Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis contends that the frontier, and the territorial expansion that accompanied it, defined not only American history, but also American culture and the American character. Turner believed that the frontier had fostered innovation, democracy, pragmatism, a can-do spirit, and political moderation; and because of this, the frontier had made the Americans an exceptional people.
Greg Grandin, in The End of the Myth, begs to differ. He argues that the frontier, and the United States’ centuries-long expansion, has been a blessing for some and a curse for everyone else. The frontier engendered perpetual war, racial subjugation, environmental degradation, a misanthropic individualism, and notions of freedom so disconnected from basic communal concerns that social stability suffered.
The frontier also promoted the belief that there were no limits to America’s cultural expansion. America’s values, capitalist economic model, and form of governance had universal applicability. This misplaced idea led the United States into disastrous wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Continue Reading »
Napalm. The word conjures up images of light, fire, and death. But not just any death; rather, one accompanied by intense heat, melting flesh, and unimaginable pain.
Robert M. Neer’s Napalm chronicles the history of one of the world’s most fearsome weapons from its inception in World War II to its present status as a global pariah.
The story begins in the early 1940’s at Harvard University, in the laboratory of Professor Louis Fieser. The chemist, and his Harvard colleagues, created a new incendiary device that burned extremely hot, resisted flame retardants, could be safely stored and transported, and possessed a gelatinous texture that facilitated its spread over a wide area. Continue Reading »
Although North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho signed the Paris Peace Accords in January, 1973, he and his colleagues on the North Vietnamese Politburo remained committed to toppling the Saigon regime. Evidence of Hanoi’s intentions toward South Vietnam were not hard to discern – they were easily visible across the South Vietnamese landscape. Continue Reading »
Nothing Ever Dies is a good book, but a difficult read. It is a difficult read for three reasons. One. The subject matter. It’s about war and war is never pretty. Two. The prose. It’s dense, sometimes dry, and repetitive. Third. The book’s organization. It is all over the place. And subjects sometimes strike the reader so fast and so furious that he or she is left reeling.
This is a book that requires deep concentration, discipline, and a willingness to slog through the tangled organization and plodding academic language to arrive at its ideas. Those ideas are worth the effort.
Continue Reading »
George Packer’s Our Man is occasionally insightful, at times gossipy, and nearly always disturbing.
Packer argues that Holbrooke’s diplomatic accomplishments stemmed, in part, from his personal failings as father, friend, and husband. In other words, the traits that made Holbrooke so unlikable to so many – his ambition, arrogance, personal insecurity, self-absorption, deceitfulness, and shameless self-promotion – also made it possible for him to attain institutional stature and power. He then used his influence to do good, bringing peace to the Balkans, establishing an American cultural center in Berlin, and ensuring that the United States paid its overdue financial obligations to the U.N. According to Packer, only someone as shady and shifty as Holbrooke could have successfully negotiated a peace deal among the murderous warlords of Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia. And it was Holbrooke’s idealism, which was the ying to his narcissistic yang, that put the cultural center in the German capital and saved the U.N. from financial ruin and irrelevance. Continue Reading »
Strands of moss twisting in the current
Big-lipped carp greedily sucking in dead mayflies in the foam
Layers of gravel in a steep cutbank – laid down by a long-ago deluge
A mule deer mother and her yearling atop a high ridgeline, ears up and alert
Osprey screeching above the cliffs, bound for downriver
Deep water pushes heavily against a bluff, turns back on itself, and slips away
Water-worn stones reveal the implacable past
Pelicans riding thermals, so high their white undersides resemble distant jetliners
Silence, then a breeze, and the sound of sheets being removed from a bed, it’s the leaves
Silver flashes in amongst the cottonwoods
A brown spider walks across my bare foot, a butterfly lands on my chest
Wind coming up, temperature cooling down, time for dinner
The Army Corps of Engineers and the environmentalists got a bad rap during the recent Missouri River flood. Specifically, Missouri Valley farmers blamed the flood on the Army’s supposed mismanagement of the Dakota dams as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s program of habitat restoration in the valley south of Yankton, South Dakota. The accusations, and their promotion by a sympathetic Midwestern media apparatus, are just not true. As a matter of fact, farmers are the ones who contributed the most to the recent flood.
Agriculture has the greatest influence on runoff into the Missouri and its tributaries. The reason for this is obvious – farmers own most of the land within the Missouri River’s drainage basin. Consequently, what farmers do with their land has a profound effect on the Missouri’s hydraulic regime. Continue Reading »