides.

And whether he ended up with Lady Betty or Countess Veronica would depend entirely on which could cement the more important diplomatic alliance…

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That was a big crowd. Not the biggest, but pretty big…

I shot this at 10:43 a.m. If you have a pic of when the crowd was bigger, please share.

I shot this at 10:43 a.m. If you have a pic of when the crowd was bigger, please share.

Apparently, some people weren’t paying attention to what I told them yesterday. Tsk, tsk…

But seriously, folks… I want to thank Norm, and Phillip, and everyone else who cared enough about our schools to turn out for the demonstration today… even though I doubt it will help, and it could even hurt. My view of all this is that what’s going to happen on education is going to happen regardless of demonstrations.

The good news is that lawmakers this year have made more of a good-faith effort to help public schools than I’ve seen in 20 years.

The bad news is that they didn’t get it done this year. Which worries me, because there was so much momentum for it — even Henry, of all people, got on board — and I worry whether the mo will still be there in January.

We’ll see.

But hey, it was a big crowd today. Of course, we all try to mentally compare that to THE big crowd, King Day at the Dome in 2000. And I went hunting for that image, and found it. So here you go…

King Day 2000

Remembering Fritz Hollings

Two great South Carolinians: Fritz Hollings and Lee Bandy. Fritz is probably castigating Lee for what he called 'the Bandy Hurdle,' and Lee is letting it roll off his back.

Two great South Carolinians: Fritz Hollings and Lee Bandy. Fritz is probably castigating Lee for what he called ‘the Bandy Hurdle,’ and Lee is letting it roll off his back.

I was awakened Saturday morning by a notification on my iPhone — Fritz Hollings had died. I didn’t get around to writing something about it that day, or the next day, or the next, because it just seemed like too big a task.

And it was too big a task, remembering Fritz and what he meant to me and other South Carolinians. And I don’t have time to undertake it today, either. So here are some scattered thoughts, rather than a coherent whole:

  • First, he was of that generation — the postwar generation — that believed in using government to get things done. Big things, things that made life better in their state and country. He saw it as his duty. He brought great energy and great intellect to that task, throughout his career. He didn’t let ideology or party or what other people might think of him get in the way of that mission. Young people today by and large don’t know what it was like to have this kind of elected leader, although we still have some around. You know, like Fritz’s younger friend Joe Biden.
  • He may have been the first politician I ever met and shook hands with. Or maybe it was Strom. Or maybe it was a state senator. I just remember being taken by my grandfather to an event in Bennettsville, at the Marboro County Country Club. I was introduced to someone called “the senator.” I can’t remember who it was. Maybe it wasn’t Fritz, because he wasn’t in the Senate until 1966, and surely I’d remember it better if it had been that late. This was probably in the ’50s, so probably Strom. But my point in mentioning it is that he and Strom were both in public office most of my life, and their service extends as far back as I remember and beyond. Say “senator” to me and I picture one of them. Both held some sort of public office well before I was born. And most of that time, they’d have been called “senator.” As in, Boy, shake hands with the senator…
  • Fritz is the reason we have our state technical schools, which in turn are a big reason why we have BMW and other major employers. And the way he got them was so old-school, so pre-Watergate Morality, so whatever-it-takes, so non-21st century, that it is a thing of beauty. Basically, he took a bottle of bourbon with him to visit one of the main obstacles of getting his tech schools passed, Senate Finance Chairman Edgar A. Brown. They drank the bottle together, and when it was empty Fritz had a one-paragraph agreement that founded his tech system. And countless thousands of South Carolinians have benefited.
  • While Hilton Head was booming as a destination for the rich, Fritz Hollings showed the nation aspects of life in South Carolina the Chamber of Commerce wouldn’t have appreciated. Here’s how The New York Times described his “poverty tours” in its obit: “Having grown up in segregated Charleston, attended a segregated college and served in a segregated army, Mr. Hollings had little contact with poor black people and initially opposed civil rights legislation. Guided by N.A.A.C.P. officials, he toured poor black and white areas of his state in 1968 and 1969, and what he saw shocked him: rat-infested slums where families subsisted on grits and greens; children infected with worms, living in shacks without lights, heat or water; a mentally disabled mother of 10 who had never heard of food stamps. ‘There is hunger in South Carolina,’ a solemn Mr. Hollings told a Senate committee. ‘I know as a public servant I am late to the problem,’ adding, ‘We’ve got work to do in our own backyard, just as anybody who’s candid knows he has work in his own backyard, and I’d rather clean it up than cover it up.'” In other words, he faced the real problems of South Carolina without blinking.
  • In the ’80s, the Gramm–Rudman–Hollings Balanced Budget Act constituted the most serious effort to bring the nation’s spending in line with its income in my lifetime. He remained a budget hawk for the rest of his career. When other Democrats were claiming to have produced balanced budgets in the late ’90s, he scoffed — if the budgets were “balanced,” how come the national debt kept growing?
  • They may have named that new bridge after Arthur Ravenel, but I enjoyed this anecdote from my cousin Jason, who remembers how relentless Fritz was in taking every possible opportunity to get South Carolina what it needed: “I drove over the Ravenel Bridge today and remembered Fritz Hollings. When I interned with him, one of my dad’s college buddies was the Deputy Chief of Staff at the White House and was nominated to be Secretary of Transportation. Senator Hollings was the Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and would vote to approve the nomination. As I walked out of the Senator’s office to go to the White House to have lunch with Andy Card, the Senator said, ‘Tell Andy Card if he wants my vote, we need a new bridge over the Cooper River. OK boy, go get us that bridge.’ I did, Senator Hollings, I did…”
  • Fritz was known for his, um,  frankness. A lot of people’s favorite story was when he answered a Japanese insult to the American work ethic by suggesting we should draw a mushroom cloud with the caption, “Made in America by lazy and illiterate Americans and tested in Japan.” Another might be when he said to our current governor, “I’ll take a drug test if you’ll take an IQ test.” But my favorite was when he’d just been re-elected after a tough challenge in 1992, and said that now “I don’t have to get elected to a bloomin’ thing. And I don’t have to do things that are politically correct. The hell with everybody. I’m free at last.” Of course, he ran again in 1998 against Bob Inglis, and we voted him in again. You can’t vote a guy like that out of office. People say they like Trump because he’s not “politically correct.” Well, neither was Fritz. But he didn’t sound like an idiot. Therein lies the difference.
  • Fritz was equally frank about what he thought of the press, and his criticism (unlike Trump’s) was right on the money. He fully understood that the press covered politics like sports — ignoring what was important, and yammering endlessly about winning and losing and strategy. My longtime colleague Paul Osmundson shared the picture above of Fritz and our late, dear friend Lee Bandy. Well, Bandy wrote his share of horse-race stories, many while I was his editor. And I well remember the editorial board meetings in which Fritz ripped into Lee for it. The senator complained that he tried and tried to get reporters to write about substantive issues, but “Ah can’t get past THE BANDY HURDLE. THE BANDY HURDLE! All he wants to talk about is who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s winning? Who’s losing? The Bandy hurdle…” And he was right. But don’t blame Lee (who chuckled through these tirades). They all do it. And we editors all share the blame. (This was the bane of my experience with the campaign last year. I wanted to talk about who should be governor and why, and reporters wanted to talk about campaign ad strategy, or which 2020 hopefuls were coming to campaign with us. Yeah, I hear ya, senator…)
  • I first met Joe Biden through Fritz. I’d always wanted to meet him, and since they were friends, one time in the 2000s when I saw Biden was coming to town, I called Fritz to ask him to ask Joe to come by and meet with us. He did, and Joe came by on a Friday afternoon (our hardest workday) and talked for two-and-a-half hours. It was stressful, knowing we’d have to get all those pages out before we left that night, but I enjoyed it, and appreciated that Hollings set it up.
  • I mentioned Bob Inglis. He and Fritz became friends after their contest in ’98. I liked what he said on Facebook: “Over lunch in Charleston in 2015 (we’d long since made up after the 1998 race), Senator Hollings told me that he’d shrunk 2 inches–6’2″ to 6′. I wish I had said, ‘No, Senator, you haven’t shrunk a bit–not in what you’ve meant to SC, not in what you’ve meant to America.’ Farewell, sir.”
  • Speaking of Republicans, when Strom left office and Fritz finally became our senior senator after 36 years, he took Strom’s replacement under his wing. He encouraged Lindsey Graham and had a lot of good things to say about him. I’m thinking he was probably proud of Lindsey when he said all those honest things about Trump back during the 2016 election. And I think he’d be scornful of what Lindsey has become. You’d never, ever have seen Fritz kowtowing to someone like Trump — or to anyone, for that matter.

I’ve got to get back to work. And when I go home tonight, I need to get back to reading Ron Chernow’s book on Alexander Hamilton. I originally got that book because Fritz called (about something else, probably one of his opeds) and told me how wonderful it was, way back when I was still at the paper. Least I can do in the senator’s memory is finish it…

Free lecture: A ‘tunnel rat’ tells about his experiences

Bowman taking the point.

When his unit was on the move, Bowman generally preferred walking point.

As some of y’all may know, I do some communications work for the S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, which is actually one of the most fun things I do these days. I do love me some military history.

But while I’m always up on what’s happening there, I keep forgetting to keep y’all in the loop. I know Bryan would have been interested in some of the recent programs, and probably some of the rest of y’all would have as well.

We’re having a particularly interesting lecture tomorrow at noon, so here’s your heads-up, in the form of the press release we sent out about it:

Vietnam War ‘tunnel rat’ to tell his story in free museum lecture

COLUMBIA, S.C. – They were called “tunnel rats.” Their job was to crawl, alone with a flashlight and pistol, into the tight, claustrophobic tunnels that the Vietcong dug to hide in – and kill the enemy.

The job was voluntary. But once a soldier volunteered for the duty once, he became the expert, and again and again, he’d be called on to slither down into the nightmarish dark.

C.W. Bowman of 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 25th Division, was one of them. He will tell his story on Friday, March 29, at noon at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia. The free lecture, part of the museum’s Lunch and Learn series, is open to the public.

A comrade helps Bowman climb out of a Viet Cong tunnel.

A comrade helps Bowman climb out of a Viet Cong tunnel.

“Once you go in a tunnel, then any time we found another tunnel, they’d say, ‘Hey Bowman!’” he recalls. For a while there was another “rat” in the unit, but then he stepped on a Bouncing Betty mine, after which Bowman had the job exclusively.

“There weren’t that many tunnel rats. It’s not for everybody,” he notes. “You kind of get marked. You get the mystique of kind of being an insane person. Nobody messes with you.”

That’s not all he did that not everyone would want to do. When his unit was on the move, he always preferred to be the point man. “I’d rather walk point than with the noisy people in the back,” he says.

Aside from that, it was another job where experience counted: “I could see things other people wouldn’t see – booby traps and such,” he said. “You develop a sixth sense. You do. You start reverting back to your animalistic instincts.”

Today, when he tells someone he was a tunnel rat, they look him over with doubt in their eyes. That’s because those tunnels were tight, and he now weighs about 225 pounds. “They look at me kinda funny and get a grin on their faces.” So he tells them they’ve probably put on a few pounds in the last 52 years, too. When he was in Vietnam, he weighed 138 pounds, and had a 28-inch waist.

All of that happened during his first tour, from January-December 1967. When he came back for a second tour, “I got a jeep shot out from under me in Saigon.” It was the beginning of the Tet Offensive.

If you look up the Tet Offensive, you’ll realize that was just weeks after his first tour ended. Yes, he says, “I stayed drunk for 30 days and I went back.”

Originally from Bordentown, N.J., C.W. Bowman has called South Carolina home since 1973. He was drafted into the U.S. Army on Aug. 10, 1966, a month shy of his 20th birthday. After his Vietnam service, he was a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson.

He has a lot of interesting stories to tell. Come hear them on March 29.

About the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum

Founded in 1896, the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum is an accredited museum focusing on South Carolina’s distinguished martial tradition through the Revolutionary War, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Vietnam, the War on Terror, and other American conflicts. It serves as the state’s military history museum by collecting, preserving, and exhibiting South Carolina’s military heritage from the colonial era to the present, and by providing superior educational experiences and programming. It is located at 301 Gervais St. in Columbia, sharing the Columbia Mills building with the State Museum. For more information, go to https://crr.sc.gov/.

After reading the release, Bowman wondered whether “anybody’d want to come out and hear a crazy man.” I told him they probably would. For my part, I’ve been fascinated speaking with him about his experiences over the phone, and look forward to meeting him. I hope to see some of y’all there.

Bowman as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, after his Vietnam service.

Bowman as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, after his Vietnam service.

Top Five ACTUAL National Emergencies

Spanish Flu Pandemic

Spanish Flu Pandemic

As the man who is, to our everlasting shame, president of the United States makes a mockery of the concept, I thought I’d start a discussion of actual national emergencies from our history.

It’s not that easy. I’m sure I’m forgetting something big, but just to get the ball rolling, here’s my quick-and-dirty list of Top Five Actual National Emergencies:

  1. Civil War — I could have said Secession or the Dred Scott decision or the Nullification Crisis, but I’m just wrapping it all together under one heading.
  2. Cuban Missile Crisis — An alternative might be “Berlin Wall Crisis,” but this seems to be the one when a nuclear exchange seemed most likely.
  3. World War II — Not sure whether this should make the short list because the United States’ existence wasn’t threatened the way Britain’s and France’s and so many other countries’ were. But for those living through it, things looked pretty dark in December 1941. In terms of response to a crisis, the nation rose to this one as it did in the 1860s.
  4. Spanish Flu Pandemic — Exactly a century ago, it killed more people than there were military deaths in both World War I and II. Of course, it was worldwide, and not just national, but I included it anyway.
  5. Stock Market Crash, 1929 — I know it was just about money and all, but it was a biggie.

Honorable mention:

  • Burning of Washington, 1814 — Kind of a low point — I mean, the president fled and the Brits burned the White House — but I went back and forth as to whether it should make the list.
  • 9/11, 2001 — We’re still kind of reeling from this one.
  • Watergate — The Constitution withstood a test, and we passed with flying colors. But Americans’ trust in their government has continued to wither.
The burning of Washington.

The burning of Washington.

How’re you doing on those resolutions?

I'm back to reading The Guns of August...

I’m back to reading The Guns of August…

Come on, be honest. Here, I’ll tell a story on myself to give you courage…

I got some Cromer’s peanut brittle in my Christmas stocking (yes, my wife and I do stockings for each other), and it was awesome. I have a diet-related resolution, but allowed an exemption for finishing the stuff in my stocking, which I’m making progress on. But the exemption didn’t cover this: Today I left the office and went and bought another bag of it at Cromer’s. Then, I opened the bag for dessert after eating lunch at my desk. The cellophane accidentally ripped in a way that made it hard to close the bag, so I ate it all.

Fortunately, none of my resolutions dealt specifically with peanut brittle. No, wait. I just remembered that peanuts are banned on a paleo diet, and going paleo was my diet-related resolution.

Oh, well. I won’t do that again. And I’m still going to try to go paleo, going forward. And mostly I’ve been doing well. I haven’t had grits once, and it’s been a whole week, so get outta my face.

Anyway, I’ve got another, more interesting resolution that I hope will lead to some fun posts this year: I’ve decided only to read books I haven’t read before.

That means no more going back and reading Master and Commander over and over. Or Red Storm Rising (actually, I just skim through it to read about the Air Force guy and the three Marines in Iceland), or The Dirty Dozen, or Stranger in a Strange Land, or The Ipcress File, or Dune, or any of the other dogeared things I will pick up and entertain myself with for a few moments, without expanding my mind one whit.

I’ve got a house full of books that I thought I wanted to read and asked loved ones to give me as gifts, and I’m going to start reading them. I’ve started by returning to Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. I had bogged down at the start of the part when the Russians mobilized, which was just one cock-up after another (no wonder they had a revolution).

Then, I’ll return to Alexander Hamilton, which I put down right after the Revolutionary War. And while I’m on a Chernow kick, I’m going to dive into Grant. Or maybe I’ll allow myself some fiction between the two.

I’ll be sharing with you what I read.

Meanwhile, do any of y’all have any good resolutions? How are you coming with them?

Some of my many unread books.

Some of my many unread books.

Doonesbury addressed the problem satirically in 1974

A discussion we were having earlier about losing our confidence as a nation made me think of a series of Doonesbury strips from 1974.

Amazingly, I found the exact strips I was seeking on the web. I hope whoever holds the copyright will regard this as Fair Use (it certainly seems so to me).

The characters of the strip are having a costume party. Here’s the first strip:

best1

That was followed the next day by this:

best 2

You can see the same point elaborated upon by the third strip, below.

We were talking previously about how the main character in “The Newsroom,” which I had belatedly started watching, bemoaned the lost greatness of our country, saying in part, ““We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior….””

And I wondered:

And why don’t we do stuff like that any more? Why did we lose our confidence? Was it just Vietnam, or what?

Well, it seems that way back in 1974, Trudeau was sort of saying, yeah, that was it. And saying it in a way that would probably please no one.

Think about what an edgy thing that was to do back in 1974, with the war still going on — but after the U.S. had disengaged militarily (No, Virginia, the war did not “end” when we stopped fighting it.)

No wonder so many papers ran it on the editorial page. There were no other comics like that. And few editorial cartoonists could match this kind of depth and subtlety.

And think about the irony in the message Trudeau was laying out — among the folks who loved his strip (as opposed to the legions who hated it — the real reason so many papers put it in editorial), it was axiomatic that the Vietnam War was an awful thing, that our having gotten involved there was a blot on the national reputation.

And yet here the cartoonist was mourning what we had lost when the enterprise failed. I thought these strips were great at the time, but I wonder now what others thought of them.

In any case, it’s impressive…

bummer