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

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/3/2018: Remember Pickett’s Charge! Edition [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

1. “General, I have no division!” At about 2:00 pm, , July 3, 1863, by the little Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee launched his last, desperate and audacious stratagem to win the pivotal battle of the American Civil War, a massed Napoleonic assault on the entrenched Union position on Cemetary Ridge, with a “copse of trees” at its center. The doomed march into artillery and rifle fire, across an open field and over fences, lasted less than an hour. The 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. Lee’s bold stroke had failed spectacularly, and would go down in history as one of the worst military blunders of all time.

That verdict is debatable, but this is not: Pickett’s Charge, as the attack came to be called, holds as many fascinating ethics lessons as any event in American history, and this blog has returned to it for enlightenment time and time again.

There is the matter of the duty to prevent a disaster that you know is going to occur, the whistleblower’s duty, and the theme of Barbara Tuchman’s work, “The March of Folly.” There was Robert E. Lee’s noble and unequivocal acceptance of accountability for the disaster, telling the returning and defeated warriors that “It is all my fault.” The defeat also turned on moral luck, with many unpredictable factors, such as the intervention of a brave and intrepid Union cavalry officer named George Armstrong Custer, who also teaches that our greatest strengths and most deadly flaws are often the same thing, and that the Seven Enabling Virtues can be employed for both good and wrongful objectives.  Pickett’s Charge shows how, as Bill James explained, nature conspires to make us unethical.

Pickett’s Charge also teaches that leadership requires pro-active decision-making, and the willingness to fail, to be excoriated, to be blamed, as an essential element of succeeding. Most of all, perhaps, it illustrates the peril’s of hindsight bias, for without a few random turns of fate, Robert E. Lee’s gamble might have worked.

2. Funny how if you continually denigrate someone based on his color and gender, he will eventually stop respecting you. Stanford University has established a Men and Masculinities Project  that aims to help men develop “healthy and inclusive male identities”—because they obviously don’t have those now.  “We acknowledge that male identity is a social privilege, and the aim for this project is to provide the education and support needed to better the actions of the male community rather than marginalize others,” anti-man-splains Stanford’s gurus. Stanford, of course, is not alone in pushing the ubiquitous progressive narrative that men are toxic, along with whites, making white men the worst of all. Perhaps this might explain why support for Democrats among young white men is falling fast.

Nah, it must be because they are sexist and racist…

3. But..but…settled science! The Economist estimates that as many as 400,000 papers published in supposedly peer-reviewed journals were not peer-reviewed at all. Scientists, scholars and academics are no more trustworthy or alien to unethical conduct than anyone else, but because most of the public (and journalists) don’t  understand what they write about and have to accept what they claim on faith, they are presumed to be trustworthy.

Think of them as the equivalent of auto mechanics. Continue reading

Ethical Quote Of The Day—D-Day, That Is : Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander

dday_landing

“Our landings have failed and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

—–Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, as found on a piece of paper he wrote on just before the D-Day invasion began, and just after he ordered it to commence, on June 6, 1944.

Eisenhower wrote these words to be his own apology and acceptance of responsibility had the massive invasion at Normandy been a defeat rather than the history-altering victory it was.

It almost was a defeat, and as the note, which Ike’s naval aide, Captain Harry C. Butcher, found crumpled in his shirt pocket weeks later and saved for posterity, shows, Ike realized all too well that it might be. The secret dry run for the invasion had been a deadly fiasco, the weather was atrocious, and no military operation on this scale had ever been attempted before in the history of man. It took a combination of German mistakes, high command confusion, individual heroics and the usual twists and turns of chaotic fate that decide most battles to allow the Allies to prevail. Continue reading

Obama’s Avoidance Of Accountability Reaches Previously Unimagined Heights

Obama shrug

Having encountered this immediately prior to last night’s debate among the Democratic contenders for the 2016 Presidential race, the praise heaped on Barack Obama’s abysmal record, repeated defiance of law and ignorance of basic leadership mandates—never honestly identified as such, of course—approached head-exploding levels of dissonance. It briefly subsided when Jim Webb, answering the question of what the candidates would do differently, so diplomatically delivered damning criticism that I doubt many in the room realized it. He said in part…

[If] there would be a major difference between my administration and the Obama administration, it would be in the use of executive authority…I have a very strong feeling about how our federal system works and how we need to lead and energize the congressional process instead of allowing these divisions to continue to paralyze what we’re doing. So I would lead — working with both parties in the Congress and working through them in the traditional way that our Constitution sets up…

Translation: Under Obama, the Constitution has been violated repeatedly because this President won’t deign to work closely with Congress, and has chosen instead to govern by executive fiat, which is not how the Constitution requires laws to be made.

He also said he would lead, which he undoubtedly would do. Obama, just two days earlier in his “60 Minutes” interview, demonstrated yet again why he can’t lead. He is incapable of accepting accountability for what he does, and what those under his authority do. Sometimes the utter awfulness of his values, usually because of his narcissism, makes me want to challenge his supporters to defend what is manifestly indefensible.

This is such a time.

Here is the section of the Steve Kroft interview: Continue reading

July 3: A Day To Honor Custer’s FIRST Stand, At Gettysburg… And Reflect On How Our Greatest Strengths Can Be Our Fatal Flaws

custercharge

I wrote this post two years ago, concerning my favorite neglected episode of the Civil War, when young George Armstrong Custer shocked Confederate J.E.B. Stuart with his unexpected and furious resistance to Stuart’s attempt at disrupting the Union flank while Gen. Meade’s army defended itself against Pickett’s Charge. As with the First Minnesota’s suicidal stand on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Custer’s crucial moment of truth has been largely neglected in the assembly of the battle’s heroes; I don’t think it has ever been depicted in a Civil War film, for example, though there is at least one book about it.

The incident is especially fascinating to me because of the its multiple ironies. Custer succeeded when his nation needed him most because of the exact same qualities that led him to doom at the Little Big Horn years later. Moreover, this man who for decades was wrongly celebrated in popular culture as an American hero for a shameful botched command that was the culmination of a series of genocidal atrocities actually was an American hero in an earlier, pivotal moment in our history, and almost nobody knows about it.

Thus it is that among the brave soldiers of the Blue and Gray who should be remembered on this 150th anniversary of the greatest battle ever fought on this continent is a figure whose reputation has sunk to the depths, a figure of derision and ridicule, a symbol of America’s mistreatment of its native population. Had George Armstrong Custer perished on July 3, 1863, he might well have become an iconic figure in Gettysburg history. The ethics verdict on a lifetime, however, is never settled until the final heartbeat. His story also commands us to realize this disturbing truth: whether we engage in admirable conduct or wrongful deeds is often less a consequence of our character than of the context in which that character is tested.

Here is the post, slightly lengthened:

July 3, 1863 was the date of Pickett’s Charge, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered a desperate Napoleonic advance against the Union line at Gettysburg in what has come to be a cautionary tale in human bravery and military hubris. The same day marked the zenith of the career of George Armstrong Custer, the head-strong, dashing cavalry officer who would later achieve both martyrdom and infamy as the unwitting architect of the massacre known as Custer’s Last Stand. Continue reading

The Bill James Effect, Or How Nature Conspires To Make Us Irresponsible

Quiz: What do Gen.Lee and Bill James have in common?

You see, our strengths do us in, sooner or later. The greater the strength, the more successful it has made us, the more dangerous it is.

In the American Civil War, Robert E. Lee was the smartest general on the field…so smart that he broke iron-clad rules of battle strategy again and again, and prevailed every time. When everyone told him how it was usually done, always done, Lee knew that he could get an edge by doing something else. You never divide your forces, his aides, subordinates and the military books told him. So Lee did, at Chancellorsville, and won an incredible victory.

Then came July 3, 1863: the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and Pickett’s Charge. Everyone told Lee that a massed Napoleonic assault, over an open field, into enemy artillery and a fortified line, was suicidal. But when conventional wisdom dictated a course of action, that was when Lee had always succeeded by ignoring it. So he ordered Pickett’s Charge. This time, conventional wisdom was right. The same qualities of creativity, courage, certitude, and willingness to resist the power of convention that had caused Lee’s men to trust him unconditionally had resulted in the massacre of thousands. Pickett’s Charge wasn’t bold or ingenious. It was irresponsible. Lee, because of a lifetime of success challenging what others thought was obvious, was no longer able to tell the difference. Continue reading

The Ethical Duty To Correct Stupidity

The Martin Luther King Memorial was unveiled without the commission responsible for it bothering to fix what has been almost unanimously condemned as an embarrassing mistake, a rephrased, out-of-context quote on the sculpture base (“I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness”) that misrepresents Dr. King’s career and was also something he never said. This is inexcusable, but at least the boob who unilaterally made the decision spelled “righteousness” correctly. The sign above is emblematic of a different ethical problem, the widespread abdication of the shared obligation to speak up when one sees someone else making a really stupid mistake. Continue reading

Custer, Gettysburg, and the Seven Enabling Virtues

Sometimes the Enabling Virtues will save an army, and sometimes they’ll get you killed.

July 3, 1863 was the date of Pickett’s Charge, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered a desperate Napoleonic advance against the Union line at Gettysburg in what has come to be a cautionary tale in human bravery and military hubris. The same day marked the zenith of the career of George Armstrong Custer, the head-strong, dashing cavalry officer who would later achieve both martyrdom and infamy as the unwitting architect of the massacre known as Custer’s Last Stand.

Custer’s heroics on the decisive final day of the Battle of Gettysburg teach their own lessons, historical and ethical. Since the East Calvary Field battle has been thoroughly overshadowed by the tragedy of Pickett’s Charge, it is little known and seldom mentioned. Yet the truth is that the battle, the war, and the United States as we know it may well have been saved that day by none other than undisciplined, reckless George Armstrong Custer. Continue reading

Remember Gettysburg

Today is July 1, which is being treated across the United States as the gateway to a long weekend and the Fourth of July, and little more. July 1 is also, however, the anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the most important and most deadly battle of the many important and deadly conflicts in the American Civil War. The two American armies that clashed in the Pennsylvania town sustained more than 50,000 casualties on the Gettysburg battlefield, which may be the saddest and noblest place in America.

If you have not made at least one pilgrimage to the battlefield, you owe it to yourself, and to the memory of the combatants, to go. Continue reading