In War and Peace
This is my last installment in posts about my summer reading. It is the dawn of a new semester, and I am now living in Columbia, Missouri about to begin a doctoral program for political communication at MU. It’s been a long journey to this point and it seemed far away in early April when I decided to come here for my PhD. I knew I had to do something for five more months. I chose to spend that time reading, and if you scroll past this post on down you’ll see what I dug into over the course of the year. I was able to read a lot because I worked as a substitute teacher and could read for several hours a day if the students were well-behaved (this is only possible at middle school or high school as you’ve always got to keep both eyes on elementary kids). After that ended, in June and July I had a lot of free time as I was only able to secure some part-time work cleaning cars on dealership parking lots. (It could’ve been full-time all summer but I failed in my efforts to do the house power-washing aspect of the business.) While I regret that I was not able to live up to that boss’s expectations, I was secretly happy as it gave me more time to read.
During that time in June when I realized there wasn’t a career ahead for me as a ladder-climbing strong man I was reading Jean Edward Smith’s “Grant” and loved it. Toward the end of the book, Smith compares Grant to Eisenhower, and I jumped immediately at the thought of reading another biography of Smith’s as “Grant” was exciting, easy to read, informative, and perfectly pro-Union during a summer of neo-confederate discontent. I went to the local library in Conway but they did not have a copy. They did have Stephen Ambrose’s “Eisenhower: Soldier and President” but I decided to wait until I could find Smith’s. (which turned out to be a great decision, as on page 730 Smith lays a haymaker on Ambrose. He cites several people who state that Ambrose made up his assertion that Eisenhower “personally wished that the Court had upheld Plessy v. Ferguson)
On my first day with a library card at Boone Library in Co Mo I searched for and found Eisenhower in War and Peace.
Now let us begin.
“Eisenhower: In War and Peace” is a one-volume biography of the life of Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower. There are other historians who have devoted several volumes to his life, and there are also seemingly endless collections of his personal papers and correspondences, along with the countless memoirs and letters of important figures and contemporary figures in his life such as his wife Mamie, his children, Kay Summersby, Winston Churchill, all the Georges (The Sixth, Patton, Marshall), Omar Bradley, Bernard Montgomery, Alan Brooke, Richard Nixon, Harry Truman, Zhukov, Khruschchev, De Gaulle, the list could go on forever). BUT…if you want a one-volume book that covers the full array of Ike’s life from birth to death, and offers honest, critical assessment of his successes and shortcomings, along with fair treatment of these “secondary” players and a good deal of analysis on previous work by historians on Eisenhower, WWII, and the Cold War, then give this book a try. I will admit there were parts I struggled to get through (the parts about Dewey and Clay laying the groundwork for the 1952 and 1956 campaigns, oddly enough as that’s my primary professional area of interest) but it is a solid biography of a president and general. Like Smith’s “Grant” there is a fall-off in the drama after the war ends, but like Grant, the book is worth it for the war alone. The parts on Ike’s presidency are worth it for the discussion of the early years of the CIA (sorry, Iran and Guatemala) along with how Eisenhower’s stature as supreme commander helped keep our world at relative peace because of how the Russians, British, French, Chinese, Middle East and everyone respected him. If for nothing else, Eisenhower should be lauded in the history textbooks as a man who opposed the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, and refused to drop one as president. That, and oh yeah the interstate system was created because of his unique experience on the 1919 transcontinental motor convoy (which was just featured in an article today, oddly enough: Eisenhower 1919 Story
Smith also argues that Eisenhower’s leadership was strong in crises such as the Suez Canal, Formosa Trait, and Little Rock.
Little Rock is a particular topic which interests me as a native of Arkansas. Jean Edward Smith commends Eisenhower for how he handled the crisis and discusses how Eisenhower let the proper legal aspects play out so that Orval Faubus ultimately forced his hand. My only wish is that people in Arkansas paid more respect and learned more about the Little Rock Nine. For anyone visiting the area, I do recommend to go to the section of the Clinton Library which is devoted to the Nine, along with the actual Central campus. However, I feel that a good portion of people do think Eisenhower overplayed his hand over state’s rights and all that. I do not, and he had to act to prevent a huge mob of violently racist white people from attacking those students. Eisenhower was in the right, the white mobs of Little Rock were in the wrong, and the current people of Arkansas should feel a sense of shame about the saga. It’s ridiculous for a state which received worldwide infamy in 1957 to still observe Robert E. Lee Day. Change won’t come overnight, but it would have never came without the action of Dwight Eisenhower and the brave nine students. Also, this book points out how Eisenhower’s judicial appointments set the foundation for the fulfillment of the civil rights movement in the next decade. For anyone who may say Eisenhower did not do enough for civil rights, his Supreme Court nominees changed the country for the better.
It took me two weeks to read this book, and it is dry at times, but for anyone wanting to learn about Dwight Eisenhower, I recommend it. Even more than that, for anyone wanting a good overview of WW2, the early Cold War, and the U.S. in the 1950s, try this book. It’ll be at the Boone Library in Columbia tomorrow for anyone who wants to pick it up.
As I mentioned earlier, in his Grant book he mentions Eisenhower a few times and the comparison is what I found intriguing. In his Eisenhower book, he makes maybe a dozen comparisons or allusions to Grant and the similarities of the two. That was another aspect which made me glad I chose this biography because it wound up fitting the theme of my summer of reading. Grant and Eisenhower are the only West Point graduates who became president, although maybe Custer could have been if he hadn’t been so dumb. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal maybe could have been if they weren’t dumb too, and Wesley Clark should still run for something in Arkansas.
Before moving to Columbia I managed to read James M. McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom” which many say is the ultimate one-volume source on the Civil War. I had seen a tweet from Ta-Nehisi Coates recommending BCoF as the first book anyone should read about the Civil War. So, I read it. Shout-out to the Mayflower branch of the Faulkner County Library for having it, as the Conway branch did not.
(and from here on, written mostly August 1st)
It’s good that I read this book late in the summer as it is the type of academic writing I need to get back in the hang of reading. As opposed to many of the books of popular history, some of which have no footnotes (like Kearns Goodwin), or some which include all citations in the back index, Battle Cry of Freedom is meticulously footnoted. This got to be a drag while trying to read through it, as I can’t help but read every footnote. It also adds to what I believe is authoritativeness of this book on the history leading up to the Civil War, and the truth through primary sources about history during the Civil War. It is a bit more in-depth than your average Confederate flag Facebook meme.
Battle Cry of Freedom takes almost 300 pages to get to the actual war, and this is why it is such required reading. McPherson combs through several different avenues of economic, cultural and political factors and history in the decades leading up to Civil War. While it is a bit boring at first, it pays off during the parts of the actual war when the reader is able to better understand Butternuts or Copperheads and such. I learned a lot about the Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s from this book. It also does a good deal to explain foreign policy and relations with countries such as Britain, France, Mexico and the Caribbean nations.
In terms of interest, Battle Cry of Freedom offers quite a bit in regards to Civil War naval history and battles, such as what types of ships were used, along with the high drama, diplomacy, and piracy that occurred in the Caribbean, France, England, Virginia, North Carolina, New Orleans, Mobile Bay, and the rest of the Gulf of Mexico. I believe Admiral David Farragut summed it up best: “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” *8/5/1864, Battle of Mobile Bay
The descriptions of the main theater battles is sometimes dry, but there are countless books you can find on Civil War battles. For instance, the legendary exchange between Sherman and Grant at Shiloh, “Whip em tomorrow though” was paraphrased in a dull manner here but hey, that’s what “Sherman and Grant” was for. And while descriptions of battles may gloss over the interesting tidbits, it makes up for it in the fact that pretty much every mid or major battle in the war was noted. The only one I noticed missing was the Battle of Glorietta Pass in New Mexico, which I only knew about from Ken Burns’ The West.
Actual quotes from actual Confederates makes you realize how absurd the current “conventional” wisdom is about the causes and purpose of the war. If you read what Davis or Stephens or Southern columnists had to say about slavery and black people you’d realize that at best, contemporary Confederate apologists are ill-informed, and at worst, they are knowingly lying to preserve their rhetoric and “heritage.” When people today shout, they say it’s about state’s rights, not about slavery, and they may be doing so passionately and genuinely, but it is misinformed about the actual history. Secession was about slavery; it was in direct reaction to the election of Lincoln. And the thing is, it wasn’t just about preserving slavery, but also extending it to Central and South America, Cuba, the West, etc. People might think they are waving rebel flags to celebrate just simply being Southern, but the flag today stands as a symbol for the actions of the Southern states to secede from the Union over the issue of slavery, and on top of that, it also stands for the history of segregationists beginning in 1948 but spreading through the South once again in the 1960s and continuing on into today. People who waved Confederate flags at Ole Miss football games in the ’60s are still alive today and their grandkids are waving the same flags now. I don’t mean to pick on Mississippians as I’m from Arkansas and have already waxed poetic on 1957. This summer, the day I finished Sherman and Grant and was at the height of a Union revival of spirits, I saw about 100 people waving Confederate flags on the Dave Ward overpass for I-40. It made my blood boil. I posted my strongest political sentiment of the year on Facebook that day. For some of my Facebook friends, that flag does just stand for being a country boy, but for strangers from anywhere else driving through Conway on Interstate 40, it says there are militant white supremacists patrolling this area. Sure most of them on that bridge were teenagers and everyone did remain peaceful but I know if things ever turn sour those same people will be the first to muster themselves into a frenzy thinking Red Dawn has come. One of the organizers for that protest on I-40 was a vocal Tom Cotton supporter and had a FB picture with the senator. People who harp, “it was the Democrats who created the KKK!” drive me insane. Yes, the Democrats of the 1860s did that, and remained in one-party rule after driving away northern Republicans in the 1870s and implementing mass terror and violence across the South to intimidate black people from voting to bring about all-white governments. That was the Southern Democrats. And most people don’t recognize that history. Heck, it’s being taken out of textbooks. But those same Democrats’ grandchildren or great-grandchildren became Republicans after the Voting Rights Act and definitely with the Reagan Revolution. There is a direct lineage of Southern conservatism from 1920s Democrats to 1980s Republicans to today’s Tom Cottons. Watch who you take pictures with, Tom, if you ever want to become president, which we all know you do. Arkansans may sympathize with rebel flag supporters, but national voters won’t. Good luck in the next election. I’ll be up north literally studying elections. I’m not sure if Democrats can win Arkansas anytime soon, but they can win some of the states Eisenhower won in ’56. Colorado, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, that wins it for the Democrats. And oh yeah, Arkansas didn’t vote for Eisenhower. But I don’t think Arkansas would vote for Adlai Stevenson today.
Speaking of the 2016 election, my next reading will be “A Woman in Charge” by Carl Bernstein. It is about Hillary Clinton, and it will be my night-stand book during the beginning of the semester. For the time being, I have to turn my attention towards reading in my area of focus, political communication: specifically how both campaigns and politicians in office use social media and other tools to communicate with voters and the press. That’s at least the general area of my master’s thesis, but we will see where my PhD research goes. All I know is that it will involve politics, and it will involve communication. I may update this site during the semester if I get the chance to dive into some of the classics by Walter Lippman or Marshall McLuhan, but I won’t be blogging about whatever textbook I have to read for Quantitative Methods.
*And this was at the bottom of my Word document
One major difference, other than economy, industrialism, manpower, etc, etc. between the North and the South is that some of the best leaders of the Confederacy (Stonewall Jackson, JEB Stuart, Albert Sidney Johnston) died while the Union leaders (William Tecumseh Sherman, Hiram Ulysses Grant) survived. Ironically, one of the main Union generals to die was James B. McPherson, a guy one initial away from the same name as Battle Cry’s author. As the author notes, the two are unrelated but everyone still asks.