Artists express their tortured or exalted souls in a variety of ways. They can use music and voice or the written word on paper. Either way, if the message has a medium and receiving audience, the result can move the human spirit. Artists are always looking for an emotional or intellectual response. Sending sounds to an ear or words to the thought process can accomplish this, sometimes at the expense of the artists’ well-being. They are at once happy doing what they do best but seek more afterwards and find themselves wanting.
I could try to analyze and compare these talented women but the best window into a soul is through their own words.
In the words of Janis Joplin
In the words of Sylvia Plath
“Onstage, I make love to 25,000 people – then I go home alone.”
“If they substituted the word “Lust” for “Love” in the popular songs it would come nearer the truth.”
“‘I feel, you know, I hurt, please help.’ I’m saying words, man, and if I look at an audience and they ain’t understanding me, it’s just like getting kicked in the teeth.”
“Can you understand? Someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little? For all my despair, for all my ideals, for all that – I love life. But it is hard, and I have so much – so very much to learn.”
On performing in concert, “…I dig it! I dig it so much, man!”
“Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously near to wanting nothing.”
“People, whether they know it or not, like their blues singers miserable. They like their blues singers to die afterwards.”
The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”
“It used to make me very unhappy, all that feeling. I just didn’t know what to do with it. But now I’ve learned how to make feeling work for me.”
How frail the human heart must be — a mirrored pool of thought.
They were both lonely despite having many people around them. Janice Joplin tried to find the answer through drugs and alcohol and died of an overdose way before she should have left us. Radio stations play her songs today and her CDs sell well. Sylvia Plath used her depression to create works that are studied in school and university literature classes to this day. They both live on through words and music.
John Roebling and Alexander Graham Bell conquered barriers. John Roebling practiced construction engineering to break down barriers while Alexander Graham Bell used the art of communication transmitted by wires and electrical engineered devices. One is famous for the Brooklyn Bridge while another is famous for the telephone. However, both men accomplished much more during their lives than just those achievements they are known for in history books. John Roebling pioneered the construction of suspension bridges and built more in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other places as well as running a successful business in New Jersey. Bell in addition to inventing and perfecting the telephone, founded a school for speech and communication. He also helped many people with diction and voice problems so they could function better during their daily lives.
John Roebling came early in the 19th Century and died before his time from complications from an accident working on the beginning stages of the Brooklyn Bridge. While surveying for the Brooklyn Bridge, his toes were crushed and had to be amputated. He developed tetanus and later developed lockjaw. He suffered a painful gruesome death after many seizures and lapsing in and out of a coma. John Roebling taught his son, Washington Roebling, the business and kept him at his side during the planning stages of the bridge. This enabled the bridge construction to continue after his death.
John Roebling built other suspension bridges over the Ohio River from Kentucky to Cincinnati, Ohio as well as a railway suspension bridge over the Niagara River. In addition, Roebling built a suspension bridge over the Monongahela River at Pittsburgh, Pa., and four suspension aqueducts on the Delaware and Hudson Canals. All of this while running a wire cable business in Trenton, New Jersey.
Roebling was a meticulous man who demanded perfection. He also was a micro-manager who needed to approve and inspect every aspect of a project or business. Roebling was in the business of completing projects that were to be used by people. Because of this, he was involved in every detail. He eventually trusted two people during his professional life, his assistant and his son, Washington Roebling, who completed the Brooklyn Bridge after his father’s death. While other engineer’s bridges failed after a few years, John Roebling’s bridges are still going strong to this day due to his calculations and use of wire strands. Drivers and pedestrians are crossing the Brooklyn and Cincinnati Bridges today because of Roebling’s demanding standards.
While John Roebling connected people commercially and socially by giving them opportunities to cross one land mass to another, Alexander Graham Bell united one another through speech, communication, and the baby steps of information technology.
Alexander Graham Bell’s interest in speech, elocution, diction, communication patterns, and the physical development of Visible Speech was brought to him by his grandfather and father where he grew up in Scotland. Alexander’s father, Melville, became a leading authority on elocution and speech correction and Alexander began to learn about these techniques from his family. After the family moved to Toronto, Canada, Alexander Bell accepted a position and began working at Boston School for Deaf Mutes in 1871 where he taught his father’s system of Visible Speech. He taught there for only a semester but liked the Boston area and began tutoring deaf children on his own. He became successful at this business.
While Bell and his partners were working on sending multiple telegraph transmissions over the same wire on using different harmonic frequencies, he became interested in human voice transmission over those same wires. He teamed up with another electrician to do this, Thomas Watson. From 1974 to 1876, Bell and Watson worked on the harmonic telegraph and voice transmission. The stories of the first phone call have different versions but the important part is that Watson heard a sound transmitted over a wire. On March 10, 1876, Bell and Watson were working on their devices in the lab and Bell likely heard a noise over the wire and told Watson called to his assistant. Watson probably heard Bell’s voice over the wire also, which became the first telephone call. From there, Bell increased the distance of the wire transmissions. On July 9, 1877, the Bell Telephone Company was organized and it was just a matter of time before a phone was in everyone’s home. He had to defend his telephone patent over the next 18 years in court 550 times but he beat them all and the company fortunes and Bell’s fame grew. Thomas Edison had a part in improving the telephone which the invention of the microphone. The microphone aided in the sound level so that the user didn’t need to shout into the receiver.
In addition to the telephone, Bell founded the Volta Laboratory where people could devote their efforts to science. He developed metal jacket that helped people with lung problems, engineered a metal detector to local bullets in bodies, and invented an audiometer that tested a person’s hearing ability. He founded the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf in 1880. Bell also met and worked with Helen Keller during this period, becoming lifelong friends. He described what Anne Sullivan did to help Keller as a hugely successful experiment rather than a miracle. When he died on August 2, 1922, the entire telephone system was turned off for one minute as a tribute.
Today’s headlines reveal that once a dictator has power they are reluctant to give it up. I submit to the court of history as evidence the countries of Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Haiti, and many others. You can’t blame them. As Mel Brooks said in his movie The History of the World, Part I, “It’s good to be King.”
The three stories of one Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, and two Kings, England’s Charles I and France’s Louis XVI can be reduced to isolated adolescences and lack of situational awareness in their homelands. This isolation continued into their adult lives and created a stubbornness and sense of entitlement. Their refusal to understand the plight and basic needs of citizens and the nobility forced their enemies to take action. The lack of leadership at crucial times gave their enemies the chance to strike and force a surrender. In all three cases, the revolutionaries that captured them felt it necessary to execute them so that they would not be a living symbol for their supporters. In two cases, King Louis XVI and King Charles I were beheaded. In the case of Tsar Nicholas II, he was gunned down along with his entire family. Louis XVI’s wife, Marie Antoinette, also met the executioner’s guillotine. When there are wars, lack of basic needs like food and shelter, and general unrest, it can force people to desperation and revolution. History’s lesson for these three rulers from the genetic lottery is that their lofty stations in life didn’t necessarily mean safety from scheming enemies.
King Charles I of England ruled during the years from 1625 to January 30th, 1649. It was during his reign when Puritans and Catholics began leaving England due to religious persecution. He also kept dissolving parliament (3 times) so that he could run things his way within the first three years of his rule. This forced him to raise funds by other forceful means. What really got him trouble was creating enemies within the nobility. Due to wars with Scotland and Ireland and creating tensions within the religious communities, he was on a collision with powerful groups. Eventually, civil war began in 1642. The Royalists were defeated in 1646 due to the Parliament’s alliance with the Scott’s. Charles surrendered to the Scott’s who handed him over to Parliament. He escaped to the Isle of Wright in 1647 and a second Civil War began and was finished within a year. Parliamentarian General Oliver Cromwell defeated the Royalists. Charles was captured. The conquering parliamentarians decided that the country would never have peace if the King continued to live. Cromwell and his associates put the King on trial, found him guilty of treason. He was executed outside the Banqueting House on Whitehall, London on January 30th, 1649.
France’s King Louis XVI
Louis the XVI got into trouble by not having the necessary leadership qualities to understand the social and political climate of the period. He preferred hunting rather than sitting in his office trying to figure out budget concerns and other political matters. He relied heavily on the court member’s advice. In addition, his treasury secretary’s financing part of the American Revolution reduced the funds or canceled out any savings from the reforms the King approved. His laissez-fair attitude got him trouble with parliament, the nobility and his subjects. Once the debt got to be unmanageable the King tried to tax the notable or privileged classes. The assembly balked at that demand. The King sent troops to Paris to force his will. This was the spark that ignited Bastille Day, where the Bastille was stormed on July 14, 1789. The royal family was confined to Paris in Tuileries Palace a couple of months later. They tried to escape but were recaptured. At the time, France was at war with Austria and Prussia. Marie Antoinette’s was the daughter of an Austrian royal family. The Austrian’s made it clear that should any harm come to Louis and his family, they would march on Paris. Louis’s communication with the Prussian’s infuriated the revolutionaries. After the family’s imprisonment in the Temple in August of 1792, incriminating evidence was used to try Louis XVI in January of 1793. He was found guilty and guillotined on January 21, 1793.
Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II
Tsar Nicholas was unprepared for managing a country as large a Russia when he assumed power in 1894. He mistrusted a majority of his ministers and was
influenced by his wife Princess Alexandra. He got off to a bad start when he tried to gain more land by getting into a war with Japan over Manchuria. This resulted in a humiliating defeat on land and sea. This provoked riots and demonstrations due to poor economic conditions in Russia. In January 1905, Russian troops fired into a crowd who were demonstrating for reforms. This event forced a change. The Tsar, in order to keep power, accepted a constitution and a ruling government body called the duma. This enabled the middle class to have more say in government affairs. However, the Tsar still had his secret police to stifle radicals. This held off the inevitable, but with the start of World War I in 1914, the Tsar made an unwise decision. He went to the front to lead the Russian Army . The Army was experiencing heavy losses and with each one, the blame was attributed to the Tsar. Combine that with food shortages, high inflation, suppression and general unrest, Vladimir Lenin had the chance to strike. In 1917, widespread demonstrations in Petrograd, combined with the Tsar’s loss of support from the Army, Nicholas II abdicated the throne. After the end of World War I, a civil war began between the Bolsheviks and the anti-Bolsheviks. The Bolshevik’s moved the royal family from place to place until Lenin gave the order to execute the whole family.
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The two powerful women featured in this comparison are significant because they knew how to assess their situation, develop influential followers, and then create a plan of action. In fact, few men in history have been so effective at gaining power and then keeping it for as long a period as these two women. Readers may note that one difference between the two seems to be that Catherine the Great had a more positive influence on her country than the Empress. However, the Empress Dowager Cixi had to use her power behind the curtains, influencing decisions within the Emperor or Regent’s power structure.
Tz’u Hsi is a testament to not underestimating someone who is small in stature and comes from a modest background. She held power as a regent or as a
defacto ruler of China for 47 years until 1908, when she died. Born in 1835, she began her rise to power as the Emperor Hsein-Feng’s concubine. Since she produced the only heir to the Emperor, her power increased exponentially until she achieved Imperial Concubine status and then Noble Consort, second in influence only to that of the Empress. She gave birth to their son a couple of years before the emperor died. Her son became Emperor Tung-Chih. Since he was too young, at five years, to make decisions, Tz’u Hsi was given the power with two other partners. She soon became a force in this triumvirate. The Empress gained power when she talked military leaders and ministers into supporting her after the 8 regents selected to run the government alienated them. She was persuasive and influential. According to many scholars, despite pushing through reforms such as instituting foreign languages in schools and creating the Chinese Foreign Service Office, she also had a reputation for corruption and amassing a huge fortune and accumulating wealth. She used the country’s revenue funding for her own pleasure. She retired from office in 1889. Nevertheless, all decision-making ran through her for approval until her death. The new emperor wanted to clean out corruption in China’s government but Hsi didn’t want this to happen so she took the power of the regency again and confined him to the palace. In 1900, the Boxer Rebellion forced her to flee Peking and accept the peace agreement. Toward the end of her life, she changed her mind and worked to eliminate corruption in government the best she could at her advanced age. The Empress Dowager Cixi died in Peking on November 15, 1908, a day after the real emperor, Guangxu. The Empress Dowager is known for political maneuvering, accumulating wealth, and instituting reforms. She is also remembered as the most successful concubine in history. After she evaluated her circumstances and assessed her friends and enemies, she acted without hesitation. It seems her years as a concubine weren’t wasted. She understood the personalities working around the family dynasty and the Forbidden City so that when she moved, she knew who to rely on and who were her enemies. In that time, one false step would have meant death.
Catherine the Great or Catherine II (Born Sophia Augusta Fredericka) May 2, 1729-November 17, 1796
Since history is written by the living or the victors, the fact that Catherine II became known as
Catherine the “Great” is a testament to her leadership and reforms during her reign as Russia’s Empress Consort of all Russians. History’s timeline does not record many people with “Great” after their names. So she must have been doing something right while serving as ruler of “all” Russians. She gained power through her understanding of the personalities around her in the royal palace.She came to the Russian Palace from Prussia as a political union to strengthen the Russian-Prussian alliance. Her wedding to Peter III and her conversion to Russian Orthodoxy as well as her ability learn the Russian language endeared her to citizens and won her favor in the royal family. After her spouse Peter III’s succession to the throne, the new King made several poor decisions that alienated the his advisors and military leaders. These decisions were siding with Prussia’s King Frederick the II and wearing the colors of Austria for his uniforms. His eccentrities alienated the same groups that Catherine had cultivated, showing political savvy beyond her years. Six months after assuming the throne, Peter III left Catherine in St. Petersburg and that’s when her supporters decided to remove Peter III from power, arrest him and put Catherine in the position as leader of Russia. Eight days later, Peter III was murdered in prison by Alexei Orlov, the brother of Gregory Orlov, a supporter of Catherine.
Catherine the Great’s ability to cultivate supporters within the nobility, military and government leaders served her well early by consolidating her power until time developed her own reputation. Catherine, like Peter the Great, believed in Western influence and culture as a way to further Russia’s stance in the world. She believed in education and opened schools for russian girls to further their studies. In addition, Catherine expanded the Russian Empire after victories against the Ottoman Empire so that the country had access to the Black Sea. She was also a champion of arts and culture as well as finance reform. Catherine the Great died from complications from a stroke on November 17, 1796.
One thing can be stated about the Empress Dowager Cixi and Catherine the Great, they knew how to move within houses of power. Once they were in a position to gain power, they used their political savvy, intelligence, positions in the royal hierarchy, and their supporters’ willingness to help them, to achieve goals. If any of those aspects had not been present, historians or the victors might have written a different story.
What do you think? Write a comment or suggest any other people to compare.
Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler was a warrior in the truest sense. He had two Medals of Honor (MOH) to prove it. Born in 1881, he joined the service, got his commission and earned his MOH in Haiti and Mexico. He rose through the ranks through hard work and a big helping of Marine Corps spirit. After serving in the Marine Corps for more than 30 years in a variety of assignments from platoon leader to commander and finally staff positions, he retired from the Marines with a stellar record.
Once he was out of the service, he was free to think and write what he wanted. He came to the conclusion that “war is a racket.” He really dropped a mortar round into the establishment with that one. He wrote a book that outlined how companies working with government increased their profits during wartime. His point that corporate profits are made from wars that costs the lives of young people resonates to this day. He was way of ahead of his time railing against the “Military Industrial Complex”.
As he wrote in his book, “War is a Racket”, a racket is an inside game with only a few people knowing the rules. A racket exploits many people for the personal gain of few. He was right and continues to be correct is this assessment. Servicemen pay the price for diplomatic screw-ups by waging wars that are decided in secure, closed rooms only accessible to the power-elite.
He died of cancer on June 21, 1940 railing against the machine but proud of his service in the Marine Corps.
J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life may seem like a polar opposite from General Butler’s but each traveled a similar path to get to the same intellectually. Oppenheimer spent the majority of his younger days matriculating through universities and then working in research labs.
He went from being the driving force in building and testing the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, NM, to lecturing and lobbying against the use of globally destructive weapons.
He was appointed Chairman of the General Advisory Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission after it was formed in 1947. It was from this position that Oppenheimer began lobbying for international arms control in addition to his responsibilities for advising on nuclear issues and other areas such as funding and the building of laboratories.
His lobbying efforts toward scaling back of the production of global destructive weapons was both an intellectual and practical decision. He felt that too many civilian lives would be lost when hydrogen bombs were used and he also thought that the development technology needed to be better.
Oppenheimer’s was continually wrestling with the advancement of science and the political and military use of those breakthroughs. Oppenheimer wanted the government to be careful about how and if the bomb was used again. His public views on the subject cost him his security clearance and therefore his position on the advisory committee in the fifties.
After losing political power, Oppenheimer used his position to lecture and publish articles on science and his views on atomic energy into the sixties. He died of cancer on February 18, 1967.
Developed his own conclusions despite the consequences
Developed his own conclusions despite the consequences
Went against conventional wisdom for developing weapons
Went against conventional wisdom concerning the reason for waging war
Successful early in life
Successful early in life
Died young of cancer
Died young of cancer
General Butler and J. Robert Oppenheimer were people who did a job they were trained to do when they were called upon. They were smart, intelligent people who took their thoughts, based on first hand experiences, through to conclusions that were so alarming that they were compelled to act positively, despite the consequences. Both General Butler and Dr. Oppenheimer encountered backlash from the government, their peers and public opinion. For that courge they deserve merit it would have been much easier to nothing at all.