Archive for the ‘History’ Category

A Tale of Two Cities   Leave a comment

After World War 2, stark contrasts could be drawn between East and West Berlin.

Image result for image of the difference between east and west berlinIn West Berlin, a vibrant market-based economy had stimulated a material and economy recovery accompanied by respect for civil liberties. You’d almost not have thought the Germans lost the war, since there were no real consequences of actively or passively collaborating with the Nazi regime.

On the other side of the wall, East Berlin was drab and gray, wrapped in an omnipresent dictitorial system of secret police, directed from Moscow by Stalin and his successors. Much of the rubble of World War 2 still surrounded East Berliners.

It was hard to deny the contrast between these two worlds seperated by a wall, built to keep the captive communists in and the ideas and hopes of freedom out.

And, yet, the market-oriented economies of the West weren’t truly free markets. These economies were wrapped with and hampered by varying degrees of government regulatory intervention and redistributive welfare. The interventionist welfare states of Western Europe were more extensive and intrusive than what existed in the United States, but they were all managed, manipulated and partly planned societies within obstensibly democratic political regimes.

 

Posted September 25, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in History, Uncategorized

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A President of Principle (Draft)   Leave a comment

I don’t have many politicians that I look on as heroes. Wally Hickel from Alaska comes close. I respected Sarah Palin’s refusal to allow the Alaska Legislature to increase the budget in an era of high oil revenues. I am amazed Ron Paul managed to remain as untainted as he did for as long as he served. And ….

Calvin Coolidge, bw head and shoulders photo portrait seated, 1919.jpgYeah, that’s about it. Lincoln got knocked off his pedestal when I began to respect the Constitution. George Washington too. Learning more about these men convinced me that all politicians are corrupted and

In fact, the only US President I truly admire in history is Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president. When he voted a congressional salary increase, he told Congress:

“No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”

That’s Coolidge as a man. Not only was he deeply concerned with tax reduction and the federal budget, he was also highly dedicated to serving of both his neighbor and nation. Coolidge had a special understanding of public service and never swayed from his foundational beliefs. These qualities made him the beloved man that he was. Although soft-spoken, Coolidge showed immense amounts of courage in serving his nation and staying true to his fundamental convictions.

An important way in which Calvin Coolidge showed this courage was in his approach to public service. Prior to his term as Commander-in-Chief, the government had grown unchecked for years under the Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson administrations. Wealth redistribution, government regulation, and the strength of unions were on the rise during this era of progressivism. Soon after stepping into the Oval Office, Coolidge promptly went on a budget- and tax-cutting spree to abolish what he referred to as “Despotic Exactions.”

Although scoffed at by many, this decrease in taxation and government spending saved the average American over $200 per year (about $1,500 today – sound familiar?). Coolidge wanted to help the poor, and he saw that this was the only way to enact true, long-term change toward raising the American standard of living. He and his Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, referred to this policy as “Scientific Taxation.” Coolidge once said:

“Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery.”

This informed approach was his creative service to the least of these, the poor in our society.

It took an immense amount of courage on Coolidge’s part to abandon previous methods and take a new approach to public service. This new approach was both utilitarian and grounded in a strong respect for people’s basic human rights. Though unorthodox, his principled fiscal stewardship caused many poor Americans to succeed in achieving a better life. With the national debt being cut almost in half, the 17.5 percent increase in the nation’s wealth, and illiteracy being cut in half as well, his presidential term was a success by any standard.

Inaction can benefit a nation more than action, as demonstrated by his numerous vetoed bills.

Although seemingly reserved, Coolidge was a man of strong principles. He called his fellow citizens to return to the proven principles of the American political tradition and encouraged them to examine their own beliefs in light of these principles. He believed strongly in the limits of social engineering, the nature of wealth, individual responsibility, and society’s dependence on moral and religious values. His ability to stand by these fundamental convictions in the face of adversity is rare among men.

In her book entitled Coolidge, Amity Shlaes refers to President Coolidge as our “Great Refrainer.” She suggests that inaction can benefit a nation more than action, as demonstrated by his numerous vetoed bills. “This was the boy with his finger in the dike, stopping a great progressive tide,” she accurately states. Throughout his life, Calvin Coolidge rejected what Bastiat called “legal plunder” and worked toward the creation not only of wealth but of beauty.

Calvin Coolidge’s messages regarding public service and his fundamental convictions have held true for almost a century. These firm principles were the groundwork for his ability to enact change for the better in America through public service. The way he thought determined the way he lived; his form followed his function. Calvin Coolidge lived by the principles that defined him. His belief system never aged. Even in the culturally diverse, globalized world we live in where people are desperate for new answers, ideas, and solutions, the simple social and moral code by which he lived remains as relevant as ever.

Posted February 20, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in History, Uncategorized

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A Fork in the Road   1 comment

I always considered George Washington to be a principled individual until I read a letter between him and Alexander Hamilton basically plotting the overthrow of the American Confederacy in 1783. It’s what inspired “A Bridge at Adelphia”, an alternative history short story that was published in Echoes of Liberty: Clarion Call 2, an anthology project of the Agorist Writers Workshop.

Image result for image of george washingtonGeorge Washington took office as president in 1789 possessing a reputation of inestimable value. People viewed him as the hero of the American Revolution who, disdaining power, had like the Roman general Cincinnatus returned home to his farm. When he allowed himself, with great reluctance, to be nominated as chief executive, his prestige was unparalleled. Indeed, his reputation was worldwide. When he died,

Napoleon Bonaparte decreed that the standards and flags of the French army be dressed in mourning crepe. The flags of the British Channel Fleet were lowered to half-mast to honor the fallen hero. Talleyrand, the French minister of foreign affairs, … [called] for a statue of Washington to be erected in Paris.1

People of his time were impressed that the indispensable hero of the Revolutionary War did not establish a personal dictatorship upon winning the war. This had to be a good sign for liberty, right?

I now see Washington as a mixed bag. He certainly was a useful figure for showing the world that America could establish a democratic republic and not fall into chaos or depotism, but Washington, though not a principal author of the Constitution, supported calling a convention to revise the Articles of Confederation … in violation of the Articles. Then, at the convention itself, he strongly backed Madison’s plans for centralized control.

On assuming power, Washington soon faced a division of opinion in his cabinet. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was not satisfied with the centralization already achieved by the Constitution. He called for a national bank and a government- directed program of industrial development. Thomas Jefferson raised a decisive objection to Hamilton’s proposal because it exceeded the bounds of power granted the central government by the new Constitution. Hamilton wasn’t fazed by this objection and produced an analysis that granted the central government broad power to do whatever Hamilton thought best. Washington, who had been present during the constitutional convention and surely knew what the Framers had wanted, weighed in on the side of the centralizers, drawing opposition from those who had also been there.

Washinton’s Farewell Address partially redeemed him from a classical-liberal standpoint. He cautioned against America’s involvement in European power politics, with which the United States had no concern. His warning against permanent alliances guided much of American foreign policy in the 19th century; and, in the 20th century, opponents of the bellicose policies of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt appealed to it. Washington’s prestige for once had beneficial results.

So was Washington’s influence was “good” or “bad” for liberty. By whose standard are we judging? I’m viewing it from a classical-liberal perspective in which the growth of government is viewed as an unmitigated disaster and expansionist foreign policy is resolutely opposed. I support “states’ rights” against increases in federal authority, and increasingly, oppose wars, except in cases of exercising self-determination or repelling direct invasion. 3 On the other hand, the goal of classical liberalism is to promote individual liberty, so while I support states rights, I don’t believe states have authority to abuse the individuals that live within them.

Can you name a time in American history … or just about any other country’s history … when engagement in war resulted in more freedom for individuals while the war was being conducted? Of course not, aggressive war shackles us with devastation and restriction of liberty in order to combat speculative dangers.6

The Articles of Confederation established a much less centralized system than the Constitution. Yet because ratification by all the states was required for the Articles to come into effect, most of the American Revolution was fought with no written structure of authority over the states at all. As Murray Rothbard notes,

The Articles were not exactly received with huzzahs; rather, they were greeted quietly and dutifully, as a needed part of the war effort against Britain. One of the keenest critiques of the Articles, as might be expected, came from Thomas Burke, who warned that, under cover of the war emergency, eager power-seekers were trying to impose a central government upon the states. … [t]he Articles of Confederation were not to be ratified and go into effect until 1781, when the Revolutionary War would be all but over.7

So much for the supposed necessity for a strong central government to combat other nations.

Washington held a decidedly different view. In 1783, he wrote to Alexander Hamilton: “It is clearly my opinion, unless Congress have powers competent to all general purposes, that the distresses we have encountered, the expense we have incurred, and the blood we have spilt, will avail nothing.”8

Among the “distresses” of which Washington spoke, one may speculate that personal considerations loomed large. Throughout his adult life, Washington avidly sought land. “His family had first speculated in Ohio Valley land decades ago [before the 1780s], and Washington owned nearly sixty thousand acres.”9

A project that aroused his interest offered a chance to appreciate greatly the value of his land. “If a canal could be pushed over the mountains to link up with the Allegheny river system, then all the future produce of the Ohio Valley could flow through Virginia land, (not coincidentally, past Mount Vernon).”10

A crucial obstacle confronted Washington’s hopes for a Potomac Canal. Under the Articles of Confederation, a state had the right to levy fees on the use of waterways that passed through its boundaries. If the states bordering the Potomac were to do so, the proposed canal might generate no profit for him. Yeah, Washington may have been motivated toward a central government by business concerns.  As Richard Brookhiser notes, “[h]e was drawn to the plan by important private and public interests, and the political steps he took to fulfill it led directly to the Constitutional Convention, if not a canal.”11 Interstate taxation would be eliminated by a strong central government.

I don’t think Washington was only motivated by personal economic interests, but you cannot neglect his personal interests in explaining his policies.

Regardless of Washington’s motives, the fact that someone of his reputation advocated a Constitutional Convention eased the doubts of those who feared centralization. Some Americans figured that if Washington was involved, the proposed convention could not be aimed at the destruction of liberty. Washington was Cincinnatus, who spurned dictatorship when it was within his grasp. Clearly, the Convention could not have bad intentions if Washington had agreed to serve as a delegate to it. Richard Brookhiser puts the essential point well:

Much of the political class was happy with the current arrangements. … Supporters of change would have to make the case that a new government would not threaten liberty. … Washington’s presence would help immeasurably to make that case. He had already held more power than any man in America, and after eight and half years, he had surrendered it. He was the most conspicuous example of moderation and disinterestedness that the nation could supply.12

At the convention, Washington’s primary aim was not to enact a particular plan of government. The need rather was to act immediately, so that centralization could be secured as fast as possible.

During the constitutional debates, Washington insisted that the Articles of Confederation be overhauled quickly. “Otherwise,” he wrote, “like a house on fire, whilst the most regular mode of extinguishing it is contended for, the building is reduced to ashes.” What was needed, Washington thought, was any solid national government.13

Washington was quite willing to push his argument to extremes. So essential did he deem centralization that he contemplated a monarchy for America, should the Constitutional Convention fail. He was not himself a monarchist—far from it. But a letter of March 31, 1787, to James Madison shows that conceivable circumstances might change him into one.

In his definitive study of James Madison’s political thought, Lance Banning summarized Washington’s thoughts in this vital letter:

No one could deny the indispensability of a complete reform of the existing system, which he hoped the Constitutional Convention would attempt. But only if complete reform were tried, and the resulting system still proved inefficient, would a belief in the necessity of greater change begin to spread “among all classes of the people. Then, and not till then is my [Washington’s] opinion, can it [monarchy] be attempted without involving all the evils of civil discord.”14

Which was exactly what most people were worried about when considering a constitutional convention. Were their fears calmed by Washington’s endorsement? Would they have been reignited had they known of this letter? I think it was fortunate for Washington’s reputation that the convention did not fail and the fact that Washington contemplated monarchy remained hidden.

Any centralized form of government, Washington held, was desirable so long as it could be quickly established. This doesn’t mean Washington was indifferent to the type of centralized government established. He soon fell in with the radical nationalism of Madison’s Virginia Plan.

To Madison, Washington’s presence at the convention was essential: It was “an invitation to the most select characters from every part of the Confederacy.”15 Madison reported that Washington arrived at the Philadelphia convention “amidst the acclamations of the people, as more sober marks of the affection and veneration which continue to be felt for his character.”16

Washington’s presence and the presence of “lesser figures of impeccable republican credentials allowed the convention to rebut the charge of being an aristocratic conspiracy while conferring on it the opportunity to behave like one.”17

Strong words, but the details of Madison’s plans bear out the interpretation. Madison and other extreme nationalists sought to entirely eviscerate the power of the states to thwart the will of the nation.

Under the Virginia Plan, which Madison submitted to Washington before the convention opened, Congress could veto any law enacted by a state legislature that it deemed unconstitutional.

It called, as Washington’s summary of Madison’s draft put it, for a “due supremacy of the national authority,” including “local authorities [only] whenever they can be subordinately useful.” … Madison had originally called for an even more sweeping national power over state laws, a “negative in all cases whatever.”18

In fairness to Washington, he did not vote in favor of Madison’s radical proposal of an unlimited congressional veto. But neither did he oppose the plan. Madison noted that

Gen. W. was “not consulted.” How could he not have been consulted? He never missed a session. Most probably, Gen. W. had been consulted privately, and the result of the consultation was that, since Madison had the voters anyway, Washington chose not to take a public stand on an inflamed issue.19

It seems quite clear that opposition by Washington would have at once ended so far-reaching a plan, but it was not forthcoming. Surely then he cannot have been very strongly against it. Had he been, he need only have spoken a word. But why speculate on Washington’s private opinion of Madison’s proposal? Its importance for our purposes is this: Many of those who feared that the convention would strike a fatal blow at states’ rights were reassured by Washington’s presence. But, unknown to them, he was at least a fellow traveler of radical centralism. His image as a Cincinnatus averse to power led many into error. It did not follow from Washington’s personal reluctance to hold office that he was not an opponent of states’ rights, as this concept was understood in the 1780s.

Fortunately, for those opposed to centralism, no version of the congressional veto survived into the Constitution’s final draft. But the Constitution, even without it, was far more centralizing than the Articles; and Washington’s image once again proved useful when the Constitution came up for ratification. Skeptics were reassured by Washington’s image that he would not support a regime that opposed liberty. Thus, in Virginia, opposition to the Constitution was in part disarmed by Washington’s prestige. “Few, if any of Virginia’s revolutionary leaders questioned Madison’s republican credentials. All, no doubt, were comforted by their awareness that George Washington would head the federal government if it were put into effect.”20

Again, I don’t believe Washington’s image sufficed to quell all opposition to the new document. Quite the contrary, in the very passage just cited, Lance Banning maintained that Madison’s skill at argument was needed to win over the recalcitrant. Confidence in Washington was not enough because in 1788, “quite unlike today, few believed that the executive would set the federal government’s directions.”21 Nevertheless, the importance of the “Washington-image factor” cannot be ignored.

The Constitution did not in all respects settle the nature of the American system. What sort of government would result from it? Would its provisions be interpreted loosely, to enable the central government to seize as much power from the states as possible? Two conflicting approaches to government split Washington’s cabinet, one favored by Alexander Hamilton and the other by Thomas Jefferson.

These divergent views have been ably summarized by Forrest McDonald.

In Federalist Essay number 70, Hamilton had said that “energy in the executive is a leading ingredient in the definition of good government.” … In essays 71 and 73, he made his position clearer: “It is one thing,” he said, for the executive “to be subordinate to the laws, and another to be dependent on the legislative body.” In other words, the executive authority must operate independently and with a wide range of discretion in its field, the Constitution and laws providing only broad guidelines and rules.22

Jefferson and his followers saw matters entirely otherwise.

In Jefferson’s view, and that of most Republicans, such discretionary authority was inherently dangerous and smacked of monarchy. … A society would grow better … by stripping social and governmental institutions to the bare minimum so that the natural aristocracy might rise to the top.23

The differences between Hamilton and Jefferson were not confined to abstract argument, but quietly became manifest in practical affairs. Although Hamilton considered himself a student of economics, his views embodied the discredited doctrines of mercantilism.

One of the duties of the federal government, according to the Hamilton philosophy, is the active promotion of a dynamic industrial capitalist economy … by establishment of sound public finance, public investment in infrastructure, and promotion of new industrial sectors unlikely to be profitable in their early stages.

As Hamilton wrote in The Report on Manufactures:

Capital is wayward and timid in leading itself to new undertakings, and the state ought to excite the confidence of capitalists, who are ever cautious and sagacious, by aiding them to overcome the obstacles that lie in the way of all experiments.24

Where the State would acquire the requisite understanding to direct the economy, Hamilton neglected to inform his readers; and Jefferson and his followers were reluctant to take the matter on faith. In particular, the Jeffersonians rejected Hamilton’s plan, as part of reforming public finance, to establish a national bank.

In this opposition they had a seemingly irrefutable argument. Hamilton’s plan for a bank clearly violated the Constitution. Nowhere does that document give Congress the power to charter a national bank. So small a matter did not deter Hamilton from avid pursuit of his scheme.

In response to a request by Washington, Hamilton delivered a “Defense of the Constitutionality of the Bank” to him on February 23, 1791.

The well-known part of the defense spelled out the “loose constructionist” doctrine of the Constitution. The Constitution, said Hamilton, defined only in general terms the broad purposes for which the federal government was created. … If Congress determined to achieve an end authorized by the Constitution, it was empowered by the final clause in Article I, Section 8 [the “necessary and proper” clause] … to use any means that were not prohibited by the Constitution.25

Hamilton’s argument had much further reach than just the bank, though that was no small thing. If Hamilton’s views were accepted, little of limited government could remain. Given the vaguest aims, for example, the promotion of “the general welfare,” the government had the power, Hamilton alleged, to do whatever it thought was needed to attain them.

Faced with so blatant a challenge to constitutional rule, what did Washington do? He accepted Hamilton’s opinion, refusing Madison’s advance to veto the bank bill. Hamilton’s “defense convinced Washington, and on February 25 [1791], he signed the bank bill into law.”26

Once again Washington lent his prestige and authority to the cause of a strong central state. From a classical-liberal perspective, his course of action was a disastrous blunder.

But the record is not all black. Looking at it from a certain angle, Washington seemed an opponent of the libertarian tradition the country was founded on. He used his fame to secure unwarranted credence for a convention that aimed to strengthen the central government. At that convention, he gave the most extreme centralizers at least tacit support. He then accepted an argument that freed the government from all constitutional restraint. Nevertheless, from the classical-liberal perspective, Washington almost redeemed himself.

In his Farewell Address, Washington set forward principles of foreign policy that, if followed, would virtually immunize America from involvement in foreign wars. (The Address was not delivered as a speech. It was a circular published in The American Daily Advertiser, September 19, 1796.)27

In the Address, Washington sharply separated European affairs from those of the United States.

Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence therefore it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificialities, in … the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships, or enmities.28

It can’t be argued that Washington thought that European politics shouldn’t concern Americans at all. He recognized that European aggression could affect America and that we might need to actively prevent domination.

Washington rejected this contention in advance.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain in one People, under an efficient government, the period is not far off, when we may defy material injury from external annoyance. . . . Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground.29

Here Washington adopts the much maligned Fortress America stance so derided by critics of isolation. Given the manifest perils of war, Washington suggested a classical-liberal system could take advantage of a favorable geographic position to steer clear of foreign entanglements. Washington’s argument on this subject and, for once, his immense prestige aided the cause of liberty.30

Opponents of American entry into the world wars frequently appealed to the Address. If they were ultimately unsuccessful, at least the fame of the Address and its author helped slow the race toward war and statism. Unfortunately, his assent to the Constitutional system and the modifications in policy requested by Hamilton has slowly, but surely resulted in the vexing situation we have today.

I contemplate these things while I consider expanding upon that alternative history short story. Lai has more things to say about an era of history we seem not to be truly aware of.

 

Posted January 16, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in History

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Fascism & Communism   Leave a comment

Before the question, how about a few statistics? The 20th century was mankind’s most brutal century. Roughly 16 million people lost their lives during World War I; about 60 million died during World War II. Wars during the 20th century cost an estimated 71 million to 116 million lives (http://tinyurl.com/ya62mrqa).

Found on Lew Rockwell

The number of war dead pales in comparison with the number of people who lost their lives at the hands of their own governments. The late professor Rudolph J. Rummel of the University of Hawaii documented this tragedy in his book “Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900.” Some of the statistics found in the book have been updated at http://tinyurl.com/y96tqhrl.

The People’s Republic of China tops the list, with 76 million lives lost at the hands of the government from 1949 to 1987. The Soviet Union follows, with 62 million lives lost from 1917 to 1987. Adolf Hitler’s Nazi German government killed 21 million people between 1933 and 1945. Then there are lesser murdering regimes, such as Nationalist China, Japan, Turkey, Vietnam and Mexico. According to Rummel’s research, the 20th century saw 262 million people’s lives lost at the hands of their own governments (http://tinyurl.com/lu8z8ab).

Hitler’s atrocities are widely recognized, publicized and condemned. World War II’s conquering nations’ condemnation included denazification and bringing Holocaust perpetrators to trial and punishing them through lengthy sentences and execution. Similar measures were taken to punish Japan’s murderers.

Death by Government: G…R. J. RummelBest Price: $32.96Buy New $41.42(as of 10:00 EST – Details)

But what about the greatest murderers in mankind’s history — the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin and China’s Mao Zedong? Some leftists saw these communists as heroes. W.E.B. Du Bois, writing in the National Guardian in 1953, said, “Stalin was a great man; few other men of the 20th century approach his stature. … The highest proof of his greatness (was that) he knew the common man, felt his problems, followed his fate.” Walter Duranty called Stalin “the greatest living statesman” and “a quiet, unobtrusive man.” There was even leftist admiration for Hitler and fellow fascist Benito Mussolini. When Hitler came to power in January 1933, George Bernard Shaw described him as “a very remarkable man, a very able man.” President Franklin Roosevelt called the fascist Mussolini “admirable,” and he was “deeply impressed by what he (had) accomplished.”

In 1972, John Kenneth Galbraith visited Communist China and praised Mao and the Chinese economic system. Michel Oksenberg, President Jimmy Carter’s China expert, complained, “America (is) doomed to decay until radical, even revolutionary, change fundamentally alters the institutions and values.” He urged us to “borrow ideas and solutions” from China. Harvard University professor John K. Fairbank believed that America could learn much from the Cultural Revolution, saying, “Americans may find in China’s collective life today an ingredient of personal moral concern for one’s neighbor that has a lesson for us all.” By the way, an estimated 2 million people died during China’s Cultural Revolution. More recent praise for murdering tyrants came from Anita Dunn, President Barack Obama’s acting communications director in 2009, who said, “Two of my favorite political philosophers (are) Mao Zedong and Mother Teresa.”

Recall the campus demonstrations of the 1960s, in which campus radicals, often accompanied by their professors, marched around singing the praises of Mao and waving Mao’s Little Red Book. That may explain some of the campus mess today. Some of those campus radicals are now tenured professors and administrators at today’s universities and colleges and K-12 schoolteachers and principals indoctrinating our youth.

Now the question: Why are leftists soft on communism? The reason leftists give communists, the world’s most horrible murderers, a pass is that they sympathize with the chief goal of communism: restricting personal liberty. In the U.S., the call is for government control over our lives through regulations and taxation. Unfortunately, it matters little whether the Democrats or Republicans have the political power. The march toward greater government control is unabated. It just happens at a quicker pace with Democrats in charge.

 

Walter E. Williams is the John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics at George Mason University, and a nationally syndicated columnist. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page.

Copyright © 2017 Creators.com

A Hero of Modern Liberty   Leave a comment

I thank my friend Mila for sending me this information. I had never heard about this man before she emailed me.

Международная Леонардо-премия 38.jpgAlexander Yakovlev was a man of humble origins, born in 1923 in Korolevo, a small village near the city of Yaroslavl, 160 miles northeast of Moscow, to a peasant family of loyal communists. After finishing secondary school in 1941, he was conscripted into the Red Army, where he fought until he was discharged in 1943 following an injury. He then joined the Communist Party, studied history and was offered to work for the Party at the local Department of Propaganda and Agitation. His career really took off upon his transfer from Yaroslavl to Moscow in 1953, where he rose through the post-Stalin party ranks. In 1969, he was appointed head of the propaganda department.

1958, Nikita Khrushchev gave a secret speech denouncing Stalin which Yakovlev personally attended. Yakovlev became doubtful of Marxism after this and tried to resolve its numerous inconsistencies. Following this speech, Yakovlev asked to study at the Academy of Social Sciences, where he recounts studying “feverishly” and reading “copiously” in search of an answer.

Eventually, he realized the Marxist ideology itself was flawed:

“It was at the academy, while immersed in studying primary sources, that I became fully conscious of the hollowness and unreality of Marxism-Leninism, its inhumanity and artificiality, its inherent contradictions, its demagogy and fraudulent prognostications.” Yakovlev, A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia.

He concluded that the only system viable of being an alternative to Marxism was one based on freedom of choice, private property, and morality which, according to Yakovlev, necessarily accompanies individual freedom.

On the eve of the half-century founding of the USSR, Yakovlev published an article attacking Russian nationalism, ending his illustrious career in as the Soviet propaganda minister. He was exiled to Canada as an ambassador.

In 1983, while still stationed in Canada, he held a long conversation with Mikhail Gorbachev, during which they formulated the ideas of perestroika (restructuring). Within two months, Yakovlev was back in Moscow, placed at the helm of an economic state-run think tank, and in 1985 (upon Gorbachev becoming general secretary) moved back to his familiar territory of propaganda.

Perestroika, accompanied by glasnost (openness), entailed a gradual introduction of freedom into Russian society and economy. This process allowed for some market-like independence of state companies, such as more flexibility in contracts and even retaining a part of the profit within companies. Glasnost showed the importance of ideology. Once in charge of it, and with the daily support of Gorbachev, Yakovlev was able to lift the suppression of political, cultural, and media discussions.

Soviet censorship was relaxed, and previously banned works such as Orwell’s 1984, Nabokov’s Lolita, and Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago became freely available to Russians. It is primarily thanks to Yakovlev’s ideas and his role in implementing them that Gorbachev would be awarded with the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Yakovlev pointed out the numerous flaws of Marxism, especially its underlying idea of class struggle:

There is a harmony of opposites: cooperation of classes, solidarity of classes. And only because of this does society thrive and develop. Any organization is harmonious cooperation; any division of labor is a mutual complement of diverse and opposite functions.” Yakovlev, The Fate of Marxism in Russia, (1993)

Marxism wrongly believed human nature may be altered by changed social relations. It is not capitalism which leads to alienation, as Marx predicted, but Marxism, wrote Yakovlev, since the abolition of private property alienates the workers from the fruits of their labor.

Marxism did bring about liberation, but it was liberation from responsibility, as it bred laziness and corruption. According to Yakovlev, the expropriation:

[D]eformed the psyche, people’s consciousness. It undermined the motivation for constructive labor and reduced people’s responsibility for their own welfare and lives.” In turn, this resulted in bureaucratic dictatorship.

When confronted with the failings of the realization of their ideology, Marxists were (and are) armed with various excuses: either the timing for the revolution was “wrong”; or the Russians mistakenly implemented the ideas of the “false” Marx, rather than the “true” Marx; or the problem was Stalin rather than Marxism; or as Yakovlev attests,

The theoretical legacy of Marxism ought to be judged today, not by its moral and intellectual intentions, but by what was accomplished on its basis and its ability to see the contemporary world as it is. Neither criteria proves the efficacy of this doctrine.” Moreover, when Marx’s “ideas became reality, they revealed their futility as well as their destructiveness.”

The consequences of this destructiveness shook Yakovlev to his core. In 1988, Yakovlev was put at the helm of a recently established Commission on the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression, charged with studying the materials of repression during Lenin’s and Stalin’s reigns. As he recounted in A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia,

The task has been a weary one. To descend step by step down 70 years of Bolshevik rule into a dungeon strewn with human bones and reeking of dried blood is to see your faith in humankind dissolve.

The Commission disclosed the diabolical crimes against the “unnecessary” peoples of the USSR: the decimation of seven million kulak households; the widespread hostage-taking, special orphanages, and even concentration camps for “socially dangerous children” of families targeted by repression; the deportation to forced labor camps of the “twice betrayed” prisoners of war of Soviet origin; the repressions of merchants and intelligentsia.

As Yakovlev reveals, particularly horrifying was the terror against the clergy:

“The documents bear witness to the most savage atrocities against priests, monks, and nuns: they were crucified on the central doors of iconostases, thrown into cauldrons of boiling tar, scalped, strangled with priestly stoles, given Communion with melted lead, drowned in holes in the ice.”

All the while, Lenin agitated that the level of murders was too low, instructing his followers to “launch merciless mass terror against kulaks, priests, and White Guards” (Lenin, quoted by Yakovlev). It is precisely these foundations of fear and violence that made the USSR incapable of reform.

Perestroika and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union liberated the Russians from communism – yet according to Yakovlev this had to be complemented with a spiritual liberation, Russian repentance for the sins of communism, and a legal trial of Bolshevism. He urged:

The twentieth century has come to an end. For Russia, it was the most terrible, the bloodiest century, shot through with hatred and intolerance. It would appear to be time to come to our senses, repent, ask forgiveness of the still-living survivors of the concentration camps, kneel before the graves of the millions of people who were shot or who died of hunger, and realize, at long last, that we lived in a criminal state, helping it to enslave us – all of us together and each of us separately.”

Alas, his calls fell on deaf ears, and Yakovlev himself was soon dubbed a traitor and Judas, as he constantly received threats, had funeral wreaths laid on his doorstep, his son shot at, and daughter’s car incinerated.

Unlike thousands before him, Yakovlev could not have chosen to lead a comfortable life and enjoy the rich privileges of the communist elite, because he had realized the only alternative to Marxism was individual freedom. Being a humble man, he most likely did not have himself in mind when he wrote:

Society does not become enlightened all at once, especially a society that is living in non-freedom but does not know it. Enlightenment begins with solitary individuals and then becomes massive and irreversible when life and circumstances begin to give birth, to reproduce on a mass scale the bearers of new consciousness. Such processes are produced from the coming into being of the individual.”

Communism in the USSR would have fallen with or without Yakovlev, but his wise guidance and intellectual rigor ensured that the most brutal regime in humankind’s history ended with a miraculous lack of bloodshed and violence. Today, humanity would prosper if other Yakovlevs would inspire the leaders of Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, and – once again, unfortunately – the unrepentant Russia.

Posted January 2, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in History, Uncategorized

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Meet the Penman of the Revolution   Leave a comment

I enjoy discovering new Founding Fathers and as I consider expanding my alternative history short story “Bridge at Adelphia” into a full length novel, I’ve been doing some digging and I discovered John Dickinson.

Image result for image of john dickinson penman of revolutionDickinson was among America’s most important founders. He was a colonial legislator and member of the Stamp Act, Continental, and Confederation Congresses. He was also chief executive of Delaware, where he was the only one to vote in opposition of himself (by a 25 to 1 vote). I love historical figures who didn’t see themselves a heroes and that certain indicates he wasn’t arrogant. He was later chief executive of Pennsylvania and  president of the 1786 Annapolis convention that led to the Constitutional Convention, being among the most informed and seasoned statesmen to attend it. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote that, but for Dickinson and a few others, “the resulting constitution would not have been ratified.”

I’m not wholly convinced that ratification of the Constitution was such a great idea, but that doesn’t diminish my admiration of Dickinson who is best known as the “Penman of the Revolution.” Perhaps his most important writings were his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies. After publication as letters, beginning December 21, 1767, in the Boston Chronicle, they were republished as a pamphlet, reprinted in most colonial newspapers and widely read widely, making him America’s first homegrown hero. As we pass their 250th anniversary, we would again profit by recalling John Dickinson’s words promoting our liberty.

We cannot be happy, without being free…we cannot be free, without being secure in our property…we cannot be secure in our property, if, without our consent, others may, as by right, take it away.

[Mankind’s] welfare…can be found in liberty only, and therefore her sacred cause ought to be espoused by every man on every occasion, to the utmost of his power.

Violations of the rights of the governed, are commonly…small at the beginning… They regularly increase…till at length the inattentive people are compelled to perceive the heaviness of their burdens…too late. They find their oppressors so strengthened by success, and themselves so entangled in examples of express authority on the part of their rulers, and of tacit recognition on their own part, that they are quite confounded.

A free people therefore can never be too quick in observing, nor too firm in opposing the beginnings of alteration…respecting institutions formed for their security…the forms of liberty may be retained, when the substance is gone.

Divine Providence…gave me existence in a land of freedom…I shall so highly and gratefully value the blessing received as to take care that my silence and inactivity shall not give my implied assent to any act, degrading my brethren and myself from the birthright, wherewith heaven itself “hath made us free.”

Liberty, perhaps, is never exposed to so much danger, as when the people believe there is the least; for it may be subverted, and yet they not think so.

The love of liberty is so natural…that unfeeling tyrants think themselves obliged to accommodate their schemes as much as they can to the appearance of justice and reason…to deceive those whom they resolve to destroy, or oppress.

For who are a free people? Not those, over whom government is reasonable and equitably exercised, but those who live under a government so constitutionally checked and controlled, that proper provision is made against its being otherwise exercised.

I am resolved to contend for the liberty delivered down to me.

When John Dickinson died, both houses of Congress wore black armbands in mourning because they understood that Dickinson recognized that the essential purpose of government was to maintain liberty against others’ predatory acts and that without liberty, “loss of happiness then follows as a matter of course.” This helped motivate our founders to create a government whose basis in liberty would make them “protectors of unborn ages, whose fate depends upon your virtue.”

For the 250th anniversary of John Dickinson’s most famous work on behalf of liberty, we can again benefit from his words. He motivated our forefathers to prevent the possibility that “the tragedy of American liberty is finished.” We need to become as motivated as they were.

Dickinson and Thomas Jefferson wrote in Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms:

“Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us,” requiring that we “regard…oppressive measures as freemen ought.”

Making Sense of Robert E. Lee by Roy Blount, Jr.   Leave a comment

From Smithsonian Magazine by Roy Blount, Jr.

Few figures in American history are more divisive, contradictory or elusive than Robert E. Lee, the reluctant, tragic leader of the Confederate Army, who died in his beloved Virginia at age 63 in 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War. In a new biography, Robert E. Lee, Roy Blount, Jr., treats Lee as a man of competing impulses, a “paragon of manliness” and “one of the greatest military commanders in history,” who was nonetheless “not good at telling men what to do.”

via Making Sense of Robert E. Lee

Blount, a noted humorist, journalist, playwright and raconteur, is the author or coauthor of 15 previous books and the editor of Roy Blount’s Book of Southern Humor. A resident of New York City and western Massachusetts, he traces his interest in Lee to his boyhood in Georgia. Though Blount was never a Civil War buff, he says “every Southerner has to make his peace with that War. I plunged back into it for this book, and am relieved to have emerged alive.”

“Also,” he says, “Lee reminds me in some ways of my father.”

At the heart of Lee’s story is one of the monumental choices in American history: revered for his honor, Lee resigned his U.S. Army commission to defend Virginia and fight for the Confederacy, on the side of slavery. “The decision was honorable by his standards of honor—which, whatever we may think of them, were neither self-serving nor complicated,” Blount says. Lee “thought it was a bad idea for Virginia to secede, and God knows he was right, but secession had been more or less democratically decided upon.” Lee’s family held slaves, and he himself was at best ambiguous on the subject, leading some of his defenders over the years to discount slavery’s significance in assessments of his character. Blount argues that the issue does matter: “To me it’s slavery, much more than secession as such, that casts a shadow over Lee’s honorableness.”

In the excerpt that follows, the general masses his troops for a battle over three humid July days in a Pennsylvania town. Its name would thereafter resound with courage, casualties and miscalculation: Gettysburg.

In his dashing (if sometimes depressive) antebellum prime, he may have been the most beautiful person in America, a sort of precursor cross between Cary Grant and Randolph Scott. He was in his element gossiping with belles about their beaux at balls. In theaters of grinding, hellish human carnage he kept a pet hen for company. He had tiny feet that he loved his children to tickle None of these things seems to fit, for if ever there was a grave American icon, it is Robert Edward Lee—hero of the Confederacy in the Civil War and a symbol of nobility to some, of slavery to others.

After Lee’s death in 1870, Frederick Douglass, the former fugitive slave who had become the nation’s most prominent African-American, wrote, “We can scarcely take up a newspaper . . . that is not filled with nauseating flatteries” of Lee, from which “it would seem . . . that the soldier who kills the most men in battle, even in a bad cause, is the greatest Christian, and entitled to the highest place in heaven.” Two years later one of Lee’s ex-generals, Jubal A. Early, apotheosized his late commander as follows: “Our beloved Chief stands, like some lofty column which rears its head among the highest, in grandeur, simple, pure and sublime.”

In 1907, on the 100th anniversary of Lee’s birth, President Theodore Roosevelt expressed mainstream American sentiment, praising Lee’s “extraordinary skill as a General, his dauntless courage and high leadership,” adding, “He stood that hardest of all strains, the strain of bearing himself well through the gray evening of failure; and therefore out of what seemed failure he helped to build the wonderful and mighty triumph of our national life, in which all his countrymen, north and south, share.”

We may think we know Lee because we have a mental image: gray. Not only the uniform, the mythic horse, the hair and beard, but the resignation with which he accepted dreary burdens that offered “neither pleasure nor advantage”: in particular, the Confederacy, a cause of which he took a dim view until he went to war for it. He did not see right and wrong in tones of gray, and yet his moralizing could generate a fog, as in a letter from the front to his invalid wife: “You must endeavour to enjoy the pleasure of doing good. That is all that makes life valuable.” All right. But then he adds: “When I measure my own by that standard I am filled with confusion and despair.”

His own hand probably never drew human blood nor fired a shot in anger, and his only Civil War wound was a faint scratch on the cheek from a sharpshooter’s bullet, but many thousands of men died quite horribly in battles where he was the dominant spirit, and most of the casualties were on the other side. If we take as a given Lee’s granitic conviction that everything is God’s will, however, he was born to lose.

As battlefield generals go, he could be extremely fiery, and could go out of his way to be kind. But in even the most sympathetic versions of his life story he comes across as a bit of a stick—certainly compared with his scruffy nemesis, Ulysses S. Grant; his zany, ferocious “right arm,” Stonewall Jackson; and the dashing “eyes” of his army, J.E.B. “Jeb” Stuart. For these men, the Civil War was just the ticket. Lee, however, has come down in history as too fine for the bloodbath of 1861-65. To efface the squalor and horror of the war, we have the image of Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves, and we have the image of Robert E. Lee’s gracious surrender. Still, for many contemporary Americans, Lee is at best the moral equivalent of Hitler’s brilliant field marshal Erwin Rommel (who, however, turned against Hitler, as Lee never did against Jefferson Davis, who, to be sure, was no Hitler).

On his father’s side, Lee’s family was among Virginia’s and therefore the nation’s most distinguished. Henry, the scion who was to become known in the Revolutionary War as Light-Horse Harry, was born in 1756. He graduated from Princeton at 19 and joined the Continental Army at 20 as a captain of dragoons, and he rose in rank and independence to command Lee’s light cavalry and then Lee’s legion of cavalry and infantry. Without the medicines, elixirs, and food Harry Lee’s raiders captured from the enemy, George Washington’s army would not likely have survived the harrowing winter encampment of 1777-78 at Valley Forge. Washington became his patron and close friend. With the war nearly over, however, Harry decided he was underappreciated, so he impulsively resigned from the army. In 1785, he was elected to the Continental Congress, and in 1791 he was elected governor of Virginia. In 1794 Washington put him in command of the troops that bloodlessly put down the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. In 1799 he was elected to the U.S. Congress, where he famously eulogized Washington as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

Meanwhile, though, Harry’s fast and loose speculation in hundreds of thousands of the new nation’s acres went sour, and in 1808 he was reduced to chicanery. He and his second wife, Ann Hill Carter Lee, and their children departed the Lee ancestral home, where Robert was born, for a smaller rented house in Alexandria. Under the conditions of bankruptcy that obtained in those days, Harry was still liable for his debts. He jumped a personal appearance bail—to the dismay of his brother, Edmund, who had posted a sizable bond—and wangled passage, with pitying help from President James Monroe, to the West Indies. In 1818, after five years away, Harry headed home to die, but got only as far as Cumberland Island, Georgia, where he was buried. Robert was 11.

Robert appears to have been too fine for his childhood, for his education, for his profession, for his marriage, and for the Confederacy. Not according to him. According to him, he was not fine enough. For all his audacity on the battlefield, he accepted rather passively one raw deal after another, bending over backward for everyone from Jefferson Davis to James McNeill Whistler’s mother. (When he was superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, Lee acquiesced to Mrs. Whistler’s request on behalf of her cadet son, who was eventually dismissed in 1854.)

By what can we know of him? The works of a general are battles, campaigns and usually memoirs. The engagements of the Civil War shape up more as bloody muddles than as commanders’ chess games. For a long time during the war, “Old Bobbie Lee,” as he was referred to worshipfully by his troops and nervously by the foe, had the greatly superior Union forces spooked, but a century and a third of analysis and counteranalysis has resulted in no core consensus as to the genius or the folly of his generalship. And he wrote no memoir. He wrote personal letters—a discordant mix of flirtation, joshing, lyrical touches, and stern religious adjuration—and he wrote official dispatches that are so impersonal and (generally) unselfserving as to seem above the fray.

During the postbellum century, when Americans North and South decided to embrace R. E. Lee as a national as well as a Southern hero, he was generally described as antislavery. This assumption rests not on any public position he took but on a passage in an 1856 letter to his wife. The passage begins: “In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages.” But he goes on: “I think it however a greater evil to the white than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.”

The only way to get inside Lee, perhaps, is by edging fractally around the record of his life to find spots where he comes through; by holding up next to him some of the fully realized characters—Grant, Jackson, Stuart, Light-Horse Harry Lee, John Brown—with whom he interacted; and by subjecting to contemporary skepticism certain concepts—honor, “gradual emancipation,” divine will—upon which he unreflectively founded his identity.

He wasn’t always gray. Until war aged him dramatically, his sharp dark brown eyes were complemented by black hair (“ebon and abundant,” as his doting biographer Douglas Southall Freeman puts it, “with a wave that a woman might have envied”), a robust black mustache, a strong full mouth and chin unobscured by any beard, and dark mercurial brows. He was not one to hide his looks under a bushel. His heart, on the other hand . . . “The heart, he kept locked away,” as Stephen Vincent Benét proclaimed in “John Brown’s Body,” “from all the picklocks of biographers.” Accounts by people who knew him give the impression that no one knew his whole heart, even before it was broken by the war. Perhaps it broke many years before the war. “You know she is like her papa, always wanting something,” he wrote about one of his daughters. The great Southern diarist of his day, Mary Chesnut, tells us that when a lady teased him about his ambitions, he “remonstrated—said his tastes were of the simplest. He only wanted a Virginia farm—no end of cream and fresh butter—and fried chicken. Not one fried chicken or two—but unlimited fried chicken.” Just before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, one of his nephews found him in the field, “very grave and tired,” carrying around a fried chicken leg wrapped in a piece of bread, which a Virginia countrywoman had pressed upon him but for which he couldn’t muster any hunger.

One thing that clearly drove him was devotion to his home state. “If Virginia stands by the old Union,” Lee told a friend, “so will I. But if she secedes (though I do not believe in secession as a constitutional right, nor that there is sufficient cause for revolution), then I will follow my native State with my sword, and, if need be, with my life.”

The North took secession as an act of aggression, to be countered accordingly. When Lincoln called on the loyal states for troops to invade the South, Southerners could see the issue as defense not of slavery but of homeland. A Virginia convention that had voted 2 to 1 against secession, now voted 2 to 1 in favor.

When Lee read the news that Virginia had joined the Confederacy, he said to his wife, “Well, Mary, the question is settled,” and resigned the U.S. Army commission he had held for 32 years.

The days of July 1-3, 1863, still stand among the most horrific and formative in American history. Lincoln had given up on Joe Hooker, put Maj. Gen. George G. Meade in command of the Army of the Potomac, and sent him to stop Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania. Since Jeb Stuart’s scouting operation had been uncharacteristically out of touch, Lee wasn’t sure where Meade’s army was. Lee had actually advanced farther north than the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, when he learned that Meade was south of him, threatening his supply lines. So Lee swung back in that direction. On June 30 a Confederate brigade, pursuing the report that there were shoes to be had in Gettysburg, ran into Federal cavalry west of town, and withdrew. On July 1 a larger Confederate force returned, engaged Meade’s advance force, and pushed it back through the town—to the fishhook-shaped heights comprising Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge, Little Round Top, and Round Top. It was almost a rout, until Maj. Gen. O. O. Howard, to whom Lee as West Point superintendent had been kind when Howard was an unpopular cadet, and Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock rallied the Federals and held the high ground. Excellent ground to defend from. That evening Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, who commanded the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, urged Lee not to attack, but to swing around to the south, get between Meade and Washington, and find a strategically even better defensive position, against which the Federals might feel obliged to mount one of those frontal assaults that virtually always lost in this war. Still not having heard from Stuart, Lee felt he might have numerical superiority for once. “No,” he said, “the enemy is there, and I am going to attack him there.”

The next morning, Lee set in motion a two-part offensive: Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell’s corps was to pin down the enemy’s right flank, on Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill, while Longstreet’s, with a couple of extra divisions, would hit the left flank—believed to be exposed—on Cemetery Ridge. To get there Longstreet would have to make a long march under cover. Longstreet mounted a sulky objection, but Lee was adamant. And wrong.

Lee didn’t know that in the night Meade had managed by forced marches to concentrate nearly his entire army at Lee’s front, and had deployed it skillfully—his left flank was now extended to Little Round Top, nearly three-quarters of a mile south of where Lee thought it was. The disgruntled Longstreet, never one to rush into anything, and confused to find the left flank farther left than expected, didn’t begin his assault until 3:30 that afternoon. It nearly prevailed anyway, but at last was beaten gorily back. Although the two-pronged offensive was ill-coordinated, and the Federal artillery had knocked out the Confederate guns to the north before Ewell attacked, Ewell’s infantry came tantalizingly close to taking Cemetery Hill, but a counterattack forced them to retreat.

On the third morning, July 3, Lee’s plan was roughly the same, but Meade seized the initiative by pushing forward on his right and seizing Culp’s Hill, which the Confederates held. So Lee was forced to improvise. He decided to strike straight ahead, at Meade’s heavily fortified midsection. Confederate artillery would soften it up, and Longstreet would direct a frontal assault across a mile of open ground against the center of Missionary Ridge. Again Longstreet objected; again Lee wouldn’t listen. The Confederate artillery exhausted all its shells ineffectively, so was unable to support the assault—which has gone down in history as Pickett’s charge because Maj. Gen. George Pickett’s division absorbed the worst of the horrible bloodbath it turned into.

Lee’s idolaters strained after the war to shift the blame, but the consensus today is that Lee managed the battle badly. Each supposed major blunder of his subordinates—Ewell’s failure to take the high ground of Cemetery Hill on July 1, Stuart’s getting out of touch and leaving Lee unapprised of what force he was facing, and the lateness of Longstreet’s attack on the second day—either wasn’t a blunder at all (if Longstreet had attacked earlier he would have encountered an even stronger Union position) or was caused by a lack of forcefulness and specificity in Lee’s orders.

Before Gettysburg, Lee had seemed not only to read the minds of Union generals but almost to expect his subordinates to read his. He was not in fact good at telling men what to do. That no doubt suited the Confederate fighting man, who didn’t take kindly to being told what to do—but Lee’s only weakness as a commander, his otherwise reverent nephew Fitzhugh Lee would write, was his “reluctance to oppose the wishes of others, or to order them to do anything that would be disagreeable and to which they would not consent.” With men as well as with women, his authority derived from his sightliness, politeness, and unimpeachability. His usually cheerful detachment patently covered solemn depths, depths faintly lit by glints of previous and potential rejection of self and others. It all seemed Olympian, in a Christian cavalier sort of way. Officers’ hearts went out to him across the latitude he granted them to be willingly, creatively honorable. Longstreet speaks of responding to Lee at another critical moment by “receiving his anxious expressions really as appeals for reinforcement of his unexpressed wish.” When people obey you because they think you enable them to follow their own instincts, you need a keen instinct yourself for when they’re getting out of touch, as Stuart did, and when they are balking for good reason, as Longstreet did. As a father Lee was fond but fretful, as a husband devoted but distant. As an attacking general he was inspiring but not necessarily cogent.

At Gettysburg he was jittery, snappish. He was 56 and bone weary. He may have had dysentery, though a scholar’s widely publicized assertion to that effect rests on tenuous evidence. He did have rheumatism and heart trouble. He kept fretfully wondering why Stuart was out of touch, worrying that something bad had happened to him. He had given Stuart broad discretion as usual, and Stuart had overextended himself. Stuart wasn’t frolicking. He had done his best to act on Lee’s written instructions: “You will . . . be able to judge whether you can pass around their army without hindrance, doing them all the damage you can, and cross the [Potomac] east of the mountains. In either case, after crossing the river, you must move on and feel the right of Ewell’s troops, collecting information, provisions, etc.” But he had not, in fact, been able to judge: he met several hindrances in the form of Union troops, a swollen river that he and his men managed only heroically to cross, and 150 Federal wagons that he captured before he crossed the river. And he had not sent word of what he was up to.

When on the afternoon of the second day Stuart did show up at Gettysburg, after pushing himself nearly to exhaustion, Lee’s only greeting to him is said to have been, “Well, General Stuart, you are here at last.” A coolly devastating cut: Lee’s way of chewing out someone who he felt had let him down. In the months after Gettysburg, as Lee stewed over his defeat, he repeatedly criticized the laxness of Stuart’s command, deeply hurting a man who prided himself on the sort of dashing freelance effectiveness by which Lee’s father, Maj. Gen. Light-Horse Harry, had defined himself. A bond of implicit trust had been broken. Loving-son figure had failed loving-father figure and vice versa.

In the past Lee had also granted Ewell and Longstreet wide discretion, and it had paid off. Maybe his magic in Virginia didn’t travel. “The whole affair was disjointed,” Taylor the aide said of Gettysburg. “There was an utter absence of accord in the movements of the several commands.”

Why did Lee stake everything, finally, on an ill-considered thrust straight up the middle? Lee’s critics have never come up with a logical explanation. Evidently he just got his blood up, as the expression goes. When the usually repressed Lee felt an overpowering need for emotional release, and had an army at his disposal and another one in front of him, he couldn’t hold back. And why should Lee expect his imprudence to be any less unsettling to Meade than it had been to the other Union commanders?

The spot against which he hurled Pickett was right in front of Meade’s headquarters. (Once, Dwight Eisenhower, who admired Lee’s generalship, took Field Marshal Montgomery to visit the Gettysburg battlefield. They looked at the site of Pickett’s charge and were baffled. Eisenhower said, “The man [Lee] must have got so mad that he wanted to hit that guy [Meade] with a brick.”)

Pickett’s troops advanced with precision, closed up the gaps that withering fire tore into their smartly dressed ranks, and at close quarters fought tooth and nail. Acouple of hundred Confederates did break the Union line, but only briefly. Someone counted 15 bodies on a patch of ground less than five feet wide and three feet long. It has been estimated that 10,500 Johnny Rebs made the charge and 5,675—roughly 54 percent—fell dead or wounded. As a Captain Spessard charged, he saw his son shot dead. He laid him out gently on the ground, kissed him, and got back to advancing.

As the minority who hadn’t been cut to ribbons streamed back to the Confederate lines, Lee rode in splendid calm among them, apologizing. “It’s all my fault,” he assured stunned privates and corporals. He took the time to admonish, mildly, an officer who was beating his horse: “Don’t whip him, captain; it does no good. I had a foolish horse, once, and kind treatment is the best.” Then he resumed his apologies: “I am very sorry—the task was too great for you—but we mustn’t despond.” Shelby Foote has called this Lee’s finest moment. But generals don’t want apologies from those beneath them, and that goes both ways. After midnight, he told a cavalry officer, “I never saw troops behave more magnificently than Pickett’s division of Virginians. . . . ” Then he fell silent, and it was then that he exclaimed, as the officer later wrote it down, “Too bad! Too bad! OH! TOO BAD!”

Pickett’s charge wasn’t the half of it. Altogether at Gettysburg as many as 28,000 Confederates were killed, wounded, captured, or missing: more than a third of Lee’s whole army. Perhaps it was because Meade and his troops were so stunned by their own losses—about 23,000—that they failed to pursue Lee on his withdrawal south, trap him against the flooded Potomac, and wipe his army out. Lincoln and the Northern press were furious that this didn’t happen.

For months Lee had been traveling with a pet hen. Meant for the stewpot, she had won his heart by entering his tent first thing every morning and laying his breakfast egg under his Spartan cot. As the Army of Northern Virginia was breaking camp in all deliberate speed for the withdrawal, Lee’s staff ran around anxiously crying, “Where is the hen?” Lee himself found her nestled in her accustomed spot on the wagon that transported his personal matériel. Life goes on.

After Gettysburg, Lee never mounted another murderous head-on assault. He went on the defensive. Grant took over command of the eastern front and 118,700 men. He set out to grind Lee’s 64,000 down. Lee had his men well dug in. Grant resolved to turn his flank, force him into a weaker position, and crush him.

On April 9, 1865, Lee finally had to admit that he was trapped. At the beginning of Lee’s long, combative retreat by stages from Grant’s overpowering numbers, he had 64,000 men. By the end they had inflicted 63,000 Union casualties but had been reduced themselves to fewer than 10,000.

To be sure, there were those in Lee’s army who proposed continuing the struggle as guerrillas or by reorganizing under the governors of the various Confederate states. Lee cut off any such talk. He was a professional soldier. He had seen more than enough of governors who would be commanders, and he had no respect for ragtag guerrilladom. He told Col. Edward Porter Alexander, his artillery commander, . . . the men would become mere bands of marauders, and the enemy’s cavalry would pursue them and overrun many wide sections they may never have occasion to visit. We would bring on a state of affairs it would take the country years to recover from.”

“And, as for myself, you young fellows might go to bushwhacking, but the only dignified course for me would be, to go to Gen. Grant and surrender myself and take the consequences.” That is what he did on April 9, 1865, at a farmhouse in the village of Appomattox Court House, wearing a fulldress uniform and carrying a borrowed ceremonial sword which he did not surrender.

Thomas Morris Chester, the only black correspondent for a major daily newspaper (the Philadelphia Press) during the war, had nothing but scorn for the Confederacy, and referred to Lee as a “notorious rebel.” But when Chester witnessed Lee’s arrival in shattered, burned-out Richmond after the surrender, his dispatch sounded a more sympathetic note. After Lee “alighted from his horse, he immediately uncovered his head, thinly covered with silver hairs, as he had done in acknowledgment of the veneration of the people along the streets,” Chester wrote. “There was a general rush of the small crowd to shake hands with him. During these manifestations not a word was spoken, and when the ceremony was through, the General bowed and ascended his steps. The silence was then broken by a few voices calling for a speech, to which he paid no attention. The General then passed into his house, and the crowd dispersed.”

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/making-sense-of-robert-e-lee-85017563/#2ZpAt6idyhYHhRi0.99
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Posted August 19, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in History, Uncategorized

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Trump Gets It Half Right   Leave a comment

Yeah, Donald Trump is no history scholar. In fact, he probably isn’t much of a history buff. We actually read history books.

In an interview that aired Monday May 1 with Salena Zito, he wondered aloud if better leadership could have prevented the Civil War.

Trump thought that Andrew Jackson would have prevailed in a showdown between the North and the South. After all, he did it before in the 1830s. Trump then said this:

He [Jackson] was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said, ‘There’s no reason for this.’

Trump followed up by violating all that is sacred in American religion – he questioned if the Civil war was necessary. The horror!

Image result for image of abe lincoln as a warmongerThe leftist media immediately pounced, openly mocking Trump for believing that Andrew Jackson was alive in 1861. He died about 15 years before. Social media trolls ran post after post criticizing Trump’s “revisionist” history, lambasting him for not knowing when Jackson was alive, or that he dared to buck modern historical interpretation.

Leftist reporter for The Atlantic David Graham published a piece titled “Trump’s Peculiar Understanding of the Civil War” in which he made a number of kind of peculiar claims himself. Graham suggested:

  1. “nullification” is unconstitutional because the federal courts say so.
  2. “The Civil War was fought over slavery, and the insistence of Southern states that they be allowed to keep it.”
  3. The Civil War wasn’t tragic because Ta-Nehisi Coates said so in 2011.
  4. War was inevitable because of the “Confederate states’ commitment to slavery.”
  5. If Trump had read great history like Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lincoln biography Team of Rivals, he would have a different position on the War—which is really pretty hysterical.

Graham also Graham insisted that Trump can’t be blamed for being such a historical ignoramus because even though he attended great schools, “many Americans are still taught, incorrectly, that the war was essentially a conflict over state’s rights, with abolition as a byproduct of the war. This revisionist view flourished after the war, and though gradually being displaced, is common across the country.”

I found that sort of interesting, that a modern day revisionist would call traditional history revisionism.

The Atlantic followed up with Yoni Applebaum’s “Why There Was a Civil War,” which berated Trump for suggesting the Civil War might have been avoided. To Applebaum, the question of the War begins and ends with slavery and nothing but slavery. He provided one quote from Lincoln to prove his point and, as most shallow Lincoln apologists do today, several quotes from the Southern States’ declaration of causes that seem to prove unequivocally that slavery and only slavery led to the War.

He applied a theory of moral causation to the War that the vast majority of Americans missed when the question of war or peace was still on the table in 1860 and 1861.

“There are some conflicts,” he wrote, “that a leader cannot suppress, no matter how strong he may be; some deals that should not be struck, no matter how alluring they may seem. This was the great moral truth on which the Republican Party was founded.”

I encountered this theory once back in college, but evidence to the contrary persuaded me to give the whole era a different look.

Trump’s reverence for Jackson is concerning, not the least because it offends my Indian DNA. I don’t go so far as to refuse to spend $20 bills because his image is on it … that’s just weird and inconvenient, my tribal brethren … but I don’t exactly love Jackson either. Yes, he supported Henry Clay’s death with South Carolina in 1832, which allowed South Carolina to nullify the Force Bill. That’s something we often ignore. Nullification worked in 1832 and, contrary to Graham’s ill-informed suggestion, the federal court system has never had the final say on the constitutionality of nullification. That was always the point, actually. States don’t ask permission from the federal courts to nullify unconstitutional legislation. Every proponent of the Constitution, including staunch unionists Alexander Hamilton and James Wilson, swore in 1787 and 1788 that laws contrary to the Constitution could be voided by the States.

My main issue is with the idea that the Civil War was inevitable because of the moral conflict of slavery. The entire history of America up to the Civil War was built on compromise, and there were ongoing discussions of Constitutional amendments in Congress. Moreover, there was no irrepressible moral conflict until the North  fabricated one.

 

The South was willing to compromise in 1860 and 1861, as it had been for the 80 years prior. Jefferson Davis insisted that any compromise placed before the special Committee of 13 established to handle the crisis needed the support of both Republican and Democratic members. He could get the Democrats to support several, but the Republicans, led by president-elect Lincoln, voted down every single one.

Lincoln, while not yet sworn in, refused compromise, which led six other Southern States out of the Union in early 1861. Lincoln could still have saved the Union through compromise at this juncture, but chose not to do so. The Union still existed even with seven States missing. The government, banking houses, and infrastructure remained. It seems that the “Confederate States insistence on slavery” had nothing to do with War. War and secession are separate issues. Secession didn’t mean war was inevitable. Most Americans hoped otherwise, even in the South where President Davis insisted that the South simply wanted to be left alone. The South was acting very much like the American colonies had acted in 1776 and the North was playing the role of the British crown.

There were also still six other slave States in the Union as late as April 186. Over a month after Lincoln took office, six slave States that had already rejected secession. There’s no evidence Lincoln was worried about slavery at this point. He supported a proposed 13th amendment which would have protected slavery indefinitely in the States where it already existed. He promised never to interfere with the institution in the South. Lincoln’s objective in March 1861 was to “preserve the Union” at all costs, and by “preserving the Union” Lincoln meant preserving the Republican Party and his fledgling administration. He had received less than 40% of the popular vote in 1860. Letting the South go would have certainly made him a one-term president, which might well have killed the newly-minted Republican Party.

Yes, letting the South go would have ensured the existence of slavery within the Union for the near future, but its days were numbered. Every other power abolished slavery by 1880. Still this was not a moral question for most Americans. Lincoln received thunderous applause across the North in 1860 when he made campaign promises to leave the institution alone. Racism was an American institution and Lincoln never challenged the prevailing attitudes on blacks. He agreed with them. The Republican Party’s objective was always political. Bottle the South up, ensure that the Whig economic agenda could be ascendant, and control the spoils. They never dabbled in moral issues.

The tragedy of the Civil War was that more than a million men died for a conflict that was unnecessary. The elimination of slavery was merely an afterthought to Lincoln. He wanted war. He had the chance to save the Union without war before he took office. He refused it. He had the chance to save the Union without war in March 1861. He rejected attempts by the South to peacefully purchase Fort Sumter and began polling his cabinet about provisioning Sumter less than a week after taking office, knowing full well it would cause war. As he later told a political ally, his decision to provision Fort Sumter had the desired outcome, meaning armed conflict. Nothing can sugarcoat Lincoln’s head-long rush into the bloodiest war in American history.

So, though he is certainly no historian, Trump may have been on to something here. Better leadership could have avoided the carnage. Ooo, I just committed American sacrilege.

But who cares. No one really reads The Atlantic anymore, anyway.

Posted June 20, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in History, Uncategorized

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Endless Atrocities   2 comments

By Robert Barsocchini
Washington’s Blog

Paul Atwood, a Senior Lecturer in American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, provides a concise summary of the history that informs North Korea’s “relations with the United States” and “drives its determination never to submit to any American diktat”.

Image result for image of north koreaExcerpts from Atwood’s summary are here used as a framework, with other sources where indicated.

Atwood notes it is an American “myth” that the “North Korean Army suddenly attacked without warning, overwhelming surprised ROK defenders.”  In fact, the North/South border “had been progressively militarized and there had been numerous cross border incursions by both sides going back to 1949.”

Part of what made the US’s ultimate destruction of Korea (which involved essentially a colossal version of one of the cross-border incursions) “inevitable” was the goal of US planners to access or control “global… resources, markets and cheaper labor power”.

In its full invasion of the North, the US acted under the banner of the United Nations.  However, the UN at that time was “largely under the control of the United States”, and as Professor Carl Boggs (PhD political science, UC Berkeley) puts it, essentially was the United States. (28)   While it is still today the world’s most powerful military empire, the US was then at the peak of its global dominance – the most concentrated power-center in world history.  Almost all allies and enemies had been destroyed in World War II while the US experienced just over 400,000 overall war-related deaths after declarations and/or acts of war by Japan and Germany, whereas Russia, for example, lost tens of millions fending off the Nazi invasion.  Boggs further notes that as the UN gradually democratized, US capacity to dictate UN policy waned, with the US soon becoming the world leader in UN vetoes. (154)

In South Korea, “tens of thousands” of “guerrillas who had originated in peoples’ committees” in the South “fought the Americans and the ROK” (Republic of Korea), the Southern dictatorship set up by the US.  Before hot war broke out, the ROK military “over mere weeks” summarily executed some 100,000 to 1 million (74) (S. Brian Wilson puts the figure at 800,000) guerillas and peasant civilians, many of whom the dictatorship lured into camps with the promise of food.  This was done with US knowledge and sometimes under direct US supervision, according to historian Kim Dong-choon and others (see Wilson above for more sources).  The orders for the executions “undoubtedly came from the top”, which was dictator Syngman Rhee, the “US-installed” puppet, and the US itself, which “controlled South Korea’s military.”  After the war, the US helped try to cover up these executions, an effort that largely succeeded until the 1990s.

At a point in the war when the US was on the verge of defeat, General Douglas MacArthur “announced that he saw unique opportunities for the deployment of atomic weapons. This call was taken up by many in Congress.”  Truman rejected this idea and instead “authorized MacArthur to conduct the famous landings at Inchon in September 1950”, which “threw North Korean troops into disarray and MacArthur began pushing them back across the 38th Parallel”, the line the US had “arbitrarily” drawn to artificially divide Korea, where there was “overwhelming support for unification” among the country’s population as a whole.  The US then violated its own artificial border and pushed into the North.

China warned the US it would not sit by while the its neighbor was invaded (China itself also feared being invaded), but MacArthur shrugged this off, saying if the Chinese “tried to get down to Pyongyang” he would “slaughter” them, adding, “we are the best.”  MacArthur “then ordered airstrikes to lay waste thousands of square miles of northern Korea bordering China and ordered infantry divisions ever closer to its border.”

It was the terrible devastation of this bombing campaign, worse than anything seen during World War II short of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that to this day dominates North Korea’s relations with the United States and drives its determination never to submit to any American diktat.

General Curtis Lemay directed this onslaught. It was he who had firebombed Tokyo in March 1945 saying it was “about time we stopped swatting at flies and gone after the manure pile.” It was he who later said that the US “ought to bomb North Vietnam back into the stone age.” Remarking about his desire to lay waste to North Korea he said “We burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea too.” Lemay was by no means exaggerating.

Lemay estimated the US “killed off” some “20% of the [North Korean] population.”  (For comparison, the highest percentage of population lost in World War II was in Poland, which lost approximately 16.93 to 17.22% of its people overall.)  Dean Rusk, who later became a Secretary of State, said the US targeted and attempted to execute every person “that moved” in North Korea, and tried to knock over “every brick standing on top of another.”

Boggs gives many examples of mass atrocities, one taking place in 1950 when the US rounded up “nearly 1,000 civilians” who were then “beaten, tortured, and shot to death by US troops”, another in Pyongyang when the US summarily executed 3,000 people, “mostly women and children”, and another when the US executed some 6,000 civilians, many with machine guns, many by beheading them with sabres.  He notes this list, just of the major atrocities, “goes on endlessly.” (75)

US/UN forces in Korea in tanks painted to look like tigers.

When Chinese forces followed through on their threat and entered North Korea, successfully pushing back US troops, Truman then threatened China with nuclear weapons, saying they were under “active consideration.” For his part, “MacArthur demanded the bombs… As he put it in his memoirs:

I would have dropped between thirty and fifty atomic bombs…strung across the neck of Manchuria…and spread behind us – from the Sea of Japan to the Yellow Sea- a belt of radioactive cobalt. It has an active life of between 60 and 120 years.

Cobalt it should be noted is at least 100 times more radioactive than uranium.

He also expressed a desire for chemicals and gas.

In 1951 the U.S. initiated “Operation Strangle”, which officials estimated killed at least 3 million people on both sides of the 38th parallel, but the figure is probably closer to 4 million [“mostly civilians” and “mostly resulting from US aerial bombardments” in which civilians “were deliberately targeted” (54, 67-8), as were “schools, hospitals, and churches” (65).  Estimates for the death toll also go “much higher” than 4 million (74)].

Boggs notes US propaganda during this time period (the US was a world leader in eugenics scholarship and race-based “legal” discrimination) dehumanized Asians and facilitated targeting and mass executions of “inferior” civilians: the “US decision to target civilians … was planned and systematic, going to the top of the power structure. …no one was ever charged…”  Some in the US forces, such as General Matthew Ridgeway, claimed the war was a Christian jihad in defense of “God”.  (54-5)  Analysts at George Washington University, looking at US contingency plans from this era to wipe out much of the world’s population with nuclear weapons, determined a likely rationale for the US’s doctrine of targeting of civilians is to “reduce the morale of the enemy civilian population through fear” – the definition of terrorism.

Atwood continues:

The question of whether the U.S. carried out germ warfare has been raised but has never been fully proved or disproved. The North accused the U.S. of dropping bombs laden with cholera, anthrax, plague, and encephalitis and hemorrhagic fever, all of which turned up among soldiers and civilians in the north. Some American prisoners of war confessed to such war crimes but these were dismissed as evidence of torture by North Korea on Americans. However, none of the U.S. POWs who did confess and were later repatriated were allowed to meet the press. A number of investigations were carried out by scientists from friendly western countries. One of the most prominent concluded the charges were true.

At this time the US was engaged in top secret germ-warfare research [including non-consensual human experimentation] with captured Nazi and Japanese germ warfare experts, and also [conducting non-consensual human experimentation on tens of thousands of people, including in gas chambers and aerial bombardments, with mustard gas and other chemical weapons,] experimenting with Sarin[, later including non-consensual human experimentation], despite its ban by the Geneva Convention.

Boggs notes the US “had substantial stocks of biological weapons” and US leaders thought they might be able to keep their use “secret enough to make a plausible denial”.  They also thought that if their use was uncovered, the US could simply remind its accusers that it had never signed the 1925 Geneva Protocol on biological warfare. (135-6)

A 1952 US government film made to instruct the US armed forces on the US’s “offensive biological and chemical warfare program” says the US can “deliver a biological or chemical attack … hundreds of miles inland from any coastline” to “attack a large portion of an enemy’s population.”  The film shows US soldiers filling bio/chemical dispersal containers for “contamination” of enemy areas, and then a cartoon depiction of US bio/chem weapons agents being delivered from US ships, passing over Korea, and covering huge swathes of China.

Boggs notes “the US apparently hoped the rapid spread of deadly diseases would instill panic in Koreans and Chinese, resulting in a collapse of combat morale”. (136)

Atwood adds that as in the case of the Rhee/US mass executions of South Koreans, Washington blamed the evident use of germ warfare on “the communists”.

The US also used napalm, a fiery gel that sticks to and burns through targets, extensively, completely and utterly destroying the northern capital of Pyongyang. By 1953 American pilots were returning to carriers and bases claiming there were no longer any significant targets in all of North Korea to bomb. In fact a very large percentage of the northern population was by then living in tunnels dug by hand underground. A British journalist wrote that the northern population was living “a troglodyte existence.” In the Spring of 1953 US warplanes hit five of the largest dams along the Yalu river completely inundating and killing Pyongyang’s harvest of rice. Air Force documents reveal calculated premeditation saying that “Attacks in May will be most effective psychologically because it was the end of the rice-transplanting season before the roots could become completely embedded.” Flash floods scooped out hundreds of square miles of vital food producing valleys and killed untold numbers of farmers.

At Nuremberg after WWII, Nazi officers who carried out similar attacks on the dikes of Holland, creating a mass famine in 1944, were tried as criminals and some were executed for their crimes.

Atwood concludes it is “the collective memory” of the above “that animates North Korea’s policies toward the US today”.

Under no circumstances could any westerner reasonably expect that the North Korean regime would simply submit to any ultimatums by the US, by far the worst enemy Korea ever had measured by the damage inflicted on the entirety of the Korean peninsula.

Robert J. Barsocchini is an independent researcher and reporter whose interest in propaganda and global force dynamics arose from working as a cross-cultural intermediary for large corporations in the US film and Television industry.  His work has been cited, published, or followed by numerous professors, economists, lawyers, military and intelligence veterans, and journalists.  He begins work on a Master’s Degree in American Studies in the fall.

Source: Endless Atrocities

Posted June 13, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in History, Uncategorized

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What If America Stayed out of World War I?   Leave a comment

We all know the story we were taught in school – the United States entered the fray of World War I on the side of Britain and secured peace and democracy for Europe and the world. Then Americans demanded their government withdraw from the world stage, which sabotaged the peace efforts and lead to Hitler coming to power.

Image result for image of woodrow wilsonBut is that really what happened? Was Woodrow Wilson really a brilliant leader who didn’t want to go to war until it became absolutely certain that our intervention was necessary?

World War I was an expensive war fought with new-fangled weapons. Millions died in heavy artillery barrages. By 1916, the British and French were running out of money and could no longer renegotiate their loans. They could not continue to prosecute war against Germany for much longer.

We are told t hat the United States had been neutral up to this point and that U-boat attacks on our merchant fleet is what finally drove us to choose a side. But is that true?

I’m not a professional historian, but I am a fan of history books. I didn’t stop reading them when I got my degrees. It was during that continuing education in my living room that I learned stuff that the public schools definitely don’t bother to teach us.

In January 1917, European leaders were ready for the war to end. Germany had fought England and France to a standstill. From a technical military standpoint, 1916 featured complicated and progressive experimentation with methods of war that would break up the stalemate. Germany might have been slightly closer to winning the war in December 1916, but that would have been splitting hairs.

In December 1916, Field Marshal Haig, Commander of the British forces on the Western Front, sent in an extensive report to his government on the just completed Somme Campaign. Allied lines had advanced in some places, but hadn’t come close to break through, but casualties had been appalling. Yet Haig declared the Somme campaign a victory because it had worn down of the Germans and stabilized the front.

Haig’s report didn’t make British statesmen optimistic. The Somme advance had been shallow, and that the Germans still held onto nearly as much of France as they had before. Significantly, the Central Powers were killing Allied troops at a faster rate than the Allies were killing the Germans. For every two deaths on the side of the Central Powers, three Allied soldiers were dying.

Meanwhile, Romanian soldiers in Eastern Central Europe were faced with an an Austro-Hungarian, German, and Bulgarian force that had captured Bucharest. Although they might have taken some pressure off the Western front, they’d suffered enormous losses. In Russia, people were hungry and demoralized and the edge of revolution, which would have tipped the balance of power sharply in favor of the Central Powers had the United States not intervened.

Meanwhile, the Great Britain had already adopted conscription in January 1916. On the diplomatic front, the British government began a process that would end by promising overlapping parts of the Ottoman Empire both to the future “king of the Arabs” and to Jews across the world as a future homeland, which has consequences into our own time. At the same time, British propaganda aimed at influencing the United States to enter the war heightened dramatically. Charles Masterman’s War Propaganda Bureau in London worked on the “American question” with articles in the United States newspapers, speaking tours, increased distribution of the famous Bryce Report on German atrocities in Belgium, and in other ways.

One crucial example of non-traditional attempts to break the impasse was the British blockade resulting in the starvation of German civilians. In place since late 1914, the blockade kept even neutrals from delivering food and other essentials to Germany. Before it was lifted in 1919, somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000 German civilians died from starvation and the effects of malnutritional.  See Ralph Raico’s detailed review of the classic book on the subject by C. Paul Vincent.

In order to survive the war, Britain had to control the seas. In order to survive the war, Germany had to eat. At the same time, Germany had to avoid bringing the United States as world’s most powerful economy into the conflict. Unlimited submarine warfare was the most likely way to break the blockade and eat, though German statesmen feared this step would bring the United States into the war.

Ending the war seemed out of the question. Both sides desired any help they could get, but both sides had turned down offers of mediation, truce, and negotiations because they wanted to gain territory and not have to pay financial obligations.

Additionally, the winter of 1916/17 was one of the coldest in memory. The Germans were starving, but the soldiers on all sides found the cold almost unbearable. Misery in the trenches and encampments did not bode well for the future will to fight for either army.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the United States had been expending west (and north into Alaska), but had by now reached its continential limits and had been advancing into the Asian sphere. Colonel Edward Mandell House had played a central role in choosing and grooming Woodrow Wislon to become a presidential candidate. House became an intimate friend of Woodrow Wilson. Wilson’s chief of staff, Joseph Tumulty, testified to this close relationship, as did dozens of others. Ultimately, House would become a special roving emissary of Woodrow Wilson in Europe from 1914 onward. Through a large private network of highly influential friends, House’s influence on American intervention in World War I not exaggerated. So who was this very important American?

House was a Texan. His father was an early immigrant to the state, making a fortune as a blockade-runner during the American Civil War. Edward Mandell House was born in 1858 in Houston and attended elite secondary schools in England and the northeastern United States. Eventually, he ended up at Cornell University. When his father died in 1880, House returned to Texas and took over management of the family fortune of $500,000 (equivalent of $11 million dollars today). That didn’t put him in the same league as the individuals he would soon be associating with. Involved in banking and railroads, House crossed paths with the J.P. Morgan more than once, and many other leading individuals of the day. He left business for politics, but his aim was to work behind the scenes, to influence politics rather than leading as a figurehead. The real power often rests with the man behind the curtain.

In Texas, House backed a gubernatorial candidate in 1890. Surprisingly, for all House’s railroad and oil connections, he chose the “trust-busting” populist Democrat “Big Jim” Hogg. Governor Hogg appointed him an honorary state “Colonel,” a designation which House adopted proudly. The Colonel masterminded the elections of four Texas governors, then headed East just after the turn of the century to seek out a national candidate to groom for President.

House had collected a very large circle of wealthy individuals, including many in the rarefied world of J. P. Morgan. He combined an introverted public view and amazing social skills, including a very sharp sense of humor.

By the time he entered politics, House had begun to embrace Progressivism, a doctrine of “efficiency and wise leadership” which was informed by the Positivist doctrine of French sociologist Auguste Comte. Progressivism became a widespread political movement in American lifeand the world. In America, it emanated from and came to characterize the wealthy and wise men of “efficiency” and “capital,” chiefly from the Northeast. The Colonel wrote a novel in 1912, Philip Dru, Administrator, wherein the protagonist would reshape the government of the United States, freeing it for reform by freeing it from the corrupt and ignorant element of an elected legislative branch, a constitutional element Comte himself saw as roadblock to “Positive” administration.

Woodrow Wilson, an academic Progressive who had been a one-term governor of New Jersey, had served as President of Princeton, but entered New Jersey state politics, after leaving Princeton under heavy criticism for his high-handed reform of the curriculum and direction of the institution. He was condemned by many as a self-righteous, authoritarian leader who hated compromise. Upon a first “delightful visit” in late 1911, House wrote to a confidant, “He is not the biggest man I ever met, but he is one of the pleasantest and I would rather play with him than any prospective candidate I have seen.”

House and Wilson were opposites in many ways. The non-religious Texan admirer of heroic frontier men of violence and the Presbyterian minister’s son whose life was circumscribed by a long line of church ladies. House, who reveled in recounting the practical jokes of his youth designed to belittle and control those around him, and Wilson, whose humor was of the quietest, most conventional kind. House, whose diary and letters universally groan with gourmet meals in the best restaurants with wine flowing, and the abstemious Wilson, who ate and drank little, preferring a quiet family circle.

Yet the two men had much in common. Historians note that both were outsiders in terms of national politics, late-comers to the Progressive political movement, middle-aged Southerners, and admirers of “vigor” and efficiency in individuals and government. Both men admired Great Britain with passion. They were both extremely ambitious to “go down in history.” Both House and Wilson embodied those Comtean, Positivist elements of Progressivism that relied on the certainties of social science as a means of ruling. The great project of the Progressive movement was the efficient organization of the world though the power of the state upon the liberties of the individual. Both House and Wilson consistently put their faith in wise men who would lead rather than merely represent the people.

After House helped get the one-term Governor elected President in 1912, a Washington insider asked the new President about House’s apparent authority to make political commitments about the future. Wilson replied:”Mr. House is my second personality. He is my independent self. His thoughts and mine are one.”

Working behind the scenes, House ramrodded the new administration’s legislation implementing the Federal Reserve and much else. His communications with “the Governor” (as he continued to address his presidential friend) were always flattering, always indirect, always purposeful, and full of sage advice. His role in managing William Jennings Bryan was especially important. He gained Bryan’s endorsement of the election, persuaded Wilson to appoint him Secretary of State, kept the unpredictable but powerful populist off balance, and arranged for him to be isolated from the President’s inner circle.

With Wilson’s agreement, House roamed Europe with the full authority of the President’s intimate and special emissary, meeting with kings, prime ministers, intellectuals, and others, “planting the seeds of peace.” The Colonel was a supreme political operative in the United States, but knew European international politics a little, and the craft of diplomacy not at all. Historian Walter Millis suggested that for all the “seeds” the Colonel planted with European leaders, none of them had the least chance of germinating.

Then war broke out in August 1914. House concentrated on putting Woodrow Wilson in a position to mediate the terrible war raging in Europe. Theodore Roosevelt had brokered the end to the much less extensive Russian-Japanese conflict of 1904-5 and won the Nobel Peace Prize. Both House and Wilson considered Wilson far greater than Roosevelt.

President Wilson immediately proclaimed American neutrality. Wilson’s Secretary of State, populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan, the Great Commoner, assumed that traditional neutrality would also preclude financial support of one side or the other by American big business and financial interests. Bryan tried to keep the United States on good terms with all countries by promoting treaties of friendship and conciliation.

Truthfully, any mediation by Wilson would come with supplies of money, arms, ammunition, food, and other necessities of war. The Germans seemed tempted to take up Wilson’s mediation offers at several points. Wilson felt he made progress in mediation in the coming months, even after more U-Boat sinkings of armed civilian vessels in designated zones. In the spring of 1916, he pressured the Germans to drop their unlimited submarine warfare program.

In spite of increasing talk of “preparedness” and anti-German sentiment in the United States, Americans weren’t interested in seeing their country intervene directly in the war. The election of 1916 focused on “he kept us out of the war” even as Wilson was meddling in European affairs and funding both sides of the war.

Three months before the Lusitania sinking, House met in London with the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Grey, and made an amazing commitment. The Colonel had vague instructions from Wilson to persuade the British to lift the blockade, but House defied the President and committed his nation, under certain conditions, to enter the conflict on the Allied side.

A vast number of Americans were of German heritage and had no stomach to fight their cousins. The Midwest, especially, seemed unwilling to go to war, and much of the socialist left, anarchists, and populists, as well as many peace-oriented religious and social groups, opposed the war, but most American Progressives and much of Wall Street had ties to Britain,. The Wilson Progressives remained firm in their allegiance to Britain, as did the bankers themselves, many of whom had affiliate banks in London and Paris. From 1914 onward, British agents offered monetary awards to newspapers across the United States in exchange for war news and opinion favorable to the Allies.

Bryan had been appointed by Wilson reluctantly and only as repayment for Bryan’s support in the 1912 election. He had little influence on the President and his populist anti-imperialism had little support from a chief executive who aimed at a new kind of American expansiveness and a revamped, American-led organization of the world.

Hence, Bryan’s denunciation of the British blockade of Germany had little effect, and nobody listened after the sinking of the Cunard liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915. Among the 1198 dead were 128 United States citizens. The torpedoing of the Lusitania reoriented America to war. The German Embassy in Washington had taken out ads in 50 American newspapers warning Americans that the liner would be entering a zone of war, and that any vessel flying the British flag would be “liable to destruction” in those waters. The blockade of Germany constituted a war against civilians. Although the British government denied that the ship was carrying armaments, underwater archeological research and archival evidence has since shown that the Lusitania carried a very large load of armaments, including four million rounds of U.S.-manufactured .303 Remington bullets.

At the State Department, Bryan argued that the United States should use the Lusitania as part of a diplomatic offensive to persuade both British and Germans to cease their brutal warfare against civilians, steering the Germans from their ruthless unlimited submarine war, the British from their unrelenting, starvation blockade, but with House making increasingly specific promises to Allied leaders, and persuading Wilson in the same direction, arguments against the blockade fell on deaf ears.

“Why be so shocked by the drowning of a few people, if there is to be no objection to starving a nation?” Willian Jennings Bryant in his resignation letter of June 1915[

State Department Counsel, Robert Lansing, replaced Bryan as Secretary. Lansing, an international lawyer of wide experience had gotten along with Bryan but had confidentially harbored strong pro-intervention sentiments. Lansing’s nephew was the rising star John Foster Dulles, who at only 27 in 1915, he was a member of the influential international corporate law firm Sullivan & Cromwell which had worked closely with the J. P. Morgan interests since the early 1880s. Lansing immediately recruited his nephew for negotiations to secure Latin American aid in the coming war–a year and half before the United States entered.

Wilson had ridden to power on rhetoric against Wall Street, but the new Secretary’s Wall Street connections are an important part of the decision-making that led to American intervention and his alter ego was closely associated with these same “interests.” How do these dots connect?

Woodrow Wilson was the hub for all those connections. Although he had strong opinions of his own, he could be swayed by “expert” advice. In the Positivist mode outlined by Auguste Comte and Edward House, Wilson saw himself as heroic philosopher king, hopeful of using the war and the peace to reform the world system. From 1914 to 1916, although he thought a lot about intervening directly, Wilson saw his role as that of World Mediator–the lonely leader who would bring peace through the systematic and scientific reorganization of the world through knowledgeable bureaucrats. The flattery of House, Charles R. Crane, and other educated, wealthy men of affairs and intermediaries between Wall Street and the government, he became increasingly willing to accept the indirect suggestions and advice of the financial elite he had thundered against during his early political years. He saw them as experts in their fields. The Morgan financial empire became the conduit of both massive American loans to the Allies in 1915 and of massive Allied purchases of American war matériel thereafter. Separately, the J. P. Morgan Empire and other international financial interests saw the war as an opportunity massively expand the whole pre-war pattern of imperial finance.

The whole issue of “world power” had a clear impact on decisions leading to war. In the weeks before the United States declared war on the Central Powers in April 1917, Wilson would mourn the fact that America’s entry would put financial interests in the saddle again, but Wilson’s Progressive measures had done much to keep high finance intimately involved in foreign policy decisions. After Wilson’s election, the international bankers had refined the jargon of the expansionist “dollar diplomacy” of pre-Wilson years, learning to speak Wilson’s Progressive language. In particular, they learned to justify measures favorable to them in the name of efficiency and bold leadership.

One perfect example of this process was the Federal Reserve System (1913), which the leading bankers of Wall Street constructed, and for which Wilson initiated the supporting legislative measures. Colonel House and others played vital intermediary roles, selling the Federal Reserve to Wilson as a social reform for efficiency of government. Part of the appeal for Wilson the ease with which the Federal Reserve System would produce a fiscal “flexibility” that would ease administration projects. That flexibility would eventually apply to wartime. Wilson paid for the 1916 invasion of Mexico by using the other new 1913 boon for Federal finance, the income tax, both by raising taxes and by pushing through the Revenue Act of 1916. The Act was designed to make sudden tax hikes more palatable for voters by introducing what one historian has called a “highly progressive” element. Yet in 1917, Wilson would see the advantages of money manipulation through the Fed for fighting a much larger and more important war.

On the Wall Street side, during the period from the outbreak of the war in Europe until American entry, the financial and business circles of J. P. Morgan, the Rockefellers, Jacob Schiff, Kuhn, Loeb & Co, and their affiliates saw in the war the opportunity to replace British and French investments and loans throughout the imperial world. These plans represented a sea change in the distribution of funds within the future “developing world,” but they also represented a reliance on close cooperation with the crusading visions of Wilson’s administration.

Hence, high finance was forging closer and closer ties with an activist state driven by the visions of Wilson and House for efficient Progressive world management. The result would be top-down leadership with American organizers of the world, both colonial and non-colonial. Fears that Britain might lose the war in early 1917–discussed in an earlier essay–opened up the vista of supplanting Britain as the world’s banker, but with more efficiency, coordination, and control by the United States.

 

Wall Street dominance relative to the war during the “neutrality” period is fairly straightforward. The stalemate of the Western Front had hardly set in before France and Britain began to realize the need for more funds. The Shell Crisis following the Western Front Battle of Neuve Chapelle (March 1916), during which the British failed to exploit their victory owing to lack of shells, made the issue of armaments shortages public and acrimonious. The French and British immediately applied for loans from the J. P. Morgan banking group. The United States approved, over the objections of Secretary of State Bryan just before he resigned. The loan structure was worked out between spring and fall, and the result was a loan of half a billion dollars (1915 dollars) with two billion more to follow before the war was over.

Moreover, the anti-Wall Street administration of Wilson okayed the appointment of J. P. Morgan, Jr., as Allied purchasing agent. Trade disruptions during the first months of the war were drastic: the British Blockade of Germany cut American exports to Germany from $169 million to just a million. But business with the Allied powers soon replaced these lost orders many times over.

The election of 1916 forms the backdrop to the declaration of war. Woodrow Wilson had won the election of 1912 comfortably, but against two opponents, one of them Theodore Roosevelt. Democratic prognosticators were much less sure of a shoe-in for 1916. For all the hue and cry of “Americanism” and “preparedness” that emerged in late 1915 and in 1916, Wilson led a country which would not have supported intervention except in the case of a direct assault by one side. The President had calmed the Lusitania uproar in his famous “too proud to fight” speech, and the crisis passed when the Germans agreed to put a halt to unrestricted submarine warfare. Running on the slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War,” Wilson carefully advertised himself as a man of peace (people just ignored that the United States invaded Mexico with 10,000 troops in March 1916).

Wilson defeated Charles Evans Hughes by only three percentage points. In the Electoral College, things could have gone either way — the President won some crucial states by tiny margins. In the end, the Electoral College vote would be 277 to 254. If, for example, Hughes had won Kentucky, which Wilson won with 51.9 percent, the election would have gone to Hughes.

Winning the race, Wilson achieved his own political “New Freedom.” He no longer needed to answer to the public’s anti-war sentiment. Britain seemed in disastrous shape. Wall Street was fully integrated into the Allied cause. Many American elites desired and actively promoted intervention, seeing entry into the war as fulfillment of their particular cause or goal. By the time the Germans decided to reinstate unlimited submarine war against secretly armed British civilian ships once more, (February 1, 1917) a whole structure of military expenditures, extensive redefinition of “neutrality,” and an amazing increase in the level of shipments to the Allied powers were in place. In February 1917, the British handed over an intercepted cable from the State Secretary of the German Foreign Office, Arthur Zimmermann, offering an alliance with Mexico against the United States should the US declare war on Germany. The Germans had already announced that they would resume submarine war on ships carrying supplies to the Allies, including neutral carriers, and in the next weeks, five American ships were torpedoed.

On April 2, 1917, Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress, calling for a declaration of war against the German Empire, in order “to make the world safe for democracy.” Wartime Allied propaganda had Americans believing the Germans were solely guilty, and that the conflict was a war for democracy, when the most autocratic country in Europe, Russia, was on the Allied side. Remember, there was no Internet back then to fact-check the propaganda.

It used to be known when my parents were young that the United States had not been “forced” to go to war. American intervention led to higher death tolls and a settlement that unhinged the world. In light of this knowledge, Wilson’s decisions seems misguided and wrong.

In the run-up to World War II and then after, American historians re-interpreted Wilson as the Man of Peace who was forced to war. The forty days before American entry into the war were tempestuous. Once the Germans announced resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, on February 1, 1917, Wilson became increasingly bellicose, preparing bill after bill that aimed at military expenditures and “preparedness” and carrying measures of war security, even war hysteria, that anticipated wartime repression, spying, and information control.

The news of these measures found a public almost, but not quite, ready for war. The Midwest and West were largely opposed to American entry. Many of the populist remnants, and indeed the agrarian and anarchist socialists rejected participation in the war since it was a war of the kind of “interests” Wilson had long railed against. The war was extremely unpopular among Irish immigrants and their children and among immigrants whose national origin was in the lands of the Central Powers. Then, too, a large number of women’s associations rejected the war for a variety of reasons, as did Christian pacifists. Though many Progressives were in fact much more openly bellicose than Wilson himself, a number of Progressive intellectuals and activists opposed American intervention vehemently, including public intellectual Randolph Bourne and social theorist and activist Jane Addams.

Politically, a small remnant of anti-intervention congressmen fought a desperate battle in the last weeks before intervention. Among them, Senator Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin, a Progressive himself, was foremost. “Fighting Bob” was the leader of Senate opposition to President Wilson’s nearly complete departure from neutrality after the 1916 election. In particular, La Follette organized a coalition of Senators who opposed Wilson’s Armed Ship Bill, sent to the Senate in late February 1917. The bill proposed arming American ships carrying war goods to Europe, asserting the rights of the neutrals to sail into war zones with full rights of the sea, including the right to engage hostile ships. To La Follette and his colleagues, “The Armed Ship Bill Meant War,” and La Follette used this phrase in a position pamphlet published in late March 1917. La Follette charged that the administration tactic was to flood Congress with very large appropriations bills so close to the end of the session that Congress would never have time to deal with all of them with sufficient attention. As La Follette described it, “In the last hours of the 64th Congress, all of these bills [arrived], including finally the Armed Ship Bill, which reached Congress 63 hours before its recess and claimed sweeping discretionary power involving warlike acts.”

This small band of Senators organized a filibuster that defeated the passage of the Armed Ship Bill in early March 1917. The President, who rarely took opposition well, branded the Senators as a “little group of willful men” who, “representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible.” If Wilson was wrong in assessing motive and wisdom, he was right in that they were certainly in the minority. Both parties had now become war parties. Henry Cabot Lodge and other prominent Republicans demanded an immediate declaration.

From London, Ambassador Page informed Wilson that British gold reserves were nearly exhausted: “Perhaps our going to war is the only way in which our present preeminent trade position can be maintained and a panic averted.”

Wilson’s closest advisors had long since advised war. Wilson spoke with Colonel House on March 27 and asked if he should address Congress and ask for a declaration or simply declare a state of war and request “the means to conduct the conflict.” House advised the non-Constitutional route. On March 29, Wilson put the whole proposition of war to the Cabinet, which unanimously supported intervention. Some of the cabinet officers hoped to limit intervention to naval and supply assistance, and some even to financial aid. Wilson called a joint special session of Congress for April 2. The New Jersey governor had originally been chosen by House and others in part because he was a fine orator. In the biggest speech of his life, he pulled out the stops.

America, Wilson said, had been forced to war by the German submarine campaign on civilian ships, whether armed or not. During the course of this, Germans had killed Americans. He did not mention that these American ships were sailing through a designated war zone, or that many of them were carrying supplies and armament for the Allied powers.

Wilson outlined a series of war measures to be taken immediately, including the introduction of conscription to enlarge the army to 500,000, increasing loans and subsidies to the Allies while reorganizing society for war.

No doubt by the time Wilson began his speech, most national representatives had already made up their minds. The Senate voted for the declaration on April 4. Only six voted against: La Follette, Harry Lane, George Norris, William J. Stone, Asle J. Gronna, and James K. Vardaman. Eight senators abstained. The war resolution passed in the House at three in the morning on April 6. The vote was 373 to 50.

The United States was at war … for better or worse.

Posted May 8, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in History, Uncategorized

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