First Teacher

Chief Joseph

The front door opened and promptly slammed. The timing was expected, as the kids were getting home from school. Trooping through the door didn’t seem unusual-but that slamming of the front door sounded emotional. In the hallway I encountered my little fourth grader, my girl, who wouldn’t catch my eye or respond to “how was your day.”  She stomped into her bedroom, pushing her door closed. And then the crying began.

I waited a moment, finally tapping and entering her room. She didn’t want to explain, didn’t want to talk to me at all. Concerned, I sat on her bed and rubbed her back while she sobbed. After a while my girl composed herself and began her story.

In Idaho schools Fourth Grade Social Studies covers state history. From memorizing all the names of counties, to mapping locations, to learning “Here We Have Idaho,” the state song; 9-years-olds learned it all. On that day the lesson covered Native American tribes in the state. 

The teacher read Chief Joseph’s “I Will Fight No More Forever,” speech, the one Joseph declared when his people, the Nez Perce, surrendered to the Army just short of the Canadian border. 

My little girl understood, perhaps for the first time, the power of compassion and of tragedy. Watching as her heart absorbed a tough, American injustice, my heart filled as well. This kid sensed something deep, an empathy that still alludes many. In that moment we shared a thoughtful, teachable chapter in American History.

I didn’t accost the principal, nor complain to the school board. To those who do, railing to  ban books, or challenge curriculum, remember that your children are watching. Honest concerns are one matter, but raising hell in public meetings frightens your grade schoolers, confuses your middle schoolers, and mortifies your high schoolers.

Besides, as a child’s first teacher, parents are demonstrating that raging and bullying in public is acceptable as a means to solve disagreements.

Leave schools alone, leave libraries alone. Get to know the teachers, volunteer in the classroom. You’ll find American schools do a tremendous job, much better than we could do ourselves. 

As for Chief Joseph, my daughter grew from that experience. Maybe parents should do likewise.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Chumbley has also written two plays, “Clay,” about the life of Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” examining the beginnings of American slavery.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Without Justice

So many students had dropped the class, the professor had us meet in his office. The course, (a 300 level?) concerned the history of Eastern Europe, and though challenging, I sucked it up and remained.

Exotic names such as Moldova, Herzegovina, and Macedonia evoked mystical places barely touched by the Renaissance or Enlightenment. The prof tossed around these names as an American would with Oklahoma or Nevada. 

He spent a great deal of time lecturing on the Balkan region. This mountainous peninsula is situated south of both Slavic Ukraine, and the Magyars of Hungary. This area, I learned, suffered an especially turbulent past, and for that matter still does today. One book on the course list, “Land Without Justice,” by Montenegrin, Milovan Djilas starkly described and reiterated that point. 

Seated around a small table, our teacher introduced the Slavic folk who embraced the Orthodox faith of Byzantium. while the Croats to the northwest remained Catholic. For good measure, the Ottoman Turks rode hard northward, flashing scimitars of enforced conversion or butchery through remote pockets of alpine settlement. 

Violence tinted the region red, scarring the inhabitants through generations of fierce reprisals.

The people of South-Central Europe appeared to have been dragged pillar to post in the religious chaos of competing Kings and Sultans.

In the wake of Turkish conquest, the youngest boys were systematically abducted from Orthodox villages up and down the rugged terrain. Raised in the Islamic faith, these children grew into fearsome warriors, eventually unleashed back on their former homes. These Janissaries coldly delivered Ottoman violence upon their own kinsmen. 

Mired in blood, rulers like Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula eliminated his many enemies by impaling victims on wooden stakes. Most were Muslim.

I don’t recall my grade in that course, but I was mesmerized. Enough remained with me to pass on to my history students. For example, as America fought their Civil War, a Medieval system still restrained Eastern European society. Blood feuds raged through the mountain terrain pitting Croats against Serbs, against Albanians, against Bulgars, and on and on. By the end of the 19th Century the Balkans acquired a new moniker, “the powder keg of Europe.”

The ignition of World War One began in Sarajevo, the center of Bosnia Herzegovina. As the Ottoman Empire eventually receded southward, the Austro-Hungarian Empire aimed to absorb Bosnia as their own. Hapsburg Emperor, Franz Joseph sent his nephew on a good will mission to picturesque Sarajevo. For the nephew, Franz Ferdinand, this would be his last royal duty. A Serb teenager waiting on the processional route shot the Hapsburg heir, and his wife, too. From that incident came “The War to End All Wars.”

This essay barely scratches the full history of Eastern Europe. Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Poland, and Kosovo, all hold eons of collective history, enough to study a lifetime. 

Still much like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle with scattered and missing pieces, an incomplete picture of the region remains. World War Two, the frigid tension of the Cold War, and the Balkan Wars of the mid-1990’s all continue to pull the world in, as if a black hole.  

I stuck with that college class, in that professor’s office, and as a result understand why NATO, including US peace-keeping forces, still must remain in the “Land Without Justice.”  

Gail Chumbley is an author, and history educator. Her two books, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight,” both available on Kindle. In addition Gail has composed two plays, “Clay” and “Wolf By The Ears.”

Speculators

*A former student, Todd Christiansen, works as a Wellsite Geologist in oil. Reprinted with his permission.

______

I’ve seen lots of people posting about oil and gas and the prices thereof, and there’s a tremendous amount of bullshit flying around. So allow me, a scientist working in Oil, to say a few things:

1.) Gas prices are largely determined by speculators. Supply and Demand has almost nothing to do with them. Things like “international uncertainty,” and “these idiots don’t have any other choice because half the country thinks public transportation is for liberal pussies,” drive prices up and there’s no real way to force them to come down. No matter what Newsmax or MSNBC is telling you, Joe Biden can’t flip the “Lower Gas Prices,” switch without an act of socialism on a scale that would make Reagan’s corpse reanimate and storm the capital more effectively than they did on January 6th.

2.) Access to more or less oil doesn’t really effect gas prices. Rather, it’s what that more or less access to oil causes the speculators to think that drives prices one way or the other. To put it another way, if the US were to stop buying Russian oil, gas prices would go up, not because there would be a shortage of oil or anything but because the speculators would think “this should drive prices up.” It’s really as simple as that.

3.) The Keystone XL pipeline is for Canadian oil. While the US certainly buys it’s fair share, and the pipeline might lower costs, it isn’t going to realistically change gas prices. Unless you own stock in Canadian oil companies, or you just REALLY HATE environmentalists, the pipeline isn’t the answer to anything. It’s just a red herring. Like Communism.

4.) We are drilling and producing oil all over America, including in the Bakken in North Dakota. I saw some ridiculous shit yesterday about how liberals have shut down drilling in North Dakota, and I can’t explain thoroughly enough how absolutely not true that is. I’ve got coworkers up there as we speak. And Liberals or Democrats or whoever have never really had any sort of impact on domestic drilling(outside of Alaska, but Seward’s Folly is a whole different kettle of fish) since I got into the industry in 2010. There is only one factor that I’ve seen that changes the amount of drilling we do: oil prices. Anyone who points the finger at anyone other than oil companies is selling you a bridge, dude.

King of the Hill

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.

gailchumbley@chumbleg

Rebellions

The Republican Party emerged in 1854 as a voice for liberty, and of opportunity. Forged in sectional controversy, members dedicated themselves to one overriding priority, no slavery in America’s western territories. On that point the fledgling party stood firm.

A lawyer in Springfield, Abraham Lincoln, joined the growing party early, concerned, as were others, with escalating tensions between the North and South.

In 1860, Lincoln threw his very tall hat into the ring, and declared his candidacy for President. Defying considerable odds, Lincoln prevailed over other, more prominent Republicans at the GOP Convention in Chicago. Lincoln grasped the nomination. 

The South responded as one. If Lincoln won the Presidency, they would bolt the Union. He did win, and tried to reason with Southern States through his inaugural address. “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war.”

The sticking point of course, slavery. 

By the time Lincoln took the oath of office, eight Southern States had voted to secede from the Union. This president understood the fears of the South, and knew what drove the secessionists. He didn’t hate them, he did not want them punished. During the last year of the war Lincoln, in his second inaugural address gently offered an olive branch stating, “With malice toward none; with charity for all.”

Lincoln’s lasting legacy held that the Civil War meant more than reunification of the states. His  “new birth of freedom” implied a higher ideal, the turmoil meant something more honorable, and timeless: the cause of humanity. The Emancipation Proclamation came first, then the 13th Amendment, forever freeing those held in bondage. This president took no credit for prevailing over the Rebels, hoping only to heal the divisions that fueled the rage.

His martyrdom on April 15,1865 left the GOP imprinted with Lincoln’s goodness, modesty, and nobility. This first Republican President endured four years of national hell, and never forgot his mission.

Lincoln met the Rebellion, and vanquished it.

America today hears no soaring rhetoric from the GOP, nor elegant prose, only hate speech and bellyaching. The GOP has severed the cords of duty to country, replacing patriotic obligation with an unapologetic lust for power, and self interest. 

For four years the taxpayers have been fleeced, and minorities targeted, the kind of intolerance Lincoln abhorred. Long standing alliances were cast aside as a self-serving dunce cozied up to America’s enemies. The Republican members of Congress have forsaken their obligation to country first, pretending and excusing that all was normal in the turbulent White House. 

The greatest harm perpetrated by, and enabled by the current GOP, is the violent attack on the heart of our democracy: the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The irony is rich. As the Republican Party grew from a rebellion, it will now perish from another.

Riverside, 1973

Before the 1974 Expo in my hometown of Spokane, Washington, the city’s downtown area was divided by social class. Riverside Avenue ran east to west, crossed by an arterial called Division, that ran north to south. That intersection literally cut the area in half. West of Division the downtown looked like the shopping scene in “A Christmas Story.” Magical tableaus filled each department store window, creating an elegant still-life to allure shoppers. To the east of Division sat run down bars, a rescue mission, and adult-only theaters dotting the grim sidewalks of despair. Consumerism connected both worlds.

In my senior year of high school, I worked at an ice cream shop situated smack dab on the dividing line. Attempting to capture the “good old days” ragtime music looped endlessly in the shop, and we all wore white dresses, and plastic skimmer hats. The clientele largely represented the reality of Riverside. Affluent shoppers, and business owners rolled in for lunch during the day, and the dispossessed wandered in at night.

The lunch rush is where the shop made money, and all waitresses were on the floor. Each day I left my high school around 11:00am arriving about 30 minutes before the onslaught. By noon we rushed table to table, chatting with the regulars, and earning pretty healthy tips.

Weekends were different, unpredictable, and the Saturday night shift catered to a different world. After dark, homeless men asked for water, while others scrounged up change to buy a cup of soup. Heartbreaking.

A late spring night in particular, stands out in my memory.  Warm, with a light breeze, the shop felt like summer, leaving me restless, and anxious for graduation. The glass door facing Riverside opened, and a clutch of young women poured in, chatting and giggling like school girls. Sex workers all.

Preparing for their night, these girls crowded around the ice cream freezer, more like teenagers than high risk ladies of the night. The group was close, sharing a camaraderie that spoke of strong ties. 

In the middle of the party towered a long, bronze, African-American woman. God, she was gorgeous, honestly runway material. Fascinated I watched her among her peers, laughing with the rest, while she gracefully perused the glass covered ice cream selections. 

Honestly, this beauty could out Grace Jones, Grace Jones. 

The starkness of her night’s work vaguely crossed my mind, but I was in the moment. Oblivious, unapologetic, she and her friends had no shit’s to give.

Weeks later I graduated, and at the end of summer headed off to college. The memory of that  lithe beauty and her friends faded. The following summer, when I returned to Spokane, the face of downtown had been completely transformed. The railroad tracks, the bums, the skin flicks, and the girls had all vanished. The exciting facelift for Expo ‘74 displaced the rundown skid row of my childhood.

It’s now that I’m retired that that ice creamery, and the beautiful girl again live in my memory. I know now that I had choices, I had support, and a college education. But those residents of east Riverside, those belles of the street? It is impossible to know how life played out for them. Surely these people of the night were displaced, migrating where rail tracks, and sex workers could ply their trade, out of site, and away from the gentry. 

I hope life turned out better than it probably did for these marginalized folk. But that warm spring night still holds a magical quality; one of beauty and of bleakness. A grim reality of a life I never lead.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight. She has authored two plays, “Clay,” about the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” a narrative of slavery in America.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Pull of the Past

The Ukraine is located north of the Black Sea

Three monarchies ruled Central and Eastern Europe in the years leading to World War One. The Hohenzollern of roughly present day Germany, the Hapsburgs of nearly all the lands between Germany and Russia, where the Romanov dynasty ruled for hundreds of years. Modern republics carved from these three long ago kingdoms still feel a dynastic pull, as if prisoners of the past.

After WWI, and the forthcoming Treaty of Versailles the major kingdoms disappeared, replaced by new countries drawn by the hands of the victors. The objective of those redrawing the face of Europe was to give each language group the dignity of self rule. With few exceptions monarchies were gone, replaced by self-governing democracies.

1919 produced a validating moment for ethnic-language groups, resurrecting national flags and reveling in their distinctive cultures. But historically speaking independence lasted only a twinkling. 

Throughout the 1930’s the Germans tried democracy, only to discard the system in favor of autocracy under Adolf Hitler. The last Hohenzollern, Wilhelm II had been deposed and lived in exile, clearing Hitler’s path of impediments. Engaged in revitalizing Germany, the Fuhrer proceeded to annex nearby lands, reversing that moment of democratic freedom. 

The German Fuhrer set his sights on reoccupying the Rhineland, a resource, and industrially rich region to the west. That the German’s were not, by treaty, permitted to seize that area, Hitler waited for the protests, but the western allies did nothing. Later Hitler sent forces to Austria, the site of his birth, and absorbed that country into his Third Reich. Crickets. Then after a pause, he made a play for the Czech region of the Sudetenland. These acquisitions were German-speaking populations, and to Hitler a part of Germany’s destiny.

This time the West did take notice.

In September, 1938, the German Fuhrer hosted England’s Neville Chamberlain, and France’s Edouard Daladier to discuss the fate of the Sudeten. The conference was a cynical sham. As the political leaders admired the Berchtesgaden view of the Tyrolian Alps, German troops amassed on the Czech border. A secret “incident” was in the works as a pretext to invade as soon as possible. Part of Hitler’s scheme included informing his guests that German nationals in western Czechoslovakia were persecuted, and his duty lay in rescuing them.

Both Chamberlain and Daladier, fearful of a new war, agreed to Hitler’s aggression, as he assured them after the Sudetenland, Nazi expansion would conclude. But of course he was lying. World War Two erupted the following year.

At this writing Vladimir Putin is playing the same game as Herr Hitler. In 2014 Putin sent forces into the Crimea, with one eye on the Western democracies. There were protests, and economic sanctions, but no ultimatums. 

As Russian soldiers amass at the border of the Ukraine, President Putin pretends none of the aggression means anything. But this Russian autocrat means plenty, and is implementing a play to return the Ukraine back to where he believes it belongs-Russia. 

 Does the west have the will or consensus to allow this modern-day dictator to lie to the world and invade Ukraine? Will the Americans, and other European Allies look the other way, as did Chamberlain and Daladier? 

I’m no expert on European History, but finding patterns has become second nature. The pull of the past is strong, and would-be dictators care nothing about national boundaries. For a tyrant like Putin entitlement to the Ukraine is much the same as breathing. So the onus falls on the NATO Alliance to hold the line. A line that President Putin is doing his best to challenge.

Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight. Both books are available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Two Witnesses

“I began to think that all was not right. He said that with two hundred men he could drive congress, with the president at its head, into the river Potomac, . . .and he said with five hundred men he could take possession of New York….”

Colonel John Morgan, written testimony, 1807, the Burr Conspiracy

In grade school we watched a film titled, “The Man Without A Country.” Taken from a story by Edward Everett Hale, the tale tells of an American soldier named Philip Nolan. Nolan, a fictitious character had been arrested as a conspirator in a scheme to seize a chunk of the Louisiana Purchase and secede from the Union. At his trial an angry Nolan pitched a fit and shouted “Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!”

The presiding judge agreed with Nolan’s outburst and sentenced him to never hear of, nor set foot in the United States again. Serving his time, Nolan spends the rest of his days transferred from one Naval vessel to another, never permitted to see the shoreline again. By the end of this sad tale, Nolan grieves his error, and Hale has him express his regrets, and the majesty of our democracy.

Though just a little kid, that film struck me as a nightmare, a true horror story. (I was a history-geek before I knew I was a history-geek). The sadness remains with me now.

Hale set his patriotic tale against an actual event, the Burr Conspiracy, (1805-1807). Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson’s rival and Vice President had killed Alexander Hamilton in 1804, and resigned as Vice President in 1805. Heading west beyond the Appalachians, Burr allegedly hatched a plot to capture a southern piece of the Louisiana Purchase, and Mexican Texas. It was said Burr planned to install himself as a sovereign of a new nation, with New Orleans as his capital. A co-conspirator, General James Wilkinson, turned on Burr, and spilled the beans to President Jefferson. The outraged President promptly dispatched soldiers to apprehend Colonel Burr.

In a Virginia court Burr was indicted for treason, and soon put on trial in Richmond. The Judge, Chief Justice John Marshall presided. 

Burr remained serene throughout the trial, and denied the charges against him. Jefferson, meanwhile breathed fire, demanding Justice Marshall convict. Marshall, a brilliant student of American Law, subpoenaed the President to testify, and that pissed off Jefferson even more. 

In a letter to the court Jefferson insisted British Common Law sufficed for conviction. That advice would place Burr in the vicinity of a seditious act, and lead to a quick guilty verdict. Marshall, however, relied on the recent Constitutional definition.

Article III, Section 3, Clause 1,

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to the Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

At the end of this saga Burr was acquitted, Jefferson’s opinion irrelevant to US Law. Without fear nor favor Marshall abided by the Constitution. Lacking eyewitness testimony to the act, Burr walked. Neither Wilkinson’s nor Colonel Morgan’s letters proved relevant.

This case, complicated, and circumstantial, tested the new Constitution, and the Constitution prevailed. Fictitious Nolan should perhaps have held his temper in check, but then there wouldn’t be a story.

For MAGA insurrectionists, inculpatory evidence is stacking up. We all  bore  witness to the ransacking of the Capitol, and the rest of the plot is coming to light. Archival documents, emails, phone conversations, sticky notes, fake electoral papers, and incompetent lawyers litter the January 6 landscape. 

This time, under the language of Article III, there is no doubt of treason. 

As Philip Nolan lay dying aboard a Navy vessel, he tells his comforter “Here, you see, I have a country!” A map of the United States is pinned to a wall at the foot of his bed. Nolan begs his visitor to draw in new states admitted since his long ago trial. A tragic yarn of regret to be sure.

In the end Aaron Burr faded into the fog of time. Due to a certain Broadway musical he has resurfaced. Did Burr engaged in treason? We’ll never know for certain. That he faded is important. America is more resilient than any one of us.

Though Philip Nolan is a character of fiction, and Burr an enduring mystery, the January 6th hoard will not fade. You aided another would-be tyrant, and you failed. Like Pearl Harbor, and 911, your treason will live in infamy, to borrow a phrase. 

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight. Both titles are available on Kindle. Chumbley has also penned two plays, “Clay,” regarding the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears” a look at American slavery and it beginnings.

gailchumbley@chumbleg

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