Remembering Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863

November 20, 2017

 

154 years ago this week, Abraham Lincoln redefined the Declaration of Independence and the goals of the American Civil War, in a less-than-two-minute speech dedicating part of the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as a cemetery and final resting place for soldiers who died in the fierce battle fought there the previous July 1 through 3.

Interesting news if you missed it: More photos from the Library of Congress collection may contain images of Lincoln. The photo above, detail from a much larger photo, had been thought for years to be the only image of Lincoln from that day. The lore is that photographers, taking a break from former Massachusetts Sen. Edward Everett’ s more than two-hour oration, had expected Lincoln to go on for at least an hour. His short speech caught them totally off-guard, focusing their cameras or taking a break. Lincoln finished before any photographer got a lens open to capture images.

Images of people in these photos are very small, and difficult to identify. Lincoln was not identified at all until 1952:

The plate lay unidentified in the Archives for some fifty-five years until in 1952, Josephine Cobb, Chief of the Still Pictures Branch, recognized Lincoln in the center of the detail, head bared and probably seated. To the immediate left (Lincoln’s right) is Lincoln’s bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, and to the far right (beyond the limits of the detail) is Governor Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania. Cobb estimated that the photograph was taken about noontime, just after Lincoln arrived at the site and before Edward Everett’s arrival, and some three hours before Lincoln gave his now famous address.

On-line, the Abraham Lincoln Blog covered the discovery that two more photographic plates from the 1863 speech at Gettysburg may contain images of Lincoln in his trademark stove-pipe hat. Wander over to the story at the USA Today site, and you can see just how tiny are these detail images in relation to the photographs themselves. These images are tiny parts of photos of the crowd at Gettysburg. (The story ran in USA Today last Thursday or Friday — you may be able to find a copy of that paper buried in the returns pile at your local Kwikee Mart.) Digital technologies, and these suspected finds of Lincoln, should prompt a review of every image from Gettysburg that day.

To the complaints of students, I have required my junior U.S. history students to memorize the Gettysburg Address. In Irving I found a couple of students who had memorized it for an elementary teacher years earlier, and who still could recite it. Others protested, until they learned the speech. This little act of memorization appears to me to instill confidence in the students that they can master history, once they get it done.

To that end, I discovered a good, ten-minute piece on the address in Ken Burns’ “Civil War” (in Episode 5). On DVD, it’s a good piece for classroom use, short enough for a bell ringer or warm-up, detailed enough for a deeper study, and well done, including the full text of the address itself performed by Sam Waterson.

Edward Everett, the former Massachusetts senator and secretary of state, was regarded as the greatest orator of the time. A man of infinite grace, and a historian with some sense of events and what the nation was going through, Everett wrote to Lincoln the next day after their speeches:

“I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Interesting note: P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula noted in 2007 that the Gettysburg Address was delivered “seven score and four years ago.” Of course, that will never happen again. I’ll wager he was the first to notice that odd juxtaposition on the opening line.

Resources for students and teachers:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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What President Trump blurted out; what Little Donald really meant

October 19, 2017

Bill Watterson's Calvin, on the impossibility of getting homework to do itself. Copyright Bill Watterson.

Bill Watterson’s Calvin, on the impossibility of getting homework to do itself. Copyright Bill Watterson. As Ms. Ashenhurst describes it: “SCH 4U is a university preparation course. As such some independent work is required for success.”

Do you ever get the feeling that President Donald Trump is speaking a foreign language? Or that he’s speaking what he thinks might sound like a foreign language, to cover for his not having done his homework?

Looking back now, we can see whatever it was he said about talking to families of fallen soldiers, he probably needed someone to translate it to himself.

Canadian reporter Daniel Dale explained on Twitter:

Here’s the translation into English, from Craig Battle:

Glad we got that settled.

Now Trump has, reluctantly, called the families of the fallen soldiers. Somehow, inexplicably, Trump managed to make things worse, to embarrass the entire nation. We couldn’t know that, then.

Bill Watterson's Calvin figures out that obfuscation sometimes buys you a few minutes before the authorities and voters catch on to your game. Copyright Bill Watterson.

Bill Watterson’s Calvin figures out that obfuscation sometimes buys you a few minutes before the authorities and voters catch on to your game. Copyright Bill Watterson.

It’s graveyard humor. It seems to me Trump often leaves us fearful, and looking at great tragedy, with no coping mechanism apart from trying to find humor in what he’s done.

Which suggests, to me, it’s time for Trump to go away on his own. He’s damaging the nation.

What do you think?

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300 Spartans, led by Leonidas died August 11, 480 B.C.

August 11, 2017

It’s a different Leonidas, but Michael Phelps last year tied a record for winning 12 solo events in Olympics previously held by a man called Leonidas of Rhodes. The record had stood, as best historians can tell, for 2,168 years.

That was August 10, 2016. On August 11, we remember Leonidas of Sparta, for events in war, not peace.

300 popped up on some movie channel back in 2008 as I was preparing to teach world history again.  I did not major in history, and my high school history instruction featured no AP courses (Pleasant Grove High, in Utah, didn’t offer such things then; I assume they do now, but I don’t know).

What I knew about Sparta and the stand of the 300 at Thermopylae came from my reading encyclopedias as a child, and culture.  Never had an occasion to write a speech about the events, though had I known the history better, I might have found some opportunity.  Sen. Orrin Hatch would have loved a compare and contrast speech between the stand of the Spartans and his work against the labor law reform bill in 1977 and 1978; more likely, we could have used the simple historical facts that the stand of the 300 at the same place today would be impossible due to poor soil conservation practices of the local farmers, which has created a plain broad enough for a Persian Army to march through with impunity, never fearing drowning in the sea that no longer exists there.  Thermopylae is a grand historical metaphor for a good orator.  The simple facts of history are important, too — Churchill knew Herodotus’s stories well, and considered them when planning military actions in the area in two world wars.

The movie came up from students in the previous year; it offered, perhaps, a hook for an introduction to world history, explaining why we bother to study it at all.

I got a time delay recording to watch it, which I did, mostly.  Interesting stylization.  Cartoonish characterizations, which one should expect from a movie intended as homage to the graphic novel that directly spawned it, more than an instruction about history.  We might doubt that the Persians had trained and armored rhinoceroses in their armament.  Dialogue — well, this is Hollywood.  It would have been in some dialect of Greek, and no Hollywood scriptwriter would have been able to reproduce it.

What about the battle itself.  World history courses in U.S. high schools should pay attention to this battle, I think.

A monument to Leonidas I - Inscription, Molon Lave, which roughly translates to Come and get it!

A monument to Leonidas I – Inscription, “Molon Lave,” which roughly translates to “Come and get it!”

Several sources dated the climax of the battle as August 11, 480 B.C. — 2,497 years ago. (The battle is said to have occurred during the Olympics that year, too.)

World history classes dig through that period of history in the first semester.  Teachers, it’s time to think about how we’re going to facilitate this history this year.  As always, some bright student will wave a hand in the air and ask, “Mr. Darrell!  How do they know what happened if no one survived, and nobody had their Sony videocorder?”

At least one other student in the course of the day will be surprised to discover the movie wasn’t a filmed-on-the-spot documentary.  But apart from that, how do we know the events well enough to pin it down to one day?  And, since the Greeks surely didn’t use the Gregorian calendar, since it wasn’t invented until the 18th century — how do we know the date?

The short answer is “Herodotus.”  The longer answer may resonate better:  This is one dramatic battle in a year-long fight for the history of the world.  The Greeks were understandably and justifiably proud that they had turned back Xerxes’s armies and navy (The Battle of Salamis, a bit after Thermopylae).  So, these events were preserved in poetry, in the chronicles, in song, in sculpture, and in every other medium available to the Greeks.  Your AP English students will probably tell you the movie reminds them of The IliadThere’s an entré for discussion.

Turning points in history:  Had Xerxes succeeded in avenging his father’s, Darius’s, defeats, and subjugated the Greeks, history would be much different.  The culture the Romans built on, the trading patterns from east to west and around the Mediterranean, the technologies, the myths, and the stories of the battles, would be different. (Remember, one of Darius’s defeats was at the Battle of Marathon, from which we get the modern marathon racing event, the traditional close of the modern Olympics.)

How do we know?  How do we know?

How do you handle that question?  (Tell us in comments, please.)

I like this battle for the way it ties together many of the loose threads that vex high school sophomores.  Is history exciting?  It can be, as the Frank Miller graphic novel and and the Zack Snyder movie demonstrate.  How important is accuracy in making the story exciting?  (Do the rhinoceroses improve the story of the courage of the Spartans, or merely offer a good graphical metaphor for the overwhelming forces of the Persians?)  What happens when one nation invades another — who has the advantage?  Is knowledge of geography important — in battle, for example?  The philosopher Santayana notes that those who do not remember history are “condemned” to repeat it.  Xerxes tried to apply the lessons of the history of his father’s failed invasion; was he successful?  Remember this point:  Napoleon failed in his invasion of Russia in 1812; Adolf Hitler assigned his generals to study Napoleon’s failure, for Germany’s invasion of Russia in 1941; so convinced were the Germans that they knew the lessons, they invade Russia on the anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion.  Did it go any better?  George Washington consciously patterned his life on the great Roman warrior and leader, Cincinnatus — especially in turning over rule once the task was done, as Washington did twice.  What if Washington had, instead, patterned his life after Leonidas?  How might the American Revolution have turned out, and how might the United States have developed, had Washington sacrificed himself as Leonidas did?

The story of the Battle of Thermopylea, the bravery and cunning tactics of Leonidas and the 300, the wars between Persia and the Greek City States, form a good foundation for a study of history at any point after.  It is the stuff of great history, and the stuff of great rhetoric.  It could be the stuff of great AP essays and good writing exercises in general.   Damn the Common Core State Standards*, and damn the misguided Texas critics of CSCOPE, this is a topic I wish more world history teachers would spend some good, profitable time on

Resources and commentary on Thermopylae, Leonidas, and the 300:

More:

Livius.org map of the area where the Battle of Thermopylae was fought

Livius.org map of the area where the Battle of Thermopylae was fought. Note that, in purple, the map shows where a plain now exists, which was an ocean the Spartans could use to squeeze the Persian Army, about 25 centuries ago. What a difference 25 centuries can make.

_____________

*  Common Core State Standards in social studies actually would support what I’m asking here, if only they weren’t filtered through state school boards who do not value scholarship, but instead wish history to be a checklist of faux-patriotic bullet points to regurgitate.  Here in Texas, we are not affected by Common Core — but we are affected by meddling in history standards by people whose agenda does not include making history exciting and good.  Common Core standards — technically — do not mention Thermopylae.  However, this is the sort of material, including the original texts of Herodotus, whose study the Common Core standards encourage, especially for analysis of the sort I think Thermopylae invites.  Texas TEKS allow mention of the battle, though the Battle of Thermopylae has been purged from the actual standards; Texas lesson plans frequently suggest “watching a film on the Battle of Thermopylae,” and “Answer questions on the battle; trade and grade.”  Teachers infuse those dull words with life — we hope.  Teachers’ actual practice in the classroom is the saving grace for this important history, in Texas; Texas world history teachers face their own Xerxes.  The Texas Lege recently removed the requirement that students study world history, instead giving them a choice of either world history or world geography.  And so the dumbing down of history by (probably well-meaning, but not well-thinking) legislators continues.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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53 years ago: August 7, 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

August 7, 2017

August 7 is the 53rd anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the resolution which authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to move troops into South Vietnam to defend U.S. interests.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on August 7, 1964, as presented to President Lyndon Johnson, and signed by him on August 10. This is the document that authorized U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Image from the National Archives, Our Documents display.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on August 7, 1964, as presented to President Lyndon Johnson, and signed by him on August 10. This is the document that authorized U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Image from the National Archives, Our Documents display.

The resolution passed Congress after what appeared to be attacks on two U.S. Navy ships in the Gulf of Tonkin.  At the time, and now, evidence is weak that such attacks took place.

Most historians today think the evidence for the attacks is inconclusive; many argue it is unlikely North Vietnamese gunboats would have opened fire on a vastly superior U.S. Navy warship. Debate is complicated because the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution effectively substituted for a declaration of war, in a war the U.S. arguably lost, which divided Americans as rarely before, and which cost more than 58,000 soldiers and civilians their lives.

How will we view the Tonkin Gulf resolution in 50 years, with the history of two much longer wars in the Middle East factored in? What do you think?

Quick summary from the National Archives:

On August 4, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced that two days earlier, U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin had been attacked by the North Vietnamese. Johnson dispatched U.S. planes against the attackers and asked Congress to pass a resolution to support his actions. The joint resolution “to promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia” passed on August 7, with only two Senators (Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening) dissenting, and became the subject of great political controversy in the course of the undeclared war that followed.

The Tonkin Gulf Resolution stated that “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repeal any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent any further aggression.” As a result, President Johnson, and later President Nixon, relied on the resolution as the legal basis for their military policies in Vietnam.

As public resistance to the war heightened, the resolution was repealed by Congress in January 1971.

Santayana’s ghost looks on in wonder.

Map of divided Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. History Place map via Mr. Roache's Place

Map of divided Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. History Place map via Mr. Roache’s Place

Considering its powerful effect on American history, the document is very, very brief.  Here’s the text [links added]:

Eighty-eighth Congress of the United States of America
AT THE SECOND SESSION

Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday, the seventh day of January, one thousand nine hundred and sixty-four

Joint Resolution
To promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia.

Whereas naval units of the Communist regime in Vietnam, in violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law, have deliberately and repeatedly attacked United Stated naval vessels lawfully present in international waters, and have thereby created a serious threat to international peace; and

Whereas these attackers are part of deliberate and systematic campaign of aggression that the Communist regime in North Vietnam has been waging against its neighbors and the nations joined with them in the collective defense of their freedom; and

Whereas the United States is assisting the peoples of southeast Asia to protest their freedom and has no territorial, military or political ambitions in that area, but desires only that these people should be left in peace to work out their destinies in their own way: Now, therefore be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.

Map showing ship movements reported during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, on August 4, 1964; reports that North Vietnamese gunboats attacked and engaged two patrolling U.S. Navy ships pushed Congress to authorize President Johnson to take extensive defensive actions.

Map showing ship movements reported during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, on August 4, 1964; reports that North Vietnamese gunboats attacked and engaged two patrolling U.S. Navy ships pushed Congress to authorize President Johnson to take extensive defensive actions. (image from Wikipedia map 8/2017)

Section 2. The United States regards as vital to its national interest and to world peace the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia. Consonant with the Constitution of the United States and the Charter of the United Nations and in accordance with its obligations under the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, the United States is, therefore, prepared, as the President determines, to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.

Section 3. This resolution shall expire when the President shall determine that the peace and security of the area is reasonably assured by international conditions created by action of the United Nations or otherwise, except that it may be terminated earlier by concurrent resolution of the Congress.

[endorsements]

And on that authority, “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression,” the U.S. spent the next 11 years in all-out warfare in Vietnam, with up to 500,000 military troops in the conflict, and losing the lives of more than 58,000 men and women. Can we ever know what really happened, or what motivated President Johnson to ask for the resolution, or what motivated Congress to pass it?

U.S. engagement in Vietnam continued well after the repeal of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1971.  In 1973 a peace treaty was signed between the U.S., North Vietnam and South Vietnam.  The provisions of the treaty did not hold; a final North Vietnamese military push in April 1975 crumpled the South Vietnamese government and army.  The few remaining U.S. forces made an emergency withdrawal as Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops entered Saigon.  Vietnam was reunited by force, under a communist government.

Attacks on the USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy — if they occurred — took place early on August 4.  President Johnson might be excused for having done nothing on the issue at the time.  That was the same day that the bodies of three civil rights workers were discovered by the FBI, murdered by a pro-segregation mob with clear ties to the local Ku Klux Klan.  Either event, the Gulf of Tonkin, or the Mississippi civil rights murders, could be a major event in any presidency, testing to the utmost the leadership and peace-making abilities of a president.  Johnson dealt with both events at the same time.

Three American civil rights’ workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, were lynched on the night of June 21–22, 1964 by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County‘s Sheriff Office and the Philadelphia Police Department located in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three had been working on the “Freedom Summer” campaign, attempting to register African Americans to vote.

On a commission from the Dallas Symphony, composer Stephen Stucky composed a piece during the Lyndon Johnson Centennial in 2008; Kathryn and I heard the world premiere of August 4, 1964, on September 18, 2008.  Stucky’s piece (with libretto by Gene Scheer) is the only place I know where anyone has seriously considered the nexus between these two, opposite-side-of-the-world tragedies, and how they set the stage for the rest of the 1960s decade.   The piece has been recorded by the Dallas Symphony.  I highly recommend it.

Here’s a video from the Dallas Symphony on the piece:

What have we learned from this bit of history? What should we have learned from it?

More:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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M.A.S.H. quote of the moment: War is worse than hell

May 22, 2017

"Why do you say that, Hawkeye?" Screen capture from video snippet of M.A.S.H.

“How do you figure that, Hawkeye?” Father Mulcahy, screen capture from video snippet of M.A.S.H.

Our correspondents Jameses, Stanley and Kessler, alerted me months ago to this exchange in the old television show, “M.A.S.H.” In a discussion of the First Battle of Bull Run, we discussed war as hell.

War is worse than hell, they said. Still true.

They pointed to a scene from “M.A.S.H.”

Dialogue borrowed from IMDB:

Hawkeye: War isn’t Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.

Father Mulcahy: How do you figure that, Hawkeye?

Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?

Father Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.

Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them — little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.

Deep thinking, maybe wisdom, from a mobile operating room filtered through sit-com writers.

M.A.S.H., copyright 20th Century Fox

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Distant, difficult and broken classrooms: South Sudan, 2016

March 30, 2017

Millions of students across the world miss educations they should be getting, due to war, famine, weather or poverty.

ICRC caption: In the town of Kodok, South Sudan, a boy stands in a shuttered school, where classes have been closed for months after fighting intensified in the area. Photo: Jason Straziuso/ICRC

ICRC caption: In the town of Kodok, South Sudan, a boy stands in a shuttered school, where classes have been closed for months after fighting intensified in the area. Photo: Jason Straziuso/ICRC

What are the odds this boy will, within a few years, take up a gun to fight in a war, instead of finishing his education?

What can we do about it?


Distant and difficult classrooms: Yemen 2017

March 30, 2017

From the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross):

Red Cross caption: No books, no chairs, no safe place to learn: This is a classroom in #Yemen where 2 million children are out of school according to @UNICEF.

Red Cross caption: No books, no chairs, no safe place to learn: This is a classroom in #Yemen where 2 million children are out of school according to @UNICEF.

Two things essential for a classroom: Student, and teacher.

Ponder that next time your local school board denies raises to teachers. And remember this classroom in Yemen, where students want to learn, and a teacher goes into hell to let them do that.

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