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OBAMA’S AGONY: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 22, 2016 at 12:01 am

A truly great man is ever the same under all circumstances. And if his fortune varies, exalting him at one moment and oppressing him at another, he himself never varies, but always preserves a firm courage, which is so closely interwoven with his character that everyone can readily see that the fickleness of fortune has no power over him.
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses

For President Barack Obama, the last two months of his eight-year Presidency will be an agony.

Perhaps only his wife, Michelle, truly knows the torments he will so stoically endure.

For stoicism–enduring pain or hardship without complaint or showing emotions–has long been central to Obama’s character.  

In 2011, two years into his Presidency, he faced an accusation never before leveled against an American President: That he was not an American citizen–and thus not entitled to hold the office he held.  

His accuser-in-chief: Donald Trump, an egomaniacal,  thrice-married “reality-TV” host and real estate mogul who had filed for corporate bankruptcy four times.

At first Obama ignored the accusation, assuming it was so ridiculous no one could believe it. But, promoted by Right-wing Fox News and Republican leaders, millions of Fascistic Americans thought it actually might be true.

So, on April 27, 2011, the President  called a press conference–where he released the long-form version of his Hawaii birth certificate.  

President Obama’s birth certificate

“We do not have time for this kind of silliness,” said Obama, speaking as a father might to a roomful of spiteful children. “We have better stuff to do. I have got better stuff to do. We have got big problems to solve. 

“We are not going to be able to do it if we are distracted, if we spend time vilifying each other, if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts.”

Image result for photos of president obama's birth certificate press conference

And on May 1, the President announced the solving of one of those “big problems”: Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, had been tracked down and shot dead by elite U.S. Navy SEALS in Pakistan.

To understand Obama’s agony as he ends his term, imagine the following alternate history: 

On April 14, 1865, the slavery-sympathizing actor John Wilkes Booth enters Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.

His mission: Assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.

Armed with a knife and Derringer, he reaches the unguarded Presidential box. But just as he’s about to push open the door to his–and Lincoln’s–destiny, he halts.

He’s just thought of a more monstrous fate for the President.  

Silently, he leaves the theater–and the world never learns how close Lincoln came to death at the hands of an assassin.  

Instead, Booth waits out the next four years–until the election of 1868, when Lincoln’s second term is up.

Lincoln has chosen Andrew Johnson, his Vice President, to succeed him.

For the outgoing President, it’s more than a matter of politics. A Johnson victory will secure the legacies Lincoln has created during the last eight years:  

  • The Thirteenth Amendment, which bans slavery.
  • The stationing of Union troops in the South, to ensure that blacks are not re-enslaved. 
  • The granting of the vote to blacks.    

But Johnson is a lackluster candidate, and, after eight years of war and Reconstruction, Americans are eager for “change.”

Suddenly, an unexpected challenger steps forward: The celebrated Shakespearean actor John Wilkes Booth!  

Booth promises that, if elected, he will overturn everything Lincoln has done–most especially the Thirteenth Amendment.

He’ll tear up the surrender treaty that officially ended the Civil War and let the Southern states restore the Confederacy.

His campaign slogan: “Let America Enslave Again.”

He calls the President an ape, a buffoon, a dictator with the blood of countless Americans on his hands.  

Newspaper reporters covering Johnson often fall asleep during his speeches. Booth whips up his audiences without even trying.  

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John Wilkes Booth

On November 4, 1868, John Wilkes Booth becomes the seventeenth President of the United States. 

It won’t be until 1933 that Presidents begin taking the Oath of Office on January 20. So Abraham Lincoln will remain President until March 4, 1869.  

Meanwhile, John Wilkes Booth has never held public office. He needs to pick a cabinet and learn the basics of what it means to be President.

And only one man is qualified to teach him–the man who now holds that office.  

Lincoln knows that, in only a matter of months, everything he has worked for will be ruthlessly overturned. Like a beautiful garment pulled apart, thread by thread, until nothing is left but a pile of rubbish on the floor.  

But he is a patriot, and a believer in destiny. Fate–or God–has thrust him into the Presidency. And he will carry out the duties that go with that role, however tormenting they now are, right to the end.  

He hopes that Divine Providence will bestow a bright future on his beloved country, however bleak its present now looks.  

* * * * *

When Barack Obama entered the White House in 2009, he couldn’t imagine spending his last two months in office tutoring the man who had reviled him throughout his Presidency.

It will be his last gift as President to a nation that has often proved ungrateful for his dedicated service.

OBAMA’S AGONY: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 21, 2016 at 12:01 am

Barack Obama has known ecstasy such as few other men have known it.

In 1989, he met the love of his life, Michelle Robinson, an attorney at the Chicago law firm of Sidley Austin.

Image result for White House images of Michelle obama

Barack and Michelle Obama in the White House

Although she declined his initial requests to date, she finally yielded to his persuasive charm. They were married on October 3, 1992, and have since had two daughters, Malia Ann and Natasha.  

On November 2, 2004, Obama joined one of the most exclusive clubs in the world: The United States Senate. With 70% of the vote, he was elected United States Senator from Illinois. He served from 2005 to November 16, 2008, when an even greater event forced him to resign.  

That event was his election as the 44th–and first black–President of the United States. On November 4, 2008, he received 52.9% of the votes. He delivered his victory speech before hundreds of thousands of supporters in Chicago’s Grant Park.

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President Barack Obama

Then, on November 6, 2012, Obama was re-elected to a second four-year term, becoming the first Democratic President since Franklin D. Roosevelt to twice win the majority of the popular vote. 

But now those eight years are rapidly coming to an end. And just as they opened with the euphoria of joy, they are closing with an agony more horrific for the President than anyone can imagine.  

The agony of serving as tutor to Donald Trump, the man who will succeed him. Trump has personally reviled him throughout his Presidency–and intends to destroy as much of Obama’s legacy as possible.

For more than a year, Trump has boasted that he would make a far better President than Obama. But now that he’s won the 2016 election, it turns out he has at best a schoolboy’s knowledge of how government works.

Imagine a similar fate befalling another President whom Barack Obama deeply admires.

Imagine, in an alternate history universe, it’s April 14, 1865.  

The four years of carnage known as the Civil War are finally over.

Five days ago, on April 9, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General of the Armies Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House.  

Across the nation, 620,000 Americans lie dead–of wounds or disease. Untold thousands more are coming home as invalids, uncertain how they will care for themselves without limbs or eyes or the ability to walk.  

For Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President of the United States, it is time to ponder the work of rebuilding a shattered nation. He wants a just peace, not vengeance: “Let ’em up easy,” is the way he puts it.  

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Abraham Lincoln

But, tonight, he needs to put aside his cares and seek a much-deserved respite at Ford’s Theater for a performance of the comedy, Our American Cousin.

At the theater, unknown to Lincoln, the Southern-sympathizing actor, John Wilkes Booth, awaits. For months he’s planned to kidnap Lincoln and hold him for ransom, to force the increasingly victorious Union armies to withdraw from the South.  

But now there’s no point in that.  

The Confederacy and slavery are dead. Lincoln has even spoken about giving the accursed blacks the right to vote.

Booth has never picked up a rifle to fight for the South, never faced death on a battlefield. Yet he will prove to the South that he is its greatest champion–by killing Lincoln.   

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John Wilkes Booth

He has already made his preparations.  

At around noon that day–April 14–he had visited Ford’s Theater, where he had a permanent mailbox. There he learned from the brother of John Ford, the owner, that the President and General Grant would be attending the theater to see Our American Cousin.  

He knows the theater well–he’s performed there as an actor. And there’s no doubt he’ll have access to it tonight–he’s a celebrity.

That evening, Abraham Lincoln arrives at Ford’s Theater with his wife, Mary. They are accompanied by Union Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancee, Clara Harris. The four settle into the Presidential Box, which overlooks the stage. 

Unlike 21st century Presidents, there are no Secret Service bodyguards for Lincoln. Presidents won’t be assigned such protection until 1901, when Theodore Roosevelt takes office. 

Tonight, only one man has been assigned to guard Lincoln–a policeman named John Frederick Parker. And during the intermission, Parker decides he needs a drink.

So he slips off to a nearby tavern with Lincoln’s footman and coachman.

Booth arrives at the theater at about 10:25 p.m. Under his coat he’s armed with a knife and an eight-ounce, single-shot Derringer.

Booth walks up the staircase leading to the first of two doors to the President’s box. At the first door he finds Lincoln’s valet, Charles Forbes.

They chat briefly, and then Booth passes through the first door and closes it behind him. 

Booth looks through the tiny peep-hole he had carved in the second door (which grants entry to the Presidential Box) earlier that day.  

All he has to do is push open the door, aim at the back of Lincoln’s head, and fire. And that’s exactly what he intends to do.  

Then–suddenly–he changes his mind.  

He has an even more monstrous fate in store for the President.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH ISN’T FREE

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 29, 2016 at 12:08 am

WARNING: Believing that the First Amendment gives you the legal right to express your opinion may be hazardous to your career.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The First Amendment

Of course, that refers only to Congress.

It says nothing about employers–and and especially those self-appointed pseudo-gods who set themselves up as judges of virtue and infallibility.

If you doubt it, just ask Scott Lees, who until March had worked for four years as boys head lacrosse coach at Fryeburg Academy.

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Scott Lees

His crime?  Posting to his personal Facebook page an open letter to President Barack Obama that one of his friends had emailed him.

Lees posted the letter on March 17. Two days later, he was ordered to resign from his four-year position as the academy’s lacrosse coach.

The letter had been written in response to a speech Obama gave in Cairo in 2009. In this, Obama said, “I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America’s history.”

Among the issues the letter raised:

“Were those Muslims that were in America when the Pilgrims first landed?  Funny, I thought they were Native American Indians.”

“Were those Muslims that celebrated the first Thanksgiving day? Sorry again, those were Pilgrims and Native American Indians.

“Can you show me one Muslim signature on the United States Constitution? Declaration of Independence? Bill of Rights? Didn’t think so.

“Did Muslims fight for this country’s freedom from England?  No.  Did Muslims fight during the Civil War to free the slaves of America.  No, they did not, in fact, Muslims to this day are still the largest traffickers in human slavery.

“Your own half-brother, a devout Muslim, still advocates slavery himself, even though Muslims of Arabic descent refer to black Muslims as ‘pug nosed slaves.’ Says a lot of what the Muslim world really thinks of your family’s “rich Islamic heritage,” doesn’t it Mr. Obama?

“Where were Muslims during the Civil Rights era of this country?  No present. There are no pictures or media accounts of Muslims walking side by side with Martin Luther King, Jr., or helping to advance the cause of Civil Rights.”

(The most prominent Muslim group in America at the time of the civil rights movement was the Nation of Islam. Its onetime spokesman, Malcom X, preached a gospel of separation of the races–and condemned whites as “blue-eyed devils.”)

“Where were Muslims during this country’s Woman’s Suffrage era? Again, not present. In fact, devout Muslims demand that women are subservient to men in the Islamic culture.

“So much so, that often they are beaten for not wearing the ‘hajib’ or for talking to a man who is not a direct family member or their husband. Yep, the Muslims are all for women’s rights, aren’t they?

Click here: Women’s Rights Under Sharia 

“Where were Muslims during World War II? They were aligned with Adolf Hitler. The Muslim grand mufti himself met with Adolf Hitler, reviewed the troops and accepted support from the Nazis in killing Jews.”

Click here: Amazon.com: Icon of Evil: Hitler’s Mufti and the Rise of Radical Islam (9781400066537): David G. Dalin, John F. Ro

“Finally, Mr. Obama, where were Muslims on Sept. 11th, 2001? If they weren’t flying planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon or a field in Pennsylvania killing nearly 3,000 people on our own soil, they were rejoicing in the Middle East….

“And THAT, Mr. Obama, is the ‘rich heritage’ Muslims have here in America….”

Interviewed by Top Right News, Lees, 48, said he had never before been fired and had been coaching since 1992.

Fryeburg Academy is a private school in Fryeburg, Maine.

Fryeburg Academy

Lees said that he was supposed to meet with Head of Schools Erin Mayo and Dean Charlie Tryder on March 19.  But Athletic Director Sue Thurston told him a decision to fire him had already been made.

Mayo told Top Right News that “Scott Lees did post a message on Facebook regarding Muslim people last week that was negative and, of course, public in nature.”

Mayo was right on two counts about the Facebook post: It was negative and public.

What she didn’t say was: It was also entirely historically accurate. It did not urge its readers to violate the law. It did not defame anyone (unless telling the truth about a group’s documented activities counts as defamation).

This is similar to the policies–and atmosphere–of the Joseph McCarthy “smear and fear” era of the 1950s. You didn’t have to actually be proven an actual Communist, or even a Communist sympathizer.

All that was needed to condemn you to permanent unemployment was to become “controversial.” That way, the employer didn’t have to actually prove the employee’s unfitness.

An employee’s right to out-of-work speech should be fully protected unless it crosses the legal line–such as committing libel or urging others to violate the law.

And employers who fire him for embracing his First Amendment right should be criminally prosecuted.

Until this happens, the workplace will continue to resemble George Orwell’s vision of 1984–a world where anyone can become a “non-person” for the most trivial of reasons.

“LINCOLN”: A MESSAGE FOR TODAY

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 17, 2016 at 12:36 pm

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is more than a mesmerizing history lesson.

It’s a timely reminder that racism and repression are not confined to any one period or political party.

At the heart of the film: Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) wants to win ratification of what will be the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. An amendment that will forever ban slavery.  

True, Lincoln, in 1862, had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This–in theory–freed slaves held in the Confederate states that had seceded from the Union in 1861.  

But Lincoln regards this as a temporary wartime measure.  he fears that once the war is over, the Supreme Court may rule the Proclamation unconstitutional. This might allow Southerners to continue practicing slavery, even after losing the war.

To prevent this, Congress must pass an anti-slavery amendment.

But winning Congressional passage of such an amendment won’t be easy.

The Senate had ratified its passage in 1864.  But the amendment must secure approval from the House of Representatives to become law.

And the House is filled with men–there are no women menmbers during the 19th century–who seethe with hostility.

Some are hostile to Lincoln personally. One of them dubs him a dictator–Abraham Africanus.” Another accuses him of shifting his positions for the sake of expediency.

Other members–white men all–are hostile to the idea of “equality between the races.” To them, ending slavery means opening the door to interracial marriage–especially marriage between black men and white women. 

Perhaps even worse, it means possibly giving blacks–or women–the the right to vote.

In fact, the possibility that blacks might win voting rights arises early in the movie.  Lincoln is speaking to a couple of black Union soldiers, and one of them is unafraid to voice his discontent. He’s upset that black soldiers are paid less than white ones–and that they’re led only by white officers.

He says that, in time, maybe this will change.  Maybe, in 100 years, he guesses, blacks will get the right to vote.

(To the shame of all Americans, that’s how long it will eventually take.  Not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will blacks be guaranteed legal protection against discriminatory voting practices.)

To understand the Congressional debate over the Thirteenth Amendment, it’s necessary to remember this: In Lincoln’s time, the Republicans were the party of progressives

The party was founded on an anti-slavery platform.  Its members were thus reviled as “Black Republicans.” And until the 1960s, the South was solidly Democratic.

Democrats were the ones defending the status quo–slavery–and opposing freed blacks in the South of Reconstruction and long afterward.  

In short, in the 18th century, Democrats in the South acted as Republicans do now. The South went Republican only after a Democratic President–Lyndon B. Johnson–rammed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress.

Watching this re-enactment of the 1865 debate in Lincoln is like watching the current Presidential campaign.  The same mentalities are at work:

  • Those (in this case, slave-owners) who already have a great deal want to gain even more at the expense of others. 
  • Those (slaves and freed blacks) who have little strive to gain more or at least hang onto what they have. 
  • Those who defend the privileged wealthy refuse to allow their “social inferiors” to enjoy similar privileges (such as the right to vote). 

During the 2012 Presidential race, Republicans tried to bar those likely to vote for President Barack Obama from getting into the voting booth.  But their bogus “voter ID” restrictions were struck down in courts across the nation. 

Listening to those opposing the amendment, one is reminded of Mitt Romney’s infamous comments about the “47%”:

“Well, there are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what….

“Who are dependent upon government, who believe that–that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they’re entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.  But that’s–it’s an entitlement.  And the government should give it to them.” 

Put another way: “Who says people have a right to obtain medical care, food and housing?  If they can’t inherit unearned wealth the way I did, screw them.” 

In the end, it’s Abraham Lincoln who has the final word–and leaves his nation the better for it.  Through diplomacy and backroom dealings (trading political offices for votes) he wins passage of the anti-slavery amendment. 

The ownership of human chattel is finally an ugly memory of the American past. 

The movie closes with a historically-correct tribute to Lincoln’s generosity toward those who opposed him–in Congress and on the battlefield.  It occurs during Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all….To bind up the nation’s wounds.  To care for him who shall  have bourne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan….”  

This ending presents a vivid philosophical contrast with the increasingly mean-spirited rhetoric and policies of 2016’s Republican candidates for President–especially those of Donald Trump.  

Watching Lincoln, you realize how incredibly lucky America was as a nation to have had such leadership when it was most urgently needed.

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VICTORY IN DEFEAT–THE ALAMO: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on March 6, 2016 at 12:01 am

On the night before the final Mexican assault, one man escaped the Alamo to testify to the defenders’ courage. Or so goes the most famous story of the 13-day siege.

He was Louis Rose, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars and the dreadful 1812 retreat from Moscow. Unwilling to die in a hopeless battle, he slipped over a wall and sneaked through Mexican siege lines.

At Grimes County, he found shelter at the homestead of Abraham and Mary Ann Zuber. Their son, William, later claimed that his parents told him of Rose’s visit–and his story of Travis’ “line in the sand” speech.

In 1873, he published the tale in the Texas Almanac.

But many historians believe it is a fabrication. The story comes to us third-hand–from Rose to the Zubers to their son. And it was published 37 years after the Alamo fell.  

Even if Travis didn’t draw a line in the sand, every member of the garrison, by remaining to stay, had crossed over his own line.

After a 12-day siege, Santa Anna decided to overwhelm the Alamo.

Some of his officers objected. They wanted to wait for bigger siege cannon to arrive–to knock down the Alamo’s three-feet-thick adobe walls. Without shelter, the defenders would be forced to surrender.

But Santa Anna insisted on an all-out assault: “Without blood and tears, there is no glory.”

The first assault came at about 5 a.m. on Sunday, March 6, 1836.

The fort’s riflemen–aided by 14 cannons–repulsed it. And the second assault as well.

But the third assault proved unstoppable. The Alamo covered three acres, and held at most 250 defenders–against 2,000 Mexican soldiers.

When the Mexicans reached the fort, they mounted scaling ladders and poured over the walls.

Travis was one of the first defenders to fall–shot through the forehead after firing a shotgun into the Mexican soldiery below.

Death of William Barrett Travis (waving sword)

Mexicans broke into the room where the ailing James Bowie lay.

In Three Roads to the Alamo, historian William C. Davis writes that Bowie may have been unconscious or delirious. Mistaking him for a coward, the soldiers bayoneted him and blew out his brains.

But some accounts claim that Bowie died fighting–shooting two Mexicans with pistols, then plunging his famous knife into a third before being bayoneted. Nearly every Alamo movie depicts Bowie’s death this way.


James Bowie’s death

As the Mexicans poured into the fort, at least 60 Texans tried to escape over the walls into the surrounding prairie. But they were quickly dispatched by lance-bearing Mexican cavalry.

The death of David Crockett remains highly controversial.

Baby boomers usually opt for the Walt Disney version: Davy swinging “Old Betsy” as Mexicans surround him. Almost every Alamo movie depicts him fighting to the death.

"The Fall of the Alamo" by Robert Jenkins, 1903. Davy Crockett (with upraised rifle) fights off Mexican forces who breached the walls of the mission on March 6, 1836.

David Crockett’s Death

But Mexican Lieutenant Colonel Jose Enrique de la Pena claimed Crockett was one of seven Texans who surrendered or were captured and brought before Santa Anna after the battle. Santa Anna ordered their immediate execution, and they were hacked to death with sabers.

Only the 2004 remake of The Alamo has dared to depict this version. Although this version is now accepted by most historians, some still believe the de la Pena diary from which it comes is a forgery.

An hour after the battle erupted, it was over.

That afternoon, Santa Anna ordered the bodies of the slain defenders stacked and burned in three pyres.

Contrary to popular belief, some of the garrison survived:

  • Joe, a black slave who had belonged to William B. Travis, the Alamo’s commander;
  • Susanah Dickinson, the wife of a lieutenant killed in the Alamo, and her baby, Angelina;
  • Several Mexican women and their children.

Also contrary to legend, the bravery of the Alamo defenders did not buy time for Texas to raise an army against Santa Anna. This didn’t happen until after the battle.

But their sacrifice proved crucial in securing Texas’ independence:

  • The Alamo’s destruction warned those Texans who had not supported the revolution that they had no choice: They must win, die or flee their homes to the safety of the United States.
  • It stirred increasing numbers of Americans to enter Texas and enlist in Sam Houston’s growing army.
  • Santa Anna’s army was greatly weakened, losing 600 killed and wounded–a casualty rate of 33%.
  • The nearly two-week siege bought time for the Texas convention to meet at Washington-on-the-Brazos and declare independence from Mexico.

On April 21, 1836, Santa Anna made a crucial mistake: During his army’s afternoon siesta, he failed to post sentries around his camp.

That afternoon, Sam Houston’s 900-man army struck the 1,400-man Mexican force at San Jacinto. In 18 minutes, the Texans–shouting “Remember the Alamo!”–killed about 700 Mexican soldiers and wounded 200 others.

The next day, a Texas patrol captured Santa Anna–wearing the uniform of a Mexican private. Resisting angry demands to hang the Mexican dictator, Houston forced Santa Anna to surrender control of Texas in return for his life.

The victory at San Jacinto won the independence of Texas. But the 13-day siege and fall of the Alamo remains the most famous and celebrated part of that conflict.

In 480 B.C., 300 Spartans won immortality at Thermopylae, a narrow mountain pass in ancient Greece, by briefly holding back an invading Persian army of thousands.

Although they died to the last man, their sacrifice inspired the rest of Greece to defeat its invaders. 

Like Thermopylae, the battle of the Alamo proved both a defeat–and a victory.

VICTORY IN DEFEAT–THE ALAMO: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military on March 4, 2016 at 12:28 am

Sunday, March 6, 2016, marks the 180th anniversary of the most famous event in Texas history: The fall of the Alamo, a crumbling former Spanish mission in the heart of San Antonio.  

After a 12-day siege, 180 to 250 Texans were overwhelmed by 2,000 Mexican soldiers. 

Mexican troops advancing on the Alamo

Americans “remember the Alamo”–but usually for the wrong reasons.

Some historians believe the battle should have never been fought.

The Alamo was not Thermopylae–a narrow mountain pass blocking the Persian march into ancient Greece.  Santa Anna could have simply bypassed it.

In fact, several of Santa Anna’s generals urged the Mexican dictator to do just that–leave a small guard to hold down the fort’s defenders and wipe out the undefended, widely-separated Texas settlements.

But pride held Santa Anna fast to the Alamo. His brother-in-law, General Perfecto de Cos, had been forced to surrender the old mission to revolting Texans in December, 1835. 

Santa Anna meant to redeem the fort–and his family honor–by force.

In virtually every Alamo movie, its two co-commanders, James Bowie and William Barret Travis, are portrayed as on the verge of all-out war–with each other.

In John Wayne’s heavily fictionalized 1960 film, The Alamo, Bowie and Travis agree to fight a duel as soon as they’ve whipped the Mexicans besieging them.

James Bowie

William B. Travis

In fact, the frictions between the two lasted only a short while. Just before the siege, some of Bowie’s volunteers–a far larger group than Travis’ regulars–got drunk. 

Travis ordered them jailed–and Bowie ordered his men to release them. Bowie then went on a roaring drunk. The next day, a sober Bowie apologized to Travis and agreed they should share command. 

This proved a wise decision, for just as the siege started, Bowie was felled by worsening illness–typhoid-pneumonia or tuberculosis.

In almost every Alamo movie, Bowie repeatedly leaves the fort to ambush unsuspecting Mexicans.

In reality, he stayed bed-ridden and lay close to death throughout the 13-day siege.

The Texans intended to make a suicidal stand.

Not true.

From the first day of the siege–February 23–almost to the last–March 6, 1836–messengers rode out of the Alamo seeking help. The defenders believed that if they could cram enough men into the three-acre former mission, they could hold Santa Anna at bay.

No reinforcements reached the Alamo.

Not so. On March 1, 32 men from Gonzalez–the only ones to answer Travis’ call–sneaked through the Mexican lines to enter the Alamo.

Meanwhile, the largest Texan force lay at Fort Deviance in Goliad, 85 miles away. This consisted of 500 men commanded by James Walker Fannin, a West Point dropout.  

Fannin was better-suited for the role of Hamlet than military commander.

Upon receiving a plea of help from Travis, he set out in a halfhearted attempt to reach the mission. But when a supply wagon broke down, he returned to Fort Defiance and sat out the rest of the siege.  

When the Mexican army approached Fort Defiance, Fannin and 400 of his men panicked and fled into the desert. They were surrounded, forced to surrender, and massacred on March 27

The Alamo garrison was fully prepared to confront the Mexican army.

False.  When the Mexicans suddenly arrived in San Antonio on the morning of February 23, 1836, they caught the Texans completely by surprise.

The previous night, they had been celebrating the birthday of George Washington. The Texans rushed headlong into the Alamo, hauling all the supplies they could hastily scrounge.

Santa Anna sent a courier under a flag of truce to the Alamo, demanding unconditional surrender.  In effect, the Texans were being given the choice of later execution.

Travis replied with a shot from the fort’s biggest cannon, the 18-pounder (so named for the weight of its cannonball).

Santa Anna ordered the hoisting of a blood-red flag and the opening of an artillery salvo.  The siege of the Alamo was on.

San Houston, who was elected general of the non-existent army of Texas, desperately tried to relieve the siege.

Not so. 

At Washington-on-the-Brazos, 169 miles east of San Antonio, Texan delegates assembled to form a new government. When news reached the delegates that Travis desperately needed reinforcements, many of them wanted to rush to his defense.  

But Houston and others declared they must first declare Texas’ independence. On March 2, 1836, they did just that. Houston spent a good deal of the time drunk.

Sam Houston

Did Travis draw a line?

Easily the most famous Alamo story is that of “the line in the sand.”

On the night of March 5–just prior to the final assault–there was a lull in the near-constant Mexican bombardment. Travis assembled his men and gave them a choice:

They could try to surrender and hope that Santa Anna would be merciful.  They could try to escape.  Or they could stay and fight.  

With his sword, Travis drew a line in the dirt and invited those who would stay to cross over to him.  

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The entire garrison did–except for two men.  

One of these was bed-ridden James Bowie. He asked that his sick-bed be carried over to Travis. The other was a veteran of the Napoleonic wars–Louis Rose.

LESSONS FROM “LINCOLN”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on October 22, 2015 at 12:04 am

Argo was selected as Best Picture at the 2013 Academy Awards.  But it is Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln that will be cherished far longer.

Among the reasons for this:

  • Daniel Day-Lewis’ brilliant portrayal as Abraham Lincoln; and
  • Its timely depiction of a truth that has long been obscured by past and current Southern lies.

And that truth: From first to last, the cause of the Civil War was slavery.

According to The Destructive War, by Charles Royster, arguments over “states’ rights” or economic conflict between North and South didn’t lead 13 Southern states to withdraw from the Union in 1860-61.

It was their demand for “respect” of their “peculiar institution”–i.e., slavery.

“The respect Southerners demanded did not consist simply of the states’ sovereignty or of the equal rights of Northern and Southern citizens, including slaveholders’ right to take their chattels into Northern territory.

“It entailed, too, respect for their assertion of the moral superiority of slaveholding society over free society,” writes Royster.

It was not enough for Southerners to claim equal standing with Northerners; Northerners must acknowledge it.

But this was something that the North was increasingly unwilling to do. Finally, its citizens dared to elect Abraham Lincoln as President in 1860.

Lincoln and his new Republican party damned slavery-–and slaveholders-–as morally evil, obsolete and ultimately doomed. And they were determined to prevent slavery from spreading any further throughout the country.

Southerners found all of this intolerable.

The British author, Anthony Trollope, explained to his readers:

“It is no light thing to be told daily, by our fellow citizens…that you are guilty of the one damning sin that cannot be forgiven.

“All this [Southerners] could partly moderate, partly rebuke and partly bear as long as political power remained in their hands.”  [Italics added]

It is to Spielberg’s credit that he forces his audience to look directly at the real cause of the bloodiest conflict on the North American continent.

At the heart of Spielberg’s film: Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) wants to win ratification of what will be the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  An amendment that will forever ban slavery.

But, almost four years into the war, slavery still has powerful friends–in both the North and South.

Many of those friends belong to the House of Representatives, which must ratify the amendment for it to become law.

Other members–white men all–are hostile to the idea of “equality between the races.”

To them, ending slavery means opening the door to interracial marriage–especially marriage between black men and white women. Perhaps even worse, it means possibly giving blacks–or women–the right to vote.

After the amendment wins ratification, Lincoln agrees to meet with a “peace delegation” from the Confederate States of America.

At the top of their list of concerns: If they persuade the seceded states to return to the Union, will those states be allowed to nullify the amendment?

No, says Lincoln.  He’s willing to make peace with the South, and on highly generous terms.  But not at the cost of allowing slavery to live on.

Too many men–North and South–have died in a conflict whose root cause is slavery.  Those lives must count for more than simply reuniting the Union.

For the Southern “peace commissioners,” this is totally unacceptable.

The South has lost thousands of men (260,000 is the generally accepted figure for its total casualties) and the war is clearly lost.  But for its die-hard leaders, parting with slavery is simply unthinkable.

Like Nazi Germany 80 years into the future, the high command of the South won’t surrender until their armies are too beaten down to fight any more.

The major difference between the defeated South of 1865 and the defeated Germany of 1945 is this: The South was allowed to build a beautiful myth of a glorious “Lost Cause,” epitomized by the Margaret Mitchell novel, Gone With the Wind.

In that telling, dutiful slaves are well-treated by kindly masters. Southern aristocrats wear white suits and their slender-waisted ladies wear long dresses, carry parisols and say “fiddle-dee-dee” to young, handsome suitors.

One million people attended the premier of the movie version in Atlanta on December 15, 1939.

The celebration featured stars from the film, receptions, thousands of Confederate flags, false antebellum fronts on stores and homes, and a costume ball.

In keeping with Southern racial tradition, Hattie McDaniel and the other black actors from the film were barred from attending the premiere. Upon learning this, Clark Gable threatened to boycott the event. McDaniel convinced him to attend.

When today’s Southerners fly Confederate flags and speak of “preserving our traditions,” they are actually celebrating their long-banned peculiar” institution.”

By contrast, post-World War II Germany outlawed symbols from the Nazi-era, such as the swastika and the “Heil Hitler” salute, and made Holocaust denial punishable by imprisonment.

America has refused to confront its own shameful past so directly.  But Americans can be grateful that Steven Spielberg has had the courage to serve up a long-overdue and much needed lesson in past–and still current–history.

LESSONS FROM “LINCOLN”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on October 21, 2015 at 1:12 am

Argo won for Best Picture at the 2013 Academy Awards ceremony. But, in the long run, it will be Lincoln who is deservingly remembered–and loved.

Argo focuses on a humiliating episode that most Americans would like to forget.  On November 4, 1979, at the climax of the Iranian revolution, militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage.

But, in the midst of the chaos, six Americans managed to slip away and find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Knowing it was only a matter of time before the six were found and likely killed, a CIA “exfiltration” specialist offered a risky–and ultimately successful–plan to smuggle them out of the country.

While Argo wrings cheers from American audiences for the winning of this small victory, it cannot erase the blunt truth of the Iranian hostage crisis: For more than 14 months, American diplomats waited helplessly for release–while America proved unable to effect it.

By contrast, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln celebrates a far greater victory: the final defeat of human slavery in the United States.

And it teaches lessons about the past that remain equally valide today–such as that racism and repression are not confined to any one period or political party.

At the heart of the film: Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) wants to win ratification of what will be the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. An amendment that will forever ban slavery.

True, Lincoln, in 1862, had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This-–in theory-–freed slaves held in the Confederate states that were in rebellion against the United States Government.

But Lincoln regards this as a temporary wartime measure.

He fears that, once the war is over, the Supreme Court may rule the Proclamation unconstitutional. This might allow Southerners to continue practicing slavery, even after losing the war.

To prevent this, Congress must pass an anti-slavery amendment.

But winning Congressional passage of such an amendment won’t be easy.

The Senate had ratified its passage in 1864. But the amendment must secure approval from the House of Representatives to become law.

And the House is filled with men-–there are no women members during the 19th  century-–who seethe with hostility.

Some are hostile to Lincoln personally. One of them dubs him a dictator-–”Abraham Africanus.” Another accuses him of shifting his positions for the sake of expediency.

Other members–-white men all-–are hostile to the idea of “equality between the races.”

To them, ending slavery means opening the door to interracial marriage–especially marriage between black men and white women. Perhaps even worse, it means possibly giving blacks-–or women–-the right to vote.

Black soldiers in the Union Army

To understand the Congressional debate over the Thirteenth Amendment, it’s necessary to remember this: In Lincoln’s time, the Republicans were the party of progressives.

The party was founded on an anti-slavery platform.  Its members were thus reviled as “Black Republicans.”

And until the 1960s, the South was solidly DemocraticDemocrats were the ones defending the status quo–slavery–and opposing freed blacks in the South of Reconstruction and long afterward.

In short, in the 18th century, Democrats in the South acted as Republicans do now.

The South went Republican only after a Democratic President–Lyndon B. Johnson–rammed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress.

Watching this re-enactment of the 1865 debate in Lincoln is like watching a rerun of the 2012 Presidential campaign.  The same mentalities are at work:

  • Those (in this case, slave-owners) who already have a great deal want to gain even more at the expense of others.
  • Those (slaves and freed blacks) who have little strive to gain more or at least hang onto what they still have.
  • Those who defend the privileged wealthy refuse to allow their “social inferiors” to enjoy similar privileges (such as the right to vote).

During the 2012 Presidential race, the Republicans tried to bar those likely to vote for President Barack Obama from getting into the voting booth.  But their bogus “voter ID” restrictions were struck down in courts across the nation.

In the end, however, it is Abraham Lincoln who has the final word.  Through diplomacy and backroom dealings (trading political offices for votes) he wins passage of the anti-slavery amendment.

The movie closes with a historically-correct tribute to Lincoln’s generosity toward those who opposed him–in Congress and on the battlefield.

It occurs during Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all….To bind up the nation’s wounds.  To care for him who shall have bourne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan….”

Listening to those words, one is reminded of Mitt Romney’s infamous comments about the “47%: “

Well, there are 47% of the people who…are dependent upon government, who believe that–-that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they’re entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

Watching Lincoln, you realize how incredibly lucky we were as a nation to have had such leadership when it was most needed.

REWRITING HISTORY: BUSH AND STALIN

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on August 18, 2015 at 12:54 am

At one time, Americans believed that wholesale rewriting of history could happen only in the Soviet Union.

“The problem with writing about history in the Soviet Union,” went the joke, “is that you never know what’s going to happen yesterday.”

A classic example of this occurred within the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.

Lavrenti Beria had been head of the NKVD, the dreaded secret police, from 1938 to 1953. In 1953, following the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, Beria was arrested and executed on orders of his fellow Communist Party leaders.

Lavrenti Beria

But the Great Soviet Encyclopedia had just gone to press with a long article singing Beria’s praises.

What to do?

The editors of the Encyclopedia wrote an equally long article about “the Berring Straits,” which was to be pasted over the article about Beria, and sent this off to its subscribers.  An unknown number of them decided it was safer to paste accordingly.

In the 1981 film, “Excalibur,” Merlin warns the newly-minted knights of the Round Table: “For it is the doom of men that they forget.”

Forgetting our past is dangerous, but so is “understanding” it incorrectly.

In Texas, state-mandated “history” textbooks omit selected events and persons from the historical record–such as Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King.

This can be as lethal to the truth as outright lying.

Joseph Stalin, for example, ordered that school textbooks omit all references to the major role played by Leon Trotsky, his arch-rival for power, during the Russian Revolution.

Similarly, in Texas students are required to study Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address alongside President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Such “teaching” should be seen for what it is: A thinly-veiled attempt to legitimize the most massive case of treason in United States history.

(The Civil War started on April 12, 1861, when Confederate artillery opened fire on Fort Sumter, a United States fort in Charleston Harbor. Fort Sumter surrendered 34 hours later.

(At least 800,000 Southerners took up arms against the legally elected government of the United States.)

The late broadcast journalist, Edward R. Murrow, would have referred to this practice as “giving Jesus and Judas equal time.”

Recently, Jeb Bush has entered the “Rewriting History for Americans” contest.

On August 13, speaking at a national security forum in Davenport, Iowa, he defended the unprovoked 2003 invasion of Iraq by his brother, President George W. Bush:

“I’ll tell you though, that taking out Saddam Hussein turned out to be a pretty good deal.”

And he went on to defend the 2007 troop “surge”, calling it “a great success that made Iraq safer.

“I’ve been critical and I think people have every right to be critical of decisions that were made.  In 2009, Iraq was fragile but secure. It was–its mission was accomplished in a way that there was security there.”

(Ironically, the phrase, “its mission was accomplished” proved an embarrassing reminder for the Bush family.

(A banner titled “Mission Accomplished” was displayed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln as George W. Bush announced–wrongly–that the war was over on May 1, 2003.)

Jeb Bush claimed that President Barack Obama had prematurely withdrawn troops from Iraq during his first term, thus allowing ISIS to “fill the void.”

One dissenter to Jeb Bush’s effort to rewrite his brother’s history is David Corn, Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine.

Addressing Bush’s claims on the August 15 edition of The PBS Newshour, he said:

“I mean, I have to laugh a little bit, because I think he was setting a record for chutzpah.

“…It wasn’t until after his brother’s invasion of Iraq that you had something called al-Qaida in Iraq. And that was the group that morphed into ISIS.

“So ISIS is a direct result of the war in Iraq right there. And so he’s wrong on the history.

“But then he said what happened was that Obama and Hillary Clinton orchestrated this quick withdrawal after everything was secure.  Nothing was really secure in 2009-2010.

“…But it was George W. Bush in December 2008 who created the agreement with [Iraqi] Prime Minister [Nouri] [al-]Maliki that said that U.S. troops had to be out by 2011.

“And then Obama didn’t renegotiate that. And there is a lot of question as to whether he could even have, given the political situation in Baghdad itself.

“So Bush is totally–Jeb Bush is totally rewriting this.”

Click here: Brooks and Corn on Cuba as campaign issue

This is no small matter.  George W. Bush’s needless and unprovoked war on Iraq:

  • Cost the lives of 4,486 American soldiers.
  • Wounded another 32,226 troops.
  • Resulted in the deaths of an estimated 655,000 Iraqis.
  • Cost the American treasury at least $2 trillion.
  • Turned up no Weapons of Mass Destruction–Bush’s pretext for going to war.
  • Led to the rise of Al-Qaeda–and later ISIS–in Iraq.
  • Strengthened theocratic Iran by removing its major secularist opponent.

All of which simply proves, once again, that the past is never truly dead. It simply waits to be re-interpreted by each new generation–with some interpretations winding up closer to the truth than others.

Or, in this case, each new Presidential candidate of the Bush family.

REMEMBERING THE ALAMO: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military on March 4, 2015 at 1:00 am

On the night before the final Mexican assault, one man escaped the Alamo to testify to the defenders’ courage. Or so goes the most famous story of the 13-day siege.

He was Louis Rose, a veteran of theNapoleonic wars and the dreadful 1812 retreat from Moscow.  Unwilling to die in a hopeless battle, he slipped over a wall and sneaked through Mexican siege lines.

At Grimes County, he found shelter at the homestead of Abraham and Mary Ann Zuber. Their son, William, later claimed that his parents told him of Rose’s visit–and his story of Travis’ “line in the sand” speech.

In 1873, he published the tale in the Texas Almanac.

But many historians believe it is a fabrication.  The story comes to us third-hand–from Rose to the Zubers to their son.  And it was published 37 years after the Alamo fell.

After a 12-day siege, Santa Anna decided to overwhelm the Alamo.

Some of his officers objected.  They wanted to wait for bigger siege cannon to arrive–to knock down the Alamo’s three-feet-thick adobe walls.  Without shelter, the defenders would be forced to surrender.

But Santa Anna insisted on an all-out assault: “Without blood and tears, there is no glory.”

The first assault came at about 5 a.m. on March 6, 1836.

The fort’s riflemen–aided by 14 cannons–repulsed it.  And the second assault as well. But the third assault proved unstoppable.

The Alamo covered three acres, and held at most 250 defenders–against 2,000 Mexican soldiers.  When the Mexicans reached the fort, they mounted scaling ladders and poured over the walls.

Travis was one of the first defenders to fall–shot through the forehead after firing a shotgun into the Mexican soldiery below.

Death of William Barrett Travis (waving sword)

Mexicans broke into the room where the ailing James Bowie lay. In Three Roads to the Alamo, historian William C. Davis writes that Bowie may have been unconscious or delirious.  Mistaking him for a coward, the soldiers bayoneted him and blew out his brains.

But some accounts claim that Bowie died fighting–shooting two Mexicans with pistols, then plunging his famous knife into a third before being bayoneted.  Nearly every Alamo movie depicts Bowie’s death this way.

Jim Bowie’s death

As the Mexicans poured into the fort, at least 60 Texans tried to escape over the walls into the surrounding prairie.  But they were quickly dispatched by lance-bearing Mexican cavalry.

The death of David Crockett remains highly controversial. Baby boomers usually opt for the Walt Disney version: Davy swinging Old Betsey as Mexicans surround him.  Almost every Alamo movie depicts him fighting to the death.

David Crockett’s death

But Mexican Colonel Jose Enrique de la Pena claimed Crockett was one of seven Texans who surrendered or were captured and brought before Santa Anna after the battle.  Santa Anna ordered their immediate execution, and they were hacked to death with sabers.

Only the 2004 remake of The Alamo has dared to depict this version. Although this version is now accepted by most historians, some still believe the de la Pena diary from which it comes is a forgery.

An hour after the battle erupted, it was over.

That afternoon, Santa Anna ordered the bodies of the slain defenders stacked and burned in three pyres. Contrary to popular belief, some of the garrison survived:

  • Joe, a black slave who had belonged to William B. Travis, the Alamo’s commander;
  • Susannah Dickinson, the wife of a lieutenant killed in the Alamo, and her baby, Angelina;
  • Several Mexican women and their children.

Also contrary to legend, the bravery of the Alamo defenders did not buy time for Texas to raise an army against Santa Anna. This didn’t happen until after the battle. But their sacrifice proved crucial in securing Texas’ independence:

  • The Alamo’s destruction warned those Texans who had not supported the revolution that they had no choice: They must win, die or flee their homes to the safety of the United States.
  • It stirred increasing numbers of Americans to enter Texas and enlist in Sam Houston’s growing army.
  • Santa Anna’s army was greatly weakened, losing 600 killed and wounded–a casualty rate of 33%.
  • The nearly two-week siege bought time for the Texas convention to meet at Washington-on-the-Brazos and declare independence from Mexico.

On April 21, 1836, Santa Anna made a crucial mistake: During his army’s afternoon siesta, he failed to post sentries around his camp.

That afternoon, Sam Houston’s 900-man army struck the 1,400-man Mexican force at San Jacinto. In 18 minutes, the Texans–shouting “Remember the Alamo!”–killed about 700 Mexican soldiers and wounded 200 others.

The next day, a Texas patrol captured Santa Anna. Resisting angry demands to hang the Mexican dictator, Houston forced Santa Anna to surrender control of Texas in return for his life. The victory at San Jacinto won the independence of Texas.

But the 13-day siege and fall of the Alamo remains the most famous and celebrated part of that conflict. Like Thermopylae, the battle of the Alamo proved both a defeat–and a victory.

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