I don’t know about you, but beginning on tonight I’ll be spending every night of the next week glued to PBS while watching the latest documentary from Ken Burns and Florentine Films: "The Roosevelts".
Focusing on the three most significant and impactful members of one of America’s great political dynasties — Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Eleanor Roosevelt — "The Roosevelts" is a seven-part, 14-hour-long documentary, and I can’t imagine it being a disappointment to history-lovers.
Here’s the schedule for "The Roosevelts" on your local PBS affiliate. Encore performances of each episode immediately follow the new episodes each night. The schedule below is for Pacific Daylight Time (PDT), so be sure to check your local listings for the air time and PBS affiliate in your area:
•Get Action (1858-1901): Sunday, September 14th, 8:00 PM
•In the Arena (1901-1910): Monday, September 15th, 8:00 PM
•The Fire of Life (1910-1916): Tuesday, September 16th, 8:00 PM
•The Storm (1920-1933): Wednesday, September 17th, 8:00 PM
•The Rising Road (1933-1939): Thursday, September 18th, 8:00 PM
•The Common Cause (1939-1944): Friday, September 19th, 8:00 PM
•A Strong and Active Faith (1944-1962): Saturday, September 20th, 8:00 PM
With modern medical care, James Garfield absolutely would have survived his wounds. In fact, a case could be made that Garfield would have been better off if nobody even tried to treat him after he was shot. It was unsterilized instruments and dirty fingers being poked into Garfield’s wounds in an effort to find the track of the bullet which introduced the infections that eventually killed him. Of the four Presidents who were assassinated, Garfield’s original wounds were the least severe, and the gunshot wound that Reagan survived in 1981 was less severe than both Garfield’s and McKinley’s. Charles Guiteau shot James Garfield, but it was the President’s doctors who killed him.
Lincoln is a different story. Sure, there’s always the possibility that with an immediate response and modern technology, Lincoln could have remained alive via life support, but he would have been in a vegetative state. But even that is highly unlikely. John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at almost point-blank range. There were powder burns around the wound in the back of Lincoln’s skull, so Booth was very, very close — probably less than six inches away from the President — when he shot him. Also, it’s important to remember that Lincoln was shot with a Civil War-era weapon, so he wasn’t struck with a bullet as we think of bullets today, but a .41 caliber ball from a Derringer pistol. The ball flattened as it passed through the back of Lincoln’s skull and carried bone fragments from the skull as it passed through the full length of Lincoln’s brain. There was no exit wound and the pressure and trauma fractured both of Lincoln’s eye sockets (from inside of his head). The ball probably lodged in bone near or behind Lincoln’s right eye — several attending physicians immediately after the shooting and in the autopsy the next day disagreed about which eye the bullet lodged behind because as they opened up Lincoln’s skull during the autopsy, the ball literally fell out of his head and through the fingers of a doctor. Most believe that it lodged behind the right eye because it was protruding after the shooting.
Lincoln’s wound was fatal in almost every instance in 1865, and it would probably be just as fatal in 2014. He kept breathing until 7:22 AM the next morning, but Lincoln was also known to be a surprisingly strong man physically so his respiratory system put up quite a fight. However, it’s pretty much a given that Lincoln was brain-dead by midnight or 1 AM; the trauma to his brain was too severe — the autopsy showed that the bullet not only passed through the entire brain and carried skull fragments with it, but it also left sharp pieces of bone from his skull in various parts of the brain. The doctors attending to Lincoln acted immediately and did as good of a job as could be expected — in 1865 or 150 years later — but it was a fatal wound.
Reagan was very lucky for the quick reaction of the Secret Service. At the Washington Hilton, the lead agent, Jerry Parr, quickly shoved the President into the limousine as shots rang out and Tim McCarthy did exactly what the Secret Service is supposedly trained to do — he instantaneously turned towards the gunman, made himself a bigger target, and literally took a bullet for the President. If Parr hadn’t shoved Reagan into the limo when he did, Reagan likely would have taken a bullet to the head; instead, two bullets hit the limousine and one of them ricocheted off the side and struck Reagan. If it wasn’t for the quick reaction of the Secret Service during the shooting and immediately afterward when Parr diverted the limo to the hospital instead of the White House, Reagan would have died from either a more direct shot or from the massive blood loss that he was suffering from. The doctors at George Washington Hospital believed Reagan would have died if he had arrived at the hospital even just a couple of minutes later. It also helped that Reagan was in really good physical shape for a 70-year-old man. But if Reagan had been shot in 1881 instead of 1981; he’d have ended up with the second-shortest Presidency in history. And if Garfield had been shot in 1981 instead of 1881, he wouldn’t be the guy holding that record.
My personal opinions on individual Presidents are all over the site, but so are my historical opinions on them, so it will definitely require a bit of a treasure hunt. I wish I had tagged my posts better and more consistently when I began the blog because it would have been easier to organize them in an overall index of sorts. I ranked the Presidents by their performance in office and the links to that can be found here, but if I ever have the time, I should probably do a personal likeability ranking, or just a FAQ page where I give a brief synopsis of what I think personally about each individual President.
With Nixon, he certainly wasn’t the best President and he’s kind of an odd hero to have unless you are James Buchanan or Roger Stone (who has a tattoo of Nixon on his back), but I think he’s one of the more fascinating figures in American history. I also think he could have been a very good President if not for the paranoia and insecurity that eventually brought him down. Few Presidents were as gifted and brilliant, or able to see international affairs in the same way as Richard Nixon. It’s a real shame that he destroyed himself.
Almost exactly one hundred years prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, another act of terror on a bright September day in New York rocked the United States during the first year of a new century. In the photo above, President William McKinley is shown walking up the steps at the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York just minutes before he was shot. McKinley had recently been re-elected to a second term and was extraordinarily popular after successfully leading the country through the Spanish-American War.
At the Pan-American Exposition, President McKinley spent time attending receptions, meeting dignitaries, and shaking hands with visitors to the fair. It was work McKinley enjoyed doing. The 58-year-old President was a kindly, gentle man who doted over his beloved wife who was nearly invalid. Ida McKinley was epileptic and the President took care of her constantly, never shying away from her illness or allowing it to affect his responsibilities or his public duties. At dinners, if Ida suffered an epileptic fit or seizure, the President would quietly and gently drape a handkerchief over her face or distract everyone’s attention and continue conversation as usual. McKinley thoughtfully included Ida in as much as she could handle and never made her feel embarrassed about her condition.
McKinley was kind to other people, as well. The President hated to disappoint people, hated to tell people no, and hated to be the person to break bad news to someone else. Often, McKinley would wear a pink carnation in his lapel, which he would give to those who might be disappointed after a difficult meeting. President McKinley wanted people who met with him to at least walk away with something when they left his office, even if they didn’t get what they had come for.
It was this thoughtfulness which led William McKinley to deflect worries by his personal secretary George B. Cortelyou that the public receptions at the Pan-American Exposition might be a security risk. It was McKinley’s gentle manner which led him to refuse Cortelyou’s suggestions to cancel the public receptions in Buffalo. It was McKinley’s good heart which led him to genuinely believe that “No one would wish to hurt me.” It was the way that McKinley put other people first that caused him to notice the man in line at the Temple of Music with a bandaged right hand and decide to reach to shake the man’s other hand.
The man with the bandaged hand was Leon Czolgosz, a 28-year-old unemployed mill worker originally from Detroit. The son of Polish immigrants, Czolgosz had become interested in anarchism and after witnessing a speech by famed anarchist Emma Goldman, Czolgosz decided to make a statement by killing the President. A day earlier, Czogolsz had planned to shoot McKinley as the President gave his President’s Day speech at the Exposition, but the assassin could not get close enough. On September 6th, Czoglosz got as close as one could be to the President of the United States and took advantage of William McKinley’s kindness.
As the line queued in the Temple of Music, President McKinley shook hands while surrounded by his personal secretary, Cortelyou, the Exposition’s administrator, John Milburn, and a Secret Service agent. The Secret Service was not normally charged with the protection of Presidents in 1901, but on this day, two agents accompanied President McKinley as he greeted the large crowd of well-wishers in Buffalo. The photo above shows the inside of the Temple of Music and an “x” marks the spot where President McKinley stood to shake hands with Leon Czolgosz at 4:07 PM on September 6, 1901.
When the President noticed the bandage on Czolgosz’s right hand, McKinley quickly changed hands to shake Czolgosz’s uninjured left hand. As the two men grasped hands, Czogolsz grabbed McKinley and pulled him close. Underneath the bandage in Czogolsz’s right hand was a .32 Iver Johnson revolver and he quickly shot President McKinley twice, point-blank.
The first bullet struck a button and grazed the President’s breastbone without penetrating the skin. The second shot that Czolgosz fired was far more dangerous. At point-blank range, so close that it left powder burns on McKinley’s abdomen, the second bullet passed through the President’s stomach, clipped the top of his left kidney and lodged deep in McKinley’s pancreas. Still standing for a moment after the shooting, McKinley fell backwards into the arms of one of the Secret Service agents and his secretary, George Cortelyou.
Czolgosz — his bandage in flames due to the gunshots — was quickly grabbed by the person in line behind him, James Parker. Parker, a 6’5” black man, punched the assassin and knocked him to the ground. The Secret Service agents later admitted that they hadn’t noticed Czolgosz’s suspicious bandaged hand because they were closely watching the large black man, Parker, who was directly behind the assassin. Buffalo policemen and some fair-goers jumped on Czolgosz and began beating him. When the seriously wounded President saw this, McKinley yelled, “Don’t let them hurt him!”.
Lying on the floor of the Pan-American Exposition’s Temple of Music, President McKinley thought of his ailing wife. To his loyal secretary, the President pleaded, “My wife, be careful, Cortelyou, how you tell her — oh, be careful.” McKinley was rushed to a hospital on the fairgrounds.
At first, it appeared as if McKinley would survive. In modern terms, McKinley’s gunshot wounds were far less dangerous than those suffered by Ronald Reagan in 1981. Had McKinley received the same level of care and expertise that President Reagan did eighty years later, he likely would have survived. However, the doctors in Buffalo searched in vain for the bullet that lodged in his pancreas and left behind bacteria which caused an infection. After rallying within the first few days of the shooting, McKinley’s condition rapidly deteriorated. On September 11, 1901, there was hope as McKinley ate solid food for the first time since the shooting. Sadly, within 24 hours, hope had dissipated.
In the home of the Exposition’s president John Milburn on the morning of September 14, 1901, a quiet crowd surrounded the outside of the building while on the inside, a vigil mounted by his friends, doctors, and colleagues watched over the dying President. At 2:15 AM on September 14th, President William McKinley died. What really killed McKinley — besides Czologsz’s act of terror — was a gangrenous infection. Ironically, President McKinley could have been saved by an X-Ray machine and at the Pan-American Exposition that day there was an experimental X-Ray machine on display. Nobody thought to retrieve it.
Czolgosz quickly confessed to the assassination, stating “I killed President McKinley because I done my duty. I didn’t believe one man should have so much service and another man should have none.” Less than a month-and-a-half later, Czolgosz was executed in the electric chamber of New York’s Auburn State Prison
Much like what the United States would experience exactly one hundred years later in the days following the September 11th terrorist attacks, a stunned nation had an outpouring of grief after President McKinley’s assassination. Americans could hardly believe that such a beautiful September day in New York could turn so ugly, especially as everyone celebrated the first year of a new century. The flag was everywhere and red, white and blue was displayed along with black crepe mourning the tragedy.
As with what would happen again 100 years later, the people were united in their sorrow, buried their victim, and looked to a future full of new battles. In 1901, as in 2001, the United States faced a new day of challenges when an act of terror robbed the country of some of its innocence on a beautiful September day in New York.
Today, we remember.
We remember where we were when we heard about the first plane hitting the tower. We remember what we thought as the news just began to trickle in. We remember our horror as we watched the second plane hit the other tower. We remember the evacuations — people running out of our monuments, our centers of government and finance, and spilling out on to the streets of our nation’s capital. We remember the dust and debris chasing thousands of New Yorkers through the streets of our most iconic city. We remember the smoke rising from the Pentagon. We remember that impact site in Pennsylvania. We remember watching the towers fall.
We remember the fear, the chaos, the sadness, and the feeling of not knowing what was happening or when it would end. We remember a feeling that Americans were not used to experiencing up to September 11, 2001: helplessness — the feeling of being attacked. We remember that the weather was perfect throughout almost the entire country that morning. We remember that we don’t remember what it felt like on September 10th.
Do you remember pointing fingers? Do you remember placing blame? Do you remember partisanship? I remember patriotism. I remember flags and candles and donating water and giving blood and having a new appreciation for police officers and firefighters. I remember that I wasn’t a Democrat or a Republican. I remember that I was an American. I remember that we were all Americans. I remember that we cared a little bit more about each other for at least a couple of weeks.
When Democrat Lyndon Johnson was the Senate Majority Leader and Republican Dwight Eisenhower was President of the United States, LBJ — one of the most intense, passionate political animals in our history — never attacked President Eisenhower. It wasn’t because LBJ agreed with Eisenhower’s policies. It wasn’t because LBJ was scared. It was because, as LBJ explained in 1953 in a comment that has an unfortunately haunting connection to 9/11, “If you’re in an airplane, and you’re flying somewhere, you don’t run up to the cockpit and attack the pilot. Mr. Eisenhower is the only President we’ve got.”
The only President we’ve got.
We all want to head in the same direction. We all want to move forward. We all want to progress and be happy and healthy and taken care of. Why does partisan politics trump nationalism? As World War I and World War II approached and the world realized that we are clearly connected on a global level, the people who seemed the most out-of-touch — the people who were wrong — were the isolationists. In both of those great wars, the isolationists were proven wrong. Yet, in the span of our grandparents’ lives, we have regressed to the point where most Americans have become individual isolationists — not isolationism on a national level, but on a personal level. We’ve tried to disconnect from the people in our own country. Don’t you remember how powerful it felt after 9/11 to be united? Don’t you remember how we helped each other in so many different ways?
I guess I could try to be cynical. It’s my natural state anyway. I guess I could remember the look on President George W. Bush’s face when his Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, whispered news of the attacks in the President’s ear as he sat in a Florida classroom. I guess I could remember My Pet Goat, and the fact that Bush didn’t get up, sprint from the room, and change out of his Clark Kent clothes into the Superman suit. I guess I could remember Air Force One zig-zagging across the country, the only flight in the air besides military escorts and combat air patrols over our major cities. I guess I could remember the surveillance videos of the well-dressed hijackers walking through the airport terminals that morning before they turned our planes into weapons. I guess I could remember that the passengers of Flight 93 didn’t actually get through the cockpit door and force the plane to crash into Pennsylvania. I guess I could remember our government’s alphabet agencies — the FBI, CIA, NSA, and everyone else listening in on our world — being unable to work together and stop this attack from happening in the first place. I guess I could choose to remember those things, but that doesn’t make me feel better. It doesn’t make 9/11 anything but a success to those who tried to frighten and frustrate and intimidate us through terrorism.
This is what I choose to remember:
I remember that the passengers of Flight 93 tried. I remember that their plane didn’t make it to Washington, and even if they didn’t get into the cockpit and crash the plane into that meadow in Pennsylvania themselves, they certainly fought back and forced the hijackers to abort the mission that they had planned. That plane didn’t crash into the White House or the Capitol, and that’s not because the hijackers got lost.
I remember driving to the wedding rehearsal for two of my best friends on the Friday after the attacks, feeling bad that they were getting married in the shadow of 9/11. I remember being amazed at thousands of people in the streets of Sacramento — thousands of miles away from any of the attack sites — holding a candlelight vigil. I remember that I drove through the silence of these peaceful vigils, with flags and flames and tears all around me, and I thought, “We’re going to be okay.”
I remember George W. Bush — a President I never voted for. I remember his unsteady first comments to the press after the attacks. I remember how he found his footing quickly. I remember him returning to Washington, D.C. that night, against the wishes of his government and his Secret Service. I remember how this President — a President I didn’t agree with, a President I never cast a supportive ballot for or whose campaign I ever donated a cent to, a President whose beliefs were diametrically opposed to almost everything that I believe in — went to Ground Zero and met with the families of those who were dead or missing, and gave them all the time they needed with him.
I remember how that President visited the rescue workers at Ground Zero. I remember, more than anything else, how President Bush climbed on to some of the rubble of the fallen towers, grabbed a bullhorn and began to speak, but was interrupted by the workers yelling, “We can’t hear you!”
I remember that the President — the only President we had at the time — shouted to these exhausted, weary, heroic rescuers, “Well, I can hear you! And the people who knocked these buildings down are gonna hear from all of us soon!”. I remember that it was genuine, that there was nothing manufactured about that moment, and that, despite all of his faults and deficiencies, George W. Bush said exactly what those people — our people — needed to hear. As the workers chanted, “USA! USA! USA!”, I remember thinking — I didn’t vote for him and I won’t vote for him in 2004, but that’s my President and I am proud of him.
As we look back, we can’t help but think about everything else that has come out of 9/11 — the interminable war in Afghanistan, the ridiculous war in Iraq, the humiliating and annoying experience that flying in an airplane has become in this country — but I think about that stuff pretty much every day, and I feel like this should always be a day where we think differently.
So, I’m going to think about those flags and candles and President Bush on top of the rubble of the World Trade Center with a bullhorn. I’m going to think about being an American — just like I was in the weeks following 9/11 — rather than being a Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative, Believer or Non-Believer, Straight or Gay, White or Black or Hispanic or Asian, or any other label that we place on ourselves to show that we’re different or more than just human.
I’m going to remember thinking, “That’s my President”, as he spoke to the rescue workers, just as I did a few weeks later when President Bush went to Yankee Stadium for Game 3 of the World Series, strapped on a bulky bulletproof vest under his FDNY sweatshirt, walked to the pitcher’s mound, and with millions of Americans watching on television, with thousands of rabid New Yorkers watching in the stands, and with Derek Jeter’s words (“Don’t bounce it or they’ll boo you.”) rattling around in his head, threw a perfect strike.
I’ll remember thinking, “That’s my President”, about a guy I never voted for and didn’t agree with, and I’ll hope that you do that when the guy you didn’t vote for and didn’t agree with says the right words, does the right things, and throws a strike — not because you’re a Democrat or a Republican, but because you’re an American and that’s the only President we’ve got.
What do you remember?
The simple answer — and most accurate answer — is all of them. I’m interested in learning about every bit of history, so I like reading about pretty much everybody.
Narrowing it down really depends on where my particular interest is directed at any given moment. I go through phases where one area of history piques my interest more than others, and those phases are always shifting. Of course, Presidents are always on the top of that list, but I’ve become more-and-more interested in the Papacy over the past few years, so the Popes are also high on the list.
Besides Presidents and Popes, I’m especially interested in the Cuban revolution and it’s leading figures: Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, and Celia Sanchez. I could list scores of people that I don’t hesitate to read about and invariably leave out a ton of names, but the names that immediately come to mind include Jesse James, Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, Simon Bolivar, Saladin, Napoleon, Winston Churchill, Malcolm X, Stalin, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, and on and on and on. There’s no way to do the list justice and I wouldn’t even know where to start a complete list because important historical figures aren’t limited to Presidents, monarchs, or military, religious, and political leaders. The list also features a ton of literary figures, poets, philosophers, explorers, musicians, legendary athletes, etc, etc, etc. If you removed every book about Presidents from my library, there would still be an extensive library of biographies that have no pattern other than the fact that they lived lives. As I’ve said many times, history is just stories about people, so there is no limit on who or what interests me.
I have gained approval from the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site to post certain photographs held in their collections here. Keep watching this page to see what the BHPS has to offer.
If you are ever in Indianapolis, the house is located at 1230 N. Delware Street. It is the only home that Benjamin Harrison ever owned, and his place of residence during his Senate term, his presidency, retirement, and death. Nearly 80% of items in the home belonged to the Harrison family, and the home looks just as it did in 1888 when Harrison ran for the presidency. Unlike recent presidents, Harrison’s museum is independently owned and operated. BHPS relies upon independent grants, donations, and tour groups to keep the lights on. (Harrison had electricity installed in the White House, get it?) So do stop by, or donate directly. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors over 65, $9 for AAA members. Special events and deals happen throughout the year.
Ol’ Ben needs the money, so I did not want to share some of what the BHPS has to offer without first making a pitch.
The ask box is now open, so please drop me a line and let me know what you are interested in learning more about. I will do my level best to find an answer, or an artifact, or a source.
This is awesome. The Presidential Libraries system of the National Archives does a fantastic job of covering the modern Presidents on Tumblr (with Our Presidents and the individual Presidential Library sites of the last thirteen Presidents) and social media, but few of the older and lesser-known Presidents receive the same recognition or coverage. The generalharrison Tumblr has the 23rd President taken care of, so this should be a great addition to an already-wonderful site.
Sure. There were numerous witnesses in the bunker when the bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun were removed from the room where they killed themselves and then burned. After the Soviets reached the bunker, they found the couple’s bodies a few days later, exhumed them, reburied them in a secret location, and later exhumed them again, cremated them, and dumped the ashes in a river so that no permanent memorial could be established for Hitler. Here’s a CNN story about a KGB official confirming the story.
As Election Day 1916 approached, former New York Governor and Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes appeared to be heavily favored to defeat incumbent President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was so certain of his impending defeat that he decided that he would resign after Hughes won the election.
President Wilson — who held a doctorate in government — felt that the transition period from Election Day (in November) until Inauguration Day (in March) was too long to have a lame duck President, particularly while World War I was getting underway in Europe. In what would have been an unprecedented act, Wilson had decided that, in the event of a Hughes victory, he would appoint Hughes as Secretary of State. Then Wilson would resign the Presidency and Vice President Thomas R. Marshall would also resign so that Hughes could immediately assume the Presidency.
On Election night, it appeared that was exactly what would happen. Early returns showed a solid lead for Hughes and some outlets called the election for the man Theodore Roosevelt called “the bearded iceberg”. As the night dragged on, though, and it became clear that California would go for President Wilson, the extraordinary plan that Wilson had hatched to prevent a lame duck President was relegated to the what-could-have-been pile.
When a reporter called the Hughes campaign’s headquarters to get a reaction to the rapidly changing circumstances, an aide to Hughes said that candidate had gone to sleep and somewhat presumptuously added, “The President cannot be disturbed”. The reporter said, “Well, when he wakes up, tell the President he isn’t President anymore”.
By the next morning, Wilson had won re-election with a narrow victory in the popular vote and the Electoral College. Hughes later became Secretary of State under Presidents Harding and Coolidge and was appointed Chief Justice of the United States by President Hoover following the death of William Howard Taft.
In August 1876, 48-year-old James Roosevelt was absolutely devastated when his 45-year-old first wife, Rebecca, suffered a massive heart attack and died at their home in Hyde Park, New York. James mourned Rebecca’s death for nearly three years before deciding to try to end his loneliness and attempt to fill the void left by Rebecca’s passing. The widower — now north of 50 years old — even had a a particular woman in mind, and she happened to be a distant cousin. James, a member of the Hudson Valley branch of the Roosevelt family, began visiting the Long Island branch of the Roosevelt family, hoping to win the interest of 23-year-old Anna Roosevelt — better known as “Bamie” — Theodore Roosevelt’s older sister.
James’s efforts were unsuccessful. Bamie was not interested. However, his visits to Long Island were not entirely fruitless. The mother of Theodore and Bamie, Mittie, felt sorry for James and decided to play matchmaker. At a dinner party that Mittie hosted, she introduced James to 26-year-old Sara Delano and the two quickly hit it off. They married on October 7, 1880, and on January 30, 1882, Sara gave birth to their only child, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the future President of the United States.
When he was 23 years old, Franklin D. Roosevelt did what his father was unable to do years earlier — he joined the Hudson Valley Roosevelts and the Long Island Roosevelts by marriage. On March 17, 1905, Franklin married Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the niece of Bamie and Theodore. Since Eleanor’s father had died in 1894, the bride was escorted down the aisle and given away by her uncle Theodore, who just happened to be President of the United States at the time. At the wedding, the first President Roosevelt congratulated the future President Roosevelt on the marriage between the two distant cousins by telling FDR “Well, Franklin, there’s nothing like keeping the name in the family.”
It might be considered the only war the we lost, but there have been several major wars that we certainly didn’t win.
We think we won the War of 1812, but we didn’t. Our major victory — Andrew Jackson throwing back a British assault in the Battle of New Orleans — happened after the Treaty of Ghent, ending the war, was signed. But it was 1815 (I know…we probably shouldn’t call it the War of 1812 since it lasted for three years), so the hostile forces fighting in North America and the diplomats negotiating in Europe didn’t know what was happening in the other place until weeks later. The War of 1812 was a draw. We shouldn’t ever be allowed to claim victory in a war where the enemy invades the capital city, eats the President’s dinner, and then burns down the White House, U.S. Capitol, and most of the rest of Washington, D.C.
The Korean War ended in a stalemate. Technically, the Korean War never ended — there’s an armistice in effect, but there is no peace treaty.
Vietnam was a defeat. Some will claim that it ended in a stalemate like the Korean War, but it was an American defeat.
Afghanistan is still going. It’s been almost 13 years now — it’s longer than both World Wars combined, It’s longer than the Revolutionary War and Civil War combined. And we don’t know what victory looks like there.
And I don’t understand how anyone can claim an American victory in the Iraq War. Especially this week as the President prepares to address the nation about a brutal terrorist group that is destabilizing the country and region far worse than Saddam Hussein ever did. We weren’t victorious in Iraq when President Bush said so after landing on the aircraft carrier in his silly flight suit and we weren’t victorious in Iraq when President Obama said so after we withdrew all of our troops. It’s a war that we never should have started, and we did not win.
"But from the front of the room, these squabbles in the crowd, even the crowd itself, were probably all a blur. Reagan never looked too closely at his audiences. Since childhood, he’d been frightfully nearsighted. His parents paid for thick eyeglasses, which he wore dutifully, but without them, his visible world was mostly blotches of color and drifting shapes. He had adapted without much questioning, the way that children can, forgoing baseball for football, a sport in which you didn’t have to see well enough to hit a tiny ball, only well enough to hit another player.
He’d started his show business career on radio, where his audience was invisible. At the audition for his first job at the Davenport, Iowa, station WOC, the Scottish-born program director had explained how things worked. ‘That’s the mike in front of ye,’ he said. ‘Ye won’t be able to see me but I’ll be listenin’. Good luck.’
In Hollywood, too, seeing had never been that important. Arriving in Southern California in the late 1930s, he’d looked up Joy Hodges, an acquaintance from back home who was working as an actress in the film colony. ‘I have visions of becoming an actor,’ he confessed to her. ‘What I really want it a screen test.’ Hodges looked at the man in front of her — dressed like the Midwest, unsophisticated in the ways of the world, but tall, broad-shouldered, and undeniably handsome. ‘I think I might be able to fix something,’ she said. ‘Just don’t ever put those glasses on again.’
So he’d learned to get by without seeing things too closely. In time, it became the habit of his life. Eventually, he’d gotten contact lenses. Though they could correct his vision, their effect was strangely limited. His children, rushing into a room at day’s end to greet their father, would find him looking puzzled, as if they were strangers. Have we met? It was as if, after all the years of seeing ill-defined blotches, the part of his brain that processed the particulars of a person’s face had corroded irreparably due to lack of use. Or maybe it had never been there at all. Once, at his son Michael’s high school graduation, where he was the commencement speaker, he’d greeted a line of graduates. ‘My name is Ronald Reagan,’ he said to a grinning boy in cap and gown. ‘What’s yours?’ The graduate removed his cap. ‘Remember me? I’m your son, Mike.’”
—From Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America by Jonathan Darman (BOOK | KINDLE), available from Random House on September 23rd