Wednesday, June 20, 2018


Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
June 20, 2018

There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism…
the one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin,
of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all,
would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.
                                                                                                Theodore Roosevelt
                                                                                                Speech at Knights of Columbus
                                                                                                October 12, 1915

No human with an ounce of compassion wants to see children separated from their parents. The bond, especially between a mother who bore and gave birth to a child, is unbreakable. Yet, plying heart strings will not resolve the problem we have with illegals (or smugglers claiming to be parents) who seek asylum, or have chosen to by-pass the legal immigration process and have crossed without papers into our country, by way of an unsecured border.

As everyone knows, border guards have only four choices when families are caught at the border, attempting to cross illegally, without proper authorizationViolators can be sent back into Mexico, which was one step the Obama Administration took. The entire family can be released into our country, pending a hearing to which they would voluntarily have to return, another choice the Obama Administration made. (Statistics suggest that 80% of those who disappear into the nether reaches of the country do not show up for scheduled hearings.)Three, the entire family (including the children)can be incarcerated, pending a hearing. And four, the parents can be incarcerated, pending a hearing, while the children are housed separately from their parents. The first choice commits the family to extreme hardship, as Mexico has no interest in taking them in. They must return, unescorted, to their country of origin. The second encourages the illegal entry into our country of not only asylum seekers but potential terrorists and those who choose not to play by the rules. The third would be cruelest to the children. The fourth, the option chosen by the Trump Administration[1](and distasteful to all, including Mr. Trump), highlights the need for comprehensive immigration reform – something both Parties in Congress, the author of our laws, has studiously avoidedMr. Trump has been blamed, but the real culprit is Congress. Especially cynical are the misanthropists in the media and Washington who let crocodile tears detract from their failed policies    

For decades, Congress has ignored gnawing problems like immigration, along with race and third-rail issues like Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. In part, that reluctance represents an unwillingness to put their name to a bill, a b ill which long term would be in the nation’s interest, but which might in the short term prove detrimental to re-election prospects. It is “kicking the pail down the road.” More cynically, some politicians prefer to keep a bill that might resolve issues like immigration and race from reaching the floor, because they have concluded that unresolved issues provide electioneering fodder. 

Resolving the illegal immigration problem should not be that difficult. There are certain principles on which reasonable people should agree. Most everyone agrees that legal immigration should be encouraged, and illegal immigration should be discouraged. We may differ in terms of how many legal immigrants we prefer. As well, nobody wants completely open borders, the allowing into the country anyone who would like to come. We all agree there should be a process. There are issues, such as the welfare of Dreamers and the presence of undocumented residents, that need to be resolved. But compromise should be possible

Despite hyperbolic claims from partisans, we all dislike the separating of families. But the first step must be to stop the flow of illegals. There are those who would prefer for Mr. Trump to issue an Executive Order ceasing the practice of separating families, but what choice should he make? Should he release all families, thereby increasing the number of illegals? Should he send them back into Mexico, to an uncertain fate? Should he imprison the children with their parents or guardians? Or should Congress take up the issue and pass a comprehensive bill, a bill that may not satisfy every desire, but which could address border security along with the humanity needs of those who already here? And is not the passage of legislation the purview Congress? It is the executive’s job to carry out laws and the courts to pass on their Constitutionality.

Stopping the flow can only be done with secure borders, whether real or simulated. Since the U.S.-Mexican border is 1954 miles long, a wall or a fence covering its entire distance is impractical, but illegal border crossings tend to be concentrated and are generally known to ICE employees. Technology is such that unfenced portions of the border could be policed with cameras, Drones and other aircraft. That, in my opinion, should be done at once. A tidal flood of illegals would be reduced to a trickle.

As for the Dreamers, the issue is more complex. My preference would be to be tough in defending borders, rendering them less porous, but to be more lenient with those that are already here, despite that being unfair to those waiting in line. I can understand the reluctance to grant amnesty to those who entered the country illegally, no matter their age. But the alternative seems too draconian, and, in doing nothing, the problems simply worsens.

Keep in mind, immigration is not isolated from trade. Mexico looks upon the U.S. as a source of dollars repatriated from illegal residents in the U.S. back to families in Mexico. As well, Mexico sees an expanding Mexican demographic in the U.S. as one that helps, as Victor Davis Hanson recently wrote, to “recalibrate U.S. policy favorable to Mexico.” The Left has the abhorrent habit of comparing policies they don’t like to Nazi killing machines. Such comparisons were made about George W. Bush regarding Abu Ghraib prison and waterboarding. To suggest that today’s U.S. detention centers compare to 1940s Nazi concentration camps is despicable and trivializes the six million who died in such camps. The energy expended by the Left in such hateful inanities would better serve their cause – not to mention that of the American people – if it were aimed at achieving consensus on immigration reform. What is frustrating to most Americans is that this is a solvable problem. All it requires is for Congress to place the nation ahead of Party. Is that too much to ask of this great democratic republic?

The United States has long been the most compassionate of nations. Why do so many emigrants choose the U.S.? Why don’t we see them clamoring to go to Russia or China? Do you think most would prefer France to the United States? Emma Lazarus’ words resonate: “Give us your tired, your poorSuch grace has served us well. Ms. Lazarus’ words were cast on a bronze plaque in 1903, during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and reflected his empathy. But we must, as well, heed the warning President Roosevelt uttered a dozen years later, quoted in the rubric which heads this essay – a warning against the current preference for compartmentalizing people by race, religion and nationality for political purposes – identity politics – especially immigrants and minorities. The country needs and wants immigrants. They contribute to the vitality of our nation. They add to its diversity. Yet, we should want them to become Americans, to speak our language, to obey our laws, to adopt our culture (with the nuances they add), and to learn and appreciate the history of this increasingly ethnically-mixed nation – “this last best hope for mankind” – from its founding in the early 17thCentury to the country it has become in the 21st.

[1]As this was being written, Mr. Trump signed an Executive Order ending the policy of separation. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Review "On Grand Strategy" by John Lewis Gaddis

Sydney M. Williams

Burrowing into Books
Reviews of Selective Readings
                                                                                                                                      June 15, 2018
“On Grand Strategy”
John Lewis Gaddis

Grand Strategy:The alignment of potentially infinite aspirations
 with necessarily limited capabilities.

This, then, is a book about the ‘mental’ Hellespont that divide such leadership,
on one shore, from common sense on the other. There ought to be free and 
frequent crossings between them, for it’s only with such exchanges that grand
strategies – alignments of means with ends – become possible.”
                                                                                                            John Lewis Gaddis
                                                                                                            On Grand Strategies

This is a short book (313 pages), with a large sweep of (mostly) Western Civilization, especially of its military leaders and observers. Professor Gaddis is the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale. As well, the book is, as Victor Davis Hanson wrote in a review for The New York Times, “…a thoughtful; validation of the liberal arts, an argument for literature over social science, an engaging reflection on university education and some timely advice for Americans that lasting victory comes from winning what you can rather than all that you want.” 

In ten essays, Professor Gaddis carries us from Xerxes, Pericles and Octavian to the Founders, Napoleon and Bismarck. He juxtaposes Augustine with Machiavelli, Elizabeth I with Philip II and Clausewitz with Tolstoy. He focuses on three U.S. Presidents: Lincoln, Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, showing us why Lincoln and FDR were successful, while Wilson failed to realize his dream “to make the world safe for Democracy.”

He cites maxims. Isaiah Berlin quoting the Greek poet Archilochus of Paros: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Augustine: “The higher glory is to stay war itself with a word, than to slay men with a sword.” Machiavelli: “…a man who wants to make a profession of good in all regards must come to ruin among so many who are not good.” Clausewitz, author of the unfinished On War: “war…must be subordinate to politics and therefore to policy.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald, who said brilliance is the ability “to hold opposing ideas in [one’s]mind, while retaining the ability to function.” 

Professor Gaddis instructs us on Thucydides, who wrote of the distinction between resemblance and reflection – between patterns surviving across time and repetitions degraded by time. George Canning – the late 18th-early 19thCentury British statesman – who prophesied that the “new” world would one day correct the imbalances of the “old” world. Edmund Burke on proportionality, which leads to the conflict between what we would like to do set against what we can do. He writes of Sun Tzu, the 5thCentury BC Chinese author of The Art of War, who “sets forth principles, selected for validity across time and space, and then connects them to practice, bound by time and space.” He describes Napoleon at Moscow being like the dog that caught the car. What do I do now? Lincoln who told us that power and liberty can co-exist. And 92-year-old Oliver Wendell Holmes who said of newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt: “A second class intellect. But a first-class temperament.”

This is a book one can read not only to learn of the successes and failures of famous and infamous military strategists, but one from which we can better understand today’s polarized politics. Isaiah Berlin, the Latvian born British historian and a hero to Professor Gaddis, came to see (in the 1950s) politics as a polarity, with “inequivalent” concepts of liberty at either end. “One,” Professor Gaddis writes, “offered freedom from the need to make choices by yielding them to some higher authority…The other the freedom to make such choices.” Taken to extremes, the first leads to tyranny, the second to anarchy.

One can also derive life-lessons, for we are all strategists (though mostly not grand), knowingly or unknowingly, in all the decisions and choices we make. We alternate between the focused but myopic hedgehog and the versatile but peripheral fox. We would be wise to periodically step back and conduct self-analysis. We may find ourselves changing from one animal to the other, as conditions warrant, so to lead more balanced, productive lives.

In an interview last Month with Brian Lamb on C-Span, Professor Gaddis spoke of the summer odysseys into small-town America he asks of his students: “…It is just our small effort to try to break down some of the isolation that somehow the elite universities have locked themselves into, the bubbles into which they have placed themselves.” His is a voice of reason. With many of us concerned as to what is happening on college campuses, Professor Gaddis restores a measure of confidence. However, since most of us cannot take his class, we can, at least, do the next best thing – read his book.

Monday, June 4, 2018

"Confessions & Thoughts from a Descendant of Slave Owners"

Sydney M. Williams

Essay from Essex
“Confessions & Thoughts from a Descendant of Slave Owners”
June 4, 2018

If scientists can be confident of anything, it is that whatever we currently believe
about the genetic nature of differences among populations is most likely wrong.”
                                                                                                David Reich
                                                                                                Professor of Genetics, Harvard University
                                                                                                The New York Times, March 23, 2018

I am descended from slave owners. In 1796, at age 26, Joseph Washington (my great-great-great grandfather), left Southampton County, Virginia and headed west. (His great-great grandfather John Washington had emigrated from England to Surry City, Virginia in 1655.)Arriving in Robertson County, Tennessee that same year, Joseph bought 60 acres from Hugh Lewis for $360.00, near Cedar Hill. He brought with him slaves, some of whose descendants still live in the area. Joseph died in 1848 and left the farm – by then larger and called Wessyngton – to his son, George Augustine Washington. The latter added land, and the farm became – both before and after the Civil War – the largest producer of Dark Fire-cured tobacco in the United States. George was the last owner of slaves, dying in 1892. Ownership of the main house, barns and some of the land went to George’s son Joseph Edwin Washington. Joseph was a planter, but also a lawyer and politician. He served ten years in Congress, 1887-1897. After Edwin died in 1915, the farm was operated by his widow, Mary Bolling Kemp Washington. (Their second daughter Elizabeth Wyndham Washington [1888-1962] was my maternal grandmother.) In 1930, George Augustine Washington II, the bachelor son of Joseph and Mary, left his law practice in New York City and, at age 51, returned to Wessyngton to help during the Depression and War years. He remained there until his death in 1964. The place was then owned by eight first cousins, one of whom was my mother. It was sold in 1983. Completing the circle:in the two summers before it was sold, my oldest son worked on the farm. He worked for “Dit” Terry, whose ancestors had travelled to Tennessee as slaves with Joseph Washington in 1796.

I am also descended from indentured servants. Indentured servants were not slaves, but their economic well-being and their social status was far below the merchants who paid their passage to America. Once in this country, they had to work for four to seven years to pay back passage, room and board. Most of us whose American ancestry can be traced back a couple of hundred years could say the same. This is not to impugn guilt, victimhood, privilege or unfairness. We are who we are, and I believe the Bible is wrong when in Exodus it is written: “…for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation…” Our fathers and mothers, slaves and slave owners, lived in different times. For most of human history, slavery was a fact of life. It was always morally wrong, but it always existed and still does, in too many places, despite being out-lawed by the United Nations on December 2, 1949. We, the living, should be judged by the standards of our time, for who we are, our character – our honor, civility, empathy and respect for others.

The truth is that slavery was ubiquitous throughout the Colonies, as it was throughout most of the world. While it was far more common in the South, it extended throughout the North. Many of our edifices were built with slave labor, like parts of the U.S. Capitol and the White House in Washington; Trinity Church in New York; many of the buildings on the campuses of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and UNC at Chapel Hill, and Mount Vernon, Monticello and Montpelier (James Madison’s home). Should they be destroyed as reminders of an evil legacy, or should they be seen as historical markers and memorials to their owners and to the enslaved men and women who built them? It has become faddish to redact memories of our imperfect past, like the removing or destroying of statues of Confederate generals. I can understand not celebrating those who defended slavery, but I also believe we must confront our past honestly. We must acknowledge the good and the bad. America is not perfect, just as none of us are, but no nation has accomplished the good we have. Tearing down statues does not alter what happened. Ignorance of one’s past is not enlightenment. So, why are we so intent on erasing the past? Is it to atone for the sins of our forefathers? Or, do we believe that if we see no evil there is (or was) no evil – that blindfolds provide moral courage and comfort? We can run, but we cannot hide. Providing safe places may offer temporary reprieve, but they do not address historical facts. 

In recent years, group think has replaced individual thought. Its carrier is identity politics, the progeny of affirmative action grown large and reckless. It is manifested in such groups as Women’s March, Black Lives Matter and in those groups whose members constitute a single sex, race ethnicity or religion. They are like the fraternities and sororities of my day, in that they appeal to like-minded people, but with a self-proclaimed mission riddled with arrogance and bounded by ignorance. They are an anathema to free and independent thought. Ironically, it is not diversity in substance they call for but diversity in appearance. They threaten the fact that success is individual – a function of ability, aspiration and a willingness to work hard and smart. We are not all equal and never can be. If I stand next to LeBron James would anyone doubt who was the better physical specimen? If I were to match wits with Neil deGrasse Tyson would there be any question as to who was the smartest? If you were to see me alongside George Clooney would anyone think I was the more attractive? We should be judged for the individual we are, not by the group into which we have been placed.

It is condescending to treat as victims those whose race, sex or creed are unlike one’s own. It is proclaiming that success is not one’s own – that it was attributable to outside help. Certainly, parents, teachers and mentors guide us, but we are not widgets to be stamped out on an assembly line, numbered and compartmentalized. We are individuals, hopefully living civilly and respectfully in communities. One may be a better athlete, another a better scholar and a third a better artist. What we have in common are the opportunities that we, as Americans, have – the right to speak out, to succeed or to fail and to know that we are all equal before the law. 

What truly separates us is not our racial or religious differences, but our ideas. Just as books should be judged by their content, not their covers, we should be judged by our character, not our sex, religion or race. Most of us have simple, common goals: We want to live peacefully and securely; we want work that provides for our physical needs, as well as for the dignity that satisfies our soul; we want a good education for our children; we want to be loved and respected. Where we differ is in the means to achieve those goals. Some prefer to emphasize the person, others the state. Both can lead to extremism – anarchy or socialism. We should share ideas, to find mutually acceptable solutions. Compromise is not a four-letter word. We are one nation; we should be able to accommodate all people and ideas.

It has become common to ignore personal responsibility, to blame failures on victimhood – that “white privilege” has disadvantaged those of different cultures. Yet, among all nations, America has the best history of accommodating cultural diversity. In a recent Wall Street Journal, Jason Willick interviewed James Davison Hunter, a professor of religion and culture at the University of Virginia: “It is not perfect(our cultural diversity) and certainly not linear, and certainly race has been one of those elements of our past and present that resists that kind of absorption. But look at Catholics, Jews, Mormons. My hope is that we can continue to absorb diversity. But it’s certainly being tested right now.” There is no question it is being tested, in part because of politicians who place us into identifiable and easily accessed groups. But, time is on the side of assimilation. Consider how far we have come from a segregated south in the 1950s. Look at the composition of schools and colleges today versus sixty years ago – the numbers of women, Asians, Hispanics and African-Americans. Consider marriage. According to a PEW Research study, the number of newlyweds married to a spouse of a different race or ethnicity has risen from 3% in 1957 to 17% in 2015. Progress may be slow, but there has been progress.

Slavery once existed in this country, as it did in most parts of the world, and it still does under the euphemism “human trafficking” in parts of Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. It is [and was] not limited to African-Americans; though slaves in this country were overwhelmingly from Africa. But the fact that it was both ubiquitous and accepted does not (and did not) justify it. There is no question that it was sinful – in fact, there is no crime more morally outrageous than enslavement – but we cannot let that fact consume our conscience today. We live in a different age. We have the advantage of being able to know the past. We should acknowledge and honor those who fought against slavery, from rebels like Nat Turner to the fictional Elizabeth who crossed the ice-covered Ohio River to freedom. We should remember and honor those who fought and died in the Civil War and the abolitionists who marched for freedom. We should think of and honor African-American heroes, like Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King. There are African-Americans on both sides of the political aisle; we should welcome their intellectual diversity.

Treating humans as chattel is evil incarnate. But most who fought on the side of the south had never been beneficiaries of slave ownership. They were too poor and too ignorant to understand the implications of slavery, other than their repugnant belief that because they were White, they were superior. Their officers told them they were fighting for states’ rights and against an invading army, which they were. But, their leaders romanticized an idealized, agrarian world – a world whose economy was predicated on the institution of slavery. Essentially, it was economics that was behind the South’s decision to secede from the Union. (Thomas Jefferson, did not endorse slavery, but Monticello depended on it.) Most in the South, it is my guess, gave little thought to the demeaning nature of bondage, but ignorance does not excuse bad behavior. Enslaving people and creating dependency is always wrong. It diminishes the human spirit and ignores the dignity and celebration freedom brings. 

The issue of race is complex. The “Jim Crow” years and the segregation policies that followed hurt assimilation. The Civil Rights movement brought the benefits of integration and affirmative action, but it also fostered a sense of dependency and victimhood, something politicians have since milked to their advantage. As an aside, one cannot help but get a sense that issues, like immigration, guns, abortion and race are ones that many politicians do not want to resolve. They serve as rallying points for those who prefer polarized views. The truth is, we all have weaknesses as well as strengths. The key to individual success is to minimize the former and emphasize the latter. As Americans, we are part of at fortunate community that comprises the greatest experiment in liberalism and self-government the world has ever known. As Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg a hundred and fifty-five years ago, we lucky people live under a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” We cannot let that ideal perish. We should be civil in our dealings with others. We should live within the law, and if we break it we should be punished. But, we should not stigmatize anyone for what or how their ancestors lived. We should be responsible for our own actions, including mistakes. In our relations with one another, it is sincerity that is wanted, not sanctimony; honesty, not hypocrisy; personal pleasantries, not perfidious pieties.

As Americans, we are advantaged in that almost all of us (or our ancestors) came from somewhere else. Greeks, Poles, Chinese, Persians, English, Spanish, Japanese, Italians and others have national heritages that stretch back centuries. Apart from Native Americans, we don’t have that, as a sense of pride or as an encumbrance. Even during our colonial days, we were never subject to imperialism, as were so many, especially in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. We are Americans. We are truly a melting pot, a composite of rugged individuals. With each generation we have become more multiracial. In time, as my paternal grandmother used to say, we will all be of the same color. Diversity, then, will be manifested in ideas, not the pigments of our skins.

None of us just appeared. Eve did not emerge from Adam’s rib. We all descend from those who came before. Humans have been around for about 60,000 years. Yet, if we just go back ten generations – about 300 years – we each descend from 1024 individuals. I doubt there is a man or woman alive who could name all those from whom they descend going back just 200 years. Because of the large numbers of ancestors from whom we each descend, we must all be related. Mathematically, it cannot be otherwise. The population of the world in 1700 was about 650 million, and there are seven billion of us today. An interest in ancestry has become more common. Almost 12 million people have had their DNA tested. (Last year the number tested doubled.) Anecdotal evidence suggests backgrounds are more diverse (and more integrated) than had been previously thought. Given the geometric nature of our ancestors that should not surprise.

One example among thousands:On a farm in Tennessee, around 1831, my great-great grandfather George Augustine Washington, at age 16, fathered a son, Granville Washington. He was born to a young, 15-year-old woman named Fanny, a slave on George’s father’s farmGranville, became a house slave and later, as a free man, valet to his biological father. After the Civil War, Granville went to Nashville where he married and had two sons. Later he returned to the farm and died in 1898. Granville’s story and that of other slaves on that Tennessee farm and their descendants are described by John F. Baker, Jr., a descendant of slaves, in a book The Washington’s of Wessyngton Plantation, published by Simon & Schuster in 2009. The book traces his family back ten generations. It is sobering to realize that some of his ancestors were enslaved longer than the 153 years they have been free. And I am proud to acknowledge that because of two young people, in a passionate moment 188 years ago, John Baker and I are cousins with a common heritage.