civil war

On The Better Angels of our Nature

I recently finished reading The Better Angels of our Nature – Why Violence Has Declined – by Steven Pinker.

Below are excerpts from this book that I found particularly insightful:

This book is about what may be the most important thing that has ever happened in human history…No aspect of life is untouched by the retreat from violence. Daily existence is very different if you always have to worry about being abducted, raped, or killed, and it’s hard to develop sophisticated arts, learning, or commerce if the institutions that support them are looted and burned as quickly as they are built.

Systemic cruelty was far from unique to Europe. Hundreds of methods of torture, applied to millions of victims, have been documented in other civilizations, including the Assyrians, Persians, Seleucids, Romans, Chinese, Hindus, Polynesians, Aztecs, and many African kingdoms and Native American tribes. Brutal killings and punishments were also documented among the Israelites, Greeks, Arabs, and Ottoman Turks. Indeed, as we saw at the end of chapter 2, all of the first complex civilizations were absolutist theocracies which punished victimless crimes with torture and mutilation.

He then outlined his three conditions for perpetual peace. The first is that states should be democratic. Kant himself preferred the term republican, because he associated the word democracy with mob rule; what he had in mind was a government dedicated to freedom, equality, and the rule of law…Kant’s second condition for perpetual peace was that “the law of nations shall be founded on a Federation of Free States”—a “League of Nations,” as he also called it…The third condition for perpetual peace is “universal hospitality” or “world citizenship.”

An interesting question is what inflated the empathy circle. And a good candidate is the expansion of literacy.

The vulnerability to civil war of countries in which control of the government is a winner-take-all jackpot is multiplied when the government controls windfalls like oil, gold, diamonds, and strategic minerals. Far from being a blessing, these bonanzas create the so-called resource curse, also known as the paradox of plenty and fool’s gold. Countries with an abundance of nonrenewable, easily monopolized resources have slower economic growth, crappier governments, and more violence.

Why should the spread of ideas and people result in reforms that lower violence? There are several pathways. The most obvious is a debunking of ignorance and superstition…Another causal pathway is an increase in invitations to adopt the viewpoints of people unlike oneself.

Dangerous ideologies erupt when these faculties fall into toxic combinations. Someone theorizes that infinite good can be attained by eliminating a demonized or dehumanized group. A kernel of like-minded believers spreads the idea by punishing disbelievers. Clusters of people are swayed or intimidated into endorsing it. Skeptics are silenced or isolated. Self-serving rationalizations allow people to carry out the scheme against what should be their better judgment.

On a closing note:

Yet while this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, that species has also found ways to bring the numbers down, and allow a greater and greater proportion of humanity to live in peace and die of natural causes. For all the tribulations in our lives, for all the troubles that remain in the world, the decline of violence is an accomplishment we can savor, and an impetus to cherish the forces of civilization and enlightenment that made it possible.

A highly recommended read in the areas of sociology and psychology.

On Wild Swans

I recently finished reading Wild Swans – Three Daughters of China – by Jung Chang. This book was selected as our next reading within the Houston Nonfiction Book Club that I am a member of.

The author’s introduction outlines the driver behind writing this book and the stories that are about to follow:

But it was years before I wrote Wild Swans. Subconsciously, I resisted the idea of writing. I was unable to dig deep into my memory. In the violent Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976, my family suffered atrociously. Both my father and my grandmother died painful deaths. I did not want to relive my grandmother’s years of untreated illness, my father’s imprisonment, and my mother’s kneeling on broken glass. The few lines I produced were superficial and lifeless. I was not happy with them. Then, in 1988, my mother came to London to stay with me. This was her first trip abroad.

I wanted her to enjoy herself thoroughly, and spent much time taking her out. After a short while, I noticed she was not having the time of her life. Something was on her mind; she was restless. One day, she declined a shopping trip, and settled at my black dining table on which a bouquet of golden daffodils shone. Cupping a mug of jasmine tea in her hands, she told me that what she most wanted to do was to talk to me.

My mother talked every day for months. For the first time in our lives, she told me about herself and about my grandmother. My grandmother, I learned, had been the concubine of a warlord general, and my mother had joined the Communist underground at the age of fifteen. Both of them had eventful lives in a China that was tossed about by wars, foreign invasions, revolutions, and then a totalitarian tyranny. In the general maelstrom they were involved in poignant romances. I learned about my mother’s ordeals, her close shaves with death, and her love for my father and emotional conflicts with him. I also came to know the agonizing details of my grandmother’s foot binding: how her feet had been crushed under a big stone when she was two to satisfy the standards of beauty of the day….

As I listened to my mother, I was overwhelmed by her longing to be understood by me. It also struck me that she would really love me to write. She seemed to know that writing was where my heart lay, and was encouraging me to fulfill my dreams. She did this not through making demands, which she never did, but by providing me with stories—and showing me how to face the past. Despite her having lived a life of suffering and torment, her stories were not unbearable or depressing. Underlying them was a fortitude that was all the time uplifting.

It was my mother who finally inspired me to write Wild Swans, the stories of my grandmother, my mother, and myself through the turbulence of twentieth-century China. For two years, I shed my fair share 01 tears, and tossed and turned through quite a few sleepless nights. I would not have persevered had it not been for the fact that by that time ; “I’d found a love that filled my life and cushioned me with a deep tranquility. Jon Halliday, my knight without armor, for his inner strength under the softest exterior is enough to conquer, is the most priceless treasure I have taken from my adopted country, Britain. He was there, and everything would be all right—everything, including the writing of Wild Swans.

Wild Swans turned out to be a success…The sad thing in this otherwise perfect happy ending is that Wild Swans is not allowed to be published in Mainland China. The regime seems to regard the book as a threat to the Communist Party’s power. Wild Swans is a personal story, but it reflects the history of twentieth-century China, from which the Party does not come out well. To justify its rule, the Party has dictated an official version of history, but Wild Swans does not tie that line. In particular, Wild Swans shows Mao to have criminally misruled the Chinese people, rather than being basically a good and great leader, as Peking decrees. Today, Mao’s portrait still hangs on Tiananmen Square in the heart of the capital, and across the vast cement expanse lies his corpse as an object of worship. The current leadership still upholds the myth of Mao— because it projects itself as his heir, and claims legitimacy from him. This is why publication of Wild Swans is banned in China. So is any mention of the book or of me in the media.

Since a significant portion of the book occurs during the beginnings of the communist era, there is a significant focus on Mao and his leadership/influence:

Mao made himself more godlike by shrouding himself in mystery. He always appeared remote, beyond human approach. He eschewed radio, and there was no television. Few people, except his court staff, ever had any contact with him. Even his colleagues at the very top only met him in a sort of formal audience. After Yan’an, my father only set eyes on him a few times, and then only at large-scale meetings. My mother only ever saw him once, when he came to Chengdu in 1958 and summoned all officials above Grade 18 to have a group photo taken with him. After the fiasco of the Great Leap Forward, he had disappeared almost completely.

Mao, the emperor, fitted one of the patterns of Chinese history: the leader of a nationwide peasant uprising who swept away a rotten dynasty and became a wise new emperor exercising absolute authority. And, in a sense, Mao could be said to have earned his g god-emperor status. He was responsible for ending the civil war and bringing peace and stability, which the Chinese always yearned for—so much that they said “It’s better to be a dog in peacetime than a human being in war.” It was under Mao that China became a power to be reckoned with in the world, and many Chinese stopped feeling ashamed and humiliated at being Chinese, which meant a tremendous amount to them. In reality, Mao turned China back to the days of the Middle Kingdom and, with the help of the United States, to isolation from the world. He enabled the Chinese to feel great and superior again. by blinding them to the world outside. Nonetheless, national pride was so important to the Chinese that much of the population was genuinely grateful to Mao, and did not find the cult of his personality offensive, certainly not at first. The near total lack of access to information and the systematic feeding of disinformation meant that most Chinese had no way to discriminate between Mao’s successes and his failures, or to identify the relative role of Mao and other leaders in the Communists’ achievements.

Fear was never absent in the building up of Mao’s cult. Many people had been reduced to a state where they did not dare even to think, in case their thoughts came out involuntarily. Even if they did entertain unorthodox ideas, few mentioned them to their children, as they might blurt out something to other children, which could brine disaster to themselves as well as their parents.

Following his death:

In the days after Mao’s death, I did a lot of thinking. I knew he was considered a philosopher, and I tried to think what his “philosophy really was. It seemed to me that its central principle was the need—or desire?—for perpetual conflict. The core of his thinking seemed to be that human struggles were the motivating force of history, and that in order to make history “class enemies” had to be continuously created en masse. I wondered whether there were any other philosophers whose theories had led to the suffering and death of so many. I thought of the terror and misery to which the Chinese population had been subjected. For what?

But Mao’s theory might just be the extension of his personality. He was, it seemed to me, really a restless fight promoter by nature, and good at it. He understood ugly human instincts such as envy and resentment, and knew how to mobilize them for his ends. He ruled by getting people to hate each other. In doing so, he got ordinary Chinese to carry out many of the tasks undertaken in other dictatorships by professional elites. Mao had managed to turn the people into the ultimate weapon of dictatorship. That was why under him there was no real equivalent of the KGB in China. There was no need. In bringing out and nourishing the worst in people, Mao had created a moral wasteland and a land of hatred. But how much individual responsibility ordinary people should share, I could not decide.

The other hallmark of Maoism, it seemed to me, was the reign of ignorance. Because of his calculation that the cultured class were an easy target for a population that was largely illiterate, because of his own deep resentment of formal education and the educated, because of his megalomania, which led to his scorn for the great figures of Chinese culture, and because of his contempt for the areas of Chinese civilization that he did not understand, such as architecture, art, and music, Mao destroyed much of the country’s cultural heritage. He left behind not only a brutalized nation, but also an ugly land with little of its past glory remaining or appreciated.

China has become an altogether different place since I left. At the end of 1978, the Communist Party dumped Mao’s “class struggle.” Social outcasts, including the “class enemies” in my book, were rehabilitated; among them were my mother’s friend?; from Manchuria who had been branded “counterrevolutionaries” in 1955. Official discrimination against them and their families stopped. They were able to leave their hard physical labor, and were given much better jobs. Many were invited into the Communist Party and made officials. Yulin, my great-uncle, and his wife and children were allowed back to Jinzhou from the countryside in 1950. He became the chief accountant in a medicine company, and she the headmistress of a kindergarten.

Verdicts clearing the victims were drawn up and lodged in their files. The old incriminating records were taken out and burned. In every organization across China, bonfires were lit to consume these flimsy pieces of paper that had ruined countless lives.

A must read both as a personal story and for its historical and political significance.

This Republic Of Suffering

I just finished reading the next book on our reading list, within the Houston Nonfiction Book Club that I am part of: This Republic of Suffering – Death and the American Civil War by Harvard President’s Drew Gilpin Faust. It is only fitting, from a timing perspective, that this post coincides with Memorial Day weekend. This book is a dire reminder of the atrocities committed during the civil war:

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the United States embarked on a new relationship with death, entering into a civil war that proved bloodier than any other conflict in American history, a war that would presage the slaughter of World War I’s Western Front and the global carnage of the twentieth century. The number of soldiers who died between 1861 and 1865, an estimated 620,000, is approximately equal to the total American fatalities in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined. The Civil War’s rate of death, its incidence in comparison with the size of the American population, was six times that of World War II. A similar rate, about 2 percent, in the United States today would mean six million fatalities. As the new southern nation struggled for survival against a wealthier and more populous enemy, its death toll reflected the disproportionate strains on its human capital. Confederate men died at a rate three times that of their Yankee counterparts; one in five white southern men of military age did not survive the Civil War.

These atrocities, however, served as valuable – albeit very costly – lessons of meanings in “race, citizenship, and nationhood” that ultimately lead to re-uniting The Nation:

In the Civil War the United States, North and South, reaped what many participants described as a “harvest of death.” By the midpoint of the conflict, it seemed that in the South, “nearly every household mourns some loved one lost.” Loss became commonplace; death was no longer encountered individually; death’s threat, its proximity, and its actuality became the most widely shared of the war’s experiences. As a Confederate soldier observed, death “reigned with universal sway,” ruling homes and lives, demanding attention and response. The Civil War matters to us today because it ended slavery and helped to define the meanings of freedom, citizenship, and equality. It established a newly centralized nation-state and launched it on a trajectory of economic expansion and world influence. But for those Americans who lived in and through the Civil War, the texture of the experience, its warp and woof, was the presence of death. At war’s end this shared suffering would override persisting differences about the meanings of race, citizenship, and nationhood to establish sacrifice and its memorialization as the ground on which North and South would ultimately reunite. Even in our own time this fundamentally elegiac understanding of the Civil War retains a powerful hold…A war about union, citizenship, freedom, and human dignity required that the government attend to the needs of those who had died in its service. Execution of these newly recognized responsibilities would prove an important vehicle for the expansion of federal power that characterized the transformed postwar nation. The establishment of national cemeteries and the emergence of the Civil War pension system to care for both the dead and their survivors yielded programs of a scale and reach unimaginable before the war. Death created the modern American union—not just by ensuring national survival, but by shaping enduring national structures and commitments.

This civil war reshaped the lives of the soldiers and civilians who participated within it, and for generations to come:

As they faced horrors that forced them to question their ability to cope, their commitment to the war even their faith in a righteous God, soldiers and civilians alike struggled to retain their most cherished beliefs, to make them work in the dramatically altered world that war had introduced. Americans had to identify—find, invent, create—the means and mechanisms to manage more than half a million dead: their deaths, their bodies, their loss. How they accomplished this task reshaped their individual lives—and deaths—at the same time that it redefined their nation and their culture. The work of death was Civil War America’s most fundamental and most demanding undertaking.

Below are key captions from the topics covered within the book, that highlight how the Nation dealt with the Civil War from a perspective of death/suffering, both in the immediate aftermath and how these reactions had the impact they have had on the development of the nation.

On Dying:

Civil War soldiers were, in fact, better prepared to die than to kill, for they lived in a culture that offered many lessons in how life should end. But these lessons had to be adapted to the dramatically changed circumstances of the Civil War. The concept of the Good Death was central to mid-nineteenth-century America, as it had long been at the core of Christian practice. Dying was an art, and the tradition ars moriendi provided rules of conduct for the moribund and their attendants since at least the fifteenth century. Despite clerical efforts, the boundary between duty to God and duty to country blurred, and dying bravely and manfully became an important part of dying well. For some soldiers it almost served to take the place of the more sacred obligations of holy living that had traditionally prepared the way for the Good Death. As the intensity of this war and the size of its death tolls mounted in the months and years that followed, vengeance came to play an ever more important role, joining principles of duty and self-defense in legitimizing violence. The desire for retribution could be almost elemental in its passion, overcoming reason and releasing the restraints of fear and moral inhibition for soldiers who had witnessed the slaughter of their comrades.

On Killing:

Killing was the essence of war. But it also challenged men’s most fundamental assumptions about the sanctity of their own and other human lives. Killing produced transformations that were not readily reversible: the living into the dead, most obviously, but the survivors into different men as well, men required to deny, to numb basic human feeling at costs they may have paid for decades after the war ended, as we know twentieth- and twenty-first-century soldiers from Vietnam to Iraq continue to do; men who, like James Garfield, were never quite the same again after seeing fields of slaughtered bodies destroyed by men just like themselves.

On Burying:

The cemetery at Gettysburg was arranged so that every grave was of equal importance; William Saunders’s design, like Lincoln’s speech, affirmed that every dead soldier mattered equally regardless of rank or station. This was a dramatic departure from the privileging of rank and station that prevailed in the treatment of the war dead and different even from the policies of the Chattanooga cemetery that would be created later in the year. The establishment of the Gettysburg cemetery marked the beginning of significant shifts in attitude and policy produced by the nation’s confrontation with Civil War slaughter…The engagement of the Union government in these matters, first made highly visible in the Gettysburg dedication ceremonies. acknowledged a new public importance for the dead. No longer simply the responsibility of their families, they, and their loss, now belonged to the nation. These men had given their lives that the nation might live; their bodies, repositories of their “selfhood” and “surviving identity,” as Harpers had put it, deserved the nation’s recognition and care. The dead, as well as the living, had claims upon a government “deriving,” as Henry Bowditch proclaimed in his plea for ambulances, “all its powers from the people.”

On Naming:

The commitment to individual rights that emerged as such an important principle of the northern cause made attention to particular soldiers’ fates and identities inescapable; honoring the dead became inseparable from respecting the living. But the strongest impetus for these changes was the anguish of wives, parents, siblings. and children who found undocumented, unconfirmed, and unrecognized loss intolerable…But the dimensions of Civil War loss did not yield to small-scale, individual intervention or even to entrepreneurial improvisations, and Americans turned to the emerging philanthropic bureaucracies of the Sanitary and Christian commissions and ultimately to enhanced state power and responsibility. As Union victory became all but certain in the winter and early spring of 1864-65, the demands of the unnamed dead grew more pressing. At war’s end, the United States would embark on a program of identification and reburial that redefined the nation’s obligation to its fallen, as well as the meaning of both names and bodies as enduring repositories of the human self.

On Realizing:

In the twenty-first century Americans considering the impact of death regularly invoke the notion of “closure,” the hope and anticipation of an end to the disruption of loss. Civil War Americans expected no such relief For hundreds of thousands, the unknown fate of missing kin left a “dread void of uncertainty” that knowledge would never fill. Even for those who had detailed information or, better still, the consolation of a body and a grave, mourning had no easy or finite end. Many bereaved spent the rest of their lives waiting for the promised heavenly reunion with those who had gone before. Wives, parents, children, and siblings struggled with the new identities—widows, orphans, the childless—that now defined their lives. And they carried their losses into the acts of memory that both fed on and nurtured the widely shared grief well into the next century. But if such devastating loss could not be denied, if it was “realized” and acknowledged, it had to be explained. The Civil War’s carnage required that death be given meaning.

On Believing and Doubting:

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is perhaps the best-known example of such an explanation and justification of war’s carnage. Determined that “these dead shall not have died in vain,” Lincoln hallowed and sacralized a nation and its purposes with biblical cadences and mentioned God. In the address the dead themselves become the agents of political meaning and devotion; they act even in their silence and anonymity. Lincoln immortalized them as the enduring inspiration for an immortal nation. Unlike the “honored dead,” the Union would not “perish from the earth.” Soldiers’ deaths, like Christ’s sacrifice, become the vehicle of salvation, the means a terrestrial, political redemption. Civil War carnage transformed the mid-nineteenth century’s growing sense of religious doubt into a crisis of belief that propelled many Americans to redefine or even reject their faith in a benevolent and responsive deity. But Civil War death and devastation also planted seeds of a more profound doubt about human ability to know and to understand. In an environment in which man seemed already increasingly undifferentiated from animals, the failure of the uniquely human capacity of language represented another assault upon the foundations of the self. The Civil War compelled Americans to ask with intensified urgency, “What is Death?” and in answering to find themselves wondering why is death, what is life? And can we ever hope to know? We have continued to wonder ever since.

On Accounting:

The reburial program represented an extraordinary departure for the federal government, an indication of the very different sort of nation that had emerged as a result of civil war. The program’s extensiveness, its cost, its location in national rather than state government, and its connection with the most personal dimensions of individuals’ lives all would have been unimaginable before the war created its legions of dead, a constituency of the slain and their mourners, who would change the very definition of the nation and its obligations. “Such a consecration of a nation’s power and resources to a sentiment Whitman observed, “the world has never witnessed.” Honor to the dead required the continuing defense of Confederate principles, which had been “defeated, not necessarily lost.” Only vindication of the original purposes of the conflict could ensure the meaning of so many men’s sacrifice. The Confederacy would not live on as a nation, but its dead would in some sense become its corporeal and corporate representation, not only a symbol of what once was but a summons to what must be. Neither northern nor southern participants in the commemoration and reburial movement were “simply… mourners for the dead.” Instead, they became in a very real sense the instruments of the dead’s immortality. Gathered together in mass cemeteries with graves marshaled in ranks like soldiers on the field of battle, the dead became a living reality, a force in their very presence and visibility. They were also, paradoxically, a force in their anonymity. The establishment of national and Confederate cemeteries created the Civil War Dead as a category, as a collective that represented something more and something different from the many thousands of individual deaths that it comprised. It also separated the Dead from the memories of living individuals mourning their own very particular losses. The Civil War Dead became both powerful and immortal, no longer individual men but instead a force that would shape American public life for at least a century to come. The reburial movement created a constituency of the slain, insistent in both its existence and its silence, men whose very absence from American life made them a presence that could not be ignored.

On Numbering:

The effort to count the Civil War dead was only in part about numbers and casualty reports, only in part about the duties of a nation to its citizens. Numbering the dead was also about more transcendent questions that extended beyond the state and its policies and obligations. As William Fox observed, “Every story, even a statistical one, has a moral.” The rhetoric of Civil War mortality statistics provided the language for a meditation on the deeper human meaning of the conflict and its unprecedented destructiveness, as well as for the exploration of the place of the individual in a world of mass—and increasingly mechanized—slaughter. It was about what counted in a world transformed.

On Surviving:

But even as the Civil War brought new humanity—new attentiveness to “sentiment”—in the management of death, so too it introduced a level of carnage that foreshadowed the wars of the century to come. Even as individuals and their fates assumed new significance, so those individuals threatened to disappear into the bureaucracy and mass slaughter of modern warfare. We still struggle to understand how to preserve our humanity and our selves within such a world. We still seek to use our deaths to create meaning where we are not sure any exists. The Civil War generation glimpsed the fear that still defines us—the sense that death is the only end. We still work to live with the riddle that they—the Civil War dead and their survivors alike—had to solve so long ago.

A highly recommended historical read, with many enduring lessons.

On The Mask Of Command and Heroic Leadership

After reading Team of Rivals, I was interested to learn more about Ulysses S. Grant, and thus I decided to read the Mask of Command by John Keegan.

In this book, John reviews and highlights of the styles of command of each of the following four historic generals: Alexander the Great, Wellington, Grant, and Hitler.

In his introduction, John defines leadership and how the recounts to follow will be assessed from that perspective:

Heroic leadership – any leadership – is, like priesthood, statesmanship, even genius, a matter of externals almost as much as of internalities. The exceptional are both shown to and hidden from the mass of humankind, revealed by artifice, presented by theatre. The theatrical impulse will be strong in the successful politician, teacher, entrepreneur, athlete, or divine, and will be both expected and reinforced by the audiences to which they perform. In no exceptional human being will it be stronger than in the man who must carry forward others to the risk of their lives. What they know of him must be what they hope and require. What they should not know of him must be concealed at all cost. The leader of men in warfare can show himself to his followers only through a mask, a mask that he must make for himself, but a mask made in such form as will mark him to men of his time and place as the leader they want and need. What follows is an attempt, across time and place, to penetrate the mask of command.

On Alexander the Great:

John, begins, first reminds us just how monumental his conquests were:

Thus is it just possible to grasp how extraordinary was the career of Alexander the Great. The distances and obstacles of either enterprise defeat the imagination – and they have, indeed, no parallel in any reality except that of Alexander’s own life…His orgy of victory was, of course, even more telescoped in time than Napoleon’s, who in turn gave battle oftener than Alexander ever did. Yet the achievements of none of these earthshakers quite match those of the original.

From his upbringing, courage/heroism was instilled in him:

Epic poetry meant Homer, whose celebration of the Greek heroic past was to determine Alexander’s approach to life. Disregard for personal danger, the running of risk for its own sake, the dramatic challenge of single combat, the display of life-and-death courage under the eyes of men equal in their masculinity if not in social rank such was the raw material of the Homeric cannon, and on it Alexander’s imagination began to feed in childhood.

His leadership style was one of self-command:

Alexander commanded alone, certainly maintaining nothing like the ‘three bureaux’ system – operations, intelligence, logistics through which European armies of the last hundred years have been articulated…But our main sources give no real hint that Alexander used his circle of friends as a sounding-board for his plans. That was not their function: it was personality and character that were under test when Alexander was among his close Companions, the test of quickness of wit, sharpness of retort, memory for an apt phrase, skill in masking insult, boast or flattery, capacity to see deep into the bottom of a glass, and no heeltaps. When in doubt – and Alexander probably took the trouble to disguise doubt though he felt it hut rarely – he turned to the most experienced professional at the court, Parmenio, to help him fix his ideas, using the old general’s temperamental prudence as a catalyst to precipitate his preference for the bold and immediate option.

He lead by example as well as by indulgence:

Alexander, in short, sought to lead by indulgence as well as by example. Indulgence could take various forms. Early in the Asia Min block grant of what today the British army would call ‘compassionate leave’: ‘some of the Macedonians had been recently married; Alexander sent them off to spend the winter with their wives in Macedonia … He gained as much popularity by this act as by any other.’

He was a storyteller and an effective orator:

If Alexander was a supreme theatrical performer to the point achieved by the greatest of actors – not consciously calculating the impact of his performances, but letting its force transcend both his own and his audience’s emotions – he was at the same time the most calculating of dramatic orators. Oratory, whose public importance in our own time has been overtaken by the small intricate skills of the electronic conversationalist, retained its power to move hearts and sway minds even into the age of the printed word…Alexander certainly possessed the envied power of oratory to a supreme degree. How he exercised it we can now only guess. Before artificial amplification, speakers could be sure of carrying their voice to large numbers only by careful pre-arrangement. The Greek amphitheatre, carved from the backdrop of a steep hillside, was a device for ensuring that the audience not merely saw but also heard.

He overcame personal adversity (injury), and was determined as ever for greater victory:

The pain from a wound, perhaps the lesions from a punctured lung, are a hindrance with which he had to learn to live.’ What this wound history suggests is a rising temperature of commitment, almost as if Alexander’s fever for victory rose with the tide of difficulty. For the difficulty did increase. Nothing succeeds like success goes the sayings – true enough, no doubt, when a man sets himself targets within the value system of an established society.

His strategy was unconventional, but one that proved to be successful:

The point to be observed throughout his subsequent generalship is that Alexander preferred the more to the less difficult among options and regarded evidence that the enemy had sought to increase the difficulty of a difficult option – by choosing a naturally strong position – as evidence of infirmity of purpose in the opposition. When he detected that the enemy had artificially enhanced the strength of a strong position – by fortification or the emplacement of obstacles – those signs seem to have clinched his conviction that it was there he should attack, since they signified that there the enemy was most vulnerable to attack, in psychic if not material terms. It is perhaps not going too far to say that Alexander, without benefit of Adlerian theory, had hit upon the concept of the inferiority complex and made its exploitation the kernel of his war-making philosophy.

He possessed unwavering courage:

His ferocious energy was one of the dimensions of character that transformed his physical and intellectual gifts into practical capacity. His unblinking courage was another. Alexander was brave with the bravery of the man who disbelieves his own mortality. He had a sort of godlike certainty in his survival whatever risk he chose to run. There is no hint, in any of the ancient biographies, that he ever showed fear at all, or that he appeared to feel it. This absolution from fear may have stemmed from his intimate identification with the gods of the Greek pantheon.

On Wellington:

He was always there on the front-line with his men:

What had prepared this extraordinary man for the mental, moral and physical ordeal of the four days of Waterloo – days that left those who had merely fought, without any of the strain of command Wellington had borne and perhaps less of the danger, shocked into pallor and silence by the horrors of the slaughter, drugged by fatigue and physically deafened by the close-range discharge of musketry? That Wellington had borne a greater share of danger than his subordinates is unarguable. Whenever the pressure of attack had flowed from one section of the line to another, he had followed it, leaving the units he had been supervising to a respite of which he had none at all. If he told his sister-in-law a day later. The finger of God was on me all day – nothing else could have saved me,’ he spoke close to the virtual truth.

He himself was narrowly spared. Though he had out himself at the head of none of the attacks – ‘taking trouble’ precluded that – he was constantly within range of cannon and frequently of muskets, perhaps as close as 200 yards. When giving orders to one of the Napier brothers, ‘a ball passed through his left holster and struck his thigh; he put his hand to the place and his countenance changed for an instant, but only for an instant; and to my eager enquiry if he was hurt, he replied, sharply, “no”, and went on with his orders’. The narrow escape discomposed him not at all. Napier saw him again ‘late in the evening . . . when the advancing flashes of cannon and musketry stretching as far as the eye could command [in fact across a front of about six miles] showed in the darkness how well the field was won; he was alone, the flush of victory was on his brow and his eyes were eager and watchful, but his voice was calm and even gentle’.

He relied on both his visual and hearing cues during the battle:

The range at which he observed the enemy varied. In manoeuvring before a battle, the armies might be separated by several thousand yards and yet still within sight of each other…What, in such circumstances, did he see and hear? More to the point, what did he look and listen for? Noise – its volume, quality. duration, bearing and range – was of the very greatest importance in signalling to him the course and intensity of action…This rise and fall of sound-waves would tell Wellington a great deal, would indeed provide his main means of gauging the pattern of events in sectors of the battlefield hidden from him by distance, ground or fire. They would also help to convey how resolute or battle-worthy were troops within visual range: half-hearted shouts and ragged volleys implied uncertainty of purpose or lack of real menace. But the evidence of his ears would count far less than that of his eves. Messengers from his subordinate commanders would, of course, bring him word of passing events, particularly of real or imagined crisis. But he counted on word of mouth less than other generals of his age, because of his settled practice of ‘taking trouble’, that is, going to see for himself.

He showed concern and compassion for the army he lead:

His concern for the afflicted was consequently strong. Self-control did not exclude compassion. Alexander had buried his dead and succoured his wounded because to leave a warrior’s corpse unhonoured was sacrilege to the Greeks, while to disregard the wounded was, at very least, bad policy. Wellington, by contrast, buried his dead because it was good practice but tended the wounded because it was charitable as well as sensible to do so. The dead were not buried with ceremony or memorial; it was a matter of getting corpses underground to leave a battlefield decent, control disease and preserve the morale of the army lest if pass that way again. The proper care of the wounded was, on the other hand, a matter of morality.

He was a true anti-hero:

Heroism to the Greeks, Professor Moses Finley has explained, contained ‘no notion of social obligation’. It was ultimately self-indulgent, self-flattering, solipsistic. ‘Pathos’, Alexander’s ‘burning desire’ to do something as yet not done by other men, perfectly encapsulates its ethos. Such a notion was abhorrent to the very centre of Wellington’s being. ‘Never forget.’ Napoleon once wrote to his brother Jerome, ‘your first duty is to me, your second is to France.’ Wellington, sailing to Portugal as a subordinate commander in 1806, reproved a friend for urging that he deserved a higher place by an exactly contrary statement of obligation. ‘I am nimmukwallah, as we say in the East; that is, I have eaten of the King’s salt, and therefore I conceive it to be my duty to serve with unhesitating zeal and cheerfulness, when and wherever the King or his Government may think proper to employ me.’

On Grant:

The military/warfare landscape during his time had evolved due to three important shifts:

Three elements in particular of the military system which had emerged from them rode in easy equilibrium. The first was the discovery that the pool of potential warriors that States could bend to their service comprehended a far larger proportion of the total population than they had earlier been willing or able to enlist. The second was that the pool required disciplining and drilling in a traditional manner if it were to obey orders. The third was that drill had begun to cede its central role in warfare to superior weapon power, represented primarily by the rifle, which promised to transfer advantage in warmaking to whichever society could most rapidly master the processes of technological change.

Grant set himself apart from Alexander and Wellington:

His propensity to judge the politics of warmaking is an index of the changes in the commander’s role that set Grant apart from Alexander on the one hand, and Wellington on the other. Alexander distinguished not at all between his role as ruler and his role as warrior. The two – in a world where states were held to be at war unless an agreement to observe peace specifically held otherwise, and in a kingdom whose court was also a headquarters – were identical. Judgements about the morality of any particular war would have been as alien to him as they would have been treasonable in a subject. Alexander was, in the strict sense, both the complete Hegelian and the perfect Nietzscheian. His state was the supreme expression of Reason and Will; he, as its ruler. Superman. Wellington, rooted in a society of law and institutions, would have been affronted by both notions; to him tyranny and raison d’etat were equally repugnant. For all the power he exercised, he strictly circumscribed his own freedom to question orders or contest Strategies. As a man whose highest ambition had once been to hold rank ‘as a major-general in His Majesty’s service’, he drew the sharpest distinction between his political opinions and his military duties. Both in India and in Spain, distance and consequent delay in communication had shielded him from day-to-day interference in his conduct of the campaign. But he did not thereby conceive himself empowered to make policy. Grant’s position was different again. Like Wellington, he rejected Alexander’s identification of military with political power. Unlike Wellington, he fought for his country not because birth made him its subject but because he judged its cause just. ‘The Confederates proclaimed themselves aliens, and thereby disbarred themselves of all right to claim protection under the Constitution of the United States, [becoming] like people of any Other foreign state who make war upon an independent nation.’

Grant understood the dynamics and fundamentals of the driving force behind the soldiers:

In a land of immigration and free settlement, with the sketchiest of civil bureaucracies and a strongly egalitarian spirit prevailing among the soldiers of both sides, it was their willingness to accept discipline, rather than their officers’ power to impose it, that ultimately kept them under arms. That willingness derived, when all allowance has been made for the inducement of regular rations and pay, from belief in the cause – Confederacy or Union, as the case was – thus making the Blue and the Gray the first truly ideological armies of history. No issue of personality blurred the quarrel, as it had in the English Civil War, and none of freedom or subjection to foreign rule, as in the struggles of Washington and Bolivar against Britain and Spain. The American Civil War was a civil war in the strictest sense, and its soldiers required to be led, not driven, to battle. Grant understood that, as his handling of his first regimental command clearly demonstrated.

As with Wellington, Grant was also an excellent writer:

Such dispatches equal those of Wellington at his crispest – as they did also in production of effect on the battlefield. But, as a writer. Grant exceeds Wellington in his powers of extended composition.

He studied and analyzed campaigns rigorously to aid in his planning and strategy development:

Campaign study had helped him develop the most valuable of all his aptitudes, that of seeing into the mentality of his opponents…More than that, he began to guess how they would react to his initiatives, and even how they would arrive at independent decisions…Grant did not found his mind-reading on mere divination. He valued objective information highly and collected it from many sources.

Grant understood the goals of the war, and what was necessary to achieve them:

As early as April 1863. as we have seen, he was writing that the war must achieve ‘the total subjugation of the south’ and that the army’s duty was ‘therefore to use every means to weaken the enemy’ by destroying not only their armies in the field but their economy at home. Grant’s title as ‘first of the moderns’ among generals derives from that gospel of frightfulness. Christian though he was, he had persuaded himself that the Just War doctrine of ‘proportionality’ restraint of violence within the bounds necessary to make an enemy resist from it – did not apply in a war of principle. Even before his protege Sherman had begun to make his name as a burner and breaker, therefore. Grant was burning and breaking with a will, turning recalcitrants out of their homes once territory was captured and ruthlessly carrying the war into the hearts of the Southern people. But there was a limit which even he was prepared to set to ruthlessness: he would not countenance private law-breaking in the use of violence, either against property or the person.

On Hitler:

It is necessary to first understand the context following the first world war:

The First World War remains, to the Western mind even at the end of the twentieth century, the war, by reason not only of the destruction it brought to the primacy of the Old World and the agony it inflicted on the manhood and family feeling of a whole European generation, but of its abidingly mysterious character. ‘How did they do it?’ the first question put to anyone confronted by the terrible reality of the trenches, gives way almost at once to a second, even more imponderable, ‘Why was it done? Why did the armies persist in the impossible, the breaking of barbed wire by breasts of flesh and blood.? Why did the generals bind them to the effort? No armies ever before, not even in the worst passages of siege warfare, sustained courage or casualties with the suicidal relentlessness of those on the Western Front. The nature of Western Front fighting seems to defy nature itself. Whence that extraordinary defiance?

As the second half of World War 2 was settling in, so was defeat for Hitler:

But by that stage of the war he was a man living with the knowledge of inevitable defeat, a knowledge that marked his face. hair, gait, posture and gestures with ghastly evidence of the stress he bore. The worst of his fears he kept at bay with bold expressions of belief in the tide-turning powers of his secret weapons; but they must have co-existed with the anticipation, growing within his consciousness like a psychic tumour, of the death he knew he would ultimately have to inflict upon himself. For the last two years of his life Hitler woe breathing, walking, talking, calculating corpse. destined as certainty for the grave as any of the millions he marked for death in that terrible climax of his dictatorship. The power to kill was, indeed, the only power left to him after mid-summer 1943. Peace he knew his enemies would never concede to Germany while he remained at its head; surrender meant, he must have guessed. trial and execution as a war criminal. After Kursk, therefore, his generalship partook of nothing more than reflexive reaction to his enemies’ initiatives. Strategic choice had slipped from his grasp. never to be restored. If we wish also to perceive something of the means by which he exercised it. Therefore, we have to return to the earlier period of his time as Feldherr – lord of the field.

The command and control strategy that Hitler adopted was a significant contributor to his downfall despite the advancement of technology in radio communication that enabled it:

The brief answer is that the Second World War. when widened to include the Soviet Union and the United States among Germany’s enemies, was a war that Germany could not win. A fuller answer needs deeper analysis. First and foremost there is the issue of Hitler’s command style. He decided from the outset, as we have seen, to centralize decision-making at a point far from the front and thence to supervise the control of operations in the closest detail. Fuhrerprinzip provided the motivation that underlay this choice: if he was to exercise supreme power, he must do so in the military as well as civil sector. But he could not have realized that ambition, had not current technical developments, unfortunately for the German army, made available to him the instruments which, superficially at least, endowed him with the means to do so. Radio – ‘wireless’ better communicates its crucial military quality had, by its perfection in the 1930s, dissipated the cloud of unknowing which had descended between the fighting soldiers and their commander ever since long-range weapons had driven him from the focus of combat. Wireless generated a flow of information from the point of critical contact between friend and foe which. properly used, did allow headquarters at successively higher levels of command to monitor the progress of events and moderate their course by sensible intervention. But ‘sensible intervention’ implied a division of responsibilities. On the Allied side it was generally and scrupulously observed. Churchill, for example, took the closest interest in the conduct of battles but had, or was talked by his advisers into, the sense not to interfere with his generals when crisis at the front transfixed their attention. Hitler, as we have seen, did not.

Furthermore, the inflexibility of his strategy, was the nail in the coffin:

The ultimate cause of his inflexibility may, however, be judged to different source, lying in his fixed perception of how high command ought to be exercised. In essence, it derived, as with so much else, from his trench experience. From those years he had brought the conviction, rooted in the German army’s own First World War doctrine, that unless going forward an army is safest if its stands firm, holding to ‘the rigid defence of a line’, as Falkenheyn’s general staff memorandum of January 1915 ordained. To it he added, once he had acquired the self-confidence to impose his operational judgement on that of his generals – and he had begun to do so even before the opening of the battle of France – the belief that ‘remote control’, insensitive to the tactical ebb-and-flow though it had been in the First World War, served better than direct involvement once radio communications allowed direct touch with troops in the fighting line. ‘In the long run you can’t command in the roar of battle,’ he had preached on December 12, 1942. ‘Gradually [a man] loses his nerve. It’s different in the rear.’

On a concluding note, John argues that military leadership, in the nuclear era, requires a non-hero:

The concept of struggle, and its attendant ethic of heroism. broods over us all today. It lies at the heart of Marxism and hovers not far from the guiding belief of democracy in the values of human freedom and choice. Yet the spectre of risk, by confronting which the leader authenticated himself as hero, is no longer deflected from those who follow him by the singular role he takes for himself. On the contrary, it diffuses the whole arena of struggle, threatening everyone equally, if not indeed the led more directly than their leader. The traditional means by which the leader sought to validate his followers’ sharing of the risk he led them to face – the cultivation of a sense of kinship, the use of sanction, the force of example, the power of prescription, the resort of action – now all fail. Indeed, what is asked first of a leader in the nuclear world is that he should not act, in any traditionally heroic sense, at all. An inactive leader, one who does nothing, sets no striking example, says nothing Stirring, rewards no more than he punishes, insists above all in being different from the mass in his modesty, prudence and rationality. may sound no leader at all. But such, none the less, is the sort of leader the nuclear world needs, even if it does not know that it wants him. ‘Post-heroic’ is the title he might take for himself. For all is changed, utterly changed. Passing brave it may once have been to ride in triumph through Persepolis. Today the best must find conviction to play the hero no more.

A recommended read on multiple dimensions: historical, military, and leadership.

On Team Of Rivals

I just finished reading Team of Rival – The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This book was recommended as one of the 10 Great Leaders Biographies.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “This, then, is a story of Lincoln’s political genius revealed through his extraordinary array of personal qualities that enabled him to form friendships with men who had previously opposed him; to repair injured feelings that, left untended, might have escalated into permanent hostility; to assume responsibility for the failures of subordinates; to share credit with ease; and to learn from mistakes. He possessed an acute understanding of the sources of power inherent in the presidency, an unparalleled ability to keep his governing coalition intact, a tough-minded appreciation of the need to protect his presidential prerogatives, and a masterful sense of timing. His success in dealing with the strong egos of the men in his cabinet suggests that in the hands of a truly great politician the qualities we generally associate with we generally associate with decency and morality—kindness, sensitivity, compassion, honesty, and empathy—can also be impressive political resources…To be sure, he had a melancholy temperament, most likely imprinted on him from birth. But melancholy differs from depression. It is not an illness; it does not proceed from a specific cause; it is an aspect of one’s nature. It has been recognized by artists and writers for centuries as a potential source of creativity and achievement. Moreover, Lincoln possessed an uncanny understanding of his shifting moods, a profound self-awareness that enabled him to find constructive ways to alleviate sadness and stress. Indeed, when he is compared with his colleagues, it is clear that he possessed the most even-tempered disposition of them all. Time and again, he was the one who dispelled his colleagues’ anxiety and sustained their spirits with his gift for storytelling and his life-affirming sense of humor. When resentment and contention threatened destroy his administration, he refused to be provoked by petty grievances, to submit to jealousy, or to brood over perceived slights. Through the appalling pressures he faced day after day, he retained an unflagging faith in his country’s cause.”

2- “In these convivial settings, Lincoln was invariably the center of attention. No one could equal his never-ending stream of stories nor his ability to reproduce them with such contagious mirth. As his winding tales became more famous, crowds of villagers awaited his arrival at every stop for the chance to hear a master storyteller.”

3- “It was a country for young men. “We find ourselves,” the twenty-eight year-old Lincoln told the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, “in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate.” The founding fathers had crafted a government more favorable to liberty “than any of which the history of former times tells us.” Now it was up to their children to serve and expand the great experiment.”

4- “Lincoln’s early intimacy with traffic loss reinforced a melancholy temperament. Yet his familiarity with pain and personal disappointment imbued him with a strength and understanding of human frailty unavailable to a man of Seward’s buoyant disposition. Moreover, Lincoln, unlike the brooding Chase, possessed a life-affirming humor and a profound resilience that lightened his despair and fortified his will.”

5- “Books became his academy, his college. The printed word united his mind with the great minds of generations past. Relatives and neighbors recalled that he scoured the countryside for books and read every volume “he could lay his hands on.” At a time when ownership of books remained “a luxury for those Americans living outside the purview of the middle class,” gaining access to reading material proved difficult. When Lincoln obtained copies of the King James Bible, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Aesop’s Fables, and William Scott’s Lessons in Elocution, he could not contain his excitement. Holding Pilmm’s Process in his hands, “his eyes sparkled. and that day he could not eat, and that night he could not sleep.” When printing was first invented, Lincoln would later write, “the great mass of men … were utterly unconscious, that their conditions, or their minds were capable of improvement.” To liberate “the mind from this false and under-estimate of itself, is the great task which printing came into the world to perform.” He was, of course, also speaking of himself, of the transforming liberation of a young boy unlocking the miraculous mysteries of language, discovering a world of possibilities in the small log cabin on the frontier that he later called “as unpoetical as any spot of the earth.”…He read and reread the Bible and Aesop’s Fables so many times that years later he could recite whole passages and entire stories from memory. Through Scott’s Lessons in Elocution, he first encountered selections from Shakespeare’s plays, inspiring a love for the great dramatist’s writings long before he ever saw a play. He borrowed a volume of the Revised Statutes of Indiana from the local constable, a work that contained the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787— documents that would become foundation stones of his philosophical and political thought.”

6- “What Lincoln lacked in preparation and guidance, he made up for v^itl his daunting concentration, phenomenal memory, acute reasoning faculties, and interpretive penetration. Though untutored in the sciences and the classics, he was able to read and reread his books until he understood the classics, he was able to read and reread his books until he understood them fully. “Get the books, and read and study them,” he told a law student seeking advice in 1855. It did not matter, he continued, whether the reading be done in a small town or a large city, by oneself or in the company of Others. “The books, and your capacity for understanding them, are just the same in all places— Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing.”

7- “Though Lincoln’s empathy was at the root of his melancholy it would prove an enormous asset to his political career. “His crowning gift of political diagnosis,” suggested Nicolay, “was due to his sympathy… which gave him the power to forecast with uncanny accuracy what his opponents were likely to do.” She described how, after listening to his colleagues talk were likely to do.” She described how, after listening to his colleagues talk at a Whig Party caucus, Lincoln would cast off his shawl, rise from his at a Whig Party caucus, Lincoln would cast off his shawl, rise from his chair, and say: “From your talk, I gather the Democrats will do so and so … I should do so and so to checkmate them.” He proceeded to outline all “the moves for days ahead; making them all so plain that his listeners wondered why they had not seen it that way themselves.” Such capacity to intuit the inward feelings and intentions of others would be manifest throughout his career.”

8- “Lincoln’s ability to win the respect of others, to earn their trust and even devotion, would prove essential in his rise to power. There was something mysterious m his persona that led countless men, even old adversaries, to feel bound to him in admiration.”

9- “Chance, positioning, and managerial s strategy—all played a role in Lincoln’s victory. Still, if we consider the comparative resources each contender brought to the race—-their range of political skills, their emotional. intellectual, and moral qualities, their rhetorical abilities, and their determination and willingness to work hard—it is clear that when opportunity beckoned. Lincoln was the best prepared to answer the call. His nomination, finally, was the result of his character and his life experiences—these separated him from his rivals and provided him with advantages unrecognized at the time. Having risen to power with fewer privileges than any of his rivals, Lincoln was more accustomed to rely upon himself to shape events. From beginning to end, he took the greatest control of the process leading up to the nomination.”

10- “At the same time, his native caution and precision with language—he rarely said more than he was sure about, rarely pandered to his various audiences—gave Lincoln great advantages over his rivals, each of whom tried to reposition himself in the months before the convention…Though Lincoln desired success as fiercely as any of his i rivals, he did not allow his quest for office to consume the kindness and openheartedness with which he treated supporters and rivals alike, nor alter his steady commitment to the antislavery cause.”

11- “Later, Joseph Medill of the Chicago Tribune asked Lincoln why he had chosen a cabinet comprised of enemies and opponents. He particularly questioned the president’s selection of the three men who had been his chief rivals for the Republican nomination, each of whom was still smarting from the loss. Lincoln’s answer was simple, straightforward, and shrewd. “We needed the strongest men of the party in the Cabinet. We needed to hold our own people together. I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.””

12- “To Lincoln’s mind, the battle to save the Union contained an even larger purpose than ending slavery, which was after all sanctioned by the very Constitution he was sworn to uphold. “I consider the central idea pervading this struggle,” he told Hay in early May, “is the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail it win go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves.””

13- “Lincoln had long believed, as we have seen, that “with public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.” He understood that one of the principal stumbling blocks in the way of emancipation was the pervasive fear shared by whites in both the North and the South that the two races could never coexist peacefully in a free society. He thought that a plan for the voluntary emigration of freed slaves would allay some of these fears, fostering wider acceptance of his proclamation.”

14- “”Abraham Lincoln, will take no step backward.” Intuitively grasping Lincoln’s character. though they were not yet personally acquainted, Douglass explained that “Abraham Lincoln may be slow… but Abraham Lincoln is not the man to reconsider, retract and contradict words and purposes solemnly proclaimed over his official signature…If he has taught us to confide in nothing else, he has taught us to confide in his word.” Lincoln confirmed this assessment when he told Massachusetts congressman George Boutwell, “My word is out to these people, and I can’t take it back.””

15- “”I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper,” he said. “If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.” His arm was “stiff and numb” from shaking hands for three hours, however. “If my hand trembles when I sign the Proclamation,” Lincoln said, “all who examine the document hereafter will say, ‘He hesitated.’ ” So the president waited a moment and then took up the pen once more, “slowly and carefully” writing his name. “The signature proved to be unusually bold, clear, and firm, even for him,” Fred Seward recalled, “and a laugh followed, at his apprehensions.” The secretary of state added his own name and carried it back to the State Department, where the great seal of the United States was affixed before copies were sent out to the press.”

16- “Asked months later by a radical to “suppress the infamous ‘Chicago Times,’ ” Lincoln told her, “I fear you do not fully comprehend the danger of abridging the liberties of the people. Nothing but the very sternest necessity can ever justify it. A government had better go to the very extreme of toleration, than to do aught that could be construed into an interference with, or to jeopardize in any degree, the common rights of its citizens.””

17- “Herein, Swett concluded, lay the secret to Lincoln’s gifted leadership. “It was by ignoring men, and ignoring all small causes, but by closely calculating the tendencies of events and the great forces which were producing logical results.” John Forney of the Washington Daily Chronicle observed the same judgment and timing, arguing that Lincoln was “the most truly progressive man of the age, because he always moves in conjunction with propitious circumstances, not waiting to be dragged by the force of events or wasting strength in premature struggles with them.”

18- “Four score and seven years ago,” he began, our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are sated equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living i and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor Dower to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here, have, thus far, so nobly advanced, d. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that, government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

19- “Discipline and keen insight had once again served Lincoln most effectively. By regulating his emotions and resisting the impulse to strike back at Chase when the circular first became known, he gained time for his friends to mobilize the massive latent support for his candidacy. Chase’s aspirations were crushed without Lincoln’s direct intrusion.”

20- “He gave voice to these ideals in late August with an emotional address to the men of an Ohio regiment returning home to their families. “I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House,” he said. “I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father’s child has. It is in order that each of you may have through tills free government which we have enjoyed, an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise and intelligence; that you may all have equal privileges in the race of life, with all its desirable human aspirations. It is for this the struggle should be maintained, that we may not lose our birthright…. The nation is worth fighting for, to secure such an inestimable jewel.””

21- “Drawing upon the rare wisdom of a temperament that consistently displayed uncommon magnanimity toward those who opposed him, he then issued his historic plea to his fellow countrymen: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shah have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just. and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.””

22- “The editors of the Mercury would have been even more astonished if they had an inkling of the truth recognized by those closer to Lincoln: his political genius was not simply his ability to gather the best men of the country around him, but to impress upon them his own purpose, perception, and resolution at every juncture. With respect to Lincoln’s cabinet. Charles Dana observed, “it was always plain that he was the master and they were the subordinates. They constantly had to yield to his will, and if he ever yielded to them it was because they convinced him that the course they advised was judicious and appropriate.””

23- “At 7:22 a.m., April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was pronounced dead. Stanton’s concise tribute from his deathbed still echoes. “Now he belongs to the ages.””

24- “”Washington was a typical American. Napoleon was a typical Frenchman, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country—bigger than all the Presidents together. We are still too near to his greatness,” Tolstoy concluded, “but after a few centuries more our posterity will find him considerably bigger than we do. His genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding, just as the sun is too hot when its light beams directly on us.”

25- “The ambition to establish a reputation worthy of the esteem of his fellows so that his story could be told after his death had carried Lincoln through his bleak childhood, his laborious efforts to educate himself, his string of political failures, and a depression so profound that he declared himself more than willing to die, except that “he had done nothing to make any human being remember that he had lived.” An indomitable sense of purpose had sustained him through the disintegration of the Union and through the darkest months of the war, when he was called upon again and again to rally his disheartened countrymen. soothe the animosity of his generals, and mediate among members of his often contentious administration. His conviction that we are one nation, indivisible, “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” led to the rebirth of a union free of slavery. And he expressed this conviction in a language of enduring clarity and beauty, exhibiting a literary genius to match his political genius. With his death, Abraham Lincoln had come to seem the embodiment of his own words—”With malice toward none; with charity for all” voiced in his second inaugural to lay out the visionary pathway to a reconstructed union. The deathless name he sought from the start had grown far beyond Sangamon County and Illinois, reached across the truly United States, until his legacy, as Stanton had surmised at the moment of his death, belonged not only to America but to the ages—to be revered and sung throughout all time.”


Omar Halabieh