Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Kennedy Link to Lincoln

by Bill Doughty

Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy are forever linked in history -- through their stands on civil rights, by their courage in the face of existential national threats, and tragically as victims of gun violence.  
William Pitt Fessenden, date unknown. (National Archives)
Among the many Lincoln and Kennedy links is Senator William Pitt Fessenden of Maine.  A colleague of Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, Fessenden was Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury during the Civil War.  

John F. Kennedy quotes Fessenden at the very end of his "Profiles in Courage," reviewed last week on Navy Reads.  Fessenden's words chosen by JFK in "Profiles" were written three years after Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address.  

Fessenden spoke the words as a Senator, but they can apply to anyone in public leadership positions.  The words ring strong today in the context of Navy's core values of honor, courage and commitment:

"When, Mr. President, a man becomes a member of this body, he cannot even dream of the ordeal to which he cannot fail to be exposed;

  • of how much courage he must possess to resist the temptations which daily beset him;
  • of that sensitive shrinking from undeserved censure which he must learn to control; 
  • of the ever-recurring contest between a natural desire for public approbation and a sense of public duty; 
  • of the load of injustice he must be content to bear, even from those who should be his friends; 
  • the imputations of his motives;
  • the sneers and the sarcasms of ignorance and malice;
  • all the manifold injuries which partisan or private malignity, disappointed of its objects, may shower upon his unprotected head. 
All this, Mr. President, if he would retain his integrity, he must learn to bear unmoved, and walk steadily onward in the path of duty, sustained only by the reflection that time may do him justice, or if not, that after all his individual hopes and aspirations, and even his name among men, should be of little account to him when weighed in the balance against the welfare of a people of whose destiny he is a constituted guardian and defender."
Fessenden served in both the House of Representatives and Senate before President Lincoln convinced him to fill the Treasury position vacated by the prideful Salmon P. Chase, as described in Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals." 
"Fessenden's appointment received immense praise. 'He is a man of undoubted financial ability, and of unsurpassed personal integrity,' the Chicago Tribune wrote."
Lincoln portrait by George P.A. Healy, 1869 in State Dining Room,
Kennedy White House, 1961.
In "Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era" author and historian James McPherson reveals Fessenden's pragmatic approach to fair taxation and the Legal Tender Act in order to provide financial support to Union troops.  U.S. notes were used as cash, unlike the Confederacy's approach to raising war funds, which also relied more on loans.  McPherson writes:
"The act created a national currency and altered the monetary structure of the United States.  It asserted national sovereignty to help win a war fought to preserve that sovereignty.  It provided the Treasury with resources to pay its bills, it restored investor confidence to make possible the sale at par of the $500 million of new 6 percent bonds authorized at the same time, and unlocked the funds that had gone into hoarding during the financial crisis of December."
McPherson reviewed Kearns Goodwin's book for the New York Times in 2005, calling it "an elegant, incisive study of Lincoln and leading members of his cabinet that will appeal to experts as well as to those whose knowledge of Lincoln is an amalgam of high school history and popular mythology."

In "Team of Rivals" Kearns Goodwin dives into White House and congressional intrigue and shows Lincoln's mastery in balancing power and personalities.  She shows that Lincoln judged Fessenden to be a statesman worthy of trust and respect.  And the feeling was mutual.
"By the spring of 1865 the treasury was stable, and when Maine reelected him to the Senate for a term to being on March 4, Fessenden felt free to resign." 
"Lincoln was sorry to lose his brilliant, hardworking secretary.  Fessenden, too, 'parted from the President with regret.' During his tenure at the Treasury, his initial critical attitude toward Lincoln had been transformed into warm admiration.  'I desire gratefully to acknowledge the kindness and consideration with which you have invariably treated me,' he wrote to the president, 'and to assure you that in retiring I carry with me great and increased respect for your personal character and for the ability which has marked your administration.'  Noting that the 'prolonged struggle for national life' was finally nearing a successful conclusion, he went on, 'no one can claim to have so largely contributed to the chosen chief magistrate of this great people.'"
President Kennedy signs joint resolution March 1, 1961 commemorating the 100th Anniversary
of the First Inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. (JFK Presidential Library)
Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage" reveals Fessenden's brave stand during a constitutional crisis.  He stood with a handful of Republicans led by Senator Edmund G. Ross of Kansas in a vote to acquit Andrew Johnson despite calls by radical politicians who wanted revenge against the Confederacy.  Instead, Ross, Fessenden and other men of conscience embraced compromise and harmony.  They preserved efforts begun by Lincoln toward reconciliation with the South despite public scorn, ridicule and pressure to punish the secessionists.

Fessenden became the "guardian and defender" of the Constitution he wrote about in his excerpt in JFK's "Profiles."  Like other true patriots in public service his primary concern was the long-term health of the republic rather than short-term political expediency and personal profit.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

John F. Kennedy’s ‘Profiles in Courage’

Review by Bill Doughty

Seventy years ago -- August 2,1943 -- young John F. Kennedy was a PT-boat commander when his PT-109 was rammed by Imperial Japanese destroyer Amagiri.  His boat exploded, killing two crew members and burning one so badly he was unable to swim.

Oil painting by Gerard Richardson (official Navy artist 1961)
“Clutching a strap of the injured man’s life jacket in his teeth, Lieutenant Kennedy towed the wounded sailor to the nearest island, three miles away.  For the next six days, with little food or water, the men hid, fearing they would be captured by the Japanese.  Each evening Kennedy swam through the shark-infested waters to other islands seeking help, until he was spotted by two Solomon Islanders, Eroni Kumana and Biuka Gasa.  They picked a coconut, onto which Kennedy carved a message, which they took to the hideout of a nearby Australian coast watcher who arranged rescue.  In the summer of 2002 a National Geographic Society expedition found that the legend of John F. Kennedy’s courage lives on in the faraway Solomon Islands.  Using remote-controlled vehicles with underwater cameras, explorer Robert Ballard and his team discovered the sunken PT-109.  Expedition members met Eroni Kumana, the man whose simple canoe saved my father’s life and changed the course of history, and his son, John F. Kennedy Kumana.”

Caroline Kennedy writes the introduction, including the excerpt above and below, in the HarperCollins 50th anniversary edition of her father’s “Profiles in Courage.”   (The book was first published in 1956 and is one of 15 top recommended reads of Navy's Chief of Information Rear Adm. John Kirby.)

“The collision with the Japanese destroyer left him with a spinal injury, which required surgery in the winter of 1954-55.  Elected to the U.S. Senate two years before, my father was interested in understanding the qualities that make a great senator.  History was his passion, and he spent his months of recuperation reading the chronicles of his legendary predecessors.”

Caroline Kennedy writes of President Kennedy’s courage in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, in which he successfully averted nuclear war, and of his support to nonviolent civil rights demonstrations in 1963 when he mobilized the Alabama National Guard, taking a stand for the ideals outlined in the Constitution.

Equal rights, equal opportunity and harmonious preservation of the Union are common themes throughout JFK’s "Profiles in Courage."  The profiles by then-Senator John F. Kennedy are of political leaders and diplomats John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Edmund Gross, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, George Norris, Robert A. Taft and others.

Kennedy, at right, with crew of PT-109 in Solomons.  Photos from JFK Library.
Courage -- one of the core values of the Navy and Marine Corps -- is shown in the context of these profiles, where public service is motivated by “the national interest, rather than private or political gain,” JFK wrote.

Courage can be found in balance, conciliation, mutual concession and compromise, “an art essential to keeping a nation united and enabling our government to function.”

“It is compromise that prevents each set of reformers -- the wets and the drys, the one-worlders and the isolationists, the vivisectionists and the anti-vivisectionists -- from crushing the group on the extreme opposite end of the political spectrum.  The fanatics and extremists and even those conscientiously devoted to hard-and-fast principles are always disappointed at the failure of their Government to rush to implement all of their principles and to denounce those of their opponents.  But the legislator has some responsibility to conciliate those opposing forces within his state and party and to represent them in the larger clash of interests on the national level; and he alone knows that there are few if any issues where all the truth and all the right and all the angels are on one side.”

The quote brings to mind what President Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

Kennedy hoped his profiles of political heroes, some long forgotten by most Americans, would be stories “that teach, offer hope and provide inspiration” for everyone.

“To be courageous, these stories make clear, requires no exceptional qualifications, no magic formula, no special combination of time, place and circumstance.  It is an opportunity that sooner or later is presented to us all.”

It’s been seventy years since the future President Kennedy’s encounter with Imperial Japan in World War II and fifty years after his assassination.  This week, in an ultimate symbol of reconciliation, harmony and peace, JFK’s daughter Caroline has been welcomed in Tokyo as U.S. Ambassador to Japan.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day Profiles in Courage

by Bill Doughty

Like a lot of people in my generation I was fascinated by JFK’s heroism in World War II aboard PT-109.  (A Navy Reads review of Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage" is coming soon.) Kennedy was a naval officer who fought in the Second World War, just like former presidents and veterans George H. W. Bush and Gerald Ford.  Each of them would have an aircraft carrier namesake.  Ford’s ultra-modern, ultra-efficient CVN-78 was christened this weekend. The next Kennedy carrier, CVN-79, is being built over the next 8 years.

The Kennedy family’s Profile in Courage Award, established in 1989, is presented annually to “the nation’s public servants who have withstood strong opposition to follow what they believe to be the right course of action.”  The award has gone to people like state representative Dan Ponder Jr. (R-GA), U.S. Congressman John P. Murtha (D-PA), U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), former U.S. Congressman Carl Elliot (D-AL), and most recently to former Arizona state representative and senator Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords of Americans for Responsible Solutions, formed with her husband former Navy Captain and astronaut Mark Kelly.  

In 2001, less than four months before 9/11, the Profile in Courage Award was presented to two statesmen: former President Gerald Ford and U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), who went into harm’s way (and was severely injured) in a different kind of war -- for civil rights.  In the past week, “March: Book One,” a graphic nonfiction book about Lewis’s struggle, along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was published and went to number one on a New York Times bestseller list.

The Kennedy award was presented to Ford for his courage in pardoning former President Richard Nixon after Nixon’s resignation in the face of the Watergate scandal.  Ford was known for his unimpeachable integrity.

In “Halsey’s Typhoon,” authors Drury and Clavin show how President Ford considered his wartime Navy experience in making the right decision for the good of the “ship of state.”

Veterans Day began as Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I. Fighting ended in that war Nov. 11, 1918, one year after JFK was born and three years after Gerald Ford was born.  President Woodrow Wilson called for Nov. 11 to be set aside: 

"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice...”

In 1961 President Kennedy signed the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Commission bill, with former first lady Mrs. Wilson at his side.

At the signing Kennedy said, “I hope the Commission will plan a memorial that expresses the faith in democracy and President Wilson's vision of peace and a dedication to international understanding that President Wilson himself did so much to advance.  He called for a New Freedom at home, and a world of unity and peace, and we are still striving to achieve these objectives.”

The Profile in Courage Award is made of sterling silver and is designed by Edwin Schlossberg, crafted by Tiffany & Co., and inspired by the lantern on USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy.  Read more about the award at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum site.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Red Cloud and Heart of Everything That Is

Review by Bill Doughty

“The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend,” by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, is a terrific new book out this week that reexamines the cruelty of expansion in the American West, the warrior ethos of the Lakota Sioux, and the strategy and tactics of Red Cloud in defeating the United States Army.

“The great warrior chief Red Cloud was the only Indian ever able to claim victory over the United States,” according to Drury and Clavin, a conclusion backed up by other writers and historians.*

Red Cloud and many other colorful protagonists in “The Heart of Everything That Is” are flawed anti-heroes in a world of intertribal raids and fights, torture, mutilation, revenge, lies and numbing grief on all sides.

Photo reportedly by Ridgway Glover, 1866
“Though the Sioux were to become its most vicious practitioners, warfare among Indians was simply a way of life.  Nearly every tribe called itself “The People” and harbored deep suspicion and hatred toward outsiders with whom it competed for game and plunders.  Death arrived swiftly and often in the violent thrust and parry of aggression and defense, abetted by a culture that revolved around a quest to avenge insults and injuries real and perceived.”

In the expansion across the North American continent, individual tribes who believed in The Great Spirit faced an enemy who justified their claims in the name of Manifest Destiny.  The crusade by people of European descent can be considered a long campaign against Native Americans, often seen as less-than-human "others" undeserving of basic human rights and freedoms:

“The military historian Peter Maslowski, attending a guest-lecture series at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, was puzzled when a general from the Chinese People’s Army casually mentioned that the United States had fought the longest war in history.  America had never fought a Thirty Years’ War, let alone a Hundred Years’ War.  What was the visiting general talking about?  The answer came with the foreigner’s next breath.  He explained that he was referring to America’s nearly 300-year war against its Indians.  Much of the world beyond North America considered it to have begun in the early seventeenth century and to have lasted until the late nineteenth.”

The authors establish characters and reveal history, introducing us to the shadowy Crazy Horse, grizzled Jim Bridger (left), genocidal Gen. Sherman, flamboyant photographer Ridgway Glover, fearless Paul Revere-like “Portugee” Phillips, frightening George Washington Grummond and "Queeg-like" Col. Carrington, among others.  The book builds interest and tension throughout, culminating in a masterful depiction of the Fetterman Massacre, showing Red Cloud as “the equal of history’s great guerilla tacticians.”

Drury and Clavin, authors of other military books including “Last Men Out,” “The Last Stand of Fox Company” and “Halsey’s Typhoon,” make the book relevant to a Navy audience:

“The historian Stephen E. Ambrose notes that Indian fighting on the High Plains was more akin to naval warfare than to any other type of battle.  The U.S. Army ‘was lumbering around with battleships and cruisers, chasing pirates in sleek, fast vessels,’ and the forts and camps were like home ports to which large ships must return often for supplies.  Meanwhile the Indians lived off the land much as the pirates lived off the ocean, and the soldiers deployed to the frontier had no more comprehension of their surroundings than the crews of Columbus or Magellan reading blank charts marked with the warning, ‘Here be monsters.’”

With graphic depictions of monstrous mutilations and violence, the writing is closer to Larry McMurtry than Louis L’Amour, all the more powerful because it is nonfiction carefully noted and sourced.  There’s a tie to McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” and there are references to Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon Bonaparte and von Clausewitz.

Descriptions are colorful and memorable: “Bull Bear, by all accounts a canker of a man with a face like a clenched fist...”  “Under the broiling summer sun the stench of human and animal sweat and dung hung over the post like an illness.”

Chief Red Cloud
“At six feet, Red Cloud was tall for a Sioux, if not for most men of this era.  His slender face was dominated by a beaked nose and a broad forehead, and the leathery skin around his ravaged brown eyes was prematurely creased, as if by parentheses, with age lines.  Fond of accessories, such as eagle feathers and ribbons, he carried himself with an erect, regal mien; and at such formal ceremonies his long, course black hair was almost always bear-greased and plaited around the wing bone of an eagle to signify elegance and propriety.  A good, new rifle usually rested across his saddle pommel.  On the whole he projected an aura of quiet dignity with an undercurrent of physical menace.”

The book explores the role of technology in winning the overall campaign, discussing the role of the Navy Colt, Springfield rifle and other firearms and the development of the Union Pacific Railroad.  It explores how close to the surface is the savagery in our souls.  And it considers the importance of a strong defense in keeping peace.  Red Cloud, Crazy Horse's mentor, “was a living embodiment of the maxim that war is the best teacher of war.”

Drury and Clavin write, “The four pillars of Sioux leadership -- acknowledged by the tribe to this day -- are bravery, fortitude, generosity, and wisdom.  Time and again Red Cloud exhibited each.”  In the end, Red Cloud the statesman saw the way to peace.

The authors make a brilliant proposal in the Washington Post this week (during Native American Heritage month): Rename the NFL’s Washington Redskins the Washington Red Clouds.

“Named after such a proud and powerful winner, the Washington Red Clouds would be a lock to emulate their namesake and rout 49ers, defeat Raiders, humiliate Cowboys, pluck Eagles, turn back Texans, break Broncos and generally leave quivering the remaining would-be Giants and Titans of the National Football League,” they write.

In changing the Redskins name, Red Cloud would help win another battle...

Lakota delegation at the White House, 1877. Standing - Red Bear, Young-Man-Afraid-of-his-Horses, Good Voice, Ring Thunder, Iron Crow, White Tail, Young Spotted Tail. Seated - Yellow Bear, Red Cloud, Big Road, Little Wound, Black Crow. (Library of Congress)

Other authors and historians reach the same conclusion about Red Cloud’s War.  James Wilson noted that the government conceded defeat in “The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native Americans.”  McMurtry refers to Red Cloud's victories along the Bozeman Trail in his beautiful and colorful "Custer" from 2012 (published, like "The Heart of Everything That Is," by Simon & Schuster).