Happy Fourth of July!

July 4, 2015

independence day patriots

It’s Independence Day here in the US, in which we celebrate our break with the British Empire. We’re 239 years old and, despite what some sanctimonious Lefty scolds might think, I think we’ve done pretty darned good. We’re not without our problems or faults, some of them serious, but I continue to believe America is exceptional among the nations of the world and that we are indeed a force for good. If you’re looking for some good Independence Day reading, there’s always the Declaration of Independence itself. Think of it as a short ideological summation of who and why we are.

Then there’s the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which function as a citizen’s “owner’s manual.” And yes, to those of you in other countries raising an eyebrow about now, we do tend to place those documents on a pedestal. You have to admit, however, they’ve worked well for over two centuries. How many republics and constitutions has France had in that time?

Gosh, it’s become quiet…. Winking

By the way, at The Federalist, John Daniel Davidson asks us to consider how the Declaration’s list of King George’s offenses against the (then English) constitutional order and the rights of the American people might well also apply to President Obama.

A lot’s been written around the Web about today on the meaning of Independence day, so I’ll spare you my musings. Instead, I want to leave you with the thoughts of historian Victor Davis Hanson (1) who, writing in National Review in 2008 (2) at a time of growing national discord, wanted to remind us that things often had been much worse and that, on that 4th of July six years ago, we could use a little perspective:

On this troubled Fourth we still should remember this is not 1776 when
New York was in British hands and Americans in retreat across the
state. It is not 1814 when the British burned Washington and the entire
system of national credit collapsed — or July 4, 1863 when Americans
awoke to news that 8,000 Americans had just been killed at Gettysburg.


We are not in 1932 when unemployment was still over 20 percent of the
work force, and industrial production was less than half of what it had
been just three years earlier, or July, 1942, when tens of thousands of
American were dying in convoys and B-17s, and on islands of the Pacific
in an existential war against Germany, Japan, and Italy.

Thank
God it is not mid-summer 1950, when Seoul was overrun and arriving
American troops were overwhelmed by Communist forces as they rushed in
to save a crumbling South Korea. We are not in 1968 when the country
was torn apart by the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Martin
Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and the riots at the Democratic
convention in Chicago. And we are not even in the waning days of 1979,
a year in which the American embassy was seized in Tehran and hostages
taken, the Soviets were invading Afghanistan, thousands were still
being murdered in Cambodia, Communism was on the march in Central
America, and our president was blaming our near 6-percent unemployment,
8-percent inflation, 15-percent interest rates, and weakening
international profile on our own collective “malaise.”

We
live in the most prosperous and most free years of a wonderful
republic, and can easily rectify our present crises that are largely of
our own making and a result of the stupefying effects of our
unprecedented wealth and leisure. Instead of endless recriminations and
self-pity — of anger that our past was merely good rather than perfect
as we now demand — we need to give thanks this Fourth of July to our
ancestors who created our Constitution and Bill of Rights, and suffered
miseries beyond our comprehension as they bequeathed to us most of the
present wealth, leisure, and freedom we take for granted.

Still holds true, I think.

Happy 4th of July, folks. Enjoy the hot dogs and fireworks.  smiley us flag

RELATED: Also from 2008, a love-letter to America. There is a point of view that sees the American Revolution as a second English Civil War. It’s an opinion with some merit, I think, given that the Patriots saw themselves as defenders of rights granted under the Bill of Rights of 1689. Continuing that theme at National Review, Daniel Hannan, a British MEP who’s more of a Patriot than many Americans I know these days, writes about the meaning of the forgotten flag of the American Revolution. Also at NR, British emigrant to America Charles Cooke considers the civil war of 1776. Cooke’s articles should be on your must-reading list. On American exceptionalism, Jonah Goldberg looks at how progressives really resent it. Finally, Salena Zito takes us to where independence began.

Footnotes:
(1) aka, my spiritual leader
(2) Sorry, the old link is broken, and National Review can’t be bothered to provide a searchable archive. Bad show, NR, bad show. Update: Found a re-posting. Do read it all.


D-day: storming the castle

June 6, 2015

(Note: This is a re-posting and slight editing of a post I put up every D-Day.)

Seventy-one years ago today, American, British, Canadian, French, and Polish soldiers charged the gates of Hell — and won:

Black Five put up an excellent roundup of D-Day posts from many blogs a few years ago. It’s still worth reviewing. And have a look at this entry for a photo essay on D-Day.

Historian Victor Davis Hanson reflects on D-Day at 70:

Seventy years ago this June 6, the Americans, British, and Canadians stormed the beaches of Normandy in the largest amphibious invasion of Europe since the Persian king Xerxes invaded Greece in 480 b.c.

About 160,000 troops landed on five Normandy beaches and linked up with airborne troops in a masterly display of planning and courage. Within a month, almost a million Allied troops had landed in France and were heading eastward toward the German border. Within eleven months the war with Germany was over.

(…)

D-Day ushered in the end of the Third Reich. It was the most brilliantly conducted invasion in military history, and probably no one but a unique generation of British, Canadians, and Americans could have pulled it off.

Read the rest. While giving the Russians their due, he puts their contribution in perspective.

RELATED: The Daily Mail tells the story of one Medal of Honor winner who still wonders how he survived Normandy.

UPDATE: In today’s newsletter, Real Clear Politics quotes the prayer FDR read when announcing the invasion to the nation:

“Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity,” the president said while the outcome of the battle was still in doubt.

“They will need Thy blessings,” FDR continued. “Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph…”

Imagine a president saying something like that nowadays; the Left would have a fit.

But, forget them. Today’s a day to remember genuine heroes and thank Divine Providence we had such men on our side.

UPDATE 06/06/2013: This is a real president commemorating D-Day:


That Terrible Tuchman Woman

May 12, 2015

Phineas Fahrquar:

I’ve always loved History (in fact, I was once working toward a PhD in it) and, as an impressionable high school freshman way back when, Tuchman’s Guns of August made quite an impression on me. That was then, this is now, and Mr. Schindler provides a searing critique of “Guns…” and a short list of much better books on the events of 1914. If you’ve an interest in World War I or just in good history writing in general, this is worth reading.

Originally posted on The XX Committee:

Since one of the hats I wear is that of a military historian specializing in World War One, I regularly get asked questions about reading suggestions. With the centenary of that awful conflict upon us, people want to know more and that’s a great thing. The origins of the war and how it all unfolded so terribly in 1914 are understandably a topic of high interest, and at least once as week, often online, I get asked about one book in particular.

That book is Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, which for more than a half-century has been a popular and widely cited work by the public about the disastrous events of the summer of 1914 that transformed a Balkan terrorist act into a continent-wide (and later nearly world-wide) conflict. The Guns of August was a huge best-seller, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1963, and still retains the…

View original 1,009 more words


Awww…. Poor little Vlad’s shiny new tank wouldn’t go.

May 7, 2015

“Comrades! A little help here?”

Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, when after the fall of Berlin the Germans finally surrendered. Soviet Thug in Chief President Vladimir Putin wanted to celebrate in a big  way, befitting his new neo-Stalinist regime: a giant military parade honoring the Soviet effort (1) and coincidentally showing off Vlad’s neat new toys.

Oops:

A state-of-the-art Russian tank, which was shown to the public for the first time earlier this month, on Thursday ground to a halt during the final Victory Day rehearsal.

The tank, T-14 Armata, is said to surpass all Western versions because of its remotely controlled cannon and the protection it offers to its crew. The T-14, which replaces the T-72 and T-90, is set to undergo trials next year.

Weaponry was rolling across central Moscow Thursday morning in the dress rehearsal of the military parade on Red Square on May 9 as Russia commemorates the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

One of the eight T-14s suddenly stopped while others drove on. The engine was still rumbling but it wouldn’t move. After an attempt to tow it failed, the T-14 rolled away under its own steam about 15 minutes later.

Not a good image to project when you’re trying to intimidate NATO. Someone got yelled at. Loudly.

*snicker*

UPDATE: The original AP article quoted above seems to be a non-working link, now. Here’s a link to a similar story from International Business Times. Thanks to Jack Tinker for the heads-up.

Footnote:
(1) Seriously, while I despise the USSR and everything Bolshevik, their contribution to destroying Nazi Germany should never be slighted. If not for the Soviets being willing to feed endless number of troops into jaws of the German war machine, killing millions of Nazi soldiers while losing millions of their own, we would likely have had to face Germany’s best troops in France, and the result might well have been far different. One cannot deny the Russians the right to remember it with pride. (2)
(2) What they did to the peoples they supposedly “liberated,” on the other hand…


Sunday Book Review: Paul Johnson’s “Churchill”

January 25, 2015

book cover johnson churchill

It’s less fashionable in the practice of History these days to study the lives of great men, those individuals who by their words and deeds change the course of the world for better or worse. At one time, History was about these men: Alexander, Caesar, Washington, Napoleon, and others. Then that fashion fell out of favor and, in reaction, the role of Great Men was largely supplanted by the study of “impersonal forces,” those societal and intellectual trends that move History along, individuals being less important, often replaceable. This view was popular with progressive historians of the early to mid-20th century, seeing its extreme in Marxist historians.

But the study of Great Men lives on, in this case in the form of Paul Johnson’s “Churchill,” a brief biography of Sir Winston Churchill, the British statesman, soldier, parliamentarian, and his nation’s Prime Minister during most of the Second World War.

Johnson’s biography of Churchill is of an older school, which seeks not just to analyze its subject, but draw from it moral lessons for the reader. In this manner, it is comparable to Plutarch’s “Lives .” As Johnson writes at the start:

Of all the towering figures of the twentieth century, both good and evil, Winston Churchill was the most valuable to humanity, and also the most likable. It is a joy to write his life, and to read about it. None holds more lessons, especially for youth: How to use a difficult childhood. How to seize eagerly on all opportunities, physical , moral, and intellectual. How to dare greatly, to reinforce success, and to put the inevitable failures behind you. And how, while pursuing vaulting ambition with energy and relish, to cultivate also friendship, generosity, compassion, and decency.

Churchill’s life is well-known, and Johnson glosses over the details to cover the important points the reader needs to know: his early childhood with a vaguely disapproving father; his military career , which established the young Churchill as a popular journalist; his political career with his rise to Cabinet rank as First Sea Lord during World War I; his role in laying the foundation for Britain’s welfare state, and his fall from power; his “wilderness” years out of government, when even his fellow party members rarely wanted him around and during which he warned incessantly about the rise of the Nazis in Germany; his return to power when the Nazis started World War II, again as head of the British Navy and then Prime Minister; and his postwar life and career, with one more pass as prime minister, until his death in 1965.

That Johnson can cover all this in just 170 pages while telling a fascinating story and educating the reader is a mark of how good a writer he is. “Churchill,” if it was a joy for him to write, is also a joy for us to read. Johnson’s style is delightful, and he deftly weaves in small details and observations that humanize for us a towering figure who might otherwise be lost behind the noble statues and stern portraits. For example,one that sticks with this reviewer is the revelation that Churchill found happiness in, of all things, bricklaying. So much so, that he tried to join the bricklayer’s union. (He was declined.) Most people know that he was an accomplished painter, but a bricklayer? That such a common, workaday craft should bring satisfaction to a man born in a palace and who dealt regularly with kings and presidents, who commanded his nation’s armed forces in a global war, can’t help but build a bond between reader and subject, reminding us that Winston Churchill, for all the statues and portraits, was still a mortal man.

“Churchill” is not without its weaknesses. A degree of superficiality is inevitable, given the task of compressing so full a life into such a short work. And it touches very lightly on his flaws, such as his Romantic fixations on strategies of dubious worth, for example his attempted defense of Antwerp in the First World War, or his obsession with invading Norway in the Second. A late Victorian in a rapidly changing 20th century, his attitudes toward non-European people were often at best patronizing, sometimes downright bigoted.

But, to dwell on these lacks would be to criticize “Churchill” for not doing what it was never intended to do: to be a “balanced, modern” biography. As much hagiography as biography, Paul Johnson’s goal was to introduce us to the life of one of the greatest men who ever lived and show how it could serve as an example and an inspiration, especially for the young. In this, he has succeeded admirably.

Highest recommendation.

Format note: Churchill is available in both Kindle and softcover formats. I read the Kindle edition and can recall no problems with editing or formatting. And I do get a few pennies from each purchase made through the links in this review.

UPDATE: Catching up on my reading at Power Line, I came across historian Steven Hayward’s post quibbling with the idea of Churchill as “the last lion.” I think what he says about “Great Men” and how they differ from their contemporaries is pertinent to this review:

The tides of history and the scale of modern life have not made obsolete or incommensurate the kind of large-souled greatness we associate with Churchill or Lincoln or George Washington. Of course all of us are powerfully affected by our environment and circumstances, yet the case of Churchill offers powerful refutation to the historicist premise that humans and human society are mostly corks bobbing on the waves of history. Lots of Churchill’s contemporaries were also products of the late Victorian era—many of them from the same schools Churchill attended. But no one else had Chruchill’s courage, insight, and capacities. Why was Churchill virtually alone among his contemporaries? The answer must be that they transcended their environments and transformed their circumstances as only great men can do, and thereby bent history to their will. Which means we are contemplating a fundamental human type. Leo Strauss wrote of Churchill in a private letter to the German philosopher Karl Lowith: “A man like Churchill proves that the possibility of megalophysis [the great-souled man] exists today exactly as it did in the fifth century B.C.” (In other words, as the idea was presented in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.)

Churchill was indeed a “large soul.”

 

 

 


Bookshelf update: Anne Applebaum’s “Gulag”

January 22, 2015

Renaissance scholar astrologer

I’ve updated the “What I’m reading” widget to the right to reflect the latest item on the Public Secrets lectern, Anne Applebaum’s “Gulag: A History.”

 

book cover applebaum gulag

I’ve only just started it, so I can’t comment on my impressions of the writing or the quality of the Kindle formatting, but the topic is compelling: a complete history of the Soviet prison camp and slave labor system from its foundation under Lenin to its final dissolution in the 1980s. Like reading a book on the Holocaust, I suspect this is the kind of history that will have me hating humanity by its end. Gulag is available in both Kindle and softcover formats.

PS: Why, yes. This is a shameless bit of shilling on my part. I like getting the occasional gift certificate that comes from people buying stuff via my link. Wouldn’t you?


(Audio) Obama has spoken. Now listen to a real orator

January 20, 2015

President Obama has just delivered his State of the Union address Speech from the Throne. If you had the stomach to put up with that, then you deserve a reward: the greatest orator of the 20th century at the climax of his greatest speech.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Prime Minister:

No comparison.


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