Rising to the occasion is a concept so misunderstood… it borders on the cliché. When used in the wrong context it cheapens actual heroic achievement. Too often, historic deeds are overlooked because well-worn studies have rendered them routine because of historic scope. In the pivotal battle of the war, at its decisive moment, actions speak louder than the words of any biographer…. as Confederate soldiers stormed over the stonewall at the “Angle”- decisive action was needed, and General Alexander Webb provided it.
The 72nd PA and Webb’s charge
Alexander Webb received the Medal of Honor for his actions on July 3, 1863. Webb’s brigade occupied the crucial position at the “copse of trees” which was the focal point of Lee’s attack. Webb marched defiantly up and down his line during the fierce bombardment that preceded Pickett’s charge. The confederates under Armistead charged into Webb’s position and the two brigades were locked in deadly combat. Seizing the colors of the 72nd Pennsylvania, Webb led a charge into the confederates at the famous “angle” in the stone wall. The two generals nearly came to personal blows as Webb’s counter attack brought them to within feet of each other. Armistead fell mortally wounded while a ball passed through Webb’s upper thigh, but he remained on the field. Webb describes the action in his report of the battle. General George Gordon Meade nominated Webb for the Medal of Honor which he received in 1891.
Filed under Ephemera, News
Practically Historical Grade- C+
Steve McQueen is obsessed with startling… visuals, the kind that grab an audience and rarely let go. His first historical film detailed with nauseating frankness the hunger strike of IRA dissident, Bobby Sands. In his latest effort, 12 Years a Slave, McQueen brings to the screen the brutal captivity of freeman Solomon Northup. Based on Northup’s memoir of the same name, McQueen’s interpretation is far too concerned with shock value to capture the deeper messages of Northup’s writing. John Ridley’s conscientious script is at times sacrificed to the director’s need to visualize brutality even his subject could not describe.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Historians have been divided over... the academy award winning film. John Ridley’s script faithfully follows Northup’s memoir but McQueen wastes little time extrapolating the narrative with visceral images designed to enlighten, but often deliver little more than wincing. Events Northup leaves to the readers’ imaginations, McQueen brutally visualizes- primarily the whipping of Patsey. McQueen was more than willing to leave Northup’s story to show a fictional murder aboard a slave ship, again for effect, rather than plot. What saves the film from being a bloody mess are the performances. Much attention was awarded to Lupita Nyong’o for her harrowing portrayal of Patsey- but Chiwetel Ejiofor is a revelation as Northup; haunting and tragic, his performance is the real soul of the film.
Scenery, dialect, and costuming were …all well researched- this is not the glorified plantation living of Gone With the Wind, rather a dank, crumbling, stagnate world teetering on the edge of collapse. Michael Fassbender’s psychotic turn as Edwin Epps is symbolic of the self destructive nature of chattel slavery. Many critics cite McQueen’s ambivalence to religion as a weakness in the script- Northup spoke strongly of faith as well as the good Christian nature of his first master, William Ford(an understated Benedict Cumberbatch.) Strong performances, gritty scenery and cinematography, and a historically accurate script make 12 Years a Slave a must see experience. The film’s horrific depictions of violence are considered necessary by some, will be lamented by all- one has to consider whether McQueen could have told the story without as many scare tactics.
Academics say the darnedest things… in the cozy confines of the University system. Impressionable undergrads eagerly hang on every word and grad students serve as willful accomplices as they look to continued advancement. Peer review is a veiled threat at best, considering the lock step that seems to permeate academia. Even when a proven fraud like Ward Churchill is called to account, academic circles are reluctant to police their own because of the lofty standard “academic freedom.”(The investigation revealed that Churchill had received tenure without a PhD in addition to plagiarism and fraud charges.)
Devaluing the term “genocide” since 1978
So, say whatever you please, professor… tenure has your back. History professors proclaim “changing the narrative” as the driving force behind their scholarship. Everything we’ve learned about America is wrong… so, like a Seinfeld episode of note, the opposite must be true: The founding of America actually had a negative impact on human history, the Founders were greedy imperialists in training, and ALL 15 Presidents before Lincoln owned slaves…. that’s right- ALL of them.
Surely, you jest…
This would come as a shock to John Adams and his son… both from Quincy, Massachusetts. James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, and Martin Van Buren would likewise have an argument to such an absurd notion. Millard Fillmore was only in office two years, but slave owning cannot be included on his resume. Even Virginian William Henry Harrison had abandoned the practice by the time he entered public life. Members of the Founding generation hated the institution, yet felt trapped by it- Jefferson described having a wolf by the ears. As the abolition movement grew, later Presidents sought to defend slave owning rights, but their arguments were swept away in the tide. But, to listen to many academics today, the Presidency was nothing more than the last line of defense for the slave owning class. Never be surprised at what nonsense seeps out of our universities… our hard earned dollars make this “academic freedom” possible.
Filed under Ephemera, News
Frank Antenori with Hans Halberstadt, Roughneck Nine-One: The Extraordinary Story of a Special Forces A-Team at War, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2007
Rising above the politicization of the Iraq war is a task best left to the men who fought it. Well publicized memoirs by the commanding Generals, the Secretary of Defense, and the Commander-in-Chief only fueled the partisan debate. Green Beret Frank Antenori’s gripping account of the Battle of Debecka Pass is a vital primary source detailing the misunderstood conflict. An unusual blend of tactical storytelling and technical detail, Roughneck Nine-One is a rare look into the world of America’s “quiet professionals.”
Antenori expresses the unprecedented nature of his battle history. Typically, Special Forces battles are classified affairs, kept from public scrutiny until years later. Embedded reporters from CNN and the New York Times present at Debecka prevented the combat from being classified. Antenori and co-author Halberstadt are able to relay the events with brutal frankness and commendable accuracy. The frustrations of military logistics are explained to build anticipation for the inevitable battle. Glimpses into American military planning are rare, and Antenori’s insights are particularly telling- the warrior struggling with red tape to acquire the necessary tools.
Roughneck Nine-One is essential reading because it dispels many commonly held myths about the Iraq war. First, most importantly, the myth about weapons of mass destruction. Mainstream media perpetuates the narrative of Bush lying about WMD to start the war- Antenori establishes that if true, this was a most elaborate lie. Special Forces units were assigned specific missions targeting known WMD sites. Strategic complications delayed US entry into Iraq giving Saddam Hussein time to destroy or hide the incriminating evidence; Debecka was fought on such a mission. Secondly, that Saddam had no ties to terrorism. The Green Berets regularly engaged foreign fighters using the Iranian border as shelter- Antenori has no politically axe to grind, he tells a story the way he experienced it.
Frank Antenori opens an important window to a misunderstood conflict. Partisan bickering over the justification for the war has clouded a proper historical picture of it. Stories like Roughneck Nine-One are invaluable to scholars looking to accurately record America’s involvement in Iraq.
Proper flag etiquette is often misstated… lost in urban legends, misinformation, and simple ignorance. Here are some of the highlights set down by the official government handbook on flag etiquette.
- The flag is never to be lowered in deference to another person or country- only if on a ship saluting a ship from another country.
- The flag should never be used as clothing, bedding, curtains, or decoration- bunting is used for these purposes
- The flag must never be displayed in a manner that could lead to it being damaged- like flying it in a thunderstorm
- Flags can be cleaned and repaired when necessary
- No additional marks, symbols, lettering, or images can be displayed on a flag- only military designations
- Only when a flag has become damaged beyond repair should it be burned- ceremonies are held every year on June 14
- Flags touching the ground DO NOT have to be destroyed- this is a sign of disrespect, not a reason to destroy a flag
- Flags must always be allowed to fall freely- only the flag used during the alleged moon landing is exempted
- The flag should be properly folded before it is stored
- Proper flags should not be used for advertising or displayed on commercial products
- Flags are only displayed upside-down in extreme distress – not like bad Tommy Lee Jones movies
June 12, 1987
Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down…the Berlin Wall and seemingly cemented his Cold War legacy. Historical debate erupted in recent years as partisan politicians look to the Reagan legacy for inspiration. Competing interpretations of the speech, delivered at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987, show that Reagan’s foreign policy is still pertinent to this day. Liberals decry the speech as a “stunt” with no impact on US-Soviet relations; Reagan supporters hail the speech as the event that led to the end of the Cold War. Neither perspective is correct, both fail to acknowledge the complexity of Reagan’s Soviet policy.
“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!“
Negotiate from strength
Critics fail to acknowledge the effects the speech… had upon Soviet leadership. Declassified documents clearly show that Gorbachev was listening- “If he’s talking about this wall, he’s never going to let go unless we do something.” The Soviets needed Glasnost and Reagan showed them the way. Reagan admirers make the mistake of placing mythical proportions on the moment; Reagan spoke, the world trembled, the Cold War was over- It just didn’t happen that way. Reagan’s handling of the Soviet Union was a complex series of give and take- summits, speeches, deals, and treaties. American Conservatives (Bill Buckley in particular) were frustrated with the foreign policy of Reagan’s second term. The tough rhetoric and military build-up of the first term had given way to nuclear talks and peaceful overtures. “Tear down this wall” was not an ending, but a prelude to more negotiations. Reagan was responding to Glasnost, but on our terms….