Monday, December 31, 2018

Favorite 2018 Books

My favorite books published during 2018:

The Field of Blood by Joanne Freeman, charts the increasing violence, much of it linked to disputes over slavery, in the House and Senate from 1835 through 1861. Duels, fistfights, canings, knifings, and threats aplenty.

The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, the Celtics, and What Matters in the End by Gary Pomerantz. (Previously reviewed by me in (The Cooz and The Babe)  If you’d asked me at the start of the year if I was interested in reading a biography of Bob Cousy, my response would have been, “Shirley, you must be joking” but a review I saw prompted me to take a chance. What a great book! Cousy is now 90 and, along with being a fine biography, it’s the tale of an intelligent and thoughtful man looking back on his life as well as a meditation on aging. Plus great anecdotes about Red Auerbach and the NBA of the 1950s, like Tommy Heinsohn running into the locker room at halftime to smoke a few cigarettes before the second half.

Cult City by Daniel Flynn, a chilling tale of San Francisco in the 1970s featuring the Reverend Jim Jones, celebrated by local and state pols before 900+ died in Guyana, and Harvey Milk, celebrated via the creation of a myth after his death, 10 days after Jones and his followers died.

Arizona’s Deadliest Gunfight by Heidi Osselaer. It wasn’t the OK Corral, where the Earps and Doc Holliday gunned down three (see OK Corralapalozza for more), but the attempted arrest in 1918 of two WW1 draft dodgers at an isolated cabin a few dozen miles north of Tombstone that left four dead, including three lawmen, and resulted in two men serving the longest prison sentence in state history. The author takes what could have been a dry story and with new research and fine writing wrote a engaging tale about the people who settled the rough lands of Arizona and New Mexico, as well as giving the context in which the shoot out occurred; the imposition of the draft by the Wilson Administration, the widespread opposition, and the law enforcement tactics used to break the resistance to the draft.

Didn’t come across any new fiction to make my highlights but really enjoyed a recent series of five novels by Jason Goodwin, set in Constantinople in the 1830s and 1840s, featuring Yashim, a eunuch detective with connections to the Sultan.  Allows the reader to envision the city and its culture. The first is The Janissery Tree.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

St Paul's Survives

The photo below was taken by Herbert Mason of the Daily Mail in the early morning hours of December 30, 1940.  On Sunday evening December 29 one hundred and thirty six German bombers appeared over London, dropping more than 20,000 bombs, primarily small incendiary devices, sparking 1,500 fires in the city that night.  It was the worst night of The Blitz, which started in September 1940 and lasted until May 1941.  One hundred and sixty Londoners died that night with others later succumbing to injuries.

All efforts were made to save St Paul's Cathedral from the fires raging all around.  Mason's photo showed the success of these efforts and the photo was widely reprinted as a symbol of Britain's indomitable spirit in resisting the Nazi onslaught.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Allison V-1710

Image result for p-38 lightning

The P-38 Lightning, produced by Lockheed, was the most distinctive fighter plane of WW2 with its twin fuselage design.  While the plane saw action in all theaters during the war, its greatest success was in the Pacific where it was used by America's top aces, Richard Bong (40 victories) and Tom McGuire (38), as well as the shoot down of Admiral Yamamoto's (the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor) plane over the Solomon Islands in 1943.

The distinctive configuration also prevented it being shot down by friendly fire, a fate that took all too many P-51s and P-47s.  There was no mistaking the P-38 profile for any enemy fighter.

The Lightning was powered by two liquid-cooled Allison V-1710 engines, fit with turbochargers, manufactured by the Allison Engine Company which was acquired in the 1930s by General Motors.  The Allison was a 12 cylinder engine with the initial models rated at 1,000 hp (later increased to 1,600 hp).  It was a perfect fit for the P-38.  Later in the war it was less successful when used in the early version of the P-51, a fighter which only achieved dominance in the European theater in 1944 when the Allison powerplant was replaced by the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.

(Allison V-1710 on display at Commemorative Air Force Museum in Mesa AZ)

My 96-year old father in law was trained as a mechanic for the Allison 1710 in Long Beach, California and worked on P-38 engines in 1941 and 1942.  He still loves the P-38 and the Allison.  Recently we were was able to find online for sale an original 1942 maintenance manual for the engine and give it to him for Christmas.  Pictured below is the front cover.
  In September 1942 my father in law enlisted in the Navy and was trained as a pilot.  His initial training was on the Stearman/Boeing VN2S Kaydet biplane pictured below.

Once qualified as a Navy pilot he was based in San Diego and ferried Lockheed Ventura PV light bombers to Quonset, Rhode Island.  The Ventura was used for coastal defense by both the US and the UK's Royal Air Force and is credited with sinking several submarines.  Below is a photo of a Ventura PV-2 which I took on my recent visit to the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Mesa.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Apollo 8: The Christmas Eve Broadcast

Fifty years ago today Frank Borman, Jim Lovell (commander of Apollo 13), and William Anders became the first humans to leave Earth's orbit, circle the Moon, and see the Earth as whole.  This was their Christmas Eve broadcast back to Earth, 240,000 miles away, including a reading from the opening verses of the Book of Genesis, and closing with these words, "God bless all of you, all of you on the Good Earth".

All three astronauts are still alive with Borman at 90, the oldest living space veteran.

Fairytale Of New York

The most popular Christmas song in the UK during the 21st century.  Released in 1987 by The Pogues, with a guest appearance by vocalist Kristy MacColl.

The original release hit #2 on the British charts, and it's made 15 more appearances in the Top 20 over the years, including each year since 2005.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Nice Sky There

Someday I'd like to take a photo this good.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Annual Die Hard Christmas Movie Controversy

Once again this year, one of the great controversies of the modern age has erupted - is Die Hard A Christmas Movie?

I rest my case:

And this year the studio has released a holiday trailer for the film, supporting my case:

Monday, December 17, 2018

They Shall Not Grow Old

An astonishing achievement by Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings.  The film is only being shown on two evenings in the U.S., tonight and December 27.  Find a theater showing it near you and go.

Jackson took 100 hours of archival World War One film held by the Imperial War Museum in London and has produced an unforgettable experience.  If you are used to the faded, shaky, and offspeed clips of that war be prepared for something else.  In a remarkable technical accomplishment, Jackson has colorized the footage, synced it to normal speed, been able to recreate dialogue, and given us close ups and pans to humanize the British infantry who are the focus of the film.

The result is a film that uses technical genius to achieve emotional resonance.  It unsparingly shows life (and death) for an infantryman on the Western Front; we see everything.  At times it's hard to watch; it's as if you are in the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, except with real people, real bullets, and real artillery shells.

There is no narrator or overview.  The only voices are those culled from 600 hours of audio of war veterans recorded in the 1960s and 70s.

And stay through the credits to watch Peter Jackson spend a half hour explaining how the film was put together; a segment as good as the film itself.  It is a personal mission for Jackson, whose grandfather fought on the first day of the Somme, the bloodiest day in British history, was severely wounded several time during the war, became an invalid from his wounds a few years after its end, and died from his injuries at the age of 50. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Heap Big Beef

This would definitely not fly today and it's so wrong in so many ways, but Heap Big Beef was a real fast food chain from the mid-1960s until the early 1970s.  THC remembers it well as there was one in his home town, many of his friends worked there, and he enjoyed many of its roast beef sandwiches.

As is evident from the name, the restaurants had an American Indian theme.  Here's the logo, a Indian war bonnet on a longhorn:

Image Trademark

The ad the chain owners placed in Life Magazine's August 23, 1967 issue sought new franchisees. Notice the distinctive A Frame restaurant.  And the mouth-watering roast beef sandwich!  It also touts the Idaho fries, the Shawnee Shakes (you could also get a Pawnee Pie), and brags it will cost "mighty little wampum."

I found this post on Facebook about the franchise which opened in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and mentions the local ad copy reading:
"Circle the wagons, the Indians are coming with America’s favorite! Tender, juicy roast beef piled high and hot on a crisp, buttered Rippowam roll. You’ll let out a war-whoop when you sink your teeth into this delicious treat.”
Prices?  Not bad, not bad at all:

Heap Big Beef 69¢, Great Big Beef 99¢, Double-Rich Shawnee Shakes 29¢, Golden Idaho Fries 15¢, and Pawnee Pies 20¢.

THC enjoyed the roast beef sandwiches but his clearest memory of Heap Big Beef was when his friend Tim lost the tip of his finger using the beef slicer. He swore they removed the missing tip from the beef before serving!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Dead Flowers

Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, this version of Dead Flowers by Townes Van Zandt appears in The Big Lebowski (a THC #10 all-time movie favorite).  I prefer the Van Zandt cover to the Rolling Stones original on Sticky Fingers (1971) because of its compelling lassitude.  And the video is brilliant.

Van Zandt died in 1997, prior to release of the film.  According to Wikipedia, "much of Van Zandt’s life was spent touring various dive bars, often living in cheap motel rooms and backwoods cabins. For much of the 1970s, he lived in a simple shack without electricity or a phone".

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Berlin Divides

It was seventy years ago this month that Berlin became a city divided, a status it retained until the Berlin Wall, constructed in 1961, came down on that memorable evening in November 1989.

The event occurred amidst the turmoil of the Berlin Blockade and the relief airlift launched by the United States and Britain to keep its sectors of the city supplied.

With the end of the Third Reich in May 1945, Berlin was divided into four zones of occupation (Soviet, American, British, and France) but governed as a unified city.  The entire country was also divided into four zones, but Berlin lay completely within the Soviet zone.  In order to support their occupation forces and supply its sectors, the Western Allies had the right to use certain rail and road lines to connect their zones in Western Germany with their Berlin sectors.  Governance of the entire structure was through the four-power Allied Control Council (ACC).

(Berlin: Occupation Sectors from Air Force Historical Support Division)
Map of Berlin divided into sectors or zones; after WWII and during the Berlin Airlift.

As relations between the Soviet Union and the West worsened, Stalin decided on a plan designed to force the U.S., Britain, and France to choose between withdrawing from Berlin or agreeing to his wishes regarding the future of Germany.  On March 20, 1948 the Soviet delegates walked out on what proved to be the final meeting of the ACC.  Over the next three months the Soviets intermittently interfered with Western shipments to Berlin.

Germany was in the middle of an economic crisis and the Soviets refused to agree to currency reform efforts.  On June 18 Britain, French, and the United States announced the introduction of the Deutsche Mark (DM) as the new currency in their sectors.  The following day, the Soviets began permanently restricting and, within a few days, completely blocking the rail and road supply links to the Western Allies sectors in Berlin.  Only the air corridors remained open but the Soviets thought the Allies incapable of the massive airlift needed to maintain the civilian population of Berlin.  As of late June, western Berlin had only 36 days of food supplies and 45 days of coal.

From a military perspective the West was vulnerable.  There were only about 21,000 British, American, and French military personnel in Berlin and fewer than 150,000 troops (and only one combat ready division) in West Germany, while the Soviets had 1.5 million soldiers in East Germany.

President Harry Truman was confronted with deciding how to respond.  Though the U.S. commanders on the ground in Germany and Europe, Lucius Clay and Curtis LeMay, urged a strong response, he was getting different advice from his senior civilian and military advisers in Washington.

Army Secretary Kenneth Royall, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, acting Secretary of State Robert Lovett, and Truman's military advisor, Admiral William Leahy all believed the Western Allied position in Berlin to be militarily indefensible and quickly overrun if the Soviets attacked.  Army Chief of Staff Omar Bradley advised that it would be better for the U.S. to pull out of Berlin on its own terms, than to be forced out.  Walter Bedell Smith, the current U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, and former chief of staff to General Eisenhower in WW2 also thought America should leave Berlin.  Several months into the crisis, Bedell Smith remarked:
"Our present hysterical outburst of humanitarian feeling keeps reminding me that just three and a half years ago I would have been considered a hero if I had succeeded in exterminating those same Germans with bombs."
The initial response from our British and French allies was also undecided on how to respond.

And there was a political aspect, with a presidential election coming in November.  Thomas Dewey had just wrapped up the Republican nomination and was considered by the press as a sure victor in November.  Truman was also facing what looked like a strong third-party challenge to his left from  Henry Wallace.

Wallace, an Iowan, had been Secretary of Agriculture under FDR, then served a Vice-President during Roosevelt's third term, before being forced off the ticket in 1944 by Democratic party bosses, clearing the path for Truman, and returned to FDR's cabinet as Secretary of Commerce.  He was also, as Andrei Cherny writes in The Candy Bombers (a highly recommended account of the Berlin Airlift), a "profoundly strange" man who "believed the future could be foretold by markings on the Great Pyramid of Egypt", and convinced FDR to add the pyramid to the dollar bill.  He was also involved with theosophists (for more on this odd group read Madame Blatavsky and the Birth of Baseball).

Wallace was also not unsympathetic to the communists.  In September 1946 he was fired by Truman after attacking his policy of opposing Soviet domination in Europe.  As Truman moved to counter Soviet aggression, Wallace became even more outspoken.  In March 1947 in response to the announcement of what became known as the Truman Doctrine under which it became the "policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressure", Wallace declared that "America will become the most hated nation in the world", placing all blame on America for the emerging Cold War.  He opposed the Marshall Plan calling it a "blueprint for war". Throughout 1947 Wallace spoke to enthusiastic audiences of up to 30,000 people announcing, at the end of the year, a third party presidential run as the Progressive Party candidate.  Wallace knew he could not win an election from hope to deny Truman victory and ultimately allow Progressives to take over the Democratic Party.

As 1948 began international tensions already high, became worse after a successful communist coup in Czechoslovakia, the last remaining free country in Eastern Europe.  Wallace excused the coup on the grounds that the communists were driven to it by threats of a Rightist coup.  It should come as no surprise that as the Soviets ratcheted up pressure on Berlin, Wallace urged an American withdrawal in order to preserve the piece.

From a political perspective Truman was faced with a strong Republican opponent, and a Wallace campaign that could siphon off much needed votes.

Harry Truman decided to stand firm in Berlin.  The logistical obstacles to supply the city were overwhelming but, by trial and error over the next three months along with Herculean efforts by the American and British Air Forces, a viable air corridor was established.  We were fortunate that during the next year no crisis erupted elsewhere in the world, as the U.S. had no additional air logistical capacity to deploy.  It was all needed to keep Berlin supplied.

At the Progressive Party convention in Philadelphia during July, enthusiasm ran high and Wallace was doing well in the polls. With thirty being the average age of delegates, and three quarters having no prior political involvement, it appeared to be a transformational youth movement.

(Berlin after WW2 ended, from Rare Historical Photos. com)
Excellent aerial view showing devastation and bombed out buildings over wide area.

In the meantime though, the airlift was transforming American and German views of each other.  The horrors of Nazism and hundred of thousands of dead American soldiers left little sympathy for German civilians trying to survive amidst the ruins of their shattered cities.  We did want we needed to do to prevent outright starvation, but economically and spiritually the country remained prostrate, and in Berlin there were still food shortages and little rebuilding; that was fine with most Americans but in 1948 the Soviet threat, the determination of the Germans in Berlin to resist the Russians, and their enthusiastic response to the Airlift sparked more public sympathy and interest in American efforts to help German recovery.

One specific event had a profound impact on both Germans and Americans during the blockade. On July 18, 1948, while on approach to Templehof Airport in Berline, C-54 pilot Gil Halvorsen, wiggled his wings and dropped chocolate bars attached to a handkerchief parachute to children waiting below.  The prior day while at Templehof, Halvorsen while walking around encountered the children who were watching the planes land and asked him questions about the aircraft.  He gave them gum and promised he'd drop them candy the next day after wiggling his wing.  Halvorsen continued his daily candy runs and when news reached the airlift commander he organized Operation Little Vittles; soon American children sent candy for the drops and eventually U.S. candy manufacturers made donations; 23 tons of candy were dropped in toto, and Halvorsen became known as The Candy Bomber, giving title to Cherny's book.  The candy drops became a symbol of America's willingness to help and of the perseverance of Berliners.

(C-54 Lands At Templehof, from wikipedia)

In November Truman pulled off one of the most surprising upsets in presidential history beating Dewey.  Ironically, it was the Berlin Airlift that probably was the critical factor.  For independent voters it demonstrated that Truman could be tough in protecting America's interests.  For potential Wallace voters seeing the reality of the heartless face of communism in its willingness to starve millions of civilians, the American response to help those in need, and the Democratic party's attacks on Wallace as a tool of communism, blunted their progressive enthusiasm.  Early in the fall it looked like Wallace was going to get 6-7% of the vote, guaranteeing a Dewey victory, but the campaign collapsed in the final weeks and Wallace polled only 2.5% (1.15 million).  Even then it was close; the Wallace vote threw New York to Dewey, while if the Progressive candidate had received only 7,000 more votes in Ohio, and 18,000 in California the race would have gone to the House of Representatives, and 69,000 more in five other states given Dewey an outright victory.

The Western Allies knew winter would be their biggest challenge, as coal needs increased, and worsening weather restricted the airlift on many days.  And, in the midst of this, Berlin was scheduled to have its first municipal elections since 1946 in which a communist party faced three non-communist opponents.  The Soviets, knowing the communists would lose the election tried a mixture of threats, gifts, and force to intimidate Berliners.

(Airlift: Winter 48-49, from US Department of Defense)
Map of the Berlin Airlift Air Bases -Winter, 1948-1949

From the start the city's population, no matter how they disliked the Russians and/or communists knew that if the Western Allies abandoned them, they would have to live under Soviet domination, a fear the Soviets made use of by constantly reminding the populace of the consequences they would suffer if they supported the West, and then were left behind when the British and Americans withdrew.

On November 30 the city parliamentarians of the Soviet supported local communist party held an assembly in which they declared themselves the legitimate government of the city.  In conjunction with this, the Soviets accelerated their campaign to discourage Berliners from voting in the municipal elections scheduled for December 5.  Along with threats the Soviets made generous offers to those who agreed not to vote; Soviet ration cards, nearly a ton of coal to each household, unlimited amounts of electricity, and a half pound of candy for each school age child.  They also reminded Berliners, "if you vote on the 5th, you vote for war".

Meanwhile, General Lucius Clay, commander of the American garrison in the city, who had become the symbol of Allied defiance of the Russians, found himself stranded in West Germany where he had gone for meetings, because of days of thick fog in Berlin.  Worried that his absence would be taken as an indicator of weakened American resolve Clay and his wife boarded a flight during the night of December 4 taking off through the mist.  Arriving in Berlin before dawn the fog was so dense the controllers at Templehof refused permission to land because visibility was less than 100 feet.  According to Cherny, "Clay barged into the cockpit and grabbed the microphone from the pilot."  Permission to land was granted, the plane landed, skidded to a stop, and was escorted by servicemen with hand held flashlights to its stand, since the pilot could not otherwise see anything on the taxiway.

An overwhelming 86% of eligible Berliners cast their votes on December 5, with the Social Democrats, the strongest anti-communist party of the opposition winning more votes than the others combined.  Two days later the newly elected city government took power.  With the election, Berlin became divided, with East Berlin governed by the communist party, and the three sectors under Allied occupation having a different government.  Though some connections between East and West Berlin continued until the building of The Wall in 1961severed all contact, it would be 43 years before the city would be unified under one government.

One other significant event occurred in December involving the French.  Initially the French, suffering through the rise and fall of multiple governments in Paris and with the French Communists, a strong political force, supporting Stalin's actions, hesitated to strongly support the American and French response.  However, in August they agreed to build a new airport in their sector to support the airlift, completed in early November, built almost entirely by hand by 17,000 Berliners working around the clock, and having the longest runway in Europe.

There was a problem though.  About 400 yards from the runway were two towers of Radio Berlin, the Soviet propaganda arm.  They were not illuminated and posed a danger to landing planes.  The Soviets refused to move the towers, even though the Americans offered to pay for rebuilding in a different location.

On the morning of December 16, British and American officers at the airport were asked to come to French General Jean Ganeval's conference room for a reception.  They found plentiful food but no explanation for their summons.  At 1045 they were startled to hear a huge explosion and saw the two Russian radio towers collapse.  Ganeval, who had been grossly insulted by Soviet behavior earlier that fall, told his guests, "You will have no more trouble with the tower."

The Allies and the people of Berlin persevered through the winter; Stalin knew he could not prevail.  On May 12, 1949 the Soviets lifted the blockade, though the airlift was not declared ended until September 30, as the Allies continued flights in order to build up a three month stockpile of supplies in case the Russians changed their minds.

In the course of the airlift, the Allies made 280,000 flights to Berlin to deliver more than 2.3 million tons of supplies.  Seventeen American and eight British planes crashed during the effort, and 40 British along with 31 Americans died.

In the 1950s, Henry Wallace realized his 1948 Progressive Party campaign had actually been run by communists and expressed regret that he had not understood that at the time.

"Candy Bomber" Hal Halvorsen, a Utah Mormon, remained in the Air Force until 1974.  His final assignment was as group commander at Templehof Airport.  Hal recently celebrated his 98th birthday and splits his time between Utah and Arizona, where he winters.

Hal Halvorsen

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


You may recognize the feller I hung out with last night (THC is the guy on the right!).

James Hayney has portrayed our 16th President for the past fifteen years. He was asked by the Secret Service to play Lincoln at the 150th anniversary of the agency for an event at Ford's Theater, and portrayed the president at the National Portrait Gallery at President Obama's first inauguration.  And he lives near Gettysburg so you can imagine how often he's asked to make appearances there.

Last night at our Civil War Roundtable in Scottsdale he spoke, fully in character, about the lies, legends, and myths surrounding his life.  It was done with eloquence and much humor.  He closed with a stirring performance of the Gettysburg Address which, I must admit, dampened my eyes a bit.

It was one of the most well attended Roundtable events in our history, with almost 300 people present.

In my role as Program Chairman I had the pleasure of hosting James and his delightful wife, Beverly, at dinner the night before the event and can assure you James is very Lincolnesque in real life!

The White Sea - Baltic Canal

This month is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Archipelago (for background on the book read this). The passage below from the book remains the most vivid in my memory 40-plus years after reading.

The Gulag Archipelago is not dry history, instead brimming with passion, anger, contempt, caustic wit and acerbic asides. The accretion of detail on person after person, on trial after trial, on lawless and arbitrary decrees, on the squalid dehumanizing world of the camps is relentless, overwhelming, and the translation by Thomas P. Whitney captures it all.

The passage is from a chapter entitled “The Archipelago Metastasizes,” which tells the sorrowful tale of the building of the White Sea-Baltic canal in the early 1930s. Stalin demanded a canal that would allow the passage of Soviet naval vessels from one sea to the other in order to avoid the Arctic Ocean, setting a 20-month deadline for its completion. Hundreds of thousands of prisoners were assigned to its construction. The canal was dug by hand without the assistance of any mechanical equipment, under terrible physical conditions, and with brutal oversight from abusive guards. A quarter million human beings perished in the process. Poorly designed, the canal never functioned as planned.

Solzhenitsyn is unsparing in his portrayal of the debacle and near the end of the chapter recounts a visit he made to the canal in 1966 as he was completing research on the book which he was secretly working on.  He recounts the official tour he took:
“It’s so shallow“, complained the chief of the guard, “that not even submarines can pass through it under their own power, they have to be loaded on barges, and only then can they be hauled through.
And what about the cruisers? Oh, you hermit-tyrant! You nighttime lunatic! In what nightmare did you dream up all this?And where, cursed one, were you hurrying to? What was it that burned and pricked you — to set a deadline of twenty months? For those quarter-million men could have remained alive. Well, so the Esperantists stuck in your throat, but think how much work those peasant lads could have done for you! How many times you could have roused them to attack — for the Motherland, for Stalin!
It was very costly“, I said to the guard.
But it was built very quickly!“, he answered me with self-assurance.
Your bones should be in it!
The chapter ends with this summing of accounts:
My Lord! What canal is there deep enough for us to drown that past in?
(Prisoners building the canal)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Arch Of Constantine

Painting by Giovanni Canaletto, a Venetian, who visited Rome in the 1720s. Just to the right of the Arch can be seen part of the Colosseum.  The Arch was constructed in the early 4th century after the Constantine the Great's defeat of his rival Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312, just outside of Rome.  It was the last triumphal monument of the Rome Empire constructed in the city.  Even by that time the quality of monumental art had declined, with many of the statutes and facades of the Arch scavenged from monuments of prior centuries.

Within two centuries the city entered a period of sharp decline with the monuments, building, and palaces of the empire no longer being maintained and, in most instances, having their marble cladding removed or sometimes the very structure being dissembled for use elsewhere.

The city proper retreated to the banks of the Tiber with many of the outlying areas, including the former Forum and the area around the Colosseum left to decay, surrounded by agricultural lands, vineyards, gardens, and occasional churches, monasteries, villas, and strongholds for the quarreling families that dominated local politics for centuries.  For more on this period read Belisarius Enters Rome, which occurred on December 9, 536.

As late as 1870 much open land remained south of the Colosseum.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner

I've been in a Warren Zevon mood lately.

Patty Hearst
Heard the burst
Of Roland's Thompson Gun
And bought it 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Forgotten Americans: Reverdy Johnson

On April 5, 1864 Reverdy Johnson, 67 year old Democratic Senator from Maryland, rose to speak on the floor of the Senate.

Reverdy Johnson.jpg (Reverdy Johnson, from wikipedia)

Senator Johnson already had a long and distinguished career, as a lawyer in Baltimore where counted among his friends and colleagues was Roger Taney, later to be Attorney General and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in the U.S Senate from 1845 to 1849, as Attorney General of the United States under President Zachary Taylor, as the attorney representing the slave-owning defendant in the Dred Scott case, and as a prominent supporter of Stephen Douglas in the 1860 presidential election.

After secession began, Johnson was among those who prevented Maryland from leaving the Union.  In 1862, President Lincoln asked Johnson to go to New Orleans to review and revise the controversial actions of General Benjamin Butler.  In 1863 he was returned by the Maryland legislature to the Senate.

Johnson remained in the Senate until 1868.  In 1865 he undertook the defense of Mary Surratt, one of the Lincoln assassination conspirators though, despite his efforts, Mrs Surratt was convicted and hanged.  After the war, Johnson became the only Democrat to vote for the Reconstruction Act of 1867, though he voted against the proposed 14th Amendment.

He left the Senate to become Minister to the United Kingdom, then returned to law practice where he defended Ku Klux Klan members against indictments brought under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, and opposed Radical Reconstruction.  In 1876 while a dinner party guest at the Maryland Governor's Mansion he died after falling down stairs and hitting his head.

On that day in April 1864 Senator Johnson rose to give an address in "Support of the Resolution to Amend the Constitution so as to Abolish Slavery".

When the newly elected Thirty-Seventh Congress met in December 1863, Ohio representative James Ashley introduced legislation to end slavery, followed by a similar proposal from Senator John Hale of New Hampshire in the other chamber.  Both failed on the grounds that Congress did not have authority under the Constitution to take such action.

Debate over slavery resumed in February 1864, the following month the Republican controlled judiciary committee reported out a proposed Constitutional amendment banning slavery, and debate resumed in the Senate chamber.

For Johnson, a highly respected senator from a slave holding state, to break with his party and support the amendment with a major address was a significant moment in the debate.

He began by confronting the importance of the measure and setting out the terms by which it should be evaluated:
"To manumit at once nearly four millions of slaves, who have been such by hereditary descent during their lives, and who because they were such, it being one consequence of their condition, have been kept in a state of almost absolute ignorance, is an event of which the world's history furnishes no parallel.  Whether it will be attended by weal or by woe, the future must decide.  That it will not be followed by unmixed good or by unmixed evil, is perhaps certain; and the only questions in my view for a statesman to consider are, first, whether the measure be right, independent of its possible consequences, and secondly, whether those consequences may be such as to render it improper to do what is right."
In making his argument, Johnson stressed the same point as Lincoln during his 1858 Senatorial campaign, that the country's revolutionary founders, "considered slavery not only as an evil to any people among whom it might exist, but an evil which it was the duty of all Christian people, if possible, to remove because of its being a sin, as well as an evil".  This was contrary to the view of Justice Taney in his Dred Scott decision that the founders meant to exclude all Africans from the freedoms guaranteed in the Declaration and Constitution.

Johnson went on to state that if the Founders had anticipated the current condition of the country, "they would have provided by constitutional enactment that the evil and that sin should at a comparatively unremote day be removed."

Further, the members of the Constitutional Convention, though the majority opposed slavery, made the judgment that without recognizing its current status the Union could not be formed, but:
"Whether this opinion was right or not, it is now useless to inquire; . . . But, if it was otherwise, if the Union could have been formed without the recognition of the institution, if its gradual extirpation could, on the contrary, have been provided for, no one who is a spectator of the scenes around us and is a friend of humanity and freedom, can fail to regret that it was not done."
The Senator made clear he differed with some of his colleagues who blamed all the disasters of the U.S. since its founding on the institution of slavery.  Johnson believed the Civil War could have been averted but for the hot-heads on both sides; abolitionists in the North and the crazed secessionists in the South.

Though he opposed slavery, absent the war, he would have been willing to wait for, what he believed, its certain demise at some point in the future.
"If there be justice in God's providence, if we are at liberty to suppose that he would not abandon man to his own fate, and suffer his destiny to be worked out by his own means, and by his own lights, I never doubted that the day would come when human slavery would be extinguished, either through the mild though powerful influences of that high and elevated morality which the Christian religion teaches, or by a convulsive and successful effort at their liberation on the part of the bondsman."
Johnson later references his 1847 speech in which he stated his belief that slavery will cease to exist "before a century shall have passed", and blames northern abolitionists for causing a reaction in the south.

The Marylander then undertakes a direct assault on the doctrine of the late Senator Calhoun of South Carolina with whom he debated during his first Senate term in 1847, recollecting;
"That distinguished statesman at that time endeavored to satisfy the Senate, having, I have no doubt, satisfied himself by his own sophistry, that republican freedom could not exist without African slavery, and proclaimed his attachment to the Union and to the Constitution upon the ground, chiefly, that the later recognized the existence of slavery."
Calhoun was proclaiming his theory of African slavery as a positive good, both for the slave exposed to the benefits of white civilization, and for the white man, who learned to value liberty and freedom because he had in front of him the example of what happened when these were not available.

Johnson concluded his 1847 response to Calhoun with these sentiments:
". . . I differ with the honorable Senator from South Carolina as to the conservative influence of slavery upon our free political institutions.  I do not hold with him that they depend in any degree upon the existence of slavery.  If I did, I should value them infinitely less than I do.  In my judgment, they rest upon the virtue and intelligence of the people, and have their firmest support in the blessings which they impart."
Calhounian doctrine appears again later in Johnson's address where he repudiates the South Carolina senator's view that the United States was formed by the sovereign states, rather than the people.

Returning to the present, the Senator states that although he would have opposed such an amendment prior to the war, "now, that that war is upon us; that a prosperous and permanent peace cannot be secured if the institution is permitted to survive", later adding:
". . . as we at present are, I cease to hope that the Government can be restored and preserved so as to accomplish the great ends for which it was established, unless slavery be extinguished.  If it be permitted to remain, it will ever continue a subject upon which treason may be able to excite the madness of the southern mind."
In his view neither Congress nor the Executive has the power to abolish slavery.  It can only be done by Amendment to the Constitution.

He proceeds to take on the view of some senators that the Constitution itself does not allow any amendments that would interfere with the right of property.  After responding to this claim on statutory and constitutional interpretation grounds, Johnson moves onto high rhetoric, which I will quote from at length:
"But further, looking to the preamble of the Constitution . . . can any reasonable doubt be entertained that the measure upon your table may be adopted?  What is the question before us?  It is, can an institution which deals with human beings as property, which claims a right to shackle not only the body but the mind and the soul, which brings, or may be used so as to bring to the level of the brute, a portion of the race of man; ceases to be within the reach of the political power of the people of the United States, not because it was not at one time within it, but because at that time they failed to exert it?"

"The very clause under which we now claim the authority to terminate slavery, the amendatory clause may have been inserted from a conviction that the time would come when justice would call so loudly for the extinction of slavery that disobedience to her call would be impossible, when the peace and tranquility of the land would demand its destruction, and when the sentiment of the Christian world would become so shocked at its existence under a government as far as the white man is concerned, one of the freest upon the habitable globe, and resting upon principles utterly inconsistent with slavery in any form, that the voice of that world would be spoken in thunder tones against its continuance, and that if not listened to it would cause us to be in all time in the view of an enlightened humanity the scoff and scorn of mankind."
The rhetorical stakes get higher:
"I am not to be answered, Mr President, by being told that our fathers considered the African race, because they differed in color from themselves, not entitled to the rights which for themselves they declared were inalienable . . . The present advocates of slavery in this country, in the South, and in some of the pulpits, preach the doctrine that slavery of the black race is of divine origin.  The moral and religious mind of the country has become nauseated by the teaching that scripture authorizes and approves slavery . . . Were the words of our Savior, which these men rely upon, when addressing Himself to the condition of master and servant, applicable only to servants or slaves of the black race? Was slavery at the period of His advent and His sojourn on earth confined to that race?  Were not the white races equally subjected to it?  We know that they were."

"The doctrines He taught, more ennobling and humanizing than any that the world, enlightened as it was before his coming, had been able to discover, will all be found inconsistent with slavery.  They taught man the duty of brotherhood.  They announced that he was to do to others as he would have others do to him, and these teachings were addressed to the whole human family . . . He came to save the whole. He came to effect the Christian civilization of the race of, and He Spoke to all upon earth, and His Book now stands as a promise of mercy upon duty performed by man to man and by man to God, to every being upon the earth or who shall be upon the earth throughout all time, without regard to the differences of complexion which climate or other causes may have created."
And the African race in America has demonstrated its common human traits in the ongoing conflict:
"Can it be said in truth that they are not fit for, because they are incapable of enjoying, the blessing of human liberty.  Are they incapable by nature, or has their treatment in our land made them incapable?  Are they or have they become so mentally and morally deficient that they are unable to appreciate the blessings of freedom?

"What do we see?  Wherever the flag of the United States, the symbol of human liberty goes, there flock around it men, women, and children flying from their hereditary bondage and praying for its protection.  Do they do this because they anticipate greater physical comfort, and do they remain because they obtain it?  The mere physical condition of the man in many cases whilst under the control of his master, was better than that which he at times meets beneath the protection of our flag; but whilst in the former the iron of oppression he feels had pierced his soul, in the other he is gladdened by the light of liberty  . . . with reference to the sentiment of love of freedom, all men are alike - are brethren.  Look to the illustrations which the times afford.  How do they prove that in that particular we differ from the black man?  Do we not see that he is willing to incur every personal danger, which promises, if successfully met, to throw down his shackles and to make him stand upon God's earth, upon that earth created for all, as a man and not as a slave.  It is truly an instinct of the soul.  For ages and centuries, tyranny may suppress it, the pall of despotism may hang over it, but the feeling is ever there.  Instead of being annihilated, it kindles into a flame in the very furnace of affliction, and avails itself of the first opportunity that promises the least chance to obtain it, and wades through blood and slaughter for the purpose, and whether succeeding or failing, vindicates in the very effort the inextinguishable right to liberty." 
Reading this last paragraph reminds me of George W Bush's stirring meditation on American slavery in his 2003 speech at Goree Island in Senegal, an address striking many of the same themes.  With its sentiments on the basic human feelings and aspirations of blacks it surprisingly also echoes ideas expressed by Confederate General Patrick Cleburne in his January 1864 proposal to end slavery in the Confederacy in an effort to achieve southern independence.

Towards the end of the speech, Johnson returns to this theme attacking the hypocrisy of those who now object to end slavery on the grounds that blacks are currently not capable of handling freedom:
"The unimproved moral and intellectual condition of the slaves is urged as an objection, and to a certain extent it is, to their immediate emancipation.  They are uneducated, in a great degree; their moral sense instead of being awakened and improved has been designedly kept in a state of perfect paralysis . . . Why have these poor creatures been kept in absolute ignorance? Why has education, the most trivial, been denied them?  Why penal, severe penal laws, forbidding it? Why have the Holy Scriptures been kept from their hovels?  Why has it been made to them a sealed book?  Why the sacrament of marriage and its holy ties denied them?  There can be but one answer, and that palpably exhibits the unlawfulness, the immorality, the irreligion of the institution.  It is that if they knew what knowledge imparts, if they knew what the good and the great and the pious teach, if they knew what the Gospel of our Saviour inculcates as the duty of all men, they would sooner of later obtain their freedom by violence or die in the effort."
Reverdy Johnson closed with a reminder of the freed blacks already fighting for the Union.
"That some material evils may temporarily result from the measure upon your table, may be true; but they will be, I think, but briefly temporary . . . Slavery is already fatally wounded, If permitted to survive at all, it can survive only to fester and to trouble us.  That many thousands of its late victims are at present free, and will remain free, no man with a heart not ossified will deny.  We have called upon them to aid us in maintaining the Government.  We have brought them around our standard, and have marched and are marching them under its folds to assist in its protection, and to aid in its triumph.  To suffer these men to be reduced to bondage again would be a disgrace to the nation . . . Upon a question like that, the heart gives the answer in advance of the intellect.  It would proclaim at once in a tone that would fill the land, carrying rebuke strong and crushing to whoever may assert the contrary, 'no, no, never; freedom once enjoyed, none but a brute in this age of the world would take away." 
You can read the entire speech here.

The proposed 13th Amendment passed easily in the Senate, with only six Democrats in opposition.  The House was a different matter, and it was only with a further series of machinations that it passed in January 1865, an event portrayed in the 2012 movie Lincoln.

Reverdy Johnson's speech and his entire career are yet another reminder that the figures of the past did not live in our 21st century world.  They were of their time and the configuration and constellation of their views may look odd to us today, but we need to understand them in the terms of their times. He was a strong adherent of the pre-Civil War constitution which strictly limited the scope of the Federal government; in that regard his views were similar to the founders of the Confederacy; but he believed the Union indissovable and, once war occurred, slavery needed to end.  His post-Civil War career demonstrates an ambivalence about the scope of freedom for the newly liberated slaves, or at least a higher relative value on preventing federal interference with the rights of the states compared to ensuring full freedom for blacks.

There is a value at looking back through a modern lense but if it the only set of lenses we use our vision will be blurred, flattening our history, reducing people to cardboard figures designed to fit predetermined categories, and, in the end, making our history and our humanity less understandable.