After the 1929 Market Crash, the world collapsed into nearly feudal isolation, and international trade quickly dried up. Like the rest of the world America focused inward, disillusioned by U.S. participation in WWI. Across the Pacific, the Japanese Empire, too, promoted a sphere of influence, sold to Asians under the moniker of a “Co-prosperity Sphere.” China, a vulnerable prize lay across the Sea of Japan, awaiting the wrath of Japanese aggression for land and resources.
Great Britain, too, struggled with a malaise of its own, as did the French–both nations saddled with debts extended by American banks during the war. Next to the new Soviet Union, Germany, struggled most of all, buried in war reparations the allies demanded from the vanquished.
As the financial fallout worldwide grew wildly unstable, regimes hunkered down and waited for better times.
The solution in that movement-elevate anti-democratic despots to power.
The Italians were the first, having produced a Fascist strongman, Benito Mussolini. He suppressed political diversity, harnessed economic efficiency, and soon, like the Japanese, pursued colonial inroads into Libya, and later the conquest of Ethiopia. Mussolini envisioned a return to the glory days of Rome.
Germany, soon flirted with fascism, as well. In a reaction to impossible debts, and of national pride, Adolf Hitler, a feckless dreamer, stood on beer hall tables, and passionately spoke of national betrayal, and the victimization of Germany. “Mein Kampf” the product of an earlier prison sentence, circled around much the same, blaming Bolsheviks, Capitalists, and Jews for the hated Armistice of 1918.
However, America, unlike the rest of the world, clung with all their might to the national system of Constitutional norms. At the same time Germany elected a Hitler in 1932, the U.S. found their champion in Franklin Roosevelt.
A popular Roosevelt Coalition steered those hard years holding the United States together. That’s not to say there weren’t kooks, to borrow Lindsay Graham’s phrase, but Americans faced the long haul together, knowing better days had to be ahead..
As FDR did not cause the Depression, Joe Biden did not precipitate the inept handling of Covid-19. Moreover, Biden’s policies did not cause Putin to invade the Ukraine, nor trigger the inflation rate, as financial matters are linear, impervious to election cycles. This new administration is not responsible for China’s economic reach, Britain’s Brexit debacle, Russia’s saber rattling, or global warming, let alone shortages of baby formula.
The utter incompetence of that last blowhard made the real mess. This moment, like FDR’s, will take more time to sort out and stabilize.
So, here is the question. Can Americans again remain bound to the framework of our Republic? Will today’s misinformed kooks forsake our financial, social, and political traditions and turn to petty retribution and tyranny?
Will we, as a nation, exchange our democracy for a strong man who insists he has all the answers?
That is the question of this historic moment.
Gail Chumbley is an author and history educator.
General Washington had not yet been appointed commander of the Continental Army. Nonetheless, the conflict against Great Britain, though running hot after Lexington and Concord, remained an informal, isolated brushfire in the eyes of the Crown. Still, the very presence of soldiers grated Bostonians, enough that outraged patriots plotted retaliation.
June 16th, after dark, these Sons of Liberty acted, digging in on Breeds Hill located near Bunker Hill, north of the city in Charles Town. All that night these newly minted Minutemen stacked preloaded-muskets, entrenched, and waited for sunrise. At first light, the startled Redcoats scrambled to form lines and launch an offensive against the rebels. Though holding the line through three assaults, the Bostonians, low on gunpowder, were forced to melt away into the surrounding area. The shocked Brits decided to call the contest a victory.
But as one royal officer candidly admitted, “if we win anymore like this, we’ll lose this war.”
That is the lesson of Bunker Hill, hold the high ground, and draw the fight uphill to a well-defended position.
General George Washington arrived in Boston the next month, taking command of the motley Continental Army. Positioning his inexperienced troops on the heights surrounding the city, Washington bluffed his military strengths. When actual heavy guns finally reached Washington, the Redcoats had had enough, and on March 17, 1776, all the King’s men evacuated to Canada.
Two philosophers on warfare, China’s Sun Tzu, and Prussian, Carl von Clauswitz had committed to paper their respective views on the value of the high ground. Sun Tzu in the 6th Century, and Clausewitz in the early 19th Century argued its significance. Much like that game, “King of the Hill,” we played as kids, the advantage belongs to the person on top. That essentially defines both tacticians principles.
Yet, physically holding a hill doesn’t go far enough. Both philosophers argued that a moral high ground is equally essential, an armed force must be clad with a virtuous cause.
A higher moral purpose fills the sails to victory.
In 1860, Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln won the presidency, becoming America’s 16th President. That moment weighed with foreboding, as Southern States, one by one, chose to secede from the United States. The new President viewed this idea as impossible–statehood was not a revolving door. In his inaugural address. Lincoln spoke plainly, “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war.”
Then Lincoln, and the the rest of the nation watched and waited. On April 12, 1861 guns thundered from Charleston, South Carolina, smashing into Fort Sumter, a federal installation in the harbor.
Boom, done and done.
The Rebs drew first blood, and Lincoln, by default, seized the moral high ground. After a duration of four long, bloody years, the rebellion collapsed, and slavery ended.
Both the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, elevated America’s retaliation as morally justified, drawing the nation into both World War Two, and the War on Terror.
Everyone around the world is watching the Ukrainian people standing tall against a mystifying invasion by Russia. Ukrainian President Zelensky has brilliantly executed the lessons of Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz. His articulate, moral leadership, and courage has more than won the moral high ground test. In contrast, Vladimir Putin has proven his lack of preparation, and barbarity, assuring the Russian President an international pariah.
These principles are timeless and universal, not only in America, but in past conflicts like Thermopylae in the 5th Century, and the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1940.
Whether the Ukrainian President, is aware or not, he has benefitted from the teachings of Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz, and this is Ukraine’s finest hour.
The possession of high ground may decide a battle, war or the fate of a nation.
Carl von Clausewitz
Gail Chumbley is a history educator, and writer.
Josef Stalin was the embodiment of evil. Moreover, if one figure set the standard for Russian despots, it was Stalin. His reign of domestic brutality and foreign terror set the tone for a long, dangerous Cold War. Czarist Russia had set a particularly high bar for authoritarianism, but Uncle Joe inflicted monstrosities that would make Ivan the Terrible cringe.
After Russia withdrew from WWI, through a series of moves, the Bolsheviks, headed by Vladimir Lenin prevailed in gripping the reins of power. Through the aid of Leon Trotsky, a brilliant intellectual, and Josef Stalin a seasoned street fighter, the Bolsheviks founded a peoples state, loosely framed around the teachings of Marx.
During the next few years The US provided relief to the starving of Europe from Great Britain to Vladivostok. But aid made no difference to Lenin. In 1919 the Comintern was established in Moscow, professing the aim of Communist takeover of the world.
In 1924 Lenin died, and a fresh struggle for power ensued. When the snow storm settled Stalin was in command and Trotsky exiled.* Conditions in Stalin’s USSR flowed a crimson red. The Kremlin’s secret police cracked down on the people, through arrests, murders, and spying. By 1934 the NKVD began a purge that included the liquidation of middle class Ukrainian farmers resulting in the deaths of millions.
And those policies were domestic.
At the same time, spying took center stage in Stalin’s foreign policy. English and American assets were turned including left-leaning Americans disillusioned by the Depression, and England’s Cambridge Five, headed by Kim Philby. Philby held a high clearance in British intelligence. The use of such double agents allowed Stalin to essentially shoot fish in a barrel.
Atomic weaponry literally mushroomed on the scene, raising the stakes in East West relations. America lost it’s mind in the Red Scare, and Soviet agents burrowed deeper undercover.
That was then. But it is also now. Excluding reformer, Mikhail Gorbachev, Russian leadership emulates the tone set by Josef Stalin. Infiltrating the National Rifle Association, political misinformation, cyber hacking, and buying off scoundrels with generous loans, Vladimir Putin is an apt pupil of old Uncle Joe.
On January 6, 2021 as white supremacists broke past Capitol barriers, vandalizing and assaulting law enforcement, the winner of that moment was Vladimir Putin. Destabilizing America has been the object of the struggle since the Russian Revolution.
Dear GOP, you are indeed Putin’s puppets.
*Trotsky was murdered in August, 1940. An operative bludgeoned him to death outside Mexico City with a pickaxe. Putin critic, Alexei Navalny is currently in a Russian jail, weakened by a nerve agent that was meant to silence him.
Gail Chumbley is an author, and history educator. Her two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight,” are both available on Kindle.
Russia and the US didn’t have much contact in the 19th Century. A rumor had once circulated insisting presidential candidate, John Quincy Adams had procured American virgins for the Russian Czar when a young diplomat. Not true, but there it is.
Still the political tyranny of Russia was widely understood in America. Lincoln condemned the racism and intolerance stateside, remarking that Russia’s oppression was, at least, less hypocritical. Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Henry Seward later negotiated a purchase for Alaska with Russia. Seward’s Ice Box, 1867 newspapers scoffed.
Some sixty years later, during World War One, revolutionaries deposed the Czar, and later murdered him, and his family. The US shipped Doughboys to France, and dispatched American forces to Archangel, to aid the White Russians in defeating the Bolsheviks. The Whites failed.
In the newly founded USSR, Vladimir Lenin formed the Comintern with the express aim of exporting Communism worldwide, prompting the first American Red Scare.
Then came Depression and World War Two. Josef Stalin, a ruthless despot, struck a nonaggression deal with Hitler, splitting Poland as a buffer. Neither trusted the other, and in 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. End of alliance.
After Pearl Harbor the Russians found themselves allied to Britain and the US. Stalin didn’t trust Washington, and Washington didn’t trust Stalin. Not only had the Russians cut and run during WWI, but recently had signed this treaty with Hitler.
Before the Second World War ended, Stalin signaled his intentions by spreading the Red Army throughout Eastern Europe. Western allies relented and allowed Soviets forces first into Berlin, where Communists held that sector until 1989.
The second Red Scare hit America hard. Stalin’s operatives managed to lift atomic and hydrogen bomb intelligence. The Berlin Wall was built, and the entire Soviet Sphere of Influence made for an intense Cold War. Conflicts popped up in America, and around the world. Sputnik, the U2 incident, the Rosenbergs execution, Joe McCarthy hearings, duck and cover drills, and the black list ruining countless careers. Proxy wars cast a real chill over the free world.
Some of America’s greatest Cold Warriors included President Eisenhower, JFK, Nixon, and Ronald Reagan. These Chief Executives understood that any agreements with the Kremlin required verification. Our Soviet rivals were seasoned operatives, and no ally of the west.
So where does this story leave us? Clearly the Kremlin is no friend. Spy networks, election hackers, and embedded operatives are perpetual threats, that is for sure. Maria Butina, the little red groupie of the NRA, for one. So, when an American President smiles and pays court to Vladimir Putin the proof is clear.
The Russian government is patient, and that patience has paid off. Putin’s masterpiece? He elevated a Russian asset to the White House, and convinced GOP voters to look the other way.
Gail Chumbley is a history educator, and the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both available on Kindle.
Vote, but don’t vote in fear. Ignore the thugs who intend to intimidate.
If alarm guides your trip to the polls, clarify what frightens you. Whether it’s authoritarianism, climate change, or even attacks on our democracy, pull yourself together and vote with thoughtful purpose.
The former president thrives on doubt, lies and chaos.
While the GOP points to crime, and minorities as a threat, understand this distraction provides cover for greed and incompetence. This crowd is motivated by power, not service to country.
Many high officials have been indicted for conspiring to hack the 2016 Presidential election. This is not theory, it is fact. Of those thirty-five, four convicted conspirators “flipped” and were cooperating with Federal Prosecutors to shorten their sentences. These scoundrels rescinded their agreements and the previous Attorney General supported that effort. At the end almost all were granted a presidential pardon.
That is a concern.
Russia, under Cold Warrior and former KGB operative, Vladimir Putin, has unleashed powerful ‘oligarchs’ to perpetrate cyber sabotage against the United States. Never forget that. This is treason-providing aid and comfort to America’s enemies. At this writing the GOP have declared if they retake Congress they will give Ukraine to Russia.
To silence his critics, Putin has quite publicly dispatched hit squads of assassins, at home in Russia, and abroad. For example, executioners brazenly used military grade nerve agents to silence opponents. Though the Russian leader has denied authorizing any such thing, the former president willfully refuses to accept that, all too, obvious fact.
That is a grave concern.
Friendship extended from that White House to other totalitarian regimes similar to Putin’s. Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s butcher of not only family members, but masses of his own people, Rodrigo Deterte of the Philippines, who has pursued extralegal measures to kill “criminals,” and Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey who demanded Trump deport a Turkish journalist, critical of the strong arm regime in Ankara.
The previous president’s family still maintains business ties with the Saudi Prince, MBS, despite the grisly murder of a Washington Post journalist by Saudi assassins.
That is a concern.
Then came January 6th, that violent crescendo of the Trump years. This party is a plague.
Fear is a powerful and toxic impulse to rush the polls on Election Day. However, we must all understand what we fear. Do we focus on the bedlam promoted by that defeated administration, or do we ignore the noise and pinpoint the real threat?
Vote like a boss.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both books are available on Kindle. Chumbley has also penned two historical plays, “Clay” concerning the life of Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” and exploration of racism and slavery in America.
Foreign oppression has, more than once, moved American policy makers at home to react with oppression. From the French Revolution to today, overseas upheavals frighten those in power enough, to prompt the same repression at home.
Immediately after World War One, the US endured a period of destabilizing fear–America’s first Red Scare. The U.S., bitter over entering the Great War, grew intolerant of unorthodox political views and worked to silence dissent. Radicals, both homegrown and immigrants from Europe, felt the wrath of political crackdowns. Anarchists, such as emigres, Emma Goldman, and Alexander Berkman, found themselves on trial, then deported back to Russia, while a home grown Socialist, Eugene V. Debs ended up in prison. Scores of other political agitators were targeted by the Justice Department for printing radical views, and voicing public opposition.
Why the oppression?
The reaction began following the bloody 1917 Revolution in Russia. The murder of the last Romanov Tsar, with his family, paved the way for the world’s first Marxist-Leninist government, the USSR. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, (Lenin) seized the reins of the Bolshevik Party, and abolished all political opposition, outlining the aims of this new workers utopia, to overturn Capitalism worldwide.
The response in the U.S. came quick and harsh. Labor organizers, the leftest union, The Wobblies, and any other radical group deemed un-American was quashed. The U.S. government viewed dissent as treason, and Congress shaped specific legislation to silence protest. First passed and signed into law came The Espionage Act, in 1917, shortly followed by the Sedition Act the next year. No public speech, publications, nor use of the U.S. Mail to criticize government policy would be tolerated. Period.
In two test cases, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of both laws. The majority ruled in the first case that nonconformists and draft-resistors presented a “clear and present danger” to the US. In the second opinion the Court ruled much the same, but this time with an important dissent. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, wrote, ” . . . the ultimate good desired is better reached by the free trade in ideas . . .”
Still, non-conformists and dissidents endured government suppression.
The courts, the government, and public opinion merged to outlaw what they feared–an all-powerful, biased social/economic system, much like the restraint simultaneously underway in the Soviet Union.
This was not over.
After Hitler’s death in April, 1945, and the ending of WWII in Europe, Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin kept his Red Army in East Germany and Eastern Europe, nixing a promised democratic Polish government in favor of his puppet Communist regime in Warsaw. And that was just for starters. A frightening Cold War ensued between the Soviets and the West, that by 1963 witnessed the construction of an actual partition, aka, an Iron Curtain.
In America a political fever seethed, and Congress responded. Establishing HUAC, the House Un-American Activity Committee, to sniff out citizens who leaned to the left, ruining careers and lives in the process. This second Red Scare elevated the careers of Senator Joe McCarthy, and Congressman Richard Nixon.
This post originally intended to discuss the War on Terror. The objective to cast light on the American Taliban; those promoting God, Guns, and Gasoline. But now, with Russia up to its old tricks, all of us again, have a decision to make. Will Americans excuse Putin, grow complacent and emulate his corrupt oligarchy? That path is wide open, visited upon us via the former guy. He proudly rubbed shoulders with that murderer, and publicly praised Putin’s integrity.
But, at this very moment, another, clearer choice stands before the American public. President Zelensky has conducted a master class on the real cost of freedom. The Ukrainian people have lain down their lives to remind us we, are the original heirs of freedom.
In that spirit, this upheaval in the Ukraine is one we must emulate here at home. When Putin attacks Ukraine, he attacks us all. We are Americans, it’s time to take a stand for our liberty. This is not a drill.
Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle. Gail has authored two historic plays, “Clay,” concerning the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” examining the foundation of American Slavery.