Showing posts with label American History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label American History. Show all posts

Friday, June 15, 2018

When America Proved that Anything is Possible

Apollo 11 - Photo: Wikipedia
It was one of those moments in American history that the people who were able to watch it for the first time felt like they were in a science fiction movie.  But with televisions cameras on every move, the nation and the world watched on July 20, 1969, as three American astronauts landed on the moon.  

The project had been in the works for years to be sure.  You have to wonder with the phenomenal amount of work, expert engineering and the amazing genius that created the rocket ships and everything that would be needed to make the flight possible, if even those in NASA sat in mute wonder and had goosebumps when “Buzz” Aldren was the first man in history to put his foot on another world and pronounce those famous words –

“That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

That phrase, which itself was carefully prepared, has a lot of wisdom in it.  Sure, touching another world for the first time in human history was a tremendous accomplishment for America.  But more than that, it signaled a new era for humankind everywhere.  All of a sudden, the moon wasn’t a faraway myth, full of mystery and magic.  All of a sudden, people everywhere felt like they too could touch the stars if they put out their best efforts too.  

It was also a huge moment for the unity of all people.  Few things cause the world population to come together and link arms and be one people, not separate countries.  Most of the time, it’s a terrible global disaster that makes us all bond together.  But this time was different.  This time it was a moment so phenomenal that everybody stopped and watched and everybody knew that this was not just a great accomplishment for three astronauts and scientists that put them there.  This was a great accomplishment for mankind.

American history is populated with tremendous events, both bad and good.  But it’s worth a moment to sit back and reflect on what the first moon landing meant and continues to mean for Americans and the American spirit.  You have to wonder if any other nation would have had the ability, the creative powers, the powerful minds and the collective will to see this kind of amazing accomplishment through to success.  

It’s even more amazing when you remember that just a few years earlier, on September 12, 1962, that President Kennedy challenged American to rise to this challenge in a speech at Rice University.  It takes a lot to make something as historic and earth-shaking as landing on the moon a reality and visionary leadership such as Kennedy showed that day was a big part of why this landing made history.



This amazing achievement points out something outstanding about the American spirit.  Americans are a people who dream big.  And to land, a man on the moon took big dreams.  But we didn’t just dream to put a man up there, it was not acceptable unless we got everybody home safely as well.  

For the most part, the American space program has had a phenomenal history of success in breaking through barriers that nobody had ever done before.  Yes, there have been setbacks and tragedies along the way.  But Americans are not quitters and through all the struggles we face, we face them together.  But we never forget to look up at the stars and dream of the day that yet again we see an American set foot on another world and plant out the flag in that soil to be signal forever that America was here!




Thursday, May 31, 2018

The American Cowboy

Cowboy - Photo: Wikimedia
Americans have a unique vision of themselves and their role in the world.  Unlike perhaps any other peoples in history, Americans see themselves as people of destiny and a people who were put here to do something phenomenal and something significant for history and for all peoples of the earth.  This unique self-concept, sometimes perceived as arrogance, is deeply grounded in a set of archetypes that Americans use to form their vision of themselves in the world.  And no other archetype is as powerful in the American psyche than that of the cowboy.

The actual American cowboy was indeed a unique individual.  While probably not as noble and ruggedly handsome as the images created of him in the movies, they were unique types of men who carved out a civilization from the rugged wilderness that was the American West in the years before the turn of the last century.

Some of the reasons that the image of the cowboy sometimes includes elements of the outlaw and the loner is that much of the legend of the cowboy came from stories of refugees from the broken southern army who took to the life of the cowboy rather than attempt to integrate into a society that included making peace with “the Yankee”.  And that type of individual certainly did account for many of the outlaws who went on to become the stuff of legend and stories even to this day.

The renegade and loner image combined with the rough life of an actual cowboy whose job it was to guide those huge herds of cattle along trails such as the historic Cumberland trail where they could be sold to become the steaks, leather and other goods that were sold in rustic American stores of the time.  This was a difficult life and the stories of the trail make up many history books for sure.  But far more of the stories of the trail are glorifications of that lifestyle that must have been difficult indeed.

But the image of the cowboy was also something that grew larger than what the actual lifestyle of those simple but rugged men must have lived in the American West.  It was an image that pulled together heroes as far-flung as the Australian Gaucho cowboy, the Japanese Samurai and a knight in King Arthur’s court.  It was an image of a man who demonstrated the rugged individualism that all Americans consider to be one of the central unifying traits that make America great. 

The cowboy image is one that even has its influence as high in the social strata of America that it influences the presidency.  It is said that there is a tradition for any president when he first is elected and comes to Washington to begin learning this big new job.  Tradition holds that each president has as part of their early duties to sit down and watch the movie High Noon.  They say that President Clinton watched it dozens of times in his early years.  If this is true, it accounts for how often a new president seems to grow and change in the office and becomes his own version of the great American hero that is depicted in that movie.  The American cowboy defends the virtue of the weak and helpless.  He is a staunch defender of families and those in society who are trying to carve out a home in a difficult world.  As such, the American cowboy fits with the “superhero” image that also appeals to the American system of justice and morality and values.



Even the star wars epic films were fundamentally grounded in the legend of the cowboy.  The cowboy concept grew up from a history of our country that included the settling of a big land and the settling of a wilderness that pit the god given will and intellect of man against God’s creation.  And it was the will of man that prevailed.  That is why American’s admire the cowboy because he represents their own struggles for greatness, for success and to be a heroic figure at least for their families, hometowns and churches.  And that desire so deeply rooted in the culture of American history will always be what makes America and Americans great.




Thursday, May 10, 2018

Remember the Alamo

Fall of Alamo - Photo: Wikipedia
America remembers many great battles that represent a turning point in a conflict that helped shaped our history.  We think of D-Day in World War II that turned the tide of victory toward the allies despite horrific losses.  But it is a unique battle that is remembered with pride and patriotism but is also a battle that was lost and almost everybody on our side brutally killed.  But that was the case in the battle for the Alamo in 1863.

The battle for the Alamo was not a conventional battle in the sense of two equally matched armies fighting back and forth to retain the property.  It was, to put it bluntly, a slaughter.  But the brave stand of those few hundred Texans against thousands of Mexican soldiers continues to inspire us today because it was a stand against impossible odds but it was a stand that reflected the American ethic of never giving up or surrendering when there is a principle to be defended.

The siege at the Alamo actually lasted thirteen days.  It began on February 23, 1863, and it was over by March 6th.  It is hard to imagine today, with Mexico to our south a trusted ally of the United States but this was a battle to stop that attempts by Mexico to invade the newly forming country of the United States which was an act of war to be sure.  The brave men who stood against that vast army have become American icons of bravery and the American spirit and the names listed among those killed in that fort included Davy Crocket, Jim Bowie, the commander of the unit Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis.  It was Travis that inspired his men to fight against insurmountable odds and his courage is what we celebrate whenever we say that famous rallying cry that comes out of this battle which was “Remember the Alamo.”  Travis wrote in a letter how he defied the Mexican attackers on the eve of the final siege.

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna.  I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man.  The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison is to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken.  I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls.  I shall never surrender or retreat.  I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country.  Victory or Death.



It was this brave stand that actually turned the war against this invading army to the advantage of the Americans.  The outrage from the slaughter of these men inspired that famous rallying cry that we remember even now centuries later when we hear those words “Remember the Alamo”.  Their stand against Santa Anna gave Sam Houston the time to organize a much more potent army which went on to deliver to Santa Anna a stunning defeat at San Jacinto which was the turning point for Texas which went on from there to victory in this war.

The spirit of Texas was never the same and to this day, Texas prides itself as a people of particular courage, boldness, and a unique independence that even sets them apart from the already fiercely independent American spirit.  Moreover, the entire nation looks to this battle as an example of how a few good men helped deliver a victory, even if it was at the cost of their own lives.  That indeed is the true spirit of patriotism.




Sunday, May 6, 2018

Did Colorado Kill Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday - Photo: Wikimedia
John Henry “Doc” Holliday’s final words, spoken as he lay dying in the Hotel Glenwood in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, were “this is funny”. We’ll never know, of course, exactly what the Wild West legend meant by this. Perhaps he found it ironic that after a life spent tempting death in the gambling dens of the American frontier, it was, at last, his 15-year long battle with tuberculosis that had killed him. But while it is certainly true that TB was the ultimate cause of his death, it may have had an accomplice…the state of Colorado itself. 

Doc was born in Georgia in 1851. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was only 15, and it is likely that he contracted the disease from her. It lay dormant long enough for him to complete his classical education and graduate from Dentistry school before symptoms began to appear. After his diagnosis he was told he had a few months, perhaps a year, to live. He was 20 years old. 

Climate was the only treatment anyone could recommend for tuberculosis in the middle of the 19th century. Seeking drier, hotter weather, Doc went west. Dying or not, he still had to make a living. Good dental hygiene, however, was not a priority for most cowboys, so Doc decided to try his hand at gambling.

Some historians have suggested that Doc deliberately put himself in harms way over the course of his life out of a desire to die a quick, if bloody, death rather than waste away as the result of his disease. Whether or not this is true, he certainly seemed to have the Devil’s luck (good or bad) protecting him. Though he was sickly, scrawny, famously quarrelsome and habitually in a state if of mortal danger, he always managed to survive.

Holliday has passed into legend as one of America’s most fearsome, steely-eyed gunslingers. But though he is credited with the killing of many men, these stories have no historical evidence. In truth, the one and only documented case of Doc killing anybody was at the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral, when he shot Tom McLaury with a double-barrel shotgun at close range…hardly a feat the required a sharpshooter. Of his numerous escapades with a pistol, he displayed abysmal aim, probably as a result of the constant flow of whiskey he consumed to control his cough. He is said to have stabbed several men to death, but this seems unlikely given his frail health and wasted physique; he supposedly carried only about 120 pounds on his 5’10” frame when he died. 

More than a decade of gambling, smoking, drinking and fighting with some of the most dangerous men in America didn’t kill Doc Holliday, but it didn’t slow the progression of his disease, either. As he deteriorated he once again sought out “better” climate. In Victorian times (and for a long time after) consumptives were encouraged to seek high altitudes. This led Doc to the state of Colorado, the place that eventually killed him.



High altitude sickness is caused when the “thinner” air, where there is less oxygen in the atmosphere, causes the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream to decrease, causing headaches, nausea and a host of other symptoms. For someone like Holliday, who suffered from a severe and advanced lung disease that already interfered with his ability to breathe, Colorado’s high altitude was torturous. With his health worsening daily he decided to seek treatment in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, a town famous for the “healing” waters of its natural hot-springs and vaporous caves.

Visiting the hot-springs was the worst possible course of action for the tubercular Holliday. Sulfur emissions from the mineral springs and geothermal steam baths at Glenwood Springs stripped the few shreds of healthy tissue from his already ravaged lungs. After a bitter lifetime of gambling with death at the point of a blade or the barrel of a pistol, his diseased body got the better of him. After 2 racking, bedridden months in the winter of 1887 Doc Holliday’s lungs gave out and he died. Tuberculosis had been the loaded gun at his temple for almost half his life, but Colorado had finally pulled the trigger.




Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Troubled Time

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. — Leaders marching from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963.
From 1955 to 1965 there was a war right in the middle of America.  No, it wasn’t a war like World War II or the Revolutionary War.  It was a war for the heart and soul of this country to determine once and for all if America was really going to be a land of equal opportunity for all.   It is a war that eventually took on the name of “The Civil Rights Movement.”

We must make no mistake, this was not just a shouting match.  Some of the events that we even remember today became quite brutal and deadly.  Those who fought in this war on both sides were deadly serious about the causes they represented and willing to fight and even die to see their cause succeed.  The war waged for years and steady progress was made but not without tremendous sacrifice by the leaders of the movement who were committed to a giving a new meaning to the phrase “set my people free.”

In all of black history, there may be no more significant a time since the Civil War when the rights of African Americans were so deeply fought and won.  The tensions in the country had been building.  When the Supreme Court mandated desegregation in the schools in the historic case Brown versus the Board of Education, the stage was set.  But it was on December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama to a white man that the movement finally took shape and became a titanic struggle for the rights of African Americans in America.  That first battle brought to the front line one of the most important figures to fight for Civil Rights of that era, the Reverend Martin Luther King.

This tremendous struggle for freedom was never easy and was often marked with violence.  Over the next ten years, some of the most important milestones in black history took place including…

* 1957 – President Eisenhower had to send federal troops to Arkansas to secure admission to Central High School by nine black students.

* 1960 – The sit-in at Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro North Carolina set the stage for a nonviolent protest that was used with great success for the rest of the struggle.  Nonviolent protest and civil disobedience became a staple of the civil rights movement because of the influence of Martin Luther King.

* 1963 – The historic March on Washington in which over 200,000 people gathered to hear Dr. Kings famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

* 1964 – President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill that was the most significant event of his presidency and one he believed deeply in, the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

* 1965 – The assignation of Malcolm X and the Watts race rights.

* 1965 – President Johnson takes another bold step to accelerate the civil rights movement implementing Affirmative Action when he issues Executive Order 11246.

This short list is just a few of the highlights of this troubled time in which the rights of all citizens of American, black and white and of all colors were being redefined both on the streets, in the courts and in the different branches of government.  In the years to come there would be great steps forward.  One by one, every area of American life would see breakthroughs by African Americans in the areas of sports, entertainment, education, and politics.  There were many proud moments and there were moments of tremendous shame and heinous acts committed by both white and black people.  But through all that struggle, the society continued to grow and adapt to the will of the people as has always been the tradition in American culture.



The struggle is far from over.  Discrimination and hate speech continues to be a problem to this day.  And while it is easy to reflect on those days of struggle with regret, we can also look at them with pride.  We can be proud of the great leaders who demonstrated tremendous courage and wisdom to lead this nation to a better way of life.  And we can be proud of America because it is here where such a struggle can result in equality and freedom for all citizens, not just a few.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Imperfect Presidents

George Washington Caricature - Photo: Flickr
More important than proving perfection on your parties side, is a willingness to seek out the mistakes and correct them; to improve; to monitor your integrity. In the face of the opposition bashing away and looking for any sign of weakness, it is tempting to deny any fault at all, but it is still weak to ignore potential improvement. For a leader to inspire confidence, he must maintain a balance between claimed efficacy and a willingness to examine and adapt when changes will make a real impact; Not because the opposition is demanding apologies for not adhering to their views, when their only cause is your destruction, and only when reason makes a strong case. 

There are those so hungry for a disaster to blame on a president, nothing will prevent their finding fault with the opposition while their party's errors are given a pass.

I've been reading 1776 by David McCullough. George Washington was a confident optimistic leader in public while in his personal conversations and correspondence he admitted great concern for the Patriot Army's success. He made several bad decisions in the defense of New York City; splitting his army against a superior force; picking the wrong leader for a post and then switching midstream. The changes which confused soldiers prior to battle. Washington also overlooked a lesser used Long Island road which allowed the British to flank and surrounds his troops. 

Fortunately for Washington, he didn't have a post-battle press conference with reporters loyal to the enemy demanding he admits he was a failure. No, he had done his honest best and he and his troops learned and grew better eventually defeating Britain, which was considered the period's military superpower. Though he made mistakes, he was still the best man available for the job. Though he did modestly tell congress he felt inadequate to the job, he put all into its success. The enemy made many errors as well, but if Washington had been dismissed for his lack of perfection, our history would be much different. Congress knew of his error's but saw past them to his leadership and intelligence, rather than using every opportunity to improve their political positions.

Politicians today tend to look for anything that can tarnish the opponent, with no regard first for the facts, and no regard for damage to the country. The media plays along amplifying the agenda, to the detriment of the business at hand. More and more of us see through the shrill deceits of the knee-jerk politicians. We see who is working for our safety and who is busy spouting whatever sounds good to their political circles. If they only knew how nutty, how empty their words are, how devoid of purpose and integrity they appear to the discerning public.



Saturday, March 17, 2018

THOMAS JEFFERSON

English: Cropped version of Thomas Jefferson, ...
Thomas Jefferson, painted by Charles Willson Peale.
(Photo credit: 
Wikipedia)
Thomas Jefferson is one of those almost mythic figures from early American history that stand tall as one of the great heroes of the revolution and the early definition of what this country was going to become.  Sometimes it’s easy to look at a figure that stands so tall in history and thinks, perhaps some of that is a myth.

 But when you look at the history of the times, he was every bit as great as our adoration of him suggests he was.

Thomas Jefferson’s service to the new American union lasted over fifty years.

 He not only contributed to the core philosophical underpinnings upon which our democracy I based, he served in a variety of offices and made some phenomenal contributions to the developing country including…

* 1775 - Served in the Continental Congress 
* 1776 – Wrote the Declaration of Independence
* 1779-1781 - Governor of Virginia
* 1783 – Elected to Congress
* 1784-1789 – Commissioner and minister to France
* 1790-1793 – America’s first Secretary of State under George Washington
* 1797-1801 – Served as Vice President of the United States
* 1801-1809 – Third President of the United States
* 1803 – Approved of and helped launch the Lewis and Clark Expedition
* 1803 – Purchased the Louisiana Territory for the United States
* 1815 – Launched the Library of Congress
* 1825 – founded the University of Virginia

This phenomenal record of achievement is virtually unmatched in any public service record of comparable public servants.  But Jefferson’s contribution was more than just offices served, he was one or two or three key philosophical thinkers of his time that laid the ideological foundations of America. 

It is impossible to overemphasize the accomplishment he writing the Declaration of Independence.

 This document has taken on such a central position in American history that it is viewed with the reverence usually reserved for religious documents.  It so eloquently communicates the beliefs and the values of the American system of government that Jefferson can be seen as a true minister and prophet of those ideals.

Thomas Jefferson also believed strongly in Manifest Destiny and the westward expansion of the country as far as the Pacific Ocean.  He provided the inspiration, the funding and the political muscle to launch the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition that was responsible for discovering vast new lands and treasures in the heartland of America and providing inspiration to a country to “go west young man” and to achieve that dream of becoming a nation that stretched “for sea to shining sea”.

Jefferson had a thirst for knowledge that was virtually unquenchable.  He passed that passion for learning on in the building of the University of Virginia.  But his contribution to education that has made such a huge mark on American society was the building of the American library system by which citizens of any community can have access to large volumes of information at no cost.  It was an amazing experiment in public education.  But today few of us can imagine a world where we cannot at any time just “go check it out at the library”.  Libraries have become that central to the American way of life.

It seems that Thomas Jefferson made an impact on every aspect of society from the educational systems of the growing country to government and even making his viewpoints on religious freedom an important part of how America approached this crucial topic.  The entire concept of “separation of church and state” was one that Jefferson championed.  



It should be noted that in his writings it was clear that the separation of church and state works because it is there to restrict government from illegally restricting the religious rights of citizens.

 Sometimes we misinterpret Jefferson’s concepts that this governmental restriction is there to limit religious freedom when in fact, it is there to encourage all the religious freedom that the citizens of America need to honor and worship with complete openness and to never fear that the government will hinder who, what, when, where or how they go about expressing their religious ideas.

It’s important to look back at the genius of this man, Thomas Jefferson and be grateful that he was the man of the hour for such an important time in the development of the great nation of the United States of America.



Saturday, February 10, 2018

America's Second Civil War


Reprinted with permission from:

"The Second Civil War in the USA and its Aftermath" by Sam Vaknin (second, revised impression, 2029)

Summary of Chapter 83

"The polities of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries swung between extremes of nationalism and polyethnic multiculturalism. Following the Great War (1914-8), the disintegration of most of the continental empires - notably the Habsburg and Ottoman - led to a resurgence of a particularly virulent strain of the former, dressed as Fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism. 

The aftermath of the Second World War brought on a predictable backlash in the West against all manner of nationalism and racism. The USSR, Yugoslavia, the Czech Republic, the EU (European Union, the European Community), the Commonwealth led by the United Kingdom, and the prominent USA epitomized the eventual triumph of multiculturalism, multi-ethnic states, and, in the Western democracies, pluralism.

Africa and Asia, just emerging from a phase of brutal colonialism, were out of synch with these developments in Europe and North America and began to espouse their own brands of jingoistic patriotism. Attempts to impose liberal-democratic, multi-cultural, tolerant, pluralistic, and multi-ethnic principles on these emergent entities were largely perceived and vehemently rejected by them as disguised neo-colonialism.

The disintegration, during the second half of the twentieth century, of the organizing principles of international affairs - most crucially Empire in the 1960s and Communism in the 1980s - led to the re-eruption of exclusionary, intolerant, and militant nationalism. The Balkan secession wars of the 1990s served as a stark reminder that historical forces and ideologies never vanish - they merely lie dormant.

Polyethnic multiculturalism came under attack elsewhere and everywhere - from Canada to Belgium. Straining to contain this worrisome throwback to its tainted history, Europeans implemented various models. In the United Kingdom, regions, such as Scotland and Northern Ireland were granted greater autonomy. The EU's "ever closer union", reified by its unfortunate draft constitution, was intermittently rejected and resented by increasingly xenophobic and alienated constituencies. 

This time around, between 1980 and 2020, nationalism copulated with militant religiosity to produce particularly nasty offspring in Muslim terrorism, Christian fundamentalist (American) thuggish unilateralism, Hindu supremacy, and Jewish messianism. Scholars, such as Huntington, spoke of a "clash of civilizations".

Ironically, the much-heralded conflict took place not between the USA and its enemies without - but within the United States, in a second and devastating Civil War.

Americans long mistook the institutional stability of their political system, guaranteed by the Constitution, for a national consensus. They actually believed that the former guarantees the latter - that institutional firmness and durability ARE the national consensuses. The reverse, as we know, is true: it takes a national consensus to yield stable institutions. No social structure - no matter how venerable and veteran - can resist the winds of change in public sentiment.

In hindsight, the watershed obtained during the Bush-Cheney presidency (2001-2009). The social and political concord frayed and then disintegrated with each successive blow: the war in Iraq (2003-7), the botched evacuation and rescue efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (2005), the failed assassination attempt on the President's life (2006), the further restrictions placed on civil and human rights in Patriot Acts III and IV (2008), and, finally, the nuclear terrorist attack on Houston in the closing days of this divisive reign.

From there, it went only downhill.

As opposed to the first Civil War (1860-5), the Second Civil War (2021-26) was fought within communities and across state boundaries. It was not territorial and classic - but total and guerilla-like. It cut across the country's geography and pitted one ideological camp against another.

It may be too soon to objectively analyze and evaluate this gargantuan conflict. It was preceded by a decade of violent demonstrations, home-grown urban terrorism, and numerous skirmishes involving the National Guard and even, in violation of the Constitution, the armed forces.

Some historians cast the whole period as a battle of the religious vs. the secular. It clearly was not. By 2021, most Americans professed to be deeply religious, in one manner or fashion. No one seriously disputed the importance of the Church - but many insisted on its separation from the state. 

Hence the protracted (and heated) confrontation between pro-life and pro-choice advocates when Wade vs. Roe was overturned by a politicized and weakened Supreme Court in 2007. Hence the drawn out (and violent) debates about the teaching of evolution theory in schools or the use of embryonic stem cells in medical research.

Nor was the Civil War fought between isolationists and interventionists. An ever more brazen brand of post-September 11 global terrorism and a growing dependence on international trade inexorably drove most Americans to accept their new role as an Empire. They actually learned to enjoy it, both emotionally and economically.

Thus, even erstwhile Jacksonian isolationists reluctantly acquiesced in their country's foreign exploits. But they insisted on blatant unilateralism and the projection of American might merely and only to protect American interests. They abhorred the missionary ideology of the neo-conservatives. Spreading values, such as democracy, should better be left to NGOs and charities - they thundered.

The Civil War was not about the preservation of East Coast liberalism, as some self-serving scholars would have it. America was never less racist and homophobic than in the years immediately preceding the conflagration. The debate, again, revolved around institutions. Should changing mores be enshrined in legislation and case law? Should the national ethos itself be rewritten? Should the very definition and quiddity of being an American (white, male, straight) be revisited?



Neo-Marxist chroniclers attribute the causes of the Second Civil War to the growing disparities of wealth between the haves and the have not. Presidents Bush and Cheney surely reversed L.B. Johnson's Great Society. They and their successors erased the numerous entitlements and aid programs that many of the economically disenfranchised came to depend upon and to regard as a birthright and as a cornerstone of the social contract. 

Turning the clock back on affirmative action and food stamps, for instance, indeed provoked widespread violence. But such outbursts can hardly be construed to have been the precursors of the giant flame that consumed the USA a few years hence.

Finally, the Civil War was not about free trade (beneficial to the service and manufacturing based economies of some states) versus protectionism (helpful to the agricultural belts and bowls of the hinterland and to the recovering Gulf Coast). America's economy was far too dependent on the outside world to reverse course. Its national debt was being financed by Asians, its products were being sold all over, its commodities and foods were coming from Africa and Latin America. The USA was in hock to a globalized and merciless economy. Protectionism was campaign posturing - not a cogent and coherent trade policy.

So, what were the roots and causes of the Second Civil War?

None of the above in isolation - and all of the above in confluence. For decades, the citizenry's trust in a packed and rigged Supreme Court declined. Politicians came to be regarded as a detached and heartless plutocracy. Americans felt orphaned, cheated, and robbed. The national consensus - the implicit agreement that together is better than alone - has thus evaporated. The outcome was the shots and explosions that rocked the United States (and the world in tow) on January 20, 2021."




Monday, February 5, 2018

Myths of the American Civil War

Civil War Balle Scene - Photo: Wikimedia
The Civil War (1861-5) has spawned numerous myths and falsities.

The Republicans did not intend to abolish slavery - just to "contain" it, i.e., limit it to the 15 states where it had already existed. Most of the Democrats accepted this solution. 

This led to a schism in the Democratic party. The "fire-eaters" left it and established their own pro-secession political organization. Growing constituencies in the south - such as urban immigrants and mountain farmers - opposed slavery as a form of unfair competition. Less than one-quarter of southern families owned slaves in 1861. Slave-based, mainly cotton raising, enterprises, was so profitable that slave prices almost doubled in the 1850s. This rendered slaves - as well as land - out of the reach of everyone but the wealthiest citizens.

Cotton represented three-fifths of all United States exports in 1860. Southerners, dependent on industrial imports as they were, supported free trade. Northerners were vehement trade protectionists. The federal government derived most of its income from customs duties. Income tax and corporate profit tax were yet to be invented.

The states seceded one by one, following secession conventions and state-wide votes. The Confederacy (Confederate States of America) was born only later. Not all the constituents of the Confederacy seceded at once. Seven - the "core" - seceded between December 20, 1860, and February 1, 1861. They were: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. 

Another four - Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas - joined them only after the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861. Two - Kentucky and Missouri - seceded but were controlled by the Union's army throughout the war. Maryland and Delaware were slave states but did not succeed. 

President James Buchanan who preceded Abraham Lincoln made clear that the federal government would not use force to prevent secession. Secession was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court only in 1869 (in Texas vs. White) - four years after the Civil War ended. New England almost seceded in 1812, during the Anglo-American conflict, in order to protect its trade with Britain.

The constitution of the Confederacy prohibited African slave trade (buying slaves from Africa), though it allowed interstate trade in slaves. The first Confederate capital was in Montgomery, Alabama - not in Richmond, Virginia. The term of office of the Confederate president - Jefferson Davis was the first elected - was six years, not four as was the case in the Union.

Fort Sumter was not the first attack of the Confederacy on the Union. It was preceded by attacks on 11 forts and military installations on Confederate territory. 

Lincoln won only 40 percent of the popular vote in 1860. Hence the South's fierce resistance to his abolitionist agenda. In 1864, the Republicans became so unpopular, they had to change their name to the Union Party. Lincoln's vice-president, Johnson, actually was a Democrat and hailed from Tennessee, a seceding state.

He was the only senator from a seceded state to remain in the Senate. 

Reconstruction started long before the war ended, in Union-occupied Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Slave tax was an important source of state revenue in the South (up to 60 percent in South Carolina). Emancipation led to near bankruptcy.

The Union states of Connecticut, Minnesota, and Wisconsin refused to pass constitutional amendments to confer suffrage on black males. The Union army consigned black labor gangs to work on the plantations of loyal Southerners and forcibly separated the black workers from their families.



Contrary to myth, nearly two-thirds of black families were headed by both parents. Slave marriages were legally meaningless in the antebellum South, though. But nearly 90 percent of slave households remained intact till death or forced separation. The average age of childbirth for women was 20.

Segregation was initiated by blacks. The freedmen lobbied hard and long for separate black churches and educational facilities. Nor was lynching confined to blacks. For instance, a white mob lynched, in September 1862, forty-four Union supporters in Gainesville, Texas. Similar events took place in Shelton Laurel, North Carolina. The Ku Klux Klan was the paramilitary arm of the Democratic party in the South, though never officially endorsed by it. It was used to "discipline" the workforce in the plantations - but also targeted Republicans.

The Democrats changed their name after the war to the Conservative Party. By 1877 they have regained power in all formerly Confederate states.




Thursday, February 1, 2018

Another Look at INDIANS (Native Americans, Amerindians)

Native American chiefs in 1865 - Photo: Wikimedia
Native Americans are often cast in the role of victims of White aggression and unbridled avarice-driven or gratuitous violence, especially in the territories known collectively today as the United States. But the first massacre was perpetrated by Indians in the British colony Jamestown, in Virginia in 1622. They slaughtered 347 white men, women and children on that occasion.  

Europeans are also accused of importing pathogens, disease-causing agents, such as smallpox and measles, malaria and yellow fever. Indigenous people had no immunological resistance to these illnesses as they were never exposed to them.

But recent findings by a team of anthropologists, economists, and paleopathologists who have completed a massive study of the health of people living in the Western Hemisphere in the last 7,000 years - suggest that Native American's health was severely run down long before the Europeans delivered the coup de grace.

The researchers analyzed more than 12,500 skeletons - half of them pre-Columbian - from 65 sites in North and South America for evidence of infections, malnutrition, and other health problems.

 The study - "The Backbone of History: Health and Nutrition in the Western Hemisphere", edited by Dr. Richard H. Steckel and Dr. Jerome C. Rose - discovered that the haleness of Native-Americans declined markedly in the 1000 years before Columbus "discovered" them. 

The vast majority of the skeletons showed telltale signs of advanced degenerative joint disease, deteriorating dental health, stature, anemia, arrested tissue development, infections and trauma from injuries. These were attributed by the participants to limited diets and urban congestion. People became shorter and died earlier - on average at age 35 - as the centuries passed.

"Pre-Columbian populations were among the healthiest and the least healthy in our sample," Dr. Steckel and Dr. Rose said. "While pre-Columbian natives may have lived in a disease environment substantially different from that in other parts of the globe, the original inhabitants also brought with them, or evolved with, enough pathogens to create chronic conditions of ill health under conditions of systematic agriculture and urban living."

Moreover, there are signs that diseases hitherto thought to have been introduced by the white explorers were actually indigenous.1,000-year-old Peruvian mummies, for instance, were found to have been infected with tuberculosis in their lungs.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

The US Presidency and Tecumseh's Curse

Battle of Tippecanoe - Photo: Wikimedia
In 1840, General William Henry Harrison easily won the US presidency. He was celebrated as a war hero for having participated in the Battle of Tippecanoe, which defeated Tecumseh's Shawnee forces. However, Harrison's presidency would be short-lived. Some say it's a result of "Tecumseh's Curse".

According to legend, Chief Tecumseh sent a prophetic message to General Harrison. The message contained a premonition outlined by Tecumseh's brother, who had accurately predicted a lunar eclipse and gained credibility as a seer. The Shawnee warning stated that if Harrison were to win the presidential election, he would not finish his term. 

Furthermore, "After him, every great chief chosen every twenty years thereafter will die. And when each one dies, let everyone remember the death of our people." A curse had supposedly been set on the White House and its future occupants. The legend of the curse was not widely known until 1931 when a "Ripley's Believe it or Not" book brought publicity. In 1980 the Library of Congress would be unable to substantiate that Tecumseh had sent this message. 

Nonetheless, Harrison's presidency was indeed brief and unfortunate. He delivered a long inaugural address on a cold and windy day, and then he was caught in a rainstorm. He contracted a cold that quickly led to pneumonia and death. His death would be seen as the beginning of a long pattern: from 1840 to 1960, presidents elected in a year ending in zero would be assassinated or die of natural causes while in office.

The next supposed victim of the curse was Abraham Lincoln, who was elected in 1860. He was assassinated during his second term in 1865, just a few days after the Civil War had officially ended. His assassin was the Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. The twenty-year cycle next met President James Garfield. He took office in March of 1881. He was shot within a few months and died in September of that year. His assassin was Charles Guiteau, who was "upset" after being denied a diplomatic post by Garfield's administration. 

Next, William McKinley survived his first presidential term, but he was elected again in 1900. He was shot in 1901 while attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. He died about a week later. The assassin, Leon Czolgosz, was a self-described anarchist who called McKinley "the enemy of the people". 

Warren Harding was the next president to die while in office. He was elected in 1920. During a 1923 cross-country Voyage of Understanding, President Harding died at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The cause of his death is uncertain. Food poisoning and pneumonia may have been underlying causes. Newspapers cited heart attack or stroke, but suspicions of suicide or murder abound. Harding was an unpopular president and publicly stated that he wasn't fit for office! Some have accused Mrs. Harding of ending her husband's life; he was known to have extra-marital affairs, and he secretly had a child with another woman. 

The 1940 presidential election was met with newspapers headlines shouting "Curse Over the White House!" Franklin Roosevelt was then elected to his third presidential term, and then a fourth in 1944. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1945. The course's final victim would be President John F. Kennedy, who was elected in 1960. He was assassinated in 1963 while riding in a motorcade through Dallas. There are many conspiracy theories about his assassination, but Lee Harvey Oswald was officially judged to be the lone gunman. 



The Shawnee curse was well-publicized by the 1980 election. President Carter was asked his opinion about it during a campaign stop that year. He replied, "I'm not afraid. If I knew it was going to happen, I would go ahead and be President and do the best I could, for the last day I could." 

President Ronald Reagan, who was ultimately elected in 1980, is believed to have broken Tecumseh's curse. He escaped a serious assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. within months of his inauguration in 1981.

The curse is also known as the Curse of Tippecanoe, the presidential curse, the zero-year curse, and the twenty-year curse. 



Saturday, January 6, 2018

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks - Photo: Wikimedia
In any great movement which effects great change in a nation or a people, there is something called a watershed moment.  A watershed moment is that one signature event that triggered the onslaught of great and historic change.  In American history, that watershed moment might be the Boston Tea Party.  But in the context of black history, particularly when we consider the central role that the civil rights movement has played in black history in this country, there is really just one watershed moment that virtually anybody who understands black history will point to.

That event took place on December 1, 1955, on a simple city bus when a black woman by the name of Rosa Parks got on that bus.  When the bus became crowded, the bus driver ordered Ms. Parks to relinquish her seat to a white man as was the cultural order of things at that time.  But Rosa Parks was not interested in seeing that cultural order of things continue.  She refused to give up that seat.  

The explosion of outrage and social change that was released by that one simple act of civil disobedience is the watershed moment that anyone affected by the civil rights movement points to at the most important event in modern black history.  Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving her seat up that day and the trial for that act of civil disobedience brought to the national spotlight another important leader in the civil rights movement by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

This one event began to escalate and gather energy in the black community.  It was an exciting and somewhat frightening time as the black community was energized and began to organize around these two courageous leaders and the result was the most powerful civil rights protests in the history of the movement occurred which came to be known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

There are many reasons why such a simple event has had such a powerful effect on a people such as it did on the black community of the fifties.  Clearly, the frustration and gathering power of a movement was already building in the black community.  A situation like this can best be described as a tinderbox that is just waiting for a spark for it to explode into fire.  When that simple black woman finally decided that she was no longer going to live in servitude to the white man and she put her foot down and said NO, that was the spark that set the civil rights movement in motion.

Rosa Parks was not a trained instigator or a skilled manipulator of groups.  Because she was just a citizen and a simple woman with simple daily needs, that itself was a powerful statement that this was the time for the community to take action and effect change.  She was not even looking to start a nation changing civil rights movement when she refused to give up her bus seat.  As she said later in an interview about the event…



"I would have to know for once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen of Montgomery, Alabama.”  And then in her autobiography, My Story she elaborated that…  “People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true.  I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day.  I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then.  I was forty-two.  No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Rosa Parks won the right to be treated as a human being for herself and for her people across America and even around the world with her simple act of civil disobedience.  She is an inspiration to us all that we too must demand the right of simple human dignity for all people who are citizens of this great land.  And the story of Rosa Park’s defiance shows that if we demand that, it will be won.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Rainbow Coalition

Rainbow-PUSH_Headquarters - Photo: Wikimedia
The struggle for freedom and equality for African Americans is one that is passed down from generation to generation and from one era of black leadership to the next.  Throughout history, the African American leadership has had many outstanding men and women who made their mark and made a difference for black people in America.  And that tradition continues to this day with modern black leadership such as Barrack Obama, The Reverend Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson.

Jessie Jackson has organized his efforts to continue the struggle for civil rights in one of the most innovative organizations in history that came to be known as the Rainbow Coalition.  This organization represented the dreams and goals of the Reverend Jackson, to be sure.  But it also represents the shared efforts of black Americans across the country in modern times to keep the dream of Martin Luther King alive and moving forward.

In fact, the Rainbow Coalition was the outcome of a series of efforts and movements that began with a relationship between Reverend Jackson and Dr. King.  It was Martin Luther King that asked Jessie Jackson to head up a movement called Operation Breadbasket, a project to seek the economic improvement of black communities across the country, particularly in the inner city.  Operation Breadbasket eventually evolved into a powerful civil rights organization known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

As these movements started to make a real difference in the lives of African Americans in America, another step was the development of Operation PUSH which stood for People United to Save Humanity.  This influential organization has become the cornerstone for promoting civil rights and social justice for African Americans in the last twenty years. 

It was from these different initiatives and the success they were realizing that the Rainbow Coalition was birthed to seek economic opportunity in the business community and to encourage Fortune 500 companies to hire minorities and to expand their involvement in the nurture and the development of the black community for the good of all peoples.

The naming of the movement “The Rainbow Coalition” is pivotal to the vision Reverend Jackson had for the civil rights movement.  He did not see it as just black people working for the betterment of the black community.  Instead, inspired by Martin Luther King’s dream of equality and brotherhood of all races, the coalition would truly be a partnership of all minorities, the white community and other equal rights movements to seek equal opportunity for all of America’s citizens.  

The important stance that The Rainbow Coalition brought to the consciousness of the black community and to America was the concept that civil rights were not just a black issue.  It emphasized that all of America cannot move forward when a part of the population is left behind to flounder in poverty and without the benefits of a good education and job opportunities.  The result is that the black pride that was built by key figures of black history such as Mohammed Ali, Spike Lee and even more radical elements such as Malcolm X and the Black Panthers could now be used to promote true equality in the society.  In doing so, Jackson and other contemporary black leaders taught that the African American community not only could be but must insist on being fully black and fully American in their status in American culture.



Finally, the Rainbow Coalition emphasized that civil rights is not just a political issue.  The emphasis was on all aspects of American life including economic equality, social opportunity and even equal representation in the media and entertainment arts.  To be truly represented as an important part of American culture, black Americans must have equal opportunities in all venues.  

This is the message for its time that Reverend Jackson and the Rainbow coalition has brought and continues to bring to the national stage.  And it’s an important message that takes the good that was done in past civil rights movements in this country and brings up to date with a new century.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Legacy of Columbus

Portrait of a Man, Said to be Christopher Columbus - Photo: Wikimedia
If you thought back to the first things you ever learned about the history of America, the one that jumps out is that Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered America is 1492.  While the date is correct, we later learned when our study of history became more scholarly that there is some dispute about whether Columbus discovered America at all.  So what is the real legacy that this legend of Columbus has given to the American culture that has made him such a revered figure in cultural history?

So much of the Columbus story is approximate that, at first review, we would almost relegate the story of how Columbus discovered America to the level of a myth that borders on superhero worship.  But Columbus was not a myth.  There really was an explorer named Columbus who carried out three bold journeys across the ocean and during those journeys, he did indeed discover “the new world.”  His ships really were named the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria and he did indeed embark one of those three voyages in 1492.

The legacy of Columbus then is more than just the facts of his exploratory journeys and their outcome.  There is a reason to believe that Columbus’s fabled “discovery of America” did not occur on North American soil but somewhat further south of here, somewhere in the Bahamas.  But the legacy of Columbus lies in his spirit and the challenge he took on that is part of the American spirit and one we identify with so strongly.

Part of the legend was that Columbus embarked on this trip for the new world despite the prevailing “scientific” belief that the world was flat.  Now research in recent times has surfaced sufficient documentation to show that sailors of that time never did believe that teaching.  Their extensive knowledge of navigation and astronomy, which is crucial for any successful sea voyage, was sufficient for sailors to know that the earth was round and that they would never “fall off the edge.”  However, the image of those brave men launching out to sea, against the advice of popular opinion, to find something new and exciting so connects with the American spirit of discovery and adventure that this myth persists as part of the legacy of Columbus.

Christoper Columbus arrives in America
Christoper Columbus arrives in America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Americans do have a tremendous sense of discovery and adventure and a deep-seated need to conquer new lands, to reach out beyond their own grasp and to do the impossible.  This was the spirit of Manifest Destiny which gripped the nation long before there was any reason to believe that this meager band of colonists had the resources to settle a great nation.  Americans always have had such a firm belief in themselves and a core faith that they could do the impossible.  That part of the American spirit is what connects to Columbus’s setting out on these bold missions facing certain dangers so he too could discover new lands and have great adventures.

The legacy of Columbus also lies in the American desire to explore.  Even though the source of the quotation is only a science fiction show, the “mission” of the fictional spaceship “The Enterprise” sums up a deep desire in the heart of all Americans.


Space, the final frontier.  These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.  Her five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds.  To seek out new life and new civilizations.  To boldly go where no man has gone before.

For Americans, the mission of James Kirk is a perfect restatement of the mission of Christopher Columbus.  And it is the mission of America which has driven this country and its citizens to discoveries and achievements that have never been done before.  It is that spirit of Columbus in all Americans that is one of the things that have made this country great.



Click HERE for more information about Christopher Columbus