Guest Post: Who Are The Greatest Americans?

by Valkygrrl

[Introduction: Ethics Alarms opined that the President’s proposed “Garden of American Heroes” was badly conceived, and his initial nominations for inclusion proved the point. Mercurial commenter Valkygrrl  took the initiative to devise a process for Ethics Alarms readers to compile a better list, and also to organize the results, which I found fascinating. Any further reactions will be confined to the comments.]

The Rules:

1: No presidents, always some controversy, we have other ways of honoring them.
2: Any person who held office must be chosen for something they did outside of said office, no honoring for using the mechanisms of the state no matter how beneficial to society.
3: No Confederates (obvious divisiveness.)
4: You may have only one living person on your list.
5: Your list must be made in good faith. You may not choose anyone you believe will upset or anger me; no “owning the libs”. Honest mistakes accepted.
6: Do not remove someone from your list because they were mentioned by someone else. I want to see if we can find some consensus. That means people Trump or Jack mentioned are allowed.

Here’s the list of nominees as submitted by participants (editorial descriptions mine);

Marian Anderson: Singer, Civil rights activist, Medal of Freedom recipient.

Neil Armstrong: Aviator, Astronaut, First human to set foot on Luna

Isaac Asimov: Teacher, Author of the Foundation series; Seven-time Hugo Award winner (Plus one Retro-Hugo awarded in 2016), Democratic party activist, serial sexual harasser

Irving Berlin: Composer of famous patriotic music

John Brown: Hero, undaunted, true and brave, And Kansas knows his valor when he fought her rights to save; Now, tho the grass grows green above his grave. Popular legend holds that his soul continues to march.

John Moses Browning: Industrialist, Firearms designer.

George Carlin: Humorist, Mentor to time-traveling Gen-Xers.

Andrew Carnegie: Industrialist, Philanthropist, Union buster.

Joshua L. Chamberlain: Union General, Medal of Honor recipient.

Meriwether Lewis  and  William Clark: Explorers, Naturalists. Two very different people presumably nominated for a single achievement alone. Clark was a bit of a bastard.

Samuel Colt: Firearms manufacturer, used assembly line principals before Henry Ford.

Clarence Darrow : Country lawyer, Civil libertarian, Attention whore, Cigar aficionado.

Walter Elias Disney: Artist, Writer, Movie Producer, Television host, Murderer of Bambi’s mother. Named names to the House Un-American Activities Committee

William J. Donovan: Medal of Honor recipient, Head of OSS, Part of Robert Jackson’s Nuremberg team.

Desmond Doss: Combat Medic, Medal of Honor recipient. Ethics Hero emeritus.

Frederick Douglass: (Nominated thrice): Former slave who escaped bondage, Publisher, Orator, Abolitionist, Advocate for women’s sufferage

Charles Drew: Doctor, Greatly improved use of and storage of blood products, Subject of school play when I was in 4th grade.

Wyatt Earp: Gunfighter, Lawman, Played by Kevin Costner

Thomas Edison: (nominated twice) Industrialist, Inventor, Elephant killer.

John Ford: Filmmaker, Filmed portions of D-day invasion, purple heart recipient, Academy Award winner.

Henry Ford: Industrialist, user of assembly lines, anti-semite, recipient of the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, admired by Adolph Hitler.

Benjamin Franklin: (Nominated thrice) Author, Humorist, Postmaster, Signatory to the Declaration of Independence, Inventor of the stove.

Robert Fulton: Inventor

Ursula K. Le Guin: Author, political thinker, SFWA Grandmaster 2003

Virginia Hall: Spy, Cross between Emma Peel and Kira Nerys, Ethics hero emeritus.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Minister, Civil Rights activist, Posthumous Medal of Freedom recipient, Star Trek fan. Currently honored with a federal holiday.

Henry Knox: Son of Liberty, Major General Continental army, Secretary of War, Has a fort full of gold named after him.

Douglas MacArthur: Modern Major General, Field Marshal (Complete with baton,) Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area, Medal of Honor recipient, oversized pipe aficionado.

Alfred Thayer Mahan: Naval Captain, Historian, Military strategist.

George Mason: Author of 1776 Virginia constitution, activist for the rights of man, second-largest slaver in Virginia during his lifetime.

Audie Murphy: Actor, Medal of Honor recipient.

Joshua Abraham Norton: Norton I, Emperor of the United States, Protector of Mexico. Unconstitutional Monarch.

Dolly Parton: Singer, Songwriter, Actor, Producer, Philanthropist, National Treasure.

Sylvia Plath: Teacher, Poet, Novelist, Patron saint of moody teen girls

Sally Ride: Astronaut, third woman in space, first American woman in space.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson: Hall of Fame baseball player, National League MVP 1949. Ethics Hero emeritus.

Fred McFeely Rogers: Presbyterian minister, Beloved children’s show host, awarded Medal of Freedom in 2002

Will Rogers: Humorist, Actor, Liker of men.

Deborah Sampson Gannett: Revolutionary war veteran, Lecturer, Mother of four.

Harriet Beecher Stowe: Author, anti-slavery advocate.

Nikola Tesla (nominated twice):  Inventor of radio control, wireless power transmission, various AC power generators, VTOL aircraft, the Tesla coil. Tesla Motors is named in his honor.

Harriet Tubman: Former slave who escaped bondage, abolitionist, advocate for women’s suffrage, Union army scout, leader of the  Combahee River Raid. A real-life Sarah Conner.

Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright: Inventors of heavier than air powered aircraft.

Alvin York: Known colloquially as Sergeant York, Medal of Honor recipient, nuclear weapons proponent, inspiration for jokes about actors Dick York and Dick Sergeant.

Thanks to Jack, Steve-O, Andrew Nelson, and Phlinn for making nominations.

Jack has objected to the addition of people still living. Steve-O has declined to change his nomination to the full Apollo 11 crew. For both those reasons, Dolly Parton has been struck from the list.

We’re left with forty-three names that break down very roughly into four categories with some overlap.

Warriors (8)

US Military and/or Continental army. They wagered their lives in battle for the sake of the American people. Heroes in the traditional sense.

Joshua L. Chamberlain, William J. Donovan, Henry Knox, Douglas MacArthur, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Audie Murphy, Deborah Sampson, Alvin York

Artists and speakers (12). With their art and with their words they still inspire us. Our culture would be poorer had they not lived.

Marian Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Irving Berlin, George Carlin, Walt Disney, Frederick Douglass, John Ford, Ursula K. Le Guin, Sylvia Plath, Fred Rogers, Will Rogers, Harriet Beecher Stowe

Industrialists scientists and inventors (9) They changed discovered and built and in so doing they changed the world.

John Browning, Andrew Carnegie, Samuel Colt, Charles Drew, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Robert Fulton, Nikola Tesla, Orville and Wilbur Wright

Icons and folk heroes (14). Their deeds have captured our collective imagination. Stories made flesh and flash made stories, it can be hard to remember they were human beings, flawed like the rest of us.

Neil Armstrong, John Brown, Lewis and Clark, Clarence Darrow, Desmond Doss, Wyatt Earp, Benjamin Franklin, Virginia Hall, Martin Luther King Jr, George Mason, Emperor Norton, Sally Ride, Jackie Robinson, Harriet Tubman

Great, but what about good? How are we to judge them? One framework has already been provided to us ; the Ethics Alarms post even mentions some of the above names. Some of these otherwise inspiring people were barbarous blackguards, bigots, bastards, barraters, and bores. Should we grant them honors here at Ethics Alarms? Who has fatal flaws? You decide!

The Rules, Part II.

1: If you like someone on the list say so, and if so inclined, rewrite the Twitter-style bio attached to their name. Have fun, be clever.

2: If you’re unsure of someone ask. Discuss. There’s no need to jump right in with derision. This is a group participation project.

3: If you’re sure that a name is unworthy then say so. You need not say why but it is preferred. Limit one. (two for, Jack, Steve-O, Andrew Nelson, and Phlinn, that’s the first round participation bonus.) Further objections may be counted if your level of participation in the discussion is high and your reasons are explained.

Jump on in!

104 thoughts on “Guest Post: Who Are The Greatest Americans?

  1. I really think Dolly Parton should be reconsidered. Her imagination Library alone has given hundred of thousands of kids access to book they would not otherwise have. Last year it even started working in Ireland.

    Though not a personal hero, I’m really surprised no one mentioned Rosa Parks.

    Personally I would say Robert Frost. 31 times he was nominated for the Nobel Prize (I don’t think he ever won). His writing helped me look towards the future and overcome some of the bullying I was suffering at the time.

    I”m not sure I would include Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, or anyone like them. Making a useful contribution does not make you a hero. If it were, there should be more sport’s stars.

    Although, I would say being the first might make it heroic. This would include George Washington, Neil Armstrong, and Barak Obama heroic.

    • The definition of hero has to be “important people in the nation’s history that made important, beneficial, transformative and and lasting contributions to the nation”

      I don’t understand THIS statement at all:”Thomas Edison, or anyone like them. Making a useful contribution does not make you a hero. If it were, there should be more sport’s stars.”

      • The nomination criteria excluded only a small percentage. Presidents, traitors, the living, those guaranteed to cheese off a significant portion of the population and the last allowing mistakes made in good faith.

        One could wish more people participated in the nominations. Lots of great names getting tossed around.

        Ah well. If this works out and spurs enough discussion maybe we can do it again next July?

  2. Sorry, that’s what I get from writing from my phone. I guess we disagree slightly on what the definition of hero means. I see the definition of hero as having a moral or ethical component. Edison stole a lot of work to get where he got (perhaps even from Tesla). Making a contribution to society isn’t necessarily enough. Sports stars such as Michael Jordan or Babe Ruth seem to have made lasting transformative contributions and have shown American exceptionalism, but I’m not sure they fit the definition of hero.

    On an somewhat related note: what if they have a shady past unrelated to their contribution such as MLK or Bill Cosby? Do they still deserve the title of hero?

    Of course, I guess this is the problem with a list like this. It is too subjective.

    • It is subjective, location, age, sex, and politics influenced all five lists. Emperor Norton is most famous in California, the New Jersey resident preferred Edison to Tesla, I listed more women than anyone else. And it’s the list we have. What do you think of them? Does anyone need to go? Have better twitter bios for them?

      On an somewhat related note: what if they have a shady past unrelated to their contribution such as MLK or Bill Cosby? Do they still deserve the title of hero?

      You tell me. Bonus points if you outline the ethical framework you use to decide.

      • If it comes to their contributions, they definitely deserve the credit and appreciation, but like I told Jack the title of hero deserves an ethical or moral component.

        MLK might still fit this because I’m not sure the evidence we have against him is real or not.

          • As for MLK—have you not read the gazillion posts on the topic of statute-toppling or do you just disagree with them? A society’s “Heroes” do not have to be saints, or even decent human beings, except for their specific beneficial contributions to society. King is a perfect example—but so are Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, TR, Edison, and 99% of the rest. By the standards you seem to propose,—and I respect where you’re coming from, but still— we’d have no “heroes” at all. It’s a Garden of the Good. High achievers are seldom “good.” Being “good” takes too much time and sacrifice, so it is not the priority of most “heroes.”

            • Well, you know the Bible says, no one is righteousness not one. However, I still admire those in the Bible despite their history or past and treat them as heroes. Levi/Mathew a tax collector but to give it all up for Jesus, Paul who first killed and put Christians in jail becomes the biggest missionary to the gentiles, Peter who denied Christ to become Paul’s Jewish condemnatory. Redemption is a big part of the Christian message, and it is important for one to seek redemption from past makes to be able to move forward.

              Furthermore, people should be honored and recognized for their contributions to society regardless of any past or present issues. Society is better off those those contributions and we can use them regardless of where they came from. Thus Lee can be honored for ending the Civil war despite what one thinks about why he was in the war in the first place. But does that make them heroes?

              Heroes should be moral exemplars. These people are those who have integrated moral, ethical, and professional attitudes and beliefs into their core identity. To act against them is to act against the self. They do sacrifice, they do give up time, effort and body, not for their own betterment, but for society and those around them.

              What I think we have here are people who are heroes and people who have contributed greatly to society. For me, there are two things which separate the two.

              First: Did the negative aspects of their past put them in their position today? To have the status of hero, the contribution has to be connected to the person. Heroes are people we should look up to and want to follow their example otherwise we fall on such rationalizations that “It worked out for the best or everybody does it.” For example, If Thomas Edison stole the work of Tesla (maybe) and many others (definitely) his contributions while in themselves were positive and beneficial, he achieved his stardom on the backs of other people. Is that really the example we want society to follow?

              Second: The do parallel bad things they did undermined the hero status? This is where I am hung up. MLK used a lot of Bible to teach civil rights, but if he committed rape and adultery doesn’t that undermined his message? It was moral luck the larger community didn’t know about these things at the time and the civil rights movement might have been set back 20 years.

              So can anyone be a hero based on these two concerns? Sure, but it is and should be a very high bar.

              However, there might be a few exceptions to this bar such as being first.. Many consider Obama and Columbus heroes despite their major character flaws because they were essentially first to do accomplish what they did.

              I also understand there is some bias in this thinking. For example It wasn’t wrong for Washington to own slaves in his time (I’m not even sure it was ethically wrong at that time) so it is unfair to hold my second concern against him.

  3. Just want to jump in and say I appreciate the inclusion of Emporer Norton, one of my favorite oscure eccentrics of history.

    Just rummaging through Wikipedia, I found this little gem I was unaware of:

    The 1870 U.S. census lists Joshua Norton as 50 years old and residing at 624 Commercial Street, and his occupation is listed as “Emperor”.

  4. Athletes
    – Ted Williams – one of baseball’s best hitters ever. Served his country in WWII and Korea. Last player to hit .400.
    – Henry Aaron – he’s still living, but he deserves a spot. Played baseball as segregation and real racism was being put down. 755 drug-free home runs. A class act.

    Musicians
    – Aaron Copland – Fanfare for the Common Man should be enough, but his other works are worthy.
    – George Strait – again, still living, but George Strait.

    Authors
    There are a bundle that could qualify
    Stephen Ambrose – Minor plagiarism controversy aside, one of the finest historians of our time.
    Robert Ludlum – just a personal favorite, but a ton of best-sellers.

    • Agree with Ted Williams. Was the greatest hitter who ever lived and retired and became the greatest fisherman that ever lived.

      No offense to George Strait, but if you’re going country music, you have to go Hank Williams, who invented country music, or Johnny Cash, who perfected it.

      Honorable mention to Weird Al, who created a genre that was only big enough for one person, and managed to be that one person for 40 years.

      Of course, if we are being subjective , I would include my father. The greatest man I ever knew. Five times the man and father I am. Superman personified.

  5. Three that come immediately to mind are:

    Booker T. Washington. He didn’t just talk about the importance of education he did something to educate and open doors. “No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.”

    Bob Hope: Not just for his support for US troops. In 1944, Hope volunteered to perform in an all-star show at Madison Square Garden to benefit the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe. This wasn’t Live Aid. This drew attention to the lie of Jewish resettlement.

    Grace Hopper: A genius in mathematics and pioneer in computer science. She did it in the Navy which was/is not always welcoming to women.

  6. I would submit General Jimmy Doolittle, who in addition to the Tokyo raid, made major contributions to the science of aeronautical engineering, including designing the PhD program at MIT, and General Billy Mitchell, who sacrificed his career in an effort to warn the War Department about its failure to develop aviation.

    • I second your nominations. Doolittle is hard enough to compete with, but in my estimation, Mitchell tops him for what turned out to be nation-rescuing military vision. Honorable mention goes to another aviator, Charles Yeager.

  7. It is interesting that Confederates are divisive while Union soldiers are not. I suppose that divisiveness is based on who wins the argument and who has the better resource base.

    I would suggest there are many great Americans but who lack noteriety. What does it mean to be a significant contributor? Does a man or woman that volunteers to be a big brother or sister that causes a youngster to pursue a path that leads him or her to success any less worthy than someone famous? What about soldiers who sacrfice life or limbs in the course if doing their job? It is merely moral (bad) luck for many that they come home in a body bag or in pieces rather than being a heralded hero. What makes Robert Frost more worthy as a writer than Jack Marshall , Steve in NJ , Arthur in Maine or anyone else whose writings have a positive influence on others? Far too often we treat the well known as greater than the lesser knowns.

    The best way to choose who should go into the garden of heros is simply make the space available for those who raise the funds to honor their heros. You cannot please everyone if a group picks the winners and losers so why try. Most statues are funded privately and should remain that way. Statues are a form of speech tearing them down is no different than burning books. If someone wants a different statue or monument let them raise the money as the freed slaves did to build whatever they want. Just give them the space to erect it.

    • It is interesting that Confederates are divisive while Union soldiers are not. I suppose that divisiveness is based on who wins the argument and who has the better resource base.

      Well, that’s a bit strange. Why would Union soldiers be divisive, except to “Lost Cause” advocates, a position that has been pretty firmly rejected and discredited? As you know, I object strenuously to Confederate statue-toppling. The men were not “traitors,” and the legal position of the Confederacy was stronger than the Union’s. Nor is it completely accurate to say that Confederate soldiers were fighting to preserve slavery—but that interpretation has become the predominant one, and, though only simplistically, it’s not untrue either.

      • Confederate General James Longstreet would be an interesting debate. He has been despised by supporters of the Lost Cause. His postbellum career was varied and didn’t endear him to anti-reconstructionists.

        • He’d be an interesting choice, but choosing him would only angry up the liberals. He was a Confederate regardless of how contrarian he was later in life. A better choice for a great American would be Robert E. Lee and we know that’s not happening.

      • Well, that’s a bit strange. Why would Union soldiers be divisive, except to “Lost Cause” advocates, a position that has been pretty firmly rejected and discredited? As you know, I object strenuously to Confederate statue-toppling. The men were not “traitors,” and the legal position of the Confederacy was stronger than the Union’s. Nor is it completely accurate to say that Confederate soldiers were fighting to preserve slavery—but that interpretation has become the predominant one, and, though only simplistically, it’s not untrue either.

        A few things.

        The ‘Lost Cause’ has been decided by certain people to be ‘firmly rejected’, and the issue of ‘discrediting’ is one that has to be opened up to investigation: Who discredits? And on what basis? To use the label *Lost Cause* is to use a general label as a way to discredit. Of course that is its function: to isolate and to discredit: to remove validity. The Lost Cause is a sort of looser pathology, that much is true. But the ideas that inform it or surround it are as vital — and as considerable — as any others.

        It is also possible — in our shifting present — that Confederates and their advocates and apologists may, now or at some future point, be resurrected and appreciated even by northerners.

        Obviously, the selection of heroes is an excersize in ideologically-based valuation. A declared hero *serves the present* in one way or another.

        If the Confederates you refer to were not traitors, and if the legal position of the secessionists was stronger than the Unionists, and if it is understood that the Confederates were fighting for a value that is higher than that of maintaining the right to hold slaves, you have validated then in a substantial sense. At that point the next question is: What was that ‘value’?

        . . . but that interpretation has become the predominant one . . .

        There may come a day therefore when instead of being seen as villains the tables may turn. There may come a day when the history is reinterpreted. It has happened before!

        Just as now, for strange hyterical reasons deeply connected to what looks like American psychosis, or at least extreme neuroticism, lunatics who have lost their capacity to reason storm over the land and assert control — at some point in the future clear-thinking people may reassert their power and make different choices. Not through lack of connection to sound ethics but through a reanimation of sound ethical considerations.

      • Jack, my point is divisiveness lies in the eye if the beholder. You can successfully argue that slavery is an abomination but you cannot argue as effectively that a group of states did not have the right to rescind their agreement to be part of the Union.

        Where in the Constitution is it stated that ratification is a permanent condition? I am not an advocate of the lost cause but I try to examine historical events from a socioeconomic and political perspective. Northern abolitionist were not abolitionists solely for humanitarian reasons. Slaves then are the illegal immigrant workers of today. They press wages down for citizens.

        You have to admit that the Constitution had process to end slavery but the anti-slave states did not have the votes to ratify a thirteenth amendment until after the seceeding states were economically devasted. It can be argued that Lincoln sent troops to reinforce Sumpter to provoke South Carolina to fire the first shot. Such an event would give Lincoln the necessary political cover to wage war on the sovereign states in the south.

        Lincoln’s first priority was to preserve the Union but nowhere in all the history books has a reason for that preservation been given except for the slavery issue which came about in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation that freed ONLY slaves in states not in the Union. Lincoln would have been happy to allow the slavery issue be settled over time. What he did not want was his Presidency marred by a successful secession of states that could lead to other secessions rendering the federal government unnecessary.

        To divide their must be more than one perspective. I can beat a dog into submission but that does not mean he will never bite you. There were two sides in that conflict. Descendants of confederate soldiers live today and we should be willing to respect that the vast majority of keppi wearing soldiers fought for their states and not to preserve slavery.

      • While I’m sure the cadre is small, out of the swathe of Confederates, statistically there are surely some, who post war to some degree in the cultural climate of the time admitted the wrongness of the ’cause’ and did what they could to again advance America heroically. Such a blanket prohibition as found in the rules is silly.

    • It is interesting that Confederates are divisive while Union soldiers are not.

      Do you feel that all of the Union army–or at least officers–did something wrong? Is fighting to preserve the Union a large ethical failing or a stain upon honor?

      A large number of people feel that way about the Confederacy and while you do not need to agree you do need to understand that the view is held in good-faith.

      Thus Confederates are prima facie divisive while a Union army soldier would need to do something beyond merely fight in the war to be considered divisive.

      If Sherman were on the list you would be free to argue against him because of all the property damage.

      • Well, Sherman is really a question on the ethics of total warfare, and he’s not alone, even in that war, Philip Sheridan, another American hero (read about what he did at the Battle of Cedar Creek), said before he began the Shenandoah campaign that he was going to destroy the place so thoroughly that crows flying over it would have to carry their own food.

      • Do you feel that all of the Union army–or at least officers–did something wrong? Is fighting to preserve the Union a large ethical failing or a stain upon honor?

        A large number of people feel that way about the Confederacy and while you do not need to agree you do need to understand that the view is held in good-faith.

        Thus Confederates are prima facie divisive while a Union army soldier would need to do something beyond merely fight in the war to be considered divisive.

        Darf ich einwerfen? 🙂

        It is not a question of *feeling* obviously — I recognize that is a common turn of phrase — but it is a question of meta-political analysis. My understanding of the meta-political issue is that the destruction wrought by the North was a destruction that decimated Original America. That is to say that with that war, and the unbelievable destruction it caused, a New Nation took shape in the North that superseded what America was and — here is the important part — what it was supposed to be.

        The act of war was beyond any doubt — I assume even the profoundly mystified folk who write here could on a good day recognize this — an act of sheer criminality. If chosen mistakingly, well, I suppose there is some room to ‘forgive’ or at least to understand. Yet all the evidence point to the fact that it was not chosen mistakingly. So the question becomes: What was the basis of the choice? Once one identifies the motive one can better understand a great deal else that ramified from the choice.

        The American Civil War was an engineered tragedy. Who chose it? It is when one examines that question that the difficult ethical and moral questions appear. They cannot be side-stepped — except of course by people who have compromised values: those complicit in lies & deceptions.

        Good-faith did you say? Are you saying here — for example — that you your self have this Good Faith? Can I be sure of that? Must I trust your self-declaration about your good faith? Must you trust that of any other?

        I reject the entire idea of ‘good-faith’. One has to be willing to submit one’s *accounting books* to scritiny by a third party. Preferably one without an evident *interest* (if such could be found).

        Here is what I see going on here with this attempt to create a list of heroes: It fits with Jack’s notion about the Unity of America and his idealism that this should be restored and that it can be restored. And you certainly, by participating in it, have every interest in excluding from consideration those who are ‘divisive’, yet this designation of divisive is completely an ideological strategy. You wish to eliminate from the field of consideration those you do not agree with! And those who challenge your certainty. But this also resolves into issue of power. Do you have that power to make those decisions? To insist?

        . . . a Union army soldier would need to do something beyond merely fight in the war to be considered divisive

        First, a mere soldier is really only a pawn in a large chess game. That was true then and it appears to be true now. A soldier who follows commands is not required to grasp what is being foght for and what is being fought against, not really, and for this reason the techniques of propaganda have been developed.

        It is not the pawn on the ground that is to be analyzed here. It is the Systems of Power that pushed the North into a war against, effectively, a part of its own self. You see? And once that is understood it becomes necessary — and also possible — to look into the politicians who serves specific interests.

        Division is what is on the menu today. Division is augmenting, not diminishing. Doesn’t this make sense to you? You are not going to merely *decide* that the divisions and the ideas that support them will be removed from consideration. You do not have that authority nor right nor do you have the power.

        Therefore I would say that it is better to allow division and to explore it.

        • Darf ich einwerfen?

          Aber natürlich.

          My understanding of the meta-political issue is that the destruction wrought by the North was a destruction that decimated Original America.

          It is not a question of *decimation* obviously–I recognize that is a common turn of phrase…

          Good-faith did you say? Are you saying here — for example — that you your self have this Good Faith? Can I be sure of that? Must I trust your self-declaration about your good faith? Must you trust that of any other?

          I added 9 names to the list (and Dolly Parton) based on my own personal biases. I added no names that I believed anyone here would find offensive to their moral or political views, not even you. Some people may not think those names meet some personal threshold for greatness–and that’s fine–some may have objections I did not know of or think of–and that’s fine. No choices were intended to score points or anger anyone. That’s a good-faith attempt and that’s what I expected of the participants.

          Some of the names on the list are people I dislike for one reason or another, you can see it in my commentary. If I had felt a name was deliberately provocative to me I’d have made an objection at the time. If anyone else had felt provoked I hope they would have spoken up.

          Does that explain the concept well enough?

          You need no trust me. Make your objections. State your reasons–declarative sentences preferred. Outline the ethical principals that led to your conclusion.

          And you certainly, by participating in it, have every interest in excluding from consideration those who are ‘divisive’, yet this designation of divisive is completely an ideological strategy. You wish to eliminate from the field of consideration those you do not agree with!

          It is and I do. My goal was to create a consensus list. To find unity. To spend a little time talking about the good. To take a break from the doomscrolling. Neil Armstrong wasn’t on my list but he walked on the friggin’ Moon. How cool is that? Doesn’t that achievement make you feel good?

          • It is not a question of *decimation* obviously – I recognize that is a common turn of phrase…

            Yet I think that it actually was a definite form of decimation:

            dec·i·mate (dĕs′ə-māt′)
            tr.v. dec·i·mat·ed, dec·i·mat·ing, dec·i·mates
            1. To destroy or kill a large part of (a group of people or organisms).
            2. Usage Problem
            a. To inflict great destruction or damage on: The storm decimated the region.
            b. To reduce markedly in amount: a profligate heir who decimated his trust fund.
            3. To select by lot and kill one in every ten of (a group of soldiers).
            [Latin decimāre, decimāt-, to punish every tenth person, from decimus, tenth, from decem, ten; see dekm̥ in Indo-European roots.]

            You need no trust me. Make your objections. State your reasons–declarative sentences preferred. Outline the ethical principals that led to your conclusion.

            If it matters to you to understand (it might not) I approach all the things we talk about here through a meta-political lens. Jack focuses very detailingly on separated, isolated ethical incidents. But I can only be interested in the larger questions. The miniscule ethical issues seem somewhat irrelavant to the larger ethical and moral issues we face.

            When I speak of *trust* and also *good faith* I actually mean can I trust you as people, as citizens.

            As I have said dozens of times I understand America, as a nation, as a grouping of people, even as an idea, to have quite literally gone off the rails. I think you-all are insane (to put it directly but a little exaggeratedly). I don’t think you have any idea at all what has gone wrong and why (no one seems to offer any larger description). I do not think you *know your selves* to put it in Platonic terms. You are adrift, without anchors. Next week you will legalize copulation with your pets. You have lost your moral and ethical bearings. That is the point I start from.

            These are the meta-social and meta-political issues that interest me.

      • No Val. I am not saying Union forces were wrong. My entire point was to show that divisiveness is not a one sided proposition. By stating that confederate soldiers are divisive that means that everyone is in lockstep with idea that states have no inherent sovereignty and that state governors are simple apparatchiks of the current federal power structure. Of course that is not what causes the divide. The divide is created when all confederate soldiers are seen as pro slavery forces. Were the GI’s fighting on Guadal Canal pro segregationists because the Federal policy if the day was segregation? Of course not.

        The demand to remove statues and monuments based on a simplistic understanding of history is the fault of those who created the simplistic narrative. And that would be the winners in that conflict. So, the seeds of our current social division were sown by creating history that is miles wide but only millimeters deep.

        • It really is simple. If you would not reject someone for being a Union officer and no other reason then Union forces are not divisive on their face.

          If I would reject someone for being a confederate officer–and I would since I’m the one who made the rule–and no other explanation is necessary then confederates are divisive.

          I made the rules intending that no nominee should be rejected for offending, nay provoking, a large swath of the populace. I denied presidents to avoid fighting, I denied confederates to avoid fighting, I denied politicians for any deed done in office because they were partisan at the time even if they’re not at this time.

          This little project is about building up not tearing down. There are great Americans on the above list, want to talk about any of them? Does a name bother you, did someone misjudge? Say the name, offer reasons if you like.

  8. I nominate Norman Borlaug, who I think has gone unmentioned so far:

    Probably saved at least a billion lives. Plant scientist and pioneer of high-yield crops. Actually solved the problem of the so-called “population bomb” as others were making their bones screaming and panicking about it. Honored all over the world for preventing global famine. Won Nobel Peace Prize (back when that mattered.) Godly Iowa farm boy and scientific genius. Embodied the use of knowledge to serve mankind. So humble that no one remembers him.

    I don’t think George Carlin belongs on the list at all. He isn’t notable for anything outside of his performances and he doesn’t tower over the rest of his field or anything. You’d just as well swap him out with Seinfeld or Dave Chappelle or 20 other stand-ups. If you just wanted to have more atheists on the list, he should be replaced with Steve Allen.

    I would also submit both Geronimo and Daniel Boone for discussion.

  9. Are you planning an American anti-hero series? The yin to balance the yang as it were? 🙂

    It is an interesting topic though: because it you can define those who made the nation great — a fair endeavor — one should be able to define who did the opposite.

    And one’s anti-hero designations would reveal as much — even more! — than ones hero designations.

    • Anti-hero is kind of a complicated concept. In literature it denotes a protagonist who is not conventionally heroic, like in fantasy the brooding, sorcerous albino Elric of Melnibone’ (who ends up killing the princess instead of saving her) would be an anti-hero. Here do you use the term to mean someone who is influential but flawed, or do you mean someone who was actually bad? Villains are a lot easier to agree on than heroes.

      Still, if I had to name 10 American villains, they’d probably be:

      1. Nathan Bedford Forrest (the only Confederate officer who I believe to be an out-and-out villain due to a massacre and his postwar organization of the KKK).
      2. Benedict Arnold (the original American traitor)
      3. Margaret Sanger (some really sick ideas about race and eugenics)
      4. Charles Manson (the archetypal sociopathic killer, who probably helped break the hippy movement as much as the disaster that was Althorp)
      5. Frank Hague (the corrupt mayor of Jersey City who was also the corrupt Democratic boss of NJ and necessitated the writing of the NJ Constitution so no one like him could ever rise again)
      6. Joseph McCarthy (the bullying senator who destroyed who knows how many lives by his aggressive pursuit of the “Red Scare”)
      7. John Calhoun (aggressive proponent of slavery and nullification, who plowed the ground and sowed the seeds for the Civil War).
      8. Woodrow Wilson (racist and would-be Messiah, whose misguided ideas we are still dealing with today).
      9. John Reed (communist activist and tyranny enabler and cheerleader).
      10. Al Capone (probably the most powerful and ruthless of the many leaders of the many crime families in American history)

      Dishonorable mention for: Louis “Lepke” Buchalter (Murder, Inc. says it all), Philip Agee (a traitor who got US intelligence agents killed), “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman (racist and violent governor), Huey P. Long (whose corruption almost reached the White House), John D. Rockefeller (intentionally drove competitors out of business), Larry Flynt (pornographer who added to the pollution of American culture), Robert Hanssen (the infamous “Breach”), H.H. Holmes (the American Bluebeard), Jesse James (Confederate raider turned bandit and killer), Tomoya Kawakita (Japanese-American who sided with the Japanese and mistreated American prisoners).

      • I hadn’t seen this at the time I submitted my first batch of names, but we have a really different take on Capone. I was trying to capture that American spirit where when the government tells them how high to jump, they tell the government how high they can fuck right off. I’m sure prohibition would have failed with or without Capone, and I’m sure that Capone would have been a terrible person with or without prohibition, but he might have been the person America needed at that time.

      • You are right about anti-heroes. They are not exactly villains.

        Here is a definition of a truly trecherous villain as defined by Clarence Valentine Boyer in The Villain as Hero in Elizabethan Tragedy:

        The story of Macbeth in naked outline is a tale of as cruel and barbarous villainy as any we have hitherto studied. A Scottish nobleman and general receives under his own roof in treacherous hospitality his aged monarch to whom he is bound not only by blood and loyalty but by innumerable tokens of love and high honours recently conferred,and slays him with his own hands in order to usurp his throne, and then, to secure his position, resorts to such massacre of men, women,and children as drives his subjects to rebellion and involves his country in civil war.

        I will have to look into these people you mention — some I have not heard of — and say something later.

        But there is another interesting aspect to the notion of the anti-hero and the villain, at least as it pertains to Shakespeare (thus literature), and that is the influence of Machiavelli in his and his age’s development of the Model of the Villain.

        We now certainly live in an era where the Machiavellian political philosophy is ascendent. We expect that political leaders and industrial leaders — all powerful people who work to impose their will and get their way — resort to Machiavellian strategy. The struggles of states and nations definitely so.

        We recognize that to one degree or another all people must use Machiavellian strategy, yet we condemn those who go too far, while supporting and praising those who keep it within limits.

  10. Norman Borlaug, the agronomist whose discoveries sparked the Green Revolution, has saved literally millions of lives around the globe, winner of the Nobel peace prize, and quite possibly the biggest reason food has stayed in abundance and affordable would be a good addition to the heroes list. Very few people have done as much for humanity as he did.

  11. John Bardeen, William Shockley, and Walter Brattain for inventing the transistor (and Mohamed Atalla and Dawon Kahng for inventing the most used type, MOSFET). Also, Robert Goddard for being one of the founding fathers of rocket science.

    • Also, Louis Armstrong, for his seminal influence on not just jazz, but American/Western popular music in general.

  12. Obviously, Desmond Doss must be struck from the list of statue-worthy heroes. Under enemy fire, he tied double bowline knots to lower 75 wounded men to safety. A double bowline knot is a noose, which is a symbol of racist hatred. No statues for racists like Desmond Doss!

  13. Also, as someone of Taiwanese descent, I’ll mention Wolf Ladejinsky, an agricultural economist who played a major role in advising the land reforms in Japan and Taiwan. He did work for the US government, so I’m probably breaking the rules a bit.

  14. I hold me nose as I make this nomination. A modern American success story, flawed but highly impactful. Steve Jobs.

  15. Even though I have quoted him in the past, I am probably going to use a downvote on George Carlin. He was funny, sometimes insightful, and had a wit second to none, but, I think Jack said it best, when he said that at heart he was an asshole. He was, and a nihilist besides. I am not saying everybody has to be Peter Marshall (Scottish-American preacher with a very strong moral message) to be a hero, but I think heroes need to stand for something as well as poke holes in everything.

  16. Elvis Presley, who I’m amazed hasn’t been mentioned yet.
    Jackie Robinson, who was both excellent, and exactly what was needed, at the time he was needed.
    Bill Gates (he’s my living dude, I guess), both for inventing windows, and all the philanthropy that came afterwards.

    And as someone I think might be a little contentious:

    Alphonse Gabriel Capone, who when told that he couldn’t own, supply, or drink liquor, explained to the government exactly what he thought of their overbearing schoolmarmishness in the most Italian-American way possible.

    • Also contentious might be Richard Dawkins, but I think he has a place.
      Albert Einstein, because really… how do you have inventors and not have him?
      Andrew Carnegie, again, both for his work in the steel indstry, and all the philanthropy that came after
      Howard Hughes, who innovated his way into the history books, and was the last individual to build a plane that set speed records. Also, philanthropy.

    • Bill Gates (he’s my living dude, I guess), both for inventing windows, and all the philanthropy that came afterwards.

      A very good example of a Machiavellian sort of hero. Seen as a hero, representing his self as a hero, crafting a hero-image, but yet using complete Machiavellian deception to get his will.

      His philanthopy has been challenged as well when looked at through a Machiavellian lens. His essential purpose is to preserve and increase his wealth though it is presented as being given away. And his world-wide activism has contributed to his wealth-building. Indeed it is part of a dominating system which has been described as ‘globalism’.

      [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSvhPnUgyz8 ]

      • *shrug* There’s a veto system here, if you want to use it on Bill Gates, go right ahead. I was thinking of who might oppose each name and why, and for Bill Gates it was a dead heat between “vaccines” and “globalism”… Both of which could be selling points to the right audiences.

        Regardless, The fact of the matter is that without Gates, it would have been years until we moved away from DOS based systems, if we ever did; Early Windows alternatives still borrowed heavily from Gates’ design, and I’m not sure they would have gotten there on their own.

        • I’m only sort of participating in the hero-choosing. I simply do not have enough information, and not enough experience (in all things, including *life*!) to be certain who — really — is a hero and who — really — is a villain.

          My effort is not to pull down Bill Gates but only to point out that associated with his *goodness* is the (inevitable?) *other side*.

          And the Corbett Report is interesting, not only because it is a form of non-approved investigative journalism but because it could also be distorting and false. Therefore the issue of *view* and *interpretation* enter in.

          As a side note I personally think you are essentially good, or I’d like to believe it, yet I am *receiving signals* that you are likely quite bad. What’s the truth here? How can I know? 🙂

  17. I nominate R. G. Letourneau – inventor and developer of earth-moving equipment, businessman, university founder, philanthropist and Christian missionary of sorts.

    Full disclosure: my Dad had close ties to RG, in Georgia and Texas.

  18. I somewhat approve of Carlin. I think he was more influential in eroding the authoritarian and arbitrary FCC rules than any other artist. But I can’t be certain that’s true.

    I don’t see anyone I want to down vote. I kind of wish I had added Lysander Spooner, although his actual level of influence may be low. He presented the strongest argument that the Constitution as written was incompatible with slavery, and convinced Douglass of that. Somewhat controversial, because he also argued that the Union did not have the right to keep the southern states.

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