Tag Archives: civil war

Military heroes, Genghis and confederate

genghis-khan-statue-complex

This 13 story statue of Genghis Kahn looks over the plains of Mongolia.

All military statues are offensive, as best I can tell. Among the most offensive, is the 131 foot tall monument to Genghis Kahn in central Mongolia. Genghis Kahn is known for near-perfect military success, and for near-total disregard for non-Mongols; he treated them as cattle, to be herded, slaughtered, raped or pillaged. I imagine this statue is offensive to Chinese, Russians, Koreans, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, Poles, and Germans — people he slaughtered by the millions. For some Mongols too, I imagine this statue is offensive as a sad reminder that Mongolia no longer rules the eastern world. But the monument is not for the maudlin, nor is it intended to offend. Like other military statues, the Genghis monument is a rally point for soldiers, old and new. It’s a way to inspire Mongols to be great leaders of men, military and not. Such will see, in Genghis, a man who made tough choices, and carried through to great achievements. That he killed and oppressed others will be justified by noting he did it to keep his Mongols from being killed or oppressed. The grand size is chosen to encourage Mongols to think big.

Genghis appears in fictional form as the villain, Shan Yu, in Mulan. There, his motivation is he doesn’t like the wall. Mulan and the Chinese army stop his Mongol attack by burying them at a snow-covered mountain pass. Historically, a Chinese army did meet Genghis and his army at a mountain pass, but the Mongols were not defeated. Instead they bypassed the Chinese and captured their supplies. Genghis then offered the starving Chinese a choice: join or die. Those that joined had to fight those who did not. A few months later, Peking fell, and in a few years, the rest of Asia. Few of the turncoats survived. Given the same choice, Genghis’s men never turned on him.

General Lee planted a maple tree on this spot in Fort Hamilton, New York. in 2017 the  plaque is removed as it's considered offensive.

General Lee planted a maple tree on this spot in Fort Hamilton, New York. in 2017 the plaque is removed as offensive.

Genghis’s most famous saying is that one arrow is easily broken, but a bundle will overcome any adversary. Similar to this, he is supposed to have said that, if you treat your soldiers as sons, they will follow you even into death. Such words are nonsense to non-soldiers and professional complainers: those who do not imagine themselves going to war. Those who go to war as generals know this is how to behave; those who go as soldiers hope for a leader who values them as sons, and not as cannon fodder.

In the US we’ve begun removing all monuments to the southern forces of the Civil War. This may be a mistake, but it seems irreversible. We’ve kept our monuments for Northern generals including William Sherman, known for his tactic of total destruction, and for Phillip Sheridan, equally known for total war, and for the saying: “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” But we no longer tolerate Confederates. Among the reasons is that we claim to ease the pain of black people — a pain I feel looking at the Genghis Kahn monument. Another reason, we’re told, is that the statues are “dog-whistles” to racists and white supremacists — a particular danger now, evidenced in the election of Donald Trump. A danger, I think, that’s been largely trumped up as a way to keep politicians and newscasters politically relevant.

For these reasons, or politicians have removed every last confederate monument in Florida, the last being a large grave-stone in the Woodlawn cemetery. Virginia’s governor has similarly declared his intention to remove them all from his state. The city of Baltimore removed all four civil-war monuments in the middle of one busy night, August 18, 2017, and the University of Texas did similarly, working at night. New York City removed a plaque remembering Robert E. Lee for planting a tree at Ft. Hamilton, And, last week, an honorary window at the Washington cathedral where Lee had been a deacon.

Statues of Robert E. Lee are a particular target. There are quite a few in Virginia where his family was prominent — it was Richard H. Lee’s motion in the Continental Congress that carried as independence; his home now serves as Arlington Cemetery. While Lee opposed slavery and freed his slaves before the war, he fought for the Confederacy, so clearly he didn’t oppose slavery as totally as we would like. And Lee only freed his wife’s inherited slaves in 1862, fairly late, though Grant still had slaves at that time. Besides, in 1852, Lee caused an escaped slave to be whipped. I imagine he did the same to runaway soldiers. Historians used to praise Lee, but now call him a cruel racist. In hindsight, we imagine we would have done much better.

General Lee statue being removed from University of Texas.

General Lee statue being removed from the University of Texas.

As best I can tell, Virginians still remember Lee fondly, particularly soldiers, veterans, and those who imagine themselves leading men in difficult situations. When I try to put myself in Lee’s position, I find I can’t imagine myself doing better or achieving more. His life involved thousands of divisions and hundreds of inspiring actions. In the choice to fight for Virginia and not for the north, I note that Lee was given the same no-win choice as Genghis’s trapped Chinese: join the Union army and kill your brothers, or be killed by that army. The exchange appears in this movie. I admire Lee’s courage to stand by his brothers; it seems the more honorable of two bad choices. Early in his life, Lee committed himself to only honorable behavior  — according to his conception. This is all I expect from myself, and the most I hope for from any other person.

Another thing is Lee’s surrender. I find it a model of how to end a war so that lasting peace is achieved. It’s remembered in Johnny Cash’s song, “God Bless Robert E. Lee.”  Another song, “The night they drove old Dixie down” calls Lee “the very best.” I would be hard pressed to find a better US general: one who won more or was better loved.

Japanese resettlement.

Japanese resettlement in WWII. Our history is full of painful decisions by people we admire. Let’s try to not repeat our mistakes or pretend we don’t make them.

A killer complaint lodged against Lee, and against all the confederates, is that they were traitors. If so, George Washington and Ben Franklin were traitors too. In England, Benedict Arnold is honored as a patriot with a statue on Trafalgar square, but we do not honor him, rightly I think. He turned on his friends and brothers. I think it’s politics that’s motivated the current spate of removal. Most of the confederate statues stand (stood) in Democrat-leaning cities of five Republican-leaning states: Virginia, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, and Mississippi. The white, non-college country-folk of these states are being pitted against the darker, college-educated city folk in a fight for their hearts and pocket books.

As for my guess at interpretation of the statues themselves. I’m inclined to suggest that the statues and their inscriptions do not appear racists to me, so much as soldierly. The statues were largely erected between the Spanish-American war and WWII with soldierly (to my eyes) comments. Baltimore monument to Jackson and Lee, reads on one side: “STRAIGHT AS THE NEEDLE TO THE POLE JACKSON ADVANCED TO THE EXECUTION/ OF MY PURPOSE” and on the other side: “SO GREAT IS MY CONFIDENCE IN GENERAL LEE THAT I AM WILLING TO FOLLOW HIM BLINDFOLDED.” Another Baltimore inscription: “THEY FOUGHT AS GENTLEMEN.” To me this latter is a swipe at Sherman and Sheridan, who did not. Removing these statues is a swipe at the honor of southern soldiers. The statues now read “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” a slogan I read as anti-police, anti-Trump, and anti-white.

The remnant of Baltimore's Lee- Jackson statue, showing the old inscription and the new.

The remnant of Baltimore’s Lee – Jackson statue with the old inscription and the new..To me, the old inscription is military, mostly, and not as racist as the new.

The pain of black America is real, but the thing that’s missed is that it is similar to the pain of rural white America. Both have been left behind. I’ve noted that urban black Americans and rural whites have virtually no savings, It could be the two poor cultures don’t realize they have much in common. Or it could be (I think) some folks purposefully fermenting dissension. What is needed, at least is better financial sense, and a recognition that race isn’t racism, but to listen to CNN or read the New York Times, such understandings seem unlikely. The Trump election shocked everyone, I think, those who voted for him and those who didn’t — and perhaps even Trump himself. Hillary, it seems had already bought a house in DC to house her staff. The surprise is not a reason to turn on one’s fellow. I can hope that Trump will prove to be a great president. For now, he is the president, and we are faced by nuclear enemies. It hardly helps to see half of our electorate call the other half racists and deplorables. As with a bundle of arrows, we have strength in union, weakness in disunion. May we all be blessed for a good, sweet year of peace and brotherly love

Robert E. Buxbaum. September 24, 2017. Perhaps my fondness for Lee is because I’m named after him. Here’s my theory for why Mongol arrows flew further.

The argument for free trade is half sound

In 1900, the average tariff on imported goods was 27.4% and there was no income tax. Import tariffs provided all the money to run the US government and there was no minimum wage law. The high tariffs kept wage rates from falling to match those in the 3rd world. Currently, the average tariff is near-zero: 1.3%. There is a sizable income tax and a government income deficit; minimum wage laws are used to prop up salaries. Most economists claim we are doing things right now, and that the protective tariffs of the past were a mistake. Donald Trump claimed otherwise in his 2016 campaign. Academic economists are appalled, and generally claim he’s a fool, or worse. The argument they use to support low tariffs was made originally by Adam Smith (1776): “It is the maxim of every prudent master of a family, never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy…. If a foreign country can supply us with a commodity cheaper than we ourselves can make it, better buy it of them with some part of the produce of our own industry.” As a family benefits from low cost products, a country must too. Why pay more?  How stupid would you have to be to think otherwise?

A cartoon from Puck 1911. Do you cut tariffs, and if so how much. High tariffs provide high wages and expensive prices for the consumer. Low tariffs lead to cheap products and low wages. Uncle Sam is confused.

A cartoon from Puck, 1911. Should tariffs be cut, and if so, how much. High tariffs provide high prices and high wages. Low tariffs lead to low prices for the consumer, but low wages. Uncle Sam is confused.

Of course, a country is not a family, and it is clear that some people will benefit more from cheap products, others less, and some folks will even suffer. Consumers and importers benefit, while employees generally do not. They are displaced from work, or find they must compete with employees in very low wage countries, and often with child labor or slave labor. The cartoon at right shows the conundrum. Uncle Sam holds a knife labeled “Tariff Revision” trying to decide where to cut. Any cut that helps consumers hurts producers just as much. Despite the cartoon, it seems to me there is likely a non-zero tariff rate that does not slow trade too much, but still provides revenue and protects American jobs.

A job-protecting tariff was part of the Republican platform from Lincoln’s time, well into the 20th century, and part of the Whig platform before that. Democrats, especially in the south, preferred low tariffs, certainly no more than needed to provide money for government operation. That led to a diminution of US tariffs, beginning in the mid- 1800s, first for US trade with developed countries, and eventually with third world as well. By the 1930s, we got almost no government income from tariffs, and almost all from an ever-larger income tax. After WWII low tariff reductions became a way to promote world stability too: our way of helping the poor abroad get on their feet again. In the 2016 campaign, candidate Donald Trump challenged this motivation and the whole low-tariff approach as anti- American (amor anti America-first). He threatened to put a 35% tariff on cars imported from Mexico as a way to keep jobs here, and likely to pay for the wall he claimed he would build as president. Blue-collar workers loved this threat, whether they believed it or not, and they voted Republican to an extent not seen in decades. Educated, white collar folks were uniformly appalled at Trump’s America-first insensitivity, and perhaps (likely) by the thought that they might have to pay more for imported goods. As president, Trump re-adjusted his threat to 20%, an interesting choice, and (I suspect) a good one.

The effect of a 20% tariff can be seen better, I think, by considering a barter-economy between two countries, one developed, one not: Mexico and the US, say with an without a 20% tax. Assume these two countries trade only in suits and food. In the poor country, the average worker can make either 4 suits per month or 200 lbs of food. In the developed country, workers produce either 10 suits or 1000 lbs of food. Because it’s a barter economy with a difference in production, we expect that, in the poor country, a suit costs 50 lbs of food; in the rich country, 100 lbs of food. There is room here to profit by trade.

The current state of tariffs world-wide. Quite a few countries have tariffs much higher than ours. Among those, Mexico.

Tariffs world-wide. While we put no tax on most imported products, while much of the world taxes our products rather heavily.

With no tariff, totally free trade, an importer will find he can make a profit bringing 100 lbs of US food to Mexico to trade for 2 suits. He can return two suits to the US having gotten his two suits at the price of one, less the cost of transport, lawyers, and middlemen (relatively low). Some US suit-makers will suffer, but the importer benefits immediately, and eventually US consumers and Mexican suit workers will benefit too. Eventually, US suit prices will go down, and Mexican wages up, We will have cheaper suits and will shift production to produce what we make best —  food.

In time, we can expect that an American suit maker will move his entire production to Mexico bringing better equipment and better management. Under his hand, lets assume his Mexican workers make 6 suits per month. The boss can now pay them better, perhaps 100 lbs of food and two suits per month. He still makes a nice profit, more than before: he ships two suits to the US to buy the 200 lbs of food, and retains now two suits as profit. Hillary Clinton believed this process was irreversible. “Those jobs are gone and they’re not coming back,” her campaign told CNN. She claimed she’d retrain the jobless “for the jobs of the future” and redistribute the wealth of the rich, a standard plank of the democratic platform since 1896. But for several reasons industrial voters didn’t trust her. Redistribution of wealth rarely works because, for example, the manufacturer can keep his profits off-shore, as many do.

While a very high tariff would stop all trade, but lets see what would happen with Trump’s 20% tariff. With a 20% tariff, when the first two suits come to the US, we extract 0.4 suits in tax revenue, but nothing on export. The importer still makes a profit, but it’s now 0.6 suits, the equivalent of 60 lbs of food. He can sell his suits for less than the American, but not quite as much less. If the manufacturer moves to Mexico he makes more money than by trade alone, but not quite as much. Tax is still collected on every suit brought to America — now 20% of the 3 suits per Mexican worker that the Boss must export. The American worker’s wages are depressed but he/she isn’t forced to compete with the Mexican dollar-for-dollar (suit for suit). In barter terms, he isn’t required to make 6 suits for every 100 lbs of food.lincoln-national-bank-internal-improvements-tariffs

Repeating the above for different tax rates, we find that, in the above fictional economy a 50% tariff in the maximum to allow any trade (or the minimum rate to stop trade completely): the first two suits might enter; but they’d be taxed at one suit, just enough to pay for the 100 lbs of food. There would be no profit for the importer, and he/she would stop importing. At 50% tariff, we would get no new goods, and we’d collect no new revenue – a bad situation. Lincoln’s “protective tariffs” of 1861 may have contributed to Southern succession and the start of the civil war. While there is a benefit to trade, it seems to me that some modest tariff (10%, 20%) is better for us — a conclusion that Trump seems to have intuited, and that many other countries seem to have come to, too (see map-chart above). As for the academic economists, I note that they also predicted that stock market crash should Trump be elected; it’s gone nearly straight up since November 8, 2016. For experts on money, I find that most economists are not rich.

Robert E. Buxbaum, March 27, 2017. I learned such economics as I have from my one course in economics, plus comic books like the classic “Once upon a dime” produced by the New York Federal Reserve. Among the lessons learned: that money is a distraction, just a more convenient way to carry around a suit, 100 lbs of food, or a month of work. If you want to understand economics, I think it helps to work things out in terms of barter. As

Everett, the better reviewed Gettysburg speaker

Lincoln’s election was greeted with horror by the educated classes who considered him a western rube. “Honest Ape” he was called in the press. Horace Greeley couldn’t stand him, and blamed the civil war on his reckless speech. Continuing their view that the press is never wrong, Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, November 17, 1863 was given very poor reviews, see my essay on why.

But the press wasn’t all bitterness and gall. A two-hour speech earlier that day by Edward Everett, was a hit with those who’d travelled, some hundreds of miles to hear it. Everett’s showed he was educated and understood the dire situation and causes of the battle. And he presents the conflict in a classical context, as a continuation of Roman and Greek conflicts. Here follows the beginning and end of his two hour address.

Edward Everett on the Fifty dollar silver certificate.

For nearly fifty years, Edward Everett’s face graced the Fifty dollar silver certificate. Now the world little notes, nor long remembers him. So passes glory.

[1] STANDING beneath this serene sky, overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors of the waning year, the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet, it is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice to break the eloquent silence of God and Nature. But the duty to which you have called me must be performed;–grant me, I pray you, your indulgence and your sympathy.

[2] It was appointed by law in Athens, that the obsequies of the citizens who fell in battle should be performed at the public expense, and in the most honorable manner. Their bones were carefully gathered up from the funeral pyre where their bodies were consumed, and brought home to the city. There, for three days before the interment, they lay in state, beneath tents of honor, to receive the votive offerings of friends and relatives,–flowers, weapons, precious ornaments, painted vases (wonders of art, which after two thousand years adorn the museums of modern Europe),–the last tributes of surviving affection. Ten coffins of funereal cypress received the honorable deposit, one for each of the tribes of the city, and an eleventh in memory of the unrecognized, but not therefore unhonored, dead, and of those whose remains could not be recovered. On the fourth day the mournful procession was formed: mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, led the way, and to them it was permitted by the simplicity of ancient manners to utter aloud their lamentations for the beloved and the lost; the male relatives and friends of the deceased followed; citizens and strangers closed the train. Thus marshalled, they moved to the place of interment in that famous Ceramicus, the most beautiful suburb of Athens, which had been adorned by Cimon, the son of Miltiades, with walks and fountains and columns,–whose groves were filled with altars, shrines, and temples,–whose gardens were kept forever green by the streams from the neighboring hills, and shaded with the trees sacred to Minerva and coeval with the foundation of the city,–whose circuit enclosed

“the olive grove of Academe,
Plato’s retirement, where the Attic bird
Trilled his thick-warbled note the summer long,”–

whose pathways gleamed with the monuments of the illustrious dead, the work of the most consummate masters that ever gave life to marble. There, beneath the overarching plane-trees, upon a lofty stage erected for the purpose, it was ordained that a funeral oration should be pronounced by some citizen of Athens, in the presence of the assembled multitude.

[3] Such were the tokens of respect required to be paid at Athens to the memory of those who had fallen in the cause of their country. For those alone who fell at Marathon a peculiar honor was reserved. As the battle fought upon that immortal field was distinguished from all others in Grecian history for its influence over the fortunes of Hellas,–as it depended upon the event of that day whether Greece should live, a glory and a light to all coming time, or should expire, like the meteor of a moment; so the honors awarded to its martyr-heroes were such as were bestowed by Athens on no other occasion. They alone of all her sons were entombed upon the spot which they had forever rendered famous. Their names were inscribed upon ten pillars erected upon the monumental tumulus which covered their ashes (where, after six hundred years, they were read by the traveller Pausanias), and although the columns, beneath the hand of time and barbaric violence, have long since disappeared, the venerable mound still marks the spot where they fought and fell,–

“That battle-field where Persia’s victim-horde
First bowed beneath the brunt of Hellas’ sword.”

[4] And shall I, fellow-citizens, who, after an interval of twenty-three centuries, a youthful pilgrim from the world unknown to ancient Greece, have wandered over that illustrious plain, ready to put off the shoes from off my feet, as one that stands on holy ground,–who have gazed with respectful emotion on the mound which still protects the dust of those who rolled back the tide of Persian invasion, and rescued the land of popular liberty, of letters, and of arts, from the ruthless foe,–stand unmoved over the graves of our dear brethren, who so lately, on three of those all-important days which decide a nation’s history,–days on whose issue it depended whether this august republican Union, founded by some of the wisest statesmen that ever lived, cemented with the blood of some of the purest patriots that ever died, should perish or endure,–rolled back the tide of an invasion, not less unprovoked, not less ruthless, than that which came to plant the dark banner of Asiatic despotism and slavery on the free soil of Greece? Heaven forbid! And could I prove so insensible to every prompting of patriotic duty and affection, not only would you, fellow-citizens, gathered many of you from distant States, who have come to take part in these pious offices of gratitude,–you, respected fathers, brethren, matrons, sisters, who surround me,–cry out for shame, but the forms of brave and patriotic men who fill these honored graves would heave with indignation beneath the sod.

[5] We have assembled, friends, fellow-citizens, at the invitation of the Executive of the great central State of Pennsylvania, seconded by the Governors of seventeen other loyal States of the Union, to pay the last tribute of respect to the brave men who, in the hard-fought battles of the first, second, and third days of July last, laid down their lives for the country on these hillsides and the plains before us, and whose remains have been gathered into the cemetery which we consecrate this day. As my eye ranges over the fields whose sods were so lately moistened by the blood of gallant and loyal men, I feel, as never before, how truly it was said of old that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country. I feel, as never before, how justly, from the dawn of history to the present time, men have paid the homage of their gratitude and admiration to the memory of those who nobly sacrifice their lives, that their fellow-men may live in safety and in honor. And if this tribute were ever due, to whom could it be more justly paid than to those whose last resting-place we this day commend to the blessing of Heaven and of men?

………………………………….. The speech went on for 58 sections of more-or-less this size and ends by mentioning the achievements of the other union armies and navy saying, “But they, I am sure, will join us in saying, as we bid farewell to the dust of these martyr-heroes, that wheresoever throughout the civilized world the accounts of this great warfare are read, and down to the latest period of recorded time, in the glorious annals of our common country there will be no brighter page than that which relates THE BATTLES OF GETTYSBURG.”

_____________________________________________________________________

I find it long-winded and boring, but the crowd thought this speech wonderful. As grand as Lincoln’s 2 minute coda was plain. Part of the draw of Edward Everett was his cultured demeanor and his wide classical knowledge —  a big contrast to Lincoln. Everett had been president of Harvard, and had been a senator, a congressman, governor of Massachusetts, Secretary of State, and US Ambassador to Great Britain. Lincoln had been a country lawyer and one-term congressman. When states started succeeding, Everett had been the one called on to negotiate a compromise that delayed war until the firing on fort Sumter. All impressive in the day, now mostly forgotten glories. Today, many of his lines ring hollow today, e.g.  ” … that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country.” It just sounds weird to my ears. And the classic allusions sound pointless. By the early 20th century, most public pinion had changed; people decided that Lincoln’s was the better presentation, a monument to the spirit of man. The world remembers Lincoln fondly, but little notes, nor long remembers Everett, nor what he said there. The lesson: do not judge hastily. All things exist only in the context of time.

Robert E. Buxbaum, November 14, 2016. A week ago, Tuesday, our nation elected Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States, an individual as disliked and divisive as any since Lincoln. I do not know if he will prove to be honored or hated. There are demonstrations daily to remove him or overthrow the election. There are calls for succession, as when Lincoln took office. At Hampshire college, the flag was lowered in mourning. It’s possible that Trump is as offensive and unqualified as they say– but it is also possible that history will judge him otherwise in time. They did Lincoln.

A day of thanksgiving during the civil war

At the height of the civil war, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a day of thanksgiving for the last Thursday of November, 1863. It’s the first time Thanksgiving was proclaimed for the date we now keep every year. The war was not going well. The Union defeat at Chickamauga, Sept. 19-20 1863, left 35,000 dead, the bloodiest two days in US history. Most citizens would have called for a day of fasting and prayer, but in Lincoln’s view, things were good, and there was a need for joy and thanksgiving:

“to thank the Almighty God” …for.. “the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies… “for peace that…. “has been preserved with all nations.” [That] “harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict….  “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”…. and for … “the care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife.”  (see the whole proclamation here.)

A Civil War Thanksgiving. It's fellowship that makes peace possible.

A Civil War Thanksgiving. It’s fellowship that makes peace possible.

His was an interesting view, as important then as now. There is a need to remember that the good we have is more than the bad, and that there is a source of the good. As of today (2015) the economy is good in Michigan and the US. We are at peace with our neighbors and have civil obedience in our streets; we have food on our tables and clothes on our backs. We have cleaner air and cleaner water than in decades, blue skies, and plentiful rain. The ozone hole has shrunk, and global warming seems to have stopped. We have so much food that hardly anyone in our country suffers starvation, but only the hunger for finer, fancy things. We have roads without bandits, lighting at the flip of a switch, water at the turn of a tap, indoor heat, and (for most) indoor cooling in the summer. We have telephone communication, and radio, and television, and music at our fingertips. We have libraries with books, and free childhood education. We have a voice in our government, and information from the far ends of the earth. All these call for joy and thanksgiving.

And we can even find a cause for thanks in the things we don’t have: space travel and the diseases we can’t cure, for example. The things we don’t have provide a reason to wake up in the morning, and a motivation to do great things. We live in a country where we can change things, and it’s nice to know there are things worth changing. For ideas that lack expression, we can provide it. For diseases, we can still search for a cure. For those who lack happiness and friendship, we can help provide both (a joyful celebration is a good occasion to do so). For those who lack a job, we can help. And to those who feel a lack of meaning in life, perhaps the best answer is a celebration to explore the source of all blessings. Let us reach out to “all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers.” A lesson Scrooge learned from the ghosts is that joy and generous celebration are self-sustaining and attractive. Let joy and good fellowship extend to all. God Bless us each and every one.

Robert Buxbaum, Detroit, November 18, 2015, The anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is tomorrow, Nov. 19th (it wasn’t well received). As for Black Friday shopping, lets not get up from the table of thanks to jostle each other for some useless trinket.

Republicans vs conservatives

Most of the great divides of the 1800s pitted conservatives against Republicans. This was the Divide in the Mexican civil wars of the 1800s, and there were several; it is the divide in the South American wars of Independence, and in much of the US and European political debate of the 1800s as well.

Ned Flanders, cartoon conservative from "The Simpsons" He's generally well meaning and helpful, but also a bit creepy.

Ned Flanders, cartoon conservative from “The Simpsons” He’s generally well-meaning and helpful, but also a bit creepy.

In general, the difference between conservatives and republicans is that conservative governments favor religion, and religion-based leadership, while republicans favor individual liberty. In 1800s Mexico, conservatives backed two emperors (Maximilian I and Agustin I) and Santa Anna, the ruler who suspended all personal rights an ignited the war of Texan independence. Conservatives generally favor the religion of the majority: Protestantism in England, Catholicism in Central and South America, Judaism in Israel, and Islam in most of the Muslim world. This tends to annoy the irreligious and minority religious populations, who tend to become republicans. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the 1862 victory of Mexican republicans over the French-backed, conservative Maximilian I, at the battle of Puebla. The US Civil War, in essence, pitted the irreligious, industrial, republican north against the conservative, evangelical South; slavery is in the Bible so it must be good.

Conservatives usually favor government actions against sin in all it’s forms: miserliness, drunkenness, drugs, pornography, wild music, money-making, and freedom as such. Conservative-ruled countries have generally had anti-blasphemy laws and enforced “blue laws”, restrictions on business on holidays. Republican governments have few, or none of these. In pre-revolution France, the penalty for blasphemy was death, just as the Bible mandates. This changed when the republicans came into power. In England, private blasphemy was prosecuted as late as 1977. Similar penalties are still in force in Iran and other conservative Islāmic countries. Many US states still restrict the sale of alcohol on Sunday, for similar, conservative reasons. Conservatives usually favor sexual morality laws, putting strong restrictions on homosexuality, abortion, and divorce. In England, amicable divorce wasn’t legalized until 1930, and homosexuality was illegal until 1970. In the US, sexual laws are a fairly bizarre mix, in my humble opinion, the result of republicans, liberals, and conservatives making inelegant compromises.

In republican democracies like modern-day France, Holland, and Germany, sexual immorality laws are more lax than in the US. Republican governments strive to protect the rights of the individual; among these their right to property and to a fairly unbridled pursuit of pleasure. Republican countries tend to suffer from (or benefit from) significant income inequality. People can become rich due to hard work, talent, luck, or birth. And they very often become arrogant and obnoxious after they become rich — and sometimes before — to an extent that bothers conservatives and liberals alike. People can also become very poor: from laziness or bad choices, or just from bad luck or having been born to the wrong parents. Conservative and liberal elements then strive to help the very poorest, providing them with food, money and basic housing — generally achieved by taxing the rich. This is good in moderation, but taken to excess, this can lead to dependency of the poor, and redirection of the rich into less-productive fields like politics and the church. Conservatives very rarely leave a good pathway for the poor out of dependency, nor have they found a way to keep scoundrels out of the government and the church.

Scrooge McDuck. he'd likely be a Republican, if only to protect his wealth.

Scrooge McDuck, banker, railroad tycoon, steel magnate; he’d likely be republican, though not likely conservative. Motivated by money and power, he may do good, but not in any direct way, usually.

At present, the US Republican Party, the GOP, consists of approximately equal halves conservatives and republicans. That is, GOP leadership is currently an approximate balance between kindly folks like Ned Flanders who would rule by the Bible, and an equal number of rougher individuals, more like Scrooge McDuck who would rule by money.  in a sense, this is a wonderful compromise as the excesses of each group reins in the excesses of the other. In another sense though, the balance between conservatives and republicans is an ungovernable mess that leads to regular de Condorcet failures. I’m not sure how this will play out in the 2016 elections.

Fortunately, not all irreconcilable differences are as irreconcilable as one might think. Many de Condorcet problems are solvable by compromise, or by the effects of time. Compromise between charity and commerce can produce the best of all worlds, a major theme point, as I understand it, of Dickens’s Christmas Carol.

Robert E. Buxbaum, October 20, 2015. I use these essays to refine my thinking — here, more than usual. Any help you can provide will be welcome, feedback, corrections, comments. I’m trying to figure out what I, myself think. The divide between Conservatives and Liberals produces some of the most wonderful quote – exchanges, e.g. between Churchill and Attlee in 1950s England. Liberals, and I have not quite made up my understanding here, seem like a sort of like conservatives in that they believe in wealth redistribution, but without the guidance of a church, or church-based morality. At some point in the future, I’ll hope to arrange my thoughts about them, and about the difference between liberals and democrats.

Winning the peace at Appomattox

George A. Custer with captured confederate prisoner. Custer was a man of action but not of cruelty.

George A. Custer with a captured confederate prisoner. Custer was a man of action, but not of cruelty.

It is often forgotten that the aim of generalship is not winning a war, but winning a stable peace. In that sense, most generals and most diplomats are failures; their victories benefit only the undertaker; their peace-treaties only provide time to reload. That was the case with the Mexican civil war but not the US civil war. The choices and surrender at Appomattox, 150 years ago lead to a genuine, stable peace. It’s worthwhile, therefore to consider the how that was done here and not in Mexico, perhaps as a lesson for the future.

I begin, near the end of the war with a much-maligned general, George A Custer on April 8, 1865; this  is the day the 13th Amendment passed, four days after Lincoln walked through a defeated, smoldering Richmond, the capital of the south. The war would end soon, but would the result be peace, or chaos. George A. Custer had graduated at the very bottom of his class at West Point, the position known as goat. As is not atypical with goats, he was not particularly suited to following orders during peacetime, but was supremely suited to war and action. Custer liked to attack first and think later, but he was also a man of peace; he become the youngest Union Brevet General in US history. On April 8, with Lee at Appomattox Court House (that’s the name of the town), Custer led a small group of men to attack a nearby town, Appomattox Station, a rail depot three miles to the southwest. There he captured, without a fight, three, rail cars full of desperately needed arms, ammunition and supplies that had been sent to Lee’s army from Lynchburg.

While leaving the station, Custer’s men ran into the artillery unit of Confederate Brig. Gen. Reuben Walker, and attacked (of course) eventually capturing 25 artillery pieces, nearly 1,000 prisoners and all of their supplies. It took several attacks to win, but the results were worth it. Custer took the cannon and his troops, and positioned them on Lee’s likely escape route, on the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road south of Appomattox Courthouse. Lee was now nearly trapped, but didn’t know it yet.

Paining in honor of the 45th regiment colored troops: Afro-American soldier stands with flag before a bust of Washington.

Painting in honor of the 45th regiment colored troops: Afro-American soldier stands, with flag, before a bust of Washington and a depiction of battle (Fair Oaks? Petersburg?)

On the same day, April 8, General Grant sent Lee a proposition to surrender. Lee responded that he was not interested in that, but would like to meet at the McLean House at 10:00 A.M. April 9 to discuss “restoration of peace.” Grant replied that he didn’t have that power but agreed to meet Lee, none the less.

In the meantime, Lee prepared his forces to clear the Stage Road so his forces could escape south-west, to Appomattox station and home. Grant, no newcomer to war, ordered two corps (XXIV and V) under the commands of Maj. Gen. John Gibbon and Bvt. Maj. Gen. Charles Griffin to march all night to the west and north. These corps included 5000 Afro-American troops, mostly in the 45th and 116th U.S. Colored Troop Brigades. On the morning of April 9, Lee attacked to the south and managed to capture the forward pickets defending the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road. But when he reached the rise of the hill, he saw his escape was blocked. His 45,000 troops were surrounded by 113,000, better-armed Union soldiers, cannon and cavalry. It was then suggested that Lee disband his troops for an extended guerrilla war, an option he refused as it would lead to murdering bands roaming the county, and would make peace nearly impossible. Instead Lee rode off to discuss surrender to Grant. 

Map of the troop arrangements April 9, 1865. Checkmate. Lee's forces, x or + are out numbered, out gunned and surrounded. The end.

Map of the troop arrangements April 9, 1865. Checkmate. Lee’s forces, x or +, are out numbered, out gunned, and surrounded.

Lee’s surrender, finalized that afternoon, was penned by Grant’s aide-de camp, Lt Col’, Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Indian who had an engineering degree and studied law. The kindness to Indians may have suggested similar kindness to the surrendering Confederates. Parker eventually rose to the rank of general, and then to head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The terms of surrender too, were chosen to be unusually generous. Grant did not take the confederates soldiers captive, but instead allowed them to return home, relatively unmolested. Also, he allowed the officers to keep their swords and personal weapons. Kind acts like these may have eased reconstruction. Custer had demanded unconditional surrender from General Beauregard on April 9, something he probably imagined U.S. (Unconditional Surrender) Grant would have wanted; he was over-ruled by his commanding officer, Phillip Sheridan, who probably knew Grant better. 

After the war, most of the confederates swore loyalty to the US. Lee did what he could to promote reconciliation; he supported civil rights and reconstruction, and became president of Washington and Lee College. Some confederate generals and 2500 soldiers headed south to Mexico to join the French/Austrian forces of Emperor, Maximilian I, engaged in a civil war of his own. Maximilian, only 34 years old and a highly decorated Austrian officer, had little local support. He was captured and executed, June 19, 1867. Mexico then descended into chaos: a Pyrrhic victory, and a model to avoid.

Surrender at Appomattox; with Grant are Philip H. Sheridan, Orville E. Babcock, Horace Potter, Edward O.C. Ord, Seth Williams, Theodore S. Bowers, Ely S. Parker and George A. Custer. With Lee is Charles Marshall, his military secretary.

Surrender at Appomattox; with Grant are Philip H. Sheridan, Orville E. Babcock, Horace Potter, Edward O.C. Ord, Seth Williams, Theodore S. Bowers, Ely S. Parker and George A. Custer. With Lee is Charles Marshall, his military secretary. After the signing, most of the furnishings were purchased by Union officers as souvenirs. Lee shook Parker’s hand and said, I’m glad to see a real American here.” Parker replied, “We are all Americans.”

What did Mexico do wrong? For one, in order to win a peace, they failed to get the other side to agree to the peace, with clear documentation about what it is that’s been agreed to (That’s why Parker’s role is so important). Instead of killing Maximilian, they should have had him sign some sort of document and retire him to a farm or college where he could support the peace. In order to win a peace, it’s important to leave a stable country, with stable borders and a strong military, one that can govern itself fairly and well. A stable peace generally involves recognition of your government by other nations, and that too requires not killing your defeated enemy wholesale.

Robert E. Buxbaum, April 7-12, 2015. My sense is that the conditions for building a lasting peace get far too little attention in the study of war and history. I should mention that the 45th were mostly escaped slave volunteers. The 116th were ex-slaves that the Union purchased from Kentucky slave-owners at the beginning of the war to fight for the Union cause. This was thought to be a good emollient for peace, and may have helped keep Kentucky on the Union side. I should note too, that Lee freed his slaves in 1862, near the beginning of the war, a time when Grant still owned some. I’ve noted that men who choose beards tend to show a surprising republican (or communist) generosity. As Lincoln said, “Do I not defeat my enemy when I make him a friend?” For more thoughts on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, see here.