Archive for the ‘ The Historical Muse ’ Category

American Character: Chanco

Most of you probably looked at the name in the title above and said, “Who is that?” Character is not found only among the well known; it appears in those we might call “the common man” as well.

I call Chanco an example of American character even though he was not one of the early English settlers. Rather, he was a native American, one already living here when the English arrived.

The backdrop: Jamestown was 15 years young in 1622. It finally seemed to be thriving, and relations with the natives appeared to be improving. Yet the chief of the Powhatan tribe had devised a scheme whereby his men would rise up against the English at a prescribed time and kill them all. On the morning of March 22, his plot was carried out. It was not as successful as he had hoped. Why not? Because of Chanco.

If you ever go to the original site of Jamestown and go into the church that is erected there, you can view a plaque on the wall that says:

Thus, a native who had heard the Christian message of salvation and believed, did what his faith required of him. This is pretty good evidence that Chanco had truly internalized the message and not merely nodded in agreement with certain doctrines. He was willing to turn away from his own tribe and family to warn the “outsiders” of the threat. True Christian faith doesn’t divide people into “tribes,” whether they are ethnic or racial. Instead, it recognizes that God is the God of all.

So here’s to Chanco, a native American Christian who appears briefly in American history and then disappears, but who teaches us all a valuable lesson.

American Character: Capt. John Smith

Smith Saved Jamestown

Smith Saved Jamestown

I spent a few days posting on the principle of Christian character. Throughout American history, there have been individuals who have exhibited certain of those traits and, by them, have contributed greatly to our history. Some of those people may not have been Christians themselves, except in the cultural sense, but they still exemplify the qualities that are essential for a society to work.

One such man was Capt. John Smith—soldier, adventurer, mapmaker of the New World. One of Smith’s least admirable qualities seems to have been a penchant to tell others how to do things, even when they didn’t want his advice. That quality almost led to his hanging on the trip to the New World.

Once here, though, his character began to show in ways that allowed the young colony to survive. He successfully traded with the natives, who respected him because of his strong words and actions. His efforts to map the Chesapeake region helped not only Jamestown but others who followed after.

Most importantly, however, when Jamestown was at its lowest ebb, he was selected to be the president of the struggling colony. Under his leadership, the gentlemen, who until this time had declined to partake of physical labor, were forced to do so. Smith realized that he had to turn them away from fortune-hunting to planting. The future depended on it.

He also instilled military discipline into the settlers, drilling and training them for self-defense. The natives were watching these exercises, as Smith wanted them to. The military bearing served as a deterrent to attacks, an approach used throughout the ages to keep potential enemies from taking advantage.

It can be said with confidence that Smith saved Jamestown from disaster. The later history, which included a starving time and martial law without personal liberties, were not Smith’s doing. Severely injured after a gunpowder accident, Smith had to return to England, where he fought a different battle—for his reputation. Some were trying to blame him for the Jamestown failures. Scapegoating has been common in all eras. Yet Smith successfully defended his actions.

John Smiths are just as needed today. Practical leadership skills and the foresight to prepare for possible adversity are qualities we should seek in those who want political power. Sometimes, we don’t choose wisely.

Another Plug for Chambers

A Classic that Deserves Greater Recognition

A Classic that Deserves Greater Recognition

I have been saying for over twenty years that there is one movie that has not been made that needs to be. The life of Whittaker Chambers, as poignantly described in his autobiography Witness is a classic. It can make the transition from the printed page to film.

Now I have found at least one person who agrees with me. Matt Lewis, a blogger at Townhall.com, is making the same argument as he talks about conservative movies that should see the light of day:

The autobiography of Whitaker Chambers is widely regarded as one of the greatest conservative books of all time, and it helped inspire a young actor named Ronald Reagan. It would be a harrowing tale of political intrigue, chronicling Chambers descent into communism, his recruitment as a Soviet spy, his change of heart, and finally key role in exposing Alger Hiss — a Soviet mole in the State Department. This would be especially relevant as Chambers was ridiculed in his day, but his claims have largely been vindicated by history. It would return the term, “Pumpkin papers” back into the lexicon.

… And the Oscar goes to…libertarian activist/comedian Drew Carey, who makes a surprising dramatic turn as Whittaker Chambers, then shocks the world by winning the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

It’s nice to have some support. If there is anyone out there reading this who has connections in the film industry, please let me know.

Where's the Arrogance?

In one of his European speeches last week, President Obama commented that the United States had sometimes been arrogant in its relations to other nations, and that we had not appreciated the Europeans. To be fair, he also noted that Europeans had spouted anti-Americanism as well, but the emphasis seemed to be on America’s arrogance.

Every nation displays arrogance at times, but has that been the hallmark of American interactions with others?

Think back to WWII for a moment: we were attacked by Japan, entered the war and helped overthrow the fascist empires. In fact, we played the key role. That’s not arrogance speaking; it’s simply the truth.

Marshall: Architect of the Plan to Restore Europe
Marshall: Architect of the Plan to Restore Europe

After the war, with Europe in bad shape and ripe for a Communist takeover, it was the US that came up with direct aid to those wartorn nations. Under the leadership of Secretary of State George C. Marshall, the Marshall Plan, as it was called, restored vitality and stability to our allies. That was not arrogance.

Throughout the Cold War, America was the bulwark of protection for all of Western Europe, countering the Soviet threat with our strong military. If not for us, Western Europe may have had to learn Russian.

LBJ: Personal Arrogance, but Proper Goals

LBJ: Personal Arrogance, but Proper Goals

Some point to the Vietnam War as an example of American arrogance. In the case of the president at that time, Lyndon Johnson, I can see some evidence for that belief. LBJ seemed to think he could just import his Great Society program into South Vietnam and create a smaller version of the US. He also personally directed bombing attacks, picking the targets himself. Delegation was not one of his strengths. In LBJ, I see personal arrogance, which showed in many of his policies, foreign and domestic. However, the aim of the US at that time was to stop the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. There was nothing wrong with that goal.

Richard Nixon had his own problems, but he went to great lengths to support Israel during the Yom Kippur War. It can be argued that US aid at that time kept Israel from being overrun and destroyed. I don’t see arrogance there.

Carter with Friend Fidel Castro

Carter with Friend Fidel Castro

Jimmy Carter pushed a human rights policy, but its selectivity was destructive. He focused on American allies such as Iran and Nicaragua rather than the Communist nations that erased all human rights. The result: Iran fell to radical Islam and Nicaragua became a Soviet client state in the Western Hemisphere. Even today, Carter continues to support some interesting friends: Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and Palestinian terrorists. I do detect arrogance in Carter’s demeanor, and it was present as well during his presidency in his attitude toward friendly nations. Unfortunately, his type of blindness afflicts many.

Reagan Making a New Friend
Reagan Making a New Friend

Ronald Reagan has been called a warmonger by the Left. Yet he was the president who, despite accurately labeling the Soviet Union an evil empire, reached out to its new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and led the world out of the Cold War. He pursued a policy of undermining the Soviets economically, forcing them to retreat from their aggressive policy of eventual world domination. He was strong, but not arrogant. At the time, no one believed the USSR would collapse, but Reagan played a significant role in ensuring it did.

Arrogance as a Key Character Trait
Arrogance as a Key Character Trait

Western Europeans loved Bill Clinton. To them, he was the new American, unlike his Republican predecessors who called the USSR evil [Reagan] and ousted tyrants like Noriega in Panama and Saddam Hussein from Kuwait [Bush I]. Yet personal arrogance was nearly perfected in Clinton. No president has ever clung to power as assiduously when under attack for lying under oath and turning the White House into a bed and breakfast, while simultaneously manfesting a libido that knew no boundaries.

The full scorn and wrath of the Europeans was turned instead upon George W. Bush for being a “cowboy” in his diplomacy. I have criticized President Bush for boasting about “shock and awe” as we entered the Iraq war, and I also believe it was presumptive to assume the mission was accomplished when it had only begun. So, yes, on that basis, there was some arrogance.

Yet the goal was not arrogant. The goal was to remove a tyrant who had the potential to threaten the world with biological weapons. The overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan was a response to 9/11—not a sign of arrogance, but a recognition of the reality of evil in the world.

I have no problem, though, assigning arrogance to a person who believes that receiving the nomination of his party for the presidency was the moment when the oceans’ rise began to slow and the planet began to heal. Can that type of arrogance create a blindness to the real problems in the world?

We will need God’s mercy to get us through the next few years.

The Tipping Point

I finished reading the book I recommended a few days ago—The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes. It was as good as I thought it would be. Even though I thought I knew a lot about the Great Depression, it opened my eyes to the extent of the reach of the government at that time. For a while, it seemed as if all private business was at a standstill due to the desire to have the government control everything. For instance, FDR’s goal was to turn all power companies into government-run agencies. It kind of reminded me of the current situation, where last week Treasury Secretary Geithner said the government should have greater control over insurance companies that might fail. Will it stop there?

What is the difference between the Depression years and now? Why didn’t the government succeed at that time in taking over everything? As I read the book, it became clear that the people continued to maintain certain beliefs that wouldn’t allow it to happen. The government had changed, but the basic beliefs of the people of America had not.

Today, we are undergoing a cultural revolution that did not occur in the 1930s. The Christian basis for our society is under attack. We may no longer have the spiritual reserves to stop the revolution. The current administration may be more successful than FDR’s in transforming the government into a nanny.

We are at the tipping point. There are enough Christians in America to make the difference. The sad reality is that too many of them don’t see the danger. In fact, too many seem to be in favor of the change. We need to heed the Biblical call to renew our minds so we might know the will of God.

The Forgotten Man: A Recommendation

Every so often I like to recommend a book. I’m about halfway through The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes. Although I haven’t yet completed it, based on what I have read up to now, and on the numerous positive reviews of the book, I am confident I can recommend it without concerns that I will have to retract that recommendation by the time I have finished it.

Some of you, I know, may be reluctant to tackle a book dealing with the Depression. All that economics, all that . . . well . . . depressing stuff! Shlaes, though, manages to cover all the “stuff” in a most interesting way by focusing on people.

She carries forward the stories of a number of individuals—both those who worked for the New Deal and those who suffered from it—so that you don’t feel as if you are bogged down in an economic treatise. In effect, she personalizes what some authors have turned into impersonal events. She tells a good story. History should be a story about people who are affected by the times they live in.

Her storyline is that the New Deal did not accomplish what its defenders claim it did—it most assuredly did not bring the nation out of the Great Depression. The old liberal mantra that FDR ended the Depression has been under siege for quite some time, and deservedly so. Recently, President Obama commented [and I’m paraphrasing here because I cannot find his exact words] that there is no debate on the effectiveness of the New Deal, indicating that he believes it was a success. If he truly believes there is no debate, he is woefully uninformed.

The Forgotten Man makes it clear that the debate is real, and that the weight of the evidence is against the liberal interpretation. Some of you, before buying the book, may want to read a few reviews. Here is one that is quite good. I encourage you to peruse it and check out others. I trust you will be convinced that this is a worthwhile read.

Image vs. Reality

Politicians have always been obsessed with projecting a certain image. Franklin Roosevelt, for instance, wanted to be seen as strong and in command. His particular concern was that he had suffered from polio and was confined to a wheelchair. How could he run for president and be considered a strong leader if he was wheelchair-bound? Fortunately for him, he lived in a time before television. His people could craft the image he wanted. It’s difficult to find any photos of FDR in his wheelchair. Instead, we see pictures such as this one:

FDR could stand only because he had leg braces. He could hold steady only if he was gripping a podium or if someone [as in this picture] held an arm for him to grasp. This is how the public perceived him. Image won out over reality.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy ran against Richard Nixon for the presidency. This time television was the vehicle for helping to promote a certain image for JFK. He came across as youthful and vigorous. Nixon, meanwhile, in one of the debates, was recovering from a sickness. He also had a serious “five o’clock shadow” that made him look dark and suspicious. The Kennedy people succeeded in raising the temperature in the studio so Nixon, who would sweat easily, would be even more uneasy and appear less appealing.

Those debates may have turned the election. What’s especially interesting about them is that people who listened to the debates on radio thought Nixon had one, while those who watched them on TV gave the nod to JFK.

TV Played a Major Role in Creating an Image in 1960

TV Played a Major Role in Creating an Image in 1960

In fact, the image was just as phony as FDR’s ability to stand. JFK was not healthy; he had severe back problems and was constantly being injected with drugs to withstand the pain. He brought a doctor to the White House who constantly shot him full of amphetamines. The man was nicknamed “Dr. Feelgood.” Image trumped reality.

We now have a president who has crafted another image, that of a suave, cool communicator who can sway crowds with his wonderful ability to give a speech. What is only beginning to be known is that he is not very good when he doesn’t have a teleprompter to help him.

I remember seeing a video of one of his rallies during the campaign when he was trying to talk about an issue off the cuff. I have to say it was one of the most embarrassing moments of political campaigning I have ever witnessed. He stumbled around unable to put two coherent sentences together. Even though I was opposed to his candidacy, even I was in pain for him, wanting him to do better.

What, you don’t remember that video being played over and over again on network and cable TV? It was ignored completely. It didn’t fit the image that the news media had of their candidate. Call me cynical if you like, but I believe that if it had been a Republican, everyone in the country would have seen it repeatedly.

Even now, as president, Obama always has a teleprompter. It is omnipresent. People are beginning to notice. One cartoonist has expressed it this way:

We need to be alert to the difference between the image politicians want to project and the reality of who they are.