Monday, March 15, 2021

The Patriots

 



Patriotism seems currently out of fashion.  For many, pride itself seems to be associated with right wing extremism and violence (Proud Boys, etc.).  Why should we care about the lives of long dead white males?  To many of the "Woke," the Founding Fathers were an over-rated pack of slave-holding racists, right?  How are these stuffed shirts of the 18th Century relevant to our technology-obsessed 21st Century culture?

Winston Groom 1943 - 2020: RIP


The late Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump (novel 1986, film 1994), turned his attention from Fiction to History in later life.  Groom's final book, The Patriots (www.amzn.com/1426221495) published in 2020, asks us to focus on the lives of three Founding Fathers who helped to make America Great from its beginning.  Groom was a US Army officer during the Vietnam War and a Southern voice (born in Alabama) who was not afraid of cutting against the grain of contemporary thought.

The Patriots presents us with biographies of three key figures in the Founding of America...Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.  None of these men were saints and Groom's work is no mere hagiography.  Hamilton threw his promising life away in a pointless duel with Aaron Burr.  Jefferson was a slave owner who seems to have fathered six children with his slave Sally Hemings.  Adams could be brusque and unpleasant.  Adams was a one term President who did not attend the inauguration of his successor Jefferson -- remind of anyone?  But these were men who shaped the United States of America in the critical early days of the Republic.  Moreover, these founding fathers affirmed principles that are today recognized as the bedrock of Conservatism...the Rule of Law, Gun Rights, Business Values and Financial Probity.  Having witnessed the tyranny of George III, all three of these men were advocates of limited government with Jefferson suggesting that government ought to be "rigorously frugal and simple".

Adams made his historical mark long before becoming the second US president.  The Boston Massacre occurred in March 1770 when British soldiers fired on and killed several members of a Boston mob that were hurling icy snowballs at them.  Adams was a rising lawyer who took on the extremely unpopular task of defending eight British soldiers.  He argued successfully that they were acting in self-defense.  Six were acquitted and two were convicted of manslaughter.  The rule of law applies to ALL -- no matter how unpopular the alleged transgressor may be.  Adams would have understood the civic necessity of a proper legal defense for the cop who killed George Floyd.

Thomas Jefferson tombstone:
Author of the Declaration of American Independence / of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom / & Father of the University of Virginia

Jefferson was the greatest writer among the Founding fathers penning the immortal words of the Declaration of Independence.  Jefferson was a thorough Revolutionary who insisted that "the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."  What exactly would Jefferson have made of those who stormed the Capital on January 6, 2021?

We know for certain that Jefferson was an avid hunter and a gun collector who owned eleven pistols and a shotgun declaring, "I am a great friend to the manly and healthy exercises of the gun."  President Jefferson demonstrated a strong acumen for business purchasing the 828,000 square miles of the Louisiana Territory from Emperor Napoleon for the sum of $15 million or three cents an acre, effectively doubling the size of the United States.  Two centuries before Trump, Jefferson knew all about the Art of the Deal.  Insatiably curious, Jefferson dispatched Lewis and Clark to explore the West all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Bitter partisan feelings did NOT begin with the 2020 Presidential elections.  Feelings ran high and editorial could be scorching in the early days of our Republic.  Thomas Jeffersons' words at his first inauguration speak eloquently to those of us in the 21st century on social media who may be inclined to block out or excoriate those with whom we disagree.  Jefferson said, "We are all republicans, we are all federalists...Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle...Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty, and even life itself is a dreary thing." 

Alexander Hamilton never became president.  An illegitimate immigrant from Nevis, young Hamilton studied law at King's College in New York (later Columbia University). He served as a loyal aide-de-camp to General Washington during the American Revolution.  He amply demonstrated his ardor for his country on the field of battle leading the Continentals who stormed a British redoubt with fixed bayonets at the battle of Yorktown in 1781.  As the nation's first Treasury Secretary he established sound credit for the United States and, though accused by political opponents of many transgressions, was scrupulously free of corruption and self-dealing.  Hamilton did more than any man to make the United States as Groom writes, "one of the safest nations in which to invest".  His untimely death at the hands of Aaron Burr was a tragic loss for our country. Musical theater has brought his life back into deserved prominence in the 21st century.

The Patriots concludes with the summation that Adams, Jefferson and Hamilton were men "driven by their own passions and particular genius" who "chanced their fortunes on creating a more just and promising world." Groom's literary recalling of their lives is a deeply Conservative act that pays proper respect to our founding fathers and gives us a measure of inspiration for the future.  Winston Groom, who died of a heart attack in September 2020, was an American Patriot who will be sorely missed.


Travel Notes, etc:

If you are near Philadelphia be sure to check out the excellent Museum of the American Revolution which features George Washington's tent (https://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2017/09/museum-of-american-revolution.html)

My own forebear, William Lee Davidson, served alongside Alexander Hamilton during the Yorktown campaign...https://www.blogger.com/blog/post/edit/4122629330054677829/6481761839499153267

I reviewed Winston Groom's The Allies earlier...https://www.blogger.com/blog/post/edit/4122629330054677829/6089705246017757121





You can find signed copies of our books at these web sites...

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Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Foyle's War

 



Those of us who enjoy History and are stuck at home during this wretched pandemic would do well to check out the British miniseries Foyle's War (www.amzn.com/B011T0C7DW).  This detective series ran for nine seasons from 2002 until 2015 on ITV.  The series was created by the husband and wife team of Anthony Horowitz (Writer) and Jill Green (Executive Producer).  It features outstanding performances from Michael Kitchen (DCS Foyle), Honeysuckle Weeks (Samantha Stewart) and Anthony Howell (Sgt. Paul Milner).  Another highlight are the series' excellent cameo appearances from Charles Dance (GOT) to John Mahoney's (Fraser's Dad) final television role.

The mystery elements are cleverly plotted in the finest British tradition.  The 90 minute length of each episode allows for added complexity and density.  These are essentially 28 mini-movies on crime in Southeastern England.   Most are set with the ferocious backdrop of World War II.  Millions are being killed around the globe but someone still needs to worry about Colonel Mustard dead in his library in Hastings.  Enter DCS Foyle.  The final two seasons feature plots drawn from the Cold War.

But it is the unfailing respect for the past that I find so attractive about this series.  The visual attention to accurate detail is evident in the brilliantly arranged locations, costuming, grooming, cars, planes and sets.  This is a stylish and rewarding WW2 series.


Anthony Horowitz is a prolific author who wrote most of the screenplays for Foyle's War.  His plots are all drawn from real historic events that took place from 1940 to 1947.  Like Patrick O'Brian, he relied upon sound research rather than imagination.  The series begins in 1940 with the imminent prospect of a cross channel German invasion codenamed "Seelöwe" ("Sealion").  Fear and even paranoia have gripped seaside communities such as Hastings.  The Home Guard is not sitcom fodder (Dad's Army) but rather the first line of defense against Hitler's planned blitzkrieg against Britain.  Foyle's son, Andrew (played by Julian Ovenden) is a dashing RAF Spitfire pilot. -- one of "the Few" to whom so much is owed.


Other plots involve actual historic incidents such as the debacle at Slapton Sands in Devon where on April 27, 1944, American soldiers from the 4th Division were rehearsing D-Day landing plans.  They were interrupted by torpedoes launched by German E-boats.  Hundreds were killed and the incident was hushed up the tragedy due to intelligence concerns regarding the upcoming Normandy plans.

The grim reality and tawdriness of wartime Britain is unflinchingly depicted in the series.  Ration coupons and the trade in black market goods are a constant presence right into the Cold War era.  World War II was clearly a catalyst for the birth of Feminism and Civil Rights.  These themes are explored in episodes featuring British versions of "Rosie the Riveter" and racial tensions in a segregated US Army base in England.

An episode loosely based on the SS massacre of American prisoners at Malmedy is featured in a later episode.  This incident, which took place during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, is moved for dramatic purposes into the earlier Normandy campaign.

Horowitz gets high marks for cliché avoidance.  Christopher Foyle does NOT have an affair with his lovely driver played by the charming Honeysuckle Weeks.  Though, of course, Eisenhower did have a wartime  affair with Kay Summersby his beautiful Anglo-Irish chauffeur.  Everyone with a German accent is NOT guilty.  And so on.

Commander K at IWM, London


Foyle's War
is an extended History lesson about WW2 and Cold War that draws on meticulous research.  Terry Charman, a curator for the Imperial War Museum, served as an advisor throughout the series.   But this is no dry dessicated History lesson!  Each episode is a neatly plotted mystery which Foyle solves with coolness and sangfroid.  Foyle's War brings History to life.

From a British perspective, Americans were late to join both World Wars.  Personally, I have been late to appreciate Foyle's War which began in 2002.  Commander Kelly gives Foyle's War 5 stars and recommends it as the perfect pandemic binge option.







You can find signed copies of our books at these web sites...

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Monday, January 18, 2021

Xi Fallin'




Xi Jinping



Xi Fallin'



Xi’s a good man,
Loves his Mao
Loves Confucius 
And China too
Xi’s a good man
Crazy ‘bout the navy
Loves Apples 
And Karl Marx too

Chinese Aircraft Carrier Liaoning



It's a long day
Livin’ in Wuhan
There’s a disease 
Runnin’ right through
And I’m a bad virus
Infecting the world
I’m a bad virus
For killin’ so many





Now I’m Xi
Xi fallin'
Yeah I'm Xi
Xi Fallin' 
Though China ain’t free





Now all the vaccines
Walkin’ through the valley
Move west down
The Great Wall
And all the bad viruses
Are standing in the shadows
And all the Covid widows
Are home with broken hearts




Now I’m Xi
Xi fallin'
But China ain’t free
Yeah I'm Xi
Xi fallin’
Xi fallin’
China ain’t free
Now I’m Xi fallin'
Now I'm 
Yeah I'm Xi 
Xi fallin' 
Xi fallin'
Xi fallin'
And I'm Xi
Xi fallin'
Commie China ain’t free
Xi fallin'
Xi fallin 
Now I'm 
Xi fallin'

I wanna glide down 
Over Beijing and DC
I wanna spread Covid 
Across the sky
I'm gonna Xi fall
Out into nothin'
Gonna lie to this
World for awhile




Now I'm Xi
Xi fallin'
Yeah I'm Xi
Xi fallin'
Xi fallin'
Yeah I'm Xi
Xi fallin'
Xi fallin'
Yeah I'm Xi
Xi fallin'
Commie China
Ain't Free!












Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Queen Boudicca: Fighting Celt

Americans may be destroying statues left and right and erasing their history but Queen Boudicca continues to ride her chariot with her daughters by her side along Westminster near the Houses of Parliament in London.  Long may it be so! 

Boudicca Statue, Westminster Bridge, London


Boudicca

 

Queen, rebel, warrior,

you resisted Rome, your name

resists oblivion.

 

Celtic history is full of strong women who knew their own minds and acted accordingly. The wife of a Roman emperor who criticized the sexual morals of Caledonian women got a crushing reply from one of them. The Caledonian woman told the Roman wife they were much better than Roman women, because they openly consorted with the best of men, while Roman women allowed themselves to be defiled in private by the worst of men.

But of all the strong women in Celtic history, one of the strongest must be Boudicca, a woman who came quite close to derailing the Roman occupation of Britain entirely.

She was, according to Roman sources, a striking woman with a strong voice and long auburn hair hanging below her waist.

Boudicca did not go looking for a fight with the Romans. Her people, the Iceni, occupied in Britain a territory roughly similar to the modern county of Norfolk. They had initially been allies of Rome as the Romans extended their power across southern Britain. Her husband Prasutagus was king of the Iceni; and when he died, the situation the Iceni found themselves in got quickly and catastrophically worse.

Prasutagus had no son and had named the Roman emperor his joint heir, along with his daughters, in an attempt to ensure continuing Roman protection for the Iceni. Instead, the Romans, perhaps perceiving a tribe with only a woman left to lead it as vulnerable, swooped in like vultures. Goods and estates were confiscated; loans were suddenly called in.  Boudicca herself was whipped, and, worst of all, her daughters were raped. If the Romans expected that they would escape punishment for all this, then they had picked on the wrong woman. Boudicca's revenge would be spectacular and blood soaked.

The Romans had chosen an unfortunate time to provoke Boudicca so mercilessly. It was AD 60 or 61, and the Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was on the other side of the island leading a brutal campaign in what is now north Wales and Anglesey, when the Iceni rose in ferocious rebellion. They soon found allies among the Trinovantes to the south, and the combined force headed for the Roman veterans’ colony at Camulodunum, now Colchester. The veterans stood little chance. They received only a couple hundred ill-equipped reinforcements, and there were rebels among the Britons in the town. Some of the defenders managed to hold out for two days in the Temple of Claudius, but in the end the colony was looted, burned, and destroyed.

Worse was to come for the Romans. The Ninth Legion, which had been rushing to the rescue of Camulodunum, was attacked by the rebels and lost large numbers of its infantry contingent. The Roman cavalry fled to safety in a fort.

Suetonius raced across Britain to try to counter the rebellion, only to find himself in the Roman settlement of Londinium (London) with not enough troops to have a hope of dealing with the fierce uprising. He was forced to flee Londinium, abandoning it to the rebels who again seized and looted and killed and burned.  Next on the rebels’ target list was Verulamium/St. Albans. The Roman historian Tacitus reckoned almost 70,000 Romans and allies had died so far.

By now, however, the rebellion had achieved its greatest successes. Perhaps because of internal rivalries, other tribes, apart from the Trinovantes, do not seem to have rallied to the rebellion. As well as having Roman occupants, Verulamium was also the capital of the Catuvellauni, who were neighbors and probably rivals of the Iceni. Verulamium’s destruction may have been aimed as much at the Catuvellauni as at Rome

Coming in 2021...!

And after his false start in London, Suetonius finally came up with a plan. He assembled a force consisting of the 14th Legion, elements of the 20th Legion, and additional auxiliaries and he advanced on the rebels. Knowing he would be hugely outnumbered, he found a location where the landscape gave some cover to his flanks and his rear and awaited the enemy. The exact battle site is unknown, although various possibilities have been suggested. It was probably somewhere in the Midlands.

Boudicca, riding in a chariot with her daughters, urged on her forces, telling them that as a woman, she would conquer or die; and that men could live as slaves if they couldn't match her determination. The battle that followed saw bravery and tactical naivete defeated by professional discipline and military experience. Retreating rebels were caught up in their own baggage train and slaughtered. Boudicca is said to have drunk poison rather than be taken prisoner.

The rebellion had been crushed, but it had been far from an easy victory for Rome. And in the aftermath, with a still sullen and hostile population to deal with, the Romans were forced to offer some conciliatory measures, including dispatching to Britain administrators who could take a more intelligent and somewhat more gentle approach to stabilizing Roman control there.

Boudicca’s legacy endures in Britain today, where a statue of her riding in a chariot alongside her two victimized daughters graces Westminster Bridge across from the Houses of Parliament.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Invading Oklahoma

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site



I really enjoyed my recent trip to Oklahoma.  Our book America Invaded (www.americainvaded.com) discussed Invasions of Oklahoma from the first arrival of the Europeans to the present day...



"The Wichita tribe, far less nomadic than other Native Americans, were farming in Oklahoma long before the arrival of Europeans.

De Soto
C 1500 - 1542

The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, Oklahoma’s first European visitor, came to the region in 1540 searching for gold.  The conquistador Coronado arrived the following year.

In 1594 or 1595, two other Spanish explorers, Umana and Leyba, led an expedition into what is Oklahoma today, also searching for gold. Neither would survive. Many years later, an Oklahoma farmer would uncover part of a steel breastplate, presumably from a conquistador.

As the Spanish moved north to Oklahoma, the French moved south from New France. In 1682, Robert de La Salle explored the Mississippi region and claimed this area, including Oklahoma, for the French king. Bérnard de La Harpe led two French expeditions into Oklahoma, in 1719 and 1721.  e French trappers left a legacy in Oklahoma in terms of geographic names, such as the Poteau and Grand Rivers.

In 1759, Diego Ortiz Parrilla organized a punitive expedition against Native Americans in Texas and Oklahoma. On October 7, the Battle of the Twin Villages was fought near what is today the Texas-Oklahoma border.  The Spanish were defeated by warriors from the Wichita and Comanche tribes.
France regained control (on paper) of the Louisiana territory, including Oklahoma, in 1800 from Spain. In 1803, the Jefferson administration negotiated the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon for the sum of $15 million. Most of the present state of Oklahoma was included in that deal.

The US Constitution specifically calls out Native Americans, declaring that Congress shall have power “to regulate Commerce ... with the Indian Tribes.” In 1825, the US government saw the Oklahoma Territory as the solution to their “Indian problem.” James Barbour, the Secretary of War, declared the establishment of Indian Country in order that “the future residence of these peoples will be forever undisturbed.”

Trying to put all Native Americans into one basket, though, created problems of its own. Numerous wars and skirmishes were fought in Oklahoma among Native Americans. In 1833, for example, the Osage tribe fell upon an undefended group of Kiowa in what became known as the Cutthroat Gap Massacre. Over 150 were killed, including many women and children.

Between the 1830s and 1850s, many of the defeated tribes of the Southeast, such as the Choctaw and Creek, were forcibly relocated to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma.  This became known as the Trail of Tears.

In 1842 at Webbers Falls, about twenty-five slaves rebelled in Cherokee territory and headed south toward Mexico. They were joined by more slaves escaping from Creek land.  The Cherokee militia were sent after them and recaptured them. Five were executed.

President James K Polk
Architect of Mexican-American War
Polk House, Columbia TN

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 that ended the Mexican-American War added the Oklahoma Panhandle, previously claimed by the Republic of Texas, to United States Territory.  is land remained an untamed no-man’s-land for many years until finally becoming part of Oklahoma.

In 1858, John “Rip” Ford led a party of Texas Rangers across the Red River and into Oklahoma Indian Territory. He earned his nickname during the Mexican-American War, after writing numerous death notifications with the words Rest in Peace at the top.  His “invasion” was a response to attacks against settlers. Ford’s men fought the Battle of Antelope Hills against two separate groups of Comanche on May 12, 1858.  The Rangers were armed with .45 caliber six shooters, which outclassed the bows and single-shot muskets of the Comanche.  Only two Rangers were killed versus over seventy-five Comanche, with many more Comanche taken prisoner.

In October 1858, troops of the 2nd Cavalry looking for Penateka Comanche chief Buffalo Hump clashed with Comanche warriors at the Battle of the Wichita Village.  The Comanche were defeated, but Buffalo Hump escaped.

But a much bigger war was coming.

During the American Civil War, Native Americans in the Indian territory of Oklahoma at first attempted to remain neutral. Ultimately, Oklahoma fought a mini-Civil War of its own. Four regiments of Indian Home Guard were raised to fight on the Union side. Many Creek warriors from Oklahoma would fight in Union blue. Nearly 8,000 Indians, mainly of the Five Civilized Tribes, would instead fight under the flag of the Stars and Bars.

Stand Watie
1806 -1871
In the bitter winter of 1861, Unionist Native Americans, under attack from Confederate forces, withdrew to Kansas, fighting a series of engagements en route, including the Battle of Round Mountain and the Battle of Chustenahlah. Among the pursuing forces was Stand Watie.
Stand Watie, a Cherokee leader who was born in Georgia, relocated to the Oklahoma Territory. In August of 1861, he chose to align his tribe with the Confederate cause. He led a force of irregular cavalry that conducted a number of hit-and-run raids on Union targets. Watie rose to become a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. He was, in fact, the last Confederate general to surrender, on June 23, 1865, more than two months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. After the war, he returned to farming in Delaware County, Oklahoma.

Stand Watie’s forces took part in a number of other Civil War clashes in what is now Oklahoma, including the Battle of Old Fort Wayne in October 1862.

The most significant battle of the Civil War fought in Oklahoma was the Battle of Honey Springs on July 17, 1863. Major General James Blunt of Maine, armed with superior artillery, defeated a Confederate force that outnumbered him two to one.  The battle was notable for the courageous performance of the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry.  This Union victory secured most of the Oklahoma Indian Territory for the duration of the Civil War.

Less a battle than a Massacre
Washita Battlefield National Historic Site
Cheyenne, OK


After the Civil War, tensions between American settlers and Native Americans continued. Most of Oklahoma was occupied by the Five Civilized Tribes—Cheyenne, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole. Pressure was mounting for the construction of railroads through Indian lands. Perhaps the most notorious battle to ever be fought in Oklahoma took place on November 27, 1868, on the banks of the Washita River. US Army forces led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer attacked a Cheyenne encampment led by Black Kettle. Black Kettle had been a signatory of the Medicine Lodge Treaties of 1867, which granted money and equipment in exchange for relocation onto two reservations in western Oklahoma and access for the railroad workers.

Massacre at Washita
Washita Battlefield Historic Site
Cheyenne, OK

In the early morning hours of November 27, Custer’s 7th Cavalry attacked the sleeping Cheyenne camp from four directions.  The engagement remains controversial to this day, with some historians terming it a massacre while others argue that it was a one-sided battle. Twenty-one American soldiers were killed and probably over one hundred Indians, including many women and children. Black Kettle and his wife were among the slain.

Some further clashes between Native Americans and US forces would occur, and 1882 also saw the Green Peach War as Cherokee clashed with Cherokee.

In addition to the land occupied by the Five Civilized Tribes, there was also a section of Oklahoma that was designated Unassigned Territory by the federal government.  These areas, including the Panhandle, became subject to a series of land runs starting in 1893.  The “Sooners” were the settlers who moved most expeditiously to take advantage of the federal government’s largesse.

Teddy Roosevelt
Added Oklahoma to the Union
Museum of the Panama Canal, Panama City, Panama

In 1905, Indian tribes in Oklahoma held a constitutional convention that proposed the admission of an Indian state called Sequoyah.  at same year, President Teddy Roosevelt enjoyed a wolf hunt in the Oklahoma Territory with Comanche Chief Quanah Parker. In 1907, Oklahoma became the forty-sixth state to join the Union, utilizing the Sequoyah constitution.

In April of 1917, Woodrow Wilson led the United States into World War I on the side of the Allies against the Central Powers. Conscription soon followed. Opposition to conscription broke out in Oklahoma with the Green Corn Rebellion in Pontotoc County. Tenant farmers, along with Creeks, Seminoles, and some African Americans, rioted, and three people were killed.  A manifesto issued by the rebels declared that World War I was a “Rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.”  This rhetoric could, of course, be applied to many American wars.

Oil was first discovered in Oklahoma in 1859.  The state was a crucial producer of oil in both world wars, which brought increased wealth to the state. Today it remains the fifth largest oil-producing state in the United States.

In 1931, the Red River Bridge War erupted. Well, sort of. Briefly. An argument over a bridge jointly built by Texas and Oklahoma led to Texas building barricades on the bridge and Oklahoma tearing them down, and the governor of Oklahoma declaring martial law before the problem was resolved.

Battleship Oklahoma

The Battleship Oklahoma, nicknamed Okie, was torpedoed by Japanese aircraft and sunk on December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor. Over 420 of her crew were killed.  She was later refloated and repaired, serving in the war until 1944. Oklahoma, unlike many of its neighboring states, was not apparently struck by Japanese balloon bombs. Astonishingly, Oklahoma did not escape bombing during World War II. On July 5, 1943, a B-17 squadron operating out of Dalhart Air Base in Texas accidentally dropped about four practice bombs on Boise City in the Oklahoma Panhandle. One bomb struck the local Baptist church. No one was killed or injured in the only World War II bombing of a city in the continental US. One of the B-17 crew members returned after the war and married a woman from Boise City."  (Source: Oklahoma chapter of America Invadedwww.americainvaded.com).





TOURIST NOTES OKLAHOMA:



Washita Battlefield National Historic Site
Cheyenne, OK


Washita Battlefield Historic Site (https://www.nps.gov/waba/index.htm), Cheyenne, OK.  This is hallowed ground for all Americans.  Great film on what happened at Washita in 1868.  Friendly helpful staff
Tom Stafford
Stafford Air and Space Museum
Weatherford, OK
Stafford Air and Space Museum (https://www.staffordmuseum.org/), Weatherford, OK.  This museum, named in honor of the American astronaut Tom Stafford who grew up in Weatherford, offers a glimpse into the US Space program and much more.

Mahogany Steakhouse (https://mahoganyprimesteakhouse.com/locations/mahogany-tulsa/), Tulsa, OK.  Absolutely nothing to do with Invasions or Military History but an excellent place to restore the tissues after seeing the sites in Oklahoma!  Great steaks and wine selections.

Bread Pudding at Mahogany Steakhouse
Tulsa, OK




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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Splendid and The Vile

Rare Moral Clarity


We read that a statue of Winston Churchill in London's Parliament Square was recently attacked and defaced with Black Lives Matter graffiti (https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-england-london-52972531/black-lives-matter-protest-why-was-churchill-s-statue-defaced).  About a month ago my own personal book van was defaced with red paint by protesters in Austin Texas!
Uncle Sam sees Red!
But Erik Larson's latest book offers a more informed and uplifting account of the man widely acknowledged to be the greatest Briton of all time.
Erik Larson

The Splendid and the Vile is Erik Larson's account of Winston Churchill and his family during the Blitz of London in World War II (www.amzn.com/0385348711).  Erik Larson is a best selling author whose historical accounts have sold over 9 million copies.  He is the author of Dead Wake about the final voyage of the Lusitania (https://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2020/06/dead-wake.html).

Another book about Churchill?  Is this really necessary when the ground has been thoroughly covered by so many fine authors from Andrew Roberts (https://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2018/12/churchill-walking-with-history.html) to Boris Johnson (https://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2014/12/boriss-new-book-this-is-outstanding.html)?  Fortunately the answer is a resounding yes!

Erik Larson brings a fresh set of eyes to this world historic period of World War II.  From the spring of 1940 until Hitler's invasion of Russia which began on June 22, 1941 Britain stood alone against the Nazi menace.  This was a period of immense danger when the whole world stood on the brink of a yawning precipice.  It seemed for a while that Nazi Germany would win the war and dominate the continent of Europe.  The Germans' Blitzkrieg tactics had vanquished Poland, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark and even France.  Britain made a hasty exit from the continent with the evacuation at Dunkirk.  The Luftwaffe seemed unstoppable.  America was mired in isolationism.  Stalin's Soviet Union had already done a dirty deal with Hitler to carve up Poland.

Larson has a unique narrative gift for the telling detail.  In this volume he focusses not merely on Churchill but also on his intriguing family.  His wife Clementine was the rocky bulwark upon which Winston Churchill built his extraordinary life.  She was steady and compassionate when she went out with her husband to visit the bomb-damaged neighborhoods throughout Britain.  Churchill himself was noted to cry amid the rubble of London.  Randolph, their only son, was a wastrel, a gambler, a drunk and a cad.  Their daughter Mary (later Mary Soames) was a vivacious ingenue in 1940 who eventually took charge of an anti-aircraft battery.  His daughter in law Pamela (née Digby) was a beautiful young woman, unfortunately wed to the the ne'er do well Randolph.  During this fateful year Pamela will give birth to Winston Churchill jr. and begin an affair with the American millionaire and diplomat Averell Harriman.

Larson writes his account with full moral clarity about a time which really offers up astonishing moral clarity.  On the one hand, there are the vile...Adolph Hitler, who launched the bloodiest war in human history.   There is Joseph Goebbels his propaganda minister who wound up killing all of his six children before committing suicide in the Fuhrer bunker. There is Hermann Göring, the World War I flying ace who became the immensely fat and greedy head of the Luftwaffe who looted the museums of Nazi occupied Europe.

Nor were the vile exclusively German.  By no means.  Randolph Churchill's philandering during the birth of his son was pretty vile.  Joseph Kennedy, the US ambassador to the Court of St James at the start of World War II, was defeatist and pro-German.  Larson relates a Foreign Office joke of the time which circulated at the time: "I always thought that my daffodils were yellow until I met Joe Kennedy." 

On the other hand, there is Winston Churchill, his family and a growing entourage of admirers.  There is the splendid oratory of the great man himself in delivering what are perhaps the finest pieces of political rhetoric ever uttered by any wartime leader.  "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat" and so on.  Jock Colville rendered splendid assistance as Churchill's private secretary while keeping an illicit private diary that would become immensely important to future historians.  Colville heroically volunteered to leave his desk job to serve in the RAF.  Larson recounts his various amorous wartime adventures.  This work's title is derived from one of Colville's remarkable diary entries.

In Harry Hopkins Churchill found a very different kind of American than JFK's dad.  After fulsome dinner at Ditchley Park in 1941 Churchill delivered a high-toned peroration in defense of Western values.  Churchill paused to ask Hopkins what FDR would make of all this.  Hopkins replied, "Well, Mr Prime Minister, I don't think the President will give a dam' for all that."  After a very long pause for effect Hopkins explained, "You see we're only interested in seeing that God dam sonofabith Hitler gets licked."   Harry Hopkins was in that moment a splendid American!

Kenrick 'Snakehips' Johnson
1914 -1941
His Life Mattered
Finally, there are the victims.  Nearly 29,000 were killed during the blitz which lasted from May of 1940 until June of 1941.  These included 5,626 children.  Many more would be killed by the rocket attacks launched late in the war.  Around 10 percent of all buildings in London were destroyed during the course of the war.  Larson relates the tragic bombing of the Café de Paris in Piccadilly on the evening of March 8, 1941 which killed at least 34 people including 'Snakehips' Johnson, a twenty six year old dancer and bandleader from British Guiana, who was decapitated by a German bomb.  The protestors of 2020 who attack the statue of Churchill seem not really to care much about his black life...?

A minor quibble about this book is the sad absence of photography.

I will stand with Churchill!

History is freighted with irony.  Churchill himself might appreciate the irony inherent in the fact that elements of the radical Left are now attacking the greatest Anti-Fascist of all time!  I, for one, will stand with Churchill.




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