Pershing Speaks!


The things you find on the internet.  An address by General “Black Jack” Pershing from France during World War I.  His voice was more sonorous than I expected, perhaps I anticipated a more clipped and prosaic pronunciation from his many years in the Army.  Pershing declined to run for President in 1920 but said he would serve if the people wanted him.  Pershing was a Republican, but party leaders thought he was too closely associated with Wilson’s policies.  An interesting what if as to how history would have been impacted if Pershing, who lived until 1948, had been elected President in 1920.

Published in: on March 22, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

March 21, 1918: Operation Michael Begins

And then, exactly as a pianist runs his hands across the keyboard from treble to bass, there rose in less than one minute the most tremendous cannonade I shall ever hear…It swept round us in a wide curve of red leaping flame stretching to the north far along the front of the Third Army, as well as of the Fifth Army on the south, and quite unending in either direction…the enormous explosions of the shells upon our trenches seemed almost to touch each other, with hardly an interval in space or time…The weight and intensity of the bombardment surpassed anything which anyone had ever known before.

Winston Churchill, who was present at the front when Operation Michael began.




The 1918 German Spring Offensive, known to history as the Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser’s Battle), got underway on March 21, 1918.  Three German Armies struck the British Fifth Army and the right wing of the British Third Army.  The British Fifth Army held the juncture with the French forces in the south.  If the British could be driven away from the French, hopefully being driven into the North Sea, the Germans thought that they could then defeat the French.  This large scale test of the German stosstruppen tactics seemed initially to be a great success.  Rolling artillery barrages protected the German stormtroops as they avoided Allied strongpoints and punched holes in the British trench lines, restoring a mobility to the Western Front warfare that had been absent after 1914.


By the time the offensive came to an end on April 5, 1918 the Germans had put a scare into the Allied High Command and made huge, up to 65 miles, almost unbelievable, in the context of the Western Front, gains against the British.  However, there were worrisome factors for the Germans to contemplate.  Each side during the offensive lost a quarter of a million men, but the German losses were mostly among their highly trained, and irreplaceable, stormtroops.  The Germans enjoyed huge tactical successes, but General Ludendorff, perhaps the most overrated commander of the Great War, was unable to use these successes to gain the strategic goal of separating the British from the French.  The Germans had great difficulty in keeping their assault troops supplied over the torn up terrain they were advancing over.  The Germans captured 75,000 British troops, and 1300 pieces of artillery, but they were no closer to ultimate victory than they had been when Operation Michael was launched.


Published in: on March 21, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

March 20, 1854: Founding of the Republican Party

By 1854 two things were clear on the American political scene:

  •  The Whig Party was in its death throes; and
  • The issue of slavery was becoming the major issue in the country, cutting across Whig and Democrat party divisions.

The founding of a new anti-slavery party was clearly called for and it came about in 1854.  The birth of the new party was complicated with many meetings around the country laying claim to giving birth to the new political party.  The Republican party over time has pointed to a meeting of former Whigs in Ripon, Wisconsin on March 20, 1854 as marking its birth.  Although friendly to the new party Abraham Lincoln, a committed Whig, did not join  until 1856.  The party would grow ever stronger throughout the 1850’s, drawing strength from anti-slavery advocates forsaking old allegiances and rallying under the anti-slavery banner of the Republicans.

Published in: on March 20, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Cassius Marcellus Clay

If he is remembered at all today, Cassius Marcellus Clay is recalled solely because that was the name of Muhammad Ali, the boxer, before he converted to the Nation of Islam and changed his name.  Ali had been named after his father who was also named Cassius Marcellus Clay in honor of the man who freed his great-grandfather.

Cassius Marcellus Clay, called Cash by his intimates, was a Kentucky abolitionist.  A cousin of Henry Clay, Cassius Marcellus Clay was born on March 19, 1810 to Green Clay, one of the wealthiest plantation owners and slave masters in the Blue Grass state.  His father’s wealth ensured that he was well educated, first at Transylvania University and then Yale.  While at Yale in 1832 he heard the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison speak and was converted to the anti-slavery cause.  Going back to Kentucky he served three terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives, his political career being cut short, due to the unpopularity of his anti-slavery views. (more…)

Published in: on March 19, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Theodore Roosevelt


It is these men at the front who are now making all Americans, born and unborn, forever their debtors. They are the men who have paid with 
their bodies for their soul's desire. Let no one pity them, whatever their fate, for they have seen the mighty days and have risen level to the need of the 
mighty days. And let no one pity the wives and mothers and fathers whose husbands and lovers and sons now face death in battle for the mightiest of 
all high causes. Our hearts are wrung with sorrow and anxiety, but our heads are held aloft with pride. It is a terrible thing that our loved ones should face 
the great danger, but it would be a far more terrible thing if, whatever the danger, they were not treading the hard path of duty and honor. 

Theodore Roosevelt, April 2, 1918

Published in: on March 18, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

The Birthday of Saint Patrick

In a vision of the night, I saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming as it from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: “The Voice of the Irish”, and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and the were crying as if with one voice: “‘We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.” And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke. Thanks be to God, because after so many ears the Lord bestowed on them according to their cry.

Saint Patrick




Something for the weekend.  The Birthday of Saint Patrick.  The Irish have a talent of joking about those things most dear to them, including Ireland’s greatest Saint.  My family belongs to Saint Pat’s Parish in Dwight.  After 5:00 PM Mass my family will be joining the rest of the parish for an Irish dinner, no it will not be an Irish seven course meal of a six pack and a potato, and some Irish music.  It is a grand day to be Irish!

Published in: on March 17, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  

The Children


“But who shall return us the children?”

Rudyard Kipling



 The thirty-fourth in my on-going series on the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here , here , herehere, here , here here here  and here.  Kipling wrote many poems during his career.  This poem is manifestly not one of them.  The poem is a lament by a man who lost his only son in the Great War.  From first to last Kipling believed that Germany was a menace and had to be beaten.  After the War he called for a harsh peace to make certain that German could not wage a world war again.  Up to his death in 1936 Kipling warned that Germany was still a danger to the world.  This should be clearly understood since there has been an attempt to misinterpret, willfully or not, some of Kipling’s war poems as a turn towards pacifism, an interpretation that Kipling would have rejected with a snort of contempt.  No, in his poems Kipling blamed British governments for allowing Germany to grow strong enough to bring about the Great War and that his son, and a million other British and Empire men, had to die to correct the folly of British statesmanship.  When I read this poem I think of future generations and the price they will pay for the fashionable lies and follies of our day.  The heartbreaking question of “But who shall return us the children?” should be remembered by all who aspire to rule nations.
(“The Honours of War”—A Diversity of Creatures)
These were our children who died for our lands: they were dear in our sight.
    We have only the memory left of their home-treasured sayings and laughter.
    The price of our loss shall be paid to our hands, not another’s hereafter.
Neither the Alien nor Priest shall decide on it.    That is our right.
        But who shall return us the children?
At the hour the Barbarian chose to disclose his pretences,
    And raged against Man, they engaged, on the breasts that they bared for us,
    The first felon-stroke of the sword he had long-time prepared for us—
Their bodies were all our defence while we wrought our defences.
They bought us anew with their blood, forbearing to blame us,
Those hours which we had not made good when the Judgment o’ercame us.
They believed us and perished for it.    Our statecraft, our learning
Delivered them bound to the Pit and alive to the burning
Whither they mirthfully hastened as jostling for honour—
Nor since her birth has our Earth seen such worth loosed upon her.
Nor was their agony brief, or once only imposed on them.
    The wounded, the war-spent, the sick received no exemption:
    Being cured they returned and endured and achieved our redemption,
Hopeless themselves of relief, till Death, marveling, closed on them.
That flesh we had nursed from the first in all cleanness was given
To corruption unveiled and assailed by the malice of Heaven—
By the heart-shaking jests of Decay where it lolled in the wires—
To be blanched or gay-painted by fumes— to be cindered by fires—
To be senselessly tossed and retossed in stale mutilation
From crater to crater.    For that we shall take expiation.
        But who shall return us our children?


Published in: on March 16, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Ides of March: Julius Caesar

Fate has a way of picking unlikely material,
Greasy-haired second lieutenants of French artillery,
And bald-headed, dubious, Roman rake-politicians.

Stephen Vincent Benet


I think it would have amused the Romans of Caesar’s generation if they could have learned that the assassination of Julius Caesar would eventually receive immortality through a play written more than 16 centuries after the event by a barbarian playwright in the Tin Islands that Caesar had briefly invaded. It would have tickled their well developed concept of the ludicrous, judging from Roman comedy.

The shade of Caesar probably would have objected to his portrayal by Shakespeare.  Caesar comes off as a stuffy dodo, almost reduced to a plot device, his assassination setting the play in motion.  To his contemporaries Caesar was a prodigy of nature.  Coming from a largely impoverished aristocratic family of no special note, Caesar rose to the front rank of the Roman political scene largely due to his political daring and his mastery of the intricate Roman political machinations of his time.  His military genius, which so fascinates us, he was able to exercise because of his political ability and intrigues, his political career in no way resting upon his military career.  His military genius did allow him to seize power and to begin the funeral ceremonies for the Republic which had been manifestly dying since the time of the Gracchi brothers decades before the birth of Caesar.  Caesar was a great destroyer in historical terms, but it would be up to his nephew Octavian, who lacked all of Caesar’s military skill but who was a greater political genius, to erect on the ruins of the Republic the Principate, that would morph in time into the Roman Empire, all while Octavian/Augustus protested that he was a Republican and that he was merely restoring the Republic.

The Ides of March deserve to be carefully marked in our contemporary time, because it demonstrates how swiftly a political system of great antiquity could be swept away, and one man rule installed.  Republics tend to be fragile things, and tend to die unless carefully tended and guarded.



Be patient till the last.
Romans, countrymen, and lovers! hear me for my
cause, and be silent, that you may hear: believe me
for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour, that
you may believe: censure me in your wisdom, and
awake your senses, that you may the better judge.
If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of
Caesar’s, to him I say, that Brutus’ love to Caesar
was no less than his. If then that friend demand
why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer:
–Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved
Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living and
die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live
all free men? As Caesar loved me, I weep for him;
as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was
valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I
slew him. There is tears for his love; joy for his
fortune; honour for his valour; and death for his
ambition. Who is here so base that would be a
bondman? If any, speak; for him have I offended.
Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman? If
any, speak; for him have I offended. Who is here so
vile that will not love his country? If any, speak;
for him have I offended. I pause for a reply.


None, Brutus, none.


Then none have I offended. I have done no more to
Caesar than you shall do to Brutus. The question of
his death is enrolled in the Capitol; his glory not
extenuated, wherein he was worthy, nor his offences
enforced, for which he suffered death.

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 2


Published in: on March 15, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Roosevelt and Churchill: Parallel Lives

“I dislike the father and dislike the son, so I may be prejudiced.  Still, I feel that, while the biographer and his subject possess some real farsightedness…both possess or possessed such levity, lack of sobriety, lack of permanent principle, and an inordinate thirst for that cheap form of admiration which is given to notoriety, as to make them poor public servants.”

Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 commenting privately on Winston Churchill’s biography of his father Lord Randolph Churchill.





Gary Oldman has just received a well-earned Oscar as best actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour (2017):


I wish we had a modern day Plutarch to write parallel lives of Churchill and his closest American analogue, Theodore Roosevelt.

Both Churchill and Roosevelt came from families of great wealth and influence, and idolized their fathers, although in the case of Winston Churchill that idolatry was misplaced due to the fact that in many ways his father was a self-absorbed cad who had almost no time for his son.  Both fathers died relatively young.

Churchill and Roosevelt both enjoyed political success at early ages and both were national figures for most of their adult lives.

Both would break with the political parties that they started with, and both would return to their early political allegiances.  Both were looked at askance by the establishments of their political parties.

Both men were champions of the development of the early welfare states, while also ferocious opponents of socialism.

Churchill and Roosevelt both fought in wars for their countries and achieved fame as a result.

Both were serious historians, wrote many volumes on various subjects and also wrote for the newspapers and journals of their day.

Larger than life figures, they both had huge public images that hid the private men within the images.

Both had large families and dearly loved their wives and children.

Orators of the first rank, both Roosevelt and Churchill were masters of the spoken and written English tongue.

Both were essentially conservative reformers.

Of course there are also important differences.  Two come to mind immediately.  Roosevelt never confronted the great challenge of war as a statesman as Churchill did.  He was President at a time of peace.  The second is that Churchill lived for 90 years to Roosevelt’s 60.  If Churchill had lived to Roosevelt’s age, he would never have been Prime Minister of England and lesser men might well have led the British to make a squalid temporary peace with Hitler.  If Roosevelt had lived to Churchill’s age he would almost certainly have been elected President in 1920 and would have died in 1948.

The essential similarity of Roosevelt and Churchill is that they viewed life as a wonderful adventure and history as a great heroic epic in which their nations were destined to play great roles.  Statesman like them are rare indeed and happy the nations which have them.


Published in: on March 14, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

March 13, 1865: Confederate Congress Authorizes Black Troops




Perhaps a war winning measure if the year had been 1861, by 1865 the action of the Confederate Congress authorizing the enlistment of black troops could only be regarded as a just before midnight measure of a dying nation. The measure is interesting for two reasons:  the black troops were to be treated precisely the same as white troops in regard to pay and rations, and the measure explicitly did not provide for enlisted slaves to be granted their freedom.  A historical curiosity now, the whole issue of black troops might have been one of the few paths to victory for the Confederacy if it had been undertaken prior to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.  However, if the leaders of the Confederacy had been willing to consider such a measure at the onset of the struggle, it is likely that secession would never have occurred, since the preservation of slavery was the core reason for the creation of the Confederacy.  Here is the text of the statute: (more…)

Published in: on March 13, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,