Tuesday, February 19, 2008

An Officer and a President: The Military Service of Our Presidents

One of our President's seven main duties is that of Commander in Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces. Essentially the be-all-end-all of every major military decision. From the signing peace treaties with Britain in the late 1700s to the decision to remain in Iraq in 2008, the President is the highest military authority.

This being said, serving in the military is not a pre-requisite to become President, although more than half of our Presidents have done so.

In these times of change, Republican front-runner, John McCain's military background is being seen by some as a competitive advantage. And if elected it could very well impact his decision making. A recent article on McCain in Newsweek highlighted this fact and also took a closer look at six presidents who's military service have had a particular impact on them. According to historian Michael Beschloss)

George Washington
Top Military Rank: General
Active Service: American Revolutionary War, French and Indian War
Branch: Virginia Militia, Continental Army

After successfully winning the Revolutionary War, Washington knew Britain still posed a serious threat, and thus signed an unpopular treaty with Britain protecting the United States from British invasion.

Andrew Jackson
Top Military Rank: Major General
Active Service: American Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Creek War, First Seminole War
Branch: Continental Army, United States Army

Known to many as the guy on the $20 dollar bill, Andrew Jackson learned a great lesson from standing up against and defeating the monstrous British Army. It gave him the courage to take on other big foes like the U.S. Bank. Although it also gave him the confidence to stomp out the innocent Cherokees and force them to move West, killing over 4,000 Cherokees on the Trail of Tears.

Theodore Roosevelt
Top Military Rank: Colonel
Active Service: Spanish-American War
Branch: United States Army

Victory in the Spanish-American War made Roosevelt a national hero. He snowballed this fame into a successful political career, catapulting him to President. Roosevelt definitely used his personality to his advantage and for that is one of our most popular Presidents. His victory in the war, giving the US control over Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines also set the stage for American Imperialism impacting much more than just Teddy's Presidency.

Roosevelt was also the only U.S. President to receive the Medal of Honor (awarded posthumously in 2001).

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Top Military Rank: General
Active Service: Stateside service during World War I, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II, military career lasted from 1915 to 1952.
Branch: United States Army

Like Roosevelt, it was Eisenhower's military prowess that sprung him to Presidency. But it was Ike's time in Europe where he learned that Presidents usually inflated the national budget. When pressured by the Pentagon to increase the budget for the defense war chest, Eisenhower refused and kept a well balanced budget.

John F. Kennedy
Top Military Rank: Lieutenant
Active Service: World War II
Branch: United States Navy

Kennedy's service in World War II gave him the critical thinking skills to realize how one problem could cause another and another. This undoubtedly gave him the decision making skills and the mind-set to handle the Cuban Missile Crisis as calmly and as successfully as he did.

George H.W. Bush
Top Military Rank: Lieutenant
Active Service: World War II
Branch: US Navy Reserve

Big Bush was a pilot. His aviator experience made him knowledgeable about the risks associated with war (He was shot down and lost two of his crewmen). Some believe this encouraged him to support the Powell Doctrine, which states that a list of questions all have to be answered affirmatively before military action can be taken by the United States.

Though there are only six presidents highlighted in the McCain article, there are several other's who's time in the military impacted their presidency. I've taken the time to do some of my own research to find them.

Ulysses S. Grant
Top Military Rank: General
Active Service: Mexican War, Civil War
Branch: US Army

We all know Grant received world-wide fame for leading the Union Army to victory in the Civil War. But, Grant was fighting a war of attrition. Compared to General Lee, he had a larger, better equipped, and better fed army and wasn't afraid to watch men die. That said, he'd win his battles based on sheer numbers. This doesn't take away his unbelievable strategy at Vicksburg, but it did effect his presidency.

Experts, traditionally view Grant as a President in the bottom quadrant of US Presidents, mostly because of his tolerance of corruption. Grant would often tolerate financial and political corruption among top aids, seemingly unaware of the consequences to those that were being cheated. Though an honest man, Grant appears to have no heart when it comes to the well-being of others.

Jimmy Carter
Top Military Rank: Lieutenant
Active Service: World War II
Branch: US Naval Academy
Carter, had originally planned to make the Navy his career making Chief of Naval Operations his ultimate goal and believed that submarine duty was the fastest route to get there. Carter thought nuclear power would be increasing in submarines and he wanted to be where the growth was.
Carter did post-graduate work, studying nuclear physics and reactor technology for several months in 1953. This followed Carter's first-hand experience as part of a group of American and Canadian servicemen who took part in cleaning up after a nuclear meltdown at Canada's Chalk River Laboratories reactor.

His studies and experience helped Carter to understand the power of nuclear technology, knowing that the same science that could keep a submarine submerged underwater for months at a time, could undoubtedly do a lot of damage when used in weaponry. Thus Carter's knowledge of nuclear physics led him to the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT), which was a treaty aimed at reducing the number of nuclear arms produced and maintained by both the United States and the Soviet Union.

Richard M. Nixon
Top Military Rank: Commander
Active Service: World War II
Branch: US Navy Reserve

While working in the supply corps on several islands in the South Pacific, Nixon who is "not a crook", banked a large sum of money, which in turn helped him finance his first campaign for congress.
Harry S. Truman
Top Military Rank: Colonel
Active Service: World War I
Branch: US Navy Army/Army Reserve

Truman's eye-sight was terrible, and he reportedly secretly memorized the eye chart to pass the test to be enlisted in the Missouri National Guard, where he served from 1905-1911. He rejoined the Guard during the onset of WWI. The War brought out Truman's leadership qualities where he quickly rose to the rank of Colonel. This made possible his political career in Missouri and in turn to the Presidency.
Incidentally, between Truman and Teddy Roosevelt, there were no presidents to serve in the military. This was a run of 6 presidents, and 36 years between them. Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, and finally Franklin Roosevelt, were the 6 in succession not to serve any military duty.

On the opposite side, Bill Clinton, was the first not to serve since FDR. This was a run of 9 presidents and 40 years between them. And although military experience can be very important for the character of the president, it is not, and shall never be a pre-requisite.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Brief History of President's Day -

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln Presidents Day imageBecause I'm curious and I like to share the fruits of my curious mind, I once again present to you the true history of another American Holiday. This time, it is Presidents' Day's turn.

In 1796, during the last full year of Washington's presidency the United States decided to honor their great president by celebrating his birthday. Washington was born on February 22, 1732. Though according to the old style calendars which predate the mid-18th century his birthday falls on February 11. I know it's confusing.

By the early 1800s Washington's Birthday had become an established, though not official, national holiday. Americans would honor Washington by throwing lavish Balls and receptions attended by prominent socialites and public figures. The common man would celebrate, as we American's still do, by gathering in public houses and taverns to honor Washington as another excuse to drink.

Then another well-respected February born president came onto the scene. Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday falls on the 12th of February, was formally honored on his birthday in 1865, one year after his assassination. To commemorate his death, both houses of Congress gathered for a memorial address, on the day of his birth.

Unfortunately for Lincoln, his birthday did not become a legitimate national holiday like Washington's did, but it did become a legal holiday in several states.

Washington's Birthday became an official holiday in 1880, becoming the first federal holiday to honor an American citizen. It was to be celebrated on February 22.

Don't click away yet... there's more.

In 1968, legislation was put in place to simplify yearly calendars and give federal employees some fixed 3-day weekends. The act started in 1971 shifting the observation of Washington's Birthday to the third Monday in February instead of on the 22nd. And although this holiday is still officially known as Washington's Birthday, it has become popularly known as Presidents' Day. This now makes the third Monday in February a day for honoring both Washington and Lincoln. Though I'm pretty sure it's okay to honor other presidents as well.

And in true American fashion, Presidents' Day is also synonymous with sales and shopping. Do you think George and Abe mind people honoring them by buying discounted appliances?

PS - Though most put the possessive apostrophe for President's Day after the 'T' (like I did here and in in my title for search engine optimization reasons), it is incorrect. This spelling indicates a day belonging to one President, while putting the apostrophe after the 'S', in spelling Presidents' Day, indicates a day belonging to more than one President.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

This History of Black History Month

Have you ever heard of Dr. Carter G. Woodson? No? Me neither. But maybe we should have.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, was born to parents who were both former slaves. As a child he spent his days working in the coal mines of Kentucky. He enrolled to go to high school at age twenty and graduated two years later, and continued his schooling finally earning a Ph.D from Harvard.

While studying at Harvard, Dr. Woodson noticed that the history books he was learning from lacked or ignored the contributions of the black-american population. And when blacks were mentioned, it was in ways that reflected their inferior social standing.

This upset Woodson to the point where he was motived to challenge himself to write more black Americans into the history books. In 1915, Woodson established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now called the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History). A year later he founded the Journal of Negro history, which quickly became a well respected publication. 1926 brought the launch of Negro History Week, which aimed to bring the contributions of blacks throughout history to national attention.

Since 1926, America has recognized black history first as "Negro History Week" and later as "Black History Month"

Why February?

Woodson strategically chose the second week in February to commermorate Negro History Week because the birthdays of two men who greatly influenced the advancement of the black American population; Frederick Douglass (February 14) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12).

Because he was born a slave, thus not knowing the date of his real birthday, Douglass adopted February 14 as his birthday. He chose this date because his mother used to call him "Little Valentine".

The transition to Black History Month is only natural considering all of the significant events in African-American history that have occurred in February.

February 23, 1868: W.E.B DuBois, civil rights leader and co-founder of the NAACP, was born.
February 3, 1870: The 15th Amendment was passed, granting blacks the right to vote.

February 25, 1870: Hiram R. Revels, becomes the first black U.S. senator.

February 12, 1909: The NAACP was founded.

February 1, 1960: The famous "sit-in" at the Greensboro, N.C., segregated Woolworth's lunch counter (pictured)

February 21, 1965: Malcolm X was shot and died.

February 4, 2007 - Tony Dungy, coach of the Indianapolic Colts becomes the first African-American head coach to win the Super Bowl. His counterpart, Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears was also African-American. They were the first African-American coaches in history to coach in the big game.

So whether you believe Black History Month is for good for the advancement of the awareness of black american accomplishments, or whether you believe giving the study of black history it's own month is defacto segregation. One thing is undoubtedly true. Dr. Carter G. Woodson accomplished his goal of writing more black Americans into the history books.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Abraham Lincoln's Birthday: February 12, 1809

photo of abraham lincolnToday marks the 199th birthday of Abraham Lincoln.

Don't get too excited. Plans have been in place for some time to celebrate Lincoln's Bicentennial with pomp and circumstance which is befitting for such an outstanding historical figure.

In Illinois, they take Lincoln's birthday seriously as all Chicago public schools and state offices will be closed. Although garbage will be picked up as normal. I'm sure Abe wouldn't have it any other way.

Lincoln was born in Hodgenville, Kentucky, where apparently everything is named Lincoln. And where the lion share of the Bicentennial celebration will occur.

He spent his summers in Washington DC.

He spent much of his childhood in Indiana, where there is a national memorial. And where Indiana will also be celebrating Lincoln's 200th birthday. And where Spencer County Indiana is excited for all the publicity.

And now this guy is claiming Lincoln's ties to Idaho are stronger than any other state.

All of this begs the question... which state is Lincoln's true home state? My thoughts are all of them can claim Lincoln as their own. Can't we in Philadelphia and those in Cincinnati both claim Pete Rose?

Want to figure it all out... try ALincolnBlog.Blogspot.com, by Brian Dirck, professor at Anderson University and author of several Lincoln books. It is always my first stop for Lincoln information.
Here's his take on the states claiming Lincoln.

The Lincoln Bicentennial website really is a cool site. It has a Lincoln quiz, an interactive timeline, all sorts of Lincoln information, and lesson plans for teachers. Check it out - http://www.lincolnbicentennial.gov/

Oh... and Happy Birthday Abe.


Saturday, February 09, 2008

Quote for Thought

Have been watching Gandhi the 1982, best picture starring Ben Kingsley. With so many similarities between Gandhi and Martin Luther King, it is only fitting that I stumbled upone this quote from MLK:

"A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus."

In thinking about both men, the quote is very appropriate.


Saturday, February 02, 2008

Jamestown: How John Rolfe, Tobacco and Worms Changed the Landscape of America

Yes, you read that correctly. Nightcrawlers. Worms. Big brown, squishy worms. The ones that come out in the rain and at night when it's cooler. So what do worms have to do with American history? Continue reading, and you'll see the connection.

To the layman, John Rolfe is a nobody. To those that paid attention in history class they may know him as the man that married Pocohontas. History buffs know him as the man that saved Jamestown, with the sale of tobacco. Still some think he may be responsible for a permanent change in the American landscape. A change which stretches much further than the salty marshes of Jamestown.

Rolfe was a businessman who undercut Spanish imports by growing tobacco in Jamestown. Rolfe had brought a special strain of tobacco seed with him to the new colony. This particular strain was being grown in Trinidad and Venezuela. Rolfe brought the seeds despite the penalty of death to anyone selling these seeds to a non-Spaniard.

John Rolfe, like many other Englishmen of the time, was a smoked tobacco. Smoking tobacco was a fad brought to Europe by the Spanish, after there conquest of the Caribbean. Coincidentally the Indians in Virginia also smoked tobacco, but it was a different species which didn't agree with the European pallate. According to colonists it was poor and weak. Rolfe's tobacco on the other hand was "pleasant, sweet and strong." By 1620, ten years after settlement, Jamestown exported 50,000 pounds of Rolfe's special strain, and nearly six times that ten years later.

Because of the popularity of Rolfe's tobacco the tight waters of the Chesapeake were often crowded with empty ships ready to be loaded with the sweet stuff. To balance the weight of the ships, sailors dumped out the ballast, which was filled with mostly stones and soil. Historians believe this dirt almost certainly contained earthworms.

earthworms changed america's landscapeAnd little by little these earthworms would change the landscape of America. Before the arrival of the Europeans, the forests of New England and the upper Midwest had no earthworms. At least not since the last Ice Age. Without earthworms, the northern trees and shrubs would lose their leaves, which would lie on the ground and decompose their way back into the soil feeding the trees from which they dropped. The presence of worms, turns these leaf-floored forests into a more open and dry landscape losing much of their future growth. In other words, the seedlings have no protection and nowhere to root, eliminating any chance for a dense forrest. Instead an open landscape of very mature trees exists.

It is not proven that Rolfe brought the worms, but it is known that the northern forests were worm free until the arrival of the Europeans. Earthworms don't move that fast and pretty much die where they were born, so the migration of the worms from coastal Virginia to the far reaches of the United States surely takes some time to see the real effects. Perhaps another 400 years.
Thanks to Charles C. Mann and his article 'America, Found & Lost' which appeared in the May 2007 National Geographic for the information.