August 2, A Date That Should Live In Infamy, But Doesn’t

I usually check the historical significance of dates. This time, I discovered that August 2 is one of the most ethically disastrous in history.

  •  In 1934, Chancellor Adolf Hitler became the absolute dictator of Germany with the death of German President Paul von Hindenburg. I think we can all agree that this wins the prize as the worst event on this date. The German army quickly took an oath of allegiance to its new commander-in-chief, and Germany’s democratic government was erased, with  Hitler’s Third Reich taking its place.

The result was genocide, world war, and the deaths of millions.

  • On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. This, in turn, led to the Persian Gulf War, which resulted in at least 25,000 Iraqi soldiers killed and more than 75,000  wounded in one of the most one-sided military conflicts in history. Only 148 American soldiers were killed and 457 wounded. The war also ended the lives of an estimated 100,000 Iraqi civilians who died from wounds, lack of adequate water, food, or medical supplies. As Saddam Hussein exploited corruption in the U.N. and played games with the terms of the cease fire,   about a million more Iraqi civilians died as a result of the U.N. sanctions.

The Persian Gulf War led directly to 9-11, the Afghanistan War, and the invasion of Iraq, and indirectly to too many horrible results to count. Continue reading

Reflections On The Penobscot Expedition

Remember the Penobscot Expedition? Of course you don’t. Today’s history lesson has many aspects worth pondering, but I only recall some mention of the fiasco from growing up in Arlington, Massachusetts. It struck me now as notable thanks to valkygrrl’s Great Americans contest, still generating comments here. One commenter suggested Paul Revere: I wonder if this episode in his career was considered. I assume not.

On July 19, 1779, in the middle of the Revolutionary War, the would-be state of Massachusetts, on it own and without consulting either Continental political or military authorities, set out on  badly planned a 4,000-man naval expedition that ended up as the biggest naval disaster in U.S. history until the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The commanders were Commodore Dudley Saltonstall,  Adjutant General Peleg Wadsworth, Brigadier General Solomon Lovell aaaaand Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere.   19 warships, 24 transport ships and more than 1,000 militiamen set out  to capture a 750-man British garrison at Castine on the Penobscot Peninsula, then part of Massachusetts, but now known as “Maine.”

On July 25, the Massachusetts forces launched a series of disorganized land attacks, largely leaving their naval forces, which were mostly manned by untrained sailors,  out of the battle. This gave the British crucial time for reinforcements to arrive. General Lovell, the commander of the land assault,  saw Sir George Collier’s seven British warships arrive and retreated, expecting Commodore Saltonstall to oppose them. Instead, Saltonstall, quickly decided that resistance was futile and  surprised everybody by fleeing upriver and burning his own ships. Continue reading

Another Vote For “The Washington Code Talkers”

The Washington Redskins ownership finally was forced to capitulate in the decades long- battle to force a beloved and fanatically supported NFL team to ditch the name that fans were beloving on the dubious theory, rejected by most native Americans and people capable of  critical thought, that despite all outside appearances having a team carrying a  Native American name dishonors Indians rather than keeps their story up front and vital in American consciousness and culture. Because the decision was a sudden biproduct of the George Floyd Freakout, the D.C. team wasn’t prepared for a change, and had no names in reserve. (It apparently had a shot at the name “Warriors,” which alliterates at least, but was late moving on the copyright and trademarks, so that name has, as they say, left the wigwam.

Meanwhile, gag names are flying around like arrows at the Little Big Horn, so ending the mockery is urgent. We are hearing calls for the Washington Weasels, the Washington Swamp-Dwellers, the Washington Investigators, the Washington Slime, The Washington Bootlickers…even the retro “Washington Murderous Savages.”  (I was an early advocate for “The Washington Concussions.”) However, one serious suggestion offered by the President of the Navajo Nation Jonathan Nez is brilliant: the Washington Code Talkers.

I second, with enthusiasm.

Few professional sports team have nicknames carrying any historical significance. Most are generic animals, birds, even reptiles. Some of the oldest names are meaningless, like “Red Sox.” Just a few refer to or referenced history: the now defunct Chicago Fire, the San Francisco 49’ers, the Philadelphia 76ers, and a few others. One great virtue of the Code Talkers, in addition to keeping the Native American connection to the D.C. team, is that it would compel the team’s fans to learn some history for a change. (I assume that the 2002 Nicholas Cage bomb, “Windtalkers,” did not have sufficient reach to educate most Americans.)

Who, or what,  were the Code Talkers? Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Independence Day With Ethics Alarms 2… Observations Upon Re-Watching “Gettysburg”

I began the Fourth of July this year by watching the last 90 minutes of “Gettysburg,” Ted Turner’s epic 1993 film.  My wife and I had begun watching on July 3, the date of Pickett’s Charge and the final day of the 1863 Civil War battle, but the more than four-and-a-half hour running time took me to Independence Day.

This was the extended version, the Director’s Cut, which adds 17 minutes of deleted  scenes to the version shown in movie theaters, itself one of the longest movies ever offered to the American public. We had last watched the un-extended film from beginning to end on a VHS tape almost 30 years ago.

Observations:

  • “Gettysburg” is an ethics movie, and a great one. I don’t know why this didn’t come through to me the first time I watched it. Primarily it celebrates the Seven Enabling Virtues discussed in yesterday’s post, but the film teaches us a lot about leadership, integrity, compassion, duty, loyalty, and conflicts of interest.

If the film isn’t routinely shown in schools, and I’m sure it isn’t, that is a lost opportunity. A whole course of study could be based on the film alone, and it would be more educational than most history courses.

  • Some of the added minutes extend the Pickett’s Charge re-enactment, and the length of the sequence adds to its horror and wonder. How could anyone enthusiastically follow orders to attempt such a deadly march into enemy artillery and rifle fire, while lined up like tin rabbits at a shooting gallery, in an open field, even having to climb over fences?

The film makes it clear, and this is accurate, that it was the men’s trust and admiration, almost worship, of Robert E. Lee that made such insane valor possible. At Gettysburg, Lee abused that trust. He was warned that the plan was madness, and he was so certain of his own invulnerability that he persisted.

  • The film made me realize that it is likely that Lee’s famous “It was all my fault!’ refrain to his returning shattered troops signified his realization that  his vanity and pride had been the direct cause for the Pickett’s Charge fiasco, and indeed the entire engagement. After the fiasco, the film shows Lee as a shattered man. General Longstreet, who repeatedly advises Lee to go around the Union entrenchment and take up a position on high ground between Pennsylvania and Washington, reminds Lee that even after the failed Confederate assault on Little Round Top on July 2, it is not too late for his plan to work. Lee replies that such a maneuver would be tantamount to a retreat, saying that he had never left the field of battle with the enemy  in control, and is not about to start.

If General Lee was capable of listening to what he was really saying, he would have realized that he was using a personal motive to justify a decision that could not be justified rationally. Continue reading

Third Of July Ethics Concert, 2020, Part 1: Pickett’s Charge, Custer’s First Stand, And More

Charge!

The anthemic music is the finale to the 1993 film Gettysburg, which has one of my all-time favorite scores, by Randy Edelman. I have worn out three CDs, and this particular selection, “Reunion and Finale,” almost lost me my drivers license once when I was playing it loudly in my car and blew past the speed limit by 25 mph or so.

I will be interested to see if any channel shows Ted Turner’s epic this weekend. I’m sure it is now regarded as politically incorrect because the film does not portray the Southern generals and soldiers as vicious racists, and the balance that the film was praised for when it was released is now regarded as “pro-Confederacy propaganda.” That is a fatuous take on the film, which is about human beings, not politics, and arguably the most historically accurate historical drama ever made, based on what may be the best historical novel ever written, “The Killer Angels,” by Michael Shaara, just a wonderful book. Read it. You can thank me later.

Unlike July 2, one of the most significant dates in U.S. history with multiple major events, July 3 stands out for one momentous event. Even in the sequence of events leading to American independence, July 3 was relatively boring:  it was devoted to the debate over Jefferson’s Declaration, resulting in more than eighty additions and redactions.

July 3  was the final day of the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, reaching its bloody climax in General Robert E. Lee’s desperate  gamble on a massed assault on the Union center. In history it has come to be known as Pickett’s Charge, after the leader of the Division that was slaughtered during it.

At about 2:00 pm this day in 1863, near the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg,  Lee launched his audacious stratagem to pull victory from the jaws of defeat in the pivotal battle of the American Civil War.  The Napoleonic assault on the entrenched Union position on Cemetery Ridge, with a “copse of trees” at its center, was the only such attack in the entire war, a march into artillery and rifle fire across an open field and over fence. When my father, the old soldier, saw the battlefield  for the first time in his eighties, he became visibly upset because, he said, he could visualize the killing field.

The battle lasted less than an hour. Union forces suffered 1,500 casualties,, while at least 1,123 Confederates were killed on the battlefield, 4,019 were wounded, and nearly 4000 Rebel soldiers were captured. Pickett’s Charge would go down in history as one of the worst military blunders of all time. Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Virginia Hall (1906-1982), “The Limping Lady”

World War II continues to be the richest source of forgotten or obscure ethics heroes, and no figure fits that description better than American super-spy Virginia Hall.

Only in the last few years, as newly intense focus has been placed on  women’s contributions to society and history, has Hall’s story come out of the shadows: three books about Hall have been published, and  two movies are awaiting release, one to be streamed on Netflix. In Hall’s case, her anonymity was substantially her own doing. She had no interest in fame or accolades, and decisively rejected them. Hill left no memoirs, granted no interviews, and spoke rarely about her exploits, even to her family.

She was born into a wealthy and privileged Baltimore clan that assumed its daughter would follow the well-trod path of a debutante and eventually the wife of an appropriate young man from her own class. But Virginia was different, “capricious and cantankerous” in her own words.  She liked guns and adventure. She once went to school wearing a bracelet made of live snakes, just to shake up her teachers and class mates.

Hall attended Radcliffe and Barnard, then went abroad to study in Paris. She wanted to be a diplomat or even an ambassador, but received no support from the State Department. There were only six women among the 1,500 U.S. diplomats at the time, so she settled for a clerical job at a U.S. consulate in Turkey. While hunting birds in her spare time, she accidentally shot herself in the foot, and gangrene set in. Her left leg was amputated below the knee. Hall named the wooden leg that became her constant companion thereafter “Cuthbert.”

In 1937, she again applied to the Department of State to enter the diplomatic corps , this time being turned down because of a rule against hiring people with disabilities as diplomats, an especially odd restriction for a nation led by a disabled President. She quit her job as a consular clerk two years later, and at 34, joined the war effort before America did, becoming an ambulance driver in France in 1940. When France was invaded by the German army, Hall fled to Great Britain.  By purest chance she came in contact with a representative of British intelligence. Hill offered her services to the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), which trained her in weapons, communications, security, and resistance activities.

So it was that an American woman with a wooden leg  became one of the first British spies sent into Nazi-occupied France in 1941, posing as a reporter for the New York Post.

Primarily working out of Lyon, Hall organized agent networks and recruited French men and women to run safe houses, all while evading the Gestapo, which called her “The Limping Lady.” She became a master of disguise, often changing her appearance several times in a day and managing to become invisible despite the impediment of “Cuthbert.” She even had her nice, straight, American teeth ground down so she could pass as an elderly peasant woman, which was a favorite false identity. Continue reading

Susan Rice Again, Part 1

Of the many important ethics developments waiting for me to get out of bed and for my brain to start functioning, I think this one is the most important right now. I’m going to have to finish it in installments, since I can only last about 30 minutes before having to rest. I apologize for the inconvenience.

What you see above is the finally completely-declassified Jan. 20, 2017 memo  Susan Rice sent to herself via email documenting a January 5 Oval Office meeting with then-President Obama and others.  January 20 was the official end date of the Obama administration, because President Trump was sworn into office that day.

[What a coincidence!]

The memo was declassified by Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell and transmitted to the Justice Department. Republican Senator Ron Johnson’s office, representing Wisconsin, released the memo to the news media.

Observations:

1. It was ridiculously difficult to find a complete copy of the entire memo. Almost ever source wanting describe it, when I prefer to read such things, because I don’t trust journalists or pundits, and neither should anyone.

2. Let’s refamiliarize ourselves with Susan Rice. Rice was Obama’s National Security Advisor when she wrote the email, but previously she had been named the Ethics Alarms Liar of the Year for 2014, and that wasn’t even her worst year for lying. In 2014 she earned the title for going on ABC to tell America that Bowe Bergdahl “…served the United States with honor and distinction…” Bergdalh, you may recall,  was in fact a deserter, who left his troops in Afghanistan and walked into a Taliban camp. He was eventually obtained in trade for five terrorists, all ready to kill again, in what the Obama administration regarded as a good deal.

Since Obama never had any scandals and the non-Obama-worshiping media was questioning the logic behind this, Rice was dispatched as Obama’s favorite spin-merchant to quiet the controversy her usual way, by lying, and not very convincingly either. Remember, she had already disgraced herself on September 16, 2012, when she was U.N. Ambassador and Obama sent her to all the talk shows to lie about Benghazi, since the truth was problematic and it was an election year. Rice kept repeating the script that the attack on the compound was spontaneous, was not a terrorist action, and was caused by an anti-Muslim YouTube video.

Her ABC statement about Bergdahl was too self-evidently ridiculous for even the mainstream media to swallow, so Rice was later dispatched to CNN to “walk back” her ridiculous comment, which I reacted to at the time by being glad my army veteran father hadn’t lived to hear it, since it might have killed him. On CNN she “explained” to Jim Acosta,

“…what I was referring to was the fact that this was a young man who volunteered to serve his country in uniform at a time of war. That, in and of itself, is a very honorable thing.”

This only could have meant,  1) “I think you, as a member of the boot-licking pro-Obama media, will accept this, because you pretty much accept anything if it protects The Great One,” or, 2) “We think the American public has the IQ of wood chips, and will think this makes sense,” or 3) “I, Susan Rice, have the IQ of wood chips, and really believe what I just said. Doesn’t it make you sleep soundly at night knowing that someone like me is the National Security Advisor.”

Don’t rule out #3, but #1 didn’t quite work, even with a partisan hack like Acosta, who couldn’t resist asking, “Honor and distinction?”But he allowed Rice to change the subject, and she pivoted to talking about the presumption of innocence.

I wrote at the time what a competent journalist not willing to enable such deception should have responded:

“What? Wait a minute, Ambassador Rice, you didn’t say Bergdahl was honorable. You said he served with honor and distinction. Enlisting is honorable and admirable to be sure, but service is what an enlistee does after volunteering for service. Are you saying that the act of enlisting makes a soldier’s service honorable whatever he does on the field of battle? So the soldier who went rogue and shot several of his comrades would still be, by your definition, honorable? Do you really believe that we should honor any soldier, even a deserter? A traitor? Is there anything in your definition of honorable that a soldier could do after volunteering for service that forfeits that honor?

“You also said that Bergdahl “served with distinction. “How is that covered by the mere fact of his enlisting? Do you mean “distinction” literally, as in, “not every soldier walks away from his post and gets himself captured by the Taliban”? For I agree—that’s certainly distinctive—thank God—but how is it honorable?“

Rice, I am quite certain, would have embarrassed herself with whatever huminahumina babble that direct question would have provoked, because she just isn’t that bright, which raises the questions of what Obama had her in important positions, and why she was his designated liar. Even Hillary was a better liar.

That interview got worse, believe it or not. For mere seconds after flagrantly spinning her false characterization of Bergdahl as a soldier who served “with honor and distinction,” she said,

“I’m upfront with the American people and I always do my best on behalf of my country and I do my best to tell the facts as I know them.”

That’s Susan Rice!

More to come.

 

Cemetery Ethics: The German POW Gravestones.

If you encountered that gravestone in a cemetery, would it move you to file a protest? Or to start an advocacy group dedicated to having the marker removed or taken down?

There are two such  gravestones marking the resting places of German prisoners of war in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, and another one is in Fort Douglas Post Cemetery in Salt Lake City. They are located among the graves of American veterans, some of whom fought against Germany in World War II. A retired colonel visiting his Jewish grandfather’s grave at the Texas cemetery saw one of the markers with the swastika symbol,  and his complaint moved  the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which obviously does not have enough on its plate, to demand that the Veterans Administration “do something.”

Apparently in the throes of a strong attack of common sense and possessing functioning ethics alarms, the VA’s National Cemetery Administration has responded to the protest  by stating that it “will continue to preserve these headstones, like every past administration has. All of the headstones date back to the 1940s, when the Army approved the inscriptions in question.”

Mike Weinstein, the founder of the MRFF and a former Air Force officer, deeply feels the pain of having to allow buried soldiers have the emblems of the nations they fought for on their headstones, and is apoplectic about the decision.  “It’s intolerable,”  he said. “This should not require explaining why this is wrong.”

Baseball writer Bill James once wrote that when someone says that that their proposition shouldn’t require explaining, it usually means that they have no valid arguments.

“But..but…” Wienstein sputters, if you translate the German phrase on the the headstones, they read, “HE DIED FAR FROM HOME FOR FUHRER, PEOPLE AND FATHERLAND”! I know I always enjoy translating the foreign languages on headstones over the graves of strangers just in case I can find them offensive. Continue reading

Ethics Warm-Up, 5/13/2020….Oh, So WHAT If It’s Morning Or Not? Who CARES? Who Cares About ANY Of It?

1. I miss Ken. Ken White used to troll people who would ask him to post their sponsored content on Popehat. Now that he’s writing for The Atlantic, which morphed into a “resistance” organ and which I refuse to read on principle unless a particular screed is brought to my attention, I no longer get to chuckle at his nonsense mockery post about ponies and the rest. Now I’m getting this junk too. Faith Cormier writes,

I was visiting your website, ethicsalarms.com, and it had me wondering: do you accept outside submissions? If so, we’d love to create an original piece for you!Because it would include a totally natural reference to one of our clients, we’re prepared to pay you $100 for your time and effort. (Payments made through PayPal.) Shall we send you a draft, Jack? Alternatively, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Yeah, I have a question, Faith. How could you read this blog, with the title “Ethics Alarms,” and make a proposal like that? “Totally natural reference” means a promotion, and that this would be deceptive marketing.  My integrity may have a price some day, but if it does, it will be a hell of a lot higher than a hundred bucks.

2. Ethics movie spoiler.  “Standoff,” is a 2016 film that critics mostly slammed because critics don’t understand ethics movies. A hit man (Lawrence Fishburne) who is chasing a 12-year-old girl who took a photo of him while he was executing people tracks her down to a run-down house where a depressed and alcoholic veteran (Thomas Jane) is living. The veteran, who has some facility with firearms (and who lost his own young son, sending him into his tailspin) decides to protect her, though the hit man demands that he turn her over to be shot. The veteran faces several ethics conflicts after making the altruistic decision to risk his own life to try to save a child who showed up on his doorstep by random chance. The hit man captures a police officer and tortures him to force the girl’s surrender. He then threatens to kill the officer, and does, as the veteran rejects the proffered exchange. Finally, the hit man captures the veteran’s ex-wife, and says he will kill her if he doesn’t get the little girl. (“How do I know I can trust you?” the vteran asks as they are negotiating. “You can’t!” the hit man replies.)

Now that’s an ethics conflict! Continue reading