Sunday, December 31, 2017

'Madison's Music: On Reading the First Amendment'

Review by Bill Doughty

CNO Adm. John Richardson recommends works that are the foundation of American Government in his "Canon" of professional reading. Chief among the recommendations is the United States Constitution, which military service members swear to defend.

The First Amendment to the Constitution in the Bill of Rights is a mere 45 words, focusing on key freedoms worth defending.

In "Madison's Music" (The New Press, 2015) author Burt Neuborne argues that the words are meant to be read as a poem that creates its own music. Far from that being an abstract exercise, however, Neuborne gives practical reasons and logical ways to find the music. He uses examples from James Madison's own writings and other founders' insights. And he presents historical and legal examples.

U.S. Navy participation in Normandy landing June 6, 1944 (Watercolor, Dwight C. Shepler, NHHC)
But before he begins his exploration, the author does a most poignant and personal tribute dedication to his Navy veteran father, "Odysseus the Tailor":
Odysseus the Tailor's real name was Sam. A gentle, unassuming man who stood all of five five, my father was one of a dozen U.S. Navy frogmen dropped into the English Channel several hours before the Normandy invasion in 1944, with instructions to attach explosives to a wall of underwater steel spikes designed to tear the bottoms out of Allied landing craft. Once the explosives were in place, Pop and his buddies swam to the beach and crouched in the surf until the invasion boats neared the French coast. Then they blew a hole in the steel wall, opening a bloody path to the liberation of Europe. After D-Day, Pop was assigned to “Patton's Navy,” a small combat unit supporting amphibious crossings of French rivers during the Third Army's push toward Paris. From our kitchen in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, my mother and I anxiously plotted Odysseus's progress across Europe. My job was to keep Pop up-to-date on his beloved New York Giants. Each letter from me contained baseball box scores laboriously clipped from the Brooklyn Eagle. Pop's heavily censored replies promised a glorious future when we would see a baseball game together at the Polo Grounds.When Odysseus the Tailor finally came home in the summer of 1946, I oiled my baseball glove and waited for the great day. July passed into August – but no baseball. Pop reopened his tailor shop, and we sat comfortably in the warm sunlight while silver needles danced in his thimbled fingers – but no baseball. School began after Labor – but no baseball. Finally, in mid-September, I broke down at dinner. “What have I done,” I wailed, “that we can't go to a Giants game.” My father, who had forgotten his wartime promise, was stricken. He hugged me. “I love you, Butchie,” he whispered. “But we can't go to a Giants game yet ...They still don't let black people play, and we just don't support things like that.”Instead, we took the ferry across the Hudson River to see the world champion Newark Eagles play a Negro League game at Ruppert Stadium. I don't remember much about the game, other than the beautifully dressed, multiracial crowd, the noise, the sunlight, and the joy of being my father's son.– Farewell, Odysseus of the silver needles. This book is for you.
In "Madison's Music" Neuborne expresses his reverence for the Bill of Rights: "No documents in the history of self-government prefigures such a carefully drawn, chronologically organized blueprint of democracy in action." 

Looking at a blueprint for a house, we have to imagine not just the building but also the home to be brought to life. The "enduring text" of "Jefferson's lieutenant" Madison needs to be read as "a great poem about freedom and democracy," Neuborne says. "The unique beauty of great poetry is found in the text itself, in the imagery, emotions, and meaning produced by the order, cadence, structure and content of the words."
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
With understanding and mutual respect (and the wisdom to see the poetry and hear the music) "the apparent paradox resolves into structural harmony," Neuborne writes.

This book is filled with enigmas and paradoxes. What's the case for military and prison chaplains but against prayer in public schools or legislatures? How can "fear and emotion erode the protections in the Constitution" in times of crises? How do gerrymandering, voter suppression and excessive money in politics threaten democracy? What's the true story behind "Marbury vs. Madison"? What did Putin do with the Russian Orthodox Church to ensure religion was an arm of his government? How is false speech (especially by people in power) corrosive to dignity, freedom and democracy?

Mao and Pol Pot and Hitler and Stalin and ISIS "leaders" didn't hear the music or read the "poem" about freedoms of religion, speech, and the press, including the rights to assemble and petition the government. Authoritarian dictators abhor literary or artistic innovation and free expression.

"Would-be tyrants have always understood that control over speech about the full range of human experience – not just politics – is crucial to the maintenance of authoritarian rule," Neuborne writes.

Burt Neuborne
The CNO's Canon features this quote from President Harry S. Truman: "Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers!" Perhaps Truman would want to amend the quote in 2017 and 2018 with an adjective in front of "leaders," like "good" or "worthy" or "thoughtful."
"(Madison) knew that the habits of thought that enable free people to govern themselves justly and well – respect for others, skepticism about absolutes, toleration of disagreement, and openness to change – cannot thrive without a steady flow of unfiltered information, ideas, and opinions about art, philosophy, literature, science, technology, history, ethics, economics, psychology, sociology, sex, leisure, and business."
Professor Neuborne credits the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for inspiring and challenging him. He builds his argument on a "great literary poem" by Wallace Stevens called "The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm" about the joy of reading.

Kurt Vonnegut
In 1984 Kurt Vonnegut's essay "The Most Censored Writer of His Time Defends the First Amendment" the venerated author of "Slaughterhouse Five" captures and riffs on the music of the First Amendment. The essay, a nod to Thomas Jefferson and the other founders, as well as George Orwell and Mark Twain, is published in Vonnegut's collection "If This Isn't Nice, What Is?" (Seven Stories Press, 2016).
"Our founding fathers never promised us that this would be a painless form of Government, that adhering to the Bill of Rights would invariably be delightful. Nor are Americans proud of avoiding pain at all costs. On patriotic holidays, in fact, we boast of how much pain Americans have stood in order to protect their freedoms – draped over barbed wire, drowning in water-filled shell holes, and so on."  So it is not too much to ask of Americans that they not be censors, that they run the risk of being deeply wounded by ideas so that we may all be free. If we are wounded by an ugly idea, we must count it as part of the cost of freedom and, like American heroes in the days gone by, bravely carry on."
Vonnegut was an Army veteran who, like Neuborne's Navy veteran father, Sam "Odysseus the Tailor," fought in Europe against Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Competitive Cooperation, Civilian Control – History of JMSDF

Sailors train Nov. 17 in Annual Exercise 2017 in the Philippine Sea. (Photo by MC2 J. Graham)
Review by Bill Doughty

How did the JMSDF come about, what is its role now, and what will the future bring for Japan's "nonmilitary" military? What is the value of civilian control of the military? These are some of the questions explored in Sado Akihiro's "The Self-Defense Forces and Postwar Politics in Japan" (2006, 2017, Japan Publishing Industry Foundation for Culture).

Strictly speaking, and in keeping with Japan's laws, the Self-Defense Forces in Japan have not been considered a military, according to Sado.

Vice Adm. Hoshina Zenshiro
Japan's aversion to the military and war is understandable, he explains, considering what the country went through under a military-controlled government that invaded Korea, China and Indochina and started a war with the United States in the last century.

Many Imperial Japanese naval leaders, unlike the army, were reluctant to start a war with the United States prior to 1941. 

After the war, with the help of the United States, Japan established a constitution, a democratic government and a free and open society built on international relations, competitive cooperation and commerce.

Veterans of the smaller, tighter Imperial Japanese navy maintained close ties after the war. Vice Adm. Hoshina Zenshiro, who had been director of the Navy Ministry of his nation's Bureau of Naval Affairs, took the initiative with a core group of former naval officers.

Working with Hoshina, America's military helped build the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces:
"One remarkable characteristic of the former Imperial Navy group's rearmament plan was its emphasis on the importance of relations with the United States. This group was foresighted enough to make Nomura Kichisaburo, who had been well connected with the U.S. military, the center of its efforts. As a result, such U.S. Navy leaders as Vice Admiral Charles Turner Joy, Commander Naval Forces, Far East; Chief of Staff Ralph A. Ofstie; and Deputy Chief of Staff Arleigh A. Burke, who later assumed the highest post in the U.S. Navy, chief of naval operations, became powerful supporters of the efforts by Nomura, Hoshina, and their associates. As eloquently revealed in Nomura's remarks to U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who visited Japan for the peace treaty negotiations, that 'the most important foundation is the U.S.-Japan military alliance,' the Nomura group's emphasis on relations with the United States put the military alliance first. Moreover, when Hoshina briefed the Study Group on Rebuilding the New Japanese Navy plan to Arleigh Burke, one of the most outstanding Japan sympathizers in the U.S. Navy, he declared  that the new Japanese navy would be 'an object of cooperation with the United States Navy.' Thus, Hoshina revealed that the group was planning to build a navy that, within the framework of the U.S.-Japan military alliance, could collaborate with the U.S. Navy. It is an important point to be kept in mind that these ideas were at the foundation of the establishment of today's Maritime Self-Defense Force."
JMSDF CNO Adm. Yoshikawa (right) and then-Commander Naval Forces Japan Rear Adm. J. Kelly
salute Adm. Arleigh Burke at the U.S. Naval Academy May 16, 2007. (MCSN Chris Lussier)
Senior JMSDF leaders who visit the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis stop and pay their respects to Adm. Arleigh Burke. Ten years ago JMSDF Chief of Naval Operations Yoshikawa Eiji led a wreath-laying ceremony at Burke's gravesite at the academy's cemetery in 2007.

Sado introduces us to dozens of influential prime ministers and other officials who helped shape the self-defense forces over the years: Miki, Ohira, Nakasone, Mori, Hosokawa, Koizumi and Abe.

Under President Reagan and again under President Clinton ties between the two nations deepened especially in U.S.-Japan defense cooperation and support of Peacekeeping Operations (PKO).
"One thing to be pointed out first is the great role the MSDF played in U.S.-Japan defense cooperation. It can be said that the MSDF, which had been created and developed on the premise of joint actions with the U.S. Navy, well lived up to the U.S. Navy's expectations by exerting its capabilities in full. The cooperation between the U.S. and Japanese naval forces was so close that some diplomacy experts claim the essence of U.S.-Japan security cooperation to 'navy to navy' relations. This degree of closeness, however, also meant that MSDF activities regarding bilateral defense cooperation stood out starkly from the other branches of the JSDF. Truth be told, even with the Defense Agency, the defense of sea lanes was predominantly perceived as defense of shipping lanes ... It appears that the MSDF had gone ahead with substantive cooperation with the U.S. Navy to a degree beyond the inner bureau's assumption. It can be said that the MSDF was indeed engaged in defense cooperation with the U.S. Navy one step ahead of other branches of the JSDF."
We see how events shaped the JSDF, especially during and after the Cold War, Vietnam and the Gulf War. In modern Japanese history, the people of Japan have seen their self-defense services as being strictly defensive but able to respond to disaster relief and other humanitarian missions.

"Along with disaster relief activities, which became increasingly important for the JSDF after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, international cooperation has now become one of the most important post-cold war activities of the JSDF," Sado writes.
"Instances of the JSDF being dispatched overseas are likely to continue to increase. Nevertheless, there remains a risk that the JSDF's presence overseas may fail to receive as much high esteem from the international community as expected due to the numerous constraints on its activities and its lack of self-defense capabilities. The obstacles mentioned above to dispatching the JSDF still have to be overcome. Meanwhile, today dispatch of the JSDF overseas is no longer contained to PKO activities; nowadays the JSDF is mobilized to assist overseas anti-terrorist activities. Thus, it should be said that a limit has already been reached for Japan to continue to dispatch the JSDF in the same fashion as in the past."
The end of the Soviet Union signaled the end of the Cold War and what Japan saw as its greatest threat. But since then, new threats have arisen in the world. Because the bulk of this book was written prior to 2006, there is scant mention of the rise of nuclear threats from North Korea. Sado also lightly touches on the various controversies surrounding Okinawa ever since a rape incident occurred there in 1995, "although it is beyond the scope of this book on the JSDF." He does, however, devote considerable time on international terrorism and the ripple effects of 9/11 on Japan and the JSDF.

China's expansion and the nine-dash-line in the East China and South China Seas are examined in what Sado calls, "tenacious arguments with China."

In 2011 the JSDF proved its worth and gained a nation's respect for how it responded in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Fukushima. "The JSDF ended up playing an outstanding role at this time of crisis," Sado writes.

Researchers will be disappointed with the sparse index in this volume. On the positive side, this book presents a comprehensive history of the origins and development of the maritime force and has extensive appendices with a deeper dive into what's on the horizon for Japan's defense development and closer partnership with the Republic of Korea, Australia and other U.S. allies.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Ashigara (DDG 178), foreground, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108) and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) transit the Philippine Sea April 28, 2017. (MC2 Z.A. Landers)

As for the future of the JSDF, Sado discusses "The Modality of Security and Defense Capability of Japan: Outlook for hte 21st Century." And in Appendix I, he prints this from "National Defense Program Guidelines for FY2014 and Beyond," of Dec. 17, 2013:
"Japan will promote various initiatives to improve the global security environment on a regular basis in cooperation with the international community. Japan will continue strengthen various initiatives concerning arms control, disarmament, nonproliferation and capacity building assistance in order to respond to global security challenges, including regional conflicts, expansion and spread of international terrorism, failed states, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and problems related to the sea, outer space and cyberspace, while regularly cooperating with its ally and relevant questions with which it shares security interests and with international organizations and other relevant bodies. In this respect, Japan will further strengthen its cooperation with the European Union (EU), North Atlantic Treaty Organizations (NATO), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and with the United Kindgom, France and other European countries and will work with them in responding to these challenges. Japan will also promote cooperation and exchanges with regard to equipment and technology with these countries and organizations."
JMSDF and U.S. Navy sailors meet at RIMPAC 2016. (MC1 Jeff Troutman) 
In fact, in the past decade the JMSDF earned key leadership roles in the Rim of the Pacific exercise, training with the U.S. Navy and international participants primarily in the waters around the Hawaiian Islands and building understanding and cooperation.

Appendix J is "The Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation" of April 27, 2015 offering a "general framework and policy directions," strategies for strengthening bilateral cooperation, a commitment to "cooperation for regional and global peace and security" and a plan to contribute to space and cyberspace security.

After World War II, Japan reconstituted a national defense system – first called the National Police Reserve, then the National Safety Forces, before becoming the JSDF. As mentioned, Japan set up its democratic system of government (including its constitution) based on that of the United States – and under an important American concept: civilian control of the military.

"It seems beyond doubt that a system of civilian control that is suitable for the new age has to be explored," Sado opines. Nevertheless, a civilian government's control of the military is considered a war preventive, WWII being a case in point, in which the military controlled the governments in Japan and Germany. While there may be benefits in further integrating the three services, as Sado points out, there is a reason for a separation of military forces, just as there is in the branches of government – to protect a balance of power.

USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), foreground, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Ashigara (DDG 178), left, and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Murasame-class destroyer JS Samidare (DD 106), back, transit the Philippine Sea April 26, 2017. The U.S. Navy has patrolled the Indo-Asia-Pacific routinely for more than 70 years promoting regional peace and security. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Now & Then II: Statesman or Blockhead

Review by Bill Doughty

David McCullough's recent "The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For" (Simon & Schuster, 2017) can lift the spirits of anyone who reads it.

Know someone who is pessimistic or fearful about the future? Give them this book.

And encourage them to read.

In one of the collected speeches in this book, "The Animating Spirit," he advises graduates of Dickinson College in Carlisle Pennsylvania in 1998: 
"If your experience is anything like mine, the most important books in your life you have still to read. And read you will. Read for pleasure. Read to enlarge your lives. Read history, read biography, learn from the lives of others. Read Marcus Aurelius and Yeats. Read Cervantes and soon; don't wait until you're past fifty as I did. Read Emerson and Willa Cather, Flannery O'Connor and Langston Hughes. Read a wise and sparkling book called "While the Music Lasts" by an author named William Bulger. See especially page 19, where he describes his own discovery of books."
Naturally I just ordered a copy of Bulger's book from my public library.

Abigail and John Adams
In another essay/speech, "Love of Learning," presented at Boston College in 2008, McCullough profiles abolitionist Charles Sumner, whose love of reading and education and time overseas informed his life and helped a nation confront the sins of slavery.

The author also features his favorite American family in history: the Adamses.
"John Adams read everything –Shakespeare and the Bible over and over, and the Psalms especially. He read poetry, fiction, history. Always carry a book with you on your travels he advised his son John Quincy. 'You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket.' In a single year, according to the U.S. Department of Education, among all Americans with a college education, fully a third read not one novel or short story or poem. Don't be one of those... Make the love of learning central to your life. What a difference it can mean. And remember, as someone said, even the oldest book is brand-new for the reader who opens it for the first time."
One of my favorite speeches in this great little book is "Knowing Who We Are," presented at Hillsdale College in 2005. McCullough describes John Adams's love of books ("I discovered books and read forever," Adams wrote). John and Abigail Adams instilled a love of reading and lifelong learning in their son John Quincy.

America's first ambassador Benjamin Franklin in France.
I love the way McCullough paints the picture of John Adams "in the midst of winter, in the midst of war" risking his life to travel in secrecy by ship to France with eleven-year-old son John Quincy in order to give the boy an education, to associate with Ambassador Benjamin Franklin there and the great political philosophers of France. The French Revolution and freethinkers had inspired the American Revolution.

"We have little idea of what people were willing to do for education in times past," McCullough writes. "It's the one sustaining theme through our whole history – that the next generation will be better educated than we are."

It was an extremely difficult journey across the Atlantic, and when preteen John Quincy balked about making a return trip to Europe, his mother, Abigail Adams, wrote him a letter. "And please keep in mind this is being written to an eleven-year-old boy and listen to how different it is from how we talk to our children in our time":

"These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life or the repose of a pacific station that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman."

Abigail and John Quincy depicted in Quincy, Massachusetts.
McCullough writes: "Well of course he went and the history of our country is different because of it.

John Quincy Adams, in my view, was the most superbly educated and maybe the most brilliant human being who ever occupied the executive office. He was a great secretary of state – he wrote the Monroe Doctrine, among other things – and he was a wonderful human being and a great writer. Told to keep a diary by his father when he was in Europe, he kept the diary for sixty-five years."

John Quincy returned from Europe to prepare for Harvard, where his father had studied. He had learned French, politics and the arts, but the young man had apparently not learned humility. "He seemed overly enamored with himself and with his own opinions and that this was not going over very well in town."

So Abigail wrote him another letter:

"If you are conscious to yourself that you possess more knowledge upon some subjects than others of your standing, reflect that you have had greater opportunities of seeing the world and obtaining knowledge of mankind than any of your contemporaries. That you have never wanted a book, but it has not been supplied to you. That your whole time has been spent in the company of men of literature and science. How unpardonable would it have been in you to have turned out a blockhead."

Love of learning, tempered with empathy and humility, can prevent blockheads in leadership positions. 

One of our nation's great leaders, whose confidence bordered on upbeat arrogance but who united the nation, was President Theodore Roosevelt, profiled in "What's Essential is Invisible," presented at Dartmouth College in 1999.
"The twentieth-century presidency begins with Theodore Roosevelt (former Assistant Secretary of the Navy). He was like nobody who had ever been president before ... TR was the first president to go down in a submarine, the first to go up in an airplane ... Eager to display American sea power, he decided to send the fleet on a goodwill tour around the world. Told that Congress would refuse to appropriate the money, he said he had sufficient funds at hand to send the ships halfway; then it would be up to Congress to decide whether to bring them home again."
Perhaps more than any other president, Roosevelt modernized the Navy across domains during the Second Industrial Revolution. When he became the first commander-in-chief to dive in the submarine USS Plunger (SS-2), in 1905, it fired the nation's imagination and inspired Sailors. Less than four years later Ensign Chester Nimitz, future Fleet Admiral and Pacific Fleet commander in WWII, would take command of Plunger.

TR had the Panama Canal built and he revolutionized American industry. "He doubled the size of the navy, helped settle the Russo-Japanese War, established five national parks, including the Grand Canyon, and made conservation a popular cause for the first time."

According to McCullough, "He was ebullient, confident, full of ideas, interested in everything, seldom without a book. He read books, he wrote books." 

David McCullough creating ideas.
Recently someone who I care about said they've never seen our nation so divided. I reminded them that history shows things were pretty divided in the 1770s (American Revolution), 1860s (Civil War) and 1960s (Vietnam, Watergate and Civil Rights era).

Reading history leads toward optimism. 

"We've got to teach history and nurture history and encourage history because it's an antidote to the hubris of the present – the idea that everything we have and everything we do and everything we think is the ultimate, the best."

McCullough concludes, "Samuel Eliot Morison said we ought to read history because it will help us to behave better." Abigail Adams's advice to would-be blockheads remains relevant today. This book is so good I have to review it in parts, each with a theme. Part I: Ideals; Part II: Rewards of Reading.

Dawne Dewey, Head of Special Collections & Archives, second from left, shares items from the Wright Brothers Collection with historian David McCullough (left), Tom Hanks, and Amanda Wright Lane, great-grandniece of the Wright Brothers. Hanks’ film and television production company Playtone reportedly bought the rights to David McCullough’s book "The Wright Brothers," and  HBO may produce a miniseries. (Photo by Will Jones)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Tom Hanks Gift

Review by Bill Doughty

Actor, writer, patriot Tom Hanks speaks with a Purple Heart recipient veteran.
Tom Hanks, writer, builds short stories the way he describes building a fire in "Christmas Eve 1953," a gem of a story in "Uncommon Type: Some Stories" (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017) – to breathe, brighten and be warm. There's a reason why warmth, like hope and resilience, is important in this story.

Hanks's character Virgil Beuell entrusts his son, Davey, to operate the family's fireplace:
"A fire is going in the family room. He had taught Davey how to build one by stacking the wood the way he did his toy Lincoln Logs, like a square house around the kindling, never a pyramid. The kid now viewed making the fire as his sacred duty. Come the first frosts of November, the Beuell home was the warmest place for miles and miles."
U.S. soldiers fight in Belgium, Nov. 4, 1944. (National Archives)
As a Navy read, I found "Christmas Eve 1953" most poignant: Army combat scenes and references to Pearl Harbor, FNGs, battle buddies, and wounded warriors (before they were called that).

We are transported from a quiet and cold December 24, 1953 in a family home in the American heartland to another Christmas Eve nine years earlier fighting Nazis in France and Belgium. The cold helps us appreciate being warm.
"This hole was the seventh Virgil had chipped out of the frozen ground and covered with tree limbs since they had walked through Bastogne. Virgil didn't want to dig any more of them. Moving to another position meant shouldering weapons and gear, carrying it who knew how far or for how long, digging another hole, and building another shelter, working up the sweat that, in the subzero winter, caused a man's uniform to freeze to his back. Frostbite had taken more men off the line than wounds from enemy fire. Some of the freezing guys had been able to get out before the encirclement. Those that hadn't had already lost toes and fingers, some even their feet and hands."
Hanks fans, and there are legions, will no doubt want to pick up this collection of American short stories as a holiday gift. 

Be aware that the language is saltier than anything you'll likely hear on screen in a Tom Hanks film.

Each short story has strong characters, compelling dynamics and a reference to a typewriter. Tom Hanks loves typewriters – mechanical wonders, each connected to countless stories in the lives of the people who tapped their keys.

Funny and sad, loose and tense, cool and warm as a fireplace, these stories are an exquisite slice of Americana. Read "Christmas Eve 1953" and be prepared to have the story stay with you for a long time.

In a 2011 post, "Faith, Fear and Tom Hanks," I said Renaissance man Tom Hanks "transcends genres." Add "gifted short story writer" to his list of skills.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

David McCullough Now & Then: Time to Take a Stand

Review by Bill Doughty

Rarely does a relatively thin and small book command so much respect. McCullough's "The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For" (2017, Simon & Schuster) is a collection of a sampling of the great historian's speeches from 1989 through 2016.

Naturally the speeches include topics like history, U.S. presidents, art, education and books. The central theme, however, is captured in the title. This is an inspirational book to read on the eve of the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor to help us reflect on the origins of American freedom and equality, ideals carried by Soldiers, Marines and Sailors who stood up to authoritarian nationalism and fascism in World War II: ideals reflected in the American spirit.

Thomas Jefferson
An essential read in this collection is the speech, "The Spirit of Jefferson," which McCullough gave in a naturalization ceremony at Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia in 1994.

In 1776, the founders gathered together to stand up to authoritarian imperial control of King George and Great Britain. "To Jefferson," McCullough writes, "the Revolution was more than a struggle for independence; it was a struggle for democracy, and thus what he wrote was truly revolutionary. Why do some men reach for the stars and so many others never look up? Thomas Jefferson reached for the stars:"

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."

The Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and the Constitution are included in the canon of reading published by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson in the CNO's Navy Professional Reading Program, considered fundamental. 

These founding documents demand, establish and perpetuate equal dignity of human beings, separation of powers, freedom of the press (among others) and self-government by the people.

"Never, never anywhere, had there been a government instituted on the consent of the people," McCullough reminds us. 
"When he wrote the Declaration of Independence he was speaking to the world then, but speaking to us also across time. The ideas are transcendent, as is so much else that is bedrock to what we believe as a people, what we stand for, so many principles that have their origins here, with the mind and spirit of Thomas Jefferson. Sadly, too many today take for granted public schools, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, equality before the law, forgetting that these were ever novel and daring ideas."
David McCullough
McCullough isn't sure if Jefferson meant to include "women" when he used the term "men," as in "mankind" or "humans." And, could he have meant to include black people? Hopefully yes, but "practically, no," McCullough admits. Like the other founders, Jefferson was a product of his time – the 18th century. Like other humans, the founders were flawed when it came to living up to the ideals they espoused. But those ideas were to be realized later.

Abraham Lincoln, certainly one of our greatest presidents, called on Americans to honor Jefferson on the eve of the Civil War. Lincoln interpreted Jefferson's words in the Declaration to be "an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times."

McCullough shares a poignant moment standing on the South Portico balcony of the White House, built there on orders of Truman after the Second World War, "in keeping, as he explained to a critical press, with Jefferson's designs for the University of Virginia." 

It should be noted that one of Truman's greatest achievements was issuing an executive order ending segregation and promoting integrating of the military, further realizing Jefferson's and Lincoln's ideals.
"On that evening, beside me, stood the highest ranking officer in the military services, General Colin Powell. We were looking across the Mall, past the Washington Monument to the Jefferson Memorial, which was just catching the last light of the day. It is his favorite of all the memorials in Washington, the general told me. Then, slowly and with feeling he recited the line – 'I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.'"
The Thomas Jefferson Memorial reflects its image on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. in 2004. The memorial honors the Nation's 3rd President Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographers Mate 2nd Class Daniel J. McLain)

McCullough says, "The Declaration of Independence was not a creation of the gods, but of living men, and, let us never forget, extremely brave men." By signing the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson wrote, the founders pledged "our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor." They placed their lives and reputations on the line, McCullough notes. "It was their code of integrity, their code of leadership."

Other speeches focus on cities, colleges, historic preservation, the presidency, lessons of history, and books. Lots of books. We'll save that topic for another Navy Reads review, because McCullough offers so much to consider about reading and readers.

As for the American presidency, that topic also deserves its own blogpost. 

Sailors spell out "#USA" standing with the American flag on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Arabian Gulf in 2015.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jackie Hart/Released)

Several times McCullough highlights the influence of the Navy, directly or indirectly, in how (former assistant Secretary of the Navy) President Theodore Roosevelt and World War II veteran President John F. Kennedy led the nation as commanders in chief. McCullough's speech, originally delivered in Dallas in 2013 on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, features a huge amount of JFK's own thoughts and words from his inaugural address. This is another must-read chapter. Here are some of JFK's words:

"The goal of a peaceful world ... is our guide for the present and our vision for the future ... the quest is the greatest adventure of our century. We sometimes chafe at the burden of our obligations, the complexity of our decisions, the agony of our choices. But there is no comfort or security ... in evasion, no solution in abdications, no relief in irresponsibility."
"The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"

Kennedy "knew words matter," McCullough says. "His words changed lives. His words changed history Rarely has a commander-in-chief addressed the nation with such command of language."

McCullough concludes:
"Again and again John Kennedy's words are fired with his love of life, his love of his country and its history. He read history, he wrote history, and he understood that history is not just about times past, but also about those who populate the present, each new generation as he liked to say, and that we, too, will be judged by history ... He also knew from his reading and from experience that very little of consequence is ever accomplished alone, but by joint effort."
As a companion to this book, I borrowed the audio book from my public library and listened to it while driving to Pearl Harbor. It's uplifting to hear David McCullough's works in his own voice.  

Seventy-six years ago we were about to be drawn into a war against Imperial Japan and fascist Germany. Today both former enemies are free democracies and our strong allies, their governments based on Jeffersonian principles. McCullough reminds us of the spirit that unites Americans – who we are and what we stand for.

PEARL HARBOR (Nov. 29, 2017) A U.S. Navy Sailor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), renders honors to the USS Arizona as the ship departs Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is on a regularly scheduled deployment to the Western Pacific. The U.S. Navy has patrolled the Indo-Asia-Pacific region routinely for more than 70 years promoting peace and security. (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Cole Schroeder)