American Elephants

February 22 Is George Washington’s Real Birthday. 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.


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.


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.

Just What Is The “Office Of The President Of The United States?” by The Elephant's Child

Reposted from 2010.

When George Washington was elected President, there were so many questions. A Republic was something completely new to the Americans.  What they knew was monarchy, and a very opulent monarchy at that.  They definitely didn’t want to go back to the pomp and circumstance of England.  The new office of the President of the United States needed importance, respect, dignity and what exactly? The people did not rebel against a King in order to establish a new monarchy.Congress insisted on a salary of $25,000, a huge sum for the time.  Washington accepted it reluctantly, but he spent nearly $2,000 of it on liquor and wine for entertaining.  He had, of course managed an army and a plantation.  In fact, Mount Vernon had more staff than his presidency did.

“Washington was keenly aware that whatever he did would become a precedent for the future. How often should he meet with the public? How accessible should he be?  Could he have private dinners with friends?  Should he make a tour of the new states?”  He sought advice from those closest to him, including his vice-president, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, his Secretary of the Treasury.  The only state occasions that any of them were familiar with were those of European monarchies.

“Hamilton thought that most people were ‘prepared for a pretty high tone in the demeanor of the Executive,’ but they probably would not accept as high a tone as was desirable.  “Notions of equality,” he said, were “yet…too general and too strong” for the president to be properly distanced from the other branches of the government.” Gordon Wood tells of the dilemmas.

“When Washington appeared in public, bands sometimes played “God Save the King.” In his public pronouncements the president referred to himself in the third person.  His dozens of state portraits were all modeled on those of European monarchs.”

We can be truly grateful that Washington was so aware that he was establishing precedent, and so careful of what he said and did.  He was setting an example, and everything he did was intended to hold the new nation together, to form a more perfect union.

One simple problem was what to call the president.  John Adams had discussed the problem with his colleagues in Massachusetts.  They called their governor “His Excellency”: should not the president have a higher title?  Adams thought only something like ‘His Highness’ or ‘His Most Benign Highness’ would answer.  Washington was said to have initially favored “His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of Their Liberties.” The Dutch leaders of the States-General of the United Provinces called themselves “Their High Mightinesses” and they were leaders of a Republic.”  Madison managed to get his fellow congressmen to vote for the simple republican title “President of the United States.” And that was that.

Washington was relieved when the title question was settled.  But “he still was faced with making the institution of the presidency strong and energetic.” In fact, said Gordon Wood, “the presidency is the powerful office it is in large part because of Washington’s initial behavior.”

Gordon S. Wood: Empire of Liberty; A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815

The Dark Ages? They Really Weren’t That Dark! by The Elephant's Child

Professor Anthony Esolen for Prager University. We’ve been told that the Middle Ages, also known as the Dark Ages, were characterized by oppression ignorance and backwardness in areas like human rights, science, health and the arts? We have been misled.

Why Socialism Does Not Work! by The Elephant's Child

Here’s Daniel Hannan, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), in a debate at the Oxford Union on April 29, 2014. He is an outspoken advocate of freedom, a conservative in the European Parliament who is opposed to the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union, and a partisan advocate for America.  Wonderful speaker.

Don’t miss this.

And a Politically Incorrect Merry Christmas to You by The Elephant's Child

Protesters are marching in Manhattan because they think they want “social justice” rather than real justice.

There is no such thing as “social justice.” We have only one kind of justice — which is embodied in the law. The laws established by the people and their representatives come with no guarantee that they will make people feel good about the outcome. Societies need rules, no law will cover every situation, and often the outcome may seem unfair, or be unfair. The police are there to enforce the law, and keep you safe, not to make you feel good.

The childish inability of the Left and their useful idiots to accept the fallible, imperfect nature of humanity endures. They do not truly recognize that there is evil in the world, and they are not prepared to deal with it. You cannot regulate niceness, kindness or peace. You will be offended if you allow yourself to be. Our constitutional freedom of speech does not guarantee that you will not be offended — it guarantees that you will have to put up with speech you don’t like.

I have never understood why anyone should be protected from being “offended.” Part of life is learning how to cope with being insulted, having your feelings hurt, being treated unfairly, or bullied. You wll probably get fired at some point. Some bosses are tyrants. Life is unfair. Surely your mother told you that. You will have your feelings hurt, and protection doesn’t come from some social-engineering regulation passed by leftist loonies, but from your own internal armor and stoical resignation that recognizes the imperfect humanity of the world.  Not everybody is nice, even nice people are sometimes mean, and there is real evil in the world. Get used to it. You can always try to be nice yourself, that might help.

The United States has recognized that there are many religions in the world, though we remain a Judeo-Christian nation. Our very first settlers were seeking religious freedom to practice their own religion free from the dictates of the state. They were escaping a long, long siege of religious wars. Catholicism, Church of England and Scottish Presbyterianism fought bloody, chopping off heads wars, and Puritans, Pilgrims, Shakers, Mennonites, Quakers, Episcopalians, Jews, Dutch Reformed, German Reformed, Irish Catholic, Scots-Irish Presbyterians, and all sorts of odd sects came to America and some new ones arose here, and for the most part they learned to get along, with a few notable exceptions here and there. Comparatively speaking, we Americans are pretty outstanding in the getting-along department, and in the public bellyaching department as well.

It seems to me that we have become more sensitive to offending by the mention of religion only in the wake of 9/11. We cannot say anything unkind about radical Islam because of the freedom of religion clause, which was written to assure that we never established a state religion. It has been twisted into the idea that religious expression is impolite. So we are left with immigrants from Muslim countries whose goal is to establish a state religion — Islam, and Sharia law.

Europe is dying of political correctness. Because of declining birthrates they do not have enough young people to support an aging population, so they have invited in vast numbers of immigrants, a large percentage of whom are Muslim, who want to come to Europe because their native countries are poverty-ridden dysfunctional tyrannies. The Western societies have no long experience in turning immigrants into Hollanders or French or Swedes. The immigrants remain Moroccans, Egyptians or Somalis living in European countries. This comes just at the time when the continent is embarked on a program of making everybody into ‘Europeans’ with open borders, common currency and common laws in the hope of ending the constant wars that have decimated the continent for centuries.

Michael Walsh wrote recently about far-right populist politician Geert Wilders, who will be tried in the Netherlands for inciting racial hatred. He asked the crowd at a rally after local elections if they wanted ‘fewer or more Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands?’ The crowd said ‘fewer.’ He responded “we’re going to organize that.” Later, in a TV interview, he referred to ‘Moroccan scum.’ Apparently now, Moroccans are a ‘race.’ You can see that assimilation is not going well.

In Sweden 20% of the once homogenous population are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Sweden attempted to give shelter to the oppressed, but they are not turning them into proud Swedes. Mass immigration has dissolved Sweden’s social cohesion and overburdened the welfare system. The government cannot or will not cope. The people want immigration reduced. There is deep hostility between the aging indigenous population and the very fertile immigrant one. Demographers say that by 2050, Europe will be Muslim. Are we going to follow down that path?

We are deeply conflicted with the problems of political correctness, diversity, inequality, social justice, race, gender, ethnicity and an antagonism towards religion. Are we to follow the failures of the European idea, or continue to assimilate and turn immigrants into proud Americans? The founders, correctly, emphasized equality of opportunity — not equality of outcome. We all have a chance to make of ourselves what we choose. We’ll make mistakes, some will fail, some will make very bad choices. But we are human and striving, and being human is an imperfect business.

The vision of the Left won’t and cannot work. Diversity does not reside in skin color nor  gender, but in what is in our heads. Appreciate the differences and learn from each other. Some of the richest people have the least money. Redistributing income won’t fix anything. Redistribute excellent teachers instead. Get the kids to the library where they can encounter a world of opportunity.

And this Christmas go out and offend — wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Sing a carol or two. Redistribute some extra cash into the Salvation Army’s red buckets. Appreciate the natural diversity of the mass of humanity of this world. You cannot fix them. It’s hard enough getting along with your own relatives.

“Can’t Stop the Cavalry” by The Elephant's Child

I’m a sucker for tuba music. This song comes in many versions, this one was made seven years ago for the troops.

The Christmas Truce, One Hundred Years Ago, Remembered. by The Elephant's Child

Here is Sainsbury’s official Christmas 2014 advertisement, made in cooperation with the Royal British Legion. It was inspired by very real events one hundred years ago. The chocolate bar featured in the video is being sold by Sainsburys, a British supermarket chain, all profits go to the Royal British Legion and benefit British armed forces and their families.

The Wall Street Journal published an article on the Christmas Truce in 1914. A British soldier named Frank Richards wrote about the event:

On Christmas morning we stuck up a board with ‘A Merry Christmas’ on it. The enemy had stuck up a similar one…. Two of our men then threw their equipment off and jumped on the parapet with their hands above their heads. Two of the Germans done the same and commenced to walk up the river bank, our two men going to meet them. They met and shook hands and then we all got out of the trench…

Up and down the four hundred-odd miles of trenches on the Western Front, men risked their lives with similar acts, meeting opposing soldiers in “no man’s land.” Wary and unarmed, they made their way out of their trenches, taking steps that, a day earlier, would have guaranteed their death at the hands of sharpshooters and machine gunners a hundred yards away.

The relaxation of hostilities spread, and what has come to be called the “Christmas truce” took hold. Soon, soldiers were holding joint burial services for the dead. They began trading goods. British soldiers had been given holiday tins of plum pudding from the king; German soldiers had received pipes with a picture of the crown prince on them; and before long the men were bartering these holiday gee-gaws that celebrated the enemy’s royals. Eventually, soldiers prayed and caroled together, shared dinner, exchanged gifts. Most famously, there were soccer matches at various locations, played with improvised balls.

The truce mostly held through Christmas and, in some cases, even to the New Year. It took senior officers’ threats for fighting to resume, and such comprehensive battlefront peacemaking never happened again during the Great War. Courts-martial were brought against those involved later in even brief Christmas truces to retrieve the dead.

ADDENDUM: Here’s a photograph of a real football game played on the battlefield in 1914 during the Christmas truce, from Twitter.



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