grant-lee

What are the odds? War’s end

Today, April 9, marks the 150th anniversary of the first of several conclusory events of the national nightmare known as the American Civil War: the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Union General Ulysses S. Grant.

For the past four years, U.S. citizens and others across the globe have reflected during this sesquicentennial commemoration on the notable events of what Northerners called the War of the Rebellion, and Southerners, the War Between the States. Though subsequent regional surrenders occurred over the following weeks, the April 9, 1865, meeting of Generals Lee and Grant at Appomattox Court House is regarded as the date and place the war formally ended.

The April 1861 firing on Fort Sumter in South Carolina was the opening engagement, but no casualties were incurred during the bombardment. For this reason, most regard the first real battle of the war to have been fought in Manassas, Va. With this as preface, any collection of improbable coincidences would have to include the remarkable “bookends” of this most devastating of all American military conflicts.

On July 18, 1861, Confederate General Beauregard had sat down for supper in the home of a Manassas local when a cannonball pierced through the house and landed in the kitchen fireplace. It was something of a surprise, but not so overwhelming as to ruin Beauregard’s sense of humor “A comical effect of this artillery fight was the destruction of the dinner of myself and staff by a Federal shell that fell into the fire-place of my headquarters at the McLean House,” he wrote in his diary. Perhaps the shell would have been more of a shock had it not been just one of many volleys in the first major campaign of the Civil War: the Battle of Bull Run.

The house belonged to a man named Wilmer McLean, who had purchased the property in 1854. Beauregard had commandeered the property—and McLean’s well-situated house and barn—as his headquarters and, later, as a hospital for Confederate troops. McLean was happy to oblige the general as he himself was a retired officer in the Virginia militia and had profited nicely off of renting the property and speculating on commodities like sugar. But by the time the Second Battle of Bull Run had occurred on his doorstep and a pregnant wife, McLean had had enough. The profits no longer outweighed the dangers, and he decided to move south.

In 1863, Wilmer McLean settled on the property surrounding the Two Rein Tavern at a small and quiet crossroads over 100 miles south of the chaos of Civil War battlefields. For two years, his family lived in the relative quietude of southern Virginia until, on April 9, 1865, Charles Marshall—Gen. Robert E. Lee’s aide—approached him. Marshall asked McLean to show him a place that was suitable for Lee and another general to meet. McLean first showed him a dilapidated home, but when Marshall rejected it, McLean reluctantly offered up his own residence for the meeting. Marshall accepted.

Lee arrived at McLean’s Appomattox Court House property at about one o’clock in the afternoon in a crisp uniform. Shortly after, wearing his muddied field uniform, the other general arrived. It was Ulysses S. Grant. For about 25 minutes the two spoke in McLean’s parlor, until eventually Lee brought up the purpose of their meeting, the surrender of the Confederate Army. Minutes later, the Civil War ended.

– “The peculiar story of Wilmer McLean,” Prologue: Pieces of History, The National Archives

Thereafter, McLean would famously observe that “The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor.”

At left, Wilmer McLean's house where the Civil War 'began.' At right, Wilmer McLean's house where the Civil War ended.

At left, Wilmer McLean’s house where the Civil War “began.” At right, Wilmer McLean’s house where the Civil War ended.

Give your kids the present they wish for the most

ikeavidIKEA has put together a moving video that should touch all parents, and probably will sting most of us. In the video, they asked some kids to write two letters: one to the Three Kings (like a letter to Santa) and one to their parents. They then asked a final question at the end of the experiment and got what some might consider to be a surprising answer. Check out the video here, and then read about what some researchers have said about the same issue (I don’t want to spoil the video with more detail, so click here to read the article after you’ve watched the video).

Making peace with prosperity

"Abundance of Fruit," by Severin Roesen, 1860, New Britain Museum of American Art.

“Abundance of Fruit,” by Severin Roesen, 1860, New Britain Museum of American Art.

About had it with the chaos of Christmas commercialization? Do yourself a favor and read Arthur Brooks’ New York Times column, “Abundance Without Attachment.” The ever-inspiring Brooks explains that while economic prosperity has brought much of the world out of the choking grip of poverty, this same prosperity can chain us again if we let it. To avoid that trap, and thus be a happier, more generous people, we need to remember and practice three keys:

  • Collect experiences, not things. As wrong-headed as it might seem, buying that couch that will last forever will bring less satisfaction than a fleeting adventure with loved ones. Brooks refers to research to prove his point, and my own experience has shown that it’s the blossoming, richer relationships that result from those shared adventures that produces the long-term payoff.
  • Steer clear of excessive usefulness. By this Brooks means that we should, yes, be industrious, but we should be industrious because of the joy honest industry itself brings us. Also, we should remember why we work so hard—to take care of our loved ones. The means we earn are just that—means. They are not the end for which we are working.
  • Get to the center of the wheel. If you measure your worth and success based on the rim, or the material measures of man, you will always feel unfulfilled. Our material and mortal experiences are full of ups and downs, and man is reliably unreliable. Instead, get away from the rim and to the center of the wheel to a reliance on Deity. That’s a sure way to attach yourself to something of real, satisfying, lasting worth.

A useful, non-shaming guide for working with women

Riveters in WWIIDo men need a guide for how to work with women? Joanne Lipman, writing in The Wall Street Journal, has some suggestions, and they’re worth reading:

The point isn’t to blame men. In my view, there has been way too much man-shaming as it is. My aim instead is to demystify women.

The business case for this is compelling. Companies with more women in leadership posts simply perform better. Fortune 500 firms with the most female board members outperform those with the least by 26% on return on invested capital and 16% on return on sales, according to a 2011 Catalyst study.

Aside from some unfortunate stereotypes used by Lipman in her introductory paragraphs, the article has some great advice for men, particularly managers, who work with women. It goes beyond the “men’s and women’s brains are wired differently” and “men and women are socialized differently” concepts to offer some clear explanations and suggestions. Read it here.

As war begins: a vivid glimpse of Pearl Harbor in 1941

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For seven ghastly, confused days, we have been at war. To the women of Hawaii, it has meant a total disruption of home life, a sudden acclimation to blackout nights, terrifying rumors, fear of the unknown as planes drone overhead and lorries shriek through the streets.

The seven days may stretch to seven years, and the women of Hawaii will have to accept a new routine of living. It is time, now, after the initial confusion and terror have subsided, to sum up the events of the past week, to make plans for the future.

It would be well, perhaps, to review the events of the past seven days and not minimize the horror, to better prepare for what may come again.

The words above were written by a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Elizabeth P. McIntosh, a week after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. She explained, “After a week of war, I wrote a story directed at Hawaii’s women; I thought it would be useful for them to know what I had seen.”

But her editors pulled the story, fearing it was too graphic. It was finally published 71 years later, in 2012, in The Washington Post.

Two weeks ago, I was at Pearl Harbor, thinking about the Japanese attack and its consequences. It’s tempting to view World War II now with a sort of nostalgia, since we know how it all ended, with the Allies finally triumphant. But looking at the harbor, I tried to imagine what it was like at the time, when it was reality and not history, and McIntosh’s story gives me a glimpse of that.

To 21st-century eyes, her account is hardly graphic. But it is immediate and terrifying, conveying a vivid sense of “what’s next?” and the rumors that must have flown from person to person.

Read it here (includes video) at The Washington Post.

A triptych for today …

Library… reflecting on George Santayana’s sobering reminder: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (The Life of Reason: the Phases of Human Progress, Vol. 1, p. 284, 1905-06)

  • “…the way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many…. What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and power into one body.”

– Thomas Jefferson, February 2, 1816, in a letter to Joseph C. Cabell (The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Andrew A. Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh, Vol. 14, pp. 421-423. Washington, DC: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1905)

  • “An elective despotism was not the government we fought for; but one in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among the several bodies of magistracy as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.” 

 – James Madison (“Federalist No. 58,” The Federalist Papers, February 20, 1788)

  • “The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.” 

– Attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), French political observer and historian. A champion of liberty and democracy, his most famous works are Democracy in America (two volumes, 1835 and 1840) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856).

Or, as Mark Twain is reputed to have put a bow on it: “The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

The Power of One — Sutherland Soapbox, 12/2/14

"Editors" Sarah Hale, Godey's Lady's Book, 1850.

“Editress” Sarah Hale, Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1850.

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

If you’ve ever thought you don’t matter, or you don’t make a difference — you’re wrong. History is full of men, women and children who have seen something broken, or wrong, or unjust, and fixed it – for a loved one, or maybe for the whole world.

Take, for example, the story of David and Kathleen Bagby. I came across their story by watching the gut-wrenching documentary, “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father.” David and Kathleen raised their son, Andrew, near San Jose, California. Andrew went on to medical school in Canada where he dated Shirley Turner for a time before ending the turbulent relationship. While doing his residency in Pennsylvania, Andrew was allegedly murdered by Shirley. Shirley then fled to Canada and revealed she was pregnant with a baby fathered by Andrew. While her extradition hearings moved slowly through Canada’s legal system, Shirley was free on bail and gave birth to Andrew and Shirley’s son, Zachary. David and Kathleen Bagby, Andrew’s parents, flew to Canada to seek custody of the child. Before they were able to secure custody, Shirley jumped into the Atlantic Ocean with baby Zachary strapped to her chest in a murder-suicide.

In less than two years, David and Kathleen lost their son, Andrew, and their grandson, Zachary, to horrific deaths. David and Kathleen’s grief and outrage are certainly normal, understandable, and expected. But they didn’t let it paralyze or consume them. They worked for seven years to change Canada’s bail laws. David and Kathleen believed bad bail laws allowed Shirley to be released when she shouldn’t have been, which allowed her to murder her son and kill herself. David and Kathleen were ultimately successful in protecting children by getting Canada to change its bail laws to make bail proceedings more stringent. Two average folks, with no public policy experience, but overflowing with a desire to save children’s lives, made a difference.

Another example. Completely different, but still impactful. If you enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday with your loved ones, you have Sarah J. Hale to thank.  Hale was “editress” (as she called herself) of the Lady’s Book and the reason we have a national day of thanksgiving today.

Hale worked for 15 years placing “papers before the Governors of all the States and Territories….”

Yet she felt a national statement from President Abraham Lincoln would greatly aid and accelerate “the great Union Festival of America.” So, in late September of 1863, Hale wrote to Lincoln to request he make what had become a regional celebration into a national day of thanksgiving, to be held, as she suggested, annually on the fourth Thursday of November.

A week later, Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. One woman, Sarah J. Hale, took action that led to one of the most revered holidays in America.

This should go without saying, but you don’t have to change a country’s laws or start a new holiday to make a difference. Be a good dad, or a good mom. As Lincoln himself famously said, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” Be a good daughter or son, brother or sister. Be the positive influence in your loved ones’ lives. That will be the most impactful, and personally meaningful, difference you can and should make.

And lastly, during this Christmas season, we cannot talk about the power of one to make a difference and leave out Jesus Christ. For Christians, he is the Savior of the world. For all of humanity, he has had the most profound influence for good in the history of civilization. Though he certainly had his supporters, in his lifetime, Jesus also faced intense persecution and opposition, culminating, of course, in his brutal crucifixion. We too, in our own small ways, might face challenges as we stand up for our loved ones, for the good, for the right. But know that you can make a difference, and it’s worth it.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Dave Buer. Thanks for listening.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

Healing heroes

Dog_by_RepinThis story illustrates how Utah veterans, prisoners and shelter dogs serve and heal each other through a beautiful series of connections (with plenty of photos and video).

The dog is … a potential service animal, training to help free a war-battered veteran named Caleb Dunham from the anxiety and distress that have nearly shut him down and locked him indoors. He fought for his country in Iraq and Afghanistan; back home he doesn’t know how to fight for himself.

She’s an act of redemption for two incarcerated women who may never be free. They are training her and sending her back into the society from which they have been forcibly removed. In prison, the women teach the dog basic behavioral skills so she will soon be able to help the veteran full-time.

Rescued from shelters, these dogs in turn rescue the prisoners who train them and the veterans who have PTSD or traumatic brain injuries.

Both dogs and veterans traumatized by war are naturally hyper-aware. David Thimm, a Navy veteran of the 2005-06 Persian Gulf conflict, said everything bothered him when he got home. Monty, a German shepherd-boxer mix, steadies him. “I was kind of hesitant about choosing a dog,” said Thimm, 31. “I remember when I petted him, he put his paw on my arm. ‘You pet me, I’ll pet you.’ There’s no way I can let this dog go.”

The group behind this effort in Utah is Canines With a Cause, which provides these services at no charge to the veterans.

Capt. MaryAnn Reding helped bring Canines With a Cause to the [state] prison because it provides inmates an opportunity to give back. Although they must have exemplary behavior in prison to be selected to train dogs, some of the women … will never be released.

Initially, staff worried that 140 women living together while only a few had dogs might spark jealousy, even sabotage. Instead, Reding said, “It has united them. It is interesting to see how the dogs have taught them order. Our order is demanded. Theirs is given out of love — it’s what the dogs need.”

Click here to read more of this story at the Deseret News.

‘Speak American!’

Two-people-talking-logoA few months ago I was on the receiving end of a fender-bender in Taylorsville. I spent some time standing around and talking with the other drivers who had been hit. After I left one conversation to tend to my bored son, two other drivers continued talking to each other, switching to Spanish. I felt a twinge of envy. To be able to switch between languages so easily!

Although both were fluent in English, it was apparent it was not their first language. Years of effort had gone into their fluency.

Learning another language as an adult is a humbling experience. Many Americans know this, even if their experience was limited to a high school class. With this in mind, I bridle when people expect immigrants to master English with superhuman speed.

Gene Simmons, the well-known linguist lead singer of KISS, is an immigrant who recently admonished today’s immigrants: “Learn to speak [expletive] English. It is the key that will unlock the keys to the kingdom. If you make the effort, then all the possibilities of this culture will open up for you and give you all the rewards that I’ve gotten.”

I can’t disagree with his point about the advantages of learning English and learning it well. Let me point out, however, that he emigrated to the U.S. from Israel when he was 8. It’s a lot easier to learn English and “get rid of your accent” when you’re 8 than later.

The second generation – as has been the case throughout America’s history – is fluent in English and often bilingual.

In recent decades, allowing any room for Spanish – for instance, providing Spanish translation on various official documents – seems to stick in the craw of plenty of English speakers.

Undoubtedly, you should learn the local language if you move to another country. But this is a process that takes years. As an adult learner, I speak rusty German and rudimentary French. If I were living in a country where either of those languages was predominant, I’d speak that language as much as possible. But if I had to sign official/government/medical documents, you can bet I’d want to read a translation in English. (Official language is difficult enough to parse when it’s written in your native language, let alone another.)

Here in the U.S., the adults will learn, slowly, and their children will become bilingual. And if our native English speakers (children and adults) pick up a few words of another language – this is not a bad thing.