Empress Dowager Cixi and Catherine the Great

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.

Similarities

Empress Dowager Cixi

Catherine the Great

Ruled Manchu Qing Dynasty and expanded her   power Ruled Russia and expanded its boundaries
Outmaneuvered Existing Power Elite Outmaneuvered Palace Power Elite
Instituted Social Reforms Instituted Social Reforms
Wielded Power within Family Wielded Power within Family
Held Power for Long Time Held Power for Long Time
Suppressed Rebellions Suppressed Rebellions
Live long life for her day Lived long life for her day
The oil painting of the Chinese Empress Dowage...
The oil painting of the Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) by Catherine Karl in late 1890s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tz’u Hsi or Empress Dowager Cixi (November, 29 1835 – November, 15 1908)

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

Portrait of Catherine II the Legislatress in t...
Portrait of Catherine II the Legislatress in the Temple Devoted to the Godess of Justice, by Dmitry Levitsky. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

The Top Eight Wingmen

Let’s face it. If you are going out on the town,  you want to take the best guy who will have your back in case there is trouble.  The following is a list of the top eight “wingmen” that you would want to call on to help you take care of business.  In today’s terms, they would be people, who if they cut you off when driving, you would just let go, smile, and wave as if to say, “That’s OK, anytime, it’s your world and I’m just trying to get along in it.”  On the other hand, if you needed a wingman for a night out, these people would be your “go-to” guys.  For any misunderstanding, they would make the offending people “understand.”

During Teddy Roosevelt’s  early years, especially after college, he became a tough guy.  He went out to the Dakota Territory in the late 1800’s to start a ranch.  During that time, he learned to ride a horse well and went on hunting trips.  One story from the book, “TR: The Last Romantic”, notes that he tracked down

Theodore Roosevelt in 1885 with his highly-dec...
Theodore Roosevelt in 1885 with his highly-decorated deer-skin hunting suit, and Tiffany-carved hunting knife and rifle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

some thieves over several days who stole some of his property by following them down a cold river.  He caught them, brought them back to town so the authorities could deal with them.  He took on big business monopolies, corruption in government, and when they told him it was impossible to build a canal, he did it anyway. He also was a big game hunter and explored Africa with his son fighting off disease and other hazards associated with trekking off deep into the jungle.  He’s at the top of the list also because his sons were tough also.  By awarding Teddy Roosevelt the Medal of Honor in 2001 for his actions on San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War, he is one of only two father/son combinations to earn the Medal of Honor. (The other being General Arthur MacArthur and General of the Armies Douglas MacArthur)  His son Brigadier General Teddy Roosevelt, Jr., earned a Medal of Honor for his actions on D-Day while Allied Forces assaulted Utah Beach. He said about diplomacy, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”  That means, he’ll reason with you to a point but after that back up. He was a tough guy, but also was a prolific writer and the Nobel Committee awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for settling the Russo-Japanese War.  So if you had President Roosevelt as a wingman along for night out, he could help you fight your way out of a situation or negotiate a way out also.

2. Genghis Khan (1162-1227)

Ghengis Khan monument, Terelj National Park
Ghengis Khan monument, Terelj National Park (Photo credit: Michael Foley Photography)
If Genghis Khan was on your trail, you are in big trouble.  The only way he is not number one is he is one of those guys that will always have you in a fight when you go out on the town.   There is no negotiating with this warrior. He was ruthless and took his mean streak out on the towns and villages he conquered by killing every man and young male in sight and then taking the women with him.  Researchers say that if you checked today’s citizens in the Far East and European regions he rode through during his salad days (I don’t think he ate much salad) for DNA samples, that 1 out of 500 people could be traced back to his gene pool. That’s a lot of riding. One of his more famous quotes as he formed his Mongol Empire is, “It is not sufficient that I succeed-all others must fail.”  So for today’s standards, he would go into a night club, drink everything, run everyone out of the place, and then have all the girls to himself.”  This guy had one purpose, take all of the money, the land, and pretty much everything he saw.
3. General and President George Washington (1732-1799)

The equestrian sculpture of George Washington ...

Several authors have covered the particulars about the Father of our Country.  Historians have documented and published his life several times.  This is about his worthiness to be a “Wingman” on a night out. Washington was tall measuring at 6 feet 1 inch to 6 feet 2.  This meant that he was taller than most men at that time, height being an automatic intimidator. Washington also had a temper that he fought to control. He learned to keep his anger in check because he wanted to keep control and a clear mind when making decisions. Foremost in his mind, he thought that a Virginia man of status should conduct himself with the utmost integrity and demeanor.  A Wingman with a temper isn’t all bad.  He was courageous in battle and did not tolerate cowardice or anything less than bravery from his soldiers and leaders. He was also prepared to make tough decisions, like executing deserters to show his men that he would not tolerate undisciplined soldiers in his Army. Recently, in a British poll listing their greatest military enemies, George Washington came in first.  It’s been 229 years since the end of the Revolutionary War and the United Kingdom still ranks him above Napoleon and Hitler. Taking the colonies away from them has been a rock in their shoe for a long time. Forget about him being your wingman.  You would want to be his wingman on any excursion into the concrete jungle for that matter.
4. Chief Crazy Horse (1840-1877)

The Lakota Chief Crazy Horse gave the War Department fits during the western territory expansion in the middle 1800s.  Crazy Horse began stealing horses

Alleged photo of Crazy Horse of the Black Hill...
Alleged photo of Crazy Horse of the Black Hills Oglala Sioux. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
from the Crow tribe at the young age of 13.  He led his first war party before he was 20 years old.  Crazy Horse was known for his bravery in battle. He fought with Red Cloud to keep settlers out of Wyoming as well as many other battles during the nation’s westward expansion.  He was a fierce defender for the Lakota Indian way of life. He surrendered due to the decline in the Buffalo population which severely limited the food supply.  While he stayed in the United States to fight the US Army. his contemporaries, Sitting Bull and Gall, retreated to Canada.  Crazy Horse fought General Nelson Miles’ unit and eventually surrendered.  He was arrested for leaving the reservation to take his sick wife to her parents. General George Crook  thought he was getting a war party together. He was killed while being led to the guardhouse on the reservation by a soldier’s bayonet. Chief Crazy Horse is one fighter who you hate if you are on the other side.  If he’s on your side, however, you are thinking, “Well, we’re out numbered but we got Crazy Horse with us.  We got a good chance to make it out of here.”
5. Lt. General Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller (1898-1971)
Marine Colonel Lewis B. Puller, right, who dis...
Marine Colonel Lewis B. Puller, right, who distinguished himself during the Inchon landing, studies the terrain before advancing to another enemy objective beyond Inchon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Lt. General Lewis “Chesty” Puller was a Marine’s Marine. He once said, “They are in front of us, behind us, and we are flanked on both sides by an enemy that outnumbers us 29:1. They can’t get away from us now!” He was awarded five Navy Crosses for his actions in battle beginning in 1930 with the Haitian Campaign and ultimately receiving his last one for his actions during the Korean War in 1950.  He is the most decorated Marine in history. He was a tough Marine who didn’t like to retreat in battle.  He fought guerillas in Haiti and Nicaragua.  He commanded units and fought alongside his men in the Pacific Theater in World War II as well as the Korean War.  There are many tough leaders and officers but Chesty Puller was a tough, take no prisoners, Marine wearing an officer’s uniform.  For that enlisted Marines loved him. In boot camp, recruits before hitting their bunks, “Good Night Chesty, wherever you are!” Yes, Lt. Gen can be my wing man any day.
6. King Leonidas I (Died August 480 BC)
Public monument of King Leonidas and the 300 S...
Public monument of King Leonidas and the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
King Leonidas is on the list for a couple of reasons. He was at the front of the force at the Battle of Thermopylae, taking on a far superior Persian Army with the purpose of wiping out Sparta.  Leonidas is also on the list because he was one of the few Spartan kings to successfully complete the public school for Spartan youth in order to qualify for Spartan citizenship.  This “school” was not the ordinary books, learning, and sitting by the fireside and chatting school.  This was more like a military beat you up so we can toughen you up, I wish this was over soon, school.  This school prepared young Spartan men for battle so that one of them could fight like 20 or 30 ordinary men.  They were taught tactics, weapons, hand to hand combat among other Spartan necessities.  At the Battle of Thermopylae and the Persian King Xerxes large Army, Leonidas brought 300 of his best Spartan soldiers along with and augmented force from other Greek city-states that numbered close to 7,000.  Xerxes Persian Army is believed to have been between 100-300 thousand strong.  Leonidas’ force held off the Persians for seven days while fighting for three of those days, inflicting a mass number of casualties on the Xerxes forces.  Leonidas and his forces made a historic last stand at the Thermopylae pass but were over run.  However, his forces taught the Greek City-States what could be accomplished if they joined forces in defense of their homeland. Any guy that can go through Spartan training has to be someone you need  at the local pub if you get in a jam.
7. President Andrew Jackson (1767-1845)
Andrew Jackson (1767 – 1845) English: Portrait...
Andrew Jackson (1767 – 1845) English: Portrait of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States Deutsch: Andrew Jackson, siebter Präsident der USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

President Andrew Jackson, a self-taught, effective lawyer, did not like people sullying his reputation and honor. He was born near the border of South and North Carolina. He made his way to Tennessee. With a name like, “Old Hickory”, he had to be tough and he was. If someone made a disparaging remark toward him, Andrew Jackson would fight or challenge you to a duel.  He killed a man during a duel because  he utterred a slur against his wife, Rachel. He fought as a civilian and as a member of the military. He was a Major General during the War of 1812 and was a hero of the Battle of New Orleans.  He considered himself a representative of the average person.  He drank, fought and   it known to political leaders that they didn’t need to make a career of politics.  He was for a simple and stream lined government.  He also recommended the elimination of the Electoral College because he favored a democratic majority vote rules system.  Like another President, George Washington, he was tall, 6 foot, inch.  He was someone who liked to do it his way.  He would listen but the decision would be his and that would be the end of it.  If you crossed him at the local pub, you had better be prepared to throw punches or face off in a duel.

8. Colonel Jim Bowie (1796-1836)
SOG Bowie Knife
SOG Bowie Knife (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He has a knife name after him.  That should be enough but he also volunteered to defend the Alamo along with several other people against General Santa Anna’s forces.  By all accounts, Colonel Bowie met his end at the Alamo while sick in bed.  He went out fighting.  He was firing at his attackers as they stormed his room.  He was also a brawler and fighter who didn’t hesitate to accept an impossible mission, the defense of the Alamo.  He is also on this list for another reason, David Bowie, the musician and singer, changed his last name from Jones to Bowie because he said; it was the “ultimate American knife.  It is the medium for a conglomerate of statements and illusions.’  You can’t argue with that.  Well, you could, but Col Bowie would have my “six.”

That’s my list.  If you have any one else you think needs to be on the list, or you want to leave a comment or suggestion, feel free to do so and I will respond.
On the Bench but a Phone Call Away
General “Black Jack” Pershing, Hannibal, Alexander the Great, Davey Crockett, General Chuck Yeager, All of the “Original Seven” in the Mercury Space Program (Scott M. Carpenter, Gordon L. Cooper, Jr*., John H. Glenn, Virgil I ‘Gus’ Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Alan B. Shepard, and Donald K. ‘Deke’ Slayton)

The Assassinations of Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin

Middle East Map עברית: מפה מדינית של המזרח התי...
Middle East Map עברית: מפה מדינית של המזרח התיכון Bahasa Indonesia: Peta yang menunjukkan Asia Barat Daya - Istilah "Timur Tengah" lebih sering digunakan untuk merujuk kepada Asia Barat Daya dan beberapa negara di Afrika Utara (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Certain people in history have tried to change the current political climate.  They make an effort to reverse the trend and push the tide in another direction.  Sometimes in their effort to change their corner of the world, they meet with resistance and hate and are killed along with their goals and ideas. Such is the case of Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin.  Sadat was the leader and military hero of Egypt and Rabin the Prime Minister and Defense Minister of Israel. Both leaders played an important role in the formation of their country’s development and status in the world.

A military lieutenant, who obtained a Fatwa (an opinion) approving the assassination, cut down Sadat and several others on the stand during a victory parade on October 6, 1981.

A far right-wing religious Zionist who despised the Oslo Accords signing killed Rabin during a rally supporting the Oslo Accords on November 4, 1995.

Despite the best efforts of people who have a chance to make a difference, there are others who want to create disharmony.

Similarities

Anwar Sadat

Yitzhak Rabin

Nobel Peace Prize Winner (1978) Nobel Peace Prize Winner (1994)
Assassinated by over zealous internal military officer   (1981) Assassinated by over zealous internal citizen (1995)
Military Officer Military Officer
Served in other government positions before assuming top government post Served in other government positions before assuming top government post
Respected by western leaders for taking a stand for peace Respected by western leaders for taking a stand for peace
Saw peace negotiations as a way to prevent further casualties in his country and bring stability to the country Saw peace negotiations as a way to prevent further casualties in his country and bring stability to the country
Astute Politician Astute Politician
Leader in modern formation of Egypt Leader in modern formation of Israel

Muhammad Anwar El Sadat

(25 December 1918 – 6 October 1981)

Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter und Anwar Sadat i...
Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter und Anwar Sadat in Camp David (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anwar Sadat served as President of Egypt for 11 years and during this time he moved away from the principle of Nasserism by promoting the multi-party government system and changing the economic policy.   He was a member of the Free Officers Group that overthrew the Muhammed Ali Dynasty in 1952.

He assumed the Presidency in 1970 after Gamel Abdel Nasser.  He led Egypt in the October War in 1973 against Israel.  Afterwards he engaged in peace negotiations with Israel and signed the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1979.  This earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. This led to Egypt and Sadat becoming unpopular within the Arab community and the Arab League, despite wide support among Egyptians.

Sadat was breaking away from pan-Arabism espoused by his predecessor, Nasser.  In addition, he was moving away from the USSR as an influence and towards a more friendly relationship with the United States.  All of these events led to Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli leading a charge toward the VIP stand during the annual victory parade and assassinating Sadat along with several others including a Cuban Ambassador and an Omani General on October 6, 1981.

Vice President Hosni Mubarak and four US military liaison officers were wounded in the barrage of gunfire.  Islambouli was sentenced to death and executed in April 1982.  Hosni Mubarak assumed the duties as President after the assassination.  Sadat’s funeral was attended by three former Presidents (Ford, Carter, Nixon).

Yitzhak Rabin

(1 March 1922-4 November 1995)

Yitzhak Rabin served two terms as Israeli Prime Minister, from 1974-1977 and 1992-1995, when he was assassinated.  He did not  finish his policies

Israeli generals Yitzhak Rabin and Yigal Allon...
Israeli generals Yitzhak Rabin and Yigal Allon in 1949. Česky: Izraelští generálové Jicchak Rabin a Jigal Allon v roce 1949 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

during his second term due to a far right religious Zionist who was angry about Rabin’s peace negotiations.  Yigel Amir, a law student, fired several shots at Rabin after a rally in support of the Oslo Accords at the Kings of Israel Square in Tel Aviv on November 4, 1995.  Rabin died at the hospital less than an hour later.

Rabin was a fighter for Israeli statehood from the beginning. He rose to take command of the Heral Brigade in the military and served as an Israeli General.  Under his command of the IDF, the Israeli gained significant ground against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the Six Day War in 1967.  During his first term as Prime Minister, Rabin successfully ordered the rescue of hostages by an Israeli commando unit after an airline hijacking in Entebbe, Uganda, on July 4, 1976.

According to many theories, the assassin Amir had come to believe that Rabin was a rodef, meaning a “pursuer” who endangered Jewish lives. Amir believed he would be justified under Jewish law by killing Rabin and removing a threat to the Jews.  Apparently, this is a misinterpretation of the law.  The law applies to removing a “pursuer” where they may be a threat to an individual.  Moreover, the law does not apply to elected representatives because if a person removes the elected official, that person would have to remove each voter who elected the government official.  The assassin acted  under flawed logic and reasoning concerning Jewish law.  Thinking about it, most assassination attempts begin under flawed logic to begin with, except in the cases of taking out someone who is evil personified such as Adolf Hitler.

Monument marking the site of the assassination...
Monument marking the site of the assassination: Ibn Gabirol Street between Tel Aviv City Hall and Gan Ha'ir (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rabin was buried the day after the assassination on November 6, 1995, at the Mount Herzl  Cemetery in Jerusalem, where 80 heads of state attended the funeral.  A monument to Rabin rests at the location of the assassination. The monument erected with broken rocks that represent the political destruction the assassination brought to the peace process.

In other notes concerning the assassination, Rabin’s pocket carried a blood-stained paper with the lyrics of an Israeli song “Shir Lashalom” (“Song for Peace”). The song was used at the rally and outlines the futility of bringing a dead person back to life.  This means that peace should be foremost in everyone’s mind. The Knesset has set the 12th of Heshvan, the assassination date according to the Hebrew calendar, as the memorial day of Rabin.  What is your opinion? Make a comment and I will respond.

The Top Eight Historical Films

Hollywood’s dream factories have released many films that both entertain and sometimes educate.  The following movies are the selections I have made that come nearest to educating as well as entertaining.  I also admit that I have chosen these movies with a small measure of subjectivity.

1.       Schindler’s List (1993) Directed by Steven Spielberg

Schindler's grave
Schindler's grave (Photo credit: Seetheholyland.net)

Schindler’s list is a movie that holds you from the start and doesn’t let go.  The movie is a true story about Oscar Schindler, a factory owner who used his wealth and connections to save more than 1000 Jews during World War IISteven Speilberg shoots in black and white but uses color to make emotional points throughout the movie, the most memorable being the girl in the red coat walking on the street. Director Steven Spielberg uses his talents to show what evil is and what courage is throughout the film.  The film stays true to the original story as Liam Neeson gives a stellar performance as Oscar Schindler. Actor Ralph Fiennes personifies evil in the film and puts a face to the horror of the holocaust.

2.       Apollo 13 (1995) Directed by Ron Howard

Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 is the story of the shortened moon mission and how the NASA program found a way to bring the crew back home safely.  The film, from all accounts, is accurate to what actually happened.  The film took artistic liberties with arguments on the spacecraft between astronauts as well as combining all the engineering efforts of the NASA ground team into one character, Gary Sinise.  If NASA history captivates you the this film should satisfy your hunger games for all things that make astronauts modern-day heroes.

3.       Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) Directed by Richard Fleischer, American sequences.  Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Masuda, Japanese sequences

The producers and directors of “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, meaning “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!”, present a balanced view

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (C...
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CVS-10) during the filming of "Tora! Tora! Tora!", her flight deck painted to resemble that of a World War II Imperial Japanese Navy carrier. Note the piston-engined aircraft on deck, often North American T-6 Texan resembling Japanese aircraft. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

of both sides of the Pearl Harbor attack.  It shows us the planning stages through the actual attack.  The producers elected to employ directors from America and Japan to present each point of view.  What the audience receives is a compelling straightforward presentation of Japan’s leaders planning for the attack and the America’s leaders trying to figure out when and if an attack would occur.  It outlines the view-point that Pearl Harbor’s military leaders received ambiguous orders while the political establishment ignored intercepted message to Japan’s diplomats stationed in the embassy in Washington, D.C.  If you want a clinical version of the events on December 7th without  political viewpoints or romance, watch this movie version of that horrific day.

4.    Glory (1989) Directed by Edward Zwick

Who can forget the preparation for the charge into confederate defenses at the end of the movie Glory starring Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, and Morgan Freeman? No one who has seen the movie, I tell you!  The story of the first all black volunteer unit, the 54th Regiment, during the civil war and their commander Col. Robert Gould Shaw, it presents a generally accurate account of the unit’s formation, training and battle history. The story shows how Col. Shaw overcame prejudices so that his unit could form, train and get into the fight.  It features a great music score and each of the cast members is terrific in their parts.  I used to work with an Army Colonel who played a clip of this film before his final after action review after a two-week long training exercise.  He really liked this film and so do I.

5.       The King’s Speech (2010) Directed by Tom Hooper

What is significant about this film is that it shows that no matter your status in life, there are still personal

Colin Firth walks the red carpet at the 83rd A...
Colin Firth walks the red carpet at the 83rd Academy Awards Feb. 27, in Hollywood, Calif. Firth would go on to win in the best actor category for his portrayal of King George VI in the film “The King’s Speech. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

issues to conquer.  For some, it means bearing them in a public forum.  King George the VI of Britain, played by Colin Firth, ascended to the throne under extreme circumstances.  His brother abdicated the crown due to his insistence on marrying a divorced American.  However, the film is about the King’s struggle with a speech impediment, a stammer or stutter, that revealed itself especially in front of audiences or when making public speeches.  Colin Firth does a skilful portraying of the King working to correct his speech challenge.  Geoffrey Rush as the speech coach does not cower to the challenge of being the taskmaster to a King.  Helena Bonham Carter is charming as the young Queen Mother Elizabeth.  King George the VI rates high on my royal list because he stayed in London with its citizens during World War II bombing raids when he and his family could have went elsewhere.

6.       The Last Emperor (1987) Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

This movie gives us a glimpse of the Forbidden City and the essential parts of the life of the last emperor of China, Puyi.  As the last emperor of the Qing dynasty, the movie presents Puyi, who ascended to the throne at 2 years, 10 months. He changes from a person isolated from society inside the Forbidden City, believing he is better than his subjects to someone who dies as a simple gardener.  The story runs through the stages of the Chinese revolution and how the Emperor tried to hold on to his status and finally his re-education.  The film is breathtaking visually because the filmmakers were permitted to shoot inside the Forbidden City.

7.       We Were Soldiers (2002) Directed by Randall Wallace

Based on the book by General Hal Moore and Joseph Galloway, the movie is relatively accurate depiction of the first major battle the American’s fought during the Viet Nam War.  What is honest about this film is the cost of war paid by soldiers and their family members, especially spouses.  The notices from the Pentagon being delivered back home to wives is a truly heart breaking scene.  The battle scenes are brutal to watch but it does a better job than most films of showing how the Air Cavalry integrated with the Infantry during a battle.  The music score and the choices as to where to use it during the film will give you chills.

8.       Gangs of New York (2002) Directed by Martin Scorcese

Bird's eye panorama of Manhattan & New York Ci...
Bird's eye panorama of Manhattan & New York City in 1873 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The director makes the Five Points in New York the as much of a character in the movie as Bill “The Butcher” Cutting and Amsterdam Vallon.   This movie gets a lot of things right about New York in the 1800’s, including how firemen fight for the right to put out fires and therefore get paid.  This movie is worth seeing just to watch Daniel Day-Lewis light up the screen as Bill “The Butcher”.

Honorable Mentions: The Aviator, Black Hawk Down, Longest Day, The Madness of King George, Reds, Elizabeth, Inherit the Wind, The Right Stuff, Ran, Kingdom of Heaven, 300, Midway, Enemy at the Gates, Stalingrad, Gandhi, and Alexander.  There are many more but I have to stop the list at some point.

Top Eight Decisions That Changed the United States

                                            

Why the “Top Eight?” Because there are too many “Top Ten” lists published on the web today.  If you can’t say what you have on your mind in eight then don’t even try to strain your wrists typing, I say. This is a fast paced, take no prisoners culture we live in.  My contribution is to save you some time by eliminating two places on the list.  With that stated, I know people have many decisions that need to made throughout the day.  Here are my most influential decisions that changed America’s destiny.

 1. The decision to sign the Declaration of Independence.

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The document states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are      created equal, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of      happiness.” These are just words until people back it up by putting  names to it. I consider this to be the most significant of decisions because it was made by a group of founding fathers that put the country on a course toward separation from England and the monarchy. Fifty six people signed the document including two future presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Benjamin Franklin at 70 years was the oldest to sign.  John Hancock was the most famous. Several other lesser-known signers had just as much to lose, if not more, by signing the document. Many authors have penned various reasons why this group signed the declaration. Some did it for freedom, others for business and financial incentives, and still others signed it because they were aware they were creating something that would last through the centuries  Signing the declaration achieved several purposes. The declaration moved the colonies in the direction towards independence.  And as a bonus, it agitated the British even more. If the declaration wasn’t signed, the colonies may have eventually won its freedom from England but it might have taken many more years and the results may not have been as generous.

 2. The decision to pass and sign the Civil Rights Act.  Most citizens are aware of, and some even remember, the 1964 civil right acts signed by President Lyndon Johnson.  President Johnson used some of his trademark Johnson charm to get it passed through the legislature. It continued what Congress started years earlier. Congress passed the original civil rights act in 1866 and it declares that, “all  persons shall have the same rights…to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all  laws…”  This was followed by the 14th Amendment in 1868 that stated, “”All persons born or naturalized in the US…are citizens…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person…the equal protection of the laws.”  This led to the 19th Amendment, passed in 1920,  giving people the right to vote regardless of sex.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civ...
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President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act that provided more rights.  These, among others, are, “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion.  Prohibits public access discrimination, leading to school desegregation.”  The 1866 Civil Rights Act started  America down the righteous path toward true equality..

 3. The  decision to secede from the union. This is more of a collective decision by several powerful people. The Southern states’ decision to secede from the union produced a chain of events that eventually led to the abolishment of slavery, a stronger Federal Government, General William T. Sherman’s march through the south, and finally, the actual end of the Southern slave holding culture.  According to most civil war scholars, at the end of the war, Americans began referring to themselves as being from the “United” States rather than from a particular state such as Virginia or New York. If secession hadn’t happened, it could be argued the South would have negotiated to retain some of their states rights and kept slavery in tact. Instead, southern leaders voted for secession and lost their way of life.

4. The decision to buy the Louisiana Territory. America’s RV enthusiasts wouldn’t get the thrill of driving across the fruited plane today if it hadn’t been for Thomas Jefferson taking advantage of Napoleon’s urge to conquer Europe on a shoestring budget.

Nederlands: kaart Louisiana Purchase
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At 3 cents an acre, Thomas Jefferson struck a great real estate deal at 15 million dollars for more than 800,000 acres in 1803. The deal covers what is now Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and two Canadian provinces. What is intriguing about the deal is that President Jefferson originally intended for the team of James Monroe and Robert Livingston to just purchase the Port of New Orleans from France for 10 million dollars. However, Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to limit England’s influence in America and he needed money to refill his government coffers after his wars. For these reasons, he offered the Jefferson team the whole territory for 5 million more.  Sometimes the stars align and a business deal just falls into place.

 5. The decision by President Truman to use the Atom Bomb.  

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The diplomacy game changed when the United States used the Atomic Bomb to end WWII.  It was the first time a weapon of that magnitude  and it let the world’s leaders know that the US government would use this type of weapon if needed to end a War.  On the negative side, the development and use of the Atomic Bomb began the build up of globally destructive warheads. This was a cloud that future generations had to live under while growing up.  President Harry S.Truman wasn’t even given the knowledge that the bomb was being built until he was sworn into the office. That was kept secret from him by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, most likely due to  “need to know” security procedures. Before the bomb was used, the Japanese proved to the world they would not surrender easily.  The Battle of Okinawa, an island south of the mainland, proved to President Truman and the military that the Japanese military upper hiearchy would fight to the end to save their empire and their culture. The fact that the US had to use two bombs tells us that fact.  President Truman didn’t take the decision lightly. He thought about the repurcussions for days.  Once he made the decision though, he never second-guessed himself. 

6. The decision to serve only two terms by President Washington.

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President George Washington set an important precedent by stepping down after two terms as the Chief Executive.  Future Presidents followed his decision to leave office after two terms despite nothing being written in the Constitution about the subject..  President Thomas Jefferson served two terms as the third President but chose to step down voluntarily.  This verified the tradition. It didn’t become an issue until President Grant thought about serving a third term. Congress denounced the idea because it broke with the tradition set by Washington.  He, however, stood ready to be drafted in 1875 and 1880 but the republican convention chose other candidates.  President Franklin Roosevelt ultimately broke the tradition by serving a third term in 1940 due to the onset of WWII. He was elected in 1944 but didn’t finish his fourth term.  Afterwards, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment limiting the President to two terms with an exemption for the current President Truman. Truman declined to run for a third term.  Congress introduced bills to repeal the 22nd Amendment during President Ronald Reagan’s term and while President Bill Clinton was in office but they both failed to pass the legislative branch.  President Washington was wary of monarchies and dictatorships so his stepping down after 8 years in 1797 was a product of that thinking.  Besides he was tired of the criticism brought on by the office and wanted to retire to Mount Vernon. .

 7. The decision to fund the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways bill. The nation’s highways as we know them today began in 1938 with the passing of the Federal Highway Act. It called for a toll based 26,700-mile interregional highway network with three highways running south to north and three more running east to west. In the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944, the Congress acted on these recommendations. The act called for “designation of a National System of Interstate Highways, to include up to 40,000 miles “… so located, as to connect by routes, direct as practical, the principal metropolitan areas, cities, and industrial centers, to serve the National Defense, and to connect at suitable points.”  These acts didn’t specifically spell out how the system would be funded so the construction was slow.  Here’s where President Eisenhower comes in.  He led a team that figured out how to fund the highway system to build highways as the citizens of the United States know them today. The Department of Transportation documents make it clear that The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1952 authorized the first funding specifically for system construction. Under President Eisenhower, the system funding was created so it wouldn’t increase the federal budget much. This is where the vehicle tax and gas tax enter the picture.  With the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 it increased the system’s proposed length to 41,000 miles. From there we have several highways running west to east and north to south, with the longest running highway being I-90 at 3020.54 miles from Boston, Mass., to Seattle, Washington. The highway system has aided interstate commerce as well as the tourism industry.  It has provided a means for families and individuals to view the landscape of the United States as well as being the catalyst for many a sibling feud in backseats.

8. The decision to Land on the MoonThe decision to explore space and reach to other worlds began with the Eisenhower administration and the Mercury program.  The goal became focused when President Kennedy gave a speech on May 25th, 1961 to a special joint session of congress and stated the goal of sending an American safely to moon and return to earth before the end of the decade.

Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S. flag on Mare Tran...
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Much of the decision involved cold war politics with the Soviet Union but also healthy dose of American bravado spirit. However, Kennedy consulted with his vice president and the NASA chief and determined that the US had a good chance of beating the Soviets to moon.  The space program created many benefits that people use today. The advancement in electronics and computers ushered in solid-state electronics.  In addition to these developments, according to NASA’s official government website, insulation technology developed by NASA engineers is used for thermal blankets.  These are just some of the many benefits the space program has yielded since its inception. Finally, Americans could boast that we were the first to land on the moon but in the name of “mankind” of course.

These are my top eight decisions.  I am sure there are people who disagree.  It was tough just to narrow it down to eight.  Let me know your top eight. .

General Butler and Doctor Oppenheimer

                                              

MG Smedley Darlington Butler

July 30, 1881-June 21, 1940

 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.

Doctor J. Robert Oppenheimer

April 22, 1904-February 18, 1967

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.

Similarities

OPPENHEIMER

BUTLER

One of the best in his field

One of the best in his field

Intelligent

Intelligent

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.

Where to begin?

This blog is a collection of posts that compare and contrast historical figures and events that have influenced and accelerated society to our present state. My idea is that personalities and events have certain traits that are alike that bring them to the forefront of the media and eventually into the pages of university textbooks and the scholarship community. My job in this blog will be to write interesting articles that compare two people or events of past.

The Syncronicity of Life

History, in my opinion, is about people rather than dates.  People make the difference with their actions and their personality quirks. A person with a positive or negative trait can influence how people live for many years.  The choices influential people make determine how they are seen by generations.  This is my goal – figuring out what makes people tick and how they fit into history’s timeline.

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