War Is Boring — But Writing About It Is Interesting

vietnam-war-01This has been a tough year for the blog. I’ve had little time to write and my injured arm made typing a painful, difficult chore for months. However, like the old cowboy too stubborn to stop roping cattle I am back in the saddle again.

One recent project involves contributing to the on-line magazine War is Boring.  The brainchild of war correspondent and author David Axe, who wrote the “Danger Room” blog for Wired, the site is an eclectic collection of independently reported stories on all aspects of war, the military, military history, and foreign policy. (By the way, the linked article about Axe explains the improbable name of the on-line magazine.) I recently wrote two stories: an article on how a WWII GI was misidentified as a German soldier, buried with his enemies, and declared MIA for nearly 70 years until DNA tests revealed his actual identity; and a story on the diplomatic and personnel skills of Eduard Shevardnadze as revealed in recently declassified documents from former Soviet and White House sources. I particularly enjoyed reporting and writing the latter story since it allowed me to return to my roots as a student of Russia and the Soviet Union, the topic that was my introduction to undergraduate history studies 30 years ago.

War is Boring is part of Medium, the news and culture group of Twitter.

I hope this is the beginning of a long association with the magazine, which would allow me to write about the military affairs issues so near to my heart and intriguing to my mind.

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Wildly Inaccurate, But Fun: “No More Kings”

0903declaraOK, so George III didn’t really sit on bags of gold. Furthermore, it began as a fight about the rights of Englishmen, not the right to create an American nation. But “Schoolhouse Rock” is so much fun. Enjoy a blast from the past: “No More Kings.”  Have a glorious Fourth of July

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Talk about the Spirit of the Founding Fathers

If it were later in the day, I’d describe the following as a palate cleanser to chase away the bad taste of contemporary politics. But, I am posting this before noon, so suffice it to say most of us don’t know that the Father of Our Country was one of the leading distillers in the United States. Washington’s business venture as a whiskey distiller was a success, too. He made up to 11,000 gallons of rye whiskey annually and sold nearly every drop. Turns out he was a savvy businessman — a nice economic contrast when we recall that fellow Virginian and founder Thomas Jefferson struggled with debt his entire adult life. However, don’t try to buy this booze on the Internet. Apparently, it is for sale only at Mount Vernon.

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February 18, 2014 · 6:02 am

I’ll Return Soon

Surgery and its aftermath have temporarily sidelined me. (Let’s just say that it is quite difficult to type one-handed.) I’ll return soon with history-related news and analysis, and I plan on “soon” equaling two weeks from now. That’s when the stitches come out and the bandages come off, transforming me back into a bi-manual critter. 


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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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George Washington Wishes You A Happy Thanksgiving

0903declaraFirst of all, Happy Thanksgiving to my loyal readers. There are now hundreds of you, and your genuine interest in my take on U.S. history and current events is the reason why I write. I am grateful for your support.

Secondly, George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation (1789) speaks for itself. Enjoy the Father of Our Country’s words about the Mother of All American National Holidays.

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

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The Gettysburg Address: Liberty’s Calling Card

Lincoln's ten sentences changed America.

Lincoln’s ten sentences changed America.

It is nearly impossible today to comprehend how Americans viewed their nation and their political institutions before the U.S. Civil War.

American presidents rarely spoke in public – it was considered undignified. God knows what George Washington or Thomas Jefferson would have thought of today’s chief executives attempting to curry the voters’ favor by suffering the indignities of an appearance on The Colbert Report.

Then, we were one nation, quite divisible, with liberty and justice for some. Slavery was a multi-billion-dollar-a-year labor system that made the United States the third-wealthiest country in the world. North and South, a popular view of the federal republic was it existed only as a creature surviving at the whim of the states. The states entered freely, proponents said, and they could leave freely.

In fact, on the eve of the War Between the States to many it seemed the only glue that held us together was the wealth generated by King Cotton and the blood drawn from the backs of slaves.

Yet 150 years ago on November 19, while we were engaged in a great civil war, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in public that redefined us forever. It became known as the Gettysburg Address, and it is rightly credited for performing the nearly impossible. Invited by the city fathers of Gettysburg, Penn., to offer “a few appropriate remarks” at the dedication of a new cemetery, Mr. Lincoln’s ten sentences not only summarized the meaning of the Civil War but the meaning of America. He called on Americans, then and now, to dedicate themselves to the “unfinished work” of the battle – the vindication of the principle of natural rights and human equality. Few things ever said by any American achieved so much through so few words.

Today, we think of the Gettysburg Address as an assignment for school children or verbal decoration for the marble walls of memorials. The relegation of that powerful speech to such status is as trite as it is unfortunate. It took Lincoln, a man who once said that every political sentiment he possessed sprang from the Declaration of Independence, to remind us that the central ideas of the United States are liberty and freedom. He echoed those concepts in the opening words of the address, saying we are a nation “conceived in liberty.” The “proposition” that all men – the inclusive term for humankind used in the 18th and 19th century – are created equal is a rule of nature, like Isaac Newton’s laws of physics. This was a revolutionary idea, even while the Civil War was being fought, because the Declaration stated that the laws of nature were created by God and they were inviolable. Therefore, “liberty” is protection from the arbitrary will of another. Thus, Lincoln was not only telling his audience that the war was fought for the “new birth of freedom” that would end slavery. He was telling America, even the world, the United States must survive because when we at our best our nation is the home of a political idea that expands freedom and protects its citizens from indiscriminate power used to harass and bully a people. At a time when the federal government without reasonable suspicion uses national technical resources to spy on its own citizens, when the Bill of Rights seems an inconvenience to an American president, and when the result of these and other abuses have stripped the American people of trust in their government, it is time to return the Gettysburg Address to its rightful place: Our first and best statement “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Legend has it that Mr. Lincoln was not pleased with the speech.  There is no basis in fact for that conclusion, but the address itself contains a phrase that seems to indicate that he wondered whether it would weather the test of time.  Of the many comments made about the Gettysburg Address the reflections of Sen. Charles Sumner, a man who was once nearly beaten to death by a fellow lawmaker on the Senate floor for his anti-slavery views, captures the speech’s perennial value. “(It) is a monumental act,” Sumner wrote not long after the president’s assassination. “In the modesty of his nature he said ‘the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; but it can never forget what they did here.’ He was mistaken. The world at once noted what he said, and will never cease to remember it.” Every American of every political stripe and all backgrounds should note the Gettysburg Address, read it, understand its meaning, and cherish its vision. It defines what we should be, now and forever: A nation of free men and women, a nation of laws, and a nation where liberty is still our birthright.

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