Remembering Mr. Lincoln

Lincoln10581Friday, was, of course, Abe Lincoln’s birthday. Interestingly, when he was elected President he was a one-term Congressman, not Senator; perhaps other things matter more than experience, at least sometimes. If you remember, he made his name nationally, in 1858, when he ran against Stephen A. Douglas, for the Senate. He lost. It was the last election he would lose. And the reason is here, and would change the world.

When he was nominated for the Senate that summer, he accepted with perhaps the most incendiary speech since Patrick Henry cried, “Give me liberty, or give me death”. This is The House Divided speech. And it is as true now, as it was then, and it is still magnificent, a speech for the ages.

But these two men, two of the best orators in American history, did some debating, and what they said there, remains as relevant as it was in the summer of 1858.

Scott Johnson reminds us:

According to Douglas, Lincoln’s assertion that the nation could not exist “half slave and half free” was inconsistent with the “diversity” in domestic institutions that was “the great safeguard of our liberties.” Then as now, “diversity” was a shibboleth hiding an evil institution that could not be defended on its own terms.

Douglas responded to Lincoln’s condemnation of the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision — a condemnation that was the centerpiece of Lincoln’s convention speech. “I am free to say to you,” Douglas said, “that in my opinion this government of ours is founded on the white basis. It was made by the white man, for the benefit of the white man, to be administered by white men, in such manner as they should determine.”

Lincoln invited Douglas’s audience to return the next evening for his reply to Douglas’s speech. Lincoln’s speech of July 10 concludes with an explanation of the meaning of the American creed with matchless eloquence and insight, in words that remain as relevant now as then.

We are now a mighty nation, we are thirty—or about thirty millions of people, and we own and inhabit about one-fifteenth part of the dry land of the whole earth. We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two years and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country,—with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men,—we look upon the change as exceedingly advantageous to us and to our posterity, and we fix upon something that happened away back, as in some way or other being connected with this rise of prosperity. We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men, they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us. We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these [Independence Day] meetings in better humor with ourselves—we feel more attached the one to the other, and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations.

But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration [loud and long continued applause], and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world. [Applause.]

Now, sirs, for the purpose of squaring things with this idea of “don’t care if slavery is voted up or voted down” [Douglas’s “popular sovereignty” position on the extension of slavery to the territories], for sustaining the Dred Scott decision [A voice—“Hit him again”], for holding that the Declaration of Independence did not mean anything at all, we have Judge Douglas giving his exposition of what the Declaration of Independence means, and we have him saying that the people of America are equal to the people of England. According to his construction, you Germans are not connected with it. Now I ask you in all soberness, if all these things, if indulged in, if ratified, if confirmed and endorsed, if taught to our children, and repeated to them, do not tend to rub out the sentiment of liberty in the country, and to transform this Government into a government of some other form. Those arguments that are made, that the inferior race are to be treated with as much allowance as they are capable of enjoying; that as much is to be done for them as their condition will allow. What are these arguments? They are the arguments that kings have made for enslaving the people in all ages of the world. You will find that all the arguments in favor of king-craft were of this class; they always bestrode the necks of the people, not that they wanted to do it, but because the people were better off for being ridden.

That is their argument, and this argument of the Judge [Douglas] is the same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it. Turn in whatever way you will—whether it come from the mouth of a King, an excuse for enslaving the people of his country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent, and I hold if that course of argumentation that is made for the purpose of convincing the public mind that we should not care about this, should be granted, it does not stop with the negro. I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle and making exceptions to it where will it stop. If one man says it does not mean a negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get the Statute book, in which we find it and tear it out! Who is so bold as to do it! [Voices—“me” “no one,” &c.] If it is not true let us tear it out! [cries of “no, no,”] let us stick to it then [cheers], let us stand firmly by it then. [Applause.]

Thank you, Mr. Lincoln: “Let us stick to it then, let us stand firmly by it then

via Remembering Mr. Lincoln | Power Line.

Amen.

Revolutionary Times?

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The wins for The Donald and the Bern in NH seems to have confirmed sections of the media in its view that something is happening in our politics, and over my side of the Pond I have seen parallels drawn with Jeremy Corbyn, Syriza and the Front Nationale – it is, it is being said, the anti-Establishment candidates who are attracting the young and the discontented. In the UK we have a system of what are called by elections, so, when a member of parliament dies or resigns between general elections, there is an election in that seat; usually the ‘insurgent’ or ‘protest’ vote does well, sometimes even wins, but, at the next general election the seat reverts to the old loyalty. People, it seems, are willing to pile in with a protest vote – ‘kick the rascals out’ – when there is nothing much at risk, but when there is, they revert to safety first; after all, someone needs to run the economy.

Quite what happens when it seems that the ‘safety first’ parties cannot run the economy is an interesting question which we, most of us, hope does not have to asked soon, though the odds on that are shortening. It is for that reason that the pundits are predicting, at least some of them, that it will be Hillary versus Marco Rubio; but I wonder if that is just the comfort zone for the MSM? From this side, it seems amazing that the Hillary and her emails thing is still grinding on – it kind of reinforces the view that normal rules don’t apply to her, and that the most powerful machine in American politics is going to grind out a victory. The problem with that may be that while we know Hillary wants to be POTUS so bad it hurts, and she longs to be the first woman to hold that office, no one seems ot have any idea what else she wants to do with it. It may be that she will be like Gordon Brown, the man who succeeded Tony Blair as Prime Minister here. He wanted to be PM, he knew it was his destiny – but when he got it it turned out he had no idea what to do with it – and in a way the 2008 Crash gave his time in office a purpose it would otherwise have lacked. Had he never achieved his ambition, everyone would have said he was the ‘best PM we never had’ – his tragedy was he got what he wanted; the same may be true of Hillary. I have to say, as a woman, I wish she and some of the older women who support her, would stop sounding as though it were some kind of betrayal of womankind not to support her; it isn’t like Bill’s record in that department is a good one.

Your politics, naturally, attracts attention here, which ours does not with you, but here there is an interesting situation developing. Alone in Europe, David Cameron became a Conservative leader to actually increase his vote at a general election – and he did it firmly from the centre ground. He now finds himself in a position where he has had to deliver on his promise to hold a referendum on the European Union and to renegotiate on Britain’s terms of membership. No one really believes he has got real changes, but the betting is that he will win the referendum on a ‘stay in’ platform, and then reshape his Cabinet before retiring in a couple of years time.  The media here are generally disparaging. He’s not very exciting, he seems to lack fire, and he’s so Establishment it is not true. His success belies their narrative of us living in ‘revolutionary times. The Left here are furious with him, but they have shifted Labour so far to the Left that it is hard to see how they can win the next election, whenever it comes.

The people are happy to be revolutionary when there is nothing much at stake – at least here, but less so when there is. I have no idea how that would play out in your case were it to be the case – but it could be interesting to speculate.

Playing the political game

George-Washington

Part of the problem with politics, highlighted in Neo’s posts this week, is that frankly most decent people don’t want to touch it, and those that do tend to be tarred by the pitch they have touched. It takes a very strong character to resist the temptation, a thick skin to bear the slings and arrows, and the patience of a saint to deal with your fellow politicians. Such men, and women, come along infrequently. To my mind George Washington, despite sniping from various historians, fits the bill to a tremendous degree. He could quite easily have become king, or at least president for life, instead he retired to Mt Vernon. He was the American Cincinnatus. In their positions, most men would have held on to absolute power; they did not. The American Constitution, knowing that it is too much to hope for another Washington, wisely imposes term limits on the President; it is more than time to do the same for the Senate. Two terms are more than enough to do any good a Senator is going to do. Congressmen might also benefit from the same system, as would Governors. The fact is that power does, as Lord Acton wrote, tend to corrupt.

By that, Acton was not just meaning what we tend to mean – graft, peculation and monetary misdeeds, he was also referring to the subtle corruption of the character. Surround a man, or woman, with people whose self-interest lies in telling them what they want to hear, and they will soon lose their natural judgment. Politicians are even worse than the rest of us for thinking they are right, so tell them that and their big heads get even more swollen. Now there is the fame thing. Harry S Truman could walk down the street in DC and most people wouldn’t even have recognised him, he and Mrs T could dine at a restaurant without being bothered by the media. That all changed with TV and JFK, and now POTUS is a ‘celeb’. This is not good for the ego or the character.

Then there is the art of winning elections. There is no reason elections have to cost so much, and in the UK we have a limit of £18,000 (about $26,000) per MP per campaign. The main parties can spend whatever they can raise, and it would be better for them, and for the trees, if they were similarly limited. We all know most of it is ‘spin’, which is weasel-speak for telling lies. It encourages politicians to treat the process like a game, the objective of which is to get elected – at literally any cost. We fall for this time and again, but like a drunk the morning after, wake with a hangover proclaiming ‘never again’ – until the next time.

It’s easy to romanticise the past. Politics was in one sense cleaner when it was an affair of landed gentlemen arguing over power – men too wealthy to be ‘bought’. Democratic politics has always tended to be ‘down and dirty’. Neo was right earlier in the week when he reminded us of the importance of character. Viewed from my side of the Atlantic, Hillary looks to me like a bridesmaid determined to be the bride – no idea what she’s do if she was, but thinks it’s her turn now; you can see why, it would make all that putting up with the public humiliation from Bill sort of worth it. Bernie Sanders is a familiar type to us in the UK – an impractical socialist who wins easy support from the young by promising free stuff and who will get nowhere. As for ‘The Donald”, straight out of ‘Citizen Kane’, but souped up for the modern era. He’s a Republican? Really? Last time I looked (which was admittedly a few years back) he was still a Democrat. Rubio’s a good-looking boy put up to stop Cruz, because Cruz is dangerous – he seems to believe what he says, and we can’t be having that!

Not long now till Super Tuesday and these things get sorted – but I can’t be the only one to think that America ought to be able to find better than this?

Lacking conviction?

code pink on Iran

Neo and I have sometimes quoted Yeats’ lines from The Second Coming:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.
This is because they seem as relevant to our times as they did to the 1930s. T.S. Eliot expressed it less pithily but with more exposition in his Idea of a Christian Society which was written around the time of the Munich Crisis of 1938. He, like many, was shaken by what had happened, and penitent and critical. But as he explained:

It was not…a criticism of the government, but a doubt of the validity of a civilization. We could not match conviction with conviction, we had no ideas with which we could either meet or oppose the ideas opposed to us. Was our society, which had always been so assured of its superiority and rectitude, so confident of its unexamined premises, assembled round anything more permanent than a congeries of banks, insurance companies and industries, and had it any beliefs more essential than a belief in compound interest and the maintenance of dividends?

Those words are I think even more relevant now than they were then. Back in the 1930s our civilization retained many of its Christian characteristics, and its morality and standards were those of our Judeo-Christian heritage – we did, in short, as we found in 1940, have some ideas to pitch against those of the Nazis, as we would, for the long Cold War, against the Communists. But what have we now?

I’m struck and penitential about the way in which so many feminists are quiet about what has happened in Cologne and elsewhere – it is clear that for them fear of being called ‘racist’ outweighs the principles they claim to stand for. Their ideas are not held with as much conviction as those of ISIS sympathisers. But they are hardly alone. Our governments do, indeed, seem to care only for banks and profit and not for anything higher. It leaves us, literally, vulnerable against those who hate our civilization and all it stands, or stood for. The reason I singled out feminists a moment ago was that they at least know, passionately I thought, what they stand for, but it is easy to be passionate when faced with an ‘enemy’ which isn’t really that. Western men can be misogynistic, but that fades when compared to the attitude of many Muslims – but best not cross them because unlike Western men, they will turn round and harm you. Is it cowardice? Or is it just that they are not that passionate?

It sometimes seems as though the effort of staying alert for so long against the enemy of Communism has sapped us of our energy. Was it too much for too long? No doubt it would be nice if the world was a better place where we did not face real enemies, but those liberal pieties are not true, they are a delusion. Perhaps Eliot was right, and we do not have values which will stand when the wind blows? But so it seemed in the 30s – and when the moment came, so too did the man – Churchill. We shall have to hope there’s one in the wings.

Tongues of Fire on Idris Flaring

Practically Historical reminds us that last Friday was the 137th anniversary of the battle of Rork’s Drift. This was the occasion when the British fought against an attack from the Zulus in Natal. It was held by the B Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Foot, who became not long afterward the South Wales Borderers, and is now part of the Royal Welsh. On that day, 11 Victoria Crosses were earned, a level never surpassed in the British Army. It was immortalized in the film Zulu in 1964, which you can watch here: https://youtu.be/O6astUUUc4o, It’s pretty well up on my favorites list!

via Men of Harlech | Practically Historical.

The most famous part for many of us, is the regimental march of the 24th, the SWB, and the Royal Welsh. It is called Men of Harlech, and it celebrates the longest siege in British history, the seven-year siege of Harlech Castle between 1461 and 1468, commanded by Constable Dafydd ap Ieuan. This very moving version is by the band of the Royal Regiment of Wales, in the church at Rorke’s Drift on the 120th anniversary of the battle

I always like to note that it has a place in American history as well. It was heard during that bayonet charge at the 1st of Ia Drang, and again on 911, both times a Cornish variant being sung by Colonel Rick Rescorla, ret. of the 7th Cavalry, who was raised in Cornwall.

Since we’re doing the Welsh military today, not to mention Men of Harlech, it should be noted that Men of Harlech is also the slow march of the 1st the Queens Dragoon Guards, more commonly called the Welsh Cavalry, who returned recently from Germany, and are now stationed at Robertson Barracks, in Norfolk, and seem to like it, as they are training on their new Coyote wheeled armoured vehicles. There’s a video here, and I suspect my American readers will enjoy the Norfolk version of ‘coyote’ as well :)

East of Eden

146968_600In 1949, the Truman administration withdrew the American forces occupying South Korea and in January 1950 the Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, delivered his famous ‘Perimeter Speech’ which pointedly placed Korea outside our perimeter. It was a major blunder. In June 1950, North Korea attacked, causing the Korean War. The war was fought gallantly by amongst others, the very US forces that had been withdrawn. It was a costly mistake, in both treasure and blood. The war ended mostly because the newly elected General Eisenhower would not rule out the use of nuclear weapons to end it.

Why are we rehashing this now? Because a similar scenario faced Obama in 2009. In Iraq, we had defeated everybody who cared to play. Yes, the initial war (and especially its aftermath) had its problems, mostly caused by not enough troops there to do the job of pacification. But again, when Bush bit the bullet and committed to the surge, eventually the country was pretty much pacified.

In his rush to leave Iraq, Obama made the same sort of blunder. Unlike Truman, he didn’t immediately institute repairs, however costly. Going all the way back to World War II, we had been a counterweight to any and all the extremist groups in the area. Jess said a few day ago, that Britain never had all that much force east of Eden, but British forces were feared. The same was true, except occasionally for the United States. The Middle East never required huge forces over time. Although, at times, it did require large forces, as during the gulf wars. What they did require was the absolute support of Israel, and some small forces, in theater, and the fact of large forces available. That was enough to hold the balance, and keep the fanatics, mostly quiet. That was really not all that much strain for America. Simply having a few thousand troops in Iraq seemed to intimidate all the nutters into keeping the peace. And, in fact, it was safer than Chicago is now.

In a way, it was a less stable counterpart to the Cold War. The forces were held in equilibrium, not so much by what America would do, as by what she could do. But even what she would do was impressive. I doubt many Arab powers were unimpressed by the steady flow of American supplies, flown nonstop from CONUS by the Air Force, during the Yom Kippur war in 1973, in the face of denied overflight rights from all Europe. Who doesn’t want friends like that? You think that maybe had something to do with peace between Israel and Egypt, signed a few years later at Camp David, and which has held (mostly) ever since? Much the same is true for Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, problematic as its religion has always been for the US.

This carefully wrought work of generations, starting possibly with Eisenhower’s intervention, against our two oldest allies, Britain and France, in Suez, in favor of Egypt. This is what Obama has ruined. he has brought it to the point that no one in the region, has any trust in the word of the United States, nor should they. Over the last 8 years, we have proved to be a feckless, toothless allies, almost always willing to support the wrong side.

The post-Pax America  middle east is proving to be a cesspit, that threatens the health of the entire world. Jess’ title was (and is) apt. The tectonic plates are in fact shifting, and where they will end up and the earthquakes they will cause is unknowable but very unlikely to be good for much of anybody.

Lessons? Probably a few. The main one might be that countries driven by the voters are not very reliable over the long term, at least usually. Perhaps living under the existential threat of the Soviet Union forced the people of the United States to buckle down and think long-term, but perhaps instead it was the World War Two generation’s horror at what they had to endure to repair the mistakes of their father’s generation that caused the unusual situation. I think it likely was both. There’s something that sharpens the mind, when in elementary school, you are seriously practicing “duck and cover” that the softer generations that followed mine will never know. or maybe they will, on the streets of home, as the terror attacks mount.

But whatever the cause, Obama has thrown away the carefully crafted perception of power that sustained quasi-peace in the middle east for generations. What will replace it, other than deadly chaos, is unknown. Although the Pakistani guaranty of Saudi territorial integrity may provide a gruesome clue.

I do know this, whatever (if anything) that is to replace that chaos, America will have to lead, and the will to do so has been lacking for ten years. If she doesn’t, and that doesn’t really mean she’ll have to intervene that often, but she must show her inflexible will on behalf of her friends, or chaos will ensue, and likely envelop Europe as well.

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