‘Jefferson’s Pillow’

Yet I am always acutely aware that however noble their accomplishments, Jefferson and his fellow Virginians George Washington, George Mason, and James Madison — great patriots and founders all — lived lives cushioned by slavery. They were also the conveyors of the culture that has done and continues to do hideous damage to millions of black human beings and to many more millions of white Americans as well. They created a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that whites were and should be supreme. They celebrated freedom while stealing the substance of life from the people they “owned.” They fought off the mightiest military power then on earth with the cry “We will not be slaves!” And they created the country that gives me, the descendant of slaves and slave owners, much of the context for my existence, the freedom that I cherish and the democratic citizenship that I have used relentlessly for the past half century.

.. For many Southern whites, the outcome of the Civil War brought a loss of prestige, power, and privilege, and some of the resulting resentment was felt in the North as well. Black people and white people became for each other color-coded symbols of the things they had lost or never achieved, and of the things they continued to resent and fear.

.. And yet I feel and look American, and I have labored over the years to make the Constitution work for everyone. Does that make me a patriot? Can I embrace founders who may have “owned” some of my ancestors? Can I try to see them in their complexity and understand them — even identify with them? Can I see myself and my ancestors as active participants in a history from which we are too often absent?



There’s a right way to judge America’s past

we are as badly fractured in approaching history as we are in confronting the present.

.. And shouldn’t we all be able to rally around the core idea of the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal” with rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”?

.. “The historic record is clear,” Landrieu said. “The Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.”

“It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, they fought against it,” he continued. “. . . These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement and the terror that it actually stood for.”

.. He cited Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’s straightforward declaration that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical and moral truth.

.. Those who opposed independence could fairly respond that the “long train of abuses and usurpations” the Declaration put forward did not justify breaking our bonds with Britain. But the critics could not claim that the founders had ignored the obligation they took on by expressing “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”

Mattis on Our Way of War

Some of General Mattis’s statements and reasoning follow; my comments are in italics.

–America doesn’t lose wars, it loses interest.

–We have no overall strategy about how to defeat our enemy. (Just killing them is not working because, as I wrote years ago, the proper analogy comes from Greek mythology, Hercules’ adventure where, for every enemy soldier he killed, ten more sprung up in each one’s place.)

.. –Irregular warfare must become a core competency of our military; also our new weaponry must be focused on this new kind of war.  (Most military training and procurement still concerns the strategy of World War II.)

.. Pentagon insiders say that he rubbed civilian officials the wrong way—not because he went all “mad dog,” which is his public image, and the view at the White House, but rather because he pushed the civilians so hard on considering the second- and third-order consequences of military action against Iran.

.. Washington did have a “strategy” when it attacked Iraq, the neoconservative one.  This was to intimidate the Muslim world with massive bombing, “Shock and Awe”we called it, so all Muslims would be afraid of us and then do what we ordered. Then we planted giant, billion-dollar American air bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. These would, they thought, give us hegemony over Central Asia, intimidate Russia and Iran, while Iraq would turn into a friendly, modern democracy dependent upon Washington.

.. In past wars American “strategy” has usually been to return to the status quo ante, the prewar situation. Washington violates nearly all of Sun Tzu’s dictums for success. Endless wars for little purpose and with no end strategy are thus likely to continue. They are, however, profitable or beneficial for many Washington interests.