Tag Archives: History

“They’ll Like Us When We Win!”

8 Sep

Some folks seem to think that if the orange one goes away, that our overheated rhetoric will die down, and people will have a civil society again. I disagree. But this level of political acrimony has happened before in the US… 220 years ago. How did their overheated society calm down?

Let’s return to 1796 – Washington announces he’s not running for a third term. He could have easily won, but he was getting older, he was tired of the political infighting, and decided to retire. That left his vice president, John Adams, to take up the role as the Federalist party standard bearer. However, Thomas Jefferson wanted the job as well, and became the Democratic-Republican party’s chosen one. Mind you, political parties were just recently established, and they were not the well-oiled machines that we have today. No one actively campaigned (Aaron Burr changed that) and they let their partisans snipe each other in the press.

Things got ugly… fast. An anonymous poster named Phocion said that Jefferson was having an affair with one of his female slaves. He also accused Jefferson of running away from British troops during the Revolution. It turned out both of those were true (he was governor of Virginia when the redcoats marched on Richmond, so what did you expect him to do?), but didn’t make it any more damming. Alexander Hamilton, the actual writer of those early “attack ads,” knew what he was doing.

Jefferson’s allies (in this case, James Madison) shot back with Adams wanting to be a king and starting a dynasty by having his son succeed him as President. He was also accused of being overweight and given the nickname “His Rotundity.” Again, he was overweight, and although his son did eventually become president, he wasn’t a monarchist. Plus it didn’t help that Hamilton was secretly trying to manipulate the electoral college to get Thomas Pinckney elected by pretending to make him vice president.

If the election of 1796 was bad, 1800 was far, far worse. The level of political debate involved accusing the other side of delving into witchcraft, of returning the republic back to British rule, and all the stuff that sounds eerily familiar.

So we return to the question, “How did it end?” The War of 1812 – the Federalists opposed the war, and when America “won” the war, they looked like idiots. Their party was trounced in the election and they ceased to exist. For eight years there was only one political party in America – the Democratic Republicans. (They drop the “republican” part a few years later.) During this “Era of Good Feelings,” there was no need for political infighting, so we lost the taste for it. When the Whigs emerged as the opposition, we had overt civility (although we still had that nasty incident where one member of congress beat another to unconsciousness).

So when do we calm our political nerves? If you’re wondering why I keep using Toby Ziegler from The West Wing, it’s because he tells us in an episode (talking about Islamic terrorists), “They’ll like us when we win!” Until one political party wins so overwhelmingly that the other side realizes they have to change their tactics, waving the red flag will keep working.

Depressing? Is it more likely that people will stop listening to the overheated rhetoric and THEN parties will have to change tactics? Have you got another theory? Tell me in the comments below!

Mortality is God’s Greatest Gift

30 Aug

If have learned nothing from books and movies about immortality, it’s that you don’t want it. Not for the obvious reasons, but for one simple one: the older you get, you realize it’s the same s#*$, different decade.

Have you ever noticed that most immortal stories make sure they conveniently never have children? This is not by accident. Otherwise, you have to explain to your grandkids why you still look twenty-something. The answer is make-up (thank you, Lazarus Long), but eventually your kids go away, and as I’ve seen recently, most great-grandkids don’t wanna hang out with their elderly relatives. This can be terribly, terribly depressing.

They did reference this in one of the later Anne Rice novels, where one of the vampires had kids before she was turned, and then followed her kids’ lives in exhaustive genealogies. Supposedly it kept her sane all those centuries.

“All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.”

Starting with the Battlestar Galactica reference, it doesn’t take much for me to look at previous presidential campaigns and see, “Oh yeah, they’re still proclaiming the same crap they did the last two election cycles. Why do we think they’ll actually do it this time?!” Never believe that this is the most important election of our lifetime because it’s not. How do I know? They said that in every election I’ve ever seen.

Only if you’re young can you get excited enough to think this is the change we’re waiting for or we can make America great.

Santayana predates Churchill saying it by several decades. What I’m always amazed by is how we often learn the wrong lesson from history. For example, we were convinced that the Soviet Union and its allies were out to conquer the world, and that if we did appeasement like Chamberlain did back in 1935, then we’d have World War III. We failed to take locals desires for independence into account, so what was a desire for self-recognition by the Viet Minh was turned into a fight against communism… so we get the Vietnam war.

We so often get it wrong. For example, the original V for Vendetta comic book was a complaint against the excesses of the Thatcher administration in Great Britain. Think about that – they were saying Margaret Thatcher was the new Hitler. 40 years ago. Think how wrong that was. Thatcher was Thatcher, Trump is Trump, Biden is Biden. It’s important as citizens to criticize our government, to fight against policies which we oppose, but recognize them for what they are. Not angels or demons, just men.

This is why I do not fear death. Not by COVID, or the Sweet Meteor of Death, or by getting run over in the street. I don’t embrace it–don’t get me wrong–but there are far worse things than death. Like seeing the next generation think they’re going to change the world and actually screwing up the few things I enjoyed.

But I could just be getting cranky as I get older. Am I off track here? Let me know in the comments section below!

Misheard Lyrics, Allegories, and Things Left Unsaid

11 Jul

When I started writing my current project, I thought about a line from the song Skibbereen, which I heard in the movie Michael Collins. So… “To Serve a Foreign Queen” was born! But now, here’s the problem… that line doesn’t exist. Those words were never sung.

Is this proof of alternate dimensions? No, just a faulty memory. Turns out the song lyric that I named was simply misheard, since I last watched the film a long time ago. I discovered the movie Michael Collins, when I was working in Korea back in 1999. They had things called bideobongs–video rooms–which are mostly an excuse for the crowded Koreans to have a rented room, watch naughty films, and whack it in peace. However, the one closest to me actually had a pretty good selection of films (this is pre-Netflix), and they had that as an option. Absolutely loved it, went back, watched it three more times.

Michael Collins is a wonderfully told story about the IRA from 1916, when Ireland gained independence in 1922, and the Irish Civil War of 1923. (Pause.) Now what I just wrote is a lie… depending on who’s reading it. The problem with doing historical films too close to the actual event is that it comes with a lot of emotional baggage, so when Hollywood made that film, it walked into a historical minefield. Not necessarily because of the Irish Civil War (which created the two major political parties in Ireland), but because the film neglects to mention that Collins ordered the IRA to disrupt the North in order to keep them back in the country. That caused the Troubles, which is why when I mentioned to my Northern Irish coworkers that this was my favorite film, they gasped with horror.

So this was a big “rah-rah Ireland” film and plays with the history. The names were correct, but the characters (other than the title one) were given flaws that caused the civil war later. They added in a love triangle which kinda happened, but not in the way you think. According to the Irish themselves, they only gained independence in 1937, because they were still nominally part of the British Empire until then. “Free State” didn’t cut it. In fact, it didn’t cut it so much that the country started shooting each other over whether they would be a “republic,” free and independent versus a “free state,” with the King of England still as the head of state. Yes… this was a war about the name of their country, and countless folks died (including the title character) because of it.


Yep. In the same way, the lyrics were close… but not quite. Here’s what I think I actually heard:

It’s well I do remember on a bleak November’s day,

The landlord and the sheriff came to drive us all away;

they set my house on fire with their cursed English spleen

And that’s another reason why I left Old Skibbereen.

Yes, the movie is not perfectly historically accurate, but who cares?! It was a great flik, and got me interested in reading more about the Irish Civil War of 1922… when previously, I never even heard of it. I liked The Patriot, too, and I knew that was dead wrong historically. But the battle sequences are good, and that’s what counts. Disney’s The Three Musketeers with Charlie Sheen is a great romp… has nothing to do with the book by Alexandre Dumas.

Have you ever run into this problem? Tell me about it in the comments below!

You say you want a revolution?

28 Jun

When I was bored with my current library, I decided to turn to the authors in The Royal Manticoran Navy and found this interesting story from Leo Champion, an indie author from Australia.

Our hero is a kid named Jake Linder, who leaves an overly regulated, rich, and boring Earth to seek his fortune in the stars. Instead, he gets hijacked by pirates and sold into slavery on the backwater world of Verana. One day, as he’s on a suicidal work detail, he decides he’s had enough to blindly following orders, and fights to live as a free man.

The next thing he knows, he’s started the Veranian Revolution, an entire planet rising against an empire. Jake becomes not just a soldier but a hero. He gets caught up in a galaxy-spanning conspiracy. He finds the love of his life, and lose her! It’s a wild, interesting ride!

Champion does a great job of balancing two main plotlines and a couple minor ones, so that you get Jake’s perspective on the front lines (with some really good, gritty but not depressing war realism), Damien’s perspective as the leader of the independence movement (so you get the cool diplomacy and problems of political struggle), and you get the minor plotlines that cover conspiracies, backstabs, space combat, and all the things that you want in a space opera.

This book happens to hit me where I’m itching because of the other book I’m reading…

That’s right, I’m double-fisting my books reading two books at the same time. I’m a madman! 🙂 What happened is that my son is really into Hamilton: The Musical. (Which is like saying a fish is really into water.) So when I went over to a friend’s house and he had it on his bookshelf, I asked to borrow it. Really amazing detail about the American Revolution, our early government, and the political backstabbing and nasty press that reminds me that plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (That means I’m pretentious.)

So if you’re into Sci-fi, especially Military Sci-fi, check out Leo Champion and his other works! If you’re into American History, check out Ron Chernow… although he doesn’t need as much press, so go to Leo’s page first! 🙂

Now what do you think? What’s the biggest obstacle to revolutionary success? Write a comment below!

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