American Elephants


February 22 is George Washington’s Real Birthday, Not Some Ginned Up “President’s Day” by The Elephant's Child

Imagine, you just turned 43 years old, and suddenly you find yourself Commander in Chief of a ragtag American army, such as it was. The battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill had already been fought when Washington arrived in Massachusetts, and had established that the British  could not break out of Boston. Once Washington placed the captured British cannon on Dorchester Heights, the British evacuated by sea. p1070056

Washington had been named Commander in Chief by the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia in June 1775. He was forty-three years old. There was not yet any American army for him to command, only the militias ringing Boston, but the delegates of the increasingly rebellious colonies were seized by  fury for action and for war. “Oh that I was a soldier,” wrote John Adams, a radical lawyer from Massachusetts. “I will be. I am reading military books.  Everybody must and will, and shall be a soldier.”

Adams never became a soldier, but Washington had already been one.  He had served in the Virginia militia during the French and Indian War twenty years earlier, rising to the rank of colonel.  In his old age, Adams would describe Washington’s selection as a political compromise—a southern commander, to lead what would at first be a mostly New England force—engineered by congressional wise-men, including Adams. But Congress did not have many other officers to choose from, Israel Putnam, of the Connecticut militia, was, at 57, too old.  Artemas Ward, the commander of the Massachusetts militia, was incompetent and suffering from the stone.

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The state begins in violence.  However lofty the ideals of a new country or a new regime, it encounters opposition, as most new regimes and countries do, it must fight. If it loses, its ideals join the long catalogue of unfulfilled aspirations.

At six o’clock on the evening of July 9, 1776, the soldiers of the main American army, stationed in New York, were paraded and read the Declaration of Independence. General George Washington, Commander in Chief, hoped this “important event” would inspire them, though when some soldiers joined a mob in pulling down a statue of George III, he deplored their “want of order.” Over the next two months the American army and its commander, orderly or not, were unable to offer much in defense of the Declaration’s sentiments. …

During the summer, the British assembled, on Staten Island and in the harbor, the largest expeditionary force of the eighteenth century: ten ships of the line, twenty frigates, and 32,000 regular troops.  On August 22, most of those troops began moving to Gravesend Bay on Long Island, in what is now southwest Brooklyn.  Anticipating a possible landing there, Washington had posted more than a third of his own force of 19,000 men on Brooklyn Heights, and on a line of hills to the  south.  But he expected the British to attack him on the harbor side of his position, where they could bring the guns of their ships into play. On the morning of the 27th, the British slipped a force through the hills five miles away in the opposite direction and hit the American front line from before and behind.

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These are excerpts from Richard Brookheiser’s  Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington, which he calls a moral biography, which has two purposes: to explain its subject, and to shape the minds and hearts of those who read it—by showing how a great man navigated politics and a life as a public figure.  Brookheiser says “If Washington’s contemporaries were too willing to be awed, we are not willing enough. …We have lost the conviction that ideas require men to bring them to earth, and that great statesmen must be great men. Great statesmen are rare enough in their world. We believe they are mythical, like unicorns.” They are not.

According to recent studies, our kids don’t know anything about George Washington, nor do most adults. There is some speculation that the problem is big fat books. People are more apt to read thin books that don’t scare them about the time involved. Answering that need is a new short biography by the great British historian Paul Johnson. The paperback is only $8.71, and a hardback is available.

ADDENDUM: The picture above is a forensic reconstruction of Washington as a General, and Commander in Chief. Getting a likeness is hard. You get one thing just a little off, and you have lost the resemblance. Washington’s skin was pale, we are told, and he burned in the sun. I don’t think the tricorn hat gives even as much protection as a baseball cap, so I’m sure he appeared much more weathered, with squint lines (no sunglasses). His real hair was reddish. But nasty Stuart Gilbert did him real dirt down through the ages by overemphasizing the distortions of false teeth, and getting a poor likeness. Remember that, every time you look at a one dollar bill. It was deliberate.



Here’s The Donald: The Businessman from New York. by The Elephant's Child

Whether you are an admirer of the businessman from New York, or one of his detractors,  you should get acquainted with this documentary made a few years back about ‘the Donald.’ It is long, but utterly fascinating.  I come from the other side of the Rocky Mountains, and New York ways are not really familiar territory. We have enough trouble with the West Coast ways of Seattle and environs, and enviros. I added that last because I liked the combination, but Seattle is excessively environmentally loony.



Trade Between China and Iran Is Renewed Along the Ancient Silk Road by The Elephant's Child

Silk-Road
Last Monday, the first train to connect China and Iran arrived in Tehran, and it was said that the Silk Road was open again.

Taking up much of the space between China and Iran is the Taklimakan desert, one of the most hostile environments on earth. Almost no vegetation, almost no rainfall, frequent sandstorms, much loss of life. Surrounded by some of the highest mountains,—to the North is the Gobi desert, almost as hostile, but with a few oases, to the South are the Himalayas, Karakorum and Kunlun ranges with only a few dangerous icy passes.

The first meetings of East and West took place somewhere around 125 B.C. Calling it the”Silk Road” is misleading, for there was no one defined route, and certainly no road.  All routes started from Changan, headed up the Gansu corridor and reached Dunhuang 201311111053567950on the edge of the Taklimakan. One route skirted the Northern edge of the Taklimakan at the base of the mountains, the southern route skirted the southern edges. It was not a trade route that existed solely for the purpose of trading in silk, but gold, ivory, exotic animals and plants. Silk was the most remarkable trade good in the West.

Bandits soon learned of the trade routes, and caravans had to arm up, and forts were built along parts of the route. But trade also took place in fashion, religion, art and custom. Religion may have been the most important. Mongols, Buddhists, Muslims, and assorted Chinese dynasties. Silk began to be moved by sea, but there were pirates and hurricanes.

Renewed interest in the Silk Road emerged towards the end of the nineteenth century, as the British were interested in consolidating some of the lands north of their Indian territories. There were tantalizing rumors of ancient cities lost in the desert, which led to exploration, discovery, archaeology and treasures carted off to British museums.

The demise of the Silk Road began some six to seven hundred years ago. What new interest will bring is an unknown. There is oil under the desert in some places. There are thirteen different races of people in the area, and now a railroad, a private, not a state operation.

f39ca0087eacb867f987499613ec9e8fa27eade0The train carried 32 containers of commercial products from Zhejiang province and the 5,900 mile trip took 14 days.  This was 30 days shorter than the sea voyage from Shanghai to Bandar Abbas in Iran.  The railway is planned to extend on to Europe. It will leave once a month and the frequency might be increased if necessary. China is Tehran’s top customer for oil exports. The distance is roughly comparable to a trip from San Francisco to New York and back again., though it sounds like more hostile territory.

Chinese President XI Jinping and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed to build economic ties worth up to $600 billion within the next 10 years. We’ll see what comes of this new trade along the ancient Silk Road.

For more, go to Google Images, enter “the Silk Road” and see all the photographs and maps of ancient sites, forgotten cities, art and religion, and desert.  Fascinating.




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