Arthur Phillips’ Must Read Book

It was a two-day read. It was a wonderful romp through history. It was a fictional take on the closing phase of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I as religious factions, not knowing where the future will lead with King James VI of Scotland, seeks to find out his true faith.

With smart writing and almost, at times, poetic phrasing, the plot of spies and an introspective Muslim physician takes the reader into a phenomenal book.

It should come as no surprise that the limited perspective of England at this time in relation to the Islamic world comes through with the word usage and behavior that makes the story seem even more realistic.

Like others in America in the fall of 2021, I face the realities of a pandemic, daily outrages from the political class, and challenges with the supply chain for items that need to be purchased. But the Arthur Phillips novel took me on a journey about an intelligent young man from the Ottoman Empire who becomes, through nefarious deeds of others, stranded in England. My world seemed quite serene, in comparison.

Faith and its meaning, the role it plays on the world stage and within the hearts of man make for a powerfully themed novel. And with an ending that makes the reader wonder…well, what is the ending?

I read many books each year, and though I call attention to the ones that really make me smile and think, there are also those that deserve to get placed on the top-shelf of my mind. The King At The Edge Of The World is absolutely one of those treasures!

I would like to say the book was recommended and strongly encouraged by others to read. But I found this gem late one night by simply scrolling through digital options on Libby. It does make me ponder how many other top-shelf delights never land before my hands.

And so it goes.

Largest Government-Sanctioned Execution in U.S. History

Earlier this year I was totally captured by William Kent Kreuger’s book This Tender Land. I stumbled onto it while searching for a new read, and wound up ordering a couple copies for friends once I had finished it. And after placing the Kleenex box off to the side. The book was a most exquisite read.

The book starts at the Lincoln Indian Training School, which can only be described as a pitiless place where Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. One of the boys, Muse who is of Sioux heritage and mute, will join with three other children and run away from the facility.

While I had a rough idea of the events which played out with the Indian Wars in the 1860s I was not aware that because of the conflicts in Minnesota the end result would be the largest government-sanctioned execution in U.S. history.

Thirty-eight Dakota will be hanged on December 26, 1862. The knowledge of this leaves a deep soul-searching journey for the boy in Kreuger’s book.

The enormity of that one line about the executions left me searching for a far-better historical understanding of the events that led up to Chief Little Crow and the Dakota pushed to the limits of their futile attempts to have the federal government abide by treaty obligations. From there to the atrocities in Southeastern Minnesota which leads to the gallows.

That is when I landed upon Scott Berg’s 38 Nooses. The epic-sized account (but contained within 400 pages) allows for a background of the treaties along with the broad lay of the land with cliffs and flatlands well painted in the mind of the readers.

Berg provides well-rounded views of the various players, among them, Governor Alexander Ramsey who likes to embellish events for the readers back East, General John Pope who any Civil War reader knows to be a dunce on horseback and furthers that incompetency in the nation’s 32nd state, and President Lincoln’s personal secretary John Nicolay who travels by train to the region to marshal the facts which will be required back in the White House. Berg even provides the title of the book Nicolay is immersed in as he rides the rails. (History of Minnesota by Edward Neill.)

It also needs to be noted Berg includes portions of the letters back-and-forth between the famed White House duo, as John Hay gives his colorful commentary from the White House back to Nicolay. Those who enjoy the flavor of the Lincoln White House will find reasons to enjoy this book.

Cherokee Chief John Ross

The book also includes Cherokee Chief John Ross in the the pages. Many who read history know him from the  from the “Trail Of Tears”.  I am most proud of being the first cousin, 6 times removed, from Chief John Ross.  He was also known as Guwisguwi (a mythological or rare migratory bird), and was Principal Chief of the Cherokee Native American Nation from 1828–1866.

Chief Little Crow

The main character is, of course, Little Crow who, as the opening pages show, agreed to move his Dakota band to a reservation near the Minnesota River in exchange for government promises of food and cash annuities to the tribe. The brutal winter of 1861, along with a devastating growing season, and delayed federal payments resulted in a predictable response.

Religion plays a role in the book, too, with Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple working to forge the idea in Washington for a new federal relationship with Indian tribes based on professional qualifications as opposed to political patronage. There are also the attempts by men of the cloth to compartmentalize the abuse of slaves in the South, while the Civil War plays out, with the racism running wild on the Minnesota prairies and in the Big Woods.

The most horrific part of the book is the ‘legal process’ that plays out for the roughly 300 Dakota who are rounded up and face trials. Language difficulties, lack of a lawyer and due representation, inability to refute the evidence, and in some cases having rushed trials where 4 or 5 Indians were all convicted at once provides a sampling of why no one can read the book and not simmer.

There is also the legal difference playing out of combatants in a military setting firing shots as opposed to violent actions outside of the war theatre. All that is obliterated by the absurd judicial system that adds to the dark stain that runs down the pages of this book.

President Lincoln is the calm arbiter of the law and moral reasoning as he spares the vast majority from death. But his hand is, nonetheless, involved in the hangings which occur the day after Christmas 1862.

To say I was mesmerized and totally taken in by the events and the manner in which Berg shapes his narrative would be a severe understatement. When I found myself with this book in hand at 2:30 A.M. I knew the author had succeeded in his mission.

If you think you know part of the story of this chapter of American history, as I did upon opening to page one, let me assure you there is so much more to learn.

And so it goes.

Trump Supporters Forget About Nixon Needing To Be Protected From Himself, Too

Without a doubt, Donald Trump was the most unstable, mentally unhinged, and dangerous individual to ever sit in the Oval Office.

There was, however, one other president who also faced a most unsettling ending to his time in office which also provoked dread and uncertainty in the defense establishment of this nation.

Many readers know my fascination and deep interest regarding the life and times of Richard Nixon. During the final days of Nixon’s presidency, the defense establishment was concerned about his stability. They could not make a solid prediction that he would not do something reckless.

Donald Trump was even more prone to outrageous behavior, and that can be demonstrated based on his temperament and actions since Inauguration Day 2017. What led up to the November elections, and certainly what followed with the most bizarre and outrageous behavior we have seen from any person in the White House. It was pure lunacy on parade.

Martha Mitchell looks calm and well-balanced in comparison.

This past week we learned that Bob Woodward and Robert Costa reported in a new book that Gen. Mark Milley reached out to China in the waning days of the Trump administration, attempting to reduce tensions by assuring China that no American attack was imminent, and asking that China not do anything without consulting the U.S. military leadership.

We know that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Milley that she worried about Trump’s access to the nuclear codes and that he was “crazy.”

To which Milley replied, “I agree with you on everything.”

For the past few days the Fox News crowd has created their own rhetorical storm, but it lacks substance and foundation. Trump was so troubling that our republic was potentially in danger. A majority of the nation understood that on Election Day. Milley knew it too, and aided the nation when it was required.

For that he is an American I am proud of for caring for the nation above all else. There are not many one can say the same about.

Trump supporters would do well to read some history on this larger issue. They need to understand that mature individuals will always come to the defense of the greater good of the nation, and they did in 1974.

Moreover, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger recalled years later that in the final days of the Nixon presidency he had issued an unprecedented set of orders: If the president gave any nuclear launch order, military commanders should check with either him or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger before executing them. Schlesinger feared that the president, who seemed depressed and was drinking heavily, might order Armageddon. Nixon himself had stoked official fears during a meeting with congressmen during which he reportedly said, “I can go in my office and pick up a telephone, and in 25 minutes, millions of people will be dead.” Senator Alan Cranston had phoned Schlesinger, warning about “the need for keeping a berserk president from plunging us into a holocaust.”

Buckingham Palace Responded To Ten-Year-Old

James has about 40 clients in his guardianship business. Every now and then there is just a special story about one of the people he has come to know.

One of his clients, at age 10, wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth to express his sadness regarding the death of her father. George VI was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death in 1952.

Buckingham Palace responded to the boy. He saved the note, and had it framed. What a great piece of history and a charming story!

Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon Brought Nation Together

This weekend we need a good memory.  A memory that is based on when we came together as a country.

I strongly suspect that many Americans still recall with fondness, Jerry Lewis, one of the biggest-hearted and dare I say one of the funniest men in this nation when he hosted the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.

Most people admire Jerry Lewis, and applaud what he did for ‘his kids’.  God love him!

As a teenager, I watched several hours on Sunday night and then as the family planned for the cookout the set would be on and turned up to be heard throughout the house.  There was always a bustle of excitement when tote board numbers would change and Lewis would add his charm and wit to the higher cash totals that had been generated from his tireless work.  In my high school years, I would call and donate ten dollars and urge my classmates to do the same.  Several years my plea was reported on the local coverage.

America was one big community filling the boots of firefighters with money, people heading to the local TV affiliates to add their cash to the canisters, but most important of all just picking up the phone and making a pledge to help someone else.   While everyone was trying to make a difference for the cause, I always felt this was one of those times when we were all just a bit more united, a bit more of a family, a bit more of the type of people we really want to be as a nation.

Jerry Lewis was doing a telethon for a disease, but the effect had far larger and deeper ramifications.

Ron Johnson Pulls A Lyndon Johnson And Tells The Truth, Both Men Recorded

The front page of the Wisconsin State Journal on Wednesday, September 1st, was not only an account of the latest news to be reported. Above the fold on the front page was also a reminder as to why duplicity is never a good quality to be found in our elected officials.

Reporter Riley Vetterkind wrote that Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson recently said: “there’s nothing obviously skewed about the results” of the 2020 presidential election in the Badger State.

The weight of that remark from Johnson made to Lauren Windsor, who posed as a conservative when speaking to the Senator is most important. She recorded the conversation as executive producer of the liberal political web show The Undercurrent, and also runs Project Veritas Exposed, an effort to unveil the work of Project Veritas, a conservative organization that has secretly recorded Democrats and liberals.

Within hours after the close of presidential balloting across our nation in November 2020, a concerted effort started so to create a climate where a final and decisive outcome, within the minds of some voters, was not possible. There has never been such an unseemly display before in our country where the continuous peaceful handing off of presidential power was attempted to be thwarted.

The all-out attempt to delude and utterly confuse a sizable segment of Donald Trump’s conservative base into believing that chicanery and out-right illegal actions had prevented Trump from prevailing remains the darkest hours of his term. Those actions still pose a danger to the country.

To undermine a legally and unambiguous victory to the winner of the 2020 election remains a dangerous dagger to the heart of our democracy. Overtly adding doubt and fomenting chaos when an election is over erodes the faith in elections that must be retained by the citizenry.

Yet that is precisely what Ron Johnson did.

Johnson has elevated theories that have cast doubt on the election’s results.

In December, after Trump’s campaign had lost its Wisconsin election lawsuits in both state and federal courts, Johnson held a hearing where he invited one of the president’s lawyers, Jim Troupis, to testify. Troupis proceeded to assert the same theories that had been rejected in multiple courts.

Troupis testified that “more than 200,000” Wisconsin residents did not vote legally in Wisconsin, a number that included more than 170,000 residents who voted early at their local clerk’s office using a form that had been in place for more than a decade. Troupis himself was among those voters.

The duplicity can be then proved in Johnson’s recorded comments to Windsor.

“There’s nothing obviously skewed about the results,” Johnson told the woman. “There isn’t. Collectively, Republicans got 1.661 million votes, 51,000 votes more than Trump got. Trump lost by 20,000. If Trump got all the Republicans, if all the Republicans voted for Trump the way they voted for the Assembly candidates … he would have won. He didn’t get 51,000 votes that other Republicans got. And that’s why he lost.”

When I read the newspaper article I thought of another Johnson who talked publicly to the nation with one set of words, and then privately, also in a recording, had a much different view on the topic of the day.

President Lyndon Johnson was determined not to lose Vietnam on his watch to the communists. He made it clear to the nation he was going to be committed to victory. But in private Johnson was honest and knew he playing a losing game with the lives of the Marines he was then sending to South East Asia.

On Feb. 26, 1965, when Johnson orders his secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, to launch Operation Rolling Thunder, which will drop more bombs on the North Vietnamese than on all of Europe in World War II, he is melancholy. “Now we’re off to bombing these people,” he says. “We’re over that hurdle. I don’t think anything is going to be as bad as losing, and I don’t see any way of winning.”

A week later, when he decides to send Marine battalions to Vietnam, Johnson gloomily tells Senate Armed Services chairman Richard Russell, “The great trouble I’m under [is that] a man can fight if he can see daylight down the road somewhere. But there ain’t no daylight in Vietnam. There’s not a bit.”

I realize we ask a lot of any elected official. We want them to respond with helpful advice concerning constituent problems, support our views on the complex issues of the day, and arrive on time for the summer parades in our communities. We know that these men and women are human, and make mistakes.

But there is no way to rationalize away or pretend otherwise when it comes to the unconscionable way Johnson has played so loose and fast with one of the essential threads of the fabric which binds our democracy together. Being forthright and honest is a virtue that we try to impart to our children. It is certainly one that we must demand when it comes to a United States Senator.

History shows what happens when duplicity replaces honesty and candor.

And so it goes.

“Icebergs Floated In The Gulf Of Mexico”

One of my reads this summer, that I am thoroughly enjoying, is The True Flag by Stephen Kinzer. There is no way to have predicted the reading of this book would be timed with the events playing out in Afghanistan.

At issue in the book, and in our daily newspapers, is a question that we never have resolved as a nation. How should the United States act on the world stage?

The book examines the events of 1898 and 1899, from Cuba to the Philippines, and points in-between as witnessed by the larger-than-life names of the time. With detailed writing that illuminates the intensity and convictions of both sides in this most consequential time for the nation, the book is both a story of the past and a lesson book for the future.

Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and William Randolph Hearst were most earnest about expanding the scope and power of our nation. Meanwhile, Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington, and Andrew Carnegie urged restraint in the lust for new lands and international intrigue. The same roiling arguments then over events around the globe are of the same order to the ones still driving us towards foreign wars in a desire to deposing governments. As in Afghanistan, while we retreat—but history proves this cycle of international involvement never ends.

Kinzer writes with the aid of old newspapers and Senate journals and has created a most remarkable account of how this aspect of our nation started with our war against Spain.

Today I am reading about the vote in the Senate regarding the Philippines, during February 1989, when this description of the weather in Washington, D.C. was presented.

I love history, there is no doubt. But I also am most fond of weather phenomena and find the events that were the greatest, biggest, worst, coldest, or hottest most worthy to further investigate.

As with the Great Arctic Outbreak of 1899.

The Great Arctic Outbreak didn’t just bring cold to the nation. It also brought snow and ice and lots of it. By the time blizzard conditions ceased in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, Cape May, New Jersey, record over 30 inches of snow, as did Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Maryland. On February 17, ice was even witnessed flowing down the Mississippi River, past New Orleans, and into the Gulf of Mexico. And, a one-inch thick layer of ice formed at the mouth of the Mississippi in East and Garden Island Bays in Louisiana.

Over 100 people were estimated to have lost their lives during to the Great Arctic Outbreak. The outbreak damaged or destroyed numerous crops, and countless livestock perished. In Georgia, many orchards of young trees were killed outright, and farmers had to completely replant them. Ice in the Mississippi River and Great Lakes completely halted barge traffic. The cold, snow, and ice also heavily damaged buildings and infrastructure across much of the country.

I continually find the best books are the ones that open still more doors with questions or curiosities. Score a solid win for The True Flag as Kinzer recognizes the present in the past. And is most capable of conveying the lessons of history we need to know as we move forward.

And so it goes.

Madison Alder Juliana Bennett Woefully Wrong About Historic Preservation

I came across a tweet this past week that concerned me on a number of levels. Madison Alderwoman Juliana Bennett alerted us to her lack of reasoning about historic preservation, muddled it with affordable housing, and then tossed in a dose of juvenile cursing for her most base of constituents.

The alder’s desire to undermine historical preservation and then cloud the issue with comments about the “white man” was noticed during her comments at the July 20th Madison City Council meeting. It was there she spoke out against the efforts to preserve the limited view of Lake Mendota from the Lamp House, the lone Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in the downtown portion of our city.

“We are voting on preserving the view of a dead rich white man, because, I guess, preserving the view of a dead rich white man so that he could see his lake house….”

“The resolution to preserve the view of the Lamp House so that the ghost of some dead rich white man can look at the lake reeks of white elitism, white privilege and overall a hyperpreservation that plagues our City”

“Preserving the view of the Lamp House has become an important issue to the sponsor, or to the Plan Commission because a few white elite preservationists will have the privilege and the means to make a fuss, have made preserving the view a paramount issue.”

“…preserving the view of a dead rich white man is not worth redevelopment that would benefit downtown residents”

To be frank, (no pun intended) such arguments laced with the anger of this type aimed at the “white man” undercut effective dialogue with the larger audience in our city. While I understand Bennett’s attempt to buttress an image as a progressive warrior what resulted was a self-created connotation of not being well-grounded about history, or why preserving it matters.

It is that last part which concerns me. I have thought for a couple days how I best wanted to post about Bennett’s disregard–even disdain–for the history of our city. Her attitude is deserving attention as she sits on the council.

One of the reasons that history is vital to know and preserve is that it allows for a collective memory from which to unite as citizens. There is no need for everyone to agree about the various interpretations of a home, spot of ground, or a celebrated moment but we all can agree that having those places or events in a visible form allows for history to then follow in stories and memories.

Consider how in 1927 Charles Lindbergh landed in Madison after flying around the State Capitol. His arrival at Pennco Field was a grand sight for the people on hand, and today there is a sense of that moment with a plaque near to the present site of South Towne Mall. The city basically came to standstill that day as many gathered to hear him speak at Camp Randall. It was not the first time Lindbergh had been here as in 1920 he lived on Mills Street while a student at the university.  

A crowd greets the Spirit of St. Louis after Charles Lindbergh flew the plane to Madison on Aug. 22, 1927, and landed at Pennco Field.

There are clearly many ways to view Lindbergh, some favorable, many not. The pro-German isolationist or the mega-celebrity with aviation credentials. All of these types of people, places, and events will surely be viewed differently over time, with varying interpretations based on who we are as a people and changes in our society.

The fact that people have divergent perspectives about memories of historical people and places is the reason they need to be preserved. It is those places where we then can have larger dialogues about the memory that is created from walking through a home, or gazing at a plaque as the largely blue sky beckons us to look up and imagine the arrival of the Spirit of St. Louis. And the character of the man then, and in years to come.

I reject Bennett’s accusation of elitism when it comes to historic preservation as if those who care about our collective history do so for narrow purposes. As if somehow history does not belong to all, or the joy of understanding it is relegated to only a few.

In 2007 I moved into the Marquette Neighborhood. It was soon after I first saw, every now and then along our street, a rectangular object near the curb. A neighbor informed me they were carriage stoops and were placed for the convenience of ladies as they exited the carriages back in the time the old Victorian homes were first constructed and lived in.  At once they became a point of historical pride for me about another aspect of the neighborhood that conjured up all the grandeur of days gone by.   

During a street construction project in 2009 portions of a couple of the carriage stoops were injured.  I at once contacted a local neighborhood historian and together we talked about the need to maintain the past.  Today they are protected with a city ordinance so walkers from around the city, or those who travel here from aboard to live as grad students, get to feel a slice of the past.

Equating elitism with historical preservation is not logical. Without historic preservation, the old and grand portions of Madison would have been razed. Conserving parts of our past allows for collective memories, and shared experiences. Without such touchstones (again, no pun intend) creeping amnesia occurs and then turns into a reckless disregard for where our story came from.

When our history is known, understood, and preserved one thing is clear. History is an antidote for self-pity. That is a lesson more need to grasp.

And so it goes.