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PopeWatch: Missed This One

Apparently a new papal exhortation was issued on April 1:

Pope Francis issued an unexpected apostolic exhortation today titled Merdae Cumulus. The exhortation may be the most momentous action coming from the Seat of Peter in recorded history.

Beginning with Church appointments and new canonizations; after the Holy See’s most recent debacle with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Pope Francis decided to remove Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager from his position as Grand Chancellor of the Order in favor of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who Francis referred to as “a true warrior, a worthy heir for a position occupied by great Christian knights of old.” In addition to this appointment, Francis revealed the future pronouncement that Joel Olsteen is to be declared a Doctor of the Church upon his death, and that the seat of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston will be relocated to Lakewood Church, known for it’s awe inspiring architectural style and it’s past function as the home of the Houston Rockets.

The bulk of the exhortation is composed of a string of admissions, concessions, apologies, and affirmations composed by the Holy Father. Perhaps the most exciting is an admission of the superiority of the Protestant movement started in the 16th century by the newly canonized Martin Luther. In the document, Francis states: “Saint Martin Luther was correct in stating that the holy fathers have erred, that the apostles have erred, that the magisterium has erred, and that the whole church has often erred. That error ends now. The saying that the Protestant churches are where heresy goes to thrive is false; it is actually the case that the opposite is true.” In the same vein was a statement regaling that Thomas More died for nothing, and that King Henry VIII was completely justified in his legal actions and formation of the Church of England. In the same spirit of humility and unity, Francis made full concessions of past Roman Catholic assertions regarding theological differences and papal authority to all Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs; this was quickly followed by Francis’ submission to all the demands of the Society of Saint Pius X, and the return of their status to full communion with the Roman See. Both the Orthodox churches and the Society of Saint Pius X have yet to respond to our requests for comment.
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Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders Corps and the Great War

I make no pretense to accuracy. I shall be quite content if the sensibilities of no one are wounded by anything I may reduce to type.

Recollections of Thomas R. Marshall:  A Hoosier Salad (1925)

 

 

Something for the weekend:  Onward Christian Soldiers by Mahalia Jackson.  This stirring hymn was the campaign song of the Bull Moose Party in 1912 and was the unofficial anthem of the Rough Riders Corps that Major General Theodore Roosevelt led in the Great War.  We are almost a century away from the day when the US intervened in that War, and it is a good time to look at the controversial role that our 26th President played in that conflict.

In March of 1917 Congress passed a bill allowing Roosevelt to raise four divisions of volunteers, similar in nature to the Rough Rider regiment he raised and led in the Spanish American War.  It is said that President Wilson opposed this move.  There was certainly no love lost between Wilson and Roosevelt, Roosevelt having been the harshest critic of Wilson.  However, the stroke that killed President Wilson on April 1, 1917 rendered any such opposition moot, except to historians or writers of alternate history.  Vice President Thomas R. Marshall who now became President had no personal animosity towards Roosevelt, rather the reverse, and after his call for a declaration of war on Germany appeared at the White House with Roosevelt and former President Taft, the three men urging that now there were no Republicans and no Democrats, but only Americans united for victory.  After this there was no way that Marshall could probably have kept Roosevelt out of the War if he had wanted to, and he did not attempt to do so.

One other man could have stopped Roosevelt, however, if he had wished to, the commander appointed by President Marshall to lead the American Expeditionary Forces in France.  General John J.Pershing was a friend of Theodore Roosevelt who he had served with at the battle of San Juan Hill when Pershing was a thirty-eight year old First Lieutenant, and whose career Roosevelt had jump started when he was President by promoting him from Captain to Brigadier General, over the heads of 835 officers more senior to Pershing.  Pershing had every reason to be grateful to Roosevelt, and he was, but he was also concerned with a military amateur commanding a corps in the American Expeditionary Forces that he was to lead onto the deadly battlefields of France.  Going to visit Roosevelt at Oyster Bay, he was quickly relieved by their talk, which he discussed in his Pulitzer Prize winning memoir, My Experiences in the World War:  

“President  Roosevelt demonstrated that he had been keeping up with military developments in the Great War and was intrigued with the coordination of artillery and infantry with the newfangled air power and tanks.  He told me that he was willing to serve as a private in the force he was raising, and that as far as he was concerned no man would have a commission for any officer rank in the Rough Riders without my permission.  Touched by his self-less patriotism, I suggested that he serve as second in command of the Rough Riders with General Adelbert Cronkhite, currently in command of artillery in the Canal Zone, appointed as commander.  A worried frown passed over his face:  “The Rough Riders are not going to spend the War guarding the Canal Zone are they?”  I laughed.  “No Mr. President, I will need the best troops available with me on the Western Front, and, as was the case in Cuba, I suspect the Rough Riders in this War will be second to none.”  We shook hands and parted, still friends.”

Roosevelt made it known that he was seeking men for the Rough Riders with this advertisement he placed in all major newspapers.

Rough Riders are being recruited by Theodore Roosevelt for service in France.  Roosevelt expects that he and his Rough Riders will be constantly in the forefront of the fighting and their casualties will likely be extreme.  Only fighters with courage need apply.   Regional recruiting offices are being established at the following locations:

Roosevelt’s recruiters were quickly besieged by endless lines of volunteers.  Estimates are that some three million men filled out applications for the 100,000 slots in the four divisions of the Rough Rdiers.  Roosevelt, as with his original Rough Riders, favored men from dangerous out door occupations, men with prior military experience, athletes, and those from unusual backgrounds, like the troupe of circus clowns he allowed to enlist as a group.  Cowboys with nothing in this world except the shirts on their backs, as in the original Rough Riders, rubbed shoulders with the scions of families of great wealth.  Roosevelt made it clear that no man without prior military experience would be commissioned in the Rough Riders, and all other commissions would be earned in battle in France.  Regular Army officers looked askance at all this and referred to the Rough Riders as Teddy’s Wild West Show and by less printable terms.  Pershing assigned a number of junior officers to the Rough Riders to help bring order out of chaos, giving them the temporary rank of full Colonel.  Among them were Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower.

As in the original Rough Riders, Latinos and Indians from the West served.  A group of black regular officers, headed by Colonel Charles Young, wrote a letter to Roosevelt requesting to serve in the Rough Riders.  Although not wholly free from the racial prejudice of his day, Roosevelt got the approval of Pershing for these officers to serve on detached status with the Rough Riders, and enlisted two black regiments to serve in one of his divisions.  When a group of white Rough Rider officers protested this decision, Roosevelt had the complaining officers immediately cashiered from the Rough Riders. Continue Reading

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PopeWatch: Resignation

Pope Francis Resigns

 

 

The Vatican announced today that Pope Francis will resign on April 1, 2017.

At a hastily called news conference, Vatican press spokesman Father Federico Lombardi announced that the Pope had decided to resign a year hence.  Asked why, Father Lombardi indicated that he was uncertain, although recently the Pope had been heard to mutter darkly “Papa Guarda!  Papa Guarda!” under his breath after browsing the internet.  Asked for the reaction of the Pope Emeritus, Father Lombardi responded that he had been advised that the Pope Emeritus wished his successor well and promised to reserve a place at his future beer parties for Pope Francis in his retirement. Continue Reading

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A Roosevelt Peace?

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“The people here hate the French more than they do the British. They much prefer the Americans as troops of occupation. Since the Americans have arrived the German people have learned to like them.”

—Karl Felder of Bieder Breisig

As we approach the one hundredth anniversary of the conclusion of the Great War and the commencement of the so-called Roosevelt Peace, an old question must be addressed:  was President Theodore Roosevelt’s role in the Great War an essential one?

Of course, how one addresses this question is largely determined by whether one views history as largely the impact of impersonal forces, economic, cultural, scientific, etc, upon humanity, or whether one holds to the Great Man school, by which the path of Man through history is largely the result of some unique individual altering the flow of events.  To a large extent this debate is unanswerable, as history is history and so-called alternate history is the domain of dreamers and writers of fiction.  However, in regard to Theodore Roosevelt, elected President in 1912 following the collapse of the Republican ticket, after the assassination of President Taft in Milwaukee by John Schrank, it is hard to see how any American President would have implemented policies much different than he did.

1. Entry into the War-From the outset of the War, President Roosevelt left little doubt that his sympathies lay with the Allies and he had only disgust for Prussian militarism.  However, he maintained a testy neutrality until the sinking of RMS Lusitania.  With the loss of 128 American lives, it is difficult to believe that any American President could have withstood the rush to War.  Roosevelt demanded that the German crew be handed over to America to answer charges of murder and that no further attacks be made on passenger liners.  The Kaiser’s statement that he was willing to agree to the latter but not the former, was angrily rejected by Roosevelt, who received a thunderous standing ovation from Congress when he called for a declaration of war.

2.  Building of the Army-Utilizing the Civil War method of the states initially raising the regiments to serve drew criticism, but Roosevelt responded that a huge military had to be built overnight and that the Civil War had demonstrated that this was a tried and true method.  The regiments then reported to training camps where officers and men were trained in their duties, uniformed and equipped.  Many career officers complained that the officers of the regiments were often incompetent or well-meaning amateurs.  Roosevelt quashed much of this criticism by giving the Army full power to relieve officers who proved unsuitable.  As it turned out, about twenty percent of officers were relieved and another ten percent resigned.  General Pershing in his memoirs indicated that he would have preferred to eliminate the state role, but admitted that the state regiments had a cohesion and high morale that would have been lacking if men had not been serving with other men they knew.

3.  Tanks-Although Roosevelt was traditional in how he raised the American Expeditionary Force, many regular Army officers found him frighteningly radical in his embrace of new technology.  Tanks were seized upon by Roosevelt as an essential replacement for horse cavalry and he made certain that the American force would be motorized to an extent that astonished the European armies.  Roosevelt made certain that American troops would go into battle with double the machine guns, mortars and supporting artillery allotted to units of their German foes.  Air power was to be an essential component of each American division, along with a tank regiment.  It was perhaps inevitable that the tankers became known as Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.  American love of new technology probably would have ensured that any American president would have followed a similar policy, albeit perhaps not with quite the “Bully, Bully!” enthusiasm of Roosevelt. Continue Reading

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Practical Joker of the Founding Fathers

 

 

 

Throughout his life Benjamin Franklin enjoyed practical jokes and literary hoaxes.  Here from 1730 is a report, almost certainly written by him, about a completely illusory witch trial.  Franklin was 26 when he wrote this, only 38 years after the all too real Salem Witch Trials:

Burlington, Oct. 12. Saturday last at Mount-Holly, about 8 Miles from this Place, near 300 People were gathered together to see an Experiment or two tried on some Persons accused of Witchcraft. It seems the Accused had been charged with making their Neighbours Sheep dance in an uncommon Manner, and with causing Hogs to speak, and sing Psalms, &c. to the great Terror and Amazement of the King’s good and peaceable Subjects in this Province; and the Accusers being very positive that if the Accused were weighed in Scales against a Bible, the Bible would prove too heavy for them; or that, if they were bound and put into the River, they would swim; the said Accused desirous to make their Innocence appear, voluntarily offered to undergo the said Trials, if 2 of the most violent of their Accusers would be tried with them.

Accordingly the Time and Place was agreed on, and advertised about the Country; The Accusers were 1 Man and 1 Woman; and the Accused the same. The Parties being met, and the People got together, a grand Consultation was held, before they proceeded to Trial; in which it was agreed to use the Scales first; and a Committee of Men were appointed to search the Men, and a Committee of Women to search the Women, to see if they had any Thing of Weight about them, particularly Pins. After the Scrutiny was over, a huge great Bible belonging to the Justice of the Place was provided, and a Lane through the Populace was made from the Justices House to the Scales, which were fixed on a Gallows erected for that Purpose opposite to the House, that the Justice’s Wife and the rest of the Ladies might see the Trial, without coming amongst the Mob; and after the Manner of Moorfields, a large Ring was also made. Then came out of the House a grave tall Man carrying the Holy Writ before the supposed Wizard, &c. (as solemnly as the Sword-bearer of London before the Lord Mayor) the Wizard was first put in the Scale, and over him was read a Chapter out of the Books of Moses, and then the Bible was put in the other Scale, (which being kept down before) was immediately let go; but to the great Surprize of the Spectators, Flesh and Bones came down plump, and outweighed that great good Book by abundance. After the same Manner, the others were served, and their Lumps of Mortality severally were too heavy for Moses and all the Prophets and Apostles. Continue Reading

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Lincoln and His Second Term

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One hundred and fifty years ago Lincoln was at the high point of his Presidency.  The Civil War was coming to a victorious conclusion.  His popularity would zoom to heights not reached by any President since Washington when on April 14, 1865 he foiled the assassination plot of John Wilkes Booth by wrestling him to the floor of the theater box at Ford’s Theater.  (One wonders if Booth would have succeeded if Lincoln had not been standing and stretching, his face to the door of the theater box, when Booth burst through the door.)  Less than four years later, he left Washington, widely reviled North and South.  Although revisionist histories appear occasionally defending Lincoln, the consensus of his contemporaries still stands:  that Lincoln made an adequate wartime President, but an abysmal peacetime President.  I think this verdict is overblown, but one cannot argue that his second term after the War was anything but a disaster.  Let us look at the factors that led to this.

 

1.  Former Confederate States-Lincoln’s theory was that the former Confederates States had never been out of the Union.  So soon as ten percent of the voters based on 1860 totals had taken an oath of allegiance to the Union and organized a state government that abolished slavery, the new state government would be recognized by the federal government and members elected to Congress seated.  This was far too lenient for Radical Republicans who feared that these new state governments would simply be replicas of the state governments that existed in 1860 with a de facto abolition of slavery while de jure blacks would be fifth class citizens.  Their fears were soon realized with new state governments recognized by the Lincoln administration adopting Black Codes, laws that severely restricted the freedom the newly freed slaves.  This remained a bone of contention between Lincoln and the Congress controlled by the Radical Republicans from the beginning until the end of his second term.

2.  Rights of Blacks-That Lincoln was sincerely committed to the civil rights of former slaves cannot be doubted in good faith by anyone.  The ringing words of his 1865 Fourth of July “Life and Liberty” oration before the freedmen of Richmond should eliminate any doubt on that score.  Throughout his second term Lincoln used military force to enforce the rights of blacks that were routinely trampled upon by the new governments in the former Confederate states that he recognized.  He was instrumental in establishing the largely black states of Liberty, Emancipation and Freedom in the West that ensured black representation in Congress and a haven for blacks disenfranchised in the rest of the country.  However, the use of the military was met by a virtual guerilla warfare in the South led by the Ku Klux Klan, often receiving clandestine aid from the governments that Lincoln had helped install.  This was all very confusing for the war weary citizens of the North, and a common complaint of “What did we fight the War for?” became ever more common in the North as Lincoln’s second term went on.

3.  Mary Lincoln- The assassination attempt on Lincoln seemed to unhinge Mrs. Lincoln.  She would often shriek in public to strangers that she knew that they were out to murder her husband.  Lincoln perhaps had no choice in having her committed to an insane asylum, but that decision added to his unpopularity.

4.  Fissions in the Republican Party-With slavery ended, the Republican party fractured between radicals and conservatives, former Whigs and former Democrats, and a myriad of different state factions.  Much of Lincoln’s time was devoted to healing these fractures, with Lincoln often receiving strong criticism from all factions for his troubles as a would be peacemaker.

5.  Seward’s Folly- Throughout the second term Democrats often attacked Lincoln for having run up a huge national debt during the Civil War.  This charge received more ammunition when the US purchased Alaska for 7.2 million dollars, which Democrats painted as money wasted for a worthless icy wasteland.  When it got out that Lincoln was considering attempting to set up  more black states in Alaska, he was subject to laughter and ridicule, often accompanied by a quoted statement from a black that he did not want to go and freeze in Alaska.

6.  Man of the Past-Lincoln often seemed like a figure of the past by the end of his second term.  Secession and slavery, the two issues most associated with Lincoln, quickly became relics of the past to a nation, at least the white part of the nation, eager to turn the page.  Heroes who win often seem outdated as times rapidly change, and that fate befell Lincoln. Continue Reading

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Pope Francis Resigning! Pope Benedict Pope Again!

Pope Benedict and Former Pope Francis

 

 

In a shock April 1, 2013 announcement the Vatican has stated that Pope Francis is resigning today and Pope Benedict will resume his duties as Pope.

Pope Francis is quoted as naming two factors in his decision for resigning:  1.  The rich Italian  cooking that could get him up to 400 pounds if he stayed in Rome;   and 2.  Criticisms from Catholic blogs, especially in America.  Noting that his predecessor had warned him about reading the blogs, Pope Francis was disturbed by the divisions his election had caused.  “I do not want to be the cause of acrimony among Catholic bloggers.  If I stay as Pope it could be another “torture debate”, and I doubt if Western civilization could survive that.”

As for Pope Benedict, he is described as rested, fit and rearing to resume his duties as Pope.  Father Lombardi, Vatican press spokesman, said that Pope Benedict feels 75 after weeks of sleeping all night and eating hearty monastery food.  As for blogs, Pope Benedict stopped reading them after the condom flap, according to Father Lombardi, although he conceded that the Pope did sneak a peak at Acts of the Apostacy for a laugh now and then. Continue Reading

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Lincoln Defeated

Lincoln Weeping

If the end brings me out wrong, ten thousand angels swearing I was right wouldn’t make any difference.

Abraham Lincoln

 

 

During the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the War Between the States, it is time to take stock of the War that severed forever the United States of America and led to creation of two American republics, soon to be joined by a third, the Pacific Republic, and, eventually, by a fourth, after Texas seceded from the Confederacy  during the Great Depression of 1893.  All of our American history, for good and ill, was irrevocably altered by the events that transpired a century and a half ago.  Could events have come out differently?  I think many historians would say yes, if Lincoln had not lost the election of 1864.

By the Spring of 1864 the Union war effort had clearly made progress but at a terrible cost in human lives and treasure.  The Union had succeeded in conquering almost all of Tennessee and Arkansas.  The Confederacy’s largest city, New Orleans, was under Union control and, in Lincoln’s phrase, “the Father of the Waters” went unvexed to the Sea, and the Confederacy in Texas and the unconquered portions of Arkansas and Louisiana were now cut off from the rest of the Confederacy by a newly hostile Mississippi.  The Union had established control of much of the coast line of the Confederacy and the Union blockade, a joke in 1861, had become a very grim reality for the Confederacy in 1864.  Today, most people do not appreciate how close the Confederacy came to defeat in 1864, although it was a common theme in speeches given at Confederate Victory Day celebrations throughout the South for decades after the War.  How did this all turn to ashes for the Union by November 1864 with Lincoln rejected at the polls?  Here are, I think, some of  the major factors:

1.  War Weariness-By 1864 most Americans, North and South, were heartily sick of the War, the huge casualty lists filling the newspapers giving a nightmarish quality to life.  However, there was a difference.  If the North lost the War, there would be little change in the life of most Northerners.  If the South lost the War, they would be under what most white Southerners now perceived as hated foreign domination.  Northern morale was as a result more fragile than Southern morale.  The South would resist until they could resist no longer, while the North would continue the War only if it could be brought to a victorious conclusion relatively quickly.

2.  Lee-Ulysses S. Grant was a fine General even if ultimately he failed in his goal of defeating Lee.  In his Overland Campaign he succeeded in driving Lee back to Richmond, and ultimately brought Petersburg under siege.  No mean feat up against a man now universally regarded by nearly all Americans as the finest American General.  Lee realized the caliber of General that he was up against in regard to Grant, and that Grant could not be defeated easily as he had defeated other Union drives against Richmond.  It took all of Lee’s immense skill to prevent Grant from taking Richmond, but this he succeeded in doing while inflicting casualties of 2-1 against Grant, and causing much of the North, including, privately, Mary Todd Lincoln, to denounce Grant as a butcher.  Grant had brought the Union close to victory, but only by an immense effusion of Northern blood, and the population of the North simply had no stomach for many more casualties in what appeared to be an endless War.

3.  Sherman’s Death-Sherman’s drive on Atlanta, which had been making progress, came to a sudden end on June 27, 1864 with the battle of Kennesaw Mountain.  Of all the Civil War might have beens, perhaps none are more poignant than what would have happened if Sherman had stopped the battle after the failure of the initial assaults as he was advised to do by General Thomas.  Instead, Sherman ordered two more attacks each bloodily repulsed.  As he went out to meet the retreating survivors of his last attack, Sherman was felled by a long-range shot from a Confederate sharpshooter equipped with a rifle and a telescopic sight.  Lincoln wished to place Thomas in command, but Grant, who bore animosity for Thomas, why still being something of a mystery, insisted on General James McPherson being placed in overall command.  McPherson wished to continue the offensive against Atlanta, but that simply was not possible after the fifteen thousand casualties sustained by the Union.  Resisting calls in Northern papers to fall back on Chattanooga, McPherson remained in place and awaited reinforcements.  In early September the offensive was renewed, with McPherson making slow but steady progress against a skillful and dogged defense by General Johnston.  McPherson placed Atlanta under siege, two days before the November election, too late to alter the outcome.

4.  Blind Memorandum- With the War stalled both East and West Union morale was faltering.  Lincoln’s morale was also faltering as graphically demonstrated by what has become known as The Blind Memorandum.  Lincoln sealed this document and asked his cabinet officers to sign it unread.  They complied.  In the chaos that followed Lincoln’s defeat the document lay forgotten for some twenty years until Lincoln mentioned it in his autobiography, Of the People, (1884).  Here is the text:

This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.

A. Lincoln

5.  Cedar Creek- Lincoln’s prospects appeared brighter in September and October of 1864 with Union victories in the Shenandoah.  This came to a halt with the Confederate victory at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864. In the aftermath Union commander General Phil Sheridan was sacked by Secretary of War Stanton, over the strenuous objections of General Grant, who had always considered him to be too young at 33 for such an important command.  Grant placed Meade in overall command of the Shenandoah theater.  The cautious Meade avoided any further Union defeats prior to election day, but did not succeed in winning any Union victories.  Democrats made considerable hay at rallies in late October with the fact that Sheridan had been fifty miles from Cedar Creek at the time of the battle and mocked his strenuous, albeit futile, ride to get to the battlefield in time to rescue the situation. Continue Reading