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Executions and Department Store Day

Eh? What’s one to do with the other? Ever gone shopping in a department store with a significant other?  Nuff said.

Nah, you know what they have to do with each other…or at least you will.  16 October saw James II of Scotland born in 1430; Noah Webster (of the dictionary) born in 1758; Hirobumi Ito (Japan’s first prime minister under the Meiji Constitution) born in 1841; and David Ben-Gurion (Israel’s first prime minister) born in 1886.  And on this day in 1773 the Philadelphia Resolutions were published; the battle of Leipzig in 1813; US Grant assuming command of the Union’s western armies in 1863; the Russian Baltic fleet departing St. Petersburg for their meeting with destiny in 1904; and the election of John Paul II as the first non-Italian pontiff in four centuries in 1976.  It’s also National Clean Off Your Virtual Desktop Day (First Monday after Labor Day), Boss’s Day and National Liqueur Day.  But today we talk about executions, real and imagined.

The famous “let them eat cake” quotation actually came from one of her maids

Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, Archduchess of Austria, was born in Vienna on 2 November 1755, the fifteenth of sixteen children of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and Francis I of the Holy Roman Empire.  As Marie Antoinette, she was the last Queen Consort of France before the Bourbon Restoration. Marie used her considerable influence at court to try to reform not only the courts but the financial system of France, best described as pre-medieval.  The famous “let them eat cake” quotation actually came from one of her maids, but had nothing to do with the starving French. While the French Revolution devolved into chaos, and nobles were being sent to the guillotine in large numbers, Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793.  Locked in a tower, Marie was eventually condemned for treason against the Revolution (she did try to throttle it at birth) and executed 16 October 1793.

The trials were not a slam-dunk, as five of the indicted were either acquitted or never charged, and seven were given prison sentences.

While as often criticized as victor’s justice, the Nuremberg trials that began in November 1945 were held largely at the behest of the UK, US and USSR to punish the main perpetrators of WWII.  The trials were not, as some have put it, a slam-dunk, as five of the indicted were either acquitted or never charged, and seven were given prison sentences. The biggest targets of the intended trials, Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels, had all beat the hangman, killing themselves either before or shortly after capture. Martin Bormann was tried and condemned to death in absentia, but unknown to the court he was already dead (his remains were found in 1972, and dated to May 1945). But the other eleven were condemned to die, and despite protests about “victor’s justice,” they went to the gallows on 16 October, 1947.

  • Joachim von Ribbentrop, foreign minister;
  • Wilhelm Keitel, head of the German Armed Forces (OKW);
  • Ernst Kaltenbrunner, head of the RSHA;
  • Alfred Rosenberg, Minister of the Eastern Territories and leading Nazi race theorist;
  • Hans Frank, gauleiter of Poland;
  • Wilhelm Frick, Minister of the Interior who co-authored the Niremberg Laws;
  • Fritz Sauckel, plenipotentiary of the Nazi slave labor program;
  • Alfred Jodl, Chief of OKW operations–signed the order for the summary execution of Soviet commissars and Allied commandos;
  • Julius Streicher, publisher of Der Sturmer, anti-semitic tabloid published throughout the war calling for the liquidation of Jews as early as 1933;
  • Arthur Seyss-Inquart, instrumental in the Anschluss of Austria and Governor-General of the Netherlands.

The “star” of the tribunal, Hermann Goering, beat the hangman by killing himself with poison the day before. All eleven were cremated in Munich and their ashes spread over the Isar River, leaving no shrines for latter-day Nazis to worship. Of all of them, only Jodl was subsequently been “rehabilitated,” only to be reversed later.  Apparently no one  objected to seeing the rest swing, “victor’s justice” or not.

By the 1920s every major city in America had one or more successful department stores

The department store as most of us knew it in its heyday originated in the late 18th century in Britain.  As social mobility and leisure time for urban women increased during the Industrial Revolution, and the spending power of wages multiplied exponentially during the first Retail Revolution of the early 19th century (when cash registers kept track of sales and made returns possible), so too did the appeal of having stores sell multiple lines of dry goods, and where husbands, boyfriends and sons were compelled by circumstances to hold purses for wives, girlfriends and mothers for hours on end.  By the 1920s every major city in America had one or more successful department stores; some had more than one store.  Soon the discount stores like FW Woolworth and SS Kresge crowded the retail space, and by mid-20th century there was nothing that couldn’t be had in some department store somewhere.

Older, established businesses like Hudson’s of Detroit featured above, have been killed by various factors, including foreign competition and the Discount Brothers Mart (Wal, K, and Targ), but more by pilferage.  At this writing a second Retail Revolution is threatening to replace them all with online shopping, with no purses involved.  Anyone with any information whatsoever is asked to come up with some explanation as to why today is Department Store Day is asked to let someone else know.

A few of you know that this blog now appears on a budding web site, JDBCOM.COM, or if you didn’t you know now. Unlike the rest of the platforms I’ve tried to build web sites on over the years, this one at WordPress is well within my skill set, patience and price range. If the appearance of the site changes significantly between now and the end of the year, sorry, price of progress.  For the rest of you, check in once in awhile to see what’s going on.  There will soon be new books, old books and other items for sale there.



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Benjamin Banneker and a Cascade of Coincidences

Well, even I have to take a day off…sort of.  So, 9 October, a whole lot of things happened.  Charlemagne and his brother Carloman were crowned Kings of the Franks in 768; Louis VII of France married the only daughter of Henry VII of England, Mary, in 1514; Gabriel Fallopius (the guy who named the fallopian tubes) died in 1562;  the siege of Yorktown, Virginia ended in 1781; the first calliope was patented in 1855; Montgomery Ward mailed his first catalog in 1872; the Hoover Dam started sending power to Los Angeles in 1936; WXYZ TV began broadcasting in Detroit in 1948 (famous for giving Soupy Sales (above) his national start); Che Guevara was executed in Columbia in 1967; and Andrei Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.  Today is also National Chess Day (for reasons beyond my understanding), National Kick Butt Day (I kid you not…somebody actually named it that); and National Mouldy Cheese Day (I’m…speechless).  But today I’m going to talk about surveying, and a whole slew of coincidences.

At age 22 Banneker finished building a clock that struck the hour, scaled up from a pocket watch.

Benjamin Banneker, like many men of his time, was largely self-taught. In his time and place, however, that says a great deal, because Banneker was born of a free black woman and a former slave on 9 November 1731 in Baltimore County, Maryland. We know very little for certain of his early life.  He may have been schooled by Quaker Abolitionist Paul Heinrichs, but it’s hard to say for sure. At age 22 Banneker finished building a clock that struck the hour, scaled up from a pocket watch. This is remarkable for someone without formal horology training, but most early chronometers were made substantially of wood so that kind of construction was common.

Banneker was an inveterate tinkerer, astronomer and mathematician, for he studied a grist mill as it was being built near his home, and made some calculations for a solar eclipse in 1789

Banneker was an inveterate tinkerer, and a diligent astronomer and mathematician, for he studied a grist mill as it was being built near his home, and made some calculations for a solar eclipse in 1789. He tried to publish an ephemeris (a set of celestial tabulations) in 1780 but failed to find a printer. Until the 20th century, if you really wanted accurate time you got yourself an almanac, calculated your latitude and longitude (a sextant helped, but was not necessary), and observed stars and planets as they rolled across the heavens, and the sunrise and sunset for a few clear days and nights.  If you’re so inclined you can still do so if you’re far enough away from city lights to see the horizon.

Banneker left the team in April of the same year due to illness and the difficulties of such work at age 59

In February 1791, Andrew Endicott hired Banneker to make astronomical observations for his survey team that laid out the boundaries of what would become Washington, District of Columbia.  Banneker left the team in April of the same year due to illness and the difficulties of such work at age 59. He published a highly-regarded ephemeris and tide tables for Chesapeake Bay in 1791, having finally gained enough recognition for his talents.

Many myths have grown up over the years, most having to do with the District of Columbia survey

In later life he corresponded with Thomas Jefferson and published several anti-slavery tracts. Banneker died in his cabin on 9 October 1807, a month before his 75th birthday.  Most of his papers and personal belongings burned on the day of his funeral. Many myths have grown up over the years, most having to do with the District of Columbia survey.  Banneker’s contribution was, in itself, remarkable in that it provided a baseline for the survey, but it was also very brief. As a self-taught astronomer/mathematician, this son of a former slave already has much to be remembered for. As a mathematical moron, I’m fascinated by anyone who managed to move beyond the rudimentary arithmetic that I can barely manage myself.

The non-breathtaking thing about coincidences is that they happen whether you want them to or not, and, depending on how you define zero (counting number in the middle of a range or the beginning and end of everything), are either signs of a cosmic creator or the inevitable happenings of the universe.  On 9 October:

  • In 1000, Leif Ericsson is thought to have landed on Newfoundland. In 2017, 9 October is also the second Tuesday in October, making it Landing Day/Columbus Day (since 1970) in the US, that is also Native American/Indigenous People’s Day.  9 October is also National Leif Ericsson Day.
  • In 1876, the first two-way (duplex) telephone conversation was held; in 1947 the first telephone conversation between a moving car and an airplane took place.
  • In 1906, Joseph Glidden died.  His best known invention was the first commercially successful, ready-made barbed wire. In 1941, President Roosevelt approved a project to develop an atomic weapon, the final divorce from the marriage made in hell–barbed wire and the machine gun.  Also, in 2006 North Korea is thought to have tested their first nuclear weapon.
  • In 1980, the first home computer banking transaction took place in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Because of this, not coincidentally, 9 October is also National Online Bank Day.  Thank Ally Bank for this one, registering it in 2015 in commemoration of their millionth customer.  No, not a coincidence, but my wife the banker wouldn’t let me forget it.

As most of you know, this blog is added to a web site (hopefully) by now: this entry is written in early September.  If you’re so inclined you can check out the site, JDBCOM.COM, and look at some of the other content as it’s being built.

Or not.

On a personal note, I just got word that one of my oldest friends, Bill Crum (aka flooglestreet) passed away this morning. Everyone who’s a veteran knows what losing a buddy of more than…well a lot of years anyway…means.  Taps for SFC William Crum, USA Ret, RVN 1969-71 (1st ID), USAR 1972-95 (84th DIV ((TNG)); hoist one for me and smoke ’em if you’ve got’ em.

RIP buddy, see you on the other side.

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Meuse-Argonne Begins and National One-Hit Wonder Day

And now, finally, on to 25 September, that famous date in history where so much happened.  What, you ask?  Well, there’s the battle at Stamford Bridge in 1066, where Harold the Unlucky beat back the last Dane/Norse invasion of England (before he lost it to the Normans a few weeks later; then there’s the birth of Robert Clive in England (you remember–explorer, first viceroy of India) in 1725; and Benedict Arnold went over to the British in 1780; and Henry Ford announced that his plants were to adopt a 40-hour, 5 day a week workweek in 1926; Smolensk was liberated in 1943, for the last time, as it happened; and finally, Sandra Day O’COnnor was sworn in as the first woman Supreme Court Justice of the United States.  Too, who can forget that today is Math Storytelling Day (for the real geeks), and National Lobster Day (for…whatever).  But today we talk about America in World War One, and one-hit wonders.

The United States only reluctantly entered the Great War in Europe (which took place from the mouth of the Yalu to the English Channel, and from the North Sea to the Horn of Africa), and then not as an ally but as an “associated power,” whatever that meant.  Indeed, it took most of the summer of 1917 just to decide to send a sizable force.  John J. Pershing was the best general the US had to offer, and he had enough political pull to be assigned as head of the BEF in June 1917.  Because they had been pummeling each other for three years with little to show for it, both the British and the French wanted the Americans to become reinforcements for their battered units, but that was not what President Woodrow Wilson wanted.  Wilson told Pershing, essentially, that he wanted a seat at the conference table when the war was over.  To do that, Pershing was told, an independent American force had to make a significant enough contribution to end the conflict as it could possibly make.

At first the Americans arrived in driblets in 1917, drawing their first blood in a trench raid in November 1917.  Gradually the pace increased, and by the summer of 1918 it was a flood.  By September 1918, 1.4 million Americans were under arms in France. By that time Pershing had enough men to launch an offensive to the north of the old Verdun battlefield, a sector dominated by the Meuse River and the Argonne Forest. The Germans had been there since 1914, more or less undisturbed since 1916, and had built a line of pillboxes, wire entanglements, and prepositioned artillery strongpoints that made it a five-mile deep fortress.  But behind it was Pershing’s objective–the railway hub at Sedan, through which most of the German supplies to the entire Hindenburg Line flowed.

But the Americans had had very little experience in the kind of warfare that had developed in France and Flanders.  They had taken their first objective of the war, the small town of Cantigny, with the support of British planes and French artillery and three days of savage fighting that reduced the attacking companies to squads.  They had performed well enough in a relatively small offensive at St Mihiel, and were considered to be stable, but not “savage” enough to do what the Canadians and Australians were doing in the Hundred Day’s offensives that had started in August.  But this wasn’t a limited push: this was seventeen divisions in what would become two field armies totaling nearly three fourths of a million men. It was to be the biggest battle in American military history between Appomattox in 1865 and the invasion of Sicily in 1943.

The opening moves were small parties of doughboy engineers that crawled forward on the night of 25 September to the first band of German barbed wire, cutting as much as they could and marking what they could not.  At 2:35 AM on 26 September, over 1,400 American, French and British artillery pieces from 75mm to 15 inch railway guns opened up on a five-mile wide by three-mile deep band, expending more ordnance in that first three hours than both armies had used up in the whole four years of the American Civil War.  Then, at 5:30, the ground troops started moving ahead.  Then the bloodletting began.

In proportion to the French and British and even the Germans and Belgians, the American casualties from WWI were small. But, what the wags who argue that body count is the measure of sacrifice don’t say is that the Americans lost half (26k) of their total combat deaths (53k) in WWI during the last ten weeks of the war, at the Meuse-Argonne.

But the Americans barely knew what they were doing, and in their untutored zeal they died by the scores in open ground, where Pershing said they would be victorious because in the trenches lay fear and exhaustion.  He was right, but just getting to that open-country warfare took hundreds of thousands of gallons of American blood.  By the first week in November, American artillery was ranging across the Luxembourg frontier, and American troops had penetrated the Hindenburg Line.  By then the German government had fallen, the politicians were taking over the scene, and by the time the first Americans were out of France and within a day’s march of Germany, the armistice came.

Scholars (myself included) have argued ever since as to whether the Meuse-Argonne was in any way decisive in itself.  Part of the title for my essay for A Companion to the Meuse-Argonne Campaign (Wiley-Blackwell 2014) is “We Can Kill Them But We Cannot Stop Them,” taken from a letter by a German lieutenant in the Meuse-Argonne sector to his wife.  He was referring to the Americans, who in their ignorance kept getting killed while they continued to take ground. After the war, Paul von Hindenburg, the victor of Tannenberg and the architect of Russia’s defeat in WWI, said that it was the Americans, after all, who were most to be feared, not because of their fighting abilities (which he admitted improved with time), but because of their raw numbers and energy.

And, from his perspective and from that of all of Europe, he was right.  There were plans to have two million American soldiers, sailors and Marines in France by the end of 1918, and by the spring of 1919, as many as three million (influenza notwithstanding).  By the end of 1919 as many as four million Americans could have been under arms and either in Europe or on the way; more than Germany and France could field combined.  If Germany had continued to fight after that disastrous fall of 1918, and the Allies had not accepted the armistice offered (and some senior officers did not want to), most of Europe might have been bystanders in an American victory parade through Berlin, Vienna and Budapest.  Thus followed the Peace of Versailles, where Wilson was the first American president to not only leave the country while in office, but was the first to negotiate foreign treaties in Europe.  That American victory parade through western Europe was delayed by a generation, even if the Soviets had captured Berlin, Vienna and Budapest.

Also, 25 September is National One-Hit Wonder Day:

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark 
All the sweet, green icing flowing down…

Say what, we said. What in the name of…and who is that, anyway?

We all (most of us, anyway) first heard the self-taught Irish actor Richard Harris belt out those immortal Jimmy Webb lines in April 1968.  And, for most of us, those nonsensical lines and the rest of the lyrics stick in our heads as many One-Hit Wonders and ad jingles do. MacArthur’s Park was covered by Glenn Campbell, Donna Summer and Waylon Jennings amog others, but Dave Barry called it the worst song ever recorded in 1992, and Weird Al Yankovic parodied it a year later.  Often forgotten by the industry, these tunes caught on for some reason, but the original artist was never able to duplicate that success with another song. Mungo Jerry’s In the Summertime;  One Tin Soldier by The Original Caste; One Toke Over the Line by Brewer and Shipley; and of course Brandy by Looking Glass are only a few. One-Hit Wonders have often been covered by other, better-known artists.  Sad, but, like the Meuse-Argonne, necessary for everything to move on.


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Happy Birthday Chiropractic, DoD and USAF

For some reason, this blog wasn’t finished before it posted. Sorry.

And today we have—18 September…let’s see…Chris Columbus on his fourth voyage to the New World (still not convinced it was a new world) landing on Costa Rica; the death of the Chancellor of Japan Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1598, ending the Momoyama period of Japan and setting of a bitter struggle for supremacy that ended with the founding of the Tokugawa shogunate; the construction of the first spinet piano in Boston in 1769; the beginning of the battle of Chickamauga in Georgia in 1863; the publication of Huck Finn in 1885; the Great Fresno Drop, mailing out the first BankAmericards in 1958; the capture of Patty Hearst in San Francisco in 1975; and the first of the “anthrax letters” were mailed from Trenton, New Jersey in 2001.  Too, for some unaccountable reason, 18 September is National Cheeseburger Day, and National Aging/AIDS Awareness Day.  But today, we’re going to talk about bending bones, and national defense, and the airedales.

Chiropractic medicine (hey, it’s the only thing to call it) has been around, some say, since the Egyptians built the pyramids. And ever since the development of the practice of science-based medicine in the 19th century, folks have been calling chiropractic pseudo-scientific quackery.  The modern more-or-less science began roughly on 18 September 1895, when the Palmer School of Chiropractic opened in Davenport, Iowa.  At the time, those using chiropractic were inclined to treat it as a religion, which may have saved themselves a lot of trouble later on, but as future history would show, would have diminished its benefits to millions.

The reader must be aware that there are several “schools’ of chiropractic that are practiced worldwide, and in the US there are several that don’t call it “medicine” at all. It starts with the idea of subluxation, which is the practice of manipulating the spine and other joints into a “natural” position that, some say, makes for better overall health.  A few practitioners also hold that chiropractic can treat and cure any and all human ailments, and that vaccinations would be unnecessary if infants were treated at or near birth, and are consistently manipulated in their formative years.

Understand something: not all chiropractors are alike.  I’ve been using chiropractic for my aching joints for…well, a long time, anyway.  I’ve had several practitioners bend and twist my bones, in large part because I’ve used some for a time and as soon as they recommending chiropractic for allergy treatment, cancer, and even cavities in the teeth, I spend no more time with them.  My current practitioner and his wife have orthopedists on speed-dial, spend no time at all treating any patients without informed consent, and proudly show their vaccination scars.

There are several institutions teaching chiropractic, but every one has a different theory…generally. The Palmer method is the most common, the most widespread, and in my case the most effective.  As I understand it, Palmer-related treatments are those that have been most heavily studied, mostly approved by insurance companies (including Medicare and Medicaid), and is what the uniformed services allow their chiropractors to use since 2001.  While many skeptics still cry “pseudoscience” at the top of their lungs, I have never had a clinician declare it to be without at least some merit for some aches and pains.  I’ve had several MDs who also went to a Palmer School to learn what they had to teach about spinal positioning.

Today is also the birthday of the US Department of Defense, and the official and complete and total divorce of the US Army Air Forces from its parent, creating the US Air Force on this day in 1947.  The Air Force had been functionally separate since the late 1930s, and had representation at the executive level since the formation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The Department of Defense, furthermore, created separate service secretariats for each branch, thus adding hundreds if not thousands of patronage jobs.  Thus, if you ever feel the need to start draining the swamp in DC, start there by merging the services.  The Air Force has its own infantry (Base Emergency Engineering Forces, BEEFs); the Navy its own air force and infantry (and the Marines even have their own air force); the Army its own navy and air forces.  Why?

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Britain and the American Revolution now Available in Paperback

JDB Communications LLC is proud to announce the publication of Britain and the American Revolution, another collection of essays by John D. Beatty, author of The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War.

Most scholars—especially Americans—when writing about the American Revolution (also called the American War) emphasize the Western Hemisphere when considering the effects.  However, in this scribe’s opinion this view is short-sighted.  Great Britain, after all, is still around, and its Empire indeed flourished a century after it lost its then-largest and most prosperous colonies.  The Empire may have steadily degraded after Victoria’s diamond jubilee gala in 1897, but by the much-ballyhooed “Brexit” from the European Community in 2016, Britain herself was still a force to be reckoned with.

Recent writers, especially Steven Sears in The British Empire, have suggested that the British Empire was really nothing more than a jobs program for the English middle and upper classes.  In some ways, this is arguably true.  However trivial this may seem in the great scheme of things, it was also the largest single influence on human civilization between the fall of Rome and the triumph of the United States and the Soviet Union in 1945.  As these essays argue, this influence was in part because of the sheer genius of hard-pressed Britons to survive on their harsh, rocky islands.

“Changing the Great Game” is an exploration of how the concept of “rights” was grudgingly preserved by dynasty after dynasty ruling the British Isles.  Even if the Scots, Irish and other ethnic groups didn’t recognize it, the rights enjoyed by Englishmen that were unique to their legal system did rub off on them as well, if only in small doses from time to time.  The ancient legends of Arthur, Alfred and the rest of the traditional lawgivers may have been perfected in the 19th century, but their origins are clearly much older.  The legal tradition that no sovereign is above his own laws far predate the Normans.

“Kings, Kin and Killers” is something of an experiment.  Steven Pincus in 1688: The First Modern Revolution talks extensively about the motives of the supporters of the Stuarts and those who…well, did not support the monarch.  They hadn’t yet expressed a desire to throw out the monarchy as they would later, but the non-supporters of the Stuart kings were far more interested in the power of capital than that of land.  Their arguments were eerily similar to those that would take place in America before the shooting started in 1861.  It is almost certain that many of the philosophical animosities in English society between country and town, between farm and workshop, were locked into American society after the Revolution, and hung on in animus for another three generations.

“The Limits of Empire” is explicitly that: an essay into the administrative and technical limitations of imperial administration in the late 18th century.  Law, trade, finance, and community administration all depended on communications, and there was simply no good or reliable way to improve trans-Atlantic communications in the 1770s such that the Revolution, or one like it, could be put down.  Even if India were to become the most prosperous of all of Britain’s imperial properties, it wasn’t yet.  If the Gandhi revolution had come two centuries earlier, by that remove it may have succeeded much faster.

“Copper-Bottomed Wizardry” began as a challenge—a sort of a bet.  This writer was wagered that he could not find enough technological innovation between 1775 and 1805 to explain how Britain defeated France at Trafalgar.  Knowing that coppering became standard by 1783, the research started there and produced this essay.  The carronade, the short-barreled “smasher” that was the terror of small-vessel warfare before the shell gun, was intentionally left out because of other innovations that made British ships not only reliable and easier to handle, but overall better vessels.  Any sailor can tell you that, pound for pound, any well-handled warship in peacetime is worth three that are better gunned.  In wartime, it’s how well the guns are laid and how long they can stay on station, not just how well they can blast a target.

Four essays are hardly a working thesis, but they may point to one: Britain was strengthened by the conflict that resulted in the loss of her thirteen colonies that would eventually become the United States.  Both she and the United States, ultimately, resolved the last of a conflict in Anglo-Saxon society that had raged since the Tudors: Do governments have a right to rule, or a duty?  Is society the master of an economic structure, or a servant or product of it?

Let these essays inform the reader’s viewpoint. Available in paperbound and PDF at The Book Patch. Personally autographed copies will be available at JDBCOM.COM soon.

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Miss America on TV and Patriot Day

Well, here it is, another September 11th.  Most of us remember where we were and what we were doing on that particular day in 2001, so I won’t belabor it–yet.  But, there were other events on 11 September in other years, like the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1287 made famous by Mel Gibson’s Braveheart; the beginning of the battle of Brandywine in 1777; the end of the Plattsburgh battle in 1779; the appointment of Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury in 1789; the patenting of the mail chute in 1883; and the beginning of the building of the Pentagon in 1941.  But today, we talk about beautiful women on television and tragedies on beautiful days.

Though it is the best known of many, Miss America wasn’t the first of its kind: the first beauty pageant was held in Scotland in 1839; showman PT Barnum staged another contest in 1859 that was shut down after protests over their degradation of public morals–a common theme against Barnum at the time. There were many in the 19th century, especially in America, but none were recurring.

The Miss America pageant started out as a publicity stunt on 25 September 1920, intended to bring business to the Atlantic City Boardwalk. There was no real competition, just a bunch of beautiful girls pushed around in chairs on wheels.  The next year, after the enthusiastic reception and increased traffic, the pageant became an annual event in Atlantic City.  Other milestones include:

  • 1933,  the youngest Miss America, 15-year-old Marion Bergeron, won the contest.
  • 1944, the compensation switched from furs and movie contracts to a college scholarship.
  • 11 September 1954, Evelyn Ayr (above) was crowned for the first time on live TV.
  • 1971, Cheryl Browne was the first African-American to compete.
  • 1984, Vanessa Williams was the first African-American woman to win.  Williams was also the first asked to resign for posing in Penthouse.
  • 2014, Nina Davuluri was the first Indian-American woman to win the crown.

Some of the winners have gone on to fame and fortune in Hollywood and other entertainment industries, but most finish their rounds of publicity, take their scholarships and sink back into obscurity.  The pageant/scholarship program has been under fire for most of its history for being “out of step” with… something.  It is also criticized for exalting body types that are unachievable without great sacrifice and potential damage to a woman’s health.  While the last may be true, I don’t believe the pageant has ever held itself out as anything other than a way for women to win scholarships, and for businesses to make money on advertising.   Women compete of their own free will, and people watch of their own free will.

There’s a great deal that could be said about 9/11, but what I recall most vividly was not the planes crashing into buildings, but what headlines quickly disappeared.

  • Some overrated interchangeable blonde starlet published an autobiography that stated that she was at one time possessed by space aliens.
  • Some congressman was suspected of killing a female intern with whom he may or may not have had an affair, a crime that was later was pinned on some other poor schmuck.
  • Someone started another petition to recount ballots in Florida from the 2000 election after the last recount indicated that GW Bush’s margin of victory there was larger than initially thought.

Watching the carnage in New York and Arlington on a spectacularly gorgeous Tuesday in southeastern Wisconsin was like watching a bad movie…another one that blew up buildings for no apparent reason.  But Shanksville, Pennsylvania, that was different.  According to everything we know, United Airlines Flight 93 out of Newark destined for San Francisco was hijacked by four men and diverted to…this is where it gets fuzzy. Popular wisdom says the hijacker’s target was the White House, but it is just as likely that the target was the Capital, which would have been in the same area, or another, double hit on the Pentagon, which would make military sense.

In 2013 my wife and I were headed to Washington to pick up my MA in history, and happened to stop for the night in Pennsylvania.  On the way to the motel I saw a sign that said “Flight 93 Memorial 16 Miles.” OK, we decide, we’ve got a few hours to spare tomorrow.  We’ll have a look.  So we follow the signs (there are none on the turnpike, and most of the pointers are very small) down very rural hardball roads to the memorial, which is at an old open-pit mine that was closed when Flight 93 crashed.

Shanksville, Pennsylvania is little more than a wide spot in a two-lane road, literally, and its two miles from the crash site.   It may have been more prosperous before the mine closed, but by the time we saw it, but in the spring of 2013 there just wasn’t much there.  As we went through the Flight 93 Memorial, I couldn’t help but think that the army of investigators that descended on Stonycreek Township would have overwhelmed the public facilities there very quickly. And so I walked the concrete walkways of the Classroom Without Walls (as NPS bills it), looked at the pictures of the victims/heroes, looked into the actual crash site (the memorial is next to it; the crash site itself is still treated as a crime scene), then thought about one of the pictures.  Then I looked again.

Maybe, I thought.  Maybe.  One of the passengers on Flight 93 looked more than vaguely familiar.  And the name.  I looked it up later…no, not him.  Resembled a guy I served with in the Army in Florida in the ’70s.  Name was similar, too.  But, no. Still, might have been sad and at the same time good to have known that one of my old comrades did his duty…we’re not relieved of our oaths at discharge, ya know.

Patriot Day was first observed in 2002. Now, to add to the confusion of 9/11, there’s a Patriot’s Day observed in the Boston area on the third Monday in April. But that one’s been around for decades. 9/11 isn’t a federal holiday; no offices are closed except the Flight 93 Memorial from 9 to noon.  But if you ever get the chance, you should go.  There’s something noble about citizens taking their implicit duty to protect and defend seriously enough to sacrifice themselves like that.  That deserves a look, and some contemplation.

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Essays on the American Civil War Now Available in Paperback and PDF

JDB Communications, LLC, is pleased to announce the availability of a new edition of Essays on the American Civil War by John D. Beatty in paperback and PDF at The Book Patch, while the first edition in Kindle will still be available for a limited time.  From the Introduction:

The American Civil War (even the way it is written: always capital “C,” capital “W”) sits isolated in a pristine crystal dome of American history, separate from all other events.  There are certain ways to write about it that make it acceptable to Civil War scholars and their audiences, and these rules must be observed else the offending material will be relegated to the isle of broken essays.

As the “Forlorn Hope” essay explains, American treatment of the 1861-65 conflict is always an exception to every rule of writing history, and American writers at all levels treat it as their private preserve.  Parallels with any other conflict are impossible for many Civil War buffs and not a few scholars, as are ties with any other non-American conflict.  Suggestions that the economic and political issues not related to slavery were eerily similar to those surfacing during the Tudor and Stuart periods in England—and may actually be connected—were dismissed with derision, ridicule, and often, suggestions of racism on those heretics with such insolent ideas.

How casualties were created should be a no-brainer, but as “The Butcher’s Bill” explains, for 19th century warfare that just ain’t so.  The mechanics of cavalry, too, should be obvious, but as “Cavalry in Blue and Gray” shows, it’s a lot harder when there was no real need for it in its wartime form before the war.

The distinct and contrarian position in some of these essays is unacceptable to “mainstream” Civil War scholarship: Civil War battlefield presentation isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, as “Of Parks and Excuses” explains; the Southern Confederacy, always a “Forlorn Hope,” could not have gotten what she wanted by military means.  Grant and Lee’s legacy to history is both more and less than many want to think, as “Bigger than History” explains.

Finally, “The Turning Point” and “The Unknown Gettysburg” are, again, my attempts at jousting with the immortal dragon that is Gettysburg. That one fight in Pennsylvania has so much emotional baggage attached to it that…well, it’s a tempting target.

Essays on the American Civil War retails at $4.99 in paperback, $1.99 in PDF exclusively at The Book Patch.

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Operation WATCHTOWER and National Lighthouse Day

Yeah, I know…running late.  Sue me.

So, 7 August marks a number of auspicious events, among them being the creation of the Order of the Purple Heart in 1782 (making 7 August Purple Heart Day), the US War Department in 1789,  the patenting of the revolving door in 1888, the beginning of the Battle of the French Frontiers in 1914, and the passing of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964.  But today, we talk about Guadalcanal, and lighthouses.

The exgenesis of what would become the Guadalcanal campaign of WWII is shrouded less in mystery than in myth.  Yes, the big island at the far eastern end of the Solomons Islands chain had a central plain large enough to support an airstrip, but that’s not why the Japanese went there: that’s why the Americans went there.  The Japanese were more interested in Tulagi, the smaller island to the north of Guadalcanal that had a longer, deeper beach that could support a seaplane base: the strip they started on Guadalcanal that so alarmed the Australians was to be for fighters to protect the seaplane base.  Japan wanted a seaplane base from which they could control the waters on the northern side of the Coral Sea and around New Zealand and New Caledonia, further isolating Australia; the Americans wanted to prevent both from happening, to build an airfield from which they could control those same waters, and as a starting point in the isolation of not only Rabaul but the Marshall Islands.

So was born Operation WATCHTOWER (colloquially, as Operation “Shoestring” for the meager support it got in the early months), the naval/ground/air operation in the eastern Solomons Islands that ran from the Marine landings on 7 August 1942  to 9 February 1943 when the Americans declared the island secure. Guadalcanal, in Navy/Marine parlance, was Task One for the South Pacific, and in many respects it was the most important single operation for both the Americans and their allies and for Japan.  Control  of the Eastern Solomons by either side meant control of the waters around eastern Australia, the springboard for the southern Pacific offensive. against Japan.  But too, it was the first test of Japanese resilience in the face of an Allied counter-offensive, of their ability to control events far from Japanese waters, and without strategic initiative.  As the end of the Guadalcanal offensive showed, Japan’s ability to outlast the Allies was wanting.  It was the first major chink in Japan’s island cordon.

The Guadalcanal campaign is well-covered by several authors, but for my money the best is The Guadalcanal Campaign by Richard Frank.  His dynamic, nearly day-by-day account of the three-month long campaign best covers both American and Japanese problems, but the one Japanese issue that Frank does not cover is the increasing desperation not of the senior commanders or even the common soldiers, but of the ever-increasing weariness of the overworked aircrews and their mechanics, which is best described in Okumiya Masatake’s Zero!. 

As some of you know, my co-author. Lee Rochwerger, and I have been working on a…retooling…of our What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look at Japan at War (Merriam Press 2009) book.  The new version, Why the Samurai Lost, will be bigger and better, with maps and tables that the first version lacked, and more information on the infighting between the Japanese Army and Navy.  Expect to see Why the Samurai Lost at the end of 2018.  Of which, more later.

On 7 August 1789 the US Congress approved an act for the support of “Lighthouses, Beacons, Buoys and Publik Piers” that marked the beginning of what would become the Lighthouse Service, which would be eventually be rolled into the Coast Guard. Two hundred years later, Congress passed a commemorative bill designating 7 August as National Lighthouse Day.

Sometime in the 1960s, the Coast Guard determined that the older the lighthouse, the more costly it would be to knock down because of their stout construction. As of the 1980s, all of these innocuous structures that dot the coastlines of every major body of water in the US  have been automated, many shut down and abandoned. The Lighthouse Preservation Society is dedicated to keeping at least some of these landmarks as monuments, museums, or other repurposed function. For those of you who live on or near the Great Lakes or one of the three major coastlines of the US, have a look at those old brick piles with the big light domes and remember: it’s likely at least one of you had some friend or relative that counted on that light to keep from being wrecked on some rock or shoal.

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George H. Thomas, Andrew Johnson, and National Mutt Day

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: OK, you delusional clown, what could possibly associate these three?  And what, in the name of heaven, can you ever think that the last day in July wouldn’t have more topical or interesting events than…these?  Well, I reply casually, Columbus did land on Trinidad on this day in 1498, and Ignatius of Loyola–founder of the Jesuits–died on this day in Rome in 1556.  Then there’s Third Ypres in Flanders in 1917, and there’s Jimmy Hoffa’s last sighting in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan at the Fox & Hounds (which closed its doors exactly thirty years later) in 1976.  But today we talk about the American Civil War, and dogs.

George Henry Thomas, old Slow Trot, the Rock of Chickamauga, was born on 31 July 1816 to a slave-owning family in Southampton County, Virginia. As a young man, he and his family had to hide out in the forest during the Nat Turner rebellion in 1931. Before joining the Army, his thoughts on slavery as an institution are unknown, but legends abound about his position on the Peculiar Institution before the war.  Thomas fought in Mexico and Florida, and won steady promotion until the Civil War.  Though he did not “go south” as many of his colleagues did, the Army didn’t trust Southern-born officers.  Because he didn’t “go south, Thomas’s family never spoke to him again.

For the entirety of the war, Thomas served the Union with distinction, winning more fights than any other Union general, and more than most Confederates.  At Chickamauga in September 1863 he held his position on Horseshoe Ridge that the rest of William S. Rosecrans’ broken army could (and did) rally around, turning what could have been a disaster into a mere defeat.  Thomas and his staff did yeoman duty during William Sherman’s Atlanta campaign the next year. Outside of Atlanta, John B. Hood’s attack at Peachtree Creek in July 1864 broke against Thomas’s stalwart defense.  That same winter, when Hood tried to lure Sherman away from Georgia, Thomas instead raced Hood north, defeating him at Franklin in November, and crushing him at Nashville in December.

After the war, President Johnson offered Thomas Grant’s three stars (while Grant got four), but Thomas declined.  Assigned to command the Department of the Pacific by President Grant in 1869, Thomas died after a stroke in San Francisco in 1870.  Though he was memorialized by his colleagues after his death, not many of them, including Grant and Sherman, seem to have liked him very much. Thomas is buried in New York, and not a single family member attended his funeral.

Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina in December 1808.  Trained as a tailor, Johnson settled in Tennessee as a young man and entered local politics. His meteoric rise from alterman to mayor to the Tennessee House, the US Congress, the Governor’s mansion and the White House is the stuff of legend for someone who was never trained in the law, and never saw the inside of a university classroom.  Johnson is a member of the small club of American professional politicians who was not also a lawyer.

His tenure as president was the most controversial, and began with his swearing in while in wine (but it would have been hard to expect him to have been sober expecting not to be required for anything by Lincoln). Johnson, like Lincoln, wanted a quick reconstruction of the country after the Civil War while the Congress wanted to punish the South.  Neither side got their way, really, but in the meantime the former slaves were left with little in the way of protection.  For his staunch perfidy Johnson was impeached by the House but was acquitted by the Senate in 1868.  After Grant’s inauguration in 1869 Johnson slid into national obscurity, though he was lionized in Tennessee.  On 31 July 1875, Andrew Johnson died in Elizabethton, Tennessee while visiting his daughter.  To this day he has been the only president to serve without a vice-president.

And, mutts.  Lovable, loyal, playful dogs with more than one “breed” in their bloodlines.  Many end up in animal shelters, many end up in medical labs.  For whatever reason, they are not often seen as working dogs, though there’s no real reason for that discrimination.  Purebred dogs often have genetic disorders known to their kind: what makes them special?  Of all the dogs I’ve ever owned or lived with (a dozen over six decades), none of the purebreds from accredited kennels were any more special than the “Heinz 57” dogs from a shelter, or free from good owners, or just picked up off the street.

Dogs, well cared for and not abused, are only as good as their environment, but they can be a handful.  I’ve had one, just one and only for a week, who was uncontrollable, and Tiger was a AKC registered German Shepherd.  Most are good foot-warmers, great listeners, fetchers of whatever, and eaters of nearly everything.  Some bark a lot, most bark some, some don’t at all.  And yes, most of them shead, want your attention when you least expect it, and lick their privates in front of your in-laws. But, if you want a loyal companion who will occasionally make a mess, visit a local shelter or, failing that, help the ASPCA rescue the abused animals who, after all, only want to please someone.

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Three Essays on Strategy Now Available in Paperback and PDF

JDB Communications, LLC is proud to announce the availability of Three Essays on Strategy by John D. Beatty in paperback and PDF from The Book Patch.

Walcott, Iowa, and Wall, South Dakota may seem to be unlikely places to talk about in an essay collection on strategy, but examining these institutions is a good introduction to the ideas of how strategy is made.  For those who have never been to Walcott, Iowa, it is the home of the world’s largest truck stop.   To earn this distinction, the ne plus ultra of road trip rest emporiums rises from the Iowa prairie along Interstate 80.  It began in 1964 as a simple gas station and lunch counter, according to the web site, and has by this writing grown to a sprawling complex that offers everything from a museum to a pet wash stand, four eateries, a laundromat and even a chiropractor and a regular doctor, in addition to the usual fuel found at any such, smaller establishment.  Wall Drug started even earlier, in 1931, offering free ice water to thirsty travelers in the Badland’s summer heat.  When this correspondent saw it, Wall Drug had been joined by over fifty-odd other store fronts plying everything from food to footgear, from books to jewelry, and from tourist souvenirs (including the ubiquitous bumper stickers) to fuel.  How these two mid-America roadside behemoths got where they are, how they got to be bigger than their host communities, is part marketing of course, but also by employing the theme of these essays: strategy.

Alfred T. Mahan’s series of Naval War College lectures, published as The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783 (1890) were inconsequential, but the 110-page introduction formalized strategic thought and theory for the first time.  Using Britain as a model, he outlined a fleets-make-bases-make-ports-make- trade-makes-money-makes-fleets formula that had been in use, if unacknowledged, ever since wood was made to swim and carry a load.  This model of strategy was designed not for just for military gain but to advance and secure economic power.  To emphasize this point, Mahan wrote his introduction out of economic necessity: his original manuscript had been rejected, and he penned the famous introduction to get it sold.

That this formalization of what every major state since the beginning of recorded history had practiced should come from a naval officer from the greatest commercial power of its age was almost anticlimactic.  Of all human enterprises, up until Mahan’s time ships and the sea were simultaneously the most lucrative and the most expensive to build and maintain.  The United States, of all the world’s commercial powers, took advantage of America’s many international coasts and harbors to build an overseas trading empire that dwarfed both its competitors and its partners by the middle of the 20th century.

Scratch any historian, politician, wargamer, monarch, or businessperson and you’ll likely get a different definition for “strategy” from each.  Each will be correct—as far as their specialized viewpoint is concerned.  Politicians need to keep getting elected, so their concern is for their electorate, which often means jobs.  Monarchs have some of the same concerns—though usually for their own fortunes and for those of their supporters.  Business always looks for markets, for resources, for labor, but most often for political and economic stability.  Wargamers, working in a different kind of environment altogether from the rest, seek to succeed in whatever game they are playing at the moment, but only within the confines of the game.  For the historian, “strategy” is the sum of what social groups and states plan to do, and what they actually execute, to achieve their goals.  As such, “strategy” is the overall idea that monarchs, tradesmen, politicians or anyone else start out with—or what they develop over the course of years or centuries—to either achieve a defined goal, to ensure their commonweal, or to just survive.

These essays were written in a time when the concept of “strategy” had been formally defined for over a century, and in a world where the concept of “strategy” was intentionally driven by policy.  As these essays show, strategy has been an evolution, a development of policy-making that stretches back millennia, and was sometimes driven by accident, sometimes by design.  During the time period covered by the first two, dealing with the Mediterranean’s ancient world and with Europe and Asia in the early modern period, strategy was a matter of royal prerogative and trade demands.  In the third, dealing with the United States and Japan in the Pacific in the 19th century, strategy was the prerogative, at least in part, of democratically elected representatives.  What is interesting is how similar the strategic choices are, and how similar the alternatives are.  The greatest difference is that of scale.

But too there’s geography, and the tremendous role played by simply stopping in the right place.  Human communities grow where there are resources and conditions that support them.  Even if commercial enterprises like the I-80 truck stop and Wall Drug make their own conditions, that’s not always possible.  Drive along an interstate highway in the US on either side of Wall or of Walcott, and that becomes apparent.  The successful stops are built where on and off ramps provide easy access, but there are nearly as many tall road signs standing next to empty concrete slabs as there are those next to bustling enterprises.  Those that are further down the frontage roads or farther from the ramps rarely survive more than a few years unless they offer something else that weary travelers needed or, like Wall Drug did in the beginning, gave away ice water in summer.  In some places along the highway are the artifacts of failed truck stops, motels and even whole towns that may have thrived once, but no longer.  Many of the abandoned gas stations along the highway lost business when the range of vehicles increased, others because the price of fuel made their continued operation unprofitable, and still others because the owners retired or died.  But, these relics of bygone days were often the casualties of strategic changes made by their competitors and the changing tastes of consumers that they failed to meet.  Often as not, they are the losers in a strategic game that they lost, or perhaps that they didn’t even consciously play.

The social groups and countries described in these essays, like the truck stops and the drug stores that fail while others succeed, are all subject to someone’s strategy.  The trick is being in a position to take advantage of successful strategies or be able to withstand bad ones.

Three Essays on Strategy is another of the growing essay collection from JDB Communications, LLC. that retails for $3.99 for paper, $1.99 for PDF from The Book Patch.

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Wrong-Way Corrigan and Yellow Pig Day

Well, we all know the story of ol’ Wrong Way (though most of what we “know” ain’t so), but of other things that happened on 17 July there are legion, including the final surrender of Napoleon at Rochefort in 1915, the founding of Harvard’s Dental School of Medicine in 1867, the execution of the Romanovs in 1918, the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the Port Chicago explosion in 1944, the opening of Disneyland in 1955, and the TWA 800 explosion in 1996.  It’s also National Peach Ice Cream Day and World Emoji Day.  I can get (almost) all but that last one.

The whole world “knows” that Douglas Corrigan took off from New York on 17 July 1938 planning to go to California, but landed twenty-eight hours later in Ireland.  The sobriquet “Wrong Way” got stuck to him immediately thereafter and stuck for the rest of his life.  Trouble is, that’s not really what happened.  He wasn’t authorized to make a trans-Atlantic jump because the authorities that were in charge of such things deemed his aircraft (that he built himself) to be unsafe.  It was important for public relations reasons at that time that as few air-travel disasters as possible were enabled, and Corrigan was a fairly well-known airplane builder (he had worked on Lindberg’s Spirit)  and pilot.

The truth was that he had always planned a trans-Atlantic flight, and he was by no means the first to solo across the pond.  He took off after anyone who could stop him had gone home, turned around above the cloud deck, and headed for Ireland.  But he enjoyed more fame as a poor navigator than he did as a miscreant, so he never admitted that it was intentional.  Corrigan died in 1995, and Wrong Way Corrigan Day commemorates his achievement.

Someone is seriously going to have to explain this one to me.  Yellow Pig Day is July 17, has been since the 1960s, apparently. The way I get it, yellow pigs have seventeen eyelashes, and a couple of math geeks at Princeton named Kelley and Spivak were obsessing over the number 17…yeah.  Anyway, the two of them invented yellow pigs with seventeen toes and seventeen teeth…and on and on, and…maybe you need to be a mathematician to appreciate it. At any rate, Yellow Pig Math Days are celebrated at Hampshire College as a convocation of budding mathematicians, and are also held at various other locations to emphasize mathematics in education. As someone who always considered abstract mathematics as stupid human tricks, I don’t get it, but I don’t need to.

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Gettysburg, a Smorgasbord of National Days, and the Consequences of Belief

Huh, you say…what is he up to now?  Well, as it happens, I just want to put some stuff out there so you, my dear readers, can argue about lots of different things that have nothing to do with anything, like our current Fearless Leader in the White House duking it out with the Mass Media into all sorts of nothing sandwiches while he quietly gets the regulatory swamp drained.  Such is life.  Misdirection, you see.

Just like Lee was snookered into Gettysburg.  Sure, he wanted a fight outside Virginia…but then what?  The Confederacy was already losing half its food supply when US Grant finished clearing the Mississippi Valley with the capture of .  The Richmond/Washington corridor was, in comparison, as sideshow.  But the history books, driven by the Lost Cause Mythology (LCM) that demands that All Things Lee must be Earth-shatteringly vital, says that Gettysburg was the battle of the Civil War.  Some American history textbooks mention Bull Run, Gettysburg and Appomattox, foregoing all other actions  as unimportant.  Lee is mentioned, of course, and Lincoln, but Grant?  Meade? Even Halleck?  Not on a bet.

But…you moan.  Lee was snookered into Gettysburg?  Tricked?  Well, in a way, yes, he was.  Though the “strategy” that he outlined to Jefferson Davis demanded a fight with the Army of the Potomac, but he didn’t say just where or how.  So he split up his army to join it up somewhere in Pennsylvania so he could thrash “those people” (the term that LCM insists Lee always used when referring to the Union Army…except when he didn’t) once and for all.  Trouble with that was that, without a definite plan, the various pieces of his army were just going to be out foraging as he looked for a place to get together.  Lee wasn’t expecting to get it together in southern Adams County, but that was where Buford’s cavalry encountered Ewell’s corps.  Then there was Howard’s and Reynold’s corps, and Ewell had a real fight on his hands.

Suddenly Lee’s army had to come together, and he had no idea that Meade’s whole army was on hand because Stuart’s cavalry was off on another “ride around” the AoP and thus out of communications, but unlike 1862, the propaganda value to the Bold Cavalier’s exploits was nil.  However, the military value of bruising Stuart’s ego in June at Brandy Station was tremendous, and to salvage his sinking reputation he took his horsemen off on another wild ride.

So Lee was blinded by Stuart’s absence…or at least that’s what LCM claims.  You see, it just isn’t possible that Lee had so little control over his subordinates that such things could happen, so it has to be Stuart’s fault.  Just as on 3 July 1863 it was Longstreet who failed against Meade’s center because Lee cannot fail…ever.  And Lee, the ever-stainless Marse Robert Edward Lee, cannot be faulted for fighting at a severe terrain disadvantage in Pennsylvania.  It had to have been his subordinates who failed him. And so it goes.

But too, today is National Chocolate Wafer Day, National Eat Your Beans Day, and National Fried Clams Day.  Now, only Fried Clams Day has a known origin–3 July 1916 was the first time anyone suggested deep-frying clams–but the other two are mysteries.  A snack stand in Essex, Massachusetts battered and fried a batch after a customer suggested it, and first served them during Fourth of July festivities.  It sort of took off.  I have some rather fond memories of fried clams at Howard Johnson’s restaurants, which dates me.  The national day started in 2015.

Now, the consequences of belief.  There are, you know.  As Lee found out in Pennsylvania, believing that he could steal a march on Meade was, in his case, catastrophic. Similarly, German belief in their capacity to knock France out of the war before having to deal with the Russians in 1914 was similarly disastrous.  Germany did it again in 1939, taking on the whole world by 1941.  But that was a consequence in Hitler’s “unshakeable belief” in so many things that were just–demonstrably–wrong.

But no one can escape the consequences of belief, because what you believe guides what you do.  And if what you believe is accurate, all is well until someone decides that what you believe is simply wrong.  If that disagreement is a simple “I don’t think so,” there it  ends.  But if someone believes–and has the power to enforce–that you must change your belief and behavior or face a fatal consequence…that’s different.

But that’s where “free speech” and “censorship” and “hate speech” and “blasphemy” and “sedition” get all tangled up.  Opinions (personal, not legal) can’t be “wrong” if they don’t deny facts–they’re just beliefs.  Today is Monday.  If you say that it’s Wednesday, you would be wrong, incontrovertibly.  That is not an opinion, but a fact.  If you believe that persons of another faith or skin color are all evil, or want to destroy those of your faith or skin color, that is an opinion because it’s simply too broad a spread.  But if you act on that belief, it stops being an opinion and starts being a motive for whatever it is you wish to do.

The painting that heads this little missive is a good example.  It was painted to meet a commercial need, and to satisfy an audience that would find “Hancock at Gettysburg” to be inspiring. It’s not a photograph, and abounds with historical inaccuracy.  But it was commercially successful despite all that. Point at it as say “Pickett’s Charge” if you want; no one will kill you for it, but it’s “Hancock at Gettysburg.”  But say that a TV personality is wrong, or ugly, or–horrors–unworthy of your time, and you may be in for a fight.  Attractiveness is unquantifiable, and thus not a matter of “fact.”

What anyone says about anyone’s looks or appearance is, long run, irrelevant to living, or governing, or ruling.  The accuracy of paintings, too, is pretty irrelevant.  And so is this blog.  I write it because I want to; you read it for the same reason.  No harm no foul if you don’t or I don’t.  But it’s not “censorship” if you don’t follow me, just as my not watching the endless reruns of the same twisted plots of TV sitcoms isn’t “censorship,” or my not caring what your sexual proclivity is or your gender identity or your personal pronouns isn’t “anti-gay,” and it is not yet illegal to not care.  That may come, but not yet.