Having returned from my vacation (the Jersey shore; very restful. To keep up my military history credentials, I went and took a look at Bunker 223:
It’s not actually terribly interesting as it looks mostly like a giant hunk of concrete from the outside and it’s not possible to get inside), I was drawn into a conversation (on Facebook) about Robert E. Lee and treason (sparked by this article). During the course of it, I found an article in the Times from 1864 called “The Chivalry of the Rebel General Lee” that had a quite remarkable statement about Lee and treason:
The simple truth is that the very fact of a soldier’s abandoning his flag involves an abandonment of character. LEE received his military education from the Government, had been constantly honored and trusted by the Government, and it was the extreme of perfidy in him to turn traitor against the Government. The soul…
When the National Park Service wanted to dress up the U.S. Navy Memorial here, officials decided to fly signal flags, a colorful but archaic form of ship-to-ship communication. Visitors to the site today encounter two flagpoles designed to look like ships’ masts, on which 14 signal flags are arrayed in four groups. Each flag represents a letter. Together, they are supposed to spell: U-S-N-A-V-Y-M-E-M-O-R-I-A-L….[Unfortunately], there are several different ways to read signal flags. “Vomiting is present. Man overboard,” the flags on one yardarm would read. M-E-M is the signal for vomiting. O means someone has fallen into the sea.
A local yachtsman, who drives by the memorial regularly, complained to the National Park Service about the multiple messages. The memorial has settled on leaving the flags up, preserving a message that can be…
It was difficult for the national organization to find members able to serve as officers and to complete all of the administrative tasks. In their last roster, published 10 years ago, the pages listing the deceased members outnumbered those listing active members.
“The guys said, ‘I was all for staying. My shipmate came to the convention with me. He’s gone now and I don’t feel like coming,’“ said Kraus, 91, of Crescent Springs, Ky.
The organization officially disbanded this year. Local chapters could continue if they felt like it. The memories–a few of them–survive in a form, in oral…
On this day of mourning, there are further revelations about how badly the Bush Administration bungled in the run up to 9/11 (and stealing a meme from Brad DeLong). During the summer of 2001, the intelligence community desperately tried to warn President Bush that Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda had an attack planned against the United States. The August 6 Presidential Daily Briefing was entitled, in about as direct a way as possible “Bin Laden determined to strike in United States.” That PDB came out as part of the work of the 9/11 commission. But that was not the only briefing that summer, according to the New York Times:
The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later…
Current American aircraft carriers are named for United States Presidents, living and dead, or political and naval leaders of some importance. In the former category, we have the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the USS Ronald Reagan (named when Reagan was still alive), the USS Harry S Truman, and others. In the latter, we have the USS Nimitz (named for the most important American admiral of WWII), the USS John C. Stennis (a Senator critical to the Navy over several decades), and the USS Carl Vinson (a Congressman of similar ilk).
They’re running out of recent Presidents to name them, though. The lead ship (CVN-78) of the new carrier class (successors to the Nimitz class) was named the USS Gerald R. Ford. Ford had naval connections, but not a particularly successful Presidency. The next ship in that class (CVN-79) has been named the USS John F. Kennedy, a quick reuse of that name …
Herman Cain, among his many insane ramblings over the past few days, apparently suggested that his face should be on Mt. Rushmore. Well, fair enough. (Though, having visited the monument last summer, I have to admit that I found it more affecting than I expected. I mean, it’s very big. And by the way, Lincoln but no FDR, amiright? No, seriously, there was something about the scale of the president’s faces, the setting in which they’re carved, and the history of dispossession surrounding the place that left me feeling a bit overwhelmed by the power of the state to shape the landscape of American memory.)
Anyway, Michelle Bachmann picked up the ball and ran with it. To her credit, she didn’t suggest that she should join Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Teddy — aka, “The Real Man’s Roosevelt”), and Lincoln. Her pick? James Garfield. Wait, what? Garfield? My colleague, Kathy…
On November 7, 1962, Richard Nixon conceded his loss to Pat Brown in the race for governor of California, saying famously, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” In 1963, after the assassination of President Kennedy, the Beat poet Bob Kaufman (pictured) took a vow of complete silence, spoken and written.† And in 1982, after four years as governor, Pat Brown’s son Jerry decided not to run for a third term, instead running for the Senate, losing to Pete Wilson, and withdrawing to study Buddhism in Japan.
In that spirit, it’s time for me to sign off. This has been a marvelous blog, and I’ve been happy to contribute to it. Cheers all, and see you in the ether.
† Which he kept until 1975, when he walked into a coffeeshop in North Beach and recited a poem.
There’s a transition between memory and history that happens as events stop being personal experiences and start being records. As the generation that experienced a certain era (World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, 9/11), begins to disappear from the scene, that era becomes “historical” in a way that it wasn’t before.
So, too, when the remnants of an era begin to disappear:
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
This process can be fast. My first year students this semester were 10-11 years old when 9/11 happened, and they remember it much less distinctly than I do.
It can be slow. The flagship of Admiral George Dewey’s Asiatic Fleet from the Spanish-American War, the USS Olympia is still open for public viewing…
Previously here and here. Both posts discussed the shifting standards for Medals of Honor, including the increasing percentage awarded posthumously. Now, there comes a report that a Medal of Honor recommendation has gone up to the White House for someone who survived their heroism:
The Pentagon has recommended that the White House consider awarding the Medal of Honor to a living soldier for the first time since the Vietnam War, according to U.S. officials.
The last Medal of Honor given to a live recipient was to Michael Edwin Thornton, for actions on 31 October 1972. Thornton’s MOH also seems to have been the last one given in the Vietnam conflict (I can’t find any for actions dated later).
The nomination comes after several years of complaints from lawmakers, military officers and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that the Pentagon had become so cautious that only troops whose…
Because a couple of people have asked me to, I’m re-posting a link to this. And yes, I know that I was a much better blogger when I put more time into it. Thanks for mentioning it. Anyway, the text of the post is below the fold. Happy MLK Day.
I don’t aim to repeat that with my post. What I am interested in on this anniversary is the way in which the United States memorializes its disasters. America has a series of tragic dates, which are often remembered better than the victories. Pearl Harbor–I think–is more familiar than Midway (though perhaps not D-Day). The Maine is remembered more than any battle in the Spanish-American War. The Alamo still resonates in a way that no victory of either the Texas…
I apologize for being a bit late to the party, but if you haven’t already read David Grann’s reported essay in this week’s New Yorker, you really should. Grann looks at the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man executed by the State of Texas in 2004, though he very well may have been innocent. It’s a beautifully reported and written piece, and one of the most terrifying explorations of the state’s power that I’ve read in many years. Seriously, set aside an hour or so — it’s a long article, and you almost certainly won’t be able to stop once you start — and begin reading.
(The title of the post, by the way, is a quote from Sandra Day O’Connor.)
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This blog is a blog about history, Yiddishkeit, and the Muppets, neither exclusively nor necessarily in that order. And as William Gibson said about this very blog (no, really), “History can save your ass.” Yiddishkeit and the Muppets are just extras.
is the associate director of the Cornell in Washington program and a senior lecturer at Cornell University. He teaches courses on European history, modern military history, guerrilla war, and the role of popular will in waging war.
is an associate professor of history at UC Davis. He is the author of A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans, which won the Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize in 2004, and his new book, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek, will be published by Harvard University Press in fall 2012.
is a professor of history at UC Davis. She is the author of Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11 (Oxford, 2009); Red Spy Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth Bentley (North Carolina, 2002); and Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI (North Carolina, 1996).