Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “United States

Wounded Knee Massacre – Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the conflict at Wounded Knee Creek; December 29th, 1890

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The Wounded Knee Massacre occurred on December 29, 1890, near Wounded Knee Creek (Lakota: Čhaŋkpé Ópi Wakpála) on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the U.S. state of South Dakota. On the day before, a detachment of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment commanded by Major Samuel M. Whitsideintercepted Spotted Elk’s band of Miniconjou Lakota and 38 Hunkpapa Lakota near Porcupine Butte and escorted them five miles westward (8 km) to Wounded Knee Creek, where they made camp.

The remainder of the 7th Cavalry Regiment arrived, led by Colonel James W. Forsyth and surrounded the encampment supported by four Hotchkiss mountain guns.

On the morning of December 29, the troops went into the camp to disarm the Lakota. One version of events claims that during the process of disarming the Lakota, a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle, claiming he had paid a lot for it.A scuffle over Black Coyote’s rifle escalated and a shot was fired which resulted in the 7th Cavalry’s opening fire indiscriminately from all sides, killing men, women, and children, as well as some of their own fellow soldiers. The Lakota warriors who still had weapons began shooting back at the attacking soldiers, who quickly suppressed the Lakota fire. The surviving Lakota fled, but U.S. cavalrymen pursued and killed many who were unarmed.

By the time it was over, more than 200 men, women, and children of the Lakota had been killed and 51 were wounded (4 men, 47 women and children, some of whom died later); some estimates placed the number of dead at 300. Twenty-five soldiers also died, and 39 were wounded (6 of the wounded would later die).

(Source)

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Navajo medicine man, Southwest U.S.; ca. 1904


President Lyndon B. Johnson holds his dog “Her” by the ears as his other dog “Him” looks on, the White House lawns; April 27, 1964

To be fair Lyndon Johnson wasn't all that nice to humans, either.

Him and Her, the most well known of the President Johnson’s dogs, were registered beagles born on June 27, 1963. The President frequently played with the dogs and was often photographed with them. In 1964, President Johnson raised the ire of many when he lifted Him by his ears while greeting a group on the White House lawn.

Her died at the White House in November 1964, after she swallowed a stone. Him died in June 1966, when he was hit by a car while chasing a squirrel on the White House. (Source)


An injured survivor of the Hindenburg disaster calmly smokes a cigarette as he is moved to a hospital from the field at Lakehurst, New Jersey; May 6, 1937

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Primary source footage that explains the event and info about the Hindenburg here:

Also live commentary of the event, “Oh, the humanity!”:


Hindenburg disaster that occurred on May 6, 1937, New Jersey, United States – (Colorized Photo)

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Most of the people onboard survived the Hindenburg disaster.

Hydrogen rises, burning hydrogen rises even faster. While it made one hell of a fireball, the people actually below the gas bags were in (relatively) little danger.

Also interestingly, the most deadly airship accident was the the loss of the helium using USS Akron four years earlier.

(Which raises the question of why does everyone know about the Hindenburg, but few know about the Akron? The Hindenburg disaster is not historic because of the disaster itself, what made it historic was that it is the beginning of the rise of news media ubiquity. It’s the first major disaster that was recorded as it happened and shown in both video and live(recorded for radio) commentary to the world.

Were it not for the film and commentary, it would just be another footnote in the question of why nobody uses zeppelins.)


Failure of the Teton Dam near Rexburg, Idaho on Saturday June 5, 1976. At 350 feet, this is the tallest dam that has ever failed.

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The Teton Dam was an earthen dam in Idaho, United States, built by the Bureau of Reclamation, one of eight federal agencies authorized to construct dams. Located on the Teton River in the eastern part of the state, between Fremont and Madison counties, it suffered a catastrophic failure on June 5, 1976, as it was filling for the first time. (Source)

Another view:

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Even more impressive, you can watch it collapse:

(More info)


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Geronimo and his warriors. One of the only known photos of Indian combatants still in the field who had not yet surrendered to the United States; ca. March 1886

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A Japanese cherry tree hacked down with the words “To hell with those Japanese” carved into it three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at the Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.; December 10th, 1941.

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“In 1912 Japan sent 3,020 cherry trees to the United States as a gift of friendship. First Lady Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted the first two cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin.”

(Source)

I guess whoever felled the tree knew the symbolism.


Were Southern Generals better than Northern Generals in the US Civil War?


Right after the Civil War, there was something called the myth of the “Lost Cause.” It was pioneered by Edward A. Pollard, A Richmond journalist who wrote a history of the war in 1866, called (can you guess?) The Lost Cause. Basically, the book says that the Confederacy was a glorious agrarian state, and was defended by the best armies in American history. Pollard argues that the Armies of the Confederacy were more motivated, they fought better, they were led by better officers, and they were fighting for a noble and glorious cause (the defense of the antebellum south). Many historians, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, repeated this myth and rebuilt it into its modern, “acceptable” form. Basically, they repeated it so often, and so loudly, that the “Lost Cause” became accepted as truth. Men like Douglas Southall Freeman, and even Ken Burns, have been influenced by the “Lost Cause” mythos. More recent historians have moved away from the “Lost Cause” myth, but the myth is still incredibly powerful, especially in conservative and southern circles, where the myth is undergoing yet another reinvention.

Were the South’s generals really better? Well that depends.

Robert E. Lee was repeatedly able to produce battlefield successes; hes called the American Napoleon for good reason! But he also failed strategically, by wasting the South’s precious manpower in offensive battles that cost the Confederacy more than it gained.

And on the other hand, Ulysses Grant maximized the Union’s advantage, especially in the Overland Campaign, by using multiple armies to attack the Confederacy all along its border. This strategy prevented the Confederates from reinforcing one area after another, as they had done in 1863, and it also stretched the CSA’s manpower to its very limits. So, there, you could say that Grant better adapted his strategy to the unique strengths and weaknesses of the resources at his disposal. In addition, he waged a spectacular series of campaigns, first in Mississippi against Vicksburg, then later against Lee in Northern Virginia, which achieved remarkable battlefield success.

What held Grant back, and what held both the Confederacy and the Union back throughout the war, was the state of professionalism in the wartime armies. Many of the Generals who fought in the American Civil War, on both sides, really weren’t generals at all. Lee was a Colonel before the war, Grant was a washed up Captain, Winfield Scott Hancock was a quartermaster, Sherman was a Colonel at First Bull Run, etc. Nobody really had the command experience required to maneuver large forces either strategically, or tactically. Unlike in Europe, where generals learnt how to be generals for decades before a war put their training to the test, in America, these men had to learn on the job. What that meant was that those with natural talent, like Lee, Grant, and Sherman, floated to the top, while everyone else made a mockery of warfighting. And when a commander would be wounded, or worse promoted, their subordinates would have to come up to fill the gap, regardless of skill or training. The Armies needed officers, and it was too late to shove a new batch through West-Point to make a general staff.

Thats why we often look at the Union Army, especially the Army of the Potomac under Hooker and Burnside, and snicker. They look so dumb, and these men were give command of an army. But really, I think if you look at what was going on in the Western theatre, and if you look at the Corps commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia, Grant and Lee were the exceptions, not the rule. They were the cream that rose to the top. Even men like Longstreet and “Stonewall” Jackson had major problems with commanding their forces in the field, Longstreet did poorly without Lee’s supervision, and Jackson did so with it.

So I think thats the real issue with Generalship in the Civil War. The South was fortunate to have found Lee so early on, while Grant was a gem that had to be dug out of the rough.


The debate about gun control in 1791, (when the 2nd amendment was truly about militias and muskets)

The purpose and intent of the 2nd was to provide for the overthrow of government in the case of tyranny.

For the early founding fathers, that specifically meant having weaponry accessible to citizens. Here’s Hamilton in Federalist 29:

This desirable uniformity can only be accomplished by confiding the regulation of the militia to the direction of the national authority. It is, therefore, with the most evident propriety, that the plan of the convention proposes to empower the Union “to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by congress.

Notice the word “arming” in there. But Hamilton also viewed the 2nd amendment as a collective right. Some early laws were also based on the idea of arming the populace as part of a collective right. The 1792 Act of Militia is a good example of what I’m talking about.

That every citizen so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball: or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear, so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise, or into service,

So, the founders viewed armament a lot more similarly to how the Swiss view it today: an individual responsibility as part of a collective right.

So what changed? In a lot of ways, the Civil War changed things. The NRA was actually formed after the Civil War. The Civil War, and the 14th Amendment, was actually what sort of gave rise to the view of the Bill of Rights as being individual rights rather than collective ones. As Akhil Reed Amar, a con law professor at Yale, explains here:

The NRA is founded after the Civil War by a group of ex-Union Army officers. Now the motto goes, when guns are outlawed, only klansmen will have guns. Individual black men had to have guns in their homes because they couldn’t count on the local constabulary. It’s in the text of the Freedman’s Bureau Act of 1866 that we actually see the reinterpretation of the original Second Amendment. It becomes about original rights.

So, to take things back a ways. Originally, the Second Amendment was viewed much more as a collective right. The important thing was that individuals be armed as part of a group responsibility. In other words, you needed to have a gun in case you were needed to help overthrow a tyrannical government.

After the Civil War, the whole discussion about collective versus individual rights changed, and having a gun became much more about self defense. This was in direct response to the newly Reconstructed South.

Your individual state could regulate your guns, but the feds couldn’t. Projecting the phrase “gun rights” back in time is really problematic, pretty much for this reason. It was somewhat common in the south for it to be illegal for Black men to own guns–even free Blacks. To a much lesser extent, the same was true for women. It wasn’t so much that you had “gun rights” so much at all, since there was no thought that taking guns away from Blacks was in any way threatening the gun ownership of Whites.

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 Here’s a list of laws/proposals relating to guns, militias and armies from the English Bill of Rights to the 2nd Amendment. I thought the progression in the wording was interesting.

English Bill of Rights (1689)

  • That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law
  • That the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of Parliament, is against law

Virginia Declaration of Rights (May 1776)

  • Section 13. That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.

Massachusetts Constitution (1780)

  • XVII. The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defence. And as, in time of peace, armies are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be maintained without the consent of the legislature; and the military power shall always be held in an exact subordination to the civil authority, and be governed by it.

Gun related requests from States to Congress for Original Amendments:

Massachusetts

  • No request

New York

  • That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated militia, including the body of the people capable of bearing arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state.
  • That the militia should not be subject to martial law, except in time of war, rebellion, or insurrection.
  • That standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and ought not to be kept up, except in cases of necessity; and that at all times the military should be under strict subordination to the civil power.

Virginia

  • 17th. That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well regulated militia composed of the body of the people trained to arms, is the proper, natural and safe defence of a free state. That standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the circumstances and protection of the community will admit; and that in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to and governed by the civil power.

James Madison’s original version of the 2nd Amendment

  • The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.

Final version of the 2nd amendment

  • A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

I found the progression interesting. My favorite parts were:

  • The founders started from a position before the revolution of statements like ‘armies are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be maintained without the consent of the legislature’ but by the late 1780s that language is missing.
  • The 2nd amendment originally had the clause ‘but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person’ but it was removed.
  • The original wording of the 2nd amendment started ‘The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country’ – They reversed it but I have no idea why. It seems the original was stronger though it is impossible to know their intent unless their discussions were written down.