The Snake Island Episode Is A Perfect Opportunity To Explain Moral Luck To Your Family And Friends

The legend was quick to take hold. The account was that as the Russian military pounded targets across Ukraine with bombs and missiles, a small team of Ukrainian border guards on rocky, desolate Zmiinyi Island, “Snake Island” to its friends, received a warning that the Alamo defenders would have recognized: Surrender or die. “I am a Russian warship,” the invaders said, according to a recording. “Lay down your arms and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary deaths. Otherwise, you will be bombed.”

Travis answered the equivalent message with a cannon shot. The defenders of Snake Island’s answer was more reminiscent of the famous reply of the 101st Airborne Division’s acting commander Anthony McAuliffe during the Battle of the Bulge. Defending Bastogne, McAuliffe gave a one-word reply to a German surrender ultimatum: “Nuts!” The Ukrainians’ version: “Russian warship, go fuck yourself.”

[Quick digression here: As I have mentioned before on EA, my WWII vet father, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and got a Silver Star for his efforts, insisted that nobody in the Infantry believed for a second that “Nuts” was the actual reply. He said the consensus of those who knew McAuliffe as well as the way soldiers talked in the field were certain that he had really answered exactly like the Ukrainians. Meanwhile, how absurd is it for today’s media to celebrate the courage and defiance of the Snake Island defenders’ response, yet feel compelled to censor it by printing “f—“? ]

Digression over. The story reported in the news media was that the Russians opened fire, killing all 13 border guards. They became instant martyrs and their fate became inspiration for the brave Ukrainian refusal to accept Russian domination. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky later announced the deaths and said that the island’s defenders will be bestowed with the title “Hero of Ukraine,” the highest honor the Ukrainian leader can award.

Continue reading

Remember The Alamo Today, March 6, When The Fort Fell, And Entered American Lore And Legend Forever.

The following post was mostly assembled from past essays here about my favorite event in American History…

I will never forget my first visit to the Alamo, and seeing Texans weeping, openly, proudly, as they read the plaque with Travis’s words engraved on it:

Commandancy of the Alamo
Bejar, Feby. 24, 1836

To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World

Fellow citizens & compatriots

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country VICTORY OR DEATH.

William Barret Travis.

The story of the Alamo isn’t taught in schools outside of Texas. It wasn’t taught in my school, either: like most American history, I learned about the event though a thick mixture of pop culture, reading (Walter Lord’s “A Time To Stand” was a birthday present in 1961) and ongoing research. I recently completed “Texas Rising,” which was also just broadcast on cable as a mini-series starring the late Bill Paxton as Sam Houston. Historian Stephen Moore is a plodding writer, but he nicely puts to rest the currently popular politically correct slander that the defenders of the Alamo and the Texas rebels were fighting to keep their slaves, and trying to steal Mexico’s land. The Texians were opposing a dictator who had changed the terms under which they had come to the territory, and anyone familiar with the American character could have predicted what would happen when a despot demanded that they submit to unelected authority. The Alamo was a fight for liberty and democracy, and its martyrs exemplified sacrifice for principle and country.

From the official Alamo website:

While the Alamo was under siege, the provisional Texas government organized at Washington-on-the-Brazos. On March 2, the convention declared independence and the Republic of Texas was born, at least on paper. The Alamo’s garrison showed its support for independence from Mexico by sending its own delegates to the convention.While they were unaware that Texas had declared independence, the roughly 200 Alamo defenders stayed at their post waiting on help from the settlements. Among them were lawyers, doctors, farmers and a former congressman and famous frontiersman from Tennessee named David Crockett. While the youngest was 16 and the oldest defender was Gordon C. Jennings, age 56, most defenders were in their twenties. Most were Anglo, but there were a handful of native Tejano defenders as well. Legendary knife fighter and land speculator James Bowie was in command before falling ill and sharing duties with Travis. Several women and children were inside the Alamo, including 15-month-old Angelina Dickinson. Just before the final battle, Travis placed his ring around her neck, knowing she would likely be spared. One of the last messages from the Alamo was a note from Travis asking friends to take care of his young son Charles.

The final attack came before dawn on March 6, 1836. As Mexican troops charged toward the Alamo in the pre-dawn darkness, defenders rushed to the walls and fired into the darkness. Travis raced to the north wall but was soon killed. Bowie was most likely killed in his bed, while reports differ as to Crockett’s death. Many believe Crockett survived the initial attack but was put to death by Mexican soldiers soon afterward.

Mexican soldiers breached the north wall and flooded into the compound. The fierce battle centered on the old church, where defenders made a last stand.

The battle lasted about 90 minutes.

From the San Antonio Express News: Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Me. I Forgot The Alamo

It is now April, and though I vowed at the end of February to finally post a thorough essay on the significance of the Alamo to U.S. culture, ethics, traditions and ideals at some point during the dates corresponding to the fort’s siege and fall on March 6, 1836.

I never did.

I thought I had posted an earlier essay about the Alamo. No, I haven’t. This is as inexplicable as it is inexcusable. The Alamo is by far my favorite historical landmark, and one of the events in American history that most inspires and fascinates me, beginning from when I looked on in horror as Fess Parker, as Davy Crockett, desperately clubbed Mexican soldiers as the last Alamo defender standing, and hundreds more charged toward him, as I heard on the soundtrack,

His land is biggest an’ his land is best, from grassy plains to the mountain crest

He’s ahead of us all meetin’ the test, followin’ his legend into the West

Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier!

I learned all about Davy, of course, the real Davy, America’s first pop culture celebrity who created a legend about himself and by fate, irony or justice, inadvertently placed himself in a situation where he had to live up to his own hype—and by all accounts,did. Then there was Jim Bowie. I had seen several dramatized versions of his famous last stand, fighting off soldiers from his cot, finally dispatching one last attacker with his Bowie knife. It is one of the great examples of a scene so good it should have been true, though it wasn’t: Bowie was dead or unconscious by the time the Mexican burst into his sick room. Never mind: that’s how an American hero goes down, fighting. “Print the legend.” Later I learned how Bowie really was one tough, brave SOB, the perfect man for the Alamo, if he hadn’t been dying of cholera.

My impression of William Barrett Travis was biased by Lawrence Harvey’s portrayal of him as a martinet (with a British accent that supplanted his Southern one after the first scene) in the John Wayne film “The Alamo”, my favorite movie as a kid. The real Travis was a pefect example of someone who had failed in everything, including as a father and a husband, but redeemed himself magnificently at the end. His final letter to the world is one of the great proclamations of defiance, dedication and courage in all of history.

I will never forget my first visit to the Alamo, and seeing Texans weeping, openly, proudly, as they read the plaque with Travis’s words engraved on it:

Commandancy of the Alamo
Bejar, Feby. 24, 1836

To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World

Fellow citizens & compatriots

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country VICTORY OR DEATH.

William Barret Travis.

The story of the Alamo isn’t taught in schools outside of Texas. It wasn’t taught in my school, either: like most American history, I learned about the event though a thick mixture of pop culture, reading (Walter Lord’s “A Time To Stand” was a birthday present in 1961) and ongoing research. I recently completed “Texas Rising,” which was also just broadcast on cable as a mini-series starring the late Bill Paxton as Sam Houston. Historian Stephen Moore is a plodding writer, but he nicely puts to rest the currently popular politically correct slander that the defenders of the Alamo and the Texas rebels were fighting to keep their slaves, and trying to steal Mexico’s land. The Texians were opposing a dictator who had changed the terms under which they had come to the territory, and anyone familiar with the American character could have predicted what would happen when a despot demanded that they submit to unelected authority. The Alamo was a fight for liberty and democracy, and its martyrs exemplified sacrifice for principle and country.

I let them down. The story of the Alamo should be told and retold, with its ethics lessons made clear and bright. Next year, on March 6. 2018, Ethics Alarms will honor Davy, Bowie, Travis, Bonham, Almaron Dickinson and the rest of the 220 or so heroes who died that day, and do it the right way, not as an afterthought.

Don’t let me forget.

 

Print The Legend Ethics: The “War of the Worlds” Panic

OrsonWellesDailyNews

One of the worst results of an untrustworthy news media is that it becomes difficult, as time passes, to determine with any certainty what the truth is.

A classic example is on display today, in Slate, which celebrates the 75th anniversary of young, svelte, Orson Welles’ famous Halloween Eve broadcast of his radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds,” with no Tom Cruise or Dakota Fanning but a nice conceit that involved telling the story through fake news flashes and eye-witness interviews. (One reporter is fried on the air by the Martian invasion vehicles.) An new NPR program and a PBS documentary both tell the familiar story of how the realistic-sounding radio play caused widespread panic among radio listeners who missed the opening credits, leading them to think that Earth was really under attack. Newspapers of the day headlined mass panic, and gave accounts of citizens running for cover, huddling in the basement, and cringing in terror.  The episode made Orson Welles a national celebrity, and launched him on his meteoric, long and strange career.

According to Slate authors Jefferson Pooley and Michael Socolow, it never happened. Declaring the story of the “War of the Worlds” panic a myth, the authors state without equivocation that the newspaper accounts, headlines, commentary and interviews, were fabricated:

“Radio had siphoned off advertising revenue from print during the Depression, badly damaging the newspaper industry. So the papers seized the opportunity presented by Welles’ program to discredit radio as a source of news. The newspaper industry sensationalized the panic to prove to advertisers, and regulators, that radio management was irresponsible and not to be trusted. In an editorial titled “Terror by Radio,” the New York Times reproached “radio officials” for approving the interweaving of “blood-curdling fiction” with news flashes “offered in exactly the manner that real news would have been given.” Warned Editor and Publisher, the newspaper industry’s trade journal, “The nation as a whole continues to face the danger of incomplete, misunderstood news over a medium which has yet to prove … that it is competent to perform the news job.” Continue reading

Why We Cannot Trust The News Media, Reason #116: ABC’s Deceptive Video Editing

The ABC News version: "I'm going to make him an offer!"

In a fiery speech in budget wars epicenter Madison, Wisconsin yesterday, whatever-she-is Sarah Palin told cheering Tea Party followers,

“If you stand by your platform, if you stand by your pledges, we will stand with you, we will fight with you, GOP, we will have your back. What we need is for you to stand up, GOP, and fight. GOP leaders need to learn how to fight like a girl!”

“Fight like a girl” —that is, like Palin—immediately spread over the internet, one more example of Palin’s uncanny bumper-sticker catch phrase talent. Now here is how ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” played the video today:

“What we need is for you to stand up, GOP, and fight. GOP leaders need to learn how to fight—!” Continue reading

Bret Favre, Meet Derek, LeBron, and Tiger

Recent revelations about Joe DiMaggio’s conduct while doing PR work for the military during World War II shocked some people who had been humming “Mrs. Robinson” over the years. Joe, as insiders had long maintained, really was a selfish and anti-social guy, far from the knight in shining armor that the public took him to be. But he played his hero role well when he was in the public eye, and that is to his credit: DiMaggio met his obligation as a hero-for-hire. Athletic heroes are challenged to live up to their on-field character, and not surprisingly, few are equal to the task. One who was has been back in the news lately: Stan (the Man) Musial, the St. Louis baseball great who will soon be awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama.

In these anxious times when every institution and every champion seems to betray us eventually, sports heroes who can remain untarnished are especially valuable, which is one reason why they earn so much money. On the field, court, course, ring or track, they can exhibit courage, trustworthiness, selflessness, leadership, sacrifice, diligence, loyalty, fair play and sportsmanship to inspire us and serve as role models for our children. All they have to do is avoid showing that it is all an illusion after the games are over. It shouldn’t be difficult, yet it is.

Tiger Woods only needed to be a responsible and trustworthy husband and father. LeBron James only had to avoid revealing himself as a fame-obsessed child. Derek Jeter only had to resist the impulse to extort the team he symbolized for money he neither deserved or needed. Yet they couldn’t, or wouldn’t do it. They hurt their own images, reputation and legacy beyond repair, but more important, they robbed us of heroes that we sorely need.

The latest addition to the pantheon of fallen idols is Bret Favre, the star NFL quarterback now suffering through the humiliating final season that was more or less guaranteed by his inability to retire while he could still pick up a football. Continue reading

Oprah and the Icons: the Ethics of Lying to Make a Difference

Kitty Kelley’s unauthorized, rip-the-mask-off-the-icon bio is out, and now Oprah Winfrey must weather the inevitable de-construction of some of her meticulously self-created image. Oprah is pretty much untouchable now; I was a guest at her “O” Magazine Expo last Fall in Kansas City, and it was clear that her status with he legion of followers is somewhere between a guru and a goddess. There aren’t many revelations, short of proving that she is secretly Dick Cheney in an elaborate disguise, that could do much to reduce her cultural influence or undo her popularity.

Still, it used to be that heroes, celebrities and cultural icons could count on the whole truth about their personal and career embellishments to surface only late in life, or more often, long after death. Thus it has been a standard tool of rising figures in America to carefully craft an inspiring story and an appealing persona that excite and engage the public, and the truth has had little to do with it. It’s worked, too. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: University of Wisconsin

I am not 100% certain that the University of Wisconsin’s complaint about Nike’s responsibilities is fair. The important thing is that the University has thought the matter through, decided what the right thing to do is after serious analysis, and is taking principled action.

The Universityhas cancelled its licensing agreement with Nike to protest what it considers Nike’s inadequate efforts to help laid off workers in Honduras factories that make Nike products. Two factories that abruptly closed, both Nike sub-contractors, have not paid the $2.6 million in severance required  by Honduras law.Under The school’s Code of Conduct commits the 500 companies that make products bearing the University of Wisconsin logo to take responsibility for their subcontractors’ actions. In rejecting Nike, Wisconsin will be forfeiting royalty income from its Wisconsin products. Continue reading

Remember Davy Crockett (and thank you, Fess Parker!)

If you don’t remember Fess Parker, who died this week as an 85-year-old winery owner, you missed the Fifties. Parker played Davy Crockett in Walt Disney’s TV miniseries about the lively Tennessee frontiersman, and did it with such sincerity and style that he not only turned coonskin caps into a national craze, he also rescued Davy Crockett from creeping obscurity. Continue reading