Tag Archives: History

Facts in Five

Memorial Day by the numbers:

  • The roots of Memorial Day can be traced to Athens and the Funeral Oration of Pericles–  honor those who have fallen, follow their example of citizenship
  • The commemoration was originally made by the Grand Army of the Republic as Decoration Day-  flags were to be placed on all the graves of fallen Union soldiers
  • The first Decoration Day was celebrated by 27 states in 1868
  • By 1890, every state in the Union observed the holiday in some way… it was not a Federal holiday until 1971
  • The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1922. 


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Zinn-ister Intent

Who needs sources? I've got Jason Bourne!

Who needs sources? I’ve got Jason Bourne!

The New York Times boldly proclaimed Howard Zinn’s…. A People’s History should be required reading for all college students.  Professors and high school teachers alike have responded by making Zinn’s screed one of the top ten requested academic books.  The only justification can be found in celebrity endorsement and the book’s adherence to politically correct platitudes about our past.  Zinn egregiously claims:

  • Maoist China was “the closest thing, in the long history of that ancient country, to a people’s government, independent of outside control.”
  • Castro and his executioner Che Guevara  “had no bloody record of suppression.”
  • American actions following 9/11 were morally equivalent to the terror attack  “It seemed that the United States was reacting to the horrors perpetrated by the terrorists against innocent people in New York by killing other innocent people in Afghanistan.”
  • America’s very founding was a fraud  “They found that by creating a nation, a symbol, a legal unity called the United States, they could take over land, profits, and political power from the favorites of the British Empire. In the process, they could hold back a number of potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership.”
  • World War II was never about ridding the world of German Fascism or Japanese Militarism- the war was America’s fault!
    “Was it the logical policy of a government whose main interest was not stopping Fascism but advancing the imperial interests of the United States? For those interests, in the thirties, an anti-Soviet policy seemed best. Later, when Japan and Germany threatened U.S. world interests, a pro-Soviet, anti-Nazi policy became preferable.”


Where’s the research?  Where’s the scholarship?  Where’s the objectivity?  


Zinn himself, said it best,

I wanted my writing of history and my teaching of history to be a part of social struggle”

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Young and No Head

As long as young adults seek ways to… “discover themselves” and anger their parents- there will be audience for Howard Zinn’s A People’s History.   Parental units are part of the so-called establishment and our farthest reaching right-of-passage in America is fighting the conformity of the “the man.”   The biggest error in judgment these young rebels make is seeing the establishment as encompassing every facet of our existence- even our history…. Zinn is where too many young minds are exposed to distorted, often lazy examinations of these crucial moments.


The failure to see our Founders as truly revolutionary… is the most damaging element in Howard Zinn’s rambling.  That’s what A People’s History is really, unsubstantiated neo-Marxist rambling.  Europeans were murdering oppressors driven by greed; Natives were peaceful environmentalists seeking harmony with nature.  The Founding of America was perpetrated by an elite few looking for a more efficient way to accrue wealth.  To Zinn and his readers this is all very provocative, but when placed under the scrutiny of peer review it is amateurish.

Maybe there's hope

Maybe there’s hope

Zinn’s work fails on many levels… but contextually he refuses to surrender bias to the complexities of human interaction.  The Pequot war was not as simple as “Red Man Good, White Man Bad.”  Our Founders were not only motivated by greed- trying explaining that to Robert Morris.  To impressionable undergrads, these arguments are their first bites from the apple of nonconformity.  To the middling academics who refuse to take Zinn to task, the book is an opportunity to gain some anti-establishment credibility with the youngsters.




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Facts in Five

Mr. FJ Hooker edition…

"People will think I am a highwayman or a bandit."

“People will think I am a highwayman or a bandit.”

  • “Fighting Joe” was a nickname Hooker despised-  Lee often referred to him as Mr. F J Hooker in correspondence
  • Hooker’s delayed entry into the war was largely caused by his testimony against General-in-Chief, Winfield Scott, at a prewar court marshal proceeding. 
  • Before the War, Hooker unsuccessfully tried his hand at politics- losing a California assembly election 
  • Hooker was a member of the West Point class of 1837- classmates included Jubal Early and Braxton Bragg
  • Despite his reputation, there is little evidence that Hooker abused alcohol during his military service. 

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Chancellorsville by the Numbers

Chancellorsville is often called Lee’s “perfect battle”… facing the longest odds, using the boldest tactics, and winning the ultimate triumph- but a closer examination of the battle’s casualty statistics reveal a very different picture.  Far from perfect, Lee’s victory over Hooker was a costly, bloody gamble with marginal payoff.

Myth becomes fact all too often

Myth becomes fact all too often

Twice dividing his outnumbered force before a superior foe… and executing a bold flanking maneuver clouds the true cost of the battle.  Hooker’s inaction is far more striking than Lee’s tactical decisions.  By surrendering the initiative to Lee, Hooker allowed his opponent tactical discretion, thus making the flank attack possible.  Union reinforcements nullified Confederate gains on May 2.  Hooker’s refusal to counterattack with those additional troops only accentuated the modest Confederate gains.

Keep fighting Joe!

Keep fighting Joe!

Lee went into battle with just under 60,000 effectives… and suffered nearly 13,000 casualties- of which, over 10,000 were wounded or killed.  Almost a quarter of his men were gone at a time when the Confederacy was increasingly unable to replace such loss.  Comparatively, Hooker entered the battle with well over 130,000 troops, and suffered over 17,000 casualties.  But, of this number, nearly 6,000 were captured(11th Corps victims of Jackson’s attack.)  Factoring the captured, Hooker’s loss was a much smaller figure of just over 11,000.  The statistics show that Lee’s army actually took the worst of the fighting- His action, and Hooker’s inaction have permanently altered the history of the battle.  Far from the great army “cut to pieces” as remembered by Horace Greeley, Hooker’s men fought well and proved their mettle in battle.


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Citizens Once Again

Robert E. Lee played a vital role… in bringing the Civil War to a conciliatory close.  Though he compared his surrender to Grant to “dying a thousand deaths” Lee understood that the two men were doing more than just ending battlefield hostilities;  they were working to bring the nation back together.  The loyal and dependable Army of Northern Virginia would have followed Lee into hell, he had to convince them to join in the noble crusade of rebuilding.

“After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. I need not tell the survivors of so many hard-fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them: but, feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuation of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen. By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain there until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you His blessing and protection. With an increasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”


Lee did not carry misguided doctrines with him… following the war.  He accepted the Confederate defeat and always looked to the future.  He lived out his years chastising fellow former Confederates who argued with Federal authority, “So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South.”

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America’s Best Legislators

Americans seem obsessed with the idea… of ideologically pure lawmakers.  Officials elected to go to Washington and fight the very process of legislating for the sake of political purity that has never existed.  The 112th Congress has achieved a level of infamy not seen since the indolence of the 80th in 1947.  Legislating is a messy process built upon compromise (often compared to sausage making.)  Successful legislators find the balance between what Americans need and what they will tolerate.  Compare our current crop, Boehner, Cantor, Reid, Kyl– with our very best:


5.  Tip O’Neill– A Liberal Democrat able to survive the Reagan Revolution, O’Neill was a master deal-maker.  Reagan and O’Neill were at odds over every major issue of the day, but they were able to keep the government running throughout the 1980’s.  Reagan’s budgets included the social spending the Democrats demanded and O’Neill secured the defense increases Republicans pressed heavily for.  The two men forged an unlikely friendship amidst their budgetary battles.

Tipper and the Gipper


4.  James Madison– It is easy to forget Madison’s career as a legislator, being the Father of the Constitution and all.  Madison was the consummate pragmatist, willing to compromise when he believed the measure would build an enduring alliance.  His coalition building forced the original states to give up western claims allowing the territories to form.  He guided the Bill of Rights through the first Congress and built the foundation for the judiciary.  Madison distinguished himself despite life long ill-health and jealous rivals like Patrick Henry (who did all he could to deny Madison a seat in the first Congress.)

3.  Sam Rayburn– The picture of longevity and ethics, Rayburn served in the House from 1913-1961 and never once accepted government money for personal expenses.  Rayburn fought for programs he believed in, regardless of their party of origin.  He battled for the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt as well as the federal highway projects of Eisenhower.  Rayburn set a powerful example for a generation of lawmakers (see #2.)

Johnson, Truman, Garner, Rayburn enjoy a laugh


2. Lyndon B. Johnson– There has never been an arm-twister like LBJ.  Many historians consider him the most effective Majority Leader in the history of the Senate.  Central to his ability was intelligence; Johnson would learn as much as he could about the Senator(s) who needed persuading.  With information in hand, he proceeded with the “Johnson treatment” and few could resist.   LBJ brought these skills to the oval office, first passing the Kennedy agenda (including the Civil Rights Act of 1964) in just under 100 days.  Later, he pushed the Great Societythrough a reluctant Congress.

“I will have your support.”


1.  Henry Clay– Andrew Jackson’s name is given to the era, but Clay was the essential American political leader.  Clay transformed Speaker of the House from  a ceremonial to  a political position.  He used his influence to push his American System  that stabilized the country after the War of 1812.  Clay brokered  the Missouri Compromise which saved the Republic from collapse in 1820.  The Nullification Crisis of 1831 was averted through Clay’s efforts.  Clay again forestalled disunion in 1850 through another compromise.  Far from perpetuating slavery, Clay’s efforts allowed essential social movements and political debate to occur.  Had the Republic collapsed during his lifetime, the changes brought on by the Civil War might never have happened.

Essential American


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