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Posts Tagged ‘ULYSSES S. GRANT’

EGO AS THE ROAD TO DISASTER

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 14, 2019 at 12:37 am

It’s commonplace to read about the role sex plays in motivating behavior. But the power of ego to determine history is often ignored.

Consider the role that ego played in igniting the American Civil War (1861 – 1865).

According to The Destructive War, by Charles Royster, it wasn’t the cause of “states’ rights” that led 13 Southern states to withdraw from the Union in 1960-61. It was their demand for “respect,” which, in reality, translates into “e-g-o.”

“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 less and less willing to do. 

Finally, its citizens dared to elect Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

An iconic photograph of a bearded Abraham Lincoln showing his head and shoulders.

Abraham Lincoln

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. But they have gradually felt that this was going, and were prepared to cut the rope and run as soon as it was gone.”

Only 10% of Southerners owned slaves. The other 90% of the population “had no dog in this fight,” as Southerners liked to say.

Yet they so admired and aspired to be like their “gentleman betters” that they threw in their lot with them.

There were some Southerners who could see what was coming—and vainly warned their fellow citizens against it.

One of these was Sam Houston, the man who had won Texas independence at the 1836 battle of San Jacinto and later served as that state’s governor.

Sam Houston

On April 19, 1860, addressing a crowd in Galveston, he said: “Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence if God be not against you.

“But I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of states’ rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates.

“But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South.”

Four years later, on April 9, 1865, Houston’s warning became history.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

Huge sections of the South had been laid waste by Union troops and more than 258,000 Southerners had been killed.

And slavery, the mainstay of Southern plantation life, had been ended forever.

The South had paid an expensive price for its fixation on ego.

Even more proved at risk a century later, when President John F. Kennedy faced off with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy.png

John F. Kennedy

In April, Kennedy had been humiliated at the Bay of Pigs when a CIA-sponsored invasion failed to overthrow the Cuba’s Fidel Castro. So he was already on the defensive when he and Khrushchev met in Vienna.Khrushchev pressed his advantage, threatening Kennedy with nuclear war unless the Americans abandoned their protection of West Berlin.

That August, faced with the embarrassment of East Berliners fleeing by the thousands into West Germany, the Soviet leader backed off from his threat.In its place, he erected the infamous Berlin Wall, sealing off East and West Berlin.

Kennedy’s reaction: “That son of a bitch won’t pay any attention to words. He has to see you move.”

Then, most ominously: “If Khrushchev wants to rub my nose in the dirt, it’s all over.”

In short: Kennedy was prepared to incinerate the planet if he felt his almighty ego was about to get smacked.

Nuclear missile in silo

What has proved true for states and nations proves equally true for those leading every other type of institution.

Although most people like to believe they are guided by rationality and morality, all-too-often, what truly decides the course of events is their ego.

For pre-Civil War Southerners, it meant demanding that “Yankees” show respect for slave-owning society.  Otherwise, they would leave the Union.

For Kennedy, it meant playing a game of “chicken,” backed up with nuclear missiles, to show Khrushchev who Numero Uno really was. And during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in October, 1962, humankind almost disappeared as Kennedy set out to make Khrushchev “blink.”

It is well to keep these lessons from history in mind when making our own major decisions.

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.  

Related image

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.

Related image

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.  

Related image

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.   

Related image

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.

THE DANGERS OF TIMIDITY

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 23, 2014 at 1:00 am

President Barack Obama–or at least Neil Kornze, the director of the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM)–has some serious lessons to learn about the uses of power.

For more than 20 years, Cliven Bundy, a Nevada cattle rancher, has refused to pay fees for grazing cattle on public lands, some 80 miles north of Las Vegas.

BLM says Bundy now owes close to $1 million. He says his family has used the land since the 1870s and doesn’t recognize the federal government’s jurisdiction.

In 2013, a federal judge ordered Bundy to remove his livestock. He ignored the order, and in early April, 2014, BLM agents rounded up more than 400 of his cattle.

Over the weekend of April 12-13, armed militia members and states’ right protesters showed up to challenge the move.

BLM agents (left) confronting armed protesters

Rather than risk violence, the BLM did an about-face and released the cattle.

Right-wing bloggers and commentators have portrayed the incident as a victory over Federal tyranny.

According to Alex Jones’ Infowars.com: “Historic!  Feds Forced to Surrender to American Citizens.”

Right-wingers have depicted Bundy as a put-upon Everyman being “squeeaed” by the dictatorial Federal government.

They have deliberately ignored a number of inconvenient truths–such as:

  • He claims that his grazing rights were established in 1880 when his ancestors settled the land where his ranch sits.
  • But the Nevada constitution–adopted in 1864 as a condition of statehood–contradicts Bundy’s right to operate as a law unto himself.
  • The constitution says: “The people inhabiting said territory do agree and declare, that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”
  • In 1934,  the Taylor Grazing Act gave existing ranchers permits allowing them to run their herds on federal land.
  • In turn, ranchers paid user fees, which were lower than what most private landowners would have charged.
  • In 1993, the Federal government launched an effort to protect the endangered desert tortoise.
  • Certain grasslands were placed off-limits for grazing, and the government bought out the permits of some ranchers.
  • Among others, Bundy refused to sell and kept grazing his cattle on restricted federal land without a permit.
  • Amidst mounting fees and fines, Bundy repeatedly slugged it out in court against government lawyers.  He lost.
  • In 1998, a federal judge permanently barred him from letting his cattle graze on protected federal land.
  • In early April, 2014, BLM agents–charged with overseeing grazing rights–began rounding up Bundy’s cattle to remove them from federal property.

Bundy’s family and other ranchers–backed up by a motley assortment of self-declared militiamen armed with rifles and pistols–confronted the agents.

Fearing another Waco–regarded by Right-wing Americans as a second Alamo–the BLM agents backed down and released Bundy’s cattle.  And then retreated.

While Right-wingers hail this as a victory for “states’ rights,” the truth is considerably different.

Bundy’s refusal to recognize the federal government’s jurisdiction amounts to: “I will recognize–and obey–only those laws that I happen to agree with.”

And the BLM’s performance offers a texbook lesson on how not to promote respect for the law–or for those who enforce it.

As Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science warned more than 500 years ago in The Prince:

[A ruler] is rendered despicable by being thought changeable, frivolous, effeminate, timid and irresolute—which [he] must guard against as a rock of danger…. 

[He] must contrive that his actions show grandeur, spirit, gravity and fortitude. 

As to the government of his subjects, let his sentence be irrevocable, and let him adhere to his decisions so that no one may think of deceiving or cozening him.

Niccolo Machiavelli

In his master-work, The Discouorses, he outlines the consequences of allowing lawbreakers to go unpunished:

…Having established rewards for good actions and penalties for evil ones, and having rewarded a citizen for conduct who afterwards commits a wrong, he should be chastised for that without regard to his previous merits….

For if a citizen who has rendered some eminent service to the state should add to the reputation and influence which he has thereby acquired the confident audacity of being able to commit any wrong without fear of punishment, he will in a little while become so insolent and overbearing as to put an end to all power of the law.

The conduct of the agents of BLM has violated that sage counsel on all counts.

BLM agents should have expected trouble from Right-wing militia groups–and come fully prepared to deal with it.

The FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, for example, have created SWAT teams to deal with those who threaten  violence against the Federal Government.

Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman had a formula for dealing with domestic terrorists of his own time.

Writing to his commander, Ulysses S. Grant, about the best way to treat Confederate guerrillas, he advised:

General Willilam Tecumseh Sherman

“They cannot be made to love us, but they may be made to fear us.  We cannot change the hearts of those people of the South.

“But we can make war so terrible that they will realize the fact that . . . they are still mortal and should exhaust all peaceful remedies before they fly to war.”

PRIDE GOETH BEFORE A FALL

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on April 10, 2014 at 12:01 am

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
–Proverbs 16:18

People often talk about the role sex plays in motivating behavior.  But the power of ego to determine history is often more profound.

Consider the role that ego played in igniting the American Civil War (1861 – 1865).

According to The Destructive War, by Charles Royster, it wasn’t the cause of “states’ rights” that led 13 Southern states to withdraw from the Union in 1960-61.

It was their demand for “respect,” which, in reality, translates into “e-g-o.”

“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 less and less willing to do.  Finally, its citizens dared to elect Abraham Lincoln 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.

“But they have gradually felt that this was going, and were prepared to cut the rope and run as soon as it was gone.”

Only 10% of Southerners owned slaves.  The other 90% of the population “had no dog in this fight,” as Southerners liked to say.

Yet they so admired and aspired to be like their “gentleman betters” that they threw in their lot with them.

There were some Southerners who could see what was coming–and vainly warned their fellow citizens.

One of these was Sam Houston, the man who had won Texas independence at the 1836 battle of San Jacinto and later served as that state’s governor.

Sam Houston

On April 19, 1860, addressing a crowd in Galveston, he said:

“Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence if God be not against you.

“But I doubt it.

“I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of states’ rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates.

“But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South.”

Four years later, on April 9, 1865, Houston’s warning became history.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

Huge sections of the South had been laid waste by Union troops and more than 258,000 Southerners had been killed.

The South had paid an expensive price for its fixation on ego.

Even more proved at risk a century later, when President John F. Kennedy faced off with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

In April, Kennedy had been humiliated at the Bay of Pigs when a CIA-sponsored invasion failed to overthrow the Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

So he was already on the defensive when he and Khrushchev met in Vienna.

Khrushchev pressed his advantage, threatening Kennedy with nuclear war unless the Americans abandoned their protection of West Berlin.

That August, faced with the embarrassment of East Berliners fleeing by the thousands into West Germany, the Soviet leader backed off from his threat.

In its place, he erected the infamous Berlin Wall, sealing off East and West Berlin.

Kennedy’s reaction: “That son of a bitch won’t pay any attention to words. He has to see you move.”

Then, most ominously: “If Khrushchev wants to rub my nose in the dirt, it’s all over.”

In short: Kennedy was prepared to incinerate the planet if he felt his almighty ego was about to get smacked.

Nuclear missile in silo

What has proved true for states and nations proves equally true for those leading every other type of institution.

Although most people like to believe they are guided by rationality and morality, all-too-often, what truly decides the course of events is their ego.

For pre-Civil War Southerners, it meant demanding that “Yankees” show respect for slave-owning society.  Otherwise, they would leave the Union.

For Kennedy, it meant playing a game of “chicken,” backed up with nuclear missiles, to show Khrushchev who Numero Uno really was.

It is well to keep these lessons from history in mind when making our own major decisions.

THE POWER OF EGO

In History, Politics, Social commentary on October 31, 2012 at 12:09 am

It’s commonplace to read about the role sex plays in motivating behavior.  But the power of ego to determine history is often ignored.

Consider the role that ego played in igniting the American Civil War (1861 – 1865).

According to The Destructive War, by Charles Royster, it wasn’t the cause of “states’ rights” that led 13 Southern states to withdraw from the Union in 1960-61.

It was their demand for “respect,” which, in reality, translates into “e-g-o.”

“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 less and less willing to do.  Finally, its citizens dared to elect Abraham Lincoln 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.

“But they have gradually felt that this was going, and were prepared to cut the rope and run as soon as it was gone.”

Only 10% of Southerners owned slaves.  The other 90% of the population “had no dog in this fight,” as Southerners liked to say.

Yet they so admired and aspired to be like their “gentleman betters” that they threw in their lot with them.

There were some Southerners who could see what was coming–and vainly warned their fellow citizens.

One of these was Sam Houston, the man who had won Texas independence at the 1836 battle of San Jacinto and later served as that state’s governor.

Sam Houston

On April 19, addressing a crowd in Galveston, he said:

“Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence if God be not against you.

“But I doubt it.

“I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of states’ rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates.

“But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South.”

Four years later, on April 9, 1865, Houston’s warning became history.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

Huge sections of the South had been laid waste by Union troops and more than 258,000 Southerners had been killed.

The South had paid an expensive price for its fixation on ego.

Even more proved at risk a century later, when President John F. Kennedy faced off with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

In April, Kennedy had been humiliated at the Bay of Pigs when a CIA-sponsored invasion failed to overthrow the Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

So he was already on the defensive when he and Khrushchev met in Vienna.

Khrushchev pressed his advantage, threatening Kennedy with nuclear war unless the Americans abandoned their protection of West Berlin.

That August, faced with the embarrassment of East Berliners fleeing by the thousands into West Germany, the Soviet leader backed off from his threat.

In its place, he erected the infamous Berlin Wall, sealing off East and West Berlin.

Kennedy’s reaction: “That son of a bitch won’t pay any attention to words. He has to see you move.”

Then, most ominously: “If Khrushchev wants to rub my nose in the dirt, it’s all over.”

In short: Kennedy was prepared to incinerate the planet if he felt his almighty ego was about to get smacked.

Nuclear missile in silo

What has proved true for states and nations proves equally true for those leading every other type of institution.

Although most people like to believe they are guided by rationality and morality, all-too-often, what truly decides the course of events is their ego.

For pre-Civil War Southerners, it meant demanding that “Yankees” show respect for slave-owning society.  Otherwise, they would leave the Union.

For Kennedy, it meant playing a game of “chicken,” backed up with nuclear missiles, to show Khrushchev who Numero Uno really was.

It is well to keep these lessons from history in mind when making our own major decisions.

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