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History Archives

November 25, 2019
POLITICS/HISTORY: Our Two-Party System Isn't Going Anywhere

NRO: Our Two-Party System Isn't Going Anywhere (Book review of Michael Barone's How America's Political Parties Change (and How They Don't).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:30 AM | History • | Politics 2019 • | Writings Elsewhere
November 11, 2019
WAR/HISTORY: America's Veterans, Then and Now

NRO: America's Veterans, Then and Now

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | History • | War 2019 • | Writings Elsewhere
October 22, 2019
HISTORY/POLITICS: Holding Coalitions Together, Today and in 1840s Britain

NRO: Holding Coalitions Together, Today and in 1840s Britain

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:30 AM | History • | Politics 2019 • | Writings Elsewhere
October 11, 2019
POLITICS/HISTORY: You Can't Ignore Politics in Impeachment

NRO: You Can't Ignore Politics in Impeachment

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:30 AM | History • | Politics 2019 • | Writings Elsewhere
August 26, 2019
POLITICS/HISTORY: A Squeaker in 2020? Not Likely

NRO: A Squeaker in 2020? Not Likely

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:30 AM | History • | Politics 2019 • | Politics 2020 • | Poll and Election Analysis • | Writings Elsewhere
June 7, 2019
LAW/HISTORY/POLITICS: The Court-Packing Peril

NR: Against the Democrats' Court-Packing Scheme

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:48 AM | History • | In Print • | Law 2019 • | Politics 2019 • | Politics 2020 • | Writings Elsewhere
June 6, 2019
LAW/HISTORY/POLITICS: Raider of the Lost Constitution

NR: Clarence Thomas's Quest to Recover the Lost Constitution

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:16 AM | History • | In Print • | Law 2019 • | Politics 2019 • | Writings Elsewhere
April 5, 2019
POLITICS/HISTORY: What the Electoral College Saves Us From

NRO: What the Electoral College Saves Us From

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:53 PM | History • | Politics 2019 • | Politics 2020 • | Writings Elsewhere
February 28, 2019
POLITICS/HISTORY: How Often Is One State Decisive in the Electoral College?

NRO: How Often Is One State Decisive in the Electoral College?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:30 AM | History • | Politics 2019 • | Politics 2020 • | Poll and Election Analysis • | Writings Elsewhere
February 26, 2019
HISTORY: Rethinking President Grant (Part Two)

NRO: Rethinking President Grant (Part Two)

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:30 AM | History • | Writings Elsewhere
February 18, 2019
HISTORY: Rethinking President Grant (Part One)

NRO: Rethinking President Grant (Part One)

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:30 AM | History • | Writings Elsewhere
November 23, 2018
POLITICS: History Doesn't Favor Republicans Recovering the House under Trump

NRO: History Doesn't Favor Republicans Recovering the House under Trump

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:30 AM | History • | Politics 2018 • | Writings Elsewhere
September 26, 2018
HISTORY: America's Biggest Battle, 100 Years On

NRO: America's Biggest Battle, 100 Years On

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:06 AM | History • | Writings Elsewhere
September 9, 2018
LAW/POLITICS/HISTORY: Constitutional Originalism Requires Birthright Citizenship

NRO: Constitutional Originalism Requires Birthright Citizenship

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:18 PM | History • | Law 2009-18 • | Politics 2018 • | Writings Elsewhere
August 9, 2018
HISTORY: Understanding Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 73 Years Later

NRO: Understanding Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 73 Years Later

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:11 AM | History • | Writings Elsewhere
July 12, 2018
LAW/POLITICS/HISTORY: Revenge for Merrick Garland?

LA Times: Revenge for Merrick Garland? Democrats don't have history on their side

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:00 AM | History • | In Print • | Law 2009-18 • | Politics 2018 • | Writings Elsewhere
July 10, 2018
LAW/POLITICS/HISTORY: Brett Kavanaugh Should Get a Vote Before the Midterm Elections

NRO: Brett Kavanaugh Should Get a Vote Before the Midterm Elections

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:30 AM | History • | Law 2009-18 • | Politics 2018 • | Writings Elsewhere
May 21, 2018
POLITICS/RELIGION/HISTORY: The Christian America Paradox

NRO: The Christian America Paradox

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:35 AM | History • | Politics 2018 • | Religion • | Writings Elsewhere
November 27, 2017
HISTORY/POLITICS: Save the Crusader

NRO: Save the Crusader

My half-doomed effort to save the Holy Cross College mascot.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:30 PM | Blog 2006-Present • | History • | Politics 2017 • | Writings Elsewhere
November 7, 2017
HISTORY/POLITICS: Tim Kaine Is Wrong about America and Slavery

NRO: Tim Kaine Is Wrong about America and Slavery

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:30 PM | History • | Politics 2017 • | Writings Elsewhere
October 11, 2017
POLITICS/FOOTBALL/HISTORY: Flag Protests and the Power of Symbols

NRO: Flag Protests and the Power of Symbols

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:00 AM | Football • | History • | Politics 2017 • | Writings Elsewhere
July 30, 2017
POP CULTURE/HISTORY: Dunkirk Is A Horror Movie

NRO: Dunkirk Is A Horror Movie

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:28 PM | History • | Pop Culture • | Writings Elsewhere
July 20, 2017
WAR: Anti-Radical Muslims Need to Organize and Draw Lines

NRO: Anti-Radical Muslims Need to Organize and Draw Lines

Also up at Fox Nation.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 AM | History • | Religion • | War 2007-18 • | Writings Elsewhere
June 20, 2017
POLITICS/HISTORY: We Should Have Heeded This Warning From Ronald Reagan

NRO: We Should Have Heeded This Warning From Ronald Reagan

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:38 AM | History • | Politics 2017 • | Writings Elsewhere
June 14, 2017
LAW/POLITICS: Yes, The Attorney General Can Have Privileged Conversations With The President

NRO: Yes, The Attorney General Can Have Privileged Conversations With The President

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:42 AM | History • | Law 2009-18 • | Politics 2017 • | Writings Elsewhere
June 4, 2017
HISTORY/POLITICS: A Myopic View Of Robert E. Lee

NRO: A Myopic View Of Robert E. Lee

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:45 PM | History • | Politics 2017 • | Writings Elsewhere
May 22, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Here's How Congress Can Fix the Way We Investigate Presidents

NRO: Here's How Congress Can Fix the Way We Investigate Presidents

Also published at CNBC.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:45 PM | History • | Law 2009-18 • | Politics 2017 • | Writings Elsewhere
April 11, 2017
POLITICS: Sean Spicer Steps in a Hitler Mess

NRO: Sean Spicer Steps in a Hitler Mess

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:48 PM | History • | Politics 2017 • | War 2007-18 • | Writings Elsewhere
March 23, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: It Doesn't Matter That Garland Didn't Get a Hearing

NRO: It Doesn't Matter That Garland Didn't Get a Hearing

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:01 PM | History • | Law 2009-18 • | Politics 2017 • | Writings Elsewhere
March 20, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: The Garland Precedent Should Not Stop Gorsuch

NRO: The Garland Precedent Should Not Stop Gorsuch

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:20 PM | History • | Law 2009-18 • | Politics 2017 • | Writings Elsewhere
March 6, 2017
POLITICS/LAW/HISTORY: Trump and the Emoluments Clause

My latest NR magazine piece: Foreign Entanglements, on Trump and the Constitution's Foreign Emoluments Clause.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | History • | In Print • | Law 2009-18 • | Politics 2017 • | Writings Elsewhere
February 18, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Following Up On The Foreign Emoluments Clause and Gerrymandering

NRO: Following Up On The Foreign Emoluments Clause and Gerrymandering

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:42 PM | History • | Law 2009-18 • | Politics 2017 • | Writings Elsewhere
January 11, 2017
POLITICS: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 2 of 4

NRO: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 2 of 4, looking at how Trump performed in the battleground states by historical standards for post-incumbent challengers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 AM | History • | Politics 2016 • | Poll and Election Analysis • | Writings Elsewhere
January 10, 2017
POLITICS: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 1 of 4

NRO: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 1 of 4, looking at how Trump performed nationally by historical standards for post-incumbent challengers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 AM | History • | Politics 2016 • | Poll and Election Analysis • | Writings Elsewhere
December 21, 2016
POLITICS: Hillary Clinton: President of California

POLITICS: Hillary Clinton: President of California

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:47 PM | History • | Politics 2016 • | Poll and Election Analysis • | Writings Elsewhere
December 2, 2016
POLITICS: Congress Should Let General Mattis Serve as Secretary of Defense

NRO: Congress Should Let General Mattis Serve as Secretary of Defense

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:29 PM | History • | Politics 2016 • | Writings Elsewhere
November 2, 2016
HISTORY: History is Forgotten If We Don't Keep It Fresh

NRO: History is Forgotten If We Don't Keep It Fresh

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:12 PM | History • | Writings Elsewhere
October 18, 2016
HISTORY/POLITICS: The Real Reagan Record on AIDS

NRO: The Real Reagan Record on AIDS

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:17 PM | History • | Politics 2016 • | Writings Elsewhere
September 4, 2016
HISTORY: Reagan On The Auction Block

NRO: Reagan On The Auction Block

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:37 AM | History • | Writings Elsewhere
July 4, 2016
HISTORY/POLITICS: The Declaration of Independence: A Demand for Accountability

NRO: The Declaration of Independence: A Demand for Accountability

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:56 PM | History • | Politics 2016 • | Writings Elsewhere
June 27, 2016
POLITICS/LAW: 'Borking' Shows Why Senators Matter

NRO: 'Borking' Shows Why Senators Matter

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:33 PM | History • | Law 2009-18 • | Politics 2016 • | Writings Elsewhere
June 15, 2016
POLITICS/HISTORY: Re-Imagining Russell Kirk

NRO: Re-Imagining Russell Kirk

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:41 PM | History • | Politics 2016 • | Writings Elsewhere
POLITICS: How Bad Are Trump's National Polls? Some History.

NRO: How Bad Are Trump's National Polls? Some History.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:56 AM | History • | Politics 2016 • | Poll and Election Analysis • | Writings Elsewhere
June 8, 2016
POLITICS/HISTORY: A Few More Words About Zachary Taylor and Donald Trump

NRO: A Few More Words About Zachary Taylor and Donald Trump

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:13 PM | History • | Politics 2016 • | Writings Elsewhere
June 4, 2016
HISTORY/POLITICS: Politico Sells Zachary Taylor Short

NRO: Politico Sells Zachary Taylor Short

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:56 AM | History • | Politics 2016 • | Writings Elsewhere
June 2, 2016
POLITICS/HISTORY: No, Ronald Reagan Didn't Launch His 1980 Campaign in Philadelphia, MS

RS: No, Ronald Reagan Didn't Launch His 1980 Campaign in Philadelphia, MS

Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, left, moves through the crowd shaking hands at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi on Sunday, August 3, 1980. There crowd was estimated at 20,000. (AP Photo/Jack Thornell)

One of the wearying things about arguing with liberal/progressives is that they never stop trying to rewrite history; a bogus claim that is debunked only stays debunked if you keep at debunking it year after year after year. So it is with the hardy perennial effort to tar the reputation of Ronald Reagan by claiming that his 1980 presidential campaign and subsequent two-term presidency was tainted from the outset by having kicked off his campaign with a speech about "states' rights" in Philadelphia, Mississippi - Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel was retailing this one on ABC's Sunday show The Week just two weeks ago, trying to compare Reagan to Donald Trump:

There's all this nostalgia about Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site for where three civil rights workers were killed by white supremacists.

There are many other sources that assert this as fact - see, for example, this Huffington Post column from April by Nicolaus Mills, Professor of American Studies, Sarah Lawrence College:
[I]n going to Patchogue, Long Island this coming Thursday to speak at a controversial Republican fundraiser, Trump is taking a page out of the Ronald Reagan playbook. He's following the path that Reagan took in 1980 when he began his presidential campaign at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Long Island? Forget it, he's rolling. More examples from one presidential cycle to the next can be found from David Greenberg at Slate, William Raspberry in the Washington Post, Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert in the New York Times, and so on. Wikipedia even has a page for "Reagan's Neshoba County Fair "states' rights" speech".

Where to begin? This particular canard has so many things wrong with it, I feel obligated to set them all down in sequence. Hopefully, doing so here should - at least for a little while - collect the context in one place.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:15 AM | History • | Politics 2016 • | Writings Elsewhere
May 30, 2016
HISTORY: Remember Joseph Warren This Memorial Day

RS: Remember Joseph Warren This Memorial Day

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:27 PM | History • | Writings Elsewhere
April 20, 2016
HISTORY/POLITICS: Do Not Weep for Andrew Jackson

NRO: Do Not Weep for Andrew Jackson

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:27 PM | History • | Politics 2016 • | Writings Elsewhere
March 15, 2016
POLITICS: This Is Not 1980, And Donald Trump Is Not Ronald Reagan

RS: This Is Not 1980, And Donald Trump Is Not Ronald Reagan


Every piece of evidence we have about the 2016 general election and the world around us points in the same direction: if nominated, Donald Trump would lose, and likely lose badly. The fact that Trump has defied expectations in the primary and survived numerous incidents (seemingly almost daily) that would end any other political career has given pundits and analysts an almost superstitious, gunshy awe of predicting failure for him - thus the "lol nothing matters" response you often get when you discuss both Trump's obvious, glaring weaknesses and his pitiably weak standing in the polls. But the one straw commonly grasped by Trump supporters when confronted by the evidence is Gallup's polling from early 1980 showing that Ronald Reagan was some 30 points behind Jimmy Carter, who of course he went on to demolish in the fall.

The Gallup 1980 polls are a weak analogy, for several reasons.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:20 PM | History • | Politics 2016 • | Poll and Election Analysis • | Writings Elsewhere
February 15, 2016
HISTORY/LAW/POLITICS: Closing The Book On The Silent Generation

NRO: Closing The Book On The Silent Generation

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:11 PM | History • | Law 2009-18 • | Politics 2016 • | Writings Elsewhere
February 6, 2016
POLITICS: Road to New Hampshire

RS: Are "Electable" Candidates Actually Electable? Part II: Swing State Electability

RS: New Hampshire Is Very Different From Iowa

RS: Paul Ryan on President Obama: Don't Feed The Troll

RS: Hear Rush Limbaugh Call Marco Rubio A "Legitimate, Full-Throated Conservative" [AUDIO]

NRO: The Two Kinds of Presidential Primary Personality Cults

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:31 PM | History • | Politics 2016 • | Writings Elsewhere
February 5, 2016
POLITICS/HISTORY: Are "Electable" Candidates Actually Electable? Part II: Swing State Electability

RS: Are "Electable" Candidates Actually Electable? Part II: Swing State Electability

From left, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and others participate in a news conference on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, May 5, 2015, to discuss support of keeping the A-10 military aircraft.  (AP Photo/Brett Carlsen)

Is "electability" a meaningless term? It is certainly an overused one, and overused words tend to lose their meaning even when they have something to tell us. In Part I, I looked at "electability" candidates in past Republican presidential primaries. But if we look at recent presidential, Senate and Governor's races, we can get a better fix on what kinds of candidates win and lose in the 17 states that represent the outer limits of "swing states." A lot of things matter in contested elections, notably the national political environment. But like it or not, good candidates is one of the things that matter. They may be conservatives or they may be moderates, and in a few cases in blue states they may even be liberal Republicans, but the answer for conservatives is not to ignore electability entirely but to develop and support conservative candidates who are winners.

One way we can do that is by running candidates with proven experience, as they tend to be less likely to make the mistakes that kill inexperienced candidates. As I noted in Part I, it is mostly a myth that the GOP has repeatedly nominated moderate losers in presidential contests because voters somehow got talked into thinking their opponents were too conservative; it has more typically been the case that we have nominated moderates because conservative opposition was divided or marginalized in the absence of a good conservative alternative, and our contested races have often been between two relatively moderate Republicans. That's what's so unusual about 2016, in which the voting begins with two viable and talented conservatives in the race (Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio) and real questions about the viability of any of the moderate (Christie, Kasich) and/or establishment (Jeb) candidates.

To complete the picture of electability, let's look at the statewide races going back a decade, to 2006, the start of the current post-Bush-coalition political era, ranking statewide winners and losers by their percentage of the vote.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:11 AM | History • | Politics 2016 • | Poll and Election Analysis • | Writings Elsewhere
February 2, 2016
POLITICS: Now With More National Review

As a reminder, you can follow me on Twitter @baseballcrank or bookmark these links to catch up on my latest work:

at RedState

at The Federalist

and now at National Review

Latest since my last post here:

RS: Eight Takeaways From Iowa As New Hampshire Looms

NRO: The Iowa Caucus Expectations Game: What Do the Republican Candidates Need?

RS: BREAKING: Projected Winners: Cruz & Hillary

RS: Tim Scott to Endorse Marco Rubio

RS: Media: On Today's Glenn Beck Program

RS: Iowa Establishment Quislings Backing Trump For 30 Pieces of Ethanol?

RS: Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse Responded To Donald Trump and It Was PERFECT

RS: Michael Reagan to Donald Trump: You're No Ronald Reagan

NRO: Last Night's Debate Underlines Why Congress Is a Problem for the 'Establishment' Republicans

RS: Are "Electable" Candidates Actually Electable? Part I: Presidential Primaries 1948-2012

RS: Where Will The "Republican Regular" Voters Go?

RS: The Case For Marco Rubio Part II: The Salesman

RS: New Hampshire Poll: Hillary Up 17 With Women, Bernie Up 42 With Men

RS: GOP Big Money Goes After Marco Rubio

RS: ARG Polls Love John Kasich When Nobody Else Does

RS: Dear Ted Cruz, Donald Trump & Jeb Bush: Stop Trying To Extort GOP Voters Instead of Persuading Them

January 29, 2016
POLITICS: Michael Reagan to Donald Trump: You're No Ronald Reagan

RS: Michael Reagan to Donald Trump: You're No Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan Answering Questions from the Press

One of the hazards of trying to claim the mantle of a great man who is only fairly recently departed from the scene is that he still has family and friends around to set you straight. Donald Trump should remember that the next time he tries to insinuate that he’s anything like Ronald Reagan or has anything like Reagan’s approach to politics, leadership or conservatism. Don’t take my word for it; listen to Reagan’s son Michael.

The younger Reagan, himself a popular conservative author and talk radio personality, took to the pages of that venerable New Hampshire institution, the Manchester Union-Leader, on Tuesday to remind New Hampshire voters that The Donald is nothing like the man they set on the path to the Presidency with his primary victory in 1980:

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:37 AM | History • | Politics 2016
January 27, 2016
POLITICS/HISTORY: Are "Electable" Candidates Actually Electable? Part I: Presidential Primaries 1948-2012

RS: Are "Electable" Candidates Actually Electable? Part I: Presidential Primaries 1948-2012


One of the siren songs raised in favor of moderate and establishment-backed candidates every primary election season is that they are “electable” and their opponents are not. Sometimes, this is frankly code for “not like those conservatives.” But if the idea that conservatives are unelectable is a fallacy, so too is the reflexive assumption that any candidate described as “electable” is actually the opposite, or is not any sort of conservative. History reminds us that good candidates win and bad ones lose, and while ideology can matter more or less depending where and when the election is held, neither conservatives nor moderates have any monopoly on winning elections. And if you look at the history of failed GOP “electability” candidates, you will find that they were usually moderates who faced significantly weaker and/or non-conservative opponents.

Let’s take a two-part walk through the history of electability arguments, starting with a review of the GOP primaries from 1948 to 2012. In the second part, I’ll look at statewide swing-state races over the past decade to consider what kinds of Republican candidates actually do win contested elections.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:14 PM | History • | Politics 2016 • | Poll and Election Analysis • | Writings Elsewhere
December 16, 2015
POLITICS: Fifth Debate Analysis and Boyd Strategy Essay

My longest deep dive of the year, from the theories of John Boyd: Military Strategist Explains Why Donald Trump Leads - And How He Will Fail

In the LA Times: To understand Donald Trump, look to Europe

Debate Review: The Superstars Bleed

Pick Your Favorite Lindsey Graham Face

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:55 AM | History • | In Print • | Politics 2015 • | Politics 2016 • | Writings Elsewhere
October 27, 2015
POLITICS/HISTORY: How and Why Ronald Reagan Won

RS: How and Why Ronald Reagan Won

Reagan and Ford 622

Fifty-one years ago today in Los Angeles, a 53-year-old political amateur, Ronald Reagan, gave a half-hour nationally-televised speech, "A Time For Choosing," on behalf of Barry Goldwater's campaign in the following week's presidential election. 16 years later, Reagan would win 44 states and an almost double-digit popular vote margin of victory, kicking off the most successful and conservative Republican presidency in U.S. history, leading to a 49-state landslide in 1984 and the election of his Vice President for a "third Reagan term" in 1988, the only time in the past 70 years that a party has held the White House for three consecutive terms.

Given the extent to which Reagan's legacy still dominates internal debates within the GOP and the conservative movement, it's worth asking ourselves: What did he accomplish? How did he do it? And what can we learn from him today?

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:30 PM | History • | Politics 2015 • | Politics 2016 • | Writings Elsewhere
July 24, 2015
POLITICS/HISTORY: Connecticut Democrats Erase Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson From Their History

At RedState: Connecticut Democrats Erase Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson From Their History

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:29 AM | History • | Politics 2015
June 23, 2015
POLITICS/HISTORY: The Rise & Fall of the Confederate Flag in South Carolina

RS: The Rise & Fall of the Confederate Flag in South Carolina

Nikki Haley RS Gathering

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, in the aftermath of the Charleston church shooting, held a press conference Monday with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and legislators from both parties calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from its place on the grounds of the state capitol. This is a good thing. Despite persistent efforts to use the flag as a partisan club, it is worth recalling some history on the matter.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:11 PM | History • | Politics 2015
September 19, 2014
BLOG: RedState and Federalist Roundup

I owe longtime readers here some explanation and apology - my work at both RedState and The Federalist is now exclusive, at least when first published, to those sites, and while I post links on Twitter and Facebook, I tend to forget sometimes to post links back here at the old stomping grounds. (I may well close the comments section here too soon, since the lack of activity means a high spam-to-real-comments ratio, and since most regular commenters by now know how to find me elsewhere).

Here's my most recent posts over the past month, all of them on matters of politics and/or history:


Ferguson, Missouri and the Fog of Partisanship and Ideology

93% of Democratic Senate or Governor Candidates Are White

Where I Was On September 11 (a repost of the annual remembrance)

Is The Democratic Party Proud of its History of Slavery & Segregation?

Mid-September Polls Are Not The Last Word On Senate Races

The Federalist:

History Is Not On The Democrats' Side In 2016

Presidential Battleground States: A History

July 30, 2014
POLITICS: Obama Peddles Impeachment Conspiracy Theories To Raise Money

RS: Obama Peddles Impeachment Conspiracy Theories To Raise Money

Obama Impeach Me SignThe definition of a conspiracy theory is that it requires belief in a secret agreement among other people in the absence of of any evidence of such an agreement. President Obama and the Democratic Party are presently peddling a conspiracy theory that Republicans have a secret plan to impeach him from office. Their reason for selling this theory is nakedly self-interested: to raise money from gullible donors and drive turnout from excitable but poorly informed voters who may be unhappy with the President's job performance but remain personally loyal to him.

Democrats, of course, are just cynically exploiting anything that can help them gain partisan advantage. What is much more disappointing is the media playing along with this agitprop campaign, in particular by hounding Republican candidates across the country to discuss impeachment and then turning their answers into "Republicans talking about impeachment" stories even if they strenuously deny that they're interested in such a thing (or, as commonly happens, if they duck the question or offer vague answers designed to avoid alienating voters who might very much like to see the President impeached or at least see something tried).

Anyone who was not born yesterday knows full well that this is a conspiracy theory - that John Boehner and House leadership have zero interest in a futile and politically counterproductive effort to impeach an unpopular lame duck President; that they have no secret plan to do so; and that there is zero chance that the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over Articles of Impeachment, will ever vote out such Articles against President Obama. Nor, among the many outside groups that have become major players in Republican primaries and have been busily engaged in many conservative efforts to pressure Capitol Hill on other issues, is there any organized effort to get Boehner and House leadership to take any other position. Reporters would never ask questions to Democratic candidates, on zero evidence, about something with so little chance of ever happening; they should not abet this conspiracy theory by continuing to cover it as if it was anything but a conspiracy theory.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:02 PM | History • | Politics 2014
June 30, 2014
HISTORY/WAR: Enduring Lessons From The Diplomatic Crisis of July 1914

My latest at The Federalist, which also has fairly extensive coverage of today's Hobby Lobby decision.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:11 PM | History • | War 2007-18
February 18, 2014
HISTORY/POLITICS: Five Thoughts on Abe Lincoln

My latest at The Federalist.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:38 PM | History | Comments (1)
December 17, 2013
HISTORY/WAR: Nelson Mandela, Ronald Reagan and the Cold War

My latest at The Federalist looks at the actual history of Nelson Mandela, Ronald Reagan, the Cold War and the end of apartheid. It may not be the history you hear today, but it was all well known to those of us who were paying attention at the time.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:30 AM | History • | War 2007-18 | Comments (2)
May 22, 2013
WAR/HISTORY: A Timeline of Islamic Expansion In The Dark Ages

Let me put down here some facts that are worth returning to from time to time, as arguments over the history of Islam and Islamism are back in the news with today's beheading in London. In debates over the history of tension between Muslims and Christians, the Crusades are often cited, out of their historical context, as the original cause of such clashes, as if both sides were peaceably minding their own business before imperialist Westerners decided to go launch a religious war in Muslim lands.

This is not what actually happened, and indeed it is ahistorical to treat the fragmented feudal states of the West in the Eleventh Century as capable of any such thing as imperialism or colonialism (although, as Victor Davis Hanson has noted, even in the centuries after the fall of Rome, Western civilization retained a superior logistical ability to project force overseas due to the scientific, economic and military legacies of ancient Greece and Rome). Moreover, when Islam first arose, much of what we think of today as Islamic 'territory' in Anatolia, the Levant and North Africa was Christian until conquered by the heirs of Muhammad, such that speaking of one side's incursions into the other's territory requires you to ignore how that territory was seized in the first place. That entire region had been part of the Roman and later Byzantine empires, and was culturally part of the West until it was conquered by Muslim arms - Rome is closer geographically to Tripoli than to London, Madrid is closer to Casablanca than to Berlin, Athens is closer to Damascus than to Paris.

All that said, it's worth remembering that the Crusades arose in the late Eleventh Century only after four centuries of relentless Islamic efforts to conquer Europe, and the Christians of the Crusading era cannot be evaluated without that crucial context.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:00 PM | History • | War 2007-18 | Comments (2)
April 30, 2013

Over the weekend, I went to see 42, the Jackie Robinson movie. A few thoughts, with spoilers for those of you who do not already know the story by heart (I can't say my take here is that radically different from a number of other reviews I've read from other baseball writers):

1. The movie is a snapshot - not the full story of either Robinson's life and career or the integration of baseball. It starts with Branch Rickey's decision to bring a black player to the Dodgers in 1945, and ends with the Dodgers winning the 1947 NL pennant. Even within that snapshot, once Jackie makes the Dodgers' minor league team in Montreal, almost nothing is shown of his 1946 season, and some other events are compressed (the Cardinals get off easy, as the film focuses on the Phillies as the main villians who threatened not to take the field against an integrated team). That keeps the plot and pacing relatively tight (even though the endpoint is no surprise), but it necessarily leaves off a lot of background and detail as well as the other storied chapters of Robinson's career. And relatedly, the film is intended mainly to tell Robinson's story to a generation of moviegoers who don't know all the details, so there's a bit of broad exposition that would not be necessary for people like me who are already steeped in the whole story.

2. The performances are everything they needed to be. Harrison Ford - while still recognizably Harrison Ford - steals every scene he's in as Branch Rickey, and captures "Mr. Rickey's" character and style (complete with his trademarks - his sermonizing speaking style and outrageously bushy eyebrows). Similarly, Christopher Meloni and John C. McGinley look, act and sound like the real Leo Durocher and Red Barber, other than Meloni being a lot bigger and bulkier than the diminutive Lip.

Chadwick Boseman has the unenviable task for a young actor of having to carry the film while competing with Ford and other more experienced actors, but while he doesn't mimic Robinson's high-pitched voice, he captures the man's fierce competitive drive and hatred of segregation, and perhaps even more importantly he's truly believable at bat and on the basepaths, where Jackie worked his memorable magic. More broadly, the baseball in the movie is really well-done: the players, the game and the parks all look like 1940s baseball. Brad Beyer as Kirby Higbe, for example, looks very much the part of your typical Sourthern farm boy turned power pitcher of that era.

In some ways, Jackie Robinson's challenge in holding his temper in check and channeling it into the game reminds me of what I've written about George Washington; neither was the kind of man to meet adversity with Zen-like calm, but both managed to become complete masters of their own powerful emotional currents - anger, rage, despair - and present to the world a stoic face. That's an incredibly impressive skill, for such a strong personality to remain so contained. The film captures that challenge, and takes some dramatic license to illustrate it with a scene (which almost certainly did not happen) of Robinson breaking down in the tunnel behind the dugout and requiring a pep talk from Rickey.

(Nicole Beharie is elegant as the still-elegant Rachel Robinson, but doesn't really have much of a role to work with beyond the standard baseball-wife scenes. The film does spend some time with the Robinsons as newlyweds, which reminds me of an interesting question that I think I asked on Twitter a while back to not much satisfactory response: what is cinema's most compelling black romantic couple? We can all name lots of famous onscreen romances, but it's only much more recent films that have really developed those relationships between a black man and a black woman, and I can't think of one that stands out as iconic. But there has to be one I'm not thinking of.)

3. The dialogue is frequently terrible, windy and too self-aware, and there's a handful of scenes that are anachronistic in the way the characters speak and interact (men in the late 40s didn't talk with each other about their feelings a lot, for example). While the usual rule in biographical films is to avoid mimicry, the best dialogue is actually characters like Rickey, Barber, Durocher and Happy Chandler speaking the way those men actually spoke (I sat through all approximately 478 hours of Chandler's Hall of Fame induction speech in 1982). Branch Rickey really did talk as if he was orating for the history books; most of his players did not.

4. The movie's inaccuracies were irritating but few and minor. Leo Durocher's suspension for the 1947 season is portrayed as solely the result of his scandalous affair with Laraine Day, when in fact the stated reason for the suspension was over Durocher consorting with gamblers (Happy Chandler also cited "the accumulated unpleasant incidents in which he has been involved," which also covered the affair and a variety of Leo's other feuds). (I'll forgive the filmmakers for sneaking into a night-time phone conversation Leo's iconic "Nice guys finish last" line). Pee Wee Reese is given Gene Hermanski's famous clubhouse wisecrack about how the Dodgers should all wear 42 when Jackie gets a death threat, so nobody could tell which one was him. Fritz Ostermuller's family claims that the film inaccurately portrays him as a racist who beaned Robinson in a game. (The family of Ben Chapman, who eventually repented of his racist torments of Robinson late in life, could make no such claim). The film ignores Dan Bankhead, the second black Dodger who joined the team in late August. But on the whole, I was pleasantly surprised by the attention to getting details right that historians of the game would notice. The movie captured both the essential truths of Robinson's battle against the color line and the twists along the way. Particularly interesting and mostly accurate was the differing motivations of the players who rallied around Robinson, from Reese's reluctant solidarity (as a son of Kentucky) to the scrappy Eddie Stanky, who like his mentor Durocher would walk over fire for you if you were on his team and could help him win a ballgame.

Every generation learns history anew, and Jackie Robinson's corner of history is one worth retelling. If you haven't seen 42 yet, you should.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:30 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | History • | Pop Culture | Comments (4)
March 22, 2013
HISTORY: In The Midst of Great Evil

This Der Spiegel look at Albert Goring, brother of Hermann Goring, is really a fascinating piece of history.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:26 PM | History
February 1, 2013
HISTORY: Reflections on the American Revolution, Part III of III: The Militia


How did thirteen colonies, with a barely functioning central government and a thrown-together, underfunded and poorly supplied army of constantly fluctuating size and composition, win the Revolutionary War? One reason was the colonies' ability to rely on their common citizens to supplement the Continental Army with local militia. I've looked previously at the demographic and physical conditions and foreign alliances that shaped the war and the generals who led the armies. Let's conclude this tour of the American Revolution with the militia.

The Militia: Americans then and now have had a romantic attachment to the citizen militia, epitomized by the Massachusetts "minutemen." The importance of the militia as both a bulwark against tyranny and a line of national defense was, of course, famously the backdrop for the Second Amendment and other militia-related clauses in the Constitution (including allowing Congress to arm them and the President to command them at need "to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions"). Yet it was ultimately the Continental Army, not the militia, that had to do the bulk of the work needed to win the war. Nonetheless, the story of the American victory cannot be told without the militia.

Massachusetts: The militia's finest hour came at the beginning, before there was a Continental Army: Concord and Bunker Hill. At Concord, in April 1775, the sudden appearance of the Massachusetts militia in significant force, firing largely from behind the cover of trees and stone walls, drove the (mostly inexperienced) redcoats back to Boston with surprising casualties. At Bunker Hill two months later, Massachusetts militia entrenched largely on high ground and firing from behind fortifications and stone walls inflicted a staggering casualty rate of almost 50% on the British regulars (even higher among the officer corps); the militia then beat a mostly orderly retreat when they were finally overcome. Those two battles left the British besieged in Boston, where they would remain for nearly a year until dislodged by Henry Knox's artillery in March 1776. Bunker Hill also traumatized the British command, haunting their thinking about attacks on entrenched positions for the rest of the war. When the Continental Army was assembled to carry on the siege, much of its manpower and officer corps was drawn from the militia, including key leaders like Knox and Nathanael Greene. Moreover, the artillery that liberated Boston had been seized by militia in 1775 when Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, leading the Vermont militia (the Green Mountain Boys) in an expedition supported by Massachusetts and Connecticut militia, captured the lightly-defended Fort Ticonderoga. And without the militia, the army in 1775 would have been unarmed. The Continental Army being chronically short on supplies and having no official, standard weapon, recruits early in the war fought with whatever guns they brought to the army, either their own or those supplied by the state governments - but while that system was essential to forming an army from scratch, Washington found it unsatisfactory to carry on the war. As a 1981 U.S. Army study described the situation:

It was the policy of the Continental Congress in 1775 to "hire" arms, which meant encouraging each new soldier to bring his own gun, a practice that had been common in militia service. Having established this policy, Congress then left the task of equipping the troops to the Commander in Chief. More often than not, however, the men arrived at camp without arms. When Washington undertook to form a Continental Army from the forces before Boston in 1775, he initiated the first of several measures designed to arm his troops. He began by seeking to retain for the use of the new Continental force the muskets that the men hurrying to the defense of their country had brought to Cambridge. He ordered that no soldier upon the expiration of his term of enlistment was to take with him any serviceable gun. If the musket was his private property, it would be appraised, and he would be, given full value for it. All arms so taken and appraised were to be delivered into the care of the Commissary of Military Stores. To make doubly sure that the weapons would be retained for Army use, Washington threatened to stop the last two month's pay due a soldier if he carried away his gun.


Among the factors contributing to the shortage of arms in the spring of 1776 was the carelessness of the soldiers in maintaining their arms in good working order. An examination of the weapons of the army in New York revealed them to be in shocking condition. Washington issued an order to the regimental commanders to have the arms put in good order as soon as possible and to see that each musket was equipped with a bayonet. Those soldiers who had lost the bayonets they had been issued were to pay for new ones, and if any soldier had allowed his gun to be damaged by negligence, the cost of its repair was to be deducted from his pay. This order by no means eliminated negligence in caring for weapons. It persisted throughout the war....

To promote better care of weapons, Washington substituted a policy of purchasing arms for that of hiring them. During the first two campaigns of the war, it was the custom to encourage both the enlisted soldier and the militiaman to bring their own guns. But Washington soon came to link that policy with the lack of care the soldiers gave their muskets, for under it "a man feels at liberty to use his own firelock as he pleases." Owners of guns took little care of them, retained them when their service expired, and even disposed of them whenever they pleased. As early as January 1776 Washington had indicated that he was ready to purchase any arms offered by a colony or an individual.

The system of hiring, however, continued until February 1777 when Washington initiated preparations for the next campaign. He informed Governor Trumbull of Connecticut that he now wanted guns purchased from owners on the account of the United States. Purchase, he wrote, would result in better care of the weapons and would eliminate many of the bad consequences of hiring arms.

There were other warning signs of the militia's limitations in 1775 as well: the militia at Bunker Hill had strategic depth but failed to use it, being too poorly organized to bring reserve units into the fight in time, and the Green Mountain Boys didn't linger to garrison Fort Ticonderoga once its liquor supplies had run out. An army constituted for the long haul would have to do better.

New Jersey: Problems persisted, but so did the militia's contributions. Washington was disappointed when more New Jersey and Pennsylvania militia didn't show up to assist his campaigns in the region between late 1776 and the summer of 1778. But the New Jersey militia played a valuable role in the series of skirmishes known as the New Jersey Forage War in the winter of 1776-77. Acting sometimes alone and sometimes with modest support from the Continental Army, the militia repeatedly staged ambushes and opportunistic attacks on British and Hessian detachments looking for food and forage for their animals, inflicting a slow bleed of casualties and leaving the enemy jittery and under-supplied: a classic guerrilla campaign, although the word hadn't been coined yet. The New Jersey militia would eventually even draw praise from Washington, long a critic of militia, for its ongoing role in assisting Greene in turning back the final Hessian efforts in 1780 to assail Washington's position in Morristown; Washington wrote of the militia after the Battles of Connecticut Farms and Springfield that "The militia deserve everything that can be said on both occasions. They flew to arms universally and acted with a spirit equal to anything I have seen in the course of the war."

Saratoga: Militia were also important to the pivotal Saratoga campaign. Allen and Arnold's capture of Fort Ticonderoga had cut the British lines of communication in two, severing Guy Carleton's Canadian forces from the Thirteen Colonies. General Burgoyne's expedition, marching south from Canada, was designed to turn the tables. His aim was to seize control of the Hudson River valley and link up with Howe and Clinton in New York, reuniting the British forces while cutting New England off from the rest of the colonies. It started well, as such things often do; Burgoyne seized the forts in early July and scattered the Continental Army's forces in the region with barely a fight. But Burgoyne didn't count on the patriot militia.

Burgoyne's plan called for him to link up with Barry St. Leger, who was marching southeast down the Mohawk River that runs through Western and Central New York and flows into the Hudson just north of Albany. The plan - and reason for the two British forces to march separately - was for St. Leger to gather with him the Iriquois Six Nations and the Loyalist militia. St. Leger laid siege to Fort Stanwix, which controlled the Mohawk River; to relieve the siege, local militia leader Nicholas Herkimer hastily raised about 800 militia, a few dozen Oneida Indians (one of the two Iriquois tribes that sided with the colonists) and wagonloads of supplies. St. Leger chose to meet Herkimer with a thousand men, the bulk of which were Mohawk and Seneca Indians, who ambushed Herkimer as his column wound through a densely wooded ravine on August 6, 1777. The result was the savagely bloody Battle of Oriskany, depicted above. The militia was caught by surprise, several key officers were killed in the opening volley, and Herkimer had his leg broken falling from his horse (he would die of the wounds a few days later). But the militia fought on, Herkimer directing the battle while propped against a tree and regrouping his men to counterattack after a downpour. The battle ended in a British victory, with enormous American casualties that broke Herkimer's militia. But heavy losses from the battle demoralized St. Leger's Indian allies and Loyalist militia, who had expected to play a support and ambush role and let the British and Hessians do the heavy lifting, and instead found themselves fighting a desperate, cornered militia at close quarters. Most of St. Leger's support melted away, greatly weakening his force and leading to its ultimate failure to capture Fort Stanwix (which was relieved by Benedict Arnold on August 22).

While St. Leger was bogged down on his right, Burgoyne faced a second militia threat from his left that ultimately cost him nearly 1,000 casualties, more than 10 percent of his expedition. Approximately 2,000 New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont militia under John Stark (a veteran of Bunker Hill who had served for a time under Washington in the Continental Army before returning home), who raised this force in a little over a week, set out to harass Burgoyne's advance. Burgoyne sent a detachment of Hessians - considered some of Europe's best professional troops - to gather supplies and intercept Stark before he could do more damage or link up with the Continental Army. At the ensuing August 16, 1777 Battle of Bennington (actually located in present-day New York near Bennington, Vermont), Stark's militia faced the Hessians in a pitched battle, albeit with the advantage that the Hessians arrived in two groups of around 600, allowing Stark to defeat them in detail with a large numerical advantage. Stark's militia surrounded the elite Hessian dragoons holding an elevated redoubt; the Hessian commander, Friedrich Baum, was mortally wounded in a last, desperate saber charge, and hundreds of his men surrendered. Few of the Hessians made it back to Burgoyne's army.

As Burgoyne marched south, weakened by the failure of St. Leger, the loss of the Hessians and the defection of his Native American allies and with the Americans felling trees in his path, the Continental Army under Horatio Gates was bolstered by the arrival of thousands of militia, to the point where Burgoyne may have been outnumbered more than two-to-one at the second and final Battle of Saratoga. Militia units fought in the line of battle with the Continentals at Saratoga, which rivals Yorktown as the most important American victory of the war. More important than anything the militia did at Saratoga itself, their presence on the battlefield gave weight to the Continental forces that Burgoyne could not overcome. His surrender on October 17, 1777 permanently ended the effort to divide the colonies and link up with the British forces in Quebec, and was crucial to bringing France into the war.

The South: In the South, the militia had to come more directly to the rescue of the regulars. When the British moved the focus of their offensive operations to the South in 1779, they found a Continental Army much less well prepared and led than Washington's army in the north. Cornwallis routed the defenders of Savannah in 1779 and Charleston in May, 1780, followed shortly by Tarleton's massacre of a smaller Continental Army force at Waxhaws. Horatio Gates attempted to replicate his victory at Saratoga by rallying the militia around a new Continental Army force, but was wiped out by Cornwallis' army (under Lord Rawdon) at Camden on August 16, 1780 (Washington regarded Camden as another foolhardy attempt to rely on militia). Between Charleston and Camden, Cornwallis had captured over 6,000 prisoners, including most of the Continental Army left in the South. The road seemed open to claim the prizes of North Carolina and Virginia.

It didn't work out that way. Heavy-handed Loyalist militias, first under Christian Huck and later Patrick Ferguson, combined with Tarleton's brutality at Waxhaws, enraged the population of the Carolinas and Eastern Tennessee. The first militia victories, at Ramsour's Mill in North Carolina in June and the killing of Huck in South Carolina in July, were small, almost spontaneous engagements (although a study of the records of the militia who fought Huck showed that a number were Continental Army veterans and most had been fighting the British in one form or another since 1775). A landmark of the growing resistance came in October 1780, when a muster of nearly a thousand militia from the Carolinas, Virginia and Tennessee cornered Ferguson in the forest at King's Mountain near the North/South Carolina border, killing Ferguson and destroying his Loyalist militia. In November, Tarleton's feared British Legion - including hundreds of British regulars - were bloodied and beaten by the militia at Blackstock's Farm, South Carolina. There were scores of other, smaller ambushes and militia-on-militia engagements in this period, some with the character of a blood feud.

The militia's victories in the Carolinas begat more American recruitment and more caution for Cornwallis, buying time for Greene to enter the southern theater in late 1780 and re-organize the regulars. But with only a small regular force of a few thousand men, Greene still needed plenty of help from the militia. At Cowpens, South Carolina on January 17, 1781, a combined force of militia and Daniel Morgan's crack riflemen broke the back of Tarleton's British Legion, killing or capturing more than 80% of Tarleton's 1,150-man force and effectively ending British control over South Carolina. Probably less than half of the American force at Cowpens was Continental regulars. The major engagement of the campaign came at Guilford Court House, North Carolina on March 15, 1781, at which Greene (while nominally losing the battle) inflicted sufficient casualties to convince Cornwallis (himself down to less than 2,000 men) to fall back to Virginia, where he would consolidate his forces only to meet his great defeat. As at Saratoga, while the fiercest fighting was done by the Continental regulars, the militia were important at Guilford Court House for their sheer numbers; Greene outnumbered Cornwallis more than two-to-one with a force that was probably around 70-80% militia.

The West: Finally, the Western theater of the war was almost entirely conducted by militia; beyond Western New York and Pennsylvania, there simply wasn't much the Continental Army could do to support operations in the West. The one time in 1781 when the army sent a detachment to assist George Rogers Clark in his campaigns in what became the Northwest Territory, they were defeated en route. This left Clark, a Virginia militia commander, to seize outposts in present-day Illinois and Indiana using Virginia and Kentucky militia. The militia also conducted both offensive and defensive campaigns in the West against the Native American tribes. (The Spanish also made use of militia in the West and South during the war, both in the defense of St. Louis and in Bernardo de Galvez' campaigns in Louisiana and the Floridas).

The Militia, Assessed: The militia were never an adequate substitute for a regular army. Bennington and Bunker Hill notwithstanding, they were often not useful in conventional engagements, especially offensive operations. They maneuvered poorly (e.g, the failure of the militia to arrive in proper position to support the Continental Army at Germantown and Trenton), a key weakness in 18th century warfare, and when not fighting from cover like stone walls or trees they were notorious for breaking formation and running when charged by the enemy. Continental Army commanders had no end of frustration trying to get militia companies to carry out orders and assignments, or even to determine in advance how many militia would show up when mustered. Washington himself had despised the militia as useless ever since his experiences with the Virginia militia in the French and Indian War (beware of Washington quotes about the militia and the right to bear arms that you may see on the internet; several of these are apocryphal and at odds with his actual thinking). Militia units were usually more effective fighting other militia or Native Americans than regular soldiers. And being amateurs who often had families to support, they preferred to stick close to home; Clark was never able to get enough volunteers from the Kentucky militia to carry out his grand plan of a march on Detroit.

The 1779 Penobscot expedition, in which a force composed mainly of Massachusetts and Maine militia (supported by a small detachment of marines) was to make an amphibious landing in Maine and assault a British fort, was a textbook example of the kind of complex operation completely unsuited to militia: despite superior numbers compared to the enemy and some initial momentum, the unwieldy joint command co-ordinated poorly with its Continental Navy support, the Maine militia turned out in smaller numbers than expected, and the militia maintained an ineffective siege and cut and ran when counter-attacked. The commanders of the expedition, including Paul Revere, ended up being hauled before a court-martial, and Maine remained in British hands the rest of the war.

Getting the most out of militia units in battle required tactical flexibility. Daniel Morgan, at Cowpens, ordered the first line of the North Carolina militia to fire two volleys from an advance position and then make an orderly retreat to the rear, with the second line firing three volleys then doing the same; the regulars in the third line would absorb the British charge. Morgan had no faith that the militia could withstand a charge without breaking, and quipped that he made sure not to make a stand near a swamp so the militia couldn't disappear into it at the first sign of the enemy. Herkimer, at Oriskany, had to order his men in the midst of battle to start fighting in pairs, taking turns shooting while the other reloaded, because they were vulnerable to tomahawk attacks while reloading.

But for all their drawbacks, the ability to put militia units in the field was undeniably important, at times crucial, to the colonial cause. The main reason is the balance of manpower. The British, as I noted earlier, usually had 25-30,000 soldiers to work with, of whom 22-25,000 were either British or Hessian regulars. The size of the Continental Army at various points in time can be hard to ascertain due to spotty records, desertions, illness and short enlistments, but its main body seems to have peaked with about 20,000 around the Battle of Brooklyn, and Washington usually fought with about 10-12,000 men at his larger engagements; aside from the large force assembled at Saratoga, the army rarely had more than 5,000 men in any other place, and more often the commanders outside Washington's immediate vicinity had only a few thousand regulars to work with. The Continental Army usually fought with smaller groups of regulars than its adversaries, it lost more battles than it won, and when Washington's main army wasn't present, it almost never won a significant engagement without the presence of militia. The army simply couldn't defend most of the countryside. The militia was a force multiplier that prevented the British from consolidating control, which in turn would have forced Washington to seek active battles he couldn't win. But with the support of the militia, the Americans had the advantage: the British couldn't easily replenish their manpower, which had to be requested from London and shipped across the ocean (this is why they relied on their own Loyalist militia), while the Americans could do so on short notice whenever local authorities felt the need, without even consulting Congress. Besides numbers, the militia harassed the British supply lines, also a vulnerability for an army operating thousands of miles overseas.

And the militia bought time. In the North, the militia confronted and bottled up the British in Boston and seized their Hudson River forts at a time when there was no regular army. In the South, the militia kept up the fight after the regulars had been crushed, buying time for Greene. In New York, the decentralized ability to rapidly raise militia companies to bleed and eventually outnumber Burgoyne's army was essential to the pivotal Saratoga campaign after the regulars had been dispersed by Burgoyne's advance.

The militia didn't win the war, and would never have won it alone. But it is hard to see how there is a Yorktown, a Treaty of Paris and an independent United States without the efforts of thousands of militia from 1775 to 1782.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:49 PM | History • | Law 2009-18 • | Politics 2013 | TrackBack (0)
January 31, 2013
HISTORY: Reflections on the American Revolution, Part II of III: The Generals


How did America win its independence? In Part I of this essay, I looked at the population trends, foreign alliances, and equipment and weather conditions under which the American Revolution was fought. Let's add some thoughts on the leaders of the principal combatants: the American and British generals. The American command was far from perfect - but the war could have turned out very differently if the American side had not had the advantages of leadership it did, first and foremost the singular character of George Washington.

Washington, Washington: Any history of the Revolutionary War has to consider the unique leadership of George Washington. 43 years old when he assumed command, Washington came to the war with combat leadership experience from the French and Indian War, training as a surveyor that prepared him well to deal with maps and terrain, a decade of active fox hunting that had made him an excellent horseman, and experience in the Virginia House of Burgesses that had educated him in practical politics. Physically, Washington was a man of great strength, vigor and endurance and almost supernatural good luck. Washington's robust constitution survived smallpox, diphtheria, multiple bouts of malaria, pleurisy, dysentery (in 1755, the 23-year-old Washington had to ride to Braddock's defeat on a padded saddle due to painful hemorrhoids), quinsy (an abcess of the tonsils that laid him out in 1779) and possibly typhoid. In the rout of the Braddock expedition, Washington had two horses shot from under him and four bullet holes in his coat, yet neither then nor at any time during his military career was Washington wounded despite often being in the thick of battle and presenting an enormously conspicuous target (one of the tallest men in the Continental Army, in the most brilliant blue uniform, mounted on horseback).

But he had his weaknesses: he'd never had command of anything as large, diverse and complex at the Continental Army (whose very name bespoke its ambitions), and while Washington was smart, adaptable, detail-oriented and sometimes inspired, he was not a naturally brilliant military mind: his errors throughout the New York campaign would illustrate that he was no Napoleon, just as - in more fateful ways - Napoleon was no Washington.

I've noted before the success of Washington's frequent tactic of hit-and-run attacks followed by retreats and more retreats. Washington's overall long-term strategy ended up being one of simply enduring in the field, never putting his whole army at risk until he had the enemy trapped. But it's crucial to always bear in mind that this strategy ran contrary to everything in Washington's temperament. By nature, he was an aggressive, audacious military man who loved the offensive. Frequently throughout the war, Washington developed complex and daring offensive plans. Sometimes, as at Trenton in December 1776 and the following year's effort at a coup de main at Germantown in October 1777, he put those plans in action. The attack at Germantown was designed to catch Cornwallis' 9,000-man army by surprise with a numerically superior force and destroy it while it was divided from the rest of Howe's army quartered at Philadelphia. The plan, calling for four columns to fall on the British more or less simultaneously, was too complex and ambitious (the largest Continental Army column arrived late and the two militia columns had little effect) and ended in defeat. But like the 1968 Tet Offensive, it was a morale and propaganda winner for the Americans just to mount such an assault. It raised the Continental Army's morale, stunned the British command (which had thought Washington beaten and in retreat after the prior month's defeat at Brandywine that had cleared the way for the occupation of Philadelphia) and, together with the victory at Saratoga, it helped persuade the French that the American war effort was serious and had staying power. Washington's audacity on this occasion paid dividends even in defeat.

But at least as often, Washington allowed his war council (composed of his subordinates and, after the arrival of the French, Gen. Rochambeau, who made clear that he would defer to Washington's ultimate decisions) to talk him out of his own overly ambitious plans even after he had drawn them up at length: a hazardous amphibious assault on Boston during the 1775-76 siege (complete with, in one version of the plan, a vanguard of soldiers on ice skates attacking across the frozen harbor); a march on the British war purse at New Brunswick with an army exhausted after Trenton and Princeton in January 1777; an attack on New York in 1780 or 1781 when Rochambeau wanted to chase Cornwallis to Yorktown instead. His willingness to listen to the counsel of cooler heads is what separated the practical Washington from more tactically brilliant but ultimately undone-by-hubris generals from Napoleon to Robert E. Lee.

Relatedly, Washington learned from his mistakes. The desire for decisive battle and protection of politically important turf had led him to risk annihilation of the largest army he would have during the war at the Battle of Brooklyn; thereafter, he would not stage a do-or-die stand to protect any particular spot of land. Washington had signed off on the disastrous 1775 invasion of Quebec; he would resist all further entreaties to stage a second offensive.

If Washington's decisionmaking was sometimes imperfect, his temperament and leadership were flawless. Washington was neither deluded nor emotionless; time and again, his correspondence showed him verging on despondency at the condition of his army and the perils it faced, and we know he was capable of towering rages. But in the presence of his men (who were apt to get too high after heady victories and too low in defeat) and occasionally his adversaries, he never projected anything but steady confidence and endurance. Washington was not, perhaps, a nice man; even his close associates tended to regard him as the same distant marble statue we see him as today (Hamilton once bet a colleague at the Constitutional Convention a dinner if he'd go slap Washington on the back and act familiar with him; Washington pried his hand off and froze him with such a stare he told Hamilton afterwards he wouldn't try it again for anything). But Washington put tremendous, conscious effort into acting the part of a great man at all times in order to become one. Washington had his vices, chief among them his ownership of slaves, but his virtues were almost a textbook of the qualities needed of the leader of a long, dangerous struggle through major adversity: perseverance, discipline of himself and others, attention to detail, fairness, integrity, resourcefulness, physical courage, endurance of hardship, and an unblinking practicality. There's a great story about Washington breaking up a snowball fight that escalated into an enormous brawl between soldiers from Massachusetts and newly-arrived Virginia riflemen in Harvard Yard during the siege of Boston, possibly with racial overtones due to the presence of black soldiers in the Massachusetts regiment; a young observer recounted:

Reinforced by their friends, in less than five minutes more than a thousand combatants were on the field, struggling for the mastery.

At this juncture General Washington made his appearance, whether by accident or design I never knew. I only saw him and his colored servant...both mounted. With the spring of a deer, he leaped from his saddle, threw the reins of his bridle into the hands of his servant, and rushed into the thickest of the melee, with an iron grip seized two tall, brawny, athletic, savage-looking [Virginia] riflemen by the throat, keeping them at arm's length, alternately shaking and talking to them.

In this position the eye of the belligerents caught sight of the general. Its effect on them was instantaneous flight at the top of their speed in all directions from the scene of the conflict. Less than fifteen minutes time had elapsed from the commencement of the row before the general and his two criminals were the only occupants of the field of action.

You didn't mess with George Washington. But men would follow him anywhere.

Greene and Knox: The Continental Army's leaders were a mixed bag, and more than a few of those who served with distinction are largely forgotten today. If there are two names besides George Washington that every American schoolchild should learn from the Revolutionary War, it's Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox. Of all the Continental Army's generals, only Washington, Greene and Knox served the entire duration of the war. While men like Charles Lee, Horatio Gates, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold contributed more than their share of ego, drama, and backbiting, both Greene and Knox were unswervingly, uncomplicatedly loyal both to Washington and the cause he fought for. In the long run, that served them better than any thirst for glory. Greene was offered the post of Secretary of War under the Articles of Confederation; when he declined, Knox took the job and continued to hold it under Washington's presidency.

As soldiers, Greene and Knox were emblematic of one of the major characteristics of early America: they were self-educated, learning most of what they knew of military matters from books. Formal education was spotty in the colonies; even Washington, as a wealthy Virginia planter, never went to college and was mainly what we would call today "home schooled." Yet early Americans didn't let a lack of schooling bar them from the quest for knowledge. Ben Franklin had nearly no formal education at all, but by the closing decades of his public life was arguably the world's most respected intellectual. Knox was educated at Boston Latin, but unschooled in war; his military experience was five years in an artillery company of the Massachusetts militia. Greene had neither schooling nor military experience, but read whatever he could get his hands on. At the outset of the war, they were young small businessmen: Knox a 25 year old bookseller from Boston, Greene a 32-year-old Quaker from Rhode Island who ran the family forge. Both prepared for combat by reading books on military strategy and tactics; had there been a "War for Dummies" in 1775, they would have read it without embarrassment. (Washington, too, ordered a number of military volumes when heading off to Philadelphia in 1775; as Victor Davis Hanson has noted, one of the distinctive features of Western civilization is a long written tradition of military science, allowing the widespread dissemination of the latest ideas about warmaking). Yet, self-educated though they were, they knew what they were missing: Knox spent years agitating for the establishment of an American military academy to teach the art of war, which would eventually be founded at West Point under the Jefferson Administration.

Knox pulled off perhaps the most remarkable and dramatic feat of the war in the winter of 1775-76, when a team led by he and his brother made the long, snow-covered trek from Boston to Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York, loaded up all its heavy artillery, returned with every single artillery piece intact, and then in one night in March set up the guns on Dorchester Heights, the peninsula overlooking Boston from the south. The British were staggered, and forced to evacuate. The full tale, as told by David McCullough in 1776, is as amazing as anything in American history, and I can't hope to do it justice here. Knox would go on to prove himself time and again as the chief artillery expert in the Continental army from Boston to Trenton (where his guns commanded the center of the town) all the way through Yorktown (where the shelling of Cornwallis' encampment brought him to his knees), and would be present for all of Washington's major engagements. Knox' amateurism led him astray on occasion; a few of the guns under his command exploded on their handlers in Boston and again later in New York, and he is generally credited with the misguided decision to send waves of troops against a barricaded position at Germantown on the basis of an inflexible application of the maxim (which he'd probably picked up from a book) about not leaving a fortified position to your rear. But his overall record was one of practicality, resourcefulness and unwavering dedication to the cause.

As for Greene, he too can be found at all Washington's major battles of the first half of the war, as Washington's operational right-hand man; the Quartermaster General of the Army after Valley Forge; the commander (with Lafayette) of the first joint operation with the French, a failed effort to break the occupation of Newport, Rhode Island; and finally Washington's choice to assume command of the southern theater of the war after the serial failures of Robert Howe at Savannnah, Benjamin Lincoln at Charleston and Horatio Gates at Camden. The fiasco at Camden ended the military career of Gates, the victor of Saratoga, and left the Continental Army in the South in shambles, but it would prove Greene's finest hour. Greene had little time to rebuild the shattered army; he rarely commanded more than a few thousand men, and often had to rely on the aid of the local militia. And yet, with a major assist from those militia, he staged a brilliant series of retreats and maneuvers to keep Cornwallis from taking control over the region or from capturing and crushing his army. It was Greene who said of this campaign, "We fight, get beaten, rise, and fight again." After the costly March 1781 Battle of Guilford Court House, Cornwallis came to the decision that he needed to stop chasing Greene around the Carolinas and head north to Virginia, setting in motion the fateful chain of events that led to Yorktown.

Unfortunately, and characteristically of life in the 18th century, many of the leading figures of the Continental Army and Revolutionary militia did not live that long after the war's end, including Greene, who died of sunstroke at age 43. Charles Lee died in 1782, Lord Stirling in 1783, Greene in 1786, Ethan Allen in 1789, Israel Putnam in 1790, John Paul Jones in 1792, John Sullivan and Francis Marion in 1795, Anthony Wayne in 1796, and Washington himself in 1799. While numerous places in the United States today bear their names (here in New York, Greene as well as Putnam, Sullivan and militia leader Nicholas Herkimer are the namesakes of counties), their popular memories today are less vivid than Revolutionary War figures like Alexander Hamilton who had more prominent political roles. But nobody aside from Washington himself contributed more to victory than Greene and Knox.

The European Adventurers: The American cause was, of course, aided as well by a handful of Continental European volunteers - Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steuben, Casimir Pulaski, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Baron de Kalb (this is aside from some of the American leaders like John Paul Jones and Charles Lee who were native to the British Isles). Two of those, Pulaski and de Kalb, were killed in battle in the early unsuccessful battles of southern campaign, Pulaski at Savannah and de Kalb at Camden. Both Lafayette and Kosciuszko would return to try - with mixed success - to lead their own homelands to a republican future; Jones would serve in Catherine the Great's navy after the war, terrorizing the Turkish navy and becoming an honorary Cossack in the process. Only von Steuben would enjoy a quiet life in his adopted country.

Lafayette's exploits, especially during the Yorktown campaign, were significant and memorable, and in a general sense he contributed to the cementing of the alliance with France. And Pulaski played a key role in organizing the American cavalry. But von Steuben was likely the most important to the Continental Army's victory.

In contrast to the self-educated citizen soldiers running the American army, von Steuben came from the opposite end of the 18th century military spectrum: born a sort of aristocrat and a Prussian army brat, he had served as a staff officer on the professional Prussian general staff, the first of its kind in the world, and been instructed by Frederick the Great himself. Unlike some of the other Europeans - but like Jones, who fled to America because he was wanted for the murder of a sailor he had flogged to death - von Steuben was no starry-eyed idealist. He was an unemployed professional soldier, deeply in debt, who came to the American cause only after running out of prospective employers in Germany, and was trailed by an unverified rumor that he was fleeing prosecution for being "accused of having taken familiarities with young boys." He was passed off to Congress, perhaps knowingly and possibly with the complicity of Ben Franklin (who recognized his value), as one of Frederick the Great's generals rather than a captain on the general staff, and even his aristocratic title had been inflated and possibly invented. He spoke little or no English and often asked his translator to curse at the soldiers on his behalf.

But whatever his background, von Steuben's discipline and professional rigor was crucial. He established badly-needed standards for sanitary conditions in the army, introduced training in use of the bayonet, and taught the men the sort of manuevers that were essential to 18th century warfare. He is, on the whole, credited with the improved drill and discipline that emerged from Valley Forge and was displayed in the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. Monmouth, in combination with the French entry into the war, induced the British to mostly abandon the strategy of trying to hunt down Washington's army and focus instead on offensive operations in the South. Von Steuben's field manual was still the U.S. Army standard until the War of 1812. If Greene and Knox are emblems of traditional American virtues, the Continental Army's debt to von Steueben and the other Europeans is emblematic of America's adaptability and openness to the contributions of new arrivals.

The British Command: While there were many important figures on both sides of the war - I've only scratched the surface here on the American side - essentially all the important decisions on the British side were made by six generals: Gage, Howe, Clinton, Cornwallis, Burgoyne, and (in Quebec in 1775-76) Guy Carleton (Carleton also briefly commanded the British evacuation of New York in 1783 at the war's end). Where they went wrong provides an instructive contrast with Washington's command.

All six were professional military men, veterans of the Seven Years'/French and Indian War: Clinton, Cornwallis and Burgoyne had fought only in Europe, while Howe and Carleton had fought in the Quebec campaign that culminated in Wolfe's capture of the fortified city, and Gage had been a part of the Braddock expedition and thus seen Washington up close in action. And by and large, with the arguable exception of Gage, they fought with tactical skill and professionalism against the Americans. Yet they have gone down in history as architects of a great failure, weak in comparison to predecessors like Wolfe and dwarfed by the likes of Wellington who succeeded them. Aside from Carleton, only Cornwallis really survived the war with his domestic reputation and career intact, going on to years of highly influential service as a colonial administrator in Ireland and India that shaped the Empire in important ways. Howe was the only other one of the six besides Cornwallis to command troops in combat again, for a time during the early Napoleonic Wars.

The British failure was partly a matter of the personalities involved, but also one of basic strategic incoherence. They never really had a fully thought-out strategy. Only Clinton and Cornwallis really seemed to understand the paramount importance of putting Washington's army out of business early in the war, and their aggressive plans of flanking attacks and hot pursuits were frequently overriden by Gage and Howe, who were less apt than Washington to heed the good advice of their subordinates. Washington learned from his mistakes; Howe, in particular, did not, on multiple occasions settling down to stationary positions when he should have been finishing off Washington.

The British could have adopted a scorched-earth approach like Sherman in the Civil War; General James Grant urged the burning of major cities in the North, and in the southern campaign Banastre Tarleton's forces (including Loyalist partisans) did what they could to spread terror in the countryside, including some notorious examples of bayoneting wounded or surrendering Americans. Cornwallis near the end of the war in Virginia would set thousands of slaves free as a foreshadowing of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, albeit solely for tactical purposes. But, as regular forces facing guerrilla insurgencies often do, they took a halfway path that was the worst of both worlds: heavy-handedness and occasional atrocities were crucial to raising the militia against Burgoyne in New York and Cornwallis and Tarleton in the Carolinas, yet they failed to pursue a sufficiently merciless approach to annihilate the Continental Army or destroy its economic base of support.

Like the Americans, the British were riven by petty jealousies and contending egos; unlike the Americans, they never had a Washington to keep those divisions from impeding operations, and unlike the Americans, their civilian government was too far away to provide supervision. Burgoyne's appointment to lead the Saratoga expedition alienated both Carleton, who resigned in protest, and Clinton. In the case of Clinton, while he was usually right about tactics (notably his preference for outflanking the militia from the rear at Bunker Hill and for encircling Washington in New York), his flaw (which probably contributed to his advice being ignored) was his inability to work well with others. Though not entirely through faults of his own, it was Clinton's failure to arrive with timely reinforcements that led to the surrenders of Burgoyne at Saratoga and Cornwallis at Yorktown.

The human element of good generalship can be fortuitous, but it is also a product of the civilian and military cultures that produce armies. In the long run, the Americans had a clearer strategy, greater unity of purpose and command and more adaptable leadership, and that made the difference.

In Part III: the role of the militia.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 PM | History | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
January 29, 2013
HISTORY: Reflections on the American Revolution (Part I of III)

I've recently been reading a fair amount on the American Revolution, especially David McCullough's 1776 (which should be required reading for every American).* The more you read of the Revolutionary War, the more there is to learn, especially about the vital question of how the colonists pulled off their victory over the vastly wealthier and more powerful Great Britain. The standard narrative of the American Revolution taught in schools and retained in our popular imagination today overlooks a lot of lessons worth remembering about where our country came from.

The Population Bomb: In assessing the combatants and indeed the causes of the war, it's useful - as always - to start with demographics. There was no colonial-wide census, but this 1975 historical study by the US Census Bureau, drawing on the censuses of individual colonies and other sources, breaks out the growth of the colonial population from 1630 to 1780, and the picture it paints is one of explosive population growth in the period from 1740 to 1780:


The black population was principally slaves and thus - while economically and historically important - less relevant to the political and military strength of the colonies. But as you can see above, the main driver of population growth was the free white population rather than the slave trade.

Authoritative sources for the British population during this period are harder to come by (the first British census was more than a decade after the first U.S. Census in 1790); most sources seem to estimate the population of England proper between 6 and 6.5 million in 1776 compared to 2.5 million for the colonies. Going off this website's rough estimated figures for the combined population of England and Wales (Scotland had in the neighborhood of another 1.5 million people by 1776), the colonies went from 5% of the British population in 1700 to 20% in 1750, 26% in 1760, 33% in 1770, and 40% in 1780:


It was perhaps inevitable that this shift in the balance of population between the colonies and the mother country would produce friction, and of course such a fast-growing population means lots of young men ready to bear arms. Men like Franklin and Washington were already, by 1755, envisioning the colonies stretching across the continent for the further glory of the then-nascent British Empire; 20 years later, both were buying Western land hand over fist and picturing that continental vision as a thing unto itself.

The distribution of population among the individual colonies was somewhat different from today. Virginia (encompassing present-day West Virginia) was by far the largest colony and, along with the Carolinas, the fastest-growing, while Massachusetts, Maryland and Connecticut were much larger - and New York much smaller - relative to the rest of the colonies than today:


This is one reason why Maryland gained a reputation as the "Old Line State": it had the manpower to supply a lot of the Continental Army's best troops. Connecticut was, in fact, seen as a crucial economic engine of the war, the most industrialized of the colonies at the time and mostly undisturbed by combat. That said, when you look solely at the white population, the southern states loom less large, and the crucial role of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts comes into focus:


The smaller colonies present a similar picture:



Note that Rhode Island, alone, lost population during the war, due to the 1778-1780 British occupation of Newport. That occupation had lasting effects. According to a 1774 census, Newport's population before the war was more than twice that of Providence (more than 9,000 to less than 4,000) and it was a booming seaport; the city's population dropped by more than half to 4,000, and it never really recovered its status as a port, losing business permanently to New York and Boston. Another lasting side effect: Rhode Island, founded by Roger Williams as a haven of religious tolerance and welcoming even to Jews and Quakers, forbade Catholics from living in the colony, but after the British abandoned Newport in 1780 and the French garrison took up residence, the grateful Rhode Islanders permitted the French troops to celebrate the first Mass in Rhode Island; today, it is the most heavily Catholic state in the union.

Britain's population would surge in the 1790s, and by about 1800 there were a million people in London alone, the first city in world history confirmed to exceed that threshold. But that remained in the future; at the time, France's population of 25 million and Spain's of some 10 million would easily exceed that of George III's domain. Moreover, like its colonies, England had a longstanding aversion to standing armies; while the Napoleonic Wars would ultimately compel the British Army (including foreign and colonial troops) to swell to a quarter of a million men by 1813, a 1925 analysis found that "[a]t the outbreak of the Revolution, the total land forces of Great Britain exclusive of militia numbered on paper 48,647 men, of which 39,294 were infantry; 6,869 cavalry; and 2,484 artillery," with 8,580 men in America. And those forces were always stretched; according to this analysis of Colonial & War Office figures, the British never had much more than 15,202 redcoats in the American theater (including the Floridas, where they fought Spain), and never exceeded 30,000 troops in total, counting "Hessians" (companies of professional soldiers hired from the Hesse-Hanau, Hesse-Kassel, Brunswick and other German principalities) and American Loyalists (a/k/a "Tories"):


The Close Call: More modern American wars like the Civil War and World War II eventually developed a momentum that made victory effectively inevitable, as America's crushing material advantages came to bear on the enemy. By contrast, the Revolutionary War was, from beginning to end, a near-run thing (to borrow Wellington's famous description of Waterloo). At every stage and in every campaign of the war, you can find both British and American victories, as well as a good many battles that were fought to a draw or were Pyrrhic victories for one side. The length of the 7-year war in North America was a burden for the increasingly war-weary British, for a variety of reasons, but a long war was also a great risk for the Americans: the longer the war ran on, the harder it was in terms of both finances and morale to keep the all-volunteer Continental Army in the field. Whole units dissolved en masse at the end of their enlistments throughout the war, and there were mutinies in the spring of 1780 and again in January 1781. As late as 1780, Benedict Arnold's treason and debacles at Charleston and Camden, South Carolina put the American cause in jeopardy of being rolled up by the British, causing America's European allies to strike a separate peace. At one point or another in the war, the then-principal cities of most of the colonies - Massachusetts (Boston), Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), New York (New York), Virginia (Richmond and Charlottesville), Rhode Island (Newport), South Carolina (Charleston), Georgia (Savannah), Delaware (Wilmington) and New Jersey (Trenton, Princeton, Perth Amboy, New Brunswick) were captured and occupied by the British. Only Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina and New Hampshire remained unconquered, as well as the independent Vermont Republic (Maine, then governed by Massachusetts, was also under British control for much of the war; the failed Penobscot Expedition was aimed at its recapture, and ended with a disastrous naval defeat). In the spring of 1781, Thomas Jefferson - then the Governor of Virginia - escaped capture by Cornwallis' men by a matter of minutes, fleeing on horseback as the government of the largest colony was dispersed. It was only the complex series of events leading to Yorktown in the fall of 1781 - Cornwallis retreating to Virginia after being unable to put away Nathanael Greene's Continentals and the North Carolina militia, Washington escaping New Jersey before the British noticed where he was going, Admiral de Grasse bottling up Cornwallis' escape route in the Chesapeake by sea, Henry Clinton failing to come to Cornwallis' aid in time - that created the conditions for a decisive victory and finally forced the British to throw in the towel.

Moreover, a great many individual battles and campaigns throughout the war turned on fortuitous events ranging from fateful decisions to apparently providential weather. It is no wonder that many of the Founding generation (like many observers since) attributed their victory to the hand of God.

Weather and Suffering: Both the Continental Army and its British and Hessian adversaries endured conditions that no armies before or since would put up with, including a staggering menu of extreme weather ranging from blizzards to colossal thunderstorms to blazing summer heat. Ancient and medieval armies would not campaign in freezing cold and snow; modern armies (like the combatants at Leningrad and the Marines in the retreat from Chosin Resovoir) would at least face them with something closer to proper clothing and shelter. But both sides in the war suffered chronic shortages: the British from lack of food for their men and forage for their animals, the Americans from lack of clothing (especially shoes), shelter and ammunition. The British lost more sailors to scurvy in the war than soldiers to combat, and during the long siege of Boston they had recurring problems with their sentries freezing to death at night. Smallpox, malaria and other diseases were endemic and especially hard on European troops with no prior exposure (one of Washington's great strokes of good judgment was having his army inoculated against smallpox, a disease he himself had survived and which left him pock-marked and probably sterile**). The British were rarely able to make use of their cavalry due to a lack of forage, and their infantry had other equipment problems:

[T]he flints used by the British soldier during the war were notoriously poor. Colonel Lindsay of the 46th lamented that the valor of his men was so often "rendered vain by the badness of the pebble stone." He exclaimed indignantly against the authorities for failing to supply every musket with the black flint which every country gentleman in England carried in his fowling piece. In this respect the rebels were acknowledged to be far better off than the king's troops. A good American flint could be used to fire sixty rounds without resharpening, which was just ten times the amount of service that could be expected from those used by the British forces. Among the rank and file of the redcoats, the saying ran that a "Yankee flint was as good as a glass of grog."

The war was conducted during the Little Ice Age, a period of low global temperatures (it's a myth that "climate change" is a new phenomenon or must be caused by human activity), and the winters of the period (especially 1779-80) were especially brutal. American soldiers and militia forded waist-deep icy rivers to reach the Battle of Millstone, marched miles without boots in snowstorms on Christmas Night after crossing the icy Delaware to reach the Battle of Trenton, and even tried (insanely) to lay siege to the fortified Quebec City in a driving snow on New Year's Eve. These were only a few of the examples of Americans marching great distances in weather conditions that would defeat the hardiest souls. The British performed their own acts of endurance and valor; drive over the George Washington Bridge some time and look at the cliffs of the Palisades, and picture Cornwallis' men scaling them at night to attack Fort Lee. Other battles were fought in heavy wool uniforms in the broiling heat, from Bunker Hill to much of the southern campaign, or in rains that left gunpowder useless, or - on the eve of the Battle of Brooklyn - colossal lightning strikes that killed groups of American soldiers in Manhattan. In the 1776 siege of Sullivan's Island, the British were shocked to discover that their cannonballs wouldn't splinter the soft palmetto wood from which the American fort was constructed, leaving the British ships to take a pounding from American artillery.

Except for Quebec, the weather - however hostile - nearly always managed to favor the American cause, rescuing the Americans when the hand of fate was needed most. McCullough recounts the especially significant shifts in the wind and fog that allowed Washington's army to escape in the night, undetected, across the East River after the catastrophic Battle of Brooklyn, while the blizzard at the Americans' backs was key to their surprise at Trenton.

The Allies: Most educated Americans still recall that France came to the aid of the fledgling nation after the victory at Saratoga, and played a significant role in tipping the scales in the war. In World War I, Pershing's refrain of "Lafayette, we are here" was still a popular invocation of that collective memory. Besides French money and supplies and French land and naval combat at Yorktown, the French also stretched the British defenses with extensive campaigns in the Caribbean and with a threatened invasion of England. But as important as the French alliance was, the emphasis on France understates the role that other of America's allies and Britian's enemies played in the Revolution.

First and foremost, at least as history is taught here in the Northeastern U.S., the Spanish role in the Revolutionary War is scandalously underplayed. There are reasons for this: Spain was a less impressive international power in the late 18th Century than France and would become drastically less so by the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, and unlike the French, the Spanish rarely fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans or within the Thirteen Colonies. But Spain performed three vital roles in the war. First, under Bernardo de Galvez (namesake of Galveston, Texas, among other places), the Spanish Governor of the Louisiana Territory, the Spanish shipped significant war materiel up the Mississippi River through the American agent Oliver Pollock, supplementing the French aid that kept the American cause afloat. Second, after Spain's 1779 declaration of war against Britain, Galvez opened a significant second front against the British-held Floridas (which then included, in the territory of West Florida, much of what is now the Gulf Coast of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi). Galvez was arguably the most successful commander of the war in North America, his multi-national, multi-racial force sweeping through the British defenses, preempting any British move on New Orleans and culminating the capture of Pensacola (then the capital of East Florida) in the spring of 1781. This campaign resulted in the Floridas being transferred from Britain to Spain in the resulting peace treaty; the absence of a British foothold on the southern border of the U.S. would have lasting consequences, and the Floridas would end up being sold by Spain to the United States in 1819. And third, the Spanish played a pivotal role in the Yorktown campaign, not only raising more funds in Cuba for the campaign but also providing naval cover in the Caribbean that allowed Admiral de Grasse to sail north and close off the Chesapeake just in the nick of time. (Spain also conducted a long, costly siege of Gibraltar that ended unsuccessfully and a successful assault on Minorca, both of which spread British manpower thin between 1778 and 1783).

The other main fighting allies of the American colonists were two of the Iriquois Six Nations in upstate New York, the Oneida and Tuscarora (the other four fought with the British), as well as a few other tribes on the western frontier. But other sovereigns caused the British additional problems. The Kingdom of Mysore, a French ally in Southern India, went to war with Britain (the Second Anglo-Mysore War) in 1780, inflicting thousands of casualties with innovative rocket artillery at the September 1780 Battle of Pollilur. The Dutch, who frustrated John Adams' efforts to arrange financial assistance and an alliance until after Yorktown, nonetheless ended up dragged into the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War beginning in December 1780. (Some things never change: Adams was accused of unilateral "militia diplomacy" for ignoring diplomatic protocols and negotiating with the Dutch without consulting the French, but crowed after inking the deal in 1782 that "I have long since learned that a man may give offense and yet succeed."). The Russians, then moving towards an alliance with Great Britain against the French, nonetheless pointedly refused to get involved; Catherine the Great refused a 1775 request in writing from George III that she send 20,000 Cossacks to America (necessitating the hiring of Hessians instead) and eventually joined the League of Armed Neutrality with the Dutch and others to resist British naval embargoes (the step that brought the British and Dutch to blows). Catherine II thought the British were fools for provoking the conflict and predicted from the outset that the Americans would win. All in all, the international situation by the end of 1780 left the British increasingly isolated and drove the strategic imperative to seek out a decisive battle in Virginia - an imperative that led Cornwallis directly into a trap of his own devising but which the American, French and Spanish forces sprung with great skill and coordination.

In Part II: Washington and the other American and British generals. In Part III: the role of the militia.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:40 PM | History • | War 2007-18 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
December 18, 2012
POLITICS: Republicans Must Retreat, Not Surrender, on the Fiscal Cliff


It's time for John Boehner and the House and Senate Republicans now engaged in the fiscal cliff negotiations to learn a lesson from George Washington: when faced with fighting a losing battle, the wisest course is to retreat rather than surrender.

Washington's Retreats

George Washington didn't get to be the Father of His Country by leading his often outnumbered and outgunned troops on suicide missions. Washington fought few pitched battles in the Revolutionary War, usually unsuccessfully (as at Long Island, Brandywine and Germantown). His signal successes involved surprise attacks (at Trenton) or trapping or cornering his foes without a full-scale open-field engagement (at Boston and Yorktown). Facing numerically superior forces, Washington often preferred to retreat to save his army from disaster, even after successful smaller engagements like the fight at Harlem Heights. Often in 1776 and 1777, as his army unsuccessfully sought to defend New York and Philadelphia from the steadily building British army, Washington would have his troops disengage and slip away in the dark, even at the cost of eventually having both cities captured by the enemy. For much of the war, Washington would resist Congressional entreaties to launch more ambitious offensives (such as an impractical invasion of Quebec), and at times would hastily abandon positions (like at Stony Point) that his men captured but could not defend.

Washington's evasiveness - and his army's endurance of hard marches in the snow at Trenton in the winter of 1776 and winter quarters in the bitter cold at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777 - enabled him to keep his forces together until they were strong enough to fight the British to a standstill at Monmouth and until the reinforcement of allied troops from France arrived. Washington's subordinate Nathaniel Greene conducted a similar campaign in the South, harassing Cornwallis while losing most of his battles (as Greene wrote, "[w]e fight, get beat, rise and fight again") but remaining on the run, avoiding a decisive engagement until Washington and the French could trap Cornwallis at Yorktown in September 1781.

Washington's approach didn't just help his army avoid annihilation or capture until it could grow stronger and obtain outside help. It also staved off an ever-threatened collapse in morale, as Washington's men avoided more of the kind of disastrous routs that would lead to more desertions and fewer recruits. In time, it bonded Washington to his men, who grew to trust his judgment. Of perhaps particular interest to Boehner and McConnell, it also helped Washington avoid being replaced from his command by an antsy Congress. And in the end, it brought him victory.

Washington's Surrender

The one thing Washington never did in the Revolution was surrender. Only once, at the outset of his military career, did he do that, and it ended in disaster for all involved. In 1754, Washington - then a Colonel in the Virginia militia under the command of the British royal governor - was sent to scout the frontier in what is now Western Pennsylvania, with orders that authorized him to fight anyone obstructing British settlements in the area. Finding the French in possession of a partially constructed British fort, Washington and his Iroquois allies launched an attack (begun under circumstances that are murky to this day) that ended up with the French commander, Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, being killed and scalped by the overzealous Iroquois leader, Tanaghrisson, possibly while attempting to negotiate a cease-fire. ("Overzealous" may be putting it mildly - Tanaghrisson split Jumonville's head open and washed his hands in his brains. Boehner's and McConnell's issues controlling their caucus seem mild by comparison.)

The French in the area, under the command of Jumonville's brother Louis Coulon de Villiers, launched a counterattack along with their own Native American allies, cornering Washington (now abandoned by the Iroquois) at Fort Necessity. Villiers threatened to storm the fort and let the Native Americans scalp Washington and his entire garrison, but since the two countries were not at war, he offered Washington safe passage with his men back to Virginia if he surrendered. The deal also included a prisoner exchange at the conclusion of Washington's withdrawal from the area. Badly outnumbered, with rain soaking his ammunition and his men breaking into the fort's liquor supplies, Washington capitulated - and signed terms written in French by a vindictive Villiers that would haunt him:

All Washington had to do was sign the terms of capitulation.

Washington, due to a mistranslation, thought he was confirming that his men killed Jumonville, or so he insisted the rest of his life. The actual French word, "l'assassinate," was more loaded, meaning murder rather than just kill. To make things worse, the document also mentioned that Jumonville had been on a mission to deliver a communication from the French government to the British government; in other words, a diplomatic mission. Washington might have learned this earlier, had Jumonville's letter been fully translated before Tanaghrisson acted, and been able to restrain the Indians. Tanaghrisson, who seems to have understood French, probably realized this.

Washington, duped, blamed his translator, Jacob Van Braam, and never spoke to him again. Neither side ended up honoring the remaining terms of an agreement negotiated in bad faith under duress. The succeeding controversy touched off the global war known in the U.S. as the French and Indian War, with dire results for all sides. For Washington, it meant being sent back to confront the French along with a British expeditionary force led by General Braddock. Braddock sought decisive battle and got it, with his expedition ending in a rout that killed its commander and required Washington to shepherd the remaining forces home safely. For the French, the war itself resulted in the loss of all their North American possessions. For the British, Braddock's defeat convinced the colonials that they could handle battle as well as the British regulars, a discovery that would help trigger the American Revolution 21 years after the surrender at Fort Necessity (a revolution that itself would help contribute to the fiscal crisis that collapsed the French monarchy).

Today's Field of Battle

The Legislative Terrain

The "fiscal cliff" negotiations, which by design were set for right after the presidential election, have been built around the legislative Doomsday Device constructed by the two parties in 2011 and having its roots all the way back to George W. Bush passing tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 that would expire in 2010 unless extended. The "cliff" refers to a bunch of things that will happen automatically without legislative action - signed by the President - to prevent them:

This cliff is composed of several parts.

1. The [temporary] payroll tax reduction passed in 2010 will end.
2. The temporary tax rates passed under President Bush will lapse.
3. Obamacare's taxes will come due.
4. The Alternative Minimum Tax will expand to many more taxpayers.
5. Extended unemployment benefits will expire.
6. Some $78 billion in federal spending will be sequestered.
7. Medicare "doc fix" will expire.

By choosing to fight right after the election, Republicans took the risk that Obama would win and negotiate from what is likely to be the high point of his second term popularity. Each side holds hostages: Obama holds the extension of the tax cuts, especially the cuts for the top tax rates, which Republicans want; Republicans hold the extension of the debt limit. On the tax side, Democrats (in a sharp reversal from their position during the Bush years) profess to want to make the Bush tax cuts permanent below a certain income threshold, and have previously passed a bill in the Senate to do so. Obama's hostages among the top rates include the capital gains rate, which is of particular importance to the economy:

The Senate-passed bill to extend Bush tax cuts for income under $250,000 ($200,000 for a single filer) applies to both the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, and thus also allows tax rates on capital gains and dividends over $250,000 to return to 20 percent. It would also reinstate separate tax provisions cutting the amount by which high earners can benefit from the personal exemption and itemized deductions.

On the spending side, the sequester cuts include dangerous cuts to defense spending, which Republicans want to avoid and which Obama professed to not want during the election campaign, and a variety of social-program spending the Democrats want to preserve. Items that could potentially be included in a deal range from entitlement cuts to eliminating deductions in the tax code. Different economists project various sorts of doom from "going over the cliff" or for pretty much any other possible solution; your mileage may vary as to how seriously to take these.

The Political Terrain

Republicans and Obama both have immediate political stumbling blocks and goals aside from their long-term policy interests. For Republicans, the top of that list is the Americans for Tax Reform no-tax-hikes pledge, which most have taken. Grover Norquist, the head of ATR, doesn't wield all that much power by himself, but House and Senate Republicans who have taken the pledge can be in a very bad place with their own constituents (think: "read my lips, no new taxes") if they break it without a really compelling reason to do so. No GOP-controlled House since the institution of the income tax has ever raised rates. But they also have one possible escape hatch: it's not a real violation of the pledge for tax hikes to happen automatically without a vote, especially if Republicans have gone repeatedly on record trying to extend them.

Obama's goal is twofold and related. First, he wants to break Republicans, and divide the party to it's less able to resist him in his second term. And second, he wants to get the core of his economic agenda - the top-rate tax hikes and "Buffett Rule" tax hikes on investments - passed with GOP support so that he can spread the blame for the consequences. Obama may be slow to learn this lesson, but he understands that the game theory calculus from the 2009 stimulus - that the only safe place for Republicans is to wash their hands of his agenda - requires him to find a way to keep Republicans out of that place. Bipartisan cover is particularly important to Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2014 in Louisiana, Arkansas, West Virginia, South Dakota, and Montana (all states Obama lost twice), as well as states like North Carolina, Virginia, and New Hampshire. Like Villiers at Fort Necessity, Obama wants Republican signatures on a deal that can be used against them.

But that's if there's an agreement. If there is none, the political reality is that the media is prepared to blame the GOP for any failure to reach an agreement, pretty much no matter the course of negotiations, and in the immediate honeymoon period following Obama's re-election, this will probably work. Democrats have internalized this argument, saying the GOP is checkmated. This has emboldened Obama. Treasury Secretary Geithner declared that the Administration would go over the cliff unless a deal included hikes on taxpayers above $250,000. Press Secretary Jay Carney insisted, as Obama had said repeatedly during the campaign, that Social Security would not be on the table. Dick Durbin says the White House told him the Medicare eligibility age is not on the table. And on the debt limit:

President Obama is saying flatly that he will not negotiate under any circumstances over raising the national debt limit....the President says he won't negotiate under any circumstances. And his top advisors say he's adamant on the point - not just because of the current impasse but to take hostage taking over the national debt off the table for good.

This is all consistent with Obama's traditional approach of offering nothing of value to Republicans to get bipartisan deals done. As usual, Obama is attempting - even without control of the House of Representatives - to proceed on what I've described before as the annihilation strategy of winning legislative victories.

Learning To Retreat

Nervous Hill Republicans have taken all this as a sign that they must accept a deal, any deal, and that Obama has them over a barrel, even if it means trading tax hikes for the illusion of spending cuts. But that is the wrong approach. The GOP can always retreat - but it must be to more defensible ground.

As I have written before at length, you win battles in politics by picking fights you are willing to lose. As streiff's analogy to Keyser Soze makes clear, that includes showing a willingness to stand back and let Obama shoot his hostages. But it doesn't mean the GOP is holding a strong position, either. Some hardliners think "no surrender" means we have the leverage to win all kinds of concessions, and Phil Klein explains why this is madness, and specifically why just walking away completely could leave Republicans in a much worse position come January:

[Consider] the effect on [the GOP's] low-tax brand from letting everyone's taxes go up on Jan. 1. At that point, Obama can go on television and demand a $3.7 trillion tax cut for 98 percent of Americans. What happens to the brand if Republicans oppose a tax cut for the middle class because it doesn't also lower rates on those with the highest incomes?

What happens when Harry Reid holds a vote on a bill that lowers rates on the middle class? Will Republican senators vote against it? If so, their challengers can run ads attacking them for voting against a massive middle-class tax cut. What does that do to the brand? And when, in all likelihood, such a bill passes with near-unanimous support in the Senate, what does it do to the House GOP's low-tax brand if their members resist, bottle up or vote against the same tax cut?

The time for Republicans to win the tax debate was during the 2012 election. They lost. That doesn't mean they need to give away the store, but it does mean that they'll have to make some accommodation for reality.

Even Jim DeMint has argued that it's more or less inevitable that Obama will get a tax hike, whether Republicans agree to it or not.

I highly recommend reading both Klein's and streiff's essays in their entirety, as they frame the two possible approaches to walking away from a deal, along with Drew M's "Let it Burn" argument. Klein says the GOP should just pass an extension of the Bush tax cuts for everyone below $250,000, dare Obama and Harry Reid to oppose them, and leave town; streiff argues that Republicans should just let the whole cliff go into effect, tax hikes and all, because the cliff includes cuts the GOP couldn't get at the bargaining table; Drew argues that voters simply need to see the consequences of electing Obama. I think Klein has the better argument, the one that places Republicans in the position George Washington would have appreciated: having retreated to more defensible terrain where they can use their leverage over the remaining hostage (the debt limit) to ransom the defense cuts and perhaps get some additional modest concessions, while making clear that it was the Democrats alone who chose to raise taxes. It now appears that Boehner is pushing a "Plan B" that could do something like that - making the Bush tax cuts permanent for everyone below $1 million.

Of course, a retreat does not mean the end of the fight. And while Republicans do not have great leverage, they still have an advantage that gets undercovered by the media: the Democratic camp itself is divided on what it can and can't swallow. For example, Obama may be willing to accept letting the payroll tax cut expire, a move that is deeply unpopular with base groups like MoveOn.Org. Senate Democrats are also divided over "Chained CPI," a method of restraining the growth of Social Security benefits. But the George Washington approach - engage, retreat, maneuver, and make the Democrats show their cards - is a better way to tease out those divisions than either a suicidal last stand or an abject surrender.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:00 PM | History • | Politics 2012 • | Politics 2013 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
July 28, 2012
HISTORY/LAW: And We Think The Legal System Is Rough Today

I think today you would get some headlines if a former California Chief Justice was shot dead attacking a US Supreme Court Justice over a case involving the extortion of a US Senator.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:36 PM | History • | Law 2009-18 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
July 11, 2012
POLITICS/HISTORY: The Southern Strategy Myth and the Lost Majority

I recently finished reading Sean Trende's excellent book The Lost Majority, which is a must-read for anyone attempting to intelligently discuss its subject: how winning political coalitions are built, maintained and undone in the modern American two-party system. Trende covers a range of topics. At the level of political science theory, he dismantles the theory of periodic realigning elections. In his historical analysis, he may surprise you by arguing that the most enduring coalition of the past century was assembled not by McKinley, FDR, or Reagan but Dwight Eisenhower. Looking to the recent past and future, he convincingly demonstrates that Obama's 2008 coalition was always more fragile than Democrats at the time believed, and that there remain obstacles to the John Judis/Ruy Teixeira theory of an Emerging Democratic Majority. Trende's major point is that all such predictions of enduring partisan majorities (he cites many dating back over the past century and a half) ignore the fact that political coalitions inevitably draw together factions with different interests and ideologies, and frictions within those coalitions inevitably offer opportunities for the other party to regain support.

But one of the historical narratives that Trende covers in depth is of particular interest because it remains a crucial part of partisan mythology today: the enduring myth of the Southern Strategy. On the occasion of Mitt Romney's address to the NAACP, it is worth revisiting that myth today.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:00 PM | History • | Politics 2012 | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)
February 25, 2012
HISTORY: Presidents By Birth Month

For your Presidents' Week (or whatever they call it these days) enjoyment, the birth month of all the presidents, plus presidential candidates:

This is...not evenly distributed in terms of quality.

January: Nixon, FDR. McKinley, Fillmore

February: Reagan, Lincoln, W.H. Harrison, Washington

One of these things is not like the others. Then again, at least Harrison did no damage in office.

March: Cleveland, Tyler, Jackson, Madison

(Mitt Romney was born in March)

April: Grant, Buchanan, Monroe, Jefferson

May: JFK, Truman

(Rick Santorum was born in May)

June: George H.W. Bush

(Newt Gingrich was born in June)

July: George W. Bush, Ford, Coolidge, J.Q. Adams

August: Obama, Clinton, LBJ, Hoover, B. Harrison

Poor Benjamin Harrison, in this company.

September: Taft

There wasn't room for another one.

October: Carter, Ike, TR, Arthur, Hayes, Adams

Character of this list changes a lot if you ignore History's Greatest Monster.

November: Harding, Garfield, Pierce, Taylor, Polk

Pierce is the only one who was alive five years after being elected. Polk rather stands out in this crowd.

December: Wilson, A.Johnson, Van Buren

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:14 AM | History • | Politics 2012 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
February 21, 2012
HISTORY: Great Moments In Senate Rhetoric

With the Washington Post debating the most underrated presidents, I'd put my vote for James K. Polk. Polk's tactics remain controversial and he had no stomach for resolving the festering issue of slavery and its expansion, even as he forced the issue forward by massively expanding the country. Even for all that, though, Polk's long-term impact on the nation in just a single term in office was massive and indisputably positive, scoring most of what is now Oregon and Washington from Great Britian without a fight (but not without some nervous moments) and adding Texas, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona and much of Colorado from a dysfunctional Mexico that could never have developed them. Polk, not Teddy Roosevelt, should be on Mount Rushmore.

Anyway, we think political rhetoric is harsh today, but this was a favorite example of mine from Robert Merry's book on Polk. Senator Edward Hannegan of Indiana - a member of Polk's own party - in a dialogue on the Senate floor, predicted that history would judge Polk (who had run on a promise to win the Oregon Territory, whose boosters used the slogan "54'40" or fight!") harshly for settling for the Oregon territory only up to the 49th parallel:

So long as one human eye remains to linger on the page of history, the story of his abasement will be read, sending him and his name together to an infamy so profound, a damnation so deep, that the hand of resurrection will never be able to drag him forth. He who is the traitor to his country can never have forgiveness of God.


Polk, of course, did settle, more or less, for the 49th parallel. Footnote: after Hannegan was not renominated for another Senate term, Polk, on his way out of office, appointed Hannegan the US Ambassador to Prussia.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:53 PM | History | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
February 7, 2012
HISTORY: Cleveland on Marriage

A little history lesson, which of course you can interpret any way you like, but I think at least it's a reminder that social-issue controversy - and strong rhetoric about the importance of marriage - is not a totally new thing in national politics. Here's a passage from Grover Cleveland's first State of the Union message, in 1885, at the height of the federal government's effort to stamp out polygamy (some seven years after the US Supreme Court in Reynolds v US held that it was constitutional to ban polygamy). Mind you, this is a Democratic president who had just been elected in a campaign that featured extensive criticism of the unmarried Cleveland for fathering a child out of wedlock. It's also an interesting reminder that the Mormon church was compelled, rather literally at gunpoint by the federal government, to abandon its original definition of marriage.

The last line gives you a sense of exactly how hard-line Cleveland was on this issue.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:31 PM | History | Comments (21) | TrackBack (0)
January 12, 2012
HISTORY/WAR: Iran 1953

Amir Taheri brings some perspective to the myths surrounding the CIA's involvement in Iran in 1953, one of the talking points most cherished by Communists, Islamists and Chomskyites these past several decades (all of whom use basically the same propaganda script), and most recently Ron Paul and his acolytes. One of the key points is the extent to which Mohammed Mossadeq precipitated the crisis - much like the crisis a few years back in Honduras - by taking a variety of extralegal steps that presented a grave threat to the existing legitimate government of Iran.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:55 PM | History • | War 2007-18 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
September 30, 2011
POLITICS: Reagan Did Not Wait Until The Last Minute

The 2012 presidential election season has not been a normal one in many ways. History teaches us that every election season brings something new we haven't seen before - but also that progress in electioneering, as in most walks of life, is more gradual than people are wont to predict. The candidate who says "this time, everything is different" or "the old rules don't apply" or promises "new politics" or "fundamental change" is almost always selling a bill of goods to his or her supporters, and often to himself or herself. As conservatives, with a belief in experience as mankind's best and only teacher, we should know better. One need only look back to 2010, when a popular wave brought victory mostly to candidates with the attributes and experience of traditonally successful candidates (Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey) and defeat to candidates who were genuinely unorthodox or similar to past losing campaigns (Sharron Angle, Carly Fiorina, Christine O'Donnell). The terrain shifted and new opportunities were created, but the basic rules of the game remained the same.

Even now, with the leading GOP contenders pouring money and manpower into the early primary states and the filing deadlines only a month away, we still have pundits and eager activists telling us that it's not too late for new candidates to jump in. Please, Sarah Palin. Please, Chris Christie. Etc. It's certainly true that a late entrant could yet generate enough support to shake up the fundamental dynamics of the race. It's even possible that Rick Perry and Mitt Romney will prove vulnerable enough that a new entrant could still win. But let us not kid ourselves: the old rules still matter. It would be deeply unprecedented for a candidate in the modern (post-1972) age of presidential primaries to win the nomination without having laid any foundation of a national organization as late as the October before the primaries.

Some would have you believe that Ronald Reagan, who officially declared himself a candidate in November 1979, ran such a race. This is nonsense and historical ignorance.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:14 PM | History • | Politics 2012 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
March 9, 2011

Great look back at Andrew Jackson's enormous wheel of cheese. Yes, the White House had different problems in those days.

Speaking of the Jacksonian era, I've recently been reading "A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent," which is an excellent look at the Polk Administration - Polk was without doubt our most underrated president, one of the five or six most consequential and accomplished presidencies and by far the most significant one-term president. Anyway, one thing that was a quite different problem, which modern presidents only think they would like to have: Polk faced a challenge early in his tenure owing to the fact that the editor of the essentially-official Democratic party newspaper was antagonistic to him, and he had to maneuver to oust the editor despite the fact that he was an old friend of Jackson, Polk's mentor. We still have a variety of partisan and ideological media organs, but Polk's experience illustrated the double-edged sword of the 19th century tradition of having a paper that was widely seen by the public as speaking for a party: if the party had competing factions, it could do disproportionate damage to party leaders on the wrong side of the split.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:41 AM | History | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
January 17, 2011

We celebrate today a national holiday in honor of an ordained minister of Jesus Christ.

There are three men in American history distinguished enough that they have been honored with a national holiday - George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King jr. - but only Dr. King has been honored solely for his time as a private citizen, having never held public office or military commission.

Unsurprisingly, to be so honored, all three men hold lessons for conservatives and liberals alike. All were in some sense revolutionary figures, unwilling to sit quietly on the status quo for the sake of comity and going along to get along, even at the sake of personal danger and the making of many enemies. Washington took up arms against his own government, and forged a new nation unlike any that had come before. Lincoln led a new, sometimes hard-edged political party that challenged a deeply embedded evil afoot in the nation, never backing down from his anti-slavery convictions even when accused of fomenting violence by anti-slavery radicals, nor when half the country took up arms in rebellion rather than accept his election. And Dr. King challenged, with stubborn persistence, the equally entrenched legacy of slavery in the form of Jim Crow laws. Yet by the same token, none of the three was a radical. Washington, like others of his generation, saw himself not as author of a new order but the protector of an Englishman's traditional liberties against novel encroachments such as new and unjust taxes. Lincoln, for all his hatred of slavery, was initially willing to accept the pragmatic half-measure of stopping its spread, and only came to the drastic step of emancipation in the midst of a horrible war. And Dr. King eschewed the call to arms of the African-American radicals of his day, pushing for reform through the system and calling on his fellow Americans not to reject their heritage but to live up to the promises of America's founding documents and answer to their Christian consciences.

America has never been an exclusively Christian country - Washington, for example, famously helped set the tone for religious pluralism with his 1790 letter to the Jewish congregation at Newport, Rhode Island - but we have relied again and again on the Christian faith of so many Americans to form an essential part of our national character. We cannot know where Dr. King's politics would have gone had he lived past 1968, and perhaps his legacy would be more complicated today if we did. Nor do we have any illusions that he was perfect; like many famous heroes of church and of state, and even prominent saints, he had his personal failings, such as plagiarism and adultery. But we know this much: it was no public office, no earthly wealth or power, but simply his faith in the redeeming power of Christ, for sinful men and sinful nations alike, that gave him the courage and the conviction to give moral leadership to a reluctant and at times bitterly hostile nation. Let us hope and pray we never run short of such inspiration.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:14 AM | History • | Politics 2011 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
December 20, 2010

Republicans, so long as I can recall, have faced an endless barrage of attacks from Democrats and their media allies derived from the theme that today's Republicans are mean, scary extremists not like those Republicans of the past who won elections because they were moderate and civil and whatnot. The only really good Republicans, to these critics, are dead ones (or live ones who lose elections), although past Republicans do come in for some rehabilitation as soon as they can be used as a club against their successors - we've already seen some examples of George W. Bush being cited by liberals on issues like immigration and the Ground Zero Mosque controversy.

Now, it's true, of course, that political coalitions grow and change all the time as different issues rise in importance, and that the GOP in particular has been influenced by the growth of systematic conservative thinking on a variety of fronts. But let's not fool ourselves that this is a new development. In 1854, Abe Lincoln - six years before he became the first Republican president - was already defending himself against Democrat Stephen A. Douglas' contention that Lincoln's anti-slavery position on the Kansas-Nebraska Act showed him to be out of step with those sane, moderate Whigs of the past, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster (by then, both dead). Here is Lincoln's response:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:16 PM | History • | Politics 2010 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
October 11, 2010
HISTORY: The Real Che

An illuminating reminder about the career of Che Guevara, the Himmler of Castro's Cuba.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:18 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
July 9, 2010
HISTORY: America Begins

My RedState colleague streiff has a fascinating piece on the 255th anniversary of Braddock's defeat and its importance to the Revolutionary generation and the rise of George Washington, then 23 years old and already a pivotal figure in the war between France and Britain known here as the French and Indian War (more background here and here on Washington's role in touching off the war through the incidents at Jumonville Glen/Fort Necessity. Naturally, the tale includes many of the familiar templates of US-European relations that are with us still.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:07 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
July 6, 2010
BLOG: And Now I'm Back, From Outer Banks

So, we just got back last night from a week plus vacation, mainly in Duck, in North Carolina's Outer Banks. Apologies for not setting up a guest blogger this time, I had anticipated doing a little blogging from vacation but we had the worst possible WiFi setup - I had internet access only up an observation tower on our rental house, and atop the tower it was too sunny to see the laptop screen by day and too dark to see the keys at night. (Also, I ended up doing more work on vacation than anticipated; it's been that kind of year). So, I was able to use Twitter from my Blackberry, but no blogging. Hopefully, regular blogging will return shortly.

We did get a chance, on the way out of town, to check out Kitty Hawk, where the second set* of Wright Brothers chose for their spot to make aviation history, and you only have to fly a kite in the Outer Banks to see why they picked the spot - the wind conditions are perfect for effortless flight. Of course, my 4-year-old was able to walk the distance of the first flight in almost the time it took the Wright Brothers to get there by airplane. The first flight wasn't that fast. But it is striking that it's one of the very few great moments in scientific and technological history that was captured for posterity in photographs. And of course, as befitted (befat?) men of that era, everyone involved wore neckties, topcoats and top hats.

On the trip back, we caught the July 4 Mets-Nationals game at Nationals Park. It's a nice place for a ballgame, with scarcely a bad seat in the house, notwithstanding that it was hot enough there Monday to melt the One Ring. I wouldn't say it's quite as attractive a venue as Citizens Bank or Citi Field, but it's very wide-open, and when Craig Stammen is pitching (he's in the rotation the day after Strasburg), you can have any seat in the house. We sat in the field-level right field seats (Section 135L), which were awesome until the heat became unbearable, then backed up to the covered seats at the top of the section.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:31 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Blog 2006-Present • | History | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
February 13, 2010
HISTORY/POLITICS: Madison Was Wise: Lessons From Federalist No. 62

I wrote at some length earlier this week on the crucial role of the legislative filibuster in preventing transitory legislative majorities from saddling the nation with permanent legislation of great complexity. As with so many questions of great significance, the Founding Fathers had wise and useful foresight to offer on the dangers of frequent and complex changes in federal law. Let's go to the words of James Madison in Federalist No. 62, his explanation of the virtues of the Senate:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:06 PM | History | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
December 10, 2009
HISTORY: Teddy Roosevelt on the Nobel Peace Prize and the Use of Force

Our second history lesson of the day: on the occasion of Barack Obama's acceptance of the honor, it is worth looking back to a little history. Theodore Roosevelt, the first sitting President awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, did not attend the ceremony, but sent a telegram. But TR gave a Nobel lecture in 1910 - two years after leaving office, four years after winning the prize for mediating the end of the Russo-Japanese War, and four years before the world was plunged into The Great War - and his observations on peace are worth recalling, even as he was (at the time) optimistic about the possibilities for then-nascent international institutions:

In any community of any size the authority of the courts rests upon actual or potential force: on the existence of a police, or on the knowledge that the able-bodied men of the country are both ready and willing to see that the decrees of judicial and legislative bodies are put into effect. In new and wild communities where there is violence, an honest man must protect himself; and until other means of securing his safety are devised, it is both foolish and wicked to persuade him to surrender his arms while the men who are dangerous to the community retain theirs. He should not renounce the right to protect himself by his own efforts until the community is so organized that it can effectively relieve the individual of the duty of putting down violence. So it is with nations. Each nation must keep well prepared to defend itself until the establishment of some form of international police power, competent and willing to prevent violence as between nations. As things are now, such power to command peace throughout the world could best be assured by some combination between those great nations which sincerely desire peace and have no thought themselves of committing aggressions.

And so it is today; sometimes those combinations act through international institutions like the UN, sometimes they don't - and the day is not on the horizon when we could trust such institutions with police powers of their own. Those of us who love peace, therefore, must continue to heed Roosevelt's caution at how it is maintained.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:37 PM | History • | War 2007-18 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Ted Kennedy, Pro-Lifer

An observant reader notes that my description yesterday of Ted Kennedy's support for legal abortion as "lifelong" is an overstatement. In fact, early in his public career, even Ted Kennedy had not yet embraced the casual cruelty of his party towards the defenseless unborn; indeed, Kennedy's rhetoric in those early days, displays genuine compassion for the defenseless unborn. Given Kennedy's centrality to Democratic strategy on this issue - he was the leader of the fight against the Bork nomination - it's interesting to look back. Here's Kennedy during his 1970 campaign for a second full term in the Senate:

Spaulding was what today would be called "pro-choice," and Kennedy, at that time, was passionately opposed to abortion. So when the subject came up, the senator was in full voice. He screamed, "Don't tell me there isn't enough love in the world to care for all the unwanted babies." He mentioned that adoption agencies had waiting lists.

In 1971, Kennedy put his pro-life convictions in writing to a correspondent on Long Island:

Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized - the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old....Once life has begun, no matter at what stage of growth, it is my belief that termination should not be decided merely by desire....I also share the opinions of those who do not accept abortion as a response to our society's problems...When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared enough about human beings enough to...fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.

Sadly, Kennedy's estimate of how much love there was in the world, and how much his generation should care about fellow human beings, dwindled with the years - I leave to the reader to speculate on his motivations in the regard, but two of the groups most ardently in favor of legal abortion (not to suggest that they are mutually exclusive) are Democratic presidential candidates and men who have a lot of sex with women not their wives and don't especially like to pay the consequences. What is clear, however, is that the many years Kennedy spent trying to convince Americans that the pro-life movement was somehow extremist and anti-woman were really a renunciation of his own heart. Because once upon a time, Ted Kennedy cared about the unborn.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:04 PM | History • | Politics 2009 | Comments (51) | TrackBack (0)
November 24, 2009
WAR/LAW: Ignorance of History

Ed Morrissey has some fun with an article contending that if trials were good enough for the Nazis, they should be good enough for Al Qaeda - but completely ignoring the fact that the Nuremberg trials were military commissions without the full panoply of criminal procedures available today in federal court.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:33 PM | History • | Law 2009-18 • | War 2007-18 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
October 29, 2009
HISTORY: Ivory-Tickly Dick

For no particular reason but your entertainment: Richard Nixon (in 1963) plays his own composition on the piano:

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:28 PM | History | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
September 22, 2009
HISTORY: Pickled Yeltsin

I've always had a soft spot for Boris Yeltsin for his courage in standing up at a critical juncture to bring democracy to Russia and draw down the curtain on the Soviet empire; that alone will earn him a righteous place in the history books. Sad to say, though, Yeltsin's second act as head of state had a lot to do with the conditions that have led to democracy's long, slow demise in Russia; the man was just not cut out to run a country. A new book on the Clinton Administration has a telling anecdote:

Boris Yeltsin's late-night drinking during a visit to Washington in 1995 nearly created an international incident. The Russian president was staying at Blair House, the government guest quarters. Late at night, Clinton told Branch, Secret Service agents found Yeltsin clad only in his underwear, standing alone on Pennsylvania Avenue and trying to hail a cab. He wanted a pizza, he told them, his words slurring.

The next night, Yeltsin eluded security forces again when he climbed down back stairs to the Blair House basement. A building guard took Yeltsin for a drunken intruder until Russian and U.S. agents arrived on the scene and rescued him.

In the Soviet era, one imagines that the head of state would have been better protected from himself by his own security.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:38 AM | History | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
September 11, 2009
HISTORY: Another September 11

A bit off topic of where most people's heads are today, but my RedState colleague Skanderbeg has written up a fascinating account of the Battle of Plattsburgh, September 11, 1814. It's a characteristic illustration of the confluence of fortune and improvisation that have so often favored American military engagements.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:52 PM | History | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
February 19, 2009
HISTORY: As Told In Baseball Cards


Dinged Corners has a look at a Topps set of American history cards. Some of them are pretty cool.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:05 PM | History | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
February 12, 2009
HISTORY: Happy Birthday, Abe

Lest I let it pass unnoticed: happy 200th birthday to Abraham Lincoln.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:09 PM | History | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
February 11, 2009
HISTORY/POLITICS: American History Idol

Gallup has a poll out asking Americans to pick their greatest president from five choices: George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. (H/T) Now, there are fair arguments to be had in ranking these five. Washington's greatness in establishing and embodying the office (I've been reading Akhil Amar's book about the Constitution's history and he argues - I'm sure he's not the only one - that Article II was basically written with Washington in mind all the way down to the title of "President") and in self-limiting his term, or Lincoln's valiant effort to hold the nation together? Reagan, who got more things right and fewer disastrously wrong than FDR, or FDR, who faced graver challenges and had a more sweeping effect on the nation and the office? Was JFK a good president, or an ultimately inconsequential one who served less than a single term and left most of his work unfinished?

Sadly, the results don't match up with serious answers to those questions. Lincoln ranks #1 overall, which is fine, but Washington is dead last. Among Republicans, Reagan is #1 (even as a big Reagan admirer, I find it a stretch to rate him over Lincoln and Washington), and far more ridiculously, among Democrats, Kennedy ranks first, with 35% of the vote.

Seriously....JFK? I mean, any thinking person who actually believes in what the Democrats profess to stand for has to prefer FDR to JFK. (Note that FDR and Reagan do best among people old enough to remember theier presidencies. Not so for JFK. Meanwhile, I don't know if we should be optimistic that the youngest voters are the only ones with the sense to give some real support to Washington). Kennedy was glamorous, and he's been lionized by a cult of personality ever since (I guarantee you there's an enormous correlation between people who think JFK was our greatest president and people who are big Obama fans), but his actual accomplishments are thin - and not only that, but his actual platform would have him branded a neoconservative today, what with his call for tax cuts, aggressive building of nuclear weapons, confrontation with the Soviet Union, and escalation of the war in Vietnam (Kennedy was still publicly backing the war as late as his prepared remarks in Dallas the day of his death, Oliver Stone to the contrary), and use of the CIA to assassinate foreign leaders. You can certainly find some strains of liberalism in Kennedy, but not really any more than in George W. Bush - the actual policy differences between Kennedy and Bush are pretty minimal. Yet his legacy has almost nothing to do with what Kennedy did or what he stood for.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:36 AM | History | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
January 12, 2009

Via Jonathan Last, an interview with Christopher McQuarrie, screenwriter of "Valkyrie" (which I have not seen, although I think I can guess how it ends). A lot of interesting stuff; I liked this:

Q. ... Saw "Valkyrie" and really enjoyed it. What struck me was that the film is a throwback to a time before "Saving Private Ryan" -- when movies about World War II didn't have to be Big Important Statements and could just be thrillers.

A. Thank you. What we've been trying to get across -- and what the criticism of the film seems to be -- is that we had the audacity to make a World War II movie that wasn't "important" -- as in, a giant statement about war. I mean, what more do you need than a bunch of Germans trying to kill Hitler? Isn't that all kind of obvious -- do they really need to be sitting around talking about their objection to war?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:42 PM | History • | Pop Culture | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
January 8, 2009
POLITICS/HISTORY: Deep Throat's Puppets

I had meant to link to this earlier - Stratfor had a tremendous writeup, on the occasion of the death of Mark "Deep Throat" Felt, on the real meaning of the revelation that Felt was Woodward & Bernstein's source. Basically, it's a reminder that anonymous sourcing is just another way for the media to be beholden to powerful figures, usually in the government, who are often acting in unsavory ways even when they tell the truth (and when a news report is anonymously sourced, there's no way to have any conifdence that it is true). Stratfor focuses on the fact that Woodward and Bernstein were basically naive pawns in Felt's continuation of J. Edgar Hoover's power game - particpants in, not opponents of, the dirty tricks of the era. Here's the key takeaway:

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:07 AM | History • | Politics 2009 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
December 15, 2008

Fortune takes what is intended to be a sympathetic look at Charles Ponzi, but doesn't really succeed in suggesting that he was any different from the many imitators who have followed, a good number of whom also seem to have started off as legitimate, well-intentioned businessmen.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:36 PM | Business • | History | TrackBack (0)
December 10, 2008
RELIGION/HISTORY: Christmas in June!

crazyeddie.jpgThe tradition of celebrating Christmas in December is, as most people familiar with the history of the early Church know, not based on a December birthday for Jesus - the Bible mentions nothing of the sort - but on accomodation of the Church calendar with the Roman traditional holidays around the winter solstice. The exact date of Christ's birth has generally been lost to history. There are two documentable historical events, however, that the Biblical narrative can be tied to - the Roman census under Caesar Augustus, and the Star of Bethlehem.

Here you can read one of the latest efforts to nail down the latter, an atronomical historian trying to pinpoint the "star" as being a particularly close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter in the night sky (such as we've been experiencing in less complete form the past few weeks - I had the kids on the lawn with the telescope a few weekends ago):

The researchers claim the 'Christmas star' was most likely a magnificent conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter, which were so close together they would have shone unusually brightly as a single "beacon of light" which appeared suddenly.


Australian astronomer Dave Reneke used complex computer software to chart the exact positions of all celestial bodies and map the night sky as it would have appeared over the Holy Land more than 2,000 years ago.

It revealed a spectacular astronomical event around the time of Jesus's birth.

Mr Reneke says the wise men probably interpreted it as the sign they had been waiting for, and they followed the 'star' to Christ's birthplace in a stable in Bethlehem, as described in the Bible.

Generally accepted research has placed the nativity to somewhere between 3BC and 1AD.

Using the St Matthew's Gospel as a reference point, Mr Reneke pinpointed the planetary conjunction, which appeared in the constellation of Leo, to the exact date of June 17 in the year 2BC.

It's an interesting theory; such theories tend to be pretty common in Bliblical history, but as Reneke notes, astronomy is a fairly precise science, and identifying a specific astronomical event that fits so neatly with the Gospel account at least adds one small piece to a historical picture that is likely to remain somewhat elusive.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:37 AM | History • | Religion • | Science | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
October 22, 2008
BASEBALL: There Is Still Only One National Pastime

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:25 PM | Baseball 2008 • | History • | Politics 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
June 25, 2008
HISTORY: April 16, 1178 B.C., Around Noon

The specificity sets off some alarm bells, but if this is for real, it's pretty impressive work.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:30 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
February 23, 2008
POLITICS: Everything Old Is New Again

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:04 AM | History • | Politics 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
February 17, 2008
BLOG: Quick Links 2/17/08

*Pedro: kicking it clean.

*Barack Obama as the Mirror of Erised.

*Debra Burlingame on Bill Clinton's Puerto Rican terrorist pardons.

*Good roundup of what's expected from various shows with the writers' strike over.

*The morality of waterboarding. This probably deserves a longer post but I agree 100% with the point that you have to consider the morally correct thing first and let the law follow.

*The most badass U.S. presidents in history. Hilarious.

*Stephen Green on why Hillary's South Carolina strategy was actually the opposite of Rudy's mistake.

*A fitting assessment of Harry Reid.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:19 AM | Baseball 2008 • | Blog 2006-Present • | History • | Politics 2008 • | War 2007-18 | Comments (30) | TrackBack (0)
January 3, 2008
HISTORY: No Further Apology Necessary

Didn't these guys already do this?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:12 PM | History | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
August 20, 2007
BLOG: Pennsylvania Travelogue

I have returned from my travels to exotic Pennsylvania. Thanks to Dr. Manhattan for filling in (the other planned guest blogger proved to busy to post).

Citizens Bank Park

We kicked off our trip to Pennsylvania by hitting Citizens Bank Park for a Saturday night game against the Braves (which offered a rare reason to root for the Phillies). We had bought tickets for the Sunday afternoon game, on the theory that a night game would be too late in particular for my 17-month-old daughter, but ESPN decreed that the Sunday game had to be moved to 8pm. Fortunately, the Phillies were very accomodating in exchanging our tickets, and we were able to get a row of six seats even though Saturday ended up being sold out.

It's a beautiful ballpark in the Camden Yards style, with large open-air walkways behind and under the seats. We took the kids to a Build-a-Bear in the lower level before the game, in which you could build a stuffed Phillie Phanatic (note: this was somewhat more of a summary process than your typical Build-A-Bear). We sat in Section 414 on the first base side of the upper deck (from the map you can see the view), which despite the height were good seats except that the steep angle of the upper deck puts you at the mercy of the good sense of the people in the front row to sit down and avoid blocking the view of home plate. Of course, the Phillies fans were not exactly shrinking violets about letting people know to sit down. We were sitting behind a rather indecently vocal collection of Braves fans (the guy in front of us was nice, the others were unwisely loud) and as for the Philadelphia fans, well, the reputation of Philly as the toughest park in the big leagues for the home team is well-deserved. The next day's paper didn't headline the game "Drunk on Boos" for nothing. The phans there hate Pat Burrell almost as much as Mets fans do, and they really hate Adam Eaton, the latter with good reason. I shouldn't laugh since the Mets have Brian Lawrence in the rotation and he is basically the same pitcher, but at least the Mets aren't paying Lawrence $8 million a year. Eaton was terrible, put the Phils in a hole they almost but couldn't quite get out of even against Lance Cormier.

Also on the stadium: the food didn't impress me. The Liberty Bell that lights up for hometown homers was OK but no Magic Apple. The out of town scoreboard along the fence takes some getting used to but is tremendously informative. There are too few places to get the count; I didn't love the layout of the big CF scoreboard. There were a preposterous number of moths in the air for the upper deck. The jerseys? Chase Utley jerseys were definitely the dominant theme. I did see one old-school fan wearing a Doug Glanville jersey. That said, the sign of a baseball town is the proportion of fans wearing the hometown colors, especially the female fans, and the Phillies phans don't disappoint (there were a very large number of young women and teens wearing the identical uniform of colored Phillies T-shirts and very short white shorts).

The racial makeup of the phans is a shock: I know in most towns your baseball crowds are largely white, but to get to Citizens Bank Park you drive through miles of all-black neighborhoods (what looked to my eye like working-class neighborhoods with clean, respectable houses, not slums), but in the park and the parking lot the only black people you see are ticket scalpers.

The Phillie Phanatic comes out at the 7th inning stretch, but unlike Mr. Met he fires hot dogs rather than T-Shirts into the seats. And lemme tell ya, Mr. Met is badly outgunned; while he uses a light shoulder launcher to fire shirts into the crowd, the Phanatic uses a hot dog shaped cannon mounted on a jeep.

Also on the game: I have never seen more dropped third strikes in my life. The Mets bullpen may be a mess but at least we don't have Jose Mesa. And Jeff Francouer has a freaking gun in right field; he uncorked one throw that had my jaw dropping before it was more than two feet out of his hand.


On Sunday, we took the "Duck Tour" of Philadelphia, which is cheesy but entertaining (we had always meant to take those tours in Boston and DC but never got around to it). One thing that made me think when we got off: they mentioned that the amphibious DUKW bus/boat you ride around in was manufactured during WWII and that they had sat dormant for years until the idea came to refit them for tourism...it made me wonder: were we riding on a piece of history? I guess that the DUKWs they use for these tours have been extensively refitted from military to civilian uses, but the idea that any part of the vehicle we were riding may have been used in the war gave some additional meaning to a tour that touched on everything from colonial Philadelphia to Rocky.

King Tut

Born in Arizona, moved to Babylonia....sorry, couldn't help myself. On Sunday evening, we went to see the King Tut exhibit at the Franklin Institute. On the whole, the exhibit was interesting, indeed, riveting, just knowing you are looking at things made - in some cases, of wood - multiple thousands of years ago. We went as well to the IMAX film about the excavation of the bodies of many pharoahs in the 1880s. Unfortunately the staff misinfored us about the starting time so we not only missed the beginning but ended up sitting in the front row. The baby's eyes nearly rolled out of her head trying to comprehend an IMAX screen from the perspective of the front row. The film, narrated either by Saruman or Count Dooku, talked about how the pharoahs believed that they would be immortal as long as their names were said, in which case I suppose thy succeeded, but then it also talked about how they were using the mummified bodies of Ramses the Great and other pharoahs to study disease, like they were hoboes who gave their bodies to science for a few bucks. Somehow, I can't imagine they would have approved.

The exhibit starts with relics from tombs other than Tut and works its way up to his immediate family (interesting note: the Egyptian royals may have been primitive but they found time to remember unborn fetuses of the royal family), and then escalated to Tut's own burial chamber and the things on his body...but I was disappointed when it ended with the diadem that crowned his head - and no sarcophagus, no death mask. I guess it's perhaps a politically difficult time to get that stuff out of Egypt but the whole iconography of the exhibit - including the repainting of the museum's steps - is in the image of the sarcophagus. It was a big letdown when nothing of the sort was there.

Instead, after you leave the Tut exhibit, you enter...the gift shop. Which sold, I kid you not, a Tut tissue dispenser modeled on the head of the sarcophagus (you pull Kleenex out of the nose). I guess being donated to science isn't the worst of it. (My son got a Tut baseball - I was disappointed not to see Cap Anson at the Pyramids).

After the gift shop, the next room has a glass case containing Bobby Abreu's #53 Phillies uniform. Talk about being put on metaphor alert.


By coincidence, I was vacationing the same place Dr. Manhattan was this week - Hershey, PA. And lemme tellya, Milton Hershey could have taught the pharoahs a thing or two. His name is on the town, it's on the candy company, it's on the amusement park, it's on a school he endowed with $60 million in 1918, there's a statue of him at the amusement park and biographical filmstrips, there are even Kiss-shaped streetlamps on Chocolate Avenue (which intersects with Cocoa).

OK, out of time - short takes on some things I may or may not have time to revisit later: we saw more Amish people at Gettysburg than we did in Amish country; we saw Ratatouille in the theater, and it was no Incredibles but still very entertaining; and Jesus must have a good press agent in Central PA because He has one heck of a lot of billboards in the area.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:40 PM | Baseball 2007 • | Blog 2006-Present • | History | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
May 23, 2007
HISTORY: Losing Our Heritage

American Heritage magazine suspends publication after more than 50 years, awaiting a buyer to bankroll the magazine, which still boasts 350,000 subscribers. A sad day for a fine magazine.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:28 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
May 22, 2007
HISTORY: The Hindenburg


The NY Daily News has a cool photo retrospective of the famous air disaster 70 years ago this month.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:28 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
February 20, 2007
HISTORY: The Museum of The What?

You know, I hold no brief for the Confederacy, but haven't we slipped through the looking-glass when the "Museum of the Confederacy," which is a museum memorializing, well, the Confederacy, wants to drop the Confederacy from its name?

A museum, of all institutions, ought not to remove its own identity from its name.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:12 PM | History | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
February 13, 2007
HISTORY: Is That You, Abe?

Lincoln as a younger man? Could be. This one is the relevant comparison. Via Mike's Neighborhood.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:56 AM | History | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
November 12, 2006
HISTORY: Gerald Ford Still Not Dead

Now the oldest ex-president ever.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:36 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
September 15, 2006
HISTORY: The First African Americans

The Washington Post looks back at America's first slaves, the bounty of a Portuguese slave ship seized by the British on the high seas and brought to Jamestown, Virginia.

The involvement of the Portuguese is a reminder of the fact that the U.S. was hardly the only slaveowning country in the Western Hemisphere. Simon Bolivar was a slaveholder, if (like a number of America's Founding Fathers) one who recognized the evils of slavery and promised to do something about it, but never did. Slavery wasn't abolished in the Bolivarian states in northern South America until 1854, Cuba in 1886, Brazil in 1888.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:01 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
August 29, 2006
HISTORY: A George Romney Historical Puzzle

I've read a couple of sources (see here, here and here) saying that Mitt Romney's father, onetime Michigan Governor George Romney, was born in a splinter Mormon community in Mexico. Of course, we know that George Romney was a widely-touted but unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1968. My question is this: if George Romney was born in Mexico, to a family that had lived there for more than two decades, how was he "a natural born Citizen" of the US eligible to be president under Art. II Sec. 1 of the Constitution? Am I missing something?

UPDATE: Erick at RedState answers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:46 PM | History | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
August 16, 2006
HISTORY: Ripples of Battle

Over my recent vacation I finally caught up to reading Victor Davis Hanson's 2003 book Ripples of Battle: How Wars of the Past Still Determine How We Fight, How We Live, and How We Think. Though I was intimately familiar with Hanson's work from his National Review Online columns, this was my first introduction to his books, of which he has written many, several of them examining his thesis that Western Civilization has a distinctive "Western way of war" whose superiority is not coincidental to but rather determined by the liberal aspects of Western culture - individual freedom and initiative, free thought, free markets - that combine to produce superior technology, superior tactics, and the flexible, fast-adapting soldiers who can use them.

I highly recommend "Ripples of Battle." What Hanson does in the book - a brisk, page-turning 258 pages in paperback - is to look at three battles of the past - Okinawa, from World War II in the Pacific; the Civil War battle of Shiloh, Tennessee; and Delium, a battle between the ancient Athenians and Boetians (a region led by Thebes) - and examine the many impacts of the battle. What is unique about Hanson's analysis is that he mainly focuses on effects other than just the battle's strategic impact on a particular war, although Shiloh in particular was a pivotal battle by that reckoning. Instead, he works through the myriad other marks left by the battle. He starts with the shattering effects of Okinawa on his own family as a result of the death of his father's cousin and his namesake, Victor Hanson, and expands to examine the death of journalist Ernie Pyle at Okinawa and the loss of the men of an entire town, Thespiae, on the winning side at Delium. This contrasts with the legacy of ordinary infantrymen who survived, most particularly Socrates, who fought at Delium. Left unsaid is how many others who had as much to give humanity as Socrates perished in these and other battles. Hanson contrasts the military and political careers raised up by these battles - Grant, Sherman, and Nathan Bedford Forrest at Shiloh, Alcibiades at Delium - with those who were slain or ruined, like Simon Bolivar Buckner at Okinawa, and Albert Sidney Johnston and Lew Wallace at Shiloh. Hanson shows how the later careers of these men left many marks - on the decline and fall of Athens, the rise of the American popular novel, the growth of the Klu Klux Klan, and the development of modern total war as a two-pronged strategy of attrition of men and destruction of economic infrastructure.

The most relevant parts of the book, to the 21st century reader, are in Hanson's analysis (written against the backdrop of 9/11, but before the unfolding of the post-conquest insurgency in Iraq) of the kamikaze attacks at Okinawa - how they arose (not always voluntarily, as with today's suicide bombers), how the Americans fought and defeated them, how weak was their military impact, and yet how strong their long-term impact in two ways: because they were critical to convincing American war planners (along with the general to-the-last-soldier-and-civilian defense of Okinawa) that Japanese fanatacism required the use of the atomic bomb to prevent a staggering bloodbath of an invasion of the mainland, and because they showed weaker or technologically backward forces the world over that suicide attacks could help level the playing field against the superior Western way of war. Hanson makes the persuasive case that Hiroshima and Nagasaki can not possibly be understood without Okinawa, and ties it to his larger theme that suicide attacks tend to make the Western response only more deadly by weakening our moral scruples about unleashing the deadly power of the West to lay waste to its enemies.

Hanson's writing style is, as always, bracing and eloquent. He tells impossibly exciting stories, such as the superhuman bravery and only-in-Hollywood (you would think) escapes from death of Sherman and Forrest at Shiloh, yet he doesn't romanticize or glorify war; he sets the tone of the book by mourning the loss of Victor Handon, and along the way savages General Buckner's battle plan on Okinawa, highlights the blunders of both sides at Shiloh, and argues that Delium was basically an unnecessary and pointless battle. I learned a lot from this book - among others, about the orgins of military tactics, the career of Wallace (who wrote Ben-Hur as part of his campaign to salvage his reputation in the decades after Shiloh), and the coalition politics of Greek armies (in which is contained an implicit lesson about multilateral command structures: Hanson notes that the Thespians perished in such great numbers precisely because their more powerful coalition partners chose for them a particularly vulnerable section of the battle line. Coalition-style forces are also shown to fail in his account of the diffuse command structure of the Confederate Army before and after Shiloh).

The book is not without flaws. The coda, tying the lessons of these battles to the post-September 11 world, will sound familiar to readers of Hanson's columns, but seems artificially forced and tacked-on. Hanson doesn't trace all the battles' ripples explicitly; for example, because of its effects on the careers of Grant, Sherman, Garfield and others, Shiloh can probably be singled out as the moment when the Ohio Republican party became a dominant force in American politics, as it would remain for many decades afterwards. His discussion of Delium's impact on the career of Socrates spends too much time hammering home the point that Socrates' career after the battle was the source of his impact on Western civilization (Hanson also argues that his heroism in battle - contrasted to the capture of Plato's stepfather - may have made Socrates a particularly attractive role model to Plato), but even for all that counterfactual speculation he only glancingly discusses what effect the battle itself may have had on Socrates' own thinking, which Hanson suggests took a turn from a focus on natural science to moral philosophy after Delium. Also, he mentions that the only account of Socrates written by someone who knew him before Delium is a brutal satire by Aristophanes that was presented a year after the battle - but he misses the obvious point that even that account would likely have been lost to history because Aristophanes is unlikely to have put on a play lampooning a man recently killed in battle defending the city.

Nonetheless, it's a tremendous read, and one of continuing relevance in a world still feeling the effects of battles as ancient as Delium and as recent as southern Lebanon.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:15 AM | History | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
July 17, 2006
HISTORY: Slaves At Valley Forge

Interesting piece at CNN about African-Americans, mainly slaves, at Velley Forge and the roles they played in the Revolution.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:24 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
July 5, 2006

I was out at Shea Stadium yesterday, for - among other things - my 4-month-old daughter's first baseball game. Before the game the Mets honored New York's last living Congressional Medal of Honor winner, Francis S. Currey. The official citation for his honor:

He was an automatic rifleman with the 3d Platoon defending a strong point near Malmedy, Belgium, on 21 December 1944, when the enemy launched a powerful attack. Overrunning tank destroyers and antitank guns located near the strong point, German tanks advanced to the 3d Platoon's position, and, after prolonged fighting, forced the withdrawal of this group to a nearby factory. Sgt. Currey found a bazooka in the building and crossed the street to secure rockets meanwhile enduring intense fire from enemy tanks and hostile infantrymen who had taken up a position at a house a short distance away. In the face of small-arms, machinegun, and artillery fire, he, with a companion, knocked out a tank with 1 shot. Moving to another position, he observed 3 Germans in the doorway of an enemy-held house. He killed or wounded all 3 with his automatic rifle. He emerged from cover and advanced alone to within 50 yards of the house, intent on wrecking it with rockets. Covered by friendly fire, he stood erect, and fired a shot which knocked down half of 1 wall. While in this forward position, he observed 5 Americans who had been pinned down for hours by fire from the house and 3 tanks. Realizing that they could not escape until the enemy tank and infantry guns had been silenced, Sgt. Currey crossed the street to a vehicle, where he procured an armful of antitank grenades. These he launched while under heavy enemy fire, driving the tankmen from the vehicles into the house. He then climbed onto a half-track in full view of the Germans and fired a machinegun at the house. Once again changing his position, he manned another machinegun whose crew had been killed; under his covering fire the 5 soldiers were able to retire to safety. Deprived of tanks and with heavy infantry casualties, the enemy was forced to withdraw. Through his extensive knowledge of weapons and by his heroic and repeated braving of murderous enemy fire, Sgt. Currey was greatly responsible for inflicting heavy losses in men and material on the enemy, for rescuing 5 comrades, 2 of whom were wounded, and for stemming an attack which threatened to flank his battalion's position.

That's enough to humble even a hardened combat veteran, let alone a guy like me. After the ceremony, Mr. Currey - now in his 80s - ended up sitting behind me for the game (we were in the loge). After Wagner got the last out, Mr. Currey stopped and wished good luck at the end of the game to a younger (twenties) guy in an Army t-shirt who appeared to be heading out to Iraq. The torch passes.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Baseball 2006 • | History • | War 2006 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
June 6, 2006
HISTORY: 62 Years

62 years is a very long time - long enough to turn a boy of 18 to an old man of 80, long enough to turn even the most searing emotional wounds to a long, dull throb, long enough to bury even the deepest of grudges, at least if scores have been adequately evened.

But 62 years should not be long enough to forget heroism to which we are all in debt. The Normandy invasion, 62 years ago this morning, was not the only battle of the Second World War, but it was certainly the most complicated and the most visibly pivotal, and it was an undertaking of great uncertainty by men fully aware of its dangers, who went anyway. In remembering their courage and sacrifice, we remember all the heroes of all the battles of that terrible war. 62 years later.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:49 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
May 1, 2006
HISTORY: 75 Years, 102 Stories

The Empire State Building today celebrates its 75th anniversary, having opened for business May 1, 1931. Super-skyscrapers and other monumental structures are traditionally built as symbols of prosperity and boom times - where else but America, where else but New York, would such a building be erected in the middle of a global depression?

Oh, and: they broke ground on the building January 22, 1930, finishing in less than a year and a half. And Ground Zero lies fallow.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:58 PM | History | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
February 17, 2006
HISTORY: Hating All The Troops

John Fund reports an appalling story from the University of Washington in Seattle:

The issue before the [student] Senate this month was a proposed memorial to World War II combat pilot Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, a 1933 engineering graduate of the university, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service commanding the famed "Black Sheep" squadron in the Pacific. The student senate rejected the memorial because "a Marine" is not "an example of the sort of person UW wants to produce."

Digging themselves in deeper, the student opponents of the memorial indicated: "We don't need to honor any more rich white males." Other opponents compared Boyington's actions during World War II with murder.

"I am absolutely bewildered that the Student Senate voted down the resolution," Brent Ludeman, the president of the UW College Republicans, told me. He noted that despite the deficiencies of the UW History Department, the complete ignorance of Boyington's history and reputation by the student body was hard to fathom. After all, "Black Sheep Squadron," a 1970s television show portraying Colonel Boyington's heroism as a pilot and Japanese prisoner of war, still airs frequently on the History Channel. Apparently, though, it's an unusual UW student who'd be willing to learn any U.S. history even if it's spoonfed to him by TV.

As for the sin of honoring a rich white male, Mr. Ludeman points out that Boyington (who died in 1988) was neither rich nor white. He happened to be a Sioux Indian, who wound up raising his three children as a single parent.

What fools. What ingrates.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:20 PM | History | Comments (13) | TrackBack (1)
February 15, 2006
HISTORY: Aurangzeb

This is a bit long, and I'm never sure how fair or accurate Wikipedia's history is, but it's worth a reading at some length for a timely history lesson on a time and place when a zealous Muslim came to power in a largely non-Muslim empire, and inflicted terrible damage that eventually sent his empire into decline (a story with many parallels to Philip II of Spain) and ushered in the centuries of sectarian warfare in the Indian subcontinent that led, eventually, to the partition of India and the creation and later nuclear armament of Pakistan.

I probably knew this guy's story when I was a freshman in high school and studying the history of India among other Asian cultures, but if so I'd long since forgotten him.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:59 AM | History | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
February 11, 2006
HISTORY: The Uniqueness of the Holocaust

We were having a discussion over in RedHot and I thought I'd re-post my point here.

The Holocaust needs to be understood in two dimensions.
One is the horizontal dimension, comparing it to other events close in time. Many horrible things were done during that era, from deliberate atrocities like Stalin's and Mao's use of famines to defensible but nonetheless horrifying tactics like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The horizontal dimension argues for the non-uniqueness of the Holocaust, but does not minimize its horror.

The other is the vertical dimension: the Holocaust can't be separated from the long, lamentable history of hatred and violence against Jews in Europe. Viewed in this sense, the Holocaust is different from contemporaneous events not directed at Jews but different only in degree from prior pogroms.

Like many historical events, the Holocaust is only properly understood if you combine the two dimensions, and see that it was the interaction between deep-rooted historic anti-Semitism and a time and place when the methods of mass propaganda and mass production were applied to mass murder as never before or since.

Of course, I should note that a favored tactic of Holocaust denial/minimization is to emphasize the horizontal dimension while utterly ignoring the vertical dimension. You need to take both together.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:04 PM | History | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
March 21, 2005

I can't let pass without comment the death, at the ripe old age of 101, of George Frost Kennan, the great foreign policy analyst and author of the concept of "containment" of the Soviet Union. Kennan was one of the giants - he wasn't always right but he was hugely influential and incisive. You can read his NY Times obit here, plus more from David Adesnik here and Daniel Drezner here. I spent more time reading Kennan than almost any other academic writer in high school and college, especially his work on the peace of Versailles and the unsuccessful U.S. intervention in Russia during the Russian Revolution, the subject of my senior thesis in college. Kennan was an unsparing critic of Woodrow Wilson's impractical idealism, and a lively reconstructor of the Russian and American scenes of the era.

I wouldn't, as Instapundit does, call him "the Wolfowitz of the Cold War," given that Kennan spent more of his time battling hawks (like Paul Nitze, who also only died only recently) than doves; Kennan was mortified by the extent to which containment developed into an active military policy. Kennan's cold-blooded realism hasn't worn well over time, although I'll admit that I found his view initially appealing. One insight Kennan gets too little credit for is his prediction, from the very outset of the Cold War, that the internal tensions of the many nationalities within the Soviet Union would eventually tear the USSR apart.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:27 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
February 20, 2005
HISTORY: Courageous and Fanatical

As you may have seen elsewhere (see here, for example), yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the 36-day battle for Iwo Jima, one of the critical battles of the final stages of encircling Japan, and setting up air basis that could run bombing raids on the Japanese mainland unimpeded, in preparation for the planned invasion of Japan. (As such, among other things, the nature of the resistance by the Japanese at Iwo Jima is both a critical part of the moral calculus of Hiroshima as well as a window into the obstacles we faced in turning postwar Japan into a civil democracy at peace with its neighbors and with us).

The resistance put up by the Japanese at Iwo Jima has few parallels in military history, and is staggering to the imagination: some 21,000 Japanese soldiers stood to defend Iwo Jima, and only 1,083 of them were taken alive; the other 20,000 fought to the death rather than surrender. 6,821 Americans died overcoming that resistance. Rest in peace.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:33 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
February 14, 2005
HISTORY: In The Gulag

Americans held in Stalin-era gulags? Apparently so.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:21 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
February 8, 2005
HISTORY: Goering

Ace has some interesting news about Hermann Goering's suicide. (See also here).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:16 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
February 4, 2005

Jay Nordlinger has lots of interesting stuff from the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland; this, from newly elected Ukranian president Viktor Yuschenko, is interesting:

[Yuschenko] claims that the toast — the act of toasting — originated in Kiev, anciently. You see, the most popular method of eliminating one's opponents was poison. (This, of course, is all too meaningful, coming from Yushchenko.) So you clinked your glasses extra hard, so that some of his drink would spill into yours, and some of yours would spill into his.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:34 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
February 1, 2005
HISTORY: The Darkroom Floor

Speaking of Carson, Bill Simmons' intern asked last week: "Can you imagine being the idiot that erased the old "Tonight" shows? I bet he's the first guy to be put IN the Hollywood Walk of Fame." Yeah, that's bad. But I can top that one: read this harrowing account of how war photographer Robert Capa risked life and limb landing with the Allied invasion on D-Day, shooting over 100 irreplaceable images of the heroism, chaos and tragedy of that landing, only to have all but ten destroyed by a darkroom assistant's blunder.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:37 AM | History | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
HISTORY: Environment and Culture

Gregg Easterbrook reviews "Collapse" by Jared Diamond, and gives an overview of Diamond's thesis, in his earlier book "Guns, Germs, and Steel," that the advantages of Western societies are wholly and completely an accident of environmental conditions. As set forth in this and other reviews (no, I haven't read the books), Diamond's thesis sounds like a classic example of a useful insight carried to ludicrous extremes. Easterbrook:

Diamond's analysis discounts culture and human thought as forces in history; culture, especially, is seen as a side effect of environment. The big problem with this view is explaining why China -- which around the year 1000 was significantly ahead of Europe in development, and possessed similar advantages in animals and plants -- fell behind. This happened, Diamond says, because China adopted a single-ruler society that banned change. True, but how did environment or animal husbandry dictate this? China's embrace of a change-resistant society was a cultural phenomenon. During the same period China was adopting centrally regimented life, Europe was roiled by the idea of individualism. Individualism proved a potent force, a source of power, invention and motivation. Yet Diamond considers ideas to be nearly irrelevant, compared with microbes and prevailing winds. Supply the right environmental conditions, and inevitably there will be a factory manufacturing jet engines.

Of course, to argue that the environmental factors Diamond cites were a boon to the West is to state the obvious; to suggest that they, and the conditions to which they contributed, also contributed to the West's dynamic culture of individualism and rational, skeptical thought is likewise common sense. But, as Easterbrook points out, it's hard work to ignore culture completely. Easterbrook also notes the logical leap made by Diamond's latest book, "Collapse," when it tries to generalize lessons for the wider world from the collapse of societies like Easter Island and the Viking settlement in Greenland:

How much do Diamond's case studies bear on current events? He writes mainly about isolated islands and pretechnology populations. Imagine the conditions when Erik the Red founded his colony on frigid Greenland in 984 -- if something went wrong, the jig was up. As isolated systems, islands are more vulnerable than continents. Most dire warnings about species extinction, for example, are estimates drawn from studies of island ecologies, where a stressed species may have no place to retreat to. "Collapse" declares that "a large fraction" of the world's species may fall extinct in the next 50 years, which is the kind of conclusion favored by biologists who base their research on islands. But most species don't live on islands. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the leading authority on biodiversity, estimates that about 9 percent of the world's vertebrate species are imperiled. That's plenty bad enough, but does not support the idea that a "large fraction" of species are poised to vanish. Like most species, most people do not live on islands, yet "Collapse" tries to generalize from environmental failures on isolated islands to environmental threats to society as a whole.

A theme I've noted before here is that many bad ideas are simply good ideas stretched too far. This seems like a perfect example.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:57 AM | History | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
December 27, 2004
HISTORY: Thought for the Day

"I have long since learned that a man may give offense and yet succeed."

--John Adams, on diplomacy (in a letter to Congress from the Netherlands defending his decision to press aggressively for Ducth support in the American Revolution, against charges of, among other things, having offended the French)

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:53 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
December 21, 2004
HISTORY: Log Cabin Republican?

The New York Times has an article about a historian's rather thin-sounding argument that President Lincoln was gay. This sounds like wishful thinking on the part of the Times, but, for more, see here.

UPDATE: Actually, it is misleading to call the author of the book in question a "historian" - the Times, in fact, describes him as a "psychologist, influential gay writer and former sex researcher for Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey." Make of that what you will.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:29 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
December 15, 2004
HISTORY: The Cold Hard Truth

Heres a tribute to the late Iris Chang, who committed suicide in November. It is a sad tale, almost as sad as the one Chang became famous for retelling.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:17 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
December 7, 2004
HISTORY: Remembering Pearl Harbor

63 years ago today. Go here for one of the less-remembered (by me, anyway) stories of that attack.

UPDATE: Murdoc Online has a fascinating account, including the after-action report, for the initial confrontation with a Japanese submarine a little over an hour prior to the bombing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:25 AM | History | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
November 30, 2004

For reasons that are unclear to me, I got a free sample issue in the mail of "At The Yard," a magazine following the minor leagues. What caught my attention was an article on how Dwight Eisenhower apparently told reporters in 1945 that he had played minor league ball under an assumed name ("Wilson") in 1909 when he was 19. Grantland Rice reported that Ike played center field in the Central Kansas League (presumably a fairly low-level minor league), batting .288, scoring 43 runs and stealing 20 bases in a season of a little over 200 at bats. (Here's what little else I could find on this online).

(A side note: am I the only one who thinks Grover Alexander, a Nebraskan who was three years older than the Kansan Eisenhower also entered pro ball in 1909, bore a striking resemblance to Ike?)

Anyway, as the article (not available online, so far as I can tell) points out, Eisenhower abruptly stopped talking about his pro baseball career after that, and with good reason: he played football and baseball at West Point, which he entered in 1911, and to do so he would have had to sign an NCAA eligibility card stating that he had not played professional sports - and if he signed that card falsely, it would be a violation of West Point's honor code, something Ike would not want to admit to once he was embarked on a career in politics. In today's atmosphere, of course, it's unlikely he would have gotten away with this without someone digging this up.

But if there's some enterprising SABR type out there who would like to dig up the old minor league box scores, this sounds like a fun project to look into.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:55 AM | Baseball 2004 • | History | Comments (2) | TrackBack (1)
HISTORY: Happy Birthday to Churchill

An alert reader pointed out that today is Winston Churchill's 130th birthday.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:40 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
October 22, 2004
HISTORY: Passing of a Foreign Policy Giant

Paul Nitze, one of the leading architects of Americas Cold War strategy, has died at 97.

Nitze, an ideological rival of the surviving George Kennan, helped encourage a more militarily aggressive approach to containing Communism that would controversially manifest itself in Korea and Vietnam, but which would ultimately contribute to American victory in the great struggle of the second half of the 20th century. The graduate school that bears his name issued this statement.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:42 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
September 12, 2004

The Daily News has an interesting article about legendary 19th century songwriter Stephen Foster; I'd never known that Foster wrote most of his classic American folk songs from an apartment in lower Manhattan, or that he died a nearly penniless alcoholic at age 37.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:06 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
June 21, 2004
HISTORY: Really, You Don't Want To

Dr. Weevil notes that there was at least one example of someone trying to cross the Berlin Wall in the other direction:

In the late '70s or early '80s The American Spectator reported that a young West German had tried repeatedly to do just that. After apprehending him for the 8th or 18th time (details are a little fuzzy now), the East German authorities demanded that the West German authorities put him in a mental hospital. It was, as TAS noted with cheerful contempt, a very revealing demand.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:24 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
May 31, 2004
HISTORY: Worst. Government. Ever.

Nazis, Bolsheviks, the Khmer Rouge . . . there's plenty of candidates. But very high on the list, and in close competition with Pol Pot's regime, has to be the government of Francisco Solano Lpez, who ruled Paraguay from 1862 to 1870. Solano Lpez, placing undue faith in his large and powerful army and completely ignoring geographic and demographic realities, led Paraguay into the catastrophic War of the Triple Alliance against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. The war, described in more detail here, left 57% of Paraguay's population dead and the nation at the mercy of its neighbors:

The Paraguayan people had been fanatically committed to Lpez and the war effort, and as a result they fought to the point of dissolution. The war left Paraguay utterly prostrate; its prewar population of approximately 525,000 was reduced to about 221,000 in 1871, of which only about 28,000 were men. During the war the Paraguayans suffered not only from the enemy but also from malnutrition, disease, and the domination of Lpez, who tortured and killed countless numbers. Argentina and Brazil annexed about 55,000 square miles (140,000 square km) of Paraguayan territory: Argentina took much of the Misiones region and part of the Chaco between the Bermejo and Pilcomayo rivers; Brazil enlarged its Mato Grosso province from annexed territory. They both demanded a large indemnity (which was never paid) and occupied Paraguay until 1876. Meanwhile, the Colorados had gained control of Uruguay, and they retained that control until 1958.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:49 AM | History | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
May 11, 2004
HISTORY: Pearl Harbor

You learn something new every day - my dad was telling me this story about Pearl Harbor over the weekend, and it's pretty horrifying. When they righted the capsized USS Oklahoma in 1943 and raised the USS West Virginia in 1942 they found that men had survived inside each of the ships for some two weeks after the attack, waiting in vain to be rescued; sailors in the West Virginia had scratched off days on a calendar as far as December 23, 1941:

Late Spring 1942 found Navy salvage teams finally getting to work on the WV.

An Inventive series of tremic cement patches were fitted to her port side, and enough water pumped out to partially float the once grand ship. BB48 was nudged across the Harbor into drydock and the grim task of finding bodies began.

For Commander Paul Dice, compartment A-111 was expected to be like the rest: Put on gas masks, place some goo into a bodybag and let the Medical boys worry about identification. They had seen it all, but this compartment was different. Dice first noticed the interior was dry and flashlight batteries and empty ration cans littered the floor. A manhole cover to a fresh water supply was opened. Then he saw the calendar. It was 12"x14" and marked with big red Xs that ended December 23. Hardened salvage workers wept uncontrollably as they realized the fate of these men. Word quickly spread among salvage crews: Three men had lived for 16 days to suffer the most agonizing deaths among the 2800 victims at Pearl Harbor.

More here, here and here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:23 AM | History | Comments (1) | TrackBack (1)
April 10, 2004
POLITICS/HISTORY: Presidential Precedential

For all of President Bush's obstacles to re-election, there are a number of reasons why I have a hard time imagining Kerry actually winning this thing. The history of incumbent presidents is one of them. When was the last time an incumbent president got ousted really by surprise, without massive dissension in his ranks, without a huge overhang of economic doom? I mean, look how many things had to go wrong for incumbents to lose in the past century:

Bush I - Major fissures in the party (as shown by Buchanan's primary challenge), major third party candidate (Perot), more severe recession than anyone could claim today with a straight face (though they try), and his party had been in power 12 years, which always exerts a pull back to the middle. His opponent (Clinton) won with 43% of vote.

Carter - Major recession (remember stagflation?), international humiliations, malaise, major fissures in the party (between Kennedy's primary challenge and fighting between the Carter White House and Hill Democrats), and a serious third party candidate (John Anderson) who gave anti-Reagan voters an alternative to re-upping the incumbent.

Ford - Watergate overhang, gigantic debate gaffe (Poland), never elected in his own right, barely survived primary challenge by Reagan that split the party.

LBJ - Hung it up after New Hampshire primary after internal revolt on war, and his party was rent in two in November; never faced general electorate.

Hoover - Great Depression, and his party had been in power for 12 years.

Taft - Party split in two, Taft's popular predecessor (Teddy Roosevelt) ran as a third party candidate, his opponent (Wilson) won with less than 40% of vote, and his party had been in power 16 years.

Compare these to, say, Harry Truman, who saw his party split three ways and still got re-elected amid a weak economy and international crises. I think the forces of inertia and incumbency are stronger than we think, and may help Bush on top of his other strengths.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:08 AM | History • | Politics 2004 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
March 9, 2004
HISTORY: War in the Atlantic

I've been off my routine with various work-related crises since Friday; hopefully, I'll be back to something like a normal blogging schedule in another day or two.

In the meantime, here's is an interesting site giving an overview of the Battle of the Atlantic, one of the key and less-remembered campaigns of World War II. (Steven den Beste has argued here and here and here that this was the most important battle of the war).

My grandfather was in the US merchant marine; if I remember correctly, I think he was at sea during World War II (he was also in the British Royal Navy in WWI as a teenager); it's sobering that the site notes that, at least on the British end, the casualty rate in the merchant marines was higher than for any of the branches of the armed services, with about 1/6 of the men who went to sea losing their lives.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:47 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
March 2, 2004

Distinguished historian Daniel Boorstin has died at 89. One of the several books I'm still working through at the moment is Boorstin's The Seekers, which is well-written and has a nice general summary of the history of major thinkers in Western Civilization (some of whom I can use to brush up on).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:22 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
February 21, 2004

Tim Blair offers some amusing historical perspective on presidential polls.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:16 AM | History • | Politics 2004 | TrackBack (0)
February 7, 2004
HISTORY: And What About A Plaque For KITT?

Via Daniel Drezner, I swear I'm not making this up:

Baywatch star David Hasselhoff is griping that his role in reuniting East and West Germany has been overlooked....

Barely a month after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the city that had been divided by politics for more than 40 years was united in song.

And leading the chorus of several hundred thousand voices was a man hitherto known to the rest of the world for driving a talking car....

Speaking to Germany's TV Spielfilm magazine, the 51-year-old carped about how his pivotal role in harmonising relations between the two sides of the divide had been overlooked.

"I find it a bit sad that there is no photo of me hanging on the walls in the Berlin Museum at Checkpoint Charlie," he told the magazine.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:15 PM | History | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
February 3, 2004
HISTORY: Silent Cal

Liberal writer Jack Beatty had an interesting article in The Atlantic online about Calvin Coolidge, noting that Coolidge was never really the same after his son died from a freak infection in the summer of 1924. I'm not sure I buy all of Beatty's animosity towards Coolidge's record, but it's an argument worth reading.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:36 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
January 20, 2004
HISTORY: What's Cambodian For "Chutzpah"?

So, Nuon Chea - second-in-command to Pol Pot with the Khmer Rouge -- makes a grudging admission of "mistakes":

I admit that there was a mistake. But I had my ideology. I wanted to free my country. I wanted people to have well-being . . . I didn't use wisdom to find the truth of what was going on, to check who was doing wrong and who was doing right. I accept that error.

Even with this tepid apology, however, the denial continues:

Nuon Chea said the number of people who died was not in the millions. He acknowledged that many did die but said it was impossible to say how.

"People died but there were so many causes of their deaths. We have to know the situation, what the situation was like."

The record, however, is out there for those who care to look. Cambodia from 1975-1979 wasn't Stalin's Russia or Hitler's Germany; it was much worse:

By far, the most deadly of all communist countries and, indeed, in this century by far, has been Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot and his crew likely killed some 2,000,000 Cambodians from April 1975 through December 1978 out of a population of around 7,000,000. This is an annual rate of over 8 percent of the population murdered, or odds of an average Cambodian surviving Pol Pot's rule of slightly over just over 2 to 1.

(See the chart here as well). You know, there's a lot bad that can be said of the Vietnam War, from any political perspective, a lot more than there's space to deal with here; it was a poorly conceived and run enterprise in many ways, and has led to many necessary reforms and refinements in American foreign and military policy. But it's just awfully hard to look with any trace of human compassion at what happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, as well as in Vietnam and Laos after the war, and say it wasn't worth fighting the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia at all. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the war, Americans were fighting a real enemy, one that was deeply evil and unalterably murderous. Let us hope that, in the present war, we never elect a government that repeats the mistakes of 1975 in abandoning the field to such an enemy. (Veterans of the Ford Administration's failed attempt to get aid from Congress for South Vietnam in its last need, like then-White House Chief of Staff Don Rumsfeld and then-Deputy Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, remember this). Cambodia can happen again.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:53 AM | History | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
January 17, 2004

Matt Labash's look at songs written for Howard Dean is so funny it almost brought tears to my eyes:

While I'm hardly the first to state that the Dean campaign is remarkably free of people of color, I am, after spending a day on songsfordean.com, the person who has suffered through the most painful reminders of it in rapid succession. From coffeehouse bluesmen who over-enunciate every whitebread word, to hot blasts of undiluted folk so earnest that it could make the Weavers cry uncle, the songs are by and for white people. Sort of. There are two versions of the "Howard Dean Rap" . . . They use dated rap terminology like "chill" and "wack." One line goes, "Stop and stare, say hey, lookie there! / It's a doctor! Where? And he knows health care!" "Lookie there?" If they were real rappers, they'd get their asses kicked even in East Hampton, where Dean hails from. By the time they recite Bush's falling "P to the O to the double L" numbers, you just want to grab the first B-to-the-L-to-the-ACK person you can find, and tuck a reparations check into their breast pocket while apologizing profusely.

Labash also has some amusing thoughts on past presidential campaign songs:

[T]here's John Quincy Adams's "Little Know Ye Who's Coming." With the melody pinched from the Scottish "Highland Muster Roll," it's a sunny little ditty that reminds voters what's coming if they fail to elect Adams. The list is not encouraging: "Fire's comin', swords are comin', pistols, knives and guns are comin'." Additionally coming were slavery, knavery, hatin', and Satan, "if John Quincy not be comin'."

Read the whole thing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:01 AM | History • | Politics 2004 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
December 7, 2003

We remember.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:05 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
September 22, 2003
HISTORY: Sleepy Bill

The Washington Post notes a recent study that diagnoses William Howard Taft as suffering from sleep apnea; apparently, Taft was known to fall asleep at inopportune moments, including in meetings with the powerful Speaker of the House.

Insert your own joke about the fact that the accounts of Taft's sleeping habits were drawn from the notes of presidential aide Major Butt.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:44 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
August 5, 2003
HISTORY: Whacking The Duke

I'm still not sure what to make of the story that Josef Stalin wanted John Wayne killed. MSNBC can't seem to decide, though, whether this comes from a bio of Stalin or of the Duke.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:42 AM | History | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
June 2, 2003
HISTORY/WAR: History of Israel

The folks over at Setting the World to Rights are still going strong with their pro-Israel but warts-and-all history-of-Israel series; the first chapter covered 70AD-1921, and chapters 2-5 cover 1923-56. There was some interesting stuff there I hadn't known, including some vivid accounts of the 1948 war. I'm sure some of their accounts are controversial -- in Israel, everything's controversial -- but it reads like a good primer if you're unfamiliar with the history.

Another source that looks worth an exploration (if a bit popup-infested) is the online Encyclopedia of the Orient (so-called, but focusing on the Middle East and North Africa). I've no idea if this is a fair or reliable source, but it does appear to have some pretensions to comprehensiveness.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:29 PM | History • | War 2002-03 | TrackBack (0)
May 4, 2003
HISTORY/POLITICS: The Irrelevence of Doris Kearns Goodwin

After watching Meet the Press this morning, I'm stuck with the same thought I have every time I watch Doris Kearns Goodwin speak on an interactive panel: Why is she valued by the mainstream media? Leaving aside her plagarism problems, her analysis is superficial ("If we don't increase government revenue for causes like protecting the environment, who is going to protect the air that we all breathe??"). In addition, she typically strains to draw a historical analogy to current events. Her performance today included (a) reminding the viewers that Churchill lost an election shortly following the end of WWII and thus Bush was highly vulnerable in 2004 and (b) in criticizing proponents of a tax cut, relaying that tired anecdote about the man who offers an attractive female a large sum of money for sex and then, after she agrees, offering her one dollar claiming that he has already established the type of woman she is. Commentary like this can be provided by a moderately-accomplished college student, not a historian that certain people hold in esteem.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:17 PM | History | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
May 2, 2003
History: Louisiana Purchase

As an update to Hibernian's posting on the Louisiana Purchase, here is an article from the Washington Post that has some interesting details regarding the transaction, including that the U.S. had to work with outside bankers (who charged 6% interest) in order to finance the purchase.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:44 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
April 23, 2003
HISTORY: Deep Throat

Was 'Deep Throat' White House deputy counsel Fred Fielding?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:50 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
January 22, 2003
HISTORY: The Civil War Is Over

The job of balancing the federal budget got a little easier this weekend, when the last remaining Civil War widow died, taking her $70/month VA pension with her.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:02 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
January 14, 2003
HISTORY: Did The Chinese Discover America?

CNN has an interesting report on a new book claiming that the Chinese discovered America more than 70 years before Columbus. It's hard to tell if this is legit, but hopefully the book will provoke serious scholarly debate that will give the rest of us a better fix on the answer.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:48 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
November 7, 2002
HISTORY: Hamiltonian

David Pinto had the link to this short, time-wasting questionnaire; here's how I scored:

Guess I'll be brushing up on my dueling and my New York Post . . .

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:21 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
October 13, 2002
HISTORY: Ambrose Joins History

On the other hand, as far as sympathy is concerned, the campaign to vilify Stephen Ambrose should be about done for a while.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:37 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
September 10, 2002
HISTORY: Buried Valor

On the subject of the French, if you wanted a reason for the cultural decline of the martial spirit in France, think about the military families and veterans organizations, even in such a demilitarized culture as the U.S., that helps keep that spirit alive. Then think about the wholesale slaughter of France's best fighting men in several wars, stretching from the decimation of Napoleon's Grand Armee (Paul Johnson's biography tells of how his best troops were massacred by close-quarters cannon fire at Waterloo) to Verdun. I'm not going to get all Social Darwinist here, but the loss of so many men of any inclination to soldier had to have a depressing impact on the culture's tolerance for battle, one that Americans (even given the bloodletting of the Civil War) can scarcely imagine.

Anyway, that's one thought that came to mind in this fascinating Newsweek/MSNBC story on the discovery of a mass grave of Napoleon's army in Vilnius, in Lithuania. And there's a modern touch, too: the Lithuanians, bless their hearts, want to exploit the grave to further their campaign to get into the EU. Commercialism is the best revenge.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:01 AM | History | TrackBack (0)
August 29, 2002

Just in time for the first test of George W. Bush's pre-emption doctrine, comes news that the United States fired the first shot at Pearl Harbor.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:26 PM | History | TrackBack (0)
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